We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal

The newly-released sequel to Hafsah Faizal’s best-selling We Hunt the Flame is here, and it’s every bit as amazing as the first book, filled with the same spellbinding prose and darkness, as well as the characters who are dealing with the aftermath of their stay in Sharr.

We Free the Stars picks up right where We Hunt the Flame left off, with Altair captured by the Lion of the Night and the rest of the group aboard a ship, sailing their way to Sultan’s Keep, where they will be forced to confront Nasir’s father.

Zafira, after accidentally binding herself to the Jawarat in the previous book, is now dealing with the repercussions, as the Jawarat is a voice in her head that never seems to stop whispering, putting her on edge. She also continuously battles feelings of purposelessness now that she is stripped of her identity of the Hunter, with the Arz now gone and her father’s cloak long shunned.

Kifah remains as bold, hopeful, and action-oriented as ever, set on following through with their mission to return the hearts of each Sister of Old to their designated minarets across Arawiya. Nasir, on the other hand, finds that he is finally beginning to slowly melt away his hardened shell as he begins feeling and caring again, no longer the cold, lethal Prince of Death that all once feared. 

Something notable about this book is that, rather than the story being told solely through the eyes of Nasir and Zafira, Altair’s perspective is added to the mix, allowing for more angles to the story and more information about his and Arawiya’s past to be understood. 

This book is also considerably longer and more action-packed and heart-wrenching than the last; filled with much battle and loss, love and hope. 

All in all, though, this book ends this enthralling duology on a good note, but never shies away from the realistic fact that even with victory, heavy loss often still follows.

-Aisha E.

We Free The Stars by Hafsah Faizal is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead is a Newberry award-winning novel by Avi. The story is set in medieval England.  The main character is an unnamed peasant boy.  His mother Asta is his only relation, so he is known simply as “Asta’s son.”  Life is difficult for him, especially under the command of John Aycliffe.  Aycliffe is a steward watching over Stromford Village while Lord Furnival is away.  Aycliffe is cruel and ruthless.  He accuses Asta’s son of a theft that he did not commit.  Forced to flee for his life, Asta’s son must escape the village.  Before the boy embarks on his journey, a priest finally reveals to him his name: Crispin.

I enjoyed this book. I found it to be fast-paced and enthralling.  I especially liked a character Crispin meets in his travels, named “Bear.”  Bear is a large, portly juggler who compels Crispin to become his assistant.  I liked how Crispin’s trust and friendship with Bear grew as they were pursued by Crispin’s assailants.  Crispin trying to avoid the people who accused him of theft was very exciting.  As a fugitive, he must keep moving to new places, which gave the book an adventurous and exhilarating feel.

I have also read the sequel to Crispin, and I look forward to reading the third book in the series.  The Newberry award seems well-deserved. The characters are well-developed and the story is quite gripping. Crispin is a fugitive throughout the book and his life is in constant danger.  I was excited to learn about Crispin’s true identity. I would definitely recommend this book.

-Oliver H.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi 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

This book was one of the first books that made reading more interesting for me, as it started off with some background information about how nine children, referred to as Garde, were tasked with saving Earth after their home planet, Lorien, was destroyed from the evil Mogadorians, from the planet Mogadore, that are planning to take over Earth, with mentors known as Cepan tasked with helping the Garde realize their abilities. Each of the nine were separated, however the Mogadorians have already killed three of the Garde. The story takes place in the narrative of Four, who takes on many aliases before the story but settles with the identity of John Smith, and his Cepan Brandon takes on the name Henri.

When I go back and read this book, I love how they always make it clear that John feels like an outcast compared to the rest of the high school kids in Paradise, Ohio, the city and state that he and Henri settle in, as he feels alone in this new school and doubts who he can trust to stay alive. Along with the emphasis of Four being a new student, he also deals with common high school issues that people deal with today, such as a high school bully in Mark James, a crush in Sarah Hart, and a best friend in Sam Goode. Although Four is meant to be a defender of Earth, the author does a very good job in humanizing Four and his struggles to balance his duty of survival and his personal life, relating to many teens in high school today who have to balance school, sports, and personal life.

