Book Review: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis eBook by Franz Kafka - EPUB | Rakuten Kobo United States

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka tells the story of travelling salesman Gregor Samsa, when he wakes up from a nightmare one day and discovers he has been transformed into a giant, monstrous insect. The novella examines his life after this realization, his slow alienation and isolation from his parents and his sister (whom he had worked tirelessly to support), and his eventual decline.

I actually really enjoyed this novella, but not in any real ‘enjoyment’ sense- it just sparked a lot of deep thought. Although, throughout the novella, we are supposed to view Gregor as repulsive and be disgusted by him, just as his family is, I couldn’t help but feel pity and empathy for him. Everyone in the novella forgets that somewhere inside his now insectified exterior, he is still a human, with human needs and wants. They treat him as a chore, as an inconvenience, and then finally, as a villain- which I found cold and cruel. Although the overall story is fairly depressing, I feel that it’s an important read and deals with some very real issues and questions of our world today. The ending is really sad, but I won’t spoil it here for you all. You’ll just have to read the novella yourself to find out what happens!

-Vaidehi B.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Book Review: Paraíso by Jacob Shores-Argüello

New Book: Paraiso by Jacob Shores-Arguello – Blog on the Hyphen

Paraíso by Jacob Shores-Argüello is a poignant book of poetry about loss and finding solace in culture. Argüello draws on his traditional Costa Rican background to reminisce on his childhood in the country and help him cope with the loss of his mother.

This book was a really digestible read, of only 20-some pages. The poems are short and use simple diction- easily understandable. Still, this does not detract from the depth and emotional meaning of the pieces- through just a couple dozen short poems, the reader is able to feel Argüello’s acute pain and grief. In addition, Argüello’s Costa Rican heritage makes several appearances and important contributions to the flow and character of the poems- which I, personally, found quite significant; in grief and pain, you must ultimately return to your roots to heal.

I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick and simple yet still moving poetry read from an author of color!

-Vaidehi B.

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking von Joan Didion - englisches Buch - bü

A Year of Magical Thinking examines Joan Didion’s life and methods of mourning following the death of her husband of forty years, John Dunne.

Throughout the novel, Didion details her avoidance of, then obsession over, the sudden cardiac event one December night that killed the love of her life. The added stress of her daughter, Quintana Roo, being in the hospital on life support at the time leads to an nervous breakdown of sorts–and an examination of the nature of grieving and mourning itself.

I was first introduced to Didion’s writing about a year ago, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors of all time. That being said, I was a little reluctant to read this book- I knew that the subject matter would be darker and sadder than her usual writing style. Still, I was thoroughly impressed. Despite the turmoil in her personal life, Didion keeps her writing clean and precise, and doesn’t dwell on heavy-handed clichés about grief to convey her ideas; in fact, she even rejects some of these clichés (especially those about ‘healing’ and ‘coping’) as unrealistic.

Even so, the reader can feel her pain through her writing. She and John were inseparable- she even cites an instance when she was in San Francisco for a week writing a piece, and he would fly up from Santa Monica every night to have dinner with her before flying home again to be with their daughter. The loss hits her hard, and it’s apparent- she struggles desperately to keep herself sane and strong, for the sake of her daughter.

-Vaidehi B.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Book Review: how to cure a ghost by Fariha Róisín

how to cure a ghost by Fariha Róisín is a poignant book of poetry and prose about Róisín’s struggle with her family, her identity (religious and cultural), and self-hate. Through the book, she discusses her familial struggles, and the mental health issues of her mother, as well as the unique struggles of growing up a Muslim immigrant in a primarily White country.

I have to admit, the subject matter examined in the book is most definitely deep, and important to discuss, especially today. However, Róisín’s execution is clunky- she doesn’t have the flawless command of the English language necessary to pull off the style of writing she’s attempting. The word choice and diction are often awkward- the use of parenthetical phrases throughout her pieces disrupt the flow of the work. The illustrations fit with the theme of the book, but are also disruptive to the flow of works.

