THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES by Susan Bishop Crispell

June 22, 2017

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A delicious read filled with magical realism, pie and wishes fulfilled – what’s not to like?

Rachel Monroe has a special gift, or a curse as she thinks of it. She can fulfill wishes. She first learned she had this as a child when her younger brother was annoying her and she wished him gone. He disappeared along with everyone’s memories of him – except her. Her parents took her to one psychologist after another, and eventually she was hospitalized until she agreed that he never existed.

While hospitalized, she met her best friend, the only one who really understood. As she got older she refused to wish for anything and refused to hear wishes, but nonetheless, as people around her wished for things, little pieces of paper, like the fortunes from fortune cookies, would float into her orbit. If she read them, the wish was granted so she tried very hard not to. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore and by the time she was 26 years old, she knew she had to escape.

Rachel takes off in her car until it breaks down in the small town of Nowhere, North Carolina. The car dies in front of an old Victorian home and the owner comes out, offers to call for help and invites her to stay until her car is fixed. Her name is Catch.

Catch also has a gift. She’s a terrific baker and supplies pies for the town’s restaurants and residents, but her real gift is the ability to make people keep secrets. A neighbor will appear at her back door and ask for help and Catch bakes them a special pie and the secrets are kept.

These two women forge a friendship based in understanding one another. Rachel is attracted to Catch’s neighbor, a young, good looking man who befriends her. But as the town learns about Rachel, things take an ugly turn. Rachel has to decide if this is where she belongs after all.

Fans of Amy E. Reichert or Menna van Praag will love it. I did.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES by Susan Bishop Crispell. Thomas Dunne Books (September 6, 2016).  ISBN 978-1250089090.  304p.

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THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo

June 20, 2017

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Lucy and Gabe met as students at Columbia University in New York City – on September 11, 2001. Yes, that September 11th. There was that shared trauma, but something more and Lucy was upset to find out shortly thereafter that Gabe had a girlfriend. But she moved on.

Until they met again. And it didn’t work out again. Or the next time. Star crossed lovers? Perhaps. And then finally the time was right.

By then Lucy was a successful children’s television producer and Gabe had found his calling in photojournalism. They quickly moved in together and were deliriously happy. At least Lucy was. They were in love, but Gabe was feeling stifled in his career. He wanted to go to where there were wars, where he thought his photographs might make a difference. And without telling Lucy, he arranged for such a job. Until he had to tell her because he was leaving. She was crushed.

Lucy eventually moved on. She met a man and slowly, very slowly, he wooed his way into her heart and eventually they married. But Gabe kept popping up every few years or so. At a reunion. On a stopover in NY. Lucy’s husband wasn’t a fan, but he dealt with it as best as he could. And Lucy was happy, for the most part. But Gabe was always there in her heart and after thirteen years, their history would finally catch up with them in a devastating way.

This book was unputdownable and I loved it, despite shedding tears along the way. The writing reminded me of Rainbow Rowell and especially Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, so if you are fan of those authors, try this one.

A terrific, terrible modern romance.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (May 9, 2017).  ISBN 978-0735212756.  336p.

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THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn

June 18, 2017

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She resisted.

The Alice Network was a real spy ring comprised of women during World War I led by Louise, the “Queen of the Spies.” This completely fascinating book is historical fiction based on rather mindblowing facts. It moves back and forth between World War I and the end of World War II with one character, Eve, the link between the wars.

Eve was a young girl with a stutter who really wanted to contribute during the war. She was recruited into the elite Alice Network, where she worked undercover as a waitress named Marguerite in a restaurant in Lille, France during the war.

The owner of the restaurant, René Bordulon, was a collaborator with the Germans, and all the top German brass frequented his restaurant. Eve was fluent in French, English and German but because of her stutter, she was able to play the simpleton who barely spoke French. Eventually René made his move on Marguerite, and they began an affair. She was petrified but got so much good information over pillow talk that it was worth it.

