1Q94 by Haruki Murakami

A mesmerizing collision of sci-fi and dystopian fiction, 1Q84 is a different take on the classic to George Orwell’s 1984. This book really caught my attention because it was written by a Japanese author, which is something unique from anything I’ve written because of how it was translated from Japanese to English! Taking place in Tokyo, Japan in the fictionalized year of 1Q84, which obviously is based on 1984, this rich story explores mature themes of violence, romance, and underlying dark motives. If you know about 1984, you’ll definitely see similarities between these books as they both involve organizations putting people under surveillance to discover parts of their life.

1Q84 revolves around the perspectives of 3 different characters: Masami Aomame, a 30-year-old woman who is a very meticulous assassin who goes by “Aomame”, Tengo, a writer who also works as a math tutor, and Ushikawa, a strangely unattractive man who is hired to investigate Tengo and Aomame when introduced in the 3rd part of the story.

I want to emphasize that this book is not for the faint of heart and the young reader, as there are many topics explored that should be read by older audiences. Anyways, despite the fact that there are many complications that involve violence and even brainwashing, I found this story quite interesting because it actually ended up being an eventful journey of a one-of-a-kind love story that involves rekindling past relationships. This book is truly different from anything I have read, and while writing this I found it a bit hard trying to put my thoughts into words because it is such an indescribable story. It’s one of the most, I guess, “adulty” books I’ve read and I feel like reading this has really broadened not only my reading preferences but my reading ability!

So, if you are looking for a strange book unlike anything you have read before or to expand your reading capabilities, definitely go check out 1Q84!

-Julianne T.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Amazon.com: I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, Book 1 ...

In a universe where extraterrestrial beings battle in a high-stakes war of life or death, nine aliens gifted with special abilities from the planet Lorien have come to Earth to hide from their otherworldly attackers, the evil Mogadorians. To protect them from being assassinated by the Mogadorians, the Loric receive a charm that places them in a numerical order, ensuring that they cannot be killed unless all that come before them have already been found. 

They caught and brutally murdered Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. Now, Number Four must escape the deadly Mogadorian assassins that are tracking his every move.

Adopting the alias of John Smith, Four must masquerade as John Smith, a normal human teenager, in order to protect himself and the future of the Loric people. However, just as John is beginning to become accustomed to life in Paradise, Ohio, his abilities manifest, drawing attention to him and his new home. If he wants to save himself and those he loves, John must master his Legacies before it’s too late, and everyone and everything John holds dear is cruelly snatched from him.

Fast-paced and thrilling, I Am Number Four fantastically kicks off Pittacus Lore’s Lorien Legacies series, making this a novel (and a series) a must read for fans of superhero-esque action and adventure scenes.

-Mahak M.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The dystopian fiction novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins serves as a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy, and it narrates the story of 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow. It is set in Panem, the same setting as the Hunger Games trilogy and most events take place in the Capitol or District 12. Readers of the trilogy know that Coriolanus will go on to become President Snow, the main antagonist of the Hunger Games. I think that it was an extremely smart idea to write this book after the Hunger Games trilogy because it gives readers an extra interest and pulls to the book, especially with the very beginning.

The introduction of Coriolanus Snow is completely contradictory to readers’ views of President Snow, since he is shown as extremely rich and lofty in the trilogy, but he is introduced in the prequel as extremely poor; in addition, readers can clearly understand how important Coriolanus’s family is to him. As a big fan of the Hunger Games series, I do not recall any emphasis on Coriolanus’s family, except for his famous motto, “Snow lands on top!” (which is reiterated multiple times in this novel). The implication of Coriolanus’s love for his family (consisting of his grandmother known as Grandma’am and his cousin Tigris) is only strengthened throughout the book, and the pure irony of this description and portrayal of Coriolanus is extremely captivating to readers. 

I must mention that Coriolanus’s grandma insists on taking care of roses in a roof garden, and these roses make multiple appearances throughout the book. In the trilogy, roses also have significance in symbolizing the evil of Coriolanus Snow.

