Spotlight Review: OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng

October 4, 2022

From the publisher:

From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere, comes one of the most highly anticipated books of the year – the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.

Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.

The Reese’s Book Club October Pick!

“It’s impossible not to be moved.” —Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

“Known for focusing on families, race, and relationships, Ng raises the bar another notch in a story intensified by reference to such police violence, political protest, book banning, and discrimination against people of color. Ng’s beautiful yet chilling tale will resonate with readers who enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Jessamine Chan’s more recent School for Good Mothers. As with her previous novels, her storytelling will not disappoint.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn . . . Thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving . . . Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“Remarkable . . . Ng crafts an affecting family drama out of the chilling and charged atmosphere, and shines especially when offering testimony to the power of art and storytelling . . . Ng’s latest crackles and sizzles all the way to the end.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[So] much of this utterly stupendous tale is hauntingly, horrifically, historically, currently all too real, from removing and caging children to anti-Asian hate crimes, violent protests, police brutality, and despotic (so-called) leadership. Yet Ng creates an exquisite story of unbreakable family bonds, lifesaving storytelling (and seemingly omniscient librarians!), brilliantly subversive art, and accidentally transformative activism. As lyrical as it is chilling, as astonishing as it is empathic, Our Missing Hearts arguably achieves literary perfection.” —Booklist (starred review)

https://amzn.to/3yf7vtY

I read this book over a weekend and hated turning that last page. It’s been too long since we’ve had a book from Ng, after her previous bestsellers Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, which I loved. Those books dealt with families and racism in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This book is even better, and I truly didn’t think that was possible. It also deals with families and racism but leaves Ohio and goes way beyond those topics to include politics, censorship, book banning, radical librarians (yay!) and so much more.

I hope it reaches a broad audience because I’m curious about how the political right would view this book. Ng takes what has been happening in this country over the past several years and gives it a boost, as it were, by putting all of it into this hauntingly beautiful story set in an America maybe a few years into the future. Or maybe it’s now, with the screens pulled back and a spotlight shining on what could be, quite easily.

Ng’s characters propel the story, and we are drawn into their world which again, feels too much like our world. Or just one step away…rampant inflation and unemployment, bookshelves bare, authoritarianism run amok with children taken from their families because their parents are not falling in line with the authoritarian government. People turning on each other à la McCarthyism, and everyone is afraid to speak out. The cops are reminiscent of the Brown Shirts, with unbridled power and a complete lack of humanity. China is the common enemy, deemed the destroyer of the American economy. Asians, Asian-Americans, or really anyone who appears Asian at all are subject to unprovoked violence and death, with no one helping or caring while it all seems perfectly legal and even expected. 

This was not an easy read because it’s all so abhorrent, disturbing, and way too close to where we seem to be heading in this country. And I suppose that was the point. This is a book that is crying out to be discussed, and don’t be surprised if your book group reaches new heights of passion. I loved this book as much as I hated what was happening in it. Our Missing Hearts is an unforgettable page-turner rooted in American politics, then spun out into a terrifyingly dark near-future and a stunningly beautiful novel. All I can say is put this on your “must-read” list. 

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng. Penguin Press (October 4, 2022). ISBN: 978-0593492543. 352p.

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Coronavirus Diary: October 1, 2022

October 1, 2022

President Biden declared the pandemic over. Wishful thinking?

Is Biden correct that the pandemic is over? Not exactly. His words made it unclear what the remaining public health problems are, including long Covid, and what exactly needs to be done about them.

My grandson’s nanny returned from vacation and she and her husband ended up with Covid. As soon as her husband tested positive, she went home but despite her masking, my grandson caught it anyway. Luckily, he already had his first two vaccines or I would have been panicky. He had a bit of a runny nose for a day or so and that was it. Then my daughter-in-law tested positive – again. She had it once before. She didn’t really have any symptoms though. On the other hand, my son had a terrible sore throat and fever and he didn’t test positive until a few days later. So in my family at least, the pandemic ain’t over!

Reading Nana Loves You More by Jimmy Fallon

I got my flu shot as there is apparently a bad flu going around the dorms at the college where I work. I’ve heard conflicting information on when to get the new Covid booster, anywhere from 3 to 6 months after the last booster or after you had Covid. Since I’ve had pretty bad reactions to most (ok, only to the first three Moderna vaccines) I didn’t want to do the flu-Covid combo vaccine special. I was going to New York for Rosh Hashanah and didn’t want to take a chance on having a reaction that would prevent me from going. October will be six months from my last booster so I’ll be making an appointment for next week, after Yom Kippur.