Meanwhile American Charlie St. Clair was on the hunt for her cousin, missing since the end of WWII. Charlie had a “little problem,” she got pregnant while at college and her mother has taken her to Europe for her “appointment” to get rid of the little problem. But Charlie wants to find her cousin Rose, her best friend growing up, and she refuses to believe that she is dead as her parents have told her. Shortly after arriving in Europe, she runs away from her mother and meets Eve, an older woman now with horribly disfigured hands, a vile mouth, and a severe case of PTSD. Nonetheless, Eve agrees to help and her driver, a big Scotsman, drives off with the women in search of Rose.

The story moves back and forth between Eve’s time as a spy during the war and the search for Rose, and eventually the story becomes even more intertwined. This is riveting stuff even though at times, it was quite difficult to read. The author’s notes at the end parses fiction from fact and the facts heavily win out. An excellent read for fans of historical fiction, especially with a women’s bent. This would be a fabulous choice for a book discussion as well.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn. William Morrow Paperbacks (June 6, 2017).  ISBN 978-0062654199.  528p.

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BEFORE GREEN GABLES by Budge Wilson

June 16, 2017

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The Prequel to Anne of Green Gables

Yes, that Anne of Green Gables, most recently reimagined as a Gothic nightmare on Netflix as “Anne with an E.” The Montgomery book was one of my favorites in childhood. Then I reread it in my children’s lit class in library school and loved it even more. Gothic nightmare is so not for me, but this book, this prequel, most certainly is.

The original (and subsequent sequels) are ostensibly children’s books but adults will certainly find much to enjoy as well. This prequel is an adult book and I don’t think it works the same way backwards; most children would probably not enjoy this but I sure did.

I have a new supervisor at work and she asked about a shelf full of children’s books that were in the reference workspace, including several copies of Anne of Green Gables. I explained that one of our librarians had attempted an adult book group that would read children’s literature, including Anne. It didn’t go well, I’m very sorry to say. But I mentioned how much I loved that book and she asked if I had read the prequel that came out a few years ago and my jaw dropped – I had missed it completely!

In the original, we meet Anne around age twelve when she is adopted. The book hints at some unhappiness in her past, and this prequel expands on it. We learn what happened to Anne Shirley before she got adopted and I was mesmerized, first by the writing, so reminiscent of the original, and then by the story itself. If you are a fan, you probably read this already but if, like me, you somehow missed it, do yourself a favor and find a copy. I’m so very glad I did.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BEFORE GREEN GABLES by Budge Wilson. Berkley; Reprint edition (February 3, 2009).  ISBN 978-0425225769.  400p.

 

 


ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman

June 6, 2017

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Quirky, heartwarming books seem to be more abundant than ever and I couldn’t be happier. I generally will read anything that the Pamela Dorman imprint puts out. She finds a lot of these quirky books and is responsible for some bestselling authors you may have heard of, like Luanne Rice and Jojo Moyes, and one of my favorite books, Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal.

Eleanor Oliphant lives alone. She has some personality quirks, to say the least, and speaks to her mother on the phone every Wednesday night. It is never a pleasant conversation. She works in an office and has no friends or social life. My first assumption was that she was somewhere on the autism spectrum – but you know what they say happens when one assumes.

One day Raymond, the new IT guy, stops by her desk and is friendly. She doesn’t know quite what to make of him but agrees to have lunch with him, even though it disrupts her routine. They go outside and see an old man fall down. Raymond rushes to help but he is passed out, so they call for help and ride with him to the hospital.

That tenous connection is enough for Raymond and Eleanor to become friends, a new experience for Eleanor. Raymond is the perfect friend for Eleanor, easy going and undemanding. Eventually as they get to know each other, we get to know them too, especially Eleanor, and realize that she has had a horrendous life. It slowly unfurls as we get drawn deeper into her world, until the whole truth comes out. Raymond is there for her throughout and we can’t help but root for him to win the girl, damaged though she may be.

