The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

As usual, school has required readings. The third book required for me this year was The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I’m sure many other people know of it. Majority of my friends said they loved the book and remember reading it. 

This coming-of-age novel is split into vignettes–short chapters or episodes–told in the perspective of the main character, Esperanza. She tells stories about things that happen in her life, but in no particular order. It starts with her and her family moving into their new house which is on Mango Street. As she grows up in the new neighborhood, she tells plenty of short stories of different people, what has happened to her, and what has happened to them. 

This is a very short book but it’s still a great read. Most of the book is told in an almost childlike way using simple words and many variations. But even with its simplicity, it holds some very detailed descriptions and symbols. I know that a lot of people would rather not pick out the symbolism and figurative language when they read a book, especially if the book is just for enjoyment. Trust me, if it weren’t for school, then I probably wouldn’t have either. But if you’re willing to look deep into the story and really pick apart a few phrases, then it can make your reading of this book, and others, much more interesting.

This book has so many symbols that really help convey the message more clearly than it already is. It adds so much more to the theme of the book and while you don’t have to pick out symbolism and such, it can enhance this book a lot more.

While it may seem like a fun and happy story, there is a surprisingly darker undertone if you take the time to really look at it. If it didn’t have this other side to it, I don’t think I would have really liked this book. If you’re considering reading this book, just keep in mind that there are some dark messages and scenes that can definitely make you a little uncomfortable. 

Overall, The House on Mango Street was a pretty good read for me. Taking a deeper dive into the symbolism and finer details of the book was fun for me. I think I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a short, good read. But I’d mostly recommend this to people who are a little older, really anyone out of middle school. It’s a great book and a good choice if you’re looking for something to read and really delve deeper into.

-Nicole R.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Odyssey by Homer (Using translation by Robert Fitzgerald)

I’m sure many people know of this book. Whether you have heard of it or have even read it yourself, I’m sure that a good majority of people know of The Odyssey by Homer. It is completely fine if you don’t but do be warned, this can be a very difficult read without proper background knowledge. I had to read this in school and I couldn’t be more thankful that my teacher had given us extra pages to brief us. These papers were from Edith Hamilton’s Guide to Mythology and taken from the chapters about the Trojan War. These two chapters were relatively short but hold a lot of important information regarding the Trojan War and prior events to The Odyssey. If you can find these anywhere, they would be great to read before reading The Odyssey. You can most likely find this as a PDF online and I’m serious when I say this was one of the crucial things when it came to my understanding of this book. 

The Odyssey is one of Homer’s epics, completely centered around Greek mythology. Specifically, the Greek hero, Odysseus and his journey after the Trojan War and how he gets home. He journeys through different lands, meeting many other popular characters in Greek mythology such as Calypso, Circe, and many more. The Odyssey also includes Odysseus’ son, Telemachos, who goes on his own journey in hopes of finding his father to save their island, Ithaka. The short version of the story is that while Odysseus is out fighting in war and disappears for 10 years, his home is overtaken by suitors trying to take his wife Penelope’s hand in marriage. Telemachos cannot let this happen, so with Athena’s help, he journeys out to find news about his father. While this happens, Odysseus, who has been stuck on Calypso’s island for many years, has escaped her grasp and tries to make his way home, explaining how he had ended up on Calypso’s island and what had happened to him after the war. However, he is not done with fighting yet as when he comes back home, he must fight for it back.

I remember I tried to read this book over the summer before school started. I couldn’t understand it at all and I got frustrated and gave up on it. But when my teacher explained it all, I ended up enjoying the book a lot. There are plenty of Greek values and conventions in the book which help the story make a lot more sense if you know about them. 

Despite having given up on it before school had even started, once everything made sense, I actually enjoyed this book. A lot of people I know don’t like it or dislike it. They are in the middle of the two which is fine. I liked the unique way of storytelling. It was funny to read about the absurd things that happened like how over 100 men came to pursue Penelope’s hand in marriage. Other times, the book would have five chapters that would just be Odysseus explaining what had happened. While it may sound boring, it was really interesting to read about the places he went to and what he had done to get him to where he was now. I also enjoyed picking apart the characters and analyzing them. Many of the characters are heroic and different in their own way. 

The Odyssey is not an easy book to read due to its way it words certain phrases, the different types of spelling, and is especially hard to read without any prior knowledge. If you don’t know much about Greek mythology but are interested in reading this, I would highly suggest researching and trying to find Edith Hamilton’s Guide to Mythology which is available online. While it may take a while to get used to reading this book, The Odyssey was still enjoyable to me, even though I had to re-read a few pages every now and then. I would definitely recommend this to a Greek mythology lover and even would recommend it to those who have little to no knowledge in that area – with some hesitation.

-Nicole R.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Treasure Planet Movie Review

Disney’s Treasure Planet isn’t the newest movie but it definitely is still super enjoyable. Over holiday break, I decided I wanted to watch Treasure Planet again; besides, I had basically forgotten what it was about. It was a great decision; the characters, the animation, the dialogue, everything I just loved. It truly is an underrated masterpiece.

Treasure Planet, inspired by Treasure Island, came out in 2002. The story is set in space on the planet Montressor, and follows Jim Hawkins, a clever teenage delinquent, eager for an adventure and to be seen by the world. One night, an old pirate gives him a mysterious map that reveals the path to Treasure Planet; the very planet that Jim has read about since he was young. It is said to contain all of Captain Flint’s spoils. With the help of Dr. Doppler, a family friend, Jim sets sail with Captain Amelia and her crew, working in the galley with John Silver, the crew’s cook. Jim not only hopes to go on this adventure but he also hopes to bring money back to help his mom. 

There is a lot to say about this movie, all of which are good things. To start: the characters. Jim had an amazing character arc. He started as naïve, stubborn and a troublemaker, without ever meaning to. He was an adventurous person throughout the whole movie, but he changed himself to make that adventure into something good and not something that could hurt himself and others. Once Jim finally went on his first adventure, it finally broadened his horizons to see what he could look forward to in the future, changing from stubborn to open minded. Going on this adventure helped him face the realities he didn’t see before and disciplined him into a true leader with a new personality. Watching the movie and seeing him change like that was really amazing. Another character I found had a pretty cool character arc was John Silver. Despite him being the cook, he had some other plans which I won’t get super into for spoiler’s sake. But despite having ulterior motives, he grows a bond with Jim like he has never had, softening them both up. Seeing their relationship grow made me think of ‘Found Family’. Silver acted like he could be one of Jim’s parental figures, and he is even compared to Jim’s dad in the film. It was really wholesome to see that relationship and how it played an important part later in the film.  

Some other things I wanted to talk about were the dialogue, animation and plot in general. The plot was great, of course it was based off of one of the greatest adventure stories, Treasure Island. Despite never having read or seen it, this movie makes me want to take a look. The animation was very good. The action scenes were very well done and entrancing. It had tension and was pretty intense at times. The dialogue was very fun, with jokes, lots of emotion, and overall really good. 

One final mention is the music. The music and entire soundtrack for Treasure Planet was spectacular. Whether it was the backing music in particular scenes or Jim’s theme, “I’m Still Here” by John Rzeznik, the music was a pleasure to listen to. 

Treasure Planet was a fantastic movie and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for something fun to watch or needing to pass the time, or really any scenario. It is super underrated and more people should at least check it out. One place you should be able to find it is Disney+, so if you get the chance, have the time, Treasure Planet is a great film to watch.

-Nicole R.

Treasure Planet  is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Movie Review

For my brother’s birthday, he decided he wanted to watch the new movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I went straight into this, having no idea what was going to happen, only knowing that it was a dedication to the actor, Chadwick Boseman. The movie had its fun parts but overall, it was extremely emotional. 

