THE EMMA PROJECT by Sonali Dev 

June 17, 2022

The Rajes Series #4

From the publisher:

Emma gets a fresh Indian-American twist from award-winning author Sonali Dev in her heartwarmingly irresistible Jane Austen inspired rom com series.

No one can call Vansh Raje’s life anything but charmed. Handsome—Vogue has declared him California’s hottest single—and rich enough to spend all his time on missions to make the world a better place. Add to that a doting family and a contagiously sunny disposition and Vansh has made it halfway through his 20s without ever facing anything to throw him off his admittedly spectacular game.

A couple years from turning forty, Knightlina (Naina) Kohli has just gotten out of a 10-year-long fake relationship with Vansh’s brother and wants only one thing from her life…fine, two things. One, to have nothing to do with the unfairly blessed Raje family ever again. Two, to bring economic independence to millions of women in South Asia through her microfinance foundation and prove her father wrong about, well, everything.

Just when Naina’s dream is about to come to fruition, Vansh Raje shows up with his misguided Emma Project…. And suddenly she’s fighting him for funding and wondering if a friends-with-benefits arrangement that’s as toe-curlingly hot as it is fun is worth risking her life’s work for.

https://amzn.to/3QoHv6S

I am so sorry that this series has come to an end. I loved spending time with the Rajes. But on the bright side, it ends with another terrific book. If you haven’t read the earlier books, I think this one stands alone okay, but it is so much richer for having met all these characters before.

Vansh and Naina are at the heart of this book, but even Esha gets her own romance, which made me so happy. Vansh is the baby of the Raje family; in fact, they call him the Baby Prince. Naina was engaged to his eldest brother, but they broke it off when he met someone else. It turned out that they were really just using each other and had no real relationship beyond a friendship. Naina is twelve years older than Vansh, and is fiercely independent. She comes from an abusive family, and has pretty much decided on staying single forever, if only to piss off her father. She has been working for over ten years on a nonprofit devoted to getting medical care to all the women in India, especially those in rural villages. Her dream is on the verge of becoming a reality when Jiggy Mehta, a local tech genius/billionaire, offers her funding. 

But then Jiggy meets Vansh and decides that Naina could share her windfall with his idea of helping the homeless in San Francisco. It’s a noble idea, of course, but Naina was counting on that money. Vansh convinces her that they should work together but spending all that time together leads to something more. Their chemistry is off the charts and Naina agrees to a friends with benefits scenario, but if you’ve ever read a romance novel, you know how that will go!

Esha is the eldest cousin of the Rajes and is mentioned in all the books, but her story comes out more fully here. The lone survivor of a plane crash that killed her parents when she was 8 years old, she has suffered from visions and seizures over the years. She has spent most of her life in the family home called the Anchorage. She hasn’t left the property in more than 30 years. One of her visions is a bird that no one else sees, until she meets Sid. He comes looking for the bird and Esha is shocked that he can see it, not to mention she doesn’t know what he’s thinking or feeling, like she does with her family. She feels better, more “normal” when she’s with Sid and decides to pursue the relationship further, but doesn’t let her family know.

All these storylines are engrossing, and I couldn’t put this book down. Lots of love and laughter, meddling family members, and some steamy love scenes all at play here. I highly recommend this series, and this book.

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE EMMA PROJECT by Sonali Dev. Avon (May 17, 2022). ISBN: ‎ 978-0063051843. 416p.

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Spotlight Review: THE FRIENDSHIP PACT by Jill Shalvis

June 14, 2022

The Sunrise Cove Series, Book 2

From the publisher:

New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis returns to Sunrise Cove with a powerful, moving story about a young woman on a quest to find the truth about her father who learns the meaning of true love along the way.

Alone in the world, Tae Holmes and her mother April pretty much raised each other, but as Tae starts asking questions about the father she’s never met, April, for the first time in her life, goes silent. To make matters worse, Tae is dangerously close to broke and just manages to avoid financial meltdown when she lands a shiny new contract with an adventure company for athletes with disabilities and wounded warriors.

Her first big fundraiser event falls flat, but what starts out as a terrible, horrible, no-good night turns into something else entirely when Tae finds herself face-to-face with Riggs Copeland. She hasn’t seen the former Marine since their brief fling in high school, and while still intensely drawn to him, she likes her past burned and buried, thank you very much. Hence their friendship pact.

But when April oddly refuses to help Tae track down her father, it’s Riggs who unexpectedly comes to her aid. On a hunt to unlock the past, the two of them find themselves on a wild ride and learn a shocking truth, while also reluctantly bonding in a way neither had seen coming. Now Tae must decide whether she’s going to choose love … or walk away from her own happiness.

https://amzn.to/3O5ZVHr

Calling all Gilmore Girls fans! Although the publicity I saw never mentioned my favorite show (well, one of them for sure) that was my first thought as I learned that April got pregnant when she was 15 years old, got no support from the baby daddy or her own family, and raised Tae on her own with very little money. Or Tae raised herself and helped raise her mother! Eventually, the two of them land in Sunrise Cove, each of them living on their own (sort of) in an adjoining duplex. April has struggled with men all her life, and it saddens her to see that Tae is following in her footsteps.

