Malice by Heather Walter

Once upon a time, Princess Aurora was cursed by an evil sorceress with the only solution being true love’s kiss. Many would imagine the story where Aurora was sent to be raised by three fairies and was awaken from her cursed sleep by Prince Charming. However, in this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, that is not the case.

Alyce is who someone called a “Dark Grace” but that doesn’t quite summarize what she actually is. A Grace is someone who tends to the needs of humans either by healing people through or making them more beautiful through their blood. But Alyce isn’t like the rest of the Graces since she is half-Vila, someone who is demonized by all of society.

Princess Aurora is stuck with a curse in which she would die by the age of 21 if she hasn’t kissed someone who is her true love. No one truly cares if she lives or dies since they have seen the same thing with her sisters and the ancestors that came before her. It seems as though Alyce and Princess Aurora would have no reason for their stories to intertwine but Fate turns the table and have the two unexpectedly fall into love with each other.

I find this fantasy book to be truly amazing. The world-building is spectacular, the characters are seen as genuine and relatable, and the plot is amazing. There are many plot twists that occur in the book and has developed the story into a tale of what love and hate equally could do to a person in desperate times. Many times, I couldn’t stop reading the book even when I needed to do something because it had intrigued me so much. I recommend this book for anyone who loves fantasy and loves the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Malice by Heather Walter is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

This story takes place in a private school called Niveus Academy where only the prestigious and elite kids go to. Two students named Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo look forward to their senior year in the school as they were both selected to be Senior Prefects, something that puts them both in a position of being valedictorian. But soon, their year starts to take a dark turn when someone named Aces exposes secrets to everyone online about the two of them that could destroy their perfect plans for college and their futures in total. At first, the entire thing seems to be a silly prank but then it evolves to the endangerment of these two children’s lives as they battle to expose Aces and get their lives back to normal. But who exactly is Aces? And why do they target Devon and Chiamaka?

Contemporary is usually not the genre I would like to read but books such as Ace of Spades became an exception for me. I heard a little bit about this book from my friends and Tiktok before actually reading it and it exceeded the expectations I had about it, which I taught would be impossible. This book is not for everyone as it has some very triggering language and scenes that turned my stomach. But this book has shown me a new outlet to how the world could be and how some people in this world need to fight just to exist peacefully in this world. The plot twists that occur in the middle and the end of the book captured my attention and I couldn’t put the book down for hours at a time. I believe that everyone who can read this book should as it explains many complexities within life and within our society as well. I would say that this book is one of my favorite reads of this year!

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Horror Movie Recommendations

The best holiday of the year is coming up at the moment: Halloween. Apart from getting candy, the thrill this holiday brings, either from getting scared or scaring other people, excites many like me. But nothing gives me more joy than watching scary movies during this time of year and if you are a lover of getting scared, these movies are what I recommend!

Sinister (2012): A man who writers true crime wishes to discern how an entire family was murdered in their house. He moves into that house (you can tell he isn’t very smart) and immediately starts to solve the mystery. However, when it becomes apparent that a monster of some sort lives in the house and starts to target him and his family, he realizes his fatal mistake. I found this movie very engaging when I first watched it and at the times when the paranormal force striked, I felt myself unnerved and looking away at some parts. The plot twist at the end will always amaze me and I now try to decipher clues hinting to that end.

Sinister is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Insidious (2010): The house of an ordinary family shows signs of being haunted when the son of the family falls into a coma. They hire a person who tells them that evil spirits from another world is using the son’s unconscious body to venture the living world. This horror movie was less scary than the others I have watched but it still entertained me with its random twists and turns. I have watched all of the movies in these series and love all of the movies, which is rare for me as a tough critic of horror movies.

It (2017): The story starts when the main character’s brother goes missing and is presumably dead. The main character and 6 high schoolers also fall victim to the cause of the missing brother: a clown who lives in a sewer and unleashes evil in the small town of Derry every 27 years. They must work together and learn to defeat their fears to take on the clown who calls himself Pennywise. I only advocate for the first movie of It and not the second one (I DO NOT like the second one at all). The first movie of IT terrified at 13 years old with some of the scenes they displayed and the reality of this movie. There were many times where I got so scared that I screamed because the jumpscares in this movie were amazing. Afterwards, I thought about how funny Pennywise was but during the movie, I was so engrossed that I got scared of looking at him.

