The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander, is the first book of his well-known fantasy series called the chronicle of Prydain.  This is the story of a young man named Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper in a place known as Caer Dallben.  Taran leads a simple life, caring for farm animals and making horseshoes, but he dreams of making a sword and becoming a hero.  One day, something strange happens to the farm animals.  They begin running away as though they are frightened.  Most troubling is that the special pig, named Hen Wen, manages to escape.  Taran dashes after her, leading to an unexpected adventure to save the land of Prydain.

Many elements of the story are inspired by Welsh legends and mythology.  I found some of the names difficult to pronounce, but I think the Welsh influence adds to the charm of the book.  The ancient feel of this fantasy makes the book very enjoyable to read.  Taran joins with several unusual characters who aid him on his quest and add humor and intrigue to the story.  For example, Taran encounters a bard named Fflewddur Fflam, who possesses a magical golden harp.  Fflewddur is prone to exaggeration, and whenever he stretches the truth, at least one of his harp strings breaks.

This book is a wonderful blend of action, adventure and humor.  We also learn many good life lessons, as Taran seems to learn something valuable from each of his companions.  After reading this book, I highly recommend reading the other four books in the series.  The titles of the other books are The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King.  These books are worth reading not just for the delightful characters and engrossing story, but for their portrayal of the true meaning of heroism.

-Oliver H.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Authors We Love: William Faulkner

William Faulkner - Wikipedia

(William Faulkner William Faulkner on September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962), one of the most influential writers in the history of American literature is the representative figure of a stream of consciousness literature in the United States, and the 1949 Nobel Prize winner, won the prize for “because he has made a strong and art to contemporary American novel unparalleled contribution”.

In his lifetime, he wrote 19 novels and more than 120 short stories, among which 15 novels and the vast majority of short stories took place in Yoknapatawpha County, known as “Yoknapatawpha lineage”. The main thread is the story of generations of several families of different social classes in the county town of Jefferson and its suburbs, from 1800 until after World War II. More than 600 characters with family names are interspersed in novels and short stories. The most representative work is “The Sound and the Fury.”

Faulkner reflected the reality of southern society facing the invasion of industrial civilization through subjective refraction. The Civil War ended with the defeat of the south. After the war, the traditional values of the south collapsed. Raised in the southern tradition, Faulkner grew up with tales of courage, honor, compassion, pride, justice, and freedom from his ancestors His pride in his family and love of his native land were sown in his heart. However, the rapid collapse of the south, the impact of the first world war, and the postwar American society led him to make a reflection on the traditions. He learned to face the reality to make new thinking, peel off the beauty of the southern spiritual heritage, and see the evil of the southern slavery and plantation owners of corruption, slavery, and inhumanity. This realization was painful for Faulkner, who was deeply attached to his home. He did not shy away from the pain, but with the artist’s keen eye to see the facts, willing to become a spiritual vagabond. And he could not find sustenance in the industrial civilization brought by the north. What he saw was the suffering of the people of the south in the development of capitalism. In the new south, simple human relations were replaced by money, and peaceful life was destroyed by a chaotic and noisy urban life. Everyone loses his or her individuality and becomes a machine that is manipulated or abused. So they involuntarily turn to the old ways of life, but immediately recall the guilt of history and fear. It was with such a complex feeling that Faulkner depicted the southern society and conceived his own art world.

-Coreen C. 

The works of William Faulkner are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Movie Review: The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Many of us find the struggle of picking a movie to watch relatable. Unlike other movies, The Pursuit of Happyness emotionally moves the audience as it is inspired by a true story.

Following Chris Gardner’s life in poverty, the movie captures the sense of chaos and struggles he faces. Chris, as a single father, does anything and everything for his (adorable) son to keep him happy. Will Smith’s acting along with his son, Jaden Smith’s acting makes the audience keep their eyes glued to the screen.

This family movie is a breath of fresh air in a world of chaos and fast-pasted materialism. It makes the audience empathize with the hard work and failures that Chris faces. From sleeping at a public restroom to chasing a bus, the main character’s efforts inspire the audience.