Tae knew that her father was a soldier who died overseas, but not much else as she never met him. When she accidentally stumbles across her birth certificate, she is shocked to see no father listed. Tae and April are extremely close, but Tae is afraid to ask her mother about it and instead, decides to do a little investigating of her own.

Meanwhile, her event planning business is finally doing really well. Her biggest and best client, Adrenaline HQ, is run by a veteran in a wheelchair and helps other wounded warriors. When his brother, Riggs, comes home for the summer, Tae is shocked – they had a one-night-stand when she was in high school and never expected to see him again. Riggs is actually a partner in the business, but this is the first time he’s actually working there. The chemistry between them is intense, but Riggs is very closed off. He and his brother lost their mother when they were young, and their father was abusive. Riggs has just gotten out of the Marines, has a lot of guilt about his brother’s injuries, and is just waiting for his new job in Washington D.C. to start.

This story had so many layers that really drew me in. I loved these characters and couldn’t help but root for their happy ending. This book stands alone beautifully – I had forgotten I read the first book in the series, The Family You Make, but never felt like I was missing a thing. Shalvis is a great storyteller and really knows how to keep those pages turning. This is a perfect beach read; don’t miss it!

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE FRIENDSHIP PACT by Jill Shalvis. Avon (June 14, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-0063095465. 384p.

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UNDER ONE ROOF by Ali Hazelwood 

June 10, 2022

The STEMinist Novellas #1

From the publisher:

USA Today Bestseller!

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis comes a new steamy, STEMinist novella…

A scientist should never cohabitate with her annoyingly hot nemesis—it leads to combustion.

Mara, Sadie, and Hannah are friends first, scientists always. Though their fields of study might take them to different corners of the world, they can all agree on this universal truth: when it comes to love and science, opposites attract and rivals make you burn…

As an environmental engineer, Mara knows all about the delicate nature of ecosystems. They require balance. And leaving the thermostat alone. And not stealing someone else’s food. And other rules Liam, her detestable big-oil lawyer of a roommate, knows nothing about. Okay, sure, technically she’s the interloper. Liam was already entrenched in his aunt’s house like some glowering grumpy giant when Mara moved in, with his big muscles and kissable mouth just sitting there on the couch tempting respectable scientists to the dark side…but Helena was her mentor and Mara’s not about to move out and give up her inheritance without a fight.

The problem is, living with someone means getting to know them. And the more Mara finds out about Liam, the harder it is to loathe him…and the easier it is to love him.

To read Sadie and Hannah’s stories look for the novellas Stuck with You and Below Zero, coming soon from Berkley!

https://amzn.to/3O5LOSv

I am not always a fan of novellas, and I never would have read this had I known. That would have been a shame, because this was such a fun read! Hazelwood is a neuroscientist and creates these strong, smart female characters who are also scientists; in this case, Mara is an environmental engineer. Her mentor has recently passed away and Mara inherits her home; well, half a house as her mentor’s nephew got the other half. 

Liam was not expecting a roommate, and is none too pleased that Mara insists on staying, putting this into the enemies-to-lovers camp. Not only is he a beast to her, he is corporate lawyer for a big oil company that is destroying the environment that Mara is trying to save. Butting heads leads to some hilarious conversations, and eventually, the walls between them come down and romance ensues.

This is a terrific story that never felt like it was missing a thing, which is a problem I usually have with novellas. There is good character development, enough angst to keep the pages turning, and a happily ever after. 

This is the first book of a trilogy of novellas: Stuck With You (Book 2) came out earlier this week, and Below Zero (Book 3) comes out in a few weeks. I’m a little annoyed with myself (and Hazelwood’s publicist!) that I missed grabbing the review copy of book 2, and book 3 isn’t showing up yet. Hopefully, my library will get them; I am putting in a request.

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

UNDER ONE ROOF by Ali Hazelwood. Berkley (May 3, 2022). ASIN: ‎ B09M2TWX82. 336p.

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THE WRIGHT BROTHER by K.A. Linde

June 10, 2022

Wright Series, Book 1

From the publisher:

A billionaire contemporary romance stand alone from USA Today bestselling author K.A. Linde…

I’d dated his brother.

He didn’t remember and I wish I could forget.

I may have sworn off the Wright family a long time ago. But when I returned home, Jensen Wright crashed into my life with the confidence of a billionaire CEO and the sex appeal of a god. Even I couldn’t resist our charged chemistry, or the way he fit into my life like a missing puzzle piece.

Too bad he’d forgotten the one thing that could destroy us.

Because Jensen Wright doesn’t share. Not with anyone. And if his brother finds out, this could all go down in flames.

When it all was said and done, was he the Wright brother?

https://amzn.to/3NHxtfo

Emery Robinson and Landon Wright were high school sweethearts, but that relationship went up in flames when he left for college in California. Emery left their Texas town to pursue her own career, but ten years later, her boyfriend cheats on her, causing her to reevaluate her life. She gives up finishing her Ph.D. and returns home, just in time to be her best friend’s plus one at Sutton Wright’s wedding.

Emery has changed quite a bit in those ten years, and Jensen Wright doesn’t recognize her as his younger brother’s ex, just as a hot woman he’d like to bed. Emery knows exactly who he is though; she had a crush on him in high school. Their chemistry is explosive, and since he thinks she’s only in town for a few days, they have a steamy night together. Jensen is a player, so he is shocked to find he wants more of Emery.

The family connection adds some depth to the story, but this is mostly a fast, sexy read that easily stands alone. It is the first book of a series, and I hope to find the rest.

I heard about this book via BookBub, and as of this writing, the Kindle version is still free on Amazon.

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE WRIGHT BROTHER by K.A. Linde.  KA Linde Incorporated (February 28, 2017). ISBN: 978-1948427012. 324p.

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Spotlight Review: THE MESSY LIVES OF BOOK PEOPLE by Phaedra Patrick

June 7, 2022

From the publisher:

The house cleaner of a famous author must carry out her employer’s shocking last wish in this delightful new novel from beloved author Phaedra Patrick.

Mother of two Liv Green barely scrapes by as a maid to make ends meet, often finding escape in a good book while daydreaming of becoming a writer herself. So she can’t believe her luck when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero, megabestselling author Essie Starling, a mysterious and intimidating recluse. The last thing Liv expected was to be the only person Essie talks to, which leads to a tenuous friendship.

When Essie passes away suddenly, Liv is astonished to learn that her dying wish was for Liv to complete her final novel. But to do so Liv will have to step into Essie’s shoes. As Liv begins to write, she uncovers secrets from the past that reveal a surprising connection between the two women—one that will change Liv’s own story forever…

“Fans of lively fiction will be instantly drawn into the world Patrick creates with her signature charming, breezy style which is further enlivened with nods to popular literature.” Booklist

https://amzn.to/3MoYYZI

Patrick is known for her charming books, and while this one was a bit light on the charm, it delivered it other ways. Liv is an interesting, multi-dimensional character. Married for 20+ years with two sons, the youngest of which will be starting university in the fall. Her husband is working with his sister to take over their parents’ bookbinding business, and it is keeping him busy for more hours than anyone likes. Liv is working as a maid at three jobs; a young family who really take advantage of her, on a commercial cleaning crew where she is completely ignored, and her favorite job, cleaning Essie Starling’s apartment a few afternoons a week.

Essie is a bestselling author who happens to be Liv’s favorite. She really identifies with her main character, who has been in 19 books already, and Essie is working on her 20th. She is a bit of a strange bird, but is very kind to Liv. When Essie dies rather suddenly, her solicitor contacts Liv with a startling bequest; Essie has asked Liv to complete her final novel. It is all handwritten but ends about 8 chapters too soon. In other words, Liv is going to have to finish it herself. The solicitor also tells her that Essie’s death must be kept secret until November 1, giving her 6 months to complete the book. Liv has always wanted to be a writer, but when her father passed away, money was too tight for her to go to college and she started cleaning houses instead, like her mum. So this presents an amazing opportunity for her, plus it is a full time job so bye-bye crappy other employers.

There is some tension when a journalist tries to find Essie for an interview, and apparently has been talking to as many of Essie’s personal and professional contacts as possible. There is more tension as Liv attends a book fair for the publisher, and is feverishly trying to figure out how to finish the novel. There is a connection between Essie and Liv that goes beyond the obvious, and it takes some time to get there., adding another layer to this remarkable story.

This was a gentle, engrossing read and the pages really flew by. I couldn’t help but root for Liv to get everything she wanted. Patrick gives us another entertaining read, this time set in the book world, which always holds appeal for me.

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE MESSY LIVES OF BOOK PEOPLE by Phaedra Patrick. Park Row; Original edition (May 31, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-0778312000. 352p.

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THE BOARDWALK BOOKSHOP by Susan Mallery

June 3, 2022

From the publisher:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery—a story of friends who become family, giving each other courage to start over…

When fate brings three strangers to a charming space for lease on the California coast, the Boardwalk Bookshop is born. Part bookstore, part gift shop, part bakery, it’s a dream come true for Bree, Mikki and Ashley. But while their business is thriving, their personal lives are…not.

