Monday, March 26, 2018

Book Review: Next of Kin, by James Tucker

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From downwind the figure crept up on one of the patrols behind the house. With stealth and grace he swung the hatchet at the guard’s neck. No sound as the man fell. The Rottweiler turned in surprise and bewilderment. He stepped on the leash and with his fist hit the dog in the head, knocking it out. It lay there, panting softly.

He ran clockwise, around to the front of the house, gaining speed. Ahead were the second guard and Rottweiler turning the far corner of the house, where they’d pass by the garage and then move along the darkly lit rear. Faster. Faster. He was a blur of black in the black night, his face indistinct under a black mask.

He felt the anticipation of what would come. Of the young boy’s death, which couldn’t be helped. Tonight was simply another piece of the plan set in motion at Camp Kateri. For what the family had done. The figure inhaled the crisp night air. He was fully alive, agile, a powerful athlete. He charged toward the garage.


Next of Kin jumped right into the action, and most of the suspense surrounded a very clever 10-year-old boy. While I’ve got a 10-year-old of my own, I don’t know if she’d have thought of some of the things he did that saved his life. More than once I thought he was caught or killed.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Next of Kin, by James Tucker
A New Year’s Eve celebration begins with the pop of a champagne cork—and ends with the bone-chilling screams of a killer’s victims. Ten-year-old Ben Brook is the lone survivor of the brutal murder of his wealthy family at their upstate New York compound. But from the moment he evades death, Ben’s life is in constant danger. Can NYPD detective Buddy Lock keep the boy safe from a killer intent on wiping out the entire Brook clan?

When two more massacres decimate the Brookses’ ranks, Buddy’s hunt narrows. But his challenges grow as power, money, and secret crimes from the family’s past stand in the way. With Ben more and more at risk, Buddy steps closer to the edge, forcing a relentless killer to become more brazen, brutal, and cunning. Saving the boy will put all of Buddy’s skills to the test…and risk the lives of everyone he loves.

Next of Kin is the first "Detective Buddy Lock Thriller" from James Tucker. The second book is scheduled for release in October 2018. I liked the detective (a former concert pianist turned police detective) and his girlfriend, Mei (a woman brought up with wealth, who now works in an art gallery). Their relationship was interesting to watch, as the opposites of their upbringing, their expectations of the world, and their choice of careers intermingled, while never quite meshing completely. The precocious little boy who survives several murder attempts also manages to remain charming in spite of his defensive thoughts and maneuvers.

What I liked even more than the characters was the plot. While I don’t try too hard, I did not figure out the killer more than a page or two before it was announced. The how and why behind all the drama was exciting and well played. And when I thought the killer was about to be caught, there would be a surprise of more killings indicating we’d need a new suspect. I’m definitely looking forward to more from this author, and with these characters.

Overall, I’d give Next of Kin 3.5 out of 5 stars, and I bet that star rating will go up with more books in the series, as I grow to know and like Buddy and Mei more.


Becki Bayley is a mom with a 10-year-old and 6-year-old who are realistically smart, but have not had a battle of wits with any killers. She enjoys the safety of blogging in and around SE Michigan at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Between Me and You, by Allison Winn Scotch {ends 4/1}

Ben - November 2016 (now)

I told myself that if she showed, that would be the sign I needed.

If she showed, maybe we could find a way to rewind, rewrite, do it all over. Do it all better. Do it all again, only differently.

It's silly; it's something out of a Hollywood ending, and I'd know that better than most. It's not how I'd write it, but it's how the studio would want it, what would appeal to the demographic they were courting: Men will want to go home and screw their wives, call their girlfriends; women will weep and know that love conquers all.

I snort to myself, though it's lost in the bluster of the wind, the squeal of a motorcycle racing too quickly down Ocean Avenue, empty on this overcast Sunday morning.

Did I ever believe that? Did I ever pin my hopes that love could conquer all? It feels like so long ago: when we first met each other, when we loved each other without conditions.

I've been a fan of Allison Winn Scotch's books for a while now, and I usually enjoy them. I enjoyed this one as well but the chronology is very confusing at first—the story is told from both Ben and Tatum's POVs, and it starts in November 2016, which is the present time. After that, the story goes both backwards and forwards, and the second chapter takes place in October 1999, at the beginning of their love story.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Between Me and You, by Allison Winn Scotch
From New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch comes an honest, touching, and funny exploration of falling in and out of love, told from two perspectives—one rewinding history, one moving it forward—and each with bias and regret.

When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling scriptwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…

A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right.

Like I mentioned above, this story was very hard to follow at first. One chronology is going backwards and the other is going forwards, so the chapters that are the most recent are throwing names and people at us that we haven't yet met. Once you get into the groove of it, though, you start to realize that Ben and Tatum's story is very interesting, even though they're on the brink of divorce currently.

At the beginning of their relationship, Tatum was an aspiring actress and Ben was a screenwriter. His star is on the rise for a few years, but then Tatum's career takes off, and soon she's a Hollywood A-lister, whereas he's writing scripts for a TV show. That causes tension between them. They later have a son together, Joey, who wasn't planned, but both of them love him.

Meanwhile, Tatum is getting more and more stressed about her career—being the best, trying to stay super skinny, etc.—which is driving a wedge between them.

This wasn't my favorite Allison Winn Scotch book that I've read so far, but the story was pretty interesting. It would actually make a great movie, in my opinion; maybe one day it will get optioned as a film. I'd recommend this book for anyone who is interested in movies and/or for anyone who likes love stories.

3.5 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:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Between Me and You!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, April 1st, at 11:59pm EST, and the winners 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!

Between Me and You, by Allison Winn Scotch



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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

Ansley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Secret to Southern Charm

Monday, March 12, 2018

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

A Beautiful Poison, by Lydia Kang

Thursday, March 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase this book}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Copenhagen Affair, by Amulya Malladi

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