Cerebration: December 1, 2021

December 1, 2021

For the first time since I started book blogging, I took a vacation. We are talking over 20 years! I was just feeling completely burnt out. I’m still reading, of course, but I just needed some time to not do anything else. Well, I cooked for Thanksgiving, but that was it. But I’m back now, and the reviews will follow. Plus my favorite books of the year list are coming soon!

This is it. The end of the year is fast approaching, and all I can do is hope that next year will be better. Safer. Healthier. Less angry. Less violent. More vaccinated. What can I say, I am still an optimist, despite this pandemic and Trump/Trumpism trying to beat it out of me. I am eternally hopeful!

Something to look forward to – there are lots of great books coming out next year! Not that this year is done yet. I always feel bad for authors whose books come out in December. Especially novelists. They tend to get overlooked, especially by list makers and awards. December is a good month to publish cookbooks and coffee table books and other kinds of gift books.

Speaking of which, Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen) has a new cookbook coming out late next year! I love her. Did you know she started a YouTube channel? You should definitely check it out! So far, my favorites are Salty Brown Butter Crispy Treats (these take Rice Krispies Treats to another level!) the “I Want Chocolate Cake” Cake, and the best Broccoli Slaw ever! I mean, I never even knew broccoli slaw was a thing, or that I needed it in my life. Thanks, Deb! Her videos are as adorable as she is, they’re pretty short, all are under ten minutes, they come out once a week while she’s filming, so just do yourself a favor and subscribe. You’ll thank me! To me, Deb is the next generation Ina Garten. All her recipes work.

The New York Times Book Review has just turned 125 and they are celebrating! This was posted last month – it’s a sort of history of reading in public in NYC with lots of photos. I am someone who reads all the time, even (or maybe especially) on vacation, and most of my vacation time has been spent in NYC since 9/11/2001, when I became quite homesick. I read on the train, I read while waiting for pretty much anything, so I can relate to a lot of these pictures!

Even amid the clamor of a city of millions, New Yorkers have always been able to escape into a good book…These photos — all drawn from The Times’s vast photo archive — show that, in New York, there’s no place too busy for a book.

Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate! My house will smell like latkes for a few more days. Then we head into Christmas! Then Kwanzaa! And New Year’s!

I like to take a minute at this time of year to say thank you. I want you all to know how grateful I am to my readers, my subscribers, and especially to those of you who comment or email. I wish you all a joyous holiday season filled with love, laughter, family, and good books!

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.


BETTER OFF DEAD by Lee Child & Andrew Child

November 21, 2021

Jack Reacher, Book 26

From the publisher:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Jack Reacher is back in a brand-new page-turning thriller from acclaimed #1 bestselling authors Lee Child and Andrew Child.

Digging graves had not been part of my plans when I woke up that morning. 

Reacher goes where he wants, when he wants. That morning he was heading west, walking under the merciless desert sun—until he comes upon a curious scene. A Jeep has crashed into the only tree for miles around. A woman is slumped over the wheel.

Dead? No, nothing is what it seems. 

The woman is Michaela Fenton, an army veteran turned FBI agent trying to find her twin brother, who might be mixed up with some dangerous people. Most of them would rather die than betray their terrifying leader, who has burrowed his influence deep into the nearby border town, a backwater that has seen better days. The mysterious Dendoncker rules from the shadows, out of sight and under the radar, keeping his dealings in the dark.

He would know the fate of Fenton’s brother. 

Reacher is good at finding people who don’t want to be found, so he offers to help, despite feeling that Fenton is keeping secrets of her own. But a life hangs in the balance. Maybe more than one. But to bring Dendoncker down will be the riskiest job of Reacher’s life. Failure is not an option, because in this kind of game, the loser is always better off dead.


Twenty six books in a series is remarkable, but as Lee Child has handed off the writing of these books to his brother, Andrew Child, the series has taken a sharp turn for the worse. This was one of my favorite series. When I would get the review copy, I would literally put down whatever else I was reading and give the latest Reacher my undivided attention. I always read these books in one night, no matter how late I had to stay up to do it. Lee had threatened to kill off Reacher on numerous occasions over the past few years. I guess he grew tired of writing them. But the hysteria around the possibility of killing Reacher made him reconsider, I guess. Next thing I know his brother Andrew is writing the books.

