The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath revolves around the story of Esther Greenwood, a young college student who dreams of a bright future as a poet. During a summer internship in New York, Esther is held back in pursuing her dreams as she struggles with identity and societal expectations. The reader is give a deep look at her mental processes as she slowly falls into a suicidal state. In other words, Esther is stuck in a “bell jar” of her own thoughts, where she feels as if she is unable to connect with the world around her.

The most impactful aspect of this novel would be the overall message it shares to its audience on the struggles faced by those with clinical depression. Esther’s narration is given through elaborate imagery and effective analogies, causing the audience to both pity and understand the situation she is going through to a much greater extent. Additionally, Plath’s subtle comments on the societal pressure put on women in the 60s further adds to the complexity of the novel.

Overall, I would recommend this book to most people as it is both beautifully written and very eye-opening. However, I would remain cautious of some potentially triggering material such as mentions of suicide.

-Aysha H.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This book was also one of my favorite reads this year due to the sheer fact it’s sort of a different genre than what I normally go for. Typically, I’m a romance reader but this book had such high reviews I checked it out and fell in love.

It revolves around Avery Grambs who randomly inherits billions from billionaire, Tobias Hawthorne. She gets found by Tobias’ grandsons who investigate as to why their late grandfather left this mysterious girl his fortune. We get to see the story through Avery’s perspective and how she views all the Hawthorne brothers.

The plot is nothing like I’ve every seen before and had be intrigued on every aspect of the story. I would recommend to quite literally anyone. Good news, the is a trilogy so the story continues on and only gets better from here.

-Madison C.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Malice by Heather Walter

Once upon a time, Princess Aurora was cursed by an evil sorceress with the only solution being true love’s kiss. Many would imagine the story where Aurora was sent to be raised by three fairies and was awaken from her cursed sleep by Prince Charming. However, in this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, that is not the case.

Alyce is who someone called a “Dark Grace” but that doesn’t quite summarize what she actually is. A Grace is someone who tends to the needs of humans either by healing people through or making them more beautiful through their blood. But Alyce isn’t like the rest of the Graces since she is half-Vila, someone who is demonized by all of society.

Princess Aurora is stuck with a curse in which she would die by the age of 21 if she hasn’t kissed someone who is her true love. No one truly cares if she lives or dies since they have seen the same thing with her sisters and the ancestors that came before her. It seems as though Alyce and Princess Aurora would have no reason for their stories to intertwine but Fate turns the table and have the two unexpectedly fall into love with each other.

I find this fantasy book to be truly amazing. The world-building is spectacular, the characters are seen as genuine and relatable, and the plot is amazing. There are many plot twists that occur in the book and has developed the story into a tale of what love and hate equally could do to a person in desperate times. Many times, I couldn’t stop reading the book even when I needed to do something because it had intrigued me so much. I recommend this book for anyone who loves fantasy and loves the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Malice by Heather Walter is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

Don’t be mistaken by the title, this book is not about an isolated island filled with barefoot girls without parents Orphan Island (also at the library) style. However, it’s still a really good book about two girls and their modern evil stepmother living in Giverny, Louisiana. 

Soledad (Sol) lives with her little sister Dominga (Ming) in the United States of America. They live in an ¨affordable housing¨ apartment complex called Magnolia Tower, more specifically Apartment 4. It would have been nice if they lived there with their father, especially since they lost their mother and middle sister when she was young, but he left for a trip back to the Philippines and never returned. As a result, he left them with their cigarette smoking, nose twisting, hair spitting, and extremely evil stepmother.

To pass time, Sol tells Ming stories about their Auntie Jove and her magical adventures around the world. Sol also hangs out with the seven-girl-kissing Manny. I could spoil the book, but I won’t because that’s just wrong.

Sooooo, read the book. It’s a good book and, in my opinion, a pretty easy read. But when you read it, make sure you’re not going to move for a while, that book glues you in your seat.

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a fiction book which is set in the 19th century in the Congo Free state controlled by Belgian. Conrad uses his European heritage and more modern views to allow for the readers to be submerged into the scramble for Africa and European society at the time.

This book is a very complex, with a lot symbolism, rhetorical devices, and sophisticated language. Heart of Darkness is a shorter book at 77 pages but don’t let that fool you as it is very dense. I really enjoyed this book as it had many important themes regarding the spread of colonialism and made me question whether or not every item had a deeper hidden meaning. In the book as the main character travels through his hero’s journey and farther into Africa we can see the horrors of colonialism on the African peoples, the descent into ones id or their primal instincts, and the prevailing societal values at the time.

