Convergence by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore

Convergence is the first book in the Zodiac Legacy series, and is written in graphic-novel format by Stan Lee, the mind behind Marvel, and Stuart Moore.

In modern-day America, twelve superpowers, each corresponding to a sign in the Chinese Zodiac, are released onto Earth. The protagonist, a Chinese-American teen named Steven, is quickly launched into an epic journey across the world to help find the humans imbued with these powers- befriending the good ones, and bringing the bad ones to justice. Throughout the course of this adventure, he learns to harness his own power- and the mysteries of the Zodiac.

I really enjoyed this book. It was definitely an action-packed thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat, and the ending (hint hint: it’s a cliffhanger!) left my brain reeling! This is a great fantasy novel if you’re looking to diversity your bookshelf as well, and I’d recommend it to everyone.

-Vaidehi B.

Convergence by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Alternate Ending for “The Landlady”

I recently read a short horror story called “The Landlady,” which was left on a cliffhanger. I decided to write an alternate ending for it! I would highly recommend that you read the original short story before reading the alternate ending. You can find the story at https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/landlady_text.pdf

Alternate Ending for “The Landlady”

Something, just something about this whole affair bothered Billy. He couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was, a stirring of the mind, a brief flash of thought. He attributed it, of course, to the heat of the room and the time of night. “I think I should like to go to bed now,” he said.

“Of course, dear,” cried the old lady, fussing over him, “I should think so!”
Billy sighed, stepping gingerly over the dachshund to make his way to the stairs. He turned back to look at the landlady. She had her back to him, serenely gazing into the dying embers of the fire, petting the dachshund, a cold, stiff travesty of a dog. Yes, something about this whole bloody business just wasn’t quite right. Shaking his head, he stumbled slowly up the stairs and into his room. He sat down heavily on the bed, still thinking. The fourth floor? The men were still here? But how? Eyes drooping, he fell straight to sleep, questions still echoing around his head.

3 a.m. the following morning
Billy started out of sleep, thrashing wildly about his bed like a trout out of water. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he looked blearily around the room. A quick check of the nightstand clock confirmed his suspicion that it was indeed very early in the morning. Just a minute! A voice was coming from the landing above his. It was a mere mumbling, but a voice nonetheless. It was a crooning, haunting tone that rose and fell eerily; yes, it was a voice as smooth as silk, yet as sharp as glass. Billy was wide awake now, no chance of ever falling asleep in this cursed house again! Pulling on his robe, he slowly pushed open the door to investigate.

He crept up the stairs, thoroughly examining his surroundings. He was on the third floor now. Looking about, he saw a small sewing machine, overflowing boxes of cloth, and shelves overflowing with a large variety of small bottles. The room itself smelled faintly of hospital disinfectant. Intrigued, Billy slowly stepped closer. A curious smell came from the flask closest to him. Reaching out, he pulled it from its place and gave it a cautious sniff. The flask reeked of bitter almonds and garlic. Covering his nose with his sleeve, Billy replaced the cask on its shelf and continued his trek.

Something wasn’t quite right. Billy was tripping now, stumbling and coughing. His vision doubled and his eyes watered. In front of him he saw the landlady, crooning gently to- to- he collapsed, the cold, dead face of Christopher Mulholland still swimming in his memory, mouth affixed in a plastic smile, ghastly and preserved.

The face of the landlady, cruel and hard, stared down at him. In the light, she looked a hundred years old, like the old Greek demons Billy had learned about in school. His head felt like a lump of stone. The woman leered down at him, spinning a scalpel expertly between her fingers. He rasped out one word. “Why?” The landlady’s lips turned down. She looked put out to see him awake. “Why, darling, I must keep you! You’ll wither away otherwise.” Billy coughed again, then screamed as a sharp pain sliced into his flesh, below his abdomen. As he floated in and out of consciousness, he heard the landlady singing. My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea, my Bonnie lies over the ocean. The landlady smiled cruelly as she pulled her final stitch. “Please bring back my Bonnie to me…”

I hope you enjoyed it!

-Vaidehi B.