Overall, I’d give this book a 6/10. I really appreciated the kinds of issues Róisín examined, and I enjoyed the references to South Asian words, foods, and customs peppered throughout the book. However, her implementation falls far short of what I expected- leading to shallow, surface-level analysis bloated with painful word choice and strange slang. This is the first time I’ve ever said that I wouldn’t recommend this book to the average reader 😦

-Vaidehi B.

Book Review: Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives

Impossible Views of the World, by Lucy Ives, centers around protagonist Stella, an assistant curator at a prestigious New York art museum, in her quest to solve a twisted American history mystery.

“The day Paul Coral vanished, it snowed.” Thus opens the novel. We quickly find out that Paul was one of Stella’s coworkers, mysteriously gone missing. Stella is assigned to take over his position, but finds, on his laptop, a mysterious manuscript from the 1800s that draws her deeper and deeper into a mystery unfolding over a century and a half.

I would give this book a 7/10. I really enjoyed the plot, and I liked the way the mystery part of the story ran in parallel to Stella’s own journey of self-discovery re: her relationships with her ex-husband and her mother. However, Ives seems to have used a thesaurus on every word in this book. The language is often murky and difficult to understand- even I, as someone who enjoys reading slightly more dense and prose-like writing, had trouble understanding phrases in certain parts. It was a bit of a slog, but worth it for the most part!

-Vaidehi B.

Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis: satrapi-marjane: 9780224080392: Books

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a poignant graphic novel detailing Satrapi’s own coming-of-age story amidst the political, social, and cultural turmoil of 1980s Iran.

The novel, drawn in starkly noir, heavy-handed images, reads like an autobiography- it tells of Satrapi’s childhood with her parents and family (well-known Iranian Communists), her teenage years spent in an Austrian boarding school, and her eventual return to her homeland, through the lens of her slow maturing.

I really enjoyed this novel! I read it for the first time when I was eleven or twelve (although I would not recommend it to anyone under thirteen). I don’t particularly enjoy reading in graphic novel formats, but I really felt that the imagery created by Satrapi only added to the depth of the story. The themes examined in the story also hit close to home for me- as someone from an Eastern country myself, Satrapi’s struggle with reconciling modernism with traditionalism was something I knew well. I also found it interesting to read about Satrapi’s struggle with depression abroad and at home- that was also something I related to.

Without a doubt, the best part of the novel was the art. Satrapi’s drawings are simple, but the small details in each panel manage to convey deep emotions and symbolism, without being overtly complex and distracting from the story itself. To the right is one of the most piquant panels from the story- a young Satrapi’s rendering of the 1978 Cinema Rex fire that killed more than four hundred.

2) The Bicycle – Cinema Rex Fire – Persepolis

I’d highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning a little bit more about the Middle Eastern conflicts in the 1980s, or anyone that enjoys autobiographical novels.

-Vaidehi B.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a historical novel set in late 1800s Nigeria, detailing the life of an Igbo warrior, Okonkwo, in the village of Umuofia, and the fragmentation and confusion brought by white missionaries to his family and village.

Okonkwo prides himself on being a manly, proud, strong leader of his village, but a series of misfortunes owing largely to his own arrogance lead to his exile from the village for seven years. When he returns, he struggles to reconcile his views of the world with the new village he finds- thrown into disarray by the arrival of white Christian missionaries from Europe.

I enjoyed this book. The beginning is a little slow, and the actual threads of the plot do not surface until about halfway through the book, but after that, it is a riveting read. I’ve never really read African historical fiction, but Achebe provides a valuable window into the traditional culture and religions of Nigeria, while also weaving a story from them. The ending was definitely a surprise, and the last couple of chapters were deeply and beautifully reflective of the historical phenomena the novel was describing as a whole. I’d recommend this to anyone eager to learn more about a new culture, or the effects of religious colonization on vulnerable communities.

-Vaidehi B.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (English) Paperback Book Free S 9780008329662 ...

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie is a beautiful and heartrending novel, following the lives of several different Nigeria in the 1960s- during a short but tumultuous existence of the independent South Nigerian republic, Biafra.

