And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

andthentherewerenone_agathachristieWarning: This review contains spoilers

Ten strangers, with seemingly little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N.Owen. A coincidence? Not at all. Ten people, who have never met before until this accident, are under a perilous set of conditions. On the first night, the ten strangers are invited to dinner. They are Lawrence Wargrave, the judge; Vera Claythorne, the schoolmistress; Philip Lombard, the expeditioner; Emily Brent, the housewife; Anthony Marston, a wealthy man with a fabulous car; Edward George Armstrong, the doctor; William Henry Blore, a retired detective; Thomas Rogers, the butler; Ethel Rogers, wife of Rogers; and John Gordon MacArthur, an old general in World War I.

After enjoying their delicious dinner, they are shocked when a loud voice booms throughout the dining room, accusing each of them in turn of hiding a guilty secret. By the end of the night, Anthony Marston is dead, due to choking on his drink, a deadly touch of cyanide in his glass. Badly shaken, the nine remaining people turn in for the night. In each of their bedrooms, there is a nursery rhyme going by “The Ten Little Indian Boys.” Again, is this a coincidence?

However…one by one they begin to fall dead.

The next death was Mrs. Roger’s. She’d fainted when the voice had announced their crimes over the gramophone, and the next morning she was found dead. Closely next was General MacArthur, who had wanted to stay on the island, but instead was found dead on the beach, knocked out from behind. Slowly, the remaining seven people start to get wary of each other. Soon, they realize that killer has to be one of them…

But pretty soon, suspects are eliminated, as Mr. Rogers, Emily Brent, and Justice Wargrave were found dead next. Only Vera Claythorne, Philip Lombard, Edward George Armstrong, and William Henry Blore are left on the island. Which among them is the murderer?

Dr. Armstrong is quickly out of the picture, as he is found choked and bloated next to the crashing waves. Now there are only three survivors, but is cut down to two the next day: Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard. Blore was crushed by a large marble bear, which had fallen on his head. Soon after, Philip and Vera get into a fight on the beach, in which Vera grabs Philip’s gun and shoots him. Overcome with guilt, Vera is all alone on the island. Finally, the guilt washes over her, and she hangs herself in the large mansion. Everyone was dead.

But not quite.

Consider the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indian Boys”:

Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself;
And then there were none.

I thought this books was really interesting because each death was related to one in the poem. For instance, the first line has to do with the dinner and Anthony Marston’s death. Also, Soldier Island and Soldier Boys? That was fascinating. But I thought Agatha did superbly in writing this murder mystery because she didn’t leak any clues about who the murderer was and it is truly baffling when the story ends when all the people are dead. You are left with the feeling of, “Wait, what? Who is the murderer exactly?”

But that’s not all, actually! Agatha Christie gave me the pleasure to actually read the epilogue, which fully explained the murder and who the murderer was, who was actually (highlight to reveal spoiler)the judge, Wargrave! It told me that Wargrave was psychotic, and had a imaginative imagination and had always wanted to plan a murder. He faked his own death in the beginning, but then after Vera hanged herself, he shot himself. The whole point of this was to make this a murder case that no one could ever solve.

And so he did. And then there were none.

-Katharine L.

And Then There Were None is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

selection_coverHave you ever wondered what it would be like if The Bachelor and The Hunger Games were intertwined? Well look no further, because Kiera Cass’s The Selection series delves into a dystopian universe, a reality set in America’s future, with 35 young women competing to win Prince Maxon’s heart.

This story is set in the nation that used to be the United States, and is now called Illéa, which was established after China took over the country following World War IV. The nation, specifically the royal palace, is currently undergoing rebel attacks fueled by the unfair caste system placed upon the people.

To lift the nation’s spirits and to honor tradition, the royal family hosts the Selection; where the king’s son, Prince Maxon, goes through the process of choosing a wife from the 35 selected women from all over Illéa. Participants get a boost in social status and access to luxurious palatial living until the Prince chooses his princess. To have a shot at royalty is a dream shared by all young women in Illéa. All except the tenacious America Singer. America, unlike her mother, is not too thrilled at being expected to throw herself at the, no doubt snobbish, prince.

