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.

Coraline: Book VS Movie

Aside

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, is a fictional thriller, originally written as a novel, but later turned into a movie. The basic plot of the story is that a little girl named Coraline and her family move into a new house. Coraline finds a door in their new house that leads to a magical world where everything is perfect. Inside her perfect world, Coraline has ‘Other-Parents’ with sewn on button eyes. They try to convince Coraline to stay with them forever, on the condition that Coraline sews buttons into her eyes. This terrifies Coraline, who then tries to escape.

While I love both versions of the story, there are some major differences between the book and the movie.

Firstly, book Coraline’s parents are much nicer than they are in the movie. In the book, Coraline’s parents are stressed and tired. While they could have been nicer to their daughter, they were very busy and Coraline was being negative and bothersome. In the book, there is a very touching scene where Coraline tells The Cat about when her dad took her ‘adventuring’ and accidentally stepped on a wasp’s nest. Her dad took 39 stings to protect Coraline. So, in the book, Coraline’s parents are much nicer, and Coraline was mostly at fault. Throughout the book, she learns to appreciate her parents. In the movie, Coraline’s parents ignore Coraline and are unnecessarily snappish with her. In my opinion, the movie’s portrayal of Coraline’s parents makes more sense, because her parents’ unkindness is what drives Coraline to prefer the other world.

Secondly, in the book, Coraline visits the other world once and decides she doesn’t want to stay. In the movie, Coraline visits the other world three times before she decides to escape. Coraline in the book is very wary of other world and doesn’t trust her ‘Other Mother’. Movie Coraline was quick to accept the new world and wanted to stay there forever, until she learned that she would have to sew buttons on her eyes.

Thirdly, there is a character in the movie that was not present in the book. His name is Wybie, short for Wyborne. His grandmother’s sister was also taken by the Other Mother. Wybie finds a doll that looks exactly like Coraline, so he gives it to her. The doll was secretly a spy for the Other Mother, trying to find out what Coraline’s insecurities were to lure her to the other world. In the book, both the character Wybie and the doll he found did not exist.

There are many other small differences between the book and the movie (like Mr. Bobo AKA Bobinski, the singing rats, and Coraline’s blue hair), both the book and the movie were excellent. Would recommend!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Nightfall by Shannon Messenger

Nightfall is the sixth book in the Keeper of the Lost Cites series (which is currently 8.5 books long), and the events come as a definite surprise to anyone who has read the other five books before it.

In this book, the main character of the series, a powerful young elf named Sophie Foster, has to rescue her human parents from a Neverseen hideout called Nightfall. (The Neverseen are a deadly rebel group that formed in the Lost Cities, and they always seem to be out to get Sophie and her friends.) But Sophie knows that the Neverseen might be using her parents as a diversion to distract her from the larger issues at hand, so, no matter how painful it is, Sophie is forced to look at the bigger picture and accept that the threat looming over her human parents might not be the problem she needs to focus on. She helps her friend, Keefe Sencen, with the issues he has with his mother, Lady Gisela, (who also happens to be a leader of the Neverseen) and attempts to figure out the identity of the prisoner who escaped from the Lumenaria dungeon in the previous installment of the series. But all of these issues seem to come together in the end of the book, when Sophie and her friends (Tam and Linh Song, Biana and Fitz Vacker, Keefe Sencen, and Dex Dizznee) and her foster father, Grady Ruewen, enter Nightfall. There, they encounter some members of the Neverseen and discover who their new ally is–the former prisoner of Lumenaria.

While all of this was going on, they also had to deal with another enemy, one whose alliance with the Neverseen hit extremely close to home. Alvar Vacker, the older brother of Fitz and Biana, was found abandoned by the Neverseen in one of their old hideouts, bleeding to death. They had discovered that Alvar was a member of the Neverseen in the earlier books, but they’d never have guessed that the group would leave him for dead. He doesn’t give any information in his interrogations except for one, crucial detail, which readers will find out in the beginning of Flashback.

The reason why I love this novel is because of all the plot twists and the fact that the characters have realistic personalities. Their problems kept me rooting for them the whole time the book was in my hands, and the storyline stuck with me for a long while after I’d finished. This book (and the series it belongs to) is a magical read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves the fantasy genre.

