SNOWED IN FOR CHRISTMAS by Sarah Morgan 

October 21, 2022

From the publisher:

What happens if the only Christmas celebration you want to attend is one you haven’t been invited to? USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan delights with this hilarious and heartwarming Christmas cracker of a novel!

A family gathering

This Christmas the Miller siblings have one goal—to avoid their well-meaning family’s endless stream of prying questions. Ross, Alice and Clemmie have secrets that they don’t intend to share, and they are relying on each other to deflect attention.

An uninvited guest

Lucy Clarke is facing a Christmas alone and the prospect of losing her job. Unless she can win a major piece of business from Ross Miller, the season promises to be anything but festive. She’ll just deliver her proposal to his family home and then leave. After all, she wouldn’t want to intrude on the Miller family’s perfect Christmas.

A Christmas to remember

When Lucy appears on the Miller family’s snow-covered Highland doorstep, she’s mistaken for Ross’s girlfriend. By the time the confusion is cleared up, they’re snowed in—she can’t leave, even if she wants to! But does she want to? As secrets spill out like presents from an overstuffed stocking and the chemistry between her and Ross ignites, this is going to be either Lucy’s worst Christmas ever or the best mistake of her life.

“Morgan is a masterful storyteller…. For fans of Jojo Moyes, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Stacey Ballis. —Booklist 

“Mallery’s second installment in this heartwarming and humorous holiday romance series (following The Christmas Wedding Guest) brings readers back to Wishing Tree, WA.  Hand to readers who enjoy romances featuring tight-knit small-town communities with heartfelt holiday traditions and friend groups that are more like found families.”—Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3g8oY0P

Lucy works hard at her job; she loves her boss and her co-workers, but the company is in trouble and she wants to help. She decides to put together a presentation for a hugely successful sportswear company. When she has to go to Scotland to film some reindeer for another account, Lucy decides she’ll gift wrap her presentation and drop it off at the owner’s nearby home. But when she gets to the house, the people there seem to recognize her, and they invite her in. Turns out Ross, the business owner’s sisters, tell his parents that he has a girlfriend, Lucy, to take some of the pressure off one of the sister’s who brought home a boyfriend. But when Ross gets there and doesn’t recognize her, there is a lot of explaining to do.

In her haste to escape, Lucy slips on the ice and badly hurts her ankle. Ross’s sister is a doctor, and he drives them both to the hospital. Upon returning home, the Miller’s invite Lucy to stay and recuperate. She demurs but the snowstorm has cancelled her train and the bridge to leave the Miller home is now impassable.

There are several storylines happening here but Lucy and Ross are at the center of it all. Lucy is all alone in the world; her parents died when she was a young child, and her grandmother raised her, but she passed away two Christmases ago. The Miller family embrace her and make her feel a part of their family, and Lucy loves that feeling. But Ross is annoyed that she brought her presentation to his home instead of to his office, where she became good friends with Ross’s assistant since he was never available.

Lucy is drawn to Ross but isn’t sure how he feels, but soon enough he makes his feelings known. Meanwhile his sister is having trouble with her boyfriend, his youngest sister announces she is planning on having a baby via artificial insemination and raising it on her own, and the whole family is in turmoil. But this is a holiday romance, and Christmas miracles occur right on these pages as everyone gets their happily ever after.

I loved spending time with these characters. Being snowed in was the best thing to happen to Lucy for sure, but the whole family manages to find love and work out their differences. This was such a heartwarming, beautiful story but with enough laughs to keep it light and entertaining. Gift this book to someone you love, and they’ll thank you.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SNOWED IN FOR CHRISTMAS by Sarah Morgan. HQN; Original edition (September 20, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-1335449962. 384p.

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HOME SWEET CHRISTMAS by Susan Mallery 

October 21, 2022

Wishing Tree, Book 2

From the publisher:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery comes a witty and heartfelt story of two friends who unexpectedly find the person-and the place in which-they belong this Christmas.

With twinkling humor and heartfelt Christmas spirit, two friends find love in a town called Wishing Tree…

Until Camryn Neff can return to her “real” life in Chicago, she’s in Wishing Tree to care for her twin sisters. She’s not looking for forever love, not here. But handsome hotelier Jake Crane is a temptation she can’t resist, so she suggests they pair up for the season. No golden rings, no broken hearts. At his side, she sees her hometown through Christmas-colored eyes. The cheer is cheerier, the joy more joyful. She thought she had put her future on hold…but maybe her real life was here all along, waiting for her to come home.

