My Brother Sam Is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier

This year for school, one of the required books to read for English was called My Brother Sam Is Dead written by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier. When I first heard we were going to be reading this book, I was intrigued by the title. I thought it was a bit funny to have such an important detail in the title. I wasn’t super thrilled at first when we had to read it for English class but in the end, I enjoyed the book. 

My Brother Sam Is Dead is a historical fiction novel that takes place during the Revolutionary War. The story is told by Tim Meeker. Tim Meeker is a young boy who helps his parents at their tavern and looks up to his older brother Sam. Sam Meeker is a college student at Yale and is expected to have a bright future ahead of him. One day, he comes home from college and brings home the news that he has decided to enlist in the army to fight in the war. Not only is he fighting in the war but he is also fighting on the patriots side while the rest of his family and his town he lives in are loyalists. Sam and his father argue and their family is tearing apart. Now Tim must decide who to side with, his brother he looks up to, or his father he has obeyed for his whole life.

My Brother Sam Is Dead uses a lot of accurate historical elements making the story clear to understand. I ended up really liking this book. I was never really interested in historical fiction when I was younger but I guess my taste had changed. The characterization of each character was unique with Tim being unsure of his and everyone’s decisions and Sam being ambitious and righteous. The character development through Tim showed a boy who grew up. At the beginning he was a child but throughout the years, he had to grow up and fill other people’s shoes to help himself and his family. 

The characters I really liked were Father and Tim. Father was strict on his kids but there were parts in the book that showed he was still human and he could hurt. He cared about his family and just wanted them to be safe and happy. Tim was childish and wanted to prove himself but as he grew he became like his father filling his role. Tim became independent and successful by the end of the story, and lived his life.

I liked My Brother Sam Is Dead. I hadn’t expected much from this book but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it was a school required book, I had fun reading it and had some slight emotional moments in some parts of the story. I would definitely recommend this book to those who like historical fiction and even to those who don’t. 

-Nicole R.

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

A Night Divided By Jennifer Nielsen

A Night Divided is a historical fiction book based on the event of the Berlin Wall, and is about a girl name Gerta. Who one day gets separated from her father and brother by the wall. Gerta has grown to dislike the East and instead think of it like a prison. One day as she was heading towards school, she see’s her dad preforming a dance and takes it as a sign to escape. So her and her other brother Fritz work on digging a secret tunnel. I just finished reading a night divided and I must say it was an amazing story to follow along to. It contains, a a heart warming lesson, along with an action plot story line.

This book showed a new perspective of how much the effect of war ending can still effect the people. Not only do we experience new insight we learn more about East Germany and its laws and restrictions. I especially loved how divers the characters personality’s were and that they weren’t just side characters but also had their own life’s and troubles. I enjoyed the organization and flow of the story. It wasn’t predictable, and had intertwining events that showed the characters thoughts.

Overall, this is a enjoyable yet deep and meaningful book, containing facts about the event of the Berlin wall and East Germany. The story is filled with an exciting and suspenseful journey. The characters are well written and memorable, with a fun story line that is easy to follow. I liked how all the characters and elements came together to form a likable book. This book has definitely become one of my favorites and I recommend this to anyone who is interested in this genre.

-Caitlyn Y.

A Night Divided By Jennifer Nielsen is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

A book truly unlike any other I’ve read.

After seeing this historical fiction-meets-romance book on TikTok (surprise, surprise) I decided to pick up a copy and see what the hype was all about. Not only did The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo tremendously exceed my expectations, but it has become one of my favorite reads of all time.

The book features the biography of the fictional character Evelyn Hugo, one of the greatest actresses of all time. Hugo is known for having seven husbands (hence the title), and delves into every detail of each relationship she had and the lessons she learned from each one. Each relationship Evelyn had with a different husband was dynamic and unique, and blended together to form the story of Evelyn’s life.

Throughout the novel, Reid delivers a style of writing unlike any other I’ve read before. Each chapter ends with a level of finesse and witty elegance that seriously had me grinning ear to ear in utter awe. Even as someone who is not a historical fiction fan, this book was so phenomenal that I somehow managed to finish all 400 pages in a single day!

I have no real critiques on this incredible must-read book, and would recommend it to anyone I know. Needless to say, Taylor Jenkins Reid has outdone herself with this one.

-Anusha M.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download 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.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter, a historical romance written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is known as an American Classic. 

It begins with a narration to the reader, a token of awareness and readiness to start the tale. In addition, the description of the prison suggests that the exposition will either begin or end with this as its conclusion. Nonetheless, the first few chapters serve to build upon atmosphere, symbolism, and the emergence of theme (which I’ll mention often throughout this review). 

To sum up what first occurs in The Scarlet Letter, Hester, our main character, is accused of adultery and is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her bosom. As Hester begins to adapt to this reality, she wonders about the value, weight, and depth of sin. In other words, she questions whether she’s the only “sinner” in town, as she concludes that she can’t be the only one to have ever been ungodly. Thus, Hawthorne awakens the need to call out religion’s insincere role and the impact it has on communities. 

Moreover, Hester births a daughter as a result of the affair; Pearl. This newborn, described as “elf-like” by the narrator, is a symbol that takes an important role. As Hester stands charged with an unholy crime, Pearl is hence a product of that “sin.” Therefore, she is another representation of the “A” that is woven into Hester’s clothes, a more intimate, organic consequence derived from Hester’s mistake. Furthermore, Hawthorne points out that though Pearl acts with an appropriate demeanor as anyone her age (rambunctious and childish), her actions are “defiled” by the perspective that she’s a demon, a misdeed due to her mother.  

A quote that carries great elements of figurative language is somewhat in the middle of the rising action, when Hester takes Pearl to the town’s church leaders in order to convince them not to seize her daughter. As she waits for them to address her, the narrator notes that “the shadow of the curtain fell on Hester Prynne, and partially concealed her” (102). It’s implicit to readers that they should be able to make a connection between Hester’s sin and what the “shadow” from the curtain could mean – a form of taint within her, driven by human imperfection and fault. As a result, such examples illuminate Hawthorne’s ability to craft not just specific scenes, but also the smallest details that have a chance to foreshadow what’s to come next. 

I would also like to take a quick note on the language used, which can have an impact on a reader’s perspective of the era. To illustrate, phrases such as “thee” and “thy” hint at old English, those which were common in Shakespeare and in poems similar to Beowulf. Therefore, take the time to make sure this doesn’t make a major difference on your experience; if it does, re-read certain passages or write short annotations as possible interpretations of what’s addressed, said, or argued. 

Thus, The Scarlet Letter’s conclusion, though not the most fortunate, is one of redemption, and demonstrates that characters and readers alike can learn from mistakes within the consequences that impact our futures. Thence, coupled with Hawthorne’s expertise and style, allows this text to serve as a book worth its time. 

-Emilia D.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel: Reid, Taylor Jenkins:  9781501139239: Amazon.com: Books

Around ten pages into The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, it became my favorite book. 

I started this book after seeing it around everywhere, and so many people talking about it. Previously, I read another Taylor Jenkins Reid book—Daisy Jones & the Six, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. So, after finding out The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was another Taylor Jenkins Reid book, I took others’ advice and picked it up.

It wasn’t what I expected at all. In the best way possible. 

My initial thoughts prior to reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was that—it was just going to be another typical romance novel, with shallow characters and a plotline that I won’t be able to get myself into—even after seeing the book around so much. However, I was quickly proven wrong. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has a handful of tropes that I absolutely love reading about with drama or romance novels—found family, rivals-to-lovers, lavender marriages, and most importantly… The representation in this book was amazing. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has a unique way of telling its story—it’s a story within a story. The book is a biography written by one of the story’s main characters—Monique. She’s a writer, who was recently divorced and is going through a difficult period of her life. She wants to be writing pieces that mean something to her, yet, she’s stuck writing fluff pieces for a magazine she does not want to work for anymore. To much surprise, she’s picked by Evelyn Hugo, a famous actress who reached her peak in popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, to write her biography. She agrees to write it, and the story switches from present to past. 

The story focuses on Evelyn Hugo’s rise to fame, and her stories with all her seven husbands. But truly, the real love story here is her 50 year long relationship with a fellow actress, Celia St. James. 

I didn’t expect for her to have this relationship prior to reading this book, considering it was about… her seven husbands… but the moment I knew about Celia, I started loving this book. 

But even so, the book is so much more than just romance. It tells Evelyn’s struggles in her past, and the way she did almost anything to rise to fame and get out of her horrible community in New York. She made it to Hollywood by herself, and made a name for herself—she is a truly powerful and beautiful woman. In addition, the story also follows Harry Cameron, her best and truest friend. 

I absolutely adored the friendship between the two of them. At first, they started out as mere acquaintances—until it came to the point where they both realized that they would die for each other. Each of them kept each other’s secrets—that Harry was gay, and that Evelyn was in love with Celia. They were friends until the end, and the found family the two of them created was completely heartwarming as well as refreshing. Too often, I always read about male/female characters who almost always get into relationships, without the relationship making any sense whatsoever. It’s so important that platonic love gets introduced more and more into mainstream media, as well as the idea that people can be soulmates without it being romantic—which was definitely Harry and Evelyn’s case. 

