The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Do you believe in destiny? No matter what your answer is, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman will cause you to rethink it.

Full of adventure, fantasy, science-fiction and giant talking bears, The Golden Compass details the quest of a little girl named Lyra on a search for her best friend Roger. What she doesn’t know is that the fate of the world as she knows it rests in her hands.

 Throughout her journey to save her friend, Lyra receives help from a myriad of dynamic and likable characters, including a witch named Serefina, the pilot of a hot air balloon, and an armored bear, among others. She is also never without her daemon named Pantelimon, who serves as a companion and protector, and can change into the form of any animal he wants. Every person is born with one, though adult daemons do not change form.

Though the main character of the story is a little girl, it is far from a simple children’s book. The Golden Compass questions compelling topics about humanity, fate, and the possibility of alternate universes that would pique the interest of anyone with an inquisitive and imaginative mind. The book has been described by some as too controversial for the new ideas it presents. However, I believe it is important to educate oneself on the thoughts and ideas of others, even if one does not always agree with them.

All that said, the writing itself is descriptive and filled with detailed and immersive imagery illustrating each scene clearly and artfully. The characters are diverse, interesting and relatable, and if I could sit down and have lunch with all of them I would.

Each page of The Golden Compass was engaging and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It is different from any book I have read before and does not fall under one category. Pullman seamlessly combines fantasy, science-fiction, friendship and adventure all into one, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

-Charlotte H.

The Golden Compass is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Although the name of this book originally had me skeptical, as soon as I read the first page I couldn’t stop. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a novel by Holly Black that was published in 2013. Its genres include Drama, Horror fiction, and Young Adult Fiction.

This novel is about a girl named Tana and her journey to a Coldtown, where she is always one step away from death, or even worse, a vampire. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it was a heart-wrenching novel that was one of the most difficult to put down.

Tana’s world is centered around vampires, who are the apex predators. Without vampires, the news would be ‘boring’ and America, the only place where the spread of the vampires is somewhat contained, would have little to none to pride itself on. Coldtowns are where vampires or humans that are in the process of turning are sent. With boarded-up homes and bloodthirsty vampires rampant, the only way to describe the towns spread across the United States is… cold.

Although our current worries are far from turning into vampires, I find the characters in this book relatable. While trying to contain the virus known to them as vampires, today’s society works hard to contain Covid-19. Tara worries for her sister’s safety more than almost anything else, the same reason why I yell at my sister to put on shoes instead of flip-flops when going outside in the hopes that she doesn’t trip and fall.

As Tara is forced to journey into the deep center of a Coldtown, she makes friends, gets stabbed in the back, loses her sanity, and finds it again through the power of love and the undeniable fact that you are only as strong as you believe yourself to be.

-Apoorvi S.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Curse of the Dead Gods Review

Curse of the Dead Gods, produced by Focus Home Interactive, is an exciting new third-person adventure game. As you follow an exotic adventurer journey through ancient temples, you will face multiple traps, enemies, and challenges. You can unlock certain abilities, as well as different weapons that can help you in your challenges. You can mix and match different combinations of the weapons to give you the best advantage against the enemies. The game also implements a new and interesting concept known as corruption.

The first thing that caught my eye was the combat, as well as the animation. Both are extremely clean and are very, very high quality. As the player switches from their torch, to their weapon, darkness surrounds them and the enemies start swarming. As the players start to wipe out the foes, more and more start to appear. The players must be extremely careful because if they take damage, they can not recharge their health. If a player dies, they must restart from the beginning of the map, and work their way through the entire temple again.

The enemies themselves are very interesting. From monsters that have simple melee attacks to giant monsters that have giant war hammers and floating heads, the variety is endless. This large amount of adversaries keeps the game interesting, as well as challenging. The player will also run into multiple traps. These can harm the players in multiple ways, such as poisoning them, catching them on fire, and stabbing them. Both of these challenges can totally change what the player needs to do.

To help counter these problems, the player is given a wide variety of weapons. The player is provided with a sword, revolver, and torch at the beginning of the game. They can then unlock a broad assortment of weapons through chests as well as through enemies that will drop them. There are certain weapons that work better against different enemies, such as the battle hammer that is efficient against large groups.

The most interesting concept of this game is the curses and corruption. When a player completes each level, they will get a certain amount of points that count towards corruption. When they reach 100 points, they will receive a certain “curse” that can either help or hinder them. This is a really interesting concept, but I do not think players should be punished just because they finish a mission.

