Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Book Review: Losing Brave, by Bailee Madison and Stefne Miller

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Poe had just adjusted her oversized sunglasses when a woman with a small child on one hip, and pushing a stroller with her free hand, suddenly ran toward the bus and arrived in time to see another woman exit. They greeted each other with an excited squeal and all-encompassing hug that looked like it could nearly squish the breath out of the child in her arms. The sight caused Poe to raise an eyebrow. She was so desperate to bury the bad that she’d kept failing to see any good.

The new arrival smothered the small child in kisses, then reached into the stroller, pulled out an infant, and repeated the smooch fest.

I bet they’re sisters, and she’s seeing her niece and nephew for the first time.

The thought caused an ache in her chest. Momentarily, her mind reminded her that there was a great likelihood she would never have such a moment with Dylan. She might never have nieces and nephews to smother in affection.

A pebble of a lump started to form in her throat and she felt the tears try to break through. She quickly put on her sunglasses, cleared her throat, and stared intensely at the bus, hoping that her hyper-focus would shove her emotions out of the way.

What happens when the person you’re closest to—your identical twin—is suddenly taken from your life? Who are you, without the person who knew everything about you? The mysteries in this book are much deeper than just where the missing Brave girl has gone. I really enjoyed the mysteries in this one and found them to be so much deeper than just finding the missing girl.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Losing Brave, by Bailee Madison and Stefne Miller
Lost in the mystery and turmoil of her sister’s disappearance, Payton must overcome the aftermath of being the one left behind. She’s unable to remember even the smallest piece of what happened the day Dylan vanished. When sudden and reckless outbursts throw her from the graces of popularity to the outskirts of high school society, her new status attracts a crowd of friends she never anticipated—including a troubling romance with her sister’s boyfriend, Cole.

New clues unearth about the circumstances of her disappearance when another missing girl’s body is recovered from a nearby lake, the victim’s features eerily similar to Dylan’s. The more Payton pries open the clenches of her blocked memories, yielding to her need to know what happened, the further down the path of danger she goes. The darkness around her sister’s disappearance grows and the truth becomes more and more unbearable. And what she finds might just cost her her life.

When the Brave sisters start out the morning at the bus station preparing for a trip with their Nana, they never expect that only one of them will walk away from the bus station that day. Payton comes out of the bus station bathroom and tells Nana she has no idea where her twin, Dylan, is. She unfortunately has no memory of what may have happened in the bathroom, and no understanding of why she is suddenly alone.

School starts up again in the fall, and only Payton is there to attend and move on. All of their friends already seem to have moved on, but Payton can’t stop feeling different without any answers about her sister’s disappearance. She eventually has to find out the truth, and hopefully find Dylan.

This was a good book about the relationship between the sisters, their parents, and their friends. The ending was a surprise to me until I was at least three-quarters of the way through the book. I do love a good twist! Since the girls are high-schoolers in the book, there’s a bit of young adult flavor to it, but the subject matter is a little older. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It started out a little slow, but the more I got to know the characters, the more I wanted the rest of the story.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys unemployed summers, with lots of reading, playing with the kids, and making lists of huge projects she’ll do while on break all summer (although sleeping in wins every time). She blogs about her adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Book Review - Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, by Heather Harpham

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The next night, when Gracie cried, Brian laid an arm across my chest, “Hang on,” he said. “Give her a minute.” Though I’d asked for his help earlier, I was stunned: where did he get off? Alarm bells were trilling in my head: GET BABY. Brian’s arm was a steady, warm weight on my chest.

“She can do it,” he whispered. Who the hell was he to tell me how to respond? He’d already missed more than half the movie. Did biology alone entitle him to chime in?

Inside this queasy miasma I was the smallest bit grateful. He considered her cries his problem too. Within a few minutes her cries wound down. Maybe she sensed his determination; his faith in her. Whatever she felt, or didn’t, she flopped over and sighed. Snuffled and grunted, but did not cry again.

The title of this one made me a little nervous. I’ve seen books that claimed to have ‘Happiness’ before that I just didn’t agree with. This was so much more – they found happiness when circumstances dictated that this would be the last thing possible.

Official synopsis:
Book Review - Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, by Heather Harpham
Happiness begins with a charming courtship between hopelessly attracted opposites: Heather, a world-roaming California girl, and Brian, an intellectual, homebody writer, kind and slyly funny, but loath to leave his Upper West Side studio. Their magical interlude ends, full stop, when Heather becomes pregnant—Brian is sure he loves her, only he doesn't want kids. Heather returns to California to deliver their daughter alone, buoyed by family and friends. Mere hours after Gracie's arrival, Heather's bliss is interrupted when a nurse wakes her, "Get dressed, your baby is in trouble."

