Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP by Mirin Fader

Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP is a book that details Giannas Antetokounmpo’s rise to greatness. 

In 2008, if I told you that a skinny Nigerian kid living in Greece was going to become the face of the NBA and win 2 MVPs, would you believe me? If you said no, you would agree with the majority of people. However, if you said yes, would you stick with your answer if I told you that this kid had illegal immigrant parents, and he had to sell on the streets every day to get his family food to eat? If you would still say yes, you would have predicted the rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

Giannis had to go through many struggles as a kid. He would go with his mom to sell sunglasses for a couple of euros each just to try to get food on the table. Sometimes, he would have to go to sleep with a rumbling stomach, imagining the food that he wasn’t able to eat. He would always try to smile, so his brothers wouldn’t start to worry. His family would get evicted a lot, and they would have to move to a different apartment often because they couldn’t pay the rent. However, basketball was a way out. Giannis would forget about all of his worries when he was on the court, playing his heart out. He would dream of playing in the NBA and having his family all with him along the journey. 

Giannis’s childhood was difficult, but he worked hard and didn’t complain. His story should be a lesson to all of us: Anything is possible as long as you put in the effort and work extremely hard. His childhood shows us that we should never count anyone out based on their circumstances. 

The author, Mirin Fader, did a great job including interviews and quotes from people who played a role in Giannis’s childhood. His mom, brothers, and former coaches all had quotes in this biography of Giannis Antetokoumpo. 

While reading about Giannis’s rise to stardom, I was not able to put the book down. It was so intriguing to read about the struggles that he faced and overcame to get to where he is today, and I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Giannis Anteokounmpo. Also, anyone who wants to learn a thing or two about the challenges that some people face would find this book interesting, too. 

-Mert A.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

One of my favorite books by far, Jara Dairman did an excellent job on her amazing book, All Four Stars. Jara’s spectacular book is about a young chef named Gladys. Gladys is a near perfect chef except for one thing, she is not allowed to cook. After a… misfortunate incident with a blowtorch, crème brûlée and her family’s curtains, her parents banned her from the kitchen. In this beautiful book, we follow Gladys as she adventures through life without cooking, trying to survive the 6th grade, making new friends and even writing gourmet reviews for New York’s most important newspaper, the New York Standard.

The mouth watering descriptions of food and spunky personalities in this book get people off the couch to make fancy pastries and leave us erupting in fits of laughter. With each chapter I felt more and more connected to Gladys up to the point I read a sentence in first person on accident! In conclusion, All Four Stars is a spectacular book that should be in every young chefs, or food lovers, hands. Don’t forget to read the rest in this marvelous series.

-Isa M.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is a famous, well-known novel often taught amongst high school English classes. Narrated by a young sixteen year-old and protagonist named Holden Caufield, the novel begins in Pencey prep school of Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Having failed all of his classes except for English, Holden gets expelled from his fourth school and has to return home to Manhattan on Wednesday. He grows afraid of when his parents will find out and decides to leave the campus early and stay in a hotel in New York.

As Holden travels independently for the next few days, he meets different characters ranging from old friends to complete strangers and judges them based on their personalities and sincereness. He gets easily annoyed by those who are “phoney” and struggles with reaching out to those closest to him, even his own family. Throughout the novel, Holden questions his future and clings onto the past before deciding to become a catcher in the rye.

Although the novel was written in the 1950s, it remains a gem because most aspects still relate to young teenagers today—including myself. The book rightfully upholds its reputation as one of the classics. Many aspects of the novel arguably contributes to the authenticity, since it’s difficult to find a book like this one anymore. For instance, the writing style is unique and imitates an individual’s train of thought. Salinger illustrates numerous times in which Holden goes off topic and talks about different random things like the typical human brain.

Salinger also makes the novel as realistic as possible. The characters (especially Holden) and their often spontaneous actions are often relatable to teenagers. Even the plot itself is realistic, as the novel concludes with an open-ending, showing how not all problems are easily nor quickly resolved. It’s fascinating how the author provides such small details that readers may easily overlook.

As a teenager myself, The Catcher in the Rye is an amazing book that should be directed towards more mature, older readers who are willing to understand the book’s true meaning. Although it seems very simple and boring at first, Salinger intentionally wrote the book with room for open interpretation and analysis, diving deep into themes of alienation and the protection of innocence. This story truly reflects the minds of most teenagers and their uncertainty for the future. That being said, I encourage others to read the book, but I cannot promise that everyone will enjoy it.

