Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is a Studio Ghibli classic, one based of a book of the same name. The gorgeous animations, lovable characters, and peaceful vibe of the movie make it one of my favorites. Howl’s Moving Castle follows a young woman, Sophie, who works as a hat-maker, content with a boring life. One day, a witch comes into her shop and curses her to look like an old lady. Sophie decides to seek out the feared witch Howl and his moving home, and gets caught up helping him resist fighting in the war sweeping the nation.

The movie’s director, Hayao Miyazaki, was influenced by his anger about the United State’s invasion of Iraq, and included many anti-war themes in the film. I also enjoyed the fact that the movie depicted old age in a positive light. Being seen as an old woman helped Sophie be stronger and bolder in standing up for herself. In many ways, Howl’s Moving Castle has many deeper meanings.

From the luscious green hills to the dark war scenes, Howl’s Moving Castle is truly a gorgeous animation. The characters are all very interesting as well, with Calcifer, the sarcastic fire demon, to Markl, the young apprentice with much to learn, and of course, Howl, who is much more than just a vain wizard.

-Kelsie W.

Book Review: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson follows a young boy named Jess Aarons who aspires to be the best and fastest runner in the whole fifth grade. One day, a new family is moving into the old Perkins home and Jess meets the young girl, around his age, who is moving in with her family to the country. Leslie Burke is a city girl. She is strange to others, they say she dresses weird and she isn’t like all the other girls. Leslie and Jess then become friends over time during school. They talk about things and enjoy each others’ company. They spend their days together hanging out and they even create their own secret and special place just for themselves. A place where they can just be themselves and have fun together called Terabithia.

Together they ruled Terabithia, letting their imaginations roam free in their kingdom. On one morning, an upsetting and horrible accident strikes for the two kids. But because of this event, Jess gains the courage and strength to move forward. It shows Jess that he could be more than he thought he could be and it gives him a new goal and reason for living.

This story was beautifully written. The characters had great chemistry with each other and worked well. All characters, including the side characters, were well written and enjoyable even if we didn’t get to interact with them as much. The ending was unexpected and abrupt which I thought brought more impact on the story; especially since the accident can easily happen just like that in real life. Warning! This book is better for more mature readers because of the topics it will go over. Overall, I enjoyed this story very much even though it was a quick read. Even in such a short story, it got me attached to the characters and impacted me hard. I really enjoyed it and would recommend to those who would be interested.

-Nicole R.

The Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Book Review: Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

In the historical fiction novel Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, 15 year old Lina Vilkas, along with her mother Elena and younger brother Jonas (who is 10 years old) are arrested and abducted by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) in 1941 Lithuania. They are stuffed into a tiny train car with many others, but the direct link between them all is unknown. The train car has horrible conditions, and Lina’s father Kostas was taken too, but he and the other men are in a different train. The book narrates the story of Lina, Elena, and Jonas’s journey as prisoners of the NKVD. The entire time, Lina, Elena, and Jonas are trying to find word of where Lina’s father, Kostas, could be.

This book has multiple settings. It begins in Lithuania in 1941, and Lina, Elena, and Jonas are first taken to Siberia and then taken back down to a labor camp in Altai where they are forced to do hard tasks in horrid conditions and minimal food. After that, they are taken on a ship back to Siberia, where they work to build for the NKVD.

The most obvious, main conflict is that Lina, Jonas, Elena, and Kostas have been taken by the NKVD, and so have many others, with no clear connection (in the beginning). This is an external conflict; however, each character also experiences their own internal conflicts. The story is told from Lina’s point of view, and she has many flashbacks of her life in Lithuania. The author very cleverly implements the flashbacks so each time, they get closer and closer to the present until they suddenly fit together like a puzzle and explain what led up to Lina’s family being taken (which I will not spoil!). 

As a 15 year old girl, and a wonderful artist, Lina draws what she sees, especially people, as a means of recording and expressing herself. She is the narrator of the story, and as a teenage girl her descriptions and emotions are very interesting to readers. Lina’s internal conflicts are specific to the mindset of a teenage girl, and it ranges from missing her father to being protective over her younger brother.