New in town, River Best is charmed by Wishing Tree’s homespun traditions and warmhearted people. When she’s crowned Snow Queen, she’s honored but wary. Dylan Tucker, her king, seems like the stuff of sugarplum dreams, but she can’t shake the feeling that he’s hiding something big. As they perform their “royal” duties—tasting cookies, lighting trees—Dylan’s good humor and melty kisses draw her to the brink of love. But she can’t let herself fall until she uncovers his secret, even if her lack of faith means losing him forever.

“Mallery’s second book set in Wishing Tree (after The Christmas Wedding Guest, 2021) is just as charming, with two gentle romance story lines and a reminder that family ties can bind a little too tightly, but it’s still family. The perfect holiday confection for fans of Jill Shalvis and Sarah Morgan.”—Booklist 

“Mallery’s second installment in this heartwarming and humorous holiday romance series (following The Christmas Wedding Guest) brings readers back to Wishing Tree, WA.  Hand to readers who enjoy romances featuring tight-knit small-town communities with heartfelt holiday traditions and friend groups that are more like found families.”—Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3CNPTGW

This is my new favorite holiday series, even though there are only two (and a half – the first book was a novella) out so far. Mallery is just a great storyteller, and I love this small town that is all about Christmas. I don’t know if there are such places in the real world, but the romance novel world abounds with them.

This is a two-fer romance; Camryn and Jake, who are the primary characters, and River and Dylan, the secondary romance. They are all friends, which adds to the fun.

Jake’s family owns the lavish resort in town and while he loves his mother dearly, her interference in his life has reached new bounds. She interviews Camryn as a possible bride for her son, and Camryn is none too pleased. She decides that Jake should probably know about this, and even though they are not especially close, they’ve known one another since their school days. Jake and Camryn have chemistry that practically leaps off the page, but so do River and Dylan.

River is fairly new to town but has been embraced by this small circle of friends and is loving that. When they stuff the ballot box she gets elected Snow Queen for the holiday festivities, along with Dylan, her “king”. Dylan and Jake have been best friends since they were kids, and Jake’s mom practically raised him since his parents just weren’t involved or interested.

The two couples are thrown together repeatedly and it is so much fun watching their relationships heat up. There are some definite hurdles to get through, but in the end, love wins out. And Christmas, of course. I’m just sorry I have to wait until next year for the next installment.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HOME SWEET CHRISTMAS by Susan Mallery. HQN; Original edition (October 4, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-1335449986. 400p.

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Spotlight Review: A COSMIC KIND OF LOVE by Samantha Young

October 18, 2022

From the publisher:

One of Amazon’s Best Romances of October!

Space is the last thing an event planner and an astronaut need in this charming new romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Samantha Young.

When event planner Hallie Goodman receives party-inspiration material from the bride of her latest wedding project, the last thing she expects to find is a collection of digital videos from Darcy’s ex-boyfriend. Hallie knows it’s wrong to keep watching these personal videos, but this guy is cute, funny, and an astronaut on the International Space Station to boot. She’s only human. And it’s not long until she starts sending e-mails and video diaries to his discontinued NASA address. Since they’re bouncing back, there’s no way anyone will ever be able to see them…right?

Christopher Ortiz is readjusting to life on earth and being constantly in the shadow of his deceased older brother. When a friend from NASA’s IT department forwards him the e-mails and video messages Hallie has sent, he can’t help but notice how much her sense of humor and pink hair make his heart race.

Separated by screens, Hallie and Chris are falling in love with each other, one transmission at a time. But can they make their star-crossed romance work when they each learn the other’s baggage?

https://amzn.to/3ENh73h

An astronaut and a party planner fall in love, but both have to deal with their very messy families and their own past mistakes. Chris was dating Darcy for a couple of years before his mission to the Space Station, where he was stationed for five months. During his time up there, he recorded videos to send home to Darcy. But when he got back, he found out she was cheating on him and he ends their relationship. Darcy gets engaged to the other man, and a party planner works on their engagement party.

Hallie is the party planner, and she is a real people-pleaser, which isn’t a bad thing in her line of work. While working on the engagement party, Darcy emails her a file with the pertinent information, but doesn’t know (or care) that she also included all the videos that Chris had sent her. Hallie starts watching the first one, realizes that this is personal and she probably shouldn’t be watching it, but she is so drawn to Chris that she just can’t help herself. She watches all the videos, then feels so guilty she decides to record her own, apologizing for watching them, and sends them to the email address from the videos. When Chris gets Hallie’s video, he is annoyed that she watched his at all, and tells NASA to have it look like her email bounced. Undeterred, Hallie decides she like recording videos that no one will see, and she does a few more and they all bounce.

