Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Second Chance Season, by Liora Blake {ends 12/20}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Cara idly starts to chew on one of her thumbnails as she peruses the menu, and a glint of something sparkly around her eyes captures my attention. I take a better look, to be sure I’m seeing what I think I am.

That Cara is wearing make-up.

Look, I’m not a Mary Kay rep – but my mom was. I endured one too many weekend afternoons as a kid watching her slap a million things of junk on women’s faces at our kitchen table. So I can’t ignore how the goldish-bronzy shadow on Cara’s eyelids is more than what she wears on a routine day and the way it catches the light in this not-fancy barbeque restaurant where she’s about to eat dinner from a Styrofoam container using a plastic fork.


Second Chance Season is the second book in the Grand Valley Novel trilogy by Liora Blake. I haven’t read the first one, but this stood alone very well. Each book in the trilogy is about a different couple, but they all connect in the small town of Hotchkiss, Colorado.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Second Chance Season, by Liora Blake
Garrett Strickland is unapologetically country, fiercely loyal, and perfectly happy with his job at the Hotchkiss Co-op. Garrett is all about living in the present and not dwelling in the past—even if he was once on his way to a lofty agricultural sciences degree that would guarantee the brightest of futures, only to end up back home when his old man died, leaving behind a debt-ridden family farm that was impossible to keep afloat. After that, it was easy to see why dreaming big wasn’t worth the heartache. And until he crosses paths with a city girl who’s hell-bent on kick-starting her own future, he’s sure that good enough is just that.

Cara Cavanaugh is ready for more from life, even if that means changing everything; including dumping her boyfriend of ten years, turning down a lucrative job at a major newspaper, and leaving behind the upscale suburbs of Chicago where she grew up. Now, she just has to pray that temporarily relocating to the middle of nowhere in Colorado will be the first step in building a career as a freelance journalist—all she has to do is prove she’s got what it takes to make a name for herself. Unfortunately, her tony country day school is as close to “country” as she’s ever been. But when a goodhearted guy who looks like he just stumbled out of a country music video offers to help, she ends up falling hard…and discovering that the perfect story is a love story. And it’s theirs.


While there are three books in the Grand Valley Novel trilogy, I only know of the first one from reading its Amazon review. It’s about another couple in the area where Garrett Strickland lives. They’re friends, but the other couple are certainly not major characters in this second book. I really enjoy series like these, where you just feel like you’re getting to know the whole community. Characters are my favorite part of many books, and having several books enjoying different groups of connected characters is fun.

Cara and Garrett are as different as two people could be, but sometimes the heart doesn’t stop to consider this. She’s in town for a freelance writing job, and he’s just the guy to show her around his much-loved community. They agree that they’ll just hang out and, well, whatever for as long as she’s in town. But parting as they had planned wouldn’t make for a very happy ending.

Second Chance Season
was a fun read. It was a little smuttier than I’m used to (not super graphic, just not like my usual pop-fiction reads), and I may have blushed a few times while reading it in public, usually waiting for my kids to finish one of their activities. I’m looking forward to catching the other books in the trilogy and learning more about the characters in Hotchkiss.

4 stars out of 5.

Grand Valley Novel trilogy:
1. First Step Forward
2. Second Chance Season
3. Ready for Wild

Becki Bayley liked zombies and sloths before they were cool. She’s been blogging around SE Michigan at SweetlyBSquared.com for more than 15 years.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Second Chance Season!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, December 19th, 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!

Second Chance Season, by Liora Blake

Book Review: Saving Abby, by Steena Holmes

Guest review by: Erin Krajenke


"Claire, your headaches are a result of a grade-three tumor that is putting pressure on your skull at the base. I wish I could tell you they were due to pregnancy hormones, but I can't." The doctor sat back down but leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk, and watched Claire intently. 

"What does stage three mean?" she asked. 

"Some cancers disappear after treatments - whether it’s through surgery or radiation or even chemotherapy. Some may grow back. Stage three means that regardless of treatment, chances are strong that it will grow back."

..."I'm going to be honest with you." Dr. Shuman cleared his throat. "If you weren't pregnant, I'd recommend immediate surgery followed by radiation."
...
For a moment, Josh was speechless. "So you're saying she should have an abortion?" Dr. Shuman shook his head. "No, I'm not saying that. If that is what you both decide, then we can discuss what that looks like. But I think the active surveillance is our best option right now". He clasped Josh on the shoulder. "It's a lot to take in. If you need me, call me anytime. We'll get through this, Josh, and both Claire and your baby with be fine." 

The memory of his mother, the way she wasted away, of what her life was like those last few months hit him hard. "But you can't promise. I know. I've lived through it. I know what brain cancer is like. Claire..." his throat thickened, and it was hard to get the words out. "She's my life. She can't die. Do you understand? I don't care what that looks like, but she cannot die." He was over the moon to be a father, to know that their dream of being parents was finally coming true, but he loves his wife more. He prayed he didn't have to make that choice that he could have the best of both worlds. But if he had to, if it meant Claire's life or their baby? There was no choice, not for him.

Initially, I was enjoying this book. The two main characters are sweet and loving, and so is their town and all of their friends and family. But then it just got to be too much. Not that I wanted anything bad to happen to them, just that EVERYTHING was so perfect that it made me want to roll my eyes. Especially when Claire would complain about the simplest, mundane things.

Book Review: Saving Abby, by Steena Holmes
Official synopsis:
All children’s book illustrator Claire Turner ever wanted was to be a mother. After six years of trying to conceive, she and her husband, Josh, have finally accepted that she will never be pregnant with a child of their own.

Yet once they give up hope, the couple gets the miracle they’ve been waiting for. For the first few months of her pregnancy, Claire and Josh are living on cloud nine. But when she begins to experience debilitating headaches, blurred vision, and even fainting spells, the soon-to-be mother goes to the doctor and receives a terrifying diagnosis. Since any treatment could put their unborn baby’s life at risk, the Turners must carefully weigh their limited options. And as her symptoms worsen, Claire will have to make an impossible decision: Save her own life, or save her child’s?


This book is told in multiple first-person format, which I like since it gives the reader insight on more than one character in the story. It especially helps in the case where you might not care for one character since you get to spend ‘more time’ with multiple characters. It also had chapters that were flashbacks to a trip Josh and Claire took before she got pregnant which I really enjoyed since it discussed their fun travels, traditions, and they were all very fun, happy chapters.

I know I was supposed to care about Claire and empathize with her, but I just couldn’t. The more I read the book, the more spoiled and entitled she seemed to be. She claimed all she wanted in life was to be a mother, but once she was pregnant, she did nothing to take care of herself or her child. She slept all day, had debilitating headaches (causing her to take more medicine than safe), refused vitamins and protein shakes since they didn’t taste good or made her sick, and also refused to see a doctor since she doesn’t like getting poked. It was obvious that there was something wrong, so her not taking action, to me, contradicted her claim that she wanted to be a mother, since she wasn’t willing to even do the bare minimum during her pregnancy. 

There were many other parts of the story as well where I found her behavior to be laborious. That being said, I was rooting for her since her husband, Josh, was such a wonderful character and I wanted him to be happy. 

I am not one who tries to guess what will happen next in a book, but this book seemed very obvious as to which direction it was heading right from the beginning which made the journey a little tedious at some points. Even though I did not like the main character, I did enjoy every secondary character, the town, all of the stories, and the flashbacks that were told throughout to a time before the pregnancy. So in the end, overall, I would say it was an enjoyable read.

3 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}
*This book is currently (Dec. 2017) available for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo who likes Peter Pan, will never grow-up, and just recently hurt herself on a jungle gym playing tag with her dog.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Roomies, by Christina Lauren {ends 12/12}

I see the cast and crew eying him, eyeing us. We look like any other married couple. Calvin touches me freely and kisses me—on the forehead. We come together and leave together, even though I'm not needed here a fraction of the time I'm around. And while I'm not completely unfortunate-looking, I know everyone is half wondering how I ended up with someone like him. I'm that girl with the freckles, the one with snagged tights who spills her coffee awkwardly on her boobs, the one who knocks into everyone with my camera. Calvin, by contrast, drifts gracefully in and out of spaces, and we've already established how he can eat a salad without greasing up his chin.

