The One by Kiera Cass

Caution: May contain spoilers from The Selection and The Elite.

While I would consider The Selection series to be more lighthearted than other dystopian YA novels, the third book, The One, certainly introduces more darkness to America’s tale. Nevertheless, it still possesses Kiera Cass’s quirky and imaginative flair that pervades the first and second books.

As both the Selection within the castle walls and the rebel situation outside escalates, they seem to blend together into a far more complex issue than America had imagined possible. Rebel attacks increase as protest rages against the Selection and the continuation of the monarchy and Maxon struggles as his decision grows closer–a decision through which he may not be able to please both his father and his heart.

It seems that as the books have progressed the characters of the Selected have been able to grow more detailed. While America’s character bursts from the pages of the first book, many of the Selected were not as openly described, and understandably so–imagine describing and reading about 35 different characters who might not all play a large role in the story!

However, since only 6 of the Selected remain, we get to explore these characters in more depth, which I found interesting and enriching to the story. By explaining their motives and backgrounds, Kiera Cass allowed the other 5 girls to become more than just America’s competition. I particularly enjoyed a scene where the remaining Selected talk in America’s room without enmity.  With the escalation of the dangerous situation, they are able to look beyond their more frivolous squabbles.

One aspect I admire about America is that true to her decision in the first book, she remains true to herself. Though she wavers at times, especially as the competition becomes intense and when she is intimidated by the king, she consistently chooses what she feels is true to her values and herself, even if by doing so she could diminish her chances of being the One.

The One, full of romance and action; rebellion and choices; politics, love, friendship, fear, and humor, pulls the Selection and the first half of the series into a dazzling, glittering finale.

– Mia T.

The One (and the rest of The Selection series) by Kiera Cass is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Elite by Kiera Cass

Caution: This review contains spoilers from book one, The Selection.

One aspect of this book that I liked is that it follows the first book, The Selection, almost seamlessly. When reading a sequel, I usually find that it takes me several pages or chapters to “get back into” the story, and I appreciated that The Elite begins more or less where The Selection ends.

America Singer is left with a position as one of 6 remaining Selected girls (known as the Elite), and a choice between her dearest Aspen and the charming prince Maxon.

I found this book to be darker than The Selection, with an expansion on the situation with the rebel attacks on the castle, Illéa’s history, and the conflict created by the caste system. As tension rises within the dwindling group of Elite, as the danger of the rebels becomes far more apparent, and as America discovers more about the founding of Illéa, the Selection no longer seems like a frivolous game.

I was a bit disappointed in the shift in America and Maxon’s friendship, though it might have been expected given the need for conflict in the story. The understanding and casual words that passed between the two of them in The Selection morph into a complicated, less transparent relationship as America’s feelings for Maxon become more apparent.

Because of her growing desire for Maxon’s heart, America grows mistrustful of him and the other girls, and she begins to make decisions that seem less measured than those she made before. I liked how America was kind and helpful to the girls in the beginning of the Selection, but in this book, as her feelings for Maxon grow, she begins to see them more as opponents. Though she maintains her courageous and strong character, America allows herself to be pulled further in to the competition, meaning more uncertainty and distrust.

Additionally, I did feel like some of the conflict between Maxon and America might have been unrealistic; if they truly loved each other, wouldn’t they trust each other more and be able to express their thoughts to each other? Nevertheless, I realize that America and Maxon are both filled with doubt and worry about the decisions set before them (for instance, America debates between Maxon and Aspen: princess or Six?), and are no doubt unsure of many things–even each other.

What I admired about The Elite as well as The Selection was that Maxon did not appear like some two-dimensional character. Despite his privileged position, he is still influenced and pressured by his father, and he feels great responsibility in his choice for a princess–he feels he must not only consider his own happiness, but that of his future people and his father as well.

If you enjoyed The Selection and are eager to follow America’s story further, this is the perfect book! Additionally, it leaves off with 4 Elite … Maxon’s decision draws closer with the close of the second book.

– Mia T.

