Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s most well-renown classic, Little Women, has been well-loved by readers everywhere for decades, and it’s easy to see why.

 Not only is the book filled with warmth and the beauty of family and childhood, but its characters and plot are incredibly believable, more so than most books you may read. It is because the story is in fact simplistic, regarding the lives of the March sisters and what happens in their beautifully ordinary life, that it so easily draws in the reader. Many stories go above and beyond what can be believable when it comes to the plot and therefore can disconnect the reader from the book because the sense of relatability is then gone. However, such is not the case with Little Women, as the story takes place on a smaller, simpler scale, seldom varying away from what goes on in the March family home, and is, therefore, all the more lovable and sweet.

Though I will not skip over the fact that yes, there were some slower, less interesting parts, overall the book was a sweet read filled with moral lessons that can still be understood and implemented today, and lovable, though humanly flawed characters. No such one character is perfect or entirely likable within this book, as is almost always the case for the protagonist, who is always the unassuming yet nearly perfect hero. Each of the March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy), all have their own fair share of flaws and imperfections, and this is clearly depicted from the beginning of the book, adding a level of realism and humanity to what otherwise would have been a rather slow-paced story. 

Little Women is indeed a very long book; but a worthwhile, cozy read, the length being attributed to the fact that it spans over a long duration of time, as the book first begins in the midst of childhood and ends many years later. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are a big fan of other classics or simply want a book that is a good, light-hearted read without losing any of its lifelike qualities.

-Aisha

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a must-read. An absolute must read, no doubts about it. 

Told in the first-person perspective of Jane herself, it’s a story about her life, written almost in an auto-biography style, though the book is indeed fictional. Beginning during Jane’s loveless childhood where she lives with her cruel, unfeeling Aunt and cousins as an orphaned little girl and then later transitioning to her life in a strict girl’s boarding school, Jane then goes on to become a teacher for a couple of years before applying herself to become a governess. She then finds herself a good job as the governess of a young French girl in a manor named Thornfield Hall, home of the brooding, seldom-seen owner, Mr. Rochester. 

Though there can be no doubt that the book does revolve around the romance that takes place in Jane’s life, the book is about Jane and her as a person more than it is anyone else. Her beautiful reflections and mature understandings of life are insightful and filled with deep wisdom and truth, often taking center stage in the book. I found myself admiring Jane many times as I read through the book simply due to how steadfast she is in staying true to herself and her beliefs. Jane exhibits this often throughout the book, refusing to step down in the face of opposition, to cave under pressure, even when it pains her greatly to do so, and instead, constantly striving to adhere to her values.

Due to this trait, Jane as a character can be described as altogether independent, brave, and steadfast, but also someone who has a heavy feeling and emotive heart, a desire for purpose, and a quiet, contemplative exterior. 

Jane is the perfect embodiment of a strong female character, but even in being so, she is not un-feminine or unfeeling, but quite the opposite, with a garnered heart that loves and is inclined to serve and care. 

With everything that makes up Jane and who she is, this masterpiece of a character feels too real to be fictional. This is much accredited to  Charlotte Bronte’s beautifully descriptive, explanatory way of writing which is what breathes life into the story. The beautiful language, the common appearance of beautiful places in nature, the slow-moving get captivating plot along with the different characters that you meet along the way altogether creates the perfect read. 

But the true heart and soul of the story lies within Jane. The book is titled Jane Eyre, for what I believe is the sole purpose being that Jane is the story. And I promise you, Jane is worth every single page of reading this book.

-Aisha

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Little Things That Count

Though it may seem cliche, it’s undeniably true that it’s the little things in life that count. Never underestimate or overlook the little things. Even if only the dewdrops clinging to the blades of grass in the morning or the sight of the setting sun, never let these little things escape your notice. Noticing and acknowledging the little things in life are keys to enriching the life you are already living in. Because sometimes, you are not able to change your circumstances and in truth, we don’t actually need to change our reality, but rather our perceptions.  And one of the simplest, yet easily undermined ways to do this is to pay attention to the little things.  Hold on to the little things, and the rest of life falls into place.

