The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I discovered this book at an early age, between elementary and middle school, but to put it simply, there has never been a book as eye opening and intriguing in all my years of reading. This was one of those rare books that excited me every time I read it—it was something I couldn’t put down. The sheer brilliance in this book is unimaginable and extremely rare to find. Personally, the book provided nostalgic memories that I could never let go of.

Published in 2007, The Mysterious Benedict Society is actually one of a five-part series about a orphan boy and gifted child named Reynard “Reynie” Muldoon. After reading an ad in the newspaper about an opportunity for gifted children, Reynie decides to take the opportunity and soon faces challenging tests, ones in which he passes. From this, he qualifies to meet Mr. Benedict, the founder of an organization, along with three others who passed the test: George “Sticky” Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire. Mr. Benedict sends the children on a mission to explain the mind-controlling messages displayed on televisions and radio signals by placing them as undercover agents in another organization institute, but there’s so much more than what meets the eye.

One main reason why I choose to praise this book is because of its uniqueness. In mystery and thriller novels, there’s already a sense of uniqueness in the sense that you have to create entirely new and different plots to keep stories fresh and entertaining, but this novel specifically holds the complete opposite of cliché story-telling, as it includes many details that one wouldn’t even know could fit together. To be quite honest, the book is quite long and has some unnecessary fill-ins for the plot, yet the plot in itself is wild, crazy, and so unique to the extent where one can never know what will happen next. Along with the plot are creative puzzles and tests for the reader to figure out on their own—a wonderful way to keep readers engaged! The characters have flaws, which make them realistic, but not to the point where they’re so unlikable and their chemistry doesn’t mix well. In the end, the book acts the way a true mystery novel should, even if the imaginative plot fits young adults.

It reaches the heart and soul of young readers, as it provides such a wild, creative imagination to create a story such as The Mysterious Benedict Society. However, it also extends to any age, young or old, but basically, just anyone who’s creative and simply wants a puzzling challenge.

-Natisha P.

The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

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.

Authors We Love: Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness at arrivals for A MONSTER CALLS Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2016, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, ON September 10, 2016. Photo By: James Atoa

Twice Carnegie Medal Winner Patrick Ness was born in the United States, currently holding dual citizenship status while living in London. He attended the University of Southern California, graduating with a degree in English Literature. While having written books for all age groups and genres, he is most known for his young adult fiction novels, most notably A Monster Calls.

After working as a corporate writer for a cable company, Ness published his first novel in 2003, titled The Crash of Hennington. He also published his pivotal short story collection Topics About Which I Know Nothing the same year. His career took off with the publishing of The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in a young adult trilogy about a society where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts. He was awarded the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for this novel. He continued headstrong with the Chaos Walking trilogy, publishing the next two books and a series of short stories in the same literary universe. He is currently working on a film adaptation of the trilogy alongside screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

A Monster Calls originates from the mind of Siobhan Dowd, and Ness was hired to write the story after her passing in 2007. With illustrations by Jim Kay, the novel’s tale of a boy struggling to come to terms with his mothers illness earned Ness the Carnegie Medal after its 2011 publication.

Patrick Ness has written numerous novels about defining the teen experience from non-stereotypical perspectives. The Rest of Us Just Live Here presents an ironic spin on the classic YA fantasy novel, instead focusing on the ordinary side characters while the powerful “protagonists” fight monsters in the background. He has also touched on science fiction with his book More Than This, showing a teenage boy’s journey through a strange world in which he somehow wakes up after drowning in the ocean. The novel is one of my favorites from the author, describing themes of life’s meaning, trauma, and the difficulties of growing up in a place where you don’t feel welcomed. Ness wonderfully defines his diverse character set, and is an expert of including representation of POC and LGBTQ characters without making those identities their defining traits. Instead, he writes diverse characters not for the sake of diversity, but for the sake of telling an important story that everyone can relate to. Other books by Ness include his adult novel The Crane Wife, and his new young adult story titled Burn. As one of my favorite authors, Patrick Ness has astounded me in the  diversity of his literary prowess. I have enjoyed reading all of his works, and would recommend them to anyone that has a love for reading. My personal favorite has been More Than This for several years, and I am currently rereading the Chaos Walking trilogy before the movie makes an appearance.

