East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This novel was one I was required to read for school, but despite my apprehension when I saw how big it was, it actually turned out to be a great story that was captivating and an incredibly interesting read. The novel follows two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, specifically Adam Trask throughout his life. It is set mostly in Salinas Valley, California, where the Hamiltons live.

Adam’s early life is told through a series of flashbacks, where we see the impact of his father’s military career and his half-brother Charles’ jealousy. Adam was always his father’s favorite, and Charles, wanting nothing more than their father’s love, abuses Adam. Adam spends his young adult years wandering after a short time in the military before coming home, and when he does come home, he finds that his father has died and left him and Charles a significant sum of money.

At the same time, a girl named Cathy Ames is introduced, and from the beginning, she seems morally corrupted at her core. She is able to manipulate her parents into what she wants, she manipulates her teachers, her peers, and somehow is able to heap blame for evil actions onto everyone but herself. As she ages, she only becomes more vicious, killing her parents in a fire and using people as stepping stones to get where she wants. This inevitably goes wrong; a man beats her almost to death when he realizes she’s using him, and she is left on Adam and Charles’ doorstep. Adam falls in love with her, blind to her faults, and they move to Salinas Valley, where they meet Samuel Hamilton, intertwining the two families. They have two children, and the rest of the novel follows the children’s lives. 

East of Eden is one of those novels that doesn’t really have a climactic point; it’s more of a biographical story, following the complex lives of a few select people. One thing that I learned when analyzing this book in school was that Steinbeck intended this to be his own version of the story of Cain and Abel, and each pair in the novel reflects this: Charles and Adam, Cathy and Adam, Adam’s children Cal and Aron. However, the age-old story evolves into something greater here. While Charles and Adam were an accurate reflection of the original story, Cal and Aron are able to change it; Cal is supposedly “destined” to be the evil brother, but he realizes his wrongdoings and fights hard to correct them and correct himself.

The novel is a story of self-improvement and the way that the characters evolved really struck me as I read. East of Eden isn’t just a story highlighting a snapshot of someone’s life; I was in awe of what a masterpiece it is, portraying the best and worst of human life, teaching valuable lessons while keeping the story engaging.

-Adelle W.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

11/22/63 by Stephen King

This novel tells of Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher at his local high school, teaching some GED classes for extra money. One of his GED students, the high school’s janitor, Harry Dunning, writes a tear-jerking essay for his final, about how his family was killed by his alcoholic father and how he was crippled for life. 

A few years later, when Jake visits his friend, Al, at Al’s Diner, Al shows Jake a time portal in the pantry of his diner; Al, seems to have aged years within a day, explains that he had used the portal to travel back in time, and had lived years in the past before he developed cancer and had to return. 

The few rules to the portal are as follows:

  • Each trip to the past is a complete reset to September 9, 1958. Whenever you enter the portal, you’re undoing whatever you did the last trip.
  • Each time coming back from the past through the portal, no matter how long you stay, you come back two minutes after you left.
  • The past can be changed, impacting the future, but the past is also obdurate; it tries it’s very hardest to stop from being changed.

After Al shows Jake the ropes, he sends Jake on the mission that he had been unable to complete last time. From what Al has observed, everything bad in the world can be traced back to John F. Kennedy’s assassination; if Jake could stop the assassination, the world would likely be a better place. And if it wasn’t, he could always go back and reset it. 

Jake agrees to the plan, but adds a few elements of his own; he would drop by the Dunning household, and stop Frank Dunning from murdering Harry’s family. Then, he would wait until 1963, watching and monitoring the world around him, and stop Kennedy’s assassination.

The title of this novel definitely was the eye-catcher on the library bookshelf for me, in addition to its impressive size. The reality of life that’s starkly shown in this novel, contrasting the preposterous situation Jake enters into, is why I enjoyed it so much. He constantly feels the danger of discovery, injecting an underlying urgency into the story, but I also felt a wrenching desire for him to settle down when he finds a wonderful woman in a content little town where he could live a happy life in the past. 

There’s a sense of heroism to the story as well; armed with the knowledge of the future, Jake strives to do his best for the greater good of the world. However, the past is “obdurate;” he runs into so many obstacles when he tries to change things, ultimately causing more harm than good. It’s an excellent example of how good intentions do not necessarily bring good results.

-Adelle W.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

The sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep tells the story of adult Danny Torrance. Traumatized by the horrific events at the Overlook Hotel, he’s developed alcoholic tendencies like his father; however, when he settles in the town of Frazier, New Hampshire, Dan stops drinking and begins working at a hospice, helping dying patients pass on peacefully with his strong psychic abilities, or “shine,” earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

While he settles down, a girl named Abra Stone is born, and her shine is even more powerful than Dan’s. They sense and understand each other from when she is very young, all the way through most of her adolescence. 

They don’t see a need to actually meet until The True Knot, a group of people who feed off of shine, usually children’s, to keep themselves immortal, becomes aware of Abra’s immense power and comes for her. Dan and Abra together, along with a few friends in on the secret of the shine, work together to end The True Knot forever.

Dan’s character development was one of the first things that struck me deeply. No matter how much he swore to himself that he would never become like his father, he drinks and drinks, traumatized by the Overlook Hotel and afraid of his abilities. However, unlike his father, he realizes what he’s doing, and mends himself, using his abilities for good. 