Right off the bat, we see Shuri and her mother, Queen Ramonda who are mourning the loss of the brother and son, T’Challa, the Black Panther. In mourning, they both take a mother and daughter trip as a new character is introduced, Namor. He is a merman that can fly and is the leader of a Meso-American tribe. They possess a great deal of vibranium which the rest of the world wants. Namor hopes to get help from Wakanda to protect his people and to go to war with the rest of the world. If they refuse, he won’t hesitate to also take down both the world and Wakanda.

This movie was a rollercoaster. At times, there would be some really nice, fun moments. However, more than half of the movie was very sad and grim. Shuri has a hard time grieving and accepting the loss of her brother. She shows great character development as she learns to live with the loss of family members while also deciding on her morals. The cause of her growth is Namor. While being Shuri’s villain, he has good intentions. Marvel has always been good at making great villains. I found Namor to be a good person and good leader, but the execution of his plans made it difficult to side with him. While I empathize with Shuri, I could also do the same with Namor. The personality of these characters and who they are really presented well. 

The plot of the movie overall was very well paced and pretty easy to understand. Everything is pretty clear and is explained. The visuals were very impressive and pleasing to look at. As per usual, Marvel is amazing with their aesthetics and storyline. Something I did find interesting though, was how fast it went by, at least for me. There were some portions I wish I got to see a bit more of and some characters I wish had more screen time. I wanted to see a bit more growth in character relationships whether it was with another character or places a character was at. It would have been cool to see a bit more of how Namor’s underwater kingdom works and I really wanted to see more of Shuri and a new character work together while creating a deeper relationship. 

While I long for some more details and more time with certain characters, the story was still great and had me even tear up. I can’t help but wonder what will come next for Shuri and I especially can’t wait for whatever Marvel has in store. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was a really good, sad movie that I would definitely recommend.

-Nicole R.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special: Review

My brother is the real Marvel fan of the family, but my mom and I watched the holiday special of Guardians of the Galaxy with him anyway. Although I’ve missed a good amount of Marvel films and the ones I have seen I forgot a bit about, the premise of this special was very clear and easy to understand. I had fun with it; it was mostly a comedy and mainly just a cheerful holiday film. 

Yondu, like the Grinch, ends up ruining Christmas for Peter Quill (not really). Set after Avengers endgame, Quill is sad without Gamora, Mantis makes up her mind to make Quill happy and to save his Christmas.  In order to do that, she and Drax make their way to Earth to get a Christmas gift; the one and only Kevin Bacon. Mantis and Drax take a fun trip to Earth while also successfully capturing Kevin Bacon. Quill is however not too pleased with the idea of human trafficking. Despite having not been too thrilled to have been kidnapped and taken to space, Bacon decides that he’s going to teach Peter and the rest of the people on Knowhere what Christmas is and what it’s all about. In the end, Peter didn’t really need to meet Kevin Bacon to be happy, but instead he and Mantis just needed to learn a little about who they are. 

I liked this special being only 44 minutes long; short and fun. It was mostly focused on Mantis and Drax, and I personally would have liked to see more of the other guardians but, Mantis and Drax are a great comedic duo and definitely had great moments. Despite being entertaining, some parts of the special were not what I expected and not my type of thing to watch. The middle of the film was pretty entertaining and the end was just as good. However, there were portions that were just not my kind of comedy and didn’t appeal to me, making me feel bored and awkward at some points. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out what audience they were trying to target, because some of the jokes and dialogue felt like they were for kids, but some scenes were more targeted towards teens. Even though there were some things I didn’t enjoy as much as others, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is really just a simple, feel-good film, something that should just be a quick watch along with other holiday shows and movies, and something to enjoy with your family. 

Overall, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special was fun to watch and had some good moments that got me to laugh, but it wasn’t my exact cup of tea when it comes to comedy. I still think it was enjoyable just not my type, but I would still encourage people to take a look at it and give it a try, because the acting is great, plot is nice and simple, and it is a good film to watch for the holiday season. 

-Nicole R.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Katheryn Stockett was the first book I had to read when I entered my freshman year. They gave it out as a summer reading assignment and now, we’ve been doing essays and connecting it to other stories we’re reading. 

