Best Books of 2022

December 30, 2022

It’s that time of year again; these are the books that I liked 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. And I’m limiting myself to a top ten list this year!

I hope you find this list useful and interesting. It’s in no particular order:

OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng: 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. 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.

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 passionate discourse. 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 in a stunningly beautiful novel. All I can say is put this on your “must-read” list. Read the full review.

LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY by Bonnie Garmus: This is a fantastic debut novel with an unforgettable protagonist, a chemist in the late 1950s-early 1960s when a woman’s place was in the home. When her circumstances change, she ends up hosting one of the earliest cooking TV shows. Elizabeth is a quirky, strong character and her story is both hilarious and heartbreaking, yet ultimately inspiring. Book groups will have much to discuss here. Read the full review.

TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW by Gabrielle Zevin: This is a hard book to quantify; it probably is best slotted into the literary fiction genre (and boy, do they hate when literary fiction is called a genre!) All I can tell you is this is a tour de force and a mesmerizing read set in the world of video games. I don’t want to give away anything, so if you like character-driven stories that are fast-paced and emotionally engaging, then this is your book. I loved it, and so did just about all the critics. Too much hype can sometimes backfire, but it is well-deserved here. Read the full review.

MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan: This is a book full of secrets that slowly unspool throughout the story. It isn’t until the halfway point that we get the biggest secret, one that I never saw coming. Several reviewers have mentioned this, but no spoilers here. Let’s just say all these characters reveal different aspects of their lives and therein lies the intrigue of this story. This is a very engaging story with interesting characters and quite a bit of suspense. Picoult is the queen of family dramas, and she retains her crown with this latest endeavor. I couldn’t put the book down and there is so much to discuss, and your book club will love it. Read the full review.

SUGAR AND SALT by Susan Wiggs: Bella Vista Chronicles, Book 4. I love Susan Wiggs’ books; they always have intriguing characters, interesting settings, and unputdownable stories, and this is no exception. This story deals with a small town in Texas, a rape, and the unwanted pregnancy that follows. It deals with abortion and adoption and prison and women’s rights. It deals with our justice system and how it favors the rich. It could not be more timely, and all these things are handled with truth and grace and real-life emotions. While this is the fourth book of a series, it easily stands alone, as do all the books in this series. That said, I have loved every one of them and highly recommend them all. Do yourself a favor and read them in whatever order you can get them. 

The Bella Vista Chronicles in Order:

  1. The Apple Orchard
  2. The Beekeeper’s Ball
  3. The Lost and Found Bookshop
  4. Sugar and Salt

Read the full review.

THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY by Brendan Slocumb: While this book is marketed as a thriller, it is more a coming-of-age story, a story about racism in America, and in particular, in the classical musical field. The mystery of a missing violin is a plot device that helps moves the story along, but it goes beyond that. I was so invested in Ray and his career that I couldn’t put this book down. I loved being immersed in Ray’s world and was desperate for him to get his violin back and see his career rocket. According to the author’s note at the end, this is a bit of a bildungsroman as he is a Black man and a classical violinist.

This book was truly such a gift, and I am most grateful for it. Read the full review.

THE LIGHTNING ROD by Brad Meltzer: Escape Artist, A Zig & Nola Novel: Book 2. The good news is that you do not have to read the first book in the series to understand this one; it stands alone beautifully. That said, the first book in the series made my best books of 2018 list so go read it anyway!

All the characters are interesting, multi-dimensional, diverse, and fully realized. The situations they find themselves in are often not of their own doing, but their resolve, ingenuity, and tenacity gets them where they need to go. That said, the body count is high and this is not a book for the squeamish. There are almost a dizzying number of twists and turns and the pages fly by in this unputdownable thriller. Yes, I stayed up late to finish it! This is a worthy sequel, and the second book of what is shaping up to be one of my must-read series. Read the full review.

DESERT STAR by Michael Connelly: Renée Ballard, Book 5 and/or Harry Bosch, Book 24. There is no retiring Harry Bosch. The Vietnam War vet is now a volunteer on Renée Ballard’s new Open/Unsolved unit for the Los Angeles police department. No spoilers here but the ending definitely feels like an ending. I understand it, and I trust Connelly to do the right thing with his most beloved character. This is another gem from one of the finest crime writers in the world – and that is not hyperbole.

Read the full review.

GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by Diana Gabaldon: It’s been a long wait – seven years – for the ninth book in the Outlander series and while it is not the best book, it is an excellent read. This series really needs to be read in order and each book is rather long. This newest book takes place in 1779 in North Carolina, with forays to Savannah and Charles Town (Charleston,) and even to Philadelphia. While George Washington doesn’t make an appearance, his and some other famous names are dropped. This is well-researched historical fiction with time travel at its heart, and one of the most engaging romances in fiction. This is the series I wish I could read again for the first time. Read the full review.

REMINDERS OF HIM by Colleen Hoover: 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!

Read the full review.

I have never limited myself to a specific number of favorites in any given year, so it feels a bit uncomfortable to end here. Perhaps a few honorable mentions are in order…

SECLUDED CABIN SLEEPS SIX by Lisa Unger: Read the full review.

THE HOTEL NANTUCKET by Elin Hilderbrand: Read the full review.

NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT by Annabel Monaghan: Read the full review.

IT STARTS WITH US by Colleen Hoover: The sequel to It Ends With Us. Read the full review.

A SHOE STORY by Jane L. Rosen: Read the full review.

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.

Eternal by Lisa Scottoline

March 30, 2021

ETERNAL by Lisa Scottoline. G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 1st edition (March 23, 2021). ISBN: 978-0525539766 . 480 pages.



From Paul Lane

This novel is a five star book of course, but I found it so much more. It is also an emotional adventure that cannot be left in mid read. Must be finished in one captivating gulp. The theme is the coming of age of three people in a period of turmoil in Italy. The country had been taken over by Benito Mussolini in 1922 when as head of the newly formed fascist party set up a coup d’état becoming dictator of the country. Italians knew that any form of dissent would be met with repression, up to and including death.

Elisabetta, Marco and Sandro are the three principal characters utilized to tell the story. They were friends from childhood loving each other at first platonically, then later moving into romantic love. Elisabetta wondered which of the others she would eventually marry and both Marco and Sandro grew into dreams of being with her. Sandro was Jewish and faced his parent’s desire for him to marry within the religion. Growing up and looking for their future is interrupted by World War II and Mussolini bringing Italy into the war on Germany’s side. In order to please Hitler Mussolini promulgated a set of laws and rules modeled after the infamous Nurenberg laws that in effect removed Jews and certain other minorities from Italian citizenship. Also taking away their ability to work, own businesses and practice their religion. Eventually the Nazis took over Italy to prevent the country from moving towards alliances with the allies who were at war with Germany.

Elisabetta, Marco and Sandro come of age in this strained climate existing in Italy. The situation goes from bad to worse as Nazi troops stationed in Rome where the three live become a law unto themselves demanding and getting without possibility of review anything they desire. The author tells of a situation in which the Nazis demand a huge amount of gold from the Jewish community to benefit the German army. If they don’t come up with the gold the threat is that 200 Jews will be transferred out of the area. The community with help from others, including the Vatican manage to raise the gold. Not a surprise when the Nazis do send 200 Jews out ending up in the death camp at Auschwitz.

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 am not in a position to indicate if it is Scottoline’s best book. She does have many excellent works to her credit and there is no problem in reading others and enjoying them.

THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah

February 5, 2021

THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press (February 2, 2021). ISBN: 978-1250178602 . 464 pages.



Best Books of 2020: Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

December 28, 2020

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Another year, another list of books. I tried very hard to narrow down my list to a reasonable number and realized I really suck at this. I did include a variety of genres, then threw in several contemporary and multi-cultural romances as they don’t usually get the love (pardon the pun!) on these best-of lists.
There are two authors, Michael Connelly and Christina Lauren (who is really two authors writing together) who had two books apiece this year, and all their books are on the list. I have two books, In a Holidaze and Love Lettering, that overlap with Caitlin Brisson’s list. There is one book that was published in 2019, The Nickel Boys, but I figure if it can win the Pulitzer in 2020, I can include it in my list, too.  My list, my rules.

