SOCIABLE by Rebecca Harrington

March 27, 2018

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The premise of this sophomore novel by Harrington (Penelope) is that journalism is dying and millennials will save it. To do that they will have to fit some work in between parties, fighting with friends, romance, and in this case, surviving a bad breakup.

Our heroine is Elinor Tomlinson, a vapid, immature twenty-something working as a nanny. Her boyfriend’s mother, a well respected journalist, recommends her for an opening at a second tier online news magazine. Elinor stumbles through the interview spouting generic nonsense and gets the job, creating viral content for the web. She is probably better at her job than the two men who want to mentor her, yet she doesn’t seem to like her job very much. Her boyfriend dumps her, and she just wallows in self pity.

Readers may be able to empathize with the breakup if they can slog through the changeable points of view, the too-brief attempts at humor, hash tags and even comments addressed directly to the reader. ©Library Journal, 2018

This book sounded so good from the publisher:

The Assistants meets The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. in this exuberant comedy of manners set in the world of Internet media, a brilliantly irreverent novel about what it means to be young, broke, dumped, and scarily good at creating viral content.

Um…not so much. Very disappointing read.

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SOCIABLE by Rebecca Harrington. Doubleday (March 27, 2018). ISBN 978-0385542821. 256p.

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THE RECIPE BOX by Viola Shipman

March 22, 2018

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Sam Mullins grew up on the northern shore of Michigan on her family’s orchard, and couldn’t wait to leave and make her own mark on the world. She went to culinary school in New York and landed a much coveted job – baking for a television celebrity chef in his restaurant/bakery. Except he’s a jerk and can’t even cook, and when the head chef quits, Sam is picked to create something wonderful for the Good Morning America team that will be filming in the bakery that morning. She does, and everyone loves it but her boss – he trashes her grandmother’s beloved slab pie and orders her to make something else. Finally growing a spine, she, too, quits.

Sam heads home to the family orchard and bake shop where her grandmother and mother rule supreme. They are delighted she has shown up for a visit but she doesn’t tell them why she’s suddenly home, at least not for a while.

The recipe box is a family tradition. On each daughter’s 13th birthday, they are given a wooden recipe box filled with family recipes going back generations. The key to the box is worn on a chain around the neck, close to the heart. When Sam went off to culinary school, she left her recipe box at home but now she is feeling the pull of family and all that means.

In a side story, there is a produce delivery man she has been chatting with every morning of her working life in New York City. After turning down several invitations to date him, they remain friends. After she gets home, he tells her he’s taking a few days off and wants to see the Michigan she loves. This romance adds a bit more story to the story, as it were.

Every chapter is named after a recipe and the recipes are all included. Most are desserts but there is at least one savory dish as well.

The book held my attention but it verged on being sickeningly sweet, if you’ll pardon the pun. It actually felt smarmy at times and way too heavy handed and I just don’t like being manipulated. The story was good, I didn’t need to be hit over the head about the importance of family and tradition and love on every page. All that said, it moved me to tears more than once and I couldn’t put it down, so I guess it was compelling smarminess, if you will. If you like reading stories about food and families, and don’t mind emotional minefields, this is the book for you.

I am planning on making that slab pie for sure, and probably a few of the other recipes as well.

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE RECIPE BOX by Viola Shipman. Thomas Dunne Books (March 20, 2018). ISBN 978-1250146779. 336p.


ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen

March 20, 2018

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So Anna Quindlen finally decided to write a love letter to New York City. Manhattan, to be precise. And while she may point out its foibles and idiosyncrasies, even the bad stuff is wrapped up in love.

Nora and Charlie have been married for many years and have boy and girl twins in college and a dog. They live in a townhouse which is crammed in between the townhouses on either side of them, all on a dead end street in Manhattan, an almost unheard of thing in the city. This is a clannish group of New Yorkers who share a handyman and a small parking lot, overseen by George, the self-appointed street mayor, issuing coveted parking spots, warning about any infractions to the desired appearance of the block, and offering non-negotiable recommendations of flowers to plant and when to put out the holiday decorations.

Nora and Charlie consider theirs to be one of the better marriages among their circle of friends. They are well off, and attention to class distinction is paid here. Charlie is an investment banker, but his career has never taken off the way he thought it would and he dreams of leaving the city for greener pastures. Nora is the director of a small, private museum and loves her job, her family, and most of all, her home, but definitely feels that something is lacking in her life.

Then one of the neighbors, a wealthy attorney with a viscous temper, attacks the Latino handyman, beating him with a golf club and causing serious injury because his truck was blocking the parking lot. The neighbors are divided; was it provoked? Was it an accident? Charlie was a witness and stands up for his neighbor, but Nora heard the whole thing and knows Charlie is wrong. That incident creates a wedge in their marriage and in the neighborhood, causing feelings to shift and change and ultimately deteriorate.

An interesting look at friendship, marriage and class warfare within the city that never sleeps, with lots to talk about for book discussion groups. I didn’t love it, maybe because I need at least one character to care about, to relate to, and Nora just barely made the cut. I’m from New York and know people like her so I understood her, but also know I could never be friends with her, and fortunately that is not a deal breaker. The book did give me pause – and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Thought provoking for sure.

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen. Random House (March 20, 2018). ISBN 978-0812996067. 304p.


BY THE BOOK by Julia Sonneborn

March 10, 2018

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Anne Corey is a struggling English professor. She has a huge pile of student loans to pay off and finally has a job that she loves, teaching English literature at a small, private college in California.

Then her dream job becomes a bit of a nightmare.  Unfortunately, this school really lives by “publish or perish” and Anne’s time is running out. If she can’t get a book published, she’s out. There is a new college president, Adam Martinez, who happens to be the man who dumped her on their graduation day from college – shortly after proposing to her.

The only bright spot is visiting professor Rick Chasen, an award winning author who is also really hot. They hit it off and start a casual relationship, and he even offers to help Anne get her book published. Anne is also dealing with her father, who appears to be suffering from dementia.

Seeing Adam on a regular basis is proving to be more difficult than she thought it would be, especially because he and Rick seem to be at odds. Then things go from bad to worse, and Anne is moving up and down the highs and lows of her life – until she reaches her happy ending.

This is a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion. You don’t have to have read it to appreciate this book, and it is so well done that even if you are a fan of Austen, you will still enjoy this contemporary story.

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BY THE BOOK by Julia Sonneborn. Gallery Books (February 6, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501175183. 384p.

Kindle


PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

December 31, 2017

I wanted to get in one more really good book before the year ended and this was a wonderful selection. This was a National Book Award finalist and the paperback just came out a few weeks ago, so do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

The story follows a Korean family starting in 1910 through the 1980s. Sunja is the on ly child of a very poor couple in a small village in Korea. Her parents rent a small house and rent out space to local fisherman. The boardinghouse keeps them from starving, but when Sunja becomes pregnant, it could destroy the family. She won’t tell who the father is because when she tells him she’s pregnant, he tells her he’s married and has children, all living in Japan. Hansu is a wealthy Korean businessman and while he offers to keep Sunju as his mistress, she breaks it off with him.

The story follows their lives over four generations, from their move to Japan through wars, the division of Korea, and the immigrant experience of Koreans in Japan. It was a story I was completely unfamiliar with, and it is a heartbreaking one. Koreans, even third or fourth generation born in Japan, are not considered citizens of Japan. There is extreme prejudice against Koreans, and they actually carry Korean passports, even though many have never set foot in Korea.

This book was obviously a work of great passion, and I urge you to read the author’s note at the end. Apparently she worked on this for decades, and it was her move to Tokyo where she got to interview many Koreans about their experiences living in Japan. I found myself completely immersed in the world Lee created, and the book has stayed with me. It is an eye opening story that educated and entertained me and has found a place in heart. An excellent way to end this year of reading.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee.  Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (November 14, 2017). ISBN 978-1455563920. 512p.

Kindle


SWEET TEA AND SYMPATHY by Molly Harper

December 11, 2017

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Southern Eclectic Series, Book 1

This is a contemporary romance with oodles of charm and laughs. This author is new to me as her previous bookls were paranormal, which I just can’t get into for whatever reason. But this book, the first of a new series, is paranormal free and right in my wheelhouse.

Margot is a top flight party planner in Chicago until disaster strikes. Of course it is all caught on video and goes viral, causing her to lose her job and consequently her home. Margot has lost her mother, and her father took off when she was a toddler, and the only family she has left is her stepfather who adopted her as a child. Then he pulls the rug out from under her, telling her he was never really married to her mother. While she is reeling from that bit of news, she gets a job offer.

Margot’s great Aunt on her father’s side calls to offer her a job at the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop in Lake Sackett, Georgia. Margot has always believed her father, an alcoholic, wanted nothing to do with her but she is definitely curious about him and his family, so off she goes. She is sending out resumes everywhere trying to get a job as a party planner in a city, but then she meets Kyle, the principal of the elementary school, and things start looking up in Georgia.

Lots of small town charm including every Southern stereotype from sweet tea to bless her heart, but who cares when a book is this engaging. The characters are quirky, the setting brought skillfully to life, and there is just enough romance and drama to keep it all interesting. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SWEET TEA AND SYMPATHY by Molly Harper.  Gallery Books (November 21, 2017). ISBN 978-1501151224. 320p.

Kindle


ON SECOND THOUGHT by Kristan Higgins

December 10, 2017

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Kristan Higgins has become one of my favorite authors. I love her writing style, her sense of humor and her characters. (see my review of her Blue Heron series)

This is a stand-alone novel set in New York. Kate finally has everything she’s always wanted and never thought she’d have, especially since she’s pushing 40. But four months into her story book marriage to Nathan, she loses him in a bizarre accident. This is not a spoiler, from the first chapter you know this is going to happen. But it is what happens after that makes this story.

Kate’s younger half-sister, Ainsley, has only ever been with one man and they’ve been together for eleven years. He’s just beaten cancer, and she is waiting for him to finally propose. Instead, he dumps her and blogs about it, and of course it goes viral.

The sisters end up being a support system for each other, and then they meet new men – Daniel the hot firefighter, and Jonathan, Ainsley’s sourpuss boss. The exploration of grief, from death and a breakup is intense and feels so real – as does the guilt that comes with finding joy.

This book brought me to tears more than once, yet also had me laughing out loud. I loved it.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ON SECOND THOUGHT by Kristan Higgins. HQN Books (January 31, 2017). ISBN 978-0373789252. 480p.

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THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg

December 4, 2017

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I’m not sure when charming stories became a genre, but they really have and this one is terrific.

This is a multi-generational look at loss, from Arthur who has lost his wife, to Maddy, a teenager who has lost her mother, to Lucille, Arthur’s widowed neighbor. Maddy meets Arthur at the cemetery, where he has spent every day having lunch with his dead wife. Maddy’s mom was cremated, so she’s not there but Maddy likes the solitude of the cemetery.

Maddy is having problems at home and at school, and she and Arthur form a friendship. Eventually, Maddy moves in with Arthur, as does Lucille. They are all friends and lean on each other to deal with their loneliness. It’s not as dark as it sounds, there are a lot of laughs and real emotion throughout this book. I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

This was another winner that I found through LibraryReads.org.

The top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love. I get a lot of wonderful recommendations from these lists, and I can honestly say I think there was only one book in the past several years that I didn’t love, so check it out.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg. Random House (November 21, 2017). ISBN 978-1400069903. 240p.

Kindle


THE LIBRARY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

November 14, 2017

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November 2017 LibraryReads Pick

The top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love. I get a lot of wonderful recommendations from these lists, and I can honestly say I think there was only one book in the past several years that I didn’t love, so check it out.

The titular “edge of the world” is a peninsula in Ireland that is undergoing some big change, a reflection of the change that Hannah Casey is going through. Hannah has returned home from a posh London life after an acrimonious divorce to share the hot pink cottage of her childhood with her mother. Hannah is the town librarian, not a job she loves by any stretch of the imagination. She always wanted to work in an art museum, but that was not meant to be. She is, I’m sorry to say, the stereotypical librarian, shushing people, taking control of the books as if it pains her to lend them, and consequently does not have the best reputation in this small town.

Hannah is determined to move out of her mother’s house, but during the divorce, she was so angry at her husband that she refused any sort of financial settlement, and now her ex isn’t interested in helping her out. She borrows some money from the credit union and sets out to restore the tiny cottage her great aunt had bequeathed to her. A local builder, a real craftsman, takes on the project but he is a bit eccentric.

Big changes afoot on this tiny peninsula as the local politicians decide to put all their resources into a big marina and hotel that will entice the cruise ship trade. But that means the rest of the island is out of luck, and slowly Hannah becomes “Joan of Arc”, at the center of the rebellion.

This is a lovely, charming book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I admit, most books about books and libraries usually get my immediate attention, but this one goes beyond that, with unforgettable characters and setting, making this an altogether excellent read.

11/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIBRARY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes-McCoy.  Harper Perennial (November 14, 2017). ISBN 978-0062663726. 368p.

Kindle


THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins

November 12, 2017

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The Blue Heron Series, Book 1

I may be late to this party but I’m going to be catching up fast! Thanks to my “work daughter,” Caitlin, I read this wonderful book and now have several more to keep me busy. I’m thinking this series will be how I spend my Christmas vacation, if I can wait that long.

Set in a small town surrounded by vineyards in the Finger Lake region of upstate New York, this is a sweet, funny romance with warm, quirky characters. Faith Holland is the youngest of four, and her family is one of the founding families of the town. They have two homes on a vineyard, the old house (built in the 1700’s) where her grandparents live, and the new house (built in the 1800’s) where she grew up. The story moves back and forth from when she was jilted at the altar to her happily ever after.

Faith and Jeremy were inseparable from the day they met and despite a brief break in high school, their college years apart, and even his stint in medical school, no one in their small town was surprised that they were getting married except Jeremy’s best friend and best man, Levi. Levi has always known that Jeremy is gay, but Jeremy hasn’t come out and is determined to live the same type of life as his parents. But at the wedding, he brings Jeremy and Faith to the church basement where they finally break up. Faith flees to San Francisco, where they were supposed to honeymoon, and ends up staying there for several years. And then it’s time to come home.

Faith and Levi have never really gotten along, despite both of their relationships with Jeremy. Now Levi is the Chief of police, and giving Faith a speeding ticket on her first day back isn’t improving their relationship. They both have a lot of baggage and despite that, end up in a very physical relationship – her first with a straight man.

There is no explicit sex but you still manage to feel the heat between them, a nice feat of writing. I found myself laughing out loud more than once while reading this book, and I can’t wait for the next one!

11/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins. HQN Books (February 26, 2013). ISBN 978-0373777921. 432p.

Kindle