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.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins is a phenomenal book depicting the harsh life of 60s Hollywood Superstar, Evelyn Hugo. It’s a beautiful historical fiction, perfect for fans of old Hollywood icons. It’s plotline of scandals and fame are similar to those such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and even Anna Nicole Smith. If you recognize any of those names, this book will probably be your new ride or die.

Retired and tucked away from the public, Evelyn Hugo offers a once in a lifetime opportunity: A personal interview after decades of silence. This decision especially sends shockwaves when Evelyn chooses none other than Monique Grant for the job. Even though Monique is an underqualified small writer working at Vivant, Evelyn will accept only her. Monique accepts thinking this might be a huge break in her career and a distraction from her ongoing divorce.

Meeting Evelyn Hugo, one of Hollywood’s most treasured stars, is intimidating. She is a woman of beauty and charm. Known for her eye catching figure, gorgeous blonde hair, and killer eye brows. She was the 60’s IT girl. But time has taken it’s toll and Evelyn means business. Evelyn announces to Monique two things. First, this interview is actually for Monique to write a tell-all memoir about Evelyn’s life. No secrets, no lies, and any money made from the book will be Monique’s. Secondly, only Monique can know about it and it can only be released after Evelyn’s death. Unsure, Monique warily agrees and the story of Evelyn Hugo finally unravels.

The book immediately switches narratives to Evelyn and we see a the young thirteen year old, Evelyn Herrera. She is a gorgeous brunette Cuban girl living in a poor area of New York. Evelyn is also plagued with the burden of a dead mother and a deadbeat father. Spending years unhappy, she craves to escape and live out her dreams of being an actress. By age fifteen, Evelyn meets Ernie Diaz, a young man moving to California for work. Using her body and wits to her advantage, Evelyn manipulates poor Ernie Diaz into marrying her.

Everyday, Evelyn would sit at a popular café, while Ernie worked. Celebrities were known to eat there and eventually she was spotted by famous producer, Harry Cameron. From there here life rapidly changes. After manipulating numerous wealthy men and rebuilding her image. A gorgeous blonde, Evelyn Hugo is introduced to the world.

She beings to learn the industry overtime and chase her dreams. But sadly, it comes with a price. With Evelyn remarrying and divorcing for countless reasons. As while as struggling to find her own happiness through fame and the public eye. She becomes one of the most complex and human character, I have ever read. Even though, Evelyn isn’t written to be likeable or heroic with the book even stating, that she realizes she is a horrible person. I can’t help but relate to her vulnerability and bond with the beautiful writing. Her journey and the people she meets are so well written, that I was brought to tears.

Evelyn, even after her seven marriages, chases after her greatest love. A love which is forbidden, as this book tells of societal standards and sexualities. It teaches you, the meaning of love and it’s many forms. Your greatest love. Your purest love. Your motherly love. This book was an absolute heartbreaker. Grab your tissues and be prepared to stay up well past 3 am, because this is just a glimpse into the glamourous life of Evelyn Hugo. (Recommended 16+)

– Ashley Y.

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.

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

My Brother Sam Is Dead by Christopher CollierJames Lincoln Collier |  Scholastic
This is the cover of the book My Brother Sam is Dead

My Brother Sam is Dead is a historical fiction novel that takes place from 1775 to 1779. This book is all about the Revolutionary War and how it impacted the daily lives of those living in the Colonies. The story revolves around a young boy named Tim Meeker, and his brother Sam. Sam believes in the Patriots and longs for freedom from England, while Tim, being the ripe age of 12, is not quite so sure.

As the story progresses, It becomes painstakingly clear how difficult war makes life for the innocent. With the growing gap between Tim’s father and brother and Tim’s growing curiosity, this gorgeous tale evolves into something deeper than just a book. As the economy falls and hardship after hardship is forced upon the Meeker family, Collier and Collier make it apparent as to how they feel about war.

This story touched me deeply. After I finished, my whole perspective on the war changed, which is what I think the authors wanted. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a short but deep read. It is truly astonishing how much a book can impact us.

– Apoorvi S:)

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.