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead: Even though it is a very short book, I took my time reading it. Some of the passages in the story are just heartbreaking, and I wanted to give it the consideration I felt it deserved. It is an emotional read for sure, with a shocking twist at the end. How can I love a book that tells such an overwhelmingly disturbing story? Because Whitehead is a superb storyteller, and he’s written an unforgettable book. Don’t miss it. (LITERARY FICTION)

TWENTY-ONE TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE by Matthew Dicks: a novel written in lists. Very clever, often funny, sometimes touching, just like life. I was completely immersed in Dan’s world, and didn’t pick up my head until I turned the last page. (EPISTOLARY NOVEL)

THE LAW OF INNOCENCE by Michael Connelly: A new Lincoln Lawyer book is always cause to celebrate! Lots of legal action here and with the twists and turns of the case, the pages fly by. Another terrific read from one of my favorite authors. (LEGAL THRILLER)

FAIR WARNING by Michael Connelly: an unputdownable book with intriguing characters, a familiar setting, and a fast-paced, twisty storyline with a shocker of an ending. If you’ve never read Connelly, this is as good a place to start as any. In my humble opinion, Connelly remains the premier crime writer of our time. (THRILLER)

ALL THE BROKEN PEOPLE by Leah Konen: The main protagonist is an unreliable narrator, but the twist here is that all the characters are unreliable, making this a fast-paced, unputdownable rollercoaster of a read sure to appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins. (PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE)

28 SUMMERS by Elin Hilderbrand: Based on the film, Same Time, Next Year, this story is a decades-long romance based on the same premise. Mallory and Jake meet, have a long weekend fling, then repeat every year on the same weekend. A completely engrossing, beautiful, unputdownable read. (WOMEN’S FICTION)

THE CACTUS by Sarah Haywood: This story is filled with dry wit and humor, making me laugh out loud many times. It is also emotional and at times, heart-wrenching, and we can’t help but be drawn to these characters even though I was not always sure who to root for. But it doesn’t matter, I was immersed in this world and sorry to have to leave it. (BRITISH CHICK LIT)

HELLO, SUMMER by Mary Kay Andrews: more of a mystery and a family story but still has the touch of romance that I’ve come to expect. A happy ending, intrigue, and humor galore, making this a terrific escape and a thoroughly entertaining read. (BEACH READ)

IN A HOLIDAZE by Christina Lauren: This Christmas version of one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day, is a terrific read. As in the movie, Mae understands that something has to change to get her back to real life, whatever that turns out to be. She keeps reliving the holiday until she finally gets it right – or so she thinks. Lots of angst mellowed by a lot of laughs make this a really fun holiday read. (CHRISTMAS ROMANCE)

Honorable Mention: JINGLE ALL THE WAY by Debbie Macomber

SAY YES TO THE DUKE by Eloisa James: Viola wants to marry the Vicar, and the Duke of  Wynter wants to marry Viola. Shenanigans ensue, along with some heat. James excels at the witty banter the genre is known for, and this book is no exception. Sweet and funny, this is another excellent addition to her latest series. I loved it. (HISTORICAL ROMANCE)

WAITING ON A COWBOY by Jennifer Ryan: First book of a new series with the childhood friends to lovers plotline, with an a twist – an abusive boyfriend makes an appearance and Ryan makes it clear that something like that could happen to anyone. (COWBOY ROMANCE)

Honorable Mention: TOUGH TALKING COWBOY by Jennifer Ryan

SNAPPED by Alexa Martin: This latest entry into this terrific series is one of the best. In addition to a hot romance, Martin dives into some real problems in the NFL; the hero is a Black quarterback and his romantic interest is a biracial publicist. If you don’t follow football, just know that while the league is majority Black players, not so with the quarterback position. Or the coaches. Or the owners. Martin brings these inequities to the forefront, in addition to CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,) and the problems the older, retired players have with minimal pensions and no health coverage. That changed for the newer players, and I love how Martin makes a point of discussing how these old guys are trotted out for honors at games, while left to rot on the sidelines for the rest of their lives. Sorry, this really upsets me so I was thrilled to see it addressed here. An excellent read even if you don’t care about that stuff. (SPORTS ROMANCE)

THE MARRIAGE GAME by Sara Desai: Enemies to lovers is always a popular trope in romance, and this one is done exceedingly well. Throwing in a big, extended, nosy Desi=American family plotting an arranged marriage with its parade of kooky suitors adds a lot of laughs to this heartwarming and sexy story. It is a sweet and sexy and funny and total escapist read. (DEBUT ROMANCE)

LOVE LETTERING by Kate Clayborn: Released on the final day of 2019, Love Lettering quickly became one of my favorite books of the year. But was too late for 2019, so here it is! This is a love letter to New York City with interesting, well developed characters, and the romance seemed to bloom organically if you’ll pardon the pun. The art of hand lettering so intrigued me that I started down a rabbit hole, and first found this interview with the author, which led me to this article on Bullet Journaling, which I had never even heard of. (BOOK THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE FALLEN THROUGH THE CRACKS)

