Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four - Wikipedia

The year is 1984. The world has been divided into three parts: East Asia, Eurasia, and Oceania. Though they are three distinct regimes, each rules with the same iron fisted totalitarianism. There is constant war between the three countries, and at any given time two nations are fighting against the other; as a result, food and other supplies are low, and the people are deprived of basic necessities. Speak (or even think) out, however, and you will be suppressed instantly, facing certain torture and death. This is the world crafted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Winston Smith, a citizen of Airstrip One of Oceania (formerly known as London), is a member of the super-state’s Outer Party, working at the ironically named Ministry of Truth, where he and his colleagues tamper with historical records to reflect the current stance of the government. Despite the nature of his work, Winston dreams of the end of the Party and expresses his thoughts in a journal, putting him in danger of being arrested for “thoughtcrime.”

However, when he meets and falls in love with Julia, one of his co-workers, his acts of rebellion become more tangible, as the two of them begin a secret love affair that would cause both of their deaths should they be found out. Throughout this, Winston and Julia learn of a secret underground resistance force only known as “The Brotherhood,” which they hope to join in order to escape the suffocating rule of the Party’s nebulous leader, Big Brother.

Unfortunately, Winston and Julia are betrayed, and their struggle to find love and hope in the midst of a totalitarian regime ultimately comes to naught. Although the novel was published in 1949, the scarily accurate depiction of absolute state control has continued to haunt modern times with regimes displaying the same kind of totalitarianism as Orwell predicted in his groundbreaking novel. Few governments have reached the height that Nineteen Eighty-Four predicted, but if the world continues on its current path, that kind of totalitarian future may be much closer than one might imagine.

-Mahak M.

1984 by George Orwell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Renowned for its masterful portrayal of a Hobbes-inspired misanthropic view of human nature, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies serves as one of the greatest novels to come out of World War II, despite being published nearly a decade after it. It chronicles the tale of a group of young boys stranded on a remote island, and depicts their struggle to maintain peace and civility without any authority, which eventually culminates in the creation of two radically different tribes – one for violence, one for rationality.

Lord of the Flies opens with the crash of an airplane containing a class full of British schoolboys. Ralph and Piggy, two of these unfortunates, use a conch to summon the rest of the boys who have crashed on the island, who have ranging ages and needs. Initially, Ralph and Jack, the power-hungry leader of the school choir boys, get along with each other in order to be rescued, but as the time drags on with no sign of civilization, the boys begin to crack, and turn to the darkness for salvation.

Over the course of the novel, the bright light of civilization begins to flicker and die in the face of the overwhelming darkness brought about by the boys’ belief that there is a “Beastie” watching over them, waiting to kill them all. Using the fear to his advantage, Jack turns the group against Ralph, Piggy, and those allied with them, and the majority of the boys become savage hunters, and violence becomes their only means of communication.

Overall, Lord of the Flies is a classic read, and definitely raises some interesting points. It reveals that despite humanity appearing to be a civilized group, beneath that mask lies violence and savagery, which is only uncovered when people are distanced from established civilization. In a way, even in a civilized environment, the beast in man continues to rear its ugly head, and unless humans are able to control their violent urges, humanity will end up exactly as Hobbes predicted in Leviathan, living lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

-Mahak M.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Extract | The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - Penguin Books Australia

The land that was once the United States of America has been taken over by a totalitarian theocracy known as Gilead. In this new government, society is divided into rigid castes, ranging from the powerful Commanders to the lowly Handmaids, with other classes like the Commanders’ Wives and the working Marthas and Econopeople in between.

With the laws of Gilead being based on select passages from the Bible, women are reduced to almost nothing, and have little to no freedom. For instance, they are not allowed to read or write, they must cover their hair and bodies in order to avoid tempting men to sin, and they cannot even choose who they associate with or marry.

The unfortunate women who are “chosen” to become Handmaids, however, lose even more – their basic right to their own bodies. Because of dangerously low reproduction rates, fertile Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving. Despite their importance, the Handmaids are treated as their Commander’s property, only to be seen and not heard.

The narrator, Offred, is among the class of the Handmaids, and she belongs to the man named Commander Fred, as well as his Wife, Serena Joy. Stripped of her name, her body, and her past life, all Offred has left is her voice, which she uses to describe the horrors of Gilead in a way that drives even the most hard-hearted audience to pity. 

Margaret Atwood’s writing skills are brilliant, and she weaves the world of Gilead in a gripping masterpiece that will occasionally cause the reader to be lost inside the dystopian hellscape that is The Handmaid’s Tale. However, the epilogue (which I will not spoil here) leaves a last bit of hope for the reader that will leave them feeling both bitter and optimistic about the future.

