About Abby F.

Hello! I am a senior student at CVHS, ready to read and review!

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

With a plan to hide, paranoia to battle, and friendships to question, a group of five college students deal with the psychological punishment of murdering their sixth member: Bunny Corcoran.

The Secret History, by Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt, is deep, fascinating, and full of aesthetic-driven description. Richard Papen, a poor college student from California, transfers to Hampden College in Vermont in order to escape his old life. There, he can’t help but be entranced by a group of mysterious young adults that saunter around the campus disconnected from the rest of the student body. Belonging to the highly exclusive Classics major taught by Julian Morrow, those five students have a divine air about them that Richard can’t resist. Securing his spot in their class, Richard is dragged into much more than a new group of friends: relationships full of hidden truths, a wild secret to keep that he never saw coming, and brewing plot of even more horrible proportion. Join Richard as he learns what friendship with Henry Winter, Francis Abernathy, Bunny Corcoran, and the Macaulay twins really means.

From the overlying theme to direct references, Donna Tartt draws heavily from Fyodor Dostoyesky’s Crime and Punishment. Both stories deal with how a seemingly justified murder affects the murderer’s mental state, driving them to extreme paranoia and desperation for relief. Both books open with a murder, Crime and Punishment’s happening about 20% of the way in while The Secret History‘s is described in the prologue. While Crime and Punishment reads chronologically, The Secret History tells the reader about the murder first, then flashes back months before, carrying through the murder and on to what happens after. Having just read Crime and Punishment, the parallels stand out. Reading about a variety of characters’ reactions in The Secret History is far more interesting than that of the sole guilty soul in Crime and Punishment.

Donna Tartt’s writing style is beautiful, oftentimes bringing me to pause and reflect. I grew to care so much about her tragic characters, and her writing brought me to be truly shocked or pitiful or furious right when she wanted me to be. I couldn’t predict any of the twists this book offered, which is a sign of a well-written story. This new adult/murder mystery novel was thrilling to read, and it’s a story that will last with me for a long time. Thought-provoking, genius, and beautiful, The Secret History is well worth the read.

-Abby F., 12th Grade

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive and Hoopla.

Voltron: Legendary Defender, Rebooted and Rewarding

voltronNetflix’s new animated series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, takes the much-beloved 80’s cartoon Voltron: Defender of the Universe and rebuilds the world of space battles, robotic lions, and strong friendships in a new take on the classic sci-fi adventure. With its second season having been recently released on Jan. 20th, fans have jumped at the chance to devour the new set of 13 episodes and now eagerly await more.

Our story centers around five humans from Earth – Shiro, Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Keith – that discover a giant blue robotic lion that’s been sitting dormant in the desert. Once they’re inside, the lion activates and flies the five heroes into space – yes, a flying lion spaceship – where they meet two aliens named Coran and Allura. They are from the planet Altea, which was destroyed by the Galra Empire thousands of years ago. The Galra Empire has been continuing its tyrannical takeover ever since, and the universe needs Voltron to save it. What is Voltron, you ask? Coran and Allura explain to the five heroes that the blue lion they uncovered is one of five robotic lions that, when piloted, can combine into a massive, human-shaped robot of great power named Voltron. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Despite the absurdity of the idea, this show executes it so well. The action is intense, the alien civilizations wildly creative, and the animation a far leap ahead of its 80’s counterpart. The characters are developed and getting deeper as the show goes on, and the plot is fast-paced and entertaining. I saw the first season when it first released early in 2016, and the year long wait for Season 2 was worth it. The creators of the show, Joaquin Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery, stay true enough to the original but have updated it in many, much-needed ways. They pay attention to their ever-growing fanbase and deliver quality episodes that continue to appease and surprise.

The characters are all individually enjoyable and have great dynamics together. Shiro leads the group as the paladin, or pilot, of the Black Lion and acts as the head of the group, as opposed to Keith doing so in the original series. Keith now pilots the Red Lion as its impulsive, ready-to-fight paladin. Lance is the flirtatious jokester and sharpshooter paladin of the Blue Lion. Hunk is the food-loving engineer and pilot of the Yellow Lion. Pidge, who is now a girl as opposed to her male 80’s counterpart, is a tech genius and the youngest of the group, piloting the Green Lion. Allura is the princess of Altea, and Coran is her advisor.

