BookBitch Diary: June 1, 2023

June 1, 2023
rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

June first is the official start of hurricane season. I live in southeast Florida, and we have been very, very lucky the past several years – but other areas haven’t been as lucky. Storms have landed on the west coast of Florida or up the coast to South Carolina, North Carolina, and even up to New Jersey and New York. That being said, I’m so sorry that anyone has to deal with these massive storms. And even though we haven’t taken a direct hit these last few years, we always take precautions.

Several years ago, a new product came out – windows that are strong enough to withstand hurricane-strength winds and rain. But they are very expensive; a friend told me it cost her $70,000 to update her 6 sliding glass doors (I have 7!) plus windows last year. I’m a librarian, and my husband is an engineer; we do not have that kind of money lying around! My husband is looking into doing it himself, it brings the cost down considerably, and Home Depot and Lowes both sell the windows and sliding glass doors we need.

Meanwhile, at least for this season, it looks like we will use the hurricane shutters we’ve used for years, if necessary. The good thing about hurricanes, if there can be a good thing, is that we always get advance notice that one is coming. It may or may not hit us, but we usually have enough time to store extra water, and canned goods, charge up the phones and portable phone chargers, gas up the grill and the cars and the generator, and, of course, clear the yard of everything and put up the shutters. It’s a big pain in the butt and worth it, even if the storm passes us by. Hell, some years, it’s the only way I can get my husband to clean out the backyard!

We were spared when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, but a week later, a small tropical storm blew through my neighborhood, and we were without power for almost a week! (Hurricanes are often followed by tropical storms, they are like the remnants of a hurricane.) My daughter was just a few weeks old, and my next-door neighbor had lent me a baby carriage – the kind the English call prams. It was bigger than the bassinet but on wheels, so I could always keep her with me. I remember the hospital had given me cases of formula & diapers, and one of my neighbors was collecting stuff to take to Miami, which was devastated by the storm. I sent everything I had. I could go to the store and get more; they didn’t have that option for weeks.

We had several hurricanes that came close after that, but we didn’t take a direct hit until 2005. Hurricane Wilma hit us dead on – we lost the roof of our house, the fence around our yard, the screening around the porches, and our power and water for several days. But the house stood, and we were luckier than many others. Hurricane Ian hit the west coast of Florida last year, and they are still trying to recover from it. I’ve lived through many hurricanes over the years, and I am so grateful I am still here to tell you about it. You just never really know what will happen, but at least we can be prepared. Here’s hoping for a mild storm season!

Book News

The Publishing Community Should More Actively Oppose Book Bans

With a lawsuit filed last week, Pen America, Penguin Random House, authors, and parents began fighting book bans. Other publishers should help. (Scholarly Kitchen)

Notes from Prince Harry’s Ghostwriter

Illustration by Simone Massoni

Collaborating on his memoir, “Spare,” meant spending hours together on Zoom, meeting his inner circle, and gaining a new perspective on the tabloids. Work with Prince Harry on the book proceeded steadily—until the press found out about it. In The New Yorker. By J. R. Moehringer

I subscribe to the Washington Post Book Club Newsletter, written by Ron Charles. They recently did an informal survey of their readers, asking them about “the best movie made from the worst novel.” I was happy to see my number one choice made the list: The Devil Wears Prada*. I loved the movie and hated the book. I quibble about The Godfather and Jaws – I loved both of those books and while The Godfather (I & II) are incredible films, I am not a horror movie fan. My husband, who was my boyfriend when the film came out, insisted I would love Jaws, the movie. I went and ended up hiding under a jacket, occasionally peering out through the sleeve, until I finally fell asleep. Not for me! I would never defend either of those books as great literature, but they were exciting, fast-paced reads. I read The Godfather several times, but I’ve seen the films even more – if I’m flipping channels and run across either Godfather movie or TDWP, I will watch it, no matter where in the story it is.

The other books that made the bad book, good movie list: Forrest Gump by Winston Groom, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Apparently, someone actually nominated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, but that was just ridiculous, which Charles acknowledged. There have been many remakes/updates of the book and several films based on the book, and while I may enjoy the more modern-day versions, I also deeply respect the source. As Meg Ryan’s character noted in “You’ve Got Mail,” I, too, love the language. As far as I’m concerned, Austen invented the romance genre, but feel free to disagree!

Food News

The Food of Portugal!

In April, my husband and I visited Portugal. One of the things we were looking at was affordability for our retirement. We spent almost two weeks exploring Portugal from Lisbon north to Braga and east to Coimbra. We drove around the various towns that we had discovered online and in YouTube videos. I fell in love with Braga, about thirty minutes north of Porto. It was important to me that we be near a major city and airport. This is the downtown pedestrian walkway through the main street of Braga and one of the many cafes in the area.

My husband liked Castelo Branco, but it is over two hours from Lisbon and such a small town that when we tried to Uber back to our hotel after dinner, there were no drivers available! The hostess at the restaurant called us a cab, which was quick (and even cheaper than Uber,) but the fact there were no drivers made me uncomfortable. On the bright side, it was our best meal in Portugal, at AKASushi!

Many of the towns and villages we visited have amazing green markets with lots of local produce, fresh fish and meat, and flowers. I loved checking out the supermarkets, too. There are a few different chains there – Lidl, Aldi, and Continente are the biggest, and a new chain from Spain, Mercadona, is starting up in Portugal. I didn’t go to any Aldis because I go to them here, and while their prices are good, what they have in stock is always a crapshoot. I go there occasionally without a list because I cannot count on them to have what I need, like cucumbers or lemons or cornmeal or sugar. Instead, I view Aldi as a serendipitous shopping adventure; I go, wander around, and buy whatever looks good.

We went to one Lidl and weren’t impressed. It didn’t have that great a selection of produce or fish or meat, and didn’t seem quite as clean as some of the other markets we went to. They have opened several stores in the US along the east coast from Georgia through New York, but not in Florida yet. If you have been to a Lidl in the US, I’d love to hear what you think!

Continente was definitely my favorite. They had a beautiful bakery, produce section, and fish and meats. At first, I thought the fish wasn’t priced as low as I had thought it would be. Shrimp were €8-15, depending on size, sea bream was €12, cod was about €8 fresh, less for the famous bacalhau (salt dried cod available everywhere) so maybe a few dollars less than here. But then I realized those prices weren’t per pound but were per kilo – 2.2 pounds, and that made a big difference.

They also love their canned fish there – not just tuna, anchovies. and sardines, but cod, octopus, squid, clams, mackerel, mussels, and more. They are often packed with more than just olive oil, too; some have tomatoes, spices, etc. You can get squid in a sauce based on tomatoes, onions, peppers, and olive oil in a can. The supermarket had an entire row of canned fish. We even saw some canned tuna with gold leaf in it for €20 a can, but that was in a touristy canned fish store.

This is an interesting little video about one of the canning fisheries in Portugal.

There was a pretty large selection of wine (and hard liquor) and it was very well priced. I don’t think we spent more than $20 on a bottle of wine while we were in Portugal, and those were restaurant prices. The supermarket had lots of bottles for under $5! I fell in love with Vinho Verde, a lightly sparkling white wine that goes great with all the seafood. Other items of interest: the eggs and the milk are mostly shelf stable. They don’t process their eggs the same way we do in the US, so they don’t need refrigeration. They use a different type of pasteurization of the milk, which lets it last longer and doesn’t require refrigeration either. The only things that were comparably priced to the U.S. were paper goods (paper towels, toilet paper) and cleaning supplies, most of which are imported, I guess.

Most Portuguese follow what we think of as a Mediterranean diet – lots of fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, walnuts and almonds, and olive oil is king! It seems like most home gardens have a few olive trees and some fruit trees. It is amazing to me that the same garden can grow almonds, walnuts, oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, and olives, not to mention all the usual salad greens, herbs, and veggies. Oh, and lest you think it is an entirely healthy diet, pretty much every dish we ordered in every restaurant came with fries, and most came with fries and rice! They do love their carbs. They also love their pastries – there are bakeries and cafes everywhere. Their most famous dessert is the Pastel de Nata, which is delicious! Trader Joe’s sells frozen ones they call Portuguese Custard Tarts which come pretty close, especially if you heat them in the air fryer – get them while they last! It is not something they stock year-round.

They have lots of other pastries, too; croissants, brioche croissants, and something called travesseiro. It’s a cigar shaped pastry made from phyllo dough wrapped around a sweet egg filling. Not my favorite – I hate eggs! We didn’t notice many cookies though. Most bakeries also sell these savory stuffed brioche; some have ham & cheese, or just one or the other, or prosciutto, but my husband’s favorite was a “pizza” stuffed brioche. He said it was like the best “hot pocket” ever!

Portugal is also famous, especially in Porto, for the francesinha sandwich. Eater has a great little video about Porto, and included a good description of the francesinha: “the traditional francesinha sandwich manages to stuff two types of homemade sausage, ham, steak, bologna, and cheese between two thick layers of bread; that’s then topped with a fried egg and beer gravy” and served with fries intended for dipping. The sauce is a bit spicy and the sandwich truly requires a fork and knife to eat!

Other News

*I was assigned The Devil Wears Prada for review in Library Journal back in the day. Here is my review:

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger: This chic read is sure to take the fashion world by storm, although the literary world may find it lacking. Weisberger, former assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour, has created a fictionalized tell-all à la Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus’s The Nanny Diaries. Andrea is a nice Jewish girl from suburban Connecticut who, as Weisberger repeatedly tells us, lands “a job a million girls would die for” – assistant to Miranda Priestly, the imperious editor of “Runway” magazine. But the job is more like indentured servitude with a one-year contract; 14-hour days are de rigueur and encompass such delights as sorting Miranda’s laundry, fetching her lunch, and responding instantly to such commands as “Ahn-dre-ah, hand me a scarf.” The carrot at the end of the stick is the promise of a dream job with The New Yorker, which somehow makes palatable the ensuing downhill slide of Andrea’s personal life. This fast-paced black comedy has enough dirt to please any fashionista, but should serve as fair warning for every girl who dreams of working at a fashion magazine. Despite the pedestrian writing, the prepublication buzz on this novel is big, so buy for demand. Copyright © 2003 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Part two, The Devil Wears Prada: I was working for the public library when I reviewed TDWP. Several months later, I was sitting at the checkout desk on a very quiet weeknight. I was reading a galley, an advanced reader copy of a book I would be reviewing. This couple came up to the desk to checkout, and I swiped their library card and proceeded to check out their books.

The woman says to me, “Is that a review copy?”

I said, “Yes, I review for my blog and for Library Journal.”

Then she says, “Oh, are you going to review the new Lauren Weisberger book?”

I replied, “Not if I can help it.”

Then the husband says to the wife, I don’t think she looked at the screen to see our name, so of course I looked. Sure enough, it was Weisberger – they were Lauren’s parents! That was one of my top two most embarrassing “reviewer” moments. If I had noticed the name, I would have been much more diplomatic (I hope!)

As always, thanks for reading, and stay safe.

Thanks to The New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.

Spotlight Review: LOVE BUZZ by Neely Tubati-Alexander  

May 30, 2023

From the publisher:

In this spectacularly enjoyable and serendipitous adventure, a chance romantic encounter during a wild night at a Mardi Gras bachelorette party sends strait-laced Serena Khan’s carefully constructed life into chaos.

A wretched maid of honor. A hangover from hell. Raucous Mardi Gras crowds. There isn’t much Serena Khan is enjoying about this four-day New Orleans destination bachelorette party for her semi-estranged cousin, the bride-to-be.

UNTIL sparks fly with a handsome stranger, who—like her—is also from Seattle, at the ladies’ last stop of the evening, a Bourbon Street bar. After their conversation is cut short, Serena is overwhelmed by the desire to find the charming man with the brooding eyebrows, but her list of clues is pretty short:

His name is Julian

He lives on Chamber Hill

He works at a tech company

He loves Lil Wayne and Nirvana

The need to find him is, for Serena, both irresistible and totally irrational. In a few short weeks, her college alumni magazine is featuring her in a “Life at Thirty” feature, cementing her as a success story. She will have officially achieved the safe, stable life her late mother insisted upon. Julian is not part of the plan.

As she combs Seattle for her New Orleans flame, stripping away the perfectly curated life that would have made her mother proud, Serena must decide if the pursuit of real passion is worth it, and fast, before she destroys the life she always thought she wanted. 

In a sharply funny, thoughtful, and romantic debut combining the wistfulness of Rebecca Serle with the witty sizzle of Emily Henry, Neely Tubati Alexander prompts us all to ask if the life we’re living is a life worth loving.

“[An] outstanding debut . . .. Readers will be swept away . . . Alexander’s inclusive representation of diverse backgrounds and sexual identities in lovingly crafted characters with rich and unique personalities is truly impressive. Readers will hope for more from this exciting new romance writer.” — Booklist (Starred Review)

“A charming debut. . . . Endearing side characters that readers won’t get enough of round out this moving tale of embracing life’s imperfections. Tubati-Alexander will win plenty of fans with this.” — Publishers Weekly

“Growth, change, and a little bit of luck are at the center of Alexander’s romantic debut. . . . well-written. . . . emotionally satisfying . . . . Will appeal to romance readers who like their books with a hefty dose of personal growth and women’s fiction aficionados seeking a happily-ever-after.” — Library Journal

I love finding new authors and this debut has put Neely Tubati-Alexander firmly onto my “must read” list! Do you believe in love at first sight? Maybe reading this book will convince you. Serena is our heroine and the book opens during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Serena is there as a bridesmaid for her cousin (and former best friend’s) bachelorette weekend. Coral, the bride to be, and Serena grew up together and their mothers were best friends as well as sisters. But when Serena loses her mother, she doesn’t feel supported by Coral or her mother, and they become estranged. But Coral invites Serena to be a bridesmaid, and that opens the door for the women to work their way back to one another.

But that is just part of the story here. The other part is the romance – their last night in New Orleans, Serena meets a man at a bar. In a surprise coincidence, Julian is from Seattle, not too far from where Serena lives. There is a really strong attraction there, but then Julian’s friend is being escorted out of the bar by security, and Julian has to go with him. They never got to exchange phone numbers or even last names, and Serena can’t stop thinking about him.

Growing up with a single mother made Serena frugal and practical. She got her degree in accounting and has a good job with a top-tier accounting firm. But after meeting Julian, she feels unsettled and decides to try and find her happiness. And Julian.

Without much to go on other than the neighborhood he lives in, Serena starts exploring that part of Seattle. She ends up in a new job and finds a new cafe to get her coffee fix – and there she finally runs into Julian, or so she thinks. He is with a beautiful blond, and Serena is pissed. He told her he had never been in love, but he sure looked like he was. She storms out and refuses to hear what he has to say.

This book reminded me of a Nora-Ephron-type romcom. The couple meet very briefly, then spend most of the book apart, only to find one another towards the end. Yes, there is a happy ending of the best kind. Don’t miss this amazing debut novel full of charm, pathos, & lots of laughs! 

Bonus: This is a fun interview – the author interviews her main character!


Authors Interview Characters: Neely Tubati Alexander interviewing Serena Khan

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

LOVE BUZZ by Neely Tubati-Alexander. Harper Perennial (May 2, 2023). ISBN: 978-0063292918. 304p.



ON FIRE ISLAND by Jane L. Rosen 

May 26, 2023

From the publisher:

A book editor spends one last summer on Fire Island in this sparkling and surprising new novel from the author of A Shoe Story.

As a book editor, Julia Morse lived and breathed stories. Whether with her pen to a manuscript or curled up with a book while at her beloved Fire Island cottage, her imagination alight with a good tale, she could anticipate practically any ending. The ending she’d never imagined was her own.

To be fair, no one expects to die at thirty-seven. So when the unthinkable happens to Julia, rather than following the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, she chooses to spend one last summer near those she loves most.  

As she follows her adoring, novelist husband Ben to their—unexpectedly full—home on Fire Island, she discovers the ripple affect her life has had on the trajectory of so many: her baseball loving, young-at-heart neighbor who believes it’s best not to go it alone, two bright-eyed teenagers eager to become adults, and her best friend who must shake off heartbreak for a new chance at love.

With poignant comedy and insight, On Fire Island is an ode to the stories all around us and to the brightest types of loves…for the people closest to you and the places that shape you.

“Rosen has a winning sense of humor, bringing levity not to awkward and painful moments, and she packs the narrative with vivid details of beach life and city life. This is a treat.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“A sometimes tough read that will appeal to readers wondering if those who die can stick around for just a little longer.” – Kirkus Reviews

Jane Rosen writes such interesting stories! I loved Nine Women One Dress and A Shoe Story, and this book lived up to my high expectations. Our main character is Julia Morse, a young woman who has died. That is not a spoiler! The dead Julia narrates the book from the get go. A young woman dying is always traumatic, and we meet her husband, Ben, a famous author, who is grieving. Her family insists on sitting shiva for the full week, and Ben can’t bear it. He takes the dog and walks out without a word to anyone, and moves into their beach home on Fire Island. This summer resort setting is as much of a character as everyone else.

Julia goes along for the ride, metaphorically speaking that is. She is an observer here, and shares her insight into her husband and friends. Her best friend, Renee, just got divorced after their teenage son catches his father in bed with another woman. Other characters include Renee’s son, Matty, and Shep, a neighbor who used to own the house Ben & Julia bought. Shep is also a widower, but much older than Ben, so when Ben finds him sleeping in his bed, he figures the old guy just got confused. But it turns out he doesn’t want to stay in his new, much larger house, so they become roommates.

The summer on Fire Island is healing for everyone, eventually, but there is a lot of unhappiness as well. Fortunately for us, Rosen manages to infuse humor among even the saddest of moments, and I was invested enough in these characters to make this a one night read. I also was intrigued by the notion of Julia being able to hang around her family and friends until she felt ready to go to that great beyond…which turns out to be, well, no spoilers here. I loved this book, despite its slightly morbid premise, and highly recommend it.

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ON FIRE ISLAND by Jane L. Rosen. Berkley (May 23, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593638071. 320p.





HIGHLAND BEAST by Heather McCollum 

May 26, 2023

Sons of Sinclair, Book 4

From the publisher:

Bàs Sinclair is the cold and brutal hand―and sword―of justice across the Highlands. He has one destiny: to bring fear into the hearts of guilty men. But when he is called to execute a midwife for her crimes, he cannot raise his weapon. For Bàs already knows this lovely, part-wild creature. After all, she gave him his first and only kiss…

Shana Drummond will do anything to protect her beloved sister. Now her cruel, merciless brother-in-law has called upon Bàs to have Shana killed for crimes she didn’t commit. She can’t reconcile the cold, lethal warrior before her with the gentle one she met―nay, kissed―only days before.

But mercy from Bàs can only lead to one thing: war among the clans. A war that will test allegiances, tear families apart, and challenge everything Bàs knows about himself and his heart. Because once this Highlander knows love, nothing will stop him from keeping Shana safe…even if it means destroying his own destiny.

Each book in the Sons of Sinclair series is a STANDALONE:
* Highland Conquest
* Highland Warrior
* Highland Justice
* Highland Beast

Coming Oct 2023: Highland Surrender

I really enjoy the setting of this series and they can each be read as a standalone. That said, the stories are built around these four brothers, whose father has named as the Four Men of the Apocolypse. There is a sister, too, and I guess her story will be the last book in the series.

This book focuses on Bas, who name means Death. He was named Death because his mother died when he was born, not an unusual circumstance in the 16th century. He is the executioner of the family. He has been brought up to kill those who have been found guilty and condemned to death. It’s his job, and he is very good at it. But because he is feared by everyone who sees him, he has never met a woman who didn’t cower or hide from him. Until Shana.

Bas discovers Shana as she enters his property with a newborn baby in her arms. Turns out it is her sister’s baby, and they think the father is going to kill the newborn because he found out his wife was cheating on him. There is much more to the story than that, and it takes a lot of finagling before the whole story comes out. Meanwhile, Bas is determined to keep them safe.

Bas has been with a woman, his brothers paid for the privilege, but Shana is the first woman who seems unafraid of him. In fact, she is really drawn to the gentle giant. She has no knowledge of his job, only sees that is kind and good natured and takes care of all sorts of animals in his care. He adopts any kind of stray and as long as he names them, they will be safe with him.

They have a lot of hurdles to get over in this story, and there is a lot of action and fighting before they reach their happily ever after. I love the way the family are always backing each other up, even when Bas declares war, which is not his role in the family. Nonetheless, they all fall in behind him.

Shana and Bas make a perfect couple; if he’s death, then she is life as she is a midwife and Bas loves that about her. All in all, this was a very fast paced story and the main characters are brought to life on the page. Another excellent entry into this Scottish series.

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HIGHLAND BEAST by Heather McCollum. Entangled: Amara (April 25, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-1649370778. 384p.





Spotlight Review: MRS. NASH’S ASHES by Sarah Adler  

May 23, 2023

From the publisher:

A Most Anticipated Book by BookRiot ∙ Culturess ∙ and more!

A starry-eyed romantic, a cynical writer, and (the ashes of) an elderly woman take the road trip of a lifetime that just might upend everything they believe about true love.

Millicent Watts-Cohen is on a mission. When she promised her elderly best friend that she’d reunite her with the woman she fell in love with nearly eighty years ago, she never imagined that would mean traveling from D.C. to Key West with three tablespoons of Mrs. Nash’s remains in her backpack. But Millie’s determined to give her friend a symbolic happily-ever-after, before it’s (really) too late—and hopefully reassure herself of love’s lasting power in the process.

She just didn’t expect to have a living travel companion.

After a computer glitch grounds flights, Millie is forced to catch a ride with Hollis Hollenbeck, an also-stranded acquaintance from her ex’s MFA program. Hollis certainly does not believe in happily-ever-afters—symbolic or otherwise—and makes it quite clear that he can’t fathom Millie’s plan ending well for anyone.

But as they contend with peculiar bed-and-breakfasts, unusual small-town festivals, and deer with a death wish, Millie begins to suspect that her reluctant travel partner might enjoy her company more than he lets on. Because for someone who supposedly doesn’t share her views on romance, Hollis sure is becoming invested in the success of their journey. And the closer they get to their destination, the more Millie has to admit that maybe this trip isn’t just about Mrs. Nash’s love story after all—maybe it’s also about her own.

“Debut author Adler combines heat and sweet in this charmingly offbeat rom-com….Adler’s well-drawn characters leap off the page, and she handles difficult topics with grace. She also shows off her comedy chops in some laugh-out-loud road trip mishaps…This delightful debut is sure to find fans.” —Publishers Weekly

“With a road trip, only one bed, and giant misunderstandings, Adler perfectly deploys her novel’s abundant romance tropes. Alternating between Millie’s and Mrs. Nash’s stories, this laugh-out-loud funny contemporary will have readers swooning over and cheering for Millie and Hollis….Adler’s delightful opposites-attract debut is perfect for fans of Tessa Bailey and Christina Lauren.” —Library Journal (starred review)

This was one of the best debuts I’ve read in a while; great characters, interesting settings, and a double storyline that moves seamlessly from one to the other.

Millie is a former child star that hasn’t worked in the business since she was a teen, but she still gets recognized fairly often. She has learned to deal with it, but some of the encounters can be off-putting, to say the least. One such meeting occurs at the airport when a computer glitch cancels all the flights. To her surprise, a friend of her ex is there and rescues her from an uncomfortable situation. Hollis is a bit of a grump while Millie provides the sunshine in this opposites attract, forced proximity romance.

Hollis ends up driving from Washington D.C. to Florida, and Millie goes along for the ride. She is under a real time crunch. She is taking some of the ashes of her best friend, an elderly woman, Mrs. Nash, who passed away recently to Key West to reunite her with the love of her life. Mrs. Nash was a WAVE during the war, stationed in Key West. There she met Elsie, a nurse on the base. They fell in love, but there was no way for them to be together at that time. When the war ended, Elsie sent her back to the boy she was supposed to marry, and to live the life she was supposed to live. But neither of these women ever forgot the other.

The reason for the rush is that it’s taken Millie quite a bit of time to locate Elsie, and she’s in hospice so her days are numbered. Millie is determined to reunite the two women, and Hollis gets invested in the journey as well. The more time Millie spends with Hollis, the more she realizes what a fine man he is, despite his curmudgeonly ways. Meanwhile, Hollis is fighting his attraction to Millie. He has been badly burned by romance and is not looking for any more trouble. He has decided there is no such thing as everlasting love, but of course, Millie is going to change that.

This book is laugh out loud funny, despite the underlying drama of the separated lovers’ reunion that is planned. The road trip makes for great romcom fodder and the happily ever after is just the icing on the cake. I love finding new authors and Sarah Adler is now firmly on my must-read list. Don’t miss this sparkling debut!

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MRS. NASH’S ASHES by Sarah Adler.  Berkley (May 23, 2023). ISBN: 978-0593547793. 352p.



WHAT THE HEX by Jessica Clare 

May 19, 2023

The Hex Series, Book 2

From the publisher:

One of Amazon’s Best Romances of April!

Enemies-to-lovers has never been more enchanting in this witchy romantic comedy from the 
New York Times bestselling author of Go Hex Yourself.

Penny Roundtree wants nothing more than to be a familiar to a witch. She’s been a member of the Society of Familiars ever since she was old enough to join the Fam. There’s just a small problem—no one’s hiring. Witches and warlocks are so long-lived that there are far more familiars available than witches to train them. So when an unorthodox arrangement to apprentice under the table to a forbidden warlock presents itself, she takes it.

Willem Sauer is banned from having a familiar due to past transgressions, thereby limiting his magic-casting abilities. Unfortunately for the surly, Prussian warlock, he has no choice but to work with enthusiastic Penny as a familiar. They immediately clash like dried roan horsehair and honeycomb gathered by moonlight (it’s a terrible spell combination, ask anyone).

Casting spells has delightful perks Penny never could have dreamed of, but also greater dangers. Someone is targeting Penny. Willem and Penny must work together to catch their enemy, and if their ploy requires a little kissing on the side, who is to question the rules of magic?

“Fans of Clare’s Go Hex Yourself will be happy with this follow-up in which Willem and Penny continue the enemies-to-lovers arc, with their own twist. Hand to readers who love witty banter, the fake-dating trope, and couples who fall hard fast.”—Library Journal

“Clare makes it easy to see why these two characters work together—and Penny’s feisty pet squirrel adds some laughs. Series fans will be pleased.”—Publishers Weekly

“Clare continues her delightful Hex series, introducing Penny, who is ultra-girly in “ruffles and pink,” with a “bubblegum and glitter” energy and an overwhelming desire to become a familiar for a witch or warlock…Willem’s iciness and aloof nature are belied by how he cares for Penny with cookies, milk, and great sex.”—Booklist

I really enjoyed Go Hex Yourself, so I was ready to love this next book in the series, and I did! The publicist had told me that the books stand alone, and she was right. You don’t need to read the first book to thoroughly enjoy this new one, but it was so good that you should probably read it anyway.

This one is an opposite attracts romance. Willem is a curmudgeon for sure, and Penny is a ray of sunshine. All Penny wants is to become a familiar, like her parents. But those jobs are really hard to come by, so she is working in a shop that sells ingredients for spell casting while she waits. When her good friends ask her if she would be willing to work as a familiar, but in secret, she jumps at the chance.

It seems that Willem has had some trouble in his life, and his punishment is another decade of no spell-casting or familiars. But he has work to do and decides to ask his friends for a recommendation. It’s all hush-hush, but these are people who know how to keep a secret and while Penny is way too flashy and outgoing for him, Willem knows his options are severely limited. If they get caught, neither one of them will escape the wrath of the witches’ council.

Penny loves her new job, but because it is a secret, she must keep working her other job. Spell casting is exhausting work, and Willem isn’t thrilled that he has to work around Penny’s schedule, but he has no other options. There is an interesting side effect to his spells, and Penny doesn’t know if it’s normal or not and keeps it to herself.

Meanwhile, they have to come up with some sort of ruse as to why they are spending time together. Willem has a reputation as being standoffish, to say the least. He is not well liked by his community, but doesn’t really care what anyone thinks. On the other hand, Penny is going to have to somehow convince her friends that she has fallen for the aloof warlock, and that’s not easy either. But the more time they spend together, the more they start caring about one another.

There is enough drama to keep things interesting in this steamy romance, and of course there’s a very happy ending. This was a fast, fun read and while I am not always enamored of paranormal romances (in fact, I rarely read any) I am thoroughly enjoying this series.

Note: New York Times bestselling author Jessica Clare writes under three pen names. As Jessica Clare, she writes erotic contemporary romance. As Jessica Sims, she writes fun, sexy shifter paranormals. Finally, as Jill Myles, she writes a little bit of everything, from sexy, comedic urban fantasy to zombie fairy tales.

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WHAT THE HEX by Jessica Clare. Berkley (April 4, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593337585. 336p.






May 19, 2023

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookstore on the Beach

There are secrets that bring friends together, and others that drive them apart…

Mariners Island is barely ten miles long, but when Ivy, Ariana and Cam were teenagers, it was their whole world. Beyond the pristine beaches and iconic lighthouse lies the beautiful old library that belongs to Ivy’s family. While that bound Ivy to the island as an adult, Ariana could not leave Mariners behind fast enough. The town holds too many…memories. Not only her unrequited feelings for Cam, but the tragedy that left a scar on the community.

When a young girl went missing, a teenage Cam was unthinkably the prime suspect. Ariana and Ivy knew he couldn’t have hurt anyone, and they promised to protect him—even if it meant lying on his behalf.

Now, twenty years later, Ariana returns to Mariners just as new evidence emerges on the case, calling into question everything the three friends thought they knew—and everyone they thought they could trust. What really happened that night? Over the course of one eventful summer, Ariana, Ivy and Cam will learn the truth—about their pasts, their futures and the ties that still bind them as closely as the pages of a book…

“Filled with mystery and drama, coupled with themes of family ties and secrets. This page-turner will not disappoint.”—Booklist

An old mystery brings three old friends together, but their stories are about to change. A young girl had gone missing on this small island twenty years earlier. Ivy and Ariana stretched the truth a tiny bit and said that Cam was with them until almost midnight when in fact, they had separated an hour earlier. But they were best friends, and that’s what friends do for one another. Besides, they were positive Cam had nothing to do with the missing girl.

With no evidence, the case is put to rest until the body of a young girl is found at the beach. The case is reopened, and once again Cam is a suspect. Ivy never left the island; her family founded a library there and she still runs it. Ariana is back visiting when all of this comes to a head. A romance is brewing while the mystery starts to unravel. This is a pageturner for sure, with enough red herrings to keep the suspense going until the very end.

This was a fast-paced story with interesting characters and all the circumstantial evidence a mystery needs – until it gets solved. Novak is a great storyteller, and this novel of romantic suspense is a terrific beach read. Hello, summer!

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE SEASIDE LIBRARY by Brenda Novak. MIRA; Original edition (April 11, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0778333517. 400p.






Spotlight Review: THE TRUE LOVE EXPERIMENT by Christina Lauren

May 16, 2023

From the publisher:

Sparks fly when a romance novelist and a documentary filmmaker join forces to craft the perfect Hollywood love story and take both of their careers to the next level—but only if they can keep the chemistry between them from taking the whole thing off script—from the New York Times bestselling authors of The Soulmate Equation and The Unhoneymooners.

Felicity “Fizzy” Chen is lost. Sure, she’s got an incredible career as a beloved romance novelist with a slew of bestsellers under her belt, but when she’s asked to give a commencement address, it hits her: she hasn’t been practicing what she’s preached.

Fizzy hasn’t ever really been in love. Lust? Definitely. But that swoon-worthy, can’t-stop-thinking-about-him, all-encompassing feeling? Nope. Nothing. What happens when the optimism she’s spent her career encouraging in readers starts to feel like a lie?

Connor Prince, documentary filmmaker and single father, loves his work in large part because it allows him to live near his daughter. But when his profit-minded boss orders him to create a reality TV show, putting his job on the line, Connor is out of his element. Desperate to find his romantic lead, a chance run-in with an exasperated Fizzy offers Connor the perfect solution. What if he could show the queen of romance herself falling head-over-heels for all the world to see? Fizzy gives him a hard pass—unless he agrees to her list of demands. When he says yes, and production on The True Love Experiment begins, Connor wonders if that perfect match will ever be in the cue cards for him, too.

The True Love Experiment is the book fans have been waiting for ever since Fizzy’s debut in the New York Times bestselling The Soulmate Equation. But when the lights come on and all eyes are on her, it turns out the happily ever after Fizzy had all but given up on might lie just behind the camera.

“Another winning romance from Lauren, full of big laughs, a few tears, and some seriously steamy scenes.”  — – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The authors gleefully play with romance tropes, blending the delight of the meet cute with smart critiques of more toxic dating habits and wrapping the whole in clever dialogue and refreshing sex-positivity. Readers will have no trouble rooting for Fizzy.”  — –Publishers Weekly

Christina Lauren is the pseudonym for two writers, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who have been writing together for years and are a must-read for me. Interestingly, Lauren Billings wrote her own romance, Scandalized, last year, but under another pseudonym, Ivy Owens. Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except that book was promoted as this incredible debut novel – of course it was incredible, it was hardly a debut and more like the 30th book she’d actually written! I am happy to blame the publisher for this; it seems doubtful that the author decided to parade herself around as a new writer, but nonetheless, it really pissed me off when I found out. I didn’t quite understand why they did it. I would think that the reputation of Christina Lauren would have propelled that solo effort up the bestseller list. But what do I know.

Putting that aside, this new book is terrific and exactly what I’d expect from this writing duo. This is a sequel to The Soulmate Equation, but easily stands alone. One of the secondary characters from that first book is our heroine in this new one. Literally. Fizzy is an uber-successful romance author who has hit a bit of a roadblock. So when she is approached to star in a new reality dating show, she agrees, but with some caveats. She works closely with the producer, Connor Prince, a former documentary maker, and they turn this reality TV show into a smashing success. 

The premise of the show is that the heroine, Fizzy, will meet eight men, all of whom are a particular archetype of the romance novel & romcom industry. There will be the one who got away (one of fizzy’s exes,) the bad boy, the cinnamon roll, the vampire, and so forth. She will date them and the viewers will get to vote on which guy gets kicked off each week. There is also a subplot that the DNA dating app that was at the center of The Soulmate Equation, will be used to help select the men. I have never seen an episode of The Bachelor (or Bachelorette,) but I do watch Love is Blind and Married at First Sight so I am somewhat familiar with the genre. While it sounds like this is all the book is about, it is really a subplot, or more fittingly, a plot device to move the story along. And it works beautifully.

Almost the first half of the book is spent developing these characters and their romance. But how can Fizzy fall for the producer when he is providing her with all these men to date? It’s not easy on either of them, but the viewers are the ones voting so it doesn’t really matter how they feel.

Both of these characters are really well developed and so likeable. I couldn’t help rooting for them both, only I wasn’t sure how they were going to pull off the happy ending. Have no fear; in the hands of these writing pros, a happy ever after is guaranteed.

This is a beautiful homage to the romance genre in all its forms. The story is immediately engrossing, the characters flawed but so likable, and the storyline interesting and engaging. Christina Lauren once again provides us with what is sure to be a bestseller, and I, for one, am most appreciative. I love all their books (well, at least the 20 or so that I’ve read!) If you haven’t tried these authors, this is as good a place to start as any. Of course, reading The Soulmate Equation first would be my preference, but honestly I read it so long ago that I didn’t remember all the details, so you do you! Another book not to be missed by this terrific writing duo – kudos!

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE TRUE LOVE EXPERIMENT by Christina Lauren. Gallery Books (May 16, 2023). ISBN: 978-1982173432. 416p.




May 12, 2023

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author J. Ryan Stradal, a story of a couple from two very different restaurant families in rustic Minnesota, and the legacy of love and tragedy, of hardship and hope, that unites and divides them

Mariel Prager needs a break. Her husband Ned is having an identity crisis, her spunky, beloved restaurant is bleeding money by the day, and her mother Florence is stubbornly refusing to leave the church where she’s been holed up for more than a week. The Lakeside Supper Club has been in her family for decades, and while Mariel’s grandmother embraced the business, seeing it as a saving grace, Florence never took to it. When Mariel inherited the restaurant, skipping Florence, it created a rift between mother and daughter that never quite healed.

Ned is also an heir—to a chain of home-style diners—and while he doesn’t have a head for business, he knows his family’s chain could provide a better future than his wife’s fading restaurant. In the aftermath of a devastating tragedy, Ned and Mariel lose almost everything they hold dear, and the hard-won victories of each family hang in the balance. With their dreams dashed, can one fractured family find a way to rebuild despite their losses, and will the Lakeside Supper Club be their salvation?

In this colorful, vanishing world of relish trays and brandy Old Fashioneds, J. Ryan Stradal has once again given us a story full of his signature honest, lovable yet fallible Midwestern characters as they grapple with love, loss, and marriage; what we hold onto and what we leave behind; and what our legacy will be when we are gone.

“Stradal serves up another saga of food and family, hurt and healing, pitched between cliff-hanger moments. . . that make the pages fly.” —People

“Stradal…displays his gift for writing female characters who are fully realized, sometimes unlikable, but always as flawed and compelling as real people. The Midwest setting is written with love and respect, and while the story is often heartbreakingly sad, there’s also real warmth and comfort in Stradal’s writing. A loving ode to supper clubs, the Midwest, and the people there who try their best to make life worth living.” —Kirkus (starred)

“Stradal’s novels…always resonate…He explores universal themes: love, loss, regrets for one’s past mistakes, and longings for what might have been—plus, of course, the importance of family.” —Publishers Weekly

I don’t know a whole lot about the Midwest, other than what I’ve gotten from books and a friend from St. Louis. Stradal’s books are firmly set there, so they are always a learning experience for me. Plus, he wrote one of my favorite books ever – Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

I’ve heard of supper clubs, probably from his earlier books, but this book dives deeply into the tradition. I’m still not 100% sure I can differentiate between a supper club and any other restaurant, other than in the reading it feels somewhat different. We try and understand things we aren’t sure of by thinking about things in our own lives that may be similar – to me, to my understanding, it feels almost like a country club restaurant, without the golf and the membership dues.

This is a story that spans generations, marriages, deaths, and estrangements. Once I started this book, I was hesitant to put it down and not because of anything gimmicky, like 2 page-long chapters (I’m looking at you, James Patterson et al.,) but because I wanted to see what happened next with this family. This is a book where you can’t help rooting for all the characters to come together, to find their happy endings, but as in life, not all the endings are happy. This story took me on an emotional journey, and I loved it.

Let me add that Pamela Dorman books never let me down. If you are searching for a new read, a good way to find one is by imprint, in this case, Pamela Dorman books. You can google her or even do a search in Amazon, and anything you find attached to her name will be a good book, (at least for me.)

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE LAKESIDE SUPPER CLUB by J. Ryan Stradal. Pamela Dorman Books (April 18, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-1984881076. 352p.






May 12, 2023

From the publisher:

A woman’s second act on the island of Nantucket delivers much more than she expected in this captivating novel by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer.

“A beautiful, hope-filled, heartwarming story about new beginnings and second chances.”—RaeAnne Thayne, author of The Cafe at Beach End

Heather Willette has a good life in Concord, Massachusetts. But when her marriage has fizzles out, Heather has to decide what sort of life to live next. Ready to seek out her own happiness and discover herself again, Heather decides to leave her husband and rent a cottage on Nantucket. And her plan is going perfectly—until her son, Ross, announces he’s moving to Nantucket to work at his girlfriend’s family’s construction business instead of going back home to work with his own father, like he’d promised. Worst of all for Heather, this means having to get along with her.

Kailee Essex is thrilled that Ross is willing to move to her hometown. She has big hopes for their happily ever after, especially now that her parents are finally showing interest in her career. She’s less thrilled, however, about his mother living nearby. Kailee has clashed with Heather since the day they met. But anything is possible in the summer sun and sea breezes of Nantucket—even reconciliation. And when change comes sooner than either Heather or Kailee expect, they must learn to overcome their differences to fight for the future they want.

With All the Days of Summer, beloved storyteller Nancy Thayer delivers a moving novel that explores the complexity of family and the unexpected ways fate can guide you forward.

“Thayer delivers another heartwarming story that fans will enjoy.”Booklist

Nancy Thayer writes heartwarming stories with strong female protagonists, and the setting on Nantucket is just the icing on the cake here. Heather has been married for a long time, but her son is getting ready to finish college and she decides it’s time for her to find some happiness. Not that her marriage is a bad one, it’s just not especially happy or fulfilling. Heather and her husband have grown apart and while that isn’t enough of a reason for some people to divorce, it is for her. When her best friend finds a small cottage for rent on Nantucket for $10,000 for the summer – a steal for this market – Heather decides to take some of the money she’s been squirreling away for years and splurge on this summer rental. Her husband doesn’t quite understand why she is leaving him, but he doesn’t put up much of a fight, either. I think her calmness and logic in all of this is a rather nice change from the usual craziness of so many divorces.

The only downside to Heather’s plan is that her son, whom they expected to take over the father’s hardware store, is not interested in doing that. He has a girlfriend and it is getting serious, so when her father offers him a summer job working for his company, the largest construction company on Nantucket, he jumps at the chance. His girlfriend is none too thrilled to find out that Heather is staying on the island, too. She is immature in a lot of ways, and it takes some time to see her grow up.

Heather and her future daughter-in-law both do a lot of growing this summer. I liked seeing Heather come into her own here, and while the ending is a bit too neat, it is perfect for my first read of the summer books. The calendar may not say summer yet, but Thayer took me there anyway. I enjoyed the writing, the setting, and the characters in this domestic fiction with a touch of romance – everything I like in a book.

5/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ALL THE DAYS OF SUMMER by Nancy Thayer. Ballantine Books (May 2, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593358450. 352p.