BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT by Mary Alice Monroe

July 22, 2017

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The Beach House, Book 4

Take a vacation to the Lowcountry of South Carolina with this delightful summer read.

Cara Rutledge inherited her Isle of Palm beach house, Primrose Cottage, when her mother passed away several years earlier. She and her husband rent out the cottage every summer, and this time she got lucky and found one tenant for the whole summer, instead of the usual week by week rentals. Her tenant is Heather, a young woman with some serious mental health issues.

Heather lost her mother in a car accident when she was very young, and she bears the scars of that loss. She has severe anxiety disorder, is extremely shy and nonconfrontational. Her father has recently remarried, and decided he needs to spend time alone with his new wife so arranges for the rental. Heather is an artist and has won a prestigious commission to paint shorebirds for stamps for the U.S. Post Office. Staying on the beach is sure to inspire her art. While moving someplace new is stressful, she draws comfort from her canaries.

Bo Stanton is a local carpenter who is building a deck onto the beach house. He is entranced with Heather and her canaries, and she quickly falls for the very patient young man. Together they explore the area, and Heather learns about sea turtles and shore birds and life.

When tragedy befalls Cara, she begs to move back into the cottage, as she has always found solace in her mother’s place. Heather can’t say no to her, and Cara moves in with Heather. The women both work through their troubles, finding strength in one another.

This is a beautiful story that deals with love, grief, and especially friendship, all within the confines of the beach community. The descriptions of the area made me feel like I was there, so this was a nice little getaway of a read for me.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT by Mary Alice Monroe. Gallery Books (June 20, 2017).  ISBN 978-1501125461.  416p.

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SECRETS OF THE TULIP SISTERS by Susan Mallery

July 14, 2017

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Kelly and her sister Olivia have been estranged for many years. Their mother was the town whore and eventually walked out on the family. Kelly thought that Olivia was just like their mom and convinced their father to send her to boarding school before she ended up a teenage mother. They haven’t seen each other since, so Kelly and her dad, Jeff, are surprised when Olivia shows up.

Kelly and Jeff, run the family business, a tulip farm. They live in a small town about an hour outside of Seattle. Olivia has been living in Phoenix, doing staging for a real estate company. Things are really slow in hot, hot Phoenix in the summer so she decides to spend some time reuniting with her family.

Both girls have serious relationship issues, with each other, their mother, and with men. Kelly was in a five year long relationship and when the guy broke up with her, she really didn’t care. When the boy she had a crush on in high school starts pursuing her, she’s interested. He manufactures tiny homes, like the ones on HGTV, so that was a fun subplot.

Olivia has been following in her mother’s footsteps, happily seducing men but never really having a relationship. And Kelly’s best friend Helen is secretly in love with Jeff, the sisters’ father. All three women have big secrets, but eventually find happiness with each other and the men in their lives. It is a joyful and occasionally painful road to get there.

I learned a bit about tulips, which was nice. I grew up in New York and when I was a kid, I planted tulips every year, then dug the bulbs up again after they finished blooming and stored them in a Barbie doll lunchbox in the garage. Tulips don’t grow in Florida, although I guess you could refrigerate them and fool them into thinking it’s winter but I haven’t tried that. I live in a tropical paradise and while tulips are lovely, I don’t mind not growing any.

I liked the characters a lot and enjoyed spending time with them, even for just one night. There were three romances here and everyone had their happy ending. Another fun read from a terrific storyteller.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SECRETS OF THE TULIP SISTERS by Susan Mallery. HQN Books (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-0373802760.  448p.

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HELLO, SUNSHINE by Laura Dave

July 12, 2017

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Sunshine Mackenzie is an Internet cooking sensation with cookbooks, an upcoming Food Network show and millions of fans. Until the night of her surprise birthday party, when someone hacks her social media accounts and accuses her of being a fraud. Since she can’t really cook, and her recipes are created by her producer’s wife, who she’s slept with, fraud seems an apt description. And her life implodes. Danny, her husband, leaves her and returns her cookbook advance, wiping out all their cash. Then he sells the apartment out from under her, leaving her penniless, homeless and pretty much friendless.

Since she can’t really cook, and her recipes are created by her producer’s wife, who she’s slept with, fraud seems an apt description. And her life implodes. Danny, her husband, leaves her and returns her cookbook advance to the publisher, wiping out all their cash. Then he sells the apartment out from under her, leaving her penniless, homeless and pretty much friendless. So Sunny decides to go home to the Hamptons.

Most people think of the Hamptons as a summer enclave for the rich and famous, and that is true. But there are people who live there all year round, and Sunny grew up there. Her sister still lives there but they are estranged, haven’t spoken in years. So when Sunny shows up, her welcome is a cop ticketing her for trespassing. Eventually, her sister lets her in and a strained relationship resumes.

Sunny finagles a job as the “trash” consultant at a high end restaurant using her niece’s name instead of her own. A few of the staff recognize her but don’t bother her. She has a plan to get the chef to teach her to cook and re-start her career, but he’s not interested. Then she finds out she’s pregnant and things get even more complicated.

This is a redemption story, but to get to that Sunny has to hit rock bottom. I was tempted to put down the book more than once as her life went on the skids as she was a completely unsympathetic character. Kudos to Laura Dave who somehow kept me turning pages anyway, and I was very glad I did. I liked how the story moved and turned, but the ending felt a bit rushed and incomplete. A few more pages would have been nice. In spite of all that, ultimately I did enjoy the book.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HELLO, SUNSHINE by Laura Dave. Simon & Schuster (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-1476789323.  256p.

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KISS CARLO by Adriana Trigiani

July 4, 2017

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The 4th of July seems like a good time to talk about Adriana Trigiani’s latest, a book about Italian immigrants living the American dream.

I always look forward to a new book from master storyteller Trigiani, and she never disappoints. Kiss Carlo is another terrific Italian family story, this time set in the late 1940’s in Philadelphia. Dom and Mike are brothers who own a cab company, but when their father dies, he leaves behind a rift between the brothers that forces them and their families apart for more than a decade. Dom opens his own cab company and adds a telegraph office as well, run by Mrs. Mooney, a “colored” woman who loves the family like her own.

Nick is an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle Dom in a basement apartment. He works in the family business, driving cab #4, and Mrs. Mooney is like a second mother to him. He moonlights at the Borelli theater, where he does everything and anything from cleaning the floors to feeding the actors their lines.

Calla Borelli took over directing the plays from her retired father. The Borelli theater is a community theater that puts on productions of Shakespeare, but ticket sales have been steadily declining and the family is barely hanging on. Calla has to fire Nick, they can’t afford him anymore except at the last minute, he has to fill in for one of the actors, and Nick falls in love with the stage.

Nick has been engaged for seven years, since before the War, to Peachy, but as he is tempted by Calla, and in love with acting, he realizes he can’t see a future with her. In nearby Roseto, the town is expecting the Ambassador Carlo from their sister city in Italy for a Jubilee celebration. Nick is to deliver the telegram stating that the ambassador has been taken ill and won’t arrive, but instead, Nick convinces Mrs. Mooney to go with him while he poses as the Ambassador and all sorts of hijinks ensue.

All of Trigiani’s books are about “la famiglia” and no one does a better job of it; you can practically taste the macaroni and gravy as you read. If you are looking for a beautiful escape, look no further. Kiss Carlo is an intoxicating getaway, a vacation read I wouldn’t want to miss, and neither should you!

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

KISS CARLO by Adriana Trigiani. Harper (June 20, 2017). ISBN 978-0062319227. 544p.

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THE LIGHT IN SUMMER by Mary McNear

June 29, 2017

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A Butternut Lake Novel

This was my first time reading this author, and I intend to read more of these Butternut Lake books. This was a really good, fast fun read, perfect for summer.

Of course it probably helps that the main character, Billy, is the small town librarian – that always gets me interested. She is a single mom, the result of a one-night stand, her first time having sex, when she was 18 years old. The father was a fishing guide in Alaska, and by the time she realized that she was pregnant, he had moved on with no forwarding address. Luckily, she has wonderful parents who support her and help her raise her son, Luke.

Fast forward several years and Luke is a young teen. Billy’s dad passed away, and they are both having a hard time dealing with it, but Luke refuses to discuss it. He has made a couple of new friends and is getting into trouble with them – getting suspended on the last day of school, then getting arrested for graffiti. This is a very small town in northern Minnesota, and the cop knows Luke is a good kid so he gets off with just a warning. But Billy is worried about how to handle this new person who is living in her son’s skin.

One day at work, Billy is looking out the window and sees a man driving a Porsche being ticketed. Cal is really good looking and turns out to be staying with his sister for the summer, while going through a divorce and selling off his partnership in a Seattle architecture firm. Eventually, Billy and Cal meet and there is a strong attraction, but things move slowly for a while. Billy is dealing with Luke, and Cal has his issues but they keep bumping into one another and things progress nicely.

This was a one night read for me. I loved these characters and the small town life – an idyllic summer read. Unfortunately, my library only has digital audiobooks of her earlier books – going to have to see what I can do about that!