Not only have these characters been fully-fleshed out with backstories (although we’re still waiting on Lance’s and Hunk’s backstories) and motivations, but the new Voltron has made an effort to diversify its cast. Allura, Hunk, Shiro, and Lance are all people of color now, and Pidge’s gender change has brought a second female into the limelight. I for one am incredibly happy to see this push for diversity. The dialogue is conversational and natural, and the tone switches appropriately from light-hearted and goofy to serious and heartfelt when called for. In the newest season, the concept of prejudice is brought up and addressed exceptionally well. It’s progressive, and I love it.

Of course, the past 30 years have led to much better quality animation, leaving Netflix’s version with a style reminiscent of the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender. Voltron mixes CGI into the mainly 2D show in order to make the lions, Voltron, and fight scenes stand out. The character animation is exaggerated for comedy and detailed for intensity, switching it up depending on what the story calls for.

Voltron: Legendary Defender deserves a watch; go and see Season 1’s first episode, which is pretty plot-heavy, and you’ll have a good sense of the show’s dynamic. I applaud Netflix’s approach to this classic and anticipate next year’s season!

-Abby F., 12th grade

 

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

fantastic-beastsThe Wizarding World of Harry Potter appears to be undying, coming back in the form of new books, new amusement parks, and new stories that continue to grow in popularity. J.K. Rowling’s universe now travels to America for Warner Bros. latest movie: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. 

It’s the 1920s, and wizards in America are in hiding. All signs of magic must be kept on the down-low, especially with a Muggle (Or No-Maj, as the American wizards call them) group called the Second Salemers protesting magic in the streets. Tensions are high; a mysterious shadow-like creature is terrorizing New York, and wizardry is on the brink of being revealed to the public. The last thing New York needs is an awkward Hufflepuff carrying a poorly-sealed case full of beasts around town.

Newt Scamander, an ex-Hogwarts student and magical creature extraordinaire, arrives in New York City in the hopes of purchasing a rare beast. However, instead of obtaining a new creature, he accidentally lets his own loose in the city. He and his human friend Jacob, the Ex-Auror Tina her mind-reading sister Queenie must scour New York for the lost beasts, all while evading capture from the Magical Congress and keeping an eye out for the shadowy force attacking New York’s streets and buildings.

It wasn’t until I saw magic on the big screen again did I realize just how much I’d missed the Harry Potter universe. It was, well, fantastic to be brought back into a world of wands and wizards. Eddie Redmayne plays the perfect Newt Scamander, what with his nervous stature and lovable awkwardness. He devoted himself to the role, and the character really came alive for me. Tina (Katherine Waterson), Queenie (Alison Sudol), and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) were also very well cast and incredibly enjoyable to watch. When Jacob could’ve easily been reduced to purely comic relief, the film turns his character into a wonderful and loyal friend for Newt. Mr. Graves, a fitting name for a villain, was convincing, but I have to say that the Second Salemer family- the Barebones- was far more chilling and creepy.

I must say what stole the show were the visual effects. All of the CG and computer-animated magic and monsters were absolutely phenomenal. I was blown away by how real everything looked, and the sheer creativeness when it came to Newt’s beasts or his briefcase was outstanding. The finale in particular used today’s technology in its full potential, delivering visual effects so mind-blowing that I couldn’t bear to blink and miss a second of it. I predict an Oscar nomination, and hopefully a win, for the cinematography in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

I highly recommend this movie to everyone, Harry Potter fans in particular. One of my friends, who has never really been a fan of the franchise, went to see it anyways and came out loving it. I want to go see it over and over, re-immerse myself in that world and see the magic again. The movie’s four upcoming sequels primarily seemed unnecessary, but I cannot wait for each and every one!

-Abby F.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

ravencycle_maggiestiefvaterThe Raven Cycle series, by Maggie Stiefvater, finally came to a close this spring with the release of her fourth installment, The Raven King. After finishing the first book, titled The Raven Boys, this series quickly jumped high onto the list of my favorite books. The more I read, the higher it climbed. Stiefvater’s characterization and descriptive language is enthralling, bringing me to actually set down the book and relish over a line or two of pure perfection multiple times.

This series deals with magic, mystery, romance, but above all- friendship. The main cast of characters are deeply developed and intricate, and the story gives us a thorough look into their pasts, presents, and heck, even their looming futures.

