MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

April 22, 2018

Click to purchase

I confess that I never read the Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad by Egan. Its desription as a novel of interlocking stories just didn’t appeal so I came to this book with an open mind. It has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, was a New York Times and Washington Post Notable book and it made many of the best books lists in 2017. So I had high expectations, and it mostly met them.

Manhattan Beach is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, and this book is a historical look at the area. Anna Kerrigan is a young girl when her father takes to a business meeting at the home of Dexter Styles, who lives in a large house on the beach. Anna is mesmerized by the sand and sea, and Styles enjoys her pleasure in it.

Anna’s father had been ruined in the Great Depression, and the family lives in a small apartment. Anna enjoys spending time with her father, but he stops taking her to business meetings and then disappears a short time later, leaving her with her mother and sister. Her sister suffers from some sort of paralysis and brain damage, but Anna and her mother lovingly take care of her.

Years later, Anna gets a job at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during the war, when women are allowed to hold the jobs that only men once held. She sees men diving in the water off the yard and wants to learn to do that, but that is one line women cannot cross. Nonetheless, her boss gets her an interview but the man in charge is more interested in humiliating Anna than hiring her. Much to his surprise, she passes the tests for divers but he still doesn’t want her. She persists, and eventually becomes the first woman diver, repairing ships to help win the war.

Anna’s personal life is a bit of a mess. She lives with a friend’s family, and rarely dates. But one night she goes to a nightclub and finds out that Dexter Styles is the owner. He becomes intrigued with her and their relationship turns the story on its head.

This is a fascinating look at the roles of women during the Depression and the war, and the lives of sailors, politicians, and gangsters and how their lives intertwine. Anna is a terrific character and moves the story along. A very interesting and enjoyable read, especially for book groups.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan. Scribner; First Edition edition (October 3, 2017).  ISBN  978-1476716732. 448p.


SOCIABLE by Rebecca Harrington

March 27, 2018

Click to purchase

The premise of this sophomore novel by Harrington (Penelope) is that journalism is dying and millennials will save it. To do that they will have to fit some work in between parties, fighting with friends, romance, and in this case, surviving a bad breakup.

Our heroine is Elinor Tomlinson, a vapid, immature twenty-something working as a nanny. Her boyfriend’s mother, a well respected journalist, recommends her for an opening at a second tier online news magazine. Elinor stumbles through the interview spouting generic nonsense and gets the job, creating viral content for the web. She is probably better at her job than the two men who want to mentor her, yet she doesn’t seem to like her job very much. Her boyfriend dumps her, and she just wallows in self pity.

Readers may be able to empathize with the breakup if they can slog through the changeable points of view, the too-brief attempts at humor, hash tags and even comments addressed directly to the reader. ©Library Journal, 2018

This book sounded so good from the publisher:

The Assistants meets The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. in this exuberant comedy of manners set in the world of Internet media, a brilliantly irreverent novel about what it means to be young, broke, dumped, and scarily good at creating viral content.

Um…not so much. Very disappointing read.

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SOCIABLE by Rebecca Harrington. Doubleday (March 27, 2018). ISBN 978-0385542821. 256p.

Kindle


THE RECIPE BOX by Viola Shipman

March 22, 2018

Click to purchase

Sam Mullins grew up on the northern shore of Michigan on her family’s orchard, and couldn’t wait to leave and make her own mark on the world. She went to culinary school in New York and landed a much coveted job – baking for a television celebrity chef in his restaurant/bakery. Except he’s a jerk and can’t even cook, and when the head chef quits, Sam is picked to create something wonderful for the Good Morning America team that will be filming in the bakery that morning. She does, and everyone loves it but her boss – he trashes her grandmother’s beloved slab pie and orders her to make something else. Finally growing a spine, she, too, quits.

Sam heads home to the family orchard and bake shop where her grandmother and mother rule supreme. They are delighted she has shown up for a visit but she doesn’t tell them why she’s suddenly home, at least not for a while.