– Natisha P.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

Something Dark and Holy Trilogy: Character Analysis

Amazon.com: Wicked Saints: A Novel (Something Dark and Holy, 1):  9781250195661: Duncan, Emily A.: Books

Overview:

The book series, Something Dark and Holy (shortened to SD+H), is a dark fantasy trilogy written by Emily A. Duncan. The whole series revolves around a cleric by the name Nadya Lapteva. Her character is particularly interesting in the way she grows over the course of the series. Here’s some quick background information first. The series takes place in medieval Eastern Europe and follows Slavic mythology. Her country, Kalyazi, has been at war with Tranavia for centuries. The main difference between the two is that Kalyazi has clerics, individuals who can communicate directly with gods, while the Tranavians do not follow the gods and use blood magic. Nadya finds herself as the last remaining Cleric and last remaining hope to end the war. Fair warning, this will contain spoilers.

Wicked Saints:

Amazon.com: Ruthless Gods: A Novel (Something Dark and Holy, 2):  9781250195692: Duncan, Emily A.: Books

In the beginning of the first book Nadya is a very timid girl. As the last cleric, she has been constantly protected and on the move. This, of course, leads to problems. In the first half of the book, she is separated from her countrymen and meets Malachiasz. He is a Tranavian who claims he was exiled from his country. Nadya sees him as a lost boy, pities him, and eventually agrees to travel with him. Malachiasz uses this story in order to gain her trust and lead her into the capital of Tranavia. Throughout this part of the novel, Nadya’s gods try to communicate with her and warn her. However, she ignores them. 

Around the middle of the novel, Malachiasz begins to show his true colors. However, Nadya is still too naïve and blindly in love with him. Nadya’s character continues down this path until the final chapter of the novel. In the last half of the book, Malachiasz admits he was never exiled. He only brought Nadya to Tranavia because she contained the power to turn him into a god. Nadya is absolutely torn and heartbroken with this betrayal. She not only lost the only boy she ever loved, but now her gods won’t even speak to her.

Ruthless Gods and Blessed Monsters

Amazon.com: Blessed Monsters: A Novel (Something Dark and Holy, 3):  9781250195722: Duncan, Emily A.: Books

In the beginning of the second novel, it is revealed that Nadya has fallen into a deep depression. She was in solitude for nearly a year before she decided to try and track down Malachiasz; he now has the power of a god and was terrorizing her home country. Her depression disappears when she finally finds him and tries to work out problems. This is where Nadya’s character truly emerges. She gains strength, bravery and grows in power. She becomes her own character as she makes the discovery that her magic doesn’t come from her gods, but rather herself. By the end of the series her character is nearly unrecognizable from the first novel.

I highly recommend this series if you like a strong female protagonist and lots of character development. 

-Michelle L.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Amazon.com: Dragon Hoops: 9781626720794: Yang, Gene Luen: Books

Dragon Hoops is a graphic novel that follows the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons’ journey to winning the state championship. A graphic novelist, Mr. Yang, is also along for the ride. After losing in the state championship game for multiple years, the Dragons are fed up and ready to make some noise! Their roster is looking stacked, with Paris Austin and Ivan Rabb leading the way as the star players. 

The Dragons experience defeats and victories along their path to the state championship game. There are ups and downs, but they get through those negative moments as a team. 

Gene Luen Yang, the author of Dragon Hoops, wrote about a true story from his time at Bishop O’Dowd High School. Ivan Rabb, Paris Austin, Alex Zhao, and other players are actually real people and not just made-up characters!

I recommend this book to any sports enthusiast. As I read this book, I really enjoyed getting a graphic novelist’s perspective on the team. Since the book was written as a graphic novel, it was easier and quicker to read. Dragon Hoops is a very entertaining book, and if you are someone who enjoys reading graphic novels, you will definitely like this book!

I would give this graphic novel a 10/10 rating because it had a plot to it. It wasn’t like some graphic novels which are just meant to make people laugh and read for fun, but it had a purpose. Dragon Hoops was written to show us the way a high school sports team operates but in a more interesting and entertaining way.

-Mert A.