Hurricane Ian

I have lived in southeast Florida for about forty years, and have lived through my share of hurricanes. I was in NY and heading home the day before the storm was supposed to hit. I was very nervous about flying into a possible storm but thank you, JetBlue; they got me home safely with minimal turbulence. Then the storm took a turn west, and we were out of the “cone”. We were still under a Tropical Storm Warning though, and the lightning was unending and spectacular.

My nephew and his family live in Cape Coral, and my sister-in-law & brother-in-law live just outside Tampa, and one of my co-workers recently moved to Ft. Meyers, so we were worried about them as they didn’t evacuate. Cape Coral and Ft. Meyers took a direct hit, but while they have considerable damage to their homes, no power or water, they are all safe. So far 21 people have died and that number is sure to go up. The storm took a turn back east towards Orlando, then back over the Atlantic, and landed in South Caroline as a Cat 1 storm. More devastation. So far, it looks like the barrier islands off the west coast of Florida took it the worst, with the bridge to Sanibel Island destroyed in three places. They had to get people off the island via helicopter or boat. https://www.wfla.com/news/florida/watch-helicopter-captures-rescue-from-floodwaters-in-orlando-after-hurricane-ian/

I was surprised that the Florida governor was asking for Federal aid. He voted against sending aid to NY after Hurricane Sandy. Guess when it’s in his backyard it’s a different story, so after threatening to send more Texas immigrants to Joe Biden’s house in Delaware, DeSantis did ask him for money. Florida is going to need all the federal dollars we can get; turns out most people on the west coast didn’t have flood insurance. DeSantis, Once a ‘No’ on Storm Aid, Petitions a President He’s Bashed

I was not surprised to learn that Chef World Central Kitchen was serving thousands of people the day after the storm. That’s where I sent my donation. https://wck.org/

Chef Jose Andres, World Central Kitchen activate hurricane food supplies for storm victims

Book News

I was delighted to see this article celebrating the 75th anniversary of this beloved children’s book. My son insisted we read Goodnight Moon every night for at least two years, and my daughter loved it as well although she liked variety in her nightly bedtime stories. Several years ago, I was invited to speak to the Rhode Island Library Association. I extended my stay for a few days as I’d never been there before. My husband joined me and we visited the Rhode Island School of Design – they had an exhibit on Clement Hurd, the illustrator of Goodnight Moon, and several other children’s books. They recreated a life-size “great green room” and we got to sit in the grandma’s rocking chair. They also had many of the earlier drawings from this book and others, the rough drafts up to the finished pages. It was a nostalgic, enchanting exhibit and I loved it, especially as my children were pretty much adults by then.

Voters Oppose Book Bans in Libraries

Polling Shows Voters Oppose Efforts to Remove Books from Libraries and Have Confidence in Libraries to Make Good Decisions About Their Collections

https://www.ala.org/advocacy/voters-oppose-book-bans-libraries

Reintroducing Book World

The Washington Post had discontinued their book section several years ago, but I’m so happy they are bringing it back! There are a few articles about their history and what’s changed. Fun reading! (for me at least, and maybe for you?)

The Washington Post’s books section starts its new chapter, in print every Sunday and with a refurbished and revitalized presence online https://wapo.st/3SamqgL

Book World began on Watergate’s heels: A look back at the early days: Michael Dirda recalls a time of typewriters and landlines, of putting together a section that captures the joy of literature and the love of reading https://wapo.st/3DOAEj7


Food News

French Toast, part of my “soft food” rotation (my husband had his second gum surgery yesterday,) became part of my daughter’s final in her Photojournalism class. It is a recipe I mostly made up in my head, so I had to guesstimate the amounts of ingredients. She photographed the process from beginning to end, and her photos made me look like a food star! French toast anyone?

Challah French Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. loaf Challah bread, unsliced
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup cream (or 1 cup half & half!)
  • Zest from one small orange
  • Zest from one small lemon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Unsalted butter
  • warm maple syrup & fruit, for serving 

