Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

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Eric Seven is just a normal reporter, reporting in the near future about an island that has no children, but everyone is healthy and never ages. How then is he involved in an obscure sacrifice despite never having set foot on the island? And why does he recognize Merle, a pretty young woman that he soon falls for?

Seven Erics. Seven Merles. All because of a promise to live seven times, yet sacrificed each and every time. A tale of love and tragedy that is thousands of years old.

At first, this book was confusing. However, Sedgwick only makes it confusing in the first story, writing six more short stories and an epilogue that ties everything together to properly explain the first story. Each short story also presents different kinds of love and how far one is willing to go for it. For example, one story talks about love when both people are the same gender, and the lengths one of the women goes just to see her love again. Another story shares how a man sacrificed his life to save another man, all for a stranger’s daughter that he never met.

This book is also one for fans of historical fiction. Each story takes place in some part of famous historical events twinged with fantasy, from vampires in the dark ages to a family that wants to be neutral in World War II. This book blew my mind with how incredible it was written, and I hope that you can have a chance to read it.

-Megan V., 11th Grade

Midwinter Blood is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Creative Writing: Original Beginnings

For this month I decided to write the beginning of my own two short stories instead of writing a traditional book or movie review. I hope you enjoy!

Rain. It hadn’t stopped. Continuously, it poured from the sky, drenching the lawns and flooding the streets. I haven’t been outside for weeks because of it. No one could get anywhere. It just kept coming as if the crying sky wanted everyone else to be just as miserable.

I mean, it got its wish. I was officially miserable. With dimmed lights and a dreary view, I only had one thing to keep me happy during my days in isolation.

Sammy. My little brother didn’t understand the meaning of the oncoming rain. He almost liked it. I didn’t understand why. The constant pattering on the roof was enough to drive me crazy within the first few days. But the innocent child loved it, hoping to see a rainbow when it finally cleared. That’s innocence for you, waiting for the bright colors on a gray day. I didn’t have that luxury. I knew it would be a long while until we saw any light, if we did at all. It’d be a miracle to get outside of this dark house.

—————–

I had always been told not to walk alone at night, but I had never been told why. My imagination was left to run free with what would happen to me. What were the chances that a monster would take me? How did I even know something bad would happen? I had no idea why it was such a terrible thing; I just know it was. My mind was filled with the memories of my parents locking my door every night, trapping me in isolation once the sun went down. Now that I thought about it, I didn’t really remember what I did at night. I didn’t remember falling asleep or fighting to get out. I couldn’t even remember anything right after I was shoved into the room and all the light went away. It was as if my mind had shut down and wouldn’t let me access my thoughts or feelings. And when I woke up, the first thing I had always seen was my door. The whole situation wouldn’t have confused me so much if the wood hadn’t been cut through on the inside with claw marks.

-Sabrina C., 10th Grade

Short Story Review: The Offshore Pirate, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

offshore_pirateAfter reading both The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, I decided that F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors.  While I do find some of the plots of his stories to be a bit slow at times, his writing style more than makes up for lack of action.

After checking out Flappers and Philosophers, a collection of short stories written by Fitzgerald, I flipped to the first story and was immediately hooked.  The Offshore Pirate is a story of youth, lust, and adventure.  Fitzgerald’s description of tiny islands off the coast of Florida are enchanting and beautiful.  If you guys don’t believe me, then take a look at this quote from the book:

“Taking her hand he led her out into a broad stretch of hard sandy soil that the moon flooded with great splendor. They floated out like drifting moths under the rich hazy light, and as the fantastic symphony wept and exulted and wavered and despaired, Ardita’s last sense of reality dropped away, and she abandoned her imagination to the dreamy summer scents of tropical flowers and the infinite starry spaces overhead, feeling that if she opened her eyes it would be to find herself dancing with a ghost in a land created by her own fantasy.”

Is that beautiful or what?  It is a short story, so I feel like giving out any of the plot would sort of ruin the adventure that is this book, so please just take my word for it.

If you like writing that will make you feel warm and fuzzy and magical inside, read The Offshore Pirate!  It only takes about an hour to read (if you’re a sloth-speed reader like me) and is more than worth the sixty minutes.

-Amanda D., 12th grade

Short Stories And What They Could Be

Short stories are somewhat out of style. Who cares about a short book when there is a full length novel to read? Recently, however hard they are to find, I have discovered their appeal. They encompass a moment of a character’s life, a scene that can be taken out of context of the overall story that gives a glimpse at an author’s style, the situation the characters are in, and who those characters are.

life_before_legendWhat that short story is can vary. There are the prequel stories that give background to the full story. Life before Legend by Marie Lu shows June and Day back when they were twelve, giving insight on the great characters they would grow to be. This kind of short story could be read before to discover the series or read after when you just never want it to end. Or in the middle, like I did.

grim_short_storiesSometimes short stores are collected together into a book, linked together by an underlying common thread. Grim, written by way too many authors (this is by no means a bad thing), contains all sorts of twists on fairy-tales, some darker, using the bare minimum from the source, while others are an inventive retelling, staying true to the fairy-tale it came from. The best part of a collection of short stories is the variety. Even if you don’t like one author or story, a few pages later, there’s a new one. There is the flip side, of course, when it ends too soon, but I think that’s kind of the point. They aren’t supposed to have a satisfying ending; the taste of potential always makes you want more.

free_fourAnother possibility short stories present is insight into another character’s mind, especially from first person point-of-view novels. Free Four: Tobias Tells the Story takes, obviously, the perspective of Four (or Tobais, but I’m going with Four) from Veronica Roth’s Divergent in the knife throwing scene. I don’t want to ruin anything by saying anything else about it. These types of short stories give other characters a chance for the reader to see their thoughts and mindset for a change. It’s nice to know how other character think and perceive the same situation differently.

Just like full length novels, some short stories are better than others. Find something that interests you and give short stories a chance. They won’t take long to read.

-Nicole G., 10th grade

Book Review: A Commonplace Book of the Weird, edited by Joseph Fink

commonplaceThough H. P. Lovecraft is today considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, during his life his stories were mainly published in pulp magazines and he died in poverty in the 1930s.

Lovecraft is credited with creating the genre of cosmic horror, which emphasizes the idea that humans are insignificant and helpless in a universe of unknowably powerful beings over the gore and suspense elements of the usual horror story. He often missed school due to illness and led a reclusive adult life, never knowing his father who was placed in a psychiatric institution when Lovecraft was three, influencing the often friendless and mentally unstable protagonists he wrote.

A Commonplace Book of the Weird is a collection of short stories by twenty modern authors, each randomly assigned a prompt from Lovecraft’s book of unfinished story ideas. Some are full plot outlines, others as simple as “Dream of flying over city.”

My favorite story in this collection is “Relative Damnation” by Joseph Fink, which tells the story of a teenage boy who can save his father from going to hell after a deal with the devil, but only by giving up all of his possessions, education, relationship with his girlfriend, and chance at a happy future. It raises the question of whether successful people should feel they owe their happiness to the suffering of others, even if they didn’t ask for it.

Some more of my favorites are “Dissipation” by Daniel McCoy, a series of seemingly random scenes that come together to tell the story of a future apocalypse, and “The Impossible” by Will Hartwell and Christopher Scheer, an account of the supernatural incident that made a Victorian gentleman unwilling to leave his home, with a twist introduction of another famous mythos.

I think that the book’s weakest points are the stories that rely too heavily on surrealism and have no clear plot. Though the intent may be to make the reader feel as unsettled as the characters, the narratives sometimes come off as series of disjointed imagery rather than cohesive worldbuilding or plot. “Levittown” by Mark Farr has a promising start with an alternate history in which an astronaut from the 1800s attempts to go to the moon in a steampunk rocket, but ends up switching between the astronaut’s story and unrelated scenes of angels, modern-day children, a mysterious old man, and quotes from Lovecraft himself. Though it has excellent imagery and concepts, the story eventually becomes too muddled for the reader to follow.

As is usually the case with anthologies by multiple authors, I found this book to be a mixed bag with several outstandingly imaginative stories and others of varying quality. I would recommend A Commonplace Book of the Weird to anyone 14+ (for thematic elements) who enjoys horror, science fiction, or the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, which is written by two of the contributors.

-Miranda C., 12th grade

Short Story Review: The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell

most_dangerous_gameNow, don’t get confused by the title. “The Most Dangerous Game” is about a man named Sanger Rainsford, a hunter, landing on a island  called Ship-Trap Island. As Rainsford travels around the island, he finds a huge door. He bangs on the door and a giant man named Ivan, lets Rainsford in. Then, Rainsford meets General Zaroff. Weird names, right? It gets even weirder. Zaroff says that he is a hunter, but a different kind of hunter. He tells that animal hunting bored him. The animals have instinct but no strategy. He says he has hunted every animal. He needed a new animal. How can you do that, you ask? He made a way…

Now, I won’t give it away– but it is shocking. You can consider him crazy, and I mean CRAZY! Now, since Zaroff and Rainsford are both hunters, they go on a hunt. But not a normal hunt but like a hide-and-seek hunt. Confused? Then you should read the story to figure it out, huh?

I would recommend this book to 7th graders with their English teacher or a dictionary because some words are hard to read. But 8th grade and up to 12th grade is the best level of reading. The ages would be 12 years old to 18 years old.

-Kate B., 7th grade

Book Review: Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link

pretty_monsters_coverThis collection of short stories spans the genres of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. Some stories are established as supernatural from the first sentence, while others are seemingly normal until the twist ending. The stories make use of the Magical Realism genre, in which magical elements are present, but treated as a normal part of the characters’ world, and often not the main focus of the story. Magical realism stories are often intentionally ambiguous and leave it up to the reader whether the events were real or imagined, or never give an explanation of the existence of paranormal forces.

One story I particularly liked was “Magic For Beginners,” which follows teenager Jeremy through his parents’ divorce and discovery of family secrets. Jeremy and his friends were brought together by being avid fans of a television show called “The Library.” The show is brought up in several conversations, with the characters derailing uncomfortable topics by talking instead about the most recent episode. Gradually, the reader learns that “The Library” airs at random times on random channels, with commercials for nonexistent products and actors no one can identify, although the characters aren’t overly concerned by this. The abnormality culminates in “The Library’s” main character Fox, thought to be fictional, calling Jeremy and asking him to steal books for her so that she won’t die in the next episode. Jeremy completes his instructed mission but never talks face-to-face with Fox, and so the true origin of the phone calls and the possibility of her existence is never resolved.

Another one of my favorites was “The Surfer,” in which the adolescent protagonist’s father takes him to Costa Rica to escape a viral pandemic in the near future. They share a quarantine shelter with cult members who are waiting for the return of aliens that briefly visited their leader years ago. The reader sees that one confirmed visit from aliens has not changed the future world much, and the characters’ conversations about world politics, books, soccer, and the virus take up most of the story.

Overall, I liked this book. Some stories were confusing or too open-ended, but in others the minimalist ambiguity allowed by the short story format contributed to the narrative. The author’s descriptions are concise and vivid, and the existence of ghosts, aliens, or werewolves often takes a backseat to the characters’ coming-of-age stories. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys surreal fantasy and speculative fiction.

-Miranda C., 12th grade