About Oliver H.

I like Korean food, Minecraft, trading card games, and video games.

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl is a science fiction novel about three groups of people from different parts of the universe.  Most of the events occur on a planet called Andrecia.  Much like Earth, Andrecia is the third planet from a yellow sun.  The native Andrecians live in a relatively primitive society.  A foreign group of colonists has invaded Andrecia, with the intent to conquer it.  These colonists are much more scientifically advanced.  A third group of people, even more advanced than the other two groups, has decided to intervene on behalf of the Andrecians.  These highly advanced people, including young Elana, attempt to empower the Andrecians to drive away the colonists.  Elana must do this without disclosing her true alien identity.  From the Andrecians’ perspective, she becomes the “Enchantress from the Stars.”

I enjoyed reading about how the three groups of people are similar in many ways, despite their differences.  They all seem to experience human emotions and a sense of morality.  However, they view science and technology differently.  To the Andrecians, technology is magic.  To the invading colonists, technology is a tool for conquering others.  To the most highly advanced people, science and technology are used for noble purposes.  This book is written in a way to help us understand these different perspectives.  The point of view alternates between the three groups of people throughout the book, making it seem like we are viewing the story from multiple angles.  For example, the language of the Andrecians seems old-fashioned and medieval, while the language of the colonists seems modern.  The most advanced people are even able to communicate by telepathy.  I found this multi-faceted writing style to be very engaging and insightful.  It was also exciting to see how these three perspectives blended together by the end of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I can understand why it won a Newbery Honor Award, back when it was written in 1971.  I find it interesting to think about what it would be like for people in a medieval period to interact with people from a more scientifically advanced period.  I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction.  I would also recommend this book to people who do not think they enjoy science fiction, because this book is about more than science and technology.  I think this book teaches valuable lessons about seeking to understand one another despite our differences.

-Oliver H.

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers is the story of a beloved nanny and the magical adventures that seem to follow wherever she goes.  Travers wrote several books about Mary Poppins.  In the first book, we are introduced to the Banks family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Banks and their four children: Jane, Michael, John and Barbara.  John and Barbara are the baby twins.  After their nanny quits, Mary Poppins appears seemingly out of nowhere to become the new nanny.  Poppins turns out to be much different than any other nanny they had known before.

The children realize right away that whenever Mary Poppins is around, amazing things happen.  I enjoyed reading about their unusual experiences.  One of my favorite characters is Admiral Boom.  He yells out random nautical phrases like “Land ho!” and “Heave away there!”  I also enjoyed a chapter called “Laughing Gas,” in which Mr. Wigg (also known as Uncle Albert) fills with laughing gas and elevates in the air when he loses control of his laughter.  For some reason, Mr. Wigg finds it especially difficult to control his laughter on Fridays, and when his birthday falls on a Friday he floats like a balloon.

This book is filled with many other quirky and amusing episodes.  However, one thing that surprised me was the personality of Mary Poppins herself.  She apparently has a vanity problem, because she always seems to admire herself when she sees her reflection.  I was also taken aback by the manner in which Mary Poppins treats the children.

For example, we read: “’Ask him.  He knows—Mr. Know-All!’ said Mary Poppins, nodding her head scornfully at Michael.”

As another example, we read: “’Oh, really?  I thought it was the other way round,’ said Mary Poppins with a scornful laugh.”

Yet another example of her attitude toward the children: “Mary Poppins turned and regarded him with something like disgust.”

There are many other examples of this kind of behavior by Mary Poppins.  She is not always mean-spirited toward the children, and she seems to have their best interests at heart.  I was just surprised to read about her snapping at the children from time to time.  Still, by the end of the book, the children seem to love her (for some reason).

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book.  There were many humorous and delightful elements to the story.  The book is also full of surprises, especially when it comes to the occasional rude or even scornful remark by Mary Poppins.  If you have seen the 1964 Disney movie, then you will be surprised by the differences.  I would say that the Mary Poppins character is much more gentle-hearted in the movie than in the book.  In spite of that, I would recommend this book, as well as its sequels.

-Oliver H.

