Monday, December 17, 2018

Quick Pick book review: I Owe You One, by Sophie Kinsella

Quick Pick book review: I Owe You One, by Sophie Kinsella
  • Opening lines: The problem with me is, I can't let things go. They bug me. I see problems and I want to fix them, right here, right now. My nickname isn't Fixie for nothing.

    I mean, this can be a good thing. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of Sophie Kinsella's books.
  • And what's this book about?
  • Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family first.” And since her dad passed away, leaving his charming housewares store in the hands of his wife and children, Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy, who will?

    It’s simply not in Fixie’s nature to say no to people. So when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, she not only agrees—she ends up saving it from certain disaster. To thank Fixie for her quick thinking, the computer’s owner, Sebastian, an investment manager, scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. Fixie laughs it off—she’d never actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she?

    But then Fixie’s childhood crush, Ryan, comes back into her life, and his lack of a profession pushes all of Fixie’s buttons. As always, she wants nothing for herself—but she’d love Seb to give Ryan a job. No sooner has Seb agreed than the tables are turned once more and a new series of IOUs between Seb and Fixie—from small favors to life-changing moments—ensues. Soon Fixie, Ms. Fixit for everyone else, is torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab the life, and love, she really wants?

  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a light read or British fiction.
  • Favorite paragraph: I'm the one who took a loan from Mum ("our inheritance," Jake always calls it) and tried to set up a catering business and failed. And who still hasn't paid the money back.

    I'm not the black sheep of the family. That would be glamorous and interesting. I'm just the stupid dumb sheep who still has a stash of dark-green aprons under the bed, all embroidered with my logo:
    Farr's Food. (I sold everything else, but I couldn't get rid of those.) And whenever I'm around Jake, I feel even more stupid and dumb. Like, literally dumb. Because I barely even open my mouth, and when I do, I start to stammer.

    I have opinions; I have ideas. I really do.
    • Something to know: You can probably figure out the ending of this novel before it ends, but it was fun getting there. Most of Kinsella's characters kind of seem the same to me but they are always well-thought out and interesting.
    • What I would have changed: Nothing I can think of.
    • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
    • Where can I find this book? The book will be online and in stores on February 5, 2019. Click here to purchase on Amazon.
    *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

    Monday, December 3, 2018

    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Royal Runaway, by Lindsay Emory {ends 12/10}

    I left the Queen's presence with a renewed sense of purpose. Gran had called me in to remind me what I had been raised to do, what I had always done. Princess Theodora of Drieden was polite, respectful, and compliant. She put the Crown and its priorities first. Even if it meant acquiescing to the blackmail of a dangerously cocky reporter.

    This book reminded me a bit of The Princess Diaries in that it focuses on the princess of a fictional monarchy—Drieden—and what happens to her after her fiancee doesn't show up for their wedding.

    About the book:
    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Royal Runaway, by Lindsay Emory
    For fans of The Princess Diaries and The Royal We comes a fun and daring novel about a modern-day princess who teams up with a spy to find out what happened to the fiancé who left her at the altar—and who just might get her own fairytale in the process.

    Princess Theodora Isabella Victoria of Drieden of the Royal House Laurent is so over this princess thing.

    After her fiancé jilted her on their wedding day, she’s finally back home after spending four months in exile—aka it’s back to press conferences, public appearances, and putting on a show for the Driedish nation as the perfect princess they expect her to be. But Thea’s sick of duty. After all, that’s what got her into this mess in the first place.

    So when she sneaks out of the palace and meets a sexy Scot named Nick in a local bar, she relishes the chance to be a normal woman for a change. But just as she thinks she’s found her Prince Charming for the night, he reveals his intentions are less than honorable: he’s the brother of her former fiancé, a British spy, and he’s not above blackmail. As Thea reluctantly joins forces with Nick to find out what happened the day her fiancé disappeared, together they discover a secret that could destroy a centuries-old monarchy and change life as they know it.

    Funny, fast-paced, and full of more twists and turns than the castle Thea lives in, The Royal Runaway is a fresh romantic comedy that will leave you cheering for the modern-day royal who chucks the rulebook aside to create her own happily-ever-after.


    Imagine if Megan had left Harry at the altar—that's what happens to Theodora, known as Thea to her close friends and family. After the event, her family sends her to an island they own, so that she can recover and have some peace. The book starts when she gets back from the island. 

    Thea likes to sneak out at night sometimes, and this night she "randomly"—so she thinks—meets a guy named Nick ... whom she later finds out is a spy who wants to find out what happened to her fiancee. There's another twist about Nick too but I won't spoil it here.

    If I'm being honest, I liked this book but didn't love it. Someone on Goodreads said something like "nothing is resolved in the end" which is kind of true, at least in certain aspects of the novel. I brought this book to my parents' house with me over my Thanksgiving break (I get a few days off from work) and finally finished it there, but it probably took me a week or two to get through it. 

    That being said, if you're a fan of The Princess Diaries and similar books, like I am, you will probably like it. It has similar aspects and both Thea and Nick are interesting characters. 

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

    GIVEAWAY:

    Two of my lucky readers will each win a copy of The Royal Runaway!

    Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, December 10th, at 11:59pm EST and winners will be notified via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

    U.S. residents only, please.

    Good luck!

    2 copies of The Royal Runaway, by Lindsay Emory

    Monday, November 12, 2018

    Book Review: Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding

    Kate's laughter tinkled, and Frances felt warm and happy. She was having a girls' day out. Like other women did. Like women whose children didn't require special diets and structured routines and constant research into treatments and behavioral modification therapies. Like women who didn't eschew close relationships because their past was full of terrible secrets they'd protect at all costs. As the SUV exited the freeway, Frances felt a shiver of anticipation. Today felt like the start of something.

    What would you do if you found out a friend had been hiding something from you?

    If it was something small, would it matter? How about if it was something larger—like she was a murderer?

    That is the question that Her Pretty Face asks of us.

    Official synopsis:
    Book Review: 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?

    I haven't read a twisty mystery in a while, and I really enjoyed this book. Frances is kind of an outcast at her child's school after he pees in another child's water bottle (yes, really; she was mean to him first, though), and is labeled as one to stay away from. Frances finally meets a kindred spirit in Kate, another mother, who essentially takes her under her wing; eventually they become best friends. 

    Frances has a past she's hiding as well, though it's not quite as bad as Kate's ... 

    From the book synopsis, we know that one of these two women is a murderer. I figured out early on which woman was Amber, in a previous life, but there were still some twists and turns near the end which surprised me. I read this book in about two days because I couldn't put it down, and I wanted to find out what happened at the end.

    I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes mysteries, stories about friendship, or thrillers. 

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

    Sunday, November 11, 2018

    Quick Pick book review: Girls' Night Out, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

    • Opening lines: The Day After. Natalie.
      Waves lapped against the shore. It sounded as if the sea were breathing.
      In and out. In and out. Between the whitecaps breaking against the sand, there was a pause, almost as if the ocean were inhaling and preparing to release another breath. In and out. In and out. 
    • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a fan of Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke's books - I've reviewed a few of them, as well.
    • And what's this book about?
    • From the bestselling authors of The Good Widow comes a chilling novel of psychological suspense that will make you think twice about what your best friend may be hiding...