Overall, I really enjoyed Curse of the Dead Gods. I really enjoyed the combat and customization options, and I think that for an early access game, Curse of the Dead Gods is really well produced. This game reminded me of the old arcade games that I used to spend hours playing. I feel that when the game has new temples and maps released, I will definitely play more of the game. I can’t wait to see what the producers have in mind for the game, and I believe the game will become one of my favorites!

-Daniel C

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers is the second book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy known as The Lord of the Rings.  The first half focuses on Aragorn and the remaining members of the Fellowship of the Ring.  The second half focuses on Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee as they try to reach Mordor.  The book includes various subplots, and many characters and places, so it may seem difficult to keep track of everything.  However, the story is very gripping and worth the effort to read.

Some of my favorite characters in this book are the Ents.  The Ents are like tree people.  Two of the little hobbits, Pippin and Merry, encounter an Ent named Treebeard after escaping a group of savage orcs.  Treebeard, like other Ents, is very tall and strong.  He moves very slowly because he does not like to be “too hasty.”  The Ents are usually gentle creatures, but they can become powerful warriors if aroused to battle.  I enjoy reading about these creatures because they are like trees come to life.

Treebeard takes Pippin and Merry to a tower controlled by Saruman.  Saruman is a wizard who was once good.  He is one of my favorite characters in the trilogy, even though we learn that he has become bad.  His voice is described as low and melodious, and he is able to enchant and trick people.  He appears to be full of wisdom, which enables him to gain many followers.  This character is a very accurate portrayal of how a wicked person can deceive many people.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam are traveling with the One Ring toward Mordor, an evil land where orcs and many unnamed horrors roam.  They are guided by Gollum, a savage little thing that was once a hobbit, but has become corrupted by the ring.  Frodo and Sam form an uneasy alliance with Gollum after taming him, even though he still lusts for the ring.  The ring grants its wearer invisibility, but it also slowly overpowers its owner.  The ring is designed to get back to its creator, the evil Sauron.  Sauron is in the form of an eye on a tower in Mordor, always searching for his ring, which would give him unlimited power.

This book is a great story about the dangers of greed and power.  It also includes many surprises and plot twists.  The end of the book is a sort of cliffhanger, so I would recommend that readers read the entire trilogy in sequence.  The Two Towers is a great book on its own, but it should definitely be read along with the other books in the trilogy.

-Oliver H. 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater

Lizard Music is another hilarious book by Daniel Pinkwater.  This one is about a boy named Victor from a town called McDonaldsville.  Victor’s parents are away on vacation and his older sister is out camping even though she is supposed to be looking after him.  Since his parents are away, he can watch television late at night.  One night, something strange happens.  The television begins to show lizards performing jazz music.  This is mysterious because nothing about lizards appears in the television guide.

Victor later finds a man known as “The Chicken Man,” with a trained chicken named Claudia who helps Victor discover where the lizards come from.  They set off for a place called Invisible Island.  This is where the lizards broadcast their own television channel.  Their island has been drifting toward Victor’s hometown, and the weather is just right for Victor’s television to pick up their signal.

I enjoy reading about Victor’s wacky tour through the island.  For example, he is introduced to the House of Plants.  The house has a tree called the Truth Tree, which shakes its leaves and emits a loud noise whenever someone is telling a lie nearby.  Victor also enters the House of Memory.  In this house, whatever Victor thinks about appears in the room.

This book is a favorite of mine because of its quirky and random humor.  Daniel Pinkwater is a very unique author but I think his books can appeal to a wide audience, as long as you are not looking for a serious read.

-Oliver H. 

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Harry Potter: Pets

Among its enchanting world, characters, plot, and locations, the Harry Potter series possesses numerous pets that add charm to the books and, at times, contribute to the plot. From some perspectives, their importance to the story of Harry Potter may not seem of importance; however, some of these pets have invaluable parts, either in the story or their owners’ lives. Here are a few of these treasurable little creatures. Please note that there might be spoilers from books 1-6.

Hedwig: The snowy-white dignity of Harry’s loyal owl is one reason to admire Hedwig. She keeps Harry company when he is trapped at the Dursley’s house, and she delivers many important parcels to and for Harry throughout the series. One of my favorite moments with Hedwig is when she flies to Harry’s friends to make sure they remember to send him a birthday present.

