WARNING LIGHT by David Ricciardi

April 19, 2018

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Zac Miller is a long term employee of the CIA who is currently based in London. He is not a field operative, has never “run” someone that is bringing in important intelligence work for the US. His work is devoted to the necessary administrative tasks that are indispensable for the agency to function but never bring in the glory attached to spy work.

The novel opens with Zac on a trip to Paris to meet with a young lady that he already has met and would like to get to know better. Nothing is further from his thoughts than possibly taking on a secret mission and acting as a spy. Suddenly his world changes; a phone call from his boss advises that a man destined for a mission to Iran has taken ill and cannot go. Reluctantly Zac is assigned to go in the other agent’s place, in spite of the trepidation felt by his supervisor.

The plane he boards, destined for the far east, experiences engine trouble, cannot continue on its planned flight, and is forced to land at an airport in Iran. That is where Zac’s troubles start. He takes pictures of the area on his phone’s camera acting as a normal tourist would and is arrested and detained by the Iranian secret police. The why of this is part of the tale spun here.

Where Zac goes, how he does it, are fascinating views of a world in conflict in the Middle East. The research done in describing the action Zac becomes involved in is painstaking and succeeds in delivering a view of a zone that has been in conflict for many years. The statement “an all nighter” is apt but really doesn’t describe what a reader will find happening to him or her once the book is opened. I felt quite satisfied in arriving at an ending logical for this novel, but allowing enough questions to remain to logically expect another novel to follow this one shortly – can’t wait!

4/18 Paul Lane

WARNING LIGHT by David Ricciardi. Berkley (April 17, 2018).  ISBN 978-0399585739. 336p.


THE MARQUIS AND I by Ella Quinn

April 18, 2018

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The Worthingtons, Book 4

I picked up this book thinking it was a Julia Quinn book! I haven’t read Ella Quinn before and starting this series with book 4 was probably not the best idea but I didn’t realize that until I was already emeshed.

The Worthingtons are a large, somewhat confusing family unless you’ve read the previous books in the series (I assume.) But I muddled through and by the end, I still wasn’t clear on all the relationships but the main story was fine, so I’ll just stick with that.

Lady Charlotte Carpenter was kidnapped, apparently a common occurence in her family and in Regency England, who knew. But Lady Charlotte isn’t your typical British heroine, prone to vapors and hissy fits. She is a level headed young woman who has been trained in the art of lock picking, in how to use a gun and a knife, something else I wasn’t aware of as life skills taught young women at the time. But I digress.

Lady Charlotte is taken to an inn, where she is held prisoner. She is rescued by Constantine, Marquis of Kenilworth, who sneaks her out in the dead of night. But when he gets lost in trying to take her home, they are seen together and he knows her reputation will be ruined. So he announces their engagement, despite the fact they don’t know each other. But Lady Charlotte isn’t so sure she wants to marry the dashing Marquis. She has seen him at the theater in the company of courtesans, and she strongly disapproves.

Kenilworth works hard to woo her, realizing she is the right woman for him and she fights him every step of the way – until she gives in. This is a Regency romance so it is witty and the sex is not too explicit. The kidnapping angle was interesting and the romance was fun, but I would strongly recommend reading these books in order.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE MARQUIS AND I by Ella Quinn. Zebra (February 27, 2018). ISBN 978-1420145168.  400p.

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BIG GUNS by Steve Israel

April 17, 2018

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A completely unabashed tongue-in-cheek look at American big business, big businessmen, Congress, the Senate and of course our president. I knew that this book was a comedy when I started it, but the remarks, the actions described and the characters are truly larger and a lot funnier than I expected.

The story opens with the mayor of Chicago desperate to somehow stop the myriad number of shootings and murders going on in his city. He therefore decides to push the Federal government into passing a law making firearms illegal. We know that this would infringe on our second amendment rights to carry and bare arms and commit mayhem to our hearts content so the blow back begins.

Otis Cogsworth, the wealthy owner and CEO of Cogsworth Arms company who we find enjoying a well deserved time out in the Long Island town of Asabogue, feels that such a law would interrupt his continued surge forward to becoming a multi-billionaire. He therefore directs his lobbyist Sunny McCarthy to get a Congressman to present a bill to force everyone to carry a gun. Complicating the matter, Lois Leibowitz, the mayor of Asabogue, and incidentally Sunny McCarthy’s mother, gets a law passed banning guns in her town. Cogsworth retaliates against Lois by financing an election between Jack Steele, a wealthy resident and former movie star, and her.