The Elite by Kiera Cass is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

 

The Selection by Kiera Cass

When you open the pages of this book, you enter the country of Illéa, a post-World War IV America. It’s led by a king, not a president; formed of provinces, not states; and populated by eight castes, each number related to different trade and status (one being the most privileged). The story begins at a prominent time in Illéa–a Selection in which 35 girls from any caste are given the opportunity to be the princess of Illéa (which would raise them to the status of a One) and the wife of the young Prince Maxon.

Reminiscent of The Hunger Games, full of romance and humor and extravagance, and populated by a set of dynamic characters, Kiera Cass’ The Selection is an entertaining and satisfying read.

Although lacking the violence and seriousness of The Hunger Games, The Selection parallels Suzanne Collins’ book in some ways. In both novels the citizens are separated into classes, the highest class wealthy and lavish and seemingly frivolous; and there is a “lottery” to select people for a nationwide, televised event. Because of these similarities, if you enjoyed The Hunger Games this may be a book to consider; however, the books differ in significant ways as well–one way being the more romantic focus of The Selection.

I liked how the romance in this novel did not seem forced; the characters were strong and independent, which made any romance believable. The main character, America Singer, lives in a family of Fives, and she does her best to support her family. What I liked about her character was that she does not place as much importance on the caste system, and she has little desire to elevate her caste as long as she and those around her are content. She loves people for their personality and values rather than their image or caste. Her determination to remain herself no matter who is watching is also an admirable trait.

Most of the characters seemed well-rounded and believable, especially because of the rich backstories readers are either informed of or tantalized with. I did feel like some of the 35 Selected characters were not expanded upon, but in retrospect 35 characters would take a while to develop, and I understand how the introduction of the formation of all the characters could have shifted the focus of the story and its readers.

Along with romance and dynamic characters is the theme of judgment. The caste system in itself causes judgment among the characters–each caste is expected to work in a certain field, such as art, acting, or physical labor. The Selection addresses the inequality across Illéa as well as the barrier judgment causes, whether the judgment is towards a One or an Eight. It’s interesting to see the lives of those in the palace–the Ones–and though they live with abundance and frivolity, they have the onerous job of running a country. Furthermore, Prince Maxon presents himself quite differently than the stuck-up, spoiled prince America initially imagines him to be. On the other hand, Prince Maxon starts to understand the hardships of the lower classes–hardships he had previously been oblivious to.

If you haven’t read the book yet or are now planning on it, I want to mention that The Selection is the first of a series of five. While I was reading, I was expecting the answers to “who wins the Selection?” “What is the mysterious backstory of Illéa?” and “why is the palace in danger of rebel attack?” to be answered by the end of the story, but they weren’t. However, I didn’t find the ending of the story very disappointing; it set up the next book as an intriguing and exciting continuation to the story of America, the Selection, and Illéa.

– Mia T.

The Selection by Kiera Cass is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available as a free download from Overdrive

TV Show Review: Seinfeld

I’ve only seen the first two seasons of Seinfeld so far, but I’m greatly enjoying the show.

Jerry Seinfeld, the main character, is a stand-up comedian who lives in New York. Many of his performances are inspired by events or people in the show, and we get to see these performances at the beginning, middle, and end of each episode. The three other main characters are George, Elaine, and Kramer, who lives in the same apartment complex as Jerry and frequently pays him visits. Jerry and his friends are always making comments about the strange habits of humans no one else seems to address.

Since the show takes place in ’90s New York, it’s interesting to see the difference in style in terms of hair, technology, clothing, and more.

What I like about the show is that it’s very light-hearted and entertaining. There’s no real plot to the series, but that’s what makes it fun. For instance, the entirety of one episode takes place in a restaurant. However, it’s far from boring. The characters and the jokes keep the audience interested and amused.

Though the show might seem similar to Friends since both shows include single characters living in New York, the differences in characters, story, and humor set them apart from each other. Unlike Seinfeld, Friends has a more complex plot and I think the characters have more complicated relationships with each other (although, as I’ve only seen the first two seasons of Seinfeld, this might change). However, I still enjoy both shows!

I would suggest the show to fans of Friends and The Office, or anyone looking for a TV series that is light-hearted and comforting.

– Mia T.

