THE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close

November 4, 2016
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I think this was the review snippet that got me to pick up this book:

“Jennifer Close’s fresh, smart, realistic portrayal of two young Washington couples is a must read for House of Cards junkies…. [D.C.] almost functions as a fifth character in the book, with its own quirks and dynamics and idiosyncrasies.” —Kimmery Martin, The Huffington Post

I love House of Cards (British version even more so,) love politics (although this election season has just about driven me around the bend) and I am a West Wing fanatic (re-watching the entire series to follow along with the West Wing Weekly podcast, amazing!) So this sounded like a book I would love.

I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it. It was more about the relationships between husbands and wives and friendship than about politics. Although that is not a bad thing, it wasn’t what I expected. And D.C. was a very minor plot point.

Beth and Matt are newly arrived in Washington D.C., where Matt has secured a job in the Obama White House after working on the campaign. Beth hates it immediately, missing New York City. Matt loves it. He comes from a family that models itself on the Kennedy’s, with ritual Sunday family dinners, super competitive football in the yard, and a week every August at the family compound on the shore.

Matt is Harvard smart and dreams of running for office himself one day. Beth isn’t so sure about any of it. They befriend another young couple, Jimmy and Ash. Jimmy has a great job as advance man for Obama, and Matt envies his career path and the easy way he charms every one he meets. Ash is a Texas Southern belle, but quickly she and Beth become the closest of friends, two fish out of water in D.C. and clinging to each other.

The book follows the ups and downs in their lives and is told mostly from Beth’s point of view, so it is a complete bitchfest, although there are some very funny moments that help balance it out. When Jimmy runs for Railroad Commissioner in Texas (yes, there is such a thing, and even though I lived in Texas for five years I never heard of it) Matt becomes Jimmy’s campaign manager. The two couples move to Texas, share a huge house and a life until ten months later the election is slipping away. All their relationships have slipped away as well. Matt and Jimmy are fighting. Ash and Jimmy are fighting, Matt and Beth are just ignoring each other, and even Beth and Ash drift apart.

Eventually things work out the way they are supposed to, Matt finds a better job in DC, as does Beth, and they live happily ever after. We hope.

11/16  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

THE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close. Knopf (July 19, 2016). ISBN 978-1101875612. 320p.

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SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult

November 2, 2016
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Let’s start out with the fact that I loved this book. I read it in one sitting on my iPad, and had no idea it was almost 500 pages because the pages just flew.

If the title seems familiar, it is because it was taken from a very famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote:

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

This is a book about racism and inclusiveness. Written by a white, privileged woman mostly for other white, privileged women and anyone else who likes a good read with a lesson. There is a strong message here and Picoult delivers it without hitting anyone over the head, but rather by showing, more than telling, if that makes sense.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse in New Haven, Connecticut. She grew up in Harlem, the daughter of a maid who pushed her to be more. Ruth was a smart girl who ended up with a scholarship to the Dalton School, followed by college and finally nursing school at Yale. She is a bright, dedicated nurse who takes pride in her work; in fact, she thinks of it as a calling.

Until a white supremacist family demands she be taken off the care of their newborn son. A note is placed in his file that states no African Americans are allowed to touch the child. This is a small hospital and the note hurts. But Ruth is a pro, so when an emergency takes the other duty nurses to the operating room leaving her in charge of watching the baby after his circumcision, she resents it but knows she has no choice. And then the unthinkable happens.

The baby appears to be in respiratory distress. Does Ruth try and save the baby, ignoring a direct order from her supervisor? The child dies, and the family decides that Ruth is the reason. The hospital is happy to have someone to blame that leaves them in the clear, and Ruth is arrested and charged with murder.

Ruth lost her husband in Afghanistan and has struggled to raise her son. He’s at the age where he is applying for college and the only money she has is tied up in his college fund, so she has no choice but to use the public defender as counsel.

Kennedy is a white woman, married to a doctor and able to do the work she loves – she also has a calling. She’s never tried a murder case but something about Ruth just makes her want to try, and she does. Along the way, Kennedy and Ruth become friends, and they both learn quite a bit from each other.

We also learn about white supremicsits like Turk, the father of the baby, and how they are recruited, trained and sometimes even have their lives turned around again.

All of these characters are fully dimensional which totally draws the reader in. There are major themes about parenting, the law, power, privilege and race. A lot of it is very uncomfortable to read, and I admit to crying more than once. It feels like an important book, and was extremely thought provoking but more than that, I needed to talk about it. As I was reading it, I told my husband about it, my daughter, my boss and my co-workers. Book clubs take heed, you will not want to miss this one. In fact, the publisher has thoughtfully provided a readers’ guide already.

I loved this book and will be reading it again. Picoult’s publicist had sent me an email about it, that said, in part, “Some books leave you thinking. This one gets you talking.” It’s gotten me talking for sure and I have a feeling I won’t be shutting up anytime soon.

Don’t miss it.

11/16  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult. Ballantine Books (October 11, 2016). ISBN 978-0345544957. 480p.

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THE RESTAURANT CRITIC’S WIFE by Elizabeth LaBan

September 24, 2016
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I had read a review of this book probably last year, and forgot about it until I saw it sitting on a book cart at my library. I do have a thing for foodie fiction, and this sounded promising so I took it home.

Lila and Sam have recently moved to Philadelphia, and Lila is having a hard time fitting in. She had an interesting and exciting career in crisis management for a world wide hotel chain. She never really expected to marry, much less have kids. Yet here she is, pregnant with her second and a toddler on her hands.

Sam is the restaurant critic and this has long been his career goal, and the reason for the move to Philly. But he is taking his job a little too seriously. He doesn’t want Lila to go back to work after the baby is born because her job kept her in the news quite often. He doesn’t want her to have any friends or be friendly with the neighbors, not because he’s a control freak exactly, but rather he feels the need to keep a very low profile to do his job effectively. He’s afraid someone may own a restaurant or work in one and reveal his identity. And his worst fears come to pass.

This is a story about young motherhood, friendship, marriage, and the struggle that many women face between staying home with their kids and going back to work for a myriad of reasons. I am long past that time of life, but I remember it well. It was a slow read for me and I was tempted to put it down and forget about it a few times, but I stuck with it and I’m glad I did. I always like a happy ending.

9/16  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

THE RESTAURANT CRITIC’S WIFE by Elizabeth LaBan. Lake Union Publishing (January 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1477817766. 313p.


THE BOOKSHOP ON THE CORNER by Jenny Colgan

September 20, 2016
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Nina Redmond is a woman after my own heart – she lives and breathes books. She is a librarian in Birmingham, England, which is undergoing severe budget issues. The library is taken over by a private company and Nina finds herself out of a job.

Her dream has been to have her own little bookshop, but she doesn’t really have the means to do that. Then she gets an idea to buy an old van and turn it into a mobile bookbus.

The van is in a small town in the Highlands of Scotland, and she gets her stock from libraries that are closing, and travels all around the area, as there is a complete dearth of libraries or bookstores. Soon Nina finds herself in business in the small farming community. But not as easily as it sounds – her first time out driving the van she stalls out on the railroad tracks and just freezes. Luckily, the driver is able to stop the train and she quickly becomes attracted to Malek, a Lithuanian working the train.

Nina needs a place to live and the small town has few options, but one is a converted barn on a beautiful farm. Her landlord/farmer is in the middle of a divorce and a bit cranky, so Nina just ignores him. But before long, she is no longer able to do that.

This is one of those quirky, charming books that I could not put down. I loved Nina and the Scottish setting; the men in kilts were an added bonus. If you love books and romance, this is the book for you. It certainly was for me.

9/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BOOKSHOP ON THE CORNER by Jenny Colgan. William Morrow Paperbacks (September 20, 2016).  ISBN 978-0062467256. 368p.

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LEAVE ME by Gayle Forman

September 16, 2016
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Gayle Forman is best known for her young adult books, especially her biggest best seller, If I Stay, which was made into a film. Leave Me is her first foray into the adult market, and I, and anyone else who reads it, will be very glad indeed.

Maribeth Klein is, I’m sorry to say, what we often think about when we think about 44-year-old working mothers. You know, the ones who have good jobs that force them to work more than 40 hours a week, and still keep up with all the household stuff like bills and shopping, and all the child care stuff. Not to disparage all those amazing husbands out there, my own included, who do half the parenting, we all know there are those who do not. And such is the case here.

Jason is a good husband and he helps out as best as he can. He’ll do whatever Maribeth asks of him, but she has to ask, and sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself. With pre-school age twins, it is particularly daunting. It is during a particularly stressful day that Maribeth suffers a heart attack; but she is so busy, and the symptoms for women are so different than they are for men, that it takes her about 24 hours to even notice. And even then, the only reason she ends up in the emergency room is because at her annual ob-gyn appointment, her blood pressure is really low, and they send her.

Under observation at the hospital, she learns she needs a stent, but due to complications ends up with a double bypass. We travel with Maribeth through this whole process, and it is engaging and emotional, especially for me. My husband had bypass surgery when he was 48 years old, so I was fascinated by this storyline plus it brought back a very painful time in my life.

After a week in the hospital, and a week at home, Maribeth’s family figures she is ready to take on everything again. And she tries, but she is exhausted. Truly exhausted down to the bone. Finally, she just snaps. She goes to the bank, withdraws a ton of cash, leaves her laptop and cellphone at home and takes off.

She ends up in Pittsburgh, where she was born. Maribeth was adopted and never really cared to find her birth mother. But the health issues changed that. She rents a small apartment, finds a local cardiologist who will take cash, and truly starts her recovery, part of which is finding her health history through her birth mother. And her relationship with her husband needs serious work, which in this case, is best done at a distance.

Forman has a real knack for creating characters that leap off the page and into life. This look at the leading killer of women, yes, more than breast cancer, is important. The exploration of a marriage is always interesting, and Forman does a really credible job here. This was a one night read for me, I couldn’t put it down. Don’t miss it.

Learn more about heart disease in women from Go Red for Women: “Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!”

9/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

LEAVE ME by Gayle Forman. Algonquin Books (September 6, 2016).  ISBN 978-1616206178. 352p.

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THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING by Louise Miller

August 30, 2016
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Olivia Rawlings is not having a good day. She’s an award winning pastry chef at an exclusive private club in Boston and is having an affair with her married, much older boss. As she presents a flaming Baked Alaska to the crowded dining room, she sees her boss with his wife and somehow manages to drop the flaming dessert and sets the place on fire.

Refusing to hang around to be fired, she escapes to the small Vermont town of Guthrie, where her best friend Hannah lives. Hannah is thrilled to see her, and finagles her into taking a job at the small B&B. The job comes with a place to stay, and Olivia decides to try it.

Margaret Hurley is her new boss, and she is a cantankerous old lady. Olivia can’t understand why this woman who obviously doesn’t care for her has given her a job. Then she finds out it’s to win the blue ribbon for apple pie at the county fair.

Just down the hill from Livvy’s small cottage is a working farm, and she meets Martin McCracken, the son of the owner who is dying of cancer. Livvy becomes enamored of Martin, but he keeps his distance. Meanwhile she is fitting in just fine to the slow and nosy ways of small town life. Orphaned in high school, Livvy finds herself dredging up her early banjo lessons with her father and playing in a local band. Martin plays the fiddle beautifully, and together – dare I say it? They make beautiful music.

When Martin’s fiancee shows up for his father’s funeral, the day after she finally sleeps with him, Livvy runs away yet again; this time she takes off for Boston. But life catches up with her, and she finds herself returning to Guthrie once more.

This is one of those charming novels that are so hard to come by.  I just adored this book and it was a one night read for me. There’s even a recipe for apple pie at the end. I’ll let you know if I make it.

NOTE: This book is from the Pamela Dorman imprint and let me tell you, I will read anything that woman publishes – Jojo Moyes, Nicci French, J. Ryan Stradal, Beth Hoffman, and Laura Lane McNeal. She also publishes Luanne Rice but I haven’t read her yet. Guess I’ll have to add her to the list.

8/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING by Louise Miller. Pamela Dorman Books (August 9, 2016).  ISBN 978-1101981207. 384p.

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IT ENDS WITH US by Colleen Hoover

August 28, 2016
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Lily grew up in an abusive home; she wasn’t abused, but her father beat her mother on a regular basis and Lily grew to hate him for it. Her escape was watching the Ellen Degeneres show each afternoon, and her way of venting was her journal, but instead of “dear diary” she wrote her journal entries as letters to Ellen instead. She never sent them, of course, but she kept all her journals and considered Ellen a friend, one that basically saved her sanity.

Atlas is homeless teen and he moves into the abandoned house behind Lily’s, and she befriends him.  Eventually they fall in love, but Atlas had an uncle who was willing to take him in, so he left the small town in Maine for Boston, and then joined the Marines.

Lily moves to Boston too, starting her own floral business. Her first employee is Allysa, who wanders in and not only becomes Lily’s right hand but also her best friend. It’s only kismet that the most attractive man Lily ever met ends up being Allysa’s brother Ryle. And then Lily runs into Atlas, stirring up those old feelings, but she’s determined to make things work with Ryle.

This is a story about friendship and relationships and abuse and love. Growing up in an abusive home, Lily – like many people – judged her mother for not leaving. But as an adult, when she finds herself in a similar situation, she learns how difficult it is to leave, and why so many women stay.

This was a one night read for me, I couldn’t put it down. These characters were so well drawn that they really brought this story to life. Abuse isn’t always a black and white situation, and Hoover illustrates that beautifully.

The amount of abuse that goes on in this country is absolutely horrifying, and this book may be powerful enough to get even one person to leave, or at least to understand what may be going on in their family or with friends, and that would be a wonderful thing. Either way, the level of compassion and empathy expressed for both the abuser and the victim is refreshing, educational and inspirational.

It Ends with Us is an important and compelling read, and sure to make my best books of the year list. Don’t miss it.

8/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

IT ENDS WITH US by Colleen Hoover. Atria Books (August 2, 2016).  ISBN 978-1501110368. 384p.

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FALLING by Jane Green

July 19, 2016
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Emma Montague is a British transplant of the manor born. She moves to New York to pursue a high powered career in banking until she just burns out on it. She then moves to Westport, Connecticut and finds an old, very dated house for rent near the beach. The landlord, Dominic, is a good looking single father who, as it turns out, lives right next door with his 6 year old son, Jesse.

There is instant chemistry between them, but not the fireworks kind, more the comfortable kind. When you meet someone and you feel like you’ve known them forever, somehow.

Emma is trying to figure out what to do with her life and for the first time, finally feels like she’s found a home. The house is so dated with it’s pink shag carpeting that it gives Emma something to do, something she loves. She decides to start looking for work in interior design.

Dominic is a carpenter and a bartender, and he invites Emma to visit him at work. He buys her drinks, but is dating a young hottie. Eventually they both realize that there is something undeniable between them, and they fall into bed and in love.

Jesse loves Emma, until he finds her sleeping in his father’s bed. It’s just been the two of them since his mother took off after he was born, and he doesn’t want to share. Their relationship is rocky but Emma works hard at it and eventually wears the little fella down.

This is not a romance, happily ever after type book but instead a look at the different relationships we form in our lives and how they grow and change. The characters are so well drawn that I was completely hooked, but I couldn’t see where it was going until I reached the stunning conclusion. Another excellent read from Jane Green.

7/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FALLING by Jane Green. Berkley (July 19, 2016). ISBN: 978-0399583285. 384p.

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NINE WOMEN, ONE DRESS by Jane L. Rosen

July 13, 2016
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I don’t know if you’ve flown anywhere lately, but JetBlue asked me to get to the airport at least two hours early. My cab driver took a direct route, we missed the traffic on the George Washington bridge and I got to the airport a little earlier than I needed to. Of course I zipped right through TSA and got to spend all that time before my flight reading this fabulous book. Let me tell you I have never enjoyed waiting at an airport more!

 

It seems like once every year or so, an enchanting book falls into my lap. Books like The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, or Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I am delighted to add Rosen to this list. Nine Women, One Dress is a completely compelling, utterly charming book and I loved every page.

So, the dress. The little black dress, the “it” dress that everyone (i.e. everyone important) has to have. Honestly, I kept thinking of the “blue and black or white and gold” internet sensation last year, but I digress.  This book starts with the soon to be retired Morris, the pattern maker of this year’s dress. His family sent him to America on his own from Poland when he was 13 years old, and you can fill in the rest. The model who wore the dress is a fresh face right out of the deep South, and it makes her career.

Some of the other women are Felicia, who’s been in love with her married boss for almost as long as she’s worked for him. Recently widowed, Arthur is oblivious and dating a woman his daughter’s age. Until the sales folk at Bloomingdale’s get involved. One of them, Natalie, wears the dress as the hot date for a Hollywood celebrity who’s been outed.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, and the story becomes richer and more complex as the pages turn in what is also a love letter to New York City. And Bloomingdales – I was happy to see that storyline, I’m a long time fan of the store.

If I could gift every one of you a copy of this book, I would. I was so sorry to turn the last page and spent the ride home from the airport telling my family all about it. I still can’t shut up about it – I’ve reserved it for several of my library patrons today.

I can guarantee that Nine Women, One Dress will be on my Best Books of 2016 list. Don’t miss it.

7/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

NINE WOMEN, ONE DRESS by Jane L. Rosen. Doubleday (July 12, 2016). ISBN: 978-0385541404. 272p.

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FIRST COMES LOVE by Emily Giffin

June 29, 2016
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Josie and Meredith are sisters with a lifelong, contentious relationship, like a lot of sisters. Added to their stress is the fact that their brother died in a car accident when they were young women.

Meredith ends up married to her brother’s best friend, and while the marriage seems great on the surface, she is afraid that she isn’t in love with her husband. She’s a successful lawyer, but hates her job. And while she loves her young daughter fiercely, she struggles with that relationship, too.

Josie is single, a teacher, and goes into a mild panic when one of her new students is the child of her ex-boyfriend, the one that got away, and his wife – who volunteers to be room mother.

Josie has a lot of guilt about the night her brother died. She also has decided to have a child via a sperm donor. Gabe, her best friend and platonic roommate, is the only one who is privy to Josie’s guilt and is also the most supportive person in her life.

As these women try and work through their individual problems, they are also trying to get past their own relationship problems. The story moves back and forth between their perspectives, making both characters empathetic.

Giffin’s a terrific storyteller and really brings these characters, and the peripheral characters as well, to life. This is a wonderful book about sisters, exploring both the joys and the heartaches that go along with that relationship. A very enjoyable read.

6/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FIRST COMES LOVE by Emily Giffin. Ballantine Books (June 28, 2016). ISBN: 978-0345546920. 400p.

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