The novel follows the lives of Ugwu, a young Igbo houseboy to an upper-middle-class Nigerian university professor named Odenigbo, as well as that of Odenigbo’s beautiful fiancée, Olanna, her headstrong twin sister, Kainene, and Kainene’s own fiancé, a shy young British writer named Richard, as they try to survive the political, social, and cultural upheaval that comes with the new republic. At first filled with revolutionary zeal, their lives quickly turn into a struggle for survival in the new country.

I loved this book. It is a heavy read, but Adichie’s writing is beautiful and poignant. I’d never really read an African historical novel before, so this was my first experience. It was reminiscent for some of my own family experiences and stories too- a lot of my family suffered during the Indo-Pakistani partition, and I found many parallels to that experience here. This is a novel that will make you re-examine everything you think you know about war.

This book contains graphic descriptions of mature themes that are not suitable for all audiences.

-Vaidehi B.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: The White Album by Joan Didion

White Album (FSG Classics): Didion, Joan: 8601405596765: Books

The White Album by Joan Didion is a epistographical novel covering the turbulent period from the 1960s-1970s. Spanning topics including the Black Panthers, the Manson murders, and even the collapse of her own marriage, the book critically examines the meaningless experience of existence and the atomization of society during this time period.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” reads the opening line of the book. From that instant, I was hooked. I’ve been reading Didion’s oeuvre for more than a year now, starting with Slouching Towards Bethlehem as a required reading my junior year of high school. That book changed my life, and The White Album did not disappoint either. Her perfectly restrained emotion, her clarity of thought, and her perceptive insights combine to lend meaning to even some of the most senseless experiences of the 60s- such as the Manson murders. Didion even details, with the delicate removal of writing a grocery list, her meetings with Linda Kasabian, key witness in the Manson trial. She speaks of the short silk dress she wore to her wedding- and in the next sentence, mentions a similar white dress she herself purchased for Kasabian to wear on the first day of her testimony. The compassion she reserves for some is replaced with acrid disdain for others- Doris Lessing is described as someone who “does not want to ‘write well.’ Her leaden disregard for even the simplest rhythms of language, her arrogantly bad ear for dialogue- all of that is beyond her own point.” Even Huey Newton, a key leader of the Black Panthers is not spared- she describes him as “someone for whom safety lies in generalization.” She relates every experience with the utmost honesty and provides a matte-glass window into the experiences of our country’s, and her personal, pasts.

I would recommend this book to anyone, really! I’m a huge Joan Didion fan 🙂

-Vaidehi B.

The White Album by Joan Didion is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Volunteering From Home for Animal Lovers!

Even though many more volunteer organizations are opening up as we approach the close of lockdowns across the country, volunteering from home can still be convenient for many of us looking to make a difference from the comfort of our own homes. Whether you’re looking to help out because you love animals, or just want service hours for school or approaching college applications, there are opportunities galore. Below, you can find a few opportunities for volunteering from home for animal lovers!

Hands holding the word volunteer illustration - Download Free Vectors, Clipart Graphics & Vector Art

1. eBird

eBird is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and is based around tracking avian data around the country, to better support threatened bird populations. Even if you’re a first-time bird watcher, the lab offers tons of incredible resources to make the experience fun and rewarding! Plus, you’d be contributing your data to the largest citizen-run data science project in the country. You can find them at (Full disclosure- I myself have not volunteered with this particular project, so I won’t be able to field any questions about it. Apologies!)

Pennsylvania eBird | Audubon Pennsylvania

2. Comfort for Critters

Comfort for Critters is an organization that focuses on providing comfort and care for abused animals in pounds and shelters across the country. If you can sow, knit, or crochet, you can help out by making blankets for the animals- if not, they have easy-to-follow tie blanket patterns on their website as well. When you’re done, you can mail the blankets to a shelter near you (they have a list of participating shelters on their website). You can also make or color cards for shelter employees and volunteers! Their website is

Make a Mattress Blanket! | Comfort for Critters

3. Humane Society

The Humane Society has tons of in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities for older teens! The most popular position is a phone or text bank volunteer- if you choose this, please be sure that you’d be comfortable talking to strangers. Although the choices are a little bit limited, you can rest assured that you will have a real impact through your work with the Humane Society! Find them at

Humane Society International | America's Charities

Best of luck in your volunteering endeavors!

-Vaidehi B.