Also, throughout the story, I found it interesting how John and Henri clash in their different viewpoints of the path moving forward. Although Henri feels endangered after his life was nearly taken while looking for answers on the Mogadorians, John wants to stay in Paradise, as he feels a strong connection and love for Sarah and a closer friendship with Sam, as Sam has little connection with his family. Since Sam finally has a friend in John and treats him like family, it is understandable why John does not to leave and argues with Henri. I found this similar to how kids often have to move schools due to their parents getting new jobs and moving houses and possibly even states, and have to leave friends behind. The tension between John and Henri over this decision is clear, but in the end, Henri supported John’s decision and fought to protect John like a father, even sacrificing his life to save John.

Overall, this book is a good read and worth taking a look into, as everything comes full circle in the story. I believe that high school students in particular would really enjoy this novel, as it highlights struggles to fit into a new school and make new friends, something that really shapes a high school experience. However, what always pushed me into reading this novel over and over again was how John perfectly fit into normal high school life and struggles, despite his difference in origin and powers. This kickstarted my interest in the Lorien Legacies and helped me find more interest in exploring all the possibilities in new books, which I believe will do the same for anyone that reads this book in the future.

-Lawrence B.

I Am Number Four by Patticus Lore is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society, 1):  Stewart, Trenton Lee, Ellis, Carson: 9780316003957: Amazon.com: Books

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a classic mystery and adventure book, that I would highly recommend for you to read! The style of this book is similar to Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate events, and comes in a series for you to read! The book’s main characters are four young kids named Reynie, Constance, Sticky, and Kate. The book features only Reynie’s thoughts and insights, which is one downfall of the book. Personally, I would have enjoyed reading the book from all the character’s points of view.

Reynie is an orphan who has always felt out of place at his orphanage. Reynie decides to take a test from a mysterious sign he saw in his town, where he meets the other three kids who also happen to be orphans that passed the test. Shortly after, they meet Mr. Benedict, a strange old man who invites all four kids to help him with a secret mission. If you want to hear more about this thrilling story, you’ll have to pick up your very own copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society!

-Anusha M.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers is the story of a beloved nanny and the magical adventures that seem to follow wherever she goes.  Travers wrote several books about Mary Poppins.  In the first book, we are introduced to the Banks family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Banks and their four children: Jane, Michael, John and Barbara.  John and Barbara are the baby twins.  After their nanny quits, Mary Poppins appears seemingly out of nowhere to become the new nanny.  Poppins turns out to be much different than any other nanny they had known before.

The children realize right away that whenever Mary Poppins is around, amazing things happen.  I enjoyed reading about their unusual experiences.  One of my favorite characters is Admiral Boom.  He yells out random nautical phrases like “Land ho!” and “Heave away there!”  I also enjoyed a chapter called “Laughing Gas,” in which Mr. Wigg (also known as Uncle Albert) fills with laughing gas and elevates in the air when he loses control of his laughter.  For some reason, Mr. Wigg finds it especially difficult to control his laughter on Fridays, and when his birthday falls on a Friday he floats like a balloon.

This book is filled with many other quirky and amusing episodes.  However, one thing that surprised me was the personality of Mary Poppins herself.  She apparently has a vanity problem, because she always seems to admire herself when she sees her reflection.  I was also taken aback by the manner in which Mary Poppins treats the children.

For example, we read: “’Ask him.  He knows—Mr. Know-All!’ said Mary Poppins, nodding her head scornfully at Michael.”

As another example, we read: “’Oh, really?  I thought it was the other way round,’ said Mary Poppins with a scornful laugh.”

Yet another example of her attitude toward the children: “Mary Poppins turned and regarded him with something like disgust.”

