The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

An outlier from the usual fairy-tale-based fiction, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a unique, compelling book with twenty-first century references and a search for a mysterious, magical wood. Both the title and the cover intrigued me into picking up the book. I read the synopsis, which also seemed intriguing. But when I began to read, I was pulled into a story that I hadn’t quite anticipated–though it was still quite intriguing.

I’ve found that most books based on fairy tales have the protagonist enter the fairy tale world within the first half of the book (if they aren’t there already). However, The Hazel Wood is not based mainly in the fairy tale world, but on a search to find it. The novel begins similarly to a realistic fiction novel with a main character named Alice Proserpine. She and her mother, Vanella (Ella), are constantly on the road, moving from town to town. Alice lives with an unease; her memories seem off, as if she doesn’t fully fit into the world.

Unsettling events seems to follow the mother and daughter. Alice doesn’t know why, but she does know that her mother refuses to speak about her mother–Alice’s grandmother–Althea Proserpine.

Althea Proserpine is the reclusive author of the book of fairy tales Tales from the Hinterland. It’s a difficult book to get a copy of, but its fans are extreme. Alice has never been allowed to read the book, and has only snuck in a few lines from a story called “Alice Three-Times”.

When Alice’s mother receives a letter saying that Althea has passed away, she seems to relax. However, just when she marries and they finally slow down, Ella disappears. Alice, who has been struggling with going to a school full of rich kids (her step-father lives in a rich neighborhood and was able to find her a place in the school), must take on the much larger problem of finding her mother. She and an extreme fan of her grandmother’s stories named Ellery Finch begin a search for Althea’s estate, the Hazel Wood, which is just the place where Ella ordered Alice not to go.

During their search, Ellery and Alice notice characters from Tales from the Hinterland who have somehow left their world, and Ellery tells Alice parts of Althea’s stories, which are horrific and evil and not at all happily-ending.

Sprinkled with references to our popular culture, The Hazel Wood takes place mostly in the modern world, and is understandable for a young adult audience. I liked how Melissa Albert uniquely did not embellish the story with unrealistic romance or happy endings, which made the story more realistic: Alice’s stepsister is not ugly or really unkind to her, not everyone leaves the Hazel Wood, and the protagonists of some fairy tales are evil.

The Hazel Wood is a wonderful book to read if you are searching for a non-cliché young adult novel that puts an eerie spin on fairy tales.

– Mia T.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

In my opinion, Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna was one of my favorite reads this summer. I’ve been pretty content to say that my summer reading list has been comprised of some pretty awesome (for a lack of a better word) books, but this combination of a mystery and thriller book blew me away.

When you first realize the plot, it’s not the most exciting one in the world (not that it stays that way). Not one like Harry Potter, where you find out about Hogwarts, and the next second, everyone’s flying on broomsticks, and you really envied all those magical children out there that were casting spells and you were sitting at home reading about them. No, Two Girls Down is a whole other story.

The story is centered around two sisters, Kylie and Bailey Brandt, and their mother, Jamie Brandt. The story started off at an intriguing pace, leaving me turning the pages hastily to keep up. I was hooked from the very beginning. I loved how the author developed her characters right off the bat, letting everyone know the sister’s similarities and yet quite noticeable differences, too. This would become essential later in the story.

Things are pretty average at the beginning of the story. The two girls’ mother, Jamie, is leading a not-so-perfect-with-a-cherry-on-top life, but she manages. Their father left them a long time ago, claiming not to have the time or energy to raise two young girls. But one day, Jamie’s world shatters and tumbles into a whirlwind of chaos as her beloved daughters, Kylie and Bailey, vanish underneath her very eyes.

The girls are last seen in the parking lot of a mall, where Jamie left them to go shopping for a gift for Kylie’s friend’s birthday. When she gets back, no traces of them remain, and she begins to become frantic.

But here, in shining armor, rise the heroines of the thriller. A very, very unlikely pair. A retired officer named Max Caplan, and a former bounty hunter, Alice Vega, brought together by strange events that could only be the doing of fate, put aside their differences and share their knowledge with each other on a wild chase from town to town, desperate to find the missing girls.

Alice Vega proved to be someone who worked in a solitary way, not needing accomplices or friends, but a tough, hardened woman who could fight life’s problems on her own. But she realizes that she could have never fight alone again after meeting Max Caplan, who proves to be a kind, more logical figure in the mystery. It was one of the weirdest crime fighting pairs I’d ever read about, but once I started, they quickly rose to one of my favorites. They balanced each other out so well, and I really enjoyed the way the author chose to incorporate that.

To read the novel was like being a detective on your own part. I felt fully immersed while reading, feeling the pair’s frustration, their anger and pain, their sorrow throughout the journey (all while I sat motionless on my couch and my eyes burned holes into the pages). My heart pounded when fight scenes emerged, and later, sighing in disappointment as different leads fell away.

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who’s wanted to read a mystery thriller, because I think it’s truly exceptional. I would have never guessed the ending, since the author gave nothing away. The leads and evidence tied together so perfectly in such an intricate fashion that I was never tempted to put the book down, even after I read it twice. I promise, you won’t be disappointed by this read!

