FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

October 5, 2019

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From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST • “A feminist jeremiad nested inside a brilliant comic novel—a book that makes you laugh so hard you don’t notice till later that your eyebrows have been singed off.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Funny, dirty, sly, irresistible.”—New York

A finely observed, timely exploration of marriage, divorce, and the bewildering dynamics of ambition from one of the most exciting writers working today

Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, in the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. He had been working so hard to find equilibrium in his single life. The winds of his optimism, long dormant, had finally begun to pick up. Now this.

As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, all while juggling his patients at the hospital, his never-ending parental duties, and his new app-assisted sexual popularity, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.

A searing, utterly unvarnished debut, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an insightful, unsettling, often hilarious exploration of a culture trying to navigate the fault lines of an institution that has proven to be worthy of our great wariness and our great hope.

I had heard about this book from the publicist, and later a friend recommended it. Then I think Michelle Goldberg recommended it on her podcast, The Argument? I wouldn’t swear to that, but anyway, I read it. I did not remember that it was a first novel when I read it, and I was very surprised when I realized it after. It is a really interesting story, with complex characters and a lot of emotion, and I loved the writing.

Toby Fleishman is a recently divorced 40-something doctor in Manhattan, AKA catnip to women, and not only in New York. Many years ago my doctor lost his wife. They were young, had a couple of young children. I swear, less than a week later I overheard some women discussing ways to finagle dates with him. I overheard this on the playground at the Jewish Community Center, while they were ignoring their toddlers. So I get it. But things have changed since my kids were in pre-school.

Toby is short. He has a bit of a complex about it, like many men who are vertically challenged. But the doctor thing is now overriding the short thing, and he is shocked to find that women are practically throwing themselves at him. Actually, not practically, they are definitely throwing themselves at him. He is on a dating app where he is barraged with pictures of women. Not their faces so much, but everything he used to have to look for in porn. Now pictures are being delivered to his phone at all hours of the day and night. Along with invitations to meet. Not for dinner necessarily, but for sex. Toby is like a kid in a candy store. This new world order is working for him. Until his ex goes missing, and the party feels like it’s over.

Rachel is aspirational, and super successful. In fact, she thinks Toby the doctor is a loser. Her income and ambitions far eclipse his, which means she pays child support as he is the primary care giver for the kids. It was another interesting aspect of the book, and I really liked how that was explored. A lot of the stuff that happens is laugh out loud funny, and other parts are infuriating and sometimes sad.

This is a book that begs to be discussed. If you are in a book group, put it on your list, you won’t be sorry.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Random House (June 18, 2019).  ISBN 978-0525510871. 384p.



BEYOND THE MOON by Catherine Taylor

October 4, 2019

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This is a first novel and is a truly remarkable work for anyone, and one that showcases a top tier author with a bright future ahead of her. I have no difficulty calling it a beautifully written book which neatly ties together several interests of the author. She is, by her own admission, a World War One adherent as well as a person that enjoys exploring history for its own sake and a romantic soul.

Lt. Robert Lovett is an officer serving England during the First World War in the trenches of France and Belgium. He is strongly vested in doing his duty by supplying the soldiers serving under him with skilled and patriotic leadership. He is wounded in 1916 and develops hysterical blindness with no physical reason for doing so. He is sent to Coldbrook Hall military convalescent hospital in Sussex, England to recuperate from his wounds. 

A century after Lovett is hospitalized, Louisa Casson, who experienced the sudden loss of her grandmother, the only person she had that had taken care of her as well as suffering a severe fall is confined to Coldbrook Hall. In the century between Lt. Lovett’s hospitalization and today, Coldbrook has been converted into a psychiatric hospital.

Louisa earns herself a status as a patient that can be trusted gets herself into a position that allows her to be let outside the walls of Coldbrook hospital in order to wander around outside. One day while exploring the area she wanders into a section that is old but quite intact. Entering into a room in that area she stumbles on Robert Lovette. Beginning a conversation with him and returning as often as she can, Louisa realizes two things. The first that she is in love with him, and second, that she has somehow slipped back in time to 1916 and the man that she has met is the wounded officer we already saw that was sent to Coldbrook in 1916.

