The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

rithmatist_brandonsandersonMany years in the future there exists a place, so similar to the world we live in now, but also so different. For in this future world, magic exists. Not magic, exactly, but Rithmatics, the ability to bring chalk drawings and lines to life in fantastic ways. Rithmatists don’t get to decide to master this art, they are given the power at their Inception ceremony when they are young. If one is granted the power, they train for a few years before going off to fight in the Hell-ish land known as Nebrask. If one is not granted the power, they must live their life as an ordinary person, having no connection to this powerful art of Rithmatics, no matter how much they wish to. That is the case for the young Chalkmaker’s son, Joel, who wants more than anything else to master Rithmatics, but is shut out due to his lack of Rithmatic abilities. That is, until Joel finds himself in the middle of a series of strange kidnappings, seemingly committed by a Rithmatist, and he may be the only one who can solve them before it’s too late.

I was very impressed with The Rithmatist‘s ability to not be cliché. Brandon Sanderson does an incredible job leading the reader on to believe something will happen and then creating a completely different turn of events. While this can be disappointing at times, it helps to keep the story from being predictable. Another unique aspect of this book is the fact that there are lessons on how to draw Rithmatic lines in between the chapters, detailing different defenses and attacks, which helped me to picture the story and it’s Rithmatic scenes.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to people who love Science Fiction or Fantasy, or just books in general, because it truly is fantastic.

Evan G., 8th Grade

The Rithmatist is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Passion

There was a time in my life when I talked about books as though they were sustenance, as though they were essential to my survival. I devoured stories and inhaled pages. I vividly remember checking out four, five, six books at time and somehow finishing them all before the two weeks were up. Though that experience is shared with many people, a majority of adults fail to make time for reading.

I often wonder where that passion goes.

To most people, reading is thought of as a chore, or something for the forgotten bottom end of a to-do list. Reading is a fizzling New Year’s Resolution. Reading is a Barnes & Noble credit card but dusty shelves. When people talk about getting back into reading, it is as though they are starting a new project at work, as though they are radically changing their schedules.

New units of time have to be carved out of a schedule, clearly labeled “READ” in blocky black lettering. Books fill shopping bags, along with all the obviously necessary accessories to reading – fancy bookmarks and clip on lights and slogan-laden tote bags – because now, you are a Reader.

There is something lost in this frenzy. In this sort of Oprah’s Book Club, unbroken-spine kind of reading, books are a status symbol.

I find myself in this rut occasionally. Rearranging and rearranging the same shelves with an obsessiveness, buying War and Peace and Les Miserables because they’re the sort of books a pretentious academic like myself should have.

I miss that feeling that all library-bound children have. That feeling that there were an infinite amount of words in the world, and if I only read fast enough, flipped enough pages, then I would be able to drink them all in.

So many people have a desire to read; to become that excited kid again. We want to be the one who’s not only Heard of That, but Read It. We want to know authors and quotes and have worn paperbacks to pass on to friends and family. We want to feel that love and intensity that stories used to inspire.

I truly believe that feeling is still inside every adult today. Maybe it’s buried under stress and deadlines and distraction, but it’s there.

All we have to do is find the right book.

-Zoe K.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

boyinthestripedpajamas_johnboyneTo Bruno, Out-With was not a good place. That was where his family moved, away from their perfect life in Berlin. It was all because of Father. Father soon got a pressed uniform and the title of Commandant, which Bruno’s grandmother despised. And then the Fury came to visit, and right after, they moved from Berlin to Out-With. Gretel, Bruno’s older sister who was a “Hopeless Case,” later said it wasn’t pronounced “Out-With” and the man people saluted wasn’t called the “Fury,” but Bruno knew he was correct nonetheless.

Bruno hated his new life at Out-With, being removed from his friends and confined to the general vicinity of the house. He had no friends here, since Gretel was too focused on her dolls and Lieutenant Kotler to pay Bruno any mind. Plus, the house was no longer a five-story structure like the house in Berlin had been. And soon, Mother and Father made Gretel and Bruno attend lessons under Herr Liszt, but they had to learn history, not art and poetry like Bruno wanted.

Bruno, however, began to learn other secrets about his new life, about Maria the maid, Pavel the server, about the people on the other side of the fence that he could see from his bedroom window. The people who all wore the same striped pajamas every day and who were never invited into his house, though the soldiers were somehow invited to the other side of the fence.

This novel was a poignant tale of the Holocaust. Told from the perspective of a naive nine-year-old, the whole situation was simplified to the greatest degree, which amplified the story in my opinion. This book has been on my “to-read” list for years now, and I am fortunate I finally got a chance to read it. In reality, it is a simple read, but the themes presented deal with the moral issues of the Holocaust and thus make this novel suitable to at least a middle school audience. That being said, as a junior in high school, I still found this book touching and would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S., 11th grade

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

The Hunt Trilogy by Andrew Fukuda

thehunt_andrewfukudaAnother world of fantasy is combined once again with modern science-fiction. Andrew Fukuda’s three book series (The Hunt, The Prey, and The Trap) adds a little more suspense, imagination, and creativity to the bestselling genre. Just think of The Hunger Games, Divergent, Legend, The Maze Runner, and the Twilight series blended together into 960 pages of extraordinary story.