Chris’s optimism and spontaneous trait despite his situation can move viewers to heart-felt tears. The famous scene of Chris telling his son to never give up uplifts all our spirits:

“Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. Not even me…People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”

Also, the movie reminds us of how short life truly is to not be as happy as we can be. We forget to be grateful in this fast-paced world, and this movie reminds us just that. Reality can break you, but it is up to you how you deal with it all. For me, it reminded me to be thankful for being with the ones I love.

Overall, the movie teaches that happiness is something that we often try to pursue when we miss the smaller “happiness” in our lives. Personally, this message in the movie was exactly what I needed to hear.

If you find yourself bored or you feel helpless or down during quarantine, sit together with your family and watch “The Pursuit of Happyness.” You can thank me later!

-Zohal N.

The Pursuit of Happyness is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

“They took me in my nightgown.”

Like Moby Dick’s “Call me Ishmael,” a book’s opening line sets more than just the tone of the story. It humanizes a character, as it is the first introduction of the reader into a new world. And Sepetys demonstrates the striking quality of a few words in the first line of Between Shades of Gray. She narrates the fragile account of a persecuted 15-year-old Lithuanian girl and the story of an unmendable world falling apart.

Lina Vilkas was preparing to attend art school. In an already dark world, Lina looked up to the iconic Edvard Munch for inspiration in her sketches. She, alongside her mother and younger brother, was taken by the Soviet secret police and is introduced to the never-ending gruesome reality of a world ruled by the Stalinist administration. As Lina, her mother, and her brother struggle to survive in the cold labor camp, the syntax of writing seemingly wavers as well. Slowly, pictures of their previous lives in Lithuania appear across the pages, in italicized flashbacks.

Sepetys’ writing intertwines the feeling of a coming-of-age story, though constantly in juxtaposition to perpetual starvation, sickness, and loss. Well deserving of recognition as a #1 New York Times Bestselling author, Sepetys artistically crafts each anecdote, putting indescribable meaning to trivial occurrences, like the gaze from a loved one. It was reminiscent of the timeless Don McLean song, “Vincent” (“Starry Starry Night”). Between Sepetys’ use of language and Lina’s connection to Edward Munch, I found myself constantly paralleling the song to the story. As Vincent Van Gogh painted from his cell in a mental hospital in his final days, he tried to see the beauty in the bitter world. Similarly, I feel as though Lina would also find solace in this song, as the only way she can express herself is through her sketches in the snow, on the tree bark, or on the final pages in her notebook.

Ruta Sepetys composes a devastatingly realistic through the pages of “Between Shades of Gray.” I highly recommend the read, and I look forward to exploring more of her works, especially in the era of the Second World War.

-Maya S.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

This New York Times bestseller has quickly become, needless to say, a very popular book.  Murder mysteries themselves are a commonly-read, yet thrilling genre and this book falls into the category of the classic “who did it” scenario.

 One of Us Is Lying begins on a regular Monday at Bayview High School where five students are all in detention. However, what would have been a usually boring, uneventful detention session swiftly becomes a high-profile event, as one of the students, Simon, ends up dead. Though this student is known quite well, his reputation is not the best, to say the least, as Simon is known as someone who spreads rumors and secrets about people, often revealing extremely personal, uncomfortable truths.  It makes sense that many people would have a reason to dislike, or even hate him, but the real question is: does anyone truly want Simon  dead?  After all, other than his exposing, gossip-ridden app, he is an otherwise harmless teenager. That being said, if someone did want him dead, then that would mean that the most likely suspects were probably in the same room as where he took his last breaths. 

Interestingly enough, McManus switches the character point of view with almost every chapter, meaning you get an inside scope within the minds of each student. This makes it an enjoyable challenge for the reader to decipher clues as to who is guilty, because each person’s side of the story and perspective on the matter is different. None of them seem obviously malicious, though. So it’s left a guessing game until the end of the book. In my case, I was still debating between a few different characters until the end of the book when the answer was revealed to me, and I ended up being wrong entirely, which I think goes to show that McManus created the plot in such a way that it was hard to tell.

