Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet is a unique and eccentric book about fitting in and standing out.

The whole world is in turmoil. A mysterious art scholar-turned thief is questioning whether some 37 paintings attributed to famous artist Johannes Vermeer were truly created by him. The thief has stolen Vermeer’s most famous painting, A Lady Writing, and says he will only return it when the shroud of mystery surrounding this painter’s life was eradicated. Meanwhile, Calder Pillay and Petra Andalee are regular New York sixth graders starting a new year with an eccentric teacher, Ms. Isabel Hussey, who has strange and revolutionary ideas. Soon, Calder and Petra are swept up in the rising tide of unrest and uncertainty, and they must shoulder the task of finding the missing painting and revealing the thief. Along the way, they encounter coincidence, a coincidence that may not be a coincidence, and patterns of complex kinds.

The setting of Chasing Vermeer really helped set the mood for the story. For example, the exciting and complex atmosphere of Hyde Park and New York City help set the mood for some later detective work and spying. The gloomy and oppressive, yet tense aura of Delia Dell Hall makes it a perfect location for the climax of the story.

On a scale of 1-10, I would rate this story a 9. The plot was slightly confusing, but it helped me see the world with new eyes, and understand other people better. It was also an eccentric book with a unique plot, the likes of which I have never read before.

-Vaidehi B. 

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson

The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson is a gruesome dystopian book about the cold and calloused scientific curiosity seeping through our world.

The year is 2086. In a bloodstained dystopian world, the ozone layer is gone, making the sun a daily enemy. Antarctica is no more, the ocean having swallowed up its icy coasts. 

Pollution. Radiation. Death.

These are normal words in 18-year old Owen Parker’s vocabulary. Headed to Camp Eden, a safe bio-dome, he worries about normal things a teenager should: how to fit in, and how to impress the cryptic and beautiful lifeguard, Lilly Ishani. But when he nearly drowns in the Eden lake, and somehow grows gills, he realizes that Eden is not what it seems. Along with the rest of the “Gill Gang” including Lilly, he sets out to investigate the mysterious death of a young girl at Eden. As Owen spirals deeper and deeper into a tale of hope and sorrow, of love and hate, of yin and yang itself, what he finds will change him forever.

This book is set in a dark dystopian world of 2086, after the ozone layer is severely depleted and Antarctica has melted, raising the sea level. The world is divided into the American Continent, the Northern Federation, and Eurasia. There is also a literal giant island of floating trash where some of the story takes place, called Floatia. The story mainly takes place inside the giant bio-dome of Eden, which is the polar opposite of the dark polluted world outside.

On a scale of one to ten I would rate The Lost Code a nine out of ten. Overall, it was an amazing, albeit scary book. It was slightly terrifying because our world is well on the way to becoming the shattered, hopeless world described in the book. This book is also for slightly mature audiences as well, which I was not prepared for. It wasn’t necessarily bad, I just wasn’t prepared for it.

-Vaidehi B.

Dawn Undercover by Anna Dale

Dawn Undercover by Anna Dale is an intriguing and fun book about the intricacies of being thrust into the spotlight.

Dawn Buckle has one of those faces that you can forget within an hour. So when the wholly unspectacular girl is recruited into S.H.H, (Strictly Hush Hush) a part of P.S.S.T, (Pursuit of Scheming Spies and Traitors) she feels a little… rushed. Soon, she finds herself in the English countryside trying to find spy-gone-bad Murdo Meek. Along with her friends Trudy and Felix, Dawn delves into a riddle far more complicated than anyone here can see at first.

This book is set in London in the twenty-first century. Some of the book is spent in Kent, Dawn’s hometown, but more than half of it is set in Murdo Meek’s village, Cherry Bentley. Some other minor locations include an old abandoned castle, where Dawn and Felix find some incriminating evidence, and Bentley Pond, the scene of the climax.

What mainly motivates Dawn to do what she does is money. She grew up in a poor family. Her mom works all day everyday to provide for her, her dad, and her grandpa. S.H.H promised her a lot of money if she could uncover Murdo Meek, and Dawn wants her family to be able to make ends meet.

On a scale of one to ten, I would rate this story a 10 out of 10. It was well-written, and it had a lot of matter-of-fact humor that I loved. Also, the book contained a lot of puns and plays on words, which also fit in with the theme well.

-Vaidehi B.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel about patience, faith, and the transcending power of love.

