Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

“Keep a fire burning; a fire is what saves you.”

Such is the number one rule in Margot’s household, set by her mother before she could even walk. 17-year-old Margot lives with her emotionally distant mother in a small town where it is difficult to find peace and solitude. They constantly struggle to get along, butting heads at the smallest of issues while ignoring the largest insecurities plaguing them. However, nothing compares to the biggest secret held from Margot; the girl has no idea where she came from, and her mother gives no clues or mention to any extended family. Eventually, several discoveries lead her down a new path, leaving home to gain independence and seek out the truth behind her mysterious origins.

Burn Our Bodies Down depicts the journey Margot takes to discover that hidden side of her history, to a town called Phalene. As the story develops, we are introduced to characters within the town, each reacting to Margot’s appearance in an unexpected way. One of my favorite elements of this book is the characterization of Margot and her new friend Tess, foils in ideas and influences. Margot sees the world through the eyes of someone living a tragedy, unable to get a firm grasp on a stable and happy life. Tess, on the other hand, is privileged enough to see the world as a written tragedy, experiencing the horrifying events that unfold as if they were a story and not someone’s real life. She treats her new friend’s dilemma as a mystery to be theorized about, not realizing that her life can too become tragic until it’s too late.

As the story unfolds, tension builds to the point where we can only throw blind guesses at the page, with a final reveal that sent chills down my spine. Themes of responsibility, love, and empathy reign supreme throughout the novel, creating a beautiful coming-of-age story (if you consider horrifying supernatural occurrences to be typical in a teenage experience). Unlike Power’s previous book “Wilder Girls”, I found this book difficult to get into. However, knowing the author’s potential, I luckily stuck with the story as it picked up steam. The final chapters are a whirlwind of shock and excitement that I was grateful to experience, and wholeheartedly recommend the book to any fan of mysteries, thrillers, and emotional dramas.

Bailey L.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry follows a young boy named Jonas and the rest of his community. They all live in a utopia, a place that is perfect and everything is the same. A place where there is little conflict and problems. In the community, they know no pain, no loss; everyone is kind and respectful and everything is fair. When Jonas turns twelve, he is assigned the job as the new Receiver. He must undergo training from the Giver who passes on memories to Jonas of real pain, true anger, love, and things they have never seen or felt before in the community. These memories change Jonas and his beliefs. He changes and begins to feel true emotions and starts to see things differently. Once Jonas starts to realize the truth behind their perfect world, Jonas fights for what he thinks is right and takes a stand.

The Giver explores themes like individuality and the ability to choose. It shows that being different can be a good thing and it isn’t always enjoyable to be the same as everyone else. It also expresses that being able to choose something is important even if the thing being chosen isn’t important, it’s the fact that you get a choice that is important. I liked how the author portrayed the memories and the emotions in them. The author described them in an amazing way which made it interesting. There were small twists and reveals in the book, but nothing too big which made it simple.

I liked Jonas’ character development in the story. I like how he made his own decisions and created his own opinions unlike earlier in the story. Jonas decided to choose what he wanted to do instead of following what everyone else does and I really enjoyed him in the story. All the other characters were also enjoyable. I especially liked Asher; Asher was a funny character and stood out from the rest as he made mistakes and liked to have fun. Another thing I like about The Giver was how there weren’t many filler chapters; it was always straight to the point and explained things well. The Giver was a good short book and I really enjoyed it.

-Nicole R.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Every place you’ll ever find yourself in is more than meets the eye. This is the central idea of Leigh Bardugo’s new novel The Ninth House, a supernatural fantasy about the life of Yale student Alex Stern. The story follows Alex through her freshman year of college, recruited by a secret society at the university known as Lethe. This society supervises 8 other organizations across campus, each of them specializing in a certain magical concept through rituals and other supernatural events. Lethe has been interested in her for most of her teenage life due to strange occurrences in police reports that reveal her secret; Alex was born with the power to see “Grays”, the ghosts that fail to pass over beyond “the Veil” and wander the living world. As someone who can see them, Alex plays an important role in protecting the societies from supernatural interference with their business. She studies the ways of Lethe and magic under her mentor Darlington, and receives help from grad student Dawes and Dean Sandow. However, life as a college recruit is not an easy path, and Alex must learn to navigate her struggling GPA and avoid suspicion from her roommates, all while keeping the existence of magic and the Nine Houses a secret.

However, life gets turned even more upside down when Darlington disappears and a random girl is found dead on campus. Concerned about the societies’ potential involvement in both cases, she goes out to solve the mysteries in a collection of twists and turns. As the murder investigation unfolds, people are tossed in and out of the scapegoat role, even some of the people she trusts most. At the novel’s conclusion, everything is made clear through shocking revelation that leaves its readers yearning for a second installment in Stern’s universe.

This book took me a little bit of time to get into. Being a “New Adult” book, it was a large jump in detailed writing from the book I had just read. However, once I sat down and committed to reading, I found soon enough that I couldn’t put the book down. The characterization of Alex fascinated me, and became more enthralling as her past is revealed. The interwoven stories between the world of the living and the dead and the world of Lethe and Yale as a whole make for an interesting story. I am looking forward to the next installment, hopefully to come out late 2021 or early 2022.

-Bailey L.

The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book vs. Movie: “The Shining”

I have spent the last couple weeks making my way through Stephen King’s The Shining a horror literature classic that my dad gave me for Christmas. As I was reading the book, my parents asked me about some familiar and iconic movie scenes and how I enjoyed reading them. After finishing the book and not coming across those scenes, I realized that there were some stark contrasts between the novel and Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagined classic. Thus, I decided to do research and have conversations with my dad about the differences between the two entertainment sources, and analyze their impact on their respective audiences.

Several subtle differences to the atmosphere have occurred to properly terrify audiences according to the type of media consumed. For instance, Danny’s interaction with the “wolf-man” is replaced with Wendy’s vision of a man in a bear suit in the movie. While both concepts are frightening in description and convey similar themes, the “wolf-man” is more cartoonish and sudden, showing the experience as one would expect from a terrified child’s mind. However, the movie interpretation is more unnerving than a typical jumpscare, showcased in a quick zoom shot that cannot be as successfully accomplished in a literary style. These differences in interpretation thus offer a similar effect using entirely different scare techniques, both appropriate for the interpretation and entertainment style it’s present in. Additional scenes, such as Danny turning a corner to find himself faced with the twins and the blood-filled elevator, are not present in the book due to their unnerving and sudden appearances, something that cannot be done through King’s detailed descriptive writing. The strongest and most important setting difference between the book and the movie is the animal-shaped hedges, replaced in the move by a maze. This has a profound effect on the plot, and is known as one of the most memorable features of the film’s Overlook hotel.

Concept and character differences make up an even more influential part of the contrast between the two versions. In King’s book, it is made abundantly clear that while Jack has his demons to deal with regardless of his position, the hotel is genuinely haunted and a large factor in his eventual descent into madness. This is shown through his son Danny, and the kid’s ability to sense the ghosts of the Overlook through what the cook Halloran calls “The Shine”. In the movie, however, Danny’s power is less intense, and we are forced to question if Jack is truly seeing things and going crazy due to his own guilt and violent tendencies. One of my least favorite aspects of Kubrick’s adaptation is his treatment of Wendy Torrance, the leading lady of the story. In the novel, Wendy is much more powerful and independent, able to defend herself and her son from Jack. She even goes as far as to use a tiny shaving razor to defend herself, showing her resourcefulness when faced with impossible odds.

Because a story is always most well known for its plot, it is important to take note of the plot differences between the two media forms. In the book, the story ends with Halloran trudging through the snow to rescue Danny, taking the mother and son away on a snowmobile as the Overlook explodes with Jack inside. However, the movie takes a more eerie and suspenseful approach, all while killing off Halloran once he steps inside the hotel. Jack chases Danny through the hedge maze, and he eventually escapes, leaving Jack to freeze to death in his madness. The movie closes with an image from a 1920’s scrapbook picture, Jack being seen at the center of the party, symbolizing how Jack has become one of the eternal ghosts of the Overlook. Due to plot differences, this haunting final image does not present itself in the novel. Additional plot differences such as Jack’s weapon (an axe in the movie and a mallet in the novel) and the fate of Jack’s play are changed for the sake of forwarding the plot, allowing for characters to meet certain fates or build up to truly terrifying moments.

The Shining as a whole is a brilliant story filled with terrors, dread, and undeniably interesting characters. Both materials have stood the test of time and lived up to their reputation. As a literature fan, I am impartial to King’s original story due to its fascinating writing style and descriptions of themes and slow dread building to the plot’s climax. However, I also give credit to Kubrick’s film for its ability to terrify audiences in its own way. While not exactly holding true to the source material and thus an inadequate adaptation, it carves its own path in horror media as a phenomenally crafted film with its own story to tell.

-Bailey L.

The Shining by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is the well-known story of a miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge.  Scrooge hates everyone.  He mistreats his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit.  All Scrooge cares about is making money.  To Christmas he says, “Bah, Humbug!”  On one Christmas Eve, he leaves work to return to his dark and dreary home.  Strange things begin to happen.  Scrooge is home alone as usual, but he sees and hears things out of the ordinary.  He dismisses these at first, until suddenly, to his astonishment, the ghost of his partner appears to him.  Jacob Marley, his long-dead business partner, is wearing heavy chains.  Marley explains to Scrooge that his chains were formed during his lifetime by evil and selfish deeds, and now he must carry them through the afterlife.  Marley warns Scrooge that he will suffer the same fate if he does not change his ways.

As the familiar story goes, Scrooge is visited by three additional spirits.  The spirits show Scrooge the importance of caring for other people.  Gradually, Scrooge realizes the error of his former ways, and finally resolves to change his life.  When he awakes on Christmas morning, he goes about spreading Christmas cheer, even to the surprise of Cratchit and his family.

I love this book and its inspiring message.  To me, this is a book about change.  Scrooge seemed like a person who would never change his ways.  But even he was able to change.  He learned the value of kindness toward others.  He also learned to care for those less fortunate than him.

This book is quite short compared to many of Dickens’ other books, but for good reason this is considered one of his masterpieces.  As we expect from Charles Dickens, the book is extremely well-written and wonderfully descriptive.  Take for example his description of the city streets:  “The house-fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground.”

Dickens masterfully describes many contrasting images throughout the book.  On the one hand we see haunting ghosts and miserable living conditions, but we also see hope and cheerfulness, and finally the redemption of a miserly old man.  This book is highly enjoyable to read and we can learn many lessons from it.  It is great to read around Christmas, but I would recommend it any time of the year.

-Oliver H.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol–along with every variation–is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Movie Review: Spectral

If ghost and ghost hunting is your thing, then I recommend the movie Spectral on Netflix. I will firstly say that the movie is PG-13, so please do not watch if violent movies are not your thing (contrary to the previous sentence). 

Basically, researcher Dr. Mark Clyne is approached by a military general, showing him a video from a fallen soldier’s goggles. Visible in the video is a mysterious, almost translucent apparition that had suddenly attacked the soldier, killing almost instantaneously. These “anomalies” were later named as Arratare.

These “ghosts” were invisible to the naked eye and were completely bulletproof, making even the strongest military weapons useless. 

Clyne is sent to Moldova (bordered by Romania and Ukraine), where the US military is currently deployed. Clyne and CIA officer Fran Madison begin to work with the Delta Force in order to come up with a plan to defeat the anomalies with weapons that actually had an effect. 

After further observation and a scary encounter with the Arratare, Clyne realizes that these anomalies are actually man made, meaning that there was a way to stop the anomalies before they kill anymore people. 

This movie has so many unexpected twists and turns (even though I may have given away some crucial information… sorry). 

I give this movie a 8.5/10, and totally recommend watching this movie to chase away the boring days of quarantine. 

-Phoebe L. 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is about a kid who lives in a graveyard due to the murder of his parents. Bod Owens, short for Nobody lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts and mentored by an apparition neither from the world of the living nor the dead named Silas.

As the book goes on, readers learn more about the man that killed Bod’s family. It turns out that he was hired, and is part of an organization called the Jacks of All Trades. As Bod explores the graveyard and learns to do things like disappear or phase through things he comes to the realization that he will soon have to go out into the real world. This realization scares him because the man that killed his family hasn’t been caught, and is probably still looking for him.

Silas and Mr and Mrs. Owens prepare him for a confrontation with the man, and it comes sooner than expected, and with more men from the Jacks of All Trades. Bod picks them off one by one, and finally comes face to face with the Jack that was supposed to kill him. Using his knowledge of the graveyard, Bod traps Jack and escapes. After this, he starts seeing the ghosts less and less often, until he can no longer see them.

-Emilio V.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver is set in a type of utopia. It is about an isolated community devoid of feelings and memories. There is one person however that has all the world’s memories. The Receiver of Memory. The most honorable job in the community.

At the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is selected to be the Receiver. Jonas has to bear the pain and joy of all the memories passed down from the previous Receiver. The more memories Jonas receives, the more he wonders why his community has removed these things from people’s lives. Jonas and the previous Receiver, the Giver, come up with a plan to give the memories back to the community. The Giver has a map of what lies beyond the community, so they use that to plan Jonas’ escape.

Once Jonas passes a certain line beyond the community, the memories will be released into the community. Color and feelings will go back to all the citizens in the community. Shortly before his escape, Jonas learns how a Release is actually done. Jonas always thought that the person being released would be taken Elsewhere. It turns out that being Released means to be killed. A new child Jonas has grown close to, Gabriel, is being Released soon, so Jonas decides to take Gabriel with him to save Gabriel. On the night of his escape, Jonas stops by the Nurturing Center, takes Gabriel and leaves the community, starting his journey to the boundary.

Jonas takes a bicycle and rides all day, resting at night. Eventually he makes it to the boundary to a house covered in snow. Inside Jonas can hear singing, and he knows that the people inside are waiting for him and Gabriel. As soon as he crosses the boundary, all the citizens of his community receive memories and feelings.

-Emilio V.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol is the story of an old and grumpy man named Ebenezer Scrooge. The story is based in England the day before Christmas. Ebenezer owns a counting house. Bob Cratchit works for him. Cratchit gets paid a very small salary, so he isn’t very wealthy. Around Christmas, Cratchit likes to celebrate with his family. Right before Cratchit leaves for the day, he asks Scrooge if he can have Christmas off. “Bah! Humbug!” is Scrooge’s response. That night at Scrooge’s house, as he’s going to sleep, he hears a loud bang and chains dragging on the floor. Before him appears the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead business partner. Marley is completely chained up. Marley warns Scrooge that unless he changes his ways and becomes more selfless he will end up like Marley. Marley also warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts: the ghost of Christmas Past, the ghost of Christmas Present, and the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Throughout his encounter  with all three ghosts, Scrooge is shown something important to his life. The ghosts show him himself as a young man, the children of man, and what will happen if he doesn’t change his ways. After seeing the three ghosts, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas changed. The first thing he does is send a boy to get the prize turkey so that he can send it to Bob Cratchit. Then he donates a lot of money to buy the poor food and drink. Next he goes to his nephew’s house for his Christmas dinner. The next day, Scrooge tries to get to his office before Cratchit and he does. Scrooge notes that Cratchit is 18 minutes late, but it doesn’t anger him. When Cratchit arrives, Scrooge acts angry, but raises Cratchit’s salary, promises to aid his family, and becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim who ends up surviving.

-Emilio V.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is a fantasy novel about Katsa, who has been graced with the ability to kill. In her world, there are some who are graced with supernatural gifts and have different colored eyes. Those with useful gifts, such as Katsa, are brought to their King so he can use it. Unfortunately, Katsa is the niece of the King, and is used to intimidate would-be criminals. Engaging in secret espionage to help hinder his actions, Katsa is constantly working with the other members of the court.

On one of her missions, Katsa encounters Prince Po. Graced himself with an amazing ability to fight, Po goes to Katsa’s court. There, they fight together and maximize each other’s capabilities. Katsa has been trying to solve the case of a man she and other members of the court had rescued from another Kingdom. They did not know who had kidnapped him, but soon discover that this man is Po’s grandfather, who Po had been looking for. Working together, Po and Katsa discover the secrets behind both the kidnapping and their graces.  

The plot was intricate, but developed into a great story by the end. Katsa is a strong lead, and the development of her character is seen through the course of the story. Initially, she was reticent, but developed into a strong, self-assured character by the end of the story. Po also developed throughout the story, and was a great second character. The plot was simple, and easy to follow. However, there were some instances where it felt stretched out and a little boring, but there were not too many scenes like that. I would recommend this too whomever is looking for a fantasy read with a strong female character.

-Anmol K.