Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, widely regarded as the most quintessentially American novel ever, is an evocative and heartbreaking story of poverty, industry, and resilience in the toughest of times.

The book centers around the Joad family, who, after the company that owned their land in Oklahoma repossessed it, are moving to California to find work. The group consists of Ma Joad, Pa Joad, Noah- the oldest son, Tom- the middle son, who was recently paroled from jail, and Al- the youngest son, who cares for nothing but cars and girls. They also have with them Granma and Granpa Joad, Ruthie and Winfield, the youngest siblings, and Rose of Sharon- their only (and pregnant) daughter with her husband Connie. As this ragtag group slowly makes its way across the country, and realizes that California may not be the ‘promised land,’ everything they know slowly falls apart- and only the love of community and family can save them.

Author Steinbeck uses simple and easily understandable prose to weave a beautiful and simultaneously sorrowful picture of life in California. Published in 1939, right on the heels of the private industrial complex boom, the novel carefully weaves together the individual story of the Joad family and the collective experience of the ‘migrant people’ to create a narrative that is heartbreaking in its universalness. Steinbeck writes about private companies and ‘big business’ with scathing contempt, contrasting their greed against the plight of the migrants from the Midwest, and in doing so, explores the sad and serene reality of human nature with a wistful, timeless voice.

-Vaidehi B.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. The audiobook version can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Original Story, Greek Myth Style – Kumar and Ram: The Creation of Sorrow

Greek mythology is the basis of modern literature, and the brilliant stories to explain natural phenomena are so captivating that I decided to attempt to write my own myth, similar in style to the Greek myths. The following story attempts to explain why there is sorrow in the world:

Kumar and Ram: The Creation of Sorrow

Long ago, the universe was ruled by its king, Raja, and its queen, Rani. Together, Raja and Rani managed the universe and created a scene so beautiful that not even the most talented artist could depict it. 

Raja and Rani had two sons: their eldest was named Kumar, who was a very obedient and smart child. Their younger son was named Ram, and he was much more mischievous and playful than his older brother. The two had spent their entire lives watching their parents create stars, circulate planets, and sometimes send asteroids into projects that would not turn out the way they wanted. 

One day, Raja and Rani thought that it would be a good training exercise for Kumar to try and manage his own planet, and they provided him with a medium sized planet orbiting a small star on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. Kumar was elated, and instantly began to decorate his planet with stunning seas, mountains, beaches, and forests. He even created a cover of gases around the planet which would protect it from any asteroids gone astray. Proud of his work, he named his planet Earth.

Like any younger sibling, Ram had always competed with his older brother, and was extremely jealous when he saw what his parents had gifted Kumar. This envy quickly escalated as he observed Kumar taking delight in decorating his planet. 

Wanting to show his parents that he too was responsible enough to manage his own planet, Ram went to his older brother and asked if Kumar would share some of the planet with him. Kumar denied his request at first, but then changed his mind and gifted Ram a small block of clay from Earth. Kumar told Ram that he can create anything with this piece of clay, and Kumar would keep it on Earth. If the creation is both beautiful and successful, it would be a clear indicator that Ram is also ready to have his own planet. If the creation failed to impress, Kumar would destroy it. 

Elated, Ram quickly went to work. He used the clay to create a creature that looked similar to him; it walked on two legs, had two arms, and had a smiling face. He named it a human and went to show Kumar his creation.

Kumar was very amused by Ram’s human and placed it on a piece of land on his planet. Quite soon, the human started to multiply, and its clones were all over Earth. They became very smart and started to use the nature around them to their advantage. They cut down trees to use as shelter, and killed other animals. They even started to create their own inventions that would release a horrible black substance into the gas layer that Kumar had created.

Of course, Ram was delighted upon seeing the intelligence and efficiency of his humans, but Kumar was furious at the harm that his planet had suffered at the hands of the humans. He tried to get rid of them, but they were much too populated. So, Kumar used his power to curse as many humans as he could with negative qualities such as greed, evil, arrogance, and laziness. Kumar knew that this would be just as much of a punishment to Ram, and hoped that it would teach Ram a lesson. To this day, Ram is still paying his price as he watches the evil and sorrow of his once-beloved humans.

-Ayati M.