The recipe box is a family tradition. On each daughter’s 13th birthday, they are given a wooden recipe box filled with family recipes going back generations. The key to the box is worn on a chain around the neck, close to the heart. When Sam went off to culinary school, she left her recipe box at home but now she is feeling the pull of family and all that means.

In a side story, there is a produce delivery man she has been chatting with every morning of her working life in New York City. After turning down several invitations to date him, they remain friends. After she gets home, he tells her he’s taking a few days off and wants to see the Michigan she loves. This romance adds a bit more story to the story, as it were.

Every chapter is named after a recipe and the recipes are all included. Most are desserts but there is at least one savory dish as well.

The book held my attention but it verged on being sickeningly sweet, if you’ll pardon the pun. It actually felt smarmy at times and way too heavy handed and I just don’t like being manipulated. The story was good, I didn’t need to be hit over the head about the importance of family and tradition and love on every page. All that said, it moved me to tears more than once and I couldn’t put it down, so I guess it was compelling smarminess, if you will. If you like reading stories about food and families, and don’t mind emotional minefields, this is the book for you.

I am planning on making that slab pie for sure, and probably a few of the other recipes as well.

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE RECIPE BOX by Viola Shipman. Thomas Dunne Books (March 20, 2018). ISBN 978-1250146779. 336p.


ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen

March 20, 2018

Click to purchase

So Anna Quindlen finally decided to write a love letter to New York City. Manhattan, to be precise. And while she may point out its foibles and idiosyncrasies, even the bad stuff is wrapped up in love.

Nora and Charlie have been married for many years and have boy and girl twins in college and a dog. They live in a townhouse which is crammed in between the townhouses on either side of them, all on a dead end street in Manhattan, an almost unheard of thing in the city. This is a clannish group of New Yorkers who share a handyman and a small parking lot, overseen by George, the self-appointed street mayor, issuing coveted parking spots, warning about any infractions to the desired appearance of the block, and offering non-negotiable recommendations of flowers to plant and when to put out the holiday decorations.

Nora and Charlie consider theirs to be one of the better marriages among their circle of friends. They are well off, and attention to class distinction is paid here. Charlie is an investment banker, but his career has never taken off the way he thought it would and he dreams of leaving the city for greener pastures. Nora is the director of a small, private museum and loves her job, her family, and most of all, her home, but definitely feels that something is lacking in her life.

Then one of the neighbors, a wealthy attorney with a viscous temper, attacks the Latino handyman, beating him with a golf club and causing serious injury because his truck was blocking the parking lot. The neighbors are divided; was it provoked? Was it an accident? Charlie was a witness and stands up for his neighbor, but Nora heard the whole thing and knows Charlie is wrong. That incident creates a wedge in their marriage and in the neighborhood, causing feelings to shift and change and ultimately deteriorate.

An interesting look at friendship, marriage and class warfare within the city that never sleeps, with lots to talk about for book discussion groups. I didn’t love it, maybe because I need at least one character to care about, to relate to, and Nora just barely made the cut. I’m from New York and know people like her so I understood her, but also know I could never be friends with her, and fortunately that is not a deal breaker. The book did give me pause – and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Thought provoking for sure.

3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen. Random House (March 20, 2018). ISBN 978-0812996067. 304p.


THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

February 27, 2018

Click to purchase

I’m a long time Kristin Hannah fan. She started off  writing women’s fiction and I often recommended her books to Danielle Steel readers who wanted to step up a bit. Then she wrote The Nightingale, and never looked back. That book lingered on the NY Times bestseller list for well over a year, a real anomoly for fiction and certainly well deserved. The Great Alone debuted at number one on that list and I have a feeling this book, too, shall linger.

Leni Allbright is a young teenager who has lived a difficult life. Her father, Ernt, is a Vietnam war vet obviously suffering from severe PTSD, undiagnosed and untreated at that time. Her mom, Cora, loves her husband madly and truly seems to understand the demons that drive him. He can’t hold a job, he drinks to much, and he has black moods on a regular basis. Leni has a harder time, but knows her father loves her. Leni and her mom are very close, unusually close for a child that age, but the family constantly moves, often several times a year, due to Ernt’s troubles, so Leni and Cora cling to each other.