Little does she know that Chris has been watching her personal videos, and he is smitten with the party planner with the pink hair. When his ex invites him to the engagement party, he figures that Hallie will be there so he goes. That’s a long meet-cute, but it works. Chris and Hallie hit it off, especially when the first thing she does is apologize to him for watching his videos. But he likes her too much to admit he did the same, he wants to get to know her first.

Hallie and Chris fall into a friendly relationship. He is at a crossroads in his life; he resigned from the Air Force, and he knows he doesn’t want to go back out into space, but until he figures out his next move, it doesn’t seem fair to get involved in a romantic relationship, as much as he likes Hallie. And Hallie is falling for Chris, too – until he friend-zones her.

The ups and downs of their relationship keep them both reeling, not to mention they both have a lot of family issues they are also dealing with. But this is a romance, and even though the odds seem insurmountable, love always wins out. At least in fiction it does.

This was an engaging story with interesting characters, a bit of heat, and the requisite happy ending. I didn’t know a whole lot about astronauts and the Space Station, so I really enjoyed learning more about that, which was just the icing on the cake. A Cosmic Kind of Love is my kind of book – don’t miss it!

A COSMIC KIND OF LOVE by Samantha Young. Berkley (October 18, 2022). ISBN: 978-0593438619. 416p.

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WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez

October 14, 2022

From the publisher:

A poignant novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border, inspired by current events.

Pulga has his dreams.
Chico has his grief.
Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home. 

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.

In this striking portrait of lives torn apart, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to light through poignant, vivid storytelling. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.

* “A brutally honest, not-to-be-missed narrative…gripping, heart-wrenching, and thrilling.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

* “A candid, realistic story that will leave readers thinking about the characters–and about our own world–long after the last page.” —SLJ, STARRED REVIEW

* “Gripping, poignant…this soul-shaking narrative [recalls] the works of Gabriel García Márquez.” —Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

* “A devastating read that is difficult to put down, this unforgettable book unflinchingly illuminates the experiences of those leaving their homes to seek safety in the United States.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

A Pura Belpré 2021 Young Adult Author Honor Book
BookPage Best Book of 2020

A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best of 2020
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2020
A New York Public Library 2020 Top 10 Best Book for Teens

https://amzn.to/3CQHmV1

I selected this book for discussion during Hispanic Heritage Month and had a discussion with 37 college freshmen. It was enlightening, to say the least.

Pulgra is 16 years old and living in a small town in Guatemala with his single mother and his best friend, Chico, who is a few years younger, after Chico’s parents were killed. Pulgra’s father left for America to pursue his music career, and Pulgra would love to follow in his footsteps. He studies the routes people have taken to get to America, saving maps and any information he can find.

One day, Pulgra & Chico stop by the local bodega, where the owner, an old man, told them he would give them each a soda if they would help him stock the shelves. While they were working in the back, Rey, the local drug king pin, and his henchmen came in and kill the old man. Terrified, Pulgra & Chico waited in the back until they felt they could leave without being seen.

Rey had taken over this small town, terrorizing all the residents who came in contact with him, including the police. He sexually assaults Pequeña, a 17-year-old, and she ends up pregnant, scared to death of Rey, and afraid to tell her mother who the father is. She tries suicide, but ultimately lives and the book opens with her giving birth to a baby she does not want. Meanwhile, Rey keeps coming by and tells her he wants to marry her and gives her a diamond ring. Too terrified to say no, and sure he will kill her eventually, she turns to her friend Pulgra.

It turns out Rey’s spies did see Pulgra and Chico leaving the bodega, and now he is forcing the boys to work for him, and they don’t know what to do. When Pequeña approaches the boys about leaving and heading to the United States, they all decide it is the only way out. They know it is a very dangerous route, but they feel as though they have no choice – the danger they will leave behind will only get worse, if not deadly, if they stay.

The book follows their journey, from a middle-of-the-night bus ride out of Guatemala through Mexico to riding Le Bestia, the train that will take them to America – if they survive. They cannot buy tickets; instead, they have to hop on and off the train to avoid border checks. There are shelters along the way – some are wonderful, others are dangerous. Pequeña disguises herself as a boy, cutting off her hair, and has left her baby behind. None of them told their mothers that they were leaving.