Directions

  1. Slice challah about 1″ thick and lay out on a sheet pan without overlapping. Leave out for several hours (overnight is best) or if you don’t have time, bake on a foil-lined sheet pan in a 250 degree oven for about ten minutes. You just want the bread to dry out a bit.
  2. Leave oven on and arrange bread slices in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Put the foil-lined sheet pan back in the oven.
  3. Whisk together milk, cream, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon, salt, eggs, and egg yolks in a bowl until completely combined. Pour egg mixture over the bread. Let stand for a couple of minutes; turn bread slices, and let stand until egg mixture is absorbed, about 4 minutes altogether.
  4. Heat a large nonstick griddle over medium heat. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in the griddle, then brush butter over entire surface. Arrange as many bread slices as will fit comfortably on the griddle, then cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes on each side. As slices are finished, put them on the sheet pan in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining bread.
  5. Top French Toast with warm maple syrup and sliced fruit (I like berries & bananas, but Trader Joe’s frozen berry mixture or berries & cherry mixture are great; I keep bags of those on hand.) And don’t forget the side of bacon! Or breakfast sausage, if you prefer. We really like Morning Star Farms vegan breakfast sausage, too.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

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


Spotlight Review: SAVVY SHELDON FEELS GOOD AS HELL by Taj McCoy

September 27, 2022

From the publisher:

A sexy romance about a plus-size sweetheart who gets a full-life makeover after a brutal breakup and falls for the incredibly hot contractor renovating her home.

Savvy Sheldon spends a lot of time tiptoeing around the cracks in her life: her high-stress and low-thanks job, her clueless boyfriend and the falling-apart kitchen she inherited from her beloved grandma—who taught her how to cook and how to love people by feeding them. But when Savvy’s world starts to crash down around her, she knows it’s time for some renovations.

Starting from the outside in, Savvy tackles her crumbling kitchen, her relationship with her body, her work–life balance (or lack thereof) and, last but not least, her love life. The only thing that doesn’t seem to require effort is her ride-or-die squad of friends. But as any home-reno-show junkie can tell you, something always falls apart during renovations. First, Savvy passes out during hot yoga. Then it turns out that the contractor she hires is the same sexy stranger she unintentionally offended by judging based on appearances. Worst of all, Savvy can’t seem to go anywhere without tripping over her ex and his latest “upgrade.” Savvy begins to realize that maybe she should’ve started her renovations the other way around: beginning with how she sees herself before building a love that lasts.

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“A heartfelt, hopeful, and humorous exploration of the importance of learning to love yourself…a joy to read.” –Booklist, STARRED review

“This novel is a paean to self-care and support systems . . . A true highlight of the book is its depiction of food, as Savvy is a great cook, and McCoy delights in describing the delicious dishes she whips up. . . . Full of positivity, good food, and love.” —Kirkus Reviews

“McCoy populates Savvy’s world with a diverse cast of immediately endearing friends and family, especially besties Joan and Maggie, who reinforce positivity and love for Savvy and help her prioritize the things that make her happy. With a focus on heartbreak and reflection, Savvy’s story has every flavor of love. McCoy is sure to win fans.” —Publishers Weekly

https://amzn.to/3QZbBwM

I love seeing a debut author get so much love; and in this case, it is well deserved. Savvy is a complex character and she carries this story. Her love interest is Spencer, who she originally thinks is homeless. Once they get past that, there are still issues, mostly stemming from Savvy’s insecurities.

Savvy is a plus-size Black woman who was in a relationship for six years, and when her boyfriend dumps her he tells her it’s because she’s too fat and works too much. Pretty horrible, to say the least. Savvy decides to get her “revenge” body on and starts hiking, playing tennis, and doing Bikram yoga. As she and Spencer get to know one another, they constantly run into her ex at every turn. Fortunately, Spencer is most understanding and Savvy’s best friends always have her back and then some.

I loved watching Savvy learn to love herself. The home renovation and the cooking were just bonuses for me. I admit to skimming the pages-long descriptions of tennis matches, but that is a minor complaint in an otherwise excellent debut. I am looking forward to seeing what McCoy brings us next.

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SAVVY SHELDON FEELS GOOD AS HELL by Taj McCoy. @HarlequinBooks; Original edition (March 22, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-0778311843. 320p.

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THE MOST LIKELY CLUB by Elyssa Friedland

September 23, 2022

From the publisher:

At their milestone high school reunion, a group of friends make a pact to finally achieve their high school superlatives one way or another, in the lively new novel from the acclaimed author of Last Summer at the Golden Hotel.

In 1997, grunge is king, Titanic is a blockbuster (and Blockbuster still exists), and Thursday nights are for Friends. In Bellport, Connecticut, four best friends and high school seniors are ready to light the world on fire. Melissa Levin, Priya Chowdhury, Tara Taylor, and Suki Hammer are going places. Their yearbook superlatives confirm it: Most Likely to Win the White House, Cure Cancer, Open a Michelin-Starred Restaurant, and Join the Forbes 400.