Taylor shows her knowledge of WWI in describing the battles and areas that Lt. Lovett has been involved with. She describes the horrors of being in a trench just a few hundred yards from the enemy with both sides constantly shooting at each other, the dirt, filth, mud, and dead bodies – the horror of knowing that death is all around and could come in the blink of an eye. Her descriptions of possible conversations between the men are very much to the point, and Taylor gives her readers a realistic set of ideas and values in the midst of a world that no human being should be immersed in.

A well-done fantasy that treats a love across time and a period of great horror as factors in describing the levels that the human spirit can rise to.

10/19 Paul Lane

BEYOND THE MOON by Catherine Taylor. The Cameo Press Ltd (June 26, 2019). ISBN 978-1916093218. 494p.


EMPIRE OF LIES by Raymond Khoury

October 2, 2019

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Khoury has built his reputation as a top author on novels with a fantasy spin.  Not dragons, Greek gods, nor any of the many situations built on an unworldly story. All are well done, well written and based on a certain change to the real world.

“Empire of Lies” is no exception. The plot revolves around an alternative to our present world with changes to current reality that could be true if one subscribes to the difference between our world and what is presented. The novel opens in the alternative world postulated by the author.

This is a situation in which Polish King John Sobieski at the head of a combined European army defeated and stopped an invasion of Europe by Ottoman Turks in 1683. The Ottoman army had reached Vienna, were surrounding the city and were about to conquer it and then move further into Europe.  The situation at the beginning of this novel is that something happened to Sobieski and his staff killing them, and the Ottoman invasion succeeded setting up an alternative world stemming from the defeat of the west in 1683.

Kamal Arslan Agha, an officer in the Sultan’s secret police and, based in Paris has begun questioning the situation around him which is becoming more and more autocratic.  He feels that the freedoms guaranteed to the people are becoming eroded with the government becoming a dictatorship.

When he is called on to investigate a stranger appearing naked on the banks of the Seine and brought to a hospital, Kamal learns a strange secret which the Sultan wants to keep secret. He begins an investigation of this secret aided by his sister-in-law Nisreen, who is an outspoken civil rights lawyer. The two are caught up in the secrets of the enlarged Ottoman Empire and find themselves learning about the real circumstances of the battle of 1683, traveling through the empire and learning about a concept of time that is unknown to most of the world.

Very well written, ensuring that the reader will finish the book in one sitting this novel is Raymond Khoury at his best.

10/19 Paul Lane

EMPIRE OF LIES by Raymond Khoury. Forge Books (October 1, 2019). ISBN 978-1250210968. 448p.


Audio CD


September 29, 2019

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Bob Proehl’s interesting story revolves around the possible next step in human evolution. People are being born with certain abilities beyond those of so called normal people. Levitation, turning invisible, mind control, ability to shape a room beyond the capacity of normal people to see and enter it. Suddenly people with these extraordinary characteristics are being born and growing to adulthood.

Avi Hirsch has noted that his daughter Emmeline is different, but can’t put his finger on how and why until more and more people are found that have an ability beyond the normal. And, as they are identified, the general population begins acting as if they are dangerous. Certainly a feeling held by most segments of the population towards a minority group in their midst. Over the centuries this has included race, religion, color of skin and other factors contributing to a marked difference between this minority and the larger, so called normal, segment of the population.

Avi is a journalist and begins investigating these “others” with the hope that his findings can help prevent harm to Emmeline. It is through him that knowledge of the “different” segment of humans emerges, and as has been done throughout human history suspicion emerges about the new para normals. The novel tracks events from the founding of secret schools to educate the new group to a war developing between them and normals. It certainly doesn’t help when one of the new group turns rogue and is involved with murder of the normals.