Bree, wounded by brilliant but cold parents and her late husband’s ultimate betrayal, has sworn to protect her heart at all costs. Even from Ashley’s brother, a writer and adventurer who has inspired millions. He’s the first man to see past Bree’s barricades to her true self, which terrifies her. Mikki has this divorce thing all figured out—somehow, she’s stayed friends with her ex and her in-laws…until a new man changes how everyone looks at her, and how she sees herself. Meanwhile, Ashley discovers that the love of her life never intends to marry. Can she live without being a wife if it means she can have everything else she’s ever wanted?

At sunset every Friday on the beach in front of the Boardwalk Bookshop, the three friends share a champagne toast. As their bond grows closer, they challenge one another to become the best versions of themselves in this heartachingly beautiful story of friendship, sisterhood and the transformative power of love.

The Boardwalk Bookshop is a classic beach-read romance that will be enjoyed by fans of Robyn Carr and Sheryl Woods. Readers will appreciate that, while Mallery keeps the tone romantic and fun, the protagonists make hard choices and don’t default to the easy way out, giving everyone a character to root for.”—Booklist on The Boardwalk Bookshop

“A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.”Kirkus on The Boardwalk Bookshop

“Mallery is an expert at writing about strong women, their friendships, and their romances.” —Booklist

“Mallery beautifully illustrates the power of female friendship and the importance of reaching for one’s dreams.”—Publishers Weekly

https://amzn.to/3GPuFdC

Three women become business partners then friends when they lease a large space on the beach for their individual businesses; Bree has a bookstore, Ashley has a muffin/bakery, and Mikki has a gift shop, and all three businesses work well together in the shared space. Every Friday, the women close for the day then head to the beach with some champagne, a different kind every week. As they get to know one another, real friendships form.

Bree’s parents are both acclaimed literary fiction authors, and she inherited her bookstore from her late husband. Her parents could not be bothered with her and she had a very troubled, neglected childhood. Her marriage put the final nail in the coffin of her ability to love or even to be loved. While she recognizes she has some issues, she has found ways to cope – no relationships outside of sex once or twice with the same man. Then she moves on. Until she meets Ashley’s brother, Harding. Somehow Harding has gotten Bree to go on a few dates with him, and as they get to know one another, Bree realizes she is in trouble. She is developing feelings for the man, and that terrifies her.

Mikki is divorced but still friends with her ex. They have two kids, and her ex-mother-in-law works for her in the gift shop. It’s been three years since the divorce, and her youngest is almost ready for college. She has a running gag that she doesn’t date because she’s loyal to Earl, her vibrator. Truth is she hasn’t dated for over twenty years, has low self-esteem, and isn’t too tech savvy. But her friends help her get on a dating app, and to her shock, she gets tons of responses. One of the men is Duane, father of one of her daughter’s friends, also divorced. They meet and Mikki finds herself in a new relationship, which goes sideways when her ex-husband springs on her his desire to try again. Conflicted, Mikki has to dig deep, and her friends give the impetus she needs to set boundaries for herself and her ex.

Ashley is a bit younger than the other women and is head over heels in love with Seth. They live together, and he is hinting at buying a house. Ashley assumes he is going to propose, but one thing leads to another until Seth announces he wants to commit to her for a lifetime, but doesn’t believe in marriage and won’t even entertain the idea. They decide to try and see each other’s point of view, but quickly reach a stalemate.

This is a story about friendships and love, and I couldn’t put it down. The characters and their stories really drew me in until I (sadly) turned the last page. It is always hard to pick up another book after reading one that I was so immersed in – I loved this book!

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE BOARDWALK BOOKSHOP by Susan Mallery. MIRA; Original edition (May 31, 2022). ISBN: 978-0778386087. 448p.

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IT TAKES A VILLA by Kilby Blades

June 3, 2022

From the publisher:

For the reasonable price of $1, Natalie Malone just bought herself an abandoned villa on the Amalfi Coast. With a detailed spreadsheet and an ancient key, she’s arrived in Italy ready to renovate―and only six months to do it. Which seemed reasonable until architect Pietro Indelicato began critically watching her every move…

From the sweeping ocean views to the scent of the lemon trees, there’s nothing Pietro loves more than his hometown. And after seeing too many botched jobs and garish design choices, he’s done watching from the sidelines. As far as he’s concerned, Natalie should quit before the project drains her entire bank account and her ridiculously sunny optimism.

With Natalie determined to move forward, the gorgeous architect reluctantly agrees to pitch in, giving her a real chance to succeed. But when the fine print on Natalie’s contract is brought to light, she might have no choice but to leave her dream, and Pietro, behind.

https://amzn.to/3zghCjn

I was very excited to read this book because my husband and I have discussed the possibility of buying one of these $1 (Euro) homes in Sicily, but we can’t really afford the time or the money needed for rehabbing the homes. Lorraine Bracco (Sopranos, Goodfellas) also has Sicilian roots, and she bought one of these homes and turned the reno into an HGTV show, My Big Italian Adventure, which was a lot of fun to watch. This book revolves around one of these homes in a fictional town on the Amalfi coast of Italy.

