THE LAST NIGHT AT TREMORE BEACH by Mikel Santiago

April 23, 2017

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Peter Harper, a well known and awarded composer, is experiencing what could be devastating writer’s block. Brought on in part by his recent divorce. Given everything, a vacation is definitely in order, and an isolated beach house on the coast of Ireland seems to be the perfect thing.

And it is, until Peter is struck by lightning one summer night. From that moment on, Peter suffers painful headaches and terrible nightmares. But these aren’t ordinary nightmares by any stretch. Peter experiences them as if they’re real, waking abruptly to find himself acting out the very actions he’s been dreaming. Peter knows something is very wrong, but his greatest fear is that the dreams are more than just dreams and that he could become a danger to the people he cares about.

Mikel Santiago’s debut is fabulous. Perfectly atmospheric and excellently chilling.

In Peter Harper, Santiago has built a character who is on the verge of a meltdown already. He’s separated from his family, and he’s unable to pen any new music worth anything. Music is his livelihood and his family is his everything.

Things are looking up regarding the latter, however. Peter’s kids are set to visit him at his rental soon and it’s a visit he’s been looking forward to with great anticipation. Even getting struck by lightening doesn’t put a damper on that. At least not until the dreams begin.

The dreams are threatening, at the very least, his sanity. Even those who know him best are worried. And from the moment his kids arrive, all of Peter’s energy is spent ensuring their safety. His greatest fear is that he’ll be some sort of threat to his own kids and that makes him an incredibly easy character to sympathize with.

As we root for Peter, in hopes he’ll find answers and that all will be ok, the mystery behind the dreams drives the story to an almost frenetic pacing. The result is an irresistible page-turner of a tale – the kind I’d recommend carving out enough time to read in one sitting.

Highly recommended – I can’t wait to see more from this author.

4/17 Becky LeJeune

THE LAST NIGHT AT TREMORE BEACH by Mikel Santiago. Atria Books (February 14, 2017).  ISBN 978-1501102240.  320p.

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MARRYING WINTERBORNE by Lisa Kleypas

April 22, 2017

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The Ravenels, Book 2

This book put me in mind of the PBS series, Mr. Selfridge, about the American who built the glamorous department store in Great Britain at the turn of the last century. Rhys Winterborne is a self made Welshman, son of a grocer, who has built the world’s largest department store in London.

Winterborne may be one of the richest men in England, but he is still considered working class. So when he meets Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to have her. As wealthy as he is, he knows the only way into the gentry is to marry into it.

The become betrothed, but when he kisses her she gets scared. Helen is shy, virginal and beyond naive, and she ends up crying in her room. Her sister-in-law goes to Winterborne and breaks off the engagement, but when Helen finds out she is determined to get him back. She sneaks out on her own and barges into his office, telling him she wants him back. But he knows her guardian will not be pleased with this turn of events, so he makes her a deal – if she’ll sleep with him, thoroughly ruining her reputation, that will force her guardian to allow them to marry and convince Rhys that she is serious. She agrees.

They make their plans but as we well know, the best laid plans often go awry, and they do here. Helen finds out there is a big family secret about her parentage, and she is convinced that Rhys will not want to marry her once he finds out.

As always, Kleypas creates engaging, well drawn characters and an interesting storyline, fraught with the great pitfalls of romance. But fear not, there is, of course, a happy ending. If only life could come with the same guarantees. Another terrific read from one of my favorite authors.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MARRYING WINTERBORNE by Lisa Kleypas. Avon (May 31, 2016). ISBN 978-0062371850. 416p.

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THE ENGLISH DUKE by Karen Ranney

April 19, 2017

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The Dukes, Book 2

This was my first book from Karen Ranney, and I will be reading more. The first book in this new series is The Scottish Duke, the one following is The Texan Duke, and I’m not sure how many more there will be but this one was really good. These books are not related like most series with overlapping characters, the only thing they have in common are the titles. The Texan Duke was originally supposed to be called the American Duke, so maybe there will be more stories set in America? Just a guess.

The English Duke in question is Jordan Hamilton, the new Duke of Roth. He is an unusual duke as he is a second son so shouldn’t have inherited the title, except his older brother died. Jordan was in the Navy and then with the War Office, AKA British Intelligence, and is a scientist and an inventor who is working on torpedoes. He has been corresponding with Matthew York, an acclaimed inventor and they have enormous respect for one another.

When Matthew dies, he leaves all his notes and models from his inventions to Jordan. Matthew’s daughter Martha has been assisting her father for years, and they worked very closely together. So she is familiar with the correspondence between her father and Jordan, and is surprised that when her father asked for him to come, he ignored the letters. A year after Matthew’s death, Jordan still hasn’t responded to her letters regarding the bequest so Martha decides to deliver it to Jordan personally.