-Bailey L.

The works of Patrick Ness are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Cracked Up to Be is yet another example of a book this year that fails to disappoint me. After reading Sadie by the same author, once Cracked Up to Be was re-released in a new edition, I jumped on the chance to read it. (Pro tip: you can find the novel on the Barnes and Noble buy one get one 50% off tables!)

Cracked Up to Be tells the story of a once-perfect high school girl Parker Fadley, who has fallen from grace after witnessing a traumatic event, which you learn more about as you continue on throughout the novel. 

Courtney Summers has a way of fully immersing you in her stories, and making you keep your eyes glued to the pages, wondering what will happen next. There is always something revealed or teased during the end of chapters that make you become completely addicted to the book. The fact that the novel is 214 pages long certainly doesn’t help as well, with short and straight to the point chapters that led me to complete the book in three hours filled with  

The story revolves around the characters more than the plot and was something I in fact, really appreciated. Don’t get too excited by the mystery though, because to be quite frank, it was slightly underwhelming as well as the ending. But I am willing to overlook that for the sole point of my love to hate relationship with Parker Fadley.

There is something so captivating about unlikeable characters that completely captivates you. I very strongly disliked the main character Parker, but at the same time I was obsessed to learn what her deal was, and I believe that was exactly the purpose of her character. Needless to say, I frequently caught myself laughing at the crass jokes she makes, but feel a sense of dislike for the snide remarks she makes afterwards. 

This novel isn’t suited to everyone’s tastes, and a better representation of Courtney Summer’s work in my opinion is Sadie (I have also published a review on this book!), but Cracked Up to Be was an undeniable great read for me that I encourage you all to read!

Trigger Warning: the following topics are discussed and portrayed throughout the book such as rape, suicide, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse.

-Asli B.

The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufmen and Jay Kristoff

A sci-fi romance filled with adventures, death, and societal issues, what else could you wish for? But seriously, this book/series paved the way for my entrance into young adult sci-fi and I can’t thank it enough. 

While reading this book I cried many a time, both out of anger, frustration, and despair. Needless to say, it was an emotional rollercoaster. So much so that I read every book in a day each and still somehow managed to get absolutely wrecked by them. The plot took so many twists and turns it was almost impossible to get bored. 

A summary of this complicated book is most simply put as, a boyfriend and girlfriend live on a planet, they break up, planet gets destroyed. Once planet gets destroyed they are on an evacuation ship where a plague runs rampant, an AI is trying to “save” the ship but really not, and thats only the least of it. 

Apart form its complicated plot which only explains the premise of the first book, this book is in such a unique format that it is a must read. I see that most people say the audiobook is incredible, but when you listen to it, you don’t get to experience the amount of effort and detail this book possesses through its interactive elements.

I have never seen a book quite like this. The images, the format of the words, is just impossible to describe. The next time you go to a Barnes & Noble, pick up this book and flip through it. Trust me, it is an enlightening experience. How the authors though of this format I will never know, but will forever be grateful for. 

The characters are perfect at adapting and reacting to the horrifying situations surrounding them. And as an extra bonus, they are very cute together. These characters sucked me into the world and what I believe to be the main factor of my emotional attachment to this book. 

Everyone must make space for this book on their shelves, because it is one of the best science fiction I have ever read, and there will never be a dull moment. 

-Asli B.

The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kieley

With all that has been going on in the world as of late, I thought it would be a perfect time to recommend one of my favorite books.

Similar to The Hate U Give, All American Boys is a captivating story about racial injustice and while it was released quite a while ago, it has always maintained its relevance especially in today’s current social climate

Written by two authors and two different perspectives, All American Boys is about two teenagers, Rashard and Quinn, and how they will stand up for the racism that Rashard faces once he gets falsely accused of stealing in a grocery store and the many injustices he faces afterward. 