SHIT, ACTUALLY: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema by Lindy West: Every essay is a gem. You can pick up the book and read any of the essays, and just know you will be laughing. If I could gift you all with this book, I would. (HUMOROUS NONFICTION)

A PROMISED LAND by Barack Obama: What can I possibly add to the accolades this book has already received? Obama is a beautiful writer, and I took my time reading this, enjoying every word. It was brilliant and funny and sad. a very emotional read for me. I loved it. (MEMOIR)

More, more, more!

Alphabetical by author:

LOVE HER OR LOSE HER by Tessa Bailey: a romance centered around an already married couple works beautifully here. Bailey is a terrific storyteller and writer – it’s not easy to put passion on the page without making it feel banal or hackneyed. The sex is definitely steamy, it works in the story and even has some funny moments thrown in, just like real life.

THE ROOMMATE by Rosie Danan: Can a socialite and a porn star form a meaningful relationship? This book will not be for everyone, but if you like terrific characters, an interesting storyline, real conflict, a strong feminist agenda, and well-written sex scenes as much as I do, then you won’t want to miss it. Debut.

THE HAPPY EVER AFTER PLAYLIST by Abby Jimenez: this book sucked me in and I just about cried when I turned the last page. I wanted to stay with these characters – they are interesting and fun and damaged and thoroughly brought to life on the page. My original review revealed that this is a terrific story that is bound for my best books of the year list. And here it is.

THE HONEY-DON’T LIST by Christina Lauren: this is about an über-successful husband and wife who renovate homes and have a hugely popular TV show and home renovation empire (Chip and Joanna Gaines immediately sprung to mind.) But the romance is centered around their assistants! This is a super fun read.

LOATHE AT FIRST SIGHT by Suzanne Park: A terrific romance in an unusual and interesting setting, the video game industry. There are a lot of laughs and many a bump in the road until the happy ending is reached in this feminist love story. Debut.

MUSICAL CHAIRS by Amy Poeppel: the book revolves around a musician, her famous conductor/composer father, and her trio but is really a wonderful story of family dysfunction, sibling rivalries, professional jealousy, and one very independent woman. The setting is a wealthy Connecticut beach town and that pushes this book adjacent to the beach read genre.

THE BOYFRIEND PROJECT by Farrah Rochon: Samiah is a Black woman at the top of the tech pyramid, and trust me, she had no easy climb. But this brilliant woman is somehow fooled into dating a man who is dating other women and when he is confronted by three of them, it goes viral. This was one of the best romances I’ve read in a while; I loved how smart the characters were and how real they felt to me.

IF THE BOOT FITS by Rebekah Weatherspoon: Amanda and Sam are in love, but can their relationship survive the Hollywood assault? Happily ever after is guaranteed, but getting there was so much fun.

Happy reading!

Best Books of 2020: Caitlin Brisson

December 22, 2020

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Act Like It by Lucy ParkerThe first in Parker’s “London Celebrities” series, Act Like It features a delightful, and banter-filled enemies to lovers romance between West End darling Lainie and the notoriously difficult Richard. The entire series is excellent but Lainie and Richard’s sizzling chemistry and emotional depth makes this entry the stand out.

Beach Read by Emily HenryJanuary is a best-selling romance writer who no longer believes in true love. During a summer getaway she makes a deal with literary author and nemesis Augustus, January will try her hand at literary fiction but Augustus must write something with a happy ending. A charming and thought-provoking contemporary romance.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis HallIf I had to name the best romance I read in 2020, Boyfriend Material would probably get the title. The son of a rock star, Luc is reluctantly in the public eye and needs to try to improve his bad-boy image, and pretending to date uptight barrister Oliver seems like the perfect solution. Fake relationships are often-used premises in romance but Hall’s witty dialogue, engaging writing, character development, and the heartwarming relationship between Luc and Oliver mean Boyfriend Material will make you laugh-out-loud and maybe shed a tear or two.

