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.

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games series is four books long (including a prequel called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) and it is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen. She is chosen by the leaders of her country to fight in an outdoor gladiatorial game where her fellow contestants are between the ages of twelve and eighteen–this game is called the Hunger Games, which is where the series gets its name.

In The Hunger Games, the first book in the series, Katniss is challenged with the task of surviving the arena in the seventy-fourth Games. At a ceremony called the reaping, Katniss volunteered to take her sister’s place in the Games when twelve-year-old Primrose Everdeen’s name gets selected from a large glass ball called a reaping ball. Katniss is then whisked away to the Capitol, the ruling city of her country (Panem, which is a place split up into twelve districts and the Capitol). There, she is prepared for the Games; donning a fiery costume for a public event called the tribute parade, performing in an interview with a man named Caesar Flickerman, and undergoing intense training to learn the skills she’ll need to know for the Games. The place where they acquire those skills is called the Training Center and the tributes (the competitors) learn how to do things like throwing knives, identifying edible food, tying knots, wielding weapons, and more! At the end of training, they get to showcase all these skills in a private fifteen minute session with the Gamemakers (the people who come up with the challenges the tributes will face in the arena). The Gamemakers give them scores based on how well they did in their session, the score of twelve being the best, and one being the worst.

Katniss is then dumped into the arena where she has to fight for her life to be the last tribute standing. After all, the last tribute standing wins and gets showered with gifts, money, and luxury items for the rest of his or her life. She has to face down tough competition, such as Cato, the brutal boy from District Two and Thresh, the surly male from District Eleven. In addition, she has to deal with her injured ally, Peeta Mellark, the boy from her district, who also happens to be in love with her. All throughout the duration of this fast-paced, action packed novel, readers ask the crucial question: Will Katniss be able to make it out of the Games alive?

I don’t want to spoil the book’s glorious ending, so I won’t say anything else. Part of the reason the Hunger Games is such an awesome read is that the characters are so believable and I found myself on the edge of my seat, totally immersed in the story the whole time. I definitely give this book a rating of five out of five and it’s a wonderful novel for anyone who enjoys action, romance, and tragedy all packed together into one, complex storyline.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner is the first book in its trilogy by James Dashner, published in 2009. It follows the main character, Thomas, who wakes up with no memory in a strange elevator. He only remembers his name and does not know where he is. The elevator doors open, and he is exposed to an entirely new world. Thomas immediately meets new people that are trapped in his new abode, they are all teenage boys who work every day out in the Glade, an area with foliage and farms that is surrounded by a huge, stone Maze. He befriends a few of the boys, Minho, Newt, Chuck, and Alby who introduce him to everything and explain where he is. All the boys have the same backstory: They were placed in an elevator and brought down here, with no memory of their former lives except for their names.

They are surrounded by the Maze, an intricate labyrinth with moving doors and large stone walls that are impossible to climb over. There is seemingly no exit, and the boys have been trying to escape from the maze ever since they got there. While there are many jobs that keep the little community they have formed going, the most important of them all is the Runner. Runners are sent into the Maze during the day to try and map out an exit but to no avail. Runners also have the most dangerous jobs, as if they cannot find their way back to the entrance before night they are trapped in the Maze with horrible, stinging monsters called Grievers whose sole purpose is to kill the boys. Thomas’ only goal is to become a Runner, and as the Maze closes one night when his friends Minho and Alby do not return, Thomas runs into the Maze after them.

He saves them and is quickly promoted to a Runner. However, strange things begin to happen around the Glade. A girl named Teresa arrives in the Box with their last shipment of supplies, and Thomas befriends her quickly. He is the main suspect of these happenings, but his friends must learn to trust him in order to solve the puzzle of the Maze.

I loved this story. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and the ending was phenomenal, even though it was a cliff-hanger. I had to read the entire trilogy, and all of the books were amazing. I would definitely recommend checking this one out, as it has some great plot points as well as surprising twists. The Maze Runner is filled with turns that will make you want to read every chapter. One reason I like this book so much is because of its amazing descriptions. How everything was described allowed me to imagine the story and picture all the characters, especially the Maze and the Grievers inside.

If you are looking for a good read that has a great story, then you should check out Maze Runner. After reading, I checked out the next book in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, right away. This book may not be for everybody, but if you enjoy adventure and science fiction, then you should read The Maze Runner. Thanks for reading my review!

-Brandt D.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

As someone who has been reading American and European-written novels my entire life, the only times I’ve gotten close to experiencing Asian literature were through mangas, movies, and TV series. After reading The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa–a Japanese-written book translated into English–I was opened to a new type of writing style that readers don’t often see in American or European novels. However, that doesn’t make this novel worse than others.

Published in 1994, The Memory Police is a close parallel to 1984 by George Orwell, in the sense that both take place in a dystopian society where the government constantly watches over its citizens. Although both emphasize the dehumanization of totalitarianism, Ogawa wrote her novel differently. Her story begins on a small island where objects disappear routinely, causing people to forget that such things ever existed. Those who try to remember are caught by the police. Those who do remember are taken away only to never return, creating a government-fearing society. The protagonist lives on the island as an orphaned novelist. When she discovers that her editor remembers a long-forgotten object, she keeps him hidden in her home while the Memory Police search for him. As the novel progresses, a fear of forgetting is expressed through her writing as a way to preserve the past.