Andrew started with the previous book, The Sentinel, and it was pretty good. Not as good as Lee’s books, but they weren’t all perfect either. I figured he was getting his sea legs and the next book would be great. I was wrong.

It took me about two weeks to finish this book. I was often tempted to just put it down and forget about it. I read on a Kindle, and every time I looked to see how far along I was, it was never nearly as far as I thought I should be. I thought I was halfway through at the 20% mark, so not good, and it continued like that. I thought surely it must be ending soon, and I was at 55%, and so on. I kept putting it down to read something else, something better, anything else – also not good. But I persevered and eventually finished.

This book has a sort of shocking beginning, except you know there would be no book at all if it were true. It was downhill from there. Reacher is here in all his fighting glory, chasing bad guys and beating the hell out of them in much the same way he has in every previous book. Even the guy that is way bigger than he is.

The woman this time is a former FBI agent looking for her twin brother. Reacher offers to help, of course, and there are the usual underground tunnels and deserted buildings for all the bad guys to hide out in. Reacher doesn’t have any sex in this book, and very few laughs can be found. And apparently, he has finally learned how cell phones work.

The writing again seems like a Lee Child imitation, with every sentence in the book short and choppy. It is written in the first person so that was new (I think? I don’t remember if all of them skipped that.) Weirdly, Reacher’s connections are eager to help and he, of course, saves the day. The book just seemed very repetitive and redundant. Knowing me, I will read the next Reacher book in hopes of it being better, but I’ll tell you this: if I dislike it as much as this one, I will not finish it (if I remember – it is a year off!)

So if you are a Reacher fan, go for it. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, but I’m more in line with the Library Journal review, other than the last line:

The writing is more seamless than in the Child brothers’ previous collaboration, but the action is often perfunctorily described, and the supporting cast is thinly written. There’s less humor than in previous entries, though Reacher’s notorious Luddism is played for a few laughs. Fans of the series will enjoy.

Reviewed by Liz French, Library Journal , Oct 02, 2021

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BETTER OFF DEAD by Lee Child & Andrew Child. Delacorte Press (October 26, 2021). ISBN: 978-1984818508. 336 pages.

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MAMA’S BOY by Avery Flynn

November 20, 2021

Last Man Standing, Book 1

From the author:

MUST HATE DOGS
Do you hate dogs? Only want to talk about yourself? Is having a sense of humor something you’ve never been accused of? Think eating for pleasure is a complete waste of time? Agree that tipping is for suckers? Then you’re the date for me.

Dixon Beckett is the kind of guy who loves his mama, treats women right, and never ever wants to fall in love again. That’s why he’ll do anything to win a bet to be the last single man standing by Christmas.

He’s got a plan, too. Create the most no-good, horrible, very bad dating profile in existence. Only someone actually responds to his ad…

The rules say he has to go on six dates with the first (or in his case, only) person who answers—even if that person is Fiona Hartigan: Hater of dogs, non-lover of any delicious food, and zero sense of humor.

But something feels off about this pariah. In fact, Dixon is almost positive Fiona is just pretending to be awful. Pretending to be the most horrible date in existence. And she’s most definitely pretending to not be as interested in him as he is in her.

The more Dixon Beckett starts to unravel the mystery of why Fiona answered his ad in the first place, the more he starts considering the most vile, awful, terrible idea ever…falling in love.

Each book in the Last Man Standing series is STANDALONE:
* Mama’s Boy
* Neanderthal
* Mansplainer


Once again I started a series with the second book, but I liked it so much I immediately went looking for the first book, which I found on Hoopla (yay public library!) The third book comes out in December, a birthday treat for me, and I can’t wait. I have a funny feeling no one is winning this bet.