Girl in The Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

I can truly say that there are only some books in this world that simply makes the reader sit in shock once they’ve finished the novel. I can also truly say that Girl in The Blue Coat is one of those books. Written by Monica Hesse, who won the Edgar Award for the best young adult mystery novel, Girl in The Blue Coat takes place during the 1940s, where a Dutch girl named Hanneke manages to survive World War II off of delivering black-market goods to customers. Still recovering from the death of her boyfriend, one of her clients, Mrs. Janssen, begs Hanneke to find a missing Jewish girl the client’s been hiding. Hanneke soon gets pulled into a web of mysteries that slowly unfolds as the novel progresses.

This book is well-crafted down to the finest details, creating a novel that shocks readers in the way every mystery novel should. All of the characters felt so realistic; they had flaws of their own, some aspects that make readers question what they value. Yet that’s what makes them human. The novel revolves mostly about how people often make mistakes in their lives which lead to regret, but also about courage and friendship. These real human values are what largely connects readers to the story. Through these characters actions, both good and bad, many understand and share their own emotions. Hesse beautifully portrays how humans often make mistakes, how they regret those mistakes, and how they learn to let go of those regrets.

As for the book’s plot, it’s honestly rare to find a book as addicting and unique to read. Monica Hesse manages to cleverly put twists and turns throughout the story to keep readers entertained. In the ending, rather than a perfect resolution, the author even leaves some issues unresolved for the readers to analyze themselves. The layers of plots that overlap each other were never overwhelming, and actually turned the novel into an emotional rollercoaster of events. The chaos of the war along with the character’s own problems that intertwine together makes the novel even more worthy for a read.

To be honest, I had a sea of emotions once I finished the book. This remarkable story truly speaks to its readers in the most realistic way possible. For any fans of historical fiction or even mystery novels, Girl in The Blue Coat will never disappoint.

– Natisha P.

Girl in The Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Angels & Demons: A Novel (Hardcover) | Tattered Cover Book Store

When CERN director Maximilian Kohler discovers the dead body of his top physicist, Leonardo Vetra, in his secure lab, branded with the dreadful Illuminati ambigram symbol, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon’s world is turned upside down. Traveling to Switzerland, Langdon realizes that the Illuminati, a secret society long thought disbanded, is actually alive and well, and have only one assignment to fulfill – the complete annihilation of the Catholic Church and Vatican City.

Together, Langdon and Vetra’s adopted daughter Vittoria must race to locate a deadly sample of antimatter taken from the late Vetra’s lab. To make matters worse, unless Langdon and Vittoria successfully track down the stolen antimatter, and Vetra’s killer, before the clock strikes midnight, not only will Vatican City explode, due to the recent death of the Pope, every major figure of the Catholic Church will perish along with the Vatican.

On a race against time, Langdon and Vittoria must follow the path laid by the ancient Illuminati members centuries ago, in the hopes of saving lives as they do it. However, the closer the two get to the final showdown, the higher the stakes are raised, and the more danger they find themselves embroiled in.

Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons is a definite read for fans of real historical facts interwoven with heart-racing action scenes and mystery theme elements. Fans of The Da Vinci Code will certainly enjoy the first chronicle of Langdon’s adventures.

-Mahak M.

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is an educating, eye-opening novel about two sisters, Pearl and May, whose unbreakable bond is put to the test as they leave their war-torn home of Shanghai, China, and immigrate to the United States.

In 1937 Shanghai, which Pearl refers to as the Paris of Asia, the sisters are accustomed to a luxurious life of wealth and extravagance. Pearl and May even pose as ‘beautiful girls’ for calendars and magazine advertisements, defying what it means to be a traditional Chinese young woman, much to their mother’s dismay. One night, as Pearl and May are getting ready for an evening of fun and partying, they receive terrible news from their parents: their father has gambled away their wealth.

Consequently, their father sells the girls as brides to a man by the name of Mr. Louie, who is journeying with his wife and two sons to America to find opportunity. Pearl and May do everything they can to avoid leaving with Mr. Louie and his sons, Sam and Vern, and even miss the boat they are supposed to be traveling on. The girls realize this was the wrong decision, however, as more bombs fall on Shanghai and the second Sino-Japanese war continues to ensue. Pearl, May, and their mother flee Shanghai to Hong Kong in hopes they can catch a ship to San Francisco. Unfortunately, before they are able to board the ship, their mother dies, and Pearl and May are forced to be strong enough to endure the long journey by themselves.

