Book Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

In the vast city of Golvahar resides a princess named Soraya, forced to be hidden away from the public eye. Cursed, she was born with the ability to kill any living being with a mere touch. Her yearning to be a part of her family and society flourishes with the years she stayed concealed in the gardens, watching everyone’s lives from a far distance. But all changes when a demon creature (div) who holds the knowledge to break her curse is captured and being held in the palace dungeon. A beau who perceives her past the poison running through her veins vows to help her but to what extent will she go to get what she desires? And will the choices she makes conform her into the monster she always tried not to become?

This enthralling tale of self-discovery and will power kept me hooked from the very beginning. Melissa Bashardoust takes stories from Persian mythology and makes a fascinating queer fairytale with many elements from Sleeping Beauty. The secrets told in the most unexpected times compels the readers to think deeper into the true meaning of “monster” and what it takes to be a hero. Told in the perspective of Soraya herself, we see the loneliness she had been through firsthand, allowing us to relate to and perhaps find ourselves in her story.

-Saanvi V.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi follows the life of a 12 year-old girl named Rea. She lives in Darjeeling with her grandma, mother, and twin brother, Rohan. After finding out her brother is missing, Rea makes it her mission to find him—even if it takes her to a world she’s never been to before and she has to face her family’s past.

This book is amazing for a multitude of reasons. First, it’s rich in culture. There may be unknown vocabulary, such as clothing or foods you may not know of, but there is a glossary in the back of the book that provides explanations.

Another thing, the book has maps in the first few pages. A fantasy book isn’t complete without its maps, and I found it endearing that there were even maps of India and Darjeeling to further immerse the reader. Little details like that make the book more accessible for younger readers.

The world-building in this book is also outstanding, another thing very important in fantasy books since they take place outside of our world. When reading about the whimsical world of Astranthia, where Rea is supposed to find her brother, I found myself wanting to explore as well.

Given all these things, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is a great book for all audiences. If I could, I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a feel-good book that includes cultural representation, family love, and a fantasy adventure.

-Shadi H.

Book Review: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels eBook by Jonathan Swift | Rakuten Kobo

After setting sail from England to the East, sailor and surgeon Lemuel Gulliver finds himself shipwrecked on an undiscovered island to the east of Australia. To his surprise, the inhabitants of the island nation are humanoid – but they barely reach 6 inches in height! Taken prisoner by the suspicious Lilliputians, Gulliver quickly makes himself useful to his new hosts, all the while commenting on the strangeness of his life in Lilliput, both physically and socially.

Unfortunately for Gulliver (but fortunately for the reader), this unusual encounter is far from the only one. Throughout his travels, Gulliver has the dubious pleasure of meeting curious creatures such as the crude Brobdingnagian giants who keep him for their entertainment and the slightly insane Laputians with their flying island.

During all of these adventures, Swift skillfully fulfills his main purpose – to expose the truth of humanity behind the façade of reason and rationality. To do this, Swift structures the satire sections of his novels as series of conversations between Gulliver and his hosts, from the little Lilliputians to the intelligent Houyhnhnms, using the reactions of the latter to present the reader with an uncompromising reflection of mankind.

The best example of this can be seen in the latter section of the book, when Gulliver attempts to convince his Houyhnhnm host that he is not a Yahoo, but rational like the horses. As Gulliver explains what human society is like, both for good and for worse, it gradually becomes clear that the Houyhnhnms are unable to comprehend the difference between him, a supposedly “rational” creature, and the stupidly violent Yahoos that resemble him, especially when discussing about the human propensity to lie as well as the devastating advancements in weapon technology at the time.

In this way, although Gulliver himself comes to no emotional realization or character development, Swift encourages the reader to alter their own perspectives on both themselves and the world around them, and to consider the state of humanity before proceeding to place it on a pedestal above all other creatures. Despite having been written in the eighteenth century, Gulliver’s Travels is still a beloved classic because of Swift’s masterful combination of fantastical elements and bitter reality in a way that is sure to stick with the reader long after Gulliver’s travels are concluded.

