AN OBSERVANT WIFE by Naomi Ragen

September 16, 2021

From the publisher:

In this rich and compassionate novel, An Observant Wife, Naomi Ragen continues the love story between newly observant California-girl Leah and ultra-Orthodox widower Yaakov from An Unorthodox Match.

From the joy of their wedding day surrounded by supportive friends and family, Yaakov and Leah are soon plunged into the complex reality of their new lives together as Yaakov leaves his beloved yeshiva to work in the city, and Leah confronts the often agonizing restrictions imposed by religious laws governing even the most intimate moments of their married lives. Adding to their difficulties is the hostility of some in the community who continue to view Leah as a dangerous interloper, questioning her sincerity and adherence to religious laws and spreading outrageous rumors.

In the midst of their heartfelt attempts to reach a balance between their human needs and their spiritual obligations, the discovery of a secret, forbidden relationship between troubled teenage daughter Shaindele and a local boy precipitates a maelstrom of life-changing consequences for all.


I didn’t realize that this was the sequel to An Unorthodox Match until I started reading it and the characters seemed familiar. I loved that book and I was happy to revisit Boro Park and see how Leah and Yaakov were doing. It is unnecessary to read An Unorthodox Match to enjoy this book, but it does give a better perspective of their lives leading up to their marriage.

Leah and Yaakov are Orthodox Jews living in a part of Brooklyn that is a community of people just like them. Except that Leah wasn’t brought up Orthodox; her mother shed the rigors of that life and Leah grew up in California. But when everything in her life goes bad, she seeks refuge in this strict community where they are supposed to welcome those who have “returned” to orthodoxy. The reality is that maybe the rabbis treat her that way, but her neighbors do not. They are suspicious of her different upbringing, and rumors abound.

But Leah loves Yaakov and his children. She loves her Orthodox life, for the most part. She isn’t thrilled about not having sex for half the month, though. This is actually the first time I’ve seen Orthodox sex discussed. I found the “rules” and explanations fascinating. That said, there are no sex scenes in this book. The closest it gets is when they push the twin beds together.

The oldest boys have been sent to study at a Yeshiva and live with their uncle in Philadelphia. The eldest at home is Shaindel, a fifteen year old who is not thrilled with her new stepmother. The first wife suffered from debilitating post partum depression, and the way this Jewish community handled it contributed to her death. This has greatly affected Shaindel, while the younger children are babies and not really aware. They love Leah, and Leah tries hard with Shaindel, and they form a fairly good relationship.

But Shaindel has a rebellious streak, and when she sees the principal’s son working at a kosher pizza place, she starts hanging out there everyday after school. The boy is good looking, and he notices her. He convinces her to meet him after dark in local parks, and they do some kissing and more, which is completely unacceptable in this community. The boy has been thrown out of his father’s school, he is not a good kid. In this society, boys and girls do not talk, touch, and are never left alone. Matches are arranged for them, usually when a girl is 18 or so. They meet, they marry – more or less. 

When the school finds out, they threaten expulsion. Shaindel wants to be a teacher like her mother was, and is devastated that a stupid mistake could bring such shame. But Leah defends her and convinces the principal to let her remain. He agrees but only if she will go see a counselor of his choosing. The man he sends her to is Hassidic and very well respected. But when Shaindel goes, he makes her very uncomfortable, to say the least. He is a sexual predator, and how the family and the community deal with that is at the heart of this story.

I really like Naomi Ragen’s books, I like learning about the different culture she writes about. Even though I’m Jewish, I am not Orthodox, so it is a lifestyle much different from my own. Ragen is a terrific storyteller, and the story and these characters really drew me in. If you haven’t read her, this is as good a place to start as any. That said, I think her best books are her older ones, particularly The Sacrifice of Tamar and Jephte’s Daughter. They should be available at your local library.