Dragon Loops by Gene Luen Yang is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Overdrive.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Disclaimer: There are two versions of Persepolis: the graphic memoir version and the literary memoir. The graphic memoir version is divided into two parts. I have only read the first graphic memoir book of Persepolis, not the actual memoir. Therefore, there’s still some of Satrapi’s writing that I haven’t been exposed to (yet). I will definitely try to find the second graphic memoir or the actual memoir soon, but for now, this review is based solely on the first graphic memoir.

Persepolis is both a graphic memoir and autobiography published in 2000. With the memoir originally written in French, Satrapi has received numerous awards for her work including the Cannes Jury Prize and the César Award for Best Writing.

The narration is written through the eyes of the main characterMarjane “Marji” Satrapi, the author herselfduring her childhood at the time of the Iranian Revolution. A series of small stories are written in the memoir based on her own experiences, portraying political upheaval and how her own family was affected by the Iranian Revolution, Iraq’s oppressive regime, and the Iran-Iraq War. Marji’s accounts mainly focus on her and her family who live in Tehran, as well as how they attempt to rebel against the regime and take part in Iranian history.

As a daughter of immigrant parents but of non-Middle Eastern descent, I felt like I could connect with aspects of this memoir all while still learning more about Iran’s history. The memoir is a beautiful representation of Islamic and Iranian culture from the first-hand perspective of an Iranian citizen. The illustrations themselves are unique and drawn to perfectly fit the memoir, making Satrapi’s experiences seem more significant.

Although it’s a graphic memoir, I highly recommend Persepolis to high schoolers more than elementary or even middle schoolers. Some topics and drawings can be graphic, making the memoir a difficult read, and there are often parts that simply cannot be taken lightly. However, the book itself is unique at being able to broaden readers’ perspectives on other cultures as a memoir, historical account, and comic book all at once.

– Natisha P.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

As someone who has been reading American and European-written novels my entire life, the only times I’ve gotten close to experiencing Asian literature were through mangas, movies, and TV series. After reading The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa–a Japanese-written book translated into English–I was opened to a new type of writing style that readers don’t often see in American or European novels. However, that doesn’t make this novel worse than others.

Published in 1994, The Memory Police is a close parallel to 1984 by George Orwell, in the sense that both take place in a dystopian society where the government constantly watches over its citizens. Although both emphasize the dehumanization of totalitarianism, Ogawa wrote her novel differently. Her story begins on a small island where objects disappear routinely, causing people to forget that such things ever existed. Those who try to remember are caught by the police. Those who do remember are taken away only to never return, creating a government-fearing society. The protagonist lives on the island as an orphaned novelist. When she discovers that her editor remembers a long-forgotten object, she keeps him hidden in her home while the Memory Police search for him. As the novel progresses, a fear of forgetting is expressed through her writing as a way to preserve the past.

Considering that this novel was translated from Japanese to English, I’m grateful that the translator was able to keep the same amount of tension and emotion from Ogawa’s writing. Although the protagonist isn’t some fearless character fighting to overthrow the government like in American literature, that only makes her more realistic and more relatable. She isn’t trying to do anything unreasonable–she simply wants her editor and herself to survive. I admit the plot could seem dull to some readers who focus on the action, but I enjoyed the psychological development of the protagonist’s mind. There’s so much depth to her personality and her thoughts which can connect to today’s world. That fear of losing everything–including yourself–is clearly shown in Ogawa’s novel, and I applaud her for her writing.

In essence, I thought the book was a definite read, but only because it appealed to me. The only issue with this novel–along with many other books–is that there’s a limited amount of readers who would be interested. To those who think this novel focuses on characters trying to change a dystopian world: it isn’t what it seems. This book was more psychological than I assumed, with less action or romance. The protagonist doesn’t necessarily stand out amongst the citizens. Instead, the author is trying to show the perspective of a typical person living in a dystopian society. To me, that’s the beauty of this novel. In reality, the novel fits best with analytical readers who want more than just the plot.

-Natasha P.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: From Lukov With Love by Mariana Zapata

From Lukov with Love remains one of my favorite reads ever. I just finished re-reading this masterpiece. Mariana Zapata is a genius and amazing author.

This book is about a girl named Jasmine Santos who ruthlessly trained and trained for figure skating. She never made it very far in competitions as a single skater so she was determined to try pairs. But still, she has trouble succeeding in competition.

