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Jessie Burton: The Miniaturist

Every woman is the architect of her own fortune.

The Miniaturist, written by Jessie Burton, begins with a conclusion, which sets the scene for some confusion, though is soon explained over time. Furthermore, although the prologue is written aside from the rest of the book, it is, nonetheless, significant. 

Burton writes The Miniaturist in present tense, which is suitable for the storyline. Plus, as most modern literature is written in past tense, this difference plays a major role in the enjoyment of the work. In hindsight, the tense chosen intensifies tension, depth, and pace. It feels as though you read “a movie,” with each scene similar to that of an act, a continuous moment of time. 

Now, onto its plot. Nella (our main character) is an outsider. Johannes, her husband, doesn’t seem to have much interest in her. Marin, his sister, is distinct and stern, a woman in charge rather than complicit. Their servants (Cornelia and Otto), too, are more open and harsh than the average servants/maids. Though only when Johannes gives her a replica of their home does she somewhat feel accepted. However, even then Nella confronts trouble, for as soon as she takes interest in ‘the miniaturist’ (a craftsman who creates miniatures), an unknown woman begins to watch her, as though she weren’t there. 

Later, when Johannes comes to the decision to take Nella to a feast at the Guild of the Silversmiths, Nella must confront her vulnerabilities, together with the tension and competition aroused by other traders. In addition, a notable confrontation occurs in this scene; Nella meets the Meermans, who have tasked Johannes with the storage and sale of their sugar. As the Meermans have a supercilious nature (which is soon shown in their behavior, dialogue, etc), further questions emerge, those which at first have no answers. 

I must take note of the major twists that happen throughout the book, some of which might seem uncomfortable to some readers. Therefore, make sure you’re fine with topics such as marriage, race, servitude, illicit romance, etc. They’re important to the storyline and atmosphere! 

That takes me to a theme I’d like to go into. A portion of the book is dedicated to what it means to be a wife, as Nella finds a hard time fitting into her role (I won’t explain – it’d be a spoiler!). In the process, she questions the necessity of childbirth and the hidden potentials she has as a woman; talents and opportunities she’s missed because of the church’s (and society’s) view of women. Though this is a common theme, it’s a nice refresher to have every now and again, notably because parts of it are quite prevalent to modern times. 

One aspect I admire is its ability to make us examine. For example, the suspense and distrust between newer and older characters is never rushed, off-kilter, or unreasonable. In fact, its stable pace makes room for realism, characters that behave and act as we might, even if the era and context varies from our own. It’s a rare and difficult element to integrate, but one that, at length, drives this work to be a (possible) classic. 

In short, The Miniaturist warns to handle misfortune with caution, as it might lead to continuous trouble … 

-Emilia D.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free on Overdrive.

Book Review: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is clever through its attempts to build character, plot, and atmosphere. Though classics are known for their rigorous word choice, Frankenstein is in fact in the middle of this type of spectrum. For the most part, language is simple to grasp, and does not shy away from the necessities of detail and plotline. In other words, it’s easier to follow than most classics you’ll encounter.

The story is set up as though the narrator were the author, recounting a tale a stranger tells him while on an expedition as captain. He, the stranger, is Victor Frankenstein, the inventor who would come to create a monster. This knowledge, coupled with Shelly’s other efforts to foreshadow, attributes to the tension and intrigue the narration creates. It allows for readers to engage thoroughly with the text, as we’re eager to learn the origins behind Frankenstein and his reasons for the creation of the creature. The more you discover about the character, the more you question his morals and decisions throughout the chronicle. 

The establishment of themes early on in the book makes way for their progression and development. For example, the idea of creation and dangerous knowledge is implied early on, and therefore clears a path for further acknowledgement of the main character’s lack of responsibility and recognition of consequences. Another important aspect to take note of is Shelly’s usage of weather. To illustrate, when Frankenstien is at the pinnacle of his misery (I won’t say why – that’d be a spoiler!), the tone/mood shifts to storm grey, which is supported by the thunderstorm that comes soon after. It is reasonable to assume a connection between unhappiness and rain, as such weather is known for its implications. Season, too, has it’s significance. The start of Frankenstien’s biggest woe occurs in spring, which is usually associated with rebirth and renewal. However, the shock of this major contrast between the real situation and the symbolism we come to know of with season leaves room for irony, and possible implications of doom for our “protagonist.” 