Nevertheless, being chosen for the Selection is not only an honor, but provides generous financial compensation to the woman’s family. And with America’s family being level five out of eight in the caste system, they would greatly benefit from her selection.  As level fives, America’s family is dictated to work either as musicians and artists in order to make a living, which provides an unsteady income. To complicate the issue, America would be leaving behind her secret boyfriend of two years, Aspen. Aspen is level six in the caste, therefore America’s mother would hardly condone a marriage between the two, as it would convert America herself into a six, into a life of poverty.

Is Prince Maxon a self-absorbed snob like America believes he is? Will America end up a princess or marry Aspen despite the hardships they will face? Are all of America’s dresses at the palace as beautiful as the one on the cover? Well, I cant spoil everything! I can say, however, that although this series might seem like a cliché Young Adult novel, it has great characterization, a relatable flawed protagonist, and is an overall exciting read. So pick up a copy and you can get lost in the palace drama like I did!

-Ava K.

The Selection series by Kiera Cass is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download free from Overdrive and Hoopla.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

allquiet_erichremarqueWar has always been a big part of my family’s history. The impact war has on people and society changes the course of history. The war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, depicts foot soldiers in the German infantry during World War I. Illustrating the intense violence and hardships of real war, this book shuts down theories people have made to convince themselves that war is an awesome event. Most action video games glorify war with blood, gore, and kills, but real war is nothing like that. There is no pleasure in taking the life of another human being nor are there any extra lives to bring one back from death.

This book accurately shows the reality versus romanticism that war is normally associated with. Even in the early 1900’s, people believed war glorified people and brought out the heroes inside them. All Quiet on the Western Front convinces us otherwise. The characters in this novel do what they have to in order to survive, including taking refuge in a graveyard. We were required to read this book for our English class, and it has opened my eyes into the reality of the world and the things people can do to other people. If you can, read this book because you will have your eyes opened too.

-Kyle H.

All Quiet on the Western Front is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

A Series of Unfortunate Events Netflix Show?

seriesofunfortunateevents_netflixIf you have never read A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, you are missing out on an incredibly unique and amazing book series. This series is what made me fascinated in books as a child because it has such an alluring plot and intriguing narration. The story follows three bright young children named Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, who have recently been orphaned due to a fire in their mansion.Violet, the oldest Baudelaire, is fourteen at the start of the series and is known for the signature black ribbon in her hair and scrappiness in inventing. Klaus, her younger brother is twelve and has read more non fiction books than all of us combined, and therefore is knowledgeable in many topics. And last but not least, we have Sunny, a mere baby who has an insane talent of biting. Because of the children’s large inheritance, a sinister man named Count Olaf hunts these children down throughout the series and continuously conjures up plots to steal their fortune. These poor siblings are left to constantly move from one home to another, forced to always look over their shoulder.

Although this is a children’s series, it is evident from the summary that interwoven are themes of survival, tragedy, and woe, which allows it to be a series that can be enjoyed by all generations. Don’t be alarmed however, because this series does not leave you depressed and solemn, but rather fascinated by the twisting plot, and heart-warmed by the Baudelaire children. There are thirteen books, but most of them are thin enough to easily be finished in a day or two, so do yourself a favor and pick up A Bad Beginning, which is the first book, and you will not be disappointed.

In 2004 there was a movie made about this series, encompassing the first three books, however it did not continue on. Excitingly, Netflix has announced a TV show of A Series of Unfortunate Events, in cooperation with Paramount Pictures. This show is said to have a slightly darker atmosphere than the series, due to the fact that the book series’ original fans are not children anymore. I have linked the newly released trailer to the TV show, which stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, Malina Weissman as Violet Baudelaire, Louis Hynes as Klaus Baudelaire, Aasif Mandvi as Uncle Monty, and many more.What I love about this cast is that the actors who play the Baudelaire orphans are around the same age their characters are, rather than being an 18 year old playing a 14 year old, which many book to screen adaptations do. The first season drops on Netflix THIS January, Friday the 13th. For fans like me who have been waiting for more than a decade, this is pretty monumental.