      For estranged friends Ashley, Natalie, and Lauren, it's time to heal the old wounds between them. Where better to repair those severed ties than on a girls' getaway to the beautiful paradise of Tulum, Mexico? But even after they're reunited, no one is being completely honest about the past or the secrets they're hiding. When Ashley disappears on their girls' night out, Natalie and Lauren have to try to piece together their hazy memories to figure out what could have happened to her, while also reconciling their feelings of guilt over their last moments together.

      Was Ashley with the man she'd met only days before? Did she pack up and leave? Was she kidnapped? Or worse - could Natalie or Lauren have snapped under the weight of her own lies?

      As the clock ticks, hour by hour, Natalie and Lauren's search rushes headlong into growing suspicion and dread. Maybe their secrets run deeper and more dangerous than one of them is willing - or too afraid - to admit.
    • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys thrillers, or stories about friends (trying to) reconnect.
    • Favorite paragraph: She hung up the phone and raised her head to the sky, a dark storm cloud making its way towards her from the east. "What if I can't convince her?" she whispered to herself. She almost always let Ashley have her way. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd put her foot down about something at work. Would Ashley understand it was Natalie's turn to get her way? She stood there until the ominous cloud was directly overhead, and let her tears mix with the rain it brought, finally composing herself and walking back to where Lauren sat, as if the world she built weren't crumbling.
      • Something to know: I could definitely see this being adapted into a movie - the majority of the book takes place in Mexico, which is very picturesque. The women are all in their late 30s (one mentions she's 39) and I believe two of them just turned 40, which is another reason they wanted to take this trip together - they've known each other since college.
      • What I would have changed: Nothing I can think of.
      • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
      • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.
      *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

      Thursday, November 8, 2018

      Book Review: What I Leave Behind, by Alison McGhee

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      At some point she has to walk out of the house into invisible air, air that has no roof or walls.

      And how do you get through? You know? When things are too much?

      Because the world, it’s full of air. Full of sky and space. Ocean, too. All of which are bigger than any crowd of human beings, on the street, at school, at Dollar Only, at restaurants. At parties.

      It’s hard to remember that, though. Hard to remember that people are tiny. They stare at you, they talk about you, but all they are? Tiny.

      Look up, artists.


      I seriously think this is one of my new favorite books. I just finished it, and I may read it again. The voice in What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee is just that good.

      Official Synopsis: 
      Book Review: What I Leave Behind, by Alison McGhee
      Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

      When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.


      The voice of Will, and the lyrical way he told his life completely resonated with me. Over the course of the two evenings it took me to read this book, it gave me a feeling of peace.

      Will knows himself pretty well, and reads those around him in an insightful and warm way. He’s compassionate and wants the world to be a better place. Each of his chapters about lifejust a few paragraphs each, always less than a full pagepresented a memory of an interaction with the world around him. I loved every single one.

      I can’t tell if everyone else would love this book as much as me, but with less than 100 pages of actually words, I think you should give it a try. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and I may not pass along the book like I usually do, since I already want to read it again.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley has been a blogger for more than 15 years at SweetlyBSquared.com. She wishes her words could make someone feel as good as this book made her feel. Someday.

      Wednesday, October 31, 2018

      Book Review - To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, by Nancy Rommelmann

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      An estimated five hundred children are killed by their parents each year in the United States, according to homicide data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This number has been static for decades. It is also unreliable and certainly low. The picture of parents killing their children is anathema to most people and makes us susceptible to seeing even the suspicious death of a child explained away: the infant died in her sleep, the child struck his head falling off the coffee table, and who are you to say it did not happen this way? Unless a filicide, the killing of a child by a parent or stepparent, is committed in public, we may not hear about it at all, the circumstances of anonymous people killing their kids too tawdry, too sad, too somehow private to report on. The news you read this week is unlikely to include ten children being murdered by their parents.

      But ten were murdered, at least ten. The murdered children of the last week of June 2017 included a six-month-old in Fresno (June 23); a two-month-old in Hanford, CA (June 23); a two-year-old in Houston (June 24); a one-month-old in Terra Bella, CA (June 24); a two-month-old in Valdosta, GA (June 24); a four-year-old in Tullahoma, TN (June 28); a two-year-old and a six-month-old in Paron, AR(June 28); a three-year-old in Rancho Cordova, CA (June 28); and a three-year-old in Chandler, AZ (June 30).


      Any story of a parent killing their own children is jarring and hard to process. To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann was no different. Ms Rommelmann did an excellent job of telling a lot of Amanda Jo Stott-Smith’s story of her life with her husband Jason, and the circumstances surrounding her despicable act of throwing two of her children off of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon in the dead of the night.

      Book Review - To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, by Nancy Rommelmann
      Official Synopsis: The case was closed, but for journalist Nancy Rommelmann, the mystery remained: What made a mother want to murder her own children?

      On May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers found the body of four-year-old Eldon. Miraculously, his seven-year-old sister, Trinity, was saved. As the public cried out for blood, Amanda was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

      Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.


      This was a very unique book, at least among those I’ve read. The author’s interest in the topic and the specific story was clear – she wanted to understand, and help us understand, that which can never be fully understood. But by researching more than a court requires, and more than a reporter filling a headline story has time for, she provided so much more reasoning behind an action that can never be understood with logic.

      Amazingly, the background story didn’t start revealing much until after a plea and sentence were issued, and a trial was avoided. People familiar with the family didn’t speak up when they might have been subpoenaed, but still wanted their opinion of the defendant, her husband, and their relationship to be known. While a story about a woman attempting to kill two of her children doesn’t sound like something with more than one side, the author did a wonderful job of showing some of the complexities of the relationships that led to a desperate woman’s unthinkable act.

      Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. While the subject matter was frequently alarming, the telling of it was compelling and I find myself still wondering what became of some of the people talked about in the book.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley is mostly an introvert, who loves hearing the stories people have to tell. She tells bits and pieces of her story at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      Saturday, October 27, 2018

      Quick pick book review: Vox, by Christina Dalcher

      • Opening lines: If anyone told me I could bring down the president, and the Pure Movement, and that incompetent little shit Morgan LeBron in a week's time, I wouldn't believe them. But I wouldn't argue. I wouldn't say a thing.

        I've become a woman of few words.

        Tonight at supper, before I speak my final syllables of the day, Patrick reaches over and taps the silver-toned device around my left wrist. It's a light touch, as if he were sharing the pain, or perhaps reminding me to stay quiet until the counter resets itself at midnight. This magic will happen while I sleep, and I'll begin Tuesday with a virgin slate. My daughter, Sonia's, counter will do the same.

        My boys do not wear word counters.
      • Reason I picked up the book: I had heard about Vox when I saw another friend reading it, and it looked really good - I love dystopian literature. 
      • And what's this book about?
      • Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

        On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can't happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

        This is just the beginning.

        Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

        But this is not the end.

        For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

      • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys dystopian lit, or who likes The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu - this reminded me of what life could have been like pre-Handmaid's Tale (same type of world).
        • Favorite paragraph: I stood in my kitchen, wanting to explain, careful not to, while he told me we'd marched one too many times, written one too many letters, screamed one too many words.

          "You women. You need to be taught a lesson," he said, and hung up.

          I didn't call her again to ask how they had silenced her, whether they had stormed into her practice or whether they had invaded her kitchen, if they had loaded her into a van along with her daughters and spelled out the future inside a dim gray room before fixing shiny wristbands on each of them and sending them home to cook and clean and be supportive Pure Women. To learn our lesson.
          • Something to know: I do think that the author borrowed a bit from Handmaid's Tale - LGBTQ women end up in work camps (same as on the show) and women that misbehave or engage in sex before they are married (or, if they cheat on their husbands) are sent to them as well. The story is also extremely timely for our current political atmosphere and administration.
          • What I would have changed: The beginning of the story was very interesting, but then it focuses more on the affair that Jean had with a work colleague, especially when she and him are on the same team for a project that they are helping the president with.
          • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
          • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.
          *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

          Tuesday, October 23, 2018

          Quick Pick book review: My Favorite Half-Night Stand, by Christina Lauren

          • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan, and it sounded super cute.
          • And what's this book about?
          • From the New York Times bestselling author that “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly) comes a sexy romantic comedy about online dating, and its many, many fails.

            With a world-famous speaker at their university, Millie Morris and her four woefully single male colleagues make a pact that they’ll all find dates. Unfortunately, Millie has more success helping them make matches online than she does navigating the onslaught of lewd pics in her own feed. But when she creates a fictional name for a new account, Millie finds herself vying for the online attention of a man she sees every day in the flesh.

          • Recommended for: Anyone who likes chick lit, or who has navigated online dating before.
            • Favorite paragraph: I'm the kind of tipsy where I should want to hug everyone, not pull my best friend's pants down. 

              GAH. 

              Strictly platonic best guy friend. Strictly platonic best guy friend.

              Heat rushes to my face and I stand so quickly my chair teeters on its back legs. Four sets of curious eyes swing in my direction, and I turn, making a beeline for the bathroom.
              • Something to know: You'll probably figure out the HEA before you get to the end of the book, but it was still enjoyable to read.
              • What I would have changed: Nothing.
              • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
              • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon - this book will be in stores and online on December 4, 2018.
              *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

              Saturday, October 13, 2018

              Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When We Were Worthy, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen {ends 10/20}

              Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

              "I don't know you anymore," he'd said, standing in the den of their trailer, their two bodies nearly filling the whole room..."I haven't really known you since we came here." "You haven't known me?" she spat. "How about you're gone all the time now? How about I can't remember the last time we said more than two sentences to each other? How about I don't know you anymore?" He looked at her with flat, dead eyes. "So I guess that's why you went after some kid? Some good-looking kid who showed you some attention? Because you were desperate for it? ...My father warned me you were too young for me. He told he that the age difference was too great, that you'd have other interests, need different things." He gave a cynical laugh. "I just didn't think your interests and needs would be teenage boys." He thought about it for a moment. "Course, I guess he's no younger to you than you are to me. Right?" "It's not like that, Clay!" she protested. "You've got it all wrong! Please! I need you of all people to believe me. I know the way it looks - I do - but if you'll give me time, I'll prove that I didn't do what they're saying."

              …"I'm sorry for what they did to you," Leah said. Ava blinked. "What who did to me?" she asked, even though she suspected she knew the answer..."Everyone thinks those boys are so good. But they're bad…and we know, don't we? ...We're the only ones who do."...She had to know what Leah knew. And it wasn't likely Leah wasn’t going to tell her on her own. She retrieved her phone from her purse and sat down on the couch to enter the number. There was a missed call, and she hoped for a fleeting moment that perhaps Clay had called. But it was the guy from the other night, a text saying he's enjoyed meeting her, and while things hadn't worked out that night, perhaps they could see each other? Some part of her nearly texted back, the same part that had caused her to respond to Ian's tactics. The same part that had let him get close enough to her to ruin her life. Because when a guy showed her attention, she felt seen, known, loved, appreciated. She let them give her what she didn't have herself, as if the only way that validation could be obtained was if someone else - someone male - provided it.


              There were a lot of characters right off the bat in this novel, in addition to alternating chapters told from four characters point of view. I found myself having to take notes as to who was who in order to follow along, which pulled me out of the story and left me wondering what was going on and questioning the premise. I usually enjoy shorter chapters, but since the chapters were not long enough, I was unable to get a feel for the character before the next chapter started. I also had a hard time with keeping the timeline straight in the beginning since it would jump from before and after the accident, but not list it as such in the chapter heading, so I was lost on the progression of the characters and was left wondering the point of the story.

              Official synopsis:
              Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When We Were Worthy, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
              “Evoking Emmy limited-series winner Big Little Lies, Whalen’s novel is about a Georgia town ripped apart when an outcast boy kills three cheerleaders in a car accident, bringing secrets and simmering tensions to the surface.” —The Hollywood Reporter

              When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they'd watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they're faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders - their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car - the only one to survive - is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

              At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn't. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption - or will it be their downfall?


              It took until the very end to realize that the main theme involved Leah and Ava’s storylines. The subject of their narratives is very prevalent in today’s news and sheds light on how people can get wrapped up in a scandal (as a victim or a predator) and struggle with doing the right thing or being brave enough to say something. While the story itself took too long to get there and I felt as though the ending was wrapped up a bit too quickly (which was the part I thought deserved the most attention), I feel as though the subject matter is important, now more so than ever, and I believe books like this can bring this issue more visibility it justifiably needs.

              3 stars out of 5 (3.5 in reality due to the important subject matter).

              {click here to purchase}

              Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo who is still waiting for fall to show-up and is hoping we don't skip right to winter.

              GIVEAWAY:

              Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of When We Were Worthy!

              Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, October 20th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

              U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

              Good luck!

              When We Were Worthy - 2 winners

              Thursday, October 11, 2018

              Book Review - Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles

              Guest review by: Becki Bayley

              Even now, with my teenage years so far behind me, sometimes I have to remind myself to shut my brain off, to tell it where to go. Sometimes I have to tear my eyes away from the mirror. Whenever I get depressed, it’s usually because something has been marinating inside me for a while, and the asshole side of my brain has had its way with it. I have to make a conscious effort to switch the kind, nurturing part of my brain to the forefront. I make it tell myself nice things. I make it tell me to just live, do the day-to-day, take things as they come, and not dwell too much on my faults…not an easy task for a writer who is used to examining and over-thinking things. But hey – is it any wonder so many writers are depressed? They’re sensitive, inside their own minds a lot, turning things over and trying to make sense of things. Sometimes I have to just not be a writer. To not analyze. To tune out shocking news headlines and celebrity gossip and politics and CSI and be blissfully ignorant to it all.

              I’ve made peace with myself now. I’m never really pleased with what I see in the mirror. But I don’t obsess (much). I don’t dwell (much). I don’t wake up at four anymore to get ready and I don’t tell myself I’m worthless.

              You’re not either. I promise.


              Life Inside My Mind (edited by Jessica Burkhart) consists of 31 powerful essays about authors’ personal struggles – with depression, anxiety and other similar issues around mental health for the authors or their loved ones. I really loved reading it, but I did have to break it up and read less heavy things in between.

              Official synopsis: 
              Book Review - Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles
              Your favorite YA authors including Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson, and more recount their own experiences with mental illness in this raw, real, and powerful collection of essays that explores everything from ADD to PTSD.

              Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t get out of bed? Not the occasional morning, but every day? Do you find yourself listening to a voice in your head that says “you’re not good enough,” “not good looking enough,” “not thin enough,” or “not smart enough”? Have you ever found yourself unable to do homework or pay attention in class unless everything is “just so” on your desk? Everyone has had days like that, but what if you have them every day?

              You’re not alone. Millions of people are going through similar things. However issues around mental health still tend to be treated as something shrouded in shame or discussed in whispers. It’s easier to have a broken bone—something tangible that can be “fixed”—than to have a mental illness, and easier to have a discussion about sex than it is to have one about mental health.

              Life Inside My Mind is an anthology of true-life events from writers of this generation, for this generation. These essays tackle everything from neurodiversity to addiction to OCD to PTSD and much more. The goals of this book range from providing home to those who are feeling alone, awareness to those who are witnessing a friend or family member struggle, and to open the floodgates to conversation.

              Participating writers include E.K. Anderson, J.L. Armentrout, Cyn Balog, Amber Benson, Francesca Lia Block, Jessica Burkhart, Crissa Chappell, Sarah Fine, Kelly Fiore, Candace Ganger, Meghan Kelley Hall, Cynthia Hand, Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson, Tara Kelly, Karen Mahoney, Melissa Marr, Kim McCreight, Hannah Moskowitz, Scott Neumyer, Lauren Oliver, Aprilynne Pike, Tom Pollack, Amy Reed, Cindy Rodriquez, Francisco Stork, Wendy Tolliver, Rob Wells, Dan Wells, Rachel Wilson, and Sara Zarr.


              If you’ve ever wondered what is going through someone’s head during a panic attack, or how someone continues functioning with depression or bipolar, these author’s stories may help you to understand. If you already know, finding out how someone else deals with it may give you hope and make you feel less alone. Given the subjects being discussed, there are plenty of triggers, so please think about that if it may influence your appreciation of the book.

              This was a beautiful and timely book. The stories are each as unique as the authors and their lives. What they all had in common was the message that you are not alone, and you are worth the effort to make it through your struggles. As the dedication reads, “May you find comfort and strength through the experiences shared in these pages.”

              Overall, I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s not a book for everyone, and is only recommended for those ages 14 years and older.

              {click here to purchase}

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

              Monday, October 8, 2018

              Book Review - The Year of Living Awkwardly: Sophomore Year, by Emma Chastain

              Guest review by: Becki Bayley
              December 15

              I almost literally bumped into Grady today because we were both looking at our phones while turning a corner. His eyes flickered, and I could tell he was considering walking away without saying anything, but then he said, “Hey.”

              “Hey. How’s everything?”

              “Pretty good.”

              “How’s Bear?”

              “Fine. Really into Winnie-the-Pooh these days.”

              “That makes sense.” Blank look from Grady. “Because of his name. Bear…Winnie-the-Pooh is a bear…you know?” KILL ME.

              “Oh, yeah, right,” he said finally.

              “I guess I’m hanging out with your girlfriend tomorrow.”

              “Yeah, she mentioned that.”

              “OK, well…”

              “Yeah. See ya.”

              “See ya.”

              Neither of us smiled once during the entire conversation. If ‘conversation’ is even the right word.


              I can see why young adult fiction is so popular. It was easy and pleasant to be a little worried about Chloe’s struggles, since they were similar to struggles I overcame decades ago. The Year of Living Awkwardly: Sophomore Year by Emma Chastain was a great escape to read and smile over during a few stolen minutes from the busy fall.

              Official Synopsis: 
              Book Review - The Year of Living Awkwardly: Sophomore Year, by Emma Chastain
              It’s Chloe Snow’s sophomore year of high school, and life has only grown more complicated.

              Last year, Chloe was the star of the musical. This year, after an audition so disastrous she runs off the stage in tears, she’s cast as a lowly member of the ensemble. Will she be able to make it through the show knowing everyone’s either pitying her or reveling in her downfall?

              Chloe’s best friend, Hannah, is no help: she’s been sucked into the orbit of Reese, the velvet-gloved, iron-fisted ruler of the sophomore class. Chloe’s dad is busy falling in love with Miss Murphy, and Chloe is no longer speaking to her mother, who is sending her increasingly desperate and unhinged emails from Mexico. As her parents’ divorce negotiations unravel, a custody battle looms.

              If only Chloe could talk to Grady about it: his parents are divorced, and he’s easy to talk to. Or he was, until he declared his love for Chloe, and she turned him down because despite all her rational brain cells she can’t seem to get over Mac, and then Grady promptly started going out with Reese.

              As the performance of the show approaches, Chloe must find a way to navigate all the messy elements of her life and make it through to the end of the year.


              What a life! I have to admit, being several years (okay, a couple decades and then some) out of high school, I may have been more than a little amused by Chloe’s struggles. The diary style in which she told her story was very readable and relatable. It also made it a perfect book to just read for a few minutes, then deal with other things. I wasn’t left re-reading part of a chapter over and over if interrupted.

              The characters were also engaging. I would love to go back and find the book of her freshman year, so I can read a bit more of their history. The Year of Living Awkwardly is a great book – it’s a normal life with the good and the bad, told in a highly entertaining style.

              Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I don’t know that I’d read it again (since I know what happens), but I’m really glad I read it when I did.

              {click here to purchase}

              Becki Bayley is a mom to a girl who will be in high school in a few years. She hopes her daughter can roll with the punches as well as Chloe does in this book. You can find her at SweetlyBSquared.com.

              Tuesday, September 25, 2018

              Quick Pick book review: A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult

              • Opening lines: 5pm. The center squatted on the corner of Juniper and Montfort behind a wrought-iron gate, like an old bulldog used to guarding its territory. At one point, there had been many like it in Mississippi—nondescript, unassuming buildings where services were provided and needs were met. Then came the restrictions that were designed to make these places go away: the halls had to be wide enough to accommodate two passing gurneys; any clinic where that wasn't the case had to shut down or spend thousands on reconstruction. The doctors had to have admitting privileges at local hospitals—even though most were from out of state and couldn't secure them—or the clinics where they practiced risked closing, too. One by one the clinics shuttered their windows and boarded up their doors. Now, the Center was a unicorn - a small rectangle of structure painted a fluorescent, flagrant orange, like a flag to those who had traveled hundreds of miles to find it. It was the color of safety; the color of warning. It said: I'm here if you need me. It said, Do what you want to me; I'm not going.
              • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan so I was super excited to snag at NetGalley copy of this a few months before its release date.
              • And what's this book about?
              • The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

                After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

                But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

                Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

                Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent?
                A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.
              • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys books, pretty much. Fans of Picoult's previous books will enjoy it. It's also very timely considering our country's current position on birth control and abortions.
                • Favorite paragraph: The point of establishing a relationship with a hostage taker was to make sure that you were the only source of information, and to give you the time to find out critical information of your own. What kind of hostage taker were you facing? What had precipitated the standoff, the shoot-out, the point of no return? You might start trying to build a relationship with innocuous conversation about sports, weather, TV. You'd gradually find out his likes and dislikes, what mattered to him. Did he love his kids? His wife? His mom? Why?

                  If you could find the
                  why, you could determine what could be done to disarm the situation.
                  • Something to know: The chronology goes backwards, which is a little hard to comprehend at first. However, we still learn about the characters, but by going backwards in the story line, if that makes sense.
                  • What I would have changed: I wasn't a huge fan of the backwards chronology. I still enjoyed the book but a little less than others I have read by her. However—SEMI-SPOILER—there's a big twist at the end which I did not see coming, which was interesting.
                  • Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
                  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon - this book will be in stores and online on October 2, 2018.
                  *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

                  Monday, September 24, 2018

                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Working Fire, by Emily Bleeker {ends 10/1}

                  Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

                  "...a voice crackled over the radio. Sally from dispatch. Both Ellie and Chet stopped in their tracks.

                  'Ambulance Twenty-One delta response, [crackle] Lane, Broadlands. Possible shooting [crackle] AS-One. Police responding. Have not arrived.’ 


                  Chet picked up the radio clipped to his lapel. ‘Dispatch, Ambulance Twenty-One responding. Please repeat’.

                  ‘Shooting?’ Ellie mouthed to Chet, who was holding the radio up to his ear. It had to be a mistake. There'd never been a shooting in Broadlands, not that she remembered anyway. Maybe it was a hunting accident. Maybe a kid found his dad's gun. Maybe…the possible scenarios flashed through Ellie's mind... ‘You check the CAD. Reception's a little spotty today.’...She unlocked the passenger-side door and hefted herself into the seat, then swiveled the computer-aide dispatch screen to face her. When she hit the Responding button, a map and lines of information stared back at her. She read through the sentences on the screen, eyes flitting from one line to the next. Description of the call. A few codes she was pretty sure meant serious business. Then the address, just two miles away from her dad's house. 2318 Lark Lane, Broadlands. No. She read the address again, and again. She didn't even need to check the map on the left side of the screen. She'd been to 2318 Lark Lane countless times, eaten dinner there, held new babies, swum in the backyard pool, cried into a soft shoulder when it became clear her father would never recover.

                  It can't be. It can't be. It can't be. 
                  But it was.

                  2318 Lark Lane was her sister's house.

                  This story pulled me in immediately; the characters are enjoyable and the writing style is easygoing. The story is told from two different perspectives, that of Ellie told in present time, and Amelia told from a couple of weeks prior and leading up to the incident. I find that stories told from multiple points of view draw me in more and keep me flipping pages since each chapter always seems to end on a cliffhanger.

                  Official synopsis:
                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Working Fire, by Emily Bleeker
                  Ellie Brown thought she'd finally escaped her stifling hometown of Broadlands, Illinois; med school was supposed to be her ticket out. But when her father has a stroke, she must return home to share his care with her older sister, Amelia, who's busy with her own family. Working as a paramedic, Ellie's days are monotonous, driving an ambulance through streets she'd hoped never to see again.

                  Until a 911 dispatch changes everything. The address: her sister's house. Rushing to the scene, Ellie discovers that Amelia and her husband, Steve, have been shot in a home invasion. After Amelia is rushed to the hospital, Ellie tries to make sense of the tragedy. But what really happened inside her sister's house becomes less and less clear. As Amelia hangs on in critical condition, Ellie uncovers dark revelations about her family's past that challenge her beliefs about those closest to her...and force her to question where her devotions truly lie.

                  …As she entered the misty darkness inside the house, the trauma and airway kits thumped against her side with every step...Her steps went from clacking on the tile floor to being muffled by the front room's thick carpet...The trail of red footprints snaked across the tile floor and disappeared behind the door to the Broadlands Roofing office...Ellie pushed on the door gently, but it didn't budge. Then she pushed it again, harder this time. Something heavy was behind the door, heavy and unresponsive. It was either Amelia or...or the man who Steve said had shot her...With one hard shove, the door budged half an inch. Ellie flinched, hoping it was a piece of furniture but afraid she was ramming the door into her injured sister. With another shove and then another, an opening developed…With one last shove, Ellie slipped through, her paramedic's badge catching and ripping audibly as she stumbled out and into the office of Broadlands Roofing...The room was filled with smoke and a sulfur smell. There as another smell too, one she was very familiar with. It was the tangy, metallic scent of blood. As the scene came into focus, filtering through the smoke and sun, the world went still...All she could see and the only thing she could even acknowledge, was a crumpled human form on the floor to her right - one leg half-bent, half-twisted, arm strewn across the face, tangled in a mess of dark brown hair, a once-yellow blouse soaked through with blood. She didn't have to get a closer look; she didn't have to see the face to know. Lying there in a pool of blood was her sister, Amelia.

                  Right off the bat there is a lot of action in this book. Who could have shot Amelia and her husband Steve? And why? The chapters with Ellie are detailing what is currently going on with the shooting and then the hospital and searching for answers. The chapters with Amelia go as far back as six weeks before the incident laying down clues for what is to come getting you closer and closer to the shooting. 

                  I initially had no clue who could have done it and I was simply enjoying the story. Then I started getting ideas, but every subsequent chapter made me second guess and change my mind. Even towards the end when I thought we were there, things kept changing. 

                  I usually find suspense novels to be predictable but this one constantly kept me on my toes. My reasoning for 4 stars instead of 5 has to do with the fact that I feel the rationale for who did it and why was very out of character and unexplained. It seemed like an easy out and not a reasonable or good explanation. There was also a part of the very end that bothered me, made me question a character I had trusted, and I wish had been left out.

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

                  Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo that knows one day she will be a memory, and is trying to be a good one.

                  GIVEAWAY:

                  Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Working Fire!

                  Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, October 1, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted 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!

                  Working Fire, by Emily Bleeker

                  Thursday, September 13, 2018

                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In Your Hands, by Ines Pedrosa {ends 9/20}

                  Guest review by: Becki Bayley

                  Lisbon, November 14, 1990

                  Dear Jenny,

                  “It’s weird, you never talk about Rui,” Leonor said to me a few days ago. I said that’s why people get married: so they can talk about other things. But I remembered that’s what you used to say too. So I started listing Rui’s good qualities: the solidity of his presence, the sturdiness of his soul, the depth of his gaze, the contours of his body. My friend listened intently and said, “Sweetie, you just described a building!” Just as well. That’s my life’s work, after all: constructing buildings. Maybe it helps make up for my own missing foundation. One day I’ll go to Mozambique in search of my father’s memory.


                  In Your Hands by Inês Pedrosa won the 1997 Prèmio Màxima de Literatura in Portugal. It’s the first of her eighteen published books to be translated to English. The story covers the lives of three women from three generations, from 1935 to 1994. I was truly impressed by the three distinctly different stories and voices from the three women, and the author’s talent at bringing them all to life.

                  Official synopsis:
                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In Your Hands, by Ines Pedrosa
                  Told from three different perspectives, this sweeping saga begins in 1935 Portugal, in the grip of Salazar’s authoritarian regime, where upper-class Jenny enters into an uncommon marriage with the beguiling António. Keeping up appearances, they host salons for the political and cultural elite. In private, Jenny, António, and his lover, Pedro, share a guarded triangle, build a profound relationship, and together raise a daughter born under the auspices of rebellion.

                  Thirty years later, their daughter, Camila, a photojournalist who has captured the revolutionary fervor and tragic loss of her family—and country—reminisces about a long-lost love in Southeast Africa. This memory shapes the future of her daughter, Natália, a successful architect, who begins an impassioned quest of her own. As she navigates Portugal’s complex past, Natália will discover herself in the two women whose mysteries and intimate intrigues have come to define her.

                  Through revealing journals, snapshots of a turbulent era, and private letters, the lives of three generations of women unfold, embracing all that has separated them and all that binds them—their strength, their secrets, and their search for love through the currents of change.


                  The first third of the book was Jenny’s story. Jenny married Antonio, and lived with him and his lover, Pedro. Pedro had a daughter with a woman who was active with the revolution, and the woman brought the baby (Camila) to be raised at his house. The second third of the book was about Camila, who was raised with Jenny, Antonio, and Pedro as the adults in her life. Camila’s daughter, Natalia, is the narrator of the last third of the book, through her letters written to Jenny.

                  While I wouldn’t call In Your Hands a page-turner by itself, in the hours since I’ve finished reading it, I’ve been thinking about Jenny, Camila, and Natalia, and the way they thought their lives were going. What they shared was their perspectives about their relationships and those around them – not necessarily specific events. They told a lot about their feelings for each other, for themselves, and for those around them.

                  They did discuss the politics of Portugal and some of their experiences because of the rebellion, but not having knowledge of this history did not hamper my enjoyment of their insights. Their telling of their lives was the sort of book that made me want to have a story and the talent to tell it in the same compelling manner as the author did.

                  Overall, I’d give In Your Hands 3 stars out of 5. The actual reading didn’t hold my interest as strongly as thinking about it later, which made it a slow read. But after finishing it, I feel like I actually knew Jenny, Camila, and Natalia.

                  {click here to purchase}

                  Becki Bayley is looking forward to her fall wardrobe of hoodies and comfy jeans soon. While she hates the thought of the impending cold, she does love fall fashions and Halloween. She's been blogging for quite a long time at SweetlyBSquared.com

                  GIVEAWAY:

                  One of my lucky readers will win a copy of In Your Hands!

                  Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, September 20th, 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!

                  In Your Hands, by Ines Pedrosa

                  Tuesday, September 11, 2018

                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All That I Can Fix, by Crystal Chan {ends 9/18}

                  Earlier on that same Thursday, Mr. Jenkins, the crazy guy on the edge of town, the guy who owned an exotic zoo filled with tigers, panthers, hyenas, and elephants and the like but who never fed them very well (they all had ribs poking out like the black keys on a piano)—he decided to go and shoot himself dead, but not before opening up all the cages and letting his animals loose. Of course, in that windstorm, the animalsbeing caged up for years and yearsfreaked out and ran. So there we were, Makersville, Indiana, the sudden focus of TV reporters and animal rights groups and gun rights advocates, thrown in the spotlight when we hadn't hardly existed just a couple hours before. Goes to show what a tiger can do.

                  This book was apparently based on a zoo outbreak from 2011, in Zanesville, Ohio, and it was interesting to see how the author wove the "animals on the loose" plotline throughout the book.

                  Official synopsis:
                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All That I Can Fix, by Crystal Chan
                  In Makersville, Indiana, people know all about Ronney—he’s from that mixed-race family with the dad who tried to kill himself, the pill-popping mom, and the genius kid sister. If having a family like that wasn’t bad enough, the local eccentric at the edge of town decided one night to open up all the cages of his exotic zoo—lions, cheetahs, tigers—and then shoot himself dead. Go figure. Even more proof that you can't trust adults to do the right thing.

                  Overnight, news crews, gun control supporters, and gun rights advocates descend on Makersville, bringing around-the-clock news coverage, rallies, and anti-rallies with them. With his parents checked out, Ronney is left tending to his sister’s mounting fears of roaming lions, stopping his best friend from going on a suburban safari, and shaking loose a lonely boy who follows Ronney wherever he goes. Can Ronney figure out a way to hold it together as all his worlds fall apart?

                  From acclaimed author Crystal Chan comes an incisive tale of love, loyalty, and the great leaps we take to protect the people and places we love most.


                  As you can probably tell from the synopsis, this isn't your typical YA novel—yes, there's still one character who is "secretly" in love with another, but that character's father also tried to kill himself recently, and he and his family are still dealing with the fallout from that. 

                  You also have lions, tigers, and bears (okay, maybe no bears ...) running around, which makes the townspeople very uneasy. 

                  The main character, Ronney, was very easy to related to, for me, even though he was a teenage boy—he has an unrequited crush on a girl, George, who only sees him as a friend. His family is falling apart because his dad tried (and failed) to commit suicide a few months earlier, and he has basically shouldered his dad's adult responsibilities: he fixes the house, and sometimes even stays home from school to do so. So when his friend Jello proposes a safari—finding the escaped zoo animals and taking pictures of them, for Jello's budding photography career—he agrees. 

                  I liked this book a lot though like I said, it's definitely not your typical YA book. All of the characters were pretty interesting, Ronney being the most interesting one, and they were all multifaceted. I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes a good novel, or who has an interest in animals, as a big part of it was the zoo animals' escape. 

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

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

                  GIVEAWAY:

                  Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of All That I Can Fix!

                  Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 18th, 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!

                  3 copies of All That I Can Fix, by Crystal Chan

                  Saturday, September 8, 2018

                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren {ends 9/16}

                  Hazel Camille Bradford

                  Before we get started, there are a few things you should know about me:

                  1. I am both broke and lazy - a terrible combination.
                  2. I am perpetually awkward at parties and in an effort to relax will probably end up drinking until I am topless.
                  3. I tend to like animals more than people.
                  4. I can always be counted on to do or say the worst possible thing in a delicate moment.

                  In summary, I am superb at making an ass out of myself.

                  At the outset, this should explain how I have never successfully dated Josh Im: I have made myself entirely undateable in his presence.

                  I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan, and this book was no different, though I loved how it was told from both Josh and Hazel's POVs.

                  Official synopsis:
                  Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren
                  Most men can’t handle Hazel. With the energy of a toddler and the mouth of a sailor, they’re often too timid to recognize her heart of gold. JOSH AND HAZEL’S GUIDE TO NOT DATING tells the story of two people who are definitely not dating, no matter how often they end up in bed together.

                  Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

                  Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

                  Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?


                  Hazel met Josh Im in college, technically, and wanted to be his best friend; she thinks he's too "put-together" for him to be interested in her, dating-wise. Flash-forward to ten years later, when she's a 3rd grade teacher, and realizes that one of her good teacher friends, Emily, is actually Josh's sister. She and Josh reconnect and Hazel is determined to make him her best friend ... which works, for a while, until they realize they both have feelings for each other.

                  This book made me laugh a lot throughout. I'm also definitely wondering if the authors based Josh and Hazel on characters from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as there are a lot of similarities, at least between Hazel and Rachel Bloom's character, who are both "quirky" girls who are a lot of fun.

                  The double dates that Josh and Hazel go on together were hilarious, as well, because you could tell they were only doing them to spend time with each other; and the choices they make for each others' dates just get worse and worse throughout.

                  I would LOVE this to be a movie at some point, and my dream cast would be:
                  • Hazel - Rachel Bloom, from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She would be perfect for the role. 
                  • Josh - The easy choice would be Vincent Rodriguez (also Josh, from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) but I'm also going to float John Harlan Kim, Christopher Larkin, and Ken Kirby as choices, which I found off of this list.
                  • Emily - Claudia Kim. (found on this list)
                  • Dan - I forget if he is Asian or white in the book. But I nominate Joe Keery, from Stranger Things - he's a little young but with longer hair like you see here, he looks like Dan to me.
                  • Tabby (if she has any scenes) - Evan Rachel Wood. Tabby ends up not having a good relationship with Josh (avoiding spoilers here...) and ERW is a very versatile actress; I've seen her play vulnerable roles, snobby roles, and "mean girl" roles.
                  5 stars out of 5.
                  {click here to buy}

                  GIVEAWAY:

                  One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating!

                  Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, September 16th, 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!

                  Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren

                  Wednesday, September 5, 2018

                  Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han {now a Netflix Original movie!}

                  When I write, I hold nothing back. I write like he'll never read it. Because he never will. Every secret thought, every careful observation, everything I've saved up inside me, I put it all in the letter. When I'm done, I seal it, I address it, and then I put it in my teal hatbox.

                  They're not love letters in the strictest sense of the word. My letters are for when I don't want to be in love anymore. They're for good-bye. Because after I write my letter, I'm no longer consumed by my all-consuming love. I can eat my cereal and not wonder if he likes bananas over his Cheerios too; I can sing along to love songs and not be singing them to him. If love is like a possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms. My letters set me free. Or at least they're supposed to.

                  I've definitely heard of Jenny Han, as she's a popular YA writer, but this was actually the first book I've read by her. I watched the Netflix Original movie before I read the book, and although it was cute, I'm not obsessed with it like Twitter seems to be ... I actually enjoyed the book better, although the ending isn't wrapped up with a neat bow like the movie was. (there are three books in the series)

                  Official synopsis:
                  Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han
                  To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister's ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all. 

                  If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you know that I'm a huge fan of YA books, and this one was no exception. I wouldn't classify Lara Jean as shy, but she's very responsible—when her older sister, Margot, leaves for college in Scotland, she's now the head of the family, or at least in charge of taking care of her younger sister, Kitty, and she takes that seriously. Her dad helps deliver babies so is often gone, and Margot used to take care of the family, especially after their mom passed away, so it's now Lara Jean's responsibility.

                  At the same time, the love letters—which are almost more like breakup letters—that she's secretly written to each of the five boys she's loved, or at least liked, somehow get delivered to each of those boys, and as you'd imagine, chaos then ensues for Lara Jean.

                  I'll be honest and say I'd like to rewatch the Netflix show now—I usually multitask (read: play on my phone) when I watch movies so perhaps it's worth a second watch. I was surprised to see that the book didn't wrap up the ending neatly—you have to read P.S. I Still Love You, the second book in the series, to see how a conflict between Lara Jean and Peter is resolved—whereas in the movie, everything is resolved at the end.

                  Overall, I related a lot to Lara Jean and really liked all of the characters in this book, as well.

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

                  Purchase links:
                  To All The Boys I've Loved Before (book #1)
                  P.S. I Still Love You (book #2)
                  Always and Forever, Lara Jean (book #3)


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

                  Monday, August 27, 2018

                  Quick Pick book review: Ain't She a Peach, by Molly Harper (Southern Eclectic #2)

                  • Opening lines: Frankie McCready carefully dusted Maybelline blush in Light Rose on the curve of Euola Buckinerny's check.

                    "Now, Miss Eula, I know you've never been one for makeup. You've always been blessed with such a nice complexion, you've never needed it," Frankie murmured over the strains of the Mount Olive Gospel Singers' rendition of "How Great Thou Art." She liked to play her customers' favorite music in the background while she made them up, so they would feel at home. "But every now and then, a girl needs some help from a good foundation and blush."
                  • Reason I picked up the book: It looked like an interesting chick lit novel, with a twist - the main character, although young, is a coroner. 
                  • And what's this book about?
                  • An Atlanta ex-cop comes to sleepy Lake Sackett, Georgia, seeking peace and quiet—but he hasn’t bargained on falling for Frankie, the cutest coroner he’s ever met.

                    Frankie McCready talks to dead people. Not like a ghost whisperer or anything—but it seems rude to embalm them and not at least say hello.

                    Fortunately, at the McCready Family Funeral Home & Bait Shop, Frankie’s eccentricities fit right in. Lake Sackett’s embalmer and county coroner, Frankie’s goth styling and passion for nerd culture mean she’s not your typical Southern girl, but the McCreadys are hardly your typical Southern family. Led by Great-Aunt Tootie, the gambling, boozing, dog-collecting matriarch of the family, everyone looks out for one another—which usually means getting up in everyone else’s business.

                    Maybe that’s why Frankie is so fascinated by new sheriff Eric Linden...a recent transplant from Atlanta, he sees a homicide in every hunting accident or boat crash, which seems a little paranoid for this sleepy tourist town. What’s he so worried about? And what kind of cop can get a job with the Atlanta PD but can’t stand to look at a dead body?

                    Frankie has other questions that need answering first—namely, who’s behind the recent break-in attempts at the funeral home, and how can she stop them? This one really does seem like a job for the sheriff—and as Frankie and Eric do their best Scooby-Doo impressions to catch their man, they get closer to spilling some secrets they thought were buried forever.
                    • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys chick lit or a good romance novel.
                      • Favorite paragraph: "Um, I really appreciate this new level of emotional openness between us, but maybe you shouldn't touch Mr. Watts like that," Frankie said, timidly gesturing to the table he was leaning on.

                        The sheriff turned, saw the covered body on the table, and stumbled away, dragging the sheet with him in his haste. The barest hint of Benjoe Watts' gray hair became visible. And then Eric Linden did the last thing Frankie would have expected.

                        His eyes rolled up like window shades and he fainted dead away on the tile floor.
                        • Something to know: This is book #2 in the Southern Eclectic series but each of them focuses on a different character, so it's readable as a standalone novel as well. I actually have book #1, Sweet Tea and Sympathy, for reviewing, but haven't read it yet; it focuses on Margot, Frankie's cousin.
                        • What I would have changed: Not sure.
                        • Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
                        • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.
                        *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

                        Saturday, August 25, 2018

                        Book Review: I Will Never Leave You, by S.M. Thayer

                        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

                        TRISH

                        This morning, I gulped two Valiums as I whipped up the breakfast tray of James’s hangover remedies. Yesterday, after returning from Laurel’s maternity suite, I met with my internist. I didn’t want to be like my mother and fall into depression in the face of James’s affair. Hopping onto the doctor’s examination table, I unveiled my troubles to him, letting him know depression ran in my family along my mother’s line. He put a stethoscope to my chest, the cool metal bell of that instrument causing me to shiver, and slipped a rubberized belt around my arm, pumping it up to gauge my blood pressure. Physically, nothing was wrong with me, and yet, as a precaution, he scribbled a Valium prescription for me. I was skeptical. What were the possible side effects? He told me about the sleepiness it induces, the difficulty in coordination some people experience. “Is that all?” I asked.

                        It was fun to get inside the head of a character who was so filthy rich that she never had to wonder how to pay for anything—literally anything—she wanted. Unfortunately, in I Will Never Leave You, Trish didn’t use her financial power for good. While we usually have sympathy for a woman scorned, this spoiled woman made it difficult to sympathize with her.

                        Official synopsis:
                        Book Review: I Will Never Leave You, by S.M. Thayer
                        Banking heiress Trish and her husband, James, seem to have it all, from a lavish lifestyle to a historic mansion in the nation’s capital. The only thing that’s missing to make their family complete is a baby, so when Trish holds Anne Elise in her arms for the first time, it’s no surprise that she falls deeply in love. There’s just one problem: Trish isn’t the mother.

                        The baby belongs to Laurel, James’s young mistress. And more than that, James and Laurel want to start a new life together—despite an ironclad prenup standing in their way. When Trish becomes dangerously obsessed with making Laurel’s baby her own, the lovers’ plan to break James’s marriage quickly goes awry. How far is each of them willing to go for happiness?

                        The telling of this story was perfect. The viewpoint changed between the wife, the man, and the mistress. The wife was ridiculously spoiled, the man was always hustling to have everyone believe he was who he said he was, and the mistress was young and quirky. I kept reading to see how it would all work out, but I didn’t get a solid ‘thriller’ vibe from this book. The characters were a bit too outlandish to be scary. I chuckled a few times at some of the cute turns-of-phrase from the mistress, and the sometimes ridiculous conclusions the wife drew in her drug-induced haze.

                        I do have to say, since I’m a mother of two children who were breastfed, that some of the hospital and breastfeeding stories with the newborn were nothing close to an average experience. While it didn’t have any real influence on the plot, I would expect a book with a lactation consultant as a character to hopefully consult with one regarding the breastfeeding behavior of the mother and the baby.

                        Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It was definitely a page-turner, as I wanted to find out what was happening next. The ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, but not enough to lead to a sequel. I’d recommend this book for a fun weekend read that doesn’t require a lot of focus.

                        I Will Never Leave You will be available in stores and online on September 1, 2018.
                        {click here to purchase}

                        Becki Bayley has spent the last two days just reading, tending her flowers, and talking to her fish. She also blogs sporadically at SweetlyBSquared.com for the last 15 years or so.

                        Monday, August 20, 2018

                        Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All This I Will Give to You, by Dolores Redondo {ends 8/27}

                        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

                        “Look, Manuel – may I call you Manuel? I always advise my clients to be candid and aboveboard, especially with their spouses. After all, their spouses share their lives, and spouses are those most affected by bereavement. Àlvaro’s case was no exception. I’m not the person to judge the reasons or guess the motivations that drove him to act as he did. I’m simply the messenger, and I accept the fact that what I’m going to say isn’t going to win me any points with you. But this is my duty. I made a promise to Àlvaro, and I will carry it out in every detail.” After a dramatic pause he continues. “Àlvaro Muñiz de Dàvila had been the Marquis of Santo Tomè for the past three years, since the death of his father, the previous marquis. This title is one of the oldest in Galicia. His family’s estate is only a few miles from the site of the accident, and although I wasn’t aware he was here, I can vouch to you that he visited regularly and was conscientious in attending to his obligations.”

                        Manuel found each successive statement in this account more absurd than the last. He failed to suppress a sneer. “You’re putting me on!”

                        “I assure you every word I’ve said is true, and I stand ready to provide proof and documentation to corroborate any part of it.”

                        Manuel looked back and forth between Griñan and the security guard down the hall. He felt extremely jittery. “So you’re telling me my husband was an aristocrat – what was it you said, a marquis? With an estate and land holdings, and a family I’ve never heard of?” His tone became brutally sarcastic. “All that’s left now is for you to say he had a wife and children.”


                        The first thing I thought when I saw All This I Will Give to You by Dolores Redondo was, “WHOA – that’s a big book!” Haha ... but then I read a bit about the author and was quickly intrigued. She also wrote The Baztàn Trilogy, a successful crime series set in the Basque Pyrenees, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in Spanish, and has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. All This I Will Give to You is a stand-alone thriller that has been optioned for feature film (I do love a book and movie tie-in!) and television development.

                        Official synopsis:
                        Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All This I Will Give to You, by Dolores Redondo
                        When novelist Manuel Ortigosa learns that his husband, Álvaro, has been killed in a car crash, it comes as a devastating shock. It won’t be the last. He’s now arrived in Galicia. It’s where Álvaro died. It’s where the case has already been quickly closed as a tragic accident. It’s also where Álvaro hid his secrets.

                        The man to whom Manuel was married for fifteen years was not the unassuming man he knew.

                        Álvaro’s trail leads Manuel deep into one of Spain’s most powerful and guarded families. Behind the walls of their forbidding estate, Manuel is nothing but an unwelcome and dangerous intruder. Then he finds two allies: a stubbornly suspicious police lieutenant and Álvaro’s old friend—and private confessor—from seminary school. Together they’re collecting the pieces of Álvaro’s past, his double life, and his mysterious death.

                        But in the shadows of nobility and privilege, Manuel is about to unravel a web of corruption and deception that could be as fatal a trap for him as it was for the man he loved.


                        While I’ve read other books with hidden lives and identities, none has been accomplished, justified, and explained as well as All This I Will Give to You.

                        After being married for fifteen years, Manuel receives an unfortunate police visit during which he is informed that his husband has died in a traffic accident. As if that isn’t shocking enough, the accident has occurred far from where he thought his husband was traveling to for a business trip. This is just the beginning of the surprises for Manuel. Without knowing who to trust, he’s left questioning the most important part of his life, while learning about Àlvaro’s life before they met. Àlvaro’s family, who he told Manuel he had nothing to do with, is the key to finding out what happened to Àlvaro and why.

                        A big book is a big commitment, and as I read, I considered whether this could have been a shorter book, or even broken into several books. For me, I decided it’s perfect as is. The author explains each step of the mystery and Àlvaro’s life perfectly. Less detail would have felt less sincere, and there are no good breaking points as the story moves toward its conclusion. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and may check out the author’s other translated books when I have some free time.

                        All This I Will Give to You will be in stores and online on September 1, 2018 - click here to pre-order.

                        Becki Bayley knows the difference between its and it’s, here and hear, and you’re, your, and yore. Usually. She’s been blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com for more than 15 years.

                        GIVEAWAY:

                        One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of All That I Will Give to You!

                        Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, August 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. residents only, please.

                        Good luck!

                        All This I Will Give To You, by Delores Redondo

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