The Dark Ascension Series: The Wicked Ones by Robin Benway

“The sky was glorious that morning, so blue and sharp that it looked like it could shatter, raining shards down on all of them, but instead it stayed in place while the rest of their world fell apart.”

We all know the story of Cinderella, enslaved by her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters when her beloved father passes. She wishes upon a star, and, poof! Her dreams become true and she can finally escape from her horrible stepsisters to a land of charming royalty.

But before the two sisters became wicked, what changed them? They had a father who left them one day, a callous mother with a terrible temper, and a feeble stepsister unable to protect herself from their mother’s wrath. Scrutinized and criticized by even their own mother and villagers, the two sisters were misunderstood and abandoned.

Drizella, the older of the sisters, is a sensible young woman who is almost entirely sure that life is meant to be difficult and struggled through. It’s not like life is perfectly mapped out and lined up like the constellations that secretly fascinate her. Besides, a woman’s expected duties are pointless without learning anything new.

Anastasia is a dreamer who sees the world not for the cruelty and struggles it forces her to endure, but as a vast place to explore and even find romance in. Unfortunately, her sympathetic nature is muted by despair.

Though they are determined not to let evil lead them down a forlorn, empty path, can they remain hopeful forever?

I found this novel pleasant and a change of pace from the fantasy-fairytale books I usually read. I do remember reading another book—Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly—that was a more challenging read with a complicated storyline but had a similar idea to The Wicked Ones.

The stepsisters’ lives weren’t handed to them tied with a bow, it was paved through resentment and struggle. The reader can sympathize with the stepsisters and see their perspective and growth as characters.

Originally, I thought this book was simple and predictable, but it is really just a good novel to sit back and read. The fairytale sweeps you away and you can learn about the stepsisters’ detestable characters.

Through this novel of suffering and strife, the reader learns how the past of the stepsisters’ fostered the black-hearts that they have today.

The Wicked Ones by Robin Benway is available to download for free from Libby.

The Liar’s Crown Book Review

This novel was a quick read for me and is what I think a little confusing of a fantasy plot.

It is about two magical princess twins: Meren and Tabra. Tabra lives a royal life in the palace, enjoying all royal amenities, while Meren lives with her grandma hidden in one of the slums.

Meren is supposed to protect Tabra at all costs from King Eidolon, the evil king who has been alive for centuries. He is made out of shadow and sheds a new body every few hundred years to ensure that he lives and reigns forever.

When suddenly their grandma dies, Meren is taken by a shadow wraith (Reven), a mysterious man who is made out of shadows and has many dark secrets. They go through a long journey to get to his home which is apparently full of people he has saved and Meren realizes that he needs her help to save his people.

Of course, Meren falls in love with him along the way and figures out that he is not that bad after all. But, they hear news from her sister Tabra who has fallen into the trap of King Eidolon and Meren is intent on taking her place (since they are twins) and it is her duty to protect her. Oh yeah, forgot to tell you all, Reven thinks Meren is still Tabra.

Anyway, the plot just continues to get more confusing until Meren confronts Eidolon and she casts as Tabra to save her sister.

So, the book pretty much just ends with her marrying the King Eidolon and Reven trying to save her from his wrath (yes, there is a book 2).

Honestly, rating wise I would give this book a 5 out of 10. The plot was a little confusing and it just wasn’t as intricate as I wanted it to be. If you are looking for quick fantasy to pick up, it’ll give you a quick fun read.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is narrated by Richard Papen, a new student attending a school called Hampden College in Vermont. Upon arriving, he is given the opportunity to take an ancient Greek class, in which he meets five Classics students: Charles, Camilla, Henry, Richard, and Bunny, who he grows close with within the first few months of the year. However, from the very first line in the prologue, Tartt spoils the fact that Bunny is eventually murdered, leading the novel to center around this event and how it was dealt with by the rest of the group.

Throughout the course of the story, Tartt alludes to several themes concerning the dangers of appearance and the romanticization of the elite class. For example, Richard is initially attracted to the group due to their wealthy, or as he describes, “magnificent,” appearances. He even fabricates aspects of his past in order to better fit in. However, as the group’s secrets, out-of-touch personalities, and extreme flaws slowly begin to unfold, it shows how their beauty never went beyond surface-level. No matter how rich they were, they were unable to cover up the guilt they felt from the damage they’ve caused.

What I found most intriguing and unique about this plot compared to others is that although Richard provides a well-paced, extremely detailed description of the course of events before and after Bunny’s death, he constantly alludes to the fact that he is a great liar, causing readers to question how valid his perspective truly is. Especially since he isn’t as involved in the group’s plans as others, the audience is left feeling as if they need to know more, and that there are gaps in the narration that can be filled by another character’s point of view. Therefore, I found myself continuing to contemplate the story days after I had finished it, making the novel an extremely memorable read that I see myself recommending to almost everyone.

-Aysha H.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Ivies by Alexa Donne


“My life at Claflin has inevitably been easier, better, because of the company I keep. The Ivies opened a door, and I stepped through it.”

–Olivia Winters

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, UPenn, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Columbia. The eight Ivy League schools for five teenage girls set on attending these schools, by any means necessary.

The Ivies by Alexa Donne is an exciting murder mystery that follows Olivia Winters, a scholarship senior at Claflin Academy, as she navigates life under the wing of the Ivies—an elite, ambitious group of girls who eliminate all chances of competition to claim first place. But karma is real… and it’s coming to get them.

Donne’s approach to the life of a high school student is overwhelmingly perceptive. From the way the characters act to the way they talk, their personality is established within the first few pages of meeting them.

This novel breaks stereotypes that center around class and social privilege. For instance, Avery Montfort, a Harvard legacy student who at first seems conceited and arrogant, offers the reader a glimpse of her not-so-perfect life and the weight she carries.

Together, the Ivies work to sabotage other top college material students. Their conniving actions reveal the ugliness behind their riches. They demonstrate just how far people go to get what they want, including murder.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Ivies by Alexa Donne. My suspicions jumped from person to person; I never stopped guessing until the very end. Everyone should have the opportunity to meet these brilliant, but back-stabbing girls with twisted priorities.

The Ivies by Alexa Donne is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

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


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.