AN UNORTHODOX MATCH by Naomi Ragen

October 30, 2019

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

AN UNORTHODOX MATCH by Naomi Ragen. St. Martin’s Press (September 24, 2019). ISBN 978-1250161222. 336p.

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ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS by Jami Attenberg

October 23, 2019

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS by Jami Attenberg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 22, 2019). ISBN 978-0544824256. 304p.

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SUMMER OF ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand

October 18, 2019

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From the publisher:

The #1 New York Times Bestseller
 

Four siblings experience the drama, intrigue, and upheaval of a summer when everything changedin New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand’s first historical novel

Welcome to the most tumultuous summer of the twentieth century. It’s 1969, and for the Levin family, the times they are a-changing. Every year the children have looked forward to spending the summer at their grandmother’s historic home in downtown Nantucket. But like so much else in America, nothing is the same: Blair, the oldest sister, is marooned in Boston, pregnant with twins and unable to travel. Middle sister Kirby, caught up in the thrilling vortex of civil rights protests and determined to be independent, takes a summer job on Martha’s Vineyard. Only-son Tiger is an infantry soldier, recently deployed to Vietnam. Thirteen-year-old Jessie suddenly feels like an only child, marooned in the house with her out-of-touch grandmother and her worried mother, each of them hiding a troubling secret. As the summer heats up, Ted Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, man flies to the moon, and Jessie and her family experience their own dramatic upheavals along with the rest of the country.

In her first historical novel, rich with the details of an era that shaped both a nation and an island thirty miles out to sea, Elin Hilderbrand once again earns her title as queen of the summer novel.


I was ten years old during the summer of 1969, just a few years younger than the youngest sibling in this story. I remember a lot about what was happening then.

I was a big reader, including newspapers; we got the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsday, and I read them all cover to cover. I never had enough reading materials. My parents were not readers and back then books were a special occasion gift. My mom would take me to the library once a week, wait outside in her car, so I always felt rushed, not to mention that the library limited the number of books I was allowed to borrow. I don’t recall exactly, but it was something like 3-5 books at a time. I could read that many children’s books in a day. When I ran out of children’s books, the librarian let me borrow adult books. I read everything I could get my hands on.

I knew about Vietnam and it scared me. I don’t really remember Chappaquidick, but I definitely remember the man walking on the moon. All that comes up during the Summer of ’69, wrapped up in a family that lived through it all.

While the publisher notes that this is Hilderbrand’s first historical novel, the rest is pure Hilderbrand. She is known for fabulous beach reads, and this certainly fits the bill. The family, Nantucket, the romance, the squabbling, it’s all here. I was immediately caught up in the story and these characters, and she does a really good job making them all come to life.

There are deeper issues woven throughout the story; racism, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, suicide, and more all come to light, making this a very satisfying read. Lots for book groups to discuss for sure. I really enjoyed this book, though it was more nostalgic than historical for me.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SUMMER OF ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand. Random House (June 18, 2019).  ISBN 978-0525510871. 384p.

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FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

October 5, 2019

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From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST • “A feminist jeremiad nested inside a brilliant comic novel—a book that makes you laugh so hard you don’t notice till later that your eyebrows have been singed off.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Funny, dirty, sly, irresistible.”—New York

A finely observed, timely exploration of marriage, divorce, and the bewildering dynamics of ambition from one of the most exciting writers working today

Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, in the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. He had been working so hard to find equilibrium in his single life. The winds of his optimism, long dormant, had finally begun to pick up. Now this.

As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, all while juggling his patients at the hospital, his never-ending parental duties, and his new app-assisted sexual popularity, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.

A searing, utterly unvarnished debut, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an insightful, unsettling, often hilarious exploration of a culture trying to navigate the fault lines of an institution that has proven to be worthy of our great wariness and our great hope.


I had heard about this book from the publicist, and later a friend recommended it. Then I think Michelle Goldberg recommended it on her podcast, The Argument? I wouldn’t swear to that, but anyway, I read it. I did not remember that it was a first novel when I read it, and I was very surprised when I realized it after. It is a really interesting story, with complex characters and a lot of emotion, and I loved the writing.

Toby Fleishman is a recently divorced 40-something doctor in Manhattan, AKA catnip to women, and not only in New York. Many years ago my doctor lost his wife. They were young, had a couple of young children. I swear, less than a week later I overheard some women discussing ways to finagle dates with him. I overheard this on the playground at the Jewish Community Center, while they were ignoring their toddlers. So I get it. But things have changed since my kids were in pre-school.

