THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michele Richardson

May 24, 2019

5/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michele Richardson. Sarah Crichton Books (April 16, 2019). ISBN  978-0374156022. 368p.

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MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim

May 8, 2019

5/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim. Sarah Crichton Books (April 16, 2019). ISBN  978-0374156022. 368p.

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DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

March 30, 2019

3/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Ballantine Books (March 5, 2019). ISBN  978-1524798628. 368p.

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THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander

February 3, 2019

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From the publisher:

For fans of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist

A tour-de-force about two women and the piano that inexorably ties their lives together through time and across continents, for better and for worse.

In 1962, in the Soviet Union, eight-year-old Katya is bequeathed what will become the love of her life: a Blüthner piano, built at the turn of the century in Germany, on which she discovers everything that she herself can do with music and what music, in turn, does for her. Yet after marrying, she emigrates with her young family from Russia to America, at her husband’s frantic insistence, and her piano is lost in the shuffle.

In 2012, in Bakersfield, California, twenty-six-year-old Clara Lundy loses another boyfriend and again has to find a new apartment, which is complicated by the gift her father had given her for her twelfth birthday, shortly before he and her mother died in a fire that burned their house down: a Blüthner upright she has never learned to play. Orphaned, she was raised by her aunt and uncle, who in his car-repair shop trained her to become a first-rate mechanic, much to the surprise of her subsequent customers. But this work, her true mainstay in a scattered life, is put on hold when her hand gets broken while the piano’s being moved–and in sudden frustration she chooses to sell it. And what becomes crucial is who the most interested party turns out to be. . .


I had read a review of this book that intrigued me, so I started reading it. A few hours later, I read the last page. Cander is a terrific storyteller, she drew me in and kept me turning the pages. There were plenty of surprises throughout the story; although some readers may figure them out, I did not.

The book opens with the construction of a Blüthner piano, a fascinating tale about a brand of piano I had not heard of, that is supposedly in the same class as a Steinway. I quickly realized that the piano would be a character in this book. Cander makes it possible to grow attached to an inanimate object, for her characters and the reader.

The story then moves back and forth in time, following the piano through two storylines. The way the book is laid out they are easy to follow. The main characters are mostly well developed, the secondary characters not as much, but had they been, the book may have gotten too unwieldy. Rather like moving a piano, a task that is difficult and quite the metaphor in this book. I loved the way the stories unfurl and wind around one another, carefully building towards an intertwined resolution.

This is an excellent read sure to be beloved by book groups as there is much to discuss here, from the immigration of Russian Jews to the relationships that are so well depicted. Highly recommended.

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander. Knopf (January 22, 2019).  ISBN 978-0525654674.  336p.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens

December 14, 2018

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From the publisher:

#1 New York Times Bestseller
A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

 


The publisher’s description doesn’t begin to do this book justice. It came out last summer and I missed it completely. I started hearing about it from my library patrons and was surprised to discover a very long waiting list for the book. I finally got it and read it in one night. It was unputdownable.

Kya is a most unusual character and we meet her when she is about five years old. Her coming of age is an astonishing story and beautifully told. The writing is simply superlative, the descriptions just bring this unusual setting, a marsh in rural North Carolina, to life.

The story is written in two timelines which are easily followed, and eventually meet. There is a mystery at the heart of this story and the ending was a shocker.

I haven’t taken Reese Witherspoon’s recommendations very seriously but I will now. Where the Crawdads Sing is perfect for book discussion and anyone who enjoys a good story, engaging characters and beautiful writing. I loved it.

11/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. G.P. Putnam’s Sons; First Edition, First Printing edition (August 14, 2018). ISBN 978-0735219090. 384p.

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UNSHELTERED by Barbara Kingsolver

October 16, 2018

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From the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.

How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? Willa Knox and her husband followed all the rules as responsible parents and professionals, and have nothing to show for it but debts and an inherited brick house that is falling apart. The magazine where Willa worked has folded; the college where her husband had tenure has closed. Their dubious shelter is also the only option for a disabled father-in-law and an exasperating, free-spirited daughter. When the family’s one success story, an Ivy-educated son, is uprooted by tragedy he seems likely to join them, with dark complications of his own.