It is a long, arduous journey that alternates between heartbreaking and horrifying. Arriving at the U.S. border is no picnic either, and the author pulls no punches about how asylum-seeking immigrants are treated, even children. The author’s inspiration was taken mostly from the news, but also her own family. While she was born in America, her mother was from Guatemala and they visited often, so the house and town where the boys live are based on her aunt’s house in that same town.

This was a very difficult read due to the power of the story, but it was also compelling and impossible to put down. If you have any interest in the reality of why people risk their lives to come here, or how they get here, beyond the politics and the sound bites, this is a good way to find out. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not walking away more empathetic to immigrants. I couldn’t help but get angry, too, about the U.S. immigration policies and lack of compassion in this country.

A few of the students in the book discussion with me were from other countries; South Africa, Trinidad, and a couple from Venezuela. They shared some of their experiences in their countries, and it was enlightening while at the same time, so sad. The young woman from Trinidad said that kidnappings are a daily occurrence there, and kidnappers tend to drive white Jeeps, so when she sees a white Jeep here, she panics. She realizes it is not the same here, but some things just become ingrained.

I am not much of a TikTok viewer, but I was curious about this book, as it is a Young Adult book that is a tear-jerker, the best-loved fodder on “Book Tok”. Sure enough, there are many videos of young women raving about this book and crying – this was my favorite.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez. Viking Books for Young Readers (May 18, 2021). ISBN:‎ 978-1984812285. 368p.

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A MATCH MADE AT CHRISTMAS by Patricia Davids 

October 14, 2022

The Matchmakers of Harts Haven, Book 2

From the publisher:

Christmas comes to a small Amish community—and brings new beginnings with it.

Karl Graber is too busy struggling with his hardware store and two young daughters to indulge local matchmaker Rose Yoder’s schemes. After his wife’s death, the thought of loving and perhaps losing another woman holds no appeal. So while he’s relieved to learn he’s not on Rose’s list of potential husbands for new schoolteacher Sophie Eicher, he’s also surprised. Despite himself, Karl can’t help wondering what Rose thinks he lacks—and why outspoken, attractive Sophie has so little interest in marriage.

After surviving breast cancer, Sophie is hoping to make a fresh start in Harts Haven. Perhaps the handsome widower next door would make a good match for her sister, but Sophie won’t burden any man with her uncertain future. But when Karl offers to help her to create a “living nativity” Christmas program for the schoolchildren, she gratefully agrees.

It’ll take a bold plan and help from Karl’s children to make this chaotic Christmas play a success. And as friendships deepen, hearts open and hopes are rekindled, two unlikely people may discover the healing gift of love.

https://amzn.to/3U79ycJ

I haven’t read an Amish romance for a while, and honestly, two or three a year is plenty for me. I like reading about people living in different cultures, and the Amish surely fall into that group. They are always interesting and so far from my world that I usually learn something new.

Sophie is a breast cancer survivor – for now. The disease took her grandmother and her mother, so she doesn’t feel like she has much time left. On the other hand, she went through chemo and a mastectomy but refuses to listen when her doctor tries to explain her prognosis. And her fiance dumped her when she got sick. When her aunt Rose tells her about a teaching job in the small town where she lives, Sophie sees it as a chance to start over in a place where no one knows her medical or romantic history. Her sister moves with her, and they stay at their aunt’s inn until they can find a place of their own.

That opportunity comes up pretty quickly. Karl Graber just lost his tenant in the apartment attached to his home and it’s right across the street from the schoolhouse. He could use the money the rental brings in, so is happy to hear that he may have a new tenant. Karl is a young widower with two daughters he is raising alone now. The older one works in his hardware store with him, but the younger one misses school for sure. There is a bit of humor with her three little lambs that keep escaping their pen and following her, yes, to school, where havoc ensues.

Rose considers herself the town matchmaker, and she keeps throwing women at Karl but he isn’t over losing his wife to cancer. Karl and Sophie do not have an auspicious first meeting, to say the least. He thinks she is a busybody and she thinks him rude and cold. Both feel much better after Rose decrees that they are not meant for one another – except despite their bad beginning, there is definitely an attraction there.

Sophie thinks her sister would be good for Karl, but she seems interested in someone else. Sophie doesn’t want to get married because her body is disfigured, but more importantly because she thinks she will die in the next year or so like the other women in her family. So even though she is attracted to Karl, she feels her sister would make him a better wife.