From the beginning, this book had something that as different from other fictional books I’ve read about racial injustice and one of which is dual perspectives. I absolutely adored the different points of view and the fact they were each written by different authors made them all the more enjoyable. With the dual perspectives, it gave the book a deeper meaning and showed how one part of the community could stay silent about the issues of injustice (Quinn’s) and how another community rallied for it. 

One of the main themes of this book is loyalty. From the catalyst event moving onwards Quinn deals with the fact that maybe his loyalty lies in the wrong people. For example, his best friends brother was the police officer that cruelly manhandled Rashard and escalated the situation that shouldn’t have even been an issue in the first place. Throughout the book Quinn is trying to hold onto the trust and security not only with his best friend but his brother, who he also has a close bond with. 

This story is so captivating and powerful that I finished it in one sitting. From start to finish I was hooked, and I can almost guarantee that you would as well. 

Though Rashard’s story though fictional is very much a reality for what a lot of people of color face. But in most cases, the victim doesn’t get justice. This book shows the privilege some people live in for their lives to continue as though nothing has happened. It also serves as a reminder that when something isn’t right to speak up about it. Advocate and speak out about stories of people like Rashard who can’t do it for themselves because “Rashard couldn’t come to school today.” 

In terms of reality, Rashard’s story would only be the tip of the iceberg. Racial inequality is still very much alive and is being brought up not only in fiction but in daily life. So stay aware and advocate!

-Asli B.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kieley is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Authors We Love: Ruta Sepetys

Ruts Sepetys is one of the most well known young adult historical fiction authors ever! With historical fiction being my favorite genre, I consider myself proud to say that Ruta Sepetys is my favorite author of all time. I have read all of the books she has written and I consider every single one of them to be some of my favorite books. 

Unlike many historical fiction authors, she doesn’t exclusively write about one event in history. With a setting like New Orleans, Barcelona, and Siberia, Sepetys takes us into a plethora of historical events, with different time periods, people, and settings. 

One specific thing I love about historical fiction is you learn something along the way, and all of Ruta Sepetys writes about overlooked events in history. These aren’t things you learn from your history textbook, they’re much more than that. Her books take you on a journey through events like the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that took 10 times the lives the Titanic did, and is the biggest maritime disaster of all time. But for some unknown reason, nobody talks about it, except for Sepetys.

Not only does she shed these huge historical events to light, but she does also these events justice. Although what she writes is fiction, the historical events they’re based on are all too real. Sepetys does an amazing job of research. In her most recent novel, The Fountains of Silence, the back of the book offered more details about her writing and research process, as well as pages of her notes. Sepetys do years and years of research for just one novel, and by reading the books you can tell how much effort was put into them. 

As for her World War Il novels, she has interviewed countless figures, both strangers and family, that were involved in those events, and based some of her books off of real events her family has gone through. 

Another part that I really love about her books is her writing style. With short and quick chapters, the writing allows you to be constantly engaged. The constant point of view switches keep you on your toes and makes every single one of her books a page-turner.

Between Shades of Gray (2011): Not your everyday World War 2 novel, Between Shades of Gray shows the dark side of Polish deportation and labor camps. With a knowledgeable protagonist and a family trying not to fall apart in the face of war, this brutal novel is a must-read. My Rating: 9/10

Out of the Easy (2013): Out of the Easy is a novel describing the life of the daughter of a prostitute longing to be free and live her own life outside of the bustling city of New Orleans. When a customer at her bookstore is found dead, she finally finds the escape she’s been looking for. My Rating: 7/10

Salt to the Sea (2016): The biggest maritime disaster, and the long path refugees are forced to take to flee Germany, this story tells the tale no one wishes to tell about World War 2.  In this novel, everyone has a secret to tell, and with them come guaranteed tears. My Rating: 10/10

The Fountains of Silence (2019): the Fountains of Silence tells the unknown story of how the Spanish people recovered after their own civil war. Told through the eyes of a photographer tourist from Texas, and a hotel employee who works hard for every penny she earns. This novel shows the trials and tribulations of most families during the reconstruction, but the star of this novel is truly the romance. Greatest of all, you get to learn about what’s really happening with the Spanish government behind closed doors. My Rating: 9/10

-Asli B. 

