HONOR ‘N’ DUTY by Tee O’Fallon

July 22, 2022

Federal K-9, Book 6

From the publisher:

Two years after his brother’s murder in jail, Department of Homeland Security K-9 Officer Kade Sampson is still haunted by guilt. No man should ever have to arrest his own brother, even if he is laundering money for a drug cartel. Fortunately, Laia Velez—his brother’s gorgeous widow—never learned the truth about Kade’s involvement. But when she asks him for help, he knows that trouble with the cartel is far from over…

Kade is the last person Laia wants to call. But between her house being thoroughly trashed and the uneasy sense that she and her young daughter are being watched, Laia isn’t taking any chances. The cartel wants something from her. And Kade and his K-9 partner, Smoke, are her only chance to survive whatever fresh hell is coming their way…

Now Laia and Kade are trying to stay one step ahead in a game that’s growing more deadly by the minute. But what the cartel wants, the cartel gets. And Kade is running out of time to save the woman he loves from the same fate that killed his brother…

https://amzn.to/3cvuM2I

I read the first book in this series but missed the rest until this one. I’m sure they are better read in order, but from what I can tell from the two books I’ve read, they easily stand alone. This is a fast paced book with lots of suspense, a bit of violence, and at the heart of the story, a romance.

Kade and Laia met when they were stranded in an elevator for forty minutes. There was such a strong attraction that Kade asked her out, but when they step off the elevator, he finds out why she said she can’t. Laia was engaged to Kade’s brother, Josh.

Kade figures the best way to handle his attraction to his sister-in-law is to avoid her. He attends the wedding, and he’s there for his brother’s funeral, but other than that, he ghosts her. He spends as much time as possible with his niece when she visits her grandparents, and that seems to work for him.

Six years have gone by and Kade still struggles with his guilt over his brother. Josh was a successful accountant, but turned out that much of his success came from laundering money for a drug cartel. Eventually he gets caught, but is killed on his first day in prison. The cops take everything they own, leaving Laia and her daughter to struggle on their own.

All these years later, Laia comes home to find that her house has been trashed. Every piece of furniture is destroyed, and she can’t understand why nothing is missing. She calls the cops, but she also calls her brother-in-law, Kade, thinking he probably won’t come. But he does.

Kade shows up in full protector mode, along with his K-9 partner, Smoke. He hustles Laia and her daughter out of there, quickly realizing that this wasn’t an ordinary robbery. The cartel is after something.

I don’t want to give anything away, so let’s just say the pages fly by as the attraction between Laia and Kade reaches the boiling point, with each of them thinking the other just isn’t interested. Plus the cartel is obviously interested in Laia, so Kade hides her as best as he can. But spending all that time together is just making it harder and harder to pretend they don’t have strong feelings for one another.

I really enjoyed this fast paced romantic thriller. I was very invested in these characters and their story. Highly recommend!

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HONOR ‘N’ DUTY by Tee O’Fallon. Entangled: Amara (July 18, 2022). ASIN: B0B54LBPD2. 356p.

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GRACE UNDER FIRE by Julie Garwood

July 22, 2022

Buchanan/FBI, Book 14

From the publisher:

Michael Buchanan will need every bit of his extensive skill set when he appoints himself as bodyguard to a woman determined not to need one in this thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Garwood.

Grace Isabel MacKenna has a hundred things to do today. Killing someone isn’t one of them. It is supposed to be a quick visit to Boston for the Buchanan anniversary party, then on to Scotland to collect an inheritance. She checks into her hotel and then decides to go for a brisk walk. But after getting lost, she ends up with a wounded man stumbling into her arms—and his shooter coming after them both. When she fires back in self-defense, she doesn’t expect him to drop dead. After Isabel endures an interrogation by police, she is free to go, thanks to the Buchanans dispatching former Navy SEAL and now lawyer Michael Buchanan to assist her.