Harry Potter: Pets

Among its enchanting world, characters, plot, and locations, the Harry Potter series possesses numerous pets that add charm to the books and, at times, contribute to the plot. From some perspectives, their importance to the story of Harry Potter may not seem of importance; however, some of these pets have invaluable parts, either in the story or their owners’ lives. Here are a few of these treasurable little creatures. Please note that there might be spoilers from books 1-6.

Hedwig: The snowy-white dignity of Harry’s loyal owl is one reason to admire Hedwig. She keeps Harry company when he is trapped at the Dursley’s house, and she delivers many important parcels to and for Harry throughout the series. One of my favorite moments with Hedwig is when she flies to Harry’s friends to make sure they remember to send him a birthday present.

Trevor: Even though his attempts at escaping are constant, I think Trevor really likes Neville Longbottom as his owner–he always seems to (however unwillingly) let Neville find and care for him. As with Neville, his dedication to his pet toad is admirable, for another boy might have long ago given up searching for a rebellious pet. Trevor’s relationship with Neville enriches Neville’s perseverant character and his ability to overcome difficulties–in his classes, with his grandmother–with resilience.

Crookshanks: Even though it is this ginger-haired cat that causes so much tension in Ron and Hermione’s friendship in their third year, Crookshanks proves his intelligence and dependability when he sees Sirius and Scabbers for who they are. Nearly all the other characters believe Scabbers harmless and Sirius a dangerous villain, but Crookshanks knows the truth about both–Scabbers is the danger, while Sirius is not. The courage and insight of Crookshanks shines in the third book so brightly that even Ron can no longer deny the loyalty of the cat.

Scabbers: It is true that Scabbers results in being Voldemort’s servant disguised as Ron’s (at first Percy’s) rat for many years. However, he does contribute admirably to some scenes in the series. On their initial trip to Hogwarts, Ron’s unsuccessful demonstration of a spell on Scabbers plays a part in the building of his friendship with Harry. Furthermore, Ron grows fond of the rat before he knows its true identity, and many games of chess and laughs in the common room no doubt occurred in Scabber’s presence.

BuckbeakStormy gray and confident, Buckbeak is a key player in Harry and Hermione’s rescue of Sirius. The hippogriff also saves Sirius from some of the loneliness of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place during Harry’s fifth year. Held dear by Hagrid as well, Buckbeak (or “Witherwings”) has the respect and appreciation of many characters who fight on the side of Dumbledore’s Order.

The pets named above are merely a fraction of the many that hold importance in the Harry Potter series. Their interactions with the characters–comforting, assisting, escaping–lead to a better understanding of the characters, while establishing the pets as individual characters themselves.

– Mia T.

Books set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. They may also be downloaded online for free from Overdrive

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

This little book of five wizarding fables is a perfect way to re-immerse yourself into the world of Harry Potter after reading the series. With writing from the brilliant Albus Dumbledore, illustrations by J.K. Rowling, and little facts about characters from the Harry Potter series, The Tales of Beedle the Bard could naturally belong on a book list underneath Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Following each story is a note by Albus Dumbledore, which provides a thoughtful and sometimes witty analysis of the story, a discussion of the wizarding world’s acceptance of it, and perhaps a humorous anecdote. Although Dumbledore’s notes are written academically, the evidence of his witty and brilliant character in his writing is exciting and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed reading Dumbledore’s note on The Fountain of Fair Fortune because it mentions Hagrid’s predecessor as professor of Care of Magical Creatures, Professor Kettleburn. Professor Kettleburn is briefly mentioned in the Harry Potter series, but in his note, Professor Dumbledore delves deeper into his character while telling a humorous story involving the Care of Magical Creatures teacher and students at Hogwarts.

Additional references to and historical information about characters from Harry Potter serve as a treat to those wanting an extra morsel of the wizarding world.

What I enjoy about this book are J.K. Rowling’s intricate and elegant illustrations of her (or Beedle’s) stories. I find it intriguing to see illustrations by the authors, as their depictions are most likely to be true to their vision.

Lastly, it’s fascinating how The Tales of Beedle the Bard not only a book of stories about the wizarding world but a book that actually exists in Harry Potter’s world, as it is first introduced in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It almost appears like it was pulled from a Hogwarts bookshelf or a wizard or witch’s bedside table to be shared with the Muggle community.

