Fablehaven: The Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull

In the fictional novel The Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull, Kendra and Seth Sorenson are back at their grandfather’s house, which is actually a sanctuary for mythical creatures. To begin the story, Seth makes friends with some satyrs, and together they steal some treasure from small, fairy-like creatures called nipsies. Seth and the satyrs notice that some of the nipsies have turned dark, as if they had been infected with some type of evil. It turns out that is the case, and the plague that has been spread is the conflict of the book. 

Although the reading level of this book is comparatively lower, the story, literary elements, and character development are surprisingly advanced. Higher-level readers can find strong themes throughout the pages, and since the story itself is fantastical and enjoyable, The Grip of the Shadow Plague is a very fun read! It is part of a much larger series called Fablehaven, and all of the books of this series are centralized around the mystical adventures of Kendra and Seth. I would give this book a 5/5, and I would recommend it to readers of all ages.

-Ayati M.

Fablehaven: The Grip of the Shadow by Brandon Mull can be downloaded for free from Libby.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

The Twenty-One Balloons is a Newbery Award-winning novel by William Pène du Bois.  A professor named William Waterman Sherman has been found floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  At the time of his rescue, he is surrounded by the wreckage of twenty deflated balloons.  He had departed three weeks earlier from his home in San Francisco, using a giant gas balloon to fly over the Pacific Ocean.  Somehow, he ended up in the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by twenty balloons.  When he finally arrives home, the people are anxious to learn what had happened to him.  They could not imagine how he could have circled the globe in only three weeks, and why he ended up with twenty balloons rather than the one balloon with which he began his journey.  So, the professor gives a speech to recount his amazing adventure. 

Professor Sherman explains that he had wanted to get away from the world, just so that he could relax for a time.  He decided to drift on a balloon over the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately, he crashed on the volcanic island of Krakatoa.  He was greeted there by a man in a white suit and bowler hat.  The man is part of a hidden community in the middle of the island.  As the professor was introduced to the community, he came to realize that this was a highly-sophisticated civilization.

I enjoyed reading about the inhabitants of Krakatoa, and about the professor’s adventures on the island and around the world.  His journey is interesting and exciting.  There were many whimsical and amusing elements to this story as well.  In a way this novel feels like a blend of truth and fiction.  The author seems to include some social commentary about the aristocrats living in Krakatoa, but for the most part this book is simply a playful children’s story.  It was a quick read but very enjoyable.  I can certainly see why this was awarded the Newbery Medal, and I would definitely recommend this book.

-Oliver H.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger

This second installment of Shannon Messenger’s 9 (soon to be 10) book series starts with Sophie and her adoptive father Grady going on a hunt for a Sasquatch. Sophie uses her incredible telepathy to listen for nearby thoughts, and soon she hears a few panicked words. She and Grady are in pursuit, but she stops him when she realizes they are scaring him away. They make it to a clearing, and then they see it; an Alicorn. Alicorns are an endangered species in the Elvin world, with only one left. Until Silveny came along.

This book has everything; a magical being that is being threatened by the rebels (Silveny the Alicorn), a mental healing that went wrong, a loss felt by the world, and a bit of sparkly poop mixed in too. I highly recommend reading this book, it shows amazing action that will have you on the edge of your seat. Even though there are action and stressful situations, there is still a funny side to it. Keefe jokes, Sandor and Grizel being so over-protective it’s funny, and some funny Councilor jokes too. I give Exile 10/10 because it has everything you could ever want in a fantasy book.

-Izzy W.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, is a Newberry Honor award-winning book.  The story is about a man named Mr. Popper.  Mr. Popper is a house painter, and he does not earn much money to support his small family.  He lives in a place called Stillwater, and he has never traveled anywhere else.  However, he loves to read books about exploration to the Arctic or Antarctic regions of the world.  He is especially fascinated by the Antarctic, because he loves to read about penguins.

One day, Mr. Popper receives a pleasant surprise.  He receives a package from Antarctica.  The package contains a real penguin.  This leads to a series of events that will change Mr. Popper’s life.

The story is quite humorous and amusing.  My favorite character is Captain Cook.  Captain Cook is the name of the penguin that first arrives at Mr. Popper’s house.  The penguin is funny in the way he inspects the Poppers’ house and gets into mischief.  Mr. Popper tries to put Captain Cook on a leash to go on a walk, but this leads to all kinds of trouble.  Another problem is trying to find a place for Captain Cook to sleep.  Mr. Popper tries to keep the penguin in an ice cooler, but eventually other penguins arrive at the Poppers’ house, so they need to figure out a way to take care of lots of penguins.  They try opening all the windows to cool down the temperature, but then a blizzard passes through and the inside of the house gets covered in snow and ice.  Finally, Mr. Popper comes up with an idea to raise money to support the penguins, by training them to become stage performers.

In a way this is a silly story, but I thought it was very enjoyable.  This might actually be one of my favorite books right now.  I think it is very well written and highly entertaining.  I would recommend this book to anyone.

