The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

There seldom comes a rare time such as this where I discover a well-executed novel combining the art forms I love the most: writing and music. Author Aja Gabel’s stunning prose collides head-on with the novel’s subject, four entangled musicians in a string quartet who always choose each other despite the warring world each lives in. Featured in this quiet yet nostalgic tale are:

  • Jana, the determined first violinist with a stern face and high ambitions,
  • Brit, the orphaned second violinist whose love for the picturesque transcends all,
  • Henry, the prodigy violist who stays despite growing tendonitis and offers for a light-flooded future,
  • and Daniel, the embittered cellist, whose lack of money is made up for by his dark charisma.

There are times where Gabel’s beautiful wording seems to reverberate with vitality—you are caught up in the swiftness of Brit’s bow, the biting in Daniel’s words, the electricity passed along each measure of music. Without hearing a note, you’ll discover the triumph and the loss that comes with the reward of being in an ensemble.

Each member of the quartet vibrates on their own different frequency, but produce sound waves in the same key. The novel itself, while not full of action or climax, holds in it a quiet strength and the wisdom of its author. The flux of time and gravity on people is captured in such a specific and wondrous way that you cannot help but feel is magic.

You’ll find the way their comradery and friendship morphs over time to be bittersweet. You’ll root for them, cry with them, relate to their struggles. While revolving around adults and therefore carrying some adult themes, it’s a novel most people can find within their own selves: something aching and pulsing, something in the soul.

—Esther H.

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Chinese Cinderella is the story of an unwanted daughter in China during World War II. Adeline Yen Mah was hated by most of her family. Her mom died while giving birth to her, so she is seen as bad luck. Adeline’s father then remarries a horrible stepmother called Niang. Niang always puts her two children above Adeline and her siblings. The people Adeline goes to for comfort are Ye Ye and Aunt Baba. It is apparent that Niang is now the matriarch of the family. Niang frequently gets angry at Adeline and accuses her of multiple things. Adeline is also constantly at war with her older sister. They constantly fight about who gets what room and who sleeps where. Eventually their relationship does get better. Then, on Adeline’s sisters’ wedding, Niang goes through her presents and keeps a jade pendant and keeps it for herself. As Adeline is going to tell her sister about the pendant, Niang tells her to go out to the balcony with her. Adeline then learns that Niang let her sister keep the pendant. Adeline does extremely well in school winning several prizes for writing, but that isn’t enough to please her hateful parents. She then goes on to go to college with her brother and continues writing. Adeline’s life improves very quickly through this and she becomes very happy.

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Falling Between Us by Ash Parsons

Image result for the falling between usWhen I first grabbed this book, the color stood out to me on the New shelf.  I read the inside cover, and it sounded like a good read. I wasn’t disappointed. I love reading good books with a lot of music involved.

The Falling Between Us is a story about Joshua Blackbird, a boy from a small town who becomes famous with YouTube. At first, I was getting a Justin Bieber vibe from it. The story is told from the perspective of Roxanne Stewart, who is his best friend and ex-girlfriend. She’s been on tour with him. But the fame isn’t all fun and games, and the glamour of what it looks like.

Joshua starts having to deal with the bad side of fame. Between the crazy fans and paparazzi, the evil family and management, and his “girlfriend” for the press, who can he trust? Roxanne met him when she was six, but didn’t really meet him until their 9th grade English class. Now, Roxanne and Joshua’s drummer, Speed, are his only two true friends.

One night on a boat, Joshua swims off and after a long search, is announced dead. Roxanne is devastated. Is she able to piece all the clues together before it’s too late?

This isn’t your typically story of when a teenager becomes famous and gets tired of it. I would have to say that some parts of the ending were not written well, but overall this was a good read. For the second book by author Ash Parsons, I wasn’t disappointed.