Seventeen-year-old Gene wakes up every night before going to school, frightened of his true identity being revealed. Once dawn arrives, everybody calls it a “day” to sleep, unless they want to be burned alive by the scorching sun of daylight. As you may have guessed, this is a story about a race of vampires. They are classic vampires that despise sunlight and water, have super strength and speed, fangs to bite down on the rawest meats, and most of all, a delectable craving for the blood and flesh of humans. Of course, Gene is a human out of the millions of vampires around him, and little does he know about the cat-and-mouse game he is about to take part in.

With a Hunger Games-like setting of participants being picked into joining a Heper Hunt, also known as a human hunt, Gene and a few others are chosen to hunt humans and eat as many as possible to be crowned the victor. Obviously, Gene is the only one who cannot eat someone of his own kind. During the training sessions before the hunt, Gene goes unnoticed and is able to communicate with the humans that will be eventually eaten by the vampires. He finds answers to his many questions and is even more curious about the history of the two races. Is there something missing from the evolution of humans and vampires?

The Heper Hunt is only a part of Andrew Fukuda’s trilogy, and he takes you into an amazing world of vampires, similar, yet quite the opposite to human society today. This is a plot that will keep you reading until the ultimate finale that holds all of the unanswered questions. I would recommend this book to ages 13-16 and give it an eight out of ten for its shocking conclusions and mysteries.

-Riley W.

Andrew Fukuda’s Hunt Trilogy is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Voltron: Legendary Defender, Rebooted and Rewarding

voltronNetflix’s new animated series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, takes the much-beloved 80’s cartoon Voltron: Defender of the Universe and rebuilds the world of space battles, robotic lions, and strong friendships in a new take on the classic sci-fi adventure. With its second season having been recently released on Jan. 20th, fans have jumped at the chance to devour the new set of 13 episodes and now eagerly await more.

Our story centers around five humans from Earth – Shiro, Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Keith – that discover a giant blue robotic lion that’s been sitting dormant in the desert. Once they’re inside, the lion activates and flies the five heroes into space – yes, a flying lion spaceship – where they meet two aliens named Coran and Allura. They are from the planet Altea, which was destroyed by the Galra Empire thousands of years ago. The Galra Empire has been continuing its tyrannical takeover ever since, and the universe needs Voltron to save it. What is Voltron, you ask? Coran and Allura explain to the five heroes that the blue lion they uncovered is one of five robotic lions that, when piloted, can combine into a massive, human-shaped robot of great power named Voltron. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Despite the absurdity of the idea, this show executes it so well. The action is intense, the alien civilizations wildly creative, and the animation a far leap ahead of its 80’s counterpart. The characters are developed and getting deeper as the show goes on, and the plot is fast-paced and entertaining. I saw the first season when it first released early in 2016, and the year long wait for Season 2 was worth it. The creators of the show, Joaquin Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery, stay true enough to the original but have updated it in many, much-needed ways. They pay attention to their ever-growing fanbase and deliver quality episodes that continue to appease and surprise.

The characters are all individually enjoyable and have great dynamics together. Shiro leads the group as the paladin, or pilot, of the Black Lion and acts as the head of the group, as opposed to Keith doing so in the original series. Keith now pilots the Red Lion as its impulsive, ready-to-fight paladin. Lance is the flirtatious jokester and sharpshooter paladin of the Blue Lion. Hunk is the food-loving engineer and pilot of the Yellow Lion. Pidge, who is now a girl as opposed to her male 80’s counterpart, is a tech genius and the youngest of the group, piloting the Green Lion. Allura is the princess of Altea, and Coran is her advisor.

Not only have these characters been fully-fleshed out with backstories (although we’re still waiting on Lance’s and Hunk’s backstories) and motivations, but the new Voltron has made an effort to diversify its cast. Allura, Hunk, Shiro, and Lance are all people of color now, and Pidge’s gender change has brought a second female into the limelight. I for one am incredibly happy to see this push for diversity. The dialogue is conversational and natural, and the tone switches appropriately from light-hearted and goofy to serious and heartfelt when called for. In the newest season, the concept of prejudice is brought up and addressed exceptionally well. It’s progressive, and I love it.

Of course, the past 30 years have led to much better quality animation, leaving Netflix’s version with a style reminiscent of the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender. Voltron mixes CGI into the mainly 2D show in order to make the lions, Voltron, and fight scenes stand out. The character animation is exaggerated for comedy and detailed for intensity, switching it up depending on what the story calls for.

