The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Every place you’ll ever find yourself in is more than meets the eye. This is the central idea of Leigh Bardugo’s new novel The Ninth House, a supernatural fantasy about the life of Yale student Alex Stern. The story follows Alex through her freshman year of college, recruited by a secret society at the university known as Lethe. This society supervises 8 other organizations across campus, each of them specializing in a certain magical concept through rituals and other supernatural events. Lethe has been interested in her for most of her teenage life due to strange occurrences in police reports that reveal her secret; Alex was born with the power to see “Grays”, the ghosts that fail to pass over beyond “the Veil” and wander the living world. As someone who can see them, Alex plays an important role in protecting the societies from supernatural interference with their business. She studies the ways of Lethe and magic under her mentor Darlington, and receives help from grad student Dawes and Dean Sandow. However, life as a college recruit is not an easy path, and Alex must learn to navigate her struggling GPA and avoid suspicion from her roommates, all while keeping the existence of magic and the Nine Houses a secret.

However, life gets turned even more upside down when Darlington disappears and a random girl is found dead on campus. Concerned about the societies’ potential involvement in both cases, she goes out to solve the mysteries in a collection of twists and turns. As the murder investigation unfolds, people are tossed in and out of the scapegoat role, even some of the people she trusts most. At the novel’s conclusion, everything is made clear through shocking revelation that leaves its readers yearning for a second installment in Stern’s universe.

This book took me a little bit of time to get into. Being a “New Adult” book, it was a large jump in detailed writing from the book I had just read. However, once I sat down and committed to reading, I found soon enough that I couldn’t put the book down. The characterization of Alex fascinated me, and became more enthralling as her past is revealed. The interwoven stories between the world of the living and the dead and the world of Lethe and Yale as a whole make for an interesting story. I am looking forward to the next installment, hopefully to come out late 2021 or early 2022.

-Bailey L.

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

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Renowned for its masterful portrayal of a Hobbes-inspired misanthropic view of human nature, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies serves as one of the greatest novels to come out of World War II, despite being published nearly a decade after it. It chronicles the tale of a group of young boys stranded on a remote island, and depicts their struggle to maintain peace and civility without any authority, which eventually culminates in the creation of two radically different tribes – one for violence, one for rationality.

Lord of the Flies opens with the crash of an airplane containing a class full of British schoolboys. Ralph and Piggy, two of these unfortunates, use a conch to summon the rest of the boys who have crashed on the island, who have ranging ages and needs. Initially, Ralph and Jack, the power-hungry leader of the school choir boys, get along with each other in order to be rescued, but as the time drags on with no sign of civilization, the boys begin to crack, and turn to the darkness for salvation.

Over the course of the novel, the bright light of civilization begins to flicker and die in the face of the overwhelming darkness brought about by the boys’ belief that there is a “Beastie” watching over them, waiting to kill them all. Using the fear to his advantage, Jack turns the group against Ralph, Piggy, and those allied with them, and the majority of the boys become savage hunters, and violence becomes their only means of communication.

Overall, Lord of the Flies is a classic read, and definitely raises some interesting points. It reveals that despite humanity appearing to be a civilized group, beneath that mask lies violence and savagery, which is only uncovered when people are distanced from established civilization. In a way, even in a civilized environment, the beast in man continues to rear its ugly head, and unless humans are able to control their violent urges, humanity will end up exactly as Hobbes predicted in Leviathan, living lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

-Mahak M.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is about a boy named Thomas who woke up in an elevator with no memory of his past except that his name is Thomas. When the elevator opens he is greeted by people who also have no memory other than their names. Over time Thomas starts exploring the glade (what they call where they live) which the outside of where they live is the maze which they think is the key to their escape. One day after Thomas arrives this girl named Teresa shows up in the box with a note saying that she was the last one ever. Which puts the group in a panic.

This book is a fantastic read. It keeps the reader engaged the entire book because you never know the twists and turns that will happen on their journey. This book is also the intro to the other 3 books in the series which are also very good books that I highly recommend. Also, I recommend reading the books before watching the movies because I felt more connected to the characters watching the movie after reading the books and also books are usually better than the movie counterparts.

-Howard M.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Extract | The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - Penguin Books Australia

The land that was once the United States of America has been taken over by a totalitarian theocracy known as Gilead. In this new government, society is divided into rigid castes, ranging from the powerful Commanders to the lowly Handmaids, with other classes like the Commanders’ Wives and the working Marthas and Econopeople in between.