Isabel knows she should be grateful for Michael’s help, but since she’s harbored an extreme dislike for him for years, gratitude is difficult to muster. Michael has appointed himself her de facto guardian, and she’s stuck with him despite their constant bickering and sizzling attraction. Even when Isabel goes to Scotland to claim her inheritance, Michael follows her—but he isn’t the only thing she can’t shake. Mysterious threats against Isabel surface, and before they can deal with their growing feelings for each other, Michael and Isabel must first survive.

“Garwood delivers plenty of twists to keep the suspense brewing and a subplot about Grace’s potential music career adds color. Readers will be hooked.”—Publishers Weekly

“Fans of the series will clamor for this book, which can also be read as a standalone.”—Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3ArEyNf

This is only the third Garwood book I’ve read, and I’m not sure why because I really like her books. I will have to be more diligent, and I will go back and read some more of this series, which I think is actually called Buchanan-Renard, but Amazon turned into Buchanan-FBI for whatever reason – maybe her publisher? Either way, this is the 14th book of the series, and the only other one in the series that I’ve read was The Ideal Man, the 9th book, so lots more to discover.

Michael is your typical romantic hero; tall, dark, and handsome, sure, but also a former Navy SEAL and a lawyer. His career goal is the FBI, like two of his brothers. Isabel is a dreamer and a song writer, and on her last night out with her friends before graduation, she sings one of her songs at a karaoke bar and it goes viral, attracting the attention of Xavier, or XO as his friends call him. So her career is about to take off, even if she doesn’t realize it.

Isabel is attending a family party in a secluded island near Boston before she heads over to Scotland. She has inherited a large, valuable property from an estranged relative, but the will stipulates she needs to be there in person on or after her next birthday, a week away. She is being harassed by a developer who wants to purchase the property.

Things take a turn for the worse when she arrives at her hotel and goes for a walk. She gets lost in her head, writing a song, while wandering the streets of Boston and before she knows it, she is lost. She is about to turn around when she hears gun shots and sees a man fall. She rushes to help him and when the shooter approaches, she manages to grab a loose gun and kills the shooter.

Turns out that it isn’t as random as it appears, and therein lies the suspense. Michael is entrusted to keep her safe, but he has a bad habit of not listening when people talk to him; he tends to cut them off and assume the rest of the conversation. So when his brother says Isabel loves to drive, that’s all he hears and he lets her drive. Some of the comic relief is in her driving – she is a super crazy driver and scares her passengers to death, if the are brave/stupid enough to let her drive.

With her new found fame, Isabel realizes she hates being in the spotlight but that doesn’t make it go away. Michael protects her as they try to resolve the shooting and the upcoming trip to Scotland, and soon they can’t stop their attraction and they end up in bed. Repeatedly. But Michael has plans and they don’t coincide with Isabel’s lifestyle, and she braces herself for the end. It wouldn’t be a romance without the happily ever after, so after quite a bit of suspense, they finally get there.

This was a real page turner for me. The romance was still front and center though, despite all the suspense, and the combination is terrific. If you like suspense with your romance, then this is the book for you. It definitely can be read as a standalone – I quickly realized that there were probably books that came before but it didn’t impede on this story at all. Garwood’s years of experience really show here, and she never phones it in. Very well done and a terrific read – don’t miss it.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

GRACE UNDER FIRE by Julie Garwood. Berkley (July 19, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593546291. 448p.

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FOUR WEDDINGS AND AN AUNTIE by Jesse Q. Sutanto

May 6, 2022

Aunties, Book 2

From the publisher:

The aunties are back, fiercer than ever and ready to handle any catastrophe—even the mafia—in this delightful and hilarious sequel by Jesse Q. Sutanto, author of Dial A for Aunties.

Meddy Chan has been to countless weddings, but she never imagined how her own would turn out. Now the day has arrived, and she can’t wait to marry her college sweetheart, Nathan. Instead of having Ma and the aunts cater to her wedding, Meddy wants them to enjoy the day as guests. As a compromise, they find the perfect wedding vendors: a Chinese-Indonesian family-run company just like theirs. Meddy is hesitant at first, but she hits it off right away with the wedding photographer, Staphanie, who reminds Meddy of herself, down to the unfortunately misspelled name.