-Rebecca V. 10th grade

The Falling Between Us by Ash Parsons is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol is the story of an old and grumpy man named Ebenezer Scrooge. The story is based in England the day before Christmas. Ebenezer owns a counting house. Bob Cratchit works for him. Cratchit gets paid a very small salary, so he isn’t very wealthy. Around Christmas, Cratchit likes to celebrate with his family. Right before Cratchit leaves for the day, he asks Scrooge if he can have Christmas off. “Bah! Humbug!” is Scrooge’s response. That night at Scrooge’s house, as he’s going to sleep, he hears a loud bang and chains dragging on the floor. Before him appears the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead business partner. Marley is completely chained up. Marley warns Scrooge that unless he changes his ways and becomes more selfless he will end up like Marley. Marley also warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts: the ghost of Christmas Past, the ghost of Christmas Present, and the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Throughout his encounter  with all three ghosts, Scrooge is shown something important to his life. The ghosts show him himself as a young man, the children of man, and what will happen if he doesn’t change his ways. After seeing the three ghosts, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas changed. The first thing he does is send a boy to get the prize turkey so that he can send it to Bob Cratchit. Then he donates a lot of money to buy the poor food and drink. Next he goes to his nephew’s house for his Christmas dinner. The next day, Scrooge tries to get to his office before Cratchit and he does. Scrooge notes that Cratchit is 18 minutes late, but it doesn’t anger him. When Cratchit arrives, Scrooge acts angry, but raises Cratchit’s salary, promises to aid his family, and becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim who ends up surviving.

-Emilio V.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Gone by Michael Grant

Imagine a world with everyone fifteen and older completely gone. Kids are fighting each other, food is running low, and some animals and children are mutating and growing powers. Gone by Michael Grant follows Sam, a regular teenager who lives in the FAYZ or the Fallout Alley Youth Zone.

The story follows Sam’s challenges of keeping everyone in control while at the same time, trying to hide his secret mutation. Surprising and shocking, Sam discovers that he can shoot light lasers out of his hands! Sam later finds out he has a brother that also has powers. But Caine, his brother, turns out to be evil! So, Sam and his group of friends have to fight Caine in order to keep their home town safe.

I really enjoyed this book because it emphasized how crazy the world would be if adults were gone. My favorite character by far was Sam because he was nice and had really cool powers! If I could choose one superpower, it would be super speed, like The Flash. Gone is a perfect book for middle schoolers and up. With a mix of mystery, thriller, and all around excitement, Gone is a book I would definitely recommend.

-Daniel C.

The Gone series by Michael Grant is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

In the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry knows that he will soon have to battle Voldemort. Now that Dumbledore is dead Harry knows what he has to do to defeat Voldemort. He goes to find and destroy the horcruxes with Ron and Hermione. The journey is tough and eventually Ron and Harry get into a fight and Ron decides to go home. Devastated, Harry and Hermione visit Godric’s Hollow to try and find a horcrux. They come way too close to being caught by Voldemort. A few weeks later Ron decides to rejoin the quest to find the horcruxes. His timing couldn’t have been better as he arrives just in time to save Harry’s life. They find another horcrux and destroy it with Gryffindor’s sword. After destroying the horcrux, they learn about three items known as the Deathly Hallows. If a person has all three, that person becomes a master of death. Harry realizes that he must find all three in order to stop Voldemort. As Harry’s journey continues he realizes that he is the last horcrux. This means that Harry must give up his life in order to destroy Voldemort once and for all. Harry meets with Voldemort in the woods and Voldemort kills Harry. Harry then sees what appears to be King’s Cross Station but all white. He can also see Dumbledore. Dumbledore gives Harry the choice of going back to the living world to defeat Voldemort or moving on. Harry knows what he must do so he returns to the world. Voldemort is shocked to see Harry alive and tries killing him again, but this time with all horcruxes destroyed, Voldemort is too weak and he is defeated by Harry Potter.

-Emilio V.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Decision Points by George W. Bush

When finding out something new about a person, it is best to hear stories in their own words. In doing so, you can find out their own thought process for decisions they had to make and their reasoning behind what they did. I discovered this when reading Decision Points by President George W. Bush. This book dove deep into the thought process of the 43rd President of the United States and relayed his own account of the many crises that occurred during his two terms.

He organized the book into chapters relating to types of decisions he had to make versus writing the book chronologically. Some examples for chapter titles were Personnel and Campaigning decisions. It was a very good read and I suggest to everyone that they should check it out, regardless of your political tendencies or beliefs because regardless of party or platform every president has to make tough decisions to try to better the lives of American citizens so it is interesting to see President Bush’s own thoughts on the subject.

A few weeks ago I actually had the opportunity to go out to Dallas and participate in Camp 43 at the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the SMU campus.  Twenty-three students and I were given scenarios in which to make decisions under a time limit and understand the good and bad consequences of what we decided. The camp lasted three days and we heard from a variety of different speakers and participated in a variety of decision making scenarios. I had a great time and it was so fascinating to combine what I already know, what I read in Decision Points, and what I learned at camp to be able to make better decisions in my life and in my career later in life.

-Kyle H.

Decision Points by George W. Bush is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free using Overdrive