With the laws of Gilead being based on select passages from the Bible, women are reduced to almost nothing, and have little to no freedom. For instance, they are not allowed to read or write, they must cover their hair and bodies in order to avoid tempting men to sin, and they cannot even choose who they associate with or marry.

The unfortunate women who are “chosen” to become Handmaids, however, lose even more – their basic right to their own bodies. Because of dangerously low reproduction rates, fertile Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving. Despite their importance, the Handmaids are treated as their Commander’s property, only to be seen and not heard.

The narrator, Offred, is among the class of the Handmaids, and she belongs to the man named Commander Fred, as well as his Wife, Serena Joy. Stripped of her name, her body, and her past life, all Offred has left is her voice, which she uses to describe the horrors of Gilead in a way that drives even the most hard-hearted audience to pity. 

Margaret Atwood’s writing skills are brilliant, and she weaves the world of Gilead in a gripping masterpiece that will occasionally cause the reader to be lost inside the dystopian hellscape that is The Handmaid’s Tale. However, the epilogue (which I will not spoil here) leaves a last bit of hope for the reader that will leave them feeling both bitter and optimistic about the future.

-Mahak M.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express is a mystery novel by Agatha Christie.  The hero is the famous detective, Hercule Poirot.  Poirot is described throughout Christie’s novels as a small Belgian man with an egg-shaped head and a distinctive moustache.  The novel is set almost entirely on a train called the Orient Express.  The train was on its way to London, but becomes stuck in the middle of the night due to a snowdrift.  The next morning, a man named Mr. Rachett is found dead in his bed having been stabbed multiple times.  Poirot, intrigued by the mysterious circumstances surrounding this apparent murder, puts the “little grey cells” in his mind to work.  In other words, as he always does, Poirot uses his brain power to solve the case.

One thing I enjoyed about this novel is that we have more suspects than most Poirot stories.  The various personalities made the story quite colorful and entertaining.  Many nationalities are represented, such as American, British, Hungarian, Russian, Swedish and Italian.  One of my favorite suspects is an old woman named Mrs. Hubbard.  She tends to ramble and rattle on about her daughter or anything else that pops into her head.  I found it amusing to read about the passengers’ interactions as they all claimed alibis to absolve themselves of the murder.  The victim seems to have had a very bad reputation, so many suspects might have been motivated to kill him.  This made it very hard to guess which suspect was the actual killer.

This is one of my favorite Agatha Christie books.  There are many characters to keep track of, which makes the story interesting and exciting, but the mystery becomes difficult to figure out.  The ending was quite surprising and different from other Poirot stories that I have read.  Overall, I found this novel to be quite thrilling.  I would also recommend Agatha Christie’s other Poirot books, such as Cards on the Table and The ABC Murders.  Hercule Poirot is one of my favorite characters, and I have enjoyed all of the Poirot mysteries that I have read so far.

-Oliver H.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Most of us are familiar with the monster we’ve labelled as Frankenstein, a green, grotesque creature of Hollywood films. Before reading Mary Shelley’s acclaimed novel for a high school English class, I had similar mental perceptions of the monster (I’d been envisioning the essential, go-to costume for elementary school Monster Mashes for years). After finishing the book, however, I was moved by the complexities of Shelley’s characters, their philosophy, as well as her examination of prominent social and political issues throughout the carefully woven narrative, which are still relevant today.

I’d read Gris Grimley’s Frankenstein before in middle school. Pages of colored artwork and masterful graphic design rendered an excellent adaptation of Shelley’s novel. It provided me the foundations to easily understand the basic plot of Frankenstein, yet I was still skeptic about reading the novel itself. I don’t particularly love Shakespeare or Dickens, with their fanciful ways of speech that can get tiring after a long period of reading, and I feared the same for Shelley’s work. But she was different somehow, her writing distinctively unique; perhaps this was because she was a female amidst a world of male writers, someone who had created such a haunting and gripping story so uncharacteristic of a woman of her time.