Near the resolution of Frankenstein, an important question arises: who is the “hero?” As I went through the plot and reflected afterwards, I came to the result that the answer to this makes Shelly a master of her craft. There is no hero – it’s more of who, or what, is the lesser evil. To explain, Victor is the creator of the monster, and therefore is responsible for the beast’s actions. Thus, his neglect, or lack of management over the creature created a domino effect, which led to Victor’s ruination. The fact that the monster was miserable and melancholy wasn’t exactly his fault. In reality, it can almost be concluded that Victor is more of a monster than the daemon he brought to life … 

-Emilia D.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Last Man by Mary Shelley

The Last Man, though a largely unknown work written by Mary Shelley, is quite a masterpiece. 

The book starts off with the importance of friendship, character interaction, and responsibility. Lionel (the main character), and his sister are orphans who first live a childhood of seclusion. However, they soon become friends of Prince Adrain, whose parents had known each other in their younger days. Though the depth of their camaraderie is somewhat unclear, the message sticks with readers as plot progresses. To illustrate, when I came across Lionel’s introduction to Adrian and the ties they began to form, it was crucial to take note of those moments in order to understand what was to come

(some vague spoilers will be mentioned in the next few paragraphs) 

Though the main topic of The Last Man is about annihilation, there are a few sections that precede the primary focus: Adrian’s illness, his revival of health through Lionel’s care, certain love relations and marriages occur, and the loss of love through the years. Therefore, observe these parts as a reader, and see what they might mean to you. It could significantly affect your perspective when the plague comes and begins to ravage the population. In hindsight, Mary Shelley adds these events prior to the disease in order to evoke certain emotions, whether it be sorrow, anguish, or pity. Books that make us feel are much more worthwhile than bland narration, as the miseries each character must endure allows such novels to feel closer to home, even if the cause of their pain is different from ours. To cry, laugh, and raise happiness are general sensations that enable authors to make the most of their craft. Anyhow, onto the plague.

The plague starts off in Eastern Europe and Asia, and eventually spreads to infect the Americas, Greece, and England (where the main protagonists reside). Therefore, a slow ruination of Lionel happens as he’s forced to witness the destruction of his countrymen. Moreover, as the illness consumes the globe, Lionel notices a shift in human behavior. He explains fear as a common reaction, an emotion so thick in the atmosphere that it’s as dominant as the air he breathes. In other words, he realizes that people are foolish to think themselves superior to the forces of nature. 

Before I come to a full resolution, a “character” that is hidden through most of the book, though which strikes me as significant, is Death. As described by Lionel, Death was a creature which originally came at night, a “thief which preyed on life.” However, as the plague began to plunder, it took on a new title – a conqueror. Therefore, Shelley’s creative attempts at figurative language gives room for the rise of certain themes, such as the truths of survival and existence. 

In short, The Last Man is about the realities of life, a reminder that we are expendable. 

-Emilia D.

Two Stories

Don’t chase dreams.

These were the words she’d remember, stuck between her riddled thoughts as though a shard of glass were lodged within. She’d press them or shake them, but their message remained the same.

Don’t chase-

Dreams. A fog in time, a cloud for her to fly in as space around her wilted to swim beneath the seas of age. She was an olive branch to her fears, a dove caught amidst the thorns of life.

She was torn.

Worn out, too, as though her skin were made of yarn, unwoven by the kindles of her sorrows. Such fantasies that hid in her soul’s cracks, she thought, could only be imagined by a madman.

She was indeed, mad, as ginger and rash as the freckles on her cheeks.

