THE SUMMER HIDEAWAY by Susan Wiggs

June 13, 2018

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The Lakeshore Chronicles, Book 7

I haven’t forgotten about this series, just put the reviews on the back burner for a bit. But it’s time to catch up with some of my favorite characters in my favorite make believe setting, the beautiful Willow Lake in the glorious Catskill Mountains.

In case I haven’t mentioned this before, these books can all stand alone so can be read in any order. I started with a later book but then went back and read the rest in order. Either way, they are wonderful.

This story revolves around George Bellamy, who is dying of cancer. He has a couple of regrets as he reaches the end of his life – that his grandson hasn’t married yet, and that he is still estranged from his brother after 55 years. Determined to go out in his own way, George starts interviewing palliative care nurses and finds the perfect match for both him, and he hopes for his grandson.

George hires Claire, and she has her own mysterious past. She is happy to go along with whatever George wants, and when she meets Ross, his grandson, sparks fly. But Ross is suspicious of the nurse, and wonders if she is after his money somehow.

Claire helps George fulfill all his last wishes, and this is a lovely story about the end of life as well as the beginnings of a great romance. A few of the regular characters in the series make brief appearances as well. This was another wonderful read in a terrific series.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SUMMER HIDEAWAY by Susan Wiggs. MIRA; Original edition (March 25, 2014). ISBN 978-0778317005. 432p.

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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LULULEMONS by Lauren Weisberger

June 10, 2018
when life gives you lululemons

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I was not a fan of Lauren Weisberger. I was assigned to review The Devil Wears Prada for Library Journal when it first came out, and I really didn’t care for it. The story line was intriguing, but the execution was not good. This was the first sentence of my review:

“This chic read is sure to take the fashion world by storm, although the literary world may find it lacking.”

(If you dig deep enough, you can read the rest of the review on this site, just do a search.) In fact, it was that rare unicorn of a book that was completely eclipsed by the movie, which was worlds better. Since none of her later books were assigned to me, I didn’t read them. Until now.

It was with much trepidation that I started reading this new book. It’s gotten a lot of press, made it to a bunch of “summer must reads” lists so I went for it. And guess what – I liked it! Again the execution wasn’t perfect – the story is a bit convoluted at times – but it was a fun read.

There are three main characters here. Emily, from The Devil Wears Prada, where she toiled as Miranda Priestly’s number one assistant, has spun herself off from Runway magazine into the premier Hollywood fixer. Indeed we meet her as one of her clients has decided to wear a Nazi uniform for the fun of it and can’t understand why that is a problem.

Emily has a best friend, Miriam, who has left her high powered law office in NYC to be a stay-at-home mommy in Greenwich, Connecticut after her husband’s tech start up makes millions. Miriam is slowly adapting to the lifestyle, which is just skewered here, from wine soaked lunches to sex toy parties and completely ridiculous, over the top children’s birthday parties.

Then Emily starts losing customers to a younger, more tech savvy competitor and she hightails it to Greenwich to hang with her friend. But then another friend, Karolina Hartwell, gets into trouble.

Karolina is a supermodel married to a state senator with presidential ambitions. In the most far fetched plot point, she gets arrested for driving under the influence a few doors down from her house with a car full of kids. She becomes a pariah, and only Emily can help her regain her reputation and get some sort of custody of her stepson.

The fabulous Miranda Priestly makes an all too brief appearance, and if you blink you’ll miss Andrea Sachs as well. But all’s well that ends well, and everyone gets their happy ending here. If you want a read that is as light as a summer breeze, you’ve found your book.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LULULEMONS by Lauren Weisberger. Simon & Schuster (June 5, 2018).  ISBN 978-1476778440.  352p.

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BEACH HOUSE REUNION by Mary Alice Monroe

June 8, 2018

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The Beach House Series

From the publisher:

Whisking you back to the shores of her bestselling Beach House series, Mary Alice Monroe weaves together a tale of the struggles and triumphs of the historic Rutledge family of Charleston, South Carolina. Beautifully wrought and rich with keen insight, this is an illuminating tale of new beginnings, resilience, and one family’s enduring love.

Cara Rutledge returns to her Southern home on the idyllic Isle of Palms. Everything is comfortingly the same, yet each detail is rife with painful memories. Only through reconnecting with family, friends, and the rhythms of the lowcountry can Cara release the hold of the past and open herself to the possibility of a new love, career, and hope for the future.

Meanwhile, her niece Linnea, a recent college graduate who doesn’t know where her life will take her, leaves her historic home in Charleston, with all its entitlement and expectations, and heads to her aunt’s beach house. On the island, she is part of the freer, natural ocean lifestyle she loves, rejoining the turtle team, learning to surf, and falling in love. Remembering the lessons of her beloved grandmother, Lovie, the original “turtle lady,” Linnea rediscovers a meaningful purpose to her life and finds the courage she needs to break from tradition.

In this heartwarming novel, three generations of the Rutledge family gather together to find the strength, love, and commitment to break destructive family patterns and to forge new bonds that will endure long beyond one summer reunion.


I’ve only read the last book in this series, Beach House for Rent, and I really enjoyed that book. This one, not so much.

It is set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina on Isle of Palms and in the same house as the last book. But that story had a lot more story to it. Not much happens here until about halfway through this book.

The first half is a love letter to the area with lots of descriptions and an emphasis on the turtles. I live in a turtle nesting area so I’m already very familiar with this so maybe that’s why I found it a bit boring. Eventually, there is a bit of romance and family drama, but it just took too long to get there and the book really dragged for me.

I was tempted on several occasions to just put it down and forget it, but because I liked the last one so much I stuck with it. I’m not sorry I did but I would only recommend it to fans of either Mary Alice Monroe, turtles, or the Lowcountry. There are much more interesting beach books out there.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BEACH HOUSE REUNION by Mary Alice Monroe. Gallery Books (May 22, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501193293.  400p.

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HIGH SEASON by Judy Blundell

June 4, 2018

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From the publisher:

“A shimmering story of art, money, and celebrity, The High Season is wicked summer fun.”—Helen Simonson, New York Times bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

The Hamptons hath no fury like a woman scorned.

No matter what the world throws her way, at least Ruthie Beamish has the house. Lovingly renovated, located by the sea in a quiet Long Island village, the house is her nest egg—the retirement account shared with her ex-husband, Mike, and the college fund for their teenage daughter, Jem. The catch? To afford the house, Ruthie must let it go during the best part of the year.

It’s Memorial Day weekend and Ruthie has packed up their belongings for what Jem calls “the summer bummer”: the family’s annual exodus to make way for renters. This year, the Hamptons set has arrived. The widow of a blue-chip artist, Adeline Clay is elegant, connected, and accompanied by a “gorgeous satellite” stepson. But soon Adeline demonstrates an uncanny ability to help herself to Ruthie’s life—her house, her friends, even her husband (okay, ex-husband, but still). And after her job as the director of a local museum is threatened, Ruthie finally decides to fight back.

Meanwhile, away from the watchful eyes of her parents, Jem is tasting independence at her first summer job, but soon finds herself growing up too fast. One of Ruthie’s employees, a master of self-invention named Doe, infiltrates the inner circle of an eccentric billionaire and his wayward daughter. With a coterie of social climbers and Ruthie’s old flame thrown into the mix, the entire town finds itself on the verge of tumultuous change. By the end of one unhinged, unforgettable summer, nothing will be the same.

In a novel packed with indelible characters, crackling wit, and upstairs/downstairs drama, Judy Blundell emerges as a voice for all seasons—a wry and original storyteller who knows how the most disruptive events in our lives can twist endings into new beginnings.

There has been a lot of buzz about this book so I was interested, plus it’s set in the Hamptons where I have spent a bit of time. It is an interesting story, the characters are fairly well drawn, too, especially Ruthie, the main character, but I didn’t necessarily relate to any of them. Ruthie was the most sympathetic but she often acted out in ways I didn’t understand.

Judging a book by its cover is usually not a good idea and that is the case here. It looks like the typical summer beach read and while it is set in a summer resort area, it is much deeper than the usual beach reads. It was everything the publisher promised and a good, thought provoking read.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HIGH SEASON by Judy Blundell. Random House (May 22, 2018). ISBN 978-0525508717.  416p.

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MATCHMAKING FOR BEGINNERS by Maddie Dawson

June 2, 2018
matchmaking for beginners

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If there’s anything worse than being left at the altar, Marnie MacGraw experiences it first hand after she talks her panicky groom into marrying her, but he still leaves her two weeks later. The only one who isn’t surprised is Blix, her fiancé’s eccentric aunt who feels a kinship with Marnie. They are both matchmakers with an other-worldly gift, but Blix is dying.

Marnie moves on, gets engaged to her former high school boyfriend in Georgia, then gets the shocking news that Blix has died, leaving Marnie her Brooklyn brownstone and causing family grief on both sides. Off to Brooklyn she goes, where she meets Blix’s friends and tenants, including the man Blix thinks she belongs with.

Dawson (The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness) makes Brooklyn feel like a lovely small town, but it’s the sweetness of the characters and the sprinkling of magical realism throughout that makes this a charming read. For fans of What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. ©Library Journal, 2018.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MATCHMAKING FOR BEGINNERS by Maddie Dawson. Lake Union Publishing (June 1, 2018). ISBN 978-1503900684.  370p.

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YOU ME EVERYTHING by Catherine Isaac

May 25, 2018

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From the publisher:

Set in the French countryside on an idyllic summer vacation, a delicious, tender novel about finding joy and love even in the most unexpected places. 

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess’s ex-boyfriend—and William’s father—Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Lush gardens, a gorgeous pool, delectable French food, and a seemingly never-ending wine list—what’s not to like?  Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she’s in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

But Adam has other ideas, and another girlfriend—and he doesn’t seem inclined to change the habits of a lifetime just because Jess and William have appeared on the scene.   Jess isn’t surprised, but William—who has quickly come to idolize his father—wants nothing more than to spend time with him. But Jess can’t allow Adam to let their son down—because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody—especially William—must discover.

By turns heartwrenching and hopeful, You Me Everything is a novel about one woman’s fierce determination to grab hold of the family she has and never let go, and a romantic story as heady as a crisp Sancerre on a summer day.


 

Jess has raised William alone with a bi-annual visit from his father. They are not close, to say the least. But luckily, her parents have helped quite a bit, at least until her mother got sick. Her mother has Huntington’s Disease, which is pretty much your worst nightmare.

Jess takes William to spend the summer at the hotel his father owns and invites some friends to go along, too. What should be an lovely summer has plenty of ups and downs to keep things from being too perfect.

This book reminded me a bit of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. It definitely gets maudlin near the end, but it takes an inordinate amount of time to get there. So little happens that the book felt overly long, which was surprising from Pamela Dorman. She is one of those editors that I look for and will generally read anything she puts out. This one was a tiny bit disappointing. I liked the romance, the French setting, the food, and the characters. Dorman books tend towards literary fiction, which is more character driven than plot driven, despite whatever genre they might fall into. I just wished there was more story to this story.

5/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

YOU ME EVERYTHING by Catherine Isaac. Pamela Dorman Books (May 1, 2018). ISBN 978-0735224537.  368p.

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THE HIGH TIDE CLUB by Mary Kay Andrews

May 8, 2018

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I’m posting the synopsis from the publisher and then I’ll discuss, so read on…

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Weekenders comes a delightful new novel about new love, old secrets, and the kind of friendship that transcends generations.

When ninety-nine-year-old heiress Josephine Bettendorf Warrick summons attorney Brooke Trappnell to her 20,000 acre barrier island home, Brooke is puzzled. Everybody in the South has heard about the eccentric millionaire mistress of Talisa, but Brooke has never actually met her. Josephine’s cryptic note says she wants to discuss an important legal matter, but why enlist Brooke and not the prestigious Atlanta law firm she has used for years? Brooke travels to Shellhaven and meets the cagey Josephine, whose home is a crumbling pink mansion at the edge of the turquoise sea.

Over the course of a few meetings, Josephine spins a tale of old friendships, dark secrets, betrayal, and a long-unsolved murder. She is hiring Brooke for two reasons: first, to protect her island from those who would despoil her land, and second, to help her make amends with the heirs of the women who were her closest friends, the girls of The High Tide Club―so named because of their youthful skinny dipping escapades―Millie, Ruth, and Varina. To fulfill a dying woman’s wishes, Brooke must find Josephine’s friends’ descendants and bringing them together on Talisa for a reunion of women who’ve actually never met. But in doing so, Brooke unleashes the makings of a scandal that could make someone rich beyond their wildest dreams…or cause them to be in the crosshairs of a murderer….

The High Tide Club is Mary Kay Andrews at her Queen of the Beach Reads best: a story shrouded in mystery, Spanish moss, verandah cocktails, 1940s dinner dances, love lost, and possibly…love found.

I really enjoyed this book but it was not what I expected; this is not the typical Mary Kay Andrews beach read, but rather something much more complex as you can see from the synopsis. I did miss the quirky Southern charm and humor that is the hallmark of her books, but appreciated the depth of the story.

The different storylines and different time periods made for a most compelling read, and I really liked the mystery that was at the heart of the novel and never saw the ending coming. All in all, another wonderful read from one of my favorite authors.

That said, I do have one small critique and it is a personal one. There is a minor character in this book who is a librarian, and she totally abuses her position and betrays the privacy of one of her patrons. Privacy is an issue that librarians take very seriously so if you will indulge me, I’d like to share a bit from the American Library Association:

The right to privacy – the right to read, consider, and develop ideas and beliefs free from observation or unwanted surveillance by the government or others – is the bedrock foundation for intellectual freedom…Privacy is essential to free inquiry in the library because it enables library users to select, access, and consider information and ideas without fear of embarrassment, judgment, punishment, or ostracism…

Libraries, librarians, and library workers have an ethical obligation, expressed in the ALA Code of Ethics, to preserve users’ right to privacy and prevent any unauthorized use or disclosure of users’ personally identifiable information or the data associated with their use of the library’s resources. This requires libraries and all those who work in libraries to maintain an environment that is respectful and protective of the library user’s privacy.

I was not happy with the librarian character’s complete lack of ethics and sadly, it pulled me out of the story as I was yelling at my Kindle. Yes, I know it’s fiction and the author can make her characters do anything she wants, but I felt disrespected and frankly, librarians are disrespected enough! I expect more from authors, especially one like Mary Kay who is so beloved by librarians – including this one. Rant over. Buy the book!

5/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE HIGH TIDE CLUB by Mary Kay Andrews. St. Martin’s Press (May 8, 2018). ISBN 978-1250126061.  480p.

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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.