-Mahak M.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace

All the Stars and Teeth is a dark fantasy book set in a world of mermaids, pirates, and princesses. Written by author Adalyn Grace, the book does it’s fair share of dramatics. Where people are gifted with powers allowing for displays of power and entertainment. The world is set in a series of magical islands with each one containing a singular power. In this world, you can master numerous powers, however it will bring death and destruction if you do. To prevent this, there is a long time tradition of picking a power based on your home and only practicing that single power.

At the heart of the kingdom, Visidia, lives Amora Montara, a princess. Who wields the power of soul destroying. She is soon to be the queen but must face a trail. A trial where she will read the souls of 5 people, and determine who is truly evil. If she passes, she shall be queen. If she does not- well, let’s just say it won’t be pretty.

Under a lot of stress, she panics and her powers consume her. Killing a man and melting his body, the people of her kingdom are disgusted and scared at this display. They scream how Amora is a monster and how she must be locked away. Amora is taken to a cell, where she awaits either execution or exile. Until a pirate named Bastian comes offering help, but for a price.

There is a bigger issue besides Amora. Where a man is not only trying to master numerous powers and soul destroying, but has cultivated a mass army to take over Visidia. After realizing the stakes, Amora sets off with Bastian. However this is a book of secrets and many will be uncovered, whether Amora wants to know or not.

Personally, I thought this book was sadly average at best. I think it’s perfect for getting into fantasy and YA. However, there isn’t much to it besides the plot. The romance was good in the middle and I enjoyed the witty banter and suspense. However, I found myself bored and a bit surprised because at the end it felt so rushed over. The plot was wonderfully done, although a little lengthy at some points. The villain was also rarely seen until the end, and was a bit underwhelming despite all the characters “fearing” him. 

It’s a bit confusing with the magical and political fantasy aspects, but I figured it out by the middle of the book. The plot was also extremely well written with twists and turns I kind of expected, but none the less enjoyed. It’s similar to books such as To Kill a Kingdom or Daughter of the Pirate King. I definitely enjoyed the pirate’s character and the side characters were beautifully done. 

Overall this book is a 3.5 out of 5 for me. Whereas it’s perfect for beginners. I definitely think that there are better books with more in depth characters. But, if you need a quick read or are in a reading slump, this is the book for you. Easy characters, heavy plot, and a sly villain make for a simple yet intriguing story.

-Ashley Y.

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Eragon tells the story of Eragon, a young man living in the quiet Palancar Valley, far from the eyes of the Empire. Eragon’s world is turned upside down when he finds a strange-looking rock in the dangerous Spine-which turns out to be a dragon egg. When the wicked King Galbatorix comes sends his monstrous servants called the Ra’zac to find him, Eragon must escape with his dragon, Saphira, and an old storyteller, Brom. While on their journey, Brom teaches Eragon and Saphira the ways of the Rider and how to use the ancient language to command magic. On the way, Eragon, Brom, and Saphira meet new friends and foes-and uncover new secrets.

Eragon is an incredible read that I would highly recommend. Paolini’s style of writing is extremely impressive, with his descriptions and imagery. The characters are very interesting as well, with Eragon thinking more on his feet, and Saphira being the voice of reason. The intricacy of Eragon and the different backstories, plot twists, and connections just add to the magic of Eragon.

I would recommend Eragon to anyone who enjoys long books about fantasy, magic, and mythical creatures. Eragon is part of a series, with three other books-Eldest, Brisingir, and Inheritance.

-Kelsie W.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

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.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

To me, this book is a bit like a fantastical version of Ocean’s Eleven. Of course, the plot of Six of Crowns is quite different, but, like Ocean’s Eleven, it involves a witty cast of characters who each possess a unique skill; a seemingly infeasible heist; and incredible twists unveiled with the air of a magician’s flourish.