IT is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Conjuring (2013): When a family moves into this haunted house, they call on the expert opinions of two private investigators: a man who is married to a woman who can detect supernatural activity whenever she is near to it. At first, the parents didn’t see any substance in their daughters’ worries about the house but as soon as some things escalate, they feel the need to call for someone’s help. The random appearances of Annabelle throughout this movie terrified me greatly as I am deathly afraid of her appearance. This was the first movie that I watched where I actually got scared, unlike some of the horror movies on Netflix. And knowing that it is a true story really got into my nerves.

These movies are really popular and most people probably already watched them but I still find them amazing and for those who haven’t watched it, I feel like you should give them a watch!

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

With society threatened to be overrun with Hunduns, it is necessary for humans to utilize Chrysalises in order to fight against these mechanical creatures. But in order to function these machines needed to defeat these invaders in their surroundings, a boy must be a pilot while a girl acts as his concubine. It is common for the girl to die when in the Chrysalis for an unexplained reason, however, it is seen as the one of the most honorable things a girl could do in this sexist society.

When Zetian’s older sister is killed in this process by a famous pilot, she has made it her goal to avenge said sister through murder. So she signed up to be a concubine for that pilot herself and kills him swiftly. But this accomplishment only creates hysteria surrounding Zetian, earning her the name “Iron Widow” who killed off boys in the Chrysalis instead of the other way around.

In a way to control her extraordinary mental strength, they pair her off with another pilot, Li Shimin, who has been notorious for killing off every girl he is paired with as well as other actions he has done in the past. Whilst attempting to survive every battle with Shimin, she also wishes to avenge more than her sister and all of the girls killed in battle with the pilots everyone praises. Do girls die just because that is their fat in the Chrysalis or are there other factors at play hidden in the darkness of secrets?

Though this is Xiran’s first novel, it is one that I will never forget and admire so much. I was reading this book in the New York train for 2 hours and when I reached my final destination, I wish I could stay and read more. Do you know the feeling when you wish to read through a book fast so you know what happens next but also wish to read it slow since you don’t want to finish it too fast and feel sad? That is exactly what conflict I had when reading this book. It has wonderful representation of strong female characters, queer romance, and asian culture I was glad to learn about. If I must recommend a young adult fantasy book to someone, this would be the book I would tell them to read. I rate this book a 10/10 stars and wish for anyone and everyone to read this spectacular book. I cannot recommend enough!

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is available to download for free from Libby.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Frances Janvier, the head girl and top of her school since 7th grade, has been determined to go to one of the most prestigious schools in England: University of Cambridge. On the downlow, she listens to her favorite podcast, Universe City, and draws fanart for the show. She never imagined her life as anything other than being a workaholic, earning good grades, and studying in university for the next few years of her life. However, everything changes when she is asked to collaborate with the creator of this podcast using her fanart. And later when she discovers out that Aled, a quiet boy a year older than her whose sister she used to be friends with, is the creator of Universe City. As the story unfolds, Frances finally discovers what it is like to have a true friend and embraces herself as more than a studious and intelligent person. But will all be destroyed over a revelation no one thought would occur?

I, personally, give Radio Silence the rating of 7/10. It wasn’t an excellent read in my opinion (which could be influenced by the book not being in the genre I usually read). However, I do recommend everyone to read it. It isn’t a typically love story between a boy and girl and shows the importance of true and beautiful friendship. It only shows many deep themes of finding one’s true identity, motivation, and connections with other people. It has shown me a different perspective to a genre of stories I never believed could be interesting to read: the main point highlighting the significance of one’s relationships other than romance. It is very rare for me to relate to characters in a book but this book definitely brought up some experiences I have had in the past and made the book all the more better. There is also a lot of representation that I didn’t expect but loved very much. I hope, if you read it, you enjoyed it as much as I did!

-Saanvi V.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Romance in Books/Media

I have grown up reading books where romance had been the central theme of the book, a plot line on the side, and with side characters who have never actually spoken in the book. In every single book I had read, there was some sort of romance involved and it would be hard to ignore it since it is present, despite the characters not even being fully-fleshed. I have read books where the person’s personality revolves around their relationship to this one person who also doesn’t really have a personality. Even if the characters have a dynamic, it is there to compliment their lover (one wears black all the time and hates everyone while the other gives children cookies as a pastime in their rainbow clothing). These people who saw each other from across the room are kissing three seconds later which ensues a romantic relationship. These couples, primarily ones consisting of a man and a woman, start off as friends or they start off as enemies or they had just met and then all of a sudden, they are in a romantic relationship with each other.

Then, I started to watch television and it not only amplified whatever romance that was shown in the books I would read but also shown toxicity in the relationships that are deemed normal. There are toxic relationships in books but I saw it more in TV shows and at an alarming rate. The couple would disagree with something and then all of a sudden, they are screaming at each other and haven’t come to a conclusion until the next day where one apologizes and they go on upon their day. These couples don’t usually ask consent when wanting to do things which could lead to miscommunication on what they want and further damage their relationship without even realizing it. On screen, it would be surprising to everyone if the main character’s love interest asked if they wanted to kiss because it has been implemented throughout the story that they both wanted each other. But then, this logic reflects in our society and our lives. It could be the case that someone doesn’t want to kiss another and everyone would be disappointed because this person is so nice or this person really likes them so they should just do what they don’t want to do and kiss them.

Romance has been shoved down everyone’s throats, through many different platforms, to the point where everyone must have a romantic relationship in their life to lead fulfilling lives. I have grown up thinking that I must have a romantic relationship eventually in my life and if I don’t, I will be a disappointment. If someone is single at the moment, it wouldn’t last long because everyone wants to be in a relationship and they will be in one soon. I have grown up thinking that if a man or a woman were merely talking to each other or hanging out with friends, they must be dating. I know that other people in our society also feel this way.

And then, I read a book where there was no romance whatsoever. I didn’t know this beforehand so I had been surprised as I read through this book. The book is called Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. It is a story about how this girl and guy becoming friends after finding out they have affiliated with this one podcast they both love. At first, I didn’t like the book because it was boring and anti-climatic. But then, I researched why I felt so weird after reading a book that contains no romance in it and found it boring. I discovered this new concept called amatonormativity, where our society pushes people to prioritize finding romantic relationships over keeping one’s platonic relationships. I am reading the book again and now, I am finding new aspects in it and realizing how entrenched I had been in amatonormativity.

I am not saying that there shouldn’t be romance in books and in media. I believe there should be more interracial couples, queer relationships, disabled relationships, relationships dealing with people of color, and other relationships between marginalized groups. But I don’t want romance to be geared toward a certain group and to be held at such a higher pedestal than platonic love is. And for those still reading, thanks for sticking with me all the way to the end and hopefully you agree. However, this is all my opinion and no one has to agree with me. Thanks anyway!

-Saanvi V.

Random Facts About Books!

As of 2010, there are 129 million books in existence: Google had released the number of books existing in the world to be exactly 129,864,880. The amount of books now since a decade had passed must be larger. I can’t find a more recent number of books in the world which isn’t surprising since I don’t think anyone wants to count all of the books in the entirety of the world. But you never know how bored people can get 🙂

The most popular book genre at the moment is Romance: Book sales has exposed the fan-favorite of all genres being romance. This could be since there are a lot of subgenres to romance and can be combined with another genre in many other cases. Another one to mention here would be that the most popular romance trope at the moment is enemies-to-lovers. Everyone loves a little bit of tension, especially Booktok based on the books they recommend with their very heart and soul. They have also really turned the tide against friends-against-lovers and honestly, I would like to see them proceed.

Bill Gates bought the most expensive book, sold for 30.8 million dollars: Come on, this is Bill Gates we are talking about. He probably earns that type of money in 10 minutes. But anyway, the book he bought was by Leonardo Da Vinci called Codex Leicester. This book is basically a collection of scientific writings named after Thomas Cooke who became the Earl of Leicester. Bill Gates said he bought it to share the same wonder and curiosity that Leandro Da Vinci had himself. And it was done on the 500th anniversary of his death!

Like the smell of books? Well, there is a word for it now: Those who liked the smell of books are known to be called Bibliosmia. Finally, a word that can finally describe my thought process as I first lay eyes on a book I newly purchased. Hopefully, I am not alone in this. I;m probably not. But you never know.

The longest sentence ever written contained 823 words: Victor Hugo really wants to torture his readers by having them follow along with this long sentence. But nevertheless, this occurs in one of his more famous books Les Miserables. I don’t know in what scene or act (I haven’t read the book) but even if I did, I think I would have skipped that entire sentence.

Authors’ names weren’t written on the book cover at first: This may seem like a normal sentence but the reason behind why may shock some (It shocked me). Back in the days, only the wealthy could read and purchase books because they were educated. And because the book covers could have been made with leather and actual gold so they would be able to afford it. To be honest, if I ever get a golden book, I think I will still find a way to break the spine (I don’t want to, though)

Well, I have exhausted all of crazy book facts I know from my friend’s deep dive into random facts she researched during International Read a Book Day. She got most of them from this website: https://www.yahoo.com/news/11-random-facts-books-weirdly-192533509.html. Let me know in the comments if you guys know any random book facts that I didn’t mention.

-Saanvi V.