Dan’s relationship with Abra was also an incredibly interesting element of this story. Despite never meeting before, the two psychics speak to each other like old friends when they actually meet, and Dan quickly takes on a fatherly role, helping Abra control her abilities. From the beginning, Abra is fundamentally good; though she makes mistakes and badly estimates some decisions, her actions are always for the betterment of others’ lives. 

After reading both this novel and The Shining, I would say that the sequel is more advanced and interesting than the original, although The Shining was crucial to setting the stage for Dan’s development and life. Doctor Sleep tells of the impact of psychological trauma, recovery from that, the use of power for good, and the development of family independent of blood relation. Some elements of the story are still chilling to the bone, as is Stephen King’s norm, but the novel overall develops the experience of life in addition to just the horror.

-Adelle W. 

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Ranger’s Apprentice series revolves around a boy named Will, an orphan taken in as a castle ward at Redmont fief, one of the fifty fiefs in Araluen. This first book follows his acceptance into the respected (and feared) Ranger Corps, the highly capable unseen protectors of the kingdom. As an orphan with no last name or memory of who his parents were, Will is set, along with his fellow wards, to be chosen by one of the Craftmasters and trained in service of the kingdom. 

However, Will’s skill set doesn’t fit any of the apprenticeships that his peers are chosen for. After Will climbs the tower up to the Baron’s office to try and find out his fate and the mysterious Ranger Halt catches him, he’s told that he would be most suitable for Ranger training. He learns to use the Ranger’s choice weapons, the bow, a throwing knife, and the specially made saxe knife, and learns the art of unseen movement, the key to a Ranger’s job in protecting his assigned fief. 

Meanwhile, Morgarath, the lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, exiled from Araluen, plots his revenge against the kingdom. Having been planning for 15 years, he begins to mobilize his army of monstrous Wargals and unleashes the terrifying Kalkara, huge beasts of war that can freeze a man with their eyes. When word of this gets to Araluen, the Ranger Corps are put on high alert. Will, Halt, and another Ranger, Gilan, set off to track and kill the Kalkara. The book ends with Araluen mobilizing for war with Morgarath.

In addition to Will’s journey towards becoming a Ranger, I was particularly taken with his interaction with Horace, one of the castle wards and one of Will’s long-time bullies. Horace is accepted to Battleschool, training to be a knight; however, since he was alienated as an orphan, many of the other knight apprentices begin to bully him, causing Horace, in turn, to lash out at Will. After Halt gets rid of the Battleschool bullies, the two boys reconcile their differences and become fast friends; they see past their conflict and find a true friend in each other. I learned something crucial from this: that hostility is often rooted in something that can be solved with listening and understanding.

I love this series because it can be enjoyed immensely by anyone of any age; Flanagan transformed stories composed for his son into 12 artfully written novels of heroism, humor, and friendship. I highly recommend this book and this series to anyone in need of a fun and satisfying read.

-Adelle W.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

This chilling horror novel, set in the small town of Ludlow, Maine, captured my attention from the first sentence and kept it until the very end. It tells the story of Dr. Louis Creed and his family when they move from Boston to Maine. Louis, Louis’ wife Rachel, the Creed children, Ellie and Gage, and Ellie’s cat Church, settle into this new environment with mixed feelings.

From the first day they’re there, they experience strange occurrences and frightening events; on Louis’ first week at his new job as director of campus health services at the University of Maine, a student named Victor Pascow is brought in, severely injured. He says his last words to Louis specifically, warning him about the “pet sematary” that the story revolves around. 

Louis’ awareness of the pet cemetery prompts chilling dreams of Victor Pascow and the cemetery. This, combined with Rachel’s severe anxiety about death due to the traumatizing death of her sister as well as the family’s overall discomfort with moving, makes the family dynamic strained, quick to argue. 

The Creed’s neighbor, Jud Crandall, explains, after much prodding, the pet cemetery is known throughout the town to raise pets from the dead. In fact, when Church is hit by a truck speeding on the highway near their home, Jud takes Louis to the cemetery, showing him how to bring the cat back. However, the cat comes back different than he was before; he acts differently, and even his fur is coarser to the touch. 

Months later, when Gage suffers the same fate as Church did, the pet cemetery comes up as an option for Louis to get his son back, despite the horrifying consequences that his actions would bring. Louis comes back again and again to the thought of the cemetery, and he eventually makes a decision that destroys his life forever. 

Stephen King is a master at creating an aura of unease with his storytelling. The “pet sematary’s” involvement in the story builds with every chapter, making the book impossible to put down but also frightening to the core. The depiction of real human relationships and interactions between Louis, Jud, and the other characters are interwoven beautifully with the underlying horror, making it seem like this story could happen to anyone of us, wherever we are. 

Understandably, this book might not be for everyone; it has a tendency to spark nightmares and frightening thoughts for those unaccustomed to thriller novels, and even for those who are. Due to the amount of gore and unforgiving description of the worst parts of life, this book is likely not suitable for younger readers. However, for fans of horror like me, or those readers who are just in the mood to be scared, this novel is, in my opinion, one of the best written novels in the horror genre. 

-Adelle W.

Pet Semetary by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library