Moving on, Coriolanus is one of the 24 students selected to mentor tributes in the 10th annual Hunger Games, and he is matched with the District 12 girl named Lucy Gray Baird. Lucy Gray is a singer from the Covey in District 12. She seems extremely strange, with her optimistic outlook, her behavior at her reaping, and many other unusual qualities. The mentor of the winning tribute will receive a scholarship to attend the University, which Coriolanus needs, but he is highly doubtful of Lucy Gray’s capability to win. However, the two seem to acquire an extremely strong bond. 

In my opinion, the ingrained animal instincts in human nature is the most well established theme in the novel. Although the prime example of this theme is in the ending (and I believe that endings should never be disclosed in book reviews), it can be seen throughout the book, especially in the arena of the Games. The significance of 24 people locked into an arena and told to fight to their deaths is self explanatory in the theme of animal instincts in human nature. 

Another theme in this novel is the theme of morals. Again, the Hunger Games are completely immoral, and to readers’ surprise, the rest of the Capitol feels the same way.

This novel has an invigorating plot line, multiple twists, and amazing literary devices, and it is easily one of my favorite books I have ever read.

-Ayati M

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Book Cover, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, 1947 | Objects  | Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

A Streetcar Named Desire is a tragic play written by Tennessee Williams. It is centered around Blanche DuBois, a fragile thirty year old woman who is detached from reality. After being fired from her previous job as a schoolteacher and losing her home, Blanche decides to go and stay with her younger sister, Stella Kowalski. Stella Kowalski lives with her Polish husband, Stanley Kowalski, a plain and straightforward man. Despite falling out of touch with her sister, Blanche arrives with her large trunk at the Kowalski household.

The title of this play is very crucial to its message and illustrates its entire plot. In the beginning, Blanche recounts her journey to her sister’s house. First, Blanche rode a streetcar named Desire. Then, she took a a streetcar named Cemeteries, which took her to a street called Elysian Fields. Elysian Fields is the land of the dead in Greek mythology. This entire journey symbolizes Blanche’s life and her fear of death. At first, Blanche allows her sexual desires to overcome her and ruin her life. As a result, she is evicted from her childhood home, and lastly, she is taken to an asylum and ostracized completely from society.

Throughout this entire play, we watch as Blanche DuBois gradually becomes completely out of touch with reality. Because of her adherence to lies, fibs, and illusions, she clashes with Stanley. Stanley is a grounded and vicious man who represents the vital force, the strength which animates all living creatures. Everything that he does, he does with extreme passion; he loves passionately, treats Blanche cruelly, and is extremity loyal to his friends.

In the end, after Blanche’s depressing and indecent past is revealed to Stella and Stanley, they decide to send Blanche to an insane asylum. The final moments of this play are heart wrenching and painful. As a broken, depressed, and insane Blanche pleads for her sister to save her, she is lead to the asylum like a prisoner.

Despite its tragic finale, this play discusses very important themes such as death, illusions, and sexuality. Overall, this was an extremely intriguing and deep play that I would recommend to anyone who does not mind a sad ending and loves to explore complex themes.

-Yvette C.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Being able to fit in if you have branded clothes or that new car is a misconception. There are many tropes that even people who claim not to judge fall into. Juniors capture the truth behind most teenagers’ lives. It’s not as exciting and daring as most movies portray where you have the classic high school hierarchy. No QueenB, strapping jock, and that nerdy dork who nobody is friends with.

The protagonist, Lea, is a 17-year-old girl who struggles with a new move and all the feelings that come with it. Her situation is unique because she feels that her family is a charity case for others to pick at and use to feel better about themselves. Even her close friend Whitney says that there is a constant judgment on her even though she’s extremely rich.

While this isn’t a dark depressing read, it hit closer to home more than I thought it would. It was refreshing to read something more relatable where not everything works out. Lea doesn’t get the boy, there are fights with friends and family drama (On a more realistic level). An oddly satisfying end didn’t feel like a tear-jerker or a heart-wrenching cliffhanger. I recommend this for a quick easy read that’ll make you feel more insightful at the end.

-Coralie D.

Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is an educating, eye-opening novel about two sisters, Pearl and May, whose unbreakable bond is put to the test as they leave their war-torn home of Shanghai, China, and immigrate to the United States.