Meddy realizes that is where their similarities end, however, when she overhears Staphanie talking about taking out a target. Horrified, Meddy can’t believe Staphanie and her family aren’t just like her own, they are The Family—actual mafia, and they’re using Meddy’s wedding as a chance to conduct shady business. Her aunties and mother won’t let Meddy’s wedding ceremony become a murder scene—over their dead bodies—and will do whatever it takes to save her special day, even if it means taking on the mafia.

“Sutanto deftly blends preposterous humor (British slang, mafia posers) with enduring devotion to prove ‘there is no right or wrong way to ‘being Asian.’”—Booklist

“Charming, chaotic, and sometimes ridiculous, this tale will appeal to anyone who both adores and is embarrassed by their family, which is just about everyone.”—Publishers Weekly

“You can’t help but get a kick out of the auntie’s outrageous stunts and their even bigger hearts. Keep your friends close and these four aunties closer.”—Kirkus

https://amzn.to/3KRHxjr

It was so much fun to spend some time with Meddy and her aunties again! This is the sequel to Dial A for Aunties, and Sutanto lived up to the hype and met (maybe even surpassed) expectations.

Meddy is finally getting married and her mom and the aunties are busy planning the wedding. Yes, Meddy is certainly old enough to plan her own wedding, but why deprive her family the pleasure. They meet up with a wedding planner, the grandmother of the family much like Meddy’s, only instead of aunties, there are uncles. The granddaughter is the photographer and makes Meddy feel like she found a new friend, and uncles doing hair and makeup and floral arrangements. Everything is in place and going smoothly until Meddy overhears her photographer on the phone talking about taking someone out at her wedding. Meddy confronts her, and the young woman basically blackmails Meddy and her aunties into letting them do the job and keeping quiet about the possible murder.

This leads to all sorts of shenanigans, along with the aunties taking British slang lessons with hilarious results. There is so much to love here; the humor, the family, and of course, the wedding. It all comes together in an over the top, laugh out loud crime spree of sorts. This series is most reminiscent of early Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, with similar madcap humor and a touch of romance. I loved it.

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FOUR WEDDINGS AND AN AUNTIE by Jesse Q. Sutanto. Berkley (March 29, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593333051. 304p.

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CHASE WILDE COMES HOME by Jennifer Ryan

May 6, 2022

Wyoming Wilde, Book 1

From the publisher:

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ryan begins a brand-new series with a western set romance between a former soldier and the mother of his child. Perfect for fans of Diana Palmer, Linda Lael Miller, and BJ Daniels.

They’re tough, tender, and sometimes tormented; they’re the Wildes of Wyoming, three brothers whose family ties are as strong as their wills.

Chase Wilde never expected to fall in love, especially with Shelby Payne. Years before, one passionate night had drawn these two lost souls together. Then Chase left on deployment with the Army, while Shelby raised their baby alone. Now he’s back, a wounded warrior determined to turn his life around. Shelby knows what it’s like to lose everything, including her own family. So she offers him a bargain: if he can prove himself to be the man he says he is, she will let him into their daughter’s life…and maybe even into hers.

Chase knows it will take a lot to prove to Shelby that there’s more between them than the single night they spent together. She’s everything he’s ever wanted, including the voice of reason he needs to reconcile his past and be the man he wants to be for them both. But just as their lives come together, she’s torn away from him by a dangerous person from her past, and saving her means saving himself . . . because he can’t live without her.

https://amzn.to/3ycmVjr

Ryan writes good romances with interesting characters, and this is no exception. This is the first book of a new series, and it looks to be a really good one. There are three Wilde brothers, and this story centers around the eldest, Chase.

Talk about a damaged character; PTSD from a stint in the armed services, and a painkiller addiction. Just to make matters even worse, right when Chase is about to be released from rehab, a friend ODs in front of him and he uses mouth-to-mouth to try and save her. Instead, he ends up with the drugs in his system from touching her, and extends his stay in rehab another week.

