About Oliver H.

I enjoy Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Shovel Knight, books and Korean food.

A Damsel in Distress by P. G. Wodehouse

A Damsel in Distress is a humorous novel by P. G. Wodehouse.  The book appears to be set around the time of the publication date, which was 1919.  A young American composer named George Bevan feels empty and discontent with his life.  While visiting London from his native New York, he is thrust into a tumultuous chain of events when a young woman by the name of Maud Marsh enters into his life.  This mysterious lady appears one day and asks George to hide her from her brother Percy.  George falls in love with Maud, and he tries to find out where she lives.  However, the girl’s aristocratic relatives disapprove of George, and prevent her from leaving their castle.

I found this novel to be extremely entertaining.  I have always enjoyed stories like this, with a relatively small cast of characters.  This allows the author to focus on character development.  I consider P. G. Wodehouse to be one of the best at doing this.  He is very skillful at developing funny and interesting characters.  All of the characters are humorous in their own way, and the dialogue between them is very enjoyable to read.  For example, Percy Marsh is quite pompous and self-important, but his inept schemes against George always fail miserably.  Reginald (“Reggie”) Byng always seems to be upbeat and cheerful, even though he often gets pushed around by his overbearing relatives.

This novel was an amusing read from start to finish.  P. G. Wodehouse has great command of the English language, and his characters express themselves in ways that are delightful to read.  The story takes many funny twists and turns, but eventually arrives at a satisfying conclusion.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a fun and lighthearted story.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov was the last novel written by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  The story is set in 19th-century Russia, and it revolves around a wicked old man named Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three adult sons.  From oldest to youngest, the brothers are named Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha.  Dmitri is similar to his father in that he is impulsive and immoral.  Ivan is more of a thoughtful and intellectual person.  Alyosha is kind-hearted and religious.  He has joined a local monastery, and he strives to maintain peace in his family amid growing tensions between his father and his brothers.

As the story unfolds, a terrible crime is committed, and one of the Karamazov brothers is the primary suspect.  This leads to a dramatic series of events, with many surprising outcomes.  Overall, this novel is quite dark, as it explores the thoughts and behavior of various evil and immoral people.  At the same time, characters such as Alyosha strive to maintain virtue and goodness.

This novel was extremely well-written.  I read an English translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which flowed very well, even though this novel was originally written in Russian.  Each character seems to have a unique voice, which makes the story feel very realistic.  I was deeply impressed by the interactions between the father and the three Karamazov brothers.  The ending of the story was particularly satisfying.

This is a gripping novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is no wonder that Fyodor Dostoevsky is considered one of the greatest authors in history.  The characters have so much depth, and the storytelling is so realistic, that I almost found it hard to believe this was fictional.  I consider this one of the greatest novels I have ever read, and it deserves to be considered one of the great masterpieces of literature.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an influential novel written by Oscar Wilde.  The story revolves around the eponymous character, Dorian Gray.  Early in the story, Dorian is an impressionable young man.  His friend, an artist named Basil Hallward, has painted a portrait of Dorian.  Basil is almost worshipful of Dorian’s innocence and natural beauty.  Lord Henry Wotton, known as Harry, is an associate of Basil.  Harry persuades Basil to introduce him to Dorian.  Immediately, and against Basil’s wishes, Harry begins to exert an evil influence on Dorian.  Dorian becomes preoccupied with his own youthful appearance.  He develops an intense desire to remain youthful forever.  Dorian wishes that his portrait would grow old, while he remains young.  In a mysterious way, Dorian’s wish is granted.

I consider this book to be a cautionary tale about the consequences of selfishness, conceit and other sinful behaviors.  Dorian’s descent into a life of evil was saddening to me.  I felt disappointed that he would fall prey to Harry’s false and immoral philosophies.  The manner in which Harry influences Dorian is very cunning, and seems to be a very accurate portrayal of the manner in which one might be deceived by hedonistic philosophies.

The tone of this novel is rather dark and gothic, so I am not sure that everyone would enjoy reading it.  I personally found it to be quite intriguing and instructive, even though it seemed eerie at times, especially at the end.  This could be considered a very tragic story, but I think Oscar Wilde teaches some valuable lessons in this book.  I would recommend the book to most people, although some people may find it to be a bit creepy.

-Oliver H.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen R. Lawhead

In the Hall of the Dragon King is the first book of The Dragon King Trilogy, by Stephen R. Lawhead.  This is a fantasy novel set in a medieval era.  The story revolves around a young religious acolyte named Quentin.  Quentin resides with elder priests in a temple.  One day, the priests are alarmed by the unexpected appearance of a knight who appears to be mortally wounded.  The mysterious man informs the priests that he is carrying an urgent message for the queen.  The elder priests had made sacred vows never to leave the temple, so Quentin volunteers to deliver the message.