Evelyn and Celia were also such a refreshing couple to follow. They started off as rivals, both starring in a movie where each of them wanted the main role. The two of them made a deal when they first met—Celia would teach Evelyn how to act, since Celia was better, and Evelyn would help Celia become more popular. Over a few years, the two of them got closer and closer, until they became a couple. 

Unfortunately, this was during the 50s/60s, and homophobia was definitely more rampant during this time than today. The two of them had to hide their relationship for over 50 years, and it was only when Monique published Evelyn’s biography that their relationship—as well as the fact that Evelyn was bisexual—was made known to the public. They were completely loving, caring, and supportive of one another. Although they argued, mostly over the fact that Celia wanted to love Evelyn in public, and that Evelyn wanted to stay a secret to not hurt Celia’s career, they were completely in love with each other. If you compare Evelyn’s love for Celia to all her other husbands, none of them come close. Celia St. James was her one true love, as Evelyn put it. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo became my favorite book so quickly, it caught me off guard. It was a wonderful blend of found family, finding yourself, and learning to love yourself and others. I felt like I grew with Evelyn, and I definitely was able to relate to her and Celia so many times throughout the book. Evelyn struggles with the same things I do, and it almost felt as if I was being seen by her. Whenever I feel like that when reading a book, I know it’s going to be one of my favorites. For The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, it became my absolute favorite book.

– Claire C.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library and can be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Jessie Burton: The Miniaturist

Every woman is the architect of her own fortune.

The Miniaturist, written by Jessie Burton, begins with a conclusion, which sets the scene for some confusion, though is soon explained over time. Furthermore, although the prologue is written aside from the rest of the book, it is, nonetheless, significant. 

Burton writes The Miniaturist in present tense, which is suitable for the storyline. Plus, as most modern literature is written in past tense, this difference plays a major role in the enjoyment of the work. In hindsight, the tense chosen intensifies tension, depth, and pace. It feels as though you read “a movie,” with each scene similar to that of an act, a continuous moment of time. 

Now, onto its plot. Nella (our main character) is an outsider. Johannes, her husband, doesn’t seem to have much interest in her. Marin, his sister, is distinct and stern, a woman in charge rather than complicit. Their servants (Cornelia and Otto), too, are more open and harsh than the average servants/maids. Though only when Johannes gives her a replica of their home does she somewhat feel accepted. However, even then Nella confronts trouble, for as soon as she takes interest in ‘the miniaturist’ (a craftsman who creates miniatures), an unknown woman begins to watch her, as though she weren’t there. 

Later, when Johannes comes to the decision to take Nella to a feast at the Guild of the Silversmiths, Nella must confront her vulnerabilities, together with the tension and competition aroused by other traders. In addition, a notable confrontation occurs in this scene; Nella meets the Meermans, who have tasked Johannes with the storage and sale of their sugar. As the Meermans have a supercilious nature (which is soon shown in their behavior, dialogue, etc), further questions emerge, those which at first have no answers. 

I must take note of the major twists that happen throughout the book, some of which might seem uncomfortable to some readers. Therefore, make sure you’re fine with topics such as marriage, race, servitude, illicit romance, etc. They’re important to the storyline and atmosphere! 

That takes me to a theme I’d like to go into. A portion of the book is dedicated to what it means to be a wife, as Nella finds a hard time fitting into her role (I won’t explain – it’d be a spoiler!). In the process, she questions the necessity of childbirth and the hidden potentials she has as a woman; talents and opportunities she’s missed because of the church’s (and society’s) view of women. Though this is a common theme, it’s a nice refresher to have every now and again, notably because parts of it are quite prevalent to modern times. 

One aspect I admire is its ability to make us examine. For example, the suspense and distrust between newer and older characters is never rushed, off-kilter, or unreasonable. In fact, its stable pace makes room for realism, characters that behave and act as we might, even if the era and context varies from our own. It’s a rare and difficult element to integrate, but one that, at length, drives this work to be a (possible) classic. 

In short, The Miniaturist warns to handle misfortune with caution, as it might lead to continuous trouble … 

-Emilia D.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free on Overdrive.

Book Review: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I recently finished the book Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and fell in love with Reid’s writing. The book tells the story of first, a band called The Six and a girl by the name of Daisy Jones. Living separate lives trying to make it on the music scene in Hollywood during the 60s, the two groups collide to create a joint band.

The story is told in the format of an interview that takes place long after the band has split due to circumstances you find out as you continue reading. As you read the book, you get to hear about the beginning, middle, and end of the band from their own perspective. The story dives into issues of the 60s and how they impacted the band on their way to success. 

