Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

Monday, June 10, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

Saturday, June 8, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Killer Thriller, by Lee Goldberg

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 6, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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


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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.

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

Until she meets Kate Randolph.

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

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

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


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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding

Monday, April 22, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Courting Mr. Lincoln, by Louis Bayard

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?

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Quick Pick book review: This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, by Kheryn Callender

  • Opening lines: Riding a bike in the rain with a broken arm is never a good idea, but I'm the kind of guy who likes to make life more difficult, so that's exactly what I do. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a sucker for YA love stories. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • A fresh, charming rom-com perfect for fans of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Boy Meets Boy about Nathan Bird, who has sworn off happy endings but is sorely tested when his former best friend, Ollie, moves back to town. Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings. Although he’s the ultimate film buff and an aspiring screenwriter, Nate’s seen the demise of too many relationships to believe that happy endings exist in real life.

    Playing it safe to avoid a broken heart has been his MO ever since his father died and left his mom to unravel—but this strategy is not without fault. His best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-best-friend-again, Florence, is set on making sure Nate finds someone else. And in a twist that is rom-com-worthy, someone does come along: Oliver James Hernández, his childhood best friend.

    After a painful mix-up when they were little, Nate finally has the chance to tell Ollie the truth about his feelings. But can Nate find the courage to pursue his own happily ever after?
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a love story, a YA book, or LGBTQ-themed books. 
  • Favorite paragraph: Flo didn't say anything else. We sat there in quiet for a long time. I was afraid to speak. She'd hear my voice breaking. My breath was too ragged. I forced myself to say something. "I just don't want to get hurt."

    She frowned. "No one wants to be hurt. No one wants to risk that. But if we don't risk it ... then we don't give ourselves the chance to fall in love. Then we don't have anything."

    I don't really know what's worse: living without love so that you don't get hurt, or getting hurt repeatedly in an attempt to find it. 
    • Something to know: Nothing that I can think of. This would make a great movie a la Love, Simon style, though.
    • What I would have changed: Nothing.
    • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
    • Where can I find this book? Click here to order on Amazon.
    *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

    Thursday, March 21, 2019

    Book Review: The Murmur of Bees, by Sofia Segovia

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley

    "Do you want to come meet everyone?”

    Francisco was not surprised when Simonopio shook his head. In fact, he was amazed to see the boy there at all, not just because he had been absent for several days, but because Simonopio had never liked being present when strangers visited. Yet here he was, and the smile remained on his face.

    “You’re all right,” said Francisco.

    It was not a question.

    Simonopio nodded as he removed everything he was carrying from his knapsack.

    “What do you have there?”

    Simonopio took out his sleeping bag, placed it on the ground, and unrolled the tight bundle. He took out something wrapped in a rag and handed it to his godfather.

    “Shall I open it?”

    Simonopio nodded again, fixing his eyes intensely on Francisco’s. Whatever it was, the contents of the package were very important to his godson. Holding his breath, Francisco carefully undid the knot in the rag, remembering the day when he saw Simonopio for the first time, when he opened two similar, albeit larger, bundles, to find the boy and his beehive full of bees. So he thought that, in this case, he had better proceed with caution.

    The title of The Murmur of Bees just made me think of something soothing and enchanting. The lyrical prose in this story of a family over several generations was beautiful.

    Official synopsis:
    Book Review: The Murmur of Bees, by Sofia Segovia
    From the day that old Nana Reja found a baby abandoned under a bridge, the life of a small Mexican town forever changed. Disfigured and covered in a blanket of bees, little Simonopio is for some locals the stuff of superstition, a child kissed by the devil. But he is welcomed by landowners Francisco and Beatriz Morales, who adopt him and care for him as if he were their own. As he grows up, Simonopio becomes a cause for wonder to the Morales family, because when the uncannily gifted child closes his eyes, he can see what no one else can—visions of all that’s yet to come, both beautiful and dangerous. Followed by his protective swarm of bees and living to deliver his adoptive family from threats—both human and those of nature—Simonopio’s purpose in Linares will, in time, be divined.

    Set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918, The Murmur of Bees captures both the fate of a country in flux and the destiny of one family that has put their love, faith, and future in the unbelievable.

    The Murmur of Bees
    is the story of the Morales Cortez family and their plantation over the course of at least two generations. It primarily surrounds the two boys of the familySimonopio (an infant found and raised by the family’s wet nurse when she’s very old) and Francisco Junior (the biological son who is born after the two daughters are adults). While Francisco Junior’s story is mostly autobiographical, he would never be the same man he is without his relationship with Simonopio, who is around ten years older than him.

    Simonopio is the boy the bees talk to. He is originally found covered in bees, without being stung by them at all. The bees tell Simonopio about things going on elsewhere, and things that will happen. Simonopio does his best to protect his godparents and the others in the Morales Cortez family with this information. To add to the challenge, Simonopio has a facial deformity which makes his language unintelligible to everyone but Francisco Junior.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but found it very wordy. There were a lot of detailed descriptions that were pleasant, but not necessarily always necessary to the story. The book felt like it took me a very long time to get through. The chapters were also told by different characters, which sometimes took me a bit to figure out. I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

    Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, lunch lady and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com. When she’s not reading, she also enjoys doing laundry and dishes every day to keep her household running.

    Tuesday, February 26, 2019

    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Fever King, by Victoria Lee {ends 3/4}

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley

    Noam?” Dr. Howard zeroed in on him the second the other students had been ferried out the door. “It’s time for your aptitude testing.”

    Noam didn’t move. “What does this ‘aptitude testing’ entail, exactly?”

    She glared disapprovingly, but the carefully blank look on Noam’s face didn’t falter.

    “We need to know what you can do and how well you can do it,” she elaborated at last. “We need to know more about your magic – any special affinities, any boundary conditions. It’s standard operating procedure, Mr. Alvaro. There’s nothing to worry about. Now come with me.”

    Noam really, really didn’t want to go with her. He couldn’t imagine anything less appealing than being asked to make a fool of himself in front of a whole bunch of government officials.

    Still. He was admittedly interested in figuring out what kind of magic he could do.

    I do love a good dystopian novel. While characters are usually my biggest draw in a book, The Fever King had a stronger plot than characters for me. The interaction of the characters on the basis of their magical gifts was intriguing.

    Official synopsis:
    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Fever King, by Victoria Lee
    In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

    The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

    Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

    While political drama isn’t usually my thing, the politics of Carolinia and Atlantia somehow drew me in. Maybe it was Noam’s passion to help the refugees, but I think it was even more how everyone’s personal experiences with the virus and with magic defined them. The characters as individuals did not make as much of an impression on me as their magical gifts and how they used them. You knew who the "witchlings" were based on their place in society, but knowing what they were didn’t necessarily tell you what they could do or what their individual power was.

    All the main characters were using their powers—that we may or may not know about—to control or manipulate situations or other people secretly. Without spoiling the outcome for those who will read the book, not everyone is as they seem. Determining the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ is nearly impossible with so many secrets being kept for so many reasons. There was a very small romantic interlude, but it was really just to add depth to an interpersonal relationship.

    Overall, I found The Fever King to be a very complicated book. It was a little slow for me in the middle, but once the action started, it was consuming and I didn’t want to set the book down til I knew what was going to happen. I’m glad I kept going, because the ending plot twist was a surprise.

    I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend this book for those who enjoy dystopian fiction and military or political thrillers. I look forward to more books in this series, but I’m not really sure where the author will take it next.


    Becki Bayley has been a retail clerk, day-care worker, chocolatier, receptionist, debt management counselor, pampering specialist, reader, and collections advocate. She is currently a breakfast lady and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com.


    One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Fever King!

    Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, March 4th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

    U.S. residents only, please.

    Good luck!

    The Fever King, by Victoria Lee

    Monday, February 18, 2019

    Quick Pick book review: The Unhoneymooners, by Christina Lauren

    book review: The Unhoneymooners, by Christina Lauren
    • Opening lines: In the calm before the storm—in this case, the blessed quiet before the bridal suite is overrun by the wedding partymy twin sister stares critically down at a freshly painted shell-pink fingernail and says "I bet you're relieved I'm not a bridezilla. She glances across the room at me and smiles generously. "I bet you expected me to be impossible."

      It is a statement so perfectly dropped in the moment, I want to take a picture and frame it.
    • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan and have reviewed most of, if not all, of their books.
    • And what's this book about?
    • Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Amy, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

      Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

      Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of... lucky.
    • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys an easy read and/or a good love story, or who enjoys "chick lit."
    • Favorite paragraph: Whereas Ami is a four-leave clover, I have always been unlucky. I don't say that to be theatrical or because I only seem unlucky in comparison: it is an objective truth. Google Olive Torres, Minnesota, and you'll find dozens of articles and comment threads dedicated to the time I climbed into one of those claw crane arcade games and got stuck. I was six, and when the stuffed animal I'd captured didn't drop directly into the chute, I decided to go in and get it.
      • Something to know: Nothing. I'd love to see this book made into a movie, though!
      • What I would have changed: Nothing I can think of.
      • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
      • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon - it will be online and in stores on May 14, 2019.
      *Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

      Wednesday, February 13, 2019

      Book Review: Where the Forest Meets the Stars, by Glendy Vanderah

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley
      Turkey Creek Road was the five-mile gravel road that dead-ended at the creek and Kinney property. Driving it took a while, even in an SUV. After the first mile, it got narrow, snaky, potholed, and washboarded, and toward the end it was precariously steep in a few places where the creek washed it out in heavy rains. Jo’s return trip on the road was her favorite part of the day. She never knew what the next bend might bring – a turkey, a family of bobwhite quail, or even a bobcat. At its end, the road brought her to a pretty view of the clear, rocky creek and a left turn that led to her quaint cottage on the hill.

      But it wasn’t wildlife she saw staring back at her from the cottage walkway when she turned onto the Kinney property lane. It was the Ursa Major alien and her Ursa Minor dog. The girl was wearing the same clothes as the previous night, her feet still bare. Jo parked and jumped out of the car without removing her gear. “Why are you still here?”

      “I told you,” the girl said, “I’m visiting from –”

      “You’ve got to go home!”

      “I will! I promise I will when I’ve seen five miracles.”

      Jo took her phone from her pants pocket. “I’m sorry… I have to call the police.”

      I found this book very enchanting from the beginning. I absolutely loved the characters, which is really the key to my heart when I’m reading books for enjoyment.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review: Where the Forest Meets the Stars, by Glendy Vanderah
      After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.

      The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.

      Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?

      Though the three have formed an incredible bond, they know difficult choices must be made. As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.

      I’m worried to say too much about Where the Forest Meets the Stars and give away the ending. I promise there’s a happy ending, but you’ll need to read it to find out the details for yourself.

      Jo has purposely chosen a remote cabin for her research project on some local birds. Most ornithologists would have a field assistant, but after several personal struggles, she just wants some peace and solitude. Her solitude is short-lived, however, when a mysterious girl shows up at the cabin wearing just pajamas. Jo soon enlists the help of her nearest neighbor, Gabe, in caring for the girl and trying to solve the mystery of where she came from.

      The characters were so engaging, and I really wanted to find out all the good things that could happen for them. The writing in this debut novel is beautiful and so imaginative. I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I look forward to reading it again.

      Becki Bayley is a 46-year-old woman in the SE Detroit area who shares her adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      Monday, February 11, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman {ends 2/18}

      DAY ONE

      The kitchen faucet makes the most bizarre sounds.

      It coughs and wheezes like it's gone asthmatic. It gurgles like someone drowning. It spits once, then goes silent. Our dog, Kingston, raises his ears, but still keeps his distance from the sink, unsure if it might unexpectedly come back to life, but no such luck.

      Mom just stands there holding Kingston's water bowl beneath the faucet, puzzling. Then she moves the handle to the off position and says, "Alyssa, go get your father."

      This novel was kind of a dystopian novel, but it was a bit scary because it could definitely happen to us in 2019, as well. California runs out of water and people start to die because of it.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman
      When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

      The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

      Until the taps run dry.

      Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

      This book was pretty interesting to read, as it was told from several different perspectives: Alyssa; Kelton, her next-door neighbor who has a crush on her; and Jacqui and Henry, people they meet along the way. 

      Kelton's family are "doomsday preppers," so although they were prepared for the drought, their neighbors want them to share their spoils with the rest of the neighborhood. Alyssa's family definitely was not prepared, and soon she and Kelton find themselves on the run to find water. 

      I enjoyed this book but it did take me a week or two to get through—I'm thinking this was more because I had less time to read during that time period, and not because the book was less interesting. I was curious to see if the "Tap-Out" would resolve itself or not, and, if so, if the main characters would live to see the end of it.

      3.5 stars out of 5.

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


      Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Dry!

      Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, February 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

      U.S. residents only please, and no P.O. Boxes.

      Good luck!

      2 copies of DRY, by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

      Sunday, February 10, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Forgotten Hours, by Katrin Schumann {ends 2/17}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley
      The lake is calm. The moonlight shimmies over the water, turning it into acres of gray silk. Katie and Lulu slip down onto the spider-riddled bottom of a canoe and lie in the middle of the lake, bored and not bored, staring up at the sky. Tonight it is crisscrossed with highways of sparkling space debris, and they count the shooting stars aloud, one after another – five, ten, thirty flashes. The very next day they are both going home.

      “You know, I’m gonna miss you, Katie Gregory,” Lulu says. When summer is over, Lulu returns to her world, and Katie returns to hers. They talk now and then on the phone, but it’s nothing like when they yare together, breathing the same air, egging each other on. “It’s the pits, living upstate,” Lulu adds, grabbing the bottle of Campari from Katie and sitting up so she can take another swig. A dribble of pink liquid creeps down her chin.

      What a difficult topic to turn into popular fiction, without making someone a truly hated character! After learning more about Katie and Lulu, it was hard to imagine their lives turning out any different than they finally did.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Forgotten Hours, by Katrin Schumann
      At twenty-four, Katie Gregory feels like life is looking up: she’s snagged a great job in New York City and is falling for a captivating artist—and memories of her traumatic past are finally fading. Katie’s life fell apart almost a decade earlier, during an idyllic summer at her family’s cabin on Eagle Lake when her best friend accused her father of sexual assault. Throughout his trial and imprisonment, Katie insisted on his innocence, dodging reporters and clinging to memories of the man she adores.

      Now he’s getting out. Yet when Katie returns to the shuttered lakeside cabin, details of that fateful night resurface: the chill of the lake, the heat of first love, the terrible sting of jealousy. And as old memories collide with new realities, they call into question everything she thinks she knows about family, friends, and, ultimately, herself. Now, Katie’s choices will be put to the test with life-altering consequences.

      Katie and Lulu were best friends who just spent summers together. Other than their shared summers, their lives and family situations were vastly different. Their friendship ends when Lulu makes accusations against Katie’s father, and their attorneys tell them to have no contact.

      The book picks up nearly a decade later, when the trial is long since over, and Katie’s dad has served six years in prison for his crimes. But Katie has lived her life like she and Lulu just lost touch. She’s gone on, finished college, and made a new life for herself, including a new name, while keeping her visits with her dad a secret from her new friends. She’s sure he must be innocent, and Lulu was just making things up.

      Most of the book just catalogs Katie’s thoughts about everything. I feel like the book could have gotten to the point and told us the original story in half the time. The chapters alternately took place as recounting the girls’ past together, and the present, but didn’t clearly identify which you were in until you started reading. It wasn’t hard to tell, just annoying to not know right away.

      All of the plot lines were neatly tied up (and a bit more interestingly) in the last couple chapters, and in the epilogue. I do like endings that come together nicely.

      Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It was an agreeable enough read to pass the time, but I didn’t like dragging on and on with a generally uncomfortable topic.

      Becki Bayley has been blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com since March 2002. She’s generally polite and tries not to offend anyone.


      One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The Forgotten Hours!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 17th, 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!

      1 copy of THE FORGOTTEN HOURS, by Katrin Schumann

      Saturday, February 2, 2019

      Book Review: The Killer Collective, by Barry Eisler

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      She took a deep breath and eased through the doorway. The door had spring-loaded hinges, and she slowed it down with her free hand to make sure it closed quietly. Then she moved left, keeping her back to the brick building, the Glock in a two-handed grip now, tracking left and right in sync with her gaze. She paused and listened. She heard the hum of an electrical transformer, the drip of water from a leaking gutter. Nothing else. She moved left again, logging a puddle in her peripheral vision and stepping over it. A duct ahead of her was spewing steam. She moved forward to get an angle past it, and–

      A man slipped around the corner less than six feet from her, a pistol in his right hand alongside his thigh. Holding the gun for concealment, not in the expectation of immediate engagement. He saw her and froze, his eyes widening.

      Livia thrust her arms forward, putting her sights directly on his sternum, and shouted, “Drop the weapon!”

      While this book hints at stories from previous books for several of the characters, I felt I knew enough of what was going on to really enjoy this book and its plot and characters. It was an entertaining read as a stand-alone book, and I’m sure it would really enhance the two series that feature its characters.

      Official synopsis:
      When a joint FBI–Seattle Police investigation of an international child pornography ring gets too close to certain powerful people, sex-crimes detective Livia Lone becomes the target of a hit that barely goes awry—a hit that had been offered to John Rain, a retired specialist in “natural causes.”

      Suspecting the FBI itself was behind the attack, Livia reaches out to former Marine sniper Dox. Together, they assemble an ad hoc group to identify and neutralize the threat. There’s Rain. Rain’s estranged lover, Mossad agent and honeytrap specialist Delilah. And black ops soldiers Ben Treven and Daniel Larison, along with their former commander, SpecOps legend Colonel Scot “Hort” Horton.

      Moving from Japan to Seattle to DC to Paris, the group fights a series of interlocking conspiracies, each edging closer and closer to the highest levels of the US government.

      With uncertain loyalties, conflicting agendas, and smoldering romantic entanglements, these operators will have a hard time forming a team. But in a match as uneven as this one, a collective of killers might be even better.

      The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler was an engaging action/adventure book that rang of truth. The characters were well-developed. This is the third book in the Livia Lone series, and the tenth book in the John Rain series. Each of these primary characters brought their friends to the book this time, for an interesting conglomeration of relationships between friends and hired killers. Having not read any of either series previously, the background given was adequate that I felt acquainted enough with all the characters in the book to follow the intriguing plot.

      Adding to the believability, the author included footnotes, of a sort. At the back of the book, Eisler cites different articles and videos he’s seen that he credits with some of the ideas his characters use, sorted by the chapter in which the ideas were mentioned. I loved this!

      Overall, I greatly enjoyed the characters and the exciting storyline. I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

      Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, direct-seller, lunch-lady and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com. She also enjoys doing laundry and dishes every day to keep her household running.

      Wednesday, January 23, 2019

      Book Review: Sugar Run, by Mesha Maren

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      The Rocklodge Motor Inn advertised air-conditioning but the nicotine-stained unit in Jodi’s room could muster only a slight lukewarm breeze. She propped open the windows, splashed cold water on her face, and added ice to her paper cup of bourbon. Unregulated, the hours already dripped like spit, and the cheap floral walls pulsed with indecision – you can do anything – no one’s watching, go out – don’t go out, you’ll fuck up – what’s your plan? Not since she was seventeen had she made any choice that sprang from her own free will entirely. At Jaxton she’d been preserved, safe from her own self. But now here it was, the weight of decision and consequence yoked about her neck again, making her lungs squeeze tight with each breath. She’d barely managed to order food at the Waffle House. The menu had overwhelmed her, and the waitress talked a string of jargon that made no sense.

      While there was a feeling of doom throughout the main character’s story in Sugar Run, it was written so beautifully and thoughtfully