Trevor: Even though his attempts at escaping are constant, I think Trevor really likes Neville Longbottom as his owner–he always seems to (however unwillingly) let Neville find and care for him. As with Neville, his dedication to his pet toad is admirable, for another boy might have long ago given up searching for a rebellious pet. Trevor’s relationship with Neville enriches Neville’s perseverant character and his ability to overcome difficulties–in his classes, with his grandmother–with resilience.

Crookshanks: Even though it is this ginger-haired cat that causes so much tension in Ron and Hermione’s friendship in their third year, Crookshanks proves his intelligence and dependability when he sees Sirius and Scabbers for who they are. Nearly all the other characters believe Scabbers harmless and Sirius a dangerous villain, but Crookshanks knows the truth about both–Scabbers is the danger, while Sirius is not. The courage and insight of Crookshanks shines in the third book so brightly that even Ron can no longer deny the loyalty of the cat.

Scabbers: It is true that Scabbers results in being Voldemort’s servant disguised as Ron’s (at first Percy’s) rat for many years. However, he does contribute admirably to some scenes in the series. On their initial trip to Hogwarts, Ron’s unsuccessful demonstration of a spell on Scabbers plays a part in the building of his friendship with Harry. Furthermore, Ron grows fond of the rat before he knows its true identity, and many games of chess and laughs in the common room no doubt occurred in Scabber’s presence.

BuckbeakStormy gray and confident, Buckbeak is a key player in Harry and Hermione’s rescue of Sirius. The hippogriff also saves Sirius from some of the loneliness of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place during Harry’s fifth year. Held dear by Hagrid as well, Buckbeak (or “Witherwings”) has the respect and appreciation of many characters who fight on the side of Dumbledore’s Order.

The pets named above are merely a fraction of the many that hold importance in the Harry Potter series. Their interactions with the characters–comforting, assisting, escaping–lead to a better understanding of the characters, while establishing the pets as individual characters themselves.

– Mia T.

Books set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. They may also be downloaded online for free from Overdrive

Redwall by Brian Jacques

Redwall is a series of 22 fantasy novels written by the late Brian Jacques.  The stories take place around a castle named Redwall Abbey in a land called Mossflower during a medieval period.  The main characters are animals with human-like abilities.  Most of the characters are woodland creatures that can talk and walk on their hind legs.  The good characters include mice, squirrels, otters, moles, and badgers.  The villains include rats, weasels, stoats, foxes and ferrets.  The books contain many epic adventures and are very enjoyable to read.

I have noticed a predictable pattern throughout the series.  Each book usually begins by introducing the main characters, including the main villain.  Then conflict arises between the good and bad characters.  Usually, the good characters are defending Redwall Abbey against their enemies.  Sometimes the heroes embark on long journeys or perilous adventures to defeat the villains.  By the end of each book, the bad creatures are defeated.  Though the books may seem repetitive and predictable, they are filled with surprising plot twists and many colorful personalities.

The first novel written in the series is simply titled Redwall.  The hero of the story is a small mouse named Matthias.  In this book, Matthias defends Redwall Abbey against the evil rat, Cluny the Scourge.  Matthias overcomes many challenges to save the abbey.  At one point he defeats the dreaded snake, Asmodeus, and obtains a legendary sword with which he fights against Cluny and his army.  This book is filled with action and suspense.

Another enjoyable novel in the series is Mossflower.  This book describes events that took place before the events of Redwall.  We learn about the history of Redwall Abbey.  A traveling mouse named Martin comes across a large and spacious castle inhabited by evil vermin led by tyrannical wildcats.  Martin finds a group of woodlanders who wish to overtake the giant castle and remove the dictators.  After finally succeeding in their mission and destroying the castle, they decide to build an abbey in its place.  The abbey is named Redwall because it was built with red sandstone from a distant quarry.  Redwall Abbey becomes the home of many good woodland creatures throughout the series. 

Perhaps my favorite book in the series is The Bellmaker.  This book involves a squirrel king named Gael who lives at Castle Floret.  The king is forced to flee from his home because of an evil foxwolf named Urgan Nagru.  As the story develops, heroic characters from Redwall come to the rescue to put an end to Urgan Nagru and his army once and for all.  This book may be my favorite in the series because of the gripping plot and fascinating character development.

The Redwall series is filled with adventure, action, and humor.  I enjoy reading each book because the stories are all woven together.  The characters come to life as we read about their exciting adventures from book to book.  These books may be written for young readers but I would highly recommend them to anyone.

-Oliver H. 