Natalie, or Natalia as her name becomes Italianized, purchased an old inn with her grandmother. But her grandmother passes away before they can get to Italy and even start the rehab. Money is tight, but an inheritance from a man she never heard of helps get her the money she needs to move forward with the project on her own. When she arrives, she finds the inn uninhabitable, but there is a separate garage where she can live until the inn is updated.

The small town has a council in charge of this project and her fellow renovators meet weekly to share tips and help. There is some political infighting between the council chair, who is the mayor, and his son, Pietro, a renowned architect who has renovated buildings all over Italy. Pietro runs into Natalie when she is trying to get her building permit, but it is August, and pretty much most of Italy is on vacation. Her Italian isn’t very good (yet) so she is a bit confused until Pietro steps in to explain in English.

There is a definite spark when they meet, but Natalie has too much work to do and she’s not looking to get involved. On the other hand, Pietro’s reaction reminded me of the “thunderbolt” Michael gets when he sees Apollonia for the first time in The Godfather – if you aren’t familiar with the reference, it’s basically love at first sight. Pietro has her back, and with his influence, knowledge, and skills, Natalia’s renovation gets going.

The is a slow growing romance with enough turmoil to keep things interesting. The politics in the town and the troubles some of the other renovations run into are the subplots, and they help shape this book into something more than just a romance. There are some funny moments, a bit of intrigue with the mysterious bequest, and some steamy scenes as well. All in all, a terrific read for me!

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

IT TAKES A VILLA by Kilby Blades. Entangled: Amara (May 24, 2022). ISBN: 978-1649372086. 352p.

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Coronavirus Diary: June 1, 2022

June 1, 2022

Coronavirus has evolved once again into a super contagious variant, the rapidly spreading Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1, and numbers are up. Every time I think we are coming out of it, this happens. In New York, they are recommending people mask up once again. In Florida, not so much. One of my co-worker’s kids got it, so he quarantined himself and sure enough, he got it too. He is vaxxed and boosted, and still was pretty sick, but thankfully, just for a few days. Then another co-worker’s school age children both got it so she had to quarantine. She’s already had it once and had her first vaccination, so we’re hopeful she’ll be spared. Then another co-worker got it. Bear in mind, we are a very small staff so three people out with Covid is almost half our staff. I am starting to feel like Covid is coming for me. On the other hand, I refuse to worry about Monkeypox, even though one of two cases in the US is in Broward County, a few miles from my house.

While all this was going on, I was at work when I suddenly felt overwhelmingly nauseous. I jumped in my car and went home. By the time I got home, I was still nauseous but also really tired. I crawled into bed and slept for about four hours, which is not like me at all. I woke up less nauseous, and my husband – masked and gloved – gave me the at home Covid test. It was negative. I tested again the next morning and was negative again. By the end of that day, I felt pretty much back to normal. I have no idea what was wrong with me but it went away fairly quickly, so yay. Or so I thought.

A few days later I was working from home and the same thing happened; overwhelming nausea. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning, just had half a cup of coffee. This time was much worse, the nausea didn’t go away for hours and hours. I couldn’t sleep, and my stomach was empty and hurting so that was not fun at all. It took two full days to recover. Another negative Covid test and no one in my house got sick so that was good; I always find the bright side! I figured it was probably a stomach flu but then Jif peanut butter announced a recall due to salmonella. I had eaten a PB&J sandwich the day before I got sick. Apparently, it can take days or even weeks for the salmonella to make you sick. So now I’m assuming that’s what happened to me. That was a first for me.

Uvalde…my heart is breaking for those families who lost a loved one in the Robb school shooting. Another mass shooting, right on the heels of the Buffalo one. My daughter-in-law is a speech pathologist in an elementary school, so this hit really close to home – as it did for every parent and teacher in America. Then to see Ted Cruz at the NRA conference calling for a “one door policy” and his usual, arming teachers.

I find that incredibly ironic – Texas politicians don’t trust their teachers to teach or to pick out books for their students, but they trust them with guns? They are hell bent on protecting fetuses, but obviously could care less about nine & ten year old children. And most disgusting of all was seeing Trump dancing on the NRA stage after the names of those dead children were read. Every time I think that man can’t possibly sink any lower, he proves me wrong.

A few years ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote an Op-Ed on gun control that the The NY Times reran last week. I found it incredibly well thought out, feasible, and compelling; definitely worth a read.

Summers are quiet here in the university library where I work. We have much shorter hours, and we tend to use the time to work on projects. One of my projects is redoing all the signage in the book collection. We often have to shift books to make room for new ones, and that means the signs at the ends of each row can be off. Eventually, they can be off quite a bit if ignored. My library director also wants us all to think about how our space looks, and is utilized. We lost two full time positions during the pandemic, and now have empty offices that we’d like to utilize. We are also looking at our library policies, and thinking of expanding them. All the book banning going on in this country is making me more thoughtful about those policies.