When Pearl and May finally arrive in America, they encounter Angel Island, an immigration station, where they are interviewed vigorously by government officials to see if they are spies. Pearl and May stay at Angel Island for a significant amount of time, and eventually, Pearl realizes May has been answering the questions in her interviews incorrectly. When Pearl asks her why she has been doing this, May tells her she is pregnant. This news shocks Pearl and she knows she must protect her sister and stall their time on Angel Island so she can have her baby in America. Pearl and May decide that Pearl should take the baby, Joy, as her own child. Once they leave Angel Island, Pearl and May head to Chinatown to find their new family. Almost immediately upon their arrival, Pearl and May begin to work at Mr. Louie’s shops and formulate a plan to earn enough money so that they can run away and start their own, independent life. These plans change quickly, though, when Pearl and May discover that Sam is a paper son, and the only legitimate son of Mr. Louie is Vern.

After hearing this news, Pearl and May decide not to run away and realize their new family is trying their best to build a new, successful life in Los Angeles, and they need all the help they can get. As Joy continues to grow, the conflict between Pearl and May starts to form. This conflict only deepens when Pearl gets pregnant and loses her baby, realizing she will never be able to have children. The United States’ suspicion of the Communist movement in China also adds to this familial controversy, and as Joy grows older, she begins to fall in love with communist ideals. Joy’s suspicious activities result in the government finding out her father is a paper son, and she flees the country out of guilt. Pearl plans to follow after her, and the book ends with her plan to go save her daughter. 

-Adriana A.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie

Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie - Agatha Christie

One of Agatha Christie’s only historical mystery novels, Death Comes as the End is set in 2000 BC in ancient Egypt, one of the singular civilizations that nearly valued death over life. At the bottom of a cliff in the city of Thebes lies the broken body of Nofret, concubine to a ka-priest, whose beautiful face was a harsh contrast to the venomous words that came out of her mouth, causing all who met her to hate her with a passion.

Though Nofret’s death is easily written off as an accident, Renisenb, the priest’s daughter, finds herself suspecting something more behind the tragedy. Increasingly, she becomes convinced that the source of evil is not an external spirit or force exacting revenge, but present within her own household.

As members of her family continue to die in “accidents,” Renisenb, her friend Hori, and her grandmother Esa must race against time to discover the true killer, before they, too, find themselves on the boat of Ra…

Beginning with a lighthearted tone, Death Comes as the End gradually descends into the darkness of a family surrounded by fear with no escape in sight. However, Christie also brings her experience in writing mysteries to the table by delving into the psychology of murder, which, far from being boring, serves as a yet another plot element leading up to the shocking, unseen conclusion.

Overall, Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie is a fantastic read, and all fans of the Queen of Mystery should be sure to read it.

-Mahak M.

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie can be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak

As a lover of historical fiction books, this novel always caught my eye when I passed by the shelves of the library, but I never looked into it because I assumed the book would be generic and clique. Recent famous novels I’ve read tend to follow the same plot line and character development, so most readers are not surprised by the ending. However, The Book Thief, written by Mark Zusak, an Australian writer who won the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2014, has created a classic that lives up to its recognition, taking an interesting perspective on such a well known historical event. It dives deeper into the heart of World War 2, pushing the novel further through the contradictory and questionable actions of the human race.

Beginning on a train in the 1940s, the main character, Liesel Meminger witnesses the death of her younger brother on their way to Molching, Germany, where she meets her new foster parents. Throughout the story, Liesel grows as a character, unfolding the cruel reality of Hitler and his treatment of Jews and how it ties to her own story, thus encouraging her to write and steal books as an act of rebellion against the Nazis. The book grows through her normal life in Germany, yet slowly intertwines with history in a compelling manner. The main character witnesses the intimate, loving interactions between friends and family, but also the aggressive actions of others blinded by propaganda.

Compared to other historical fiction novels, Zusak provides readers another viewpoint on a historical event many are aware of, making readers acknowledge the other side of the war. The book makes us question ourselves and the validity of our opinions. For example, most believe all Germans were villainous because a majority were Nazi members, but there’s still a good portion of Germans that value all human life. Generally speaking, all of them are still just the same as we are; some were innocent children, others were working middle class jobs, many still wanted to live. But most importantly, what right do we have to villainize them if we don’t even feel sympathy or compassion in return? Zusak was able to brilliantly create a novel, who’s plots and underlying meanings create a puzzle–readers just have to put it together.