-Simon H.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the first installment of the Magisterium Series. The Iron Trials story introduces the main character, Callum Hunt. Throughout his whole life, he has been told the magic is bad and to stay away from it, despite his father being a mage. So when it’s time for Call to take the Iron Trials test to see if he can get into the magic school; the Magisterium, he tries to fail the test. And even though he does his best at failing, he still gets admitted to the Magisterium. Now the Magisterium is awaiting for him and he has to find his way through it. With the two other apprentices in Call’s group, Aaron and Tamara, they go through magic lessons, tests, and many different hardships throughout their first year at the Magisterium. 

The Iron Trial was an interesting and intriguing book. The three main characters in the book all had their own sets of personalities and different lives. Call was sarcastic and liked to talk back. He was always alone but liked being with friends. Aaron was kind and always tried to be the equal ground between everyone. He was loyal to his friends and stood up for them. Tamara was the smart one who knew more about magic than Aaron and Call did. She was independent and at first, very serious. As I read, I learned more about the characters and the different lives they live in. They were all very unique and great characters. Even the side characters were important to the story and stood out. Many of the characters had character development throughout the story which I really liked. There were a couple of plot twists in the story which were very relevant to the plot and changed a lot in the story. 

The Iron Trial is a fantasy book that wasn’t super long. The chapters were a good length and the book itself was a good length as well. At first, my expectations weren’t set very high and I thought it would be a normal magic book and that it wasn’t anything special. As I read, I found myself pulled into the story, wanting to find out what happens next. I finished the book in a few days and ended up enjoying the book more than I thought I would. The Iron Trial is only the first book out of five in the Magisterium Series. I enjoyed this book and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy novel. 

-Nicole R. 

Iron Trials by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheele

The Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler is the first book in the First Argentines series. The book is 433 pages long. The First Argentines series is currently made up of three books with a fourth to come. The whole series is a prequel to the six-book series the Kingfountain series. The book Knight’s Ransom is relatively new as it was only published on January 26, 2021.

The book follows Marshall Barton nicknamed Ransom, by his childhood friend and main female character Claire de Murrow. The book starts in a civil war over succession for the throne. It starts with young Ransom being abducted by the original king, and to make his noble father stay loyal an attempted hanging of Ransom takes place. However, ultimately the king doesn’t hang him. The story is then mainly about Ransom’s journey through knighthood as he looks to find who he is and what he wants. We see him growing up as it has multiple time skips allowing us to see Ransom get into his teens and twenties. One of the more enjoyable parts is the diary entries by Claire de Murrow as it talks about what’s happening to her and what her point of view is of the events that are happening.

This is a book I would highly recommend to people who like a fantasy about swords and magic as while as books set in the medieval era. The Knight’s Ransom has character development and has some mystery such as when Ransom hears rushing water in his ears. This book doesn’t always show a plain black and white picture allowing the reader to decide what is right. The book has fights and war, where blood is spilled and there is the point where characters drink alcohol. However, I did quite enjoy this book as it gets you intrigued into what’s going to happen.

-Luke G.

Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors by Jenny Nimmo

Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors is the fourth book in the Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo.  I enjoyed this book, even though it is not my favorite in the series.  Charlie Bone is back for a new semester at Bloor’s Academy.  This is a school for students with magical powers.  Charlie Bone knows that he possesses magical ability, but he still has not fully learned the extent of his endowment. 

In this book, Charlie meets some new characters.  Billy Raven is an orphaned boy who has been adopted by a couple named Mr. and Mrs. de Grey.  The de Greys have magical powers, but it turns out that they are evil.  They force Billy to sign papers that contain oaths, which would compel him to do things against his will.  Billy becomes imprisoned in a mysterious place called The Passing House.  Mr. de Grey uses his magic to create a force field that prevents Billy from escaping.

My favorite part of the story is when Charlie Bone and his friends help Billy to escape from The Passing House.  They take Billy to the house of one of Charlie’s friends, named Gabriel Silk.  At Gabriel’s house, the papers with the oaths suddenly come to life, and attack Billy and his friends.  The friends need to join forces with their magical powers to rescue Billy from the evil magic of the de Greys.

One of my favorite things about this book is the development of the characters.  I especially liked to read about Charlie’s friends, Lysander Sage and Tancred Torsson.  They have special powers that prove to be very useful in this story.  This particular book may not be quite as exciting as some of the others in the series, but I definitely still enjoyed it.  I am not really sure why it is called The Castle of Mirrors, because that did not seem to be the most important part of the story.  Still, I am glad to have read this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the Charlie Bone series.

-Simon H.

Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors by Jenny Nimmo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive/Libby.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Everblaze by Shannon Messenger

Everblaze, the third book Shannon Messenger wrote for this series (and the first one with a heart-wrenching cliffhanger, might I add), was the book Sophie found out her enemies were closer than they seemed. It begins with Sophie getting a request from the Council to heal Fintan, the leader of the now-named Neverseen. Fintan used to be on the Council, but after the Pyrokisis “incident”( involving 5 Pyrokinetics and some Everblaze), he was banned. Sophie and Keefe then go to check on Silveny, the sparkly alicorn.