Marry Poppins by P. L. Travers is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers is the sequel to Mary Poppins.  The story picks up just a few months from when the original book left off.  The Banks’ house is in complete disarray.  Mary Poppins had deserted the family without notice.  They had hired other nurses to take Poppins’ place, but none of them lasted long.  One nurse, for instance, had been spat at by young Michael Banks and quit immediately.  Michael fought with his sister Jane, little twins John and Barbara quarreled, the kitchen flue caught fire, the cherry trees were devastated by frost, and so on.  Mrs. Banks does not know what to do.  In despair, she sends the four children to the park so she can have some peace at home.  Jane and Michael decide to fly a kite to entertain John and Barbara.  As they pull the kite back in, to their astonishment, they see Mary Poppins herself holding the string and gliding down with the kite.

Within moments, Mary Poppins is already ordering the children around.  Much like the original book, Poppins assumes a stern and haughty attitude.  However, the children enjoy many new adventures in this sequel.  I enjoyed reading about their magical ability to fly above the park holding just one balloon each.  I also liked reading about the day they met an interesting man named Mr. Turvy.  The day happened to be the second Monday of the month.  Every second Monday, mysterious things happen to Mr. Turvy.  He flips upside-down, he finds himself outside when he wants to be inside, and he even feels sad though he normally feels happy.  This quirky episode is strange but I found it to be quite amusing.

Mary Poppins is as scornful as ever in this book.  She displays a short temper and even intimidates the children.  On one occasion, for example, we read: “Mary Poppins, in her fury, seemed to have grown to twice her usual size.  She hovered over him in her nightgown, huge and angry, waiting for him to reply.”  Poppins also proves to be quite vain.  For example, as she passed by a glass window, “Mary Poppins gave a little conceited nod to her reflection and hurried on.”  She also seems to be dishonest with the children.  After almost every adventure, Poppins denies that she had anything to do with it or that it even happened at all.

I began to wonder if all the tumult in the Banks’ household was caused by Mary Poppins herself, so that the family would appreciate her more when their situation magically improved.  Whether or not my conspiracy theory is correct, everyone still seems to love Mary Poppins by the end of the story.  Despite her periodic rude comments to the children, they seem to enjoy her company as much as ever.  The main reason for this may be that many exciting and delightful adventures seem to follow Mary Poppins wherever she goes.  These adventures make the book charming to read, if you can look past Mary Poppins’ less-than-perfect attitude and behavior toward the children.

-Oliver H.

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is the well-known story of a miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge.  Scrooge hates everyone.  He mistreats his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit.  All Scrooge cares about is making money.  To Christmas he says, “Bah, Humbug!”  On one Christmas Eve, he leaves work to return to his dark and dreary home.  Strange things begin to happen.  Scrooge is home alone as usual, but he sees and hears things out of the ordinary.  He dismisses these at first, until suddenly, to his astonishment, the ghost of his partner appears to him.  Jacob Marley, his long-dead business partner, is wearing heavy chains.  Marley explains to Scrooge that his chains were formed during his lifetime by evil and selfish deeds, and now he must carry them through the afterlife.  Marley warns Scrooge that he will suffer the same fate if he does not change his ways.

As the familiar story goes, Scrooge is visited by three additional spirits.  The spirits show Scrooge the importance of caring for other people.  Gradually, Scrooge realizes the error of his former ways, and finally resolves to change his life.  When he awakes on Christmas morning, he goes about spreading Christmas cheer, even to the surprise of Cratchit and his family.

I love this book and its inspiring message.  To me, this is a book about change.  Scrooge seemed like a person who would never change his ways.  But even he was able to change.  He learned the value of kindness toward others.  He also learned to care for those less fortunate than him.

This book is quite short compared to many of Dickens’ other books, but for good reason this is considered one of his masterpieces.  As we expect from Charles Dickens, the book is extremely well-written and wonderfully descriptive.  Take for example his description of the city streets:  “The house-fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground.”

Dickens masterfully describes many contrasting images throughout the book.  On the one hand we see haunting ghosts and miserable living conditions, but we also see hope and cheerfulness, and finally the redemption of a miserly old man.  This book is highly enjoyable to read and we can learn many lessons from it.  It is great to read around Christmas, but I would recommend it any time of the year.