It really is unfair.

Roomies
 is the newest novel by Christina Lauren, the author duo who writes under one name as a pseudonym. I'm a big fan of their books, and Roomies is a big more PG-13 than what they normally write (the Beautiful Bastard books in that series are mostly R-rated). That being said, it still ended up being a cute story.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Roomies, by Christina Lauren
Marriages of convenience are so…inconvenient.

Rescued by Calvin McLoughlin from a would-be subway attacker, Holland Bakker pays the brilliant musician back by pulling some of her errand-girl strings and getting him an audition with a big-time musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until he admits his student visa has expired and he’s in the country illegally.

Holland impulsively offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, her growing infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers, Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway. In the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realize that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?


I was reading this novel while I was traveling to DC,  back in October, and it was on my Kindle. I then had to stop reading it, because I had a blog tour post due for another book, so I then picked it back up this past week. It took me a minute to get back into the characters' lives, but I'm glad I did, as the love story between Holland and Calvin is great.

Holland marries Calvin so that he can stay in NYC and be in her uncles' Broadway show, but later, real sparks can be found between the two of them. Many of the show employees think she's insane for marrying him, but meanwhile, he's able to pursue his musical dreams, and she's doing a favor for her uncles, who basically helped raise her.

I'm sure there are many "marriages of convenience" in this country, and this was an interesting read because it showed all of the hoops you have to jump through to make a marriage like that seem "real" or "convincing." I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Holland and Calvin develop, as wellfirst as a friendship and then as an actual romantic relationshipand I was curious to see if all would end well for the couple. 

3.5 stars out of 5
{Click here to purchase}

*Disclosures:
-I received a copy of this book for reviewing. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.
-All product links are Amazon affiliate links; I make a small percentage off any purchases.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a print copy of Roomies!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, December 12th, 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. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of ROOMIES, by Christina Lauren

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: Not Now, Not Ever, by Lily Anderson

*All Amazon links included are affiliate links - I receive a small percentage if you choose to purchase through these.

Getting admission to Camp Onward wasn't easy. I'd sat through a two-hour-long test while I was supposed to be at my last ACLU club meeting of the school year. I'd crafted an essay about why I was the perfect candidate for Rayevich College. I'd emptied my savings to pay for my train ticket. I'd changed all of my social media profiles to a picture of a sunset.
....
Elliot Gabaroche was everywhere and nowhere.

Ever Lawrence, seventeen-year-old girl and newly certified genius, was going to summer camp.

This book is technically a sequel, to The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You, but this one can be read as a standalone, in my opinion. I realized later that the characters from the first book have minor roles in the second, but I'd be willing to bet that Elliot/Ever (the heroine in this book) is not present in the first novel.

Official synopsis:
Elliot Gabaroche is very clear on what she isn't going to do this summer.

1. She isn't going to stay home in Sacramento, where she'd have to sit through her stepmother's sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn't going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mom's base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender's Game, Ellie's seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it's much less Luke/Yoda/"feel the force," and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn't appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she'd be able to defeat afterwards.

What she is going to do is pack up her determination, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and run away to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College—the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program, and her dream school. She’s also going to start over as Ever Lawrence: a new name for her new beginning. She’s even excited spend her summer with the other nerds and weirdos in the completion, like her socially-awkward roommate with neon-yellow hair, and a boy who seriously writes on a typewriter and is way cuter than is comfortable or acceptable.

The only problem with her excellent plan to secretly win the scholarship and a ticket to her future: her golden-child, super-genius cousin Isaiah has had the same idea, and has shown up at Rayevich smugly ready to steal her dreams and expose her fraud in the process.

This summer’s going to be great.


I love books about teens (Young Adult lit) and this one was definitely interesting, as Ever (aka Elliot) has an interesting backstory. Her mom is in the military, and wants her to enlist. Her step-mom and father want her to go to college, but I believe somewhere nearby—she lives in California. Unbeknownst to all of them, this summer she's at a camp for geniuses, with the possibility of winning a college scholarship to Rayevich College—which is in Oregon.

There's a bit of a love story mixed in, of course, but the focus is mostly on Ever, and how she matures in only a few short weeks at camp. Things get complicated when she finds out her 15-year-old cousin, Isaiah, is at camp too, and ALSO didn't tell his parents where he is, but the two of them end up finding a solution.

Overall, I liked this book, although I'd be curious to know even more about Ever's background—she hasn't seen her biological mother since she was 5, for example, and I assume that's because the mother is in the military and always busy ... but it's not explicitly said.

I'd like to read the first novel in the "series" now, too, although it may have to wait a bit—both my TBR and "e-TBR" (e-copy) piles are crazy right now!

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes a good YA story or for anyone who is or has family in the military.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, by Kate Winkler Dawson {ends 12/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Neighbors watched me digging,” he said. “They nodded ‘cheerios’ to me.” When they left, he dragged Ruth from the washhouse and rolled her into the grave.

In 1952, nine years later, she was still there, secluded by the fog
just another object planted in the garden. His garden. She was lying beneath him, many days. The war constable with a large forehead, thinning hair, and startling voice frequently dragged a rake less than two feet above her. His steps disturbed the dirt. He shoved plants into the ground just inches from her facehe fancied himself a talented gardener.

Death in the Air is a non-fiction book covering a couple subjects – serial killer John Reginald Christie of London, and the London fog/smog disaster of 1952.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Death in the Air
A real-life thriller in the vein of The Devil in the White City, Kate Winkler Dawson's debut Death in the Air is a gripping, historical narrative of a serial killer, an environmental disaster, and an iconic city struggling to regain its footing.

In winter 1952, London automobiles and thousands of coal-burning hearths belched particulate matter into the air. But the smog that descended on December 5th of 1952 was different; it was a type that held the city hostage for five long days. Mass transit ground to a halt, criminals roamed the streets, and 12,000 people died. That same month, there was another killer at large in London: John Reginald Christie, who murdered at least six women. In a braided narrative that draws on extensive interviews, never-before-published material, and archival research, Dawson captivatingly recounts the intersecting stories of these two killers and their longstanding impact on modern history.


In reading Death in the Air, I couldn’t help but feel the topics could have worked as two completely separate books. The author tried to show an intersection between John Reginald Christie’s killings of young women over the course of at least 10 years, and the thousands of deaths resulting from a toxic fog over the city for five days in 1952. While they did happen in part at the same time, the similarity ended there. It made it a sort of odd read by jumping back and forth between the two story lines.

I loved the ‘real people’ parts—reading about the people who lost family members to respiratory failure from the fog, learning about Christie and his victims, and even the real struggles of members of Parliament to prevent further deaths or miscarriages of justice. Not being a Londoner (where both stories took place), I also liked the tie-in that referenced an air pollution disaster just a few years earlier in Pennsylvania.

Death in the Air was also meticulously researched by Kate Winkler Dawson, and I feel completely equipped to choose either ‘London Smog in 1952’ or ‘Reg Christie, Serial Killer’ on Jeopardy. I could risk it all and win.

In conclusion, I would give Death in the Air 3 stars out of 5. This would be a great book for history buffs, serial killer aficionados, or prevention of air pollution advocates.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley liked zombies and sloths before they were cool. She’s been blogging around SE Michigan at SweetlyBSquared.com for more than 15 years.

GIVEAWAY:

Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Death in the Air!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, December 3rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, otherwise an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

Death in the Air hardcover copies

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Scattering, by Kimberly McCreight (Outliers #2)

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Yes, Wylie, things have been quiet in the press so far,” my dad goes on. “But if I can convince the NIH to fund a full-on study of the Outliers and get peer-reviewed publication that will change, and quickly. There’s already some Senator Russo, from Arizona. He’s on the Intelligence Subcommittee and he’s insisting on a meeting. Somehow he got wind of my funding application. My guess is he’s worried about protecting some secret research the military has been doing.”

“Secret research?” Fear surely shows on my face.

My dad grimaces, then holds up his hands. “I just mean, in the way everything the military does is secret. They’ve been looking into how to use emotional perception in combat for decades,” he says.


As the second book in the trilogy, The Scattering was great. It introduced a few more characters, while looking a little more in-depth at Wylie’s "gift."

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Scattering, by Kimberly McCreight (Outliers #2)
Wylie may have escaped the camp in Maine, but she is far from safe. The best way for her to protect herself is to understand her ability, fast. But after spending a lifetime trying to ignore her own feelings, giving in to her ability to read other peoples’ emotions is as difficult as it is dangerous.

And Wylie isn’t the only one at risk. Ever since they returned home, Jasper has been spiraling, wracked with guilt over what happened to Cassie. After all they’ve been through together, Wylie and Jasper would do anything for each other, but she doesn’t know if their bond is strong enough to overcome demons from the past.

It is amid this uncertainty and fear that Wylie finds herself confronted with a choice. She was willing to do whatever it took to help Cassie, but is she prepared to go to the same extremes to help complete strangers . . . even if they are just like her?


I honestly can’t wait til the third book in this trilogy by Kimberly McCreight is published next May. As with The Outliers, The Scattering started a little slow, describing the characters and places we’d need to know. But once she gets rolling—look out! This was another page-turner that had me mumbling my realizations while my kids wondering what I was going on about.

Wylie continues exploring her emotional perception gifts, and is surprised to find herself with other girls who potentially have the same gift. Unfortunately, no one is sure why they have been gathered, and everyone is just assuming the traits they may have in common.

As the story continues, she is less sure of who to trust, and has to rely primarily on her own instincts to save herself, while deciding how much help and support she owes to those around her.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the first two books of The Outliers trilogy, and can’t wait for the release of the third book, The Collide, in May 2018. I would give The Scattering 4 out of 5 stars. The fifth star for me is usually worthy of a re-read, and this suspenseful trilogy wouldn’t be quite as surprising on a second read.

Click here to purchase:
The Outliers (#1)
The Scattering (#2)
The Collide (#3)

Becki Bayley loves her heated mattress pad, tall boots, and yum yum sauce. She’s been blogging in SE Michigan at sweetlybsquared.com for more than 15 years.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Wait for Me, by An Na {ends 11/17}

Mina

I drove home thinking about Ysrael's story. Woke up Suna and helped her into the apartment and could still picture Ysrael's eyes, the jut of his chin. He's lived so many lives, I thought as Suna and I entered our bedroom and got ready for bed. So many lives and I can't even figure out this one.

This book is more of a novella than a novel: it clocks in at 186 pages. Because of that, it was a quick read, and I like that it went between Mina's POV and her sister's, Suna.

Official synopsis:
A teen pretends to be a perfect daughter, but her reality is far darker, in this penetrating look at identity and finding yourself amidst parents’ dreams for you, by Printz Award–winning novelist An Na.

Mina seems like the perfect daughter. Straight A student. Bound for Harvard. Helps out at her family’s dry cleaning store. Takes care of her hearing-impaired little sister. She is her parents’ pride and joy. From the outside, Mina is doing everything right. On the inside, Mina knows the truth. Her perfect-daughter life is a lie. And it isn’t until she meets someone to whom she cannot lie that she’s willing to consider what the truth might mean, and what it will cost. Because Ysrael, the young migrant worker who dreams of becoming a musician and who comes to work for her family, asks Mina the one question that scares her the most: What does she actually want?


I overall liked this book—because of its length, it's a quick read. The prose is well-written, too, so at times it almost feels more like poetry than a novel.

Mina's parents, especially her mother, want her to succeed in life, but as a result, they put too many expectations on her. She's at that period in high school where she is taking standardized tests, like the SATs, and her mother pressures her to do well on them. A local neighborhood boy, Jonathan, is headed to Stanford, and her mother makes her go and retrieve his used SAT prep books. What she doesn't know, though, is that Mina and Jonathan's relationship isn't very solid right now, and it's because of events that recently transpired between them.

At the same time, the family hires a migrant teen, Ysrael, to work at their dry cleaning store, and he and Mina start to become close. Mina also helps care for her younger sister, Suna, who has hearing issues.

The ending of this book is not your typical HEA (Happily Ever After), but I found it to be realistic. I did think it was a bit abrupt, but it may have been a result of the story being so short. If you are the parent of a teen, have ever been a teen (and remember those years well), or like YA literature, you will enjoy this book.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Friday, November 17th, 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!

Wait for Me, by An Na

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