Blue Sargent, the main female lead, is the only non-psychic in a family of seers, but she has the ability to amplify their clairvoyant powers. For this reason, Blue accompanies her Aunt Neeve on St. Mark’s Eve to go to an abandoned churchyard; St. Mark’s Eve is the day of the year when psychics can see the ghosts of the people who are going to die in the following year walk along the Corpse Road. Blue has never been able to see these ghosts- until tonight.

She asks this sole visible ghost his name- Gansey- and her Aunt explains that the only reason that Blue, a nonseer, would see a ghost is if he’s her true love- or if she’s the one who kills him. Gansey, very much alive, has spent the past couple of years researching the legend of the dead Welsh King Glendower. Legend says he was buried on a magical ley line, and whoever wakes him gets a favor. He and his best friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah devote their time to finding this sleeping king and recruit Blue into their questing court.

The series offers many twists and turns, oftentimes surprising me with a suspenseful showdown or a magical revelation. The more I learned about the characters, the more I loved them and feared for them as their stories grew darker and darker. The characterization stands out as the highlight of the series. Stiefvater chips away at the inner beings of each character until we have a roadmap of each one, pointing out their fears and flaws and tracing their dreams and desires. Out of the main five characters, Blue is the only female, but her family- who we spend lots of time getting to know- is overflowing with a cast of unique, quirky, and psychic women, giving us a wide array of female side characters. Gansey, Adam, and Ronan are my personal favorites; their dynamics are very complicated and interesting, and I anticipated the chapters written from their points-of-view most of all. Stiefvater’s imagination is abundant, and it is evident as she builds her world in the small town of Henrietta.

I have and will continue to recommend this series to any avid readers I come across, for it was a wild ride that I will never forget. The four books- The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue, and The Raven King– have secured their positions as some of my favorite books, and I hope they will continue to be recognized in the future as the truly captivating novels they are.

-Abby F.

The Raven Boys and the rest of the Raven Cycle novels are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. 

Stranger Things: A New Netflix Phenomenon

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Once a new TV show permeates every form of social media, I take it as a sign I should get around to watching it – both to join the chaotic mess of fans and to avoid the ever-growing list of spoilers. Stranger Things, Netflix’s new original TV series, has taken the world by storm, and after watching the entire first season in two nights, I have been fully swept away in its winds of success.

Stranger Things is an eight chapter story about young boy, Will Byers, who goes mysteriously missing after a game of D&D with his quirky gang of friends. The town goes on high alert trying to find the boy, while a strange and, quite frankly, disgusting monster lurks in the shadows and awaits its next victim. The only one who has any semblance of understanding as to why the monster is stalking the small town is Eleven, a girl of few words and many powers. As Sheriff Hopper traces what he believes to be Will’s tracks to the suspicious government organization in town, Eleven teams up with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas to search for Will on their own.

The show walks the line between horror and sci-fi, using the rural town of Hawkins, Indiana as a setting for a supernatural hotspot, including an alternate dimension, telekinetic powers, and the monster that’s been nicknamed “The Demagorgon.” The pacing can feel slow at times, but it gives the show lots of room for character development and raw emotion.

The actors give stunning performances that truly convey their characters’ internal struggles, whether it be a desperate mother grasping at supernatural straws to find her son or a lab experiment runaway hiding from her manipulative “Papa.” The show’s comedic relief, which is mainly circumstantial and dialogue-related, is found mostly among the group of middle schoolers Mike, Dustin, and Lucas as they search for Will and coax Eleven into helping. They’re nerds, scientists, and adventurers-in-the-making, and I fell in love with them immediately. Eleven’s reactions to everyday phenomena always got me to crack a smile, too.

However, the show’s comedic moments are few and far between. A large portion of the show is suspenseful and emotional. Stranger Things‘ main theme would have to be trust and faith. The boys must earn Eleven’s trust in order to gain her help, and Eleven must earn their trust so that they won’t suspect her of being the “Lando” in their story, as Dustin would say. Joyce Byers, Will’s mother, needs someone to trust her as she tries not to lose faith in the supernatural signs her son sends her. The show relies heavily on its characters and their relationships with one another, whether it be family, friends, or even lovers. Fear and desperation can bring together the unlikeliest of people, and Stranger Things has more than enough fear and desperation to provide these opportunities.

The directors, the Duffer Brothers, have brought about a new pop culture sensation that is steadily increasing in popularity. If horror, sci-fi, and supernatural are your buzz words for a good show, Stranger Things is right up your alley. I enjoyed every minute of this series, and I eagerly anticipate Season 2 (coming next year).

-Abby F.