Eragon by Christopher Paolini

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A dark shadow looms over the seemingly-picturesque world of Alagaësia, where humans roam alongside elves, dwarves, and werecats – the wicked and powerful emperor Galbatorix, who rules with an iron fist. For nearly a century, the innocent inhabitants of this mythical land have suffered under the evil king, but all of that is about to change with the birth of a boy named Eragon.

Born as a simple, illiterate farm boy in a small village, Eragon was raised by his uncle alongside his cousin, unaware of anything beyond his home in Palancar Valley and, occasionally, the deep forest known as the Spine. It is in the Spine, however, that his life is changed forever when he comes across a peculiar sapphire-like jewel. After he sneaks it home, though, he quickly realizes that the “stone” that he found was actually a dragon egg, and that he was now a Dragon Rider, who were fabled peacekeepers, scholars, and healers during the Golden Age – the era before Galbatorix. 

Unfortunately for Eragon, being bonded with a dragon is one of the most dangerous occupations in Alagaësia, so he and his newly-hatched dragon, Saphira, are forced to flee from Palancar Valley with the help of Brom, the village storyteller who knows more than he tells, to find the mysterious rebel force which is known only as the Varden.

All in all, Eragon, written by Christopher Paolini, is an intriguing book containing new ideas imbibed with the same adventurous atmosphere featured in other popular series such as The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson. However, it can be said that the writing is rather childish, and so takes away from the overall excitement of the book. Nevertheless, while Eragon may not aspire to the same heights as Harry Potter, it is certainly a classic in its own right. 

-Mahak M.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Finale by Stephanie Garber

Caution: this review may contain spoilers from books one and two, Caraval and Legendary

The Fates have been released from the Deck of Destiny. Legend has claimed himself Elantine’s heir, and his coronation as emperor of Valenda is soon to occur. Scarlett and Tella’s mother has not opened her eyes since her imprisonment in a card. Legendary, the sequel to Stephanie Garber’s Caraval, has dressed the place behind the curtains for a final act: the finale.

While the first two books in the trilogy are told by single narrators (Caraval told by Scarlett and Legendary told by Tella), the two sisters take turns narrating in Finale. I thought the combination of Scarlett and Tella’s narration provided a wonderful balance to the story, for each sister has a unique personality and an individual mindset. The idea of the two points of view working together to build this final story also compliments the theme of sisterly love, which is present throughout the trilogy.

Finale focuses largely on the power of love when directed at someone and when used against beings who live off of fear. This story exemplifies how love–whether given gently like Scarlett or ferociously like Tella–may be the strongest force against enmity.

In Finale, Stephanie Garber expands upon certain objects and curiosities that previously appeared in the other two books. I was interested to learn more about Scarlett and Tella’s mother’s past, why Scarlett sees feelings in color, and how Scarlett’s magical dress originated.

I was a bit disappointed that Caraval is not played in this final book, but by no means did the story lack the magic and elaborate colors found in Legend’s game. Understandably, with the Fates running free in Valenda, the characters can no longer simply play a game (not that Caraval was really just a game).

Though Finale is filled with visited dreams, different kinds of magic, and unusual places, I still think my favorite book in the series is Caraval (though I usually tend to favor the first book). It could just be the initial magic of Caraval and Legend that makes the first book so compelling or the mystery of who is an actor and who is not. However, I’m glad I read Finale, as it expanded upon many elements of the magic and characters while also leaving some untied strings to the story.

– Mia T.

Finale by Stephanie Garber is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

The recent representation of Asian-Americans in film and literature has been thundering the media. From the more obvious success of Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat to the smaller-rooted Netflix film “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (and it’s soon-to-be sequel), the portrayal of Asian families has skyrocketed, building new stepping stones in which the small society of its own is rendered in society as a whole.

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s second novel, Picture Us in the Light, is a beautifully crafted story revolving around the Asian-American cultural hub in San Francisco. Picture Us in the Light follows eighteen-year-old Danny Cheng, as he struggles with his pursuit of artistic inspiration (post-college acceptance to an art and design school) and finding footholds in his graying, mysterious family life. Accompanied by long-time friends Harry and Regina, Danny unearths his family’s deep past piece by piece and discovering small realizations about himself and the relationships he has with those he loves most in his life.

As Danny jockeys with the slow, difficult reveal of his parents’ secrets and tries to find some balance over what he does and doesn’t know about his own identity, the audience is presented with the intense and haunting realities of global immigration. Every turn of the page brought a new feeling of suspense — each time we were given new information, the plot became more and more complex, heading a dozen different ways at once.

Being Asian-American myself, I found the story delightfully relatable in a small-scale way that it was powdered with concise “Asian insider” instances that I could relate to — the abundance of food, the hefty trips to Costco and Ranch 99, the intensive preparation for big exams.

The featured family in the novel, the Chengs, center the majority of their conflicts and victories over meals, which is extremely relatable to me in the way that family bonds over food. Just this seemingly insignificant instance opens up huge discussion for literary meaning (communion occurs over cuisine, perhaps?), but also exhibits how striking and intimately real the characters and situations Gilbert creates are.

Picture Us in the Light, published just over a year ago, is one of YA’s most down-to-earth and honest storylines thus far. Gilbert brings together shattering occurrences with the small moments of merriment, joining together two of our center emotions into a heart wrenching and, slowly, heartwarming book.

