The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an influential novel written by Oscar Wilde.  The story revolves around the eponymous character, Dorian Gray.  Early in the story, Dorian is an impressionable young man.  His friend, an artist named Basil Hallward, has painted a portrait of Dorian.  Basil is almost worshipful of Dorian’s innocence and natural beauty.  Lord Henry Wotton, known as Harry, is an associate of Basil.  Harry persuades Basil to introduce him to Dorian.  Immediately, and against Basil’s wishes, Harry begins to exert an evil influence on Dorian.  Dorian becomes preoccupied with his own youthful appearance.  He develops an intense desire to remain youthful forever.  Dorian wishes that his portrait would grow old, while he remains young.  In a mysterious way, Dorian’s wish is granted.

I consider this book to be a cautionary tale about the consequences of selfishness, conceit and other sinful behaviors.  Dorian’s descent into a life of evil was saddening to me.  I felt disappointed that he would fall prey to Harry’s false and immoral philosophies.  The manner in which Harry influences Dorian is very cunning, and seems to be a very accurate portrayal of the manner in which one might be deceived by hedonistic philosophies.

The tone of this novel is rather dark and gothic, so I am not sure that everyone would enjoy reading it.  I personally found it to be quite intriguing and instructive, even though it seemed eerie at times, especially at the end.  This could be considered a very tragic story, but I think Oscar Wilde teaches some valuable lessons in this book.  I would recommend the book to most people, although some people may find it to be a bit creepy.

-Oliver H.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

have you seen me? by Kate White


have you seen me? by Kate White is an excellent novel of mystery, suspense, and nail-biting thrills.

The book opens with main character Ally Linden arriving to her workplace an hour earlier than everyone else. However, she soon remembers that she has not worked there in five years- and even more troubling, she doesn’t remember where she has been for the last three days.

Determined to find out what caused her fugue state and what she did, Ally hires two private investigators to retrace her steps for those three days. Quickly, questions begin to pop up- why didn’t her husband report her missing? Where have her purse and phone gone? Do the bloodstained tissues in her pocket mean something? Could the episode be related to a traumatic incident she experienced in her past? Every time we think we’ve figured it out, a new twist reveals that everything is not as it seems.

I really liked this book! The surprise ending left me in complete shock- I’m usually very good at guessing what’ll happen at the end of suspense novels and solving the mystery, but the resolution of this book completely caught me by surprise- it was ingenious. White used diversion and opaque writing masterfully to her advantage, weaving the perfect web of suspense. While the writing was a little too technical in some parts (financial journalism was described in excruciating detail), I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a dark suspense thriller.

-Vaidehi B.

have you seen me? by Kate White is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

The Other Side of Dark by Joan Lowery Nixon

I read this book a while ago because my mother gave it to me as a gift. Of course I was going to read it. When I first read it, I thought whatever about it until I re-read it. I mean the girl wakes up from coma at age 17 after her house was attacked and her mother was killed. She was in a coma for 4 years! The crazy thing is that she was the only person that saw the person who killed her mother.

Stacy is now trying to recover memories with the help of new face Jeff. So many twists, lies, and secrets to discover with the mental age of 13, in a 17 year old body. Who can she trust? Who can she not trust? Who should she listen to and so forth?

This was a fun thriller that I took my time with because I could. If you are looking for a suspenseful, thrilling, and eerie book this is definitely the read for you! I highly recommend this book even though it was written quite a while ago.

-Coralie D.

The Other Side of Dark by Joan Lowery Nixon is available to download for free from Libby.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A case closed for five years, almost as dead as the vanished girl in question. Everyone living in the town of Little Kilton believes that Sal Singh murdered his girlfriend Andie Bell and subsequently committed suicide. Well, almost everyone. Pippa Fitz-Amobi never really agreed with the final verdict of the case; too many unexplained variables never lined up quite right. She decides to investigate the shady mystery for her senior year capstone project in an effort to expose the truth. Pip plunges straight into a world of lies and loose ends that threaten to expose the crime’s true nature, but someone out there would prefer that those secrets stay buried…

This book was so engrossing and suspenseful that I stayed up far too late on a school night just to finish it. Clues, characters, and red herrings are intricately interwoven to weave a complicated web of secrets. Right from the start, the plot engaged me and kept me reeled in with constant suspense. I found the plot to be very well-planned at a good pace to keep the story moving. Additionally, several exciting twists kept me on my toes and genuinely surprised me with how they revealed new details about characters I might have otherwise ruled out. While the mystery was incredibly interesting, I also enjoyed reading about the small moments of Pip’s everyday life and her friends and family. Those background/side characters had their own development, details, and quirks, which made the story more well-rounded and believable. 

Pip did do a couple of questionable things in the name of sleuthing, mostly by invading the privacy of others in several ways. I wish she could have faced consequences for that, and also that she could have had a bit more trouble working through the clues in general. It was nice when things tied together neatly, but sometimes clues lined up a bit too easily. Overall, it may have been a bit too outlandish of a mystery for it to be completely realistic, but I find the complexity and intrigue of the mystery to be much more important than realism. When it comes to those factors, this book nailed it and I’d highly recommend it as an enthralling quick read!

-Kaitlyn S.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Darwin’s Blade by Dan Simmons

Darwin's Blade: Simmons, Dan: 9780380973699: Books

This book contains some mature sexual descriptions that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Darwin’s Blade by Dan Simmons is an action thriller about Dr. Darwin Minor, an accident investigator with a dark past. His life has been more or less normal for the past decade- but as a series of increasingly improbable accidents crop up around California, he finds that he may be in too deep.

This book is typical, incredibly cliche suspense thriller- complete with the FBI, the Russian Mafia, guns, copious violent (albeit creative) death, and cars. Still, I did enjoy it. Even though it didn’t really live up to the ‘thriller’ part, I thought it was overall a pretty good read- and a nice break from the typical material I have. Still, quite a few pet peeves of mine made an appearance in this book. There were several points where I almost put the book down for good- because I really didn’t want to read a four-page description of physics equations or Vietnam or the mechanics of guns and cars or what felt suspiciously like Philosophy 101. The depth of detail about these frankly mundane and unimportant plot devices was mildly interesting, but for the most part, extraordinarily irritating.

As such, I would only recommend this book to slightly more intellectual readers. Some of the plot does require significant brainpower to understand- more than I, as a casual reader, would have liked. Also- be ready to face a macho, almost-forced version of romance. Still, if you’re looking for a comforting-in-its-outlandishness type of crime novel, you really can’t go amiss with Darwin’s Blade. Just be prepared to skip a few pages.

-Vaidehi B.

Darwin’s Blade by Dan Simmons is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin made me read 459 pages in 3 hours. Which *wow*, it hurt my brain. Honestly I wasn’t expecting much from this book. It seemed like your typical 2010s YA starter book, with a sulky teenage girl MC and a badboy love interest. It took me months to convince myself to read this.

The book is about a girl, Mara Dyer, who suddenly loses her memory after an accident involving the death of her best friends and crush. After moving away to a Florida private school, that in my opinion reminds me way to much of Gilmore Girls’ “Chilton.” Mara is hounded by her classmates for catching the attention of British classmate, Noah Shaw. Honestly the author went all out with making him your stereotypical perfect bad boy who’s way too rich for his own good. It’s a bit trashy and cliché- but it’s fine because I’m trash for loving this stuff.

As Mara attends school paranormal activity begins happening. Random deaths appear and it seems Mara is at the center of it all. I won’t spoil anything but the plot was a 3.5/5 for me. It wasn’t horrible, but I barely remember any of it. However it was super easy to read through and wasn’t confusing or unrealistic.

This book is not deep in any sense but it does have some great qualities. Example one- NO LOVE TRIANGLE, FINALLY AN EARLY 2010s YA BOOK WITH ONE LOVE INTEREST. Example two- Noah Shaw… I know some people hate him because he’s kind of cliché, but leave me alone… I like Brits who have the “I hate everyone but you” trope. Example three- the main character wasn’t annoying. Usually characters in books like this are driven by impulse decisions that lead to annoyance. But this character was actually not spineless and naïve.

The one thing I was extremely disappointed by was the one-sided transparent side characters. The Jewish Black Bi Best friend, who’s name I forgot, felt like a token character rolled into someone who was only developed for the plot. The stereotypical blonde mean girl, who’s name I also don’t remember, is obsessed with Noah Shaw and ruining Mara’s life. It’s a bit annoying and I actually face palmed a few times while reading this. I don’t understand why the author would obsess over characters like Noah but make such bland side characters.

