Review: Legacy and the Queen

This picture doesn’t do it justice…more below

Kobe Bryant was a legend on the court, and in some ways, off of it as well. But not a lot of people knew that he had books out as well – specifically, books for kids that centered around sports. I’m honestly not sure how much he had to do with the writing – my belief is that he created the idea for each story, and then had an author actually fill in the blanks. This article seems to show a bit about how that process worked for different books:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2020/01/23/kobe-bryant-new-book-wizenard-series/4524611002/

In Legacy and the Queen, we find a girl whose home has become an orphanage, whose father can barely keep food on the table for all his charges, and a country that has been united under one ruler. Legacy, however, just wants to play tennis – and when her father refuses to allow her, and instead plans to send her best friend to work in the mines, she runs away to try and get a scholarship to the best tennis academy there is. Upon arrival, however, Legacy learns that she’s looked down on for where she came from, that magic is not as hidden as she had supposed – and that some secrets should never have been buried.

It’s not a long book – perfect for the hesitant reader, or for reading out loud in a classroom/library setting. It’s an interesting story, and one that promotes friendship as well. Honestly, I ended up liking it more than I anticipated – there was something about the name “Kobe Bryant” being attached that sort of turned me off in the beginning – primarily, because it felt like there must have been an arrogant ego attached to anyone who assumed they could just…whip out a book that would be any good. And, I think part of me assumed that because the books are SO COOL LOOKING…all that flash must have been to make up for a deficiency within the story. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Legacy was a great story, one I started and didn’t want to finish. I definitely would have loved to read more about her, had Kobe not passed. I don’t know where that leaves his burgeoning book publishing, but it is just one more tragedy piled upon tragedy that this sports fiction niche may now go unfulfilled.

That brings me to another neat part about these books. Finding good middle-reader titles about other sports besides *football* can be hard to do. These books help young athletes find books that they can relate to – in Legacy, it is tennis. And I will be the first to admit, I know ZERO about that sport. However, it didn’t matter to the overall enjoyment and immersion of the story. Having said that, I would be willing to bet that a reader who actually *knows* about tennis would find that some of the details contained in the book would only enhance their personal enjoyment.

Above, I mentioned that the books are pretty cool looking? Well, I don’t normally include extra photos in my reviews, but…YOU HAVE TO SEE.

Yes, that is a velvet-type cover…watch out for pet hair.
The front endpapers…the back are *different*
IT’S GOT STRINGS FOR A BOOKMARK…YOU KNOW…LIKE TENNIS STRINGS!!
Every page has that cool design on the sides. Every single one.

Basically, whoever did his design for not only this book, but the others? Did a bang-up job. Kids love this sort of stuff, and so do adults like myself. It sets the books apart from others on the shelf, and gives them an aura that so many cannot match. They really are *very* cool.

Most middle-grade readers would enjoy this – there is a hint of fantasy about it, a bit of magic and some pretty amazing creatures. But that part is light, and the story revolves more around Legacy’s attempt to win her spot, the friends she makes, and trying to right an old wrong that gets discovered. For sure a great addition to any school library or classroom shelves, and I can say that I will be looking for more of Kobe’s titles to read myself.

Review: Tightrope

The vast majority of us in the United States walk a tightrope of some sort every single day. Whether it’s worrying about getting healthcare for your loved one recently diagnosed with cancer, worrying about a loved one who needs rehab, worrying about your child’s education, or worrying about living from paycheck to paycheck because you simply don’t make enough to be able to put any aside. Through the lens of a small town VERY similar to the one I grew up in, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn examine how our upward trajectory as a country faltered, then started its downhill slide to where we are right now – divided, most people struggling to make ends meet, many schools effectively segregated, serious addiction issues, and with no clear path to fixing *any* of it at this time.

The authors ably demonstrate that our country has, in large part, failed its populace. That our strongest years were when we had higher tax rates and created programs to help support the weakest of us until they were stronger and able to give back. That working class people all over the country have been lost and ignored, while the formerly-growing middle class continues to shrink. That much of this decay is due to policies enacted that were, at best, mistakes – and at worst, cruelty for the sake of it. That “personal responsibility” has a piece to play – but so does an ethos of compassion and empathy.