Crafted with wit, magic, and a bit of the darkness you might find in a Grimm fairy-tale, these stories serve both as entertainment and as another taste of the wizarding world.

– Mia T.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

Complete with a foreword by Albus Dumbledore, illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and an A-Z list of magical creatures and their descriptions, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the perfect book for anyone wishing to delve a bit further into the wizarding world.

Written by J. K. Rowling as Newt Scamander, the main character of the movie series of the same name, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the textbook required by Hogwarts students in their first year. Though the information is expository, it isn’t dull, and J. K. Rowling adds humor and little remarks that make the text entertaining.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is the handwritten notes by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Scribbled conversations, games, comments, and jokes can be seen on the pages. The writing styles and voices of the characters are evident, and while reading them I imagined tidbits of conversations that weren’t included in the Harry Potter books.

I admire the factual style J. K. Rowling uses when she includes references to foreign ministries and remedies for injuries caused by certain beasts. There is even a short biography for Newt Scamander in the back of the book. Certainly, the imagination and thought put into this book makes it a fascinating addition to a Harry Potter book collection.

Other than enjoyment, another reason this might be a good book to read is that it provides information about creatures that appear in the movie series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and knowing about these creatures could enrich the experience of watching the movies.

-Mia T.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by J. K. Rowling is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Book List: Books Worth Rereading

There are some books I enjoy reading just once, and there are others I could read over and over without getting tired … I seem to enjoy them more every time I read them. 

Whether you’re looking for an excellent book that (I would consider) is worth owning, or you’re looking for a relatable blog post about one of your favorite books/book series, I hope this post helps!

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall: I think I’ve mentioned this series in three other blog posts—when writing about my favorite fictional characters, locations, and about a recommended series. As you can probably tell, I love this series so much! Not only is the writing, setting, and characterization amazing, but this is a series I could read countless times. The perfect amount of humor is mixed with depth and sisterly love, and the dynamics of the Penderwick family are realistic yet captivating. I read the first few books when I was younger and enjoyed them, but I enjoyed and understood them on a different level when reading them once I was a little older. Like many of the books on this list (and with other books that I like rereading), I feel like so many age groups can get something out of this series. The Penderwicks is the ideal series for me when I’m looking for a book that is fun and not stressful but steeped in meaning and intrigue.   

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: The first chapter of this book can be disconcerting because the main character is addressing someone who readers don’t know about yet. By the time I had finished reading this book the first time, I had forgotten my confusion in the beginning. When I started to read it again, the beginning of the book was so much more understandable. I gained a new appreciation for the intricacy of the story, and I realized who the main character had been speaking to throughout the story. 

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: I just had to put this here. As I grow up and as I continue to read Harry Potter, the story does not grow old for me. With every reread I pick up a little more: a funny detail, another character, another layer of depth. Each character, even if only mentioned once or twice, seems to have his or her own background and fictional life. Reading Harry Potter is so comforting, and the draw of the series’ characters, humor, writing, and world continues and expands with each reread.  

The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan: Among other things, my favorite part of this series is the characters. I love the individual personalities of the seven demigods and their acquaintances (often enemies) and friends. Riordan’s humorous descriptions of the world of Greek Mythology and his knack for characterization make his books entertaining—even the second or third cycle through the books.

Being familiar with certain books results in a comforting reading experience. I already am accustomed to the settings and characters, and this allows me to take in other components of the story that I have not noticed before. I find there’s something almost magical about books that can be read more than once–not all books hold the detail and layers I find in these books. With each reread, the words you read are the same, but what you get out of it could be quite the opposite.

– Mia T.

Fictional Food: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

There are many reasons I love to read: the characters, the settings, the story … and sometimes the food. Not that it’s the force that drives me when I pick up a book to read, but I enjoy reading about what the characters eat. Maybe it’s because the little culinary details make the story so much more immersive, or because seeing the characters eat makes them more relatable. Ultimately (however silly it may seem), food can add extra depth to a story.

In her Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling adds little comments about what the characters are eating, which is one of the many reasons I enjoy reading her stories. Here is some of the food mentioned in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that may or may not interest you.