An interesting novel somewhat marred by a long mid book section that spends a good deal of time in redundant descriptions of the powers held, and the personal conflicts between the others. This section could force an interested reader to lose interest and elect not to complete the book. If one makes it through this part, the ending is well done and completes the novel.

9/19 Paul Lane

THE NOBODY PEOPLE by Bob Proehl. Del Rey (September 3, 2019). ISBN 978-1524798956. 496p.





September 28, 2019

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The author brings out a book set in Europe during the early 13th century. Her painstaking research into material available from sources based on actual writings of the pertinent characters is quite evident. The period is shortly before the time of the Italian Renaissance and heralds later events that gave rise to major art, sculpture and literary breakthroughs. It was a period that still promoted crusades attempting to capture Jerusalem, opening it for journeys, thereby many worshipers. In spite of the invasions Christians, Muslims and Jews lived side by side all over southern Europe freely intermingling with each other while avoiding the wars going on around them.

Michael Scot, a young monk, has the fortuitous luck to meet Charles II who is the Holy Roman Emperor while both are young men. Michael has become interested in translating the work of Aristotle and Charles charges him with doing these translations a full-time job. The thought is to regain via the translations the knowledge lost during the centuries since Aristotle lived. Michael travels and works in centers located in both Italy and Spain. His findings include information that gives rise to advancements in medicine among other disciplines that move these forward.

Unfortunately during his work Michael incurs the ire of some clerics that feel that translations taken from Arabic are blasphemous and should not be used in full-time publication of the work. Charles does continue to protect Michael and the work he is doing which allow publication and circulation of his findings after his death. This is a novel involving people that lived and worked in, period. The author has put words in the mouths of the individuals described. There is, of course, no way to divine actual conversations, but these are set up so that they reflect Mac Donald’s efforts to tell the story of a man that actually lived, worked and contributed to the advancement of knowledge during his lifetime.

The principal persona are as fleshed out as is possible at this later date. I’m sure that we will see more novels from Elizabeth Mac Donald in the future, and if they are set in the past, will show as much actual research as this one did.

9/19 Paul Lane

A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION by Elizabeth Mac Donald. Fairlight Books (September 5, 2019). ISBN 978-1912054701. 323p.



September 27, 2019

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After her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home to San Francisco’s Chinatown for the first time in seven years.  Her neighborhood, however, is very different than it was when she left it to travel the world after her agoraphobic mother would not support her dream of becoming a chef. Gentrification is creeping in, and more of the shop owners are closing and selling to tech startups. When Natalie discovers she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant, and magical recipe book, she sees a chance to help her neighborhood by reopening the restaurant. Before her restaurant can succeed, however, a seer instructs her that she must cook three of her grandmother’s recipes to help her neighbors.

The best books are the ones that can transport you to a different time or place.  After reading Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune I feel like I have visited San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Lim makes Natalie’s neighborhood come alive with the rich history, current struggles, and culture of Chinatown and the members of the community.  I felt invested in each of Natalie’s neighbors that she was trying to help.  The real highlight of course is the food.  The descriptions of the food Natalie cooks using her grandmother’s recipes are positively mouthwatering.  You can almost hear the sizzle of the wok and smell the aromatic blends of spices, meats and vegetables cooking. Can you tell that this book made me hungry while reading it?  Lim also seamlessly incorporates elements of magical realism into the story.  Each recipe that Natalie creates has magical properties and emotions can create physical scars. As Natalie cooks and works to reopen the restaurant she comes to terms with her own family’s history, her complicated relationship with her community and finds her own path.

A lyrical story of food, family, and community with a touch of magic.  Readers who like family sagas, magical realism and food are sure to enjoy this book. Be prepared to be craving dumplings by the time you finish “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune.”

9/19 Caitlin Brisson

NATALIE TAN’S BOOK OF LUCK AND FORTUNE by Roselle Lim. Berkley Books (June 11, 2019). ISBN 9781984803252. 320p.




September 26, 2019

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When faced with huge problems that appear insurmountable the tendency among many people is to blurt out, “well really what can one person do.” And that often becomes the response to the matter, and no further effort is expended.  Ms Clayton’s latest book tells the true story of one woman that did something and many many children benefited by having their lives saved through her efforts.

The events portrayed take place in Germany, Austria, Holland, and England in the few years just before the initiation of hostilities in World War II. Vienna, Austria is a good place to live if one has the income.  There is fun, culture, fine family life and the means to assure the well being of one’s family.  The good life comes to an end when Hitler, who has come to power in Germany forces a plebiscite in Austria which indicates that they will side with Germany in the event of war with other countries.  The agreement is policed by the entrance of Nazi troops that change the landscape immediately for Austrians.

Stephen Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential  Jewish family and a budding playwright, and Zofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits an anti-Nazi newspaper, are friends.  It also appears that life taking its course will find them marrying when old enough. The two are used by the author to illustrate what happens to the good life in Vienna and subsequent events.

Hitler sends Adolf Eichmann to supervise the shift in Vienna, and he quickly initiates Nazi policies.  Repression of Jews, Gypsies and Gays become a reality in the once happy country of Austria.  These groups are quickly prohibited from enjoying the normal rights of others with jobs, businesses right to own property denied them.  Eichmann initiates plans to get these groups out of Austria but purposely makes it almost impossible for them to travel outside.

In the darkest period of this time, Truus Wijsmuller a member of the newly formed Dutch Resistance, begins risking her life to get children out from the Nazi sphere of influence.  When England passes a law to take in at-risk children from the German Reich she gets up the nerve to approach Eichmann to get permission to start sending out children.  He agrees imposing almost impossible conditions, but Tante (Aunt) Truus as she begins to be known to the children manages to start with a group of 600 children sent to London. The author’s description of this trip, the anguish of parents sending out children that they may never see again, the children devastated at being torn away from their families and the lives they lived to enter the unknown cannot fail to stir emotion with any reader.

Stephen and Zofie-Helene are members of this first group and followed until they enter the system established in England to take care of these children. This includes finding them homes with families that consider adopting them.  A very powerful book set in a world gone mad and one that has no problem in getting the reader to finish it in one sitting.

9/19 Paul Lane

THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON by Meg Waite Clayton. Harper (September 10, 2019). ISBN 978-0062946935. 464p.



WRAPPED UP IN YOU by Jill Shalvis

September 25, 2019

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Heartbreaker Bay, Book 8

From the publisher:

It’s love. Trust me.

After a lifetime on the move, Ivy Snow is an expert in all things temporary—schools, friends, and way too many Mr. Wrongs. Now that she owns a successful taco truck in San Francisco and an apartment to call home, Ivy’s reinvented life is on solid ground. And she’s guarded against anything that can rock it. Like the realities of a past she’s worked hard to cover up. And especially Kel O’Donnell. Too hot not to set off alarms, he screams temporary. If only his whispers weren’t so delightfully naughty and irresistible.

Kel, an Idaho sheriff and ranch owner, is on vacay, but Ivy’s a spicy reason to give his short-term plans a second thought. Best of all, she’s a tonic for his untrusting heart, burned once and still in repair. But when Ivy’s past intrudes on a perfect romance, Kel fears that everything she’s told him has been a perfect lie. Now, if only Ivy’s willing to share, Kel will fight for a true love story.

This is one of my favorite series, so I was ready to love this latest installment – and I did! I didn’t remember either of these characters but it didn’t matter. The series revolves around this small neighborhood in San Francisco, and peripherally the fountain that promises true love if you wish for it. Most of the characters in the series fight believing in such nonsense, but all are bound by its success.

Ivy and Kel are no different. Ivy is a tough, cautious woman who has been burned so many times already. Kel has had his heartbroken, and is determined to guard it at all costs. He is suspicious and fearful, yet somehow Ivy worms her way into his heart. And he into hers, fight it as she does. But Ivy has family problems. Her brother is a troublemaker from way back, but Ivy loves him and has been protecting him her whole life, despite all his betrayals. This time, though, he may have gone too far.

Lots of struggles in this romance, but the happy ending is worth it all. I really enjoyed watching Ivy grow and come out of her shell.

This series does not need to be read in order, and this book especially stands on its own.

9/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WRAPPED UP IN YOU by Jill Shalvis. Avon (September 24, 2019). ISBN 978-0062897787. 384p.



HEIRESS GONE WILD by Laura Lee Guhrke

September 24, 2019

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Dear Lady Truelove, Book 4

From the publisher:

Dear Lady Truelove,

My ward is driving me crazy. I have to marry her off and get her out of my life. There’s just one problem…

When Jonathan Deverill promised a dying friend he’d be guardian to the man’s daughter, he envisioned a girl in pigtails and pinafores, a child he could leave behind in some finishing school. Problem is, his ward is actually a fully-grown, defiant beauty whose longing for romance threatens to make his guardianship a living hell.

New York heiress Marjorie McGann wants a London season and a titled husband who can help her spend the Yankee millions she’s inherited, and she thinks her new British guardian is the perfect person to help her find him. But Jonathan has no intention of letting his friend’s fortune be squandered. Under his watchful, protective eye, Marjorie finds romance hard to come by . . . until one fateful night when her own guardian’s devastating kisses makes her wonder if the greatest romance of all might be right in front of her.

Lady Truelove is the name of a Dear Abby type column in a newspaper in London. Jonathan Deverill was supposed to run the paper, but after vehement disagreements with his father, his sister took it over. Jonathan was disowned and left for the New World.

Jonathan becomes a millionaire in America, along with his business partner. But when his partner dies, he returns to England to check up on his new ward. And a romance begins. However, Jonathan has no desire to ever get married. When his father disowned him, his fiancee dumped him as well, breaking his heart and souring him on marriage. But his ward, Marjorie, is stunning and their attraction is instantaneous and sizzling. On the other hand, Marjorie has led a very sheltered life. Being raised in a school since the age of seven, she knows nothing of the world outside its doors.

Marjorie is a great character, innocent and rebellious. I couldn’t help but root for her to find her happy ending, and in Jonathan’s arms, she did. I loved this lasted entry into a terrific series.

9/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HEIRESS GONE WILD by Laura Lee Guhrke.  Avon (September 24, 2019).  ISBN 978-0062853714. 384p.



COLD STORAGE by David Koepp

September 23, 2019

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The novel opens as U.S. government bio terror operative, Roberto Diaz, and his partner, travel to a remote area in Australia. They are there to investigate the possible presence of a bio terror attack.

Instead, they find a highly contagious viral entity that, if allowed to spread, could very well wipe out the entire population of Earth. The two find the town that has been attacked filled with dead bodies of people killed by the virus. The virus is contained by the simple expedient of aerial bombing the town and area around it destroying everything. A small portion that survives the destruction is placed in a sealed container, taken back to the U.S. by Roberto and placed in an area that is underground and heavily fortified

Years later, we get to the “exciting” part of the book. The virus has leaked and is attacking the storage area it is contained in. Two security guards have detected it, and called the government agency indicated on an instruction sheet they are told to use if a leak has been detected by an internal guidance system. Roberto Diaz, now retired, is called upon to travel to the site and take any measures necessary to contain it. He does so and in an informal team up with the two security guards, takes those measures deemed necessary to destroy the virus. And WOW.

“Cold Storage” is the first book published by David Koepp, although his background certainly points to his ability to capture and keep his readers. As indicated in a resume of his credentials, we learn that he was the screenwriter for “Jurassic Park.”

That the novel is one that keeps the readers unable to put it down is a fact. I am anxiously awaiting his next book with an eye to being first on line to get it. And also wondering if the novel will be made into a movie; if so, it would be one exciting video experience.

9/19 Paul Lane

COLD STORAGE by David Koepp. Ecco (September 3, 2019). ISBN 978-0062916433. 320p.