In 1937 Shanghai, which Pearl refers to as the Paris of Asia, the sisters are accustomed to a luxurious life of wealth and extravagance. Pearl and May even pose as ‘beautiful girls’ for calendars and magazine advertisements, defying what it means to be a traditional Chinese young woman, much to their mother’s dismay. One night, as Pearl and May are getting ready for an evening of fun and partying, they receive terrible news from their parents: their father has gambled away their wealth.

Consequently, their father sells the girls as brides to a man by the name of Mr. Louie, who is journeying with his wife and two sons to America to find opportunity. Pearl and May do everything they can to avoid leaving with Mr. Louie and his sons, Sam and Vern, and even miss the boat they are supposed to be traveling on. The girls realize this was the wrong decision, however, as more bombs fall on Shanghai and the second Sino-Japanese war continues to ensue. Pearl, May, and their mother flee Shanghai to Hong Kong in hopes they can catch a ship to San Francisco. Unfortunately, before they are able to board the ship, their mother dies, and Pearl and May are forced to be strong enough to endure the long journey by themselves.

When Pearl and May finally arrive in America, they encounter Angel Island, an immigration station, where they are interviewed vigorously by government officials to see if they are spies. Pearl and May stay at Angel Island for a significant amount of time, and eventually, Pearl realizes May has been answering the questions in her interviews incorrectly. When Pearl asks her why she has been doing this, May tells her she is pregnant. This news shocks Pearl and she knows she must protect her sister and stall their time on Angel Island so she can have her baby in America. Pearl and May decide that Pearl should take the baby, Joy, as her own child. Once they leave Angel Island, Pearl and May head to Chinatown to find their new family. Almost immediately upon their arrival, Pearl and May begin to work at Mr. Louie’s shops and formulate a plan to earn enough money so that they can run away and start their own, independent life. These plans change quickly, though, when Pearl and May discover that Sam is a paper son, and the only legitimate son of Mr. Louie is Vern.

After hearing this news, Pearl and May decide not to run away and realize their new family is trying their best to build a new, successful life in Los Angeles, and they need all the help they can get. As Joy continues to grow, the conflict between Pearl and May starts to form. This conflict only deepens when Pearl gets pregnant and loses her baby, realizing she will never be able to have children. The United States’ suspicion of the Communist movement in China also adds to this familial controversy, and as Joy grows older, she begins to fall in love with communist ideals. Joy’s suspicious activities result in the government finding out her father is a paper son, and she flees the country out of guilt. Pearl plans to follow after her, and the book ends with her plan to go save her daughter. 

-Adriana A.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

One of Us is Lying is about four high school seniors, who are all quite stereotypical people in a high school, the jock, Cooper Clay, the prom queen, Addy Prentiss,  the “nerd”, Bronwyn Rojas, and the delinquent, Nate Macauley. However, when the four of them meet in an unfair detention, along with Simon Kelleher, the self-proclaimed “omniscient narrator” and person in charge of the gossip app named “About That”, which talks about the school’s gossip, although only using initials. 

However, the detention quickly turns into a crime scene when Simon dies due to a peanut allergy, with all the epi-pens in the nurse’s office mysteriously gone. All four of them are later questioned, when the police find that Simon had drunk a large amount of peanut oil prior to his death. They all deny knowing anything, though. Later, all four students are separately called to the police station and told that before his death, Simon had queued up a post which details each of their secrets- Cooper used steroids for his baseball performance, Bronwyn stole tests, Nate is dealt drugs, which violates his parole, and that Addy had cheated on her boyfriend. With the police putting pressure on them, and more and more media coverage, the four of them band together and take the investigation upon themselves. 

The novel is very interesting, and I thought that there were many plot twists and it’s quite fun to try to piece together the mystery as more and more information is revealed. It’s also enjoyable to see the different characters grow as people, seeing Addy become her own person, and see Nate and Bronwyn grow closer together. I definitely recommend One of Us is Lying for those who enjoy murder mysteries and those who enjoy piecing together different pieces of information throughout the book.