In another time, a troubled husband and public servant asks, How can a man tell the truth, and be reviled for it? A science teacher with a passion for honest investigation, Thatcher Greenwood finds himself under siege: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their elegant house is unsound. In a village ostensibly founded as a benevolent Utopia, Thatcher wants only to honor his duties, but his friendships with a woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s powerful men.

Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.


Anytime Kingsolver publishes a book, it is an event, especially a new novel, and this one was worth the wait. That said, it probably helps that my politics align with hers. If you are unfamiliar with Kingsolver, she gently weaves issues throughout her novels. She is adept at doing so without hitting the reader over the head with a sledgehammer; it’s more like a Nerf bat.

The book moves back and forth between centuries, and I loved the device she used of taking the last words of one chapter and making them the chapter name of the next. It was surprising easy to follow both storylines, which isn’t always the case. The characters lead both storylines and they all were well developed – I expect no less from this author and she does not disappoint.

Kingsolver looks at healthcare, the environment, climate change, racism and the politics of the day, the current administration included. Again, subtlety is the game here but her points are well made and well taken. This should be a terrific book for discussion, although they may be heated discussions – and there is nothing wrong with that. Highly recommended.

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

UNSHELTERED by Barbara Kingsolver. Harper (October 16, 2018). ISBN 978-0062684561. 480p.

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A SPARK OF LIGHT by Jodi Picoult

October 2, 2018

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From the publisher:

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things returns with a powerful and provocative new novel about ordinary lives that intersect during a heart-stopping crisis.

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult – one of the most fearless writers of our time – tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation…and, hopefully, understanding.


So the good: it is no exaggeration to say that Picoult is fearless in taking on abortion. She does a very good job of exploring and explaining all sides of this controversial issue. It is well written, well researched, and the characters – and there are many – are well developed, even memorable.

What I didn’t love about it was the timeline. The story moves backwards in time, albeit for a good reason; the ending, which I loved, was a shocker. And it did force me to read very carefully and think about what I was reading and where I was in the story, so maybe that was the point?

The subject matter alone makes this a worthwhile read, but I didn’t like it as much as her last book, Small Great Things. Then again, I think that was her best book so maybe I should just cut her some slack. After all, Picoult has consistently written excellent books, year after year, and this one certainly is as well, plus it is sure to loved by book groups.

All that said, people who support the “right to life” may not be happy. Just FYI.

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

A SPARK OF LIGHT by Jodi Picoult. Ballantine Books (October 2, 2018). ISBN 978-0345544988. 384p.

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THE LOST FOR WORDS BOOKSHOP by Stephanie Butland

July 26, 2018

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Loveday Cardew is the character at the heart of this sweet, yet melancholy story. Loveday has always found solace in books and lucky for her, she works as a bookseller, her dream job; in fact, she has the first lines of some of her favorite books tattooed on her body. She’s worked for Archie, a charming curmudgeon, for ten years, since she was 15 years old and got herself out of the foster care system. She has had a traumatic life with some serious family issues that she slowly reveals, that mystery keeps the pages turning. Plus she is so endearing that we can’t help but root for her.

Loveday has never had a real relationship with a man, and then there are two men pursuing her, and she’s not sure how to handle it. To say she is close-mouthed hardly touches the surface, she literally reveals nothing about herself until she is forced into it.

I loved these characters and while this was a sadder story than I was expecting, I couldn’t put it down. To watch this young woman grow is both unexpected and beautiful, and a joy to read.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LOST FOR WORDS BOOKSHOP by Stephanie Butland. St. Martin’s Press (June 19, 2018). ISBN 13: 978-1250124531.  368p.

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ALL WE EVER WANTED by Emily Giffin

July 6, 2018

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This deep dive into a suburban community torn apart by a teenage girl’s half naked photo is a bit of a departure for Giffin, but she does a damn fine job of it.

Nina Browning married well. Growing up in a middle class family did not prepare her for the life that happens when her husband Kirk sells his high tech startup for some serious money. Kirk was brought up in the country club set, and has no trouble processing their new found wealth. Their only disagreements concern their son, Finch. Nina is afraid he is getting spoiled and does her best to ground him, while Kirk’s basic philosophy is if we can afford it, who cares.