There are many other examples of this kind of behavior by Mary Poppins.  She is not always mean-spirited toward the children, and she seems to have their best interests at heart.  I was just surprised to read about her snapping at the children from time to time.  Still, by the end of the book, the children seem to love her (for some reason).

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book.  There were many humorous and delightful elements to the story.  The book is also full of surprises, especially when it comes to the occasional rude or even scornful remark by Mary Poppins.  If you have seen the 1964 Disney movie, then you will be surprised by the differences.  I would say that the Mary Poppins character is much more gentle-hearted in the movie than in the book.  In spite of that, I would recommend this book, as well as its sequels.

-Oliver H.

Marry Poppins by P. L. Travers is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers is the sequel to Mary Poppins.  The story picks up just a few months from when the original book left off.  The Banks’ house is in complete disarray.  Mary Poppins had deserted the family without notice.  They had hired other nurses to take Poppins’ place, but none of them lasted long.  One nurse, for instance, had been spat at by young Michael Banks and quit immediately.  Michael fought with his sister Jane, little twins John and Barbara quarreled, the kitchen flue caught fire, the cherry trees were devastated by frost, and so on.  Mrs. Banks does not know what to do.  In despair, she sends the four children to the park so she can have some peace at home.  Jane and Michael decide to fly a kite to entertain John and Barbara.  As they pull the kite back in, to their astonishment, they see Mary Poppins herself holding the string and gliding down with the kite.

Within moments, Mary Poppins is already ordering the children around.  Much like the original book, Poppins assumes a stern and haughty attitude.  However, the children enjoy many new adventures in this sequel.  I enjoyed reading about their magical ability to fly above the park holding just one balloon each.  I also liked reading about the day they met an interesting man named Mr. Turvy.  The day happened to be the second Monday of the month.  Every second Monday, mysterious things happen to Mr. Turvy.  He flips upside-down, he finds himself outside when he wants to be inside, and he even feels sad though he normally feels happy.  This quirky episode is strange but I found it to be quite amusing.

Mary Poppins is as scornful as ever in this book.  She displays a short temper and even intimidates the children.  On one occasion, for example, we read: “Mary Poppins, in her fury, seemed to have grown to twice her usual size.  She hovered over him in her nightgown, huge and angry, waiting for him to reply.”  Poppins also proves to be quite vain.  For example, as she passed by a glass window, “Mary Poppins gave a little conceited nod to her reflection and hurried on.”  She also seems to be dishonest with the children.  After almost every adventure, Poppins denies that she had anything to do with it or that it even happened at all.

I began to wonder if all the tumult in the Banks’ household was caused by Mary Poppins herself, so that the family would appreciate her more when their situation magically improved.  Whether or not my conspiracy theory is correct, everyone still seems to love Mary Poppins by the end of the story.  Despite her periodic rude comments to the children, they seem to enjoy her company as much as ever.  The main reason for this may be that many exciting and delightful adventures seem to follow Mary Poppins wherever she goes.  These adventures make the book charming to read, if you can look past Mary Poppins’ less-than-perfect attitude and behavior toward the children.

-Oliver H.

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Film Review: Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe

Phineas and Ferb were one of the biggest childhood shows of this generation, and the attention that this movie received is no doubt due to the many nostalgic memories many people had. The show sheds light on Candace, one of the main characters and older sister of the two brothers who create all the inventions. I would recommend and rate this movie fairly well as it provides a new view on a childhood favorite.

The movie overall was good and had many standout aspects. What story and character
development lacked, the soundtrack and environment did more than made up for it. The soundtrack especially was outstanding given what the show is meant to portray, and the songs fit the situation and character interactions perfectly. The movie also has the same witty humor that the show had when it aired, with minor interactions between characters livening up the movie and creating a fun atmosphere. The story was not necessarily deep, but it allowed the characters themselves to shine rather than detracting too much of the viewer’s attention while still being relevant to the development of the main characters. One minor issue I had with the movie is that many side characters were just there to be in the show, rather than having some sort of impact. They felt more like afterthoughts rather than side characters that were important in one of our favorite childhood shows.