What happens and who does what to whom becomes the funniest set of circumstances possible. All I can say is that the reader’s stomach will be tender from laughing so much. In the midst of all the serious happenings in the world today, Big Guns should be made required reading as a necessary time out.

4/18 Paul Lane

BIG GUNS by Steve Israel. Simon & Schuster (April 17, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501118029. 320p.


TRUE FICTION by Lee Goldberg

April 16, 2018

 Ian Ludlow Thrillers, Book 1

Many years ago, a popular author I know told a story about how he was invited by Homeland Security to a retreat with other writers and creatives. Their goal was to dream up scenarios of terrorist attacks on the U.S. so that Homeland Security could be prepared. This was a true story, and I’m guessing Lee Goldberg was also at that meeting or at least heard the story, because that is the premise here, and it’s a really good one.

Ian Ludlow writes spy thrillers and when a man named “Bob” shows up in a limo at his door inviting him to a similar retreat with the CIA, off he goes. A few years later, reminiscent of 9/11 a plane crashes into a hotel in Hawaii, killing hundreds of people. Ian is the only one who knows exactly how it was done because he was the one who dreamed it up. He is on book tour, and realizes that the other authors that were at that meeting with him have recently died and those weird accidents he has just narrowly escaped would have left him dead as well.

Panicking, he gets his author escort, Margo, involved in helping him escape. He is convinced the CIA is after him, and when a driverless Mercedes Benz comes racing down the street right at him, Margo pushes him out of the way and realizes he is serious. Ian takes her to meet Ron Mancuso, former star of a TV series he wrote. Mancuso has gone a little off the deep end, paranoia is his best friend and he is living off the grid. He agrees to help and the race is on.

Meanwhile, the CIA is embarrassed by the attack in Hawaii when a former agent, now heading a Blackwater type private security firm called Blackthorn, shows up at CIA headquarters with a reasonable explanation of what happened and intel on where to find the perpetrators, and has the men in place to capture them – but it goes south and the men are killed. Blackthorn is just moments away from receiving a classified contract outsourcing many CIA operations except for one fly in the ointment – Ian Ludlow.

This is a fast paced story with lots of action, explosions and chase scenes as well as a lot of laughs, my favorite combination. I’m not sure if the all the technology mentioned is accurate and I really don’t want to know – if big brother is watching us all that closely, I’d be terrified.

It is a terrific introduction to a new series, and I can’t wait for the next book.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TRUE FICTION by Lee Goldberg. Thomas & Mercer (April 1, 2018). ISBN 978-1503949188. 237p.


THE FIRST FAMILY by Michael Palmer & Daniel Palmer

April 15, 2018

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Daniel Palmer credits his late father Michael Palmer as co-author of this riveting medical thriller. Michael was actually an MD and did write a good many excellent novels based on medically related ideas.

In “The First Family” a strange malady strikes the President of the United States’ son. He suddenly develops episodes of extreme fatigue, unexplained moodiness and sudden violent outbreaks of temper. At the same time a young gifted violinist named Susie Banks experiences a violent uncontrollable outbreak that catches her when she is in the middle of her first public concert. Is there a connection between the episodes experienced by these two unrelated people?

Karen Ray, a member of the Secret Service group charged with guarding the President and his family, does not agree with the diagnosis presented by the President’s physician for Cam who is the President’s son. She calls her ex-husband Lee, a family doctor, to look into Cam’s symptoms. Coincidentally Lee gets to examine Susie who is a patient at a hospital he is working at.

The reader is drawn expertly into a medical problem that has an importance to someone causing murders to be committed in order to keep the victims from being fully examined. Daniel Palmer successfully creates a scenario that keeps the reader riveted to the pages while moving from one suspicious event to another. The ending is one that upon reflexion is the correct one for the characters involved and while is not a fairy tale finale does leave the reader with the impression that this is the way real life would have evolved the events. Daniel Palmer does very well continuing his father’s custom of giving a great read to his readers. Very well done.

4/18 Paul Lane

THE FIRST FAMILY by Michael Palmer & Daniel Palmer. Atria/Emily Bestler Books (March 6, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501180811. 416p.


THE NEW NEIGHBORS by Simon Lelic

April 14, 2018

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Lelic presents us with a novel that looks at the question of how our childhood and family background affect our adult life.

Jack and Syd, boyfriend and girlfriend, find a house they like in London. It is large enough to satisfy their needs, although cluttered with the items belonging to the previous owner. The former owner had suddenly decided to move to Australia in order to be with a woman he met on line. His house then enters the market in a London suffering from a shortage of homes for sale. Jack and Syd submit an application, which much to their surprise, is accepted by the owner in spite of the couple bidding below the asking price.

The format used in telling the story is alternating sections narrated by one of the two. It is in this way that we find out that Jack is a product of a well-to-do family that is not accepting Syd.  On the other hand, Syd grew up in a home in which her father was a pathological bully, browbeating and stifling her until she moved away. Syd’s younger sister dies of a disease after Syd leaves home.

The initial set of incidents presented in the novel include mysterious footsteps and noises throughout the house leading to the possible existence of ghosts. In addition, Syd meets a young girl from the area who is suffering from an abusive father in a manner that reminds her of her own horrible childhood. Both circumstances contribute to the effectiveness of the book’s plot.

During their individual narratives, Lelic shows how both Syd and Jack react to events occurring when in the house. The move forward for both of them is very well handled and the changes in attitude of both of them are tied to their past. The novel is a fascinating study of past being prologue and character shaped during a period of great stress. The book is very well done and invites a good deal of thought about the meaning of the narrative. An engrossing novel not easily forgotten by the reader.

4/18 Paul Lane

THE NEW NEIGHBORS by Simon Lelic. Berkley (April 10, 2018).  ISBN 978-0451490452. 352p.


DINING IN by Alison Roman

April 13, 2018

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Highly Cookable Recipes

This book was quite a surprise. I wasn’t really familiar with Alison Roman but last fall I kept seeing this recipe for “Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies” all over social media. So I made them and they just blew me away. It probably helped that shortbread is my favorite cookie but everyone (at least online!) loved them. Then Bon Appetit published an article about it, “EVERYONE Is Making These Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies…So you probably should, too.” And then the cookbook came out.

I wasn’t able to get my hands on a review copy (Clarkson Potter is making it up to me) but when it showed up at my library, I took it home and started playing. Then I ordered a bunch more copies for my cookbook discussion group and shocker of all time, not ONE complaint. Everyone loved it. I’ve been doing this cookbook discussion group since 2012 and I can’t remember another book that was unanimously loved. My library is in Boca Raton, Florida, and trust me when I say people who live in Boca are not known for being indiscriminately nice!

It is a really great cookbook, mostly because the recipes are truly accessible. Nothing takes days to make, a rare esoteric ingredient pops up (my group had a whole discussion on nigella seeds) but for the most part these recipes are easy to source, easy to make and easy to enjoy.

The chapters:

Vegetables
Knife-and-Fork Salads
Fruit Salads
Savory Breakfasts
Grains and Things
Fish
Meat
Sweets

It is also a beautiful book, nice heavy pages are actually sewn into the binding. I can’t remember the last time I saw that, most books today are glued together. The sewing makes the pages lie flat, always helpful with a cookbook. It starts out with the ubiquitous “pantry,” a list of items to have on hand which I generally find helpful. And there are recipes for some of the pantry items, like preserved lemons which I’m very excited about; I have a Meyer lemon tree and it is loaded with baby lemons at the moment.

If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s “Everything But the Bagel Seasoning” which I believe is a seasonal item, no worries, there is a recipe in this book for a similar product. Some of the basics are really terrific, like the Lemony Tahini Salad Dressing. Easy to make and what I really love is that unlike most salad dressing recipes, this recipe makes enough dressing for a salad, not enough that I have to worry about what to do with the rest.

The stories sprinkled throughout are wonderful and Alison is just adorable. How can you not fall in love with a woman who writes, “When I was about seven or eight, I had a thing for supermarket shoplifting.”

So on to the vegetables – “Roasted Broccolini and Lemon with Crispy Parmesan” is a staple at my house. I’ve made something similar for years, but just squeezed some lemon at the end. This recipe includes thinly sliced lemon that is roasted along with the veg.  When a cookbook author has a favorite recipe, I try and make it and in this case it’s “Butter-Tossed Radished with Fresh Za’atar”.  This is a quick (about 5 minutes prep, 5 min cooking, tossing and serving) and is a really beautiful, unusual use of the lowly radish. I also really enjoyed the “Vinegar-Roasted Beets with Spring Onions and Yogurt” as I had all the ingredients already and had been putting off dealing with the always messy beets. This is a play on the oh-so-popular beet salad with goat cheese, subbing in the yogurt instead and I liked it. A friend made the “Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs” and said her son, who refuses to eat anything green, even liked it.