-Oliver H.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol–along with every variation–is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister is the second book in the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo.  The main protagonist is a boy named Charlie Bone who possesses a special power.  Charlie can hear what people are saying inside photographs.  Charlie is not the only person to possess magical ability.  He attends a school for the gifted called Bloor’s Academy, where other students appear to have special powers of their own.  Charlie discovers that the evil Bloor family in charge of the academy has been plotting to harm some of the students, including himself.

I enjoyed reading about the development of Charlie’s powers in this book.  It becomes easier for him to hear what people are saying in the pictures he sees.  However, he does not fully realize the strength of his power yet.  One day at school, Charlie is surprised to meet one of his ancestors, named Henry Yewbeam.  Henry looks the same age as Charlie, but he was born over 90 years ago.  Henry had teleported through time using a mystical marble known as the Time Twister.  Charlie needs to protect Henry from the Bloor family, who would consider Henry an enemy.  This book is very suspenseful, as the Bloors become increasingly suspicious of Charlie.

One of my favorite characters in this book is Ezekiel Bloor.  Ezekiel is a cranky old man living at the academy.  He seems to hate everybody.  He has an old connection to Henry that creates a very intriguing background to this story.  I enjoyed the mystery and suspense of this book.  It was fascinating to read the story as it unfolded through different time periods.  After reading this book, I was anxious to read the next book in the series.  I highly recommend it.

-Oliver H.

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo

Midnight for Charlie Bone Children of the Red King Book 1 - NEW ...

Midnight for Charlie Bone was written by a British author named Jenny Nimmo.  It is the first of eight books in the Children of the Red King series.  This series is among my favorites.  The books refer to an ancient magician known as the Red King.  His magical powers have passed down through his descendants for generations.

Charlie Bone is a ten-year old boy living with his mother, uncle and two grandmothers.  Throughout his childhood, Charlie has been told that his father is missing.  Despite this, Charlie continues to hope that he will see his father someday.  Life is otherwise normal until one day he discovers that he can hear people talking in photographs.  Charlie realizes that he has a special power.

Charlie’s three strange aunts soon arrive for a visit, pleased to learn of his power.  They enroll him in a special school for gifted children called Bloor’s Academy.  Charlie begins to realize that other children in the school have magical powers as well.  He also learns that the Bloor family in charge of the school is engaged in dark and sinister schemes.  Charlie realizes that there is more than meets the eye in this academy, and he is determined to uncover the truth.

I found it hard to put down this book once I started.  The story is engrossing because of its many mysteries.  I became anxious to find out about Charlie’s missing father, and about the history of the children who possess magical powers.  Many questions are left unanswered in this book, so I was excited to read the other books in the series.  The adventures are fast-paced, so I enjoyed reading the series in quick succession.  You will likely want to read the other books in the series as well after reading this one.

-Oliver H.

Midnight For Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander, is the first book of his well-known fantasy series called the chronicle of Prydain.  This is the story of a young man named Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper in a place known as Caer Dallben.  Taran leads a simple life, caring for farm animals and making horseshoes, but he dreams of making a sword and becoming a hero.  One day, something strange happens to the farm animals.  They begin running away as though they are frightened.  Most troubling is that the special pig, named Hen Wen, manages to escape.  Taran dashes after her, leading to an unexpected adventure to save the land of Prydain.

Many elements of the story are inspired by Welsh legends and mythology.  I found some of the names difficult to pronounce, but I think the Welsh influence adds to the charm of the book.  The ancient feel of this fantasy makes the book very enjoyable to read.  Taran joins with several unusual characters who aid him on his quest and add humor and intrigue to the story.  For example, Taran encounters a bard named Fflewddur Fflam, who possesses a magical golden harp.  Fflewddur is prone to exaggeration, and whenever he stretches the truth, at least one of his harp strings breaks.

This book is a wonderful blend of action, adventure and humor.  We also learn many good life lessons, as Taran seems to learn something valuable from each of his companions.  After reading this book, I highly recommend reading the other four books in the series.  The titles of the other books are The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King.  These books are worth reading not just for the delightful characters and engrossing story, but for their portrayal of the true meaning of heroism.