Nighfall by Shannon Messenger is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde revolves around the life of a wealthy, handsome man who desires nothing but to retain his youthful appearance. When posing for a portrait painted by the artist Basil Hallward, Dorian Gray meets Lord Henry Wotton, one of Basil’s closest friends. Lord Henry is a highly philosophical man who shares several theories with Dorian and ultimately causes a permanent change in his character. His idea that art and beauty have a greater importance than one’s struggles causes Dorian to wish that he remain young forever, and that his portrait ages instead. His wish eventually comes true.

One aspect of this novel I enjoy is the author’s use of imagery. Wilde is able to write descriptive, yet easily comprehensible passages that help the reader picture a scene almost perfectly. For example:

“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink flowering thorn.”

I also greatly enjoyed the main theme of the novel and the author’s take on the relationship between beauty and morality. The way the portrait vilely altered throughout the course of the novel shows the state of Dorian’s inner conscience, despite his outward beauty. Contradicting one of the most popular Renaissance ideas, the author was able to prove to the audience that beauty and righteousness don’t always go hand in hand.

Although I found this story extremely engaging and well-written, I believe it won’t appeal to everyone, as it has a very gothic tone that doesn’t suit many readers. However, when taking in the many themes shared by the author, one can learn to greatly appreciate the story, despite disliking the gloomy mood.

-Aysha H.

The Picture of Doran Gray by Oscar Wilde is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download 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: From Lukov With Love by Mariana Zapata

From Lukov with Love remains one of my favorite reads ever. I just finished re-reading this masterpiece. Mariana Zapata is a genius and amazing author.

This book is about a girl named Jasmine Santos who ruthlessly trained and trained for figure skating. She never made it very far in competitions as a single skater so she was determined to try pairs. But still, she has trouble succeeding in competition.

She gets offered an opportunity of a lifetime to skate with the great Ivan Lukov who has won many championships. Except, there’s one issue. She hates Ivan for teasing her all her life. He is Jasmine’s best friend’s brother.

Jasmine agrees to this arrangement. She and Ivan still hate each other but have to fake it for the sake of skating. Through banter and nicknames Jasmine and Ivan try to coexist. Slowly they start building a friendship and maybe don’t hate each other as much anymore. 

They are training for the championships and are determined to win gold. But, one day Jasmine lands wrong and her ankle is all messed up. She spends weeks recovering from the injury. They were behind in training but still picked up where they left off.

They ended up winning the championship and each other’s love. Jasmine and Ivan have each other’s hearts and are perfect together.

“I love you so much, I spend all day with you, and it still isn’t enough for me. I love you so much, if I can’t skate with you, I don’t want to skate with anyone else. I love you so much, Jasmine, that if I broke my ankle during a program, I would get up and finish it for you, to get you what you’ve always wanted.”

The book also reflects on the importance of family and friendships. Jasmine really finds herself by the end of the book and she realizes that it’s important to love yourself for who you are instead of comparing yourself to others.

“You are who you are in life, and you either live that time trying to bend yourself to make other people happy, or… you don’t.”

Though the book was a slowburn and the characters didn’t get together until the very end of the book, they still showed romantic elements and how much Ivan and Jasmine loved each other.

“I believe in you. In us. Regardless of what happens, you will always be the best partner I’ve ever had. You’ll always be the hardest working person I’ve ever known. There will only ever be you” -Ivan.

Jasmine and Ivan are everything to me and I will love them and this book forever. 5/5 stars.

-Kaitlyn D.

Brotherband Chronicles Book 1: The Outcasts by John Flanagan

The first book of the Brotherband Chronicles The Outcasts by John Flanagan, is a 434-page book set in the same world as the Ranger’s Apprentice. The book follows Hal and his crew of outcasts a group of Skandians. As Skandians are usually big and strong and Hal and his are not set aside and with nobody wanting to be with them they are outcasts from everyone else. The group of outcasts form the team the Herons. Using their skills they fight against the other teams at sea, As they fight other teams to win glory and a chance to prove themselves.

The story introduces many new terms about boats and sailing for those who are not familiar and it might take some time to get used to some of the new words and remember what they mean. However it does not take away from the book but helps it as it uses accurate sailing terms. The book is great for those who love reading the underdogs who use their skills and smarts to win when they are not expected to. Its set in the same world as the Ranger’s Apprentice and has some connections so any fans of that series should read this book as well.

Overall the book has a good storyline and sets the foundation for the sequels that come after it. The book has lots of background helping readers understand character’s motives, and is well written. With tales of friendships, smarts, action its book many can enjoy.

-Luke G.