Fast forward twenty-five years and nothing has gone according to plan as the women regroup at their dreaded high school reunion. When a forgotten classmate emerges at the reunion with a surprising announcement, the friends dig out the yearbook and rethink their younger selves. Is it too late to make their dreams come true? Fueled by nostalgia and one too many drinks, they form a pact to push through their middle-aged angst to bring their teenage aspirations to fruition, dubbing themselves the “Most Likely Girls.”

Through the ensuing highs and lows, they are reminded of the enduring bonds of friendship, the ways our childhood dreams both sustain and surprise us — and why it’s deeply uncool to peak in high school.

“In the delightful latest from Friedland (Last Summer at the Golden Hotel), four women celebrate their 25th high school reunion…Friedland keeps up a steady stream of clever lines to convey the women’s mix of excitement and dread over the big event…Overall, this strikes a fine balance between lighthearted and serious.”—Publishers Weekly

“A high school reunion sparks new life for a group of best friends in Elyssa Friedland’s winning novel The Most Likely Club.… Through their triumphs and failures, the group cherishes the bond of their friendship, and honor their childhood selves in this hilarious and heartwarming tale.”—Popsugar

“We love this book about a group of girls who graduated in the ’90s and are coming up on a milestone high school reunion. Full of nostalgia and surprises, the “Most Likely Girls” will discover that it’s never too late to make their dreams come true.”–Medium.com

Good Morning America Buzz Pick

https://amzn.to/3UrFPLR

This book has been getting a lot of love, and I always worry that books that are hyped that much won’t live up to expectations – but I’m happy to report, this one does. It was a fun read for sure, light and entertaining but also had some depth to it. It deals with all that high school angst, then and now. Some things never change, but I have to say that social media has brought bullying and “mean girls” stuff to a new and terrifying level. I am so thankful my kids are long past that age because I don’t know how I would have handled seeing my child bullied online. It’s a minor plot point here, but enough to bring awareness.

These four women became best friends and are still in touch. One of them, Suki, has become a megastar with her app and makeup lines. Priya has become a doctor and is married to a surgeon. They have three kids and Priya is scheduled within an inch of her life, while her husband completely relies on her to do everything for the kids, and for him.

Melissa is president of the P.T.A. at the high school she and her kids attend, for eight years running. It is no surprise that the principal asks her to chair her class’s 25th reunion. She inveigles her friends to attend, and the invitations go out. Melissa is divorced, and her daughter goes between her house and her dad’s with his new, pregnant wife. They all get along, on the surface at least, but Melissa was really devastated by the divorce.

Tara was supposed to be a fancy chef, but instead she opened a cooking school for children. Now that there is a competitor in town, she knows her business is on the edge of collapse. One of the kids in her class has a mom who keeps saying she has this amazing opportunity for Tara, and when things start looking bad for her school, she goes for it. Turns out to be a TikTok restaurant, based on social media rather than food, but at least it’s a real chef’s job.

As these women gather for their reunion, they are disappointed that Suki can’t join them, she’s overseas promoting her business. But then Suki gets cancelled, big time, and she needs her friends more than ever. She’s holed up at one of Elon Musk’s houses (he’s a friend) and is trying to figure a way out of the mess she’s in. Melissa decides she’s had enough of the P.T.A. and she throws her hat in the ring and decides to run for Mayor. They form the “Most Likely Club” so they can follow those high school dreams and help support one another. There’s a touch of romance with a billionaire donor who was in their class but always felt bullied. Turns out he had a crush on one of these women and gets to follow up on it now.

This was a very engrossing story and the characters really propel it forward, making this a fast as well as a very enjoyable read. This would make a fun book discussion!

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE MOST LIKELY CLUB by Elyssa Friedland. Berkley (September 6, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593199749. 368p.

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DRUNK ON LOVE by Jasmine Guillory

September 23, 2022

From the publisher:

An intoxicating and sparkling new romance by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Margot Noble needs some relief from the stress of running the family winery with her brother. Enter Luke: sexy, charming, and best of all in the too-small world of Napa, a stranger. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and Margot is delighted that she lucked into the perfect one-night stand she’ll never have to see again. That is, until the winery’s newest hire, Luke, walks in the next morning. Margot is determined to keep things purely professional, but when their every interaction reminds her of the attraction still bubbling between them, it proves to be much more challenging than she expects.

