Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber, begins with Scarlett Dragna, who lives on a secluded isle with a cruel father who uses his daughters’ love for each other to control them. Whenever Scarlett does something wrong, her father punishes her sister, Donatella (Tella), instead. Scarlett banks her and her sister’s safety on her upcoming arranged marriage to a count whom she has only conferred with through letters. 

For years, Scarlett has written to Legend, the mysterious master of Caraval, hoping that he will bring his extravagant performance to her isle. Finally, when Legend writes back with three tickets to Caraval (which will be taking place on a magical island this year), Scarlett thinks she Tella would be better off not going. However, Tella has other ideas.

Far more bold and far less of a worrier than her protective sister, Tella and a strange sailor, Julian, conspire to bring Scarlett away from their father to the island where Caraval will be that year. When Tella suddenly disappears, Scarlett, who would do anything for her sister, begins to find that Tella has a greater part in Caraval than Scarlett had known. The only way Scarlett knows of that will reunite her with Tella is to win Caraval.

Caraval is Legend’s once-a-year performance which takes place over the course of five nights. Ticket holders can choose to either watch or play the game. The year Scarlett plays, the stage is a village, where the audience members who have chosen to play the game stay. Each night, Caraval fills with magic and illusions, and the players search for clues to guide them to the final prize. Scarlett finds herself in a performance where reality is blurred; it becomes difficult to differentiate the real people from actors who are simply playing parts in the game.

With Stephanie Garber’s beautiful descriptions and elegant characters, Caraval is one of my favorite young adult books. I particularly enjoyed reading from Scarlett’s perspective because her personality is not necessarily standard of a fantasy novel’s heroine, but her love for her sister motivates her throughout the book. By the end of Caraval, she has noticeably grown. Scarlett also describes senses and feelings with color, and the vivid imagery that results is magical. 

The story of Scarlett and Tella is continued in Legendary, which is written from the perspective of Tella. 

Caraval’s fantastic characters, vivid descriptions, and unanticipated turns make the book so difficult to set down. Stephanie Garber’s exquisite writing is a wonderful gift to read, and I highly recommend Caraval.

– Mia T.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is one I have been reading for years and have yet to tire of. The series is about four sisters named Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Shortly after Batty, the youngest, was born, their mother passed away, leaving their father to care for them. Mr. Penderwick is a botanist who throws out Latin phrases along with advice to his daughters. He can be quite lenient and unsure of his judgement, but he has his daughters’ respect and love. 

I love how each of the sisters is so unique and wonderful in their own way, and how Jeanne Birdsall writes from their perspectives is amazing. The sisters have such contrasting qualities, but these qualities compliment each other. Their father raises them with solid values, and though they make some mistakes, they are incredibly down-to-earth characters who find ways to solve any issues they have.

One aspect I find entertaining about their relationships with each other is the meetings they have, which are called “MOPS”, or Meeting of Penderwick Sisters. The sisters discuss problems they’ve noticed with their family or friends, and how they may be able to solve them. Despite their separate personalities and occasional arguments, the sisters are still so close and supportive of each other.

Rosalind is kind and compassionate, and is a wonderful older sister for her siblings. She is especially fond of her sister Batty, who is very attached to her. Her maturity and leadership results in her sisters looking up to her, even when she questions her own abilities.

Skye is adventurous and impatient with frivolity. Her relationship with Batty is entertaining to read about; Skye is uncertain with how to act with her younger sister while maintaining a tough exterior. 

Jane is a writer, with her mind constantly wandering, even during conversations (which tends to irritate Skye). On the Penderwicks’ trips throughout the series, Jane consistently manages to haul a stack of books with her. 

Batty is curious and shy, and she loves animals. Her sisters are protective of her, even if some of them pretend they aren’t. 

As the series progresses, the sisters grow older, and their changes in character are interesting to see. Though the plots of these books don’t revolve around a real villain or conflict, the stories are still so exciting, engaging, funny, and heartwarming. This really is a wonderful series, and the audiobooks read by Susan Denaker are amazing as well!

– Mia T.

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall 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.

The Third Twin by C.J. Omololu

Ever done something wrong, but then just totally put the blame on your sibling, or maybe an imaginary one? Of COURSE not, right? Just put that one out of your mind…

But what if that imaginary sibling became real?

Answer: Some really, really bad stuff would happen.

In C.J. Omololu’s thriller and mystery combined in one, The Third Twin is sure to leave you flipping the pages like there’s no tomorrow. If you’ve ever read Pretty Little Liars, or maybe you’re a fan of the TV series, this book is pretty similar, but with more of a haunting twist. Even the cover looks cool!

But anyways, everything started out as a joke. The main characters, identical twins named Lexi (Alexa) and Ava (they’re seriously identical, because you really can’t tell the difference between them at all), make up a third twin, Alicia, just for fun. Who forgot to take out the trash? Who totally smashed that new iPhone? Alicia! Duh. Lexi and Ava decided that that was a total no-brainer.

As they grew up, they used Alicia as a cover-up for doing things that they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Nobody needed to know about this secret Alicia. She only existed when they wanted her too.

Until Alicia becomes real. Now Ava and Lexi are up to their necks in hot water, and it may not seem like they can get away without some pretty hard consequences. Because a boy is found murdered, and all traces point directly at Alicia.

The girl who never existed.

Either Lexi’s sister, Ava, is the one responsible for this tragic accident…

Or perhaps Alicia is real.

-Katharine L.

The Third Twin by C. J. Omololu is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Image result for fangirl bookFangirl….not a title that sounds like  your cup of tea? Well think again, because Rainbow Rowell’s brilliant and relatable novel encompasses a young adult’s perspective as she tries to navigate her first year in college. Cather, or Cath, is an incoming Creative Writing Major who already has a following for her work in online fanfiction, done so under a pseudonym. Snippets of her writings are also included between chapters to provide a balanced parallel and subplot. The novel also gives the readers some great insight on the online community, and how very real and important fan created content is to people.

Cath is beyond nervous as she goes off to college with her twin sister, Wren. Unlike Cath however, Wren is outgoing, daring, and a social butterfly. After Wren decides not to share a dorm with her sister, Cath is left to her own devices in navigating the new roommate, campus life, and her newfound independence. She is also quite witty, along with a few other characters in the book that provide many hilarious lines and nods pop culture. I personally identified with this novel, because of Cath’s introverted qualities, escapism in books, and social anxiety. In addition, Cath’s number one stress release is writing, as she gets lost into her world of writing about her favorite fictional characters. Her intense love for the book series Simon Snow, and the friends she made through it reminded me of how I feel that Harry Potter  shaped me into who I am, and it made me nostalgic for the midnight premiere excitement. I believe everyone can relate to that on some level, whether it be with a book series or movie, like Star Wars.

I recommend this book to anyone going to college soon, because it gave me some great understanding and insight on what to expect and look out for. I really loved how the author very subtly showed things the characters did, to foreshadow their true character. In summary, Cath’s first year in college is full of family drama, friend drama, writing career hurdles, inner conflict, and a potential romantic interest. Don’t miss out on author Rainbow Rowell’s unique voice!

-Ava K.

Fangirl is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

mysisterskeeper_jodipicoultIn The Fault in Our Stars, John Green says his novel is not a “cancer book.” Well, neither is My Sister’s Keeper. Bound to bring the reader to tears on more than one occasion, this novel faces tough issues of today.

When Kate Fitzgerald was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) at age two, the doctors realized she was going to need a matched donor for stem cells in the near future. So Kate’s parents selectively chose a sperm and an egg to make Anna, in order to use the stem cells in the umbilical cord to save Kate. But Anna’s donations did not stop there. Blood transplants, bone marrow. Basically every time Kate was hospitalized, Anna was there too, donating something else to her sister.

Now Anna is thirteen. Kate is beginning to die of kidney failure, and the Fitzgeralds have asked Anna to donate one of her kidneys. But Anna is fed up, and she sues her parents for the rights to her own body. Needless to say, this causes major conflicts among the family.

This novel discusses the moral effects of having a designer baby, as well as how far one should push for their child to donate for another child. Do the Fitzgeralds love Kate more, so much so that they had a second baby just to save the first? What is it like to live in a family with a child dying of cancer?

Seems straight forward, right? Anna sues for the rights to her own body, and she either wins or loses. But, if she wins and does not donate a kidney, her sister dies. If she loses and donates a kidney, she and her sister have to go through a complicated transplant that doctors think Kate may not be able to withstand.

No matter what happens, both outcomes prove to be a loss for Anna. What do you think? Is it right to have a baby just to save another child’s life? Is it right to be forced to donate parts of your body, without making the decision yourself? Is it right to stop being a donor for someone when they are sure to die without your help?

Combined with drama between the lawyers, the delinquent son of the Fitzgerald family, and some pretty major plot twists, this is a fantastic read. The novel is so captivating, especially because it’s told in the perspective of each character. I think anyone 13 and older can handle the heavy concepts, as long as you accept the fact that you will likely cry. But isn’t that what makes a book so captivating?

Leila Salem., 9th grade

My Sister’s Keeper is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Public Library.