I recommend this book to anyone that loves a deep and thoughtful read. Due to some of the outdated and complex language it may be difficult to read and that is why I would also recommend the graphic novel adaptation of the book. It still gets the same themes and elements as the book but simply conveys these through images that are just as deep and appealing.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The BFG by Roald Dahl

The BFG is one of Roald Dahl’s most well-known books.  The story focuses on Sophie, an orphan who is captured by a giant and carried off to his cave.  Unlike most giants, this giant does not eat humans.  He is called the “Big Friendly Giant,” or the BFG.  Because he is not like other giants, the giants who live nearby have a strong disliking of him.  Still, the BFG behaves like other giants in some ways.  For example, he struggles with grammar.  He often mixes up words and phrases, such as “is I right or left” instead of “am I right or wrong,” or “human beans” instead of “human beings.”  I was amused by the BFG’s manner of speech.  He has many funny sayings in this book.

When Sophie learns that the evil giants are all going to London to eat some more “human beans,” including children, she decides that they must be stopped.  It turns out that the BFG is willing to help Sophie.  Together, they create a plan to make sure that the wicked giants never eat humans again.

I enjoyed many of the characters in this book.  It would be difficult to pinpoint a favorite, but if I had to choose one, I think it would be the BFG himself.  While he is not exactly the most articulate character in the book, he has a good heart and is actually very clever.  One of my favorite things about Roald Dahl’s stories are the unique words he creates.  “Scrumdiddlyumptious,” “swogswalloped,” and “bungswoggling” are just a few examples.  The language of this book is especially amusing when read aloud. 

I am extremely fond of this book.  When I read it the first time, I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one day.  For good reason, this is one of Roald Dahl’s most famous and popular books.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys Dahl’s books.

The BFG by Roald Dahl is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Book Review: Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue Nights by Joan Didion explores the death of the author’s adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, by discussing her experience with parenthood and growing old.

Didion recounts many moments in her life in her memoir, filling each chapter with bittersweet memories of her daughter. Didion also shares many personal moments in her life, ranging from her early childhood until this memoir’s publishing. In recalling both her daughter’s life and her own, Didion questions whether she made the right decisions in motherhood while simultaneously grieving the loss of her husband. 

What makes Didion’s novels different from other memoirs is the way she puts her memories into words. The way she recalls remnants of her life and shares her every thought is unique from other writers; her work is so personal, it’s as if we are both watching her grieve her loved ones while also feeling sympathy for her. The writing in Blue Nights constantly reminds us that healing does not happen overnight. Despite the emotional premise of this memoir, Didion’s writing style remains consistent with her other works: beautiful and detailed. She brings so much emotion to her writing and executes each scene poignantly without holding her feelings back. Her ability to be vulnerable yet precise in writing is beyond admirable, making each of her memoirs beautiful in its own distinctive way.

In all honesty, I was hesitant about reading this book after hearing how saddening the premise was. However, I later found myself in awe of this memoir because of how powerfully Didion describes grief. Blue Nights is a perfect representation of grieving because her feelings shine through each passage, but also because the novel itself is her healing process. Whether she is writing symbolically or being straightforward, her hard-hitting words left me empathizing with her for every page turned. Didion and her daughter shared a very loving relationship, and she even references Quintana Roo’s love for Malibu when talking about her daughter’s childhood and marriage. Didion’s admiration for her loved ones is apparent throughout her memoir, but she allows them to live on even after their passing. The battle that Didion faces with grief is more than inspiring, and her unique writing demonstrates that. 

Blue Nights by Joan Didion is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free on Libby.

Book Review: Vicious (Villains 1), by V.E. Schwab

Vicious is certainly a vicious book. A delicious thrilling book for young adults or older teens, this book takes a bunch of thrilling turns. To be honest I fell out of reading recently and held little interest, but the second I picked this up due to a recommendation, I couldn’t put it down until it was finished.

It starts out simple, two college students who dorm together, strangers who become friends- friends who learn about Extra Ordinaries together for the sake of a college thesis. It starts out easy enough until an obsession grows and the stakes get more dangerous as they try to figure out how really an EO is created.

Once they do they won’t stop until they create one themselves. It just really isn’t that easy. V.E. Scwab takes you on a roller coaster of emotions and action, each one more thrilling!

This book really had me awake through the night in the attempts to finish it and I think it had some amazing underlying messages, each character so complex. The different views and struggles of the characters and the escape from the ‘happily ever after’ theme was refreshing and so exciting and unique.