Brotherband Chronicles Book 1: The Outcasts by John Flanagan is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket

The Ersatz Elevator is the 6th book in the Unfortunate Events series by Daniel Handler, pen name Lemony Snicket. Published in 2001 the book tackles the problems of wealth, the phoniness of pop culture, and the necessity of arguing. Similar to the previous novels it does this whilst exploring the lives of the Baudelaire orphans as they are passed to yet another guardian, who inevitably turns out to be a disappointment. 

The book immediately starts with the children meeting their new guardians, Jerome and Esme Squalor. They quickly learn that Esme only cares about what’s “in” and what’s “out” or what is popular and what is not. Lucky for them, orphans are in, thus they are allowed to stay in the roughly 76  room penthouse. Jerome on the other hand is an incredibly kind man who doesn’t care about popularity, but also hates arguing. To the point that he does whatever Esme says even if it involved eating salmon, a food he despises. Inevitably their enjoyment in the penthouse is short-lived after they spot Count Olaf, who is once again attempting to get his hands on the orphans and their fortune. From this point onwards the book is filled with mystery, adventure, and emotion. 

The book is by far one of the greatest in the series, as it walks the fine line between fiction and reality. It teaches the Baudelaires about the failings of adults and why the world is as bad as it is. Yet it also teaches them about how important it is to be brave, even in the face of total darkness. As well as expanding upon the mystery that has been growing throughout the series. You are left asking even more questions, and wondering why the Baudelaires are in the predicaments they are in. 

-Parker K.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies is one of many novels written by Julia Alvarez. Although it’s not as well known, the book serves as an impactful demonstration of woman empowerment and fighting for justice in an unjust government. All of the characters have their own unique personalities, a connection between fiction and history.

The novel is a work of historical fiction, therefore most of the characters are actually real people. Taking place in the 1960s, three sisters have been reported dead at the bottom of a cliff. The fourth sister, Dedé Mirabal, lives to tell the tale of the three heroic activists. Based on Dedé’s story, the sisters who passed were the primary opponents of General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a dictator of the Dominican Republic at the time. Throughout the novel, the perspectives of all four Mirabal sisters are portrayed as they grow older. From secret crushes to stashing guns in their own homes, the sisters depict the horrors of living under Trujillo’s oppressive regime, but also their interpersonal conflicts with the people they love.

There are multiple themes within this novel, such as racial, gender, and economic injustices, political conflicts, and finding courage in the face of adversity. As a woman myself, it’s always fascinating to see literature with underlying tones of a fight for gender equity and equality. Considering that the books I’ve read throughout my entire life were primarily written by male authors, this was definitely a breath of fresh air. It’s even more inspiring when readers realize that this novel is a work of historical fiction, that these characters have actually faced similar abhorrent situations in their lives. I applaud Julia Alvarez for being able to turn a book filled with many heavy themes and subjects, into a novel that’s light and heartfelt for young adult readers.

There’s a perfect balance between the plot and various themes of the novel, therefore the content is not too heavy for readers to understand. The only thing the book truly lacks would be plot twists and events that would drag the reader into the novel itself. Nonetheless, I highly recommend others to read this book, especially if they’re interested in historical political conflicts or female activism.

-Natasha P.

In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Curtain by Agatha Christie

Curtain by Agatha Christie is the last book in the Poirot series.  Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s old and trustworthy friend, visits him in a hotel known as Styles.  Styles is significant to them because it was there that Poirot first met Hastings.  Poirot is much older now and can only get around with the help of a wheelchair.  However, his mind is as sharp as ever.  A series of events leads Poirot to believe that something dreadful is about to happen at the hotel.

I very much enjoyed reading about Poirot and Hastings meeting up again, after many years of absence.  Still, the tone of the novel is quite foreboding.  It becomes clear that Poirot’s intuition is correct, and that tragic things will occur as the story unfolds.  Similar to other novels in the series, the story is filled with intrigue and mystery.  However, this novel is longer than most of the others in the series.  The plot includes many twists and turns, and is full of surprises.  The ending was especially surprising to me, more so than any other book in the series.

In a way this is one of the saddest books in the Poirot series, but I enjoyed it immensely.  This is certainly one of Poirot’s greatest cases, and it is his last.  This book definitely kept me guessing throughout.  I would recommend reading other books in the series before reading this one, especially The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  The reunion of Poirot and Hastings becomes more meaningful, having read about their previous adventures.  This is a bitter-sweet story, and is a must-read for any fan of the great detective Poirot.

-Oliver H.

Curtain by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.