Chase’s family is mad at him to begin with because they feel like he helped their mother end her life when she was dying of cancer. There are a lot of hard feelings all the way around, so when he finally is released, he’s not even sure where he’ll stay. To his surprise, Shelby is waiting for him as he walks out.

Chase and Shelby had a life-changing one night stand before he left for the army. They met in the bar in town, and the next morning went their separate ways. But Shelby got pregnant, and Chase takes that responsibility to heart.

Shelby is another damaged character. She is the result of her mother’s being raped, and as an infant, her mother tried to drown her then committed suicide. Her grandparents raised her but Shelby knew that every time they looked at her, they saw what happened to their daughter. She grows up the talk of the town and very much alone.

Shelby and Chase have strong feelings for one another, but there are so many hurdles in the way of their happily every after. There is also quite a bit of suspense running through this romance because the man who raped her mother has been released from prison. He stalked her mother until he kidnapped her, and now he seems to be just as obsessed with his daughter and granddaughter.

Ryan touches on a lot of serious issues, making this much darker and deeper than many romance novels. She does a really good job building the suspense of the stalker/rapist and the romance, but rules are rules and a happy ending is reached. I am looking forward to the next book in this series – some breadcrumbs were laid so we can see where it is going and I can’t wait!

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

CHASE WILDE COMES HOME by Jennifer Ryan. Avon (March 29, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0063111400. 400p.

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Spotlight Review: THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews

May 3, 2022

From the publisher:

Summer begins with Mary Kay Andrews, in this delightful summer read about flipping houses, and finding true love.

Hattie Kavanaugh went to work restoring homes for Kavanaugh & Son Restorations at eighteen, married the boss’s son at twenty, and became a widow at twenty-five. Now, she’s passionate about her work, but that’s the only passion in her life. “Never love something that can’t love you back,” is advice her father-in-law gives her, but Hattie doesn’t follow it and falls head-over-heels for a money pit of a house. She’s determined to make it work, but disaster after disaster occurs, and Hattie’s dream might cost Kavanaugh & Son their livelihood. Hattie needs money, and fast.

When a slick Hollywood producer shows up in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, she gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: star in a beach house renovation reality show called The Homewreckers, cast against a male lead who may be a love interest, or may be the ultimate antagonist. Soon, there’s more at stake than bad pipes and dry rot: during the demolition, evidence comes to light that points to the mysterious disappearance of a young wife and mother years before.

With a burned out detective investigating the case, an arsonist on the loose, two men playing with her emotions, and layers upon layers of vintage wallpaper causing havoc, it’s a question of who will flip, who will flop, and if Hattie will ever get her happily-ever-after.

https://amzn.to/3vZfeKK

I love that with her thirtieth book in thirty years, MKA has gone back to her mystery roots. Many years ago, I was a bookseller for Borders Books & Music, a large chain of bookstores (think Barnes & Noble, but with a better collection) when I discovered the Callahan Garrity mystery series by Kathy Hogan Trocheck and I loved them. When as Mary Kay Andrews, she turned towards romance/chick lit, I went along for the ride. So I can say with some certainty that I like her writing style, and the genre just doesn’t matter to me. I feel like my summer doesn’t begin until I get the new MKA book, so hello summer!

This book was an especially fun one, involving a reality TV show on a HGTV-type network. Since I spend half my weekend watching that channel, this book was right in my wheelhouse. Mo is a producer in search of his next hit when he stumbles across Hattie working on restoring an old Victorian house in Savannah. She’s a beautiful young woman running a job site, and Mo is hooked. To his surprise, Hattie has no interest in becoming a celebrity but he is determined to make her one anyway.

