A NOTORIOUS VOW by Joanna Shupe

October 9, 2018

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The Four Hundred Series, Book 3

From the publisher:

Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

This is a terrific serie – I love the time period, 1890’s, and the setting, New York City. Shupe writes wonderfully damaged characters and Oliver Hawkes is no exception. Hawkes went deaf as a teenager, and has put up with derision, taunting and worse for most of his life. It has driven him to the point of becoming a recluse, and luckily, he is wealthy enough to be able to afford it. To see how deaf people were treated at that time was appalling, and I appreciated the historically accurate references.

Lady Christina is another messy character, the daughter of abusive parents. Her mother has been demeaning her for all of her life, leaving Christina with virtually no self esteem and the desire to make everyone around her happy. It would never occur to her that she deserves to be happy, too.

This is a marriage of inconvenience, if you will. Of course it leads to a very happy ending but there are dreadful trials along the way. It was a one night read for me, I couldn’t put it down. A wonderful escape that made me (almost) happy to be living in 21st century America.

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A NOTORIOUS VOW by Joanna Shupe. Avon (September 25, 2018).  ISBN 978-0062678942. 384p.





October 7, 2018

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From the publisher:

This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an extraordinary document, a story about the extremes of human behavior existing side by side: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I find it hard to imagine anyone who would not be drawn in, confronted and moved. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone, whether they’d read a hundred Holocaust stories or none.”—Graeme Simsion, internationally-bestselling author of The Rosie Project

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

I find Holocaust books difficult to read so I try and limit them to only one or two a year. I’m sorry I wasted a read on this book.

The story is interesting for sure, as it is based on a true story. In fact the actual subject of the book, the protagonist, writes an afterward. But it is the writing that is most off-putting to me. I believe this is a first novel and it definitely reads like one. There is a lot of telling, not showing, and the dialogue is often stilted. This was surprising, as Morris is a screenwriter so I would think the dialogue would be in her wheelhouse, and the descriptions aren’t great either. At first I thought maybe it was translated, as that can have an impact on language for sure, but I don’t think so.

That said, it has over 20,000 five star reviews on Goodreads, which is one of the reasons I picked it up. While the writing style was not for me, obviously I am in the minority here. Most of the reviews recommend it for book discussion and I can understand that and may, in fact, use it for my book group at the library. I find the best discussions happen when there is disagreement about a book, so maybe.

If you’ve already read it, or plan on reading it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ by Heather Morris. Harper (September 4, 2018).  ISBN 978-0062870674. 288p.




September 30, 2018

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A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War

Stories mainly untold about war are those of the soldiers captured on the battlefield and held prisoner until the end of the war they have fought in. Neal Bascomb has written such a book involving British prisoners held in Germany during World War One, their treatment by the German military, their thoughts and dreams and the many and varied attempts at escape successes and recapture.

The amount of research that has obviously gone into the project dealing with events of a century ago is prodigious to say the least. Drawing on documents held by museums, families of the men that lived the experience, and scholarly works as found help to bring to light stories of real people and real events during the War to end all wars.

The first section of the book involves experiences of many men in various prison camps, descriptions obtained by research of the actions involved in the attempts and of course the results. By no means a dry chronicle of old news we have the experience of meeting real young men that had faced the entrance into the horrific experience of modern combat and than being captured and imprisoned. They lived lives of complete and utter boredom in the prison camps as well as facing deprivation of normal meals, and atmospheres of filth and possible brutality at the hands of their jailers.

The final section of the book is a description of the breakout of prisoners from one of the worst of the camps: Holzminden situated about 150 miles from Holland than neutral and the planned destination of the escapees. Twenty six prisoners fled the camp at one time making it the largest escape attempt up until that time. Details of the plans, the coordination and the results are presented and make the breakout real to any reader of the book.

I must indicate that the book is nowhere near the dry tome that it might thought of as being. The young men had real lives and certainly went on from their captivity to life after the war. There is chronicling of some of them, including several that went on to present their experiences to groups of soldiers and airmen destined to take part in World War Two. The point is made that the accounts presented helped to sharpen the escape attempts of these men in their turn.

9/18 Paul Lane

THE ESCAPE ARTISTS by Neal Bascomb. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 18, 2018).  ISBN 978-0544937116. 336p.




September 22, 2018

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Girl Meets Duke Series, Book 2

From the publisher:

He’s been a bad, bad rake—and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson

The accidental governess

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart . . . without risking her own.

The infamous rake

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling . . . and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

I love Tessa Dare and this is a really good example of why. Her writing is crisp, the dialogue is fast and funny, the pages fly by and the characters come to life on the page. Dare takes things even further by making her heroine half-mestiza Filipino. Diversity is a wonderful thing and I am happy to see traditional authors expanding their horizons from the of-so-white world of Regency England. Many authors create strong female heroines that behave in ways that are completely out of character for the time period, so why not mix up the races, too. The point is not belabored by any means, but just is. And it works.

Another excellent addition to Dare’s body of work.

9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE GOVERNESS GAME by Tessa Dare. Avon (August 28, 2018).  ISBN 978-0062672124. 384p.





September 18, 2018

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School for Dukes, Book 2

Did you know if you pre-order a book from Amazon, they will have it at your door on publication day?

From the publisher:

If adventure has a name…it must be Lady India Rochester. The intrepid archaeologist possesses a sharp blade and an even sharper knack for uncovering history’s forgotten women. Unfortunately, she has one annoying weakness: the dangerously handsome Duke of Ravenwood. Former best friend. Current enemy. And the man who dared to break her heart.

Daniel Bonds, the Duke of Ravenwood, is a thrill-seeking antiquities hunter who only plays by one rule: Never fall in love. He’s in it for the fortune and glory. At least that’s what he wants the world to think. He’s sworn to hide his tangled web of secrets, especially from the one woman he cares about and will protect at any cost.

But when a priceless relic is stolen from the British Museum, the rivals must align forces. Racing to recover the stolen antiquity and avert an international disaster? All in a day’s work. Avoiding their buried feelings? More and more impossible. For love is about to become the greatest treasure of all.

This was more a tale of intrigue than romance, but neither premise was fulfilled. Lady Danger, a fabulous nickname, is undoubtedly one of the strongest yet least believable characters in a historical romance. I think I’ve just read too many of these to buy her story. She takes a lover because she wants to. She is an archaeologist traveling the world unaccompanied by any sort of chaperone, and her brother is a duke. She has a marriage contract with the Duke of Ravenwood that she has no desire to fulfill. Or does she?

The Duke is a spy, a rather unlikely one at that. His reputation of being an incorrigible rake is a fabulous disguise, but when it comes to his childhood friend Indy, all bets are off. If he can’t keep his distance from her, he is a goner and in this book, they are thrust together until they figure out how to get to their happy ending.

There is a pervasive feeling of suspense throughout this story, with multiple bad guys and danger lurking around every corner. Despite the feminist heavy handedness, which is certainly odd in this time period, I did enjoy this book but I would have liked it more had it been more believable.

Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FOR THE DUKE’S EYES ONLY by Lenora Bell. Avon (September 18, 2018).  ISBN 978-0062692498. 384p.



WHAT ALES THE EARL by Sally MacKenzie

September 14, 2018

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Widow’s Brew Series, Book 1

From the publisher:

Scandal does not define the “fallen” ladies of Puddledon Manor’s Benevolent Home. Instead, it’s a recipe for an intoxicating new future as the women combine their talents—to operate their own brewery and alehouse . . .

When Penelope Barnes arrived at the Home with her young daughter, she discovered a knack for horticulture—and for cultivating the hops needed to produce a superlative pint. She put her scandalous affair with Harry Graham firmly in the past, along with the wrenching pain she felt when he went off to war. After all, she’d always known a farmer’s daughter had no future with an earl’s son. Now she has the pleasant memory of their passion, and she has little Harriet, for whom she would do anything—even marry a boring country vicar . . .

Harry went off to fight for the Crown unaware that his delightful interlude with his childhood friend had permanent consequences. Now he’s back in England, catapulted into the title by his brother’s untimely death. He sorely misses his former life of unfettered adventure, so when he has reason to explore Little Puddledon, he jumps at the chance. But what he finds there is something—and someone—he never knew he’d lost, and a once forbidden love whose time has come, if only he can persuade Pen he’s home to stay.

This was my first time reading this author. I had read a review that emphasized the strong female character, which intrigued me, so I borrowed the book from my library.

I did like these characters but I would have liked the secondary characters fleshed out a bit more, especially since this is an introduction to a new series. There are a few strong women here but we don’t learn much about them other than the bare basics. Same with all the other characters in this book, other than the main characters they are just names on a page.

At this point, I have read many historical romances of the “royalty can’t marry a commoner, or can he/she” ilk and it is not my favorite. The royalty in question here, the Earl, is bound and determined to marry another royal for the purposes of breeding, but he also plans to live his own life. A loveless marriage, but one that ensures the line continues, and in this case, an example set by the Earl’s parents. This one suffers from the same problem I have with many of these, the sudden light bulb moment near the end of the book of “I’m a  ____ (insert title of your choice) so I can marry whomever I please” moment which leads to the happy ending.

This book ends rather abruptly but with the requisite happy ending. While it wasn’t my favorite, I liked it well enough to look for the next book in the series. I always remain hopeful.

9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHAT ALES THE EARL by Sally MacKenzie. Zebra (July 31, 2018).  ISBN 978-1420146714. 352p.




August 23, 2018

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Sins for All Seasons, Book 2

I actually started this series with the first book (Beyond Scandal & Desire) which I really enjoyed, and this is an excellent continuation.

The series centers around a family of, for lack of a better word, bastards that a poor widow took in. None are related by blood but they are all as close as siblings usually are. The youngest is actually the mother’s only natural child, and one of two girls, and this book centers on the older girl, Gillie Trewlove.

Gillie is a most independent woman, raised to stand on her own two feet and take care of herself. Yes, she has four very tough brothers to look out for her, but even as a young child she was fiercely independent. In this story, she is thirtyish, unmarried and owns a tavern. She dressed as a boy for most of her childhood, and her mother’s dire warnings about getting pregnant have her binding her breasts and dressing in shapeless clothes as her regular attire. She is used to being ignored by men and is fine with that.

One night after closing the tavern, she hears a scuffle out back and goes to investigate. There she finds a man being beaten & robbed by four men, who run off as she approaches, leaving him for dead. He is severely wounded, and Gillie takes him upstairs to her apartment over the tavern and nurses him back to health. He is the most beautiful man she has ever seen, and he finds her most attractive and intriguing as well.

Turns out that man is Thorne, a Duke. He had been left at the altar earlier that day and was trying to find his runaway bride when he was attacked. Gillie helps him search for days, and they get to know one another in the process and fall in love. But neither can or will admit it or act upon it, at least not for a long while.

Gillie knows that the Duke must marry someone in duty to his family, not for love, and she has no interest in marrying into royalty or really anyone, as then her tavern would become her husband’s property. Eventually they work through their difficulties to find their happily ever after, and have some of the steamy love scenes that Heath is known for in the process.

I was a bit annoyed by the whole duke-can’t-marry-a-commoner issue as in my admittedly limited experience in the genre, Dukes generally do whatever the hell they want and the ton learns to deal with it. Beyond that minor quibble, it was a most enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

8/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHEN A DUKE LOVES A WOMAN by Lorraine Heath. Sourcebooks Casablanca (July 31, 2018).  ISBN 978-1492663355. 352p.



ALL DRESSED IN WHITE by Charis Michaels

August 21, 2018

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The Brides of Belgravia, Book 2

Tessa St. Croix and two of her friends post an advertisement for husbands, offering a large dowry. They are hoping to find husbands who will take the money and basically run, leaving them to live their lives as they want, as respectable married women who happen to live by themselves.

Joseph Chance and two of his friends respond to the ad. Chance is a self made man, quite wealthy but he has an idea for a business venture that needs an infusion of cash. His friends are all in, so they marry the women, and plan to leave on their adventure. But for the couple of weeks they court, Joseph finds himself falling for Tessa, and she seems to be falling for him as well.

Then on their wedding night, Tessa reveals an ugly secret, and Joseph is heartbroken and furious. He leaves, their marriage unconsummated, and is gone for months. Tessa is also heartbroken but feels she had no choice. She would like to make amends, if possible, so when he returns they slowly, cautiously try and find their way back towards one another.

Love heals all wounds, of course, at least in romance novels and this is no exception. I enjoyed spending time with these characters, although Tessa was often maddening. I suppose that just added to the tension though. An enjoyable romance. I imagine the two friends will each get their own story in the next couple of books – or maybe they already did? Once again I didn’t read the first book in the series so I’m at a loss, sorry.

8/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ALL DRESSED IN WHITE by Charis Michaels. Avon Impulse (August 21, 2018). ASIN: B07238XNZG. 384p. eBook only.


BRAVE NEW EARL by Jane Ashford

August 19, 2018

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The Way to a Lord’s Heart, Book 1

The Earl of Furness, Benjamin Romilly, was heartbroken when his wife died. Left behind was his son who looks so much like his lost wife, the Earl can barely stand to look at him. Left in the care of servants and an orphan boy slightly older than the child, he is a child run wild, to say the least. Then the countess’s cousin, Miss Jean Saunders arrives to determine whether or not to take the boy away, which seems to awaken the Earl to his surroundings.

Jean’s circumstances are not exactly what she purports them to be, and the Earl finds himself both intrigued and alarmed by the woman. Theirs is a tempestuous relationship, which lightens this read that deals primarily with grief.

The romance is on the sweet, sentimental side for sure with a bit of humor thrown in now and then, which it desperately needs as otherwise it would be a tad maudlin. I liked it and will read more of this series as it becomes available. Yes, I actually started a series with the first book (don’t get used to it, heaven knows I won’t!)

8/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BRAVE NEW EARL by Jane Ashford. Sourcebooks Casablanca (July 31, 2018).  ISBN 978-1492663355. 352p.




August 18, 2018

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A Season for Scandal, Book 3

From the publisher:

2017 RITA award winning author!

Their love was always in the cards.
He should have thrown her out. But when club owner Alexander Lavoie catches a mysterious blonde counting cards at his vingt-et-un table, he’s more intrigued than angry. He has to see more of this beauty-in his club, in his office, in his bed. But first he’ll have to devise a proposition she can’t turn down.

Gossip said he was an assassin. Common sense told her to stay away. But Angelique Archer was desperate, and Lavoie’s club offered a surefire way to make quick money-until she got caught. Instead of throwing her out though, the devil offers her a deal: come work for him. Refusing him means facing starvation, but with a man so sinfully handsome and fiercely protective, keeping things professional might prove impossible…

This was a terrific historical romance, and a little different than most. The main characters aren’t trying to marry royalty, for starters. Alex has many rumors swirling around him but his main occupation is running a high end gambling establishment. Angelique is a brilliant woman with a gift for numbers, also most unusual, for this time period especially.

The setting is interesting, the characters are skillfully brought to life and believeable, and I loved their struggles. There are some good backstories here and a mystery. A very good read.

8/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DUKE by Kelly Bowen. Forever (January 31, 2017).  ISBN 978-1455563418. 352p.