Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

Upon reading Mah’s Chinese Cinderella and its sequel, I recently was made aware of a precursor and her official autobiography.  Entitled Falling Leaves, the book follows the same plot line as her other two works.  However, what made it different was the voice Mah used as the story of her life progressed.

Little Adeline, originally Mǎ Yán Jūnlíng, was born into a high-class family in Tianjin, China.  Her mother, the light of her father’s life, died shortly after giving birth to Adeline.  This did not raise the youngest child’s status in the family.  From a young age, Adeline received nothing but resentment and mistreatment from her family, with the exception of her kind Aunt Baba.  Under the direction of the late mistress of the Yen household, Aunt Baba became Adeline’s surrogate mother.  But, Adeline was persistent to win her father’s attention, through and through, even to his deathbed.  She consistently was awarded medals and perfect report cards.  On few occasions, her father would notice, but with the addition of a new stepmother, Niang, Mr. Yen sent Adeline to boarding school.  Where, throughout the years she spent there, nobody paid her a single visit.

As Mah takes the reader throughout her painful life, she not only follows her own story, but retells her family’s (if they could ever be called that), so when the story concludes, all the pieces come together.  And, in Adeline’s case, quite heartbreakingly.

What Mah has written truly shows the willpower of human sufferance.  War-torn countries and refugees have stories worth sharing, inspiring the fortunate people of the free world.  However, within what may seem to be a noble Chinese household, the step-children, in particular the youngest girl, find a similar fates.  Though found the library’s adult section as it contains more mature content, I fully recommend Mah’s autobiography.

-Maya S.

The works of Adeline Yen Mah are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

After discovering that The Hunger Games was my 7th-grade extra credit reading book and that I haven’t read it before yet ( say what?!), I decided now was a good time to pick it up and finally start on it.

Yeah, I know, how could you have not read the Hunger Games before? Face it, everyone’s probably pretty familiar with this book. You know of it, of course. It’s a famous book that almost everyone knows, just like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. 

Anyways, once I picked up this book, I found it impossible to put down. I read for two straight days and got it finished. And then I reread it. And reread it again.

I probably would recommend this book for older children, particularly because of a few violent scenes. But other than that, I would highly recommend this book for anyone who looks forward to action and thrillers.

Starting off with the famous Katniss Everdeen, the book takes place in District 12, her hometown. There are twelve districts, although there used to have been a 13th, which was destroyed because of their rebellion against the all-ruling Capitol, Panem. Because of this, the Capitol has ordered the event called the Hunger Games, where two tributes, a boy and a girl, are selected from each district (24 tributes total). They will be placed inside of an arena whose conditions can change with directions from the inventors of the Hunger Games, the Gamemakers. The whole point of the Hunger Games is for the twenty-four tributes to kill each other as a sport; the last tribute standing wins, leaving the arena with a life of luxury.

And the purpose of all of this? To prove how everyone is at the Capitol’s mercy, how they take the people’s children to watch them fight to the death.

From District 12, Katniss and the boy tribute, Peeta Mellark, are pitted against the other twenty-two tributes. They have no idea what the arena conditions will be like; the yearly Hunger Games change every year. All they know is that it will be difficult, and definitely lethal.

I have to say, Suzanne Collins, the author, was really suspenseful. Every fight scene, every page that she wrote, was filled with action from top to bottom. That’s what kept me hooked to the very last page. But even through all that, she also manages to weave in just the right amount of romance between Katniss and Peeta.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Catching Fire! I’m sure it’s as good as the first one.

But first, who will win the intense, action-packed Hunger Games? Because the tributes will either get out of there alive…or dead.

-Katherine L.

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Inferno by Dante Aligheri

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To be honest, I didn’t expect Dante Aligheri’s Inferno to be what it is when I first picked it up. It was originally written circa 1300 before the Middle Ages truly ended, has strong Christian values embedded in them, and seemed innocuous, or at least as innocuous as a book about hell can be.

When I read the plot summary of Dante’s Inferno, it appeared as just another pedantic, abstruse epic. I only gave it notice because my English teacher assigned my class to read at least 500 pages for the quarter, and we could only choose books from a college-approved list of classics. Dante’s Inferno just so happened to be on that list, and I just so happened to have coincidentally checked it out from the library the previous week. Rather than find a book that I may have had more of a predisposed interest in, I chose to just read the translation and its sequel, the Purgatorio. I was not ready for some of the gory parts, the horrible punishments handed down to people, and how Dante seemed to care more about himself and either harass the sinners or break down crying/swooning (but ultimately doing nothing useful). Then again, this is only an allegory, so everything is symbolic and Dante is only using his imagination. Although by today’s standards Dante is ultra-conservative, at that time Dante was actually progressive, being one of the first to use colloquial Italian instead of Latin and combine both Judeo-Christian values and Greek mythology.  