Sophie loves teaching and is excited to meet her new pupils. But she quickly finds out that Christmas is a big deal in this school; every year, the children put on some sort of Christmas pageant, and even though it is just a matter of weeks until the holiday, they are expecting Sophie to do the same.

This is a slow-building romance and even though it seems hopeless at times, a happy ending is guaranteed. If you are looking for a gentle, inspirational romance this holiday season, this is a good one.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

A MATCH MADE AT CHRISTMAS by Patricia Davids. HQN; Original edition (October 4, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-1335453471. 352p.

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THE IDEA OF YOU by Robinne Lee 

October 14, 2022

From the publisher:

Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles, is reluctant to take her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band. But since her divorce, she’s more eager than ever to be close to Isabelle. The last thing Solène expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate and genuine relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways in Paris and Miami. For Solène, it is a reclaiming of self, as well as a rediscovery of happiness and love. When Solène and Hayes’ romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her romantic life has impacted the lives of those she cares about most.

Included on The Skimm’s 2020 list of Eight Books Both You and Mom Will Love

https://amzn.to/3RYXOXt

I had not heard of this debut novel that came out in 2017 until I received an email from a publicist with Amazon Original Movies. More on that later. I asked for a copy of the book to review but I found it at my library. I read it in a day and to be honest, it is a first novel and it shows. It is also purported to be a romance but is missing the main element of romance, the happy ending. Instead of romance, I would call this more of an erotic love story.

Sophie is a divorced mom with a 13 year-old-daughter, Isabelle. Her ex, Daniel, had left her for a much younger woman, but the marriage was doomed anyway. Sophie owns a contemporary art gallery, and her ex didn’t want her to work at all. He’s a very successful entertainment lawyer, and these are very wealthy people. When Daniel flakes out on taking Isabelle to see her favorite boy band, August Moon, in Las Vegas, Sophie steps up and takes Isabelle and two of her friends. They even have backstage passes to meet the band.

The young teens are all in love with these British boys in the band, and when Sophie meets Hayes, their leader/founder/songwriter, she can see why. He is beautiful, and he seems to be intrigued with her. But he’s twenty years old, and she is, as she puts it, thirty-nine and a half. So twice his age. Nevertheless, he pursues her, and she agrees to meet him for a drink.

Hayes is really turning on the charm and Sophie decides she can just use the young man for sex and then move on. Except he keeps pursuing her and he is obviously paying attention to everything she says, and he is much more mature than one would assume. He’s also very smart and good with people.

It turns into a full-blown affair, with Sophie and Hayes meeting up in various cities around the world as she grows her art gallery business and he is doing concerts with the band. For a long while, Sophie assumes he is seeing other women as they only get together every month or so, and while he never confirms it, he never denies it, either. And when he finally tells her he is not seeing anyone else, she is relieved. They are falling in love but are also keeping their affair a secret. When they are spotted together, Sophie claims that he is just a client. Her business partner and friends soon know, but Sophie is afraid to tell her daughter, who is madly in love with Hayes.

Eventually, some salacious pictures come out, and the world knows. This turns Sophie into a pariah, replete with death threats and the usual internet trolling. At this point it becomes like watching a train wreck; you know it isn’t going to end well, yet you can’t look away.

There is a lot of explicit sex in this book as their relationship is based on sex before it grows into something more. It’s a nice change to see the older woman/younger man relationship and it is a very fast read as you follow Sophie and Hayes around the world, having sex. Fashionistas will love all the designer name-dropping, and women in their thirties & forties will identify with Sophie and love escaping with Sophie & Hayes.

So, the Amazon publicist sent info about the film and a picture of the lead actor, Nicholas Galitzine, who plays Hayes, and informed me that Anne Hathaway is playing Sophie. That this is an Amazon Prime movie shouldn’t be a surprise as more and more actors that dominate the film industry are showing up on streaming television. Hathaway was excellent in “WeCrashed” on Apple+ TV, a limited series based on the downfall of WeWork. The role was very different for her and I thought she did a phenomenal job, even though she was ignored at awards time. But I digress…here are all the details I’ve gotten so far. I couldn’t help but notice that there are several discrepancies from the book, so I’m assuming this is the direction the film is taking:

  • Today it was announced that Nicholas Galitzine will star in Prime Video’s The Idea of You in the role of ‘Hayes Campbell,’ alongside Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway. 
  • The film, based on Robinne Lee’s bestselling contemporary love story of the same name, centers on Sophie (Hathaway), a 40-year-old divorced mother. Sophie’s husband Dan left her for a younger woman, and now he has canceled his Coachella trip with their 15-year-old daughter. Sophie picks up the pieces and braves the crowds and desert heat. There, she meets 24-year-old Hayes Campbell (Galitzine), the lead singer of the hottest boy band on the planet, August Moon.
  • Galitzine will next be seen in Prime Video’s highly anticipated romantic comedy Red, White & Royal Blue, based on Casey McQuiston’s fan-favorite and instant New York Times and USA Today best-selling novel of the same name and Bottoms from MGM’s Orion Pictures. He also recently starred as the male lead in Netflix’s Purple Hearts, alongside Sofia Carson, and as ‘Prince Robert’ in Prime Video’s Cinderella, opposite Camila Cabello. Prior to that, he starred as the male lead in Zoe Lister-Jones’ The Craft: Legacy. On the television side, he can be seen in Netflix’s Chambers. Some of Galitzine’s other credits include A24’s Share, Handsome Devil, The Beat Beneath My Feet, The Changeover, and The Watcher in the Woods.
  • Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The Dropout) will direct. Academy Award winning producer Cathy Schulman (Crash, The Woman King) will produce the film via her Welle Entertainment label, joined by I’ll Have Another’s Gabrielle Union, Anne Hathaway via her Somewhere Pictures label, Robinne Lee, Eric Hayes, Michael Showalter, and Jordana Mollick. Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein, Friends with Kids) wrote the screenplay and will executive produce. I’ll Have Another’s Kian Gass will also executive produce.
  • The Amazon Original Movie will premiere on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide at release. Production will begin in October.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE IDEA OF YOU by Robinne Lee. St. Martin’s Griffin; 1st Edition (June 13, 2017). ISBN:‎  978-1250125903. 384p.

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Spotlight Review: ONCE UPON A DECEMBER by Amy E. Reichert

October 11, 2022

From the publisher:

A one-of-a-kind Christmas market offers holiday magic in this new romance from the author of The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

With a name like Astra Noel Snow, holiday spirit isn’t just a seasonal specialty—it’s a way of life. But after a stinging divorce, Astra’s yearly trip to the Milwaukee Christmas market takes on a whole new meaning. She’s ready to eat, drink, and be merry, especially with the handsome stranger who saves the best kringle for her at his family bakery.

For Jack Clausen, the Julemarked with its snowy lights and charming shops stays the same, while the world outside the joyful street changes, magically leaping from one December to the next every four weeks. He’s never minded living this charmed existence until Astra shows him the life he’s been missing outside of the festive red brick alley.

After a swoon-worthy series of dates, some Yuletide magic, and the unexpected glow of new love, Astra and Jack must decide whether this relationship can weather all seasons, or if what they’re feeling is as ephemeral as marshmallows in a mug of hot cocoa.

“An absolutely perfect holiday hug.”–New York Times bestselling author Christina Lauren

“Reichert’s cozy romance is a nice blend of a sweet love story and Christmas magic.”–Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3RQSEg2

Reichert doesn’t put out a lot of books, but I’ve read most of them and loved them all. This one was a bit different for her; this is a Christmas romance with some magical realism that always works around the holidays.

Jack Clausen lives in the Julemarked, a traveling Christmas market that is somewhat other worldly. The market arrives every December 1, and disappears on Christmas eve. It is in an alley, an offshoot of an existing Christmas market, but one of the reasons it’s magical has to do with the fact that people don’t remember anything specific about it, and don’t even notice when it disappears. Jack, along with his brothers, is a baker and they work in the Kringle shop. When Astra and her friends come in, there is a definite attraction between Jack and Astra. She gives him a hat; he gives her a tiny Christmas gnome that he hand carves. They meet up every year or two, and slowly she starts forming some memories.

When they meet, Astra has been through a rough divorce with a controlling husband who almost cost her her friendships. Now that she has her best friends back, Astra is so much happier. She and Jack get to know one another as the market appears every so often – Jack has all his memories of their meetings, but it is a much slower process for Astra. Only those who could live in the Julemarked are able to remember, but Jack makes it clear that he won’t leave, so it is up to Astra to figure out whether or not they have a future.

This is a charming, sweet love story with more than a touch of magical realism, but if you can’t accept magic at Christmas, when can you? This book is sure to put you in the holiday mood (and I’m off to Trader Joe’s to see what kind of Kringles they have now!) I loved this book.