This series centers around a bet between three cousins. Their beloved grandmother has passed away, leaving behind a wrapped Christmas gift but no name on the gift. They decide that the last man who hasn’t fallen in love will get the gift. But there are rules – they have to post a profile on a specific dating app, and they have to go out on six dates, selected by the other cousins, with the first woman who responds.

Dixon has no desire for a relationship and he wants that last remembrance of his grandmother. Since he gets to write his own profile, he comes up with the most obnoxious, unappealing one that he can. So he is shocked when Fiona responds.

Their first date is a bit of a puzzle for Dixon; almost immediately he starts to suspect something is off about Fiona. He thinks she is only pretending to hate dogs and food and so forth, but he can’t understand why she would do that.

Dixon runs a large and very successful cosmetics company. Fiona’s grandmother has created a line of homeopathic skin care products for women of a certain age, shall we say. She has tried on several occasions to get in to see Dixon, but has been rebuffed at every effort. She decides this is the best way to get to him. Especially when he puts it out there that he knows she is full of it, and admits to why he posted that profile and the bet. They decide to help one another; she will complete the six dates with him but after that, he will owe her a favor of her choosing. He has no idea what she is up to but doesn’t care as long as he wins the bet.

Fake dating invariably leads to true love in romance novels, and this one is no exception. But Fiona is fighting it because of her grandmother, as is Dixon. Lots of drama but even more laughs and some very steamy sex make this a terrific read that I really loved. I can’t wait for the next book!

MAMA’S BOY by Avery Flynn. Entangled: Amara (September 27, 2021). ASIN: B091NQHSK8. 312 pages.

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WELL MATCHED by Jen DeLuca

November 19, 2021

Well Met, Book 3

From the publisher:

A pretend relationship gives two friends more than they bargained for in a Renaissance Faire rom com filled with flower crowns, kilts, corsets, and sword fights.

Single mother April Parker has lived in Willow Creek for twelve years with a wall around her heart. On the verge of being an empty nester, she’s decided to move on from her quaint little town, and asks her friend Mitch for his help with some home improvement projects to get her house ready to sell. 

Mitch Malone is known for being the life of every party, but mostly for the attire he wears to the local Renaissance Faire—a kilt (and not much else) that shows off his muscled form to perfection. While he agrees to help April, he needs a favor too: she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner, so that he can avoid the lectures about settling down and having a more “serious” career than high school coach and gym teacher. April reluctantly agrees, but when dinner turns into a weekend trip, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s been just for show. But when the weekend ends, so must their fake relationship. 

As summer begins, Faire returns to Willow Creek, and April volunteers for the first time. When Mitch’s family shows up unexpectedly, April pretends to be Mitch’s girlfriend again…and it doesn’t feel so fake anymore. Despite their obvious connection, April insists they’ve just been putting on an act. But when there’s the chance for something real, she has to decide whether to change her plans—and open her heart—for the kilt-wearing hunk who might just be the love of her life.


As someone who has never been to a Renaissance Faire, despite there being a huge one [http://www.ren-fest.com/] just a few miles from my home, I really love this series. I still have no desire to go, but I’ll read anything Jen DeLuca writes.

This book is less about the Ren Faire and more about this small town. The story centers around April, whose daughter is going off to college in a few months. April has been a single mom for a very long time, and she is determined to change her life once she becomes an empty nester. She wants to sell the house and move out of this small town into a city, and while she’ll always have a place for her daughter, she wants to start living her own life.

Mitch is quite a bit younger than April, and while he is a very good looking man, she can’t imagine him being interested in her. So when he offers to help her out with fixing up her house to sell it, she is grateful for the help. But he needs a favor in return; he wants her to come to a family dinner with him. His family are all high achievers and think being a teacher and coach is not much of a career. He figures if they see him in a relationship with a woman like April, all professional looking and older, they will back off. But the dinner turns into a weekend at a hotel, and one thing leads to another as it usually does with fake dating!

I loved the May-December romance, mostly because it is the woman who is older, yet it seems that Mitch is the more mature one in this relationship a lot of the time. April is dealing with some insecurities about her age and her body and simply cannot believe that this man could truly want a relationship with her. She pretty much dumps him because of that, but luckily, he’s not giving up.

There are a lot of laughs here and witty dialogue, a hallmark of DeLuca’s writing, plus some steamy scenes. I’ve loved all three of these books and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. But it’s probably this one. These do not need to be read in order, they each stand alone pretty well, so if you haven’t tried DeLuca yet, I urge you to do so now. I loved it.

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WELL MATCHED by Jen DeLuca. Berkley (October 19, 2021). ISBN: 978-0593200445. 336 pages.

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BAD INFLUENCE by Stefanie London 

November 18, 2021

Bad Bachelors, Book 3

From the publisher:

Annie Maxwell had her whole life figured out . . . until her fiancé left her when his career took off. If that wasn’t bad enough, every society blog posted pictures of him escorting a woman wearing her engagement ring. To help the women of New York avoid guys like her ex, Annie created the Bad Bachelors app. But try as she might, Annie just can’t forget him . . .

For bank executive Joe Preston, his greatest mistake was leaving the love of his life when she needed him most. Now, all he wants is to make things right–and she won’t have him. But when Annie’s safety is threatened by a hacker determined to bring down her app, Joe is the only one she can turn to. He’ll have to lay himself on the line to prove to Annie that he’s a changed man.

But will their hard-won bond survive the revelation that Annie is the one pulling the strings behind Bad Bachelors?


We were introduced to the Bad Bachelors app in the first book in this series, and while it showed up in the second book, it is at the center of the last book of this trilogy. Annie, the creator, is being threatened. Since she started the app, there have been some negative comments, but this is beyond that – someone has hacked her app and knows who she is. He even grabbed a pic of her taken from the camera on her laptop. She knows she is in trouble, and when she runs into her ex, she realizes that he is the perfect person to help her. He is an internet security expert, recently returned to New York as the youngest vice president of his new company.

Joe is happy to help. He feels guilty about the way he left Annie, following his career path and listening to his father’s advice. He even gets engaged to a woman his father deems worthy, but that ends when they realize it is a mistake. To make things even worse, Annie recognizes that ring – she had seen it in Joe’s drawer, figuring he was going to propose to her. But that never happened.

Joe is still in love with Annie, so he is thrilled to be able to help her. Things get even dicier when the threats start hitting home – Annie’s home, so Joe asks her to move in with him until things can be resolved. Of course, that starts their romance all over again.

Joe and Annie find their happy ending, and Joe eventually figures out who the threat is and how to end it. Meanwhile, Annie has a mega offer on the table to buy the app, and she is trying to figure out what to do with it. She eventually makes the right choice for her, and for Joe.

I really enjoyed this series. Each book stands alone but they are better read as a series. These are very sexy romances, so if that isn’t your preference, look elsewhere. I thought these books were very well done and terrific reads.

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BAD INFLUENCE by Stefanie London. Sourcebooks Casablanca (February 26, 2019). 978-1492655237. 384 pages.

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BAD REPUTATION by Stefanie London 

November 17, 2021

Bad Bachelors, Book 2

From the publisher:

It’s true, I’m well-endowed.
But everything else is a huge misunderstanding…

My name is Wes Evans and saying I’m bad at love is a big understatement. I’m the son of Broadway royalty, and the only thing I’ve really ever wanted is to achieve something without having to ride on my family’s coattails. Unfortunately, being dubbed”The Anaconda” on the notorious Bad Bachelor app wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Now, I’ve got a reputation I can’t seem to shake, and a smash Broadway show I need to produce without the help of my family.

Enter Remi Drysdale―a sexy ballet dancer and the woman who could solve all my problems. She is a dream to watch on stage and will be the next best thing in American ballet. If I don’t mess it all up by seducing her.


Remi is a ballerina from Australia who moved to New York City for a shot at joining a major ballet company. But it didn’t work out the way she planned, and she ends up teaching kids how to dance. When one of her students brings her uncle with her, he is forced to participate. Little does she know that he is ballet and Broadway royalty. When he walks in on her practicing on her own, he realizes he found the ballerina he was looking for to star in the off-Broadway show he is trying to produce without his family’s help.

