About Oliver H.

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

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.

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds is a highly-influential science fiction novel by H. G. Wells.  The story seems to be set around the late 1800s.  When a supposed meteorite crashes near the narrator’s home, little to no suspicion is aroused.  However, on closer inspection, the object appears to be a huge, artificial cylinder.  Ugly, grotesque aliens emerge from the cylinder, only to retreat back inside.  A group of people attempt to greet the Martian visitors, only to be shot down with a heat-ray.  More and more aliens arrive, and it becomes apparent that Mars has plotted an invasion of Earth.

This book is one of the first science fiction stories of its kind.  It seems almost cliche now for a science fiction story to include an alien invasion, but this was one of the first novels to explore that concept.  The story uses many creative elements that seem ahead of its time, such as tripod-like alien fighter machines that shoot heat-rays.  In a strange way, I enjoyed reading about the humans’ pitiful attempts to defend themselves against the Martians.  The Martians possessed highly-advanced technology, which made it extremely difficult for humans to defeat them with traditional weapons.

I would consider this book a must-read for science fiction fans.  It may be one of the most popular and influential books of its kind.  It is written in a way that makes it seem like an actual historical event, which makes it even more thrilling to read.  Like many of H. G. Wells’ novels, the tone of this book feels dark but engrossing at the same time.  Some people may find the book a bit hair-raising and even frightening, but I enjoyed it thoroughly and would highly recommend it.

-Oliver H.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows is a classic novel by Kenneth Grahame.  The stories in the book revolve mainly around a mole, a water rat, a toad and a badger.  These main characters, along with the other animals, are anthropomorphic.  They interact with humans and dwell in harmony together.  Mole is a gentle and timid creature.  Rat is quite practical and pragmatic.  Mr. Toad is exceedingly wealthy and boisterous.  Mr. Badger is elusive, but extremely wise.  Their stories weave together throughout the book.

Mr. Toad is particularly amusing.  One day, he brings along Rat and Mole for an exciting trip with his horse and gypsy cart.  Suddenly, a “motor-car” drives by and knocks the gypsy cart to the side of the road.  Mr. Toad is amazed by this new machine.  He becomes obsessed with the idea of acquiring and driving a motor-car.  This new obsession leads to many wild adventures, and many smashed motor-cars.  Things really get out of hand when Mr. Toad goes so far as to steal a motor-car.  He lands in prison for the crime, and finally begins to realize that his careless behavior has led to destructive consequences.  Still, his daring antics are quite entertaining.

Overall, I think The Wind in the Willows is a delightful book.  I loved reading about the little adventures of Rat and Mole, as well as the ongoing story of Mr. Toad.  I especially enjoy the differing personalities of each character and how they interact with each other.  The author incorporates various compelling themes, such as friendship, greed and redemption.  This is definitely a book that I would recommend to readers of all ages.

-Oliver H.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis is a short story by Franz Kafka.  A young man named Gregor wakes up one morning and realizes that he has turned into a “monstrous vermin.”  His family is shocked to see him in this state.  Before long, they become angry with Gregor and treat him cruelly.  I was surprised that Gregor would be treated so harshly throughout the story, despite his unfortunate predicament.

This book is a short read, but very memorable.  Kafka offers an interesting perspective on human nature.  We see that people are capable of cruel treatment toward others who are different in some way.  At first it seems humorous to imagine someone turning into a bug.  However, reading the story I began to feel sorry for Gregor.  He seems quite miserable in his new state, and he is terribly mistreated and neglected as a result of his metamorphosis.  This story is a reminder that we ought to treat others with kindness, even though they are different.

-Oliver H.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis, is a collection of letters written by a “devil” named Screwtape.  Screwtape is an important official in Satan’s realm, who refers to himself as “His Infernal Excellency, Mr. Screwtape.”  The letters are addressed to Screwtape’s young nephew, Wormwood.  Wormwood is a “junior devil” on earth, who is trying to tempt his “patient” into committing sin.  Each chapter is a letter of advice to Wormwood from his “affectionate uncle,” Screwtape.

I found this book to be very insightful and amusing.  I think it was very clever to imagine what words of advice one devil might give to another, as to how one might properly tempt a human into committing sin.  As it becomes clear that Wormwood’s patient is in danger of choosing good over evil, we see that the devil will stop at nothing to lead his patient astray.  We gain many insights into the devils’ tactics and methods of attack.  At the same time, I was amused by the dignified and affectionate tone of Screwtape’s letters, despite his evil intentions.  I also found it funny that one devil would have seniority over another, as though they aspire to positions of high status within their evil realm.

This book is a short read, but full of profound insights and witty observations.  From the devil’s perspective, we can learn a lot about human nature and frailties.  We can also learn about how to overcome evil tendencies.  This book offers a very unique and imaginative portrayal of the battle between good and evil.  I highly recommend it.

-Oliver H.

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.