Is it Bronwyn, the smart, goody-two shoes girl with a perfect academic record? Is it Nate, the leather-jacket wearing drug dealer with a mysterious past? Is it Addy, the sweet, beautiful girl, famous for her long locks of hair? Or is it Cooper, the quiet baseball jock?

Read it and find out!

-Aisha E.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Authors We Love: Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (Author of Herzog)

Saul Bellow (1915 — 2005) was an American writer, known as the spokesman of American contemporary literature. Born in 1915 in Racine, a suburb of Montreal, Canada, to Jewish immigrants from st. Petersburg, Russia. In 1924, the family moved to Chicago, USA. He attended the University of Chicago in 1933, and two years later transferred to Northwestern University, where he graduated in 1937 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology. In addition to the occupation as an editor, journalist, and merchant navy, Bellow spent most of his time as a college professor. He received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern universities. Bellow wrote and published 11 novels, 3 novellas, 4 short stories, and a play. In addition, he also published three non-fiction works, such as travel notes, essays, and speech collections.

The protagonists in Bellow’s works all desire to pursue a better life and the meaning of life. Even Maggie, who is in a wandering situation, dreams of starting an orphanage. The pursuit of the perfect self and social life translates into the ideal of Bellow’s heroes. However, life not only rewards them with incentives but more often stabs them in the back without them noticing. Hence, most of the characters exemplify escapism from the harsh reality that is imposed upon them. There is an inescapable paradox between their search for freedom and their flight. Just as they dream of playing the noble role of helping the world and saving the common, they are also victims of the cruel world.

-Coreen C. 

The works of Saul Bellow are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

It’s not very often that you find a book that you think about on the daily. A book whose plot is so intricate and thought-provoking that its messages are imprinted into your brain. But The Alchemist is just that. A beautiful combination of fantasy elements intertwined with real-life lessons, this is definitely worth reading for those looking for a far-from-cliché book.

This book follows the journey of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, with a dream that ironically keeps him up at night. In order to decipher what he believes to be a prophecy, he encounters many different people who give Santiago their own two cents. One of the most memorable meetings is with a man named King Melchizedek, who brings up this idea of a “Personal Legend”. In the words of the king, it is “what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their personal legend is. That theme is weaved throughout the book, and continues to fuel Santiago’s thirst for knowledge and adventure, and through his ups and downs of finding love and struggling through failure, he discovers the treasure his dream has been showing him.

The Alchemist is unique in the sense that it allows the reader to really immerse themselves into Santiago. They can easily relate and absorb the lessons Santiago receives along the way, rather than just skimming over them. Though this story is only a little over 160 pages (and I wish it was longer), there is so much wisdom packed into every page of this story.

As an avid fantasy and science-fiction reader, I was a bit wary starting this story. But, I believe the valuable teachings within The Alchemist are worth reading and knowing about, no matter what type(s) of genre(s) you enjoy! After all, anyone could use a little bit of enlightenment. 🙂

-Julianne T.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian: Andy Weir: 9780553418026: Amazon.com: Books

The year is 2035. Man has begun to reach for the stars, and begins to colonize the infamous Red Planet, Mars. Among a select few is botanist and engineer Mark Watney, who has been selected to travel to Mars on the Ares 3 mission.

Unfortunately, six days into what should have been the greatest month of Mark’s life and he finds himself living a nightmare.

After a dust storm forces the rest of his crew to leave Mark for dead, he finds himself trapped on the Martian surface with no way of signaling anyone, and is forced to somehow hold on long enough to await the arrival of the next Mars mission – which will land in four years’ time.

However, Mark probably won’t have time to starve, if the damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or simple “human error” don’t do the job first.