9/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

AN OBSERVANT WIFE by Naomi Ragen. St. Martin’s Press (September 14, 2021). ISBN: 978-1250260079. 352 pages.

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PAPER DOLL LINA by Robyn Lucas

September 2, 2021

From the publisher:

One rip is all it takes to expose the devastating truth behind a seemingly perfect life.

Lina Henry is a wife and mother who likens herself to a pretty paper doll. She lives in a beautiful home in the Atlanta suburbs. Her husband, David, is a well-to-do investment banker. She’s raised two wonderful teenagers. To the outside world, the Henry family is perfect. What no one knows is that Lina’s paper doll life is being torn apart in a controlling and abusive marriage. When Lina develops an unexpected friendship with another man, and reconnects with her former best friend, she begins navigating a way out of the emotional minefield that is her home.

But as David senses his loss of control, he becomes more dangerous, and Lina must do everything in her power to protect herself and her children. In order to take back the happiness she deserves, Lina must first rediscover the strength and the fearlessness of her three-dimensional self.


Lina seems to have it all; a lovely home, a successful husband, two well behaved teenagers. But things aren’t always as they seem and, in this case, Lina’s husband David has been emotionally abusive for most of their marriage. The kids have created an exercise app that is taking off and loving the publicity they are getting, but David wants them to shut it down. While her kids are being interviewed on TV, Lina meets Noah, a renowned action movie star, and they become friends. Lina realizes that the emotional abuse is now affecting her kids, and she decides to confront David and ask for a divorce which escalates the abuse. Lina tries to convince herself to hang on for a few more years until the kids are out of school, but her friends give her the courage to move forward in her quest for freedom and Lina finds love. This is a gripping story with characters that come to life on the page, but it is a difficult, possibly triggering, read.  

Verdict: The heartbreak of an abusive marriage should be fertile ground for book groups. There are similar storylines in Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and The Journey by Danielle Steel.

©Library Journal, 2021

8/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

PAPER DOLL LINA by Robyn Lucas. Lake Union Publishing (September 1, 2021). ISBN: 978-1542030151. 365 pages.

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PALM BEACH by Mary Adkins

August 4, 2021

From the publisher:

A thought-provoking page-turner from the author of When You Read This and Privilege that captures the painful divide between the haves and have-nots and the seductive lure of the American dream. 

Living in a tiny Queens apartment, Rebecca and her husband Mickey typify struggling, 30-something New Yorkers—he’s an actor, and she’s a freelance journalist. But after the arrival of their baby son, the couple decides to pack up and head for sunny, comfortable Palm Beach, where Mickey’s been offered a sweet deal managing the household of a multimillionaire Democratic donor. 

Once there, he quickly doubles his salary by going to work for a billionaire: venture capitalist Cecil Stone. Rebecca, a writer whose beat is economic inequality, is initially horrified: she pillories men like Stone, a ruthless businessman famous for crushing local newspapers. So no one is more surprised than her when she accepts a job working for Cecil’s wife as a ghostwriter, thinking of the excellent pay and the rare, inside look at this famous Forbes-list family. What she doesn’t expect is that she’ll grow close to the Stones, or become a regular at their high-powered dinners. And when a medical crisis hits, it’s the Stones who come to their rescue, using their power, influence, and wealth to avert catastrophe. 

As she and Mickey are both pulled deeper into this topsy-turvy household, they become increasingly dependent on their problematic benefactors. Then when she discovers a shocking secret about the Stones, Rebecca will have to decide: how many compromises can one couple make?


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Are the rich different? Mary Adkins (Privilege) attempts to answer that in this entertaining read. Mickey, a Broadway actor, loses his voice and his career. He’s always hustled side jobs, and lucks into a full time job in Palm Beach for one of his clients and moves his wife and 8-month-old baby to Florida.

Mickey quickly finds an even better job as butler to a billionaire couple, the Stones, for twice the money, but his journalist wife, Rebecca, is horrified that he is considering working for the “vulture capitalist” who destroys every company he buys, but the money is too good to pass up, plus it leads to an opportunity for Rebecca to ghostwrite Mrs. Stone’s memoirs.

When the baby is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, the Stones come to the rescue, causing the young couple to reexamine their feelings about the Stones and the power of money.  

Verdict: Adkins offers great fodder for book discussions, and should appeal to readers who enjoyed The Darlings by Cristina Alger, Snobs by Julian Fellowes, or The Unfortunates by
Sophie McManus.

©Library Journal, 2021

8/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

PALM BEACH by Mary Adkins. Harper (August 3, 2021). ISBN: 978-0063011373. 304 pages.

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THE SINGING TREES by Boo Walker

August 3, 2021

From the publisher:

A young artist forges a path of self-discovery in an enriching novel about forgiving the past and embracing second chances, from the bestselling author of An Unfinished Story.

Maine, 1969. After losing her parents in a car accident, aspiring artist Annalisa Mancuso lives with her grandmother and their large Italian family in the stifling factory town of Payton Mills. Inspired by her mother, whose own artistic dreams disappeared in a damaged marriage, Annalisa is dedicated only to painting. Closed off to love, and driven as much by her innate talent as she is the disillusionment of her past, Annalisa just wants to come into her own.

The first step is leaving Payton Mills and everything it represents. The next, the inspiring opportunities in the city of Portland and a thriving New England art scene where Annalisa hopes to find her voice. But she meets Thomas, an Ivy League student whose attentions―and troubled family―upend her pursuits in ways she never imagined possible. As their relationship deepens, Annalisa must balance her dreams against an unexpected love. Until the unraveling of an unforgivable lie.

For Annalisa, opening herself up to life and to love is a risk. It might also be the chance she needs to finally become the person and the artist she’s meant to be.


Boo Walker’s beautifully written coming of age story (after An Unfinished Story) is set against the backdrop of the unpopular Vietnam War. We get to view life in those turbulent times through the eyes of a young artist, Annalisa Mancuso. Annalisa tragically lost her parents when she was young, and her Nonna stepped in and took care of her. Annalisa remembered her mother’s creativity being stifled in her marriage, and as an artist herself, is determined to never let that happen. The only path she sees forward is to live in solitude, but when she meets Thomas, he changes the trajectory of her life in more ways than she could ever imagine.

Annalisa’s goal to escape the small town in Maine where she grew up and move to Portland is realized. There she finds a thriving art community, a teacher, and a gallery owner who recognize and encourage her talent. Meanwhile, Thomas’s wealthy family threatens to cut him off unless he ends things with Annalisa.

Annalisa grows up the hard way when Thomas loses his deferment and is sent to Vietnam. She breaks up with him so she can concentrate on her art, but she still feels their connection. They correspond during the war, and she spends a week with him in Hawaii when he gets some leave. Annalisa is torn between following her dream or her heart and has many difficult decisions to make.

Verdict: Walker’s latest is ideal for book discussion groups and should appeal to readers who enjoyed Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Dance Away with Me by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or the emotional resonance of Nicholas Sparks’ books.

©Library Journal, 2021

8/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE SINGING TREES by Boo Walker. Lake Union Publishing (August 3, 2021). ISBN: 978-1542019125. 429 pages.

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EAGLES OVER BRITAIN by Lee Jackson

June 9, 2021

The After Dunkirk Series, Book 2

From the publisher:

The Battle of Dunkirk might be finished, but the war isn’t over.

The saga of the Littlefield family continues with this rich and evocative second installment in the AFTER DUNKIRK series.

The German Luftwaffe attacks Britain from the skies.
With no allies, she stands alone.
Her fate hangs in the balance.

As the first Axis aircraft streak across English Channel airspace, so begins a battle for the ages; one that will determine the trajectory of the war. Braced for engagement on their individual fronts, the Littlefields plumb the depths of courage and ingenuity to defend their beloved Britain.

Fresh from the slaughter of Dunkirk, youngest brother Jeremy is called upon to create a French Resistance network composed of former naval officers.

At MI-9 headquarters, Claire Littlefield has devised an intelligence coup that could change the tide of the war. But will it work?

Lance, captured and far from home, puts his resiliency and resolve to the test.

And frustrated at being sidelined from active combat, Paul is unaware that he is being groomed for a role beyond his imagination.

A sweeping story of war filled with intimate, day-to-day details of those closest to danger, EAGLES OVER BRITAIN is a captivating tale of bravery, sacrifice, and one family’s fight to bring Britain to victory.


Utilizing persona from the Littlefield family, a group that had lived and prospered on one of the Channel Islands belonging to Great Britain, the author has taken his readers full tilt into the opening events of World War II. The first novel in the series leads the family into the retreat from France culminating in the saving of thousands of lives by many small boats picking up soldiers from Dunkirk and taking them across the English Channel to safety. In the current novel the events of the Battle of Britain are described and shown why it led to the famous declaration by than Prime Minister Churchill, “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few.”     

The Littlefield family, both men and women, are all taking part in activities designed to fight the invaders coming to France, England and the Channel Islands as part of Hitler’s plans to become the leading power in Europe. Jackson brings the group into the defensive action against the Luftwaffe’s attacks on England. His research showcases groups of pilots that overcome shear exhaustion day after day to take off and repel the bombing runs of the German air force. Men that took off ,fought the invaders and if surviving returned to base, handed over often shot up planes to maintenance crews and then staggered into bed until the next sortie.      

The power of the book is in its concentration on the courage of a nation that wouldn’t give up and stood up against the Nazi design to invade England once their air force had destroyed English air power. People heard alarms, ran to shelters. Upon ending the attack they came out and pitched in with the first responders to help those that were hurt and somehow comfort those people losing loved ones to the enemy bombs.     

Love still finds a way and the book ends with members of the family forming attachments which we know will follow up into the next planned novel of the series. The ending also sets up the following book which will be positively received and enjoyed by faithful readers.

6/2021 Paul Lane

EAGLES OVER BRITAIN by Lee Jackson. Severn River Publishing (April 9, 2021). ISBN: 978-1648750717. 456 pages.

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THE CAVE DWELLERS by Christina McDowell

May 25, 2021

5/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE CAVE DWELLERS by Christina McDowell. Gallery/Scout Press (May 25, 2021). ISBN 978-1982132781. 352 pages.

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THE LAST GREEN VALLEY by Mark Sullivan

May 24, 2021

From the publisher:

From the author of the #1 bestseller Beneath a Scarlet Sky comes a new historical novel inspired by one family’s incredible story of daring, survival, and triumph.

In late March 1944, as Stalin’s forces push into Ukraine, young Emil and Adeline Martel must make a terrible decision: Do they wait for the Soviet bear’s intrusion and risk being sent to Siberia? Or do they reluctantly follow the wolves—murderous Nazi officers who have pledged to protect “pure-blood” Germans?

The Martels are one of many families of German heritage whose ancestors have farmed in Ukraine for more than a century. But after already living under Stalin’s horrifying regime, Emil and Adeline decide they must run in retreat from their land with the wolves they despise to escape the Soviets and go in search of freedom.

Caught between two warring forces and overcoming horrific trials to pursue their hope of immigrating to the West, the Martels’ story is a brutal, complex, and ultimately triumphant tale that illuminates the extraordinary power of love, faith, and one family’s incredible will to survive and see their dreams realized.


In an afterward to this book, Mark Sullivan indicates that it is an account of the vicissitudes of a real family living through one the most horrific periods to ever have faced human beings. The novel is more than a compelling read; it is an adventure into emotion that crosses between hope and despair bringing to life the resiliency of an extraordinary family. 