Ways to Stay Creative

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Many of us have probably experienced a creative block, whether it be for writing or art, at some point in our lives. Often, such blocks can be difficult to break out of, and can lead to us abandoning the task altogether. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Here are five tips to stay creative and get rid of artist’s block!

1. Create Distance

When you hit a block in your work, it’s actually a better idea to step away than to continue struggling. Create some distance between yourself and the task- go for a walk, talk to a friend, or even just step away from your desk and eat a snack. For bigger blocks, take a day or two off, and push the thought of the task to the back of your mind. That way, when you come back to it, you will feel rejuvenated and re-inspired.

2. Let Yourself Get Bored

Rather than try to chase down inspiration on the Internet or social media, let inspiration come to you! Put down all your devices and mental stimuli, and feel yourself get bored and start to daydream. Daydreaming, with no support from a stimulus, has been found to boost creativity.

3. Surround Yourself with Blue

It is exactly what it sounds like. Whenever you feel a creative block, try surrounding yourself with blue objects- sit in a blue room, or go outside so you can see the sky. Studies have shown that blue, being linked to peace, calm, and nature, can help us feel more creative and explorative!

4. Get Emotional

Inspiration most often tends to strike us when we are highly emotional. So do something that excites you! Go to a theme park or organize an outing with friends. However, negative emotions can also help stir up creativity- so you can even watch a sad movie or read a sad book!

5. Meditate

Meditation has long been used as a process to calm the mind and help shake loose new ideas from your brain. You should try it! If you feel incapable of sitting still and quiet for ten or fifteen minutes, try it in increments of three minutes. It will relax your mind and really help get your creative juices flowing!

-Vaidehi B.

Book Review: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows is a classic novel by Kenneth Grahame.  The stories in the book revolve mainly around a mole, a water rat, a toad and a badger.  These main characters, along with the other animals, are anthropomorphic.  They interact with humans and dwell in harmony together.  Mole is a gentle and timid creature.  Rat is quite practical and pragmatic.  Mr. Toad is exceedingly wealthy and boisterous.  Mr. Badger is elusive, but extremely wise.  Their stories weave together throughout the book.

Mr. Toad is particularly amusing.  One day, he brings along Rat and Mole for an exciting trip with his horse and gypsy cart.  Suddenly, a “motor-car” drives by and knocks the gypsy cart to the side of the road.  Mr. Toad is amazed by this new machine.  He becomes obsessed with the idea of acquiring and driving a motor-car.  This new obsession leads to many wild adventures, and many smashed motor-cars.  Things really get out of hand when Mr. Toad goes so far as to steal a motor-car.  He lands in prison for the crime, and finally begins to realize that his careless behavior has led to destructive consequences.  Still, his daring antics are quite entertaining.

Overall, I think The Wind in the Willows is a delightful book.  I loved reading about the little adventures of Rat and Mole, as well as the ongoing story of Mr. Toad.  I especially enjoy the differing personalities of each character and how they interact with each other.  The author incorporates various compelling themes, such as friendship, greed and redemption.  This is definitely a book that I would recommend to readers of all ages.

-Oliver H.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

Amazon.com: Cards on the Table: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot  Mysteries, 15) (9780062073730): Christie, Agatha: Books

When Mr. Shaitana, a flamboyant yet slightly sinister collector and party host, reveals to famous detective Hercule Poirot his newest “crime collection” – that of criminals who have evaded justice – Poirot naturally has some misgivings. These suspicions come to a head during an evening bridge party with the “collected” people, when Shaitana is murdered in full view of the entire room, all of whom have a reason to want their host dead.

The interesting aspect of Shaitana’s bridge party was the even matching of detective to murderer – four of each. The former group consisted of the previously mentioned Hercule Poirot, the mystery writer Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, and secret serviceman Colonel Race. In the latter group, Shaitana had “collected” Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Lorrimer, Anne Meredith, and Major Despard, each one with a criminal past.

Lacking a clear suspect, the detectives are forced to go far back into each person’s history to find the psychological connection between previous crimes and the murder of Shaitana. However, it quickly becomes clear that the murderer has only grown bolder with time, and as red herrings abound, the killer is not afraid to strike again…or again.

Cards on the Table is certainly a departure from Agatha Christie’s usual affair, but the plot is no less tightly woven, nor the end less surprising for it. Christie keeps the reader guessing throughout the novel until the dramatic final reveal. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Christie, or investigative novels in general, because it provides a new perspective to crimes and motives.