Quentin had spent most of his life inside the walls of the temple, so he was not accustomed to the outside world.  He encounters many dangers as he attempts to deliver the sealed message to the queen.  Unbeknownst to Quentin, evil and mystical forces are conspiring against the king.  Quentin will need great courage to accomplish his perilous task.

This book is filled with action and adventure.  Quentin faces dark magic and dangerous creatures in this ancient world.  Many intriguing characters are introduced along the way during this epic quest, including a powerful necromancer.  Quentin demonstrates bravery and heroism as the story unfolds, and as he struggles to overcome evil.

I enjoyed this book very much.  The characters are well-developed, and the story is rich with imagery.  I was impressed by the imaginative world created by the author, and I was excited to read the other two books in the trilogy.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy adventure novels.

-Oliver H.

In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen R. Lawhead is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

The Twenty-One Balloons is a Newbery Award-winning novel by William Pène du Bois.  A professor named William Waterman Sherman has been found floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  At the time of his rescue, he is surrounded by the wreckage of twenty deflated balloons.  He had departed three weeks earlier from his home in San Francisco, using a giant gas balloon to fly over the Pacific Ocean.  Somehow, he ended up in the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by twenty balloons.  When he finally arrives home, the people are anxious to learn what had happened to him.  They could not imagine how he could have circled the globe in only three weeks, and why he ended up with twenty balloons rather than the one balloon with which he began his journey.  So, the professor gives a speech to recount his amazing adventure. 

Professor Sherman explains that he had wanted to get away from the world, just so that he could relax for a time.  He decided to drift on a balloon over the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately, he crashed on the volcanic island of Krakatoa.  He was greeted there by a man in a white suit and bowler hat.  The man is part of a hidden community in the middle of the island.  As the professor was introduced to the community, he came to realize that this was a highly-sophisticated civilization.

I enjoyed reading about the inhabitants of Krakatoa, and about the professor’s adventures on the island and around the world.  His journey is interesting and exciting.  There were many whimsical and amusing elements to this story as well.  In a way this novel feels like a blend of truth and fiction.  The author seems to include some social commentary about the aristocrats living in Krakatoa, but for the most part this book is simply a playful children’s story.  It was a quick read but very enjoyable.  I can certainly see why this was awarded the Newbery Medal, and I would definitely recommend this book.

-Oliver H.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Wringer by Jerry Spinelli

Wringer is a Newberry Honor book by Jerry Spinelli.  The story focuses on a young boy named Palmer who becomes part of a “gang” on his ninth birthday.  At first, he enjoys the feeling of being accepted.  But soon he discovers that his feeling of loyalty to the gang will lead to difficult decisions.

Palmer lives in a town that hosts an annual Pigeon Day.  The festivities include typical entertainment such as barbeques and amusement rides, but the highlight of the event is a pigeon shooting contest.  Thousands of pigeons are released into the air, for contest participants to shoot down with their shotguns.  The participant who shoots the most pigeons wins the coveted Sharpshooter’s trophy.

Pigeons that are wounded and fall to the ground during the contest are collected by “wringer boys.”  These boys are tasked with breaking the pigeons’ necks, to ensure death.  All dead pigeons are then placed into plastic bags.  A boy can become a “wringer” once he reaches the age of ten.  The other members of Palmer’s gang all want to become wringers, but Palmer secretly dreads the idea of breaking pigeons’ necks.

The story becomes suspenseful as Palmer struggles with his loyalty to the gang and his innate desire to avoid harming the pigeons.  Palmer finds himself in a difficult position because the killing of pigeons is widely accepted and even celebrated by his community.  He feels pressure to become a wringer, even from his own father.  This creates a challenging moral dilemma for Palmer.

I found this book to be very compelling.  It was hard to put it down once I started reading it.  The characters are well-developed and the ending is quite poignant.  The book conveys a thoughtful message about the killing of animals.  Overall, I would say that this novel was quite deserving of the Newberry Honor award.  I highly recommend it.

-Oliver H.

Wringer by Jerry Spinelli is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The Killer Angels is a historical novel by Michael Shaara about the American Civil War.  This book won the Pulitzer Prize and has sold millions of copies.  Even though the novel is fictional, the author conducted extensive historical research to write this book.  I found this novel to be very realistic, and I can understand why it has become so highly regarded.

The story focuses on the Battle of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863.  The book is organized into four parts, each part describing a separate day of the battle.  The author delves into great detail as he imagines how some of the main characters in this conflict may have felt as the battle unfolded.  He focuses on important military leaders such as Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet from the South, and Joshua Chamberlain from the North.  The author alternates the perspective from one character to another, so that each chapter is written in the viewpoint of a specific person.  This allows the reader to view the battle from many different perspectives.