There is strong attraction there but Remi has been burned by romance in a show before, and she isn’t going there. Until she can’t help herself. Wes understands her fears but he can’t help himself either. Of course, they try and keep it secret but once the cat’s out of the bag, all sorts of trouble follows.

This was a fast read set in the world of theater, which I loved. The characters are skillfully brought to life on the page, and while some of the drama seemed a bit over the top to me, it all works out in the end. I’m looking forward to the last book of this trilogy.

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BAD REPUTATION by Stefanie London. Sourcebooks Casablanca (August 7, 2018). 978-1492655206. 384 pages.

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A REAL COWBOY FOR THE HOLIDAYS by Stephanie Rowe

November 16, 2021

Wyoming Rebels, Book 9

From the publisher:

A single mom returns to her family’s Wyoming Christmas tree farm for the holidays and runs into an injured cowboy from her past who just might be the Christmas miracle her little boy needs. A wonderful holiday romance that will melt your heart.

After a shattering divorce, Emma Rollins returns to Wyoming, hoping for a Christmas miracle for her son. When she accidentally runs into a truck driven by the cowboy who was her teenage partner-in-crime, Emma quickly discovers that he might be just the miracle she needs. Or did she already miss her chance with the rebel who used to make her laugh so long ago?

Sidelined from smokejumping with a devastating injury, Quintin Stockton is struggling to deal with the fact his career might be over. But when a family situation drags the former cowboy home for Christmas, he finds himself haunted by the shadows he’s never been able to escape.

When the woman he once called Nerd Girl needs his help hauling Christmas trees at her family farm, it’s the distraction Quintin needs. She makes him laugh, which he hasn’t done in a long, long time. But as the loner cowboy spends more time with Emma and her brave little boy, suddenly he has a chance for the Christmas love he didn’t even know he wanted.

Can Christmas magic bring love to two hearts that were once closed forever?


I wasn’t sure if I would be lost with this book as it is the 9th book of the series, and I haven’t read any of them. So while I knew I was missing information, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. This book can easily be read as a standalone, and I loved it.

Quintin is one of nine siblings in the Stockton family, and they have all had a horrible childhood. Instead of falling into where the badness could have lead them, Chase, the oldest, made sure they all ended up on the straight and narrow. Quintin is a smokejumper, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. But on his last jump, he is severely injured, shattering his leg. Several operations later, he is still not healing all that well, at least not well enough to go back to his job – the only thing that sustains him. Without smokejumping, Quintin is depressed and unhappy, to say the least. But when Chase asks him to come home for Christmas, he shows up, planning on being there just for the day. Until Emma literally runs into his truck.

They were good friends in high school as Quintin worked at her family’s Christmas tree farm. Seeing her family was one of the good things in his young life, so he is happy to see Emma again. And when he finds out her father had been hurt and is having a hard time running the place, he offers to help out.

Emma has her own unhappiness. Her son was born with a birth defect, and as soon as it showed up on the ultrasound, her husband was out. They have a financial arrangement which precludes Emma from having any kind of relationship again, or from telling anyone about the arrangement. So as much as she is enjoying Quintin’s company, she can’t risk her son’s health and she refuses to take help from anyone.

But Quintin is falling in love, something he never thought would happen to him. He is especially drawn to her son, and to kids in general, like the rest of his family. They all have foster kids and adopted kids and just do whatever they can to help any child in need. While Quintin can tell Emma feels the same way, he doesn’t understand why she won’t let him help, so he figures out a way to do so.

This is a heartwarming holiday romance with characters that I just fell in love with – yes, it’s a bit of a fairytale, but isn’t Christmas the perfect time for that?

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

A REAL COWBOY FOR THE HOLIDAYS by Stephanie Rowe. Authenticity Playground, LLC (November 16, 2021). ASIN: B097CK7JW6. 282 pages.

 

 

 

 


DEAR SANTA by Debbie Macomber

November 15, 2021

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A special holiday wish list brings about hope, love, and second chances in this nostalgic novel from the queen of Christmas stories, Debbie Macomber.