Of course, the only way to consciously make an effort to do so is to be aware. And sometimes, we don’t like feeling aware, whether it be of ourselves or our surroundings. Many of us don’t want to sit still with the thoughts in our mind or notice that piece of litter on the side of the road. And I understand that. Yet, you can’t see the wonderful things without noticing all the not-so-wonderful things, because of course,  that is how you gain perspective and gratitude for the little things that you do have. 

After all, you can’t possibly come to be grateful for a gift that you were too blind to notice that you had in the first place. So do not fail to take notice. 

Although at first, it may feel uncomfortable or unimportant to really and truly open up your mind and your heart to experiencing things in greater magnitude, more often than not, many people find this to give them a sense of peace. 

Noticing the small things means taking extra time and care, even if only mentally. But as we all know, your mental state plays a huge factor in the way that you live and see your life. If your mind can consistently remain slowed, calm, and focused on the good things no matter how small, then no matter your surroundings or the circumstances, and no matter how dark the night, you will be able to know that the sun will come again in a short while. 

There’s a common quote that’s often used simply put: “No rain, no flowers”. In order to notice and appreciate the flowers, you must also notice and come to appreciate the rain.

Hardships in life are never easy, but they are what make us learn and grow, so that when you stumble out of the storm and see the newly-bloomed flowers, you come to know what relief and gratitude mean, and you obtain the wisdom as to know that the storm you were caught in was not for nothing at all. 

So, to whoever may read this, feel no sheepishness or guilt in “stopping and smelling the roses” today. Notice the little things, but also do them. Maybe you can be someone else’s living proof that the world isn’t so bad after all, so do not hesitate in offering that kind word or extending a giving hand when the opportunity comes your way.

-Aisha E.

Being an Introvert

I am an introvert. 

Now, when this word comes to mind, many automatically think of someone who is shy, meek, or quiet. I’m sorry to say that, although many introverts may happen to have these characteristics, that is not the definition of what an introvert is. Introverts are simply people who obtain their energy from being alone, rather than with people, unlike extroverts. Introverts are not always shy, however. I’d like to make that clear, despite the irony in the fact that I, an introvert, very much so identify as a shy individual until I feel comfortable with someone. Once I do feel comfortable, however, I am an incredibly talkative person and can easily spend hours discussing things from every which subject. That being said, although I do enjoy having good conversations and spending time  with friends and family like any other person, at the end, I usually will feel drained and exhausted.

That’s my introverted side. The desire to be alone, especially after a long duration of socialization– not the trait of shyness. This is because socializing, especially in large groups or in loud settings, can be overstimulating all at once, and for the introvert, the way that they can revert back to base one is by being alone, away from all of the hustle and bustle. 

So yes, contrary to popular belief, introverts do in fact like going out (on occasion).

Being an introvert does not mean you want to be alone twenty four hours of the day, seven days a week. It just means if you had to, you probably could without losing your mind. And yes, while humans are naturally social with one another, sometimes, being around other humans can be mentally exhausting, even if for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on. Thus is the nature and life of an introvert.

A key point about introverts is that, when it comes to people, wanting to be away from them is honestly not personal in the slightest, nor does it signify that we dislike most people. In fact, you can love the person you’re being around and still feel exhausted after spending a long period of time with them.

For introverts, not wanting to be around other people, especially loved ones, should not be taken as a personal offense. It just means we need some time, alone and only alone, to clear our heads. Simply put, being in the presence of another person hinders us from achieving this. Introverts will simply just continue to nosedive in energy and dwindle in liveliness the longer that they are forced to stay out and about and with others. It sounds stupid, maybe, or even a bit stuck-up. But, I promise you, introverts don’t mean to be rude. They don’t hate people. But they’ll be in much better spirits if you just leave them be for a few hours when they ask to be left alone. 

All this being said, many people don’t really know if they are introverted. 

Here’s a few questions to ask yourself and think about. 