After a series of events leaves Hattie hurting for money, she acquiesces and “Saving Savannah” is born. However, Mo’s contact at the network hates the title and wants to create a home renovation/dating show called “The Homewreckers.” She sends a celebrity interior designer, Trae, to Savannah to “help” with the renovation of the 100 year old beach house on Tybee Island. And in the process, a romance between Hattie and Trae will help jumpstart the series.

Hattie is a young widow with quite the back story, and she works for her father-in-law, Tug, renovating these old Savannah houses. But as they start the demolition, a wallet is found in the wall. It belongs to a young woman and mother who had gone missing seventeen years earlier, a beloved teacher at the girls school where Hattie went. The police are brought in and get to work trying to figure out how it ended up in the walls of the home. A short time later there is a dumpster fire at the job site, pictures of Hattie & Trae having a romantic dinner go viral, and a body is found. This is not your typical reno!

The Homewreckers has a bit of mystery and a bit of romance, and the combination makes this an unputdownable read. I loved it!

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews. St. Martin’s Press (May 3, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1250278364. 448p.

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Spotlight Review: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BENNETTS by Lisa Scottoline

April 5, 2022

From the publisher:

From number-one best-selling author Lisa Scottoline comes a pulse-pounding new novel.

Your family has been attacked, never again to be the same.

Now you have to choose between law…and justice.

Jason Bennett is a suburban dad who owns a court-reporting business, but one night, his life takes a horrific turn. He is driving his family home after his daughter’s field hockey game when a pickup truck begins tailgating them, on a dark stretch of road. Suddenly two men jump from the pickup and pull guns on Jason, demanding the car. A horrific flash of violence changes his life forever.

Later that awful night, Jason and his family receive a visit from the FBI. The agents tell them that the carjackers were members of a dangerous drug-trafficking organization – and now Jason and his family are in their crosshairs. 

The agents advise the Bennetts to enter the witness protection program right away, and they have no choice but to agree. But WITSEC was designed to protect criminal informants, not law-abiding families. Taken from all they know, trapped in an unfamiliar life, the Bennetts begin to fall apart at the seams. Then Jason learns a shocking truth and realizes that he has to take matters into his own hands.

Sometimes justice is a one-man show. 

https://amzn.to/3r2noQF

So I made the mistake of starting this book at 10:00 at night. I very reluctantly went to bed two hours later, then dreamt about it! The Bennetts are a family that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – or so it seems. When the truck that was tailgating them on the way home suddenly passes them, then turns and blocks the road, Jason realizes they may be in trouble. The men who stopped them are armed, and force them all out of the car. But then his daughter is shot, and while he is tending to her wound, another shot is fired. One of the bad guys killed the other, then takes off.

They manage to get their daughter to the hospital, but the wound is fatal. Then in the middle of the night, the FBI comes knocking on the door and convinces the family to go into hiding. There is more to this story than a simple carjacking gone bad. Shortly after they leave with the FBI, their home and businesses are destroyed by fire. And then things really escalate.

This book was unputdownable. The characters really come to life on the page, and their concerns became my concerns. There is a lot of action that really makes the story move, and enough twists and turns to keep me guessing until the very end. Another excellent read from one of my favorite writers – don’t miss it!

4/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BENNETTS by Lisa Scottoline. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (March 29, 2022). ISBN: 978-0525539674. 400p.

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Spotlight Review: THE LIGHTNING ROD by Brad Meltzer

March 22, 2022

Escape Artist, A Zig & Nola Novel: Book 2

From the publisher:

Zig and Nola are back—in the hugely entertaining, highly anticipated follow-up to Brad Meltzer’s #1 New York Times bestselling thriller The Escape Artist.

What’s the one secret no one knows about you?

Archie Mint has a secret. He’s led a charmed life—he’s got a beautiful wife, two impressive kids, and a successful military career. But when he’s killed while trying to stop a robbery in his own home, his family is shattered—and then shocked when the other shoe drops. Mint’s been hiding criminal secrets none of them could have imagined.