Brian Jacques’ Redwall series is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

Complete with a foreword by Albus Dumbledore, illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and an A-Z list of magical creatures and their descriptions, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the perfect book for anyone wishing to delve a bit further into the wizarding world.

Written by J. K. Rowling as Newt Scamander, the main character of the movie series of the same name, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the textbook required by Hogwarts students in their first year. Though the information is expository, it isn’t dull, and J. K. Rowling adds humor and little remarks that make the text entertaining.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is the handwritten notes by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Scribbled conversations, games, comments, and jokes can be seen on the pages. The writing styles and voices of the characters are evident, and while reading them I imagined tidbits of conversations that weren’t included in the Harry Potter books.

I admire the factual style J. K. Rowling uses when she includes references to foreign ministries and remedies for injuries caused by certain beasts. There is even a short biography for Newt Scamander in the back of the book. Certainly, the imagination and thought put into this book makes it a fascinating addition to a Harry Potter book collection.

Other than enjoyment, another reason this might be a good book to read is that it provides information about creatures that appear in the movie series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and knowing about these creatures could enrich the experience of watching the movies.

-Mia T.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by J. K. Rowling is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, tells the story of a not-so-great Chosen One with a tendency to set things of fire – Simon Snow, and his vampire roommate/nemesis – Baz Pitch. As secrets from the past are brought to light once again, Simon and Baz are forced to work together to defeat the evil Humdrum that has been plaguing the magical society in England. Filled with monsters, magic, and romance, Carry On is a thrilling adventure with twists and turns and a fast-paced plot that leaves readers hungry for more.

This book, in a nutshell, is Harry Potter crossed with Twilight, with Star Wars references. And not in a subtle way. Despite it being remarkably similar to these three franchises, Carry On, in my opinion, is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s fast-paced plot caused me to speed through the book in only a few hours. As soon as I finished it, I immediately opened it back to the first page and started all over again.

Carry On contains many well written and lovable characters. While they bear many similarities to characters from Harry Potter (Simon to Harry, Penny to Hermione, Mage to Dumbledore, and Baz to Draco), they are each distinct and unique characters, with fun and likable personalities that set them apart from the characters they are based on.

Another thing that makes this book so great is the LGBT+ representation. Both of the main characters are part of the LGBT+ community as well as some of the side characters, something that is not seen often in this genre.

There were some swear words, just a warning, but I felt that they helped make the dialogue feel more real and authentic. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you love fantasy, if you love romance, if you love YA, then pick up this book immediately – you won’t regret it!

-Lauren R.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan’s most infamous assassin. After her capture, she is sentenced to live out her days as a slave in the Endovier Salt Mines. She serves a year before Crown Prince Dorian Havilliard appears and offers her a chance to earn her freedom. She must compete in a brutal competition against murderers, assassins, and thieves to become the next royal assassin. The winner would be paid handsomely and after four years of service to the king, they would earn their freedom.

Celaena initially plans to escape, but soon finds reasons to stay. Her relationships with Prince Dorian and Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall grow and soon lean to become more romantic. She befriends Princess of Eyllwe Nehemia Ytger, who seems to know more about Celaena’s hidden past than she should.

When contestants start turning up dead, ripped apart by some unnatural creature, Celaena scrambles to figure out who is behind the killings, and the mysterious Wyrdmarks that she finds all over the castle. And when the ancient Fae Queen Elena tasks Celaena with finding the evil that lurks in the castle, a much deeper, darker plot is uncovered.

What I love about this series is just how well thought out every single detail is. The first book has its own plot and just barely dips into the larger plot of the series. The second book lays the foundation for what’s to come. By the third book, it is a completely different story. The beginning of the series hints at the larger plot that is uncovered, but in a way that if you didn’t already know what was coming, it would just seem like extra details thrown in. Only when you realize the larger story do those details take on any meaning.

The series is epic and action-packed, along with just the right amount of romance. The incredible and complex world-building drew me in and left me wanting to know more about Erilea. I absolutely loved the characters in this series. There are so many, each with a distinct personality that makes many of them so likable, and each has a unique relationship with the others. There is not a shortage of strong female characters. All of the books in the series were hard to put down, and the last book was hard to finish. I fell in love with the characters and the world; it was hard to see their stories end.

I think it is safe to say that the Throne of Glass series is the best series I have read in a long time, and I would definitely recommend the series to anyone who enjoys action and fantasy.

-Lauren R. 

The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive