Spotlight Review: REMINDERS OF HIM by Colleen Hoover

January 18, 2022

From the publisher:

A troubled young mother yearns for a shot at redemption in this heartbreaking yet hopeful story from #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover.

After serving five years in prison for a tragic mistake, Kenna Rowan returns to the town where it all went wrong, hoping to reunite with her four-year-old daughter. But the bridges Kenna burned are proving impossible to rebuild. Everyone in her daughter’s life is determined to shut Kenna out, no matter how hard she works to prove herself.

The only person who hasn’t closed the door on her completely is Ledger Ward, a local bar owner and one of the few remaining links to Kenna’s daughter. But if anyone were to discover how Ledger is slowly becoming an important part of Kenna’s life, both would risk losing the trust of everyone important to them.

The two form a connection despite the pressure surrounding them, but as their romance grows, so does the risk. Kenna must find a way to absolve the mistakes of her past in order to build a future out of hope and healing.

https://amzn.to/33I4nu7

This is the kind of book that should come with a warning: make sure you have tissues available while reading! I cried a few times reading this, yet I couldn’t put it down. It is also one of those books that I hated turning the last page, I wanted to spend more time here.

The “here” of it is also interesting. The author’s note references that there is no location given in this story – it is set in Any Small Town, USA and it worked – actual geography just wasn’t necessary. But it’s the characters that make this book so unputdownable.

Kenna was a teenager in love with Scotty. They were out one night, both had a bit too much to drink and some weed, and Scotty asked Kenna to drive because she was in a little bit better shape than he was, which isn’t saying much. She was also a fairly new driver, so when she sped through a turn on a gravel road, she lost control of the car and it flipped. She walked away, but Scotty was killed.

Heartbroken, Kenna pleads guilty at her trial and is sentenced to prison. A few weeks later, she finds out she is pregnant. The baby comes six weeks early and Scotty’s parents get custody as Kenna still has several years of prison ahead of her. Kenna is pretty much alone in the world, so when she gets out of prison five years later, she has nothing but the desire to at least see her daughter.

She saves up enough money to move to the small town where her daughter is living. She finds a dumpy apartment and moves in, figuring she’ll look for a job the next day. She heads over the to bookstore where she and Scotty spent so much time but it isn’t there anymore, it’s been turned into a bar. The bartender is intrigued with her, and asks her to come back when he gets off work, which she does. There is definite chemistry there, but once she sees his orange truck and finds out his name is Ledger, she knows this can go no further. Ledger was Scotty’s best friend.

Scotty has become a surrogate uncle to Kenna’s daughter, Diem, and he is outraged when he realizes who she is. Scotty’s parents are also incensed that the woman who killed their son has returned, and they are all determined to keep her away from Diem. But as Ledger gets to know Kenna, he starts to realize that things aren’t as black and white as they all assumed.

There is a lot going on here. The story is told alternately from Kenna and Ledger’s perspectives, which give us more depth. This is a story of mother separated from her child. It is, at times, an epistolary novel, as part of Kenna’s story is told through the hundreds of letters she has written Scotty since his death. It is also a romance, and there are a couple of sex scenes. It explores the messy emotions we all struggle with; guilt, sorrow, love, and forgiveness. It examines how everything is not always as it seems, and how assumptions can have a devastating effect on someone’s life. Ultimately, it is a story of redemption and hope.

This may be Hoover’s best book yet. It is a compelling story and a recognizable, relatable one. I read it in one afternoon, and I loved it. Book groups, please take note – lots to discuss here!

1/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

REMINDERS OF HIM by Colleen Hoover. Montlake (January 18, 2022). ISBN: 978-1542025607. 335 pages.

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INNAPROPRIATE by Vi Keeland

January 14, 2022

From the publisher:

A new, sexy standalone novel from #1 New York Times Bestseller, Vi Keeland.

Terminated for inappropriate behavior.

I couldn’t believe the letter in my hands.

Nine years. Nine damn years I’d worked my butt off for one of the largest companies in America, and I was fired with a form letter when I returned home from a week in Aruba.

All because of a video taken when I was on vacation with my friends—a private video made on my private time. Or so I thought…

Pissed off, I cracked open a bottle of wine and wrote my own letter to the gazillionaire CEO telling him what I thought of his company and its practices.

I didn’t think he’d actually respond. I certainly never thought I’d suddenly become pen pals with the rich jerk. Eventually, he realized I’d been wronged and made sure I got my job back. Only…it wasn’t the only thing Grant Lexington wanted to do for me.

But there was no way I was getting involved with my boss’s boss’s boss. Even if he was ridiculously gorgeous, confident, and charming.

It would be completely wrong, inappropriate even. Sort of like the video that got me into trouble to begin with. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But sometimes it’s twice as fun.

https://amzn.to/3r5liid


Keeland writes super sexy romances with a lot of humor, and this is a good one. Ireland is a morning TV journalist. She’s worked hard to get where she is but doesn’t get along with her boss and at the first opportunity, he fires her. She is enraged and shoots a drunken email to the owner of the company. She quickly realizes that was a mistake and sends another email, fighting for her job.

Meanwhile, she is hanging out in a coffee shop in the building where she used to work, and meets a very good looking man who asks to share her table. There is definite chemistry there, but he turns out to be the very man she has been emailing, Grant Lexington, the CEO of the company that fired her. He is completely smitten though, and determined to get the girl. So lots of conflict from the get go.

Both of these characters have complex and damaged backgrounds. They will need to work through their own past to find a future together, but while they do, they spend time together until they just can’t fight their attraction anymore.

There are a lot of laughs, some real angst, and some fiery sex scenes as Ireland and Grant find their happy ending. This is a good story that moves fast and was a one night read for me. Highly recommend.

1/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

INNAPROPRIATE by Vi Keeland. C. Scott Publishing Corp. (January 20, 2020). ISBN: 978-1951045043. 364 pages.

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WATCHING OVER YOU by Lori Foster

January 14, 2022

The McKenzies of Ridge Trail, Book 3

From the publisher:

Mysterious, unpredictable and most definitely scorching hot

While investigating a criminal network, Detective Crosby Albertson keeps crossing paths with members of the highly trained, suspiciously well-informed McKenzie family. They’re always one step ahead of him—especially their alarmingly attractive intel specialist, Madison. And Crosby needs to find out why.

Madison McKenzie is the tech and surveillance whiz of her family’s operation. A recent case introduced her to Detective Albertson. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the sexy and mysterious cop. There’s just one problem. He’s a detective and her family’s work is secret. When Crosby starts digging for information about the McKenzies, Madison’s got to get him off the scent…while keeping him at a safe distance.

https://amzn.to/3GhIPmB

The McKenzie family business is vigilantism. There are two brothers, Reyes and Cade, their sister, Madison, and their father, Parrish, a former surgeon who runs the business. Reyes owns a gym in a seedy part of town, and Cade owns a bar on the opposite side of town, giving them access to lowlifes who like to talk. And they like to listen. Madison is their tech guru, and she has some serious skills. She also has a massive crush on a local cop, Crosby Albertson, but she doesn’t think he’s interested. He is, it’s just that he is unsure about her family – they always seem to be one step ahead of him on sex trafficking cases, and he isn’t too fond of their penchant for taking things into their own hands.

Crosby has a daughter, Hallie. and he is extremely protective. In his line of work, that should be a given. His nanny is Silver, a woman that he rescued from an abusive marriage, and while they are very close, she is like a grandmother to his daughter, and Crosby is fiercely protective of them both. But his job as a detective involves very long hours, often seven days a week, for not a lot of money. So when Parrish offers him a job, he decides to take it. The money is great and his hours are better. The only hitch is working with this family who sometimes steps outside the law.

Crosby is invited to the family compound, and Madison quickly realizes that he is more than just an employee to her father. In fact, there seems to be a bit of matchmaking going on. And an interesting side romance develops between Parrish and Silver.

Madison can’t help but throw herself at Crosby but he is slow to respond. His other responsibilities weigh on him. But working together brings them closer, and eventually they find their way together but there is a lot of action before that happens. This is romantic suspense, and Crosby and the McKenzies are after a human trafficker that escaped an earlier raid. He’s back in town and creating havoc, and there can be no happy ending until he is taken care of.

I thought this book was a terrific ending to a trilogy, but Lori told me that she is writing another book featuring one of the secondary characters from the series. I can’t wait! This was one of my favorite series in 2021 so I’m thrilled it will be continuing. I think these books can stand alone, but are best read in order. If you like romantic suspense, steamy love scenes, and hot alpha men, you won’t want to miss this.

1/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WATCHING OVER YOU by Lori Foster. HQN; Original edition (December 28, 2021). ISBN: 978-1335620989. 352 pages.

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Spotlight Review: WEATHER GIRL by Rachel Lynn Solomon

January 11, 2022

From the publisher:

A TV meteorologist and a sports reporter scheme to reunite their divorced bosses with unforecasted results in this electrifying romance from the author of The Ex Talk.

Ari Abrams has always been fascinated by the weather, and she loves almost everything about her job as a TV meteorologist. Her boss, legendary Seattle weatherwoman Torrance Hale, is too distracted by her tempestuous relationship with her ex-husband, the station’s news director, to give Ari the mentorship she wants. Ari, who runs on sunshine and optimism, is at her wits’ end. The only person who seems to understand how she feels is sweet but reserved sports reporter Russell Barringer.

In the aftermath of a disastrous holiday party, Ari and Russell decide to team up to solve their bosses’ relationship issues. Between secret gifts and double dates, they start nudging their bosses back together. But their well-meaning meddling backfires when the real chemistry builds between Ari and Russell.

Working closely with Russell means allowing him to get to know parts of herself that Ari keeps hidden from everyone. Will he be able to embrace her dark clouds as well as her clear skies?

One of…

Amazon’s Best Romances of January

Apple Books’ Best Books of January

Goodreads’ Hottest Romances of January

Buzzfeed’s Most Anticipated Books of 2022

Popsugar, Parade.com, The Nerd Daily, and Fangirlish’s Most Anticipated Books of 2022

Library Reads top ten books published this month that library staff across the country love

https://amzn.to/3qdRwZo

Rachel Lynn Solomon follows up last year’s terrific The Ex-Talk with an even better story. This is not a sequel, so no worries if you haven’t read her last book. What I loved most about this new book is the added depth to the story – this is so much more than just a frothy romcom. There are plenty of laughs and some steamy love scenes, but it is the way Solomon has imbued her main character, Ari, with a debilitating mental illness, depression, that really resonated with me.

Ari grew up with a mother who suffered terribly from depression, but she refused to admit it or get any kind of help. Even when her father walked out on the family, in Ari’s mind it was because of her mother’s depression, and it partly was. Her mother dated over the years, but the same issues kept coming up, teaching Ari a valuable lesson: don’t ever let anyone know about her depression. Once Ari hit high school, she realizes that she, too, suffers from this disease, but it’s not until college that she finally gets the help she needs. We learn that with medication and therapy, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Ari has her dream job as a TV weather girl in Seattle, working for Torrance Hale, Seattle’s preeminent TV meteorologist and Ari’s idol. Except things at the station haven’t been the bed of roses she’d dreamt of. While she thinks she’s been doing a good job, she hasn’t had a review or any kind of constructive criticism from Torrance in the three years she’s been there. Ari wants to grow and learn, but it isn’t happening.

It turns out the Torrance used to be married to the news director, Seth, but they’ve been divorced for years. Time hasn’t benefitted their relationship though, they are constantly bickering and are at each other’s throats, to the point where it is creating a hostile work environment. Things come to a head at the company Christmas party, when Torrance throws Seth’s Emmy award out the window.

Russell is a sports journalist at the station. He’s the newest member of the team and that makes him the person covering high school sports. He doesn’t mind, he knows he has time to move up in the hierarchy. He and Ari end up being the last ones at the party and are hanging out at the hotel bar, discussing their bosses. They get the idea that maybe if their bosses got back together, things would be calmer and happier at work. And a plot is hatched. If this sounds familiar, think “The Parent Trap,” which is referenced here. There is also a cute Netflix movie, “Set it Up,” that has assistants matchmaking their bosses.

Outmaneuvering Torrance and Seth isn’t too difficult, but the more Ari and Russell spend time together plotting and scheming, the more Ari realizes she likes him. A lot. But that worries her – her dating history isn’t great. In fact, she was engaged but the relationship was doomed to fail because Ari never told her fiancé about her depression or the meds she was on. But with Russell, Ari feels like she can be herself.

Russell has his own baggage. He’s a single dad to a preteen girl, and his life has been wrapped around his daughter since he was a teenager. He hasn’t had a date in years, and as much as he likes Ari, he isn’t sure how to go about dating and being a dad. But this is ultimately a romance, and while there are plenty of hurdles to their relationship, they get their happily ever after.

There is an author’s note explaining how she, too, suffers from depression, which is undoubtedly why that plot line rings true and is handled with such sensitivity. As someone with family members who suffer from depression, I found it comforting to see someone with a similar affliction living her best life. I also loved that these characters are Jewish and living in Seattle, home to so many inspirational and Christmas romances (I’m looking at you, Debbie Macomber!) It’s not always easy being in a minority, and that, too, is handled with grace and dignity.

I loved Weather Girl, and I hope you do, too.

1/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WEATHER GIRL by Rachel Lynn Solomon. Berkley (January 11, 2022). ISBN: 978-0593200148. 352 pages.

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JUST HAVEN’T MET YOU YET by Sophie Cousens

January 7, 2022

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of This Time Next Year comes a heartwarming and hilarious tale that asks: What if you picked up the wrong suitcase and fell head over heels for its mystery owner?

Hopeless romantic and lifestyle reporter Laura’s business trip to the Channel Islands isn’t off to a great start. After an embarrassing encounter with the most attractive man she’s ever seen in real life, she arrives at her hotel and realizes she’s grabbed the wrong suitcase from the airport. Her only consolation is its irresistible contents, each of which intrigues her more and more. The owner of this suitcase is clearly Laura’s dream man. Now, all she has to do is find him.

Besides, what are the odds that she’d find The One on the same island where her parents first met and fell in love, especially as she sets out to write an article about their romance? Commissioning surly cab driver Ted to ferry her around seems like her best bet in both tracking down the mystery suitcase owner and retracing her parents’ footsteps. But as Laura’s mystery man proves difficult to find—and as she uncovers family secrets—she may have to reimagine the life, and love, she always thought she wanted.

https://amzn.to/31xT07t

The imagination is a wonderful thing – except when it leads you away from what is right in front of you. Or rather, who is right in front of you. That is Laura’s dilemma.

After a pretty funny scene with tampons flying everywhere, Laura reaches her destination, a small island in the Channel Islands. But when she opens her suitcase, she quickly realizes it is not hers at all. It’s a man’s suitcase, judging by the clothes. Curious, she digs through and finds a well read book that she also loves, among other things that convince her that is suitcase belongs to the man of her dreams.

The taxi driver who she gives a rather unflattering nickname to – not out loud, at least – is helpful enough to get her back to the airport to see if her suitcase is there. It’s not, so she decides to keep the one she has until she can meet the man who owns it. Her wardrobe is severely limited, leading to a few really funny scenes.

Meanwhile, Ted, the cab driver, is happy to chauffeur Laura all over the island. She is a journalist and her boss has sent her to the island to follow a happily ever after story – her own parents’ story, in fact. As Ted and Laura spend time together, they get to know each other pretty well. In fact, Laura is the first woman Ted has had any interest in for a very long time, and Laura likes him a lot, too. Except she is willing to push him away in hopes of meeting the “dream man” who owns the suitcase.

Never fear, a happy ending is reached but we get to laugh a lot along the way, and even cry a bit. But maybe that’s me. This is a very sweet romance with a lovely locale and characters that leap to life off the page. Don’t miss it.

1/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

JUST HAVEN’T MET YOU YET by Sophie Cousens. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (November 9, 2021). ISBN: 978-0593331521. 400 pages.

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AFTER DARK WITH THE DUKE by Julie Anne Long

January 7, 2022

The Palace of Rogues, Book 4

From the publisher:

Sparks fly when a daring diva clashes with an ice-cold war hero in the newest thrilling romance in USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long’s Palace of Rogues series.

She arrives in the dead of night, a mob out for blood at her heels: Mariana Wylde, the “Harlot of Haywood Street,” an opera diva brought low by a duel fought for her favors. But the ladies of the Grand Palace on the Thames think they can make a silk purse from scandal: They’ll restore her reputation and share in her triumph…provided they can keep her apart from that other guest.

Coldly brilliant, fiercely honorable, General James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, is revered, feared, desired…but nobody truly knows him. Until a clash with a fiery, vulnerable beauty who stands for everything he scorns lays him bare. It’s too clear the only cure for consuming desire is conquest, but their only chance at happiness could lead to their destruction.

The legendary duke never dreamed love would be his last battleground. Valkirk would lay down his life for Mariana, but his choice is stark: risk losing her forever, or do the one thing he vowed he never would…surrender.

https://amzn.to/3zxcK7I

Mariana has a mob after her. Two men fought a duel, purportedly over her, and she is on the run. The opera singer cannot perform while the ton is up in arms about this brouhaha. She has heard about The Grand Palace on the Thames and the women who own it, and decides to see if they will let her hide out there for a while.

Of course they do, and get the idea of having Mariana perform to inaugurate their brand new ballroom. It will take a little time to decorate and arrange everything, and meanwhile, they house her and feed her. One of their other guests is the Duke of Valkirk, and they immediately butt heads. Eventually he really insults her, breaking the rules of decorum the house insists upon. His punishment is to give her Italian lessons. Spending all that time alone together leads them down a different path, as anyone who has ever read an historical romance can guess.

Valkirk is revered throughout England, and is hiding out himself. He had published his memoirs and they were a huge bestseller. Now his publisher wants a sequel, and he is trying to write in solitude at the boarding house at the docks, under the radar of anyone in his social circle. But as he gets to know Mariana, he becomes smitten. Eventually things progress until he offers to set her up as his mistress. That isn’t exactly what she had in mind.

There are some difficulties in reaching the happy ending, much of them Valkirk’s own doing, but they get there eventually. It is a lot of fun taking this journey with them. Long adds another terrific entry into this wonderful series, best read in order:

  1. Lady Derring Takes a Lover
  2. Angel in a Devil’s Arms
  3. I’m Only Wicked with You
  4. After Dark with the Duke

12/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

AFTER DARK WITH THE DUKE by Julie Anne Long. Avon (November 30, 2021). ISBN: 978-0063045095. 384 pages.

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THE LOVE CON by Seressia Glass

January 7, 2022

From the publisher:

He’s cosplaying as her boyfriend but their feelings for each other are real in this romantic comedy from Seressia Glass.

Sometimes Kenya Davenport believes she was switched at the hospital—how else could a lover of anime, gaming, and cosplay come from STEM parents? Still, Kenya dreams of being able to turn her creative hobby into a career. She finally has a chance to make it big when she joins the reality show competition Cosplay or No Way.

There’s just one catch: the challenge for the final round is all about iconic pairs, and the judges want the contestants’ significant others to participate. Unfortunately, Kenya is as single as can be at the moment. Luckily her best friend, Cameron Lassiter, agrees to be her fake boyfriend for the show.

Roleplaying a couple in love will force them to explore what they’re hiding under the mask of friendship. Can Kenya and Cam fake it until she makes it, or will she be real about her feelings, knowing it could cost her the best friend she’s ever had?

A LIBRARY READS PICK

https://amzn.to/3HyVem6

Is there anything more fun than the fake dating trope? Well, maybe, but it is a lot of fun and this time is no exception. This book is set in the world of cosplay, which I do not participate in. I don’t generally read graphic novels, and I certainly never read anime or superhero anything, I mean I rarely even watch a superhero movie (sorry, Marvel,) so I was coming at this from a place of unknowing and not too much interest. I felt that way about the Well Met series by Jen DeLuca, set in the world of Renaissance Faires, but I ended up loving that series so here I am, delving into the world of cosplay. I am a curious person and I love learning about things outside my scope of knowledge, and this fit that niche perfectly.

Kenya loves cosplay, but her parents don’t. They don’t understand her fascination with it, and they really don’t understand why she isn’t using the engineering degree they paid for. When her best friend and roommate, Cam, hears about this new reality TV show focused on cosplay, he urges Kenya to enter and she secures a spot on the show. Oh, and Kenya is Black, and Cam is not, which adds another layer of depth to this story.

Everything is going well until she reaches the finale, when the stakes are changed. The final two contestants get some help – but from their significant others. Unfortunately, Kenya hasn’t been in a relationship for a while, but on live TV, she blurts out that Cam will be helping her – then prays he says yes and isn’t too pissed.

Of course he is on board. Years earlier, he had tried to take things to more of a relationship than just friends, but Kenya had shut him down quick. He figures this is the perfect opportunity for her to realize that they can be more.

The ending is no surprise, but it is such a fun journey to get there and that’s what makes this such a terrific read. A lot of laughs, a lot of heart, and some hot sex combine to make this read a winner.

1/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE LOVE CON by Seressia Glass. Berkley (December 14, 2021). ISBN: 978-0593199053. 320 pages.

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Cerebration: January 1, 2022

January 1, 2022

I’ve been on vacation. Again. Apparently, I needed it.

I’m thinking about moving to a once weekly blog update. Maybe on Fridays, in time to find a few good reads for the weekend. I’d appreciate your thoughts on that.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been having eye issues for a few years now. In fact, I’m legally blind in one eye. Fortunately, the vision in my good eye is 20/15. It used to be 20/10 in both eyes. Just like Chuck Yeager:

In addition to his flying skills, Yeager also had “better than perfect” vision: 20/10. He reportedly could see enemy fighters from 50 miles away and ended up fighting in several wars.

https://www.npr.org/2020/12/07/341894780/pilot-chuck-yeager-dies-at-97-had-the-right-stuff-and-then-some

I’m sorry to say that I never did anything the least bit heroic with my superior vision. My husband appreciated it though; he used to say that I could read the signs on I-95 before he even realized there was a sign. It’s really tough going from excellent vision to where I am now. If I bob and weave, I can test out at 20/20 on an eye exam, but the DMV doesn’t let you do that. I couldn’t renew my drivers’ license until I got a note from my eye doctor.

I’m complaining about my vision again because it is taking me a lot longer to read and review than it used to. I’ve been reading Tell the Bees I am Gone by Diana Gabaldon for days and I’m barely half way through. I know her books are dense and not a quick read, and in my best days I never finished one in less than at least two days, sometimes three, but I am not used to having to spend days and days reading the same book. Luckily, I love her characters and the world she created for them so I enjoy spending time there. Good thing, too, since I’m going to be there a while longer.

If you want to make a charitable donation to start the new year, I hope you will consider the Seva Foundation; they are working to restore sight in the Americas. I have a Facebook fundraiser if you ware interested in helping: https://www.facebook.com/stacy.alesi/posts/574264547074800

I would feel remiss if I didn’t say something about this past year. When 2020 ended, I was so hopeful about 2021. I was looking forward to most people being vaccinated and the U.S. achieving that elusive bitch, “herd immunity.” It never happened, thanks to the conspiracy theorists and their moron of a leader, the feckless incompetent who lost the presidential election and built a house of lies upon it. And more Covid. Delta. Omnicron.

Wild fires. Climate change is changing the world in front of our eyes, and again, the conspiracy theorists and those devoid of any kind of common sense are happily ignoring it, leaving the planet a big mess for my children and grandchildren. The insurrection. OMG, the insurrection. People need to be held accountable for their participation. Especially the politicians, including the former president and all his minions.

Betty White dead at 99: Best moments and quotes
Getty images, New York Post

The people we lost this year, especially the authors: Eric Carle; Beverly Cleary; Eric Jerome Dickey; Joan Didion; Lois Ehlert; Lawrence Ferlinghetti; Maria Guarnaschelli; bell hooks; Norton Juster; Larry McMurtry; Gary Paulsen; Sharon Kay Penman; Anne Rice; Wilbur Smith; Andrew Vachss – to name a few. If you’re not sure who these authors are, they are all worth knowing and easy to look up. The last gut punch to the year, (per my daughter, and she’s right,) we lost Betty White* yesterday. 

But I am ever hopeful, however, that 2022 will be a better year. I can’t even fathom of a year that could be worse than the last two we have weathered.

I wish you all a happy, healthy new year, filled with love and joy and lots of good reads!

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 this article, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Best Books of 2021

December 27, 2021

It’s that time of year again. These are the books that I liked the best this year. This is my very subjective, very personal list. I loved a lot of books this year; I mostly read romances and romcoms, and those books tend to keep me happy. But to be honest, I forget a lot of them as soon as I’ve moved on to the next. So the ones that stay with me are the ones that end up on my annual list. I’ve read over 300 books this year so had plenty to choose from. It’s in no particular order, other than loosely by genre.

I hope you find this list useful and interesting.

Best historical fiction: THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah: This was one of the darkest, most depressing book I’ve read in many, many years. And you know what? It was great. I think the NY Times review summed it up beautifully: “The Four Winds seems eerily prescient in 2021 . . . Its message is galvanizing and hopeful: We are a nation of scrappy survivors. We’ve been in dire straits before; we will be again. Hold your people close.” Set during the Dust Bowl in the 1920’s, this is history brought powerfully to life. This glimpse into a period of American history is soulful and disturbing and beautifully illustrates the American people’s resilience. Don’t miss it. Read the full review.

Best Holocaust fiction: Eternal by Lisa Scottoline: I have read many books set during the Holocaust, or around it, but this book was different. Many years ago I visited the Temple in Rome, and saw the Jewish ghetto, but this book brought it to life. I got to know the people and how they lived. Most importantly, Scottoline captures this very specific slice of Italian history but in a very personal way. Difficult at times but always engrossing, this is an excellent read. Historical fiction about WWII abounds, but this was a fresh new angle. Scottoline told me this was the book she has always wanted to write, and that it took her twenty years to get here. It was worth the wait. Read the full review.

NOTE: This was a favorite of Paul Lane, who reviewed for this site for many years until we lost him earlier this year. He said, “My recommendation for any reader is to read this novel and possibly make the same determination as I did, which is that it is a classic.” I think he would have included it on his list of favorites, had he the time to make one. I wanted his voice heard here; he deserves it.

Best historical women’s fiction: THE KITCHEN FRONT by Jennifer Ryan: This book is a heartwarming story about four women living in a small village a couple of years into World War II who end up competing in a cooking contest put on by the BBC (the forerunner of the Great British Bakeoff!) There was a real radio program called The Kitchen Front whose goal is to help the housewives who are all struggling with rations, severe food shortages, and black market food. Eventually, these women form friendships and as the war goes on, they find struggling together is much better than struggling alone. The food history (and recipes) are fascinating, even if I wouldn’t make any of them. This was a different look at WWII from the perspective of England’s housewives, and a very interesting, compelling read. Read the full review.

Best coming of age: THE SINGING TREES by Boo Walker: Boo Walker’s beautifully written coming of age story (after An Unfinished Story) is set against the backdrop of the unpopular Vietnam War. It is ideal for book discussion groups and should appeal to readers who enjoyed Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Dance Away with Me by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or the emotional resonance of Nicholas Sparks’ books. Read the full review.

Best time travel/family fiction: THE NINE LIVES OF ROSE NAPOLITANO by Donna Freitas: Freitas debuts an extraordinary, multi-faceted novel for adults that is a serious yet fantastical look at relationships, family, and feminism told in a unique voice, and book groups should take note. The closest readalikes are Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Replay by Ken Grimwood, two books that I loved as much as this one. Read the full review.

Best crime fiction: THE DARK HOURS by Michael Connelly: This latest from America’s best crime fiction writer is truly extraordinary. There is a lot going on in this book, yet it moves fast. I love seeing these characters grow and evolve. The writing is perfect; descriptive enough without ever going too far and it never slows up. Publisher’s Weekly called this book a masterpiece, and I agree. You don’t have to read the series in order or anything, this book definitely stands alone, but there is so much more richness, more depth to it, when you are familiar with the past. Either way, don’t miss it. Read the full review.

Best thriller: HER PERFECT LIFE by Hank Phillippi Ryan: I love that strong women were at the heart of this story, have to solve the mystery of Cassie’s disappearance, who the source really is, and why he’s doing what he’s doing. And they kick ass! The suspense kept spiraling up throughout this novel, making it impossible to put down. Ryan is at the top of her game, and that’s really saying something as she’s written so many great books. Read the full review.

Best romantic suspense: NO HOLDING BACK by Lori Foster: I’m glad I got to start this series with the first book because it is a complicated and worthwhile story. The McKenzie family business is vigilantism. This is a fast read with a lot of suspense and steamy love scenes, and some violence. I can’t wait for the next book in this series. This is romantic suspense at its best. Read the full review.

Best rom-com/murder mystery mashup: DIAL A FOR AUNTIES by Jesse Q. Sutanto:  Part mystery, part romance, part family drama, but mostly laugh-out-loud funny, this book hits it out of the park. And I’m super excited that Netflix is on board. Lots of over the top situations and slapstick humor, and it really works here. This book had me laughing out oud several times, and I I enjoyed every page. Honestly, it reminded me of the first few Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich) books only with a happy ending, and that is high praise! I also really liked learning about Chinese/Indonesian culture. Read the full review.

Best book set in the book world: THE LAST CHANCE LIBRARY by Freya Sampson: This book is a love letter to libraries and librarian; let me add my voice to the chorus. There is a lot of humor here, along a touch of romance. I loved that this is a look at the importance of libraries in a community, beyond the bookshelves. I loved this book and wish everyone would read it! Read the full review.

Best “own voices” romance: THE HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang: This is the latest entry into one of the best contemporary romance series. While there are three books in the series, I think that each stands alone. Caretaking is a big issue in this story. In fact, the book is divided into three sections; before, during, and after [the stroke.] These characters wormed their way into my heart and there they stay, especially after reading the author’s note. I loved this book so much – I think it is the best book of an already excellent series, and everyone should read it. This is a wonderful romance with lots of humor, pathos, and hot sex, but it is the emotional journey that means everything here. It was worth the two year wait! Read the full review.

Best steamy romcom: THE TAKEOVER by T L Swan: This is my favorite book of the series. The sex is steamy as in all the books in this series, but it’s the humor that really made this special. Single moms will appreciate how protective Claire is of her children, and will swoon at Tristan’s relationship with her boys. These books all stand alone so if you want to try one, I highly recommend this book; it is equal parts super sexy, heartwarming, & hilarious! I loved it. Read the full review.

Best sports romance: MOST VALUABLE PLAYBOY by Lauren Blakely: This was a terrific read, fast and sexy and fun, especially if you like football – and I do. There is also some sweetness here, which I really appreciated, along with some laugh out loud moments and some very steamy sex. Lauren Blakely is self published, which I often have issues with, but she is a pro. Her books are reliably well edited, and I highly recommend! Read the full review.

Best Christmas romance: THE SANTA SUIT by Mary Kay Andrews: As readers of this blog know, I love Mary Kay Andrews, and I was so excited to see she has written a holiday romance! It has her all of her trademark humor, love of kitsch and everything vintage, and terrific characters I wanted to hang out with. If you are looking for a way to get in the holiday mood, this is a great start. It’s a novella, so pretty short and fast reading (I wish it were longer!) It’s heart warming, sweet, and fun – all the good stuff I look for in a Christmas book.  Read the full review.

Best “enemies to lovers” romance: BATTLE ROYAL by Lucy Parker: This is the perfect amalgam of romcom and British Bakeoff; no wonder it garnered starred reviews all around. It’s also the classic enemies to lovers trope of romance, and done really well. This was a really fun read with a lot of emotional resonance. Romcoms don’t get much better than this! Don’t miss it. Read the full review.

Best updated Jane Austen: INCENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Sonali Dev: I read all three books in this series in a week, and frankly, that says a lot. I loved spending time with the Rajes, and while each book stands alone, I think they are best read in order. This is Yash’s and India’s story. One of the reviews of this book that I read described it as “West Wing meets Jane Austen” and while that is quite a stretch, the politics are an important part of the story. It seems hopeless that Yash and India will ever be able to get together, but have no fear, they get their happy ending. Read the full review.

Best Regency romance: THE DUKE GOES DOWN by Sophie Jordan: Assume the title of this book is double entendre; this was a steamy historical romance with terrific characters who come to life on the page. I have enjoyed Jordan’s previous series, and this looks to be another winner. Read the full review.

Best Alaska romance: ENJOY THE VIEW by Sarah Morgenthaler: Moose Springs, Alaska, Book 3. This is one of my favorite series so I was very happy that this third entry was just as good as the first two. Alaska is one of my favorite settings, and small towns are always a good thing for me. But sometimes you have to bring in outsiders to make a romance, and that’s what happens here. There are some really funny, laugh out loud moments, and some dangerous ones, too, making this a book that is hard to put down. I loved the characters and the setting and the romance, a perfect trifecta of a read. Read the full review.

Best foodie romance: THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. Reichert: I loved this book even though it has a touch of the woo-woo paranormal, which I normally avoid. All of Reichert’s books tend to focus on food, which probably explains why I enjoy them so much! I hated to turn the last page. I wanted to spend more time in the Dells, especially with these fabulous characters. Another winner from one of my favorite authors. Read the full review.

Best beach read: GOLDEN GIRL by Elin Hilderbrand: If you like family drama with a touch of romance and an edge, this ticks off all those boxes. Another excellent read from the Nantucket Queen of beach reads, and this may be her best book yet which is really saying something! Read the full review.

Best nonfiction: MY TIME AMONG THE WHITES by Jennine Capó Crucet: Notes from an Unfinished Education. Struggle is at the heart of this memoir, a collection of essays, and is remarkable reading. What drew me to this book was the immigrant experience being told first hand. Crucet is Latinx, a light skinned brown person who often passes as white, living in a country where the last president called Mexicans rapists and murderers. It is a worthwhile read, especially now when right-wing racist groups have gained national attention. It is sometimes painful reading, sometimes funny, but always engaging, making this a difficult but excellent read. Read the full review.


Cerebration: December 23, 2021

December 23, 2021
Happy Holidays!

I am hard at work putting the finishing touches on my favorite books of the year list. I hope to have it posted in the next couple of days, probably right after Christmas. While I don’t celebrate Christmas, I do love making the Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve, and a nice dinner for Christmas day. My husband is Italian, and while he is not religious at all, he does enjoy the holidays as I do.

Especially the cookies! I’ve been baking a different cookie every day since the library closed for the holidays. So far, Chocolate Babka Rugelach; Apple Cider Rugelach; Eggnog Snickerdoodles; Unfussy Sugar Cookies; Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies From François Payard; and sugar free Iced Oatmeal Cookies – I subbed King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative for the granulated sugar, and Swerve for the brown and confectioner’s sugar. Yum!

My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were supposed to come down for a few days over the holidays. But I started getting really nervous about it as more news came out about the Omicron variant. They live in Brooklyn, New York, and it’s really bad up there now. I live in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the number of cases has doubled in the past week and we are now considered to be in the “red” danger zone. Plus we have a moron running the state who has outlawed mask mandates and vaccination mandates and anything that might keep people from getting sick and dying.

My son is worried about my husband, he has some health issues and it would not be good if he got Covid. We are worried about our grandson; he’s nine months old and cannot be vaccinated or wear a mask. The science just isn’t there yet on how much immunity a baby gets from its vaccinated mother – they know some is passed along, but not how much. And while most children who get Covid tend to have mild cases, not all do. I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to that sweet baby or anyone in my family, so I told my son I would understand if they wanted to cancel their trip. They thought about it for a few days, and we all kept an eye on the news, and they decided to stay home. I was relieved, yet heartbroken. I miss them so much. We have plans to go to NY for his first birthday in March, and hopefully things will have calmed down again by then. Meanwhile, it’s just my husband, my daughter, and me, alone together again for yet another holiday. To be honest, it sucks.

My all time favorite series is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. These books are massive, well researched, and completely enthralling. They are those rare books that defy genre, encompassing historical, time travel, romance, and best of all, they are beautifully written. They have been turned into an amazing TV series on Starz, and I highly recommend it. It does start deviating from the books a few seasons in, but since it’s been so long since I’ve read the books that diverged in the TV series, I’m fine with it.

I’m rambling about the Gabaldon series because after waiting for seven years, the ninth book in the series, Go Tell the Bees I am Gone, is finally out. The reviews pretty much say it was worth the wait, which doesn’t surprise me at all. I am off from work until Jan. 3, and my plan is to read this behemoth before year end. It clocks in at 928 pages and generally these books are quite dense, not fast reading. By the way, this is not the longest book in the series! But I have loved every page so far, and will undoubtedly love this one as well. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to finish it that quickly, but I’m going to try.

Meanwhile, I only have a couple of reviews in the wings that I’ll be posting next week. And of course, my personal best books of the year list. Please be patient with me. My vision is impaired which has slowed down my reading and reviewing considerably.

I wish all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas! As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.