Do you thrive off of time spent alone? Find inspiration and motivation coming to you when you are alone? Wish you had more time to yourself? Feel up for doing a social activity or attending a social gathering after you’ve already spent a good portion of time alone? And, if you go out or spend time with others, upon your return, do you usually notice that you feel drained? By drained, I mean, do you often notice you feel tired? Irritable? Scouting for a place to be that is quiet? Not in any mood to talk? With a headache, maybe? If so, you are most likely an introvert.

Welcome to the club of “I-Often-Need-Time-To-Myself-Please-Leave-Me-Alone-Thank-You”.   

I know some might consider it to be awfully selfish to “need” down-time. Such a first-world problem, one might scoff. But then again, when it comes to being an extrovert, I can’t possibly begin to see how someone could get need to get their energy and their mood up from constantly being in the companionship of others. To me, this is a bizarre concept to imagine being my reality. But, see, that’s why everyone’s different. Some of us are introverts, some of us are extroverts. And some of us are stuck somewhere in the middle: ambiverts, as the term has been coined. 

With all of this being said, never feel bad if you are in fact a quieter soul; an introvert in a world that seems to cater only to extroverts. Never feel that craving time to yourself and silence is a bad thing. After all, everyone’s always preaching about how good it is to begin your day in silent meditation or to have some sort of ritual where you are alone. Many have only just begun to discover the joys that come along with being alone, and the hidden wisdom’s behind it as well–something introverts have known all along. Because, truly, silence will always feed your soul thousand times more than noise.

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

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I recently finished the newly-released prequel to the well-known Hunger Games series, written once again by author Suzanne Collins. I loved the original trilogy so much and consider them among my favorite books, so, as you can imagine, the idea of a prequel was very exciting. Originally, the Hunger Games series was set in a post-war, dystopian era in the country of Panem, and the setting in this book is no different, other than the fact that the events within it took place earlier in time. 

Panem is divided into twelve districts of people with the Capitol as the grand center and overarching control over all. The point of the Games is to allow each district to remember their overwhelming powerlessness against the Capitol, as every year two tributes from each district  between the ages of twelve and eighteen are reaped and then forced to fight to the death in a gruesome, twisted show of entertainment, similar to ancient gladiators, while the rest of the country watches them live on television. 

Now, contrary to popular belief, this book is neither about Haymitch or Finnick, who were both characters from the original trilogy who would have indeed had interesting backstories, but rather about another intriguing character: President Coriolanus Snow. Snow was never a central character in the original trilogy, so we know little to nothing of his backstory and character, other than the fact that he is considered the trilogy’s corrupt villain, in the form of the cold, menacing leader of Panem. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes explores Coriolanus as to what he was like as an eighteen year old Capitol boy. From the very beginning, you can easily see how this young man will inevitably rise to power. 

This book, though often going at a slow pace, gives you insight to what life was like before Katniss ever came into the picture, and before the Games were the lively, twisted events that they were, as Coriolanus is a mentor. Funny enough, Coriolanus ended up being the mentor of the girl tribute of District Twelve, Lucy Gray. This was much to Coriolanus’s dismay, as being part of the Snow family entails a sense of superiority and importance, and being given a tribute from poor and lowly associated District Twelve is nothing short of a slap in the face for him. 

The concepts this book presents are interesting, the plot featuring many twists and turns, and there many notable characters throughout the story.  You never quite know what will happen on the other side of the page. The story unfolds slowly, but with very sharp bumps in the road. I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoyed the other three installments of the series.

-Aisha E.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Summer Book and Movie Recommendations

As an avid reader, I’m always looking for new books to read. Here is a list of books, many of which I consider my all-time favorites, but some are simply ones that enjoyed and would recommend to anyone in search of a good read:

  1. The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
  2. The Hunger Games Series (and its newly-released prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) by Suzanne Collins
  3. When, by Victoria Laurie
  4. Dessert First, by Dean Gloster
  5. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
  6. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  7. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  8. The Raft, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
  9. If I Should Speak, by Umm Zakiyyah
  10. Night, by Ellie Weisel

As for a few movie recommendations, I once again have to include Harry Potter and Hunger Games! But I’ll also be adding others, once again, either more of my all-time favorites or just all-around good movies.

