THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo

June 20, 2017

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Lucy and Gabe met as students at Columbia University in New York City – on September 11, 2001. Yes, that September 11th. There was that shared trauma, but something more and Lucy was upset to find out shortly thereafter that Gabe had a girlfriend. But she moved on.

Until they met again. And it didn’t work out again. Or the next time. Star crossed lovers? Perhaps. And then finally the time was right.

By then Lucy was a successful children’s television producer and Gabe had found his calling in photojournalism. They quickly moved in together and were deliriously happy. At least Lucy was. They were in love, but Gabe was feeling stifled in his career. He wanted to go to where there were wars, where he thought his photographs might make a difference. And without telling Lucy, he arranged for such a job. Until he had to tell her because he was leaving. She was crushed.

Lucy eventually moved on. She met a man and slowly, very slowly, he wooed his way into her heart and eventually they married. But Gabe kept popping up every few years or so. At a reunion. On a stopover in NY. Lucy’s husband wasn’t a fan, but he dealt with it as best as he could. And Lucy was happy, for the most part. But Gabe was always there in her heart and after thirteen years, their history would finally catch up with them in a devastating way.

This book was unputdownable and I loved it, despite shedding tears along the way. The writing reminded me of Rainbow Rowell and especially Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, so if you are fan of those authors, try this one.

A terrific, terrible modern romance.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (May 9, 2017).  ISBN 978-0735212756.  336p.

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THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn

June 18, 2017

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She resisted.

The Alice Network was a real spy ring comprised of women during World War I led by Louise, the “Queen of the Spies.” This completely fascinating book is historical fiction based on rather mindblowing facts. It moves back and forth between World War I and the end of World War II with one character, Eve, the link between the wars.

Eve was a young girl with a stutter who really wanted to contribute during the war. She was recruited into the elite Alice Network, where she worked undercover as a waitress named Marguerite in a restaurant in Lille, France during the war.

The owner of the restaurant, René Bordulon, was a collaborator with the Germans, and all the top German brass frequented his restaurant. Eve was fluent in French, English and German but because of her stutter, she was able to play the simpleton who barely spoke French. Eventually René made his move on Marguerite, and they began an affair. She was petrified but got so much good information over pillow talk that it was worth it.

Meanwhile American Charlie St. Clair was on the hunt for her cousin, missing since the end of WWII. Charlie had a “little problem,” she got pregnant while at college and her mother has taken her to Europe for her “appointment” to get rid of the little problem. But Charlie wants to find her cousin Rose, her best friend growing up, and she refuses to believe that she is dead as her parents have told her. Shortly after arriving in Europe, she runs away from her mother and meets Eve, an older woman now with horribly disfigured hands, a vile mouth, and a severe case of PTSD. Nonetheless, Eve agrees to help and her driver, a big Scotsman, drives off with the women in search of Rose.

The story moves back and forth between Eve’s time as a spy during the war and the search for Rose, and eventually the story becomes even more intertwined. This is riveting stuff even though at times, it was quite difficult to read. The author’s notes at the end parses fiction from fact and the facts heavily win out. An excellent read for fans of historical fiction, especially with a women’s bent. This would be a fabulous choice for a book discussion as well.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn. William Morrow Paperbacks (June 6, 2017).  ISBN 978-0062654199.  528p.

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THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND by Julia Quinn

June 7, 2017

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A Bridgertons Prequel: Rokesbys, Book 2

Cecelia Harcourt is in trouble. Her brother is in the army, fighting in the colonies when she gets a letter informing her that he has been injured and is in the hospital. Her father has just died, her mother died many years earlier, and a loathesome cousin has come sniffing around, trying to talk her into marrying him. He suspects he may inherit if her brother is dead, but Cecelia wants no part of him. She could go live with an aunt, but that doesn’t appeal either.

Instead, she gathers up the strength and the courage to sail to the colonies, try and find her brother and nurse him back to health. But when she finally arrives, no one seems to know where her brother is, he is presumed missing. But she does find her brother’s best friend, Captain Edward Rokesby. He is lying in a makeshift hospital and has been unconscious for a week after receiving a terrible head wound.

The doctor in charge won’t let her help Edward until she blurts out that she is his wife, and that changes everything. She is permitted to sit by his side and nurse him back and a few days later, he regains consciousness – along with amnesia. He has no memory of the previous few months.

Oh what a plot we weave when first we practice to deceive – and while deception seems to be at the heart of a lot of romance novels, Quinn’s expertise and experience really show here. The story is believable and compelling, and I finished it in one very late night. Another excellent read from a Romance Writers of America’s Hall of Fame author.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND by Julia Quinn. Avon (May 30, 2017). ISBN: 978-0062388179. 384p.

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TREMAINE’S TRUE LOVE by Grace Burrowes

May 26, 2017

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True Gentlemen, Book 1

Not sure how I missed this, but this book was a 2016 RITA Finalist for Historical Romanace and now that I’ve read it, I know why. And look at me, starting a series with book 1! This book is from 2015, and there are two more out already. I found it on a list from Overdrive, the company from which my library (most libraries) gets most of their ebooks. Luckily I found the next two in my library on the shelf (thanks, Barbara!) especially since the ebooks have a waiting list. The fourth book in the series, His Lordship’s True Lady, comes out in June – at least on Kindle. I should be all caught up by then.

Tremaine St. Michael is of mixed heritage, Scottish on his mother’s side and a French comte on his father’s. But mostly he is a man of commerce, always wheeling and dealing and making himself a fortune in the process, mostly in the sheep/wool business. He’s visiting the Haddonfield’s in hopes of buying their rare Merino sheep. But it is the eldest daughter, Nita, who is distracting him from his business.

Nita has decided she’s never going to marry. She inherited her mother’s gift of healing, and much prefers taking care of her neighbors than staying at home. But Tremaine is unlike any of the men she has met before. Their chemistry is interesting to watch ignite.

The usual drama ensues, including a duel which doesn’t come up as often as you would think in these historical romances, so that was a nice touch. I also like that the setting was in the country, not in London like a lot of historical romances. A bit of sex, nothing too graphic, but enough to make it interesting. It was a fun, fast read and I can understand why it was nominated for the RITA award.

5/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TREMAINE’S TRUE LOVE by Grace Burrowes. Sourcebooks Casablanca (August 4, 2015) ISBN: 978-1492621027. 416p.

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THE SECOND MRS. HOCKADAY by Susan Rivers

May 12, 2017

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Placidia Fincher becomes the second Mrs. Hockaday when, at age 17, she marries Major Gryffith Hockaday. He is almost twice her age, recently widowed and left with a very young son. She agrees to marry him and the next day they return to his home, a 300 acre farm in South Carolina. The Civil War is raging, and after a couple of days of marriage, the Major returns to his post leaving his teenage bride in charge of his home, his baby, his farm and his slaves.

The Major doesn’t return home for two years, spending much of that time in a Union prison. Upon his return he learns that his wife has become pregnant and had a baby during his time away, the baby died and she is accused of murder and on her way to jail. There are a lot of plot lines threaded throughout, and a number of characters so I had to pay close attention to keep it all straight.

This is an epistolary novel, written in letters, journal entries, etc. which always gives a very intimate, voyeuristic feeling to the reader and this is no exception. There are some very dark chapters, as is to be expected during war time in the South, but it is restrained. The violence is there but is not gratuitous and is never over the top. The book is loosely based on a true incident, and the writing style is interesting and seems accurate to the time period although the lack of some punctuation is difficult at times.

One of the things I liked best about this book was that it’s a woman’s perspective of the Civil War, and the difficulties that women faced were very different from the men. A most compelling read and an excellent debut novel.

5/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SECOND MRS. HOCKADAY by Susan Rivers. Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (January 10, 2017).  ISBN 978-1616205812.  272p.

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DEVIL IN SPRING by Lisa Kleypas

April 24, 2017

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The Ravenels, Book 3

This is the third book in the series and I was all excited, thinking I had read the first two but quickly realized I had not. So I put it down, and luckily found the second book on the shelf at my library. So finally I have read all the books in a series in order! Well, at least the first three.

Lady Pandora Ravenel is a twin to Cassandra, and this is their season. Cassandra would like to meet a titled gentleman and marry. Pandora is completely opposed to the idea, but loves her sister enough to go along with it all.

Pandora is an odd duck. She has some health issues regarding night vision, balance and hearing, but that is not all. She is an inventor of board games, and her brother-in-law, Winterbourne, has agreed to stock her new games in his large department store for Christmas. But if she marries, she won’t be able to work, won’t be able to sign a contract or do anything without her husband’s express permission and Pandora is simply not interested in giving up all her rights.

Pandora and Cassandra attend balls, with Pandora usually faking injuries to avoid dancing. Instead she sits in the corner, a happy wallflower, simply observing. Until a friend begs her to do a favor – go out to the summer house and find the earring she lost during a rendezvous. Pandora nervously agrees, but when she finds the earring behind an ornately carved settee, she gets herself stuck in the carvings.

Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, is passing by and hears her cries for help. As he tries to disentangle the girl, the host of the party appears, and Pandora and Gabriel are caught alone in a very compromising position in the summerhouse. The host demands that Gabriel marry the girl as her reputation is now ruined, but Pandora is not having it. He may be the catch of London, heir to a dukedom, but she is not interested. And he doesn’t know her, other than the fact she is a bit peculiar.

The families decide to spend a week together and Pandora’s guardian swears he will not force her into marriage. She feels guilty because is she refuses, it will hurt her sister’s chances of marrying well. And the Duke is concerned because he needs a more traditional wife. But you can’t always plan these things, sometimes fate steps in and works its magic, as is the case here.

I loved the subplot about the first woman doctor in England, that was a definite bonus for me. I read the second book in this series, then the next day read this one. I have to say that this is turning into one of my favorite series!

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DEVIL IN SPRING by Lisa Kleypas. Avon (February 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0062371874. 384p.

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MARRYING WINTERBORNE by Lisa Kleypas

April 22, 2017

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The Ravenels, Book 2

This book put me in mind of the PBS series, Mr. Selfridge, about the American who built the glamorous department store in Great Britain at the turn of the last century. Rhys Winterborne is a self made Welshman, son of a grocer, who has built the world’s largest department store in London.

Winterborne may be one of the richest men in England, but he is still considered working class. So when he meets Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to have her. As wealthy as he is, he knows the only way into the gentry is to marry into it.

The become betrothed, but when he kisses her she gets scared. Helen is shy, virginal and beyond naive, and she ends up crying in her room. Her sister-in-law goes to Winterborne and breaks off the engagement, but when Helen finds out she is determined to get him back. She sneaks out on her own and barges into his office, telling him she wants him back. But he knows her guardian will not be pleased with this turn of events, so he makes her a deal – if she’ll sleep with him, thoroughly ruining her reputation, that will force her guardian to allow them to marry and convince Rhys that she is serious. She agrees.

They make their plans but as we well know, the best laid plans often go awry, and they do here. Helen finds out there is a big family secret about her parentage, and she is convinced that Rhys will not want to marry her once he finds out.

As always, Kleypas creates engaging, well drawn characters and an interesting storyline, fraught with the great pitfalls of romance. But fear not, there is, of course, a happy ending. If only life could come with the same guarantees. Another terrific read from one of my favorite authors.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MARRYING WINTERBORNE by Lisa Kleypas. Avon (May 31, 2016). ISBN 978-0062371850. 416p.

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THE ENGLISH DUKE by Karen Ranney

April 19, 2017

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The Dukes, Book 2

This was my first book from Karen Ranney, and I will be reading more. The first book in this new series is The Scottish Duke, the one following is The Texan Duke, and I’m not sure how many more there will be but this one was really good. These books are not related like most series with overlapping characters, the only thing they have in common are the titles. The Texan Duke was originally supposed to be called the American Duke, so maybe there will be more stories set in America? Just a guess.

The English Duke in question is Jordan Hamilton, the new Duke of Roth. He is an unusual duke as he is a second son so shouldn’t have inherited the title, except his older brother died. Jordan was in the Navy and then with the War Office, AKA British Intelligence, and is a scientist and an inventor who is working on torpedoes. He has been corresponding with Matthew York, an acclaimed inventor and they have enormous respect for one another.

When Matthew dies, he leaves all his notes and models from his inventions to Jordan. Matthew’s daughter Martha has been assisting her father for years, and they worked very closely together. So she is familiar with the correspondence between her father and Jordan, and is surprised that when her father asked for him to come, he ignored the letters. A year after Matthew’s death, Jordan still hasn’t responded to her letters regarding the bequest so Martha decides to deliver it to Jordan personally.

Martha, her half sister Josephine and their grandmother set off for Sedgewick, the Duke’s estate. Martha plans to deliver the materials, stay overnight at a nearby inn, and return home the next day. However her grandmother becomes quite ill, forcing the Duke to put them up in his home and when the doctor says she needs several days rest, they are all forced together. Josephine is a conniving little wretch, sure of her beauty and her ability to manipulate men. She decides she will be the next Duchess and plots and schemes to get her way.

The reason the Duke hadn’t answered any of the letters or visited the Yorks was that he suffered a horrific fall, shattering several bones. He walks with a severe limp and is often in terrible pain. Josephine thinks him “lame” and tells him so, but she is not interested in dancing with him, just in acquiring the title and the home.

Martha is a wonderful heroine. She’s smart and independent, and not looking to get married to anyone. She just wants to continue her father’s work. The Duke is a loner, happiest when tinkering in his workshop. Since they are stuck together, they end up working together and both soon realize they are meant for each other. But Josephine has other ideas.

This was a torturous read for me as the horrible Josephine almost gets away with her plot, and it isn’t resolved until the very end. I wanted to throttle Josephine, to use a term of the day, but the requisite happy ending was finally, finally reached. That said, I did end up enjoying the book, and found the torpedo plot line really interesting. One of the things I like best about historical romances, the really good ones anyway, is that I learn something about the time period and this was a good example. In fact, the author includes notes at the back of the book about her research. Highly recommended.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ENGLISH DUKE by Karen Ranney. Avon (March 28, 2017). ISBN: 978-0062466891. 384p.


A LADY’S CODE OF MISCONDUCT by Meredith Duran

March 11, 2017

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Rules for the Reckless, Book 5

Meredith Duran writes a smart and sexy book about a strong woman and politics in 1860’s Great Britain.

Jane Mason lost her parents and her father’s brother became her guardian. Her father was a maverick businessman who made a fortune and then turned to politics, trying to better lives in Great Britain. But he was also smart enough to leave the money in trust for his daughter. His brother takes over his seat in Parliament, but he is not the man his brother was. He is consumed by greed and is determined to get his hands on his niece’s fortune.

Jane was brought up educated and to speak her mind, but her uncle hides her away in the country and tries to will it out of her. Jane is smart enough to know that she is treading on thin ice, and pretends to become the “brown mouse” that her uncle wants. When she is informed that she will be marrying her cousin, she is determined to find a way out of that marriage and out on her own. She arranges a “marriage” but her uncle finds out and stops it. She learns this from Crispin Burke, a very good looking but evil politician in cahoots with her uncle. He offers her a way out if she will spy on her uncle for him and she agrees.

When Crispin is attacked and left for dead, Jane manages to “marry” him, finding her way out of the arranged marriage and into independence. Except Crispin doesn’t die. Instead he awakens with amnesia, believing Jane to be his wife and forgetting all the bad politics he’s been involved in. Together they form a strong alliance for good, but Jane is afraid once he gets his memory back he will get rid of her – and she has fallen in love with him.

Lots of political intrigue permeates this story but it is the romance that is the most intriguing. A very entertaining and enthralling read.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A LADY’S CODE OF MISCONDUCT by Meredith Duran. Pocket Books (February 28, 2017). ISBN 978-1501139024. 400p.


COOKING FOR PICASSO by Camille Aubray

March 5, 2017
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I admit I fell for the title of this book, thinking it would be a foodie book. It really isn’t, although food does play a part. But it is more a family saga, moving between small towns in France and New York, spanning almost a hundred years.

It starts just before World War II when Ondine helps her mother with the cooking and cleaning in the family’s cafe. She is just sixteen years old when an important artist rents the house down the road for the summer. The mysterious “patron” wants his lunch delivered every day, and Ondine rides her bike with her basket of food for Picasso.

He is laying low, caught in a mess – he’s married and has mistresses, all of whom are goading one another. Ondine eventually models for him, and he promises her the painting. But Picasso takes off without giving it to her.

Ondine’s parents try to marry her off to the town baker, thinking his influx of money will help the cafe. But Ondine is waiting for her boyfriend Luc, gone off to sea to make enough money to marry her. Eventually she ends up in New Rochelle, New York, with her own restaurant. Things go awry and she moves back to France with her daughter, in search of the painting that was promised her.

There are two story lines going on here. Ondine’s granddaughter returns to France to try and find the Picasso, so it moves back and forth between timelines, and the mystery makes for a very entertaining and interesting read. There is a bit of romance as well, but it feels more like a device to further the plot.

Historical novels based on someone famous have become quite popular. Fans of Paula McLain (The Paris Wife) or Nancy Horan (Loving Frank) will probably enjoy this book, although I don’t know how much of it is historically accurate. Perhaps the bits about Picasso and how he lived are the most authentic but it is all interesting. I found it a bit slow in the beginning but it picks up once the dual story line kicks in, ended up being a terrific read. Book groups will find much to discuss here.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COOKING FOR PICASSO by Camille Aubray. Ballantine Books (August 9, 2016). ISBN: 978-0399177651. 400p.

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