Luke Williams had it all, but when he quits his high-salary tech job in Silicon Valley in a blaze of burnout and moves back to Napa to help a friend, he realizes he doesn’t want to tell the world—or his mom—why he’s now working at a winery. His mom loves bragging about her successful son—how can he admit that the job she’s so proud of broke him? Luke has no idea what is next for him, but one thing is certain: he wants more from the incredibly smart and sexy woman he hooked up with—even after he learns she’s his new boss. But even if they can find a way to be together that wouldn’t be an ethical nightmare, would such a successful woman really want a tech-world dropout?

Set against a lush backdrop of Napa Valley wine country, nothing goes to your head as fast as a taste of love—even if it means changing all your plans.

“Suffused with tenderness and delight, this is Guillory’s best book yet.”—Booklist, starred review

“The lush background and Guillory’s signature blend of sexy, sweet, and funny keep the pages flying. This is a gem.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Guillory’s latest, imbued with her signature heat, wit, and scene-stealing secondary characters, is sure to be popular.”—Library Journal, starred review

https://amzn.to/3QY10ly

A book set in wine country? Count me in! And in Guillory’s talented hands, this book is a fun, sexy romance with a trip to Napa on the side.

After inheriting the winery from their favorite uncle, Margot has been running the business side while her brother is the actual winemaker. She’s a rarity in Napa, a black woman running a winery. She’s growing the business with their wine tastings growing in popularity, and she really wants to upgrade the area surrounding the tasting room with some nice landscaping. Then she wants to celebrate it with an anniversary party for the vineyard. Her brother, on the other hand, thinks that is all a lot of stress for nothing. But Margot perseveres, and eventually, he gives in.

Margot’s best friend owns a restaurant/bar in town, and Margot hangs out with her when she can. When a good-looking younger man sits next to her at the bar and starts flirting, Margot decides to go for it. Luke will be gone soon, thus making him the perfect one night stand. Until she gets to work in the morning and her brother introduces his new hire – Luke. Margot cannot carry on with an employee; that would break every rule in the HR handbook. Despite their amazing chemistry, Margot holds firm to her hands-off policy and Luke reluctantly goes along with it.

As they work together, they get to know one another and that’s not helping either. Luke is a natural in the tasting room and the customers love him. Luke worked in the tech industry until he couldn’t bear it another minute and quit. As a Black man in Silicon Valley, Luke and Margot share being a minority in their respective industries. On the other hand, he is surprised to find how much he is enjoying this job he took just so he would have something to do, and a lot of that has to do with spending time with Margot.

Meanwhile, Luke hasn’t told his super proud mom that he quit; instead he tells her he’s on sabbatical. His best friend had an ugly breakup and he wants to be there for her, too, which his mom interprets as they are dating. He doesn’t deny that either, keeping his mom in the dark about his life. We know that never ends well.

Margot and Luke have an interesting journey to reach their happily ever after, and it was so much fun going along for the ride. This is another terrific romance from one of my favorite authors.

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

DRUNK ON LOVE by Jasmine Guillory. Berkley (September 20, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593100882. 400p.

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CHRISTMAS IN BLUE DOG VALLEY by Annie England Noblin

September 23, 2022

From the publisher:

For anyone who ever loved All Creatures Great and Small, Annie England Noblin’s newest novel—about a big city vet transplanted to a small Wisconsin town—is pure delight as we meet aging alpacas, stump-tailed cats, goats in tutus, a vagabond border collie named Kevin, and the people who think they own them. And through it all, Goldie McKenzie, DVM, navigating the small town of Blue Dog, Wisconsin.

Welcome to Blue Dog Valley. Home of the Fighting Elk. Population 3,411. 

When Goldie McKenzie, DVM, vet to the L.A. pet stars, arrives from Los Angeles to Blue Dog Valley she realizes three things.

  1. Never agree to upend your life when you’re hungover
  2. Pot-belly pigs are not true farm animals
  3. She’s going to need a warmer coat

At first Goldie is nothing more than a fish out of water, with few clients and few friends. But after a less than pleasant encounter with a man whose dog is suffering from a possibly fatal case of bloat, she’s finally earning the trust and goodwill from her fellow Blue Dog Valley citizens. Her clientele grows to include the many farm animals in the town, including a horse named Large Marge, a cape-wearing therapy alpaca, and a yardful of sweater-wearing goats. Add in Kevin, the “worst sheepdog in Blue Dog Valley,” and a Sphinx cat named Airport, and Goldie is having the best time a vet can have. . . aside from the annoying attractive town grump, Cohen, who seems intent on making sure she always feels like an outsider.

With her newfound goodwill, Goldie comes up with an idea to reinvigorate the once flourishing Blue Dog Valley: a Christmas carnival. A petting zoo, pictures with Santa, a baking contest, what more could they want? After only some brief resistance from Cohen and his father, they begin the great plan to reinvigorate Blue Dog Valley.

Will Christmas be enough to salvage this dying town—and be enough to bring Goldie closer to a certain grumpy man?

https://amzn.to/3U79ycJ

This was my first Christmas book of 2022 and there are lots more to come – most holiday romances come out in September and October. I found it interesting (and sort of odd) that the two main characters have what I think of as Jewish names; Goldie was the mom in Fiddler on the Roof, and Cohen, while in this case a first name, is generally a Jewish last name. Or maybe that’s just me and no one else notices or cares. What matters is that I liked them both and wanted them to find their happily ever after.

Goldie and her long standing boyfriend have ended their relationship; she couldn’t take the cheating anymore and he just wasn’t worth it. But he owns the veterinary clinic where Goldie works, and now that their relationship has ended, so has her job. One of her online vet friends owns a clinic in a small town in Wisconsin, and he mentions to Goldie that he wants to retire and is going to be selling the clinic. Thinking this is just the opportunity she needs, they arrange for her to take over the clinic for a few months, through the end of the year, and if she likes it, she will buy it. If not, she’ll head back to Los Angeles and he’ll find another buyer.

Goldie moves to this small town in Wisconsin, and things are not off to a great start. There is an abandoned cat going round and round on the baggage carousel, and since no one else is left in the airport, she decides she better rescue the cat. Her ride is a grumpy but good-looking man, Cohen, who cannot believe this beautiful California girl is moving to his small Midwestern town. She doesn’t even have a coat!

When she gets to the cabin behind the vet clinic that she’s supposed to live in, she finds her friend, the retiring vet, has already left for Florida and her vet tech is not too thrilled to meet her. On the other hand, she has been adopted by Kevin, a very large sheepdog. People are not as friendly as one would assume, at least until she stops by Ruby’s diner. Ruby is welcoming and makes the best cinnamon rolls Goldie’s ever had.

Eventually, Goldie’s skill as a vet shines through and the people in this small town start to trust her with their animals. Plus she heard about how they used to have this Christmas Carnival but stopped when the highway was rerouted past the small town. She suggests they do it again and try and raise some much-needed funds for the town. Soon everyone is on board and Cohen is even coming around. Their attraction is there, but they’ve been butting heads and Goldie isn’t sure they will ever get past their bumpy start. Cohen obviously has some baggage, as does Goldie, and it takes a while before Goldie can get past his defenses.

The official holiday season has begun – the Christmas decorations are out, alongside the Halloween ones already. This book was a sweet, enemies-to-lovers, small-town Christmas romance and I just loved it – the animals were a fun bonus for me. If you’re not quite ready for the holidays, this is a terrific book to get you started!

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

CHRISTMAS IN BLUE DOG VALLEY by Annie England Noblin. Avon (September 20, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-0063040199. 384p.

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Spotlight Review: TAKE IT FROM ME by Jamie Beck

September 20, 2022

From the publisher:

A humorous and heartwarming novel about friendship and all its little secrets by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jamie Beck.

Wendy Moore hides her collection of pilfered bric-a-brac from everyone, including her husband. He thinks she licked her kleptomania in therapy more than a decade ago. Therapy did help, as did focusing her attention on motherhood. But now Wendy’s gardening and furniture-refinishing hobbies fill up only so much of the day, leaving the recent empty nester lonely and anxious – a combination likely to trigger her little problem. She needs a project, fast. Luckily, Harper Ross – a single, childless younger woman in desperate need of highlights – just moved in next door.

The only thing Harper wants to change is the writer’s block toppling her confidence and career. Then a muse comes knocking. Sensing fodder for a new antagonist, Harper plays along with Wendy’s “helpful” advice while keeping her career a secret so Wendy keeps talking. Sure, she’s torn about profiting off her neighbor’s goodwill – especially when Wendy’s matchmaking actually pans out – but Harper’s novel is practically writing itself.

Just as a real friendship begins to cement, their deceptions come to light, threatening Wendy’s and Harper’s futures and forcing them to reconcile who they are with who they want to be. Easier said than done.

https://amzn.to/3xbMIHG

Harper is a novelist whose first two books met with acclaim, but her third was a stinker. Afraid she’s lost her talent, she puts her Manhattan condo up for sale and rents a house in the suburbs of Connecticut. Her agent and editor are pushing her in a different direction, and she is hopeful that the fresh start in a new locale will give her the impetus she needs to write a better book. Wendy lives nearby and is dealing with an upcoming empty nest, and doesn’t have many friends. She has a shameful secret; she suffers from a mental illness which is handled sensitively here. The two women meet and form a friendship of sorts, except Harper is using Wendy as inspiration for her new book, and is lying about her occupation. Wendy is happy to have a new friend, especially a younger woman she can mother a bit and act as a matchmaker, too. When all the secrets come out, the friendship is strained beyond repair, or so it seems.