The Help is a historical fiction novel, and is set in the 1960’s in Mississippi. Skeeter, a young woman straight out of college who aspires to be a writer, begins to interview and befriend the black women of her town in order to write about their lives in hopes to help them and show what they go through and the racism they face. Aibileen and Minny, two black women who work as the help, or housekeepers, in the town are the first two that Skeeter interviews and befriends. Despite their differences in society, they each work together to get other black women to help and create their book. As the story goes on, these three grow and learn more about themselves and others around them.

The book is told through three different perspectives. First is Aibileen, a black woman that is the help, or the housekeeper, of one of Skeeter’s friends. She is a hard worker and has been working for a long time as a help. She is kind and is the first person to help Skeeter write her book. Minny is another black woman who is Aibileen’s friend and the help of another one of Skeeter’s friends. Minny is stubborn and hot headed. She takes much more convincing than Aibileen to help with Skeeter’s book due to her distrust in white people, but she eventually comes around as the story goes on. Skeeter on the other hand, is a white woman, young and aspires to become a writer, despite what other people’s views of her are. 

This book was a fun read, despite having to write and take assessments on it. To be honest, I had fun writing essays on this book because I understood the story and the characters even more. Skeeter was one of my favorite characters. She broke the society norms, had her own dreams and goals, and really grew throughout the story. Two other characters I enjoyed reading were Celia and Johnny. Celia was Minny’s boss and Johnny was Celia’s husband. They were immediately different from all the other characters. Despite the time period and the fact they were white, they didn’t mistreat Minny and really cared for her. Like Skeeter, they were kind and weren’t racist like many of the other white people in their town. Treating others with human decency is a pretty low bar, but considering the time period, this is a pretty important and unusual thing to see. I’m glad Stockett included these characters, otherwise, it would have been very difficult to read this book. 

The plot overall was really good; each character had their own story and path with their own aspirations, needs, and problems. Aibileen has lost her own son and wants to teach young kids the right things while taking care of them, but also wants to become free to live her own life. Minny wants to care for her own children; wants them to have a good life. Skeeter wants to pursue her dreams although society is against her. Each character has their own set of issues they must overcome and their own story to complete while also creating their own story together, both within the story and plot wise.

The Help is a great book and would be a book I’d recommend if you were looking for one in this genre. Historical fiction is definitely one of my favorite genres but I’m sure that even if it wasn’t one of your favorites, it could still be a fun read.

-Nicole R.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Shakespeare by the Sea: Romeo and Juliet Review

This is my first time seeing something by Shakespeare by the Sea, and my first time actually seeing a show of the famous Romeo and Juliet play. Despite how famous the story of Romeo and Juliet is, I have never actually seen a live performance of it, until Shakespeare by the Sea came around. Shakespeare by the Sea is a nonprofit organization that performs theatrical plays for free in communities around California. Last year, they were not able to tour and perform and they have just started again this summer. I was really lucky in catching this show, as it was part of the 25th anniversary and the last tour with the original founder of Shakespeare by the Sea.

I hadn’t been interested in Shakespeare and had just come along to watch the play because my mom asked if I wanted to. There was nothing I had to do that day, and I had never actually seen Romeo and Juliet yet, so I had no reason not to go see it. I was not disappointed. It was your usual Romeo and Juliet play, following the original story, but I had plenty of laughs and it was a lot of fun. There were a lot of moments, especially in the beginning of the play, that made me laugh out loud and smile. They spoke in the old, english dialect, but I understood it just fine. The actors did an amazing job, in portraying their character, the emotion, and making it fun for everyone. The actors help set up the stage, perform the entire thing, and take it down afterwards. The entire venue is outside and they work and perform for over an hour. The actors and people who work with Shakespeare by the Sea are honestly so amazing and put in so much time and effort in it. 