“The House” Short Story

I strolled down the sidewalk on the sunny Thursday morning, lost in my thoughts and worries. Was I ever going to find a home that was perfect? I idly examined the mansion I found myself in front of. Manicured lawn, tall hedges hiding the home, marble fountain bubbling up on the walkway… “I could live with this,” I mumbled to myself. I peer through the hedges, trying to catch a glimpse of the house. Suddenly, two boys sauntered up the lawn in front of me, no more than three yards from me! I fervently prayed they wouldn’t notice me, and they didn’t. Breathing a sigh of relief, I strained my ears to hear what the taller of the pair was explaining to his squat friend. “Yeah, the house is nicer since Dad put the new stone siding and fireplace in…” Hmm… a fireplace? I listened closer, sneaking around to the back where I could hear the boys’ voices through the open kitchen window. Newly painted living room, nearest house a quarter mile away? “Lovely, lovely,” I thought. Damp and musty basement? Could get a discount for that… But new plumbing was an added plus. A den was rather unnecessary but perfect for a home theatre system. “Speakers, projector, screens..” Quite lost in my reverie, I came to when the boys were already upstairs! I put my ear to the wall, and was barely able to hear Tall’s voice over Squat’s rapid questions. Three upstairs bedrooms… Perfect for a study and a recreation room. I could hear Tall’s voice more clearly now. “The bathroom in the hall is mine, since Dad added one to my sisters’ room for them… yeah, this is a leak; the roof finally rotted…” A leak! That was worth a hefty price reduction… Grinning to myself, I decided that I had heard enough. As I ambled down the street, I imagined myself putting in an offer, one they wouldn’t be able to resist. How did I know so much about their house? Well, that was my little secret… 

Linwood Custom Homes Named Finalist in Six National Home ...

-Vaidehi B.

Poem of the Day: Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening

I recently came across the poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would share it here!

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening -

On the surface, this seems like a very simple poem, speaking of a traveler and his horse stopping on a snowy forest, on an unknown plot of land. The woods here represent wildness, and nature in its purest form- they are past the outskirts of the village, past the bounds of human settlement. Still, the speaker acknowledges his humanness and worldly responsibilities, sadly admitting that he must keep them. However, this poem has a darker undertone- and there are other reasons that the speaker cannot stay in the woods. They are to be admired from afar- if the traveler becomes trapped in the snow and loses his way, he may well freeze and die. The horse, representing human society, seems confused at his owner’s admiration of the woods- representing society’s inability to appreciate nature in its fullest, rawest capacity.

-Vaidehi B.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is a raw, poignant novel about the realities of poverty, especially for children, in Victorian England.

The book centers around a young orphan named Oliver, who was given to an orphanage at birth after the death of his mother. Worked to the bone and severely malnourished, Oliver falls in with a gang of pickpockets and quickly turns to a life of crime. What follows is a powerful tale of Oliver’s desperate struggle to survive in the heartless world he lives in.

Although this book was quite bleak and depressing, I really appreciated it as an accurate retelling of poverty in Victorian times. The deep class divides affecting society even then are tangible, and Dickens’ fury and contempt towards the excesses of the rich are clearly felt throughout the novel. Overall, I would recommend it!

-Vaidehi B.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a beautiful and heartwarming book about the power of friendship and a community in the face of hate.

August, by all accounts, is a normal ten-year-old kid- except for one thing. He has a rare genetic disorder and despite twenty-seven different surgeries, he will never look like other kids his age. This makes life extremely difficult for “Auggie” and his family. His older sister is overprotective of him, and gets angry when people stare at him funny in public- and his parents, who only want what is best for him, do not want to send him to a public middle school where he may be bullied. However, what Auggie finds at school is something much different- he discovers friendship, and the power of love.

This novel was an incredible journey from beginning to end- and it is no ‘wonder’ that it was adapted into an award-winning movie. Wonder is essentially a book about discomfort- the discomfort we feel when we see a person that looks different from us in public, the discomfort they feel at the inordinate stares and whispers. However, it shows that this discomfort and pity can be overcome- to make way for community, love, and acceptance.

-Vaidehi B.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an American fantasy novel about a boy who puts together his grandfather’s old stories and photographs and finds an abandoned psych ward/orphanage on the (fictional) island of Cairnholm.

Jacob Portman had always been fascinated by his grandfather’s peculiar stories and collections of photographs, but never really believed in them- until he finds his grandfather, beaten and bloody, in his garden. His last words are mysterious, and Jacob suddenly sees a monster like the ones his grandfather always talked about. He is plagued by nightmares of the monster and his dead grandfather. His therapist suggests he goes to Cairnholm Island, the island his grandfather grew up on, to confront his trauma. Instead, he finds an orphanage full of ‘peculiar’ children- children with superhuman strength, children who can levitate, and even a child that is invisible! The adventures that follow are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

I really enjoyed this book- it kept me hooked from begin until end. What intrigued and captivated me most was author Riggs’ use of actual black-and-white photographs of children from old psych wards, and the way he wove them into the narrative. This was a very enjoyable read, and I’d recommend it to anyone!