In a Holidaze by Christina LaurenThe authors of many outstanding rom-coms, it seems hard to believe this is Christina Lauren’s first holiday-themed novel, but it did not disappoint. After asking the universe to show her what will make her happy, Maelyn ends up caught in a Groundhog Day like time loop and keeps reliving her family’s annual Christmas trip to stay with friends at a cabin. Mae has to figure out how to set things right and maybe find true love along the way.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. SchwabWhen Addie LaRue makes a deal with the Devil, she gains immortality but is destined to never be remembered by anyone she meets. Addie slips through life like a ghost until she meets Henry, the first person to remember her name in almost 300 years. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a haunting, suspenseful, and romantic novel.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie JennerIn the aftermath of World War II, a diverse group of Jane Austen lovers, from a farmer to a Hollywood star, come together to save Austen’s historic cottage in the village of Chawton, England. This cozy novel is perfect for lovers of Austen and historical fiction. I also highly recommend the audiobook narrated by the talented Richard Armitage. 

Love Lettering by Kate ClaybornRead on the final day of 2019 Love Lettering just missed being included on my list last year. Do not miss this beautifully written slow burn romance which is also a love letter to the city of New York and the art of calligraphy.

Modern Comfort Food by Ina GartenI have been a fan of Garten’s for a long time and read all her cookbooks. Her collection of comfort food recipes is perfect reading for the end of the year. As always, her recipes look delicious and approachable and I was ready for Garten to come over to my house and make me the grilled cheese and tomato soup pictured on the cover.

Not Like Movies by Kerry WinfreyWaiting for Tom Hanks was one of my favorite books of 2019 and this follow up featuring what happens to optimistic Chloe and gruff coffee house owner Nick after their relationship is turned into a movie was even better. It has all the charm and rom-com fun of the first book but even more depth and better-developed characters.

The Tourist Attraction by Sarah MorgenthalerDuring the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, The Tourist Attraction gave me much needed laughs and a free trip to Alaska. When Zoe takes a bucket list trip to the quaint town of Moose Springs, Alaska she encounters a chainsaw-wielding mad man, a moose, and numerous other misadventures, but she also finds romance with grumpy diner owner Graham. Morgenthaler also returns to Moose Springs in the excellent holiday-themed follow up, Mistletoe and Mr. Right.


Best Books of 2020: Paul Lane

December 20, 2020

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1) Miraflores by Keith Yokum:  A novel of Panama and the canal built to allow ships to cross between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans without traveling all the way to the tip of South America.  A new member of the recently forming CIA is sent to Panama tasked with finding bad guys looking to sabotage the “Big Ditch”.  Filled with facts only a person that has lived in the canal zone would know.  An enticing read to draw in readers.
2) Rock of Freedom by Noel Gershon:  Fact-based account of the settling by the Pilgrims of the Massachusetts area of the new world.  Written by an author with a huge number of historical novels to his credit.  Now deceased with an apparent attempt to reselect his books and publish some. Try one – you’ll get hooked.
3) Germania by Harald Gilbers:  The height of Nazi control over Germany with the systemic hatred of Jews and other chosen groups guided by Hitler in order to provide focus centers for the population that he was guiding into wars of conquest.  The police are stymied by a serial killer loose in Berlin and due to whom they think it is being forced to rehire a Jewish detective to find the murderer.  Filled with the forced hatreds pushed by a leader desperate to control his subjects.  A very unique book.
4) The Palace by Christopher Reich:  One well-done action novel written by a master of the genre.  A book moving all over the world and featuring a man that picks and chooses problems brought to him, fixing them with no charge. You like action – get some coffee and plunge into a lot of it set up by a master of doing so.
5) Violent Peace by David Poyer:  The next novel by the author about a war between China and the United States. There is a peace conference going on although no one trusts the Chinese to play fair.  The stage moving from Russia through radical Islam and to the next probable enemy.  Military sequences described by an expert.  Very likely aim in real life is the desired annexing of Taiwan by China and this is very well played out in Poyer’s book.
6) Assassin’s Strike by Ward Larson:  Any series of favorite books have just got to include the exploits of an assassin.  And we have Larson’s David Slayton who at first worked for the Israeli Mossad. Migrating to the United States Slayton is asked to do the CIA a favor once in a while and agrees.  In this novel, two women acting as translators at a conference between Russia and Iran overhear something they shouldn’t.  One is killed and the other gets help from Slayton.  I do so love action adventures and this book will satisfy anyone’s desire for the same.
7) Muzzled by David Rosenfelt: Of course, Andy Carpenter and his entourage must make an appearance in this list and so they do in this novel.  Andy inherited enough money to live without working and of course, that’s the way he does at the start of most books. But the normal mitigating circumstances intervene and Andy takes a case aided quite well by his wife Laurie (his investigator) the very vociferous Marcus who requires translation services, Willy his partner in a dog rescue business, and other sundry characters including a few dogs and an office manager that has developed allergies to working. Formats of Rosenfelt’s books always include sarcastic comments, very astute and penetrating observations, and a happy resolution for all (especially the dogs.)
8) Home before Dark by Riley Sager:  A novel that asks the question Is this a ghost story or not?  It asks the question but doesn’t answer it.  How can that be??? Seems that a young girl was murdered in a house that the principal character lived in years ago and the murder was never solved.  Is the young lady hanging around hoping that her killer is discovered? Maggy Holt and her partner are in the business of restoring old houses and have picked the one that the girl was murdered in.  What Maggy does not remember is that she lived in that house when younger and during the period of the murder. Ingredients of a great ghost story or something else??? Read it and get in line.
9) The Haunting of H.G. Wells by Robert Maselo: An author that has earned a place in writing well-done novels that feature a bit of the macabre to spice up the story.  In this book, the very famous H.G. Wells investigates ghost sightings on the battlefields of World War one Belgium, meets a young lady that becomes his lifelong mistress with the underlying okay of his wife.  Where do you get those type of women?  His wife also cares for a downed German airman not turning him in for many years.  The girl keeps soldiering on, doesn’t she? Finally, his mistress helps Wells to bust a man interested in launching a chemical attack on England.  Wells not only writes them but also lived them.
10) Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia:  Set in the country of Mexico when a rather spoiled rich young lady is sent by her father to check out the complaints of a newly married member of the family.  That girl has taken up residency in her new husband’s mansion. Noemi, the young lady sent to investigate, goes through a growing up period, meets her husband, and helps her cousin in solving her problems with the new marriage. An interesting study of a class of well to do people in the country of Mexico.

Best Books of 2019: Paul Lane

December 29, 2019

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Task Force Baum by James Shipman: A war story but not your average blood bath. The story is a true one based on a little known battle fought between American and German forces in the last few weeks of WWII. General George Patton orders an attack to free prisoners held in a POW camp. He does so for personal reasons with no military basis. The why is fascinating.

The Almanack by Martine Bailey: A novel that does a magnificent job bringing the reader into the past. Besides an interesting plot and well-told story, a picture is painted of London in the bygone time of the 1750s- dirty and disease-ridden. The title brings out a custom prevalent in those days of utilizing Almanacs to both write in and to follow forecasts made by them. Well written and fascinating as an era comes to life.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor: Listed as the first novel published by Taylor it certainly marks a comer. The plot involves the science fiction concept of time transference when a young lady is moved back in time to a period 100 years ago. She meets a soldier wounded in what was World War One and the two fall in love. The book is much more than the transference but also a wonderful love story.

The Russian by Ben Coes: Coes, who has given us many high adventure novels featuring Dewey Martin, has created a new protagonist in Rob Tacoma. He also moves the stages of operation from Islamic Terrorism to the Russian Mafia. Like action – Ben Coes is your man. We all need the all nighter to stimulate the imagination by meeting a hero.

The Bells of Hell by Michael Kurland: I obviously like action novels and continue with this description of a spy story set in New York City just prior to the U.S. entering WWII. The story involves a group of Nazis working to move the US into entering the war on the side of Germany and Japan. What is done to counteract this is laid to the prompt actions of several individuals.

Just Watch Me by Jeff Lindsay: The author made his literary reputation with the creation of Dexter, a serial killer who only killed serial killers. In this novel, he introduces a thief. Riley Wolfe features the same treatment as Dexter. He is a thief, and a master one at that, but first and foremost a picaresque rogue. In this, his first foray, Riley comes up with the challenge of stealing a diamond owned by Iran. One worth a fortune, and guarded by the Iranian government as well as it could be. The same novel provides the introduction of a policeman who is making his life’s work to catch and capture Riley. It should be another successful series by Jeff Lindsay.

Nothing Ventured by Jeffery Archer: And another very fine book by a noted author introducing a new character. William Warwick is the son of a very successful Defense Attorney with a thriving practice in London. His father would like nothing better than to have William finish university and enter his practice. No such luck. William in spite of all his family against the idea decides that he would rather be a detective and has wanted to do that since he was eight years of age. And of course, he does join Scotland Yard and does make it to detective. No problem looking for more William Warwick adventures in crime-fighting.

Best Books of 2019: Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

December 25, 2019

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Another year, another list of books. I tried very hard to narrow down my list to a reasonable number and settled on fifteen. My original list had 60! It was a good year for books. The books are sort of in order of preference, as of today. Ask me tomorrow, and the order will change. I tried to include a variety of genres, especially those who don’t usually get the love on these best of lists, like romance. Also included are thrillers, literary fiction, books bound for book club love, and even a holiday romance.

THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Kruger: The writing is simply superb. The characters are unforgettable, and the setting is rich and evocative.  I have seen this book described as an updated Huckleberry Finn, and that is an apt comparison, as is its comparison to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Homer’s Odyssey. These are some heady correlations, and Kruger’s book easily stands up to them. There are some major themes at play here, starting with the grand adventure on the river. This is an epic odyssey, often chaotic, and at times, spiritual. But other themes are also important, like the deplorable mistreatment of Native Americans in this country, and much of the history revealed here was completely new to me. Book clubs will love it; there is a deep, rich reservoir worthy of discussion. 

ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS by Jami Attenberg: Victor was a criminal in his business life, and a tyrant in his personal life, and is at the end of his life; the novel unfolds on the day he has his fatal heart attack.  Attenberg is a master of subtlety as she divulges everyone’s thoughts, including the one-off characters like the clerk at a CVS and the coroner. The unusual twist here is that the reader learns all their stories, while the characters do not. Contemporary family sagas don’t get much better than this.

BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay Adams: This was the most brilliant and original idea for a romance novel that I have seen in a very long time. The premise of men reading romance novels to learn about women was positively inspired, and made me think all men should be forced to read them! This is a clever, heartwarming, fun and sexy read.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE BY Casey McQuiston: To pigeonhole this book is to do it a great disservice. Yes, it is a gay romance. It is also very political, but in a sweet, fantasy sort of way that really appealed to me. Alex and Henry’s story made me laugh and made me cry and especially made me wish for a better America. And if that surprises you, you must be new here. It’s fantastical and idealistic and I loved it.

FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: Toby Fleishman is a recently divorced 40-something doctor in Manhattan, AKA catnip to women, and they are not shy about letting him know. Toby is like a kid in a candy store. This new world order is working for him. Until his ex goes missing, and the party feels like it’s over. A lot of the stuff that happens is laugh out loud funny, and other parts are infuriating and sometimes sad, but all in all, this is a book that begs to be discussed. A first novel with complex characters and a lot of emotion, and I loved the writing.

THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE by Susan Wiggs: This is a book of the #MeToo movement, set in the fashion industry, which for some reason, has been exempt from this. At least I haven’t seen any earth-shattering stories, but as in any industry where mostly men are in power, one can’t help but wonderThis was a very good read, filled with the empathy and power that words can bring to such a dark subject. Book groups will find lots to discuss here.

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni: Our main character is Sam Hill, AKA Sam Hell, who is born with ocular albinism, which means that the irises of his eyes are red instead of the usual brown, blue, hazel, etc. and hence the nickname. We meet him as an infant, and get to watch him grow up, survive being bullied, and eventually become the man he was meant to be. The writing is really good, almost ethereal in parts, which seems fitting for a book steeped in Catholicism. This was my favorite line: “There comes a day in every man’s life when he stops looking forward and starts looking back.” Something to think about for sure. An excellent read, perfect for book discussion, and I’m just sorry I didn’t get to it sooner.

THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by Katherine Center: Center turns the whole hot firemen romance genre on its head with Cassie, her feisty, smart woman firefighter. When her estranged mother asks her to move to Boston to take care of her for a little while, The small fire station she joins is Boston Irish, over a hundred years old, and has never had a woman working there, so not easy. But fun, so much fun! There are lots of starred reviews for this and tons of praise, all of it well deserved. It isn’t often that a book lives up to its hype for me, but this one did. I loved it.

DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This was a fun and nostalgic read for me. The format of the book, for lack of a better word, is interview style of a 70’s rock band. An oral history of sorts. Each character is quoted in response to questions, but we don’t know who is asking the questions or why until the end. So it reads in basically multiple first-person, an interesting technique. It’s also a fast read, especially as I got deeper and deeper into it. It is a very compelling story written in a unique way.