-Katherine L.

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Turtles all the Way Down, a novel by John Green, tells the story of a teenage girl named Aza who struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. After one day becoming involved in the search for a fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, she is reunited with an old childhood friend: who happens to be the aforementioned billionaire’s son. Despite the search for Pickett taking the spotlight as the guiding force of this powerful novel, the resulting work of fiction depicts a battle with mental illness sharpened by author’s personal struggles with OCD.

As Aza balances her fear of the human microbe, school, a budding relationship, and a criminal hunt, she begins to discover that in her own struggles, she has withdrawn from the world around her. The entire work highlights the value of life, much in the way past John Green novels tend to do. However, Turtles all the Way Down stands out from the rest of Green’s work. It obviously rings with his unique writing style and emotionally moving qualities, but also coursing through the veins of this work is a level of authenticity that makes it relatable to our very human nature.

As a personal fan of John Green, I came across this book expecting it to be incredible. I was not let down in the slightest. I could talk about the character development that enriches the plot of the story. I could talk for hours about how the comic elements of this novel are balanced with sharp, relatable reality in a way that triggers emotion within the darkest recesses of your brain, even as the main character discusses Star Wars fanfiction. I could even talk about how despite the obvious focal point of the novel being a criminal investigation, every other element of the novel becomes a tapestry of woven word and plot, with each string tugging and guiding the next into forming a textile of humor and sadness. But I digress. Simply, this book is a must read anyone who wants to read a funny, emotional, page turner of a novel.

-Mirabella S.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau is an intriguing, dystopian novel with action, mystery, and a little romance. The book takes place after a large scale conflict called the Seven Stages War leaves the world as a wasteland.

The novel features main character Cia and her good friend Tomas. They make up a small few that survived the war and are the world’s last hope to rebuild all that was lost. Not everyone is up for the task so only the chosen and elite who can pass the difficult Testing are allowed to further their education into college and get a career. The book has a bit of romance between Cia and her “boyfriend” Tomas who prepares for the testing with her.

I really enjoyed this book because of the suspense over whether or not Cia passes the Testing. Knowing her father’s advice, “trust no one,” made the story more intense. I also like how the book makes you want to talk to the characters because of how engrossing the mysteries become and the realization that there is more to the government than is to be believed. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did! 

-Amal A.

The Testing series by Joelle Charbonneau is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library

The Book of Storms by Ruth Hatfield

bookofstorms_ruthhatfieldThe Book of Storms, by Ruth Hatfield, is a book that I found to be aimed towards middle school readers. The writing is not difficult, and though there are some clichés in the plot, it was a good read. The book starts off with the main character, Danny, who wakes up alone in the morning and finds that his parents are gone. Now, the reader learns that it is not unusual for his parents to be gone for the night, as they are often chasing storms, but also that they always come back the next morning. Danny attempts to do everything normally, just as he would if his parents had been there, even going to school. He hopes that they will be home when he comes back, but they are not.

After looking around his house again in search of his parents, Danny finds a notebook containing information that is to help him in the search for his parents. Outside his home, he finds a twig with which he finds that he can speak to plants and animals, including the neighbor’s cat .  Along the way, as he is trying to find his parents, he will face a powerful foe (who is kind of like the Devil, but the book mentions that it isn’t actually), whose intentions are not fully revealed until later on in the novel. This person is trying to get Danny’s “Taro” (his twig), for his ulterior motives.

I found the book to be interesting, mainly because I haven’t read another book with a plot or idea like it, although it could have been somewhat improved.

-Aliya A.

The Book of Storms by Ruth Hatfield is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Paper Towns by John Green

papertowns_johngreenWhen I first saw this book, I thought it was kind of weird. I didn’t suspect that the title actually meant something. But after reading other well-known John Green books, I decided to read it. I had heard a lot about the novel—it’s one of my friend’s all-time favorite books—but it was only recently that I gave it a chance.

To be technical, paper towns are “created to protect against copyright infringement” (307). Essentially, they are just made-up towns put on a map by cartographers who wanted to make sure no one plagiarized their design. An interesting idea, but it sounded fake to me. How wrong I was. In “Fun With Copyright Traps: 10 Hoax Definitions, Paper Towns, and Other Things that Don’t Exist,” Crezo pointed out that on the border between Ohio and Michigan, two cities were inserted: Beatosu (Beat OSU) and Goblu (Go Blue), both of which were made up to support the University of Michigan teams and later found out and forcibly removed!

Margo, and in turn Quentin and his friends, develop a fascination with these towns which leads them to leave their high school graduation for a wild adventure in search of Margo. Through all this, the reader learns subtle lessons about life–even if that sounds cliché, that is exactly what someone is left with after reading the book.

This book was fantastic. It’s one of those books that requires your attention. You can’t just read it and forget about it after. Compared to John Green’s other novels, this book certainly dealt with larger issues, but it was still touching in the way all good novels should be. This is the type of book I would love to read again in 10 years, just to see how I have changed and if I can find new meaning in the book. Overall, though, this is a 9 out of 10!

-Leila S., 10th grade

Paper Towns and its feature film adaptation is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive