Spotlight Review: NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF PRINCE WERE ALIVE by Carolyn Prusa

November 8, 2022

From the publisher:

Perfect for fans of Maria Semple and Jennifer Weiner, this smart and witty debut novel follows Ramona through the forty-eight hours after her life has been upended by the discovery of her husband’s affair and an approaching Category Four hurricane.

Ramona’s got a bratty boss, a toddler teetering through toilet training, a critical mom who doesn’t mind sharing, and oops—a cheating husband. That’s how a Category Four hurricane bearing down on her life in Savannah becomes just another item on her to-do list. In the next forty-eight hours she’ll add a neighborhood child and the class guinea pig named Clarence Thomas to her entourage as she struggles to evacuate town.

Ignoring the persistent glow of her minivan’s check engine light, Ramona navigates police check points, bathroom emergencies, demands from her boss, and torrential downpours while fielding calls and apology texts from her cheating husband and longing for the days when her life was like a Prince song, full of sexy creativity and joy.

Thoroughly entertaining and completely relatable, None of This Would Have Happened if Prince Were Alive is the hilarious, heartwarming story of a woman up to her elbows in calamities and about to drive off the brink of the rest of her life.

https://amzn.to/3vL0r7z

Ramona catches her husband cheating, setting off a chain of events that culminates with a Category 4 hurricane. Savannah is under hurricane watch, but Ramona has more than the storm on her mind; her daughter is struggling with potty training, her son needs to take care of the class guinea pig during the storm, the sixteen-year-old boy next door is living alone, and her mother refuses to leave her ramshackle waterfront home. Things get even more complicated when Ramona throws her husband out, piles her kids plus the teen next door into her minivan, and takes off for safer ground. Her mom refuses to go, but says she will evacuate with a friend. Ramona hits the road and doesn’t mind stopping for food and mini-golf, but then finds out her mother has decided to stay put; she piles everyone back in the car and heads back into the eye of the storm. Meanwhile, her husband’s fling keeps calling, he keeps texting apologies, and her boss/best friend ignores her advice and has an affair with the expected results. It’s all too much and in Prusa’s hands, too funny. Caring for her kids and her mom puts Ramona squarely in the sandwich generation, but Ramona manages to handle it all with aplomb while providing cultural touchstones along the way.

Verdict: Family drama has never been so much fun! Readers who enjoy books by Maria Semple, Jennifer Weiner, and Laurie Gelman should enjoy this debut.

©Library Journal, 2022

11/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF PRINCE WERE ALIVE by Carolyn Prusa. Atria Books (November 8, 2022) ISBN: 978-1982188863. 336p.

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WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez

October 14, 2022

From the publisher:

A poignant novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border, inspired by current events.

Pulga has his dreams.
Chico has his grief.
Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home. 

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.

In this striking portrait of lives torn apart, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to light through poignant, vivid storytelling. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.

* “A brutally honest, not-to-be-missed narrative…gripping, heart-wrenching, and thrilling.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

* “A candid, realistic story that will leave readers thinking about the characters–and about our own world–long after the last page.” —SLJ, STARRED REVIEW

* “Gripping, poignant…this soul-shaking narrative [recalls] the works of Gabriel García Márquez.” —Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

* “A devastating read that is difficult to put down, this unforgettable book unflinchingly illuminates the experiences of those leaving their homes to seek safety in the United States.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

A Pura Belpré 2021 Young Adult Author Honor Book
BookPage Best Book of 2020

A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best of 2020
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2020
A New York Public Library 2020 Top 10 Best Book for Teens

https://amzn.to/3CQHmV1

I selected this book for discussion during Hispanic Heritage Month and had a discussion with 37 college freshmen. It was enlightening, to say the least.

Pulgra is 16 years old and living in a small town in Guatemala with his single mother and his best friend, Chico, who is a few years younger, after Chico’s parents were killed. Pulgra’s father left for America to pursue his music career, and Pulgra would love to follow in his footsteps. He studies the routes people have taken to get to America, saving maps and any information he can find.

One day, Pulgra & Chico stop by the local bodega, where the owner, an old man, told them he would give them each a soda if they would help him stock the shelves. While they were working in the back, Rey, the local drug king pin, and his henchmen came in and kill the old man. Terrified, Pulgra & Chico waited in the back until they felt they could leave without being seen.

Rey had taken over this small town, terrorizing all the residents who came in contact with him, including the police. He sexually assaults Pequeña, a 17-year-old, and she ends up pregnant, scared to death of Rey, and afraid to tell her mother who the father is. She tries suicide, but ultimately lives and the book opens with her giving birth to a baby she does not want. Meanwhile, Rey keeps coming by and tells her he wants to marry her and gives her a diamond ring. Too terrified to say no, and sure he will kill her eventually, she turns to her friend Pulgra.

It turns out Rey’s spies did see Pulgra and Chico leaving the bodega, and now he is forcing the boys to work for him, and they don’t know what to do. When Pequeña approaches the boys about leaving and heading to the United States, they all decide it is the only way out. They know it is a very dangerous route, but they feel as though they have no choice – the danger they will leave behind will only get worse, if not deadly, if they stay.

The book follows their journey, from a middle-of-the-night bus ride out of Guatemala through Mexico to riding Le Bestia, the train that will take them to America – if they survive. They cannot buy tickets; instead, they have to hop on and off the train to avoid border checks. There are shelters along the way – some are wonderful, others are dangerous. Pequeña disguises herself as a boy, cutting off her hair, and has left her baby behind. None of them told their mothers that they were leaving.

It is a long, arduous journey that alternates between heartbreaking and horrifying. Arriving at the U.S. border is no picnic either, and the author pulls no punches about how asylum-seeking immigrants are treated, even children. The author’s inspiration was taken mostly from the news, but also her own family. While she was born in America, her mother was from Guatemala and they visited often, so the house and town where the boys live are based on her aunt’s house in that same town.

This was a very difficult read due to the power of the story, but it was also compelling and impossible to put down. If you have any interest in the reality of why people risk their lives to come here, or how they get here, beyond the politics and the sound bites, this is a good way to find out. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not walking away more empathetic to immigrants. I couldn’t help but get angry, too, about the U.S. immigration policies and lack of compassion in this country.

A few of the students in the book discussion with me were from other countries; South Africa, Trinidad, and a couple from Venezuela. They shared some of their experiences in their countries, and it was enlightening while at the same time, so sad. The young woman from Trinidad said that kidnappings are a daily occurrence there, and kidnappers tend to drive white Jeeps, so when she sees a white Jeep here, she panics. She realizes it is not the same here, but some things just become ingrained.

I am not much of a TikTok viewer, but I was curious about this book, as it is a Young Adult book that is a tear-jerker, the best-loved fodder on “Book Tok”. Sure enough, there are many videos of young women raving about this book and crying – this was my favorite.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez. Viking Books for Young Readers (May 18, 2021). ISBN:‎ 978-1984812285. 368p.

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MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan

October 7, 2022

From the publisher:

GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • A soul-stirring novel about what we choose to keep from our past and what we choose to leave behind, from the New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here and the bestselling author of She’s Not There

Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.

Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start. 

And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .

Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.

“Best-selling Picoult and Boylan team up for this timely, gripping story about a teen accused of murdering his girlfriend… The courtroom drama makes for gripping reading; a reveal about Lily at the midway point adds another dimension to the case, and Olivia grapples with the possibility that her son could take after her ex-husband more than he does her. This timely and absorbing read will make readers glad these two powerful writers decided to collaborate.” Booklist, starred review

“Picoult joins forces with novelist and transgender activist Boylan for a spellbinding yarn involving a teen’s trial for murder.” Publishers Weekly

The shocking murder of a teenager thrusts a small town into the headlines and destabilizes the lives of everyone who knew her… A well-paced story that highlights several timely issues, with a stimulating courtroom trial that makes it worth reading.” Kirkus Reviews

https://amzn.to/3eaMWbd

I haven’t read Picoult in a few years, I guess, but I was intrigued by the fact she has a co-author. Is she going the way of James Patterson and pushing out more books by using co-authors? She’s writing with her daughter as well. But after reading the rather lengthy author’s note at the end of the book, I am relieved to say she is not. This was a one-off, I think, but you never know.

This is a book full of secrets that slowly unspool throughout the story. It isn’t until the halfway point that we get the biggest secret, one that I never saw coming. Several reviewers have mentioned this, but no spoilers here. Let’s just say all these characters reveal different aspects of their lives and therein lies the intrigue of this story.

Olivia is a beekeeper, and that aspect of the book was just fascinating to me. We had a big urn in the backyard next to a small pond, and one year bees moved into the urn and formed a hive there. A couple of years later, they came back, but this time to a different spot. We have a pizza oven that my husband built in our backyard, and underneath it is storage for wood & tools. For three years in a row, bees have made their way inside and formed a massive hive. We’ve been fortunate to find beekeepers in our area who were willing to collect the hives. But I really didn’t want them to come back, so my husband designed a sealed covering for the storage area that will hopefully keep the bees out. And we sacrificed the urn to the beekeeper who collected that hive. I never heard of mad honey before, although I did know about telling the bees when someone dies from the last Outlander book by Diana Gabaldon, Go Tell the Bees I am Gone, and of course, everyone learned about this practice when Queen Elizabeth passed.

The courtroom scenes are riveting, and if you are a Picoult fan, you may recognize one of the lawyers. I love when authors leave us these little Easter eggs, and I admit it took me a minute to realize I knew this lawyer. The book does get a bit…I want to say preachy, but that’s not quite right. Let’s just say there is some educating going on here, and that is a very good thing considering Picoult’s reach and Boylan’s expertise. It may cost Picoult some fans but hopefully will gain her new ones to offset the loss.

All in all, this is a very engaging story with interesting characters and quite a bit of suspense. Picoult is the queen of family dramas, and she retains her crown with this latest endeavor. I couldn’t put the book down and there is so much to discuss, your book club will love it.

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan. Ballantine Books (October 4, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1984818386. 464p.

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Spotlight Review: OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng

October 4, 2022

From the publisher:

From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere, comes one of the most highly anticipated books of the year – the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.

Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.

The Reese’s Book Club October Pick!

“It’s impossible not to be moved.” —Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

“Known for focusing on families, race, and relationships, Ng raises the bar another notch in a story intensified by reference to such police violence, political protest, book banning, and discrimination against people of color. Ng’s beautiful yet chilling tale will resonate with readers who enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Jessamine Chan’s more recent School for Good Mothers. As with her previous novels, her storytelling will not disappoint.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn . . . Thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving . . . Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“Remarkable . . . Ng crafts an affecting family drama out of the chilling and charged atmosphere, and shines especially when offering testimony to the power of art and storytelling . . . Ng’s latest crackles and sizzles all the way to the end.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[So] much of this utterly stupendous tale is hauntingly, horrifically, historically, currently all too real, from removing and caging children to anti-Asian hate crimes, violent protests, police brutality, and despotic (so-called) leadership. Yet Ng creates an exquisite story of unbreakable family bonds, lifesaving storytelling (and seemingly omniscient librarians!), brilliantly subversive art, and accidentally transformative activism. As lyrical as it is chilling, as astonishing as it is empathic, Our Missing Hearts arguably achieves literary perfection.” —Booklist (starred review)

https://amzn.to/3yf7vtY

I read this book over a weekend and hated turning that last page. It’s been too long since we’ve had a book from Ng, after her previous bestsellers Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, which I loved. Those books dealt with families and racism in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This book is even better, and I truly didn’t think that was possible. It also deals with families and racism but leaves Ohio and goes way beyond those topics to include politics, censorship, book banning, radical librarians (yay!) and so much more.

I hope it reaches a broad audience because I’m curious about how the political right would view this book. Ng takes what has been happening in this country over the past several years and gives it a boost, as it were, by putting all of it into this hauntingly beautiful story set in an America maybe a few years into the future. Or maybe it’s now, with the screens pulled back and a spotlight shining on what could be, quite easily.

Ng’s characters propel the story, and we are drawn into their world which again, feels too much like our world. Or just one step away…rampant inflation and unemployment, bookshelves bare, authoritarianism run amok with children taken from their families because their parents are not falling in line with the authoritarian government. People turning on each other à la McCarthyism, and everyone is afraid to speak out. The cops are reminiscent of the Brown Shirts, with unbridled power and a complete lack of humanity. China is the common enemy, deemed the destroyer of the American economy. Asians, Asian-Americans, or really anyone who appears Asian at all are subject to unprovoked violence and death, with no one helping or caring while it all seems perfectly legal and even expected. 

This was not an easy read because it’s all so abhorrent, disturbing, and way too close to where we seem to be heading in this country. And I suppose that was the point. This is a book that is crying out to be discussed, and don’t be surprised if your book group reaches new heights of passion. I loved this book as much as I hated what was happening in it. Our Missing Hearts is an unforgettable page-turner rooted in American politics, then spun out into a terrifyingly dark near-future and a stunningly beautiful novel. All I can say is put this on your “must-read” list. 

10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng. Penguin Press (October 4, 2022). ISBN: 978-0593492543. 352p.

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Spotlight Review: TAKE IT FROM ME by Jamie Beck

September 20, 2022

From the publisher:

A humorous and heartwarming novel about friendship and all its little secrets by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jamie Beck.

Wendy Moore hides her collection of pilfered bric-a-brac from everyone, including her husband. He thinks she licked her kleptomania in therapy more than a decade ago. Therapy did help, as did focusing her attention on motherhood. But now Wendy’s gardening and furniture-refinishing hobbies fill up only so much of the day, leaving the recent empty nester lonely and anxious – a combination likely to trigger her little problem. She needs a project, fast. Luckily, Harper Ross – a single, childless younger woman in desperate need of highlights – just moved in next door.

The only thing Harper wants to change is the writer’s block toppling her confidence and career. Then a muse comes knocking. Sensing fodder for a new antagonist, Harper plays along with Wendy’s “helpful” advice while keeping her career a secret so Wendy keeps talking. Sure, she’s torn about profiting off her neighbor’s goodwill – especially when Wendy’s matchmaking actually pans out – but Harper’s novel is practically writing itself.

Just as a real friendship begins to cement, their deceptions come to light, threatening Wendy’s and Harper’s futures and forcing them to reconcile who they are with who they want to be. Easier said than done.

https://amzn.to/3xbMIHG

Harper is a novelist whose first two books met with acclaim, but her third was a stinker. Afraid she’s lost her talent, she puts her Manhattan condo up for sale and rents a house in the suburbs of Connecticut. Her agent and editor are pushing her in a different direction, and she is hopeful that the fresh start in a new locale will give her the impetus she needs to write a better book. Wendy lives nearby and is dealing with an upcoming empty nest, and doesn’t have many friends. She has a shameful secret; she suffers from a mental illness which is handled sensitively here. The two women meet and form a friendship of sorts, except Harper is using Wendy as inspiration for her new book, and is lying about her occupation. Wendy is happy to have a new friend, especially a younger woman she can mother a bit and act as a matchmaker, too. When all the secrets come out, the friendship is strained beyond repair, or so it seems.

Verdict: Many women will see aspects of themselves here in this relatable women’s fiction that should appeal to book clubs and readers who enjoy books by Danielle Steel or Kristin Hannah.

©Library Journal, 2022

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

TAKE IT FROM ME by Jamie Beck. Montlake (September 20, 2022). ISBN: 978-1542032391. 347p.

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SUGAR AND SALT by Susan Wiggs

July 29, 2022

Bella Vista Chronicles, Book 4

From the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of The Lost and Found Bookshop brings readers a can’t-miss tale of friendship, hardship, redemption, and love between a San Francisco baker and a barbecue master from Texas.

Jerome Sugar learned the art of baking in his grandma’s bakery, also called Sugar, on historic Perdita Street in San Francisco. He supplies baked goods to the Lost and Found Bookshop across the street.

When the restaurant that shares his commercial kitchen loses its longtime tenant, a newcomer moves in: Margot Salton, a barbecue master from Texas.

Margot isn’t exactly on the run, but she needs a fresh start. She’s taken care of herself her whole life, pulling herself up by her fingernails to recover from trauma, and her dream has been to open a restaurant somewhere far, far from Texas. The shared kitchen with Jerome’s Sugar bakery is the perfect setup: a state-of-the-art kitchen and a vibrant neighborhood popular with tourists and locals.

Margot instantly takes to Jerome’s mother, the lively, opinionated Ida. The older woman proves to be a good mentor, and Margot is drawn to Jerome. Despite their different backgrounds their attraction is powerful—even though Jerome worries that Margot will simply move on from him once she’s found some peace and stability. But just as she starts to relax into a happy new future, Margot’s past in Texas comes back to haunt her…

https://amzn.to/3BiUOkf

I love Susan Wiggs’ books; they always have intriguing characters, interesting settings, and unputdownable stories, and this is no exception.

This is not the book I thought I would be reading based on the publisher’s description (above.) All that is true, but it misses the major plot points of the story and why I was so drawn into it. Yes, there is a romance, two in fact, but while it is the premise that allows this story to be told, it is not your usual boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-back-again story.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I will tell you it deals with a small town in Texas, a rape, and the unwanted pregnancy that follows (despite what some incredibly ignorant Republican congressmen have said about what they call “legitimate rape,” and that women’s bodies somehow can block an unwanted pregnancy. Science, people!) It deals with abortion and adoption and prison and women’s rights. It deals with our justice system and how it favors the rich. It could not be more timely, and all these things are handled with truth and grace and real life emotions.

This is one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read in a while. It made me think about things I’d rather not, but it was okay in this novel. It would undoubtedly lead to a lively (possibly contentious) book discussion and it makes me sorry I don’t have that option anymore. It’s an important story, a woman’s story, and I hope it is widely read and discussed.

While this is the fourth book of a series, it easily stands alone, as do all the books in this series. That said, I have loved every one of them and highly recommend them all. Do yourself a favor and read them in whatever order you can get them. This one is sure to make my best books of the year list.

The Bella Vista Chronicles in Order:

  1. The Apple Orchard
  2. The Beekeeper’s Ball
  3. The Lost and Found Bookshop
  4. Sugar and Salt

 You’re welcome.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SUGAR AND SALT by Susan Wiggs. William Morrow (July 26, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0062914224. 368p.

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THE BRIDESMAIDS UNION by Jonathan Vatner

June 17, 2022

From the publisher:

From the author of Carnegie Hill, comes Jonathan Vatner’s The Bridesmaids Union, a captivating novel of family, Facebook groups, and bridesmaids gone rogue.

Iris Hagarty has just about had it with weddings. After witnessing one too many meltdowns over flower arrangements, she takes to the internet to vent about the trials and tribulations of being a bridesmaid to demanding and ungrateful brides. She finds she is not alone, and soon becomes the moderator of a Facebook group full of other bridesmaids, eager to share their own horror stories.

Enter Iris’s sister Jasmine, the golden child and their parents’ obvious favorite, newly engaged and wanting none other than Iris to be her maid of honor. Knowing full well that Jasmine doesn’t need a wedding to bring out her spoiled side, Iris buckles in for a bumpy ride. At least now she has an outlet―one full of new online friends hungry for juicy details.

But as the Bridesmaids Union grows, Iris finds it harder to keep under control. And she even has some doubts about whether there will be a wedding after all. While Jasmine’s fiancé, David, seems smitten with his bride-to-be, Iris is less sure about her social-climber sister’s intentions. Though that could just be because Iris is having trouble keeping her own eyes off of the groom.

Brimming with family drama, and set in the ever-encroaching world of Instagram DM’s and Facebook flame wars, The Bridesmaids Union shows the power and limits of alliances we form on social media, and how to make the most of the ones we’re born into.

https://amzn.to/3hyL4XR

Vatner follows up Carnegie Hill with a not-so-lighthearted look at bridezillas and the bridesmaids that serve them. Iris has been estranged from her family since the 2016 election. She was a staunch Hillary supporter, her sister Jasmine didn’t bother to vote, and her parents are evangelical, one issue Trump supporters. So when Jasmine asks Iris to be a bridesmaid, Iris is surprised but happy. Jasmine is a micro-influencer and wants an Instagram worthy wedding with a farm-inspired theme. Iris has already been a bridesmaid twice this year and she really needs a place to vent about Jasmine’s crazy wedding ideas. She starts a secret Facebook group and soon a few hundred women are sharing bridal horror stories. Meanwhile, Ryan, a popular style influencer in the group, helps Iris out and she makes him an admin. When Jasmine goes off the deep end, Ryan decides to out her and makes the group public. Iris is cancelled, there are a lot of hurt feelings before the surprise ending.

Verdict: Family drama, politics, and religion make for interesting fodder but may turn off some readers. Should appeal to fans of Jonathan Tropper’s novels.

©Library Journal, 2022

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE BRIDESMAIDS UNION by Jonathan Vatner. St. Martin’s Press (June 14, 2022). ISBN: 978-1250762399. 336p.

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THE WAY FROM HERE by Jane Cockram

March 25, 2022

From the publisher:

Three generations of women. Three generations worth of secrets. Will a cache of letters from beyond the grave hold the key to unravelling them all? The answer to that question lies at the heart of this addictive and atmospheric novel from the author of The House of Brides.

Growing up, the Anderson sisters could not have been more different. Susie, the wild one, had an adventurous life while Camilla— Mills—followed a safer path. When Susie suddenly dies, Mills falls apart. Until she receives a bundle of mysterious letters from her estranged sister to be read in the case of her death. Each letter instructs her to visit a place special to Susie, both to spread her ashes but also to uncover some truths Susie has long kept hidden from her family.

Their mother Margaret has secrets of her own. When living in Swinging Sixties London, she too made a decision about her life that not only haunts her, but will reverberate through the generations.

One family, three very different women. What choices and secrets connect them? In this novel of truth and lies, concealment and regret, Jane Cockram flips the looking glass to expose our true face, revealing the deep lines of deception that can run through families and how the people we love the most often have the most to hide.

https://amzn.to/3Aq33Zj

This multi-generational story of family secrets by Cockram (The House of Brides) centers on two sisters; Camilla, the “good” daughter who follows the rules, and Susie, the rebel.  When Susie suddenly dies, she leaves behind a series of letters for Camilla, instructing her to scatter Susie’s ashes in the various places she visited one summer in 1998. Camilla honors her sister’s wishes even though it puts a strain on her marriage.

Three generations of women in this family have skeletons in their closets, all involving another family, the Rowes. Susie met David Rowe that fateful summer in London, followed him to a tiny island in France, where she met his girlfriend Isabelle, then met Henri and fell in love. Things ended badly, and now Susie’s letters have sent Camilla on a trail that has threatened to reveal things her mother and grandmother never wanted exposed. Turns out there is a lot of juicy history between the families, and all is eventually revealed.

Verdict: This somewhat convoluted story gets bogged down by jumping time periods, but ultimately reaches a satisfying conclusion. Should appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty or Celeste Ng.

©Library Journal, 2022

3/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE WAY FROM HERE by Jane Cockram. Harper (March 1, 2022). ISBN: 978-0062939326. 320p.

way from here TURNER

Kindle: NOTE: The Kindle version is showing a different cover and a different author – I’m assuming one of these names is a pseudonym?

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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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