Crier’s War by Nina Varela

The War of Kinds had brought destruction upon the human race and prosperity to the Automa. Because of this war, resentment spread across the races, both knowing their loathing for each other but never explicitly stating it to one another. But their beliefs and actions have proved they consider each other enemies.

The Automa sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier, had no idea of this destruction. And she never really had no clear idea until she met Kinok and Ayla. Kinok is her soon-to-be husband who she is forced to marry for the betterment of her kingdom. Her father felt that the only way to subdue Kinok’s influences was to extinguish the threat of power he felt from recent times. But would this action create a difference?

Ayla is a human servant girl who wishes for nothing more than Crier’s immediate death. She believes wholeheartedly in the saying “An eye for an eye” and after the death of her family order by the sovereign himself, she thought to act upon this ideology. But as the book continues, Ayla begins to realize the true nature of Lady Crier and separate some Automa from others. And Lady Crier also begins to realize the true connection between the Automa and humans and how her father isn’t exactly who she thought he was.

From the way this book was written to the path of the plot, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book even when I wasn’t reading it. So many little things in the plot occur in the story that seem to have no meaning until it creates meaning into the story altogether. When reading, one wouldn’t see major plot twists coming until they approach it and read back on all of the clues Nina Varela left for them in obscured areas. The imagery was beautiful, unfolding the story in my eyes with vivid scenes and intense dialogues. And the symbolism wrapped the entire story together and the fates of the characters in the book. The story is also an enemies-to-lovers book so if you like that, you should definitely check it out!

-Saanvi V.

Crier’s War by Nina Varela is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

My Personal Opinions on Books Required I Read in High School

The collection of books I have read because I needed to for English has definitely been different in some ways and similar in other ways. They are seen having connections to each other and reflecting upon the same ideology yet are seen to have their own individual themes and connections. First, I will be describing why or why not this book was interesting to me. Then, I will describe the symbolic sentiment behind the book and will elaborate on whether it is useful for me. Then, I will describe whether someone should read the book in total based on these categories and elaborate why I believed reading this book is worth it or a waste of time.