Toby is short. He has a bit of a complex about it, like many men who are vertically challenged. But the doctor thing is now overriding the short thing, and he is shocked to find that women are practically throwing themselves at him. Actually, not practically, they are definitely throwing themselves at him. He is on a dating app where he is barraged with pictures of women. Not their faces so much, but everything he used to have to look for in porn. Now pictures are being delivered to his phone at all hours of the day and night. Along with invitations to meet. Not for dinner necessarily, but for sex. Toby is like a kid in a candy store. This new world order is working for him. Until his ex goes missing, and the party feels like it’s over.

Rachel is aspirational, and super successful. In fact, she thinks Toby the doctor is a loser. Her income and ambitions far eclipse his, which means she pays child support as he is the primary care giver for the kids. It was another interesting aspect of the book, and I really liked how that was explored. A lot of the stuff that happens is laugh out loud funny, and other parts are infuriating and sometimes sad.

This is a book that begs to be discussed. If you are in a book group, put it on your list, you won’t be sorry.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Random House (June 18, 2019).  ISBN 978-0525510871. 384p.

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THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Kruger

September 6, 2019

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From the publisher:

A magnificent novel about four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the New York Times bestselling author of Ordinary Grace

1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.


“If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing, you’ll love This Tender Land…This story is as big-hearted as they come.” —Parade 

Definitely.

While Kruger is best known for his Cork O’Connor mystery series, he probably received the most accolades (and gained a ton of new readers) with his extraordinary book, Ordinary Grace. This new book was pitched to me as another Ordinary Grace, so I wondered, can lightning strike twice? Apparently it can.

The writing is simply superb. The characters are unforgettable, and the setting is rich and evocative.  I have seen this book described as an updated Huckleberry Finn, and that is an apt comparison, as is its comparison to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Homer’s Odyssey. These are some heady correlations, and Kruger’s book easily stands up to them.

Four kids run away from the school where they have been, for lack of a better word, horribly mistreated.They jump into a canoe and head out on the Gilead River. The Gilead feeds into the great Mississippi, and that’s where these children are headed, hoping to reach St. Louis and the possibility of family, where two of them, the brothers, are from.

There are crimes committed along the way, starting with the “kidnapping” of Emmy, a young orphaned girl who has been adopted by the heinous owners of the school. But is it kidnapping is she wants to leave? It is her choice to run away, but this is right on the heels of the Lindburgh baby kidnapping and no one is asking those questions. These children, like many during the depression, grow up way too fast.

There are some major themes at play here, starting with the grand adventure on the river. This is an epic odyssey, often chaotic, and at times, spiritual. But other themes are also important, like the deplorable mistreatment of Native Americans in this country, and much of the history revealed here was completely new to me. Another major theme is that of family, how that is defined, and what it means. It is also a coming of age story for these runaways, and the book is narrated by the adult Odie so it is told with some perspective.

It is a story that immediately grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until the last page is turned. There is resolution, and redemption. Book clubs will love it; there is a deep, rich reservoir worthy of discussion. It is an excellent read, sure to make my best books of the year list. Don’t miss it.

9/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Kruger. Atria Books (September 3, 2019). ISBN 978-1476749297. 464p.

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SURFSIDE SISTERS by Nancy Thayer

July 25, 2019

7/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SURFSIDE SISTERS by Nancy Thayer. Ballantine Books (July 2, 2019). ISBN 978-1524798727. 320p.

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THE GIFTED SCHOOL by Bruce Holsinger

July 21, 2019

7/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE GIFTED SCHOOL by Bruce Holsinger. William Morrow (May 28, 2019). ISBN 978-0062861214. 432p.

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QUEEN BEE by Dorothea Benton Frank

July 19, 2019

7/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

QUEEN BEE by Dorothea Benton Frank. William Morrow (May 28, 2019). ISBN 978-0062861214. 432p.

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THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni

July 18, 2019

7/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni. Lake Union Publishing (April 24, 2018). ISBN  978-1503948976. 447p.

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THE UNBREAKABLES by Lisa Barr

June 23, 2019

6/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE UNBREAKABLES by Lisa Barr. Harper Paperbacks (June 4, 2019). ISBN  978-0062895394. 352p.

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