I highly recommend this book to any mature teenagers ready for another book full of action, dark themes, and an entrancing plot. Vicious is a must read and I can’t wait for you to get just as addicted!

Have a good read!

-Zayna

Vicious by V. E. Schwab is available to download for free from Libby.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie

The Big Four is a novel by Agatha Christie featuring her well-known character, Hercule Poirot.  Poirot has gained fame as one of the world’s greatest detectives.  In this story, he has become weary of investigating cases.  He plans a trip to South America, hoping to find peace and relaxation.  Just before his planned departure, a mysterious man suddenly appears in Poirot’s home.  The man is covered in dust and mud, and his body is thin and emaciated.  Just before the man dies, he tells Poirot of an international secret society made up of four individuals known as the “Big Four.”  Poirot decides to cancel his vacation, so that he can investigate this mystery.  Along with his faithful companion, Captain Hastings, Poirot embarks on an adventure to discover the secret of the Big Four.

This book is unlike other Poirot books.  Most of Agatha Christie’s books about Poirot are mystery novels.  This book includes elements of mystery, but it ends up becoming more like spy fiction.  The story has more to do with international espionage than with solving mysteries.  The structure of this book is broken up into several short stories that are loosely connected to each other.  It appears that the stories were written separately and then combined together to make this book.  Unfortunately, this causes the book to seem somewhat lacking in continuity.  An unusually large number of characters seem to lack depth, and the story does not come together as well as most Agatha Christie stories.  Most books featuring Poirot contain gripping mystery and intrigue, but this book falls short of my expectations.

To be fair, I do not think that The Big Four is a bad book.  It has exciting parts, especially as Poirot and members of the Big Four attempt to thwart each other by setting traps as the story progresses.  However, even these elements of the story become repetitious, and I began to lose interest as I read this book.  In my opinion, this novel does not quite live up to the quality of Agatha Christie’s other Poirot books.  I would still recommend this book to fans of Christie’s novels, but I would not recommend this book to someone who is reading about Poirot for the first time.  For a first-time reader of Christie’s Poirot novels, I would recommend something like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or Murder on the Orient Express, both of which I enjoyed very much.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy and it is about an eighteen-year old boy named Coriolanus Snow, nicknamed “Coryo” by his cousin, Tigris. He is selected, among twenty-three of his fellow classmates, to mentor a tribute in the tenth annual Hunger Games.

In this book, Coriolanus is forced to mentor the District Twelve tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, who is at the severe disadvantage in the Games (a gladiatorial “game” where kids have to kill each other). The children from District Twelve don’t have any proper survival, nor combat training, therefore making them easy pickings for other tributes such as Reaper, a burly male from District Eleven. The odds are already against Lucy Gray, and the fact that she’s better at singing than fighting doesn’t help her chances at all. Coriolanus is at first disappointed–he thinks that his tribute stands no chance at winning. And his future depends on her victory; the mentor whose tribute wins the Games will get to attend the Capitol university. But the better he gets to know his tribute, the more attached he gets to her, and the more determined he is to help her through the Games, not just for his own sake. Together, they try to win over the Capitol’s support: staging interviews and impromptu performances for the viewers. He does everything possible to help her in the Games, gaining her sponsors from the Capitol audience and illegally bringing her extra food so she can keep up her strength. They are a formidable team outside of the arena, but no one knows if they can pull off a win inside the arena–not even Coriolanus.

All too soon, Lucy Gray and her fellow tributes are transported into the arena, an old Capitol theater that’s mostly demolished. Originally, Lucy Gray had to face down twenty-three other tributes, but many of them died or got killed before the Games began, upping the chances of her survival. Even the boy from District Two, the one who had the best odds of winning, got killed off in the first battle. In the Games, Lucy Gray’s strategy becomes outlasting the others. She hides out in some corner of the arena with Jessup, her protector. Throughout the book, Coriolanus and Lucy Gray go through many struggles, but due to the fact that I don’t want to spoil the outcome, I can’t say anything else about the Games.

After the Games are over, Coriolanus gets transported to District Twelve, where he works as a Peacekeeper. He meets many friends, but makes plenty of enemies as well. In the district, his life takes a turn for the worse, his depression only ending when he gets summoned back to the Capitol to attend the University at last.

Overall, this book is an amazing story about an underprivileged character defying the worst odds. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes novels with action, plot twists, and just a hint of deception along the way.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.