A COWBOY UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Jessica Clare: This romance ticked a lot of boxes that I really like; damaged characters, small town, cowboys, and Christmas. This was a warm, holiday read filled with love and grace and hope. A wonderful holiday romance!

GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN by Talia Hibbert: This is a British import and a wonderful read. The push for diversity in romance has been strong, and we, the readers, are reaping the benefits. I loved these characters. I was completely immersed in their world, and could not put down this book.

ELLIE AND THE HARP MAKER by Hazel Prior: I am loving this trend of romances with a main protagonist “on the spectrum,” as they say, and even though it is never explicitly stated, it doesn’t have to be. Dan builds beautiful and unique Celtic harps in his barn and lives upstairs. When Ellie stumbles onto his shop in the woods, he gifts her with a harp. Her husband is not happy about it, to say the least. This is a charming story, full of pathos and drama and love. I loved the Britishness of this story and especially the uniqueness of these English characters. The difference in our cultures is apparent here, and I loved that.

MY LOVELY WIFE by Samantha Downing: This was a dark but super fun read. The couple in this book are serial killers, yes a married couple, and they are killing for the fun of it. Super creepy. That is a hard thing to get around yet somehow Downing convinces us to root for them. It’s like magic. Or talent. Or both. There are some excellent twists in the story for sure, and the ending was a real surprise for me. It was truly unputdownable and I loved it!

THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander: This book opens with the construction of a Blüthner piano, a fascinating tale about a brand of piano I had not heard of, that is supposedly in the same class as a Steinway. The story then moves back and forth in time, following the piano through two storylines. Cander makes it possible to grow attached to an inanimate object, for her characters and the reader. This is an excellent read sure to be beloved by book groups as there is much to discuss here, from the immigration of Russian Jews to the relationships that are so well depicted.

JUDGMENT by Joseph Finder: Wow! This is Finder’s best book so far, and that is saying a lot. I loved this character, Juliana is a working mom with all that goes along with that, has what seems like a pretty good marriage, at least from the outside, and a job that she loves. But there are definitely cracks in the marriage and her little infidelity brings such enormous consequences that the marriage is the least of it. The story is compelling, the characters seem like people I could know. This was a nonstop read for me, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Best Books of 2019: Caitlin Brisson

December 15, 2019

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

I was charmed by Holmes’ debut and the relationship between Evvie, a recent widow who isn’t grieving quite as much as everyone thinks, and Dean, a baseball player struggling with a case of the yips.  A thoughtful, sweet, and funny read.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue is the standard that I have held all other romances I read in 2019 to.  After a potentially diplomatically damaging altercation Alex Claremont, the first son of the United States, must feign a friendship with his rival Prince Henry of England.  A rare book that made me both laugh and cry, Alex and Henry are two characters I will not forget any time soon.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

After most of her sister’s wedding party is incapacitated by food poisoning, Olive takes her twin sister’s place on a luxury Hawaiian honeymoon.  The only catch is she must share her vacation with Ethan, the best man and Olive’s archnemesis. A fun romantic comedy and perfect vacation read.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover is consistently one of my favorite authors and her 2019 novel Regretting You is no exception.  Hoover is known for her romances.  And while Regretting You has two well developed love stories, it is also a bittersweet story of a mother and daughter struggling to recover from a devastating loss.

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

A perfect combination of well-drawn romance, Gilded Age history and the supernatural.  Both romance and paranormal readers will enjoy this ghost story.

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare is one of my favorite writers of historical romance and the Wallflower Wager is another excellent entry in the Girl Meets Duke series.  Features Dare’s trademarks of sharp dialogue, humor, and a strong female heroine.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

Professional baseball player Gavin Scott tries to save his marriage by seeking help from a secret romance book club comprised entirely of men.  A fun ode to the romance genre.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare has one of the most unique premises of any romance novel I’ve read.  Tiffy and Leon share a flat, they even share a bed, but they have never met.  An original plot and likeable characters made this book one of my favorites for 2019.

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

Alternating between 1991 and 2001, when Annika is unexpectedly reunited with her college boyfriend Jonathan, The Girl He Used to Know is a poignant and bittersweet second chance romance. As this book features a main character on the autism spectrum it will be of interest to fans of the Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test.

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey

Annie Cassidy searches for the perfect meet cute, and her Tom Hanks, in this delightful love letter to the romantic comedy genre.  Waiting for Tom Hanks is like the book version of a Nora Ephron film.