In some personally exciting news, my brilliant grandson is starting to walk, and he loves books! I am a very proud Nana!

Food News: Pretzels

Let’s talk about pretzels. Have you ever tried to make pretzels? The big, soft, chewy, salty kind (before Auntie Anne drips her butter on them.) I’ve been making pretzels for years, and they usually come out okay. Certainly not great, or not even better than the frozen kind you bake. Not worth the effort, to be totally honest. But I am tenacious. I kept searching and reading and trying.

I have tried drying out the baking soda in a slow oven for an hour before adding it to water for a poaching liquid. That batch of pretzels had to go straight into the trash – I would not recommend this method. I have tried poaching the pretzels for up to 3 minutes; I also do not recommend that. In my experience, about 30 seconds per side works best.

I am excited to say that I think I’ve finally got it! A recipe that rivals the frozen kind, but dare I say even better? Definitely worth the work, at least in my house. (Honestly, it’s really not much work and so worth it!) It is a fun project for a Sunday afternoon. I riffed off a recipe from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen for Miniature Soft Pretzels. But I have found the secret to really good, soft, fluffy yet chewy pretzels is….bread flour. I prefer King Arthur’s Bread Flour, but you do you. I also much prefer the flavor from the barley malt syrup, but you can substitute sugar and they will still be really good.

I know that active dry yeast packets contain more than two teaspoons of yeast, but if you use the instant yeast, you only need the 2 tsp. I bought a pound package of SAF Red Instant Yeast at the beginning of the pandemic and have kept it in my freezer. I am finally just about out. And it’s still good, by the way. I think if you keep it frozen, it lasts forever (but don’t hold me to that!)

INGREDIENTS

2 cups room temperature or slightly warm water
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup
2 tsp. instant yeast (or 1 pkg active dry yeast)
5 to 6 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sea salt
grapeseed or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse salt, kosher salt, or pretzel salt

DIRECTIONS

  • Pour water, 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup. and yeast into bowl of electric mixer. Give it a stir then put on your dough hook. If using instant yeast, move on to the next step. If using active dry yeast, let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
  • Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions – hello, humid Florida here!); mix until combined, about 30 seconds. When everything looks incorporated, mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the dough looks fairly smooth. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead a few times, or until smooth, and form into a ball.
  • Pour a little grapeseed (or other unflavored) oil into a large bowl; brush or use a paper towel to coat sides. Transfer dough ball to bowl, then turn over dough to completely cover all sides with a bit of oil. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size. My oven has a “proof” setting, so I use that.
  • Heat oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to counter. Knead once or twice, then divide into 16 pieces (about 70 grams each) and cover loosely with plastic. If it seems like the balls are sticking, dust a little flour on the counter but just where you are keeping the dough balls; leave the rest of the counter clean.
  • Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long rope on unfloured counter. If the dough is sliding around rather than stretching, very lightly moisten your hands with water to create a little tackiness.
  • Shape the rope into a U with the slightly tapered ends facing away from you. Crisscross the rope in the middle of U (a), then crisscross again (b). Fold the ends toward the bottom of the U (c). Firmly press the ends into the bottom curve of the U about 1 inch apart, forming a pretzel shape (d).
  • Transfer the pretzels as you make them to the prepared sheets, knot side up, 8 pretzels per sheet. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, fill a large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda and remaining 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 30 seconds on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to parchment lined baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
  • Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with pretzel salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy. If you want Auntie Anne style pretzels, use salt sparingly. When pretzels are done, brush with melted butter. You can also go sweet by sprinkling with cinnamon sugar after the butter.

Note: if you decide to splurge on the pretzel salt, it also is great for rimming Margarita glasses!

Once upon a Le Creuset…

So fun story. About twelve-fifteen years ago, Macy’s had one of their crazy sales – it might have been Black Friday. I bought a 7.25 quart Le Creuset in Caribbean Blue for about $150 (trust me, that is a bargain!) A couple of years later I was making a brisket for Hanukkah. As I seared the meat in the pan, I heard crackling sounds. When I pulled the brisket out, the bottom of the pot was all crazed – and so was I. These pots are supposed to last a lifetime, to be handed down to future generations. Not my luck, apparently. I took it back to Macy’s, no receipt, and they jerked me around for about an hour. At first, they wanted me to pay the difference between the sale price and the current price, but I passed on that idea. Eventually they found a manager who approved an exchange. I knew damn well that they were going to get a credit for it from Le Creuset or their distributor. They wouldn’t give me another blue pot (maybe they were out of stock) so they gave me a red one, and I took it gratefully.