-Mahak M.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

Writing Tips!

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Creating things can be difficult.  Frequently, writers develop a lack of motivation or good ideas, known as writer’s block.  When in one of these moods it can feel impossible to begin writing, like your writing is no good, or that you will never finish on account of not finding the perfect synonym for “yesterday”.  

My brain’s most frequent writing issue is that I ramble.  My ideas come so fast, my fingers don’t have time to get them down on paper, and before I know it I’ve forgotten what I was writing and moved on to a completely different topic.  This leaves my writing sporadic, confusing, and without purpose.  

A tip to cope is letting go of your standards when you first start writing and entering a “brainstorming” mindset where your fingers can get down the most important parts of your ideas without having to worry about grammatical errors or better word choices.  This allows you to get more work done and gives you more material to work with during revision later.  You’ll also feel more satisfied with how much you were able to write and express yourself.  

This brainstorming mode can even take the form of a list or other grammatically incorrect forms.  Long run-on sentences branching out your ideas or even sketchy, bulleted outlines of stories all work to combat writer’s block, give you more motivation and satisfaction, and help you become a more confident and efficient writer.  You’ll be surprised how much more you’re able to get done!  Happy writing! 

-Giselle F. 

George and Lennie: Curley’s Context (Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck)

What if George from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men was charged with the murder of Lennie? What if Curley, the Boss’s stuck-up son was testifying? That too for the prosecution? I wrote my interpretation of Curley’s character and stance below – I hope you enjoy it!


I first met George and that monster-of-a-man Lennie the day they arrived at the bunkhouse. They struck me as strange from the beginnin’–they travelled together, and George wouldn’t let Lennie talk. My old man told me that Lennie barely said five words to him too. I knew they would be trouble, and what happened in the bunkhouse a few days later only made sure of that. 

Some of the guys had started to make fun of me after I asked them if they’d seen my wife, and I saw Lennie smilin’. I got mad! Usually, I can fight a big man and ever’body will hate on the big guy, and I honestly thought that Lennie wouldn’t have the pluck to fight back, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Lennie wouldn’t raise a finger until I made a proper job of his face, but when George yelled at him to get me, that big hulk grabbed my hand and crushed it in his. Slim convinced me to say that I got my hand stuck in a machine, but for some’un like Lennie to insult my dominance is unacceptable.

The day we found my wife’s body, I instantly knew who did it. I knew he was trouble, and I was still real mad about my hand, but I never could’ve imagined that the beast would take my wife’s life. I shoulda been the one to shoot that Lennie, and it woulda been completely fair if I had! However, Lennie’s death by George’s hands is a show of George’s cruelty.  

George and Lennie seemed to have the relationship of a dog and his master, with the dog completely dependent on his master but available at his master’s every wish or disposal. Lennie was a big guy, and he could’ve used that strength to his advantage loads of times, but he wouldn’t defend himself, or even talk without George’s permission. Workers never travel together, and Lennie’s actions make me think that the two were only travellin’ together because they were either runnin’ from something, or because they had foul intentions. Why, they could have been plannin’ murder all along.

As for the question of George’s sanity, I definitely think that he was in his right mind while shooting Lennie–he was not at all insane. Like I said before, if the two were runnin’ from something, George must’ve killed Lennie after the incident to spare himself a whole lotta trouble. It’s obvious that George sees Lennie as a burden, and shootin’ him under the excuse of Lennie being a killer was the perfect opportunity to lighten George’s shoulders.

-Ayati M.

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

Wow. As someone who spends hours having an existential crisis and constantly reads sad books to feel something. I think this book may have broken me.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is an absolutely brilliant book, if you understand it’s simple complexities. However I will admit, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

The book is set around Adeline LaRue, an eccentric young women set on living her own life. No restrictions, no arranged marriages, and plain freedom. But in France, 1714 she’s forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. Desperate to escape she prays to the gods as her mentor, Estelle, taught her. However, she went against Estelle’s greatest warning. “Never pray to the gods that answer after dark.” A god answers Addie, granting her freedom and also immortality. The consequence, you might ask? She will live forever alone, without being remembered by anyone she’s seen or met. She will never leave a mark on the world.