-Kelsie W.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Amazon.com: I, Robot (The Robot Series) eBook: Asimov, Isaac: Kindle Store

I, Robot, a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, tell the tales of artificially intelligent robots held in check by the Three Laws of Robotics, which are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

With these three simple directives in mind, Asimov successfully creates a world in which the behaviour of robots is governed, allowing the humans (and the reader) to watch as the robots evolve from their primitive origins to eventually reach ultimate perfection in a future where humanity is on the cusp of being rendered obsolete.

While not technically classified as a novel, the stories have been ordered in such a way as to preserve continuity. Within a frame narrative of an interview of a soon-to-be-retired division head of the U.S. Robot and Mechanical Men Corporation, “robopsychologist” Dr. Susan Calvin, stories are told depicting the key members involved in humanity’s development of a range of robots from infantile to hyper intelligent ones. An especially appealing part of the stories is that most of the characters are kept the same, and while it may seem dull to read about the same few people, the character development in each story produces well rounded characters that are interesting and realistic.

Of the 9 stories in I, Robot, my personal favorite was “Little Lost Robot,” in which Dr. Calvin and her associates lose a robot with a diminished First Law (meaning that it can harm humans), and they must find it again before it can escape to Earth and wreak havoc on the planet, resulting in a loss of support for the robot initiative. However, all the stories were definitely thought-provoking ones, and I would recommend the entire collection to all readers, sci-fi fans or otherwise.

-Mahak M.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Thunderball by Ian Fleming

Thunderball (novel) - Wikipedia

There’s no rest for Agent James Bond, code-name 007, especially after taking down the Russian counter-intelligence agency SMERSH. It has only created a new power vacuum, one that an even more dangerous organization seeks to fill in Thunderball by Ian Fleming.

The Prime Minister of the UK and the President of the US both receive a secret message from SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), detailing their latest plot. The agency, led by criminal mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has successfully hijacked a plane carrying two nuclear bombs, which it will use to destroy two major cities in the West unless an exorbitant ransom is paid.

To avoid this, the Americans and the British launch Operation Thunderball to retrieve the two weapons of mass destruction. M, however, decides to act on a hunch of his, and, believing that the SPECTRE operative is working from the Caribbean area, and thus sends his best operative, James Bond, to eliminate the threat.

Once at the Bahamas, Bond wastes no time integrating himself with the suspected SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo by seducing the beautiful Domino Vitali, Largo’s current mistress. However, alone in the Bahamas with a lone man for backup, Bond may find himself in over his head, with Largo proving to be a more powerful nemesis than any before him…

In Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, the reader is introduced to the newest set of Bond villains, as well as one of the best action sequences in the Bond storyline. Fans of Agent 007 should not miss the ninth installment in the tale of one of the most celebrated series in history.

-Mahak M.

Thunderball by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s most well-renown classic, Little Women, has been well-loved by readers everywhere for decades, and it’s easy to see why.

 Not only is the book filled with warmth and the beauty of family and childhood, but its characters and plot are incredibly believable, more so than most books you may read. It is because the story is in fact simplistic, regarding the lives of the March sisters and what happens in their beautifully ordinary life, that it so easily draws in the reader. Many stories go above and beyond what can be believable when it comes to the plot and therefore can disconnect the reader from the book because the sense of relatability is then gone. However, such is not the case with Little Women, as the story takes place on a smaller, simpler scale, seldom varying away from what goes on in the March family home, and is, therefore, all the more lovable and sweet.

Though I will not skip over the fact that yes, there were some slower, less interesting parts, overall the book was a sweet read filled with moral lessons that can still be understood and implemented today, and lovable, though humanly flawed characters. No such one character is perfect or entirely likable within this book, as is almost always the case for the protagonist, who is always the unassuming yet nearly perfect hero. Each of the March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy), all have their own fair share of flaws and imperfections, and this is clearly depicted from the beginning of the book, adding a level of realism and humanity to what otherwise would have been a rather slow-paced story. 

Little Women is indeed a very long book; but a worthwhile, cozy read, the length being attributed to the fact that it spans over a long duration of time, as the book first begins in the midst of childhood and ends many years later. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are a big fan of other classics or simply want a book that is a good, light-hearted read without losing any of its lifelike qualities.

-Aisha

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.