Authors We Love: Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is the author of many fictional books for children.  Most of his books were illustrated by Quentin Blake.  I have always enjoyed these books as well as the illustrations.  Dahl uses very inventive language, including interesting words such as “gnazzle,” “knid” and “snozzcumber.”  His books are very funny and full of entertaining nonsense.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about a boy named Charlie who lives in a small home with his poor family.  Willy Wonka, the owner of a famous chocolate factory, announces that five lucky children will be invited to tour his factory.  The children would be selected by finding one of five golden tickets hidden inside the wrappers of chocolate bars.  By sheer luck, Charlie receives one of the five golden tickets.  As the story unfolds, we discover the wild and zany rooms in Willy Wonka’s factory, and finally we learn the real reason why Mr. Wonka invited the children to his factory.

The BFG tells of a little girl named Sophie who lives in an orphanage.  Sophie is captured by a twenty-four-feet-tall giant, who takes her to a cave in a faraway land called “Giant Country.”  There she learns that the giant’s name is the “Big Friendly Giant,” or the “BFG,” for short.  The BFG is actually the runt of nine other giants, who are about fifty feet tall and are very wicked, unlike the BFG.  The other nine giants like to gallop off to different countries to gobble up about two to six people at a time.  Sophie and the BFG come up with a plan to put a stop to the other giants’ evil deeds.

In Matilda, a girl named Matilda learns how to read at a very young age, but her parents mistreat her and hardly even notice her talents.  When she starts school, Matilda encounters the giant, nasty headmistress named Miss Trunchbull.  The headmistress terrorizes the entire school until Matilda discovers special powers within herself.  This is my favorite of Roald Dahl’s books because of the charming characters and wonderful story.

Most of Roald Dahl’s books are about ordinary children who discover extraordinary things.  Dahl usually includes fantastical characters, such as man-sized insects and little people known as “Oompa Loompas.”  It is for good reason that his books are very popular and are considered classics for young readers.  I highly recommend these books to people of all ages.

-Oliver H.

The works of Roald Dahl are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

12 Books to Read in 2020

Happy New Year! One of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend more time reading new books, and I hope that this post inspires you to do the same. With that, here are 12 books you should read during the 12 months of 2020: 

  1. 1984 by George Orwell: This book highlights the importance of individual rights and freedom, and serves as a cautionary tale meant to warn readers of the dangers that the future may hold.
  2. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett: This classic mystery novel is a must-read for any enthusiasts of the genre. This suspenseful story is filled with action and intrigue and will keep you guessing until the very last page.
  3. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: This is a very popular book read by students, and is known for its authenticity and powerful life lessons. Its characters are very relatable, and teach readers the importance of friendship and family.
  4. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck: Steinbeck tells the story of multiple characters living in Monterey, a town that relied on its fishing and canning industry. This story teaches readers resilience and the importance of a community.
  5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: Oftentimes, history is told from the perspective of the victors. However, this novel illustrates the Great Depression from the perspective of people that are struggling to find work, which makes it feel genuine.
  6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This popular novel takes place in Nazi Germany, where a young orphan named Lisel learns to read and befriends a Jewish boy named Max that is hiding with her foster family. This story illustrates the importance of friendship and kindness and shows just how powerful words can be. 
  7. That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton: Although this is one of Hinton’s lesser-known works, it is an incredibly authentic and moving story that shows readers how our experiences change and shape who we are. 
  8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: This well-known story is one of the greatest horror stories and works of science fiction in literary history. Frankenstein is an incredibly intriguing story that teaches integrity and compassion.
  9. Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Life of Pi is a survival story that uses metaphor to depict the dark side of human nature. Its gripping suspense and powerful symbolism make it a literary masterpiece, and a must-read for everyone.
  10. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: This book tells the inspiring true story of a soldier in World War II, who is captured and held in a Japanese prison camp until the end of the war. He endures torture and abuse during his time at the camp and teaches readers resilience, strength, and perseverance.
  11. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist tells the tale of a boy on a search for treasure, and along the way, learns about the world and himself. This book teaches the importance of personal growth and discovery and shows that the real treasures in life lie within our hearts.
  12. 12. Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Wonder is an incredibly moving story about a young boy who faces bullying due to his appearance, but finds friends that support and help him. Another version of the book also tells the story from the perspective of one of the boy’s bullies, who is facing difficulties of his own that he tries desperately to hide. This books teaches compassion, empathy, and the importance of friendship, and is an essential read for everyone.

-Katie A. 

Book List: Books Worth Rereading

There are some books I enjoy reading just once, and there are others I could read over and over without getting tired … I seem to enjoy them more every time I read them. 

Whether you’re looking for an excellent book that (I would consider) is worth owning, or you’re looking for a relatable blog post about one of your favorite books/book series, I hope this post helps!