Lyla is a scholarship student at the exclusive private school Finch attends. Self conscious of her status, Lyla has a huge crush on Finch so when he invites her to a party, she lies to her father and goes. Lyla’s dad, Tom, is a carpenter and a single parent who may struggle a bit raising his only child, but he is a good father.

Lyla gets drunk at the party and when a picture of her passed out on a bed, her breast exposed, is sent to a few students, of course it goes viral and the next thing she knows the whole school knows about it.

When Nina finds out she is devastated to learn that Finch is the one who sent out the pic. Kirk, on the other hand, figures he can just bribe his son out of trouble. Tom is furious and can’t understand why Lyla doesn’t want to pursue the culprit.

This is a story that seems like it could happen almost anywhere today. Giffin really explores all sides and writes a very compelling novel that would make for a very interesting book discussion. I couldn’t put it down. If you like Jodi Picoult, you will like this book. I sure did.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ALL WE EVER WANTED by Emily Giffin. Ballantine Books (June 26, 2018).  ISBN 978-0399178924.  352p.

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THE MUSIC SHOP by Rachel Joyce

July 2, 2018

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From the publisher:

“An unforgettable story of music, loss and hope. Fans of High Fidelity, meet your next quirky love story.”—People

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE TIMES (UK)

It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift;

Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need. Then, one day, into his shop comes a beautiful young woman, Ilse Brauchmann, who asks Frank to teach her about music. Terrified of real closeness, Frank feels compelled to turn and run, yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems, and Frank has old wounds that threaten to reopen, as well as a past it seems he will never leave behind.

Can a man who is so in tune with other people’s needs be so incapable of connecting with the one person who might save him? The journey that these two quirky, wonderful characters make in order to overcome their emotional baggage speaks to the healing power of music—and love—in this poignant, ultimately joyful work of fiction.


Every year the American Library Association encourages a summer reading program. This year’s theme is “Libraries Rock!” so I leaned in with some music programs including a book discussion featuring The Music Shop.

Rachel Joyce had a couple of hits on her hands with the Harold Fry books (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy,) but I couldn’t get into the first one and didn’t bother with the second. So I had some trepidation about choosing this book. But my BFF Judy loved it and I trust her so I selected it for the summer reading book discussion. Ultimately, I am very happy that I did.

It is, as the publisher explains, both a love story and a journey through music, and it is the journey that kept me turning pages. I did find it slow going through a good chunk of the book, and to define these characters as quirky is to practically redefine the word.

The main character, Frank, is obsessed with music and vinyl records, in particular. The book is set mostly in the 1980’s when CDs were first becoming popular. Frank refuses to carry anything other than vinyl, which becomes a problem for distributors after a while. He also has his own unique filing system – he groups albums together by how he thinks they go together. He has an innate sense of music and can see the music that people need. For instance, a man comes in asking for Chopin, but Frank knows he needs Aretha Franklin’s “Oh No Not My Baby”.

We learn about Frank’s most unusual childhood, which explains a lot of his passion. Kit works for Frank and he is a bumbling, not very bright, but sincere young man. The folks who own the neighboring shops are also eccentric, to the point where there doesn’t seem to be a single character who seems “normal”, whatever that is, or even believable. A little believability would have been a nice touch here or there.

When Ilse comes into their lives, she makes quite an entrance – she faints dead away. Eventually her music lessons with Frank leads to them falling in love but neither will admit it. Ilse is scared due to her backstory, and Frank has serious trust and commitment issues due to his own life experiences.

But what brings them together is the music, and the music is what makes this book worth reading. I learned a lot, and I was delighted to find the author created a playlist to go along with the book. You can find it on Spotify (free accounts available) or on YouTube. Penguin UK has a wonderful page set up with some quotes from the book and the music discussed:

https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/book-talk/soundtrack/2017/the-music-shop-playlist/

You can get a real feel for the book on that page and see what I’m babbling about. This is a wonderful book to discuss, and ultimately an unusual and lovely read.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE MUSIC SHOP by Rachel Joyce. Random House (January 2, 2018).  ISBN 978-0812996685.  320p.

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