-Vaidehi B.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a collection of beautiful and poignant essays about growing up in California and the meaning of home.

This book was originally recommended to me as a “requirement for coming to age in California,” and I must say that I agree. Didion’s writing is smooth, and, albeit difficult to understand in places, it easily and beautifully covers a wide variety of topics- ranging from Didion’s childhood in Sacramento, to her visits in Hawaii and Alcatraz, to the hippie counterculture in San Francisco in the 1960s. She effortlessly captures the hazy, dreamlike quality of a childhood in California, in addition to the quiet desperation that accompanies living in tiny towns in the desert. What really struck me was how factual this book was- every character, no matter how briefly mentioned or how inconsequential to the essay overall, was a real person, as many brief Wikipedia searches proved.

Didion writes with a timeless quality and a quietly powerful observationalism, proving that life is indeed cyclical- that things change, but people never do. Her writing is uncomfortably personal, but she still somehow manages to capture the reality of the human experience as a whole- through small, ordinary events. The annual arrival of the Santa Ana winds merits a discussion about the kind of sparse unreliability that comes with living in Los Angeles- a visit to Hawaii sparks a discourse on the constant undergirding hum of ‘war,’ what with Vietnam and Cuba. This, I think, is what makes Didion’s writing so special- while calmly narrating her own life experiences to us, she forces us to turn inwards to ourselves and examine what we find within.

-Vaidehi B.

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

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a heartwarming novel about the redemptive power of a chosen family.

The novel centers around 14-year old Lily Owens, who is raised by her abusive father, and Black housekeeper, Rosaleen. Lily’s mother left her when she was very young and died not long after, but in her mind, her mother still exists as a perfect parent- she blames her father for driving her mother away.

One day, Rosaleen goes to the city to register to vote, but is badly beaten by racists at the poll booth. Lily is present for the encounter, and her life is forever changed. In her mother’s old possessions, she finds the label for a honey jar and an address, and convinces Rosaleen to run away with her. The pair end up at a small honey farm run by three Black sisters- August, June, and May. The sisters graciously take them in, and it is here that Lily finds her true family, and the true meaning of love. However, as she grapples with growing up, fear of her father, and the truth about her mother, she also discovers herself- just herself, undefined by her cruel father or her desire for a motherly figure.

I really, really enjoyed this book. The exposition and imagery that Kidd uses is lush and beautifully contributes to the overall theme. The sisters’ home, the color of Pepto-Bismol, seems like a dream- a magical, otherworldly place where nothing could go wrong, and anything seldom does. However, what I loved most about this book is the fact that Lily’s story did not end simply when she found the mother figure she had been searching for her whole life. Instead, Kidd truly gave Lily development- she had to go beyond this desire and truly find herself for who she was.

-Vaidehi B.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is available for checkout at Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, widely regarded as the most quintessentially American novel ever, is an evocative and heartbreaking story of poverty, industry, and resilience in the toughest of times.

The book centers around the Joad family, who, after the company that owned their land in Oklahoma repossessed it, are moving to California to find work. The group consists of Ma Joad, Pa Joad, Noah- the oldest son, Tom- the middle son, who was recently paroled from jail, and Al- the youngest son, who cares for nothing but cars and girls. They also have with them Granma and Granpa Joad, Ruthie and Winfield, the youngest siblings, and Rose of Sharon- their only (and pregnant) daughter with her husband Connie. As this ragtag group slowly makes its way across the country, and realizes that California may not be the ‘promised land,’ everything they know slowly falls apart- and only the love of community and family can save them.

Author Steinbeck uses simple and easily understandable prose to weave a beautiful and simultaneously sorrowful picture of life in California. Published in 1939, right on the heels of the private industrial complex boom, the novel carefully weaves together the individual story of the Joad family and the collective experience of the ‘migrant people’ to create a narrative that is heartbreaking in its universalness. Steinbeck writes about private companies and ‘big business’ with scathing contempt, contrasting their greed against the plight of the migrants from the Midwest, and in doing so, explores the sad and serene reality of human nature with a wistful, timeless voice.

-Vaidehi B.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. The audiobook version can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.