THE VERDUN AFFAIR by Nick Dybek

June 20, 2018

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Nick Dybek presents a beautifully written and memorable novel about a great love beginning on the outer edges of one of the most bloody battles of World War One at Verdun.

Tom is a young American traveling to Europe at the end of the war. He stays on after driving an ambulance during the fighting in order to help with the labor of identifying the dead and possibly uniting families looking for their relatives after the war. We find him in a job collecting bones from the battlefield and bringing them back for possible identification and burial.

Lonely, he is attracted to Sarah, a beautiful American woman visiting the area in search of her husband who disappeared after wandering off from his division and not being seen since. The two fall into an affair, and later meet again at an Italian hospital where a shell shocked soldier dubbed “Douglas Fairbanks” (the American silent screen star) is in the psychiatric ward. The patient has no memory of who he is and what happened to him. Sarah feels that the soldier has enough resemblance to her missing husband to possibly be him. Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist who has his own motives for wanting to meet the amnesiac known as “Douglas Fairbanks.”

The novel shifts to the 1950s in Hollywood where Tom has become a successful screen writer. He again encounters Paul who has continued to fight the demons of how to live and function again after the trauma that he has gone through. They talk and attempt again to come to terms with the events that have caused so much pain for them and for Sarah.

The story ends at this point with everything still up in the air; a situation most likely to occur in real life after facing the horrors of modern warfare. A very captivating novel drawing in the reader and immersing them into emotions and actions of thecharacters facing horrors that should never be faced by human beings.

6/18 Paul Lane

THE VERDUN AFFAIR by Nick Dybek. Scribner (June 12, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501191763. 304p.


YES WE (STILL) CAN by Dan Pfeiffer

June 19, 2018

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Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump

From the publisher:

From Obama’s former communications director and current co-host of Pod Save America comes a colorful account of how politics, the media, and the Internet changed during the Obama presidency and how Democrats can fight back in the Trump era.

On November 9th, 2016, Dan Pfeiffer woke up like most of the world wondering WTF just happened. How had Donald Trump won the White House? How was it that a decent and thoughtful president had been succeeded by a buffoonish reality star, and what do we do now?

Instead of throwing away his phone and moving to another country (which were his first and second thoughts), Pfeiffer decided to tell this surreal story, recounting how Barack Obama navigated the insane political forces that created Trump, explaining why everyone got 2016 wrong, and offering a path for where Democrats go from here.

Pfeiffer was one of Obama’s first hires when he decided to run for president, and was at his side through two presidential campaigns and six years in the White House. Using never-before-heard stories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, YES WE (STILL) CAN examines how Obama succeeded despite Twitter trolls, Fox News (and their fake news), and a Republican Party that lost its collective mind.

An irreverent, no-BS take on the crazy politics of our time, YES WE (STILL) CAN is a must-read for everyone who is disturbed by Trump, misses Obama, and is marching, calling, and hoping for a better future for the country.


Regular readers of this blog (and my twitter feed) know which way my political leanings go. I am a huge fan of Crooked Media and their podcasts, especially Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It, and when I have time Pod Save the World, Pod Save the People, an occasional Crooked Conversation and more. I swear they have saved my sanity over the past year. So when I heard Dan (I hope it’s okay to use his first name, I feel like I know him!) had written a book, I immediately grabbed a review galley and I was off to the races.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I didn’t expect it to be such an easy read, and a fast read. It feels like a friend telling you stories over a couple of beers, and these stories are good. Fifty pages in, I had already laughed out loud and cried, and I just kept going until I (digitally) turned the last page.

It starts off with a bit of Dan’s background, how he got into politics and some of the campaigns he worked on prior to Obama. I knew he was a really smart guy and he illustrates how hard work can make all the difference. I didn’t know a whole lot about how campaigns work so I found that very interesting.  Then it’s on to the White House years, with a president who is intelligent, disciplined, thoughtful and yes, competitive. To his credit, Dan doesn’t really rip into Trump for a few chapters and I admired his discipline.

If you’re a Trump fan, this is probably not your book unless you want your world blown apart. If you miss Obama, you will definitely enjoy this read. It’s a warm look back, as well as a look forward – hoping Millennials, especially, can get us out of this Trumpian nightmare by going to the polls. Feel free to comment, but maybe read the book first?