The Martels are people with roots in Germany that have emigrated into the Ukraine in order to enjoy a better life. Making a life there the transplanted colony suddenly becomes caught up in war when Germany invades Russia during World War II.       

The slaughter of both the Russian and German armies at the battle for Stalingrad causes the Germanic residents of the Ukraine to flee the Russian army which goes after the Wehrmacht in order to destroy them. The Germans tell the transplants to pack up and leave with them to try and make it back to Germany before Stalin, the Russian leader moves his army to slaughter them. The Wehrmacht offers protection and food during the escape. Emil and Adeline Martel and their two sons are among the group leaving their home to escape with their lives.  It is their story that Mark Sullivan celebrates. The fleeing group are subjected to being caught up with the running battles of both armies. They narrowly escape being killed by tanks of both armies fighting each other and not looking to see if civilians are in the way of their shells.     

The Martels are strengthened by a vision they hold of coming at last to live in a beautiful Green valley where they can enjoy peace and the tranquility of life together and with their family. The events of their travel could normally crush the spirit of anyone but in a memorable accounting of what befalls them Mark Sullivan does an excellent job of painting a picture of the triumph of the human spirit. The reader will not be able to lay down the book until finished and know that they have read a superb story and an extremely well told one that will stay with them for a long time.

5/2021 Paul Lane

THE LAST GREEN VALLEY by Mark Sullivan. Lake Union Publishing (May 4, 2021). ISBN: 978-1503958746. 457 pages.

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Eternal by Lisa Scottoline

March 30, 2021

ETERNAL by Lisa Scottoline. G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 1st edition (March 23, 2021). ISBN: 978-0525539766 . 480 pages.

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From Paul Lane

This novel is a five star book of course, but I found it so much more. It is also an emotional adventure that cannot be left in mid read. Must be finished in one captivating gulp. The theme is the coming of age of three people in a period of turmoil in Italy. The country had been taken over by Benito Mussolini in 1922 when as head of the newly formed fascist party set up a coup d’état becoming dictator of the country. Italians knew that any form of dissent would be met with repression, up to and including death.

Elisabetta, Marco and Sandro are the three principal characters utilized to tell the story. They were friends from childhood loving each other at first platonically, then later moving into romantic love. Elisabetta wondered which of the others she would eventually marry and both Marco and Sandro grew into dreams of being with her. Sandro was Jewish and faced his parent’s desire for him to marry within the religion. Growing up and looking for their future is interrupted by World War II and Mussolini bringing Italy into the war on Germany’s side. In order to please Hitler Mussolini promulgated a set of laws and rules modeled after the infamous Nurenberg laws that in effect removed Jews and certain other minorities from Italian citizenship. Also taking away their ability to work, own businesses and practice their religion. Eventually the Nazis took over Italy to prevent the country from moving towards alliances with the allies who were at war with Germany.

Elisabetta, Marco and Sandro come of age in this strained climate existing in Italy. The situation goes from bad to worse as Nazi troops stationed in Rome where the three live become a law unto themselves demanding and getting without possibility of review anything they desire. The author tells of a situation in which the Nazis demand a huge amount of gold from the Jewish community to benefit the German army. If they don’t come up with the gold the threat is that 200 Jews will be transferred out of the area. The community with help from others, including the Vatican manage to raise the gold. Not a surprise when the Nazis do send 200 Jews out ending up in the death camp at Auschwitz.

My recommendation for any reader is to read this novel and possibly make the same determination as I did which is that it is a classic. I am not in a position to indicate if it is Scottoline’s best book. She does have many excellent works to her credit and there is no problem in reading others and enjoying them.


THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah

February 5, 2021

THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press (February 2, 2021). ISBN: 978-1250178602 . 464 pages.

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THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead

June 29, 2020

6/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead. Anchor; Reprint edition (June 30, 2020). ISBN 978-0345804341. 224 pages.

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