  1. The Harry Potter Series
  2. Pride and Prejudice
  3. The Aeronauts
  4. The Hunger Games Series
  5. The Lord of the Rings series
  6. The Rise of Skywalker
  7. Inception
  8. Little Women
  9. Interstellar
  10. Collateral Beauty

Quarantine Recipe: Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

Because the majority of us have been staying home with lots of time on our hands, especially as it’s the middle of  Summer, I thought I’d share how to make a fun homemade treat which only uses only a couple of ingredients. Homemade peanut butter cups may sound like too much work, but it’s actually quite an easy recipe and yields good results.

What You’ll Need:

Measuring cups

Saucepan or microwave-safe glass bowl

Tablespoon

Two muffin tins

Muffin liners

Ingredients: 

-2 Cups Chocolate Chips (I used semi-sweet, but you can use milk chocolate or dark if you prefer)

-½ Cup peanut butter

– 2 tablespoons coconut oil–optional 

Directions:

  1. Measure  the chocolate chips and melt them, either over the stove in a saucepan or in the microwave in a microwave-safe dish.  Also, a quick tip–I’ve heard that adding a few tablespoons of  coconut oil to your chocolate helps it melt into a smoother consistency, so you can add some to your chocolate if you’d like.
  1. While waiting for the chocolate to melt, line your muffin tins with muffin liners. Once the chocolate is evenly melted, begin spooning about a tablespoon of chocolate per muffin liner, or as much is needed to ensure that the bottom of the wrapper is covered entirely and evenly.
  1. Now, measure the peanut butter and place it in a bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Afterward, stir it gently and begin spooning about a tablespoon into each of your individual muffin liners. (This part can be a little messy, and I learned the hard way! I’d recommend putting your muffin tins with just the chocolate in the freezer until it hardens, that way when you’re ready to add the melted peanut butter, you’ll have a much easier time doing so.)
  1. Using the rest of your melted chocolate, spoon some chocolate on top of the peanut butter, enough until it fully covers the peanut butter beneath it; approximately one to two tablespoons. 
  1. Place the muffin tins in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour, or until they are fully hardened. Once hardened, take them out and allow them to reach room temperature before serving. Enjoy:)

Dessert First by Dean Gloster

The book Dessert First by Dean Gloster can be summed up in one word: beautiful. The story is about a teenage girl, Kat, who is struggling to hold everything together after her little brother Beep relapses with leukemia. With her father being distant and constantly at work, her mother uptight due to her anxiety, and her older sister’s rude remarks, Kat turns to online friends for support. And between all of this, she struggles to complete homework assignments and with her feelings towards her old best friend, who she feels betrayed by.

This book is truly something special which would make me laugh aloud, yet also induce tears. With her witty and sarcastic sense of humor and the sadness that plagues her, Kat seemed to spring out of the pages as a real person. The book very much regarded her journey, through her pain and the feelings that came with it–confusion, anger, sadness, hope, and love.

Eventually, Kat was able to find the silver lining. And as her brother Beep had said to her “Always eat dessert first”, as in to live life to the fullest, and to remember that even after the worst of times, life can be good again.

-Aisha E. 

Dessert First by Dean Glosteris available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Night by Elie Wiesel

The book Night by Elie Wiesel is an inside look at the holocaust through the eyes of a young Jewish boy. It is the real story of the author, which is why it is so astounding. I believe that his purpose for writing it was to shed light on how devastating the holocaust was, the concentration camps, and what it means to be broken as an individual. It is filled with so much pain and suffering, and yet that was what made it undeniably real. His life during this period of time was so horrible that he longed for death as opposed to the darkness of the world around him.

Without the basic human needs for food, water, shelter, and warmth, the spirit begins to weaken. This caused him to be angry at God and his initial strong beliefs to falter, which was heartbreaking, as now, without his family or religion, he was utterly and completely alone.

Though the book could be dark and upsetting due to its raw storyline, it was also very eye-opening for me, as I learned many new things about the holocaust and also perceived it through the eyes of a young boy. Although he endured the worst struggle of his life during that time and lost the ones he loved most, him telling his story can be an inspiration for people to never give up.

-Aisha E.

Night by Elie Wiesel is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library