Ernt receives a letter from the father of an old army buddy of who had died in the war, informing him that his buddy has left him 40 acres and a house in the wilds of Alaska. This book opens in 1974 in the pre-cruise era, and even the cities in Alaska weren’t all that populated. Ernt decides this is just the break he needs and he loads his family into an old VW bus and they make the drive from Seattle to Alaska.

They arrive in the tiny town and are amazed – the main street has a general store and a bar and not much else. The population is in the double digits and everyone who lives there is living off the grid – no electricity, no running water, just spectacular vistas and a very hard life. Fortunately, they arrive in spring so they have the summer to prepare for the long, hard winter. Ernt seems happy, and Cora and Leni are enjoying learning to hunt, how to can fruits and vegetables for winter, how to smoke fish and so forth. Leni goes to school in the one room schoolhouse and makes her first real friend. But as darkness falls on Alaska, so does Ernt’s mood.

This is a fascinating look at a life most of us would never experience, living entirely off the land and bartering for whatever else you need. It is also a coming of age story, a story about the effects of war, about an abusive marriage, anarchy, and more. While the storyline is nothing like The Nightingale, it is about two strong women and the life they build, something Hannah excels at. This is not a happy story, but a dark, searing one that will be staying with me for a very long time. It is such a gripping novel that I just couldn’t put it down and I can’t wait to talk to someone who has read it – it will make a fabulous book discussion. Don’t miss it.

2/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah.  Holtzbrinck Publishers; First Edition edition (February 6, 2018).  ISBN 978-0312577230. 448p.

KINDLE


THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin

February 21, 2018

Click to purchase

As regular readers probably know, in December I started having some trouble with my eyes. Reading becams difficult, but I perservered as long as I could. This forced me to become extremely discriminating in what I read until it became just impossible to read either print, on my iPad or the last to go, my Kindle. This is the last book I chose to start. I only got about a third of the way through it and I was so involved I even tried having my Kindle read it to me but I just couldn’t cope with that. So I set it aside. I had surgery, and week of horrendous recovery, and a few more weeks of tolerable recovery and my eyesight seemed to improve daily. It’s still not great, and computers are the most difficult for me to manage, but I have managed to read on my Kindle again. At first, I could only read for about ten minutes at a time, then my eyes would tire. So it took me an extraordinarily long time to finish this book, but I am so glad I did.

The story starts out in the late 1960’s on the Lower East side of New York. The Gold family, four siblings, have heard about a fortune teller who has recently come to their neighborhood. Apparently, she can predict the date of each client’s death. Intrigued, the children find her, and one at a time, she tells them their death dates. They are freaked out, as they should be, and take off without even paying her. But their lives are never really the same after that.

They don’t all share their dates, but hints are dropped. As they get older, this information steers how they live their lives. The youngest, Simon, realizes as a teen that he is gay and his sister Klara encourages him to move to San Francisco, and she lives with him. This is in the 1980’s at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and Harvey Milk and more. Klara becomes a magician and eventually moves to Las Vegas. The oldest son, Daniel, becomes a doctor and works for the armed services, determining who is fit to become a soldier and Vanya, the oldest daughter, becomes a research scientist studying, not ironically, longevity.

The book follows each of the lives until their deaths. It obviously poses the philosophical question if you knew when you were going to die, would you live your life differently? But it delves even further than that into relationships, both familial and others. It is beautifully written and each character drives their own story. Worthy of all the praise it has received, and certainly worthy of discussion. It is not a stretch to say that I’m sure it will be on my best books of the year list.

2/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons; First Edition edition (January 9, 2018).  ISBN 978-0735213180. 352p.


PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

December 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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

Kindle


SWEET TEA AND SYMPATHY by Molly Harper

December 11, 2017

Click to purchase

Southern Eclectic Series, Book 1

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

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

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

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

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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

Kindle


THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg

December 4, 2017

Click to purchase

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

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

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

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

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

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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

Kindle


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

November 14, 2017

Click to purchase

November 2017 LibraryReads Pick

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

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

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

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

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

11/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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

Kindle