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIGHT IN SUMMER by Mary McNear. Thomas Dunne Books (September 6, 2016).  ISBN 978-1250089090.  304p.

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THE IDENTICALS by Elin Hilderbrand

June 28, 2017

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The problem with this book is that I liked the characters so much that I was truly sorry to turn the last page. I want to spend more time with them, I want to see what happens in the rest of their lives.

The title refers to identical twins, Tabitha and Harper Frost. Growing up, they were as close as you’d expect identical twins to be, but then their parents divorced. Eleanor, the tyrannical, blue-blooded mother, decreed that each parent would take custody of one child, splitting the fourteen-year-old girls apart. They both want to go with their easy going father, but a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors makes the determination and shapes the rest of their lives.

Harper goes off to live with her father in his ramshackle house on Martha’s Vinyard, while Tabitha lives in the family compound 11 miles away on Nantucket. Harper makes one bad decision after another and is often the talk of the town. But her latest peccadillo – an affair with her father’s married doctor, really pushed the Vinyard folk over the edge.

Tabitha, who also never marries, nonetheless has children with her partner. But the wedge between the twins becomes insurmountable after Tabitha gives birth to a second child, premature son, who dies a few months later. Tabitha blames Harper, but her grief is neverending, chasing away her daughter’s father, who eventually marries and has his own family.

Eleanor, the family matriarch, is a fashion designer, somewhat reminiscent of Gloria Vanderbilt. Tabitha lives with her surly, out of control teenage daughter in the guest house on the property, and works for her mother, managing the store on Nantucket. And then her father dies.

Harper plans the celebration party her father wanted, and her mother, sister and niece all attend, but the rift is still strong. He has left the house to both girls, leaving them with a dilemma; sell it as a teardown, or invest beaucoup bucks and renovate, selling for much, much more.

Meanwhile, Eleanor gets a bit tipsy at the funeral celebration and ends up falling down the stairs when she gets home, breaking her hip. Tabitha leaves her daughter alone, goes with her mother to Boston, where they will have to stay while Eleanor recuperates from surgery.

Harper goes to Tabitha’s house to take care of her niece and run the store. Eventually Tabitha goes to their father’s house to try her hand at renovating, so in effect, the women trade lives for a summer. And what a difference a summer can make.

Once again Hilderbrand has created a world I long to visit. This is another terrific read from one of my favorite authors.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE IDENTICALS by Elin Hilderbrand. Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 13, 2017). ISBN 978-0316375191. 432p.

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THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES by Susan Bishop Crispell

June 22, 2017

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A delicious read filled with magical realism, pie and wishes fulfilled – what’s not to like?

Rachel Monroe has a special gift, or a curse as she thinks of it. She can fulfill wishes. She first learned she had this as a child when her younger brother was annoying her and she wished him gone. He disappeared along with everyone’s memories of him – except her. Her parents took her to one psychologist after another, and eventually she was hospitalized until she agreed that he never existed.

While hospitalized, she met her best friend, the only one who really understood. As she got older she refused to wish for anything and refused to hear wishes, but nonetheless, as people around her wished for things, little pieces of paper, like the fortunes from fortune cookies, would float into her orbit. If she read them, the wish was granted so she tried very hard not to. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore and by the time she was 26 years old, she knew she had to escape.

Rachel takes off in her car until it breaks down in the small town of Nowhere, North Carolina. The car dies in front of an old Victorian home and the owner comes out, offers to call for help and invites her to stay until her car is fixed. Her name is Catch.

Catch also has a gift. She’s a terrific baker and supplies pies for the town’s restaurants and residents, but her real gift is the ability to make people keep secrets. A neighbor will appear at her back door and ask for help and Catch bakes them a special pie and the secrets are kept.

These two women forge a friendship based in understanding one another. Rachel is attracted to Catch’s neighbor, a young, good looking man who befriends her. But as the town learns about Rachel, things take an ugly turn. Rachel has to decide if this is where she belongs after all.

Fans of Amy E. Reichert or Menna van Praag will love it. I did.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES by Susan Bishop Crispell. Thomas Dunne Books (September 6, 2016).  ISBN 978-1250089090.  304p.

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THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo

June 20, 2017

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Lucy and Gabe met as students at Columbia University in New York City – on September 11, 2001. Yes, that September 11th. There was that shared trauma, but something more and Lucy was upset to find out shortly thereafter that Gabe had a girlfriend. But she moved on.

Until they met again. And it didn’t work out again. Or the next time. Star crossed lovers? Perhaps. And then finally the time was right.

By then Lucy was a successful children’s television producer and Gabe had found his calling in photojournalism. They quickly moved in together and were deliriously happy. At least Lucy was. They were in love, but Gabe was feeling stifled in his career. He wanted to go to where there were wars, where he thought his photographs might make a difference. And without telling Lucy, he arranged for such a job. Until he had to tell her because he was leaving. She was crushed.

Lucy eventually moved on. She met a man and slowly, very slowly, he wooed his way into her heart and eventually they married. But Gabe kept popping up every few years or so. At a reunion. On a stopover in NY. Lucy’s husband wasn’t a fan, but he dealt with it as best as he could. And Lucy was happy, for the most part. But Gabe was always there in her heart and after thirteen years, their history would finally catch up with them in a devastating way.

This book was unputdownable and I loved it, despite shedding tears along the way. The writing reminded me of Rainbow Rowell and especially Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, so if you are fan of those authors, try this one.

A terrific, terrible modern romance.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (May 9, 2017).  ISBN 978-0735212756.  336p.

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THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn

June 18, 2017

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She resisted.

The Alice Network was a real spy ring comprised of women during World War I led by Louise, the “Queen of the Spies.” This completely fascinating book is historical fiction based on rather mindblowing facts. It moves back and forth between World War I and the end of World War II with one character, Eve, the link between the wars.

Eve was a young girl with a stutter who really wanted to contribute during the war. She was recruited into the elite Alice Network, where she worked undercover as a waitress named Marguerite in a restaurant in Lille, France during the war.

The owner of the restaurant, René Bordulon, was a collaborator with the Germans, and all the top German brass frequented his restaurant. Eve was fluent in French, English and German but because of her stutter, she was able to play the simpleton who barely spoke French. Eventually René made his move on Marguerite, and they began an affair. She was petrified but got so much good information over pillow talk that it was worth it.

Meanwhile American Charlie St. Clair was on the hunt for her cousin, missing since the end of WWII. Charlie had a “little problem,” she got pregnant while at college and her mother has taken her to Europe for her “appointment” to get rid of the little problem. But Charlie wants to find her cousin Rose, her best friend growing up, and she refuses to believe that she is dead as her parents have told her. Shortly after arriving in Europe, she runs away from her mother and meets Eve, an older woman now with horribly disfigured hands, a vile mouth, and a severe case of PTSD. Nonetheless, Eve agrees to help and her driver, a big Scotsman, drives off with the women in search of Rose.

The story moves back and forth between Eve’s time as a spy during the war and the search for Rose, and eventually the story becomes even more intertwined. This is riveting stuff even though at times, it was quite difficult to read. The author’s notes at the end parses fiction from fact and the facts heavily win out. An excellent read for fans of historical fiction, especially with a women’s bent. This would be a fabulous choice for a book discussion as well.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn. William Morrow Paperbacks (June 6, 2017).  ISBN 978-0062654199.  528p.

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THE SUNSHINE SISTERS by Jane Green

June 9, 2017

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I always look forward to the new Jane Green book and she never disappoints. The Sunshine Sisters is a terrific read and the first beach read I’ve really enjoyed this year.

Ronni Sunshine is a movie actress of some renowned. As she gives birth to each of her three daughters, her life changes just a little bit. Luckily, her husband is happy to step up and be the parent while Ronni focuses on herself and her career. She is no one’s idea of a good mother and her kids all eventually figure that out.

The girls aren’t especially close as children and they drift further and further apart. Nell, the oldest,  gets pregnant in college, drops out and the father takes off, leaving her to raise her son alone. She moves only 20 miles away to a farm, where she finds her happiness.

Meredith, the middle child, moves a bit further away – to England, where her grandparents are. She is convinced that she is fat and unloveable after a lifetime of her mother telling her so. She is engaged to a good looking but dreadful man, and her family can’t stand him.

The youngest, Lizzy, is a celebrity chef and the most like her mother, selfish and narcissistic. Her husband gave up his job to take care of their son and Lizzy repays his kindness by having an affair with her business partner.

Ronni demands all three children come home and when they do, they see that she looks awful. She tells them she is dying, wants to kill herself, and wants them all to bear witness. Needless to say, no matter how they feel about each other and their mother, none of them are on board with that idea. The week before the big event is supposed to happen brings the sisters together in a way they have never been before.

This is a compelling read with terrific characters. It was a one night read for me, so now I’m sorry, once again, that I have to wait a year for another Jane Green book. Take it to the beach and have fun.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SUNSHINE SISTERS by Jane Green. Berkley (June 6, 2017). ISBN 978-0399583315. 384p.

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