THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE by Zoe Whittall

September 19, 2017

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Avalon Hills is a small, wealthy enclave in Connecticut and home to the Woodbury family, one of the founding families of the community. George Woodbury is a much-beloved teacher at the local private school who became a hero several years earlier when he took down a gunman in the school hallway. But now George is in trouble – he’s been accused of sexual misconduct and attempted rape on some of his students. Bail is denied and George insists that he is being framed.

George’s wife Joan is the head nurse in the emergency room at the local hospital. She feels their marriage is strong, and she wants to stand by her husband. Their children, Andrew, a lawyer in New York and 17-year-old Sadie, who is at the top of her class at the same school, are devastated. Andrew starts spending quite a bit of time at home, and Sadie hides out at her boyfriend’s house. There, his mother’s live-in boyfriend, a writer, is inspired to write a novelization of the sex scandal that has rocked the town – but doesn’t tell anyone what he is up to.

The family each have to deal with this in their own way, but these characters are not given a whole lot of information and neither is the reader. We get to see the after-effects of such a devastating claim on the family, but it isn’t until almost the end that we learn what probably happened.

I don’t know that there is ever a right or wrong answer to how a family deals with something like this, but by the end, there should be, at least in my mind, and I was not happy with the ending of this book. Maybe it is just too much like real life for my taste. Either way, this book will be terrific for discussion.

9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE by Zoe Whittall. Ballantine Books (September 19, 2017). ISBN 978-0399182211.  448p.

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THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson

August 10, 2017

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If you are not familiar with Joshilyn Jackson, you should be. She writes Southern stories with a touch of mystery and memorable characters, and this book is terrific.

Leia Birch Briggs is an author – she wrote a graphic novel that was a mega success and went on to write for many of the superhero series. At comic book conventions, she is a superhero herself, but her family doesn’t get it, they think she is barely scraping by with her doodles.

At one such convention, Leia has a bit too much tequila and goes back to the hotel with Batman – a black, good looking Batman. A few months later she finds out she is pregnant, and she doesn’t even know the father’s name.

Before she can tell her family or do anything about it, she receives word that her grandmother, who she is very close to, has apparently lost her mind. She immediately heads down south, with her niece in tow. Her almost perfect stepsister is in the middle of a knock down, drag out fight with her husband, and needs some time alone.

Turns out grandma Birchie, as she is best known, does have an illness but her closest friend, daughter of the black maid that raised her, has been taking care of her. The two of them are over 90 years old, so it is a bit of the blind leading the blind, but they have been managing, until now.

When the two old ladies talk their neighbor into moving a trunk out of the attic and into Leia’s car and they try to steal said car before crashing it, all hell breaks loose. There is a skeleton in the trunk, and the cops are investigating.

This is a story about racism and family and love and Dixie. The characters are all well developed, interesting and real and I was so sorry this story had to end. It is at times, laugh out loud funny and often touching. The process of creating a graphic novel is fascinating, too, adding another dimension to this story. That aspect put me in mind of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but that was a book for young adults, and this book ultimately has more depth. If you are new to this author, try it, and if you are a fan, you will love it.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson . William Morrow; First Edition edition (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-0062105714.  352p.

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THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER by Phaedra Patrick

July 29, 2017

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This has been the year for charming, quirky books; at least, I’m finding them on a somewhat regular basis.

Arthur Pepper is a 69-year-old curmudgeon. He lost Miriam, his wife of forty years, just a year earlier, and has decided it is time to go through her belongings and send them off to charity. He pulls out a pair of boots and finds a charm bracelet hidden in the toe of the boot. Arthur is perplexed; he’s didn’t give her the bracelet and in fact, he’s never even seen it.

Arthur is a man of simple needs, as was his wife. They have two children, a daughter who lives nearby and a son who lives in Australia, but they are not close. In fact, neither of the children attended Miriam’s funeral. He has neighbors that he hides from, but the fact is that Arthur is lonely.

Although they were married, and happily, for all those years, Arthur realizes he really didn’t know anything about her life prior to their relationship. One of the charms has a phone number engraved on it, and that sets him off on an adventure into Miriam’s past. And she has quite a past – a stint working as a nanny in India, working as a nude model for artists, living in Paris and London for a while, and she even has a former fiance.

If you enjoy quirky family stories, then this is the book for you. I did this book with my book group and it made for a most enjoyable discussion. Arthur Pepper has the same sort of appeal as A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER by Phaedra Patrick. MIRA; Reprint edition (January 31, 2017).  ISBN 978-0778319801.  336p.

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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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