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

YES WE (STILL) CAN by Dan Pfeiffer. Twelve (June 19, 2018). ISBN 978-1538711712. 304p.

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THE LITTLE BROOKLYN BAKERY by Julie Caplin

June 18, 2018

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Romantic Escapes, Book 2

This British import is a delightful read set in the hipster haven, Brooklyn.

Sophie Bennings had the worst possible breakup after a two year relationship when she found out her boyfriend was married. Luckily, she is offered a last minute job exchange to America and she jumps on it, escaping as quickly as she can. Sophie is a food writer, and her magazine and their American counterpart want to switch things up for a six month period, so off she goes.

The apartment she is provided with is above a delicious bakery, and the owner’s cousin, Todd, is her gorgeous co-worker. Todd is the perfect antidote to Sophie’s messy love life, but everyone warns her off him, he is a notorious player. But he’s also kind and considerate and Sophie & Todd become friends….and then more. But the relationship is doomed to fail as Todd has some serious commitment issues, and Sophie’s work visa has an expiration date.

These characters are terrific, Brooklyn becomes another character as well, and this was just a delicious read.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LITTLE BROOKLYN BAKERY by Julie Caplin. HarperImpulse (May 25, 2018). ASIN: B077CYJ3QM.  272p. (e-book only)

 


RETURN TO WILLOW LAKE by Susan Wiggs

June 17, 2018

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The Lakeshore Chronicles, Book 9

I love visiting the tiny hamlet of Avalon on the shores of Willow Lake, and even though this is the ninth book in the series, Wiggs keeps on proving what a terrific writer she is.

This story centers around Sonnet, the former mayor’s kid who is now a young adult and is still struggling with her career choices, her difficult relationship with her father, and life in general. She returns to Camp Kioga for her step-sister Daisy’s wedding but when she sees her former best friend, Zach Algers all grown up, it’s like a punch to the gut.

Growing up as the bi-racial daughter of a single mother was not always easy for Sonnet. But Zach, whose mother died, was also being raised by a single parent and that shared experience brought them close together. But Zach had moved on after his father was convicted of embezzling money from the town coffers. He doesn’t want to return to town but he can’t say no to Daisy.

Then Sonnet finds out her mother has cancer, and is pregnant, and her priorities become crystal clear. She moves home to Willow Lake to help take care of her mother and in the process, does some real soul searching and grows up in the process.

One thing leads to another and Sonnet and Zach find each other again, this time as adults with all that implies. They fall in love, but there are some real hurdles to get over before they can find their happy ending.

Another terrific story in a wonderful series.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

RETURN TO WILLOW LAKE by Susan Wiggs. MIRA; Original edition (February 26, 2013). ISBN 978-0778314998. 384p.

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TO DIE IN VIENNA by Kevin Wignall

June 16, 2018

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A very neatly done novel about conflict between different spy agencies. Freddie Makin had once been an agent for a super secret group known as S8. He was a survivor of an ambush in Yemen five years ago when three of his fellow agents had been killed when driving towards a rendezvous with suspects wanted by their group. Freddie had been so traumatized by the killing, blaming himself for poor planning that he resigned his position. He than became a spy for hire and the story finds him doing surveillance on Jiang Cheng an academic. After many months of observing Cheng Freddie finds that there really isn’t anything in Cheng’s behavior to warrant the attention given.

Suddenly the situation changes radically. Someone is sent to kill Freddie who fortunately turns the tables on his would be killer. He quickly realizes that it is probably something that he saw in relation to his watching Cheng that has prompted the attempt on his life. The novel than becomes a masterful study of Freddie’s old trade craft returning as he begins unraveling the reason for the attack on himself and on people including Cheng and others. And is it the CIA that is doing the attacking? Freddie is well portrayed as a normal human being prone to being hurt and possibly killed while looking into what is happening to him. Clues are available to the reader and the reason for the attacks is a logical one resulting in a logical finale to the book.

NOTE: Soon to be a major motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The book certainly has the ingredients to be a good one.

6/18 Paul Lane

TO DIE IN VIENNA by Kevin Wignall. Thomas & Mercer (June 14, 2018).  ISBN 978-1477805169. 270p.


MARRYING DAISY BELLAMY by Susan Wiggs

June 15, 2018

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The Lakeshore Chronicles, Book 8

I think this was the most anticipated book in the series. A couple of books ago was a sort of cliffhanger featuring Daisy, and I know I was delighted to finally get to her story.

Daisy Bellamy and Julian Gastineaux met as teens at summer camp and they became best friends. They were from different worlds; Daisy, heir to the Bellamy fortune and founding family of the summer camp, and Julian, a scholarship kid.

Nonetheless, they stay best friends, keeping in touch over the years. Julian figures out the only way he’ll be able to afford college is through the armed services. He excels, as he does with everything, by working his butt off, and this time his reward is being sent to Columbia with an elite group of soldiers. Unfortunately, they are all killed.

Daisy is devastated, but eventually realizes that life must go on. She is still young, and a strong single mother to her son. His father, Logan, was a one night stand. But surprisingly, Logan is trying to be a good father and he decides the best course of action would be to marry his child’s mother. Talk about your rebound decisions, but Daisy does marry Logan and while they get along, there is no real connection between them other than their child. But they are both determined to make the marriage work. Until Julian returns.

This was a very difficult read at times, extremely emotional and gut wrenching, but ultimately love does conquer all. I think this is one of my favorite books of the series, mostly because I was so invested in these characters through the previous books and I wanted them to find their happy ending. I loved it.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MARRYING DAISY BELLAMY by Susan Wiggs. MIRA; Original edition (July 28, 2015). ISBN 978-0778317715. 432p.

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ON THE JAVA RIDGE by Jock Serong

June 14, 2018

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Serong has written two novels in one. First it is a story involving men against the sea. Than it is a strong political message about the harm being done by the Australian policy regarding refugees from their neighbor, Indonesia. The “Java Ridge” is a boat sailing out of Indonesia providing tourism to groups of well heeled individuals. Sailing at the same time is the “Takalar” a boat similar to the “Java Ridge” but bearing people looking to escape the horrors of life in Indonesia.

The Java Ridge puts in to a sheltered reef on the Indonesian island of Dana with a storm approaching. The Takalar is caught by the same storm and driven into the shelter, but not before it has been destroyed by the power of the gale. In the meanwhile a new maritime policy regarding aid to asylum seeking vessels in distress has been put into place by the Australian government. Cassius Calvert who is the minister for border integrity is being browbeaten by the Prime Minister as a new election takes place. The PM wants him to enforce the policy without thought about any people effected by it.

With the circumstances enveloping both boats brought together by fate on the island of Dana, Serong presents the individuals comprising those sailing on the boats. Isi Natoli is the skipper of the Java Ridge. She is part owner of the boat with her boyfriend who was not able to make this trip. Roya and her pregnant mother are on the Takalar looking forward to freedom away from a repressive government. All are brought together by the circumstances presented to them by fate.

Serong has written a totally engrossing novel about people caught up in a set of uncaring government regulations and paying a great price through no fault of their own. The book moves inexorably towards an ending that is both frightening as well as indicative of the uncaring nature of government regulation. Certainly a mesmerizing description of government out of control.

5/18 Paul Lane

ON THE JAVA RIDGE by Jock Serong. Text Publishing Company (June 12, 2018).  ISBN 978-1925498394. 320p.


THE SUMMER HIDEAWAY by Susan Wiggs

June 13, 2018

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The Lakeshore Chronicles, Book 7

I haven’t forgotten about this series, just put the reviews on the back burner for a bit. But it’s time to catch up with some of my favorite characters in my favorite make believe setting, the beautiful Willow Lake in the glorious Catskill Mountains.

In case I haven’t mentioned this before, these books can all stand alone so can be read in any order. I started with a later book but then went back and read the rest in order. Either way, they are wonderful.

This story revolves around George Bellamy, who is dying of cancer. He has a couple of regrets as he reaches the end of his life – that his grandson hasn’t married yet, and that he is still estranged from his brother after 55 years. Determined to go out in his own way, George starts interviewing palliative care nurses and finds the perfect match for both him, and he hopes for his grandson.

George hires Claire, and she has her own mysterious past. She is happy to go along with whatever George wants, and when she meets Ross, his grandson, sparks fly. But Ross is suspicious of the nurse, and wonders if she is after his money somehow.

Claire helps George fulfill all his last wishes, and this is a lovely story about the end of life as well as the beginnings of a great romance. A few of the regular characters in the series make brief appearances as well. This was another wonderful read in a terrific series.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SUMMER HIDEAWAY by Susan Wiggs. MIRA; Original edition (March 25, 2014). ISBN 978-0778317005. 432p.

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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LULULEMONS by Lauren Weisberger

June 10, 2018
when life gives you lululemons

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I was not a fan of Lauren Weisberger. I was assigned to review The Devil Wears Prada for Library Journal when it first came out, and I really didn’t care for it. The story line was intriguing, but the execution was not good. This was the first sentence of my review:

“This chic read is sure to take the fashion world by storm, although the literary world may find it lacking.”

(If you dig deep enough, you can read the rest of the review on this site, just do a search.) In fact, it was that rare unicorn of a book that was completely eclipsed by the movie, which was worlds better. Since none of her later books were assigned to me, I didn’t read them. Until now.

It was with much trepidation that I started reading this new book. It’s gotten a lot of press, made it to a bunch of “summer must reads” lists so I went for it. And guess what – I liked it! Again the execution wasn’t perfect – the story is a bit convoluted at times – but it was a fun read.

There are three main characters here. Emily, from The Devil Wears Prada, where she toiled as Miranda Priestly’s number one assistant, has spun herself off from Runway magazine into the premier Hollywood fixer. Indeed we meet her as one of her clients has decided to wear a Nazi uniform for the fun of it and can’t understand why that is a problem.

Emily has a best friend, Miriam, who has left her high powered law office in NYC to be a stay-at-home mommy in Greenwich, Connecticut after her husband’s tech start up makes millions. Miriam is slowly adapting to the lifestyle, which is just skewered here, from wine soaked lunches to sex toy parties and completely ridiculous, over the top children’s birthday parties.

Then Emily starts losing customers to a younger, more tech savvy competitor and she hightails it to Greenwich to hang with her friend. But then another friend, Karolina Hartwell, gets into trouble.

Karolina is a supermodel married to a state senator with presidential ambitions. In the most far fetched plot point, she gets arrested for driving under the influence a few doors down from her house with a car full of kids. She becomes a pariah, and only Emily can help her regain her reputation and get some sort of custody of her stepson.

The fabulous Miranda Priestly makes an all too brief appearance, and if you blink you’ll miss Andrea Sachs as well. But all’s well that ends well, and everyone gets their happy ending here. If you want a read that is as light as a summer breeze, you’ve found your book.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LULULEMONS by Lauren Weisberger. Simon & Schuster (June 5, 2018).  ISBN 978-1476778440.  352p.

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THE FIRST TIME AT FIRELIGHT FALLS by Julie Anne Long

June 9, 2018

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Hellcat Canyon Novel, Book 4

Gabe, like most elementary school principals, is an ex-Navy Seal. Ha! I wish, I’d love kids to feel that safe in school. But in this fictional tale, he really is, and he really loves kids. He is also very lonely, and fills his days and nights with meetings, coaching, and volunteering all over town. He’s also really hot with a body that draws every female eye in town. It’s not surprising that every mom in the school finds a reason to stop by his office, but he only has eyes for Eden, a single mom with an amazing kid.

There is a strong attraction there but Eden has been so busy being a single mom that she hasn’t allowed herself to get involved with anyone. But Gabe is really hard to dismiss. He’s not pushy, he just keeps showing up and they talk – really talk – about anything and everything and slowly get to know one another. Eventually, they realize it is time to move the relationship to the next level.

Eden has a secret that she has been keeping since her daughter’s conception – no one, including her family, knows who the baby daddy is. Eden knows and she’s not ready to tell anyone, that is until he shows up in town, meets his daughter by accident and realizes rather quickly that she must be his – she’s the spitting image of his mother.  This throws a complication into the whole Gabe/Eden dynamic that neither of them saw coming.

This was a really fun read with great characters and a bit of steamy sex now and then. I  also really enjoyed the humor and all the obstacles in the way of the happily ever after.

I haven’t read the other books in the series but I know that Hot in Hellcat Canyon was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America 2017 Contemporary Romance award. (I just reserved it at my library.) And I wouldn’t be surprised if this new one landed on that list as well.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE FIRST TIME AT FIRELIGHT FALLS by Julie Anne Long. Avon (May 29, 2018). ISBN 978-0062672902.  384p.

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