“Stale cornflakes and … tinned tomatoes on toast” (Rowling 50): This is the breakfast eaten by the Dursleys and Harry during Mr. Dursley’s failed attempt to evade the senders of Harry’s Hogwarts letter. This slightly dreary meal matches the mood of Harry and the Dursleys on this random, unplanned trip.

Hagrid’s sausages: When Hagrid appears at the little shack where Harry and the Dursleys escape to, he roasts some sausages over the fire and offers them to Harry. After sleeping on the floor of a shack in the middle of a storm, this warm food must be a relief to Harry–a relief which parallels what he feels during his departure from the Dursleys into a wizarding world that treats him with warmth.

Chocolate and raspberry ice-cream with nuts: Harry is given this ice-cream from Hagrid after he first meets Draco Malfoy. Despite the doubtless deliciousness of this treat, Harry eats it a bit unhappily as he ponders his unpleasant conversation with Draco (but he soon learns not to place value in Draco’s statements).

Pumpkin pasties: The pasties are among the assortment of sweets Harry purchases from the trolley witch on his first journey to Hogwarts. They have a part in the beginning of Harry’s friendship with Ron, for it is a pasty that Harry offers Ron in exchange for one of Ron’s sandwiches. A pasty may also be the first wizarding sweet Harry tastes.

In J.K. Rowling’s stories, the food assists in conveying the characters’ emotions along with adding interesting facts for the readers. Knowing what the characters are eating adds a new layer of complexity to the books.

-Mia T.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone) is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Recommended Fantasy Series

Something about becoming engrossed in a book series is so wonderful. Although I enjoy stand-alone books as too, I love reading a series and knowing that there’s a book after the one I’m reading; another story that immerses me back into the world and its characters. Comfort and familiarity come with following fictional characters into different books on their exciting and (usually) dangerous journeys. While reading a series, I also know which book I should read next, which saves me time that might have otherwise been spent browsing up and down the shelves in the library trying to find a title or a cover that looks as if it might hold an interesting story (although I don’t think browsing the shelves of libraries is necessarily a waste of time). For anyone looking for familiarity, wonderful characters, or just a series to become immersed in, here are some fantasy book series that I recommend.

The Books of Bayern (quartet), by Shannon Hale
First Book: The Goose Girl
I mentioned the first book in this series in a post about exploring new genres, but it’s such a wonderful fantasy series that I wanted to add it here. This series is based in a fairy-tale-like world, but I think it’s great for older teens too. It might be because of Shannon Hale’s entertaining and lovable characters and her style of writing that I haven’t recently found many book series as rounded as I find her Books of Bayern series.

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (six-part series), by Michael Scott
First Book: The Alchemyst
I have not read this whole series, but I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of books. I would recommend this series for slightly older teens, and it is an excellent choice if you like stories that include mythology and history. The story is set in the real world, but is filled with a combination of mythological and historical beings. The protagonists, twins Josh and Sophie, give readers a relatable perspective as they discover a magical world. These books are filled with adventure, interesting characters, and detailed settings that add a realistic sense to the fictional elements.

Septimus Heap (heptalogy), by Angie Sage
First Book: Magyk
The Septimus Heap series is set in a fictional world containing wizards and bogarts and magic (who could have known?). One of my favorite parts about this series is the characters. There are so many of them, and though the books center around certain characters, the storylines of many side characters are incorporated throughout the series. I enjoyed reading the little additions Angie Sage makes at the end of the books, which give background or extra information on some of the characters. The books are humorous and filled with adventure and little details that make them even more enjoyable to read.

The Dragon Slippers Series (trilogy), by Jessica Day George
First Book: Dragon Slippers
Please don’t be discouraged by the title; it might not peak everyone’s interest, but this is a wonderful fantasy series that, like the Books of Bayern, I’ve had trouble finding a series as intriguing as. The Dragon Slippers series takes place in a fictional world in which dragons have hoards that don’t all contain gold and, despite what humans think, can be benign. With well-rounded characters and thankfully non-corny talking dragons, Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers series is a series that I highly recommend.

– Mia T.