Now for my most controversial character, Noah Shaw. This man was obviously written to keep readers enticed. He’s written eye candy. From the moment we read about his charming London accent to speaking numerous languages and suggestive words. This man was built not just to flirt with Mara but to make the reader blush. Not to mention he has the face structure and body of a Greek god. It’s just unfair and unrealistic at that point. That being said, and wow I’m disappointed in myself. But Michelle Hodkin’s tactics worked because I loved him. Does he have flaws? Definitely. Is he so unrealistic it hurts? Yes and maybe I just have low standards so it doesn’t matter.

Overall this book is a 3.5/5 for plot. 2/5 for side characters. 4/5 for main character. 4/5 for Noah because I may or may not be in love with him. I recommend reading this book for fun. But trust me- you will gain absolutely nothing educational out of this. But you will waste about 4 hours and have a raging headache for lying on the couch in the same position all morning.

So yes, read it.

-Ashley Y.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin is available for checkout at 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.

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.

Game Review: Eyes

The game eyes is a horror game that has the player navigate through a mansion in hopes to find twenty money bags. If you get the twenty money bags through the door your free, but there is a catch. The house consists of one spirit that wanders around trying to ensure that you do not leave.

There are three floors and to find the money bags you must search in cupboards, drawers, and shelves. 

This game is different from every other game because around the house there are symbols of eyes drawn on the walls and when you collect them they show you what the spirit sees. This can help you tell what floor the spirit is on and if it is safe to leave the room or not. 

When the spirit is within ten feet of you everything around you will start to rattle, you will start to hear heavy breathing, and rats will start coming out of the floorboards. 

Overall the CGI in the game is very well done and looks realistic. The plot and goal of the game are very intriguing. The game is very fun to play especially in the dark and I would recommend this game to anyone who likes jumpscares. 

-Sanjana S.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

A prestigious school. An abandoned island. A deadly disease. Secrets beyond comprehension. These elements present themselves in suspenseful and exciting ways in “Wilder Girls” a science fiction horror novel written by Rory Power. The story follows the Raxter School for Girls, a coveted boarding school off the coast of the United States. The story picks up 18 months after the island had been put under quarantine due to the Tox, a deadly virus that mutates the environment and the people within it. We follow the few survivors of the plague after the teachers and several girls have already succumbed to the Tox. As the story progresses, we discover secrets behind the military’s role in managing the disease, and the true meaning of finding a cure.

Hetty, one of the few survivors, lives within the school, bickering for rations with the other students and taking care of her friends Byatt and Reese. As she looks around at the fellow students, she describes the horrifying effects of the Tox: extra body parts, vines growing out of the body, and shocking spasms that leave each victim even more distraught than before. These girls are sitting ducks, slowly decomposing while waiting for the CDC and the outside world to provide a cure while donating occasional rations. As the months go by, the students and few remaining teachers develop a hierarchy of power in order to keep order and safety on school grounds. A quarantine is set both on the island and the school, only allowing certain students to venture into the dangerously mutated forest. We see bonds broken and formed between young women as they struggle to survive and save those they care most about, making a life in their hopeless situation, surrounded by death and decay.

Themes of sacrifice and selfishness develop through the novel as their situation at Raxter worsens. When Byatt, Hetty’s closest friend and almost sister, goes missing after a flare-up, her and Reese risk the security of their other classmates to go beyond the fence and search for her, uncovering deadly and scarring secrets that reveal the true fate of the island’s residents. Hetty’s careful, loving, and protective nature fails in the final critical moments, revealing her true ambitions as she is forced to decide between the group she loves and the people she cannot live without: Reese and Byatt. Hetty remains one of my favorite literary characters due to what may seem like backwards character development but is actually a revelation of her flawed heroic nature that exists her entire life. “Wilder Girls” does a phenomenal job of displaying the flaws of even the greatest heroes and sacrificers.

I read this book for the first time in summer 2019, and found it a fascinating story that I stayed up all night to finish reading. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys dystopian YA fiction, horror, or any story with dynamic and complex characters that showcase true universal themes.

-Bailey L.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.