They happen upon a tracker in her tail and immediately rush back home. A few days after, Sophie’s Linguistics Mentor Lady Cadence figures out that the tracker had Arrowmark on it. Arrowmark is an ogre technology/bacteria that is a homing device for their weapons. All of the school had to then be tested, and Sophie’s hand skin needed to be melted off (very gross, sadly it happens more than once).

With the 9th/10th book (Stellarlune) coming out in November, I re-read this series a lot. Each time, a find more details and funny moments I never knew were there. I recommend everyone to start reading this series, it is great fun and a good way to spend your spare time.

-Izzy W.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Everblaze by Shannon Messenger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan, is the first book in the Magnus Chase series. The book is connected to and placed in the same world Rick Riordan’s other popular mythological series Percy Jackson, Kane Chronicles, Trials of Apollo, Heroes of Olympus, and a few other books.

You might see some similar names in this book if you’re familiar with the Percy Jackson series. The Sword of Summer as you might expect is another mythological fantasy book this time about the Nine realms and the Norse Gods.

The book starts off with the main character Magnus Chase as a homeless guy, who dies. No, that is not a spoiler and is actually part of the title of the first chapter. By the way, The chapter titles can be very hilarious in my opinion at times. Anyways back to how the book goes. You have Magnus Chase who is a homeless orphan and ends up meeting his uncle. His uncle tells him of his godly heritage as Magnus is about to reach the age where monsters will start going after him. To not spoil the book that is as far as will go. I would recommend this book to any fantasy and mythology book lovers. It’s filled with action and world-building, however, be warned that it might take a while as it’s a 498 paged book.

-Luke G.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive/Libby.

Odysseus: A Character Analysis

The Odyssey by Homer: 9780140383096 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Around 750 BCE, at the height of Greek civilization, a blind bard named Homer lived in Ionia, on the western coast of Turkey. Little is known about Homer, but his legacy lives on in his two great works – the Iliad and the Odyssey. While the former is formidable in its own right, it is in its sequel, the Odyssey, that Homer’s incredible craft is showcased. Detailing the adventures of Odysseus, the wily king of Ithaca, and his ten-year-long attempt to return to his country, the Odyssey explores lofty themes of human nature while remaining relatable to readers nearly three thousand years later. 

The poem can generally be split into three parts: immediately post-Trojan War, when Odysseus begins to set sail for home; the true odyssey, in which Odysseus must overcome many obstacles on his way back to his home; and the return to Ithaca, the chronicle of Odysseus regaining his rightful position as king. However, it is not the events of the poem that are worthy of note – instead, it is the behavior of the hero himself. Through the interference of the gods, whether to aid or hinder, Odysseus withstands harrowing experiences, all of which leave him a man and hero changed for the better. 

Odysseus is introduced to the audience as a god among men (in Ithaca, at least). However, this implies that Odysseus has never truly needed to better himself, making him vulnerable to hubris. Odysseus’ pride is justified to an extent, as seen when he and his crew are captured by the Cyclops, but Odysseus manages to trick the Cyclops and engineer their escape. However, just as they are about to sail away, Odysseus arrogantly stokes the rage of the Cyclops, not realising that the Cyclops he insults is the son of Poseidon, who then curses Odysseus. This is the catalyst for the change that Odysseus will undergo for the rest of the poem, because it makes it clear his pride will not serve him well in the future. 

In the ten long years between Odysseus’ departure from Troy and his arrival in Ithaca, Odysseus faces countless struggles that mold him into a character that is capable of overcoming his previously debilitating hubris. He meets characters who are equally as clever and wily as he is, forcing him to recognise people outside of himself. Famous characters who make an appearance during this arc are Circe, the wickedly powerful enchantress of the sea; Scylla and Charybdis, two sea monsters who devastate Odysseus’ crew; and Calypso, who successfully manages to trap Odysseus on her island for seven years. However, these experiences are mitigated by divine interference, notably via Athena and Hermes. 

By the final arc of the story, Odysseus has finally renounced his hubris and bowed to the will of the gods, while also being self-aware enough to understand his own worth. The situation in his country has deteriorated in his absence, and suitors of his wife, Penelope, have overrun the palace. Heeding the lessons of the past decade, Odysseus disguises himself as a poor beggar and wanders to the home of his loyal shepherd, Eumaeus, choosing to keep himself secret until he can determine who in Ithaca is truly loyal to him – a wise move, considering that the very next day, he is accosted by both one of his subjects and a suitor. By this point in his journey, Odysseus has learned how to let go of his pride with the knowledge that he will soon get his revenge. 

It is this that makes Odysseus a revolutionary hero: not that he is strong enough to kill all the suitors, but that he is clever enough to both withstand the abuse directed towards him while betraying nothing, and to trick the suitors into underestimating him until the fatal moment. Because of the way he handles the unfortunate situation he is in, although Odysseus does not fit the usual definition of a Greek hero (that is, all brawn and no brains), throughout his journey, he learns to be a more balanced heroic figure, which undoubtedly cements his status as one of the foremost heroes in literature for all time.

– Mahak M.

Homer’s The Odyssey is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.