Bonus: Reichert provided this fabulous holiday playlist. Scan the QR code to play it on Apple Music or recreate it on your own.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ONCE UPON A DECEMBER by Amy E. Reichert. Berkley (October 4, 2022). ISBN:  978-0593197790. 336p.

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MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan

October 7, 2022

From the publisher:

GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • A soul-stirring novel about what we choose to keep from our past and what we choose to leave behind, from the New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here and the bestselling author of She’s Not There

Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.

Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start. 

And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .

Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.

“Best-selling Picoult and Boylan team up for this timely, gripping story about a teen accused of murdering his girlfriend… The courtroom drama makes for gripping reading; a reveal about Lily at the midway point adds another dimension to the case, and Olivia grapples with the possibility that her son could take after her ex-husband more than he does her. This timely and absorbing read will make readers glad these two powerful writers decided to collaborate.” Booklist, starred review

“Picoult joins forces with novelist and transgender activist Boylan for a spellbinding yarn involving a teen’s trial for murder.” Publishers Weekly

The shocking murder of a teenager thrusts a small town into the headlines and destabilizes the lives of everyone who knew her… A well-paced story that highlights several timely issues, with a stimulating courtroom trial that makes it worth reading.” Kirkus Reviews

https://amzn.to/3eaMWbd

I haven’t read Picoult in a few years, I guess, but I was intrigued by the fact she has a co-author. Is she going the way of James Patterson and pushing out more books by using co-authors? She’s writing with her daughter as well. But after reading the rather lengthy author’s note at the end of the book, I am relieved to say she is not. This was a one-off, I think, but you never know.

This is a book full of secrets that slowly unspool throughout the story. It isn’t until the halfway point that we get the biggest secret, one that I never saw coming. Several reviewers have mentioned this, but no spoilers here. Let’s just say all these characters reveal different aspects of their lives and therein lies the intrigue of this story.

Olivia is a beekeeper, and that aspect of the book was just fascinating to me. We had a big urn in the backyard next to a small pond, and one year bees moved into the urn and formed a hive there. A couple of years later, they came back, but this time to a different spot. We have a pizza oven that my husband built in our backyard, and underneath it is storage for wood & tools. For three years in a row, bees have made their way inside and formed a massive hive. We’ve been fortunate to find beekeepers in our area who were willing to collect the hives. But I really didn’t want them to come back, so my husband designed a sealed covering for the storage area that will hopefully keep the bees out. And we sacrificed the urn to the beekeeper who collected that hive. I never heard of mad honey before, although I did know about telling the bees when someone dies from the last Outlander book by Diana Gabaldon, Go Tell the Bees I am Gone, and of course, everyone learned about this practice when Queen Elizabeth passed.

The courtroom scenes are riveting, and if you are a Picoult fan, you may recognize one of the lawyers. I love when authors leave us these little Easter eggs, and I admit it took me a minute to realize I knew this lawyer. The book does get a bit…I want to say preachy, but that’s not quite right. Let’s just say there is some educating going on here, and that is a very good thing considering Picoult’s reach and Boylan’s expertise. It may cost Picoult some fans but hopefully will gain her new ones to offset the loss.

All in all, this is a very engaging story with interesting characters and quite a bit of suspense. Picoult is the queen of family dramas, and she retains her crown with this latest endeavor. I couldn’t put the book down and there is so much to discuss, your book club will love it.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan. Ballantine Books (October 4, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1984818386. 464p.

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NEVER MEANT TO MEET YOU by Alli Frank & Asha Youmans

October 7, 2022

From the publisher:

From the authors of Tiny Imperfections comes a riotously funny, emotionally real look at race and religion, love and heartache, and the realities of parenting through it all.

Self-appointed fixer of other people’s woes Marjette Lewis is uncharacteristically determined to keep to her side of the driveway when it comes to her flawless neighbor Noa Abrams. Professionally, Marjette has her hands full as she prepares for a new class of kindergarteners and her first year of teaching without her best friend, Judy, as campus “Black-up.” And at home, her son’s budding manhood challenges her expectations, and her vexing ex-husband continues to be a thorn in her side.

But when tragedy strikes Marjette’s street, and an unexpected child shows up on the first day of school with an uncle who has all the class moms aflutter, Marjette is forced to contend with both her neighbor and her own heartache over losing the life she once thought was guaranteed. Through laughter, tears, and the gift of found family, Marjette and Noa navigate the rituals of loss together and discover the strength to remake their lives―whether they meant to or not.

https://amzn.to/3OKmpyF

Alli Frank & Asha Youmans follow up Tiny Imperfections with this story about a friendship that develops between a young, Jewish widow and the Black single mom next door.