When she turns to her village, no one remembers her. To them she is a stranger, a traveler, someone foreign and lost. But once she was a daughter, a friend, and now she is nothing. Desperate, she flees and decides to travel the world.

I’ll spare you the boring details because this book sadly has little to no plot. Instead you just watch a lonely girl wander the world, stealing to live, and slowly losing herself in the process. No one remembers her except for Luc, the god who cursed her. Who visits her every year on her birthday to try and claim her soul. But Addie hasn’t given up and refuses to die despite being alone.

But one day, in New York, March 13, 2014. The boy in the bookshop remembers her name. He remembers her. For the first time in hundreds of years, Addie hears the words, “I remember you.” Three small worlds, that tug Addie’s heart.

Because of all the people in the word who have forgotten Addie, the boy in the bookstore is someone special. Or at least- now he is to Addie. The rest of the story is a blur of tragic backstories, clothes tinged with alcohol, and running through the rain. Classic hopeless romantic tropes that may or may not have made me swoon.

But as I said before, this book will break you. Because what qualifies as love? Is it someone you have a connection with? Is it someone who you know everything about? Honestly who knows. However V.E. Schwab decided to write a triangle of sorts. It may be a love triangle between a god desperate to obtain her, a forgotten girl, and a boy who just wants to be loved. Or it’s just three “people” connected by horrible misfortunes. But none the less, it can only end in one pair.

So I have one question for anyone who wants to or has read this book. The same question I wondered after reading this book. Can you be manipulated into loving someone without knowing? And would you still love them?

–Ashley Y.

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

What You May Want To Know Before Watching Dune

The movie adaptation of Dune by Frank Herbert, which is directed by Denis Villeneuve, will be released in theaters on October 22 this year. The first movie is the first of a trilogy that will cover the first two dune books, Dune and Dune messiah. The book having 22 chapters and 412 pages. Dune the movie will cover around the first half of the book so around 11 chapters in 2 hours and 35 minutes.

Dune written in 1965, was in part inspired by The Sabres of Paradise by Lesley Blanch published in 1960. Dune is one of the most popular and influential sci-fi books of all time has changed sci-fi and set the standard for a great sci-fi book. Dune has been adapted into a movie before in 1985, where they tried to cover the whole book leading to the movie being a failure. This time with the movie only covers the first half might portray the complex story better.

*There may be spoilers ahead*The story focuses on the character Paul Atreides a thoughtful and quiet boy and son of Duke Leto Atreides. Duke Leto is the Duke of Arrakis. Arrakis is the planet most of the story takes place on. The nickname or other name for the planet of Arrakis is Dune. Arrakis is called Dune because the planet is almost completely covered in deserts.

The villain is Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the Duke’s political rival and former owner of Arrakis. A power-hungry person he becomes the main villain trying to take control of Arrakis from the Duke.

Dune is expected to be a success, and from the looks of the trailer has great CGI effects. Do you think Dune will be a success or a failure?

-Luke G.

Book Review: American Betiya by Anuradha Rajurkar

American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar is a soft and bittersweet novel about an Indian-American girl’s journey through love and heartbreak.

When high school senior Rani Kelkar begins a romance with tattooed and moody school-bad-boy Oliver, she is forced to hide the fact from her Indian immigrant parents, and sneak around behind their backs, as she is not allowed to date yet.

At first, the relationship is perfect- Oliver makes her feel seen, makes her feel beautiful, in a way that no one has ever done before. But soon, Oliver’s problems with drugs and his family lead to him demanding more from Rani- pressuring her into situations she’s not comfortable with, and disguising increasingly alarming racial microaggressions as offhand comments and jokes. Eventually, things with Oliver come to a head- and Rani must choose between her first love and her family.

I really enjoyed this book, as it dealt with an issue I hadn’t really seen discussed in popular media before- the fetishization of women of color, and the seemingly harmless microaggressions and gaslighting they face. The content of the book really resonated with me as well- as a daughter of Indian immigrants, I fully understood Rani’s often-complicated relationship with her family, and what she initially saw in Oliver. Rani’s longing for India and her grandparents and extended family was a familiar feeling to me. However, Rani’s complete inability to recognize any sort of red flags in her relationship with Oliver was frankly frustrating. I understand that she was infatuated with him, but even then, she repeatedly brushed off or simply refused to acknowledge his questionable behaviors. Even so, this was an incredible read!

-Vaidehi B.