Despite the grand amount of pages, The Book Thief should be read slowly and carefully; every page has their own meaning and the slow pace builds up suspense to make the book a worthy read. Also, all of the characters are lovable and reveal their own flaws as humans. Overall, the author made it extremely unique, including a mixture of metaphors, imagery, and specifically, the humanistic characterization of Death. The context of the book was surprisingly poetic, even as it jumped to different passages of time. Zusak wrote a marvelous, emotional story as an ode to humanity itself, a tale that tugs at readers’ heartstrings in ways words can’t even describe.

-Natisha P.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: 9780593198025 ...

Little Women is a novel written by Louisa May Alcott and first published in 1868.

The novel was an autobiographical family ethics novel set in the American Civil War and based on the life’s trifles of four sisters in an ordinary family in New England in the 19th century. Influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great thinker of the time, the novel emphasizes the concept of personal dignity, independence and self-discipline. The content is simple but exquisite; the structure is simple but profound, full of strong appeal. Little Women is a semi-autobiographical novel with female characters and feminist consciousness.

During the American Civil War, Mr. March went to war as a chaplain, and his four daughters and their mother lived a poor but strong and optimistic life at home. They were poor, but willing to help their neighbors, the Hummels, who needed help more than they did. Women have vanity; they want to get beautiful clothes, eat delicious food, live like a princess. Although full of fantasy, in real life, they use their own efforts to solve the various difficulties in life. The eldest daughter, Meg, is beautiful by nature and full of longing for love; the second daughter, Jo, was independent and determined to be a writer; the third daughter, Beth, is the traditional good girl, weak and lovable. The youngest daughter, Amy, loves painting. The story follows these four women as they grow from girls into little women, recounting their unruly experiences and respective pursuit of different ideals and the processing of finding their true self.

The reason why the four March sisters, who are the true, the good and the beautiful, have such qualities as kindness, diligence, selflessness, tolerance and toughness cannot be separated from Mrs. March’s excellent education. Parents are their children’s first teachers, and there is no doubt that Mrs. March is an excellent teacher. She is generous, ready to help others, not easily angry, and grateful for life. In the eyes of the children, she is not only a good mother, but also their best friend. They liked to confide their worries to Mrs. March, who gave them good advice and help. It is because of Mrs. March’s unique family education that the four sisters became little women loved by everyone. Consequently, the courageous images of women in this book touch the heartstrings of numerous female readers.

-Coreen C.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

“They took me in my nightgown.”

Like Moby Dick’s “Call me Ishmael,” a book’s opening line sets more than just the tone of the story. It humanizes a character, as it is the first introduction of the reader into a new world. And Sepetys demonstrates the striking quality of a few words in the first line of Between Shades of Gray. She narrates the fragile account of a persecuted 15-year-old Lithuanian girl and the story of an unmendable world falling apart.

Lina Vilkas was preparing to attend art school. In an already dark world, Lina looked up to the iconic Edvard Munch for inspiration in her sketches. She, alongside her mother and younger brother, was taken by the Soviet secret police and is introduced to the never-ending gruesome reality of a world ruled by the Stalinist administration. As Lina, her mother, and her brother struggle to survive in the cold labor camp, the syntax of writing seemingly wavers as well. Slowly, pictures of their previous lives in Lithuania appear across the pages, in italicized flashbacks.

Sepetys’ writing intertwines the feeling of a coming-of-age story, though constantly in juxtaposition to perpetual starvation, sickness, and loss. Well deserving of recognition as a #1 New York Times Bestselling author, Sepetys artistically crafts each anecdote, putting indescribable meaning to trivial occurrences, like the gaze from a loved one. It was reminiscent of the timeless Don McLean song, “Vincent” (“Starry Starry Night”). Between Sepetys’ use of language and Lina’s connection to Edward Munch, I found myself constantly paralleling the song to the story. As Vincent Van Gogh painted from his cell in a mental hospital in his final days, he tried to see the beauty in the bitter world. Similarly, I feel as though Lina would also find solace in this song, as the only way she can express herself is through her sketches in the snow, on the tree bark, or on the final pages in her notebook.

Ruta Sepetys composes a devastatingly realistic through the pages of “Between Shades of Gray.” I highly recommend the read, and I look forward to exploring more of her works, especially in the era of the Second World War.

-Maya S.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.