The John Ciardi translation is highly compact. Somehow, he managed to fit text that normally takes up 500 pages into a tiny, 300-page book with a rather tedious font and font size. The Inferno is essentially a very long poem, divided into 34 cantos (chapters). A summary of the events precedes every canto and around three pages worth of footnotes comes at the end. These help clarify many, many fine details that would otherwise go unnoticed. As well as the translation of the poem, John Ciardi’s version of the book also features a lengthy introduction, guide to the book, translator’s notes, information about Dante’s life, etc. If you’re in for a good read, make sure to skip these parts; but if you’re reading it for school, like me, try to at least skim them over.

As far the actual book goes– being irreligious, I at first tried to detach myself from the content of the book. But a few cantos in, I realized that no sane person could possibly agree with what Dante’s view of the perfect world. What is different about the Inferno is that it is written almost in a second-person perspective; Dante is the narrator and a character in the book.

The book is essentially about Dante realizing he is straying from the “Glorious Path” towards heaven and masochistically putting himself through hell to see all the horrible things that happen to such people so that he himself wouldn’t become one of them. Along the way, he is accompanied by Virgil, a wise Greek philosopher that unfortunately ended up in hell because he wasn’t Christian. In each part of hell Dante encounters either a mythical Greek character, infamous historical figure, or somebody he knew personally. Here’s how Dante organizes hell: in the many, many circles of hell, people are handed their punishments depending on their worst sin in life.

For example, hoarders and wasters are sentenced to circle four where they eternally lunge weights at each other, each trying to win against the other side but always failing to do so. I’ll admit that this is rather clever, although more than a little drastic. However, there are also many other circles of hell made especially for some people that I believe do not belong in hell. For example, heretics, or people who did not adhere to Dante’s religion were punished by being placed in an open coffin that burns for all eternity. That would be me, and quite frankly that’s the most boring and unimaginative punishment in the entire book. 

Even worse, if you commit suicide, no matter how noble you were in life or how justified your suicide is, you ended up as an immobile tree that bleeds blood when hurt and isn’t able to talk unless someone snaps off a branch. So even if you were a humble, God-fearing, moral human being that was being tortured or tormented, you must not commit suicide and instead bear the pain because otherwise you were a coward that deserves to burn in hell. Justified? 

What may be the goriest, most horrifying part of the book is the first part of Canto 28. The “sowers of religious discord”, or essentially the proselytizers that tried to convert people of Dante’s faith, are faced with a demon. They walk around in a circle without rest, and every time they come near the demon it swings its melee weapon and cuts through the body of the “sinner”, sometimes to the extent where all the inner organs are dangling out of the body. The victim then stumbles away, only to have his/her wounds heal and repeat the cycle yet again. Dante takes extra care in describing the wounds inflicted on people and the sounds of their screams, yet doesn’t seem too perturbed. Is this justified? Because to me, it’s obvious that Dante is just letting his inner sadist take over. And people praise this as a classic, honoring Dante as the best poet to ever come out of Italy? For me, this is quite disturbing. Aside from that, there is no real progression of events for the majority of the story; Dante spends most of his time trudging through hell, swooning, walking some more, assaulting the helpless, screaming, reasserting his good Christian-ness, climbing some more cliffs, crying, and being incredibly sappy one moment and psychopathically violent the next. Hopefully the Purgatorio will include an actual plot.

What saved the book for me was how beautifully it was written. Even though I read the English translation, which meant much of the details and allusions were lost in translation, John Ciardi painstakingly translated every word, managing to keep the original terza rima rhyme scheme, preserve the wonderful imagery and most of the finer details, and create a vivid, somewhat realistic world all at once, even if much of the words and syntax comes across as rather esoteric. When you read the stanzas out loud, the words all flow together and the transitions and rhymes are both smooth and memorable. For this reason alone, I’ve actually become interested in learning a little bit of Italian to read the original. But that’s as far as it goes. 

In the end, I don’t recommend Dante’s Inferno to everyone (or even anyone) because the read can be rather slow, dull, confusing and horrifying at times, but if you want some ideas on how to write a descriptive, vivid poem, I suggest you do consult Mr. Alighieri, because he does knows how to create a work of art.

-Michael Z.

Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy is available for checkout from Mission Viejo Library

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is a thrilling mystery that follows a professor of symbology at Harvard University named Robert Langdon. While traversing the roads of Paris, Robert and his companions stumble across mysteries and codes to crack. To add to the mayhem, they’ve got the French Central Directorate of the Judicial Police and later on, the British police to worry about.

Jacques Sauniere, renowned curator of Le Musée du Louvre in Paris, has been murdered by a Catholic monk named Silas, and the Direction Cnetrale de la Police Judiciaire (France’s detective and security service) has discovered something highly unusual about his body. There is a symbol written across his chest and his body is positioned in a peculiar manner which mimics Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. They also find that Sauniere has left a cryptic message on the museum floor around him.