The novel centers around a gifted scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who manages to breathe life into his creation, a monstrous being. Instead of a being presented as a gift to humanity, the glorious product of defying even Nature itself, the specimen is a hideous creature that is shunned by society and his creator alike. The narrative is told from various perspectives–explorer Robert Walton’s letters, Frankenstein’s first person narration, the monster’s collection of stories–which I appreciated greatly, because it gave the storyline a certain vivacity, turning it away from the tiresome monotony of the same narrator. As the novel progresses, the monster and his creator enter into a growing spiral of violence and tragedy, and I will say (spoiler alert!) the novel is not exactly a Hallmark movie with a happy ending.

By the time I had finished the book, the ending surprisingly emotional (I had been nonchalant all throughout Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, but this ending really ran me over for good measure…go figure), I continued to mull the story’s events over in my mind. Frankenstein is a philosophical breeding ground–are monsters created or made, a victim of the cruelties of society? What are the ethical implications of science and technology (this one I consider a lot, since we are at a teetering frontier of modern scientific discovery)? Who is the real monster, the creation or its creator?

Even if you aren’t called by philosophy, read Frankenstein for it’s ingenious storyline. I didn’t think I would ever call a book published in 1818 “thrilling,” but I was pleasantly surprised at the wide range of emotions Shelley, and most good writers, can evoke through their stories, her ability to make the reader view society through a new lens. Read it for Shelley’s diction, the way she stirs to life a melancholy madness, the vividness in which she allows us to experience it, as if the character’s lives were our own, and which left me awed. It was a book that stuck with me long after I finished it, a book that I regretted misjudging before I picked it up and read it grudgingly for school, but which took me into the depths of humanity and morality.

-Katharine L.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go follows 12-year-old Todd Hewitt and his companion Viola on their journey to reach New Haven, a town at the other end of the world. The history of their planet is one of the grim desolate conditions, which Todd learns early on as he has raised in Prentisstown: a town where every man can hear each other’s thoughts and all the women died of a mysterious disease soon after Todd was born. The youngest boy in the town, he is exactly one month away from becoming a man when his guardians, Ben and Cillian, send him away into the swamp with no explanations, and only a warning that everything he knows about the history of Prentisstown and the New World is a lie. In the wilderness, he meets Viola, a young girl that survived a space shuttle wreck meant to scout the area for new settlers. Together, along with Todd’s easily distracted yet loyal dog Manchee, they run and fight to survive in a world they soon realize is nothing like they were told.

Patrick Ness, the award-winning author of A Monster Calls, depicts the story through the thoughts of Todd, his inner monologue and Noise (men’s broadcasted thoughts in the New World), and the chaotic noise of the other men around him. He displays the emotional connections Todd makes with Viola and his guardian Ben, as well as the confusion and horror when slowly realizing the secrets of Prentisstown, all while hiding a dramatic bombshell of death and despair that we only get to read and imagine towards the end of their journey. Themes of maturity, love, death, and hope scatter the novel as the characters grow, leading to a beautiful final destination that feels all but complete, as plans are derailed for us to wait in anxiety for the next installment.

Having read this book for the first time several years ago, I was excited yet worried to read it again; the book is a towering and intimidating 500 pages, but is impossible to put down. The twists and turns shocked me once again, and I thoroughly enjoyed my second read. I look forward to uncovering the secrets of the rest of the trilogy in the coming months.

-Bailey L. 

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

A prestigious school. An abandoned island. A deadly disease. Secrets beyond comprehension. These elements present themselves in suspenseful and exciting ways in “Wilder Girls” a science fiction horror novel written by Rory Power. The story follows the Raxter School for Girls, a coveted boarding school off the coast of the United States. The story picks up 18 months after the island had been put under quarantine due to the Tox, a deadly virus that mutates the environment and the people within it. We follow the few survivors of the plague after the teachers and several girls have already succumbed to the Tox. As the story progresses, we discover secrets behind the military’s role in managing the disease, and the true meaning of finding a cure.

Hetty, one of the few survivors, lives within the school, bickering for rations with the other students and taking care of her friends Byatt and Reese. As she looks around at the fellow students, she describes the horrifying effects of the Tox: extra body parts, vines growing out of the body, and shocking spasms that leave each victim even more distraught than before. These girls are sitting ducks, slowly decomposing while waiting for the CDC and the outside world to provide a cure while donating occasional rations. As the months go by, the students and few remaining teachers develop a hierarchy of power in order to keep order and safety on school grounds. A quarantine is set both on the island and the school, only allowing certain students to venture into the dangerously mutated forest. We see bonds broken and formed between young women as they struggle to survive and save those they care most about, making a life in their hopeless situation, surrounded by death and decay.

