Sunday, November 24, 2019

Book Review: Day Zero (Day Zero Duology), by Kelly deVos

Guest book review by: Becki Bayley

Dr. Doomsday’s Guide to Ultimate Survival

Rule One: Always be prepared.

Outside, it’s sunny with an empty blue sky that stretches on forever. I swing my backpack over my shoulder as we cross the mostly empty campus. The town can’t afford to plant winter grass, so everything on the ground is yellowing and dry. The kid who crashed the library cart zooms by on an electric scooter, a blur of dark hair and green camouflage clothes, missing us by only a foot or so.

MacKenna jumps back. “Hey, watch it, Navarro!”

“You know him?” I continue to stare, watching the scooter move across the uneven, rocky parking lot toward the football fields. This info shouldn’t have come as a surprise. She knows everyone.


While some of the technology talk and coding went way over my head, the quirky characters, their relationships to each other, and their sense of urgency to save the world was definitely compelling.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Day Zero (Day Zero Duology), by Kelly deVos
Seventeen-year-old coder Jinx Marshall grew up spending weekends drilling with her paranoid dad for a doomsday she’s sure will never come. She’s an expert on self-heating meal rations, Krav Maga and extracting water from a barrel cactus. Now that her parents are divorced, she’s ready to relax. Her big plans include making it to level 99 in her favorite MMORPG and spending the weekend with her new hunky stepbrother, Toby.

But all that disaster training comes in handy when an explosion traps her in a burning building. Stuck leading her headstrong stepsister, MacKenna, and her precocious little brother, Charles, to safety, Jinx gets them out alive only to discover the explosion is part of a pattern of violence erupting all over the country. Even worse, Jinx’s dad stands accused of triggering the chaos.

In a desperate attempt to evade paramilitary forces and vigilantes, Jinx and her siblings find Toby and make a break for Mexico. With seemingly the whole world working against them, they’ve got to get along and search for the truth about the attacks—and about each other. But if they can survive, will there be anything left worth surviving for?


Jinx (whose actual name is Susan) is a no-nonsense girl who would rather be online than interacting with real people. She cares nothing for politics. Her stepsister, MacKenna, is a girly-girl and high-school journalist who wants to write about everything, but especially people and politics. They both care about their little brother Charles. They want to keep him safe, and that includes monitoring his diet and diabetes. As they attempt to flee the country (eventually with brother Toby as well), they are frequently at odds about what, when, and where is best for them all.

The relationships between these very different characters defined a lot about how they dealt with their journey. Eventually meeting up with several of the adults in their lives only complicated things more. It’s an interesting story, with so much more still to be told.

I enjoyed reading Day Zero. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars and will watch for the follow-up, Day One, to find out what happens next!

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Christmas-movie obsessed, cozy under a blanket, cuddling with kittens, mother of two. She also shares her adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mama Hissa's Mice, by Saud Alsanousi {ends 11/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The two old ladies spent some time in the courtyard debating who was younger while the three of us looked on, deriving more enjoyment from their scene than that of the patients leaving the psychiatric ward on our TV show. Their feigned squabble turned to kitchen talk, then to tea sit-downs in the Gamal Abdel Nasser Park in Rawda after the evening prayer, then to news of the bomb blast outside the Saudi Arabian Airlines office that had shaken the city yesterday, before finally ending with the war.

Mama Zaynab was talking about Iran with the same sort of compassion that she had for Iraq. After having thrown down the last of the lotus fruit into the basket, I found myself unable to contain my question any longer and I cut her off. “Bibi Zaynab! Who do you support? Iran or Iraq?” Both grandmothers turned to me.

“This is a war we’re talking about here, may God protect us, not a soccer match, you fool!”

I didn’t pay Mama Hissa any mind, and kept my eyes locked with Mama Zaynab’s. She shook her head indecisively, pulling at her lips. She finally settled on the common saying: “In my back and in my stomach, I feel pain. Both hurt just the same.”


This novel showed a personal view of Kuwait before and after the Gulf War. It’s hard to imagine real names and faces with the stories we just saw on the news, but this book added so much depth from real lives.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mama Hissa's Mice, by Saud Alsanousi {ends 11/26}
Growing up together in the Surra section of central Kuwait, Katkout, Fahd, and Sadiq share neither ethnic origin nor religious denomination—only friendship and a rage against the unconscionable sectarian divide turning their lives into war-zone rubble. To lay bare the ugly truths, they form the protest group Fuada’s Kids. Their righteous transgressions have made them targets of both Sunni and Shi’a extremists. They’ve also elicited the concern of Fahd’s grandmother, Mama Hissa, a story-spinning font of piety, wisdom, superstition, and dire warnings, who cautions them that should they anger God, the sky will surely fall.

Then one day, after an attack on his neighborhood leaves him injured, Katkout regains consciousness. His friends are nowhere to be found. Inundated with memories of his past, Katkout begins a search for them in a world that has become unrecognizable but not forsaken.

Snaking through decades of Kuwaiti history well into a cataclysmic twenty-first century, Mama Hissa’s Mice is a harrowing, emotional, and caustic novel of rebellion. It also speaks to the universal struggle of finding one’s identity and a reason to go on, even after the sky has fallen.


I’m always in for a book with engaging characters. Through Katkout’s memories of the past and the neighborhood where he spent his boyhood, I became invested in seeing what was happening to him and his friends in his descriptions from the present. Alternating between his childhood memories (in the version of a book he’s written for publication) and the present, he continued to foreshadow that he would never recover the joy and peace he knew when he and his friends were too young to care what sects their fathers stood for.

While I had no familiarity with Kuwaiti or Muslim culture, the book described both in an understandable and evocative way. The language was beautiful, and I appreciated both the translated descriptions, and the explanations with some words which remained un-translated. I could feel the narrator’s love for his culture, along with the frustrations and divisions caused by the differences of culture between his closest friends.

This book has been banned in Kuwait since its original publication in 2015. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this translation, and I feel it would be a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about a culture different than their own, and Kuwait in particular. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves reading books, watching movies, eating Better Made White Cheddar Popcorn, drinking Cherry Coke, and staying warm with her kittens under fuzzy blankets. Sometimes she talks about all of the above at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Mama Hissa's Mice!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, November 26th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted 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!

Mama Hissa's Mice, by Saud Alsanousi


Monday, November 18, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Current, by Tim Johnston {ends 11/25}

Guest review by: Andrea Hodge

"How did you do it, Audrey? How did you get out of the water?"

"I don't know," she said. "The car was stuck on the ice and I was stuck on the car. I guess I must have climbed up. I must have gotten the door open far enough to get my arm out and I must've used the door to climb up on top of the car—on top of the underside of the car—and I must've climbed from the car to the ice. But I don't remember that. All I remember is lying on the ice, on my stomach, and looking at the lights through the ice, the headlights, the way they were shining on the underside of the ice just as steady and clear as anything. Like I was underwater looking up at them from below. Like everything was upside down. The sky, the water. Everything."

Audrey Sutter proves to be an excellent heroine in this sleepy small-town thriller. When local law enforcement finds themselves at an impasse, she forges on to solve the case on her own terms.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Current, by Tim Johnston {ends 11/25}
In the dead of winter, outside a small Minnesota town, state troopers pull two young women and their car from the icy Black Root River. One is found downriver, drowned, while the other is found at the scene—half frozen but alive.

What happened was no accident, and news of the crime awakens the community’s memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may still live among them.

Determined to find answers, the surviving young woman soon realizes that she’s connected to the earlier unsolved case by more than just a river, and the deeper she plunges into her own investigation, the closer she comes to dangerous truths, and to the violence that simmers just below the surface of her hometown.

Grief, suspicion, the innocent and the guilty—all stir to life in this cold northern town where a young woman can come home, but still not be safe. Brilliantly plotted and unrelentingly propulsive, The Current is a beautifully realized story about the fragility of life, the power of the past, and the need, always, to fight back.

While I liked the plot of this book, I found the writing style very jumpy and confusing. Multiple times, I needed to reread a section to determine which character I was reading about, which period in time it was, or to gain clarity on what had actually just happened in the storyline. The characters are strong, and continue to draw reader interest throughout. Small twists throughout keep you guessing as to "whodunit," and the overall story is thoroughly enjoyable.

I give it 3 stars out of 5.

{click here to purchase}

Andrea Hodge will read anything. When she isn't spending her time reading, she is either baking, fixing herself a cocktail, or entertaining her two daughters with ridiculous songs of her own creation.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a paperback copy of The Current!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of The Current, by Tim Johnston

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Book Review: All Fired Up (Road to Love, Book #3), by Lori Foster

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Disbelief stole his voice. Show up at ten. Just like that? He admitted to prison time, to taking part in a drug deal, to being a brother they’d never known because of their father’s indiscretion – and he got invited over for coffee?

Could it really be that easy?

Yeah, right. Nothing in his life ever came without a lot of sweat, hard work, and sometimes blood. It had taken him a while, but he’d learned patience – and so he stood there while his heart punched against his ribs.

With a crooked grin, Brodie settled a hand on Mitch’s shoulder in a firm clasp. “Welcome home, brother.”


This was a fun read. I love engaging characters, and this was about a family reuniting with a third brother they never knew about. The loner brother is worried about what to expect, but the established family is storybook perfect and irresistible.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: All Fired Up (Road to Love, Book #3), by Lori Foster
Charlotte Parrish has always wanted a certain kind of man: someone responsible, settled, boring. Bad boys need not apply. But when her car leaves her stranded and a mysterious stranger with brooding eyes and a protective streak comes to her rescue, she can’t deny how drawn she is to him. In town searching for family he’s never met, Mitch is everything she never thought she wanted—and suddenly everything she craves.

Finding his half brothers after all these years is more than Mitch Crews has allowed himself to wish for. Finding love never even crossed his mind…until he meets Charlotte. She’s sweet, warmhearted, sexier than she knows—and too damn good for an ex-con like him. But when his past comes back to haunt him, putting Charlotte—and the family he’s come to care for—in danger, Mitch isn’t playing by the rules. He’s already surrendered his heart, but now he’ll risk his life.


This is the third book in the Road to Love trilogy. Once I got a bit into it, it was fairly obvious that the first two books were about the true love matches of two brothers, Brodie and Jack. In this book, their half-brother, Mitch, comes to town and immediately meets a girl very close to their family. Charlotte feels her life is complete with the family that has taken her in when both her parents died. Falling in love with the unknown third brother in the family is nothing less than perfect, and perfectly predictable.

I don’t mind predictable plots, and enjoy reading books about characters I’d like to hang out with. I will give credit to this book for an unexpected plot twist (at least for me) and some interesting fight scenes. Based on the background given on the other two books, I think this probably happens in them as well, in some way.

Overall, this was an amusing page-turner for me. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for someone looking for a good read curled up in front of a warm fire (I was going to say beach read, but the northern U.S. is no place for that right now!). I may even go back and read the first two, to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of these likable characters. Enjoy!

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is one of those people who listens to holiday music starting November 1. Decorating and preparing are another story, but music, movies, and even a little bit of baking are traditions she wouldn’t argue with year-round. Check out her life at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Breathe In, Cash Out, by Madeleine Henry {ends 11/14}

"Are you okay? Skylar asks. 

I've seen her flawless features—long blond hair, bright blue eyes, nonexistent porespop up on my Instagram feed hundreds of times, and she's always come across as effortlessly happy. But right now, she looks concerned.

I'm trying to explain to my Instagram-famous yoga idol that despite cashing checks from the notorious Anderson Shaw (the most prestigious investment bank on Wall Street), which pays me an absurd amount of money to do things that require no skill except surviving in a constant state of panicASAP, NOW, !, FIRE DRILL, MORE TO COME, FWD: FDW: FDW: PLS DO TXI'm doing the best I can on my spiritual journey.

And yes, I accidentally slept with my boss last night, but I have so many problems right now that I am writing that one off completely.

This book has been called The Devil Wears Prada meets Wall Street, and it was definitely a fun read. All of the characters were pretty distinctive, too, and I loved the ending.

Official synopsis:

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Breathe In, Cash Out, by Madeleine Henry {ends 11/14}
In this sizzling debut for fans of The Devil Wears Prada, Wall Street banking analyst Allegra Cobb plans to quit the minute her year-end bonus hits her account, finally pursuing her yoga career full-time. But when she forms an intense relationship with the #InstaFamous guru who may hold the ticket to the life Allegra's always wanted—she's not sure if she'll be able to keep her sanity intact (and her chakras aligned) until bonus day.

Allegra Cobb’s resume: Straight-A Princeton grad, second-year analyst at a top-tier bank, one-time American Yoga National Competition Champion. Allegra Cobb’s reality: Spends twenty-four hours a day changing the colors on bar charts, overusing the word “team,” and daydreaming about quitting the minute her year-end bonus hits her account. She has no interest in the cutthroat banking world—she’s going to launch her very own yoga practice.

But her plan isn’t quite as perfect as the beachfront yoga pictures she double-taps on Instagram. On top of the 100 emails an hour and coworkers already suspicious of her escape plan, Allegra's hard-driving single father has always expected fiercely high achievement above all else. That his daughter works on Wall Street means everything to him. Still, she marches on, taking it day by extremely caffeinated day.

But after (1) unknowingly sleeping with the man now leading her banking cohort on one of their biggest deals to date and (2) meeting the #blessed yoga guru who might just be her ticket to the life she’s always wanted, it really hits her: her happy-ever-after will be harder to manifest than she thought.

Fast-paced, laugh-out-loud funny, and totally irresistible, this is the story of a fearless young woman determined to center herself in the life she truly wants.


This was a fun, quick read, although I've been allotting less time to reading as of yet so it took me a week or two to finish. Allegra works at Anderson Shaw, and basically spends her life there ... they regularly assign her things to do that keep her at the office until 2am or later. Her secret dream is to become a yoga instructor, and once she meets her Instagram idol Skylar, it seems like that might happen for her; however, circumstances—and people—aren't always what they appear to be.

The author of this book is actually a practitioner of yoga too (you can follow her @MadeleineHenryYoga on Instagram), which is probably why the yoga scenes in the book and also the yoga knowledge seemed so fleshed out.

I was rooting for Allegra, too, which is always a good thing ... she really wants to get out of Anderson Shaw but has to wait until her yearly bonus to do so, so that she'll have some money for the upcoming year.

4 stars out of 5.

{click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Breathe In, Cash Out!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Breathe In, Cash Out, by Madeleine Henry

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Nash: The Official Biography, by Nash Grier and Rebecca Paley {ends 11/13}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The essence of what Nash came out to L.A. to do can be traced back to when he was seven years old. Once the custody schedule became more flexible, Chad would take his sons to a restaurant called Prime Time every Tuesday – because every Tuesday kids ate for free. The Grier boys would go crazy on the homemade southern buffet of pulled pork, meat loaf, okra, mashed potatoes, and anything else that was delicious and could give you a heart attack. But hands down, the best part of the meal was the ice cream machine, which, like everything else in the buffet, was unlimited.

One part of their Tuesday-night ritual was an ice cream contest. Every time they went, their dad would challenge his sons to see who could finish an ice cream cone, top to bottom, fastest. Even though his dad could eat an ice cream cone in what seemed like one bite, Nash had it in his head that he could beat him. Once, he actually did beat him. He just basically swallowed an entire ice cream cone. It was awful. It hurt. It did not feel good physically. But it felt great to win. Even better, though, was the reaction from the crowd. The entire restaurant was dying laughing, or at least it felt like that.


When I was contacted to read and review this book, I didn’t know who Nash Grier was. Social media changes so fast that I am too old to be part of his audience, and my kids are too young, LOL! Now I’ve learned about Nash’s life, and more importantly, his purpose.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Nash: The Official Biography, by Nash Grier and Rebecca Paley {ends 11/13}
When he was still in high school, Nash Grier had no idea his life was about to change—forever. With the launch of the popular Vine app came the beginning of Nash’s career as a viral social media sensation. Now, in his official biography, the twenty-one-year-old digital media phenomenon shares never-before-told stories about life behind the camera. From growing up as a regular kid in North Carolina, to finding his calling as a top social media tastemaker, to landing leading roles in major feature films, to being a millennial ambassador for top brands, to using his platform to promote change, to leaning on the love and support from his fan base when the going gets tough, this is the story of a how Nash found his voice—and how readers can find their own.
Nash Grier’s social media fame started before anyone knew what it meant, or what to do with it. Through trial and error, more life experiences, and connecting with other people, he learned over time what he wanted his life to be, and how to get there.

His book tells of his life growing up in North Carolina, through his move to L.A. to see what social media success could truly mean, and through several experiences that shaped where and who he is now. He wants everyone to be able to follow their passion and purpose, and enjoy the happiness and success he has found. He set out to have his biography written as another way to connect with people and encourage them.

Overall, Nash Grier’s book is his biography, and the only purpose for reading a biography is to learn about the person featured. While his book does show that being a social media star is not all sunshine and roses, I don’t feel that it really gives ‘tips’ to kids who dream of social media success. I like that he is now determined to use the platform he’s built to bring attention to his purpose to improve the world. His book was well-written as a biography, and I liked the personal annotations where Nash commented on the story of his life as written by the author, Rebecca Paley. I’d give the book 3 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is an old-fashioned reader. While she can’t name many social media stars, she does love reading about how other people live. Find out more about how she lives at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Nash: The Official Biography!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, November 13th, 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!

Nash: The Official Biography, by Nash Grier and Rebecca Paley

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Katy's Ghost, by Trish Evans {ends 11/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

It was early October, and I’d not seen Gram since the baby shower at Peaches Madigan’s house. Almost three weeks had passed, but the fragile memories nudged back into existence by each of Gram’s visits drifted softly in and out of my consciousness like the autumn leaves that listlessly floated from the branches of their detached, emotionless tree trunks. And with each whispering breeze, I’d wonder if Gram would return or if, like the falling leaves, I’d been dismissed, left to float aimlessly and alone with the unbearable disquiet once tightly contained and hidden. How cruel of her to unearth and expose such pain without returning it to the place where it had been secreted and entombed so long ago.
The cover of this book left me not really knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised with a conversational writing style, like I was just visiting with a friend the whole time I read.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Katy's Ghost, by Trish Evans {ends 11/12}
Haunted by childhood traumas, happily married Katy Welborn is at a crossroads: in her late 30s, her biological clock ticking, she has survived cancer but her fears of family skeletons dangling in the genetic closet have paralyzed her from becoming pregnant. That’s when her long-departed Grandmother Nellie appears as sort of a guardian angel, leading Katy on a journey back through the tortured pages of her past. With unexpected humor and often profound insights, Katy revisits a series of traumatic encounters: a severely schizophrenic uncle whose presence threatens the entire family, an emotionally unstable sister who has spiraled into the lost zone of southern California’s 1960s drug-infused counterculture; and a well-meaning suburban family torn apart by its own bizarre eccentricities. Set in the 1990s, with flashbacks to the 1950s and 1960s, Katy’s Ghost takes readers into painful territory, captured with a soft soul.

I’m still thinking of this book a couple days after finishing it. I found the story to be unique and unpredictable. Katy Welborn’s ghost is her Gram, and she acts as almost an inner conscience while Katy works through health stress and the memories of her relatives when she was growing up. While some may turn away from a book about the ‘paranormal,’ Katy’s Gram is mostly an omniscient best friend – exactly what Katy needed to gain some clarity with her past, and peace in her present.

Not a lot of books honestly address someone dealing with another person’s mental illness as an observer. Growing up in this position, Katy worried about what people thought of her, in relation to her mentally ill uncle and sister. This was written with compassion and what felt like true empathy for Katy’s position, and eventually those of her family members.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It could be triggering in its discussions of her cancer treatment and struggles with deciding when or if to try to become pregnant. I thought some of the beginning may lead to abuse scenarios, but it did not (I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I was worried in the beginning, and knowing it didn’t lead there would have given me peace of mind). The ending was happy, which I love in a book. I’d give this one 4 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Katy's Ghost!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, November 12th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Katy's Ghost, by Trish Evans

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Firewall, by Eugenia Lovett West {ends 11/5}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The schedule politely requested that guests meet in the anteroom at eight o’clock. Moving leisurely, I took a shower and put on a new dress, a Valentino knock-off cut low in the back. Last spring Caroline had given me a necklace made of brilliant semiprecious stones set in gold. Wildly pretentious and never worn until now.

I clasped it carefully and studied the overall effect. There were fine lines around my mouth and eyes, but there was no gray in that mane of auburn hair, and my long legs were exceptional. Rubbing shoulders with highfliers could be a challenge, but I had credentials. Emma Metcalf had been a rising name in the opera world. My dead husband had been the CEO of a large international company, but my status didn’t matter. My one job was to support Caroline in case she became confused – and mind my manners in front of the jumped-up countess.

For once, thanks to Bailey, Caroline was ready in full war paint, clanking with bracelets. She gave me the once-over. “You’ll do. Italian men love dark red hair and blue eyes. Shades of Botticelli.”


The title of this one had me thinking it would be more about cybercrime or computer issues. While one of the plot lines did say it was about cybercrime, it never really explained much about it.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Firewall, by Eugenia Lovett West {ends 11/5}
Former opera singer Emma Streat has survived the murder of her husband and the destruction of her beautiful old house. Now a full-time single mother, she struggles to move forward and make a home for her two sons. Because of her detection skills, she has become a go-to person for help―so, when her rich, feisty, socialite godmother is blackmailed, she turns immediately to Emma.

Soon, Emma founds herself thrust into the dark world of cybercrime. Mounting challenges take her to exclusive European settings where she mixes with top people in the financial and art collecting worlds and has intriguing and emotion-packed experiences with men―including her dynamic ex-lover, Lord Andrew Rodale. When she is targeted by a cybercrime network using cutting-edge technology, it takes all of Emma’s resilience and wits to survive and bring the wily, ruthless criminal she’s hunting to justice.

Action-packed and full of twists and turns, this third book of the Emma Streat Mystery series does not disappoint!


The best part of this book was undoubtedly the feeling that we were traveling all over the world. From Boston, to New York, and then on to France and Ireland, Emma Streat’s emergency travels around the globe were always exciting. I wish the author hadn’t mentioned what Emma was wearing for each occasion though – I think I counted less than five outfits over the course of several months. It became an annoying detail I certainly could have done without.

I enjoy books about how different people live. In this story, Emma’s godmother was very rich, and insisted Emma live like her while visiting, or when they traveled together. While they seem to have known each other their whole lives, Emma still seemed uncomfortable with the luxuries that her godmother apparently forced on her. I guess I would have expected her to get somewhat used to it over the years, especially since she repeatedly talked about how close they were.

Overall, Emma’s adventures seemed a little far-fetched, and I never felt really engaged with any of the characters. I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. While this is the third book in the Emma Streat Mystery series, the second book was published 10 years ago. I’d be curious to see if the series will continue at a little quicker pace. I don’t remember what books I read a decade ago, and I doubt I’ll remember this one when another 10 years has passed.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves fuzzy slippers, artichokes with butter, and the feeling of contentment that comes from curling up with a magic blanket and a good book. She’s been blogging in SE Michigan since March 2002 at www.sweetlybsquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Firewall!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, November 5th, 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!

Firewall, by Eugenia Lovett West

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Book Review: Meant to Be Yours, by Susan Mallery

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

In a wedding destination town, the rhythms of the residents were determined by weekend weddings. Happily Inc’s workweek started on Wednesdays as the businesses geared up for the dozens of nuptials that occurred in multiple venues. Which meant the town’s Friday night was actually on Monday.

The Boardroom, a local bar, hosted game nights on Mondays. Board games ruled and tournaments were heated and fun as friends crushed each other at everything from Candy Land to Risk.


Happily Inc sounds like a delightful little town to live in. I was surprised to find that this was the fifth book in the series about the town and its residents.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Meant to Be Yours, by Susan Mallery
Wedding coordinator Renee Grothen isn’t meant for marriage. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan. But she never could have planned on gorgeous, talented thriller writer Jasper Dembenski proposing - a fling, that is. Fun without a future. And the attraction between them is too strong for Renee to resist. Now she can have her no-wedding cake ... and eat it, too.

After years in the military, Jasper is convinced he’s too damaged for relationships. So a flirtation—and more—with fiery, determined Renee is way too good to pass up ... until his flame becomes his muse.

Renee is an expert at averting every crisis. But is she finally ready to leap into the one thing that can never be controlled: love?


This was a fun read. I liked the quirky characters, especially Renee and her mother. The way the series is set up is pretty obvious – there are a few couples in the small town who of course interact with each other. A few times over the course of the story, someone references when so-and-so and their flame got together, which is surely an earlier book in the series. I like these kind of light-hearted series – you feel like a citizen of their quaint little town as you meet everyone.

I enjoy books where they present careers that lend themselves to fun daydreaming about an alternative life. Renee was a wedding coordinator, and her love-interest Jasper was an author. I don’t know how realistically either career was depicted, but they sounded like fun, and the book made them sound believably realistic.

The book also included a novella at the end. It was another pleasant read, but kind of annoying that it obviously took place sometime before the actual book. See, the characters in the novella are married and expecting their first child in the book that the novella followed. Still a fun story, but maybe they should have been presented in a different order?

Overall, I enjoyed reading Meant to Be Yours. It also kind of made me want to watch the old 2001 movie with J.Lo, The Wedding Planner. Wedding planning was the only overlap (well, that and finding love), but the movie and the book make it seem like a fun job. I’d give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for a great beach read, or for this time of year, cuddled under a blanket in front of a fireplace. Enjoy!

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley reads whatever she can, wherever she can. When she’s not reading, she’s feeding the children as a breakfast lady, lunch lady, or mom. Sometimes she blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Flying Alone: A Memoir, by Beth Ruggiero York {ends 10/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Nice job. You handled the airplane well,” Frank told me after the flight test.

We stood on the ramp outside Mountain Air’s building that housed the offices along with the cleanest hangar space I had ever seen. I didn’t know a Part 135 operation could be so professional.

“Thank you.” My hopes were high.

“Your movements of the controls are smooth, and that’s important when there are people in the airplane. I learned to fly that way in the Air Force. Couldn’t get through a flight check if we weren’t smooth. I’m retired but I try to pass on all I learned to the young people I hire,” he explained. “I know you’ve been flying freight before this. It’s easy to get sloppy when you only have boxes in the back. Our business here at Mountain Air is half and half, passengers and freight, so we expect you always to fly as though you’re carrying passengers.”

Did he mean I had the job? It sure sounded that way. “How many airplanes do you have?” I asked.

“We’ve got the four Navajos, a single-engine Cessna, two Beech Barons, and a Piper Aztec.” The operation was impressive. “And Joe Fontaine – he’s the owner of the company – keeps the Stearman over there for his own fun.” He pointed to the yellow biplane in back of the hangar. “When would you be available to start?”


To work so diligently toward a goal for years is impressive. Beth Ruggiero York fought her way through an industry that wasn’t supportive of her and her dreams to earn the reward she wanted for so long.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Flying Alone: A Memoir, by Beth Ruggiero York {ends 10/25}
From the time she was a teenager, Beth knew she wanted to fly, and a solo trip across the country to visit family confirmed her aspirations of becoming a pilot. But her dreams were almost grounded before they could take off when she received the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at the age of 22.

Beth vowed that this new challenge would not put restrictions on her life and embarked on journey to become an airline pilot. Starting at the small local airport, the aviation world swallowed her whole, and the next five years of her life were as turbulent as an airplane in a thunderstorm, never knowing when, how or if she would emerge.

An agonizing love affair with her flight instructor, dangerous risks in the sky and flying broken airplanes for shady companies all intertwined to define her road to the airlines, eventually being hired by Trans World Airlines in 1989.

Flying Alone outlines the struggles and the challenges of civil aviation that Beth faced 30 years ago.

Ultimately a story of survival and overcoming overwhelming odds, Flying Alone is told with soul-baring candor, taking readers on a suspenseful journey through terror, romance and victory.


What an all-consuming hobby and goal it was for the author to want to fly for a commercial airline! Her determination to continue pursuing her goal in spite of the obstacles was truly inspirational. I liked reading her comments on the specific planes and challenges of flying that she encountered. Her extensive knowledge of the subject was obvious. The situations that employers put her and others in while they were working and trying to accrue more flying hours were horrible. The author’s struggles were 30 years ago, but I wonder if the industry has really changed much since then.

While I liked the flying parts of the book and was on the edge of my seat whenever she navigated a challenge in the sky, I just wanted to yell at her over her stupid boyfriend. Maybe I’m old and jaded, but I was tired of his shenanigans almost immediately. I would have been interested in hearing what the rest of her close family (her mother and her brother) thought of her persistence in pursuing such a monumental goal.

Overall, I would give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is a great story of the author’s determination and planned steps toward her goal.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a daughter, sister, wife and mother. She spends most of her time juggling schedules for her immediate household, and tries to spend a few minutes commenting on it all at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Flying Alone!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Flying Alone, by Beth Ruggiero York

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Book Review: The Perfect Candidate, by Peter Stone

Guest review by: Andrea Hodge
"Try to have a normal few days. Don't talk about this to anyone in the office," Memo had told me before dropping me off three blocks away from the Rayburn building, the morning we'd talked with BIB's penitent hitman. "I need time to formalize Meteer's statement, and I need you to act like you're continuing to have an amazing summer interning for your congressman. Replace copy machine toner, Give tours. Write form letters. We'll keep an eye on you. You'll be safe."

"A normal few days," he'd said so effortlessly. Normal, even though the man whose name was on the plaque outside the office hired a least one contact killer in his life. Normal, even though I'd spilled a particularly volatile pile of beans to this same man's number two. Normal, even though I was keeping secrets that had gotten others killed.



While the title of this book didn't exactly jump out at me, I was quickly pulled into the fun writing style and dramatic plot. A perfect example of a YA thriller.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Perfect Candidate, by Peter Stone
When recent high school graduate Cameron Carter lands an internship with Congressman Billy Beck in Washington, DC, he thinks it is his ticket out of small town captivity. What he lacks in connections and Beltway polish he makes up in smarts, and he soon finds a friend and mentor in fellow staffer Ariel Lancaster.

That is, until she winds up dead.


As rumors and accusations about her death fly around Capitol Hill, Cameron’s low profile makes him the perfect candidate for an FBI investigation that he wants no part of. Before he knows it—and with his family’s future at stake—he discovers DC’s darkest secrets as he races to expose a deadly conspiracy.

If it doesn’t get him killed first.


I love a good YA novel, and this one did not disappoint. The perfect blend of thriller, drama, and teen angst guarantee a fun read. Cameron Carter provides a likable hero, and the dangerous situations he finds himself in provide a definite page-turner.

The Perfect Candidate is the debut novel of author Peter Stone. His love of thrillers is clear as he does a great job in building momentum and developing for the reader a sense of impending danger. The characters are believable and the plot is easy to connect with. In all, I enjoyed it very much.

3.5 stars out of 5.

{click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: Books I Think You Should Read received a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing. The opinions expressed here, however, are those of the reviewer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review and GIVEAWAY - Almost Home: Poems, by Madisen Kuhn {ends 10/23}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

i am so many different people.
i am vibrating
with all the lives
i have lived.
i cannot make out a face
in the perpetually spinning
chaotic blur that pulses beneath
this translucent alien skin
stretched across these bones.


Everyone can relate at one time to feeling lost, alone, or confused. Madisen Kuhn knows how to put these feelings in words, and onto the page.

Official synopsis:
Review and GIVEAWAY - Almost Home: Poems, by Madisen Kuhn {ends 10/23}
In this stunning third collection from Madisen Kuhn, Madisen eloquently analyzes some of life’s universal themes within the framework of a house. Whether it’s the garden, the bedroom, or the front porch, Madisen takes you into her own “home,” sharing some of the most intimate parts of her life so that you might also, someday, feel free to share some of yours.

Filled with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations from Melody Hansen, this boldly intimate, preternaturally wise, and emotionally candid collection encourages you to consider what home means to you—whether it’s in the lush, green-lawned suburbs or a city apartment—and, more importantly, explores how you can find it even when home feels like it’s on the far-off horizon.


I enjoyed the way the author used the words in her poems, and I chose to read some of the hopeful poems more than once. The drawings which were captioned by parts of the poems were also pleasant and well suited to the collection.

I think these poems would resonate even more with someone in their 20's or early 30's. They were somewhat nostalgic for me, in that I remembered the feelings, but most of the struggles she spoke of are ones I’ve moved past now.

Overall, I’d give the book 3 out of 5 stars. The poems are able to talk about things that could be sad or depressing, without being depressing poems.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a reader, sometimes a bit of a writer, and a collector of things like sloths and zombies. You can see her life spanning over the past many years at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Almost Home: Poems!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, October 23rd, at 11:59pm EST and winner will be chosen and 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!

Almost Home: Poems, by Madisen Kuehn


*Disclosure: Books I Think You Should Read received a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing. The opinions expressed here, however, are those of the reviewer.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Law and Addiction, by Mike Papantonio {ends 10/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Nathan Ailes jumped to his feet. “Objection, Your Honor.” Ailes wagged his index finger as if he were poking holes in the air. “Haven’t we heard enough rabid conjecture? This wannabe lawyer is impugning the good name of my client and making them sound like gangsters. His wild speculation is turning this whole proceeding into a circus.”

“And that would make me the ringmaster, would it not, Mr. Ailes?” Judge Perry’s little smile belied the hardness of his gaze. “Since that is the case, I would suggest you tread carefully on your high wire. No, please have a seat. And Mr. Rutledge, let’s finish up.”

“Yes, sir. I haven’t even yet addressed the matter of corporate profits. Between year one and year four, MHC’s profits skyrocketed from one hundred million dollars to well over two billion dollars. And though MHC is the largest distributor, there are two other Fortune 25 companies making similar profits. And these same results have occurred in small counties all over West Virginia.

“Your Honor, if you allow this case to proceed, we intend to pursue a host of claims against MHC and its ilk, where we will provide data showing how these companies were complicit in creating the opioid epidemic. The figures are irrefutable. What is also irrefutable is that the three major drug distribution companies were well aware of what was going on. Every day their own employees were witness to droves of West Virginians lined up first thing in the morning in front of the pill mills they helped create. These pill mills would never even have existed if not for the corporate pushers who supplied them.”


What a powerful book! While framed as fiction, the opioid epidemic is real, and the author wrote of the causes and consequences compellingly.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Law and Addiction, by Mike Papantonio {ends 10/22}
One week before his law school graduation, Jake Rutledge is shattered. His fraternal twin, Blake, has died of a drug overdose. When Jake returns to his hometown of Oakley, West Virginia, he discovers that his brother was not the only person hooked on opioid painkillers. The entire region has been ravaged by an epidemic insidiously planned and carried out by one of America’s most powerful pharmaceutical companies.

Still wet behind the ears, Jake is determined to seek justice for all the victims of Big Pharma’s greed. He soon learns that the drug companies’ tentacles reach far and deep. His only hope is to get Nicholas “Deke” Deketomis to help. A partner at one of the country’s most powerful law firms, Deke’s “as tough as a two-dollar steak” and well-known for his winning tactics against corporate wrongdoers. With just enough persistence, Jake coaxes Deke to see Oakley’s devastation firsthand. Overwhelmed, Deke agrees to join forces with Jake.

And that’s when the real heat begins. Death threats, bribes, unlawful property seizure schemes – all are connected to the massive distribution of both legal and illegal drugs. Everyone is impacted, from the highest levels of corporate America to corrupt local officials to their lackeys and hapless victims. The complexity of the schemes is overwhelming.

Working tirelessly, the lawyers begin to uncover the truth. Along the way, Jake falls in love with Anna Fowler, a former homecoming queen who has succumbed to the power of opioids. With his support, she weans herself off the drugs. Hope begins to bloom — when suddenly, Jake disappears. As Deke undertakes a desperate search to find him, questions swirl. Has Jake abandoned Anna and his crusade? Can the case against the evildoers move forward without him? Will Oakley and its residents survive? Law and Addiction is real-life drama at its finest — a book that clears away the darkness page by page, spotlighting a profound truth about our society through expert storytelling.


This was definitely a page-turner, and all the more sad that it’s based in fact. Opioid addiction is a tragedy for all it touches. After the main character loses his brother without even knowing he was struggling with addiction, he wants to avenge his brother’s death by making someone responsible. It doesn’t take much research at all to see that the pharmaceutical market—especially in economically depressed areas—is flooded with opioids. The pill mills and corrupt doctors are looking the other way as those despondent with their lives are using physical pain killers to numb them to everything.

As tough as the subject matter could be, this was also a great action/adventure book. While some of the court room gibberish might have been confusing, it was usually quickly explained. Reading this book made the opioid epidemic very clear and real, but it was also an entertaining work of fiction. Overall, I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars and would definitely consider reading author and attorney Michael Papantonio’s other legal thrillers.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a fall-lovin, hoodie-wearing, Halloween-excited reader and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Law and Addiction!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, October 22nd, at 11:59pm EST and winner will be chosen and 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!

Law and Addiction, by Mike Papantonio

*Disclosure: Books I Think You Should Read received a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing. The opinions expressed here, however, are those of the reviewer.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: If I Had Two Lives, by Abbigail N. Rosewood {ends 10/14}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I chose this part of the beach because I’d sensed somehow that Lilah would prefer not to be disturbed. I realized now that it wasn’t necessary to try to find an empty stretch of beach. With the snow falling so thick and the wind bellowing even louder than the ocean, nobody could see or hear us from two or three feet away, even if they somehow desired to be out in this bleary white. Her outline was beginning to disappear when she turned around and waited for me.

“So, what are you doing in Montauk?” she asked.

“Just trying to remember some things. It’s my first long stretch of time off from work in two years,” I said.

“I get it. I’m so forgetful myself.”

My heart was beating faster. I was glad we were now side by side and she couldn’t see my face.

“There are things you wish you could forget though. Don’t you think?” she said.

“No. I want to remember everything that’s ever happened.”

“Really?”

“Forgetting is natural. Remembering is much harder,” I said.


I love to read a story that’s so well-told and resonates so much that it comes to life. This novel was so beautifully written, it feels more like a true memoir.

Official synopsis: 
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: If I Had Two Lives, by Abbigail N. Rosewood {ends 10/14}
As a child, isolated from the world in a secretive military encampment with her distant mother, she turns for affection to a sympathetic soldier and to the only other girl in the camp, forming two friendships that will shape the rest of her life.

As a young adult in New York, cut off from her native country and haunted by the scars of her youth, she is still in search of a home. She falls in love with a married woman who is the image of her childhood friend, and follows strangers because they remind her of her soldier. When tragedy arises, she must return to Vietnam to confront the memories of her youth – and recover her identity.

An inspiring meditation on love, loss, and the presence of a past that never dies, the novel explores the ancient question: do we value the people in our lives because of who they are, or because of what we need them to be?


I read this book hoping for a happier story than the last couple of books I read. While this wasn’t a happy book, it certainly was a graceful story about a character who accepts her life. She doesn’t spend time lamenting what she doesn’t have, or searching to have and be more. She accepts that life is made up of all the moments we experience, and their variety is what makes life full.

The main character’s early life is shaped first by missing her mother, then by living on a military encampment to be with her mother. They are surrounded by only soldiers and a cook and his daughter, near the girl’s age. When she turns 12, the main character is sent to be with family and friends she doesn’t know in the U.S. In her adulthood, she spends much of her time reflecting on the life she left behind in Vietnam, until she finally returns to resolve the mysteries of her youth.

I loved the author’s use of words. It felt like actual thoughts from the main character. The narrative prose flowed in a way that felt smooth and realistic. Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was a beautiful book about a not entirely beautiful life.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley leads of life of little mystery at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of If I Had Two Lives!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, October 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. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

If I Had Two Lives, by Abbigail N. Rosewood

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mad Dog, by Kelly Watt {ends 10/9}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley
Peter’s birthday fell on a Saturday in July. The day the newspapers were splattered with pictures of the Harlem race riots, people smashing window and throwing Molotov cocktails, black faces running from white faces, protesting the white shooting of a Negro boy. Still, all was peaceful in Eden Valley.

Standing in the kitchen, hands in his pockets, shrugging bashfully, not looking a day over sixteen, Peter announced to everyone he was turning nineteen and Sheryl didn’t utter a word to the contrary. Fergus gave Peter a brand new Yamaha guitar, saying: I thought you might need something a little better to practice on, it’s not a Martin or a Fender Telecaster I know, but the man at the store told me a Yamaha is a good learning guitar. It has six strings, chrome tuning heads and these nice white inlay thingamejiggies along the neck. I felt a young man with your talent, kiddo, should have himself a real guitar. Are you pleased?


No one really knows what happens within a family, behind closed doors. And this family makes it even harder with their rule to never talk about the night once the day starts again.

Official synopsis:

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mad Dog, by Kelli Watt {ends 10/9}
It's the summer of 1964 and the Supremes are the reigning queens of radio. Sheryl-Anne MacRae dreams of running away from her home on an apple orchard in southwestern Ontario to find her missing mother. But the teenager's plans are put on hold when her uncle and guardian, Fergus, the local pharmacist and an amateur photographer, brings home a handsome young hitchhiker. When Sheryl-Anne meets the guitar-toting Peter Lucas Angelo, she falls in love. But life in Eden Valley is not as idyllic as it seems. As the summer progresses, Peter is pulled deeper into Fergus's dangerous underworld--a world of sex, drugs, pornography and apocalyptic visions. Through the naïve eyes of the ethereal 14-year old Sheryl-Anne, Kelly Watt explores themes of child abuse and sexual deviance, and the secrets, dissociation and denial that allow it to flourish. A Gothic tale told in vivid, often hallucinogenic prose, Mad Dog was a 2001 Globe and Mail notable book and Watt's first novel.

This book wasn’t quite what I expected. I’ve read my share of gothic fiction, but this was even darker than I expected. The book starts out a bit milder, but as the lives and the craziness of some family members progressed, everything got worse for everyone in a hurry.

While "likable" isn’t really a word that would apply to the characters, I think that is in part because the book was about their darkness. Even those who were primarily victims of the abuse were never held up as good people. Their bad choices and the results were what the story was about.

While the author does have one other book (Camino Meditations), I can’t find that she’s published another book of fiction. I enjoyed her writing style, and may be curious to check out her other book.

Overall, I’d be careful who I recommended Mad Dog to, as it definitely has moments that may be triggering for abuse survivors or others. I’d give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a mom, daughter, wife, lunch-lady (who mostly serves breakfast), cross-stitcher, junk-food snacker, and avid reader. She also posts from time to time at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Mad Dog!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, October 9th, 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.

Open to U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

Mad Dog, by Kelly Watt

Monday, September 16, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Collector's Apprentice, by B.A. Shapiro {ends 9/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley
VIVIENNE, 1925

Henri is nominated to sit on the jury for the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh and plans to visit Merion when the competition is over. He reluctantly gives in to Vivienne’s pleas and promises to act as if they are nothing more than friends. But given his propensity for high jinks, she’s far from certain he’s going to keep his promise.

It’s well over ninety the day of his arrival, and Vivienne can’t decide what to wear. She rifles through her closet, which is stuffed with colorful dresses, and then walks to the closet in the second bedroom. Edwin keeps increasing her salary, and she’s been able to buy a small house in Merion, about half a mile from the Bradley. It’s a charming Arts and Crafts cottage, with deep mahogany floors and moldings, a fireplace, and a tiny garden out back, where she’s planted some of Ada’s best bulbs and bushes. It’s nothing like the estate she grew up on, but she’s proud of having purchased it by herself, using money she earned through her own hard work.


I always enjoy historical fiction. In a well-written book like this one, I can feel like I learn some ‘real’ things, while reading a book for entertainment.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Collector's Apprentice, by B.A. Shapiro {ends 9/22}
In this surprising, noirish page-turner, B. A. Shapiro once again takes readers into the world of art, glamour, and mystery. Accused of helping her fiancé steal her family’s fortune and her father’s art collection, Paulien Mertens has fled to France. To protect herself from the law and the wrath of those who lost everything, she has created a new identity. Paulien, aka Vivienne, takes a position working for an American art collector modeled after real-life eccentric museum founder Albert Barnes and quickly becomes caught up in the 1920s Paris of artists and expats, including post-Impressionist painter Henri Matisse and writer Gertrude Stein. From there, she sets out to recover her father’s art collection, prove her innocence, and exact revenge on her ex-fiancé. B. A. Shapiro has made the historical art thriller her own, and once again she gives us an unforgettable tale about what we see—and what we refuse to see.

There were several stories happening at once in this book, and I really enjoyed the way they were told. The chapters alternated between some from the old Paulien’s life, some from the new Vivienne’s life, and some from the court deciding her fate after a new dramatic event unfolds. I loved the development of the character, and how she changed in relation to everything happening around her and with whom she was interacting.

While I usually love a good sequel as well, I can’t see this story going on further. Each of the story lines were neatly wrapped up by the end, which I always appreciate. Once I become engaged with the characters, I don’t want to have to wonder for years what will happen next in their lives.

Overall, I really liked this book. I noticed that the author has several others that look similarly enjoyable. I’d give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys Cherry Coke, snack foods, embroidery, and reading. She’s found that having a job negatively impacts the time available to enjoy these activities, and the time to post on her own blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a paperback copy of The Collector's Apprentice!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, September 22nd, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of The Collector's Apprentice, by B.A. Shapiro

Friday, September 6, 2019

Book Review: No Judgments, by Meg Cabot

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The closer I got to the shore, the more difficult the roads leading to it became to navigate. What was normally a fifteen-minute scooter ride took over an hour, because I kept having to back down a street once I’d started up it, due to fallen trees or power lines I couldn’t get by, even on a motorbike.

But one thing I did not encounter were any hostile predators, despite Ed’s predictions. In fact, I met the opposite. Thoughtful locals who lived in the area had already generously marked places where electric lines were down or hanging low, tying brightly colored bandannas or even plastic bags around the wires so anyone passing by wouldn’t run over or into them.

I have enjoyed every Meg Cabot book I’ve read, so I was excited to get a jump on this one. It was even more amusing when the hurricane-watch news from the book was matching up with my Facebook feed from friends in Florida! Yikes!

Official synopsis:
Book Review: No Judgments, by Meg Cabot
The storm of the century is about to hit Little Bridge Island, Florida—and it’s sending waves crashing through Sabrina “Bree” Beckham’s love life…

When a massive hurricane severs all power and cell service to Little Bridge Island—as well as its connection to the mainland—twenty-five-year-old Bree Beckham isn’t worried . . . at first. She’s already escaped one storm—her emotionally abusive ex—so a hurricane seems like it will be a piece of cake.

But animal-loving Bree does become alarmed when she realizes how many islanders have been cut off from their beloved pets. Now it’s up to her to save as many of Little Bridge’s cats and dogs as she can . . . but to do so, she’s going to need help—help she has no choice but to accept from her boss’s sexy nephew, Drew Hartwell, the Mermaid Café’s most notorious heartbreaker.

But when Bree starts falling for Drew, just as Little Bridge’s power is restored and her penitent ex shows up, she has to ask herself if her island fling was only a result of the stormy weather, or if it could last during clear skies too.


No Judgments (the first book in the new Little Bridge Island series) was a fun read, even if I considered it a bit predictable. Introduce girl, show "bad boy" whom she doesn’t want to be interested in – think that’ll be her love interest? Ding, ding, ding! Luckily I usually read for pure entertainment, not to try and outsmart anyone and see who can guess the ending first.

Without spoiling anything, there were a few character quirks, and at least one complete character, who surprised me a little with their appearance in the story. I’m glad this is the first book in a series so hopefully we can find out more about these unexpected developments. I also enjoyed the descriptions of life on the island, including their homes and the type of people who lived there.

Overall, I’d give this one 3 out of 5 stars. Nothing I had to think too much about, but a pleasant read for a few hours of entertainment. I’d never turn down a chance to read a book by Meg Cabot, with her chatty, engaging writing style.

{click here to pre-order - it will be in stores and online on September 24, 2019.}

Becki Bayley has no history of exciting island romances, but likes to read and pretend they could have been a thing. Her real life is lazily chronicled at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

GIVEAWAY: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, by Heather Webber {ends 9/11}

I haven't yet read Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe yet, but it sounds like my type of book. One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy!

About the novel:
GIVEAWAY: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, by Heather Webber {ends 9/11}
Though she has been award-nominated for her mysteries, Heather Webber now turns to something quite unique with her latest novel: MIDNIGHT AT THE BLACKBIRD CAFÉ (Forge Hardcover; On-sale: July 16, 2019). It's a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm, perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen. So pull up a comfortable chair, enjoy some tasty pie, and get ready to immerse yourself in the world of MIDNIGHT AT THE BLACKBIRD CAFÉ.

This beautifully told tale takes us to a small town in Alabama, where a young woman returns after the death of her beloved grandmother, who owned the titular Blackbird Cafe. Anna Kate soon finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly. 


Click here to purchase this book.

GIVEAWAY:

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hardcover copy of Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, by Heather Webber

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Rival's Break, by Carla Neggers {ends 9/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Emma noticed an attractive brown mushroom under the pine tree, not far from where she stood. She had no idea what it was. “What about mushrooms that aren’t deadly but still can make you sick?”

Sister Cecilia hopped off the pine root and lifted a low-hanging branch, pointing to the ground. “See those red mushrooms? I haven’t had a mycologist make a positive identification, but I believe they’re the russula emetica species. They’d be my first candidate for yesterday.”

“Emetica? Another one appropriately named?”

“Says it all, doesn’t it? They’re commonly known as the sickener. Not as terrifying as death cap and destroying angel, but it gets the point across.”

Emma took a closer look at the trio of mushrooms, indeed a distinct red color. “They don’t look appetizing, and they certainly don’t bear any resemblance to chanterelles.”


I’m almost amazed any murders get solved, when there are so many different little ways to kill or maim people based on obscure hobbies I’d never even think about. In the case of Rival’s Break, it’s wild edibles—mushrooms—that lend a whole new angle to having to uncover a crime.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Rival's Break, by Carla Neggers
A deadly poisoning, a stolen painting and a criminal mastermind challenge the skills of FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan as never before in their latest high-stakes case. New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers has crafted a gripping novel of international intrigue and suspense not to be missed.

Emma Sharpe is recovering from a shattering loss while her husband, Colin Donovan, is deep into his latest undercover mission. So they’re grateful to enjoy a peaceful autumn weekend together on the southern Maine coast to celebrate Colin’s brother Andy’s wedding.

But the peace is short-lived when Kevin Donovan, a marine patrol officer, receives a call to check on suspected food poisoning at a party aboard a yacht. Colin decides to tag along. He is surprised to recognize one of the victims as an undercover British intelligence officer, and it quickly becomes evident they’re dealing with something very sinister. At the same time a valuable painting by Irish artist Aoife O’Byrne—a friend of Emma and Colin’s—is missing from the yacht, and the connections make the investigation international and extremely personal.

Emma and Colin discover they are up against a deadly foe who plans to strike again. With the help of HIT, their small, elite Boston-based FBI team, they must foil an attack that will have devastating effects. It’s a case that will alter their lives beyond anything they’ve ever imagined…

As the story started out, I was grateful for introductions to the characters. Although this is the 10th book in this series (including one novella), I had not previously read any of them, so I had some catching up to do. The characters were mostly likable, if a bit far-fetched. I think reading some of the previous books would have made them more understandable. And what do I really know about the private lives of secret agents anyway?

I’m not one to usually try to guess the ending to a book, or the solution to a mystery or crime, but I hadn’t even considered the one who was revealed to be the "bad guy," this time. The plot was intriguing and unpredictable for me. While I wasn’t sure if I might be a little too confused, I wanted to keep reading and have the whole story finally revealed. I did not see this ending coming! I’d love to check out more books by this author and see if plots are always so well thought-out.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was a fun summer read and escape from my everyday life. I also found the characters engaging and would like to hear more of their stories.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who loves to start the day with kitty snuggles soon followed by ice-cold Cherry Coke. She loves to read, and doesn’t mind writing a bit at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Rival's Break!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 3rd, 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!

Rival's Break, by Carla Neggers

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew, by Hendrika de Vries {ends 8/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The room grew silent, and I could barely breathe as she answered him: “But don’t you understand that is exactly why I did it,” and pointing her finger at his chest as if in reprimand, she added, “Don’t you realize that not one of our children is safe unless they are all safe.”

“Oh that’s just stupid, foolish nonsense,” he scoffed. At which point other family members chimed in to defend my mother, and one of my aunts shooed us children out of the room and out of earshot of the ensuing argument.

But something new broke into my awareness during that exchange between my mother and my uncle that would continue to plague me well into my adult years. In that crucial moment, a moment that would etch itself on my memory, I heard as if for the very first time how carelessly the word foolish rolled off men’s lips and how acceptable it seemed to them to address my mother in a tone of voice that belittled her as if she were a small, ignorant child. Memories of the Dutch Nazis mocking her for hiding “the Jewess” and the Amsterdam bureaucrat’s condescension as he lectured her on losing her identity card that had been stolen merged with the dismissive tone of my uncle’s scorn. I knew for certain in that moment that no one, absolutely no one, would have spoken to my father in that demeaning way, and it awakened a feeling of anger in me at an injustice I could not yet clearly name.


While I found the title of this book a little daunting (and I don’t think I’ve repeated it correctly yet), the book was excellent. It’s on my list of favorite memoirs, with a necessary recounting of history, in a readable and engaging style.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew, by Hendrika de Vries {ends 8/29}
Born in the Netherlands at a time when girls are to be housewives and mothers and nothing else, Hendrika de Vries is a “daddy’s girl” until her father is deported from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam to a POW camp in Germany and her mother joins the Resistance. In the aftermath of her father’s departure, Hendrika watches as freedoms formerly taken for granted are eroded with escalating brutality by men with swastika armbands who aim to exterminate those they deem “inferior” and those who do not obey.

As time goes on, Hendrika absorbs her mother’s strength and faith, and learns about moral choice and forced silence. She sees her hidden Jewish “stepsister” betrayed, and her mother interrogated at gunpoint. She and her mother suffer near starvation, and they narrowly escape death on the day of liberation. But they survive it all―and through these harrowing experiences, Hendrika discovers the woman she wants to become.


This is a beautifully written memoir about a girl living through Nazi occupation, just a few blocks from Anne Frank. Hendrika de Vries didn’t have to hide usually, but she and her mother had to live carefully and quietly, so they didn’t draw any unwanted attention. At the same time, her mother also had to do everything to provide for them while her father was a prisoner of war.

The author narrates the intertwined relationship with her mother in a way that shows not only its necessity, but also tells of the way it influenced her future with others, when they were finally able to move freely and separately. Gender roles became a lot more complicated when the women who took care of it all while the war was going on suddenly were expected to return to the nurturing background when their men returned.

I really liked this book. I haven’t read The Diary of Anne Frank in a long time, but I still find it fascinating that these two young girls were struggling within walking distance of each other, victims of the war in completely different ways. Overall, I’d give When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew 4.5 out of 5 stars. I would like to know more of the author’s life after her teenage years (when this story ended) and learn more about how she worked through the trauma of the war.

{click here to pre-order on Amazon - book will be released on August 27, 2019}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, school employee and book reviewer. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of this book!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, August 29th, 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!

When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew, by Hendrika de Vries

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