-Mahak M.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie

Lord Edgware dies by Agatha Christie

When beautiful actress Jane Wilkinson asks the great detective Hercule Poirot for advice, a reader may expect the usual Agatha Christie repertoire – blackmail, threats, perhaps multiple near-death encounters. The real reason, though, is relatively innocent: divorce from Janees eccentric husband, Lord Edgware. Mysteriously, when Poirot confronts Lord Edgware, he remarks that he has already agreed to the divorce, arousing Poirot’s suspicions regarding the true nature of the request.

Things come to a head when Lord Edgware is found murdered shortly thereafter and all signs point to his estranged wife. While it initially appears to be a cut-and-dry case, Jane is revealed to have an airtight alibi – she was attending a dinner party that same evening, leading the search for suspects to branch out for people who not only wanted Lord Edgware dead, but Lady Edgware hanged too.

As Poirot sets out to prove Jane Wilkinson’s innocence, it becomes immediately clear that suspects abound, considering that everyone who knew Lord Edgware despised him. Among the most prominent people are his daughter Geraldine, who hated him; his nephew Ronald, who Lord Edgware cut off from his inheritance; the talented mimic Carlotta Adams, who is shown to have an interest in the Edgware fortune; and Bryan Martin, a lover-turned-hater of Jane Wilkinson.

Red herrings and suspicious acts abound in this stunning example of Agatha Christie at her finest. Even experienced readers may find themselves unable to determine who really killed Lord Edgware until the final, startling conclusion expertly delivered by the always brilliant Hercule Poirot. 

-Mahak M.

Lord Edgeware Dies by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa: 9781101911815 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Consider an ordinary object lying around your house – for example, a marker. Now, imagine that object being completely erased from your life and the lives of every single person you know. Not only that, all memories of using a marker vanish from your consciousness. You haven’t a clue what a “marker” is, what it’s used for, how to pronounce it – “marker” has been completely eradicated from your vocabulary. Repeat this harrowing process ad infinitum, and you have the premise of The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa.

On an unnamed island, every inhabitant fears the brutal Memory Police, a secret task force committed to ensuring that objects that have disappeared remain forgotten by the population. However, there are those who are gifted (or cursed) with the ability to recall the disappeared items, and they are in danger of being “disappeared” themselves by the Memory Police.

When a young novelist who lives in this nightmarish world realizes that her editor, only referred to as “R,” is one of the few people who are able to recall vanished items, she makes a plan to hide him in a secret room beneath her floorboards. As time goes on, and more essential items begin to vanish, the inhabitants of the island begin to lose their sense of self, and the novelist and R cling to her writing as one last way to preserve the past. 

A hauntingly surreal portrayal of the importance of memory and the terrors of state surveillance, The Memory Police is a powerful dystopian novel involving the terrifying erasure of the past, the inability to distinguish an individual from the collective, and an overall feeling of horror that slowly descends upon both the island people and the reader. 

For fans of chilling Orwellian novels that make one consider the significance of the past as well as the present and future, The Memory Police is a fantastic novel that checks all of those boxes and more, and I would definitely recommend it to all.

-Mahak M.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World: Aldous Huxley: 9780060850524: Amazon.com: Books

One of the most prominent dystopian novels of all time, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World explores a horrifyingly relevant potential society in which all individuals are in a perpetual state of bliss and “innocence,” and are unaware of pain or unhappiness. However, like all seemingly utopian worlds, there is a dark side.

In the World State, people are no longer born – they are “decanted” and treated according to their predetermined place in the extremely rigid caste system, from the intelligent Alpha Pluses to the Epsilon Semi Morons who have their development stunted.

Rather than contemplate the morality of this, the citizens are brainwashed to not care through sleep hypnosis techniques, which convince each class that they are best suited for said caste, and that they should not challenge it, completely eliminating free will from a young age.

Additionally, to keep the citizens complacent with the control of the World State, they are encouraged to participate in activities that bring pleasure, while at the same time discouraged from getting pregnant or becoming parents (a slur in the World State). The people continue to be submissive through an excessive consumption of soma, a drug that induces feelings of happiness and bliss.

When Alpha Plus Bernard Marx and his date, Beta Plus Lenina Crowne, travel to a Native American reservation and meet John, a “savage” with connections to the World State, their lives are changed forever. John’s inability to reconcile his idealistic notions of love and life, obtained from old copies of Shakespearean works, and the reality of the World State causes conflict between himself and Lenina, who he loves.

All in all, Brave New World is a fascinating read, not only for those who enjoy dystopian fiction, but also as a warning for an overly mechanized future, in which individuals are not treated as such, and are instead manipulated into becoming perfect cogs in a reproductive machine.

-Mahak M.