     So, as we are, picture us enchanted by Gilbert’s authentic and profound capability for storytelling.

—Keira D.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

There are a number of reasons for which this book is famous, but my favorite is that The Bell Jar is the only novel ever written by Sylvia Plath, who has only published two other works (both are books of poetry). In fact, Plath took her own life about a month after The Bell Jar was published, famously putting her head into the oven and turning it on. Her novel is semi-autobiographical, as it follows her life story, changing only the names of her acquaintances and the mental health treatments that the main character, Esther, endures.

While the plot of the novel is intriguing, the most important aspect for me was psychological. The main character, Esther Greenwood, compares life to a bell jar, suffocating her when it covers her completely, and letting her breath when lifted. The bell jar’s meaning has been debated, but I believe that it symbolizes the box that society and Esther’s own perfectionist ideology create. Esther actually spirals into a depressive state, and this peaks when she attempts suicide via overdose in her other’s basement, almost exactly like Plath did with her mother’s sleeping pills under her house in 1953.

After her suicide attempt, Esther spends some time at a mental institution, where she is prescribed electroshock therapy, which was a form of therapy for depression used in the 1950s, in which electric shocks were administered until the patient had a seizure. Guess who else was prescribed electroshock therapy for years? Sylvia Plath- the sheer number of details that match between the novel and its author are the reasons for the novel being called semi-autobiographical.

Overall, this novel is absolutely fantastic, and I would certainly recommend it or anyone looking for a mental and psychological eye-opener. Plath’s detailed insight into mental illnesses that women suffered through during the early to mid-1900s as well as the treatments for these illnesses is truly awakening to the mind. A true work of art, The Bell Jar is a perfect novel for someone looking for psychological semi-fiction.

-Arushi S. 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

At Fault by Kate Chopin

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This is definitely a novel which I couldn’t stop reading from the moment I picked it up. Its intriguing characters and twisting plot but eventually a happy ending reserves this art piece for one of the top-rated ones.

I personally really liked Gregor, who is Therese, the owner of the farm’s nephew. Although he was often controlled by rash actions and speaks savagely to black servants, still he was a man of authenticity. Despite the fact that he killed Jocint, who set the mill on fire. But when Melicint, his lover accused him of this murder and left him one can tell how faithful and loyal his can be to his true love.

My other favorite character is David Hosmer. Only because Therese told him that to remarry his impudent wife Fanny would be an excellent choice and one that would conform with her moral principles, his didn’t even hesitate to do that. This shows how much he cares about her opinions, even if it meant to torture himself. Moreover, when the cabin that Fanny was staying in was washed away by the rain, he didn’t falter a bit but to risk his life saving a person who never cares genuinely about him. It was that she died at last from the flood, or else Fanny could have been possibly a hindrance to the splice of David Hosmer and Therese Lafirme.

-Coreen C. 

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney

To be completely honest, I didn’t know what to expect with this book. I have two other book review on Jeff Kinney books, but those were Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This book is about Rowley Jeffen, Greg’s best “friend”. But after reading Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid in one day, it had realized this was a great addition to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise.

Many would think that this book is just the stories from Diary of a Wimpy Kid in Rowley’s perspective, but you are wrong! In Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, Rowley tells you different things that happened between him and Greg, like Rowley and Greg’s first sleepover, and the time they made their own superhero! Some of the stories were so dumb, they were actually funny!

You may think that the drawings in this book will be very good like Diary of a Wimpy Kid‘s, right? No! This book features Rowley Jefferson’s drawing. So everyone has an oval face and no nose! Which makes this book even funnier.

Overall, this book exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed a lot! It will forever stand as one of my favorite Jeff Kinney books.

-Brandon D.

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

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This is the first novel of Saul Bellow and it talks about the declining lifestyle of Joseph, who believes that a spiritual satisfaction overweighs material perfection. For some reason, I think that this character has a great pride lurching in himself. He denies his slovenly condition of life by claiming that it’s austerity which is the factor that should be valued in our daily life.

What makes the entire situation worse is that Joseph’s brother, Amos is really rich. He always offers unlimited financial support for Joseph and his wife Iva, but Joseph never accepts it, again, due to his obstinate pride. Sometimes I think it won’t be a bad decision to just say “thank you” and accept the money for the simple reason that pride won’t feed you, clothe you, live with you forever. But money fulfills all three circumstances.

My favorite part of this book would actually have to be the fight scene between Joseph and his 15 year old overweening niece Etta. As a wealthy only child, she is undoubtedly spoiled by her parents. She gets whatever she wants. And as a small child, she is used to hearing how poverty has had her dad stricken, but now she is lucky because she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. This naturally places her in a position to despise poor people, especially if they are her relative, meaning Joseph.

Etta’s disrespect for Joseph was magnified when she called him a “beggar” because Joseph was using her piano without her permission and refused to hand it over to her. In turn, Joseph was riled by this act and beat Etta up. Now, Joseph and Etta have a lot of similarities, not only do they look physically similar, but they both think that they are always right no matter what. One thinks that she is always right because of her rich parents who provide her with boundless support, one thinks that he is alright right because of his spiritual purification.

-Coreen C.