Robert Langdon, who is in France on business, is called in by Bezu Fache, a DCPJ captain, on the pretense of helping to interpret the strange symbols and aspects of the crime scene. Langdon explains to Fache that the pentacle written on Sauniere’s chest must be an allusion to goddess worship, as Sauniere was well-versed in this subject. Shortly after, Langdon is made aware that he is Fache’s prime suspect for the case. Sophie Neveu, a police cryptographer, is the one who secretly tells him this, and helps him to escape the Louvre. It turns out that Sophie has her own motivations and, with the help of Langdon, begins decoding the message the curator left.

This book has been on my reading list for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally came about to reading it. I found it very fascinating as much of it pertained to actual religious groups like the Priori of Sion and Opus Dei. I don’t really know much about groups like these, so it was interesting to hear about them and their beliefs. I also really enjoyed the codes and how they were broken. Throughout the book, Langdon explains certain meanings behind symbols, and I found that particularly intriguing. Much of the book focuses on goddess worship and feminine versus masculine roles. Today, this is a very sensitive subject, but it’s interesting to see how male and female roles have evolved throughout history.

This book is full of twists and turns, and is definitely something I would consider re-reading. The artwork and religious groups discussed in this book are accurate, so I actually ended up going back and looking at some of the paintings that were brought up. I was surprised to notice things that hadn’t previously come to my attention.

I would definitely recommend this book–it’s an absolutely riveting read.

-Elina T.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

I wouldn’t call this the worse book that I have ever read, but It wasn’t my favorite either. I must say it was interesting though.

The book starts off with Henry’s mother being “sick.” We are not told the details of the illness at the beginning, we just know that something is not right. The family has just moved into a new house (more details on why later in the book). Her older brother also recently passed. Her father has to leave for business in Italy so he leaves Henry, the housekeeper, Henry’s mother, and Henry’s baby sister Piglet at home.

Henry’s mother gets worse and eventually, the local doctor is called out, she is then told to stay in bed all day, have her door locked, and to take a certain pill. She does as the doctor says and only get’s worse.

While all of this is going in, Henry feels alone, so she starts to imagine things. One night she sees a light in the woods and goes to investigate, there she finds a “witch”.
My main problem with the book was how at the beginning it was very hard to follow and hard to get into. If a child was a reluctant reader, they would not be interested in reading this book.

While I won’t go and tell you everything that goes on in the book, I will say that it was very suspenseful and once I got through the beginning I couldn’t put it down. I would say that this is a book an older child would enjoy. A child that loves a good mystery, as to me, that is what this book really is.

I thank the publisher for sending me an ARC of this novel, it did not influence my rating of the book whatsoever.

-Skylar N.

The Secret of Nightingale World by Lucy Strange is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies is a classic novel by William Golding. It begins on an island in the middle of nowhere where a group of boys have been marooned. Nobody knows their whereabouts, and neither do they.

However, this book is not just a typical story about survival. It tells of the darkest, deepest secrets of humankind, and how those ordinary, nice boys turned into completely different people under those circumstances. Into savages.

The first two boys introduced are the main protagonists of the story: Ralph is among the oldest of the boys, handsome and confident, while Piggy, as he is derisively called, is a pudgy asthmatic boy with glasses who nevertheless possesses a keen intelligence. Ralph finds a conch shell, and when he blows it the other boys gather together. Among these boys is Jack Merridew, an aggressive boy who marches at the head of his choir. Ralph, whom the other boys choose as chief, leads Jack and another boy, Simon, on an expedition to explore the island.

There is plenty of everything on the island, including food and drink. At first, all of the boys are reluctantly to kill, as what the huge decision would mean loomed upon them. But eventually Jack is the first one to make that move, and as he keeps on doing it, he becomes more and more comfortable with it.

Jack Merridew is one of the first boys to go savage, creating himself a group of savage hunters that kill and hunt for fun. The only ones that remain goodhearted are Ralph and Piggy, who’s glasses represent knowledge and wisdom. They know that the goal is to get rescued, nothing more.

But the question is: will these group of boys survive on this island? Or will they be doomed forever?

-Katherine L.

The 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 Last Time I Died By Joe Nelms

Image result for the last time i diedChristian Franco and Ella Franco are brothers and sisters, but the incident of their father murdering their mother and abusing her violently before destroyed the bond between them.

It wasn’t until Christian met his wife that he first relished the reminiscent taste of love. But as time slipped bypass his crude fingers that he realized the love he gripped it too tight that his wife was escaping because it choked her from it. He was once again abandoned by his family.

Struggling to cope, he depletes himself by testing experimental medicine from a former physician that now treats dogs bred to fight. This is a tragedy of one person’s life, but he was able to collect the pieces of his mom’s death and eventually muster them together as a complete puzzle. His life then lingered between comedy and tragedy.

-April L.

The Last Time I Died by Joe Nelms is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library