We are a pasta family (I know, I know, dreaded carbs!) but still, I am in love with Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini. Bucatini, if you are not familiar, is like fat spaghetti with a small hole running down the center and is usually available in Italian markets although I have seen it at my Publix lately. This sauce is made by taking fresh tomatoes, dousing them in tons of olive oil, shoving a bunch of garlic in there (no need to peel!) and slow roasting in the oven for hours. It is one of the more time consuming recipes, but the time is mostly hands off, it does its thing in the oven. The actual prep time is minimal. Best of all, you can do this with your glorious summer tomatoes and freeze them for deliciousness all year round.

Whole-Wheat Pasta With Brown-Buttered Mushrooms, Buckwheat, and Egg Yolk is unusual and delicious. I don’t do egg yolks, but my family loves them and this is super easy. I love buckwheat and it’s one of those things I usually have in my pantry, I make something with it once and then eventually I toss it. I am happy for another recipe that uses it, and there are a couple more in this cookbook; “Decidedly Not-Sweet Granola” (yes!) and “Savory Barley Porridge with Parmesan and Soy,” which I haven’t tried. Yet.

Another internet famous recipe worth mentioning is “Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Fried Onions and Parsley.” Tiny potatoes are steamed, cooled, then smashed flat with a pot or the palm of your hand, then fried – preferably in chicken fat (kill me now) until crisp. They are set aside for a few moments while raw onion goes into the pan until it softens and browns a bit and then it is all put together and nirvana is reached.

There are some really good protein recipes, like “Soy-Brined Halibut with Mustard Greens, Sesame, and Lime” – I subbed cod and arugula and it worked beautifully; “Swordfish-Like Steak with Crispy Capers” is just yummy, and anytime there is a sheet pan recipe I’m in – “Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Lemon” is a keeper.

I know this is a long review, but bear with me a bit longer and let’s talk desserts! The shortbread cookie is the only cookie recipe in the book, but there are other desserts. Plus Roman started out as a pastry chef and her Milk Bar roots show as in “Choclate-Tahini Tart with Crunch Salt.” I haven’t tried the “Luckiest Biscuits in America” yet but I will – biscuits are my nemesis, the only successful ones I’ve ever made are “Evil Cheese Biscuits” from OLD-SCHOOL COMFORT FOOD by Alex Guarnaschelli.  “Blueberry Cake with Almond and Cinnamon” is made with a combination of almond flour and all purpose and is one of those deceptively simple coffee cakes that is just wonderful. There are fruit desserts, “Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups” is just beautiful, “Jen’s Key Lime Pie” and a “Cocoa Banana Bread” that has me intrigued. Finally, the last recipe in the book, “Brown Butter-Buttermilk Cake” is described as “something that tastes like an old-fashioned donut” and is next up in my kitchen.

My only criticism is that I wish there was a photograph of every recipe. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots  of pictures – Roman has a huge Instagram following so knows the value of good food porn, but there are recipes without photos that I would have liked to see.

Obviously, I’m not done yet. All I can say is I love this book and hope you will, too.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DINING IN by Alison Roman. Clarkson Potter (October 24, 2017). ISBN 978-0451496997. 303p.


THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A. J. Flynn

April 12, 2018

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From the publisher:

Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller!

“Astounding. Thrilling. Amazing.” —Gillian Flynn

“Unputdownable.” —Stephen King

“A dark, twisty confection.” —Ruth Ware

“Absolutely gripping.” —Louise Penny

For readers of Gillian Flynn and Tana French comes one of the decade’s most anticipated debuts, to be published in thirty-six languages around the world and already in development as a major film from Fox: a twisty, powerful Hitchcockian thriller about an agoraphobic woman who believes she witnessed a crime in a neighboring house.

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Twisty and powerful, ingenious and moving, The Woman in the Window is a smart, sophisticated novel of psychological suspense that recalls the best of Hitchcock.

An Amazon Best Book of January 2018

“The rocket fuel propelling The Woman in the Window, the first stratosphere-ready mystery of 2018, is expertise. . . . Dear other books with unreliable narrators: This one will see you and raise you.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Finn’s debut lives up to the hype. . . . A riveting and mature first novel that stands out in a crowded genre.” (Library Journal [starred review])

“Next year’s ‘Gone Girl’? Perhaps. ‘The Woman in the Window’ lives up to the hype” (Washington Post)

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I’m posting the publisher’s information, including the blurbs, because they are diametrically opposed to my impressions of the book and I want to be fair. This is another of the “girl books”, a subgenre of thriller that includes a woman of dubious character, an unreliable narrator, as protagonist. This is my least favorite type of thriller. I have really enjoyed a few of them, The Wife by Alafair Burke and The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney spring immediately to mind. But I mostly hate them –  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the book that really started this whole craze and I couldn’t even get past the first fifty pages and I tried and tried and tried. I did manage to read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins but I hated it, rather like The Woman in the Window.

This is an unlikely (it’s a debut novel) huge bestseller. My best friend loved it, and she generally has impeccable taste (but not this time.) My library patrons keep raving, even after I tell them I read the first 50 pages, then went back and read some more, the first 100 pages, and I didn’t like it. I caved to peer pressure and read the whole damn book, a couple of hours I’ll never get back. I figured out a couple of the main plot twists, which is really odd because I wasn’t even trying and I almost never figure out this stuff, but it was so obvious to me. And I hate when that happens.

So if you are a fan of the girl books, or want to read the book before the movie comes out, this is the book for you. Sadly, it was not the book for me.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A. J. Flynn. William Morrow; 1st Edition edition (January 2, 2018). ISBN 978-0062678416. 448p.


LOVE AND OTHER WORDS by Christina Lauren

April 11, 2018

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This is a lovely book that moves back and forth in time. Macy Sorensen was a young girl when her mother died of cancer.  She left behind letters and instructions for her husband, to help him raise their daughter, and Macy and her dad are very close.

One of the things her mother suggests is that they get a vacation home, and they find a small house not too far away in the wine country area where they can spend weekends and vacations. Macy is a big reader, a girl after my own heart, and one of the reasons they buy the house is because the closet off of her bedroom is large enough to create a library, and they do. But the day they move in, Macy finds a boy her own age, Elliot Petropoulos, reading in the closet. They quickly become friends, then best friends, and eventually more.

Macy in present day is a pediatric resident in a Berkeley hospital, working crazy hours. She lives with a man, an artist, and his daughter. They don’t see each other much but it is a comfortable relationship for both of them. In fact, they are engaged.

We know something catastrophic happens with Elliot, because they haven’t seen each other for eleven years. As the story unfurls, we learn more about each of them and their relationship until the back and forth catches up to present day.

I loved this book. I loved getting to know these characters and cared about what happened and why. A terrific, heartwarming read!

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

LOVE AND OTHER WORDS by Christina Lauren.  Gallery Books (April 10, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501128011. 432p.

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AFTER ANNA by Lisa Scottoline

April 10, 2018

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In this new standalone thriller, there are two sides of a heartwrenching story alternating chapter by chapter, and in a truly unique way, one is moving forward and the other is moving backward. Scottoline has the mad writing skills to pull it off and do it really well.

Dr. Noah Alderman is on trial for murdering Anna, and his story starts as he is in court, awaiting the verdict. Then his chapters move backwards in time, the closing argument, the last witness, etc.

Maggie Ippolitti is Noah’s second wife, stepmother to Caleb, Noah’s ten year old boy with a speech disorder. They are a very happy family. But Maggie has a past – she also was married before and had a daughter, Anna. She suffered from postpartum psychosis, and basically turned herself in to get help before she harmed her daughter. While she was hospitalized, her husband divorced her, had her declared unfit, and got custody, after which he took Anna to France, where his family lived. Shortly after that, he sold his startup company for many millions of dollars and dumped his daughter in one boarding school after another and Maggie hasn’t seen Anna since she was 6 months old.

By now, Anna is a senior in high school and when her father is killed in a plane crash, she contacts her mother. Maggie is beyond thrilled, and when Anna says she is unhappy in school, Maggie immediately invites her to live at home with her. Very quickly things start going badly. Anna seems uncomfortable with Noah, and accuses him of trying to molest her. She takes him to court, and Maggie gets her to settle by forcing Noah to move out. And then Anna turns up dead on Noah’s front porch.

I was reading away, completely engrossed with this family and their saga when suddenly the story took a hard turn and starting moving at breakneck speed to a really shocking ending. I stayed up late to finish it, then stayed up even later thinking about it. I love when that happens – don’t miss it!

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

AFTER ANNA by Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin’s Press (April 10, 2018). ISBN: 978-1250099655. 400p.

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