The works of Ruta Sepetys are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Sadie by Courtney Summers

This book is not for the faint of heart. It contains very graphic and mature scenes and themes, but nonetheless, it’s a beautiful book. 

Sadie tells the heart-wrenching story of a girl trying to get revenge for her sister’s death. It’s told through her own narration, and through a podcast following her trace. 

As a non-avid reader of mysteries/thrillers, this book was nothing like what I had expected. Although it could be a bit slow at times, what is lacked is made up of impact. This book hits so hard, and it’s important to recognize these types of actions as something that sadly is a part of society today. 

As you learn more about Sadie and what she’s been through, and the stories of the people she meets, you find everything that happens is the absolute worst things imaginable. Society is a gruesome and horrible place, and reading this book gave me biggest reality check I ever could’ve gotten.

The most horrible thing is, that these predicaments are what some people live in, it’s all they know, and that thought repulses me. The idea that people can relate to this piece of work is truly a reflection of the worst parts of society today. 

But all that aside, I highly recommend reading this book. Again, it gave me every sort of feeling imaginable and left me wondering about each and every one of the characters we had the honor of meeting. The podcast format for some chapters is such an ingenious idea and executed so well, I regret that I read the physical copy and not the audiobook. 

Our main character is the strongest and most resilient person I’ve ever read about. She has been through so much in her life, and as the book goes on and on, the situation gets worse and worse. Sadie is such a broken and mistreated character that everything she does, and everything she goes through is remarkable to me.

In short, if you want an impactful read, this is it.

If you’re struggling with anything that Sadie encounters or is going through in this book please reach out for help. You are not alone. 

    National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 

    National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

    National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357

-Asli B. 

Sadie by Courtney Summers is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Image result for eragon christopher paolini

A dark shadow looms over the seemingly-picturesque world of Alagaësia, where humans roam alongside elves, dwarves, and werecats – the wicked and powerful emperor Galbatorix, who rules with an iron fist. For nearly a century, the innocent inhabitants of this mythical land have suffered under the evil king, but all of that is about to change with the birth of a boy named Eragon.

Born as a simple, illiterate farm boy in a small village, Eragon was raised by his uncle alongside his cousin, unaware of anything beyond his home in Palancar Valley and, occasionally, the deep forest known as the Spine. It is in the Spine, however, that his life is changed forever when he comes across a peculiar sapphire-like jewel. After he sneaks it home, though, he quickly realizes that the “stone” that he found was actually a dragon egg, and that he was now a Dragon Rider, who were fabled peacekeepers, scholars, and healers during the Golden Age – the era before Galbatorix. 

Unfortunately for Eragon, being bonded with a dragon is one of the most dangerous occupations in Alagaësia, so he and his newly-hatched dragon, Saphira, are forced to flee from Palancar Valley with the help of Brom, the village storyteller who knows more than he tells, to find the mysterious rebel force which is known only as the Varden.

All in all, Eragon, written by Christopher Paolini, is an intriguing book containing new ideas imbibed with the same adventurous atmosphere featured in other popular series such as The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson. However, it can be said that the writing is rather childish, and so takes away from the overall excitement of the book. Nevertheless, while Eragon may not aspire to the same heights as Harry Potter, it is certainly a classic in its own right. 

-Mahak M.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Morning Watch by James Agee

Image result for the morning watch james agee

This is a short autobiographical novel composed in 1947 and was finished by the author in 1950. Being at the age of puberty, John Huston, a young boy at a Christian boarding school experiences teenage isolation, curiosity, and priggishness. I thought that he was a very pitiful boy at first who was blindly sent to the boarding school because his parents half-abandoned him.

However, my pity for his family background did not stop me from reading this book due to my interest in his bewilderment in the faith of God. It just seems to me that he kept on telling himself he belongs to God when internally there is a turmoil of atheism stirring, stimulating him to commit actions of blasphemy.

-Coreen C.