Shoot ahead about ten years to a few weeks ago. I was making Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, and you have to heat a Dutch oven in a 500° oven before you add the dough. Luckily, before I added the dough I noticed that the bottom of the interior was crazed and a few holes where the finish had come off all together. Le Creuset warrantees their pots for a lifetime, so I contacted them via their website, and they had me send pictures. Then they informed me that it wasn’t covered under the warranty, but as a one time courtesy, they would replace the pot; this is how I define good customer service! I packed it up and had to pay for shipping (about $30) and they sent me a brand new pot. Not sure what their warranty actually covers, but I was very happy I got a replacement. Now let’s hope this pot lasts a lifetime! And I bought a 4.2 quart Emile Henry ceramic Dutch oven to bake my bread so I shouldn’t have this issue again. The smaller size means a taller loaf of bread, so that worked nicely, too.

Book News

Lots of book news lately! Some fun, some disturbing, but all are interesting.

And this from the Washington Post Book Club newsletter by Ron Charles:

Book Club: Margaret Atwood wins Nobel Prize in Prescience

The Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” is filmed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2019.
(File photo by Calla Kessler for The Washington Post)

This week, the Supreme Court nominated Margaret Atwood for a Nobel Prize in Prescience. 

It’s not as though anyone actually believed Trump’s Supreme Court nominees when they testified under oath about their respect for precedent, but the leaked draft of the Handmaid’s Tale decision still came as a shock. (Sen. Susan Collins is so concerned that she’s ordered a second strand of pearls.) Unless some dramatic revisions are made before the Court officially overturns Roe v. Wade, about two dozen state governments will soon severely limit millions of citizens’ reproductive decisions. Blessed be the fruit!

Not since Harriet Beecher Stowe published “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” has a novelist been so closely aligned with such a dramatic upheaval of American political and cultural life. Atwood, the wry, 82-year-old grandmother of feminist dystopian fiction has been particularly prominent since the election of Donald Trump sent her 1985 classic soaring back up the bestseller list. In 2019, she won her second Booker Prize for a zany sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” called “The Testaments.” Narrated by the matriarchal tyrant Aunt Lydia, it describes the fall of Gilead (review). We can only hope that sequel — which climaxes with the publication of leaked documents! — is as prophetic as “The Handmaid’s Tale” feels now.

The surprise appearance of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion has sparked the most concentrated flurry of textual analysis in the 21st century. But for clues about what else theocratic zealots have in mind for the United States, get a copy of Leni Zumas’s “Red Clocks.” It imagines America after abortion has been criminalized and women of childbearing age are closely monitored and barred from traveling to free territory (review). When I first read the novel four years ago, I assumed it was a work of political satire, but, in fact, Zumas constructed her terrifying dystopia by stitching together laws that had been proposed by real-life politicians. Now that Missouri and other states are plotting to punish anyone who helps a pregnant woman cross state lines for an abortion, Zumas’s dystopia seems almost documentary. 

If you’d like a work of historical fiction more illuminating than Justice Alito’s nostalgic musings, try Kate Manning’s “My Notorious Life” (review). It’s inspired by the ordeal of a real-life 19th-century midwife and abortionist condemned by Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Manning is particularly sensitive to the practical complications that women faced when they couldn’t get access to good reproductive healthcare. 

In February, while conservatives on the Court were apparently plotting to set the country back 50 years, Jennifer Haigh published a thoughtful novel called “Mercy Street” about the precarious status of safe, legal abortion in modern-day America (review). And five years ago, Joyce Carol Oates released “A Book of American Martyrs,” a gripping story that begins with the assassination of an abortion doctor and draws us into the mind of a fanatic (rave). 

Any of these novels would provide rich material for a book club interested in discussing the most pressing social issue of our age. We’ve come a long way from Ernest Hemingway’s excruciatingly elliptical short story, “Hills Like White Elephants.” But this week, it feels like we’re headed back to that era.

Flippancy aside, this is a serious issue. I have never understood why people who are against something don’t want anyone to have it, be it a banned book or an abortion. If you feel like abortion is murder, then don’t have one. If you don’t think your child should read a specific book, that is your right as a parent. It is not your right to tell me what my child should read or not, nor to tell me what to do with my body.

As Roe v. Wade faces possible overturning, abortion access is under threat — here’s how to help via Rolling Stone. This will affect people with disabilities, those who are transgender, immigrants, the poor, and people of color the most.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Spotlight Review: TALK FLIRTY TO ME by Livy Hart

May 31, 2022

From the publisher:

I’ve got ninety-nine problems and my brother’s snarky, smart-mouthed best friend Sam is tangled up in every last one of them.

When it comes to firefighter Sam O’Shea, absence―and a regime of tactical avoidance―has been working for me just fiiiine. But when the audition of a lifetime falls in my pathetically broke lap, and he’s the only one who can help me land the job, I’m willing to make a deal with the devil if it means I can kickstart my career as a narrator for audio books.

The problem? We’d have to actually do the job. Together. And then we’re told it’s for an erotic romance. Narrating steamy lines in a tiny studio with a man who lights a fire under your skin? An occupational hazard. Accidentally inciting a town scandal when your erotic audiobook clips wind up on the radio? A crisis. And falling for the one man I promised my brother―and my heart―I wouldn’t touch?