The novel focuses on three main characters and their intertwining stories. Aibileen Clark is an African-American housekeeper in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Tormented by her mistress and haunted by her son’s recent death, Aibileen begins to seek change. Minny Jackson is Aibileen’s best friend. She’s been fired from job after job because of her smart mouth. With five mouths to feed and an abusive husband, Minny is hardened and bitter. However, when she goes to work for Celia Ray, she discovers something new. Eugenia Phelan has been different her entire life. She’s never exactly fit in with her parents’ wealthy, white friends: she longs to be a writer and find true love on the side. As she navigates the treacherous minefield of high society and tentative love, she meets Aibileen and Minny, and the three unite to write a book that may very well get them killed.

The Help is about so much more than the complicated race relations in the mid-90s South. At its heart, it’s a coming-of-age, an opening-of-heart story. Over the course of the plot, the three women learn to find themselves in the blank noise of society, to stay true to themselves when everyone else is telling them to lie. At the end of the day, that is what the novel is about. The enormous power of opening your heart and mind is realistically and hauntingly portrayed here. The hauntingly heartfelt writing style employed by Miss Stockett is perfect- the book reads like a letter written to an old friend. This is a thought-provoking novel that will elicit tears and laughs in equal measures.

-Vaidehi B.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded online for free from Overdrive

The Roar by Emma Clayton

The Roar by Emma Clayton is a dystopian science fiction book that re-examines what it really means to be human.

In the (not so) distant future, the entire human population is squeezed into a third of the land that it once occupied, behind an impenetrable gray wall. Society’s distinctions are more emphasized than ever, with all the rich living in the Golden Turrets, and those not so fortunate shoved underneath, deprived of sun and water, into the Shadows. An animal plague has destroyed the rest of the Earth. 

So they think.

Hybrid Mika Smith has his doubts about everything, even about his sister Ellie’s suspicious death. But when a mysterious dream, a podship competition, and The Roar come into play, Mika must prepare to rethink everything he has ever known about the dying and corrupted world he lives in. 

One quote from the book really struck me: “A few people started riding bicycles and others reused their plastic bags and meanwhile Earth was gasping its last, desperate breath.” This quote really summarizes what the main idea of this book is. In this book, the Earth has been polluted beyond recognition, and humanity is desperately warring against nature, believing that only one can survive. This quote is gripping on an intrinsic level, making us question the validity of our motives, however well-intentioned they may be, and raises an inquiry into the basic human nature of greed and power. It stresses the need for substantial action and unity against some of the pressing problems facing our world.

The Roar by Emma Clayton is one of the best books I have ever read. The plot is just interesting enough to not be boring but suspenseful enough to be a nail-biting thriller. Although the plot is a bit too slow at times, the book still remains an excellent read. Emma Clayton has created a fictional masterpiece but added perfect undercurrents of real issues like climate change that pressure us all today.

-Vaidehi B.

 

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

Scat, written by Carl Hiaasen, is a humorous but insightful novel about family, forgiveness, and the power of love.

The plot focuses on Nick, a teenager desperately struggling to pass biology with his fearsome teacher, Bunny Starch. To make matters worse, his father just returned from Afghanistan with no left arm. When Miss Starch goes missing on ‘family business,’ he and his best friend Marta don’t buy it. No, they assume the class delinquent, Smoke, has something to do with it. And he does! Just not in the way that they think. There’s a whole lot more going on than anyone player in this twisted tale can see…

In this book, Hiaasen expertly crafts a twisting, turning, crooked plot that captivates you until the very end. The main characters excellently portray the simultaneous confusion and excitement of ignorance, and the book itself holds great relevance to our world today.

The theme and motifs paint both a fantastical and realistic portrait of forgiveness, our earth, and the innate humanity in each and every one of us. The seriousness of the lesson is tempered well by the simplistic, yet effective humor of the characters. Using suspense and mystery in strange ways, this book will draw you in and keep you laughing until its conclusion.

-Vaidehi B.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Book Without Words by Avi

The Book Without Words by Avi is a strange, chaotic novella set in a medieval and gothic time period in an alternate universe.

An eccentric old man named Thorston has devoted his entire life to look for the two greatest secrets of life- the making of gold and immortality. Seconds away from a breakthrough, he keels over, dead. His servant, Sybil, and talking pet raven, Odo, decide that their only hope is to discover the two secrets and build a better life for themselves.

The ultimate theme of this book plays on human nature itself, as the two secrets themselves represent man’s greatest flaws- greed and the desire for immortality. 

This morally-charged storyline coupled with Avi’s odd, emotionless, and almost creepy narrating style makes for an intriguingly gruesome novella that turns the happy-go-lucky magic of youth into something curiously corrupted and cruel.

-Vaidehi B.

The Book Without Words by Avi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.