I found this book to be thrilling and highly dramatic.  The characters seem to come to life as the author uses dialogue and inner thoughts to portray their feelings and motivations.  Even though the characterizations are fictional, the story is based on real events and was very educational for me.  This was a very enjoyable way to learn about American history.  I learned many details about the Civil War.  It was very interesting to learn about how the battle at Gettysburg was won.  The author portrays both sides of the battle very thoroughly, so that the reader can understand the war from both perspectives.  It was very helpful to learn about this war from a novel that is so vivid and absorbing.  I would definitely recommend this book.

-Oliver H.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Tale of Despereaux is a novel by Kate DiCamillo, and winner of the Newberry Award.  The setting is in a medieval era, and most of the events take place in a large castle.  The main plot revolves around an undersized mouse with large ears named Despereaux.  Despereaux is considered strange and eccentric compared to the other mice in the castle.  For one thing, he enjoys reading books rather than nibbling on its pages.  One of his favorite books is about a knight rescuing a princess.  Another important character is a spiteful rat named Chiaroscuro, who is called Roscuro for short.  Roscuro is unlike other rats, because he desires to leave the darkness in which rats are accustomed to living.  Roscuro decides to visit a royal banquet, but he falls from a chandelier into the soup.  This angers the princess of the castle, named Princess Pea, and she gives Roscuro a scornful look.  Roscuro’s feelings are hurt by the incident, and he plots to get revenge against the princess.  He convinces an unfortunate peasant girl name Miggery Sow to help him kidnap Princess Pea, promising the girl that she could become the princess instead.  Despereaux learns of the plan, and sets out on a quest to rescue the princess.

This book is actually divided into four books.  The first book focuses on Despereaux.  The second book focuses on Roscuro.  The third book focuses on Miggery Sow.  The fourth book ties all of the main characters together.  I think the organization of this book is very clever.  I enjoyed the way the story shifted focus from one character to another, and finally brought them all together.  I especially enjoyed the intertwining of events as the book drew toward its conclusion.

Overall, I think this book is very charming and entertaining.  The story is filled with adventure and excitement.  The characters are simple, but memorable.  The narrator presents the story in a way that seems almost interactive with the reader.  I felt like the narrator was speaking directly to me, which made this book very engaging.  I was drawn in by the binding of the book itself, which describes it as “being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.”  It was very satisfying to read about how these elements all came together to make a unique and enjoyable story.  This book is one of my favorites and I think just about anyone would enjoy reading it.

-Oliver H.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Curtain by Agatha Christie

Curtain by Agatha Christie is the last book in the Poirot series.  Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s old and trustworthy friend, visits him in a hotel known as Styles.  Styles is significant to them because it was there that Poirot first met Hastings.  Poirot is much older now and can only get around with the help of a wheelchair.  However, his mind is as sharp as ever.  A series of events leads Poirot to believe that something dreadful is about to happen at the hotel.

I very much enjoyed reading about Poirot and Hastings meeting up again, after many years of absence.  Still, the tone of the novel is quite foreboding.  It becomes clear that Poirot’s intuition is correct, and that tragic things will occur as the story unfolds.  Similar to other novels in the series, the story is filled with intrigue and mystery.  However, this novel is longer than most of the others in the series.  The plot includes many twists and turns, and is full of surprises.  The ending was especially surprising to me, more so than any other book in the series.

In a way this is one of the saddest books in the Poirot series, but I enjoyed it immensely.  This is certainly one of Poirot’s greatest cases, and it is his last.  This book definitely kept me guessing throughout.  I would recommend reading other books in the series before reading this one, especially The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  The reunion of Poirot and Hastings becomes more meaningful, having read about their previous adventures.  This is a bitter-sweet story, and is a must-read for any fan of the great detective Poirot.

-Oliver H.

Curtain by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web is a children’s novel by E.B. White.  The story revolves around a lonely pig named Wilbur.  Wilbur lives in a barn owned by a farmer named Mr. Zuckerman.  Wilbur feels ostracized by the other farm animals, until one night when he is befriended by an unexpected stranger in the dark.  The friendly animal turns out to be a spider named Charlotte, who lives in a big web stretched across the upper part of the doorway to the barn.  When Wilbur learns that the farmer intends to kill him, Charlotte promises to find a way to save Wilbur’s life.

This book is very heartwarming.  I enjoyed reading about the development of the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte.  The supporting characters are also quite memorable.  One character that I especially enjoyed was Templeton.  Templeton is a rat who will not do anything unless there is something in it for him.  Despite his faults, I found his personality to be amusing.

While this book is intended for children, I would recommend it to anyone.  The story is heartrending but beautiful.  Most of the characters are just farm animals, yet somehow the story is quite poignant and impactful.  This book is a quick read, but for me it generated surprisingly bittersweet feelings that make it hard to forget.

-Oliver H.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B White is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.