A disaster―and temptation―I can’t resist.

https://amzn.to/3LEXzxx

Piper is the only girl among eleven children in her family, and of course she falls for her older brother’s best friend, Sam. They date for a couple of years in high school, but as Sam is getting ready to graduate, Piper decides the best thing she can do for him is to let him go away to college without her hindering his decision. She tells Sam she needs a break; he hears she is breaking up with him. A few days later she walks in on him making out with another girl.

Devastated doesn’t begin to cover how Piper feels. She gets angry, and when Sam is falling down drunk a few nights later, she videos his shameful evening and posts it all over social media. It’s embarrassing to him, but it’s not like it was a fake video or anything; it was all on him and he owns it. To her credit, Piper pulls the video down a few days later.

Piper’s family rallies around her, and even her older brother, Caleb, stops talking to his best friend. It takes six years for them to reconcile, and the only way they can is to avoid talking about Piper no matter what. Her whole family supports her and Sam becomes a pariah to them all.

Sam is a firefighter and is running for mayor of their small town. When he runs into Piper at the local bar, things start changing between them. She is still very angry with him, but he decides to help her out when she needs him. Piper is a voice actor, and her big break may be coming when she finds an open audition for a very successful audiobook company. The only catch is that it is a couples read; they want a man and a woman to audition as a team. Sam agrees to do it, much to Piper’s surprise, but she is desperate.

When they are hired to read the audiobook, they soon find out it is an erotic romance. Reading it together is stirring up all sorts of feelings that Piper wishes would go away. But the more they work together, the closer they get to getting back together. And when they are stranded in an old hotel with only one room available, they cross that line for good.

This is a second chance romance and a really good one. Sam and Piper’s lives are so intertwined that it somehow feels inevitable that they will work as a couple, despite all their problems – and more seem to pop up every day. This is a fun, sexy read from an author who is new to me, but I will definitely seek out more of her books. A perfect read to while away a lazy summer afternoon – don’t miss it!

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

TALK FLIRTY TO ME by Livy Hart. Entangled: Embrace (May 30, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1649373564. 300p.

Kindle

 

 


A COUNTRY KIND OF LOVE by K.T. Raine

May 27, 2022

Huckleberry Ridge Romance, Book 1

From the publisher:

A Clean, Second Chance Family Romance

After being abandoned by her husband, single mom and reporter, CeCe Bixby, has spent the last six years focusing on raising her young son, Cody. The last thing she needs is more drama in her life. But when her name is leaked in connection with a dangerously controversial story, drama is exactly what she gets.

She and Cody flee 400 miles from Boise to small town Huckleberry Ridge, Idaho, hoping for a fresh start. But life’s never simple, and CeCe is dismayed to find her troubles have followed her.

Help may come in the form of her handsome, state-trooper landlord, Shane Wickham, who’s also raising a young son after the death of his wife. But despite the spark between them, the reasons for not becoming entangled are much stronger, and both shy away from making any commitment.

Just as Shane seems ready to move on with his life and find happiness again, CeCe’s past suddenly resurfaces, bringing problems that cannot be ignored.

Will Shane be able to see beyond CeCe’s deception to start a new life with her?

♥ Clean, contemporary romance with a dollop of suspense. ♥

https://amzn.to/3KRHxjr

I found this book on Netgalley, home to digital review copies of books for librarians (and maybe booksellers?) and I have been finding more and more self-published books on there, which is kinda cool – why shouldn’t indie authors get reviewed by librarians? Indie authors can be hit or miss for me. If a book isn’t edited, it is usually strikingly apparent within a few pages, but the ones I’ve read lately haven’t had that issue. This is a good example. A traditional editor would probably have pushed for more pages – this falls into the very short book or possibly even a novella territory, but it is so well done I didn’t even notice.

CeCe is on the run and we don’t find out why for quite a while. She’s a protective single mom of a ten-year-old boy, and her new landlord is Shane, a state trooper. The chemistry between them is apparent right at the outset. And best of all, Shane has a son the same age as Cody, and they become fast friends.

While CeCe thinks he is married, turns out Shane is widowed, and at such a young age. He has a lot of baggage that you would think goes along with that. But CeCe has her baggage, too. While she is definitely afraid of something or someone, it takes Shane a while to coax it out of her. Meanwhile, a true friendship is formed that leads to something much deeper.

This was a sweet, heartwarming romance. The suspense took a back seat to the romance, but it added a bit of tension which I enjoyed. Sometimes you just want to read something light and entertaining to escape the horrors of the news cycle – especially this week. So thank you, K.T. Raine, for that little window of fun when I needed it most.

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

A COUNTRY KIND OF LOVE by K.T. Raine. Independently published (March 8, 2022). ISBN:‎ 979-8428594782. 180p.

 Kindle