SAME BEACH, NEXT YEAR by Dorothea Benton Frank

May 19, 2017

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This is Frank’s annual tribute to South Carolina’s Lowcountry in her latest beach read. I generally enjoy her books, especially because I’m now at the same age as her protagonists.

The story goes back in time to when two couples, Adam and Eliza, and Carl and Eve, first met one summer when they rented condos next door to each other. Carl and Eve live in Raleigh, and Adam and Eliza live out in the country, a nice distance from Charleston, but they both rented on the Isle of Palms, one of the barrier islands off the coast. Eliza and Adam have twin boys, and Carl & Eve have a daughter the same age, and they all become friends.

Except it turns out that Adam and Eve were high school sweethearts. Their spouses don’t know and they don’t feel the need to inform them. The friendship between the couples grow over the years, sharing summer after summer together but for me, a lot of the relationship stuff felt forced and even awkward at times.

Eventually all good secrets come out and the effect on their marriages isn’t good. Will they all work it out? It takes more than a death in the family or a magical trip to Corfu to put it back together – and I have to say I really hated the ending of this book. It just felt completely contrived, as if the author had written herself into a corner and took the easy way out. I was drawn in for the first 300 pages, despite some reservations, but the ending truly was a disappointment.

5/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SAME BEACH, NEXT YEAR by Dorothea Benton Frank. William Morrow (May 16, 2017). ISBN: 978-0062390783. 384p.

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SECRETS IN SUMMER by Nancy Thayer

May 16, 2017

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Growing up on Long Island, New York, and now living in South Florida, I am familiar with the idea of seasonal residents and how the population can double, triple or more during “season.” In Boca Raton, many of our winter residents summer in the Hamptons in New York, and this book, set on Nantucket, was very reminiscent of the Hamptons and that experience.

Darcy Cotterill is a year round resident, but the homes surrounding her own are summer rentals. Darcy is divorced and basically without family, and doesn’t generally bother with the summer residents. She is a children’s librarian and her storytimes feel the strong influx of summer residents, and she does enjoy that.

But this summer brings a family renting the house behind hers that is a shocker. It is her ex-husband Boyz, his wife Autumn, (the woman he left Darcy for,) and her teenage daughter Willow. When Darcy overhears Willow with a boy who is trying to talk her into trying heroin and sex, she rushes over and scares him off, befriending the young teen in the process.

Darcy’s other neighbors include Susan, her husband Otto who may or may not be having an affair with Autumn, and their three rambunctious sons, and on the other side, Clive, a very good looking man who is taking care of his grandmother, Mimi, for the summer. Somehow Darcy becomes involved with all of them.

Meanwhile, Darcy has been seeing Nash Forrester, a carpenter in town, but things are not progressing the way she’d like. She’s tempted by Clive, but as the summer progresses, so does her relationship with Nash. At least until he sees her kissing Clive.

This is a story of multigenerational friendships with a bit of romance, and the beach setting is charming of its own accord. I have to say there was something about the way this book was written that fell flat for me. I liked the characters but most of them, especially the main character Darcy, didn’t seem fully formed to me and the action felt forced a lot of the time. On the other hand, Thayer really nailed the setting and the atmosphere, I could practically smell the salt in the air. All that said, this was my first “beach read” of the summer, and for the most part, I enjoyed it.

5/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SECRETS IN SUMMER by Nancy Thayer. Ballantine Books (May 16, 2017). ISBN: 978-1101967072. 336p.

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THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS by Abbi Waxman

May 5, 2017

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How long does it take to get over the death of your husband? For Lili, it’s been four years and counting and it seems the answer to that question is never.

After a little breakdown – she did, after all, witness her husband’s death, so it’s understandable – she’s mostly better these days. She fills her time with her two daughters and work as an illustrator. Oh, and her sister, Rachel, is around all the time to keep her company too. Life is pretty good, all things considered. But in spite of her sister’s urgings, Lili isn’t ready to move on and meet someone new.

The small publisher Lili works for is branching out and has taken on a new project involving a set of vegetable guides Lili is to illustrate. The account could be huge for the struggling company, and they want Lili to do everything she can to impress their new client. Including taking a new gardening class led by them. The class sounds like a fun way to spend a few Saturday mornings, and kids are welcome, so it seems like a win. But Lili isn’t prepared for the feelings she begins to develop for their new teacher. How can she allow love to bloom while she’s still grieving her husband?

Abbi Waxman’s debut is the perfect mix of heart and humor; laugh out loud hilarity balances out the truly heart wrenching moments as Lili learns to move on in life and love.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is a seriously fun feel good read. A sure-footed debut, too, filled with characters you’re guaranteed to adore. From Lili and her kids and sister, to the crew Lili meets in her gardening class, each and every one adds something new and meaningful to Lili’s life and to the overall story.

I adored this book, tears and all (and it’s really not THAT sad). It was the perfect almost one sitting read for spring and a great introduction to a fantastic new writing talent.

5/17 Becky LeJeune

THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS by Abbi Waxman. Berkley (May 2, 2017).  ISBN 978-0399583582. 368p.

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MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE by Sophie Kinsella

April 27, 2017

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Kate Brenner is from Somerset, England, a small farming town. But she’s always dreamed of moving to London and finally does, landing an entry level position in a marketing company. Rents are super high, so she has a tiny bedroom in a shared apartment. But she is determined to make it and her Instagram feed is a reflection of the life she wants, rather than the life she lives.

Demeter runs the department and is a scatterbrained leader, whose staff feels bullied at unappreciated. When she asks Kate to get rid of Alex, a guy waiting to see her, Kate falls for him – until she finds out he is having an affair with Demeter. And then Kate gets fired.

She moves home to the farm, where her stepmother has a bit of money and wants to start a glamping business. Kate helps, creates a website and brochure and the business takes off. And then Demeter shows up. Kate gets her revenge but also finds out she really likes Demeter, and her Instagram life is not as perfect as it looks, either.

This was a bit slow at the beginning for me but once I got into it I raced through the rest. The characters were quirky, and the storyline had enough angst and even some suspense to make it interesting. If you like Jane Green, Emily Giffin or Helen Fielding, or you ‘re just looking for a fun read, look no further.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE by Sophie Kinsella. The Dial Press (February 7, 2017). ISBN: 978-0812998269. 448p.

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CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH by Colleen Oakley

April 5, 2017

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Colleen Oakley is being compared to JoJo Moyes and I have to say I agree. I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Well developed characters made the story super compelling.

Jubilee Jenkins suffers from an exceedingly rare allergy – she’s allergic to human touch. It is so rare that twenty years earlier, when she was a young child, the New York Times did an in depth piece on her.

She’s had a lot of strife in her life, but things really took a turn for the worse when she turned 18. Her mother married and moved out, leaving Jubilee to fend for herself. She becomes a recluse, and eventually agoraphobic, and for nine years has no contact with anyone, including her mother, other than checks that regularly appear.

Jubilee’s mother passes away and the husband calls to tell her. He also tells her he is not going to be supporting her any longer, but he’s paid off the mortgage of the house she lives in and she also inherited the car. Jubilee finds a job at the library, and eventually meets Eric and Aja.

Aja is a super smart little boy who bonds with Jubilee, and Eric does too. Eric is divorced with a teenage daughter living with her mother in another town and she won’t speak to him. Eric adopted Aja after his parents, Eric’s best friends, died in a tragic accident. The little boy has some issues, to say the least, as does Eric.

All these damaged characters make for an engrossing read, and Oakley does a really fine job of not going the easy route. This book was unputdownable and these characters are going to stay with me for a long while. Highly recommended.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH by Colleen Oakley. Gallery Books (March 7, 2017). ISBN: 978-1501139260. 336p.

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COOKING FOR PICASSO by Camille Aubray

March 5, 2017
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I admit I fell for the title of this book, thinking it would be a foodie book. It really isn’t, although food does play a part. But it is more a family saga, moving between small towns in France and New York, spanning almost a hundred years.

It starts just before World War II when Ondine helps her mother with the cooking and cleaning in the family’s cafe. She is just sixteen years old when an important artist rents the house down the road for the summer. The mysterious “patron” wants his lunch delivered every day, and Ondine rides her bike with her basket of food for Picasso.

He is laying low, caught in a mess – he’s married and has mistresses, all of whom are goading one another. Ondine eventually models for him, and he promises her the painting. But Picasso takes off without giving it to her.

Ondine’s parents try to marry her off to the town baker, thinking his influx of money will help the cafe. But Ondine is waiting for her boyfriend Luc, gone off to sea to make enough money to marry her. Eventually she ends up in New Rochelle, New York, with her own restaurant. Things go awry and she moves back to France with her daughter, in search of the painting that was promised her.

There are two story lines going on here. Ondine’s granddaughter returns to France to try and find the Picasso, so it moves back and forth between timelines, and the mystery makes for a very entertaining and interesting read. There is a bit of romance as well, but it feels more like a device to further the plot.

Historical novels based on someone famous have become quite popular. Fans of Paula McLain (The Paris Wife) or Nancy Horan (Loving Frank) will probably enjoy this book, although I don’t know how much of it is historically accurate. Perhaps the bits about Picasso and how he lived are the most authentic but it is all interesting. I found it a bit slow in the beginning but it picks up once the dual story line kicks in, ended up being a terrific read. Book groups will find much to discuss here.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COOKING FOR PICASSO by Camille Aubray. Ballantine Books (August 9, 2016). ISBN: 978-0399177651. 400p.

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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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