While working on Mint’s body before his funeral, mortician “Zig” Zigarowski discovers something he was never meant to see. That telling detail leads him to Mint’s former top secret military unit and his connection to artist Nola Brown. Two years ago, Nola saved Zig’s life—so he knows better than most that she’s as volatile and dangerous as a bolt of lightning.

Following Nola’s trail, he uncovers one of the U.S. government’s most intensely guarded secrets—an undisclosed military facility that dates back to the Cold War and holds the key to something far more sinister: a hidden group willing to compromise the very safety and security of America itself.

Trouble always finds her…

She’s the lightning rod.

https://amzn.to/3wuzLc5

This is the sequel to The Escape Artist, which I read several years ago. That book made my Best Books of the Year for 2018 list. Bonus – I remember more than I usually do because these characters are not your typical run-of-the-mill private detectives or cops or Feds or whatever. Instead, Zig is a mortician at Dover Air Force base, working on the bodies of fallen American soldiers. Nola is the U.S. military’s Artist-in-Residence, which means she goes to locations of tragedy or war (she gets to pick) and draws and/or paints what she sees – a job I had never heard of. Leave it to Meltzer to ferret out these interesting positions and incorporate them into a thriller – now a series. These characters might be considered “amateurs” like the kind you find in many cozy mysteries, but trust me, there is nothing cozy about this book, it is a thriller started on page one. 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.

I love these characters and we learn more about them this time, especially the enigmatic Nola. 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 an 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.

If you are not familiar, Meltzer does a ton of research for his books. I know this because over the past several years, on occasion I have helped him access obscure articles or articles behind paywalls. So trust me when I tell you that even though you may never have heard of some of the things in his books, they are generally based on impeccable research, including personal interviews with various government officials, even including Presidents (many have been fans of his work!)

I met Meltzer when I was working at Borders Books. His parents (since deceased) lived in Boca Raton, where I worked, and one day he stopped in to see if we had his book – his first novel, The Tenth Justice. In a funny coincidence, I had just read it and loved it. We chatted a bit and that was that. Or so I thought. He told me that I was the first bookseller he ever met who had actually read his book, and honestly, I thought he was full of it. But then a few years later, he told that story to a few hundred people at a booksigning at Barnes & Noble, when I was in the crowd with my daughter. And he’s repeated it since. So we have had a fairly long relationship – I believe he just celebrated the 25th anniversary of that first published novel. Brad is a really good guy, down to earth, madly in love with his wife, and consumed by his children – he once did an event for me at the Palm Beach County Library that we had to schedule around his coaching his son’s baseball team. Or t-ball. Whatever. The guy is a mensch – buy his book!

Watch Brad discuss The Lightning Rod with Seth Meyers!

3/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE LIGHTNING ROD by Brad Meltzer. William Morrow (March 8, 2022). ISBN: 978-0062892409. 432p.

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Spotlight Review: THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY by Brendan Slocumb

March 15, 2022

From the publisher:

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a job at the hospital cafeteria. If he’s extra lucky, he’ll earn more than minimum wage. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music. 

When he discovers that his great-great-grandfather’s beat-up old fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach. Together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Ray will have to piece together the clues to recover his treasured Strad … before it’s too late.

With the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather asserting that the instrument is rightfully theirs, and with his family staking their own claim, Ray doesn’t know who he can trust—or whether he will ever see his beloved violin again.

GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK!

https://amzn.to/3CyYzAH

This was such a good read! I can’t stop thinking about this book, even though I’ve read a few books since I finished it. This is a debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what this talented author does next!

The main character, Ray, is unforgettable. He loves music so much that he keeps practicing and studying despite the lack of support from his mother, his teacher, and his family. The only one who supports his efforts is his grandmother. Her grandfather, PopPop, also played the violin, and she is thrilled that finally someone in the family is showing an interest. She tells Ray that he can have her grandfather’s violin, if he can find it. It’s buried somewhere in the attic. It takes a while, but he eventually uncovers it and it is in very bad shape. Ray gets an early brush with racism when he takes it to the mall to have it repaired. They do a crappy job, charge him too much money, but at least he now has his own instrument instead of relying on the school rental.

Ray progresses in his music, gets a full ride to college with a wonderful teacher, a Black woman who understands where he comes from and more importantly, where he could go. He is very talented but even more hardworking, pushing that talent until it takes him to the world stage. Ray needs a better violin than the old one he got from his grandmother, but understanding its sentimental value, his teacher helps him take it to a good repair shop where he finds out it is a very valuable violin. From there, they go to New York to one of the premier violin shops in the world. Sure enough, several thousand dollars later, his old violin is completely restored and proved to be a Stradivarius worth about $10 million.

PopPop was a slave and he played that violin for his slaver, and was rewarded with his freedom and the violin. Finding a Stradivarius makes the news, and all of a sudden the slaver’s family has decided they want their violin back and accuse PopPop of having stolen it. Then Ray’s family decides they want him to sell it and give them the money. But Ray is determined to keep the instrument and keep playing it. Eventually, he hires a lawyer and tries to work out the lawsuits.

Meanwhile, he has been accepted to compete in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the “Olympics” of music competition where Americans are rarely accepted and none has won a gold medal since the 1970s. But shortly before the competition, his violin is stolen and ransomed for $5 million. Devastated, Ray buys another violin to use for the competition, but he is determined to get his violin back.

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 the 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 wasn’t familiar with a lot of the music terminology, but it didn’t matter. 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. It is sure to make my best books of the year (and I don’t say that lightly as it is only March!) Don’t miss it.

3/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY by Brendan Slocumb. Anchor (February 1, 2022). ISBN: 978-0593315415. 352p.

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FINLAY DONOVAN KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD by Elle Cosimano

February 18, 2022

The Finlay Donovan Series, Book 2

From the publisher:

From Edgar-Award nominee Elle Cosimano, comes Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead―the hilarious and heart-pounding follow-up to Finlay Donovan is Killing It.

Finlay Donovan is―once again―struggling to finish her next novel and keep her head above water as a single mother of two. On the bright side, she has her live-in nanny and confidant Vero to rely on, and the only dead body she’s dealt with lately is that of her daughter’s pet goldfish.

On the not-so-bright side, someone out there wants her ex-husband, Steven, out of the picture. Permanently. Whatever else Steven may be, he’s a good father, but saving him will send her down a rabbit hole of hit-women disguised as soccer moms, and a little bit more involvement with the Russian mob than she’d like.

Meanwhile, Vero’s keeping secrets, and Detective Nick Anthony seems determined to get back into her life. He may be a hot cop, but Finlay’s first priority is preventing her family from sleeping with the fishes… and if that means bending a few laws then so be it.

With her next book’s deadline looming and an ex-husband to keep alive, Finlay is quickly coming to the end of her rope. She can only hope there isn’t a noose at the end of it…

https://amzn.to/3rQtDYH

This is the sequel to Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, and a worthy sequel it is. It may even be better than the first book!

Finlay has published a bestseller and now her second book is coming due. Once again, Finlay is struggling with it. She thought she was done with the Russian mob but nope, they are back and badder than ever. The women’s forum has a new hit advertised and victim-to-be is none other than Steven, Finlay’s ex. Now she is not his biggest fan by far, but he is a good dad and she doesn’t want to see her kids fatherless, but if she is reading the code right, someone has taken the hit job for some big bucks.

Being a single mom of two preschoolers is no joke. Finlay’s best pal/nanny/accountant, Vero, is happy to help keep Steven alive, as much as she personally wouldn’t mind him dead. Julian, the hot young law school student is still a good friend with benefits, and the smoking hot detective Nick is still trying to worm his way into her heart, and her bed, not necessarily in that order. Finlay has her hands full for sure.

There are a lot of laughs here, but also some gruesome body parts and some scary Russian mobsters, all adding up to another unputdownable read. I’m just sad I’m going to have to wait until 2023 for the next book in the series. If you like fast paced mysteries with a lot of laughs, then add this to your to-be-read pile. I loved it.

2/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FINLAY DONOVAN KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD by Elle Cosimano. Minotaur Books (February 1, 2022). ISBN: 978-1250242181. 368p.

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FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT by Elle Cosimano

February 18, 2022

The Finlay Donovan Series, Book 1

From the publisher:

“Getting the job done” for one single mom takes on a whole new meaning in Finlay Donovan is Killing It.

Finlay Donovan is killing it . . . except, she’s really not. She’s a stressed-out single-mom of two and struggling novelist, Finlay’s life is in chaos: the new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written, her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her, and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an incident with scissors.

When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet . . . Soon, Finlay discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.

Fast-paced, deliciously witty, and wholeheartedly authentic in depicting the frustrations and triumphs of motherhood in all its messiness, hilarity, and heartfelt moment, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is the first in a brilliant new series from YA Edgar Award nominee Elle Cosimano.

https://amzn.to/3LLVVM6

This was such a fun read! This book came out last year and I promptly lost it somewhere on my Kindle. The sequel came out a couple of weeks ago, so I dug this one up so I could start reading the series in order. Yes, I do that on occasion! The NY Times review said, “Cosimano skillfully combines suspense and laughs in the manner of Janet Evanovich’s early (and best) novels” so I was all in. That was one of my favorite series, at least the first dozen or so books. So I was hopeful here and it did not disappoint.

Finlay Donovan is a mess. She’s recently divorced and fighting with Steven, her ex, about the kids, ages two and four. He left her for a realtor, and is trying to gain full custody. Finlay writes romantic suspense books for a living, but she’s not making much, to say the least. Her bills are piling up, her minivan is breaking down, and she can’t afford a good lawyer to defend her. When Steven decides to fire the nanny since Finlay works from home, she loses it. When she finally gets hold of the nanny, Vero, she learns that the real reason she was fired was because she didn’t want to have sex with Steven. Vero and Finlay bond. become besties and eventually partners in crime. Sort of.

Meanwhile, her agent is breathing down her neck about her next book. The deadline has come and gone and they arrange to meet at Panera. As they are discussing the murders at the heart of her books, a woman sitting nearby keeps giving her strange looks. Turns out she thinks Finlay is a hit man (hit woman? Hit-mom!) and wants to hire her to kill her husband. He is a bad guy for sure, but Finlay isn’t that desperate. At least she doesn’t think she is. But the woman won’t take no for an answer so Finlay decides to check the guy out at least.

Turns out he is worse than she even thought. She meets up with him in a bar at a networking event, where she witnesses him putting drugs into his date’s drink while she is in the restroom. That’s date, not wife. Incensed, Finlay pretends they met at a previous party, gets him close enough to her that she can switch the drinks behind his back. She manages to get him out the back door of the bar and into the back of her minivan as he passes out. She heads home, not sure what to do with him. After contacting his wife, she is given the password to his phone and she realizes that this is his MO; he drugs married women, takes a bunch of pictures of them in very compromising positions and is apparently blackmailing them.

He ends up dead by accident, and the wife tells a friend about Finlay and her new career is born. Sort of. Meanwhile, she had met this very cute bartender/law student, Julian, at the event and even though he is a few years younger than she is, there is some serious chemistry. And her sister, Georgia, is a cop who is trying to set her up with a very hot detective, Nick, and there is chemistry there as well.

Oline Cogdill of the Sun Sentinel neatly sums it up: “Part screwball comedy, part morality tale, the amusing Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is also a tale about parenting, bad divorces, reinventing oneself, rising above misery and, well, becoming a hit woman. It’s a solid, thoughtful and funny yet poignant mystery that never once becomes a one-note story.” This is no cozy mystery though; this borders on thriller with an appropriate amount of gore. It’s a terrific read, and I no sooner turned the last page when I started the second book in the series, Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead. Don’t miss it!

2/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT by Elle Cosimano. Minotaur (January 4, 2022). ISBN: 978-1250830449. 384p.

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