Considering that this novel was translated from Japanese to English, I’m grateful that the translator was able to keep the same amount of tension and emotion from Ogawa’s writing. Although the protagonist isn’t some fearless character fighting to overthrow the government like in American literature, that only makes her more realistic and more relatable. She isn’t trying to do anything unreasonable–she simply wants her editor and herself to survive. I admit the plot could seem dull to some readers who focus on the action, but I enjoyed the psychological development of the protagonist’s mind. There’s so much depth to her personality and her thoughts which can connect to today’s world. That fear of losing everything–including yourself–is clearly shown in Ogawa’s novel, and I applaud her for her writing.

In essence, I thought the book was a definite read, but only because it appealed to me. The only issue with this novel–along with many other books–is that there’s a limited amount of readers who would be interested. To those who think this novel focuses on characters trying to change a dystopian world: it isn’t what it seems. This book was more psychological than I assumed, with less action or romance. The protagonist doesn’t necessarily stand out amongst the citizens. Instead, the author is trying to show the perspective of a typical person living in a dystopian society. To me, that’s the beauty of this novel. In reality, the novel fits best with analytical readers who want more than just the plot.

-Natasha P.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Last Man by Mary Shelley

The Last Man, though a largely unknown work written by Mary Shelley, is quite a masterpiece. 

The book starts off with the importance of friendship, character interaction, and responsibility. Lionel (the main character), and his sister are orphans who first live a childhood of seclusion. However, they soon become friends of Prince Adrain, whose parents had known each other in their younger days. Though the depth of their camaraderie is somewhat unclear, the message sticks with readers as plot progresses. To illustrate, when I came across Lionel’s introduction to Adrian and the ties they began to form, it was crucial to take note of those moments in order to understand what was to come

(some vague spoilers will be mentioned in the next few paragraphs) 

Though the main topic of The Last Man is about annihilation, there are a few sections that precede the primary focus: Adrian’s illness, his revival of health through Lionel’s care, certain love relations and marriages occur, and the loss of love through the years. Therefore, observe these parts as a reader, and see what they might mean to you. It could significantly affect your perspective when the plague comes and begins to ravage the population. In hindsight, Mary Shelley adds these events prior to the disease in order to evoke certain emotions, whether it be sorrow, anguish, or pity. Books that make us feel are much more worthwhile than bland narration, as the miseries each character must endure allows such novels to feel closer to home, even if the cause of their pain is different from ours. To cry, laugh, and raise happiness are general sensations that enable authors to make the most of their craft. Anyhow, onto the plague.

The plague starts off in Eastern Europe and Asia, and eventually spreads to infect the Americas, Greece, and England (where the main protagonists reside). Therefore, a slow ruination of Lionel happens as he’s forced to witness the destruction of his countrymen. Moreover, as the illness consumes the globe, Lionel notices a shift in human behavior. He explains fear as a common reaction, an emotion so thick in the atmosphere that it’s as dominant as the air he breathes. In other words, he realizes that people are foolish to think themselves superior to the forces of nature. 

Before I come to a full resolution, a “character” that is hidden through most of the book, though which strikes me as significant, is Death. As described by Lionel, Death was a creature which originally came at night, a “thief which preyed on life.” However, as the plague began to plunder, it took on a new title – a conqueror. Therefore, Shelley’s creative attempts at figurative language gives room for the rise of certain themes, such as the truths of survival and existence. 

In short, The Last Man is about the realities of life, a reminder that we are expendable. 

-Emilia D.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a plot captured from a book and brought to the big screen. The main characters are Katniss Everdeen and Peta Mellark. The Hunger Games is where two randomly selected teens will participate in a battle to the death. There are a total of thirteen districts involved meaning 26 people will participate. The primary reason for these games to be conducted is for the pure entertainment of others. 

One thing I loved about the execution of this movie was the fact they were able to capture the fashion sense from the books straight into the movies. The fashion sense is colorful, bright, and daring. Most movies that were captured from books tend to leave out many parts due to time constraints yet in The Hunger Games we did not see that. The directors managed to include every detail. 

Although I was very disappointed in the casting because Katniss was supposed to have olive skin yet she was fair. Peeta was said to have bright blue eyes yet he ended up having brown. I think the casting could have been better executed.

Also, the CGI was flawless. In the books the technology is very futuristic and the movie was able to capture this. Overall the movie was very intriguing and left the viewers wanting more.

-Sanjana S.

The Hunger Games movie trilogy is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner is the second book in the Maze Runner series. It’s another very good read like the first book in the series. This book starts the second the other book ends in the story so it feels like you are still in the hectic moment that was the end of the first book. In this book, the characters learn more about the world that is outside of the maze and they find out that life outside might be worse than life inside because there is a virus called the flare virus that is taking over the population and turning people insane and zombie-like. In the story, they call people who are infected and zombie-like Cranks.