Verdict: Many women will see aspects of themselves here in this relatable women’s fiction that should appeal to book clubs and readers who enjoy books by Danielle Steel or Kristin Hannah.

©Library Journal, 2022

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

TAKE IT FROM ME by Jamie Beck. Montlake (September 20, 2022). ISBN: 978-1542032391. 347p.

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ONE PERFECT SUMMER by Brenda Novak

September 16, 2022

From the publisher:

Some families we’re born into
Some we find for ourselves

When Serenity Alston swabbed her cheek for a genetic test, she joked about uncovering some dark ancestral scandal. The last thing she expected was to discover two half sisters she didn’t know existed. Suddenly, everything about her loving family is drawn into question. And meeting these newfound sisters might be the only way to get answers.

The women decide to dig into the mystery together at Serenity’s family cabin in Lake Tahoe. With Reagan navigating romantic politics at work and Lorelei staring down the collapse of her marriage, all three women are converging at a crossroads in their lives. Before the summer is over, they’ll have to confront the past and determine how to move forward when everything they previously thought to be true was a lie. But any future is easier to face with family by your side.

“This heartwarming story of sisters who bond as adults is sure to please…those who enjoy books by Susan Mallery and Debbie Macomber.”—Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3U79ycJ

I love Brenda Novak, and somehow I missed this book! But better late than never! Plus it’s a new book if you haven’t read it yet. I stumbled across this on my Kindle and figured it would be my last “summer” read this year. I live in Florida so we don’t do seasons beyond hot, hotter, ridiculously hot and humid, and back to hot again. We do usually get a few days here and there of cool or sometimes even cold weather, and I have the boots and sweaters to prove it. But I digress…

This was such a good read. I loved these characters and they each have their own troubles to deal with. But finding each other through a DNA test proves to be an irresistible mystery. Serenity grew up in a loving home in California with two parents, Reagan grew up in New York City with a single mom who explained her father died when she was two years old, and Lorelei grew up in foster care after being found wandering the streets of Orlando when she was two years old. Once they find each other, they decide to spend a week together at Serenity’s family’s vacation home in Lake Tahoe.

It’s not easy finding out you have half-sisters when you are an adult, and don’t have any idea of how you are related. Serenity writes true crime novels, so she did the test as research for her book. Now that they found each other, they want to figure out how they are related. They each are dealing with some serious stress in their lives, but I don’t want to give anything away here. They decide that a week isn’t enough, and they end up spending three months in Tahoe and really get to know one another.

This was such an interesting story that is fully realized by these characters. It’s an engrossing story with a touch of romance here and there and just a wonderful read. If you haven’t read Novak, this is as good a place to start as any; if you’re a fan, you’ll love this book as much as I did. Enjoy!

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ONE PERFECT SUMMER by Brenda Novak. MIRA; Original edition (April 7, 2020). ISBN:‎  978-0778309468. 464p.

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Spotlight Review: LUCY ON THE WILD SIDE by Kerry Rea

September 13, 2022

From the publisher:

A zookeeper always on the fringe learns to go after her wildest dreams—including a certain television star—in this charming and laugh-out-loud romantic comedy by Kerry Rea, author of The Wedding Ringer.

Lucy Rourke has two great loves in her life: the gorilla troop she cares for as a primatologist and the laundry list of reality TV shows she watches to escape the fact that her actual love life doesn’t exist. And like a reality contestant gunning for the final rose, Lucy’s laser-focused on one thing: getting promoted to head keeper. So when a wildlife docuseries hosted by hotshot TV personality Kai Bridges chooses her zoo as its summer filming location, she sees an opportunity to showcase her beloved gorillas to the world and land a starring role in her department. 

When Kai and his film crew arrive, however, it’s obvious to Lucy that Kai cares more about sky-high ratings than the gorillas, and he considers her a camera-averse know-it-all whose wardrobe consists entirely of khaki. But she’s surprised to discover there’s more to him than his rugged good looks and cheesy catchphrases…and that maybe a promotion isn’t the only thing she wants. But when secrets from their pasts threaten to complicate everything, Lucy discovers that happiness and success aren’t the same thing—and that finding joy just might mean getting a little wild.