Among the many inhabitants of the beautiful and expansive world of Six of Crows, there are Grisha, people born with special powers (such as the ability to heal, to control water, or to manipulate materials). These powers can be used for great good. However, towards the beginning of the novel, news of a dangerous drug called jurda parem, which enhances a Grisha’s ability, begins to surface. Not only does the drug enable Grisha to cause terrible destruction with little effort, but it is also highly addictive and dangerous to the Grisha themselves.

Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” for his apathetic and ruthlessly practical actions, is offered a mountain of money should he succeed at an unfeasible heist: stealing the scientist who created jurda parem from the nearly impenetrable Ice Court in Fjerda. He promptly assembles a skilled team, each chosen for their expertise in a certain area.

What I loved most about Six of Crows was the characters. The six main characters are each vividly developed and unique in their own wonderful way. In addition, their conversations with each other are entertaining and witty.

The characters take turns narrating the chapters, so we get a glimpse into the minds of each of the characters at different points in the story. Reading from each character’s perspective was really enjoyable, as each character has a different way of thinking. I liked how we were able to learn about each character’s thoughts and vulnerabilities–information that other characters may not perceive. Nevertheless, although she gives readers peeks into each character’s mind, Leigh Bardugo still manages to conceal information from readers–and reveal it in with incredible, unexpected plot twists.

I found the chapters narrated by Kaz Brekker–the leader of the group; a boy whose past is so nebulous and whose emotions are so imperceptible to others that some view him more as a legend than a teenager–particularly interesting; they give readers an understanding of this outwardly hardened and indestructible boy.

What’s interesting about this book is that none of the characters would call themselves heroes. They each have their own motive, and some of them don’t even get along. However, as the story progresses and as we gather little shards of each character’s past, we begin to understand them, and we learn what path led them to a future in which they would attempt one of the most dangerous and inconceivable heists. Though they are not obvious heroes, they do heroic things: they fight for each other, save each other, and care for each other. And despite being hardened by their pasts, they still manage to act like regular, bantering teenagers at times.

I will warn that there are several violent fights, and I could have done with less violence (however, this coming is from someone who used to be frightened by The Lion King). Nevertheless, this book, its world, and its characters are so vivid, intriguing, and compelling that I would, without a doubt, recommend it for YA and fantasy lovers.

– Mia T.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is available 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.

The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Every place you’ll ever find yourself in is more than meets the eye. This is the central idea of Leigh Bardugo’s new novel The Ninth House, a supernatural fantasy about the life of Yale student Alex Stern. The story follows Alex through her freshman year of college, recruited by a secret society at the university known as Lethe. This society supervises 8 other organizations across campus, each of them specializing in a certain magical concept through rituals and other supernatural events. Lethe has been interested in her for most of her teenage life due to strange occurrences in police reports that reveal her secret; Alex was born with the power to see “Grays”, the ghosts that fail to pass over beyond “the Veil” and wander the living world. As someone who can see them, Alex plays an important role in protecting the societies from supernatural interference with their business. She studies the ways of Lethe and magic under her mentor Darlington, and receives help from grad student Dawes and Dean Sandow. However, life as a college recruit is not an easy path, and Alex must learn to navigate her struggling GPA and avoid suspicion from her roommates, all while keeping the existence of magic and the Nine Houses a secret.

However, life gets turned even more upside down when Darlington disappears and a random girl is found dead on campus. Concerned about the societies’ potential involvement in both cases, she goes out to solve the mysteries in a collection of twists and turns. As the murder investigation unfolds, people are tossed in and out of the scapegoat role, even some of the people she trusts most. At the novel’s conclusion, everything is made clear through shocking revelation that leaves its readers yearning for a second installment in Stern’s universe.

This book took me a little bit of time to get into. Being a “New Adult” book, it was a large jump in detailed writing from the book I had just read. However, once I sat down and committed to reading, I found soon enough that I couldn’t put the book down. The characterization of Alex fascinated me, and became more enthralling as her past is revealed. The interwoven stories between the world of the living and the dead and the world of Lethe and Yale as a whole make for an interesting story. I am looking forward to the next installment, hopefully to come out late 2021 or early 2022.

-Bailey L.

The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo 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