Book Review: Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians, #3)Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
Publisher: Doubleday
May 23, 2017
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*****This review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the series, Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend.*****

Publisher’s Description:

When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her bedside—but he’s not alone. The entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe to stake claim on their matriarch’s massive fortune. With each family member vying to inherit Tyersall Park—a trophy estate on 64 prime acres in the heart of Singapore—Nicholas’s childhood home turns into a hotbed of speculation and sabotage. As her relatives fight over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu, but tormented by her ex-husband—a man hell bent on destroying Astrid’s reputation and relationship. Meanwhile Kitty Pong, married to China’s second richest man, billionaire Jack Bing, still feels second best next to her new step-daughter, famous fashionista Colette Bing. A sweeping novel that takes us from the elegantly appointed mansions of Manila to the secluded private islands in the Sulu Sea, from a kidnapping at Hong Kong’s most elite private school to a surprise marriage proposal at an Indian palace, caught on camera by the telephoto lenses of paparazzi, Kevin Kwan’s hilarious, gloriously wicked new novel reveals the long-buried secrets of Asia’s most privileged families and their rich people problems.

Rich People Problems is the final book in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. I highly recommend reading the first two books, Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend before reading Rich People Problems. I don’t think it will make much sense if you aren’t already familiar with the characters.

Rich People Problems takes place about two years after China Rich Girlfriend left off. Nick’s grandmother is sick and probably close to dying. Nick was the heir apparent to Tyersall Park but he has been estranged from his grandmother since he married Rachel against her wishes. If Su Yi dies who will inherit Tyersall Park now? Nick’s conniving cousin Eddie thinks it should be him. He hasn’t changed a bit over the past two years – he’s still a pretentious snob. Some of what he does and how he acts is funny but sometimes I just wanted to punch him in the face.

Meanwhile, Nick’s mother is after Nick and Rachel to give her a grandchild. If you thought the lengths she went to try and keep them from getting married were over the top, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

We also check in with the Michael/Astrid/Charlie situation. Since getting rich, Michael has continued to become more and more of an asshole. He and Astrid are in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. We learn more about Charlie’s wife Isabelle, who has major problems of her own.

And then there’s Kitty, who has either forgotten or rejected everything her consultant Corrina taught her about fitting in with the old money Asians. Now that she’s married to Jack Bing, one of the richest men in Asia, she can and will behave however she wants.

The life-styles of most everyone in this book are even more outrageously lavish than in the two previous books. But Kwan, who grew up in Singapore has said that the way his characters live is totally based in reality. Regardless, it’s fun living vicariously through these people. I was mostly satisfied with the way Kwan wrapped up this series. My only problems were that Astrid’s ending seemed a little of character for her and Peik Lin’s ending felt rushed.

The book starts off a bit slow but soon returns to the level of humor that China Rich Girlfriend had. (I don’t think Kwan will be able to top Crazy Rich Asians.), including his droll and informative foot-notes. If you’re looking for a light, funny summer read, this is it.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

P.S. The cast list for the Crazy Rich Asians movie is out! (No release date yet.) What do you think? I think they pretty much nailed it. It says that it’s not known what role Ken Jeong will play. He is 100% Eddie! I’ll be disappointed if that’s not who he is. Everyone else looks perfect to me except Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin. Maybe she’ll look more like what I pictured in costume and without the glasses. I can’t wait for this movie!

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Audiobook Review: Nevertheless: A Memoir by Alec Baldwin

Nevertheless: A MemoirNevertheless: A Memoir by Alec Baldwin
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: April 4, 2017
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

One of the most accomplished and outspoken actors today chronicles the highs and lows of his life in this beautifully written, candid memoir.

Over the past three decades, Alec Baldwin has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most gifted, hilarious, and controversial leading men. From his work in popular movies, including Beetlejuice, Working Girl, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Cooler, and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to his role as Jack Donaghy on Tina Fey’s irreverent series 30 Rock—for which he won two Emmys, three Golden Globes, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards—and as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, he’s both a household name and a deeply respected actor.

In Nevertheless, Baldwin transcends his public persona, making public facets of his life he has long kept private. In this honest, affecting memoir, he introduces us to the Long Island child who felt burdened by his family’s financial strains and his parents’ unhappy marriage; the Washington, DC, college student gearing up for a career in politics; the self-named “Love Taxi” who helped friends solve their romantic problems while neglecting his own; the young soap actor learning from giants of the theatre; the addict drawn to drugs and alcohol who struggles with sobriety; the husband and father who acknowledges his failings and battles to overcome them; and the consummate professional for whom the work is everything. Throughout Nevertheless, one constant emerges: the fearlessness that defines and drives Baldwin’s life.

Told with his signature candor, astute observational savvy, and devastating wit, Nevertheless reveals an Alec Baldwin we have never fully seen before.

Alec Baldwin starts his book with his early childhood and ends in the present day, all the way up to the election of the current president. I thought he spent too much time on his childhood. I wanted him to hurry up and get to the good stuff.

Once he finally did, I was greatly rewarded. He included details about his marriage to Kim Bassinger and their divorce, the angry voicemail he left his daughter Ireland, his physical altercations with the paparazzi and more. I loved it. Dishing behind the scenes dirt is the primary reason I read celebrity memoirs. Baldwin is definitely not lacking self-confidence. He apologizes for most of his bad behavior but it’s usually of the, “I’m sorry but…”variety of apology.

Baldwin pulls no punches when talking about Hollywood insiders and fellow celebrities. I have a feeling he burned a lot of bridges with this book and couldn’t care less. One example is when he talks about being forced out of The Hunt for Red October and replaced with Harrison Ford. “One thing [Ford] does not have is an Oscar, which must frustrate, if not burden him, after his long career…Ford is “a little man, short, scrawny, and wiry, whose soft voice sounds as if it’s coming from behind a door.” Other times, he is less subtle, calling people assholes and the like outright. I listened to the audiobook, mostly in the car, so unfortunately I didn’t write down anymore examples. I wish I would have because they were great.

Baldwin narrates the audiobook himself and is fantastic. His velvety voice was made for voiceovers. I was surprised that he is also really good at doing impressions. He did the voices for all of the actors he quoted and they all sounded just like whichever celebrity it was.

I recommend Nevertheless to anyone who loves memoirs of famous people like I do. It is highly satisfying and you will not be disappointed.

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 14, 2012
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Wonder is the story of Auggie, a boy who was born with severe cranial-facial abnormalities. His mother decides to send him to a mainstream school for fifth grade after having homeschooled him up to that point. His father worries that he’ll be “eaten alive.” The principal of the school assigns three of the “good kids” to show him around and basically be his friends. But that task is more than some of them can handle. However, he finds true friendship with a girl named Summer, who is kind to him without having to be asked.

Wonder is told mainly from Auggie’s point of view but also includes the points of views of other people in his life, like his older sister and some of the kids at his school. It’s interesting to see that different people have different perspectives on the same situations and events. I think that’s a good lesson that you never know what is going on behind the scenes in people’s lives and that you should try and find out before you judge them. And even if you don’t find out, give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them with kindness.

My boys, who are ten and twelve years old, and I each read this book on our own and then went out lunch to discuss it, – a little mother and son book club. I was surprised at how in-depth our discussion was. This book touched them and made them think. I used the discussion questions I found on this website as a jumping off point. Even though it’s a middle-grade book, I think it would also be a good selection for a teen or even adult book club.

A movie based on Wonder is coming out in November. Jacob Tremblay, the child actor who was so great in Room, plays Auggie. My boys and I are looking forward to having a mother and son date to see it.

Wonder has wonderful lessons to teach and I recommend it for kids and adults alike.

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

 

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Book Review: I Am Drums

I Am DrumsI Am Drums by Mike Grosso
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: September 6, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people. 

But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?

All Sam wants to do is play the drums. She plays the drums in her school’s band but her parents can’t afford to buy her a drum kit to practice on at home since her dad lost his job. She made a make-shift one out of books and magazines in her room but it’s not the same at all. Plus, she needs private lessons – another thing her parents can’t afford.

Sam is one determined girl and decides to mow lawns in order to earn money for lessons and a drum kit. There’s one problem – her dad tells her she can’t use his lawn mower because he doesn’t want it to get worn out. So Sam decides to secretly mow lawns anyway.

This book has a few aspects that middle-graders may be able to relate to. First, Sam is a girl who has a passion for an instrument that is typically played by males so she is a great role model. However, this is not a “girl” book. Boys will enjoy reading it as well. Secondly, Sam’s parents do not have a happy marriage so kids in the same situation may find that comforting to know that they are not alone. Another feature of this book is that it has quite a bit of technical information about how to play drums woven into the story. Since the author is a drummer, I’m assuming it’s accurate. Kids who are drummers or want to be drummers themselves will like this I’m sure. I would recommend this book for any middle-grader.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

 

Book Review: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have a FamilyDid You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Paperback Release Date: May 17, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is upended when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

June has lost everyone important to her in a house fire – her daughter, her daughter’s finance, her ex-husband and her boyfriend Luke. She is left stunned and numb. Her way of dealing with her grief is to get out of town and away from everyone she knows.

June is not the only person dealing with grief and loss. Luke’s mother, Lydia, is dealing with the loss of her son in her own way. She’s a pariah in her own town for the fact that Luke is the product of her affair with a black man while she was married to a white man. She’s white too so it was obvious when Luke was born that Lydia’s husband was not the father. To everyone in town, this is evidence that she is a loose woman. Feeling alone, she strikes up a friendship with Winton, the con-artist who keeps calling wanting her to send him a $745 processing fee so he can send her the three million dollar lottery payout she has supposedly won.

The narrative alternates between several characters whose lives all intersect in some way. All of the characters are well-developed. In addition to exploring how different people deal with grief, there is the mystery of what caused the house to explode. Did Luke cause the explosion like everyone assumes or was it something else?

This book was a selection for my book club [side note – I joined a book club at my church that has been meeting for FORTY years] and it turned out to be a great choice. We talked a lot about how both June and Lydia processed their grief. And why did they make the choices they made in life, both before and after the fire? We also all agreed that there were so many characters that it was hard to keep them all straight at first. Some people made notes to keep track of who was who. Not a bad idea!

This is definitely not a feel-good novel but it is a wonderful exploration of grief and family. Recommended.

Book Review: Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Long Black VeilLong Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Publisher: Crown
Release Date: April 17, 2017
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

On a warm August night in 1980, six college students sneak into the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, looking for a thrill. With a pianist, a painter and a teacher among them, the friends are full of potential. But it’s not long before they realize they are locked in—and not alone. When the friends get lost and separated, the terrifying night ends in tragedy, and the unexpected, far-reaching consequences reverberate through the survivors’ lives. As they go their separate ways, trying to move on, it becomes clear that their dark night in the prison has changed them all. Decades later, new evidence is found, and the dogged detective investigating the cold case charges one of them—celebrity chef Jon Casey— with murder. Only Casey’s old friend Judith Carrigan can testify to his innocence.

But Judith is protecting long-held secrets of her own – secrets that, if brought to light, could destroy her career as a travel writer and tear her away from her fireman husband and teenage son. If she chooses to help Casey, she risks losing the life she has fought to build and the woman she has struggled to become. In any life that contains a “before” and an “after,” how is it possible to live one life, not two?

Long Black Veil starts off in 1980 with six friends sneaking into a closed, run-down prison. They get locked in and one of them goes missing. Thirty-five years later, her remains are found and her husband Jon Casey is the prime suspect of her murder. His old friend Judith can attest to his innocence. We meet Judith in 2015, after the remains are found. What her connection to Casey is actually more of a mystery than who the murderer is.

Long Black Veil is categorized as a thriller but I don’t think it is. It’s more character than plot driven. And not very suspenseful. It gets off to a slow start. I was a little confused at the beginning about what was happening in the prison in 1980. Once I got past that part, it got much better. Most of the focus is on Judith and what’s going on with her in the present day. Not a lot is actually about the murder or the friends who were in the prison together. I can’t say too much more without revealing Judith’s secret.

This book has LGBT characters and Boylan herself is transgender so this book may be of special interest if you are trying to read more books with LGBT characters or written by LBGT authors. I know it can be hard to find them sometimes. But I would recommend this book to anyone as long as you remember that it’s not a thriller and adjust your expectations accordingly.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

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Book Review: The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from Washington to the Obamas

The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the ObamasThe President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas by Adrian Miller
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Release Date: February 20, 2017
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

James Beard award–winning author Adrian Miller vividly tells the stories of the African Americans who worked in the presidential food service as chefs, personal cooks, butlers, stewards, and servers for every First Family since George and Martha Washington. Miller brings together the names and words of more than 150 black men and women who played remarkable roles in unforgettable events in the nation’s history. Daisy McAfee Bonner, for example, FDR’s cook at his Warm Springs retreat, described the president’s final day on earth in 1945, when he was struck down just as his lunchtime cheese soufflé emerged from the oven. Sorrowfully, but with a cook’s pride, she recalled, “He never ate that soufflé, but it never fell until the minute he died.”

A treasury of information about cooking techniques and equipment, the book includes twenty recipes for which black chefs were celebrated. From Samuel Fraunces’s “onions done in the Brazilian way” for George Washington to Zephyr Wright’s popovers, beloved by LBJ’s family, Miller highlights African Americans’ contributions to our shared American foodways. Surveying the labor of enslaved people during the antebellum period and the gradual opening of employment after Emancipation, Miller highlights how food-related work slowly became professionalized and the important part African Americans played in that process. His chronicle of the daily table in the White House proclaims a fascinating new American story.

The President’s Kitchen Cabinet is a history of African Americans who have worked in the White House kitchen from the time of George Washington through Barak Obama. Rather than being organized chronologically or by cook (the author uses cook and chef interchangeably), it’s organized by topic, like food, drink, etc. It seemed somewhat scattered and disorganized.

This book was not what I was expecting based on the title. I thought it would delve more deeply into the personal lives of the cooks and how being a cook in the White House affected it. It seemed like most of the information was either about the food itself or the president the cook worked for. While I enjoyed the book, I wanted more. Some of the people included in this book were also in The Residence: In the Private World of the White House. I wish I had a copy of that book to cross-reference with this one but unfortunately, I checked that book out of the library when I read it way back when.

Miller included recipes that were either directly from or inspired by the cooks in the book. It was interesting to read about the different cooking techniques that were used. Some were pretty complicated!

I did learn a few things from this book and if you are really interested in African American or presidential history, then it’s worth a read.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

Book Review: How to be a Supervillain by Michael Fry

How to Be a SupervillainHow to Be a Supervillain by Michael Fry
Publisher: jimmy patterson
Release Date: May 2, 2017 (That’s today!)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Victor Spoil comes from a long line of famous supervillains and he’s fully expected to join their ranks one day. But to his family’s utter disappointment, Victor doesn’t have a single bad-guy bone in his body. He won’t run with scissors, he always finishes his peas, and he can’t stand to be messy. Hopeless!

As a last-ditch effort before they give up and let him be a–gasp!–civilian, Victor’s exasperated parents send him to apprentice under a disgraced supervillain called The Smear. This matchup starts off as a complete disaster, but Victor and The Smear eventually find that they have a lot to learn from each other. When the stakes get high as Victor is forced to choose between his mentor and his family morals (or lack thereof)…what will the world’s nicest bad guy do?

Victor is a disappointment to his supervillain parents. He’s polite. He eats his peas. He’s tidy. His parents arrange for him to be the apprentice of the supervillain The Smear, hoping that he’ll learn to be bad because even though superhero vs. supervillain fights are scripted now, you still have to be a convincing bad guy. That’s right – the battles are fake, as fake as the WWE! The real fights were causing too much damage to civilians and their property so The Authority took over and starting regulating the supers’ world. And of course the superhero ALWAYS wins. Always. There’s just one problem – The Smear is tired of losing. Will he defy The Authority and become a winner?

How to be a Supervillain is the kind of book that most middle-graders love. It has text interspersed with a lot of illustrations, similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. It also has plenty of gross humor and silliness that kids will love. My 10 year-old saw it on my nightstand and can’t wait to get his hands on it. I think middle-grade fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, or I Funny books will enjoy it.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

 

Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

The Lonely Hearts HotelThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: February 7, 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen. 

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes – after years of searching and desperate poverty – the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.

This is going to be one of those reviews where I gush nonsensically because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a cross between a film noir and a fairy tale. It’s an odd combination but it works beautifully in this case.

Rose and Pierrot grew up in an orphanage together where life was miserable and they were both abused. It became somewhat better when the nuns discovered that they were each child prodigies in their own way. Pierrot was a master pianist and Rose a gifted performer and dancer. They started performing together for patrons of the orphanage to wild success. However, when they started to get too close to each other, they were shipped out to separate benefactors and lost touch.

More than once, when I thought the characters were going down a particular path, they chose a different one – sometimes for the good and sometimes not. But I never stopped rooting for them. Rose and Pierrot were both complex and utterly likeable even though they were deeply flawed. O’Neill’s light tone and beautiful prose kept what could have been a very depressing story from getting too heavy. I hope the author’s previous books are this good. I want to read them all now. I highly recommend The Lonely Hearts Hotel and thank my friend Kelly for recommending it to me.

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Book Review: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck Everlasting 40th Anniversary EditionTuck Everlasting 40th Anniversary Edition by Natalie Babbitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Publisher: Square Fish
First Published in 1975

Publisher’s Description:

Doomed to―or blessed with―eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.

This book asks a question, “Would you want to live forever?” but does not have an answer. It makes for a great book to read and discuss with your kids. It will challenge them to think critically. And it’s short so it’s easy for busy grown-ups to find time to read.

I liked that this book does not dumb down the language just because it’s a kid’s book. The prose is beautifully descriptive and there were some great vocabulary words. I read it with my son and we looked up the words he didn’t know as we went. It averaged one or two per chapter – not too burdensome. As Ms. Babbitt says in the interview in the back of the book,

“Some time during the last forty years, people have decided that children can’t understand any words that have more than four or five letters. That’s just plain crazy…There’s no other way to enlarge our vocabularies. The more words you have at your disposal, the easier it is to say what you want to say, specifically.”

This is a great book for middle graders when you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated than the Wimpy Kid books and that ilk for a change of pace.

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

 

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