Armed with only his ingenuity, engineering skills, and a dark sense of humor that lightens every grave situation, Mark must somehow survive every hostility found on the red planet. 

Andy Weir’s The Martian is a trailblazer in the science fiction field, and Weir finds the perfect balance between accurate scientific details, action, and laugh-out-loud humor to keep the reader entertained. Once you pick up this book, it’s near impossible to put it down again, and I recommend it to all fans of science/realistic fiction, or just people looking for a good read.

-Mahak M. 

The Martian by Andy Weir is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Who Was To Blame in Romeo and Juliet?

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is often considered to be the ultimate tale of romance – two children of warring families meet, fall hopelessly in love, and commit suicide in a woeful twist of fate. However, fate itself has quite little to do with the actions undertaken by the two lovers throughout the play. Though the tragic events of Act V, Scene III of Romeo and Juliet are often attributed to the two lovers’ distinct lack of luck, the blood shed at the end of the play is truly the fault of one character: Friar Lawrence, the trusted adult who both Romeo and Juliet turn to in their time of need, only to be led astray.

Despite knowing the potential tragedy that could follow, Friar Lawrence nevertheless encourages Romeo and Juliet in their wish to wed, not because he wants to see two young lovers be happy, but because of his own desires. Though the friar appears old and wise, he does not dissuade Romeo from his course, for the friar does not seem to particularly care about Romeo’s happiness – he has an underlying motive. He later tells Romeo that he will consent to wed the two lovers not because he believes in the true love between them, but because he wants to end the feud between their families. 

The marriage between Romeo and Juliet eventually leads to ruin, when Romeo is exiled from the city and Juliet is being forced to marry Count Paris. To avoid this, Juliet visits Friar Lawrence and desperately begs him for a solution to the problem. Friar Lawrence concocts a plan, in which Juliet will fake her death to both avoid marrying Paris and reunite with Romeo in Mantua. This plan is infamously imperfect. For one, the entire plan hinges on Romeo being aware that Juliet had faked her death before Friar Lawrence retrieves her from the Capulet tomb. Unfortunately, the exact opposite occurs, and, in his grief, Romeo commits suicide. Juliet, upon waking to Romeo’s corpse, stabs herself and dies.

The irony of the play is that, in the end, Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, not their marriage, is what ends the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, which was Friar Lawrence’s intent all along. Friar Lawrence, supposedly the wise and reasonable adult of the play, ends up being the most blameworthy character, both because of his deliberately neglectful and ignorant words and actions in regards to the lovestruck pair, as well as his continual promotion of his own overarching agenda. 

All in all, while it may appear that the tragic events of Romeo and Juliet can be solely credited to the cruel hand of destiny, the true blame for the two lovers’ deaths lies in the hands of Friar Lawrence, the trusted adult who leads Romeo and Juliet into a situation from which the only escape is death.

-Mahak M.

Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming

Diamonds Are Forever | Bookogs Database

He’s risked his life in an “innocent” casino. He’s fought toe-to-toe with the dastardly Soviet spy agency SMERSH. He’s even prevented nuclear annihilation of the world by the destructive Project Moonraker.

But when Agent 007, James Bond, is called in to halt a threatening diamond smuggling crime ring with expansive influence, he may finally find himself in over his head.

Posing as a captured courier, Bond teams up with Tiffany Case, a beautiful woman with ties to the very center of the operation. Following the trail of sparkling blood from Africa through England and finally to  America, Bond must infiltrate and remove every stop between the source and his destination.

Facing dangerous assassins and secrets upon secrets, Bond will somehow need to remain undercover long enough to unveil the last link in the long and deadly chain: the mysterious syndicate leader known only as “ABC.” One false move, however, and 007 may find himself on the wrong end of the wrath of the American underworld. 

Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever is the fourth book of the 007 series, and is definitely not to be missed by any James Bond fans. Jam-packed with action, adventure, danger, and hints of romance, both diamonds, and the book will last forever in the hearts and minds of the beholder.

-Mahak M. 

Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library