Marjette is unhappily divorced; even after five years she hasn’t let go of her anger, hasn’t even attempted dating, and her life revolves around her teenage son. Her best friend just retired from the private school where they taught kindergarten together, and her next-door neighbor moved away, leaving Marjette feeling a bit lonely. Her new neighbor, Noa, has just lost her husband and has a daughter who is in Marjette’s class, bringing them together in a variety of situations.

A friendship slowly emerges between the two women and they learn to rely on one another and appreciate their cultural differences. Noa’s good looking brother, Max, often picks up his niece at school, and all the class moms take notice, but he only has eyes for Marjette. She’s oblivious to the attention until she starts spending more time with him, and a friendship is formed that eventually leads to more.

Verdict: Friendship and romance go hand in hand in this warm, engaging story that should appeal to readers who enjoy Susan Wiggs and Debbie Macomber.

©Library Journal, 2022

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

NEVER MEANT TO MEET YOU by Alli Frank & Asha Youmans. Montlake (October 1, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1542034104. 319p.

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Spotlight Review: OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng

October 4, 2022

From the publisher:

From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere, comes one of the most highly anticipated books of the year – the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.

Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.

The Reese’s Book Club October Pick!

“It’s impossible not to be moved.” —Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

“Known for focusing on families, race, and relationships, Ng raises the bar another notch in a story intensified by reference to such police violence, political protest, book banning, and discrimination against people of color. Ng’s beautiful yet chilling tale will resonate with readers who enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Jessamine Chan’s more recent School for Good Mothers. As with her previous novels, her storytelling will not disappoint.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn . . . Thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving . . . Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“Remarkable . . . Ng crafts an affecting family drama out of the chilling and charged atmosphere, and shines especially when offering testimony to the power of art and storytelling . . . Ng’s latest crackles and sizzles all the way to the end.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[So] much of this utterly stupendous tale is hauntingly, horrifically, historically, currently all too real, from removing and caging children to anti-Asian hate crimes, violent protests, police brutality, and despotic (so-called) leadership. Yet Ng creates an exquisite story of unbreakable family bonds, lifesaving storytelling (and seemingly omniscient librarians!), brilliantly subversive art, and accidentally transformative activism. As lyrical as it is chilling, as astonishing as it is empathic, Our Missing Hearts arguably achieves literary perfection.” —Booklist (starred review)

https://amzn.to/3yf7vtY

I read this book over a weekend and hated turning that last page. It’s been too long since we’ve had a book from Ng, after her previous bestsellers Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, which I loved. Those books dealt with families and racism in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This book is even better, and I truly didn’t think that was possible. It also deals with families and racism but leaves Ohio and goes way beyond those topics to include politics, censorship, book banning, radical librarians (yay!) and so much more.

I hope it reaches a broad audience because I’m curious about how the political right would view this book. Ng takes what has been happening in this country over the past several years and gives it a boost, as it were, by putting all of it into this hauntingly beautiful story set in an America maybe a few years into the future. Or maybe it’s now, with the screens pulled back and a spotlight shining on what could be, quite easily.

Ng’s characters propel the story, and we are drawn into their world which again, feels too much like our world. Or just one step away…rampant inflation and unemployment, bookshelves bare, authoritarianism run amok with children taken from their families because their parents are not falling in line with the authoritarian government. People turning on each other à la McCarthyism, and everyone is afraid to speak out. The cops are reminiscent of the Brown Shirts, with unbridled power and a complete lack of humanity. China is the common enemy, deemed the destroyer of the American economy. Asians, Asian-Americans, or really anyone who appears Asian at all are subject to unprovoked violence and death, with no one helping or caring while it all seems perfectly legal and even expected. 

This was not an easy read because it’s all so abhorrent, disturbing, and way too close to where we seem to be heading in this country. And I suppose that was the point. This is a book that is crying out to be discussed, and don’t be surprised if your book group reaches new heights of passion. I loved this book as much as I hated what was happening in it. Our Missing Hearts is an unforgettable page-turner rooted in American politics, then spun out into a terrifyingly dark near-future and a stunningly beautiful novel. All I can say is put this on your “must-read” list. 

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng. Penguin Press (October 4, 2022). ISBN: 978-0593492543. 352p.

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