Martha, her half sister Josephine and their grandmother set off for Sedgewick, the Duke’s estate. Martha plans to deliver the materials, stay overnight at a nearby inn, and return home the next day. However her grandmother becomes quite ill, forcing the Duke to put them up in his home and when the doctor says she needs several days rest, they are all forced together. Josephine is a conniving little wretch, sure of her beauty and her ability to manipulate men. She decides she will be the next Duchess and plots and schemes to get her way.

The reason the Duke hadn’t answered any of the letters or visited the Yorks was that he suffered a horrific fall, shattering several bones. He walks with a severe limp and is often in terrible pain. Josephine thinks him “lame” and tells him so, but she is not interested in dancing with him, just in acquiring the title and the home.

Martha is a wonderful heroine. She’s smart and independent, and not looking to get married to anyone. She just wants to continue her father’s work. The Duke is a loner, happiest when tinkering in his workshop. Since they are stuck together, they end up working together and both soon realize they are meant for each other. But Josephine has other ideas.

This was a torturous read for me as the horrible Josephine almost gets away with her plot, and it isn’t resolved until the very end. I wanted to throttle Josephine, to use a term of the day, but the requisite happy ending was finally, finally reached. That said, I did end up enjoying the book, and found the torpedo plot line really interesting. One of the things I like best about historical romances, the really good ones anyway, is that I learn something about the time period and this was a good example. In fact, the author includes notes at the back of the book about her research. Highly recommended.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ENGLISH DUKE by Karen Ranney. Avon (March 28, 2017). ISBN: 978-0062466891. 384p.


MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY by Fredrik Backman

April 17, 2017

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Backman surfaced in America as the author of the word-of-mouth-runaway-bestseller-turned-into-an-Oscar-nominated-film, A Man Called Ove. It’s been on the bestseller lists for a couple of years now with no sign of letup. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry joined it well over a year ago.

If you haven’t read this Swedish author, let me start by saying if the only Swedish author you are familiar with is Steig Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) just put that out of your mind. Larsson may have been Sweden’s biggest selling author but Backman is pushing him off the list. Backman is the yin to Larsson’s yang, the lightness to his darkness, and I, for one, most welcome this new voice.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is written from the point of view of the granddaughter, Elsa. She’s seven years old and beyond precocious, and her grandmother is her best friend. They share a secret language, stories about the Land-of-Almost-Awake and all the kingdoms within. Elsa doesn’t really have any other friends, her grandmother is her world. She basically puts up with her mother. 

When her grandmother passes away, Elsa is devastated. Then she learns her grandmother has left her a sort of scavenger hunt, a series of letters that she wants Elsa to deliver for her. Letters of apology.

This is a hard book to describe. The plot doesn’t really matter; suffice it to say there are some people who don’t like the fact that the narrator is a child. Get over it – it’s so worth it. All the people who live in apartments in the house with Elsa’s family are unique individuals, to say the least. And eventually it all makes sense.

Backman has a unique voice and I think you either love it, and then you will love all his books no matter the subject or protagonist, or you don’t. And I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t (at least not yet).

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY by Fredrik Backman. Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (April 5, 2016).  ISBN 978-1501115073.  372p.

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ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline

April 14, 2017

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It’s always a happy day in my house when a new Lisa Scottoline book appears on my doorstep. While my heart truly belongs to her series (Rosato & Associates which turns into Rosato & DiNunzio) I also enjoy the nonfiction books she writes with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, which are collections of the columns they write for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then a few years ago (probably more than a few at this point) Lisa started writing standalones, sort of ripped from the headlines thrillers and family dramas that are most reminiscent of Jodi Picoult books. This one is a real suburban thriller, so if you like Harlan Coben or Jodi Picoult, add Scottoline to your reading list.

One Perfect Lie starts out one way and then takes a sudden, shocking turn. Set in a small, Pennsylvania town, Chris Brennan applies for a teaching position, taking over for a teacher out on leave. He also applies to be the assistant coach of the baseball team, and through the application process and then his starting days at the high school, he comes across as creepy and evil.

The story really focuses on some of the kids on the baseball team. One of them is suspected of stealing fertilizer that is used for explosions. And this is just days before the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. There’s Raz, who lost his father earlier that year and whose mother is having trouble adjusting. Jordan’s mom is a struggling single mother, but he never knew his father. And Evan is the golden child, son of a surgeon and a mom who lives for Facebook, posting one perfect family picture after another.

The teachers, students and their families all accept Chris and for the first time in his life – a life that seems to have been very difficult – he feels a sense of being at home. But it may all blow up – literally and figuratively.

Scottoline excels at character development and they propel the story along. And the ending was exceptionally gripping. This was a one night read for me and I really enjoyed it. Another winner from one of my favorites.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin’s Press (April 11, 2017). ISBN 978-1250099563. 368p.

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HIS COWBOY HEART by Jennifer Ryan

April 12, 2017

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Montana Men series, Book 7

This is a modern day cowboy romance with a significant twist.

Ford Kendrick and Jamie Keller have been sweethearts forever, dreaming of moving away from their small Montana town and starting their own ranch somewhere. But when Ford’s family runs into some financial problems and his grandfather’s health is precarious, he knows all his savings have to go into the family business and that he’ll have to stick around to help out.

Ford pushes Jamie away, telling her she needs to go and make her own way somewhere else without telling her why. Heartbroken, she heads to Georgia and ends up enlisting in the army.

Jamie returns home to Montana with severe PTSD – and this was quite an unusual twist. I’ve read romances where the men have come home from war with issues but this was a first for me. Jamie is in a very bad way. She’s got serious physical issues and scars, but it’s her mental problems that are really crippling.

At lunch with her mother, a woman who is completely devoid of empathy, Jamie loses it and causes a scene. Ford is at the same restaurant, and sees her. Determined to help, he shows up at her house and she almost kills him, blasting gunfire through the front door in a drunken, drugged haze. This just makes him more determined to find their happy ending, but that’s only half the story.

The other half of the story is what happened to Jamie. She knows she was burned and shot, and that one of the men in her group saved her life. But they were the only two survivors and she lost the rest of her friends that day. Understandingly, she has completely blocked out her memories of that day. Getting psychiatric help from the Army via Skype, she is not making much progress with her memory of that fateful day.

I must admit this was not that big a mystery, even I figured out what had happened pretty early on. But this deep dive into PTSD and the repercussions after soldiers return home felt brutally honest – especially in light of this article I had read about it in the New York Times Magazine a while back. Well, that article just won the Pulitzer Prize and I highly recommend reading it, and this book.

For more information on PTSD, read this Pulitzer Prize winning piece from the New York Times: The Fighter

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HIS COWBOY HEART by Jennifer Ryan. Avon (February 21, 2017). ISBN: 978-0062435408. 416p.

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CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH by Colleen Oakley

April 5, 2017

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Colleen Oakley is being compared to JoJo Moyes and I have to say I agree. I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Well developed characters made the story super compelling.

Jubilee Jenkins suffers from an exceedingly rare allergy – she’s allergic to human touch. It is so rare that twenty years earlier, when she was a young child, the New York Times did an in depth piece on her.

She’s had a lot of strife in her life, but things really took a turn for the worse when she turned 18. Her mother married and moved out, leaving Jubilee to fend for herself. She becomes a recluse, and eventually agoraphobic, and for nine years has no contact with anyone, including her mother, other than checks that regularly appear.

Jubilee’s mother passes away and the husband calls to tell her. He also tells her he is not going to be supporting her any longer, but he’s paid off the mortgage of the house she lives in and she also inherited the car. Jubilee finds a job at the library, and eventually meets Eric and Aja.

Aja is a super smart little boy who bonds with Jubilee, and Eric does too. Eric is divorced with a teenage daughter living with her mother in another town and she won’t speak to him. Eric adopted Aja after his parents, Eric’s best friends, died in a tragic accident. The little boy has some issues, to say the least, as does Eric.

All these damaged characters make for an engrossing read, and Oakley does a really fine job of not going the easy route. This book was unputdownable and these characters are going to stay with me for a long while. Highly recommended.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH by Colleen Oakley. Gallery Books (March 7, 2017). ISBN: 978-1501139260. 336p.

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BUM LUCK by Paul Levine

April 3, 2017

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Levine writes two of my favorite series, the Jake Lassiter series and the Solomon & Lord books. With 2016’s Bum Rap, he put his series characters together in one book, and he’s done it again here to great success.

Bum Luck is a terrific legal thriller and humorous crime novel, but more than that Levine tackles a tough subject: CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Lassiter is an ex-Miami Dolphin whose spent his pro career, not to mention high school and college ball, suffering one concussion after another and those headbanging injuries have come home to roost.

Lassiter realizes he has a problem when he gets his client, a famous and hugely popular football star, a not guilty verdict based on Florida’s infamous “stand your ground” law. Convinced his client is really guilty, Lassiter has fantasies of killing him himself – a little vigilante justice. Meanwhile, Solomon & Lord are opposing counsel in an insurance claim case and Lassiter is helping them more than his client, the insurance company.

Lassiter is also suffering from tremendous headaches, dizziness and tinnitus, in addition to his vigilante fantasies, and meets a neurologist that he wants to date, but she’s more interested in his brain issues. Lots of twists and turns keep the pages turning and this was a one nighter for me.

I’m deeply troubled by all the news about CTE and this was the perfect vehicle for a closer look at it. Levine manages to make it all easy reading and never gets preachy, and I am most appreciative that he made that leap in this excellent read.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BUM LUCK by Paul Levine. Thomas & Mercer (March 28, 2017).  ISBN 978-1477823101. 332p.

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THE OUTSIDER by Anthony Franze

March 29, 2017

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Anthony Franze debut novel, The Advocate’s Daughter, was so good that it made my best books of 2016 list. I always worry about the so-called “sophomore slump” – writers generally have years to work on their first novel and a much, much tighter timeline for the second. I’m happy to report that The Outsider is a terrific legal thriller as well. And with the Supreme Court in the news, it’s also timely.

Franze is an attorney who has argued before the Supreme Court, and that’s where he sets his thrillers. He offers a wonderful backstage tour of our highest court, complete with notes at the end so you know what is true and what is made up. Plus his stories are riveting, as is the case here.

The “outsider” is Grayson Hernandez, a young man who graduated from a non-Ivy League law school and is working as a messenger in the Supreme Court building. Hernandez grew up in a poor part of D.C., and his best friends really related with S.E. Hinton’s Outsider. In fact, Hernandez’s nickname was Pony Boy.

The day he stumbles onto an assault against the Chief Justice in the parking lot changes his life – in more ways than is at first obvious. Hernandez saves the Chief Justice but the attacker escapes. Shaken, the Chief Justice decides to offer Hernandez a clerkship, the most sought after position for law school graduates.

Most, if not all, the clerks are from top tier law schools, the brightest of the brightest. Hernandez is bright, but had to stay home to help run his family business so those opportunities didn’t come his way. And then the Justice offers him some perks along with the job; his apartment in Georgetown, which comes with a new Audi. Hernandez is overwhelmed but the justice convinces him to accept the offer.

Hernandez loves his new job, discussing law with these brilliant scholars and the smartest one of all, the beautiful Lauren Hart. He has a hard time fitting in, of course, but the Justice offers advice from time to time and eventually he finds his place.

Meanwhile, it appears a serial killer is at work in the D.C. area, and the murder sites all have one thing in common; a feather quill pen, a gift that the justices present to all attorneys who come before them, is found at all the crime scenes. Hernandez is approached by the FBI to help, and he quickly gets in over his head.

There are enough plot twists to keep the pages turning and the suspense just keeps ratcheting up until the final denouement. If you’re a fan of legal thrillers, or just fast paced adrenaline reads, you won’t want to miss this one.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE OUTSIDER by Anthony Franze. Minotaur Books (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-1250071668. 320p.

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WHAT YOU BREAK by Reed Farrel Coleman

March 27, 2017

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A Gus Murphy Novel, Book 2

Setting a thriller out in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York immediately drew my attention. I went to high school in that area and still have friends there. Nelson DeMille may own Nassau County, Long Island, NY (love the John Corey books and all his earlier thrillers) but now Coleman owns Suffolk. It’s always fun to see places you know pop up in a book and it adds another level of enjoyment. Of course, if you’ve never been to New York you get an interesting overview of an area even most visitors don’t see.

When I got married (in Nassau County) one of my bridesmaids was my roommate from the University of Miami. She was from Kansas City, Missouri and had never been to New York. She was shocked at Long Island. She thought all of New York was like the city, Manhattan, which is heavily featured in most NY films and TV shows. And in reality, Manhattan is only 23.7 square miles while the state of NY is 54,556 square miles, so you can see it is just a drop in the bucket. But I digress.

Gus Murphy is a retired Suffolk County detective who lost a child and never really recovered from it. His marriage fell apart, and he took a job as security at the Paragon hotel near MacArthur Airport in Islip, a sleepy little airport that mostly shuttles snowbirds back and forth to Florida. He also runs the shuttle to and from the airport and the train. In exchange for his services, he lives for free in a hotel room, a rather dreary existence but one that suits his needs.

Gus’s friend, former priest Bill Kilkenny, introduces him to a wealthy businessman, Micah Spears, whose granddaughter had been murdered and he wants to know why. Having lost a child himself, and being offered remuneration that would help keep his son’s name alive, Gus can’t say no despite not liking or trusting the man.

Gus is friendly with another hotel employee, Slava, who has a shadowy past that comes to the forefront. Gus delivers a new hotel guest to the Paragon and something about him just sets off Gus’s cop spidey-sense. When he sees the guest go off with Slava, he follows them to Brooklyn.

Gus parks down the street and watches as they talk to a man outside a house there and leave, and the man is brutally assassinated immediately after. After witnessing the cold blooded execution, Gus ends up protecting his friend from a Russian mercenary, street gangs and even some cops.

The pages fly in this ultimately dark and violent thriller. I didn’t read the first book in the series, but didn’t feel like I missed anything because Coleman offers enough back story to fill in the blanks. Coleman delivers another very good thriller.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHAT YOU BREAK by Reed Farrel Coleman. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (February 7, 2017).  ISBN 978-0399173042. 368p.

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