Refugee by Alan Gratz

From the publisher:

“Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe…”

Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, but it is their similarities and connections that unite their experiences. After all, they were just young kids leading normal lives, until cruelty and torture tore them, their families, their homes, and their lives apart.

As these innocent children and their families are forced to leave behind everything they’ve ever known in search of safety, their harrowing journeys extend beyond the promised land they strive to reach—Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud have unknowingly begun another journey, the one within.These three are abruptly forced to grow up and make unthinkable risks and sacrifices to save themselves and their loved ones.

Read Refugee, because it is a beautiful story that will make you rethink your good fortunes.

Read Refugee, because it is a gorgeous, intricately crafted work of art.

Read Refugee, because it brilliantly ties different stories together in the most shocking ways.

Read Refugee, because it will make your heart stir in sympathy and hope for these three kids, who are so much like normal kids, yet so different—their lives have been destroyed by violence.

But most importantly, read Refugee, because it is important for readers to understand how different one’s life could be if an ancestor got lucky—or unlucky—when seeking a better, happier, and safer life away from home.

-Lam T.

Refugee by Alan Gratz is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers

“Once there were two towers side by side. They were each a quarter of a mile high; one thousand three hundred and forty feet. The tallest buildings in New York City.” In honor of September 11th, I want to share one of my very first books, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. This is the true story of Philippe Petit, a tight rope walker from France, who accomplished this impossible feat. In August of 1974, he walked between the Twin Towers of and the World Trade Center, without a safety net!  

It took Philippe Petit six years of planning for his world famous walk in the sky. With the help of some friends, he used a bow and arrow to shoot the cable across the two buildings. With thousands of people watching on the streets below, Philippe walked and ran across the 120 foot cable wire. While the words tell the story, the illustrations are the very best part!  The pictures really help to capture the size and strength of the towers and their symbolic meaning.   

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is a story of hard work and bravery. Philippe Petit shows us how one person’s incredible dream can come true.  I recommend this book to readers all ages and hope it inspires others to reach for their own impossible dreams. On the twentieth anniversary of September 11th, this book remains a tribute to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The skyline of New York City looks really different today. However, Mordicai Gerstein’s illustrations of the Twin Towers will help generations of kids to remember.

Today the 9/11 Memorial Museum honors all those who lost their lives on September 11th. There is an exhibit that remembers Philippe Petit and his famous walk. I hope that anyone visiting New York City will check it out!

-Austin S.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

Jessie Burton: The Miniaturist

Every woman is the architect of her own fortune.

The Miniaturist, written by Jessie Burton, begins with a conclusion, which sets the scene for some confusion, though is soon explained over time. Furthermore, although the prologue is written aside from the rest of the book, it is, nonetheless, significant. 

Burton writes The Miniaturist in present tense, which is suitable for the storyline. Plus, as most modern literature is written in past tense, this difference plays a major role in the enjoyment of the work. In hindsight, the tense chosen intensifies tension, depth, and pace. It feels as though you read “a movie,” with each scene similar to that of an act, a continuous moment of time. 

Now, onto its plot. Nella (our main character) is an outsider. Johannes, her husband, doesn’t seem to have much interest in her. Marin, his sister, is distinct and stern, a woman in charge rather than complicit. Their servants (Cornelia and Otto), too, are more open and harsh than the average servants/maids. Though only when Johannes gives her a replica of their home does she somewhat feel accepted. However, even then Nella confronts trouble, for as soon as she takes interest in ‘the miniaturist’ (a craftsman who creates miniatures), an unknown woman begins to watch her, as though she weren’t there. 

Later, when Johannes comes to the decision to take Nella to a feast at the Guild of the Silversmiths, Nella must confront her vulnerabilities, together with the tension and competition aroused by other traders. In addition, a notable confrontation occurs in this scene; Nella meets the Meermans, who have tasked Johannes with the storage and sale of their sugar. As the Meermans have a supercilious nature (which is soon shown in their behavior, dialogue, etc), further questions emerge, those which at first have no answers. 

I must take note of the major twists that happen throughout the book, some of which might seem uncomfortable to some readers. Therefore, make sure you’re fine with topics such as marriage, race, servitude, illicit romance, etc. They’re important to the storyline and atmosphere! 

That takes me to a theme I’d like to go into. A portion of the book is dedicated to what it means to be a wife, as Nella finds a hard time fitting into her role (I won’t explain – it’d be a spoiler!). In the process, she questions the necessity of childbirth and the hidden potentials she has as a woman; talents and opportunities she’s missed because of the church’s (and society’s) view of women. Though this is a common theme, it’s a nice refresher to have every now and again, notably because parts of it are quite prevalent to modern times. 

One aspect I admire is its ability to make us examine. For example, the suspense and distrust between newer and older characters is never rushed, off-kilter, or unreasonable. In fact, its stable pace makes room for realism, characters that behave and act as we might, even if the era and context varies from our own. It’s a rare and difficult element to integrate, but one that, at length, drives this work to be a (possible) classic. 

In short, The Miniaturist warns to handle misfortune with caution, as it might lead to continuous trouble … 

-Emilia D.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free on Overdrive.

November 9 by Colleen Hoover

November 9 by Colleen Hoover was an amazing book that I read on November 9th. Colleen Hoover is one of my favorite authors and she is known for her plot twists and extraordinary romance books. This book broke me and put me back together again.

The book follows Fallon, an actress that suffered major burns from a fire accident, and Ben, who aspires to be an author. November 9th is the date that the accident Fallon suffered from happened. Fallon is about to move to New York, when she meets Ben she spends the day with him and they get to know each other. They immediately have a connection that most people never find. Fallon mentions that her mother told her not to fall in love until she is 23. So, when she’s about to leave they make a promise to meet on the same day every year until Fallon turns 23; no contact information just that one day.

“You can’t leave yet. I’m not finished falling in love with you.” Ben said this to Fallon and it is one of those quotes that I will always remember. Ben puts his heart on the line and admits how he feels. The fact that they had to part ways and not see each other for an entire year is beyond devastating.

They reconnect every year like nothing has changed. The book is split up into 7 November 9ths. Each one leaving you with a cliffhanger that makes you want to keep reading. Fallon and Ben’s relationship is a one in a lifetime kind of thing and it makes you think. How far will they go to have a happy ending? Those last few November 9ths were an emotional rollercoaster. But, the book does have a happy ending.

A quote I find powerful at the beginning of the book that foreshadows backstory that is revealed at the end of the book was, “One of the things I always try to remind myself is that everyone has scars, A lot of them even worse than mine. The only difference is that mine are visible and most people’s aren’t.” It really reveals how much emotion was put into this book.

Fallon and Ben have a love story for the ages. Everything between forbidden love and betrayal. Imagine loving someone and only seeing them one day out of the year. It has a powerful message about how most love is fictionalized while in reality love isn’t perfect. You want the other person to have fun and live their life but it breaks your heart that they are doing it without you. Is loving someone so much worth sacrificing your own happiness to see them be happy? Is love worth waiting for? These are the things I thought about while reading this book.

Overall, this book was a solid 5/5 stars. Definitely one of my favorites!

-Kaitlyn D.

November 9 by Colleen Hoover is avaialbe to download from Overdrive.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

It was a cute, riveting, and young love story. It captured the maturity of literature and poetry but was also able to include light-hearted contented and funny references to the well-known DC character Batman. I liked how the book was relatable but the dream that any teen girl would have about a brooding good-looking boy. I smiled a lot because it had the classic trope where the mysterious standoffish boy would end up being soft for the nerdy shy girl. It had all the elements that a cheesy romance novel would have too. Moved into a new town, a new girl at a new school, making new friends, etc. The author was able to bring in much humor and seriousness in such a relatable and casual way that I thought was interesting.

I hope to find similar novels that have a similar style that are well written and as captivating as this one was. So if you’re looking for a sweet, giddy read this is the book you should check out next. It is great. It is great. It is great. (You’ll get the reference if you read the book haha).

-Coralie D.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds is a highly-influential science fiction novel by H. G. Wells.  The story seems to be set around the late 1800s.  When a supposed meteorite crashes near the narrator’s home, little to no suspicion is aroused.  However, on closer inspection, the object appears to be a huge, artificial cylinder.  Ugly, grotesque aliens emerge from the cylinder, only to retreat back inside.  A group of people attempt to greet the Martian visitors, only to be shot down with a heat-ray.  More and more aliens arrive, and it becomes apparent that Mars has plotted an invasion of Earth.

This book is one of the first science fiction stories of its kind.  It seems almost cliche now for a science fiction story to include an alien invasion, but this was one of the first novels to explore that concept.  The story uses many creative elements that seem ahead of its time, such as tripod-like alien fighter machines that shoot heat-rays.  In a strange way, I enjoyed reading about the humans’ pitiful attempts to defend themselves against the Martians.  The Martians possessed highly-advanced technology, which made it extremely difficult for humans to defeat them with traditional weapons.

I would consider this book a must-read for science fiction fans.  It may be one of the most popular and influential books of its kind.  It is written in a way that makes it seem like an actual historical event, which makes it even more thrilling to read.  Like many of H. G. Wells’ novels, the tone of this book feels dark but engrossing at the same time.  Some people may find the book a bit hair-raising and even frightening, but I enjoyed it thoroughly and would highly recommend it.

-Oliver H.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

The fictional novel The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta tells the tale of a sixth grade girl named Kiranmala who is told that she is an Indian princess from another dimension. Readers are introduced to Kiranmala at the beginning of the story when she is complaining about always having to be an Indian princess for Halloween. However, once the Rakkosh demon shreds her home and her parents go missing, Kiranmala is taken back to her “home dimension” by two princes. There, she meets a girl of her age who is supposedly her cousin, winged horses, moving maps, and an irritating talking bird. To Kiranmala’s surprise, everyone helps her throughout her journey to find and save her parents. On her way, she finds out astonishing things about her heritage that had been hidden from her. 

