THE BEAUTY OF US by Kristen Proby

September 9, 2017

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Fusion, Book 4

I read the last book, Blush for Me, in this series and really enjoyed it, and this one is just as much fun and just as sexy!

Riley Gibson is one of the partners in Seduction, the restaurant/wine bar that is so popular for romantic dinners. She’s gotten them a TV deal but has to convince the chef, Mia, to go along with it and she reluctantly agrees. But when the producer, Trevor, shows up, the chemistry between him and Riley is off the charts. Trevor wants to keep it professional but that is going to be really difficult.

Trevor and Riley all too quickly fall into bed, and then in love. But he lives in Los Angeles, and she’s in Seattle, and how can they make a long distance relationship work? They try but Riley is miserable and pretty soon it all falls apart. Until Trevor realizes he can’t live without her.

This is a fun, fast, super sexy contemporary romance and a most enjoyable read.

9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BEAUTY OF US by Kristen Proby. William Morrow Paperbacks (August 22, 2017). ISBN 978-0062674876.  304p.

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HOLIDAY IN THE HAMPTONS by Sarah Morgan

September 3, 2017

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From Manhattan with Love, Book 5

This is one of my favorite series and I have enjoyed every one of these books. They have all been set in Manhattan but this one moves out to the Hamptons, summer playground of many city dwellers. And if you’re a dog lover, this is a must read!

Fliss and Harriet are identical twins who own a dog walking business in the city. Their business has grown tremendously since Urban Genie, the concierge service owned by the women who starred in the first three books in the series, started recommending them to their clients. The twins had a difficult childhood with a verbally abusive father, and Harriet was a stutterer as a child and Fliss her protector. As adults, Fliss still feels protective over her 3-minute-younger sister.

Fliss was briefly married to Seth Carlyle ten years earlier, and that marriage ended only a few months in. We don’t find out why for quite a while and that journey is at times heart wrenching and funny. When Fliss sees Seth at the vet’s office, she freaks out and when her grandmother suffers a fall, she offers to go out to the Hamptons to take care of her, escaping her ex. Except when she gets out there, she immediately runs into Seth. She freaks out and lies, telling him that she is Harriet. Turns out he was just helping out a friend in the city for a few days, but his practice is really out on Long Island.

Gradually he convinces her to meet with him and talk, but Fliss is used to keeping everything inside, and it is almost impossible for her to overcome all her baggage and open up to him – or to her twin. She grows closer to her grandmother, learns more about the family dynamics that play into her psyche, and eventually finds her happily ever after.

I loved this book. If you haven’t read the others in the series, it is not necessary to read them first. But if you enjoy this one as much as I did, please go back and read them in order. To be honest, I am very tempted to go back and read them all again, and that is not something I say lightly. In order:

1. Sleepless in Manhattan
2. Sunset in Central Park
3. Miracle on 5th Avenue
4. New York, Actually

9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HOLIDAY IN THE HAMPTONS by Sarah Morgan. HQN Books (August 29, 2017). ISBN 978-0373803996. 416p.

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YOUNG JANE YOUNG by Gabrielle Zevin

August 31, 2017

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Zevin’s last novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, is one of my favorite books ever. I heard about it from the publisher who just raved and I’m so sorry to say that he is now retired (thank you, Michael Rockliff, I still miss your recommendations!) So I was pretty excited about a new book from this author. Then I saw it made the top of the Library Reads List which is always a good sign. But with all my expectations, I was bound to be disappointed and I kinda was.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good book. One chapter in I was recommending my library try and get the author to visit. I knew the first chapter’s name alone, “Bubbe Meise”, would be of interest to my library patrons, as would the Jewish mother and the setting of Miami Beach and Boca Raton.

So the Jewish mother has a college age daughter, Aviva Grossman, who is interning for a local congressman, who was their neighbor at one time. Aviva ends up having an affair with the congressman, gets caught and ostracized. Think Monica Lewinsky on a smaller scale. Or more likely, Donna Rice if you are old enough to remember that scandal. He, of course, survives with his job and family intact, but she cannot get a job. Such is life.

Then Aviva finds out she’s pregnant. She moves to a small town in Maine, changes her name to Jane Young, becomes a party planner, and raises her very precocious daughter Ruby herself. And when she runs for Mayor of the small town, her opponent digs up the dirt on her and Ruby figures out who she really is and who she thinks her father is.

The point of view shifts between Aviva’s mother, the congressman’s wife, young Aviva, Jane Young, and Ruby. I was not a fan of the second person voice at one point, nor of the “choose your own adventure” device that crops up that other readers seem to love. Political scandal always makes for good reading, and the perspective from the woman’s side of things is less judgmental and more realistic, especially among the various ages of the women telling the story. The family dynamics here also ring true, and the story is told with a lot of humor, which I loved.

I totally related to the mother more than the daughter, but the characters weren’t as developed as I expected. It appears that Zevin grew up here in South Florida and I would guess maybe still has family here. So while I didn’t love this book like I loved the Fikry book, it’s not really a fair comparison since that book was about a bookstore and my readers know my predilection for that setting! If you like scandal-laced, humorous family stories, (and I do,) then I highly recommend it.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

YOUNG JANE YOUNG by Gabrielle Zevin. Algonquin Books (August 22, 2017).  ISBN 978-1616205041. 320p.

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FITNESS JUNKIE by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza

August 25, 2017

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I first heard about this book from The Skimm, a daily news update I get every morning. It’s a fun way to get the news and these days I need all the fun I can get with my news. Every now and then they include a book recommendation and this one came up the other day and it sounded cute. It was.

As someone who has battled weight issues for most of my life, it was hard to take this book seriously but I was not meant to. It centers around Janey Sweet, the CEO of a high-end designer wedding gown company that doesn’t make a dress in a size larger than 4 (really.) Janey is partners with Beau, her best friend since childhood. Beau is the bitchy, gay stereotypical designer who is completely obsessed with diet and weight. He confronts Janey with a photo taken at a fashion show that shows her eating junk food. He demands she drop thirty pounds per their contract, and not return to work until she does.

Janey is devastated but turns to her girlfriends for help and moral support. Her best friend C.J. immediately takes her under her wing and they start visiting one crazy workout place after another. Janey’s cousin Ivy teaches a spin class at SoarBarre, one of the hottest places to be seen in town. Ivy has always been a kind person, but her clients at SoarBarre aren’t happy unless she is abusing them. She is in therapy for this dichotomy in her life.

But the pinnacle of workouts is something called simply, “The Workout,” started by Sara Strong in partnership with a Gwyneth Paltrow type clone. They have a falling out but the Workout lives on anyway.  It changes its secret location every month, and clients have to be invited to partake. Janey meets a woman who claims to be a shaman and she befriends Janey and invites her.

Janey misses her work, misses Beau but doesn’t miss her ex-husband at all and starts dating, a younger man who she thinks works at the juice bar and takes her dumpster diving at Whole Foods for dinner, and a wealthy, older man she meets through the shaman. The workouts get crazier and culminate in an invitation-only “retreat,” an 8 day, women only, $15,000 party in St. Lucia. Janey ends up in the hospital and learns the lesson that you are only as beautiful as you feel and it doesn’t matter what your weight is. She also figures out that her relationship with Beau isn’t what she always thought it was.

This is a book that could only be set in New York City.  The mindset of New York women who truly believe what my mother always told me, you can never be too rich or too thin, is beautifully satirized here. Some nice shots are taken at Goop and the whole idea of lifestyle ridiculousness that these women swear by. There is not much depth to the story, the only character we really get to know is Janey, but I think that was kind of the point; a shallow read about shallow people and the insanity of our fitness-crazed culture. It was a fun read, and even though I’m from New York and know women like this, it only added to my enjoyment.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FITNESS JUNKIE by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza. Doubleday (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-0385541800. 304p.

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MAP OF THE HEART by Susan Wiggs

August 22, 2017

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This is a compelling read about families, heartbreak, World War II, secrets, bullying, but mostly love.

Camille Adams lives in a small seaside town in Delaware with her teenage daughter. Camille was widowed five years earlier when her husband died in a tragic accident, and really hasn’t gotten over it. She has become an obsessive worrier, sheltering her daughter to the point where she has to rebel and she does with almost devastating results.

Professor Malcolm Finnemore, Finn to everyone, studies old photographs and other evidence trying to find missing soldiers to return their remains home. His searches were sparked by his own father, whom he never met. His father was one of the many missing in action in Vietnam, and Finn has spent his life searching for him.

Camille is a photographer, but more than that, she can develop old film, often thought to be damaged beyond repair. When Finn sends her the last roll of film his father ever took, she accidentally ruins it when she has to rush to the emergency room for her daughter. He storms to her house and confronts her, and she feels terrible – they both do. A few hours later, he is back. Their attraction to one another is strong, and he asks for a do-over but he is returning to teach in the south of France, and she doesn’t want to get involved with anyone. But…

In another plot line, Camille’s father is from the south of France. He doesn’t discuss his childhood much other than it wasn’t always pleasant. Due to a series of events, he finally admits to her that his father was a Nazi sympathizer who was killed, and as a result, he was bullied until he left the small village. The story eventually moves back to the 1940’s and what happened in that village, and as they say, the plot thickens!

This was a very compelling read on both story lines. Wiggs excels at weaving a World War II story into a contemporary one. She did it beautifully in The Apple Orchard and The Beekeeper’s Ball, both excellent reads – as is this one. I loved it.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MAP OF THE HEART by Susan Wiggs. William Morrow (August 22, 2017).  ISBN 978-0062425485. 368p.

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HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP by Veronica Henry

August 19, 2017

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Julius Nightingale met the love of his life in Paris. She was an American, he was English, theirs was a quick, intense relationship. And then she got pregnant. Her family disowned her, and when she died in childbirth, they wanted nothing to do with her daughter. So Julius became a single father.

Julius opened a bookshop in a small, quiet town and lived above it with his daughter, Emilia. H truly loved books and helping people find books, and was soon beloved in the town. Emilia grew up in the bookstore, an avid reader, and when her father died, much too young, she decided to keep the bookstore going in his honor.

This small town had several interesting characters, and there were several subplots revolving around them, with the bookstore at their center. Sarah, who owned the largest estate in town and was unhappily married. Her daughter, who was planning her wedding. Their gardener, who was secretly in love with the daughter. Marlowe, a violinist who played in a quartet with her father, and his girlfriend. The cheesemonger, who has a bit of a crush on the high school cooking teacher. And more, all charming, all with their own stories.

Unfortunately, Julius was a wonderful bookseller but not a wonderful businessman. In another subplot, the business was in financial jeopardy, the building in need of serious repairs and updating. A slimy businessman in town who wants to buy the bookshop for its parking lot offers a solution, but Emilia’s father had repeatedly turned him down. A young mother offers marketing and design help.

This story weaves many threads into a beautiful and strong fabric. I loved these characters but I think there were too many to do them all justice. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book. Yes, I’m a sucker for any story revolving around a bookstore (or library) – occupational hazard, mea culpa. Enjoy it anyway. Once again Pamela Dorman comes through – I love her imprint.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP by Veronica Henry. Pamela Dorman Books (August 15, 2017).  ISBN 978-0735223493. 352p.

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THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson

August 10, 2017

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If you are not familiar with Joshilyn Jackson, you should be. She writes Southern stories with a touch of mystery and memorable characters, and this book is terrific.

Leia Birch Briggs is an author – she wrote a graphic novel that was a mega success and went on to write for many of the superhero series. At comic book conventions, she is a superhero herself, but her family doesn’t get it, they think she is barely scraping by with her doodles.

At one such convention, Leia has a bit too much tequila and goes back to the hotel with Batman – a black, good looking Batman. A few months later she finds out she is pregnant, and she doesn’t even know the father’s name.

Before she can tell her family or do anything about it, she receives word that her grandmother, who she is very close to, has apparently lost her mind. She immediately heads down south, with her niece in tow. Her almost perfect stepsister is in the middle of a knock down, drag out fight with her husband, and needs some time alone.

Turns out grandma Birchie, as she is best known, does have an illness but her closest friend, daughter of the black maid that raised her, has been taking care of her. The two of them are over 90 years old, so it is a bit of the blind leading the blind, but they have been managing, until now.

When the two old ladies talk their neighbor into moving a trunk out of the attic and into Leia’s car and they try to steal said car before crashing it, all hell breaks loose. There is a skeleton in the trunk, and the cops are investigating.

This is a story about racism and family and love and Dixie. The characters are all well developed, interesting and real and I was so sorry this story had to end. It is at times, laugh out loud funny and often touching. The process of creating a graphic novel is fascinating, too, adding another dimension to this story. That aspect put me in mind of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but that was a book for young adults, and this book ultimately has more depth. If you are new to this author, try it, and if you are a fan, you will love it.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson . William Morrow; First Edition edition (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-0062105714.  352p.

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ANY DREAM WILL DO by Debbie Macomber

August 8, 2017

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I’ve been reading Macomber for years, and I’ve really enjoyed her Cabot Cove and Blossom Street series and especially her Christmas stories. Her books are all sweet, escapist reading with an occasional kiss but never any sex. I’ve met her a couple of times, and I get her newsletter, and I know that she is a Christian, and all of her books reflect her values.

To me, this book crosses the line from women’s fiction and/or romance, which she has been writing throughout her career, to Christian (or “Inspirational”) fiction. As a Jew, I am not always comfortable with that genre and I was not comfortable with this book.

The premise is that a young woman, Shay, has grown up in an abusive home. She turned to drugs at an early age, and her boyfriend was a drug dealing, violent abuser. But Shay never liked drugs so although she lived in that world, she didn’t really use, but her brother did. She got a job as a bank teller and her brother talked her into embezzling money for him, saying that her boyfriend would kill him otherwise. She does it and goes to prison for three years.

I’m not giving away anything here, all of this occurs in the first twenty pages or so. When Shay is released, the bus lets her off in front of a church. She goes in, and the pastor, Drew, offers to help her. He gets her into a reentry program where she excels.

Drew lost his wife a few years earlier, leaving him with two young children. He is doing the best he can but he is suffering from depression. Helping Shay helps him, as well. Their connection keeps leading them back to one another and while there are difficulties in their relationship along the way, they eventually find their happily ever after.

Much of this story really stretched the bounds of credibility, but I liked the characters enough to keep reading. The bigger issue here for me was all the praying going on, and a lot of “God’s plan” filling in the story, along with the political machinations of the church, which just made it too Christian for this Jew. I hope Macomber goes back to her heathen ways and leaves the praying for her personal life instead of injecting it into her books. I will be leery of reading this author again.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ANY DREAM WILL DO by Debbie Macomber. Ballantine Books (August 8, 2017). ISBN 978-0399181191.  336p.

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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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