Voltron: Legendary Defender deserves a watch; go and see Season 1’s first episode, which is pretty plot-heavy, and you’ll have a good sense of the show’s dynamic. I applaud Netflix’s approach to this classic and anticipate next year’s season!

-Abby F., 12th grade

 

Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

welcometothedarkhouse_lauriestolarz“In my hefty elf sack, your nightmares now keep. Better think twice before falling asleep.” -The Nightmare Elf

This chilling, nightmare-filled story takes place when seven fans of the famous horror film director, Justin Blake, enter an online contest. They are required to write about their worst nightmare, and the winners get the chance to stay at his legendary B and B, Dark House, featured in his movies. The fans also get to meet the famous man and sneak a look at his upcoming movie. Delighted to find they have won, the horror hopefuls Ivy, Parker, Shayla, Frankie, Garth, Natalie, and Taylor set out to have the scare of their life. Spending a weekend in the Dark House appeals to most of them like a vacation home, filled with effects that make the house really seem haunted and mysterious. However, their fun and games take a twisted turn when they are taken to an abandoned amusement park. Embodying the spirit of Blake’s movies, the park is like his own movie set with his wildly creepy characters running around. The seven lucky winners discover they must face their worst nightmares and survive them if they want to be set free.

This book grabbed my attention right from the start. It’s description of horror and thrill left me wondering about my own nightmares. I knew I sure wouldn’t last one night in that house, not with its scare tactics and lonely halls. Stolarz uses her characters’ different perspectives to create this nail-biting world. As a big fan of horror stories, I was really anxious to see how the ending wrapped everything up. I have to say I was a little disappointed that I was left with so many unanswered questions, but overall the plot line was very intriguing.

I encourage readers who like to be scared to give this book a try. I know some horror stories are a gamble because it doesn’t end the way the readers hope. But Welcome to the Dark House is definitely one of my favorites and I would love to read it again.

-Sabrina C, 11th Grade

Writing Prompts

One of my resolutions this year was to start writing more stories, so I’ve decided to use the blog to help me do that in a fun way. I’ll pick two or three prompts and write a short story instead of a book or movie review. If you like the story I’ve started, feel free to comment your thoughts or any of your own prompt suggestions. I also hope to get blog readers more involved with the site, so we’ll see how this experiment goes. Hope you enjoy!

Prompt: Write for 5 minutes with your eyes closed. Start with “I remember”.

     I remember the sound of the wind as we soared through the air. I felt light as a feather, flying next to you. So calm. So free. I let out a scream to release the breath from my lungs. It was so relaxing. More so than I’d ever felt before. I could no longer see you as you zoomed ahead through the clouds, but I heard the pulse of your heartbeat in my head. Steady and full. We were connected. Two beings made into one. You were mine and I was yours. There was no other way to move than with you.

     The tree branches brushed by my ears as I flew by. Then, I froze. There was an unusual sound. A buzzing in my ear. It persisted, getting louder and louder, until it was all I could hear. The noise battled against the wind, fighting for my attention. I called ahead, but there was no answer. You were gone. Suddenly, I couldn’t hold myself up any longer and I fell. Thrashing through the trees, I called out to you. I wanted you to save me, but you weren’t there to catch my fall. With a crash I landed, crushing my wings beneath me. The last sound I heard was of your breath, racing with mine, until it slowed to a stop.

I really like this prompt because it allows the reader to let out their thoughts without stopping, and it’s just a flow of continuous writing that comes from absolutely no planning. You simply write, freehanded. I’m not sure why bird-like creatures came to mind, but I was very interested to know that this story was the first that I thought of.

Prompt: The eye color of humans changes with an individual’s current emotions. One person is born without this trait and is mistrusted by many people.

    My eyes have always been blue. The color of sadness, most seem to think. But I liked to believe I have a shred of hope in them, even though I’ve only noticed one day when they happened to pulse a bright gold. Other than that, it’s always been a blue tinted world for me.

     I bet I would be the biggest freak in school if it wasn’t for him. No one knew his name. Everyone just called him “Gray”. His eyes never changed from the black and white light that was colorless, emotionless. As the outcast of the school, people often joked why they weren’t just blue and miserable or even black. But nonetheless, his gray eyes made him somewhat of a haunting figure in our sea of pinks and yellows and reds. Even the teachers whispered behind his back, afraid they’d have the very pleasure of him in their class. To be around the ghost was to associate yourself with the unfeeling, uncaring portion of society.

      At least I had feelings. At least I could walk around all day knowing that I had a soul. Sure, everyday was sulky, but at least there was color. I wondered what it was like to see with no shades of anything, no pigment, no idea of what the world really looked like. Everyone said he’d been born a freak, but no one really knew for sure. One thing I did know, not to get in the way of the boy who felt nothing.

This prompt just seemed like an interesting topic. I didn’t have a plan for this story either, so I chose to interpret it this way.

-Sabrina C., 11th Grade