Cover image for Slouching towards Bethlehem : essays / Joan Didion.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion: I am going to be starting with this book first because it is the only nonfiction book I was required to read this year. Based on interest level, it was extremely boring in my opinion. The first chapter was very interesting because it spoke about how a wife was on trial for killing her husband and how it was a huge thing in the news but after that chapter, it became very hard to read without the looming threat of sleep within my proximity. However, the content in the book does make up for how boring it was. The book is a series of essays divided into three sections: Life Styles in the Golden Land, Personals, and Seven Places on the Mind. Each of these sections were informative in their own way. The first section described multiple things occurring in California, including events occurring in her own life. The second section talked more about how humans affect others and why we do what we do. The third section talks more about her and other people’s lives and how they struggle. So, as a book required to read for school, I believe that reading it is worth it as it is very enlightening and definitely allows us to reflect on our actions. If you were to read this book for the purpose of entertainment, you should have stopped right after the first chapter and move onto another book.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Cover image for The grapes of wrath / John Steinbeck.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: My teacher went more in depth in this book when we were discussing it in class, which could be why I have the opinion I do. But altogether, I love this book so much. The beginning was very boring to me but as soon as I reached more the time where the family begins their journey to California, I couldn’t wait to read what would happen next. This book basically describes a family in the era of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and how they must venture to California from their dear home in Oklahoma because they cannot make any money where they are. Not only did this book capture my attention but it also opened my eyes to the lives of people who I don’t relate to and who struggle so much to survive in our world. This book describes the greed of those who benefit from the desperation of these struggling families, otherwise known as large corporations. It shows how people could become families with anyone if they help each other through their heartbreaks and painful endeavors. And most importantly, it shows that people together in their anger could make a difference, like bundle of grapes filled with wrath. I would recommend anyone to read this if they can and think this book should be discussed more among people.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Cover image for The great Gatsby / F. Scott Fitzgerald ; edited by James L. W. West III.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This is probably the book that most people know about and have read in high school. I have known about this book since I was 8 but never really knew what it was about until this year. Basically, it is about a man named Gatsby who is neighbors with a guy named Nick Carraway and wants to be loved by Nick’s cousin named Daisy Buchanan (yes, she is married). The plot of this book interested me but the characters ruined it for me. They basically had no personality whatsoever besides being rich and wanting to be loved but finding it in the wrong ways. Tom Buchanan is one of the few characters I believe is unredeemable when it comes to fixing and saying that is definitely extreme but it is true. This book has so many undertones of misogyny from the epigraph of the book: “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; If you can bounce high, bounce for her too, Till she cry ‘Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!'” Of course, we shouldn’t judge a book based on this since it came from another time and era but I believe teachers should definitely and directly tell their students about the more obscured sexism in the book so the students don’t adopt it as a normalcy in our society. There are many symbols and one could definitely make connections on the longing of being better and richer than someone else and competing with time before what you want is gone forever. But personally, I believe that this book doesn’t deserve all of the hype that it gets. It was a waste of time in my opinion and it could be part of the high school curriculum since it does talk a lot about class differences and how the rich use people who are poorer than they are. But I wouldn’t recommend reading until it is required for school.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Cover image for The scarlet letter / Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: This book differs from the ones I have talked about before because it is more outdated and more seen as a classic. Despite this, I really liked the book. This book is about a woman named Hester forced to wear an “A” on her chest because she has committed adultery with someone she doesn’t wish to confess and gave birth to a child as a result. It is set in a Puritan town where couples are to stay together until they die and even then, they must remain a widow and not try to be in a romantic relationship with anyone else as that would be a betrayal to their dead, former spouse. The author, Hawthorne, wishes to exploit the wrongdoings in Puritan society at the time and how they are seen as hypocrites, essentially, when it comes to someone who sins. This book definitely has some more older terms of symbolism shown through transcendentalist and romantic ideology but I found the plot of this book very interesting. The sentences don’t match the standard of grammar that we have today and the author does enforce his ideologies on the readers but I still enjoyed this book very much. I would recommend this book to people who like the forbidden love trope and like nature as a main symbol in a book.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Cover image for A streetcar named desire / Tennessee Williams ; with an introduction by Arthur Miller.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams: The people that have already read this book probably think I am going to say negative things about it and I am, definitely about Stanley Kowalski, but I would first like to highlight the entire book. This book is about a woman named Blanche DuBois who is forced to live with her sister, Stella DuBois, and her abusive husband, Stanley Kowalski, after she loses her childhood home, Bella Reive. This book starts off interesting and I liked the plot. I started to hate the characters and their doings but that means the person writing the book (or play, in this case) is so good at writing that they are evoking an emotion out of me. The characters are definitely bad and good in some ways, which I liked because it added complexity to the story and definitely connected symbols together. For example, Blanche DuBois avoids the light which stands for the truth and we all know her as a notorious liar throughout the story so it connects more. I continue and Stanley is a piece of trash and becomes the one of the other people that I find unredeemable and people who if existed in the real world, I would punch in the face. Then, the ending turns out to be very terrible. Again, one must not judge things in the past but still…I did not like the outcome of this book. I believe the ending should have taken another turn but for the book, it seems reasonable why it would be that way and still, I hate that. Despite my sayings of the book being interesting, I still wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone at all and would never read it a second time. I liked some things about it but the bad things about it outweigh the good things so I wish someone only reads this if they are forced to. However, the ending of the movie is way better and that should have been the ending of the play but alas, it wasn’t.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

I would like to end this article with how these opinions on these books are just that, opinions. You have every right to disagree with whatever I say, especially when it comes to A Streetcar Named Desire and The Great Gatsby. Let me know what you think about a certain book in the comments! Thanks for reading!

-Saanvi V.

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Black

TW: Mentions of Rape

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake - Book Trigger Warnings

This story begins with a pair of twins who loved the stars and loved each other so much, they were as intertwined as the constellations themselves. They have been together through everything and Mara always found comfort in her brother’s, Owen’s, presence. However, all of this changes when news spread about her brother potentially raping her friend, Hannah Prior. Mara is forced into this conflict where she must choose between believing the story of her brother or her friend dealing with this situation while she acquires her own conflict between her ex-girlfriend and her brother’s friend who caught her eye recently. Not only that, she also needs to confront a secret she kept buried inside for too long to truly feel free of the burden life has placed on her shoulders.

I am surprised at the contents of this book from the cover of the book but I guess that is why they say to never judge a book by its cover. I thought it would be a happy book dealing with beautiful stars and amazing relationships but I couldn’t have been more wrong. However, I still enjoyed this book very much. Blake did a very good job at writing emotional scenes, kicking me right in the gut, and weaving the symbolism of stars into the story, creating more possibilities and connections to what a star could and should be. There were some scenes that made me cringe a little but if I had the choice to read this book again, I would have accepted it without any hesitation. I recommend everyone to read this book if they can handle the brutality about rape, victim blaming, sexual violence toward girls, anxiety attacks, PTSD, and physical abuse.

-Saanvi V.

The Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.