Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Secret to Southern Charm, by Kristy Woodson Harvey {ends 3/27}


The last person on the planet who loved me unconditionally was gone. Forever. I would never see her again. At first, it terrified me to my core. But then I realized that was my job now. My job was to love the other people in my life unconditionally. I could give that so fully because I had received it so well.

If anyone had asked, I would have told them that was the thing my mother taught me best of all.

This is the first book of Kristy Woodson Harvey's that I've read, and I didn't realize until about halfway through that it's a sequel. Although I'd now like to read the first book in the series, Slightly South of Simple (only $1.99 for Kindle, currently!), this book seems to function fine as a standalone novel, and overall I enjoyed it.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Secret to Southern Charm, by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Leaving fans “practically [begging] for a sequel" (Bookpage), critically acclaimed author Kristy Woodson Harvey returns with the second novel in her beloved Peachtree Bluff series, featuring a trio of sisters and their mother who discover a truth that will change not only the way they see themselves, but also how they fit together as a family.

After finding out her military husband is missing in action, middle sister Sloane’s world crumbles as her worst nightmare comes true. She can barely climb out of bed, much less summon the strength to be the parent her children deserve.

Her mother, Ansley, provides a much-needed respite as she puts her personal life on hold to help Sloane and her grandchildren wade through their new grief-stricken lives. But between caring for her own aging mother, her daughters, and her grandchildren, Ansley’s private worry is that secrets from her past will come to light.

But when Sloane’s sisters, Caroline and Emerson, remind Sloane that no matter what, she promised her husband she would carry on for their young sons, Sloane finds the support and courage she needs to chase her biggest dreams—and face her deepest fears. Taking a cue from her middle daughter, Ansley takes her own leap of faith and realizes that, after all this time, she might finally be able to have it all.

Harvey’s signature warmth and wit make this a charming and poignant story of first loves, missed opportunities, and second chances and proves that she is "the next major voice in Southern fiction” (Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author).
I enjoyed how this story was told from a few POVs - one was Ansley, the mother of Sloane, Caroline, and Emerson (and grandmother to their children), and the other was Sloane's, whose army husband was currently MIA in Iraq. Ansley was thinking of reuniting with Jack, a man whom she dated as a teenager, but she and Jack have a big secret, which she doesn't want her children to find out.

We learn about Sloane and Adam's love story, too, and see how their lives unfolded; originally, Sloane didn't want children, but later she changed her mind.

Peachtree Bluff, GA (isn't that a perfect Southern city name??), was as much of a character as the main four ladies, as well, and I'm excited to visit Savannah in May; this city reminded me a little bit of it.

Overall, despite some heavy themes throughout, this was a light read, and would be perfect for the beach or for a nice spring or summer day.

The Secret to Southern Charm will be available in stores and online on April 3, 2018.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to pre-order}

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Secret to Southern Charm!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, March 27th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Secret to Southern Charm

Monday, March 12, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Beautiful Poison, by Lydia Kang {2 winners, ends 3/19}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Funerals always make me happy,” Jasper whispered to Birdie. He handed her his handkerchief because hers was already dampened through.

“You,” Birdie whispered back through a sniffle, “are a monster.”

“I’m not happy she’s dead. Not by a darn sight. But a funeral reminds you to be alive, doesn’t it? It slaps you across the face and points out that there’s still warm blood doing a jig in your veins.” 

Jasper’s hand fell to Birdie’s pale forearm, and he put his two fingers on her wrist, where her pulse was. It was a clinical gesture, cold, if not for the warmth of his fingertips. Oh, she was alive all right. Stubbornly living, despite everything. She withdrew her hand and bowed her head.

A Beautiful Poison is a great mystery, with a story starting in 1918. I was excited to get a few pages in and realize that Birdie was one of the "radium girls." While it isn’t revealed in this book, radium poisoning was a big deal for the women and girls working in the factory painting glow-in-the-dark clock faces. It’s another whole story of its own, that has held my interest for a while. A Beautiful Poison never reveals what’s actually happening to Birdie, as the cause was not recognized until the early 1920s.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Beautiful Poison, by Lydia Kang
Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.
A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang is a great mystery about several deaths in late summer and fall of 1918, that three lifetime friends don’t believe are just accidents. They start receiving a brief note after each of several deaths that indicate someone is causing them. Luckily, one of the friends is a chemistry whiz, and another works in Bellevue Hospital, with access to pathology information and some real answers about the untimely deaths.

While the friends are happy to be back together after circumstances separated them years ago, the mystery turns dangerous quickly. Just when you think you have it figured out, someone else turns up dead, and no one is quite sure how or why.

A Beautiful Poison does a wonderful job with the mystery, as well as presenting the class differences in New York in 1918. According to the Author’s Note at the end of the book, the doctor who wrote the book worked through a lot of her education at Bellevue Hospital and based some of the characters on real historical figures at the hospital. She conveys her fascination with the historical aspects of the book in a very intriguing way. It’s easy to feel just as engaged as she was to learn so much about the background initially.

Overall, I’d give A Beautiful Poison a solid 4 stars out of 5. The characters and plot were quite engaging and moved along at a good page-turning pace.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley might like to glow in the dark, but not die of radium poisoning. She has been blogging for more than 15 years at SweetlyBSquared.com.


Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of A Beautiful Poison!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, March 19th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

A Beautiful Poison, by Lydia Kang

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, by Camille Pagán {ends 3/15}

It's an age-old story: woman meets man, man woos woman, woman spends her best years believing their love is the everlasting kind. The pair watches with teary eyes as their progeny take flight from their suburban nest, knowing they'll return in times of crisis or when their laundry needs to be washed and folded.

Woman embraces aging with hair dye and ample amounts of wine. Man faces his impending mortality by convincing himself that a younger woman is the answer to his waning energy and flagging libido. Certain their sparkling future is worth the collateral damage, the May-December duo ride into the sunset as our heroine stands int he shadows, stunned by this unexpected rewrite.

Yes, mine is a tale as old as time. Beauty replaces the beast.

Camille Pagán is a Michigan author whose books I immensely enjoy, and the fact that they're often set in Ann Arbor is fun as well. (I believe she's a UM alum, too)

This one was partially set in Ann Arbor and was very good.

Official synopsis:
From bestselling author Camille Pagán comes a hilarious and hopeful story about a woman on the verge of a nervous breakthrough.

At fifty-three, Maggie Harris has a good marriage and two mostly happy children. Perpetually anxious, she’s also accumulated a list of semi-reasonable fears: falling air conditioners, the IRS, identity theft, skydiving, and airbag recalls. But never once did Maggie worry that her husband of nearly thirty years would leave her.

On the day Adam walks out the door, everything that makes Maggie secure goes with him. Only then does she realize that while she’s been busy caring for everyone else, she’s become invisible to the world—and to herself.

Maggie cautiously begins to rebuild her life with a trip to Rome, a new career, and even a rebound romance. But when a fresh crisis strikes and an uncertain future looms, she must decide: How much will she risk to remain the woman she’s just become.

This wasn't my favorite of the two other books I've read by Pagán, but I still really enjoyed it, especially the Ann Arbor parts even though no actual restaurants/cafes were mentioned, as far as I could tell.

Maggie has the task of learning to know herself again—she met her husband in college, got married at 23, and is now 53 and shares two children (now adults) with him. One day, however, he decides he wants a divorce, and she must decide what she wants to do with her life ... now that he isn't present in it.

Overall I liked this book, and I'm glad it ended the way it did, as well. Maggie is an interesting character overall, and the supporting characters were fleshed out well too. It's hard to be set in your ways and then have your world upended, but after the initial shock of it, she flourishes, even though it does take her a while to realize that she will be fine on her own.

4 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}


Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, March 15th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Copy of Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, by Camille Pagán

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Copenhagen Affair, by Amulya Malladi {ends 3/14}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The day after the ambassador’s dinner, Harry came back home early, and he was about to go up the stairs to the apartment when he wondered what was the point. She would be in bed or sitting on the couch watching television and ignoring him. The irony was not lost upon him. He had spent a large part of their marriage ignoring her, and now it was her turn. It didn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Marriage, he had always envisioned as a convenience. Sanya called it a pooling of resources, emotional and financial; it was the bulwark of her life, she used to say. She didn’t say it now. She didn’t say much to him now.

The Copenhagen Affair is one of seven novels by Amulya Malladi. While the books are not a series, they all deal with difficult emotional territory. Malladi did the opposite of Sanya, the main character in The Copenhagen Affair by moving from Copenhagen to Los Angeles. I felt a bit connected with this book while watching the evolution of Harry and Sanya’s marriage, and Sanya’s search for a working definition of love and marriage.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Copenhagen Affair, by Amulya Malladi
Sanya was always the perfect wife, but after a breakdown at her office, it’s her husband Harry’s turn to step up. His proposal? A temporary move to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city. He needs to be there to close a business deal and figures the change of scenery will do her good. Soon Sanya goes from hiding under her duvet to hiding in plain sight—a dark-skinned Indian American in a city of blondes.

Within Copenhagen’s glamorous high society, one man stands out—not only because of his intriguing scar but because he sees Sanya in a way Harry hasn’t for years. Anders Ravn owns the company Harry wants to acquire, and soon Sanya begins to fall for him. As allegations of white-collar crime arise, she learns of Harry’s infidelity, and having an affair with Anders seems ever more tempting. Surrounded by old money, smoked fish on dark breads, and way too many bicycles, Sanya slowly moves from breakdown to breakthrough, but where will she end up—and with whom?

I really enjoyed Sanya’s story. She suffered what she called an "implosion," or nervous breakdown, after her busy but predictable life as a wife, mother, and career woman of many years. No one had ever questioned her competency at any of her roles, so the implosion surprises everyone, including Sanya. She went from doing everything, to a sudden and complete stop. Her husband Harry is as blindsided as anyone, so when his company wants him to research a company they may takeover in Denmark, he figures moving Sanya there may be just the right change to get her out of her doldrums. They agree to move to an apartment in Copenhagen for one year.

While characters are always my first love, I also enjoyed reading about their life in Copenhagen, and the cultural differences, including their focus on work/life balance. There are several interesting observations and conversations between characters about the way things are dealt with by those who were born there, vs all the others who moved there through work or marriage.

Sometimes a book tries to do too much with several plot lines, but in this case, it worked great. While the company merger seems to be just an excuse for Harry to move Sanya to Copenhagen, by the end of the book, the discoveries about the companies by Harry and his team, Sanya, and some of the other characters change everyone’s lives.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed being involved with the characters, and always wanted to know what was coming next. I felt like I was learning about them right alongside them learning about themselves and the new relationships they were forming.

{click here to purchase this book}

Becki Bayley has been happily married for 12 years and has two delightful children. She’s been blogging in and around SE Michigan for 16 years at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Copenhagen Affair!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, March 14th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Copenhagen Affair, by Amulya Malladi

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson {ends 3/4}

The critical scene of the mystery is when the detective enters. The action shifts to Sherlock's sitting room. The little Belgian man with the waxed moustache appears in the lobby of the grand hotel. The gentle old woman with the bag of knitting comes to visit her niece when the poison pen letters start going around the village. The private detective comes back to the office after a night of drinking and finds the woman with the cigarette and the veiled hat. This is when things will change.

The detective had arrived at Ellingham Academy.

I've been a big fan of Maureen Johnson's books for a while now—her previous books were very witty, and although this is more of a mystery, it still has her signature wit throughout. This is the first book in the Truly Devious trilogy, and it leaves us with a whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of it.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson
Author Maureen Johnson weaves a tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a new series.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. "A place" he said, "where learning is a game."

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Stevie comes to Ellington Academy only because it's prestigious and it's free—those are her parents reasons for her going, anyways. In reality, she's been obsessed with the Ellingham murder and disappearance, from 1936, for a while now, and she's come to the school both to be educated, and also to hopefully solve the case: Albert Ellingham's wife, Iris, was murdered, and his daughter, Alice, was never found.

This book was like Harry Potter meets a true crime novel, and I really enjoyed it. I also forgot it was a trilogy, until the book ended on a major cliffhanger (nooooo!), and Goodreads says that the next book in the series, entitled The Vanishing Stair, will be out in 2019, so unfortunately I'm going to have to wait a year or more to read it.

All of the characters in the novel were quite believable, too, and we later find out that many of them are harboring secrets ... secrets that result with yet another murder later on in the book.

{and no, that's not a spoiler, because it's right in the synopsis, ha ...}

Overall, I can't wait until the next Truly Devious book, and I may need to console myself with more Maureen Johnson books in the meantime.

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Truly Devious!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, March 4th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hardcover copy of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Buns, by Alice Clayton {ends 2/25}

The Bryants had owned this property for almost one hundred and fifty years. And like so many other family-run hotels, they'd relied too much on "but this is how it's always been done," which simply doesn't work anymore in this modern age. With Yelp and TripAdvisor helping everyone make their vacation plans, reviews could make or break a place. And they'd had their share of bad reviews in the last few years. Couple that with the recent economic crisis and belt-tightening across the board for vacationers, and they were in danger of losing their beautiful hotel.

Unless ... 

... they had me. Which they did. I rolled my neck, cracked my shoulders a bit, and settled in for the final leg.

I had a hotel to save.

Buns is the third book in Alice Clayton's Hudson Valley series, all of which can be read as standalone novels. I already did reviews on Nuts and Cream of the Crop, so I was looking forward to Buns. The characters from the other books play supporting roles in Buns, as well, and it's fun to see where they're at in their lives.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Buns, by Alice Clayton
Clara Morgan is living the dream, if you can call rebranding hotels that are desperate for a new life and running any kind of marathon a dream. Which she does. But the career she loves and the endurance races that keep her adrenaline pumping have kept her too busy to put down any roots. Growing up in foster care, she’s never been able to establish traditions of her own, which may be why she’s fascinated by the rituals that generations-old family resorts are known for. She’s especially interested in the Bryant Mountain House, and not just for their secret recipe for the yummy, gooey, can’t-get-enough-of Hot Cross Buns….

Archie Bryant, the man with the Buns, is fifth generation and one-day-owner of the charming yet run-down Bryant Mountain House in Bailey Falls, New York. He’s determined to save his family’s legacy from the wrecking ball the old-fashioned way—by gritting his teeth and doing what needs to be done. There’s no way Archie will be influenced by the new hotel branding expert his father brought in to turn one hundred and fifty years of tradition on its head just to attract a faster, younger, slicker crowd. But when some of Clara’s ideas start bringing in new, paying customers, Archie can’t deny that she may have just given him a shot at keeping his resort open.

It’s sticky, it’s messy, it’s sweet, it’s
Although I related most to the main heroine of the second book in the series, Cream of the Crop, Clara and Archie's story was definitely fun to read. Clara is a "hotel fixer": her job is to visit hotels, find out what could make them better/more profitable, and suggest fixes to management. When she meets Archie Bryant, however, whose father owns the Bryant Mountain House hotel, she starts falling for him ... and it's probably not the best idea to get involved with the boss's son!

(they do, anyways, of course!)

Archie comes with his own baggage: his wife passed away a few years ago, and was only 32 years old. He hasn't dated anyone since then, but he finds himself falling for Clara as well.

This was a very cute read, as are most of Alice Clayton's books. I really liked that the characters from Nuts and Cream of the Crop—Roxie and Leo, and Natalie and Oscar, as well as some of their friends, too—make cameos in this book, as they all live in Bailey Falls, where the hotel is located. This gives readers of the other novels in the series the chance to "check in" on them and see what they are up to. The book mentions that the main heroine here, Clara, has known Roxie and Natalie for a while, as well.

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes a quick and easy read, and/or for people who like romance stories. You don't need to have read the other two in the series to read this one, as they are all standalone novels, for the most part, but they're helpful in knowing things about the secondary characters from the other books that show up here.

4 stars out of 5.

The Hudson Valley series, by Alice Clayton:
#1: Nuts (my review, purchase)
#2: Cream of the Crop (my review, purchase)
#3: Buns (purchase)

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own. All Amazon links are affiliate links which means I receive a portion of any sales.


One of my lucky readers will win a paperback copy of Buns!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 25th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of Buns, by Alice Clayton

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Gatekeepers, by Jen Lancaster {ends 2/18}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“We breed excellence here at North Shore High School.”

I nod instead of saying anything, because how do I even respond to a statement like that?

I also nodded when Vice Principal Torres said the same thing as he welcomed me to the school. He clasped my hand and nearly crushed it in a crippling shake. Then my guidance counselor, Mr. Gorton, went for the conversational trifecta. WTF? Are they all working from the same script?

And how does one breed excellence here, anyway?

In a lab? In a test tube? Or is it more like in a barn?

This book was a heavy read, but that’s what the author intended. The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster (usually a humor writer) is her examination of 2012 in Lake Forest, Illinois, by recreating some of the community’s experiences in a fiction world. That year, three high school students ended their lives by stepping in front of commuter trains. The Gatekeepers puts us in the hearts and minds of who the students at the high school could have been, and how they were each affected by the multiple teen suicides in their community.

Official synopsis: 

Book Review: The Gatekeepers, by Jen Lancaster
"How could we know that forever could end at seventeen?"

Anyone passing through North Shore, Illinois, would think it was the most picture-perfect place ever, with all the lakefront mansions and manicured hedges and iron gates. No one talks about the fact that the brilliant, talented kids in town have a terrible history of throwing themselves in front of commuter trains.

Meet Simone, the bohemian transfer student from London, who is thrust into the strange new reality of an American high school; Mallory, the hypercompetitive queen bee; and Stephen, the first-generation genius who struggles with crippling self-doubt. Each one is shocked when a popular classmate takes his own life…except not too shocked. It's happened before. With so many students facing their own demons, can they find a way to save each other—as well as themselves?

Admittedly, this was a hard book for me to read. Having lost a few people to suicide in my life, I definitely recognized some of the teen’s emotions and responses, and they weren’t fun. I feel the author’s depiction of these situations as real in her fiction were very believable.

The characters became very likable. Mallory started out a little tiring, but as you heard more of her thoughts and reactions, she grew to be a strong, positive friend to many in the school. Kids who weren’t as well-liked in the school were eventually endearing as their inner insecurities and reasoning for how they behaved became clear.

Overall, this is a hard book to recommend to a stranger. I loved the author’s style, and would probably enjoy her memoirs or humor for which she is popular. The Gatekeepers is a highly emotional and well told book of a very difficult subject. I’d give it 4.5 stars out of 5, but it’s not for everyone.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a survivor living in a house full of snacks because she grocery shops when hungry. She’s been blogging in and around SE Michigan since March 2002 at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The Gatekeepers!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, otherwise an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hardcover copy of The Gatekeepers


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