She gets offered an opportunity of a lifetime to skate with the great Ivan Lukov who has won many championships. Except, there’s one issue. She hates Ivan for teasing her all her life. He is Jasmine’s best friend’s brother.

Jasmine agrees to this arrangement. She and Ivan still hate each other but have to fake it for the sake of skating. Through banter and nicknames Jasmine and Ivan try to coexist. Slowly they start building a friendship and maybe don’t hate each other as much anymore. 

They are training for the championships and are determined to win gold. But, one day Jasmine lands wrong and her ankle is all messed up. She spends weeks recovering from the injury. They were behind in training but still picked up where they left off.

They ended up winning the championship and each other’s love. Jasmine and Ivan have each other’s hearts and are perfect together.

“I love you so much, I spend all day with you, and it still isn’t enough for me. I love you so much, if I can’t skate with you, I don’t want to skate with anyone else. I love you so much, Jasmine, that if I broke my ankle during a program, I would get up and finish it for you, to get you what you’ve always wanted.”

The book also reflects on the importance of family and friendships. Jasmine really finds herself by the end of the book and she realizes that it’s important to love yourself for who you are instead of comparing yourself to others.

“You are who you are in life, and you either live that time trying to bend yourself to make other people happy, or… you don’t.”

Though the book was a slowburn and the characters didn’t get together until the very end of the book, they still showed romantic elements and how much Ivan and Jasmine loved each other.

“I believe in you. In us. Regardless of what happens, you will always be the best partner I’ve ever had. You’ll always be the hardest working person I’ve ever known. There will only ever be you” -Ivan.

Jasmine and Ivan are everything to me and I will love them and this book forever. 5/5 stars.

-Kaitlyn D.

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie – Book Review

This narrative by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie was made by compiling the hundreds of letters written to and from Eliza and Alexander Hamilton. It starts with Eliza in her early twenties, a few months before she met Hamilton. She talks about her childhood and growing up in a conflicted nation. Her older sister (contrary to what the musical says), eloped at an early age and had a 2-year-old child before Hamilton arrived in the States. The book then splits into four sections:

1- A War for Independence. The first section begins with “I was someone before I met Alexander Hamilton.” This foreshadows her becoming a whole new person during the American Revolution, and how helping Hamilton with politics helped her in the long run.

2- A War for Peace. Eliza, having had a child of her own, Eliza helps Hamilton and James “Jemmy” Maddison with writing the Federalist Papers and trying to keep her kids out of the chaos that ensued after the revolution (Maria Reynolds has entered the room).

3- The War of Words. After just barely surviving Yellow Fever, Eliza and Alexander made up and no longer had issues. He builds her a giant house called the Grange, and she raises a few more children. She soon discovered that her second born, Ana, has some severe mental issues after witnessing her adopted sister leave. The Hamiltons try to ignore her problems, but some of them are too large to overlook.

4- A War for History. This final section talks about Hamilton and his son Philip’s death, and what she does afterward. Her sons all joined the revolt in the war of 1812, and Angelica’s sad death created a ripple effect that almost shattered her perception of her family (read the book to find out what happened)!

-Izzy W.

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download for free from Libby.

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

This captivating fantasy novel follows Kazi Brightmist, also known as the notorious pickpocket “Ten,” and her fellow members of the Queen’s elite guard to venture to neighboring settlements on orders to investigate disturbances in these areas. Upon reaching their destination, Kazi discovers Jase Ballenger, the newly crowned lord of the land after his father’s untimely death. Each suspicious of each other, they quickly become enemies but are forced to work together when they are captured by slave traders and chained at the ankle. Worried about his city and determined to complete her assignment, the two make the long journey back, finding themselves attached at the hip by the end of their adventure (or leg 😉). However, trials await the pair when their secrets threaten to uncover. Trying to outwit each other, they enter an exchange of ploys and tactics to each secure what they desire. They dance the dance of thieves.

This book is such a fun read. You are enveloped in the beautiful world of Venda and the Ballenger Empire with its endless deserts and colorful bizarres. Kazi is a strong, witty warrior who, despite all her hardships has become a member of the Queen’s personal guard. Jase is very clever and the leader of his large family and city. I really enjoyed the two protagonists’ banter and outwit each other in a constant battle to determine who was more clever. This book quickly became one of my favorites and I highly recommend you read it so it can become your favorite as well.

-Gia S.

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download for free from Libby.