I think that the most influential character in the book is Lina’s mother, Elena, who is the rock for her children. Without Elena, Jonas and Lina would lose hope and motivation very quickly, and may even be separated from each other. Elena wonderfully symbolizes the theme of motherly protection, and it’s a delightful theme to see in such a story. The way she handles everything with kindness, but at the same time stays strong and does not tolerate anything unfair against her children is amazing. Her importance is especially seen since the entire mood of the book is a reflection of her. Lina is the narrator, and she often uses her mother’s facial expressions or posture while describing conditions. This shows the influence and love Lina has for her mother.

My favorite character in the book is Elena, since she is very protective, emotionally strong, and kind to those around her. I really loved the way Elena’s disposition shapes the novel, since Elena has such an impact on her daughter, Lina, who is the narrator. 

Jonas is a 10 year old boy, and is shown at the beginning of the novel to be obedient, sincere, and innocent. Young boys are famously known for being playful and mischievous. The horridness that people suffered during the time of the novel is very starkly shown through Jonas, since he is a young boy stripped of his childhood and being captured and forced into the workcamps. His presence makes the conditions of the book much more sad.

There was one event in the novel that may seem small but was very significant. In the train car, one of the people trapped in the same car as Lina was a boy named Andrius. During the train ride he found an oval stone with quartz and other crystals inside. At first, Andrius kept it, but then gifted it to Lina, who gifted it to Jonas, and the stone cycles through characters like this. It is always given as a gift because the person who is giving it wants the other person to feel better. The stone symbolizes luck and lifts the spirits of the captured people as soon as it is found. If the stone had never been found, the characters’ morale would have hurtled at a downward slope. The stone gave short, simple happiness, and throughout the story happiness and hope is what keeps the characters going. 

I would personally give this book a 10/10. This book was very interesting, and I finished it very quickly. It had wonderful characters, character development, and suspense. It incorporated themes of motherly love, the importance of family, and youthfulness. I usually do not like historical fiction books, but this book was very amazing and informative. The best part was that it did not seem distant and simply informative; the characters seemed so relatable in age and their emotions were easy to empathize with, making the book very powerful. People who enjoy mystery, suspense, the theme of family, and history would love this book. I think that this book is especially powerful, and a person who just likes one of the previously mentioned qualities would definitely enjoy this book.

-Ayati M.

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

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner is the first book of the Maze Runner trilogy written by James Dashner and published in 2009. The Maze Runner follows the main character Thomas. Thomas wakes up in an elevator, called The Box, along with animals and other shipments, without any memories of anything except his name. When the box stops moving, the light shines in showing silhouettes of teenage boys all staring down at him. He meets Newt, Alby, Minho, and Chuck who show him around the Glade which is the area in the middle of the large Maze surrounding them.

Around them is the Maze with four doors into the maze that close at night. Thomas wants to become a runner like Minho. Runners run through the Maze and map it trying to find a way out. At night, monsters called Grievers roam the Maze and after Thomas saves Minho and Alby when they get stuck in the Maze overnight, he becomes a real runner and makes more progress than anyone else. Shortly after, a girl in a coma known as Teresa arrives along with their last shipment. Everyone becomes suspicious of Thomas since all the strange happenings start when he arrives. But when everything changes, Thomas and his new friends try to solve the Maze and find a way out.

The Maze Runner is a dystopian science fiction young adult novel that includes an interesting story making you want to read the next book to find out what happens next. It’s a thrilling and suspenseful book that gives unexpected twists and turns with the characters. Each character acts the same and have the same beliefs as each other but, have small differences shaping their personality. The descriptions of the characters also help shape them in a way for the reader to envision them properly. Some of the characters are a bit bland but the other characters are very likable. My favorite character is Newt because of his personality,how independent he is, and how he keeps everything in place.

The Maze Runner has an interesting story which includes different mysteries that need to be solved. It is intriguing and sucks you into the story. I was excited and wanted to read this book for a little while after hearing how much people liked it but was somewhat hesitant after also seeing some bad reviews. It was fun to see secrets unfold and the mystery of the Maze come to light. Even though the book was a bit slow at times and ends in a cliff hanger, it was well written and I still thoroughly enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Scorch Trials.

-Nicole R.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

TV Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society (TV Series 2021– ) - IMDb

You may have read the series, but the TV show is also thrilling! This show is about the first book in the The Mysterious Benedict Society series. With action, adventure, and excitement as well as lots of mystery, the TV show is exhilarating. Seeing The Mysterious Benedict Society’s show after reading about it can be really awesome. To see the story unfold in front of your eyes and being able to see if your imagination was on point with the characters is really exciting! 