Overall, I would still say this movie is one of the most entertaining animated movies to have
come out recently and is worth watching for not only the nostalgia but a great time overall as there are many comedic and wholesome moments throughout the movie that remind us why this franchise is one of our childhood favorites.

-Benjamin L.

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.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Opinion: 'Avatar: the Last Airbender' is the best children's ...

Where to begin with the show, Avatar: The Last Airbender? When I was little my family and I would watch this show to no end. Then, after many years apart, this show appeared back on Netflix and I must say, it is amazing. I would say this show from 2005 was way before its time in many aspects. The writing, character development, villains, and overall plot of the show was very interesting and exhilarating.

One part that I absolutely love is female empowerment. Remember this show came out over 15 years ago when most TV shows and movies did not include the most feminist characters. Different than shows and movies today, the female involvement was not pushed or forced rather than just written to be strong leads. Characters like Toph also inspired young me, as she was blind but in my opinion, on the most powerful characters in the entire series. Each of the different women brought different things to the table but really showed me that, hey I can be just as or more powerful than anyone else.

Another aspect that needs to be talked about is the plot. This story about a young boy who was frozen in ice for 100 years to wake up and find out a war has been going on for 100 years and was partially his fault. Being the avatar, master of all 4 four elements, he meets some friends who help him on his journey while facing many challenges. Seeing the change in the duration of year was pretty spectacular. These young kids turned out stopping a war against a crazy fire lord. Episode after episode we see a group of 4 kids overthrowing corrupt governments left and right. For a kids show it was very deep. The writers introduced some real world problems to young and old viewers. The ideas of governments that aren’t what they seem took up almost half a season of the show. Along with passing by starving people and large groups of refugees as a result of the war. For a kids show, they were not afraid to include real issues and problems many face.

Lastly, I’m going to talk about my personal favorite part of the show, the villains. In my personal opinion, many of the villains were simply misunderstood. For the siblings Zuko and Azula we get to see why their actions came to be. Being in a royal family with an abusive father and mother who was forced away. Azula was a prodigy firebender, that in my opinion the most powerful fire bender in the entire show. Along with Zuko who is also powerful but not up there with Azula. During this show, we get to see the character arc of Zuko as he finally puts his wants behind him and joins the avatar and his friends in joining the fight against the fire lord. Sadly for Azula this is not the case, she goes insane while trying to be perfect to please her father.

This show is a must watch for anyone in any age group. There is something in this show for everyone. The writers hit gold when producing this show. Also, some appearances from some of my favorite actors such as Mark Hamill make an appearance throughout the show. If I had to score this show it would definitely be a 11/10 for me.

-Lilly G.

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King - Wikipedia

After the previous installments in the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy, the last novel, The Return of the King, is not to be missed. In it, the fate of the both former Fellowship of the Ring and the quest of the Ringbearer are revealed in the same rich literature that is characteristic of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The war against Sauron the Dark Lord is not going well. The great city of Minas Tirith is already under siege by the great army of Mordor, and its allies in Gondor are nearing the same fate. The only hope for the armies of the West is if the Ringbearer, Frodo the hobbit, succeeds in his quest to destroy the One Ring, for then and only then can Sauron be defeated.

However, Frodo, too, has reached obstacles in his journey to Mount Doom. He and his companion Samwise must muster up the last reserves of their strength to take on the uphill battle that is the destruction of the One Ring, and face the unavoidable fact that, even if they should succeed, they will never return home to tell the tale.

In the exhilarating finale of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, danger is more present than ever, and the heroes must face the daunting task of saving Middle-Earth as they know it. The Return of the King is a fitting end to the incredible trilogy, and should not be missed for the world.

-Mahak M.

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.