Themes of sacrifice and selfishness develop through the novel as their situation at Raxter worsens. When Byatt, Hetty’s closest friend and almost sister, goes missing after a flare-up, her and Reese risk the security of their other classmates to go beyond the fence and search for her, uncovering deadly and scarring secrets that reveal the true fate of the island’s residents. Hetty’s careful, loving, and protective nature fails in the final critical moments, revealing her true ambitions as she is forced to decide between the group she loves and the people she cannot live without: Reese and Byatt. Hetty remains one of my favorite literary characters due to what may seem like backwards character development but is actually a revelation of her flawed heroic nature that exists her entire life. “Wilder Girls” does a phenomenal job of displaying the flaws of even the greatest heroes and sacrificers.

I read this book for the first time in summer 2019, and found it a fascinating story that I stayed up all night to finish reading. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys dystopian YA fiction, horror, or any story with dynamic and complex characters that showcase true universal themes.

-Bailey L.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

The Island of Dr. Moreau is a short novel by H. G. Wells.  The narrator is a man named Edward Prendick.  As the story begins, we learn that Prendick was a victim of a shipwreck.  He is eventually rescued and brought to a remote island.  On the island he meets Dr. Moreau, a scientist specializing in a practice called vivisection.  Vivisection is a type of surgery conducted for experimental purposes, typically on animals, to view their living internal structure.  Prendick comes to learn that Dr. Moreau’s experiments are not just for scientific research, but that something mysterious is happening on the island.

This book is a quick read, but worthwhile.  This is classic science fiction.  We have a mad scientist who has been ostracized by the scientific community because of his unconventional ideas.  He flees to an island where he can conduct his crazy experiments without interference.  Even though this is a short novel, I think the characters are well-developed.  The author creates an ominous feeling as we discover the extent of Dr. Moreau’s madness.  I enjoyed reading about Dr. Moreau’s wild creations, even though the details are somewhat grotesque and disturbing.  The chilling tone of this novel might be a bit unsettling for some people, but I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in reading a thrilling classic.

-Oliver H

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.”

The Waves, by Virginia Woolf, tells the story of six people growing up—Bernard, Louis, Neville, Susan, Jinny, and Rhoda—and how they mourn their friend, Percival. Each of them all have very distinct personalities. Bernard loves words, Louis is insecure with his place in the world, Neville desires order, Susan adores nature, Jinny values her physicality, and Rhoda is very dream-like, an introvert.

The most interesting thing about The Waves is that it’s separated into nine sections, each section starts with the time of the day, and each section is about them in each stage of life. Virginia Woolf doesn’t follow a typical narrative. Instead, she opts for the characters to tell their most inner thoughts and feelings—similar to a monologue. Here is a section from the novel:

“”I see a ring,” said Bernard, “hanging above me. It quivers and hangs in a loop of light.”

When greeted with the beginning of the narration, it really surprised me. I have never read a book like this before, and I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf. Trying to get used to the style of writing—which was prose-heavy, was difficult for me, as someone who’s never read this style before. It got easier as I read along, though, and got invested into the story. I remember getting into a flow, then I finally understood their personalities and motives. Going on Sparknotes a few times didn’t hurt, either.

Aside from that struggle, I loved this book. Although it was something very different for me, I think I want to read more books like this one. I truly felt as if I was growing up with the six friends, watching them as they went from childhood all the way to the end of their lives. I found myself relating to Neville, a man who preferred order—who later became a successful poet. This book had many sections that really resonated with me, and I will be reading it again in the future, for further understanding.

If you enjoy prose-heavy books, or books filled with lots of imagery and poetry, The Waves is perfect for you. It was a very beautiful read, and even if you’ve never read a book like this before—I’m sure it will still be very enjoyable.

The Waves has also been turned into The Waves in Quarantine, a theatrical experiment in six movements. It has been shown by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre—created by Raúl Esparza and Lisa Peterson.

Lastly, here’s my favorite section of the novel, spoken by Bernard. Enjoy reading!

“…And while you gesticulate, with your cloak, your cane, I am trying to expose a secret told to nobody yet; I am asking you (as I stand with my back to you) to take my life in your hands and tell me whether I am doomed always to cause repulsion in those I love?”

-Claire C.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.