The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks

The Unfinished World and Other Stories is a beautifully written piece of literature filled with a wide variety of short stories. These stories revolve about everything from time travel and space to thrilling tales of kingdoms and magic. I was truly amazed by the sheer creativity and eccentricity which Sparks was able to spill out and expertly mold into eloquent, intriguing, and though-provoking stories. Each story is unique and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Although they are completely unrelated, they all seem to have some sort of other-worldy ethereal sense to them. Maybe it’s because of the style in which it’s written, or it could simply be the creative flare with which the author forms her worlds and characters. Either way, I was completely blown away by this book, and cannot get over how utterly incomparable and ingenious it is.

Because this book is composed of so many stories, I have grudgingly decided to speak about only two of them — The Unfinished World ( I suppose I must talk about this one) and my favourite out of the other short stories: And the World Was Crowded with Things That Meant Love.

The Unfinished World (for which this collection of stories was named) tells the story of a boy named Set. Set is an unusual boy who struggles to find and understand himself and his past as he grows older. When he was younger, he was attacked by a bear, and he died…well, sort of. He ended up surviving the attack, but there has always been something missing…no one can quite put their finger on it. He’s never been the same since; there’s an empty hole in his soul. Set follows in the footsteps of his older brother who travels to Hollywood in pursuit of his dreams. Set becomes well-known, and everyone sees him as a handsome, hard-working young man. Anyone who really knew Set would know that that is just a facade — part of him is missing. Then he meets Inge, and she turns his life around.

And the World Was Crowded with Things That Meant Love is a short, but deep and meaningful love story. Early in their lives, a young man and a young woman meet one another and fall in love. However, both have jobs which require constant traveling. They show their love for each other by sending wood carvings and sculptures to each other. By this means, they continue their relationship. A detail which I thought to be particularly lovely was that one would send an artistic portrait to the other, having remembered, in full and perfect detail, what they looked like.

Despite the fact that some of these stories are extremely short (just two or three pages in some cases), the author has a unique ability to weave in and evoke so much emotion. Some of the stories were slightly confusing, some more intense, and some were pretty dark (I would recommend an older audience for this book). However, I would definitely recommend this book, as it felt as if I was in a completely different world while reading it.

-Elina T.

Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories by R. J. Palacio

When Wonder, a heartwarming, soul-touching novel by R. J. Palacio, made its way onto the bestseller shelves and into the lives of readers, there was no doubt that more adventures in the world of Wonder would be just as deep and thought-provoking. With Auggie and Me, R. J Palacio brings three more Wonder stories following Julian, Charlotte and Christopher and how August Pullman touched their lives.

Originally separate ebooks, The Julian Chapter, Shingling and Pluto have now been compiled into one enthralling companion to Wonder: Auggie and Me.

As a reader, I really love how R. J. Palacio gives you each of these character’s perspectives on their experiences with Auggie. The wonderful thing about these stories is that they become each character’s own. Although Auggie is a key component to each of the stories, you also get insight into each of these character’s lives. I think it is very important to read Auggie and Me after reading Wonder not only because it may give some spoilers or some inferences which would be more appreciated if you read Wonder, but also because it shows you these three character’s point of view and in some cases justifies or makes you understand questionable actions the characters carried out in Wonder. However, Auggie and Me could also be a great book separate from Wonder, as it does create whole new stories centering around three different characters.

Auggie and Me is definitely a must-read for fans of Wonder who want to read more about or redeem the characters of Wonder. Or it could even be for someone just looking for a heartwarming read that will leave them turing pages until their eyes meet the last words R. J. Palacio left on the page.

-Elina T.

Auggie & Me by R. J. Palacio is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Book of Cthulhu edited by Ross E. Lockhart

H.P. Lovecraft brought horror fiction into existence with his tales of eldritch monsters and otherworldly beings. Now, editor Ross E. Lockhart has compiled The Book of Cthulhu, a collection of short stories, as a tribute to the Cthulhu Mythos story cycle first created by Lovecraft himself. The book is an anthology of short horror stories with a variety of topics yet all containing the familiar dread of Lovecraft.

The unique genre is Lovecraftian horror, which features the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. Within his stories of the occult, Lovecraft was famous for using dread instead of shock and gore. Instead of trying to scare the reader through cheesy ghost stories or bloody axe killers, Lovecraftian literature creates feelings of insignificance, helplessness, and awe. A common theme is the insignificance of humanity. Humans are merely specks of dust in the vast universe, completely at the mercy of ancient or even ageless beings. Aliens and elder gods from different worlds and dimensions exist that could annihilate humankind on a whim. Lovecraft’s universe holds creatures so monstrous and beyond comprehension that even knowledge of them drives men to insanity.

The authors from The Book of Cthulhu continue Lovecraft’s tradition. The first short story, Andromeda Among the Stones, highlights the best aspects of Lovecraft. A family by the edge of the sea must sacrifice everything to guard a portal against the eldritch beings on the other side. Out of all of the stories in the anthology, this short story perhaps best embodies Lovecraft’s sense of awe and dread of the unknown.

My personal favorite story is A Colder War, set in the Cold War era. The world’s superpowers attempt to understand and harness the alien beings as weapons. These elder gods trivialize humanity’s nuclear arms and ultimately threaten to consume this world and other worlds.

The Book of Cthulhu is a worthwhile and thought-provoking read that will put earthly matters into perspective. Although the stories are sometimes hit or miss, each author offers their own style infused with Lovecraft, making it a varied and interesting anthology. The stories often require the reader to grasp the context very quickly, and it often feels as if the short stories are lacking exposition. On the other hand, this adds to the mysterious atmosphere that Lovecraft was so famous for. The anthology is a proper modern tribute to Lovecraft that will leave readers feeling a little tinier than before.

-Phillip X.

Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash

Like many others, one of my New Year’s Aspirations was to read more books. To help myself with this, I chose to do the PopSugar 2017 Reading Challenge. Along with a friend of mine, I began to check books off the list.

My first read of the year was back in January, but I still find myself thinking about it in March. Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash was my “Book With a Red Spine,” and it has made its way onto my list of favorites.

Until I came across Tom Barbash’s work, I had never much gone for short stories, much less collections of them. There was always something deeply unsatisfying about their brevity. I found myself anxious and yearning for more after the final page was turned.

But Stay Up With Me was incredibly real and terrifyingly relatable. Barbash has the power to make a reader fall in love with his characters in just a few sentences. The people in these stories are complex – they have failings and flaws in addition to their successes. Each one grows as a person and learns in the short course of their time in your hands.

And just as you are invested, just as you have committed the little idiosyncrasies of these characters to memory, the story ends.

Each time, as you feel the power of the final line, you are forced to wrench yourself from the story. There is a forceful discomfort as you move on, a sense of loss when their names are not printed on the next page.

All those people you just learned about? They’re gone. Everything there is for you to know about them is contained in those last few pages.

Stay Up With Me is collection of heartbreaking tales. Love, loss, and everything in between – Barbash does it beautifully.

-Zoe K., Grade 11

Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

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