A lovely, funny novel that is truly unique and memorable. Don’t miss it.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman. Pamela Dorman Books (May 9, 2017).  ISBN 978-0735220683.  336p.

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RABBIT CAKE by Annie Hartnett

June 2, 2017

If you like charming, quirky books – and I love them – then you need to read Rabbit Cake. It got some starred reviews, was a “People Magazine Book of the Week,” and it lived up to all the hype.

Elvis Babbitt is the twelve year old girl at the heart of this book. Her mother, a scientist and professor, was a sleepwalker who accidentally drowned one night. Elvis’s father is dealing with his grief by wearing his wife’s robe and her lipstick. Elvis’s older sister Lizzie, always a rebellious, problematic teen, becomes even worse. Lizzie is also a sleepwalker and after her mother’s death, she becomes a sleep eater as well.

Elvis wants to continue her mother’s work, writing a book on the sleeping habits of animals. She is a very bright, very precocious child, to say the least, and for much of the book seems more mature than most of the adults in her life. The counselor at school tells Elvis that grief takes about 18 months to run its course, and Elvis takes her at her word and creates a grief chart to help her cope.

There are lots of quirky goings on throughout the story, from the Jesus statue made from beach debris that arrives one day, the bird that imitates the mother’s voice perfectly, to Lizzie’s baking 1000 rabbit cakes to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, and much, much more.

The characters are so well developed I couldn’t help but be drawn into their world and I was sad to leave them at the end of the book. This was a most enjoyable read, esepcially if you like family stories. The quirkiness is sure to appeal to readers who loved Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and Frederik Backman fans.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

RABBIT CAKE by Annie Hartnett. Tin House Books (March 7, 2017).  ISBN 978-1941040560.  344p.

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THE SECOND MRS. HOCKADAY by Susan Rivers

May 12, 2017

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Placidia Fincher becomes the second Mrs. Hockaday when, at age 17, she marries Major Gryffith Hockaday. He is almost twice her age, recently widowed and left with a very young son. She agrees to marry him and the next day they return to his home, a 300 acre farm in South Carolina. The Civil War is raging, and after a couple of days of marriage, the Major returns to his post leaving his teenage bride in charge of his home, his baby, his farm and his slaves.

The Major doesn’t return home for two years, spending much of that time in a Union prison. Upon his return he learns that his wife has become pregnant and had a baby during his time away, the baby died and she is accused of murder and on her way to jail. There are a lot of plot lines threaded throughout, and a number of characters so I had to pay close attention to keep it all straight.

This is an epistolary novel, written in letters, journal entries, etc. which always gives a very intimate, voyeuristic feeling to the reader and this is no exception. There are some very dark chapters, as is to be expected during war time in the South, but it is restrained. The violence is there but is not gratuitous and is never over the top. The book is loosely based on a true incident, and the writing style is interesting and seems accurate to the time period although the lack of some punctuation is difficult at times.

One of the things I liked best about this book was that it’s a woman’s perspective of the Civil War, and the difficulties that women faced were very different from the men. A most compelling read and an excellent debut novel.

5/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SECOND MRS. HOCKADAY by Susan Rivers. Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (January 10, 2017).  ISBN 978-1616205812.  272p.

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MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY by Fredrik Backman

April 17, 2017

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Backman surfaced in America as the author of the word-of-mouth-runaway-bestseller-turned-into-an-Oscar-nominated-film, A Man Called Ove. It’s been on the bestseller lists for a couple of years now with no sign of letup. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry joined it well over a year ago.