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall: I think I’ve mentioned this series in three other blog posts—when writing about my favorite fictional characters, locations, and about a recommended series. As you can probably tell, I love this series so much! Not only is the writing, setting, and characterization amazing, but this is a series I could read countless times. The perfect amount of humor is mixed with depth and sisterly love, and the dynamics of the Penderwick family are realistic yet captivating. I read the first few books when I was younger and enjoyed them, but I enjoyed and understood them on a different level when reading them once I was a little older. Like many of the books on this list (and with other books that I like rereading), I feel like so many age groups can get something out of this series. The Penderwicks is the ideal series for me when I’m looking for a book that is fun and not stressful but steeped in meaning and intrigue.   

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: The first chapter of this book can be disconcerting because the main character is addressing someone who readers don’t know about yet. By the time I had finished reading this book the first time, I had forgotten my confusion in the beginning. When I started to read it again, the beginning of the book was so much more understandable. I gained a new appreciation for the intricacy of the story, and I realized who the main character had been speaking to throughout the story. 

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: I just had to put this here. As I grow up and as I continue to read Harry Potter, the story does not grow old for me. With every reread I pick up a little more: a funny detail, another character, another layer of depth. Each character, even if only mentioned once or twice, seems to have his or her own background and fictional life. Reading Harry Potter is so comforting, and the draw of the series’ characters, humor, writing, and world continues and expands with each reread.  

The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan: Among other things, my favorite part of this series is the characters. I love the individual personalities of the seven demigods and their acquaintances (often enemies) and friends. Riordan’s humorous descriptions of the world of Greek Mythology and his knack for characterization make his books entertaining—even the second or third cycle through the books.

Being familiar with certain books results in a comforting reading experience. I already am accustomed to the settings and characters, and this allows me to take in other components of the story that I have not noticed before. I find there’s something almost magical about books that can be read more than once–not all books hold the detail and layers I find in these books. With each reread, the words you read are the same, but what you get out of it could be quite the opposite.

– Mia T.

Recommended Fantasy Series

Something about becoming engrossed in a book series is so wonderful. Although I enjoy stand-alone books as too, I love reading a series and knowing that there’s a book after the one I’m reading; another story that immerses me back into the world and its characters. Comfort and familiarity come with following fictional characters into different books on their exciting and (usually) dangerous journeys. While reading a series, I also know which book I should read next, which saves me time that might have otherwise been spent browsing up and down the shelves in the library trying to find a title or a cover that looks as if it might hold an interesting story (although I don’t think browsing the shelves of libraries is necessarily a waste of time). For anyone looking for familiarity, wonderful characters, or just a series to become immersed in, here are some fantasy book series that I recommend.

The Books of Bayern (quartet), by Shannon Hale
First Book: The Goose Girl
I mentioned the first book in this series in a post about exploring new genres, but it’s such a wonderful fantasy series that I wanted to add it here. This series is based in a fairy-tale-like world, but I think it’s great for older teens too. It might be because of Shannon Hale’s entertaining and lovable characters and her style of writing that I haven’t recently found many book series as rounded as I find her Books of Bayern series.

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (six-part series), by Michael Scott
First Book: The Alchemyst
I have not read this whole series, but I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of books. I would recommend this series for slightly older teens, and it is an excellent choice if you like stories that include mythology and history. The story is set in the real world, but is filled with a combination of mythological and historical beings. The protagonists, twins Josh and Sophie, give readers a relatable perspective as they discover a magical world. These books are filled with adventure, interesting characters, and detailed settings that add a realistic sense to the fictional elements.

Septimus Heap (heptalogy), by Angie Sage
First Book: Magyk
The Septimus Heap series is set in a fictional world containing wizards and bogarts and magic (who could have known?). One of my favorite parts about this series is the characters. There are so many of them, and though the books center around certain characters, the storylines of many side characters are incorporated throughout the series. I enjoyed reading the little additions Angie Sage makes at the end of the books, which give background or extra information on some of the characters. The books are humorous and filled with adventure and little details that make them even more enjoyable to read.

The Dragon Slippers Series (trilogy), by Jessica Day George
First Book: Dragon Slippers
Please don’t be discouraged by the title; it might not peak everyone’s interest, but this is a wonderful fantasy series that, like the Books of Bayern, I’ve had trouble finding a series as intriguing as. The Dragon Slippers series takes place in a fictional world in which dragons have hoards that don’t all contain gold and, despite what humans think, can be benign. With well-rounded characters and thankfully non-corny talking dragons, Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers series is a series that I highly recommend.

– Mia T.

Authors We Love: James Agee

Image result for james agee

Born on November 27th, 1909 and died on May 16, 1955 was this brilliant American poet, novelist, and writer for and about motion pictures. Written about in Encyclopedia Britannica, Agee grew up in Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountain area, went to Harvard University, and wrote for Fortune and Time after he graduated in 1932. Although his movie criticisms weren’t widely known, his humorous comments on movies still gained a lot of support from the audience instead of merely evaluating musicals and movies like an insider.

If you don’t know yet, his book A Death in the Family actually won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Now, I think this has a lot to do with his experience as a child, as this is an autobiographical novel. Not only the name “Rufus”, who was the main character in that particular novel but moreover it was James Agee’s middle name. His father, Hugh James Agee, like Jay Follet was killed in an auto accident when he was merely seven.

In addition, just when he was ten years old, his mother enrolled him in Saint Andrew’s boarding school. Remember something now? Yes, this is exactly the same setting as his other book The Morning Watch.

Although I haven’t read or watched all his other plays and featured stories, there is one thing I can tell: James Agee is a legendary author who utilizes his own family background and experience to produce outstanding stories and mold characters into the best shapes he can.

-Coreen C. 

The works of James Agee are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Book List: Exploring New Genres

I used to find myself generally only reading books from two genres, and constantly rereading the same books. However, when I started trying out new books in different genres, I expanded my love for different styles of writing and discovered some really wonderful books. Although I still love fantasy and realistic fiction (and rereading), I also enjoy other genres. I think reading or at least exploring new genres is a great way to discover some extraordinarily good books that I may never have chosen to read had I not strayed from my usual genres. Here is a list of books, each from a different genre, that I recommend. I hope this may help you discover new books and genres you love or maybe just help you if you are looking for a good book to read.

Fantasy: The Goose Girl (Book 1 of The Books of Bayern) by Shannon Hale: The Goose Girl is based off of the Grimm fairy tale with the same title, however, Shannon Hale greatly expands on the world, history, and story while still maintaining the feel of a fairy tale. I really loved the way Shannon Hale augmented on the original story, and the characters are complex and well-developed. Although this book is the first in a series called the Books of Bayern, The Goose Girl ends well as its own story too. I really love this series and Shannon Hale’s writing style.

Dystopian: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: (This book could arguably be fantasy too). The Age of Miracles follows a young girl named Julia as she goes through the usual self-discovery of a middler schooler while, on a larger scale, the “slowing” starts. This is when the earth begins to rotate steadily slower, the effects of this growing more dangerous by the day and causing major changes in Julia’s life and the world. I liked this book because it wasn’t like the other dystopian books I had read. Although the slowing is is occurring throughout the novel, the story is a bit more like a realistic fiction because Julia’s experiences are characteristic of a normal girl at her age. The book also happens during the apocalyptic event, while a lot of other dystopian novels take place after an apocalyptic event.

Magical Realism: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: This beautiful and unique book is narrated by Ava Lavender as she tells her family story beginning with her grandmother’s, then her mother’s, leading up to her own. Ava’s mother’s side of the family was very unique and were known for strange things to happen to them. This carries through the family, for Ava is born with wings. This anomaly puzzles everyone and draws the dangerous attention of some. This book left me in awe at how a beautiful yet harrowing story could be told with such consistent, poetic, and exquisite narration.

– Mia T.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Just as I was giving up on the monotonous plots and characters of many current YA novels, Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo, reminds me of how truly fantastic YA books can be. Six of Crows is the first book in its duology, followed by Crooked Kingdom. Bardugo wrote this series after The Grisha Trilogy, which is set in the same world. However, one does not need to read the trilogy beforehand (I did not), as they center around different characters and places.

My favorite part of this book is that it is set in a different world that has been so beautifully fleshed out by the author, including unique countries, cultures, and languages. Another cool part is that the band of six are so diverse and provide a wide variety of representation in race, sexual orientation, and both physical and mental disabilities. The group live in a buzzing city called Ketterdam (taking inspiration from the city of Amsterdam). This 1800s type city is right next to the sea is filled with merchants, cargo ships, gang claimed territories, and thieves. Speaking of thieves and gangs…

Six of Crows story follows a gang (literally) of antihero teenagers, each with their own bitter backstory. Kaz Brekker aka Dirtyhands aka Bastard of the Barrel is the leader of the gang called the Dregs. He is mysterious, cold, and delightfully sarcastic. Despite Kaz’s limp in his leg, no one in their right mind would dare cross him or his cane. Next is Inej aka The Wraith. But don’t let her small frame fool you, as she the deadliest and sneakiest one on the team. Right hand man and life of the group is Jesper. The only thing stronger than his sharpshooting ability is his gambling addiction.

Thirdly, we have Nina, a Heartrender Grisha, meaning she has special abilities that can manipulate others’ bodies. However, if Nina lived in our world, she’d be an A-lister actress for sure. Any group of fighters needs a brooding muscle man, and Matthias sure fills that part, no matter how reluctant he might be. And last but not least, we have bright young merchling, Wylan, who is new to the heathen street life, but becomes an incredible asset.

These crooked youngsters embark on an insane mission that’s filled with humor, struggle, suspense, emotions, and wonderful fight scenes. The opening scene with Inez is my favorite scene as we get to see two gangs in a “parley” meeting. It is so intriguing and thrilling, specifically with how we see it from Inej’s bird’s eye view. The amount of detail that Leigh Bardugo put in her writing and characterization is truly spectacular and I recommend this book 100%!

-Ava K.

The Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive