PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

December 31, 2017

I wanted to get in one more really good book before the year ended and this was a wonderful selection. This was a National Book Award finalist and the paperback just came out a few weeks ago, so do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

The story follows a Korean family starting in 1910 through the 1980s. Sunja is the on ly child of a very poor couple in a small village in Korea. Her parents rent a small house and rent out space to local fisherman. The boardinghouse keeps them from starving, but when Sunja becomes pregnant, it could destroy the family. She won’t tell who the father is because when she tells him she’s pregnant, he tells her he’s married and has children, all living in Japan. Hansu is a wealthy Korean businessman and while he offers to keep Sunju as his mistress, she breaks it off with him.

The story follows their lives over four generations, from their move to Japan through wars, the division of Korea, and the immigrant experience of Koreans in Japan. It was a story I was completely unfamiliar with, and it is a heartbreaking one. Koreans, even third or fourth generation born in Japan, are not considered citizens of Japan. There is extreme prejudice against Koreans, and they actually carry Korean passports, even though many have never set foot in Korea.

This book was obviously a work of great passion, and I urge you to read the author’s note at the end. Apparently she worked on this for decades, and it was her move to Tokyo where she got to interview many Koreans about their experiences living in Japan. I found myself completely immersed in the world Lee created, and the book has stayed with me. It is an eye opening story that educated and entertained me and has found a place in heart. An excellent way to end this year of reading.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee.  Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (November 14, 2017). ISBN 978-1455563920. 512p.

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SWEET TEA AND SYMPATHY by Molly Harper

December 11, 2017

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Southern Eclectic Series, Book 1

This is a contemporary romance with oodles of charm and laughs. This author is new to me as her previous bookls were paranormal, which I just can’t get into for whatever reason. But this book, the first of a new series, is paranormal free and right in my wheelhouse.

Margot is a top flight party planner in Chicago until disaster strikes. Of course it is all caught on video and goes viral, causing her to lose her job and consequently her home. Margot has lost her mother, and her father took off when she was a toddler, and the only family she has left is her stepfather who adopted her as a child. Then he pulls the rug out from under her, telling her he was never really married to her mother. While she is reeling from that bit of news, she gets a job offer.

Margot’s great Aunt on her father’s side calls to offer her a job at the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop in Lake Sackett, Georgia. Margot has always believed her father, an alcoholic, wanted nothing to do with her but she is definitely curious about him and his family, so off she goes. She is sending out resumes everywhere trying to get a job as a party planner in a city, but then she meets Kyle, the principal of the elementary school, and things start looking up in Georgia.

Lots of small town charm including every Southern stereotype from sweet tea to bless her heart, but who cares when a book is this engaging. The characters are quirky, the setting brought skillfully to life, and there is just enough romance and drama to keep it all interesting. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SWEET TEA AND SYMPATHY by Molly Harper.  Gallery Books (November 21, 2017). ISBN 978-1501151224. 320p.

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ON SECOND THOUGHT by Kristan Higgins

December 10, 2017

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Kristan Higgins has become one of my favorite authors. I love her writing style, her sense of humor and her characters. (see my review of her Blue Heron series)

This is a stand-alone novel set in New York. Kate finally has everything she’s always wanted and never thought she’d have, especially since she’s pushing 40. But four months into her story book marriage to Nathan, she loses him in a bizarre accident. This is not a spoiler, from the first chapter you know this is going to happen. But it is what happens after that makes this story.

Kate’s younger half-sister, Ainsley, has only ever been with one man and they’ve been together for eleven years. He’s just beaten cancer, and she is waiting for him to finally propose. Instead, he dumps her and blogs about it, and of course it goes viral.

The sisters end up being a support system for each other, and then they meet new men – Daniel the hot firefighter, and Jonathan, Ainsley’s sourpuss boss. The exploration of grief, from death and a breakup is intense and feels so real – as does the guilt that comes with finding joy.

This book brought me to tears more than once, yet also had me laughing out loud. I loved it.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ON SECOND THOUGHT by Kristan Higgins. HQN Books (January 31, 2017). ISBN 978-0373789252. 480p.

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THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg

December 4, 2017

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I’m not sure when charming stories became a genre, but they really have and this one is terrific.

This is a multi-generational look at loss, from Arthur who has lost his wife, to Maddy, a teenager who has lost her mother, to Lucille, Arthur’s widowed neighbor. Maddy meets Arthur at the cemetery, where he has spent every day having lunch with his dead wife. Maddy’s mom was cremated, so she’s not there but Maddy likes the solitude of the cemetery.

Maddy is having problems at home and at school, and she and Arthur form a friendship. Eventually, Maddy moves in with Arthur, as does Lucille. They are all friends and lean on each other to deal with their loneliness. It’s not as dark as it sounds, there are a lot of laughs and real emotion throughout this book. I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

This was another winner that I found through LibraryReads.org.

The top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love. I get a lot of wonderful recommendations from these lists, and I can honestly say I think there was only one book in the past several years that I didn’t love, so check it out.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg. Random House (November 21, 2017). ISBN 978-1400069903. 240p.

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THE LIBRARY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

November 14, 2017

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November 2017 LibraryReads Pick

The top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love. I get a lot of wonderful recommendations from these lists, and I can honestly say I think there was only one book in the past several years that I didn’t love, so check it out.

The titular “edge of the world” is a peninsula in Ireland that is undergoing some big change, a reflection of the change that Hannah Casey is going through. Hannah has returned home from a posh London life after an acrimonious divorce to share the hot pink cottage of her childhood with her mother. Hannah is the town librarian, not a job she loves by any stretch of the imagination. She always wanted to work in an art museum, but that was not meant to be. She is, I’m sorry to say, the stereotypical librarian, shushing people, taking control of the books as if it pains her to lend them, and consequently does not have the best reputation in this small town.

Hannah is determined to move out of her mother’s house, but during the divorce, she was so angry at her husband that she refused any sort of financial settlement, and now her ex isn’t interested in helping her out. She borrows some money from the credit union and sets out to restore the tiny cottage her great aunt had bequeathed to her. A local builder, a real craftsman, takes on the project but he is a bit eccentric.

Big changes afoot on this tiny peninsula as the local politicians decide to put all their resources into a big marina and hotel that will entice the cruise ship trade. But that means the rest of the island is out of luck, and slowly Hannah becomes “Joan of Arc”, at the center of the rebellion.

This is a lovely, charming book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I admit, most books about books and libraries usually get my immediate attention, but this one goes beyond that, with unforgettable characters and setting, making this an altogether excellent read.

11/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIBRARY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes-McCoy.  Harper Perennial (November 14, 2017). ISBN 978-0062663726. 368p.

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THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins

November 12, 2017

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The Blue Heron Series, Book 1

I may be late to this party but I’m going to be catching up fast! Thanks to my “work daughter,” Caitlin, I read this wonderful book and now have several more to keep me busy. I’m thinking this series will be how I spend my Christmas vacation, if I can wait that long.

Set in a small town surrounded by vineyards in the Finger Lake region of upstate New York, this is a sweet, funny romance with warm, quirky characters. Faith Holland is the youngest of four, and her family is one of the founding families of the town. They have two homes on a vineyard, the old house (built in the 1700’s) where her grandparents live, and the new house (built in the 1800’s) where she grew up. The story moves back and forth from when she was jilted at the altar to her happily ever after.

Faith and Jeremy were inseparable from the day they met and despite a brief break in high school, their college years apart, and even his stint in medical school, no one in their small town was surprised that they were getting married except Jeremy’s best friend and best man, Levi. Levi has always known that Jeremy is gay, but Jeremy hasn’t come out and is determined to live the same type of life as his parents. But at the wedding, he brings Jeremy and Faith to the church basement where they finally break up. Faith flees to San Francisco, where they were supposed to honeymoon, and ends up staying there for several years. And then it’s time to come home.

Faith and Levi have never really gotten along, despite both of their relationships with Jeremy. Now Levi is the Chief of police, and giving Faith a speeding ticket on her first day back isn’t improving their relationship. They both have a lot of baggage and despite that, end up in a very physical relationship – her first with a straight man.

There is no explicit sex but you still manage to feel the heat between them, a nice feat of writing. I found myself laughing out loud more than once while reading this book, and I can’t wait for the next one!

11/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins. HQN Books (February 26, 2013). ISBN 978-0373777921. 432p.

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THE DUCHESS by Danielle Steel

October 27, 2017

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I read my first Danielle Steel book in over thirty years a couple of weeks ago, and it was probably the worst book I’ve read in a very long time. But seeing how popular she is, I was determined to try another one and maybe figure out why.

Granted, most of the people I know who read her regularly do so more out of habit than anything else. They often complain, and for the most part, I hear, “all the books are the same.” The most positive reviews I hear are that they are a few hours of escapist entertainment, which I’m fine with. And her readers know exactly what they are getting and are content, if not happy about that. So I asked for some recommendations and The Duchess seemed to be universally liked, if not loved. It is my understanding that this is Steel’s first historical in a while, and since I love historicals, I was hopeful.

I liked it. Didn’t love it, had no trouble putting it down, but I finished it and it was fine. Not great, not terrible, very middle of the road and that’s okay. Not every book has to make me struggle with my best books of the year list. It was entertaining and that is good enough for me to feel like I’ve accomplished something here, mostly that I don’t feel like I have to read her again.

Angélique Latham is the daughter of the Duke of Westerfield. Her mother was his second wife, a noblewoman of French birth making Angelique closely related to both the Kings of England and France. She died in childbirth, and Angélique grew up very close with her father, was definitely his favorite child which did not endear her to her half-brothers. The Duke had two sons with his first wife, and they considered his second wife to be no more than a French whore, and had little use for Angélique. In fact, they hate her.

Shortly before the Duke’s death, he gives Angélique some money and her mother’s jewels. By law, he isn’t even allowed to give her that, he can only bequeath to his sons, in particular, the first son. The British law of entail demands the estate of royalty be passed on to the first son. As soon as the Duke dies, he throws Angélique out, offering her a position as nanny to some friends. Bewildered and thoroughly heartbroken about her father’s death, she acquiesces.

Angélique has never spent any time around children but quickly falls in love with her charges. But slightly more than a year later, she is attacked by one of the guests, who tells the family that she tried to seduce him. They throw her out without a reference, and she has nowhere to go. She hears about a woman who might be able to get her a job but without the reference, she cannot. She does suggest it might be easier in France since she is fluent in the language. Angélique goes to France but meets the same dead end.

While walking back to her hotel, she stumbles upon a young woman lying in a gutter. She has been badly beaten and Angélique takes her back to her hotel to help her. She quickly learns that the woman is a prostitute but she is sweet and grateful, even overwhelmed by Angélique’s help. It starts Angélique to thinking and she comes up with the idea of taking the money her father left her and opening a high class brothel. She will be the madam and not sleep with any of the men, and she succeeds beyond her wildest dreams. The house is the most popular in France, and while there are men who want her, even an American who asks her to be his mistress and eventually his wife, she never accepts any offers.

Two men get into an argument in the house and one shoots and kills the other. Angélique is told to flee the country and she sets sail to America. While on board the ship she meets the love of her life, and they eventually decide to marry.

But heartache is not to be escaped. There is family drama, tragedy and then a final reckoning. This is not a romance but it is women’s fiction, and a bit of a departure from most historicals that it emulates. I enjoyed it after suspending my disbelief several times and that’s the best thing I can say about it.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE DUCHESS by Danielle Steel. Delacorte Press (June 27, 2017). ISBN 978-0345531087. 352p.

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EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng

October 21, 2017

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This debut novel made quite a splash when it came out in 2014. I didn’t read it then, but I read her new book, Little Fires Everywhere. As soon as I finished it, I went looking for this book. It is deserving of all the hype that surrounded it, including:

New York Times Bestseller · A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice · Winner of the Alex Award· Winner of the APALA Award for Fiction · NEA Big Read Selection

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY:
 
NPR · San Francisco Chronicle · Entertainment Weekly · The Huffington Post  · Buzzfeed  · Amazon ·  Grantland · Booklist · St. Louis Post Dispatch · Shelf Awareness · Book Riot · School Library Journal ·  Bustle · Time Out New York · Mashable · Cleveland Plain Dealer

The reviews were uniformly excellent and I’ll just add to that sweet symphony.

From the publisher:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

The writing is lyrical. The characters spring to life on the page and drive the story. Reading Everything I Never Told You is an emotional journey of the finest kind and an unforgettable read – and that is not something I say lightly. I may have liked it even more than Little Fires Everywhere, I’m not sure yet. Either way, don’t miss it.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng. Berkley (October 17, 2017). ISBN 978-0451488756. 368p.

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FAIRYTALE by Danielle Steel

October 10, 2017

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Let me start by saying that I think the last time I read a Danielle Steel book I was pregnant with my son and he is now 32 years old. I couldn’t tell you which book, but as I recall, it was an entertaining read but not much more than that.

My library patrons read her all the time and she has gone the way of many popular writers, spinning out several books a year. This one came up on a site I use to get digital review copies so I thought I’d give it a try.

I hated this book so much I’m not sure why I finished it, other than I fell back on an old bad habit of reading to the end in hopes it would get better. It didn’t.

I’ll start with the beginning. I’ve gone to a lot of writing conferences over the years, as a reader and a fan, and I’ve often heard writers talk about showing, not telling in their work. This book is a prime example of why that is. The first chunk, maybe 25-30% of the book, was a litany of people and places and their history. The people are Christophe and Joy, who meet, fall in love, build a winery, have a daughter they name Camille, and have a pretty perfect life. This covers 20 years.

Camille has just graduated Stanford and is happy to be home, working in the vineyard with her mother. Joy runs the business side of things, Christophe, along with his vineyard manager Cesare, run the winery side of things. More perfection. Only problem with perfection is that it’s boring. Camille and her parents get along beautifully, although Camille has no social life, because after all, working in the business and spending time with her parents is all any 20something wants out of life.

Yawn.

Eventually, some drama creeps in and Joy dies, and shortly after that the extremely happily married but now devastated Christophe meets a predator, the Countess Maxine, a highly skilled gold-digger whom he marries, waiting just past the one year anniversary of his beloved wife’s death, out of respect of course. Camille realizes that Maxine is not the kind woman her mother was, but her father is blinded by naivete and – wait for it – lust.

More tragedy occurs, and the evil stepmother, along with her two evil sons, are now making Camille’s life miserable. Luckily, friend of the family Sam and his son Phillipe step in to help. Camille and Phillipe grew up together, but he is seven years older than her so they’ve always had this brother-sister relationship.

Then as if the perfect life wasn’t enough of a fairy tale, Steel borrows heavily and heavy-handedly from the Cinderella story. The evil stepmother goes to the ball, and Camille’s “fairy grandmother” makes sure she goes, too, stealing her a dress and even lending her sparkly shoes to wear. The ultimately happy ending comes out of nowhere and didn’t make any sense to me for reasons that would give away the weak story altogether.

If you, dear reader, decide to read this book, I would love to hear from you. I can’t wait to talk to my library patrons about it, I am dying to know if anyone likes it. The early reviews on Amazon are wonderful, for the most part, which just confused me.

I was thoroughly disgusted by the end, more with myself for sticking with it and wasting two and a half hours of my life that I’ll never get back, but also with the ridiculous ending. Did I mention that I hated this book?

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FAIRYTALE by Danielle Steel. Delacorte Press (October 10, 2017). ISBN 978-1101884065. 288p.

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WINTER SOLSTICE by Elin Hilderbrand

October 5, 2017

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Just when you thought the Winter Street trilogy was over, Hilderbrand writes another last episode, turning this into a Christmas series, I guess, instead of a trilogy. Either way, I was happy!

I don’t want to give too much away, so here is what the publisher offers:

Raise one last glass with the Quinn Family at the Winter Street Inn.

It’s been too long since the entire Quinn family has been able to celebrate the holidays under the same roof, but that’s about to change. With Bart back safe and sound from Afghanistan, the Quinns are preparing for a holiday more joyous than any they’ve experienced in years. And Bart’s safe return isn’t the family’s only good news: Kevin is enjoying married life with Isabelle; Patrick is getting back on his feet after paying his debt to society; Ava thinks she’s finally found the love of her life; and Kelly is thrilled to see his family reunited at last. But it just wouldn’t be a Quinn family gathering if things went smoothly. A celebration of everything we love–and some of the things we endure–about the holidays, WINTER SOLSTICE is Elin Hilderbrand at her festive best.

This is a wonderful holiday series, and if you have the time, I recommend you give yourself a gift this holiday season and read all of them, in order. But you can certainly give this one a go on its own, but it probably won’t have you bawling. Well, maybe it will.

Hilderbrand says that this is her most autobiographical family story. She is not referring to the plot lines or all the details, but to the family structure, the guilt working mom’s have to contend with, and of course, life on Nantucket.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WINTER SOLSTICE by Elin Hilderbrand. Little, Brown and Company (October 3, 2017). ISBN 978-0316435451. 304p.

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