Overall this book is a great read just like the first book. This book gives us as readers more information on the characters that we have grown to love and also gave us more insight into the even more dangerous situation that the teens have now gotten themselves in. Also, the movie version of this book is good as well but the book is better in my opinion since they change some things in the movie which differentiate it from the book.

-Howard M.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry follows a young boy named Jonas and the rest of his community. They all live in a utopia, a place that is perfect and everything is the same. A place where there is little conflict and problems. In the community, they know no pain, no loss; everyone is kind and respectful and everything is fair. When Jonas turns twelve, he is assigned the job as the new Receiver. He must undergo training from the Giver who passes on memories to Jonas of real pain, true anger, love, and things they have never seen or felt before in the community. These memories change Jonas and his beliefs. He changes and begins to feel true emotions and starts to see things differently. Once Jonas starts to realize the truth behind their perfect world, Jonas fights for what he thinks is right and takes a stand.

The Giver explores themes like individuality and the ability to choose. It shows that being different can be a good thing and it isn’t always enjoyable to be the same as everyone else. It also expresses that being able to choose something is important even if the thing being chosen isn’t important, it’s the fact that you get a choice that is important. I liked how the author portrayed the memories and the emotions in them. The author described them in an amazing way which made it interesting. There were small twists and reveals in the book, but nothing too big which made it simple.

I liked Jonas’ character development in the story. I like how he made his own decisions and created his own opinions unlike earlier in the story. Jonas decided to choose what he wanted to do instead of following what everyone else does and I really enjoyed him in the story. All the other characters were also enjoyable. I especially liked Asher; Asher was a funny character and stood out from the rest as he made mistakes and liked to have fun. Another thing I like about The Giver was how there weren’t many filler chapters; it was always straight to the point and explained things well. The Giver was a good short book and I really enjoyed it.

-Nicole R.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four - Wikipedia

The year is 1984. The world has been divided into three parts: East Asia, Eurasia, and Oceania. Though they are three distinct regimes, each rules with the same iron fisted totalitarianism. There is constant war between the three countries, and at any given time two nations are fighting against the other; as a result, food and other supplies are low, and the people are deprived of basic necessities. Speak (or even think) out, however, and you will be suppressed instantly, facing certain torture and death. This is the world crafted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Winston Smith, a citizen of Airstrip One of Oceania (formerly known as London), is a member of the super-state’s Outer Party, working at the ironically named Ministry of Truth, where he and his colleagues tamper with historical records to reflect the current stance of the government. Despite the nature of his work, Winston dreams of the end of the Party and expresses his thoughts in a journal, putting him in danger of being arrested for “thoughtcrime.”

However, when he meets and falls in love with Julia, one of his co-workers, his acts of rebellion become more tangible, as the two of them begin a secret love affair that would cause both of their deaths should they be found out. Throughout this, Winston and Julia learn of a secret underground resistance force only known as “The Brotherhood,” which they hope to join in order to escape the suffocating rule of the Party’s nebulous leader, Big Brother.

Unfortunately, Winston and Julia are betrayed, and their struggle to find love and hope in the midst of a totalitarian regime ultimately comes to naught. Although the novel was published in 1949, the scarily accurate depiction of absolute state control has continued to haunt modern times with regimes displaying the same kind of totalitarianism as Orwell predicted in his groundbreaking novel. Few governments have reached the height that Nineteen Eighty-Four predicted, but if the world continues on its current path, that kind of totalitarian future may be much closer than one might imagine.

-Mahak M.

1984 by George Orwell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Extract | The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - Penguin Books Australia

The land that was once the United States of America has been taken over by a totalitarian theocracy known as Gilead. In this new government, society is divided into rigid castes, ranging from the powerful Commanders to the lowly Handmaids, with other classes like the Commanders’ Wives and the working Marthas and Econopeople in between.

With the laws of Gilead being based on select passages from the Bible, women are reduced to almost nothing, and have little to no freedom. For instance, they are not allowed to read or write, they must cover their hair and bodies in order to avoid tempting men to sin, and they cannot even choose who they associate with or marry.

The unfortunate women who are “chosen” to become Handmaids, however, lose even more – their basic right to their own bodies. Because of dangerously low reproduction rates, fertile Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving. Despite their importance, the Handmaids are treated as their Commander’s property, only to be seen and not heard.

The narrator, Offred, is among the class of the Handmaids, and she belongs to the man named Commander Fred, as well as his Wife, Serena Joy. Stripped of her name, her body, and her past life, all Offred has left is her voice, which she uses to describe the horrors of Gilead in a way that drives even the most hard-hearted audience to pity. 

Margaret Atwood’s writing skills are brilliant, and she weaves the world of Gilead in a gripping masterpiece that will occasionally cause the reader to be lost inside the dystopian hellscape that is The Handmaid’s Tale. However, the epilogue (which I will not spoil here) leaves a last bit of hope for the reader that will leave them feeling both bitter and optimistic about the future.

-Mahak M.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive