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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Quick Pick book review: The Two Lila Bennetts, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Quick Pick book review: The Two Lila Bennetts, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
  • Opening lines: (Prologue) Wake up! Wake the hell up! The sound of my own voice shakes me out of my deep slumber, and my stomach lurches. I've lost track of time.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I've read books by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke before, and enjoyed them.
  • And what's this book about?
  • Lila Bennett’s bad choices have finally caught up with her. And one of those decisions has split her life in two. Literally.

    In one life, she’s taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger but knows too much. As she’s trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she’s done or be killed. In an alternate life, she eludes her captor but is hunted by someone who is dismantling her happiness, exposing one secret at a time.

    Lila’s decorated career as a criminal defense attorney, her marriage, and her life are on the line. She must make a list of those she’s wronged—both in and out of the courtroom—to determine who is out to get her before it’s too late. But even if she can pinpoint her assailant, will she survive? And if she does, which parts of her life are worth saving, and which parts must die? Because one thing’s for certain—life as Lila Bennett knew it is over.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a good thriller.
  • Favorite paragraph: I open the door slowly and don't make eye contact. I don't want him to know that I overheard. That I am now quite sure that my husband or whoever has me in here has ordered me dead.

    Because there's nothing else to take from me except my life.
      • Something to know: It's definitely similar to the movie Sliding Doors - even the authors admitted in the post-script that Sliding Doors was the inspiration for the book. 
      • What I would have changed: Nothing, except one of the endings (yes, there are two!) was a little ambiguous ... no spoilers, though.
      • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
      • Where can I find this book? Click here to order on Amazon. Free for Kindle Unlimited right now and only $3.99 for Kindle!

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

      Saturday, August 17, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Birthday Girl, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 8/25}

      October 19
      The Present
      5:00 PM

      Ellie de Florent-Stinson had made a point of telling everyone she knew that she'd bought the house in Palm Springs for her birthday, as a gift to self.

      Renting a Palm Springs house for a celebration was practically a rite of passage among a certain Los Angeles set, a flurry of Paperless Post invites with the requite Rat-Pack-in-the-desert themes landing in one's inbox with a predictable thud over the years.

      But Ellie always had to one-up, take it to the next mile, power it beyond the goalpost and smash it on the turf while doing an illegal victory dance—so she had actually bought a house, for a little over two million. Renting was so bourgeois. 

      I'm a huge Melissa de la Cruz fan, as my long-time blog readers might know, so I was excited to get my hands on her newest book, The Birthday Girl. There were a few twists throughout that I didn't see coming, also, and I very much enjoyed the novel.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Birthday Girl, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 8/25}
      In the thrilling, suspenseful new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz, all of Ellie de Florent-Stinson’s secrets come to light in one eventful evening full of twists, turns, and surprises.

      Before she became a glamorous fashion designer, Ellie de Florent-Stinson was a trailer-park teen about to turn sixteen. But a night of birthday celebration doesn’t go exactly as planned and descends into a night she’ll never be able to forget.

      Now, on the cusp of her fortieth birthday, it appears Ellie has everything she ever wanted: a handsome husband; an accomplished, college-age stepdaughter; a beautiful ten-year-old girl; adorable and rambunctious six-year-old twin boys; lush, well-appointed homes in Los Angeles, Park City, and Palm Springs; a thriving career; and a dazzling circle of friends.

      Except everything is not quite as perfect as it looks on the outside—Ellie is keeping many secrets. And hiding those skeletons has a cost, and it all comes to a head the night of her fabulous birthday party in the desert—where everyone who matters in her life shows up, invited or not. Old and new friends and frenemies, stepdaughters and business partners, ex-wives and ex-husbands congregate, and the glittering facade of Ellie’s life begins to crumble.

      Beautifully paced and full of surprises,
      The Birthday Girl is an enthralling tale of a life lived in shadow and its unavoidable consequences.

      The novel goes back and forth between the present, which is Ellie's 40th birthday party, and the past, which took place 24 years ago, when she was 16. The two characters in the past are named Leo and Mish, so it took me a while to figure out which one was Ellie ... and even then, there's a twist at the end and it turned out I was wrong.

      I really like novels that flip-flop like that (go between past and present) and this one was no exception. The characters are written very well, too, and just when you think you've figured out who is who, and what the ending will be, de la Cruz flips the script on you.

      4.5 stars out of 5.

      {click here to purchase}

      *Disclosure: I was provided 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 hardcover copy of The Birthday Girl!

      Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, August 25th, 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!

      Hardcover copy of The Birthday Girl, by Melissa de la Cruz

      Thursday, August 15, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Fist or a Heart, by Kristín Eiríksdóttir {ends 8/25}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      He sat next to me one morning, and we started chatting. He said he’d bought a little house in Ko Samui without having ever laid eyes on it. This was the first time he’d been to Thailand, but he’d decided he was never going to leave.

      Why Thailand? I asked, and he shrugged, said he couldn’t come up with anything more original.

      The food’s good, he said. Then he asked if I’d seen the Wat Phra Kaew temple and suggested we go check it out together the next day. I was taken aback. I shook my head, but something within me awoke from its stupor, something I’d quieted that’s supposed to kick and wriggle, and I accepted the invitation.


      The language in this book was beautiful, which I find curious since it was originally written in Icelandic and translated.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Fist or a Heart, by Kristín Eiríksdóttir
      The past returns with a fury for a woman coming to terms with her life in this award-winning novel by an acclaimed Icelandic author making her English-language debut.

      Elín Jónsdóttir lives an isolated existence in Reykjavík, Iceland, making props and prosthetics for theatrical productions and Nordic crime flicks. In her early seventies, she has recently become fascinated with another loner, Ellen Álfsdóttir, a sensitive young playwright and illegitimate daughter of a famous writer. The girl has aroused maternal feelings in Elín, but she has also stirred discomfiting memories long packed away. Because their paths have crossed before. One doesn’t remember. The other is about to forget.

      Soon they’ll discover all they have in common: difficult childhoods, trauma, and being outliers who have found space to breathe in creative expression. Yet the more Elín tries to connect with the young woman and unbox painful memories, the more tenuous her grasp on reality becomes.

      Winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize,
      A Fist or a Heart is a gripping, artfully interwoven novel of power, secrets, and isolation by one of the most bracing and original voices of the author’s generation.

      While I’m still not sure if I understood the plot of this book, I definitely was engaged with the characters’ feelings. The author’s use of language was incredible. I could feel the despair, the confusion, and the detachment of the characters. There were descriptions of a few events in their lives that led to them feeling the way they did, but the actions weren’t really the story – the resulting feelings and behaviors going forward were.

      Overall, this book made me feel things. I may have felt a little dumb since I can’t tell you for sure what happened in the story, but the emotions of the characters were indisputable. I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The writing is beautiful and evocative, but the story line was either unclear, or way above my level of understanding.

      {click here to purchase - currently free for Kindle Unlimited members, too}

      Becki Bayley’s favorite season is autumn. She likes it warm enough to be cozy, but cool enough to go out and enjoy. You’ll find her looking forward to hoodies and shorts in SE Michigan at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      GIVEAWAY:

      Two of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of A Fist or a Heart

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, August 25th, 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!

      A Fist or a Heart, by Kristín Eiríksdóttir

      Wednesday, August 14, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Off the Grid, by Robert McCaw {ends 8/21}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      The crime-scene team searched the Campbells’ remote artist’s studio. They collected DNA samples from bed linens, a woman’s hairbrush, Q-tips, cosmetic swabs, and a man’s comb. Dozens of fingerprints throughout the house belonged to two people, presumably Gwendolyn and Arthur Campbell. A ledger, found in a drawer under one of the worktables, revealed that Gwendolyn Campbell had sold drawings and paintings for the last decade at prices ranging from $50 to $3,000. The absence of ID bothered Koa. There were no letters, no bank or credit card records, no tax returns, deeds, wills, Social Security cards, or other legal papers.

      Do people who don’t even technically exist count as gone once they’re dead? Chief Detective Koa Kane is determined to find out who they were, and why they were killed.

      Official synopsis:
      A scrap of cloth fluttering in the wind leads Hilo police Chief Detective Koa Kāne to the tortured remains of an unfortunate soul left to burn in the path of an advancing lava flow. For Koa, it’s the second gruesome homicide of the day, and he soon discovers the murders are linked. These grisly crimes on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island could rewrite history—or cost Chief Detective Koa Kāne his career.

      The dead, a reclusive couple living off the grid, turn out to be mysterious fugitives. The CIA, the Chinese government, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, attempt to thwart Koa’s investigation and obscure the victims’ true identities. Undeterred by mounting political pressure, Koa pursues the truth only to find himself drawn into a web of international intrigue.

      While Koa investigates, the Big Island scrambles to prepare for the biggest and most explosive political rally in its history. Despite police resources stretched to the breaking point, Koa uncovers a government conspiracy so shocking its exposure topples senior officials far beyond Hawaiʻi’s shores.


      I really enjoyed reading this book. The descriptions of the land and plants around Hawaii were beautiful and inspiring – the next best thing to taking a trip, right? But the author didn’t just rely on the thorough and colorful descriptions. The plot was also intriguing and thought-provoking. Books with believable government cover-ups and mysteries always get passed along to my dad, and I think he’ll really enjoy this one.

      Off the Grid is actually the second novel in the Koa Kane Hawaiian Mystery series by Robert McCaw. There were a couple references to Chief Detective Kane’s past, and I’m looking forward to finding out which events were in the first book. I had no trouble getting to know the characters and enjoying this book without having read the first one.

      Overall, I’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It felt like my own private Hawaiian vacation with lots of adventure, from the safe comfort of my own home.

      {click here to purchase - as of this writing, only 99c for Kindle!}

      Becki Bayley is a mom, wife, daughter, and friend who chronicles her own adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      GIVEAWAY:

      One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Off the Grid!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 21st, 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!

      Off the Grid, by Robert McCaw

      Tuesday, August 13, 2019

      Book Review: Say You Still Love Me, by K.A. Tucker

      My intelligent, mature self keeps telling me to let it go. That's what we had thirteen years ago. We were teenagers then. Stupid kids, really. We're adults now, and complete strangers. If Kyle wants to keep it that way ... fine.

      Except he was the first boy I ever lovedmy first in many waysand he crushed my heart. How can he keep treating me like I mean nothing to him?

      I have to stop thinking about the mischievous, playful guy from Camp Wawa. The one who was chasing and charming me from the moment he first laid eyes on me. The one who grabbed my attention from forty feet away and seized my heart not long after.

      Clearly, that guy is long gone.

      I'm a huge K.A. Tucker fan, so I was excited to get my hands on this one early. The book moves between Camp Wawa, 2006, and the present (2019 or so), and I really liked how we got to see Piper and Kyle's romance, both past and present.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review: Say You Still Love Me, by K.A. Tucker
      The bestselling author of The Simple Wild and Keep Her Safe and “master of steamy romance” (Kirkus Reviews) delivers a sizzling novel about an ambitious and high-powered executive who reconnects with her first love: the boy who broke her heart.

      Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

      On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

      Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

      The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counselors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

      Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is still alive and strong, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.


      The "camp romance" trope has been done before, but this time there's a little bit of a twist; both Piper and Kyle were counselors at the camp, not campers. 

      Piper Calloway is mostly content with her life; she's not dating anyone at the moment, as she broke off her engagement to David, a coworker who is also a jerk, but she's a workaholic and is working her way up the company ladder at her father's company.

      Until she runs into Kyle, the building's newest security guard ... who was also the first love of her life.

      It was interesting to see the dynamics in Piper and Kyle's friendship and, later, relationship. I really liked how the author moved between 2006 and 2019, and showed how they originally met at camp and how her father did not want her to have anything to do with him, since he was from the "wrong side of the tracks." We learn later that he actually took some actions to ensure that Piper wouldn't hear from Kyle again, which Piper didn't know about until present-day.

      Overall, I'd recommend this one for fans of K.A. Tucker or for anyone that likes a good coming-of-age love story.

      4 stars out of 5.

      {click here to purchase}


      *Disclosure: I participated in a blog tour of this book, for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

      Wednesday, July 31, 2019

      Children's Book Review and GIVEAWAY: How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet {ends 8/7}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      Don’t rush though:

      Your eyes need time to taste.

      Your soul needs room to bloom.


      What an adorable picture book! It inspired me to want to do something crafty, and read a book.

      Children's Book Review and GIVEAWAY: How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet {ends 8/7}
      Official synopsis: A stunning new picture book from Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander and Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet! This New York Times bestselling duo has teamed up for the first time to bring you How to Read a Book, a poetic and beautiful journey about the experience of reading.

      Find a tree—a

      black tupelo or

      dawn redwood will do—and

      plant yourself.

      (It’s okay if you prefer a stoop, like Langston Hughes.)

      With these words, an adventure begins. Kwame Alexander’s evocative poetry and Melissa Sweet’s lush artwork come together to take readers on a sensory journey between the pages of a book.

      This is such a fun book. The poem has great imagery in its words on how to really dive in to a book, and the art completely pops from the page. It has also sent us on a journey into other books and learning new things, as my young son asked who Langston Hughes is, and what a "stoop" is.

      I’d recommend this book for reading with a child aged 4 to 8. Some of the words are almost disguised by the boisterous art, so kids may easily gloss over parts of the poem while only pulling out the words that are recognizable and easy to see. I could also imagine reading this book to a child without letting them see the art, and ask what they would imagine as illustrations to go with the poem.

      Overall I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. The poem is colorful and descriptive, and the art is loud and includes some cut-shape pages.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley loves reading and loves watching kids love to read too! Check out her blog at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      GIVEAWAY:

      One of my lucky readers will win a copy of How to Read a Book!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 7th, 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!

      How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet

      Tuesday, July 30, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY - At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf {ends 8/6}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      In any one year there were only three or four of us Jewish girls at Las Esclavas – always primas. We were a small group of Jews, about a hundred family units, and those of us niñas who attended Las Esclavas had to go to Mass before class like the other girls. The Catholic orders had the only good schools then. Some of my tios chose to send their children to public school in the American Canal Zone with no religious instruction – in spite of the English. Papi wanted us to be “panameñas primero.” Carlitos attended Javier, run by the Jesuit priests.

      This interesting memoir focused more on the people in the author’s extended family than where parts of the story took place. This gave the book a very relatable feel – like it could have happened anywhere.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY - At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf
      Raised by a lively family of Spanish Jews in tropical and Catholic Panama of the 1950s and 1960s, Marlena depends on her many tíos and tías for refuge from the difficulties of life, including the frequent absences of her troubled mother. As a teenager, she pulls away from this centered world—crossing borders—and begins a life in the United States very different from the one she has known.

      This lyrical coming-of-age memoir explores the intense and profound relationship between mothers and daughters and highlights the importance of community and the beauty of a large Latin American family. It also explores the vital issues of mental illness and healing, forgiveness and acceptance. At the Narrow Waist of the World examines the author's gradual integration into a new culture, even as she understands that her home is still—and always will be—rooted in another place.


      In her ‘Note to readers’ at the beginning of the book, the author says she has to leave in a lot of the Spanish phrases that didn’t translate with their full meaning to English. While I can appreciate the sentiment, I feel like I missed parts of the story that weren’t clearly translated. I don’t speak Spanish. Unfortunately, I felt this detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

      The book was a lot about the author’s mother, her mother’s mental illness, and the rest of the family’s expectations and treatments of her mother, while they helped care for the author and her siblings. While the closeness of her extended family was seen as common to their community and culture, much of the events in the book felt like they could happen anywhere in the world. I loved the pictures that were shared within the book. They gave more life to the family members as I read about them.

      I thought the treatment of her mother’s mental illness in the 1950s and 1960s was an important takeaway from the book. Psychiatry seemed to be inconsistent, and treatments put a lot of pressure on the author’s family to deal with the life her mother sometimes lived, and sometimes was away from for hospitalizations.

      Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. While more Spanish language skills would probably have increased my enjoyment of the book, I feel I learned a lot about the author, her life, and her struggles in her relationship with her mother.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley’s favorite color is black, or maybe pink or orange. Her favorite dinosaur is a velociraptor, because it’s fun to say. She blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      GIVEAWAY:

      One of my lucky readers will win a copy of At the Narrow Waist of the World!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 6th, 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!

      At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf

      Sunday, July 28, 2019

      Quick Pick book review: Twice in a Blue Moon, by Christina Lauren

      Quick Pick book review: Twice in a Blue Moon, by Christina Lauren
      • Opening lines: (Fourteen years ago) Nana turned to inspect the hotel room. Behind her, the curtains drifted closed with a whisper. With her dark, sharp eyes, she surveyed the cream and red decor, the generic paintings, and the television she no doubt thought gaudily perched on the otherwise beautiful dresser. Never in my life had I been in a room this fancy, but her gaze, as it touched everything, read Given the cost, I expected more.
      • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan and have read all of their books (it's two people, writing under one pseudonym). 
      • And what's this book about?
      • From the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners and the “delectable, moving” (Entertainment Weekly) My Favorite Half-Night Stand comes a modern love story about what happens when your first love reenters your life when you least expect it…

        Sam Brandis was Tate Jones’s first: Her first love. Her first everything. Including her first heartbreak.

        During a whirlwind two-week vacation abroad, Sam and Tate fell for each other in only the way that first loves do: sharing all of their hopes, dreams, and deepest secrets along the way. Sam was the first, and only, person that Tate—the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars—ever revealed her identity to. So when it became clear her trust was misplaced, her world shattered for good.

        Fourteen years later, Tate, now an up-and-coming actress, only thinks about her first love every once in a blue moon. When she steps onto the set of her first big break, he’s the last person she expects to see. Yet here Sam is, the same charming, confident man she knew, but even more alluring than she remembered. Forced to confront the man who betrayed her, Tate must ask herself if it’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason… and whether “once in a lifetime” can come around twice.

        With Christina Lauren’s signature “beautifully written and remarkably compelling” (Sarah J. Maas, New York Times bestselling author) prose and perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner,
        Twice in a Blue Moon is an unforgettable and moving novel of young love and second chances.
      • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a love story or stories about the movie industry.
      • Favorite paragraph: (Now) The tires crunch over gravel, and I stir awake at the sound: we've reached Ruby Farm. I'm nervous and excited and feel the proverbial weight of a thousand pounds on my chest, but stillsomething tight inside me unwinds instinctively at the unfolding green serenity directly ahead of us.
        We pass through the gates, waving to a guard there who notes the license plate, and I assume, check the box to indicate Tate Butler has arrived.

        I am officially on set. 
        • Something to know: I'd compared this to a situation like if Suri Cruise (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter) all of a sudden disappeared from the limelight, and Katie Holmes disappeared as well. It was a pretty compelling read.
        • What I would have changed: Nothing except the ending was a little short, and I wanted more! (can we have a sequel?!)
        • Overall rating: 5 stars out of 5.
        • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon - it will be out on October 22, 2019.

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

        Thursday, July 25, 2019

        Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Optimistic Decade, by Heather Abel {ends 8/1}

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

        “For years I was bitter. A constant state of rage because the world hadn’t gone the way I told it to, over and over, week after week, editorial after goddamn editorial!” He shouted this to the air around them, to the cows sleeping standing up, to the lizards scurrying, to the fossils wedged in the shale beneath the car. “The superiority I would feel every time I saw one of the inane bumper stickers. ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth.’ ‘War is not the Answer.’ And for what? What was I doing differently?”

        “But all those years you could do it, and then suddenly you can’t?”

        “Obviously I’ve given this plenty of thought. And you know” – he sighed – “I’m just not sure. But I have thought this. I’ve thought that maybe everybody has one decade, call it an optimistic decade, when the world feels malleable and the self strong. And then it’s over. It doesn’t come back.”


        I could really feel the struggle of all of the characters to hold on to their optimism, and their commitment to doing good, while still trying to be happy being themselves.

        Official Synopsis:
        A smart and sly story about a utopian summer camp, a charismatic leader, and the people who are drawn to his vision, The Optimistic Decade follows four unforgettable characters and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it.

        There is Caleb, founder of the back-to-the-land camp Llamalo, who is determined to teach others to live simply. There is Donnie, the rancher who gave up his land to Caleb and who now wants it back. There is Rebecca, determined to become an activist like her father and undone by the spell of both Llamalo and new love. And there is David, a teenager who has turned Llamalo into his personal religion.

        The Optimistic Decade brilliantly explores love, class, and the bloom and fade of idealism, and asks smart questions about good intentions gone wrong.

        This has been one of those books that I liked better once I finished reading it and stepped away. Much of the story was watching several characters head toward disillusionment – which isn’t a fun way to be headed. One of my main goals when I read is escaping the stress of daily life, not to live through additional struggles with the characters. And let’s say my idealism is no longer prominent in my daily choices – my optimistic decade may be already passed.

        After a lot of set-up and getting to know our main characters and anticipate their choices, they all encountered some catalyst for change about two-thirds of the way through the book. The timing worked out very well, as one of the character’s back-story was mostly through flashbacks to the establishing of the camp, Llamalo, that they all existed in and around.

        I don’t know how true it actually is, but one of my favorite parts of the book were the comparisons between the procedures and rituals at the camp with Jewish mitzvahs – defined in this book as actions they took to be closer to God. I felt like I could relate to the characters who found such comfort in predictable routines.

        Overall, I’d give The Optimistic Decade 3.25 stars out of 5. It started a little slow, but I really appreciated the big picture once I had finished reading the book.

        {click here to purchase this book - affiliate link.}

        Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, reader and lunch lady. You can check out her escapades at SweetlyBSquared.com.

        GIVEAWAY:

        One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Optimistic Decade!

        Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, August 1st, 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 mainland U.S. only, please (no Alaska or Hawaii residents).

        Good luck!

        The Optimistic Decade, by Heather Abel

        Saturday, July 6, 2019

        Book Review: Girl Unknown, by Karen Perry

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

        It was late that night when Zoe came home. I was sitting at the writing desk in the living room, darkness pressing up against the window, the only light thrown by the small anglepoise lamp onto my notes spread in front of me. The rest of the household was sleeping when I heard the crunch of her footfall on the gravel outside.

        I could have stayed where I was, working out my thoughts in preparation for the radio interview I was scheduled to give early the next morning. All week, I had been meaning to prepare for it, but what with my trip to Belfast, the time had gotten away from me, and despite my good intentions to set aside a few hours to get ready, here I was on the eve of the interview with very little done. In hindsight, I often come back to this moment, and wonder had I chosen to remain at my desk, had I not gotten up from my chair and gone outside into the hall, would things have turned out differently? So much of what went wrong in the ensuing days and weeks seemed to stem from that night’s events.


        I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Girl Unknown. What can happen when a normal family finds out about something that happened years ago – how can it really change the whole family?

        Official synopsis:
        Book Review: Girl Unknown, by Karen Perry
        David and Caroline Connolly are swimming successfully through their marriage’s middle years—raising two children; overseeing care for David’s ailing mother; leaning into their careers, both at David’s university teaching job, where he’s up for an important promotion, and at the ad agency where Caroline has recently returned to work after years away while the children were little. The recent stresses of home renovation and of a brief romantic betrayal (Caroline’s) are behind them. The Connollys know and care for each other deeply.

        Then one early fall afternoon, a student of sublime, waiflike beauty appears in David’s university office and says, “I think you might be my father.” And the fact of a youthful passion that David had tried to forget comes rushing back. In the person of this intriguing young woman, the Connollys may have a chance to expand who they are and how much they can love, or they may be making themselves vulnerable to menace. They face either an opportunity or a threat—but which is which? What happens when their hard-won family happiness meets a hard-luck beautiful girl?


        Before I even start, I have to make two confessions about my reading of this book: I read the ending first, and then I finished the whole book in a day.

        See, as I started reading this book, some of the references were a little weird to me (since the whole book takes place in Ireland, with an Irish family). I can’t remember exactly what it was anymore, but something sounded awkward, but I knew what it was from context clues. It slowed my reading down ... so I skipped to the end. And found out what was going to happen, and then I NEEDED to get there and find out how it actually happened.

        All that being said, the story was great, and unraveled wonderfully. I’m very glad I read this book, but it was hard for me to get into, initially. I’m really good at hating characters that authors try to get me to hate, but sometimes I then don’t want to read about them anymore. Trust me, this one is worth pushing through. The ending was admittedly my favorite part of the story, but once I read the whole book, the ending gave so much more depth to understanding everything that led up to it. The book was a great psychological thriller, and I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

        {click here to purchase}

        Becki Bayley has met her reading goal for 2019 (some books reviewed, some books just read) – should she go for double? Find out this and more about her at SweetlyBSquared.com.

        Wednesday, June 26, 2019

        Book Review - You've Been Volunteered: A Class Mom Novel by Laurie Gelman

        I stare at my computer screen and ponder my email. Is it too short? Too kind? Too sincere? Normally I wouldn't give a royal rip, but we have a new PTA president starting this year. I haven't met her yet, but she sent out a note saying she wants to be copied on all class parent emails. This fact alone has me at DEFCON 3. Smells like a micro-manager to me. Nina would have never wasted her time on that crap.

        You've Been Volunteered is the follow up to Class Mom, which I reviewed a few years ago, and which was hilarious. If you're a Regis & Kelly fan or whatever they're calling it nowadays, the author is also the wife of Michael Gelman, one of the showrunners, which is pretty cool.

        Official synopsis:
        Book Review - You've Been Volunteered: A Class Mom Novel by Laurie Gelman
        In the eagerly anticipated follow-up to Laurie Gelman’s "irreverent and hilarious" (The New York Post) hit Class Mom, brash, lovable Jen Dixon is back with a new class and her work cut out for her.

        If you’ve ever been a room parent or school volunteer, Jen Dixon is your hero. She says what every class mom is really thinking, whether in her notoriously frank emails or standup-worthy interactions with the micromanaging PTA President and the gamut of difficult parents. Luckily, she has the charm and wit to get away with it—most of the time. Jen is sassier than ever but dealing with a whole new set of challenges, in the world of parental politics and at home.

        She’s been roped into room-parenting yet again, for her son Max’s third grade class, but as her husband buries himself in work, her older daughters navigate adulthood, and Jen’s own aging parents start to need some parenting themselves, Jen gets pulled in more directions than any one mom, or superhero, can handle.

        Refreshingly down-to-earth and brimming with warmth, Dixon’s next chapter will keep you turning the pages to find out what’s really going on under the veneer of polite parent interactions, and have you laughing along with her the whole way.


        I found this novel funny, but not quite as funny as Class Mom. Jen Dixon has a lot of stuff going on in her lifeher son Max is now in third grade, one of her older daughters is gallivanting around Europe, and the other one is being mysterious. On top of that, her husband is trying to get them to save money so that he can expand his business, so that means no more name-brand grocery items (including Starbucks...).

        The emails at the beginning of some of the chapters continued to be hilariousI think those were my favorite parts of the book. Here's an example of one of them, from the beginning of the book:

        You've all had me as class mom before, so I'm not going to bore you with the usual stuff, but below are the things you really do need to know:

        • My birthday is still April 18.
        • I have switched to Smoothie King in an effort to lessen my need to caff up. So, any ex-parte meetings will no longer be held at the Starbucks near school. Oh, and I'm going to be grumpy as hell.
        • Read the school's @#$% email.
        • It's still my way or the highway. Nothing has changed. 

        Did I miss anything? Oh yes, curriculum night is October 11. I'll be soliciting for food and drinks very soon.

        As always, response times will be noted. 

        This novel can be read as a standalone if you like, but I highly recommend reading Class Mom first, to get a taste of these characters and their lives, before reading You've Been Volunteered.

        3.5 stars out of 5.

        {click here to purchase}

        Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

        {click here to purchase}

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

        Monday, June 10, 2019

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

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

        {click here to purchase}

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

        Saturday, June 8, 2019

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

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

        GIVEAWAY:

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

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

        U.S. residents only, please.

        Good luck!

        Killer Thriller, by Lee Goldberg

        Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

        Monday, May 6, 2019

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

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

        {click here to purchase}

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

        GIVEAWAY:

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

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

        U.S. residents only, please.

        Good luck!

        The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay

        Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

        Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.

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

        Until she meets Kate Randolph.

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

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

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


        GIVEAWAY:

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

        U.S. residents only, please.

        Good luck!

        Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding

        Monday, April 22, 2019

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

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

        GIVEAWAY:

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

        Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, April 29th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

        U.S. residents only, please.

        Good luck!

        Courting Mr. Lincoln, by Louis Bayard

        Tuesday, April 16, 2019

        GIVEAWAY: David Sedaris, October 23, Fisher Theatre, Detroit {ends 4/24}


        If you're a David Sedaris fan: head on over to my other blog, Yes/No Detroit, to enter to win two tickets to see him live at the Fisher Theatre (Detroit) on October 23rd! There will be two winners.

        *Pre-sale code!*

        If you'd like to purchase tickets before they go on sale to the general public, click here. Presale code is BOOK.

        Head here to enter my giveaway, which ends on April 24, 2019.

        Monday, April 1, 2019

        Bookstock is back! April 7-14, at Laurel Park Place, Livonia

        *Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

        It's no secret that I'm a fan of Bookstock—I've written about it here for the past four years or so. It's an annual event that takes place at Livonia's Laurel Park Place, and is a great way to stock up on books or even other forms of media such as DVDs/Blu-rays, records, and audiobooks.

        More about this year's event:

        Metro Detroit's Biggest and Best Used Book and Media Sale Returns
        Sunday, April 7 Through Sunday, April 14 at Laurel Park Place, Livonia

        Bookstock is back, offering unbelievable deals on used books and media Sunday, April 7 through Sunday, April 14 at Livonia’s Laurel Park Place. Bargains abound at Bookstock, metro Detroit’s biggest and best used book and media sale, where proceeds benefit literacy and education projects throughout the City of Detroit and Oakland, Wayne, Benzie, Washtenaw and Grand Traverse Counties.

        Bookstock is forming a new partnership with JVS Human Services, which serves as the institutional home of Bookstock. Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin is Honorary Chairperson of Bookstock, and Alycia Meriweather, Deputy Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, is Bookstock's Honorary Chancellor. Bookstock 2019's Presenting Sponsor is the Mike Morse Law Firm.

        Bookstock’s Pre-Sale will kick-off on Sunday, April 7 at 8:15 a.m. There is a $20 admission charge for the Pre-Sale only, which runs through 11 a.m. and offers savvy shoppers and collectors first crack at Bookstock’s treasure trove of deals. Bookstock has 300,000-plus gently used books, DVDs, CDs, books on tape, and vinyl for sale at bargain basement prices. The sale will continue through Sunday, April 14, running Sundays, 11 a.m.—6 p.m. and Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.—9 p.m. New stock is added to the floor daily.


        This year, Bookstock will feature seven days of special sales:

        • Monday Madness – Monday, April 8: The first 2,000 shoppers will receive spectacular giveaways plus a chance to win a $100 VISA gift card every hour!
        • Teacher Appreciation Days – Tuesday, April 9 and Wednesday April 10: Bookstock is celebrating teachers by giving 50% off to all teachers with a valid ID from 3 — 9 p.m. on both days. On Tuesday at 5 p.m., the Bookstock B.E.S.T. Awards, (Bookstock Extraordinary Student/School/Teacher) will be presented to fourth grade students from Detroit Public Schools Community District who write the top essays entitled, “My Favorite Book Character…and Why.” A WDIV TV personality will present the awards live, and cash prizes will be given to five students, their teachers and their schools.
        • Bookbuster Special Days – Thursday, April 11 and Friday, April 12: Buy three books and get the fourth book *free (*least expensive item) from 3 – 9 p.m.

        Spend $25 or more on either night and be entered in a special drawing for:
        • Skates signed by Olympic Gold Medalist Meryl Davis
        • 2 tickets to a Detroit Tigers game
        • 2 grand stand tickets to the Detroit Grand Prix

        • Cookstock – Saturday, April 13: Half price on the area's largest collection of used cookbooks plus incredible cooking and dining prizes given away throughout the day.

        • Half Price Finale, Sunday, April 14: All books and media will be sold for half price!


        Marking 17 years of supporting the need to read, Bookstock has generated more than $2 million for literacy and education projects in Michigan. Nearly 800 volunteers work together throughout the year to organize and staff the weeklong Bookstock sale.

        Bookstock is brought to the community by a consortium of non-profit organizations that support education and literacy projects throughout metro Detroit. For more information about Bookstook, call the Bookstock hotline, (248) 645-7840, ext. 365, or visit bookstockmi.org. Laurel Park Place is located on 6 Mile Road east of I-275 in Livonia.

        Follow Bookstock on the web here:
        Bookstock website: http://www.bookstockmi.org
        Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BookstockMI
        Twitter: @BookstockMI
        Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/BookstockMI

        Have you been to Bookstock before, if you live in the metro Detroit area? If so, did you pick up any good finds?

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