Once, as rain poured down like chords of a melody which spun from the tumultuous storms above, a spark in her blood awoke. With her in bed, she braided her harvest curls as though they had heard her traitorous ambitions and disapproved. Yet she could not help it, for she was, in her delusion, a dream too.

A shock of alarm struck her as quick as the realization came. For if she were to be the dream, then she needn’t pursue an illusion at all. 

A sudden smile crept to mark her lips, for a resolution had, for certain, come to ease her qualms.

She was the chase. 

─── ∙ ~εïз~ ∙ ───

She lives in her shadow, behind it, sometimes beside it. It does her everything, and that’s alright with her. It often cooks, or cleans the dust off shelves while she watches. She doesn’t impede. 

It goes on like this: it works, she sits. No one bothers her with chores, nor scolds her when she misses a corner, since she can’t. She just stares, content with her boredom.

Her nails grow thinner, brown at their sides. Edges near her eyes and ears wrinkle, though more often than not where she can’t see them. White hairs greet her black ones, and they accept their presence with no dispute. That’s how she’s worked through much of her troubles, anyhow. 

Her shadow continues its tedious labor, but she herself speaks none. Even her memories, alone and dim, have forgotten what it is to dream.

She waits for action to happen. For death to come, maybe, and rid her of misery. She’s naught, done none, never will do any.

Her shadow scrubs the floorboards, pats the beds. Feeds the pets, takes the kids to daycare. Day after night, past bedtime or at late dawn, it works. And she, ever in darkness, sits in her shadow’s wake.

-Emilia D. 

Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin, a film adaptation of Herge’s comic series, is an underrated masterpiece. Here’s why!

To start, a brief synopsis of the movie should be given. It begins with Tintin, a young reporter who shops at an outdoor market in Brussels, Belgium. Attended by his dog, Snowy, he buys The Unicorn, a replica of an old ship. As mysterious characters attempt to obtain the model from him, Tintin discovers that it contains clues that lead to a hidden treasure, but before he can act on it, he is taken by the notorious Sakharine. 

Now with a little context, I can move on with my explanation! 

#1: Visuals! Tintin is considered a “Noir Film,” since it applies shadows and dark radiance in order to capture audiences. It allows for the atmosphere to feel mysterious, harsh, and prepared for action. 

#2: Scene transitions! It’s somewhat hard to elaborate upon, but shifts between events of a movie can be quite difficult to smoothen out, but Steven Spielberg (the director of this film) was able to capture these moments easily while remaining true to the spirit of Tintin. If you decide to watch the movie, consider this!

#3: Characters! Tintin is portrayed as an energetic, curious reporter, exactly as depicted in the comic series. However, the added element of obsession that stems from his search to uncover the “secret of the unicorn” makes him more fun to watch. 

In 2019, there was some debate on plans for a sequel, as the original idea was to have two more movies after the release of the first. However, there have been some delays, due to redrafts of the script, the recast of certain actors, and slow production. As a major Herge fan, I hope there’s a chance of a second film in sight …

Before I conclude, I’d like to recommend that you check out Herge’s original comics. They’re a terrific, sweet read, and quick to grasp! Plus, it might also assist in the film’s general enjoyment. Therefore, look for “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” as these had the largest impact on the motion picture. 

Side Note: Top 3 Favorite Tintin Comics 

#1: The Castafiore Emerald – it reminds me of Seinfeld; as much as its conclusion might frustrate you, the elements of suspicion, doubt, and wonder hold your attention

#2: Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon – written almost two decades prior to the Apollo 11 mission, Herge’s imagination gives significance to space exploration

#3: The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun – not only is it filled with action, but it gives insight on old civilizations and customs thought forgotten

Final Result: a firm score of ★★★★★ 

How Art Helped Me Through the Pandemic

It’s been a tough year. No matter which school you go to, you likely had to stay home and work online for at least part of the school year. However, though it was a struggle to adjust, I find myself satisfied with how both semesters went. Why? It’s simple; art. 