I would love to hear who else is excited about the Netflix reboot, so comment away!

A Political Analysis of The Devil’s Highway

devil's highway_luisalbertourreaThe Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea, is a deeply evocative story about the border conflict between the United States and Mexico. More specifically, it follows the lives and experiences of illegal immigrants, smugglers, and U.S. border patrolmen. Urrea tells of the desperation of the immigrants— the desperation that drives them into the hands of cruel and business-minded smugglers. On the other side of the border, Border Patrol searches through the unforgiving desert, looking for illegals to capture, and oftentimes save from the throes of dehydration.

Apart from being an interesting story, or even an interesting tale of human bravery, The Devil’s Highway has a complex political meaning, one that is not easy to discern. Luis Alberto Urrea openly describes himself as a liberal opposed to the U.S. border policy, especially due to his Hispanic descent. During the investigative preparation for this book, he talks with numerous border patrol agents who are openly suspicious of his intentions. It would not be unheard of for media outlets to portray the agents in a bad light. And yet, they open up to Urrea, and in turn Urrea creates a fair and accurate book.

An English teacher once told me that reading The Devil’s Highway would open up a whole new world and cause students to develop a completely new mindset towards the 2016 presidential election. The reasoning was that once we learned about the hardships and root motivations of illegal immigrants, who were just trying to better their families’ lives, we would immediately support illegal immigration.

Even though this was Urrea’s intent, I don’t think The Devil’s Highway had the intended effect. Most readers already know why immigrants enter the United States: higher wages and less violence. Learning about the arduous journey through the Sonoran Desert doesn’t create support for illegal immigrants. If anything, it makes readers wonder “why would you do that?” and scoff at their foolishness. More conservative readers will see Urrea’s horrid descriptions of poverty in Mexico as further proof that border policy must be enforced. They see low wage workers as a weight on countries, and if more and more flee to the United States, the United States will eventually resemble the chaos in Mexico today.

Such a focus on nationalism over humanitarianism is a sad reflection on human nature, but it is equally unfair to blame everyday Americans for this mentality. No country wants to sacrifice its own well-being for poorer countries. Even Mexico must deal with poorer illegal immigrants from the countries to their Southeast: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Mexico supports giving citizenship to its immigrants in America, all while deporting Central Americans by the thousands. At the end of the day, each country wants the best for its own people, and that’s just the way it is. Any country claiming the moral high ground in this cutthroat world is an act of hypocrisy.

The more surprising aspect of The Devil’s Highway is learning about the border smugglers, called Coyotes, and the U.S. Border Patrolmen. The agents themselves are often overlooked in the great debate over border policy. Liberals see them as Mexican-hating racists while conservatives see them as soldiers defending a battlefront. But at the end of the day, the agents are just ordinary people. Urrea does a fantastic job at humanizing them. He describes many of the agents as “bleeding-heart liberals” who paid out of their own pockets for life-saving towers in the desert. Towers that save the lives of failed illegal crossovers, without any taxpayer dollars. The Devil’s Highway succeeds in teaching readers about every aspect of the border issue, even if it doesn’t provide a convincing solution.

Throughout his book, Urrea laments the misguided use of the term “illegal immigrants” and speaks about border security with cynicism. Although he can illustrate the problems of poverty and corruptions quite well, it is far more difficult to provide actual solutions. Yes, living conditions in Mexico are worse than in the United States, but would Urrea really have our country throw away the border and mesh the two countries? The solution cannot be purely humanitarian, which is far too idealistic, nor can it be purely survival of the fittest. Until we figure it out, two parties pointing fingers will get us nowhere. I don’t claim to know the answer, but I imagine it will rest in solving the root causes of elevated poverty and violence to the South.

Take The Devil’s Highway as a baseline education of all sides of the issue, not as an end-all solution. It merely illustrates the problem for readers to then develop their own opinions and solutions. If we can learn to meet in the middle, someday the world will be able to look back on this book as a historical text of bygones.