This is not how Heather had imagined new motherhood – alone, heartsick, an unexpectedly solo caretaker of a baby who smelled "like sliced apples and salted pretzels" but might be perilously ill. Brian reappears as Gracie's condition grows dire; together Heather and Brian have to decide what they are willing to risk to ensure their girl sees adulthood.

The grace and humor that ripple through Harpham's writing transform the dross of heartbreak and parental fears into a clear-eyed, warm-hearted view of the world. Profoundly moving and subtly written, Happiness radiates in many directions--new, romantic love; gratitude for a beautiful, inscrutable world; deep, abiding friendship; the passion a parent has for a child; and the many unlikely ways to build a family. Ultimately it's a story about love and happiness, in their many crooked configurations.

While a book about a child—an infant, even—who has a potentially terminal blood disorder may be expected to be sad or depressing, the author (and mother of the child) in Happiness managed to make this book about so much more. It was a memoir about her life, and then her life with her child. While being central to their life, she somehow made the child’s struggles not the reason behind all of their choices.

I loved that we got to know all the characters independent of their roles with the child’s illness. The story wasn’t just about taking care of the child and navigating her medical situation. It was about a mother, her child, the parent’s relationship with each other, and valuing life when you know how fragile it can be. And while not focusing on illness, it was about how important being a marrow donor can be, and the lives that could be saved.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really liked this book a lot. It reads like a great story, and then remembering it’s all based on real lives makes it that much more touching. I’d give this memoir 4.5 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a mother of two, who’s almost too old to be a marrow donor, and wishes she’d known about BeTheMatch.org years ago. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Killer Thriller, by Lee Goldberg {ends 6/14}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

There was no point in running, Ian concluded. The two men in front of him and the one behind him all had guns. He was unarmed and boxed in. So Ian stopped running and let the moving walkway carry him the last few feet to the landing and his fate.

One of the two men coming toward him smiled and said, “You’re coming with us, Ludlow.”

Who were these people? How did they know his name?

He started to raise his hands in surrender when he heard four muffled pops in rapid succession. The two guys went down, shot in the knees.

Ian whirled around to see Margo crouched in the Gage Street staircase in a firing stance with a silenced Glock in her hands. She winked at Ian, turned slightly, and shot the man behind Ian in the knees, taking him down, too. The pedestrians on the walkway began screaming and running in all directions, creating an atmosphere of general chaos on the elevated escalators.

Margo held the gun to her side, dashed over to Ian, and glanced over her shoulder. Two more men were charging toward them from the Wellington landing but their progress was slowed by the panicked pedestrians trying to run in the opposite direction on the moving ramp.

“Don’t just stand there gaping,” Margo said. “Run!”

I’ve been looking forward to reading this since I received it. I knew it would be another fun page-turner since I reviewed the first book in the Ian Ludlow Thrillers series and gave it 4 out of 5 stars about a year ago. The series is entertaining to a variety of readers, with comedy and action/adventure.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Killer Thriller, by Lee Goldberg
Everybody loves Ian Ludlow’s action novels—especially the CIA—because the spies know something the public doesn’t: his fictional plots have a frightening tendency to come true. Ian is in Hong Kong with his resourceful assistant Margo French to research his wildest story yet—a deadly global conspiracy by Chinese intelligence to topple the United States.

What Ian doesn’t know is that his horrifying scenario is happening and that the Chinese mistakenly believe he’s an undercover superspy assigned to foil their scheme. Now Ian is trapped in his own terrifying thriller, on the run from assassins, and racing against time to prevent an epic disaster. He’s written himself into a corner that could cost his life…and his country.

Ian Ludlow likes to think he’s like the main action hero in his books – Clint Straker. While he usually isn’t quite able to fill the shoes of the man he thinks all women want, it sure is funny to read about his attempts. While most book plots don’t sound like probable reality, it’s author Ian Ludlow’s imagination that fills in the blanks and finds rather unpredictable ways out of the true crime situations that he and his assistant Margo French find themselves in.

I really enjoyed the latest installment of the far-fetched adventures of Ian Ludlow and Margo French. Both books were fun reads and could also stand on their own (if you happen to pick up Killer Thriller before True Fiction). I’d give Killer Thriller another 4 out of 5 stars. It would be a great summer read! Enjoy. :)

Becki Bayley is a professional reader (of standardized test essays) and elementary school breakfast lady by day, and a blogger by night at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of Killer Thriller!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Friday, June 14th, 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!

Killer Thriller, by Lee Goldberg

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Review: Storm & Fury, by Jennifer L. Armentrout {The Harbinger Series, #1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

He looked like he was fighting a laugh. “What I’m saying is that Wardens are not pure and innocent just because of our birth. The same could be said about some demons not being evil and corrupt.”

My mouth dropped open. He was saying there were some demons that weren’t evil? That was utter crazy pants with a side of dangerous sauce. 

“Do you think that because of the half demon your clan took in?” I asked.

Everything about him changed in an instant. His jaw hardened and those eyes turned to frost. “That’s none of your concern. Is there anything else you need? If not, I have stuff to do.”

I jerked back, stung at the unexpected shutdown and obvious dismissal. “Okay, then. There’s nothing else I need.” I moved to leave, then stopped. “By the way, there’s a ghost sitting on your dresser,” I told him, and smiled evilly when I saw the blood drain from his face. “His name is Peanut, and he’s taken quite a liking to you. Have fun with that!”

I’ve seen this author’s name around a few times, but this is the first book I’ve read by her. While research shows me she’s got a few series, this spin-off from a character in another series is the first book in her new Harbinger series.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Storm & Fury, by Jennifer L. Armentrout {The Harbinger Series, #1}
Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow may be going blind, but she can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits. Her unique gift is part of a secret so dangerous that she’s been in hiding for years in an isolated compound fiercely guarded by Wardens—gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humankind from demons. If the demons discover the truth about Trinity, they’ll devour her, flesh and bone, to enhance their own powers.

When Wardens from another clan arrive with disturbing reports that something out there is killing both demons and Wardens, Trinity’s safe world implodes. Not the least because one of the outsiders is the most annoying and fascinating person she’s ever met. Zayne has secrets of his own that will upend her world yet again—but working together becomes imperative once demons breach the compound and Trinity’s secret comes to light. To save her family and maybe the world, she’ll have to put her trust in Zayne. But all bets are off as a supernatural war is unleashed…

If fantasy is your thing, I’d recommend this book. This is the first series I’ve read that discusses demons as real entities worth getting to know. Before meeting the demons in this book, Trinity Marrow (our main character, who is another sort of character altogether) lives with some Wardens. We humans may recognize the Wardens as the concrete gargoyles on old buildings, but in this book they can also take a human-ish form, and their job is to protect the humans from the demons.

This book is great, and I enjoyed both the characters and the unique storyline. I look forward to the next book in this series, and finding out what happens next. I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Becki Bayley loves Cherry Coke, Cool Ranch Doritos and Chewy Sprees for fuel when writing, and comfort food when reading. You can find her at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Book of Delights: Essays, by Ross Gay {ends 5/13}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“It’s just the day I’m having…the young brother said to me as the wind blew his glasses from the bill of his Burger King ball cap, probably on his way to work, looking exasperatedly at me as he bent over to pick them up, looking at the lenses and then to me and then back to the lenses, and I said, hoping it was not the wrong thing to say, “it’ll get better,” and he said, “Thank you.” (Apr. 9)

While I’ve learned to appreciate more essay and poetry books since I’ve started reviewing, and just reading what I get instead of perusing and choosing what I think I want to read, this book wasn’t really what I thought it would be from the title.

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Book of Delights: Essays, by Ross Gay {ends 5/13}
Official synopsis:
In The Book of Delights, one of today’s most original literary voices offers up a genre-defying volume of lyric essays written over one tumultuous year. The first nonfiction book from award-winning poet Ross Gay is a record of the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, cradling a tomato seedling aboard an airplane, the silent nod of acknowledgment between the only two black people in a room. But Gay never dismisses the complexities, even the terrors, of living in America as a black man or the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture or the loss of those he loves. More than anything other subject, though, Gay celebrates the beauty of the natural world--his garden, the flowers peeking out of the sidewalk, the hypnotic movements of a praying mantis.

The Book of Delights is about our shared bonds, and the rewards that come from a life closely observed. These remarkable pieces serve as a powerful and necessary reminder that we can, and should, stake out a space in our lives for delight.

While the author and I are close in age (at least from his viewpoint when the book was written), I felt our similarities ended there. I was hoping for more, well, delightful observations about the world, human nature, spring things growing, stuff like that. Our views on what was delightful just didn’t seem to converge.

What I liked most about this book were the flashbacks to childhood. When the author talked about sweet memories from his childhood, with his mother or grandparents or brother, they were easy to picture and feel nostalgic about right along with him.

Overall, I’d give this book 2 stars out of 5. The idea of writing on one topic, like delight, for a whole year was intriguing.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley tries to find delight. It’s frequently with the kids she’s raising, or those she feeds and volunteers with at the local elementary school. You can find some of her musings at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Book of Delights

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, May 13th, at 11:59pm EST, and the winner will be notified via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding {ends 5/5}

About six months ago, I read Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding ... it was definitely an interesting book, and it's one that I still remember vividly, even months later. I gave it 4.5/5 stars which is also a very high rating for me.

It's now out in paperback, and one of my lucky readers will win a copy!

About the book:
BOOK GIVEAWAY: Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding
The author of the bestselling novel The Party—lauded as “tense and riveting” by New York Times bestselling author Megan Miranda—returns with a chilling new domestic drama about two women whose deep friendship is threatened by dark, long-buried secrets.

Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.

A stay-at-home mom whose troubled son is her full-time job, she thought that the day he got accepted into the elite Forrester Academy would be the day she started living her life. Overweight, insecure, and lonely, she is desperate to fit into Forrester’s world. But after a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfes, she feels more alone than ever before.

Until she meets Kate Randolph.

Kate is everything Frances is not: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and confident. And for some reason, she’s not interested in being friends with any of the other Forrester moms—only Frances. As the two bond over their disdain of the Forrester snobs and the fierce love they have for their sons, a startling secret threatens to tear them apart.

Because one of these women is not who she seems. Her real name is Amber Kunik. And she’s a murderer.

In her masterful follow-up to The Party, Robyn Harding spins a web of lies, deceit, and betrayal, asking the question: Can people ever change? And even if they can, is it possible to forgive the past?


Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, May 5th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be chosen the next day and notified via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding

Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Courting Mr. Lincoln, by Louis Bayard {ends 4/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Strange. Joshua Speed had assumed there would be some comfort in seeing Mrs. Francis’s agenda at last laid bare.

“Why do you not marry him yourself?” he murmured. “I think you would if you could.”

“You’re probably right,” she answered amiably. “Diamonds in the rough have always been my weakness. Oh, you should have seen Mr. Francis when I first got hold of him. Licking his knife, balling up his handkerchief, scratching himself at all times of day. He made our Lincoln look like Beau Brummell.”

“So,” he said, “in lieu of yourself, you propose some other candidate.”

“Not as yet,” she said equably. “I must first survey the field.”

“And in so doing, you will find what? A limp, lisping virgin of, what, seventeen? Eighteen? Just enough brain to fit in her own thimble?”

“Oh, for the first time, I believe you underestimate me, Mr. Speed. And him. Do you honestly think our Lincoln could attach his fortunes to someone he couldn’t talk with?”

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this intimate tale of Abraham Lincoln’s personal relationships before his political life reached its peak. I suppose I’d never really considered him – or his wife and other friends – as real people, as shallow as that may sound.

Official synopsis: 
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Courting Mr. Lincoln, by Louis Bayard
When Mary Todd meets Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in the winter of 1840, he is on no one’s short list to be president. A country lawyer living above a dry goods shop, he is lacking both money and manners, and his gift for oratory surprises those who meet him. Mary, a quick, self-possessed debutante with an interest in debates and elections, at first finds him an enigma. “I can only hope,” she tells his roommate, the handsome, charming Joshua Speed, “that his waters being so very still, they also run deep.”

It’s not long, though, before she sees the Lincoln that Speed knows: an amiable, profound man who, despite his awkwardness, has a gentle wit to match his genius, and who respects her keen political mind. But as her relationship with Lincoln deepens, she must confront his inseparable friendship with Speed, who has taught his roommate how to dance, dress, and navigate the polite society of Springfield.

Told in the alternating voices of Mary Todd and Joshua Speed, and inspired by historical events, Courting Mr. Lincoln creates a sympathetic and complex portrait of Mary unlike any that has come before; a moving portrayal of the deep and very real connection between the two men; and most of all, an evocation of the unformed man who would grow into one of the nation’s most beloved presidents. Louis Bayard, a master storyteller, delivers here a page-turning tale of love, longing, and forbidden possibilities.

I don’t recall reading much fiction or historical fiction from this time period, so I found this book to be interesting from that perspective. The stories we hear about Lincoln are usually just surrounding his presidency and assassination. In this book I learned about the probable relationships he had before all this. Mary Todd comes to Springfield to stay with her sister’s family, and find a husband. While she passes on several suitable prospects, she seems almost more intrigued than attracted to Lincoln.

During Mary’s early days in Springfield, Abraham Lincoln and his roommate Joshua Speed are nearly a package deal. They arrive at all events together, telling stories together, and adding charm and entertainment on a regular basis. But can such a close friendship make choosing to take a wife even harder?

I liked how the book alternated between Mary Todd’s perspective and Joshua Speed’s perspective of the same events involving Lincoln. It made it feel like the reader knew the whole story, although Lincoln’s perspective was never given. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I’m glad I read it and learned more about that time period, but the fame of the characters is something that’s only recognized from a previous knowledge of history.

Becki Bayley is a wife, and mother of two who has been blogging for more than 15 years at SweetlyBSquared.com. She loves reading, building her Tiny Tower and crushing all the candy.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Courting Mr. Lincoln!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, April 29th, 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!

Courting Mr. Lincoln, by Louis Bayard


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