This novel incorporates elements of many different cultures. I think that such novels, although fictional, can teach readers a lot! The story of the main character includes suspense, mystery, adventure, and humor. This novel is a hilarious and emotional rollercoaster, and a story everyone should read.

-Ayati M.

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius who loves gardening, diagnosing medical conditions, and most of all, the number 7. Willow is bursting with knowledge and curiosity on the inside, but when she enters middle school, she discovers that the only people she finds comfort in connecting with are her adoptive parents.

Until one seemingly normal day morphs into the tragic disaster that becomes the center of Willow’s world—both her adoptive parents die in a car crash. What are the odds of losing both sets of parents in a lifetime? Apparently, Willow is right on the edge of the graph, in the one percent of the one percent. Twice without parents, she feels more alone than ever, because who is she with no family?

Willow embarks on a journey to find a permanent family to surround her. On her way, she finds her voice and casts herself magically on others. She helps to create an entire garden at a drab apartment building, inspires a taxi driver to continue his education, and makes her mark on everything she is involved in. She discovers herself surrounded by her loved ones, her chosen family, those whom she met on her journey.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan brings fresh emotion to readers—warmth, tears, and joy. Willow Chance shows readers that family is truly important, but that those you meet on your journey are just as significant as those you have known since you were born. I was thoroughly touched by this unexpectedly beautiful story. Willow may be a genius who makes all her meals with food grown in her backyard garden; but in the end, she’s just a young girl with feelings and emotions who will make readers completely rethink everything they’ve been through and appreciate all they have much, much more. Readers will close Counting by 7s with more than a new story under their wings, because this book is a lot more than that—it’s a whole new understanding of our world.

-Lam T.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan can be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is clever through its attempts to build character, plot, and atmosphere. Though classics are known for their rigorous word choice, Frankenstein is in fact in the middle of this type of spectrum. For the most part, language is simple to grasp, and does not shy away from the necessities of detail and plotline. In other words, it’s easier to follow than most classics you’ll encounter.

The story is set up as though the narrator were the author, recounting a tale a stranger tells him while on an expedition as captain. He, the stranger, is Victor Frankenstein, the inventor who would come to create a monster. This knowledge, coupled with Shelly’s other efforts to foreshadow, attributes to the tension and intrigue the narration creates. It allows for readers to engage thoroughly with the text, as we’re eager to learn the origins behind Frankenstein and his reasons for the creation of the creature. The more you discover about the character, the more you question his morals and decisions throughout the chronicle. 

The establishment of themes early on in the book makes way for their progression and development. For example, the idea of creation and dangerous knowledge is implied early on, and therefore clears a path for further acknowledgement of the main character’s lack of responsibility and recognition of consequences. Another important aspect to take note of is Shelly’s usage of weather. To illustrate, when Frankenstien is at the pinnacle of his misery (I won’t say why – that’d be a spoiler!), the tone/mood shifts to storm grey, which is supported by the thunderstorm that comes soon after. It is reasonable to assume a connection between unhappiness and rain, as such weather is known for its implications. Season, too, has it’s significance. The start of Frankenstien’s biggest woe occurs in spring, which is usually associated with rebirth and renewal. However, the shock of this major contrast between the real situation and the symbolism we come to know of with season leaves room for irony, and possible implications of doom for our “protagonist.” 

Near the resolution of Frankenstein, an important question arises: who is the “hero?” As I went through the plot and reflected afterwards, I came to the result that the answer to this makes Shelly a master of her craft. There is no hero – it’s more of who, or what, is the lesser evil. To explain, Victor is the creator of the monster, and therefore is responsible for the beast’s actions. Thus, his neglect, or lack of management over the creature created a domino effect, which led to Victor’s ruination. The fact that the monster was miserable and melancholy wasn’t exactly his fault. In reality, it can almost be concluded that Victor is more of a monster than the daemon he brought to life … 

-Emilia D.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies is a book authored by Nobel Prize-winner William Golding. It is one of the best novels written in the 20th century. The book focuses on a group of young British boys stranded on an abandoned island. They tried to govern themselves at first but became violent and brutal without any adult guidance.

The story begins in a war. A plane evacuating young boys crashed and landed on a deserted island. Two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy, found a conch shell. They blew the shell to gather everyone on the beach. After the meeting, the group selected Ralph as their chief. Ralph appointed a power-hungry teenager called Jack to lead the boys who will hunt for food.

The boys spent their days playing, building shelters, and gathering edible fruits. But the peacefulness didn’t last long. The boys turned to the darkness. They believe that a beast whom they call “beastie” was watching and waiting to kill them. Out of their fears, they killed a pig and offered its head to the beast. Jack decided to take advantage of the fears and turn against Ralph, he and his hunters formed a tribe and attacked Ralph’s supporters. Later in the story, Jack and his hunters hunted Ralph like an animal.

Lord of the Flies reveals the truth about human nature. Despite that humans appear to be kind and civilized, behind the screen lies evilness and cruelty. Golding shows that humans, especially children, must be ruled with authority in order to avoid violence. If they are ungoverned and undisciplined, they will turn to animal instinct.

-Christine J.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free as an audiobook from Overdrive.