Shakespeare by the Sea has sparked my own interest in Shakespeare and his works and I am so happy to have been able to see them perform. If you ever get the chance to see one of their performances, I highly recommend going because they work super hard for their productions, and it is completely free to watch them. It is super fun to watch them perform and if you do ever end up going to a performance, make sure to give them a donation for their dedication to performing!

-Nicole R.

Top Gun: Maverick Movie Review

Top Gun: Maverick, the long awaited sequel to the legendary Top Gun movie, has finally debuted after 30 years. Top Gun: Maverick once again stars Tom Cruise as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, set 30 years after the first Top Gun movie. Top Gun: Maverick was extraordinary and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. I wasn’t exactly super attached to the first Top Gun movie, but  was encouraged by my family to see Top Gun: Maverick with them. I had watched it a day after the opening of the movie, not really knowing what to expect, but after watching the movie, it blew any expectations I had out of the water. The cast was full of great picks and the characters made an impact. The story had my attention immediately and never once lost me. I stayed attentive throughout the whole thing and couldn’t turn away easily. 

Top Gun: Maverick first introduces us to Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who has now been flying and serving in the Navy for more than 30 years now, and is called back to United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, or better known as Top Gun. Maverick is asked to become an instructor for a group of Top Gun graduates to get them ready to go on a near impossible mission, which makes everyone wonder if anyone would even make it out alive. As the pilots train for the mission, Maverick rebuilds his relationships, and learns to accept the past by overcoming his fears. He does whatever is in his power to make sure that this mission and everyone’s life doesn’t blow up into smoke.

Top Gun: Maverick included something that I had never felt in a movie before. The suspense had my heart pounding in my chest, my mind unable to tell what would be coming next. Even the minor plot twists would either give me stress or relief. I felt incredibly attached to the characters and I felt as if I really knew them. Every second of the film is essential to the plot or to Maverick’s character, and it doesn’t ever feel as if there is a filler scene. Even if there had been a filler scene, it was filled with entertainment, leaving me in no way bored. There was tension and suspense, but there were also heartwarming times, heartbreaking times, and witty, humorous moments scattered throughout the film which developed the plot and developed the characters. 

Each character had their own special quality, whether it being timid, arrogant, confident, or funny, these are all qualities that can be found within each of the characters, old and new. Despite there being only two of the past characters, Maverick and Iceman (Yes, it’s really Val Kilmer!), they still hold their previous character’s charm and personality within them. The new characters are definitely not a let down, and are actually pretty interesting characters. I do, however, wish that we had more time to spend with each character and to learn about each of them a bit more. I would’ve liked a bit more insight with each character such as, who they are, relationships with each other and each of their backstories; just to fill in some plot points that I feel were missed.

I hadn’t been a huge Top Gun fan before this movie came out, but now you can definitely count me in when it comes to Top Gun. If I ever get to, I’d watch the original and sequel back to back just to get the full experience and to appreciate it even more. There are a couple of call backs from the first Top Gun movie so if you were thinking of seeing Top Gun: Maverick, I’d definitely recommend watching the first Top Gun movie to get the full experience. Top Gun: Maverick easily won a spot in my heart, making it an unforgettable movie for me, also placing the entire franchise in general on a higher pedestal than I had it on before. If you ever have the chance to see Top Gun: Maverick, I’d highly recommend that you do. It is an amazing movie, with amazing people in it, and I couldn’t be happier to have watched it. 

-Nicole R.

Review of Hamilton: Live at Segerstrom

Recently, Hamilton came and performed at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. My parents got my brother, themselves and me tickets to the last show on the final day of their tour. I’ve been a fan of Hamilton ever since my friends and cousins got me into it a few years ago. Ever since then, I’ve listened to the soundtrack, watched the animatics on YouTube, and even got Disney+ just to watch it. But nothing I’ve watched could beat seeing the show live. Seeing the full show in person was a completely different experience than from seeing it through a screen. 

For those who don’t know, Hamilton is a musical based around the life of Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the founding fathers of America. It goes through all his accomplishments and everything he took part in, such as the Revolutionary War and the makings of the financial system in America. However, the musical also shows everything that happened in his personal life, and everything he had done or failed to do. If you haven’t taken a look at Hamilton (the songs or the story or both) I would highly recommend you do.

Despite how many times I listen to the songs, none of the recordings will blow me away in the same way hearing and seeing it live will. All the visual effects and sound effects within the songs created a whole new sense and feeling. You could feel the vibrations of the effects throughout the theater allowing shivers to run through my body. Being able to see and hear all the effects and visuals in person made everything more intense. The actors did a great job, and for the most part, I could understand what they said (probably because I’ve listened to it so many times). The choreography was stunning, the different kinds of lighting was awesome and connected well with the scenes, and the acting was phenomenal. The actors really did an amazing job, and they were very fun to watch. What’s even more exciting when seeing something live, is the fact that no show is going to be the same. The night my family and I went, the cast was different from any of the other days they showed. I won’t ever get to know what the other shows were like, how the characters sounded or anything. I am only going to know what my show was like, which makes the experience feel even more special. 

Hamilton was great to listen to and watch through a screen, but seeing it live was a completely new and amazing experience and I couldn’t be happier to have been there to see it. Once again, if you haven’t taken a look at any of the songs or anything even pertaining to Hamilton, then I would highly recommend you do. It has an impressive soundtrack that somehow manages to tell the entire story, even without hearing the parts in between (especially since the story is told through the music). Even if the music isn’t your cup of tea, just try listening to it at least once. Now, if you do find interest in the musical and end up liking it, I would definitely recommend you to watch the next showing of it whenever they come to your area. Seeing this show live is something you wouldn’t regret if you already like the music.

-Nicole R.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Movie Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has been out for a long time, but I wasn’t too interested in checking it out. Don’t get me wrong, it looked like a great movie, I just wasn’t interested in watching movies at the time. One day, my parents put it on and I decided to sit down and watch it. When I sat down to watch, I didn’t know what I was expecting. Marvel movies always have a way of surprising me. I usually have no idea what I’m in for when I start a Marvel movie. This time, Marvel introduced a completely new character to me. I had never seen or heard the name of Shang-Chi (despite him being in the Marvel comics), and I had no idea what the ten rings were. Despite these factors, I had a good time watching the movie.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows the story of Shaun. Shaun is a seemingly normal individual; he works as a valet driver with his best friend, Katy. Stuck in their teenage delusions, they continue to live their life normally, until a group of shady individuals attack them both on their bus to work. Shaun figures out that these individuals are a part of his father’s group, the Ten Rings, and he makes it his mission to go find his sister. In hopes to find and help his sister, Shaun and Katy go to China, only to get himself and Katy into more trouble. Him, Katy, and his sister have to deal with larger problems than just Shaun’s father’s organization, and along the way, they uncover more secrets. 

In the end, Shang-Chi was a great movie. I had a lot of fun while watching it; the action scenes were wonderful and well done, and there were times where they gave me a good laugh. Like most marvel movies, the music completely enhanced the scenes and made the action so much better. I enjoyed how fast paced the movie felt, and even by the end, I wanted more. The movie felt short, despite it being over two hours long. The fight scenes had remarkable choreography and had a great sense of timing. It didn’t feel too fast that I couldn’t understand what was happening, but it wasn’t too slow that it felt boring. The slow downs within the fights were a nice touch and gave me a little more time to breathe. However, I did feel as if there was more action than dialogue. Most of the dialogue was needed for the story to continue, and somewhat impactful. The dialogue was mostly to show who the characters were and to move the story. Every now and then, there would be some quips, and some small jokes that I would chuckle at, but overall, I felt as if there was more action than dialogue. But considering it’s a superhero action movie, it would make sense.

Although not knowing anything going into the movie, I found Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to be a great movie and I am quite excited to see these characters in future Marvel movies. I can’t wait until they interact with more characters from the Marvel universe, and to see what other problems they encounter. This movie is definitely a fun one to watch and I would recommend it to people who enjoy action and to even just try it if you don’t.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.