Lindy Carmichael isn’t feeling particularly joyful when she returns home to Wenatchee, Washington, for Christmas. The man she thought was “the one” has cheated on her with her best friend, and she feels completely devoid of creativity in her graphic-design job. Not even carolers or Christmas cookies can cheer her up—but Lindy’s mother, Ellen, remembers an old tradition that might lift her daughter’s spirits.

Reading through a box of childhood letters to Santa and reminiscing about what she’d wished for as a young girl may be just the inspiration Lindy needs. With Ellen’s encouragement, she decides to write a new letter to Santa, one that will encourage her to have faith and believe just as she’d done all those years ago. Little does Lindy know that this exercise in gratitude will cause her wishes to unfold before her in miraculous ways. And, thanks to some fateful twists of Christmas magic—especially an unexpected connection with a handsome former classmate—Lindy ultimately realizes that there is truly no place like home for the holidays.

In Dear Santa, Debbie Macomber celebrates the joys of Christmas blessings, old and new.


I have run hot and cold with Macomber’s annual Christmas novel/novella, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed this one. As a Jewish woman who loves Christmas romances, I prefer them to be more inspirational and uplifting than religious, and Macomber always walks a fine line there but there weren’t enough Christ references to make this uncomfortable for me, so yay.

Lindy is finally in her dream job, or so she thinks. A web designer, she was hired by a major Seattle company over an in-house candidate, leaving her co-workers skeptical and unwelcoming, and Lindy feels the need to work late nights and weekends to prove herself. She has just submitted a major proposal; if the company wins the business, her reputation will be intact. Meanwhile, they’ve given her two weeks off over Christmas.

Lindy heads home, never needing home more. When her best friend moved to be closer to her job, Lindy showed up at her new apartment, planning on surprising her friend. Instead, she is shocked to find her boyfriend is living there. Her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend now, and she is more devastated about her friend than anything. She hasn’t told anyone what happened and is carrying around her heartache on her own.

But as soon as she gets home, her mom knows something is wrong and Lindy spills it all. Her mom comes up with the idea that doing a little reminiscing will help Lindy heal. She pulls out a box of letters to Santa that Lindy had written as a child. She doesn’t remember most of them, but she does remember the one where she asked Santa to bring Billy coal for Christmas. He’s been torturing her forever in the way that little boys do when they have a crush on a little girl, but she didn’t get that then. Then her mom suggests she write another letter to Santa. Lindy thinks that’s ridiculous, but she realizes that Santa always granted her wishes in one way or another, so she does it. She asks to meet a good man and to find a new best friend.

Turns out her best friend from elementary school is back in town and they rekindle that long ago friendship. At a girls night out at a new hot spot in town, Lindy is surprised to see that the proprietor is none other than her old nemesis, Billy, now called Will. But when Lindy finds out what happened that Christmas she wished him coal, guilt kicks in and she ends up bringing him homemade cookies to apologize. They start hanging out and realize there is a strong attraction there. But Billy is tied to this small town with his new business, and Lindy is going back to Seattle. Long distance won’t work, not with the hours they both work. So Lindy decides this will just be a holiday romance, but of course, that doesn’t quite work out.

It wouldn’t be a Debbie Macomber novel without a happily ever after, and Billy and Lindy find theirs. The magical Santa throughout the novel adds another dimension of holiday joy, making this a perfect Christmas read. If sweet romances built around the holiday are your jam, then don’t miss this one. Or wait for the Hallmark movie – it seems like most of Macomber’s Christmas novels end up there.

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

DEAR SANTA by Debbie Macomber. Ballantine Books (October 19, 2021). ISBN: 978-1984818812. 272 pages.

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THE DARK HOURS by Michael Connelly

November 9, 2021

Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch, Book 4

From the publisher:

“A masterpiece”—LAPD detective Renée Ballard must join forces with Harry Bosch to find justice in a city scarred by fear and social unrest after a methodical killer strikes on New Year’s Eve (Publishers Weekly).

There’s chaos in Hollywood at the end of the New Year’s Eve countdown. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD detective Renée Ballard waits out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. Only minutes after midnight, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

Ballard quickly concludes that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky and that it is linked to another unsolved murder—a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch. At the same time, Ballard hunts a fiendish pair of serial rapists, the Midnight Men, who have been terrorizing women and leaving no trace.

Determined to solve both cases, Ballard feels like she is constantly running uphill in a police department indelibly changed by the pandemic and recent social unrest. It is a department so hampered by inertia and low morale that Ballard must go outside to the one detective she can count on: Harry Bosch. But as the two inexorable detectives work together to find out where old and new cases intersect, they must constantly look over their shoulders. The brutal predators they are tracking are ready to kill to keep their secrets hidden.

Unfolding with unstoppable drive and nail-biting intrigue, The Dark Hours shows that “relentless on their own, Ballard’s and Bosch’s combined skills…could be combustible” (Los Angeles Times).


This latest from America’s best crime fiction writer is truly extraordinary. Connelly has attempted several series, but all the characters end up overlapping; he just can’t leave anyone behind. This series started out as Renee Ballard, but Bosch shows up as he does here. It is her book, with a strong assist, if you will.

I like Ballard. She’s honest, smart, and hard working. If all cops were like her, we would live in a much better, safer place. But they’re not, and that comes to the forefront during the pandemic when this book is set. Ballard works the late shift, the overnight shift AKA the dark hours, and she loves it. She has no partner and no one to bother her. She turns over any cases that come up to whatever department handles them, be it homicide, sex crimes, robbery, etc.

On New Year’s Eve, all the cops are scheduled to work in uniform. There is a tradition in Los Angeles of firing guns in the air at midnight, and Ballard is ready and waiting under an overpass. She is quickly called to a crime scene when a man goes down during a street party. She quickly realizes this wasn’t an accident, so she starts investigating. She learns there is a relationship between this victim and another old, cold case but the murder book is missing, checked out to one Harry Bosch, the lead detective at the time.

Bosch has become a mentor to Ballard, so she feels no hesitation in contacting him. He is happy to help, even more so if he can also solve his old case. There is a definite connection, but the homicide division is busy with a high profile case, so Ballard runs with it, at least until they force her to turn it over.

Ballard is also working a sex crimes case. Two men have been targeting women and raping them during holidays, and the cops are calling them the Midnight Men. Most rapists work alone, so this is unusual. They are also very careful, leaving no DNA or evidence of any kind. They are breaking in without any issues, lying in wait for the target, and one of their tells is that they cut off a hunk of hair from their victims. Ballard lands the third case, and is incensed when she realizes the cops in the sex crimes division are not being thorough, to say the least. In fact, the woman she is partnered with on this case couldn’t be less empathetic if she tried. She is more interested in going away for the weekend with her boyfriend and leaving Ballard to handle things on her own.

Both of these cases are keeping Ballard busy, too busy in fact, she is barely sleeping. Ballard had to stop surfing and sleeping on the beach when the beaches were shut down due to Covid. She was ill with Covid for a few weeks, but survived better than many others and is hoping she has enough antibodies to protect her until she is eligible for the vaccine. And she lost Lola, her beloved dog, to cancer so she spends a lot of her off time cruising animal shelter websites looking for another dog.

Bosch is helpful as always, and is her backup most of the time. But to solve these crimes will take more than the apathetic LAPD has to offer. The pandemic is playing havoc with everyone, especially those sworn to protect and defend and Ballard is getting sick of it. She wears her mask, takes Bosch to get vaccinated, adopts a new dog, even meets a man. Her life is busy and she likes it that way, but she isn’t sure she wants to be a cop anymore.

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. You’re welcome!

NOTE: Get a printable list of all the novels in published order, as well as a breakdown by series character: https://www.michaelconnelly.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Printable-Book-List_Nov2021.pdf

NOTE 2: Bosch is a terrific TV series on Amazon Prime that just ended a seven season run. It is excellent, which almost never happens when a book shows up on a screen. Titus Welliver is Harry Bosch. https://www.amazon.com/Bosch-Season-1/dp/B089XWNZ4W A spinoff is filming now.