But all is not gloom and doom – there is also a focus on people and programs that are doing things *right*, and the differences they are making in lives and in our country. They extensively demonstrate that investing in children when they are young, focusing on treatment rather than incarceration, making sure all people have health care, and making sure that we focus on helping EVERYONE work will MORE than amply pay off for *all* of us in the long run. They highlight very specific methods that have worked, and discuss immediate solutions that could get bipartisan support.

The ironic thing as I was reading this book is that so many of those hurt most by the policies of the current administration are the ones who continue to back him. They’re not stupid people, or hateful – but they feel so left behind by the standard politicking that they felt Trump could fix things for them. Help them find a way off of the tightrope they walk every day – and watch their children and grandchildren walk as well. For any of these solutions to come into play, people need to reach out t0 them, see them for the hurting humans they are, and seriously work to address their concerns.

This book is honestly one that should be read by people on every side of every damn aisle. These issues shouldn’t be partisan problems, but people problems. There is plenty of blame to go around, but rather than looking behind us to point fingers – we should be looking forward at how we can help make sure our children and our grandchildren don’t have to walk the tightrope.

Review: All the Stars and Teeth

I have a co-worker who is CRAZY about any book that has mermaids. The more vicious the mermaid, the better, really. I’m…not as into mermaids, and honestly was a little hesitant about reading this book because – MERMAID. However, I am pleased to inform you that THE MERMAID IS AWESOME. The entire *story* is awesome. I mean, even the cover is awesome – can we take a second to appreciate how just downright *cool* that cover is? It manages to intertwine so many pieces of the book and look kick-ass, all at the same time.

So we have a princess, who is supposed to become the Queen of her people. A pirate, who is shady but means well all the same. A mermaid who is most definitely not what I expected but absolutely ROCKS. And a fancy dude who is engaged to the princess through no fault of either of them. When Princess Amora lets her magic overtake her during the ceremony at which she is supposed to prove her control, the potential punishment is death. Bastian, the pirate, helps her flee so that she can fix things – as long as she agrees to help him as well. Along the way, however, secrets are exposed that risk *all* of their lives – as well as the lives of all the people Amora was once expected to rule.

It’s rare to read a book where all the characters – male, female, *and* mermaid – are on equal terms. Where they all have their strengths and weaknesses, but no matter how flawed they may be, they all fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. Often, one tends to be there to fill in the gaps of another, or the token male to compliment the weaknesses of the female – and if you remove one of those characters, if often won’t make a huge difference in the outcome of the story. That is not the case here.

Adalyn Grace has managed to create a crew that feels *right*, where you know that if something happens to one of them (no spoilers!), drastic and terrible things will take place. Amora is the undisputed leader of this group, who has strong morals and ethics, is intelligent but can be headstrong, and will die to protect her people. It was absolutely refreshing to have a female character not given to histrionics, repeating the same stupid mistakes over and over again, or leaning so hard on the male characters that she feels like a slug. Honestly, Amora might be one of my favorite characters in quite some time. THIS is the kind of content that I like to show to YA readers! Girls can see someone to strive to be like, and boys can learn that girls kick ass too. They will see this in Vataea, the mermaid, as well. She’s been horribly treated by humans, and has some anger management issues – but she doesn’t nurse that grudge to the exclusion of all else, as some would have her do.

Bastien and Ferrick are the two gents here, and they play off the women very well. To be honest, they tend to be the more emotionally vulnerable of the four, and if there had to be a “you complete me” sort of statement, it would be one of them that might be muttering it. Together, they are truly what makes this story shine.

Don’t get me wrong – I *loved* the story. Different magics, unraveling secrets, betrayals of all sorts…what’s not to love? However, the glue that holds it all together are the four people that are living it, and that bring the reader along for the ride. Experiencing the highs and the lows, and sometimes even the crazy, these four individuals are so woven into all the elements of the story that it really was unexpected when I realized I only had a few more pages left to read.