“Rea elevates the enemies-to-lovers trope with crackling chemistry, light humor, and genuine emotional nuance. Rom-com lovers should snap this up.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Rea’s second novel, following The Wedding Ringer (2021), is a compelling romantic comedy with a refreshingly unique storyline..Rea’s heartfelt, well-paced novel with realistic and well-developed characters is elevated by the parallel storyline of the gorilla troupe.”—Booklist

https://amzn.to/3U8O3bC

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at a zoo, this is the book for you! Lucy fell in love with gorillas when she was a little girl, and was thrilled to get the job as a gorilla keeper now that she’s all grown up. She has her sights set on moving up to senior keeper, but her stage fright might be holding her back.

Kai hosts a program on the Animal Planet and is a huge success. His mother is the world’s premier expert on gorillas, and is Lucy’s idol. Kai shows up at the zoo, and he and Lucy get into it over a nickname his mother claims the natives gave her. It’s in her book, which Lucy wants to smack over Kai’s head, but instead he grabs it and takes it away with him. Part of the problem is this guy with the bushy beard is unrecognizable as the TV star, but this is their meet cute and we now know we are in enemies-to-lovers territory.

Both Kai and Lucy have a lot of issues stemming from their childhoods and their famous mothers. When Lucy turned ten years old, her mother landed a starring role on a TV drama, and dropped Lucy off with her grandmother to raise her. Her mother’s show is long over and she’s remarried and has another kid, Mia, who worships her big sister. But Lucy doesn’t have time for either of them.

Kai grew up in the wild with his mother, but it turns out they don’t have the relationship the world thinks they do. We can see how much they have in common, but it takes Lucy and Kai a while to figure that out. There is a lot of arguing before they reach their happy ending.

This was a really interesting book, especially if you like animals. The characters are believable and I couldn’t help rooting for them to finally wake up and realize what they had. There are a lot of laughs and some angst before they get there. A thoroughly enjoyable read!

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

LUCY ON THE WILD SIDE by Kerry Rea.  Berkley (September 13, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593201862. 352p.

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MAGGIE MOVES ON by Lucy Score

September 9, 2022

From the publisher:

Can these opposites turn up the heat… without burning down the house?

House-flipping sensation and YouTube star Maggie Nichols can’t wait to dig into her next challenge. Arriving in tiny Kinship, Idaho, with only a cot and a coffeemaker, Maggie is prepared to restore a crumbling Victorian mansion in four months or less. She has her to-do lists, her blueprints, and her team. What she doesn’t have is time for sexy, laid-back landscaper Silas Wright.

The man takes flirtation to a whole new level. And he does it shirtless…sometimes pants-less. He and his service school-dropout dog are impressively persistent. But she’s not interested in putting down roots. Not when fans tune in to watch her travel the country turning dilapidated houses into dream homes. A short-term fling on the other hand could fit nicely into her calendar. After all, Maggie remembers what fun is like. Vaguely.

As their summer gets downright steamy, Silas manages to demolish the emotional walls she’s spent years building, sending Maggie into a panic. He’s the wrench in her carefully constructed plans. With the end of the project looming, she has a decision to make. But how can she stay when her entire career is built on moving on?

“Come for the romance, stay for the mysteries and scene-stealing side characters.”  ―USA Today

“This steamy, opposites-attract contemporary romance is fast-paced and engaging. The book is well written, with exceptional dialogue and witty banter among the characters. Silas and Maggie are likable and relatable, and readers will fall in love with them and their found family. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Nora Roberts and Tessa Bailey.”  ―Library Journal (starred review)

https://amzn.to/3RJ7dU1

I love a tough female main character who excels in a man’s world – in this case, Maggie has a YouTube show where she renovates old houses. She’s basically homeless, living in her projects then moving on to the next once completed. Her latest project is an old Victorian mansion in the tiny town of Kinsdale, Idaho. The house hasn’t been lived in for years and is barely habitable, but Maggie moves in and starts hiring the crews necessary to complete the reno.

Silas is the landscaper she finds and not only is his work good, but Maggie is sure he will also be a sensation on camera with his good looks and hot body. What she isn’t counting on is falling in love, and she fights it every step of the way.

Maggie has a lot of issues, but Silas is charging full steam ahead in his mission to make Maggie his. I loved the witty banter and their chemistry is apparent to everyone who sees them – except Maggie is fighting it. Can Silas win her over? Of course! This is a romance and a really fun read, sure to please HGTV fans as well.

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MAGGIE MOVES ON by Lucy Score. Forever (June 21, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-1538707081. 416p.

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