-Oliver H.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game is a short novel by Ellen Raskin.  This book has won several awards, including the Newberry Medal.  The story is about a millionaire named Samuel W. Westing.  Sam Westing was known as an eccentric man who loved games.  He left behind a very strange will.  According to the will, his vast fortune would be inherited by the person who could win a perplexing game he had devised before his death.

The will only allowed certain people to play the Westing game.  They were not the kind of heirs typically included in a will.  The game participants seemed to have no relation to each other, but they all had some kind of connection to Sam Westing.  According to the will, he had actually been murdered by one of his heirs.

The people all seem confused that they were selected to play this game, but each of them wants to win the Westing fortune.  The game involves various clues that arouse suspicion in each other.  As the game unfolds, the heirs discover many surprises, and realize that Sam Westing’s game is more dangerous than they had supposed.

I have read this book several times, even though I have already learned the surprise ending.  I still enjoy reading this book for its suspense and humor.  I also like reading about all the different characters, and their unique personalities.  The story is very clever and full of surprises.  This book is very engaging and I think you will have a hard time putting it down once you start reading it.

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers is the second book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy known as The Lord of the Rings.  The first half focuses on Aragorn and the remaining members of the Fellowship of the Ring.  The second half focuses on Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee as they try to reach Mordor.  The book includes various subplots, and many characters and places, so it may seem difficult to keep track of everything.  However, the story is very gripping and worth the effort to read.

Some of my favorite characters in this book are the Ents.  The Ents are like tree people.  Two of the little hobbits, Pippin and Merry, encounter an Ent named Treebeard after escaping a group of savage orcs.  Treebeard, like other Ents, is very tall and strong.  He moves very slowly because he does not like to be “too hasty.”  The Ents are usually gentle creatures, but they can become powerful warriors if aroused to battle.  I enjoy reading about these creatures because they are like trees come to life.

Treebeard takes Pippin and Merry to a tower controlled by Saruman.  Saruman is a wizard who was once good.  He is one of my favorite characters in the trilogy, even though we learn that he has become bad.  His voice is described as low and melodious, and he is able to enchant and trick people.  He appears to be full of wisdom, which enables him to gain many followers.  This character is a very accurate portrayal of how a wicked person can deceive many people.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam are traveling with the One Ring toward Mordor, an evil land where orcs and many unnamed horrors roam.  They are guided by Gollum, a savage little thing that was once a hobbit, but has become corrupted by the ring.  Frodo and Sam form an uneasy alliance with Gollum after taming him, even though he still lusts for the ring.  The ring grants its wearer invisibility, but it also slowly overpowers its owner.  The ring is designed to get back to its creator, the evil Sauron.  Sauron is in the form of an eye on a tower in Mordor, always searching for his ring, which would give him unlimited power.

This book is a great story about the dangers of greed and power.  It also includes many surprises and plot twists.  The end of the book is a sort of cliffhanger, so I would recommend that readers read the entire trilogy in sequence.  The Two Towers is a great book on its own, but it should definitely be read along with the other books in the trilogy.

-Oliver H. 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater

Lizard Music is another hilarious book by Daniel Pinkwater.  This one is about a boy named Victor from a town called McDonaldsville.  Victor’s parents are away on vacation and his older sister is out camping even though she is supposed to be looking after him.  Since his parents are away, he can watch television late at night.  One night, something strange happens.  The television begins to show lizards performing jazz music.  This is mysterious because nothing about lizards appears in the television guide.

Victor later finds a man known as “The Chicken Man,” with a trained chicken named Claudia who helps Victor discover where the lizards come from.  They set off for a place called Invisible Island.  This is where the lizards broadcast their own television channel.  Their island has been drifting toward Victor’s hometown, and the weather is just right for Victor’s television to pick up their signal.

I enjoy reading about Victor’s wacky tour through the island.  For example, he is introduced to the House of Plants.  The house has a tree called the Truth Tree, which shakes its leaves and emits a loud noise whenever someone is telling a lie nearby.  Victor also enters the House of Memory.  In this house, whatever Victor thinks about appears in the room.

This book is a favorite of mine because of its quirky and random humor.  Daniel Pinkwater is a very unique author but I think his books can appeal to a wide audience, as long as you are not looking for a serious read.

-Oliver H. 

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library