The story is about 4 kids, Reynie, Kate, Constance, and Sticky, who are all orphans and incredible kids. They all find an advertisement about some tests that a man named  Mr. Benedicts has created. The kids go through test after test, and are tested on their logic and knowledge. These tests are much more than just tests though, as they help Mr. Benedict to create a team to go to the L.I.V.E. Academy (The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened) where a man named Mr. Curtain is creating an evil plan to take control of the future in an event called The Emergency. 

I did notice a couple changes between the book and the show, such as S.Q. Pedalian being Mr. Curtain’s adopted son in the show, while the book had him as his servant or companion. The episodes are mainly based off of the book, though. 

The show features Tony Hale, who plays Mr. Curtain and Mr. Benedict, Mystic Inscho as Reynie Muldoon, Marta Timofeeva as Constance Contraire, Seth Carr as George “Sticky” Washington, and Emmy DeOliveira as Kate Wetherall. The show’s first episode was released on June 25th, and the show consists of 8 episodes, which will be coming out every Friday on Disney Plus. 

I suggest this show to anyone who enjoys mystery and action. I have found myself very engaged and I always struggle to wait for the coming Friday in excitement about the next episode! My rating of this show  is a 9 out of 10 so far because I have been really enjoying it! I feel like some of the small details were changed, but overall, it is a very good TV show and I definitely recommend this series to people who really like mystery shows. Enjoy!

-Mert A.

Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin, a film adaptation of Herge’s comic series, is an underrated masterpiece. Here’s why!

To start, a brief synopsis of the movie should be given. It begins with Tintin, a young reporter who shops at an outdoor market in Brussels, Belgium. Attended by his dog, Snowy, he buys The Unicorn, a replica of an old ship. As mysterious characters attempt to obtain the model from him, Tintin discovers that it contains clues that lead to a hidden treasure, but before he can act on it, he is taken by the notorious Sakharine. 

Now with a little context, I can move on with my explanation! 

#1: Visuals! Tintin is considered a “Noir Film,” since it applies shadows and dark radiance in order to capture audiences. It allows for the atmosphere to feel mysterious, harsh, and prepared for action. 

#2: Scene transitions! It’s somewhat hard to elaborate upon, but shifts between events of a movie can be quite difficult to smoothen out, but Steven Spielberg (the director of this film) was able to capture these moments easily while remaining true to the spirit of Tintin. If you decide to watch the movie, consider this!

#3: Characters! Tintin is portrayed as an energetic, curious reporter, exactly as depicted in the comic series. However, the added element of obsession that stems from his search to uncover the “secret of the unicorn” makes him more fun to watch. 

In 2019, there was some debate on plans for a sequel, as the original idea was to have two more movies after the release of the first. However, there have been some delays, due to redrafts of the script, the recast of certain actors, and slow production. As a major Herge fan, I hope there’s a chance of a second film in sight …

Before I conclude, I’d like to recommend that you check out Herge’s original comics. They’re a terrific, sweet read, and quick to grasp! Plus, it might also assist in the film’s general enjoyment. Therefore, look for “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” as these had the largest impact on the motion picture. 

Side Note: Top 3 Favorite Tintin Comics 

#1: The Castafiore Emerald – it reminds me of Seinfeld; as much as its conclusion might frustrate you, the elements of suspicion, doubt, and wonder hold your attention

#2: Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon – written almost two decades prior to the Apollo 11 mission, Herge’s imagination gives significance to space exploration

#3: The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun – not only is it filled with action, but it gives insight on old civilizations and customs thought forgotten

Final Result: a firm score of ★★★★★ 

Manga Review: Erased by Kei Sanbe

Many of the popular manga we see nowadays center around action and fantasy. Such famous mangas still have amazing reads and obviously attract readers around the globe for a reason, but they fall short of meaning or depth in their plots. Yes, there’s a lengthy plot, lovable characters, and other factors that appeal to minds of all ages. But do these mangas also talk about the reality of our world? Do they bring heart-throbbing events where the main character can’t gain hope from a 30-minute monologue? I admit, Erased may not be the best book to those looking for a light-hearted novel, but it’s definitely worth reading and allows readers to see both the beauty and cruelty of our real world.

Erased is also referred to as Boku dake ga Inai Machi (僕だけがいない街), which is directly translated as “The Town Where Only I Am Missing.” Written by Kei Sanbe, the series is filled with thriller, mystery, and a bit of science fiction. The story entails of a young man named Satoru. He enables the ability to time-travel before a life-threatening event and prevent it from happening, also known as “Revival.” One night, his mother is murdered by an unknown killer; the pain-staking event sends Satoru eighteen years back into his childhood. After discovering that the murderer is tied to his past, Satoru is now given the opportunity to prevent his mother’s death by discovering who the murderer is, as well as solve the case of three missing children in his home town.

To be honest, there are moments where the plot doesn’t make sense—especially since the author never mentions why Satoru is able to time-travel. Regardless, the plot of the book series remains absolutely phenomenal; the author quickens the plot’s pace when necessary and fills it with extreme twists and events that leaves the audience filled with emotions. The characters themselves are either loved or despised, and every character reaches their fullest potential, regardless of being a hero or villain.

But I digress—what is most enjoyable about this book is its uniqueness and how meaningful the story is. Time-travel itself is quite a cheesy plot factor, but the connection between reality and fantasy is what makes the series interesting. Overall, the plot remains realistic; characters often make mistakes and feel lost, some moments seem hopeless, and a glimpse of light that every reader looks for rarely shines. Sanbe weaves the cruel reality of our world into the plot with regards to child abuse and kidnapping. Yet he still gives signs of faith and hope through time-traveling and fiction, giving Satoru another chance at making things right, and a bittersweet ending. Such factors are simply not found in any typical manga.

Overall, the Erased series is truly underrated. Although it does fit those who prefer the gory over glory, Erased does what any manga rarely does—give hope and faith to the hopelessness of our real world.

– Natisha P.

Erased by Kei Sanbe is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie


Agatha Christie’s books have been the 3rd best-selling books ever trailing only the Bible and Shakespeare. Why you ask? You will receive your answer after reading And Then There Were None. 

10 people are invited to Soldier Island for a vacation by a mysterious U.N. Owen. They all feel excited and lucky to have been chosen to stay there, but that turns around after a night filled with suspense and drama. Each of their guilts are announced loudly so the entire room can hear, one by one. Then, by the end of the night, one of them is dead. They are haunted by a nursery rhyme that counts down one by one and as each person guards their life with every last effort, the rhyme has their fate written out for them. Could the killer be among them, or is it someone else? Things continue to get worse and worse as each person understands that they are between life and death. 

With the drama and suspense in the novel, this book becomes glued to your hands in instants. Once you pick it up, you can’t put it down. I suggest that you read this book because it is so exciting! 

I love this book because of all of the plot twists. Whenever I get suspicious of someone, something else happens and I get suspicious of someone else. I love this book and I can’t wait to read the other books that Agatha Christie has written. 

I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read books. This murder-mystery novel is a thriller and it will not disappoint readers who are looking for a great book. In fact, it will overachieve. I love this book and it is one of my favorite books that I have ever read.

-Mert A.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I discovered this book at an early age, between elementary and middle school, but to put it simply, there has never been a book as eye opening and intriguing in all my years of reading. This was one of those rare books that excited me every time I read it—it was something I couldn’t put down. The sheer brilliance in this book is unimaginable and extremely rare to find. Personally, the book provided nostalgic memories that I could never let go of.

Published in 2007, The Mysterious Benedict Society is actually one of a five-part series about a orphan boy and gifted child named Reynard “Reynie” Muldoon. After reading an ad in the newspaper about an opportunity for gifted children, Reynie decides to take the opportunity and soon faces challenging tests, ones in which he passes. From this, he qualifies to meet Mr. Benedict, the founder of an organization, along with three others who passed the test: George “Sticky” Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire. Mr. Benedict sends the children on a mission to explain the mind-controlling messages displayed on televisions and radio signals by placing them as undercover agents in another organization institute, but there’s so much more than what meets the eye.

One main reason why I choose to praise this book is because of its uniqueness. In mystery and thriller novels, there’s already a sense of uniqueness in the sense that you have to create entirely new and different plots to keep stories fresh and entertaining, but this novel specifically holds the complete opposite of cliché story-telling, as it includes many details that one wouldn’t even know could fit together. To be quite honest, the book is quite long and has some unnecessary fill-ins for the plot, yet the plot in itself is wild, crazy, and so unique to the extent where one can never know what will happen next. Along with the plot are creative puzzles and tests for the reader to figure out on their own—a wonderful way to keep readers engaged! The characters have flaws, which make them realistic, but not to the point where they’re so unlikable and their chemistry doesn’t mix well. In the end, the book acts the way a true mystery novel should, even if the imaginative plot fits young adults.

It reaches the heart and soul of young readers, as it provides such a wild, creative imagination to create a story such as The Mysterious Benedict Society. However, it also extends to any age, young or old, but basically, just anyone who’s creative and simply wants a puzzling challenge.

-Natisha P.

The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Where the Crawdads Sing By Delia Owens

Image result for where the crawdads sing

From the very first pages of Where the Crawdads Sing, the reader cannot help but be transported to the coastal North Carolina Marsh.  Delia Owens expertly weaves a haunting coming of age tale with a murder mystery in which the natural landscape is a significant supporting character.  The story is about Kya’s journey from a young, abandoned child to an independent and accomplished woman.  She is the heroine but with a dark secret.  She grows up as the disdained “Marsh Girl” living on the outskirts of 1952 Barkley Cove, North Carolina.  However, it is the marsh and swamp surrounding her that provides a safe haven and saves her from her mother’s abandonment, her father’s alcoholic abusive behavior, and the complete loss of all family and sense of security at the tender age of seven.   One might expect a child to perish in the circumstances in which Kya is left but she thrives.  Kya is a keen observer and educates herself on the sights, smells, and sounds of the marsh, swamp, and inland waterways of the Carolina Coast.  The marsh raises her and is her family. 

After her mother and older siblings have all left, Kya is forced to learn to navigate the nuances of caring for herself and her father who is prone to drunken fits of rage and abuse.   She is able to carefully nurture this relationship and even learn a few things from her exceedingly flawed and damaged Pa.  He teaches her to fish which provides a source for food and to navigate the inland waterways by boat.  Just when it seems that there might be a chance for this father-daughter pair, it all dissolves when a letter arrives from Kya’s estranged mother.  Her Pa descends into a drunken bender and ultimately leaves for good.  Kya is left all alone.

Not only is Kya abandoned by her family but she is rejected by the townspeople of Barclay Cove.  They see her as the dirty, uneducated marsh girl, essentially trash that pollutes their segregated town.  Few reach out to help her but those that do are the true heroes of this story.  Their once tentative relationships grow and encircle Kya’s otherwise lonely existence with a make-shift family of support.  Her survival and some of her successes rest on their unconditional friendships, making the prejudices of the rest of the town all the more glaring.   Kya grows and evolves into a renowned biologist and protector of the marshland, capable of providing for herself while giving back to those that helped her along the way.

For others in town, Kya is a mysterious and alluring curiosity.  Chase Andrews, the handsome and rich town football star, attempts to manipulate and take advantage of Kya’s vulnerability.  He tricks Kya into trusting him and, though he is intensely attracted to Kya, he cannot turn away from societal expectations to honor his relationship with her.  Instead, Chase seeks to control Kya and keep her for himself in the shadows.  Chase underestimates Kya’s fortitude and her knowledge of marsh survival.  In the hurt and pain that he inflicts, she returns to the depths of the marsh where she finds comfort and answers to the harsh truths of her life.

As of late January 2021, Where the Crawdads Sing has spent 124 weeks on the bestsellers list, a stunning achievement for Delia Owens’ first novel.  Owens is an accomplished and award-winning nature writer with a BS in Zoology from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from the University of California at Davis.  On Owens’ personal web page, she describes that her mother encouraged her to be an “outside girl” and to “Go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.” Delia Owens earned awards for exceptional creative writing even in her childhood.  However, as a college student, she decided to pursue a career in science.  She spent decades in Africa studying the social behavior of mammals, especially female mammals, including lions, hyenas, and elephants.  She returned to creative writing in retirement.   Where the Crawdads Sing is a perfect marrying of Owens’ passions, nature, and fictional writing.  Delia Owens has truly led an extraordinary life.  Her experiences, as a keen observer of life science, translate readily in this captivating story that explores the behavioral impact on a young woman forced to live alone in the marsh without family.  Kya’s story is one of survival and the marsh, in all its natural detail, is her ally.  At its conclusion, you may put the book down and feel compelled to “go out yonder where the crawdads sing.”

-Johnson D.