The Devil’s Highway is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Story of Samhain

It’s finally October, and most of us can already feel the chilly autumn air, taste the pumpkin spice, and are eagerly preparing for – you guessed it! – Halloween. Whether you dress up in a costume, go trick or treating, or tell a ghost story this October, you should know that there was somebody 2,000 years ago who not only practiced these traditions, but created Halloween itself.

2,000 years ago, a group of people called the Celtics, who resided in parts of modern day Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France, celebrated a pagan festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) that celebrated the blurring of boundaries between the worlds of the living and of the dead. On the night of October 31, they dressed in animal skins and gathered around bonfires to ward of wandering spirits that may have come through this rift between worlds. Families would leave sweets on their porches and dinner on their tables for any passed relatives that they believed would come home for the night. Samhain is thought to be the earliest noted origin of our modern Halloween.

By 43 AD, Rome had conquered most of the Celtic’s territory. As often occurs during the conquest of land, ideas and traditions were added onto the Celtic culture. Now, Samhain included two Roman holidays: Feralia, which celebrated the passing of spirits into the afterlife, and also a day in honor of Pomona, which is thought to have included bobbing for apples, as is tradition today in America. Later on, Pope Gregory the III dedicated November 1 to all saints and martyrs, otherwise known as All Hallows Day, and in the year 1000 AD, November 2 was declared All Souls Day, a day honoring the dead. It is common belief that this action was meant to change the pagan traditions of Halloween, the eve of All Hallows Day, into a holiday that was accepted by the church.

Halloween was brought to the United States as most traditions were: immigration. Before the 19th century, Halloween wasn’t a nationally celebrated holiday. However, hordes of Irish immigrants fleeing the shortage of food in Ireland, known as the potato famine, found refuge in America and spread knowledge of the traditions of Samhain. People went door-to-door asking for food or money, and teenage girls thought that they could predict their future husbands using apple peelings and mirrors. By the end of the century, the meaning of Halloween changed from superstitious beliefs to neighborhood parties and trick-or-treating in response to action taken by people to turn Halloween into a family friendly holiday. The trick-or-treating tradition likely began based off of a tradition where people were given food on All Souls Day in return for prayers for deceased family members. It was also influenced by an increase in vandalism during Halloween night, which adults hoped to avoid by offering children small candies, hoping to satisfy them enough to pass over their homes.

Halloween hasn’t always been known as Halloween. Once, it was known as Samhain, a holiday that was celebrated by the Celtics as a time when realms blurred and spirits could visit their homes once again. Ironically, many of the same traditions are used today as they were so long ago by the Celtics. Next time you go trick-or-treating or wear a Halloween costume, remember that you are living out a tradition that has stood the test of time for thousands of years!

Sources: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

The Shadowlands Series by Kate Brian

Image result for shadowlands by kate brian

I never think that a series is completely bad. Sure, you don’t agree with authors, but you normally don’t think that the series is the worst thing ever written. The Shadowlands series by Kate Brian wasn’t horrible, but was badly written.

The  series is about high schooler Rory Miller. She and her family must run from a serial killer and hide in a safe house on a vacation island. There, Rory uncovers secrets that she shouldn’t know about, and the locals don’t seem like ordinary people. People start disappearing, and the vacationers, including Rory’s sister Darcy, aren’t remembering them. The locals seem to know where they went. Will Rory be able to protect herself and her family before it’s too late?

Kate Brian, also known as Kieran Scott, should have made the books longer instead of stretching out the plot. Sometimes the plot would drone on and on, while other times Brian would introduce ten characters and half explain them.

Image result for Megan Meade’s Guide to the McGowan BoysImage result for private and privilege seriesHowever, I don’t view Kate Brian as a bad author. Her book, Megan Meade’s Guide to the McGowan Boys is okay. I have never read her Private and Privilege series, but with 11 books, I’m guessing people enjoyed it. I think that Brian was aiming to have a hit paranormal romance series, but kept reverting back to a realistic theme.

Even though I don’t think that The Shadowlands series was the best, I would say to read it if you just want a relaxing story.

-Rebecca V.

Kate Brian’s novels are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.