Reid is very good at putting you into the book. She is able to create a space where readers can become one with the band and the way they write, and oftentimes why they write the music in the novel. One of my favorite parts is the end of the book, after the last chapter and epilogue, shares the lyrics for a multitude of the songs that are sung by the band on tours. 

Reid also writes the characters very real. They’re not written like many books or TV shows where the characters are perfect and can do no wrong. In Daisy Jones & The Six, the characters make mistakes and own up to them. This was one of my favorite aspects of the book. I recommend this book to anyone who loves music, or wants to dive into an entirely different world. The interview format that this book takes allows people to feel almost like they’re watching a documentary about these fictional characters. Reid with Daisy Jones & The Six is able to create a beautiful story about the struggles of making it in the music industry when you don’t always take the easy path.

-Danielle B.

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies

Studio Ghibli is a film franchise globally known for its popular movies, such as Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro. Compared to other animation studios like Disney or Pixar, Studio Ghibli creates memorable movies with plots that surpass the typical hero’s journey or romance trope. With a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Grave of the Fireflies isn’t an average film. It leaves viewers with a long-lasting emotional experience; one cannot even fathom its beauty, especially since its drawn entirely by hand. The movie is terribly sad and ends with a bittersweet ending, albeit its simple story moves viewers to tears and reveals nothing but the tragic, cruel truth of war.

Made in 1988 by film director Isao Takahata, the movie depicts a story of two Japanese siblings, Setsuko (age 4) and Seita (age 14), living in the midst of World War II. After surviving a U.S. bombing in Kobe, Japan, and becoming orphans, they move into their aunt’s house. With a staggering family relationship, the siblings decide to leave the house and find their own place. Unfortunately, living progressively becomes more difficult; as food grows scarce and less people are willing to help them, the struggle for survival grows stronger and their will to live diminishes. The movie is based on the novel titled Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka, conveying a recollection of the author’s own experiences before, during, and after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945.

To begin with, the art style is extremely detailed; every drawing depicts something new, with different emotions drawn out from each event. Viewers are able to understand the characters’ thoughts and feelings simply through facial features. Each background drawn has clear details that bring life and realism. The plot and method of storytelling is well-thought out, intertwining artistic and literary beauty. To elaborate more would spoil some of the movie, but the plot often shifts between its beginning and conclusion, reaching a midpoint at the movie’s end. Even though the characters don’t explain much and the plot can seem drawn out at times, every small event builds up to one meaningful, heart-throbbing ending.

What I most enjoy about this movie is its message; the perspective of watching two children suffering is difficult enough to bear, but it teaches the audience about war’s negative impacts, of how many innocent lives are harmed by another group’s disagreements. In reality, the movie was not made to entertain–it was made to inform, to warn others about the consequences of violence. As a result, there’s no honor or glory; those who truly suffer are the ones who were never part of the conflict.

The personal impact of this story is often too difficult to put into words. In a mix of both horrid and beautiful scenes, each holding its own meaningful touch to the story, Grave of the Fireflies is a movie that’s been underrated and forgotten for years. And yet, once you watch it, even if it’s just once, it’s difficult to forget.

– Natisha P.

Grave of the Fireflies is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead is a Newberry award-winning novel by Avi. The story is set in medieval England.  The main character is an unnamed peasant boy.  His mother Asta is his only relation, so he is known simply as “Asta’s son.”  Life is difficult for him, especially under the command of John Aycliffe.  Aycliffe is a steward watching over Stromford Village while Lord Furnival is away.  Aycliffe is cruel and ruthless.  He accuses Asta’s son of a theft that he did not commit.  Forced to flee for his life, Asta’s son must escape the village.  Before the boy embarks on his journey, a priest finally reveals to him his name: Crispin.

I enjoyed this book. I found it to be fast-paced and enthralling.  I especially liked a character Crispin meets in his travels, named “Bear.”  Bear is a large, portly juggler who compels Crispin to become his assistant.  I liked how Crispin’s trust and friendship with Bear grew as they were pursued by Crispin’s assailants.  Crispin trying to avoid the people who accused him of theft was very exciting.  As a fugitive, he must keep moving to new places, which gave the book an adventurous and exhilarating feel.

I have also read the sequel to Crispin, and I look forward to reading the third book in the series.  The Newberry award seems well-deserved. The characters are well-developed and the story is quite gripping. Crispin is a fugitive throughout the book and his life is in constant danger.  I was excited to learn about Crispin’s true identity. I would definitely recommend this book.

-Oliver H.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.