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (1996? edition) | Open Library

In the world devised by Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game, humanity has successfully achieved interstellar travel at the speed of light, and have been forced to foil two invasions of an insectoid alien species referred to as “buggers.” Anticipating the third invasion, the military has devised the Battle School, a program in which very young children of superior intellect are trained in battle strategies and other fighting maneuvers in order to protect humanity’s future. 

At Battle School, children are sorted into “armies” and forced to devise strategies and compete against each other in a mimicry of a real alien invasion. The protagonist of the novel, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, who was taken from his family at the age of 5, is praised for possessing an undeniably brilliant and strategic mind, perhaps the best in the entire academy. 

Quickly working his way up the “ladder,” Ender becomes the youngest leader of an army with a 100% success rate, but his status as the best of the best wins him as many enemies as it does allies. Eventually, Ender graduates and joins the space force to defend Earth from the third “bugger” invasion, but his strategies come at a cost not obvious at first glance. 

While it may not be as well known as some other sci-fi classics, Ender’s Game is intriguing in that it raises some interesting psychological questions regarding the morality of training and harming children for the sake of the greater good. Personally, Ender’s Game has always been one of my favorite novels, and I would definitely recommend it to all readers, especially if they are fans of the sci-fi adventure genre.

-Mahak M.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

A confession from a dying woman to a Catholic priest may seem an ordinary occurrence, but when that same priest is struck dead in the fog not a few hours later, found with a list of names hidden in his shoe, a deep conspiracy involving families across the country is unveiled, all revolving around one place: the Pale Horse.

Mark Easterbrook, a young man and author, observes a fight between two young women, only to later discover that one of the opponents died of the flu a mere week later. When Mark later meets with his old friend, the police surgeon, the death becomes less clear when he observes that the woman’s name is on the list. After learning from a friend of the Pale Horse inn, a place that is rumoured to anonymously arrange deaths, a gruesome truth surrounding the list begins to emerge from the darkness.

With the help of fiery redhead Ginger Corrigan, a friend of Mark’s who lives near the Pale Horse, Mark must operate undercover in order to save the lives of possibly hundreds of people whose deaths are meticulously being planned by the most innocent seeming people.

As the clock ticks for Mark and Ginger, Agatha Christie continues to raise the stakes in The Pale Horse, and while it is not one of her more well known mysteries, its exciting plot and unforeseeable plot twist make it one novel that all mystery fans should read. 

-Mahak M.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Angels & Demons: A Novel (Hardcover) | Tattered Cover Book Store

When CERN director Maximilian Kohler discovers the dead body of his top physicist, Leonardo Vetra, in his secure lab, branded with the dreadful Illuminati ambigram symbol, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon’s world is turned upside down. Traveling to Switzerland, Langdon realizes that the Illuminati, a secret society long thought disbanded, is actually alive and well, and have only one assignment to fulfill – the complete annihilation of the Catholic Church and Vatican City.

Together, Langdon and Vetra’s adopted daughter Vittoria must race to locate a deadly sample of antimatter taken from the late Vetra’s lab. To make matters worse, unless Langdon and Vittoria successfully track down the stolen antimatter, and Vetra’s killer, before the clock strikes midnight, not only will Vatican City explode, due to the recent death of the Pope, every major figure of the Catholic Church will perish along with the Vatican.

On a race against time, Langdon and Vittoria must follow the path laid by the ancient Illuminati members centuries ago, in the hopes of saving lives as they do it. However, the closer the two get to the final showdown, the higher the stakes are raised, and the more danger they find themselves embroiled in.

Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons is a definite read for fans of real historical facts interwoven with heart-racing action scenes and mystery theme elements. Fans of The Da Vinci Code will certainly enjoy the first chronicle of Langdon’s adventures.

-Mahak M.

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Amazon.com: I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, Book 1 ...

In a universe where extraterrestrial beings battle in a high-stakes war of life or death, nine aliens gifted with special abilities from the planet Lorien have come to Earth to hide from their otherworldly attackers, the evil Mogadorians. To protect them from being assassinated by the Mogadorians, the Loric receive a charm that places them in a numerical order, ensuring that they cannot be killed unless all that come before them have already been found. 

They caught and brutally murdered Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. Now, Number Four must escape the deadly Mogadorian assassins that are tracking his every move.

Adopting the alias of John Smith, Four must masquerade as John Smith, a normal human teenager, in order to protect himself and the future of the Loric people. However, just as John is beginning to become accustomed to life in Paradise, Ohio, his abilities manifest, drawing attention to him and his new home. If he wants to save himself and those he loves, John must master his Legacies before it’s too late, and everyone and everything John holds dear is cruelly snatched from him.

Fast-paced and thrilling, I Am Number Four fantastically kicks off Pittacus Lore’s Lorien Legacies series, making this a novel (and a series) a must read for fans of superhero-esque action and adventure scenes.

-Mahak M.