If you haven’t read this Swedish author, let me start by saying if the only Swedish author you are familiar with is Steig Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) just put that out of your mind. Larsson may have been Sweden’s biggest selling author but Backman is pushing him off the list. Backman is the yin to Larsson’s yang, the lightness to his darkness, and I, for one, most welcome this new voice.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is written from the point of view of the granddaughter, Elsa. She’s seven years old and beyond precocious, and her grandmother is her best friend. They share a secret language, stories about the Land-of-Almost-Awake and all the kingdoms within. Elsa doesn’t really have any other friends, her grandmother is her world. She basically puts up with her mother. 

When her grandmother passes away, Elsa is devastated. Then she learns her grandmother has left her a sort of scavenger hunt, a series of letters that she wants Elsa to deliver for her. Letters of apology.

This is a hard book to describe. The plot doesn’t really matter; suffice it to say there are some people who don’t like the fact that the narrator is a child. Get over it – it’s so worth it. All the people who live in apartments in the house with Elsa’s family are unique individuals, to say the least. And eventually it all makes sense.

Backman has a unique voice and I think you either love it, and then you will love all his books no matter the subject or protagonist, or you don’t. And I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t (at least not yet).

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY by Fredrik Backman. Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (April 5, 2016).  ISBN 978-1501115073.  372p.

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COOKING FOR PICASSO by Camille Aubray

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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

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SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult

November 2, 2016
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Let’s start out with the fact that I loved this book. I read it in one sitting on my iPad, and had no idea it was almost 500 pages because the pages just flew.

If the title seems familiar, it is because it was taken from a very famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote:

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

This is a book about racism and inclusiveness. Written by a white, privileged woman mostly for other white, privileged women and anyone else who likes a good read with a lesson. There is a strong message here and Picoult delivers it without hitting anyone over the head, but rather by showing, more than telling, if that makes sense.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse in New Haven, Connecticut. She grew up in Harlem, the daughter of a maid who pushed her to be more. Ruth was a smart girl who ended up with a scholarship to the Dalton School, followed by college and finally nursing school at Yale. She is a bright, dedicated nurse who takes pride in her work; in fact, she thinks of it as a calling.

Until a white supremacist family demands she be taken off the care of their newborn son. A note is placed in his file that states no African Americans are allowed to touch the child. This is a small hospital and the note hurts. But Ruth is a pro, so when an emergency takes the other duty nurses to the operating room leaving her in charge of watching the baby after his circumcision, she resents it but knows she has no choice. And then the unthinkable happens.

The baby appears to be in respiratory distress. Does Ruth try and save the baby, ignoring a direct order from her supervisor? The child dies, and the family decides that Ruth is the reason. The hospital is happy to have someone to blame that leaves them in the clear, and Ruth is arrested and charged with murder.

Ruth lost her husband in Afghanistan and has struggled to raise her son. He’s at the age where he is applying for college and the only money she has is tied up in his college fund, so she has no choice but to use the public defender as counsel.

Kennedy is a white woman, married to a doctor and able to do the work she loves – she also has a calling. She’s never tried a murder case but something about Ruth just makes her want to try, and she does. Along the way, Kennedy and Ruth become friends, and they both learn quite a bit from each other.

We also learn about white supremicsits like Turk, the father of the baby, and how they are recruited, trained and sometimes even have their lives turned around again.

All of these characters are fully dimensional which totally draws the reader in. There are major themes about parenting, the law, power, privilege and race. A lot of it is very uncomfortable to read, and I admit to crying more than once. It feels like an important book, and was extremely thought provoking but more than that, I needed to talk about it. As I was reading it, I told my husband about it, my daughter, my boss and my co-workers. Book clubs take heed, you will not want to miss this one. In fact, the publisher has thoughtfully provided a readers’ guide already.

I loved this book and will be reading it again. Picoult’s publicist had sent me an email about it, that said, in part, “Some books leave you thinking. This one gets you talking.” It’s gotten me talking for sure and I have a feeling I won’t be shutting up anytime soon.

Don’t miss it.

11/16  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult. Ballantine Books (October 11, 2016). ISBN 978-0345544957. 480p.

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