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE DARK HOURS by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown and Company (November 9, 2021). ISBN: 978-0316485647. 400 pages.

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CHRISTMAS GRACE by Mindy Steele

November 8, 2021

From the publisher:

Second chances and the Christmas spirit abound in Mindy Steele’s heartwarming novel, one of faith, love, and the power of community.

Grace Miller believed herself in love with the charming Englischer who eventually broke her heart. Now alone except for the secret life growing inside her, she arrives in the unfamiliar small village of Walnut Ridge, Kentucky, to hide and hopefully gain forgiveness.

She is pleasantly surprised, however, to find a tight-knit, welcoming group who help her heart grow right alongside her belly. And with the holidays around the corner, there’s plenty of preparations to occupy her mind. Also occupying her mind? Her strong, protective neighbor, Cullen Graber, the town’s blacksmith, who seems intent on not allowing her to ever suffer alone.

Cullen Graber gave up on love after too many losses early in life. He planned to live out his days focusing on his smithy business, yet the beautiful and mysterious Grace refuses to leave his thoughts. But can they open their hearts to God’s grace and create a new family together before Grace must return home?


I haven’t read an Amish romance for a while, and this story felt rather unique. Grace lived in an Amish community in Indiana, and fell in love with a man from outside the community. But when she got pregnant, he left her, which meant he left her alone to deal with her family and her church. This particular community is very strict, and her father is even stricter. She is forced to admit her sins in front of the community and is shunned by her family. She is very close with her sisters and is heartbroken when her father sends her away to live in a small Amish community in Kentucky, where his sister, her spinster aunt, lives.

Grace arrives and her aunt takes her to a cabin up on top of a steep hill. It is not in the best shape, to say the least. It’s basically one filthy room with a broken front door. But Grace is determined to make the best of things, and her aunt procures her a job in the bakery in town. Grace loves to bake, and that is the only pleasant thing in her life at the moment.

But when Grace doesn’t show up for her first day of work, her aunt and her neighbor come looking for her. Cullen, her neighbor, can’t understand why Grace’s husband would allow her to live in such a shack and why he isn’t there, working on fixing it up. Instead, they find Grace hiding behind the bed, and a dead dog nearby. She was attacked by a pack of wild dogs, and somehow saved herself.

Cullen is impressed with her bravery and ingenuity, but feels sorry for the mother-to-be, and that’s before he finds out she doesn’t have a husband. But in this small town, no one is shunning her. Sure, her aunt isn’t too friendly or helpful, but she is under strict orders from her brother to do nothing for his pregnant daughter.

As Grace meets women in the town, she is shocked to find them so accepting of her sin and condition, and she starts forming friendships with them. Her neighbor, Cullen, is always around fixing up the cabin for for her and delivering her firewood. There is an attraction there, but Grace can’t believe this handsome man with a heart of gold could possibly be interested in a sinner like her.

Cullen has been hurt before and has decided to live out his life alone. Every single woman in their community has been after him at one point or another, but as kind as he is, he is determined to keep his heart safe. Until he meets Grace. She manages to worm her way into his heart even as he fights it every step of the way.

Once the baby is born, around Christmas, Grace is supposed to go back home again. Her father has arranged a marriage for her with an older widower with a child. Grace knows the man and can’t imagine being married to him, but she is a dutiful daughter and believes she has no choice in the matter. But Cullen gives her a choice, and they find their happily ever after.

There is quite a bit of drama before the happy ending in this sweet, Amish romance. I liked learning about the differences between Amish communities, and how they live their lives. I liked the whole idea of second chances in such a strict religion, and these characters made it all work. The Christmas season just added to the joy eventually found here. This author was new to me, and I hope to read more of her books.

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

CHRISTMAS GRACE by Mindy Steele. Entangled: Amara (October 26, 2021). ISBN: 978-1682815113. 352 pages.

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