I suppose art is a section of me – a chance for others to tap into parts of who I am that I wouldn’t naturally express, by choice. It’s a means to show a complete picture, whether it be raw emotion or opinions I hold, with full colors. In other words, art isn’t a wall to hide behind, it’s a banner to adhere to.  

Though art can be applied outside of quarantine, it made an important “comeback” for me then. When the significance of school is all you can focus on, it makes a difference on one’s attitude, and therefore art. However, this year gave me a chance to see both sides of the coin – to experience what it would be like to continue academic studies at home. As a result, my dedication to the arts increased as my worries over projects and exams were reduced. And though I’m eager to get back into a classroom, I can’t help but appreciate the extra minutes spent on what I love most. 

I asked a friend about how she felt art impacted her during the pandemic. She mentioned similar points, but one comment stood out to me. She stated that quarantine helped her “put experiences and memories to a distance,” where she could view them less “in the moment,” and more with an objective, artistic view. In short, it was her reminder of the freer days and old times, her method to arouse hope in an already difficult situation. 

Here are some tips if you ever need to “let go” and release. These tools apply no matter the situation! 

  1. Write. Don’t worry about complexity, just go for emotion. Sometimes the best work is done raw, rather than with technicalities. 
  2. Draw. Just scribble! Pour out what you’re going through. If it’s anger, doodle shapes, or simpler characters and backgrounds. If it’s joy, attempt to draw whatever makes/is making you happy. 
  3. If all else fails, read! There’s so much to choose from!

-Emilia D.

Event Recap: Summer Trivia Heroes and Villains!

Hi, all! This month, we have Summer Trivia hosted by the Mission Viejo Library once a week, on Friday! If you’d like to participate, please contact libraryprograms@cityofmissionviejo.org to receive the zoom link. 

I recently attended the Heroes and Villains trivia game, which was on July 16, 2021. It lasted about an hour, from 6:00 to 7:00, and it kept me engaged the entire time! There were three rounds altogether, with twelve questions per round. Plus, there were different avenues of popular culture represented, such as Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and Back to the Future! If you’d like a sample of the questions, here are a few that kept me on my toes!  

Round One: Heroes

  1. What material is Wolverine’s claws made from?
    1. Adamantium 
  2. What is the name of Superman’s home planet?
    1. Krypton
  3. Han Solo boasts that he got through the Kessel Run in how many parsecs?
    1. Less than twelve parsecs (tricky!) 
  4. In Back to the Future III, Doc Brown made a giant, steam powered machine in 1885 that created what?
    1. Ice (tricky!)
  5. What breed of dog is Scooby Doo?
    1. Great Dane

Round Two: Villains

  1. In the Back to the Future Trilogy, Marty McFly is antagonized by a member of the Tannen Family. Name each iteration as they appear in the trilogy.
    1. Biff Tannen, Griff Tannen, and Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen
  2. What is the name of Thanos’ home planet?
    1. Titan
  3. What children’s television performer developed a murderous obsession with Bart Simpson?
    1. Sideshow Bob
  4. In the animated version of Sleeping Beauty, what color is the magical orb that tops Maleficent’s staff?
    1. Yellow (tricky!)
  5. Who voices the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series?
    1. Mark Hamill

Round Three: Heroes AND Villains

  1. What is the name of Doctor Strange’s “home base” in New York?
    1. Sanctum Sanctorum
  2. What is the name of Wonder Woman’s magical rope?
    1. The Lasso of Truth
  3. Which Disney villain uttered this line: “Your father has charged me with keeping peace in Agrabah. That boy was a criminal.”
    1. Jafar
  4. What is the name of Superman’s retreat in the arctic?
    1. The Fortress of Solitude 
  5. What is the name of the Scooby Doo crew’s van?
    1. The Mystery Machine

How did you do? If you would like to sign up for further trivia, contact libraryprograms@cityofmissionviejo.org to receive the zoom link. Here are the dates and themes: 

July 23 @ 6:00-7:00 PM → Name that Tune: Disney Themes 

July 30 @ 6:00-7:00 PM → 5th Annual Harry Potter Trivia 

Have fun!