When I finished the book, I had to check to see if there is another one planned. There was no cliffhanger, so don’t dread that. Things come to a conclusion – and one that could have wrapped up the story. However, I felt (hoped?) that some of the unanswered questions *I* had might be answered in a #2. Goodreads currently has one listed as “All the Stars and Teeth Book 2”, so…I’m hopeful. I will happily spend more time enveloped in this unique and excellent world that Grace has created, for however many books she would like to bring me.

Review: Dopesick

I read Dopesick when it first came out in hardcover, and I was stunned by the stories and the information contained inside. It was released before it became more common knowledge about how the drug companies bargained with and bribed doctors to prescribe more pills. Before we knew that the companies were aware of how addictive Oxycontin is – and continued to sell it alarming rates anyway. Before many were aware of how bad our opioid epidemic truly is – and how much worse it’s likely to get. I read this book because, as with so many, I knew someone who fell into its trap.

I met one of my closest friends in adulthood in a group I belonged to – a gal so much like me in so many ways, that we became close pretty quickly. Her other half was a great guy, funny and outgoing, doting dad to their daughter. And then…in what felt like overnight to me and turned out to be anything but…her world came crashing down. It turned out that he had been nursing an addiction to opioids for quite a while, based on a prior injury. At some point, that pill addiction morphed – and so did he. Things started disappearing from their house. Their bank accounts were emptied. He lost his job, and found out he had been using fake medical struggle stories of her to borrow money from work that never got paid back. His personality changed, and this kind and funny guy became mean and cruel and even frightening. It all came to a head when she kicked him out, left with no savings, many of their valuables hawked without her knowing – while she was being diagnosed with a disease and their daughter was facing major surgery. She tried, so valiantly, to get him into this rehab or that rehab – and they never took. You know those radio and tv commercials about rehab facilities? THEY’RE LIES. It can be a battle to get a loved one into one, and often by the time there’s a bed ready – they have disappeared back into their drug use again. I now have to turn the radio off or down when they come on because I get so angry at the empty promises made to desperate people. This became her daily struggle, along with fielding calls from creditors, trying to find ways to help him, dealing with her own health concerns and that of their daughter, and knowing that he could call or show up at any time and demand money that she simply didn’t have.

Then Dopesick came out, and I scooped it up. I have always been the “no such thing as too much information” type, and I wanted to learn. And boy, did I learn. I learned that our country is dealing with a crisis, one of our own making. A crisis we tend to see in shades of black and white, even though it is anything but. One filled with people who have been negatively labeled, though so SO many of them were simply trying to fix their pain and didn’t know at what cost. What Beth Macy did was to make all the information that too few knew, and make it easily accessible and understandable, even to average folks like me.

Macy shows how our current treatment systems are flawed, and how so much of those flaws come from our own biases about those addicted to these drugs. How families go though hundreds of thousands of dollars, trying to get help for their loved ones. She shares methods that *are* working, and talks with the people who are actively trying to make those methods more common. Most of all, though? She gives the addicted a voice. She allows these people their stories, without judging, and gives hope to those reading that change *is* possible.

My friend is now happily married, and managing her disease as best she can. Her daughter got an amazing scholarship to an excellent school, and she is thriving. Her former partner? In and out of jail and prison, still addicted, and more often than not living on the streets. It’s all around us, if we only open our eyes.

We all know someone who knows someone who has an addiction. It would be difficult to find someone who has NOT been touched by this battle, in one capacity or another. And change is happening, though far too slowly for so many out there (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/2/4/21115481/trump-state-of-the-union-2020-overdose-deaths-opioid-epidemic). However, it’s still a HUGE problem, and the emergence of fentanyl is only complicating that. As such, it’s on ALL of us to learn what we can, and to have the knowledge of what is happening around us. We all may say that it would never happen to us or to anyone we love – but I’m here to say that I thought that too.

NOTE: To purchase a copy of Dopesick, you can use this link, which takes you to options for independent bookstores, as I won’t link to Amazon: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316551304

Beth Macy also has an audio book out, titled Finding Tess, that follows up on one young lady she profiled in Dopesick. It’s not a long listen, but its immediacy in that format is undeniable, and it’s a should-listen for sure. Have kleenex, and be prepared to be angry and upset and to have *all the feelings*.

Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

I am fascinated by any books about books, bookstores, librarians. I suppose it comes from my longest-running love affair being with books. So I was curious about this one, excited – but also a little hesitant. I had the book for over a month before I decided to finally dig in. Auschwitz is a heavy topic, books notwithstanding – and it’s even more fraught these days, with what we see happening all over the world. However, read it I did – and it was excellent. It is a reminder of what was, a caution of what could be, and – above all – a celebration of the indomitable spirit and will of one young lady.

The book is based on the very real life of Dita Kraus, a young Jew who is sent to Auschwitz in her teens with her mother and father. All of them destined to die there, in one of several horrifying ways – along with thousands and thousands more. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Dita’s family gets assigned to Block 31 – the family block – and she gets lucky enough to be in with the children. She ends up in charge of the few books that have managed to be smuggled into the camp. Possession of a book means an immediate death sentence, a knowledge which follows her every waking minute in the camp.

The Librarian of Auschwitz isn’t just Dita’s story, however. It’s also the story of those strong enough to try and resist in whatever ways they could. Of those who were weak, and failed to speak up about what they saw happening. Of those who, once upon a time, would have been just another person – but instead, chose to become killers. It’s a reminder of what was, and what could be yet again. As that famous quote goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”.

I greatly appreciated the Epilogue, the Postscript, and the “What happened to…” sections at the end of the book. And for the final details? The endpapers – in the front, the map of Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp, August 1944. The back? Birkenau Extermination Camp, September 1944. All the pieces tie this book together in a way that really forces one to be absorbed into the story.

There was a very real chance that this book could have turned into some overly dramatized, maudlin mess – thereby negating anything it was trying to say. Thankfully, it did not do so, which is a credit to both the author and the translator. It is an engrossing read, with heart and spirit and warmth. It is also a horrifying read, one that shows the worst of humanity while highlighting the best. Having said that – it can be quite dark. There were truly awful ways to die in the camps, and not all of them by stepping into “a shower”. Definitely more for the Young Adult audience, unless you know you have a reader mature enough to handle the themes. Regardless of age, *absolutely* a book to talk about with your readers after they have finished it. As with us all, much of life is about the choices that we make – for good or ill – and that shines through here.

This book is about a librarian – a young, teenage girl who does what she can to preserve knowledge while stuck in one of the worst places ever to have been created by man. A girl who sees the best and the worst of humanity, all in the same place. It’s also about all of us, and whether we have the courage to step up when hate comes calling.

For more information on Dita Kraus, please visit https://www.ditakraus.com/

Review: A Very Stable Genius

A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America by Philip Rucker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Trump administration is a Carousel of Chaos. Trump tweets a thing, the news orgs pick it up, his staff scrambles to control it, or spin it, or lie about it – whatever the case may be. It’s exhausting and frustrating and more than a little bit nuts. Trying to keep track of the last 3 years of this is wearying – which is why I’m glad Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig did all the hard work for us. And did it well.

The book is extremely readable, and lays everything out on the table. And they do it in true journalistic style – I was honestly surprised to find that a few times I felt sympathy that surprised me. It is obvious that they spoke to A LOT of people, because the accounts given are as complete as one could get without having actually been in the room. This is one of those books where we know the basic story, but filling in the blanks is more surprising, infuriating, and helpful than we could have guessed.

The scene at the Pentagon made me grit my teeth in anger (I’m former military, and my husband retired from the service. However, anyone who “supports the troops” should find it unacceptable.). The whole thing about the Kurds made my physically ill. But the overall theme here is the casual carelessness with which Trump runs his administration. The ignorance of why there are processes, and the disdain with which he views everyone around him. It’s not unknown, but seeing it here so starkly written, with conversations and pieces that were previously still hidden, is eye-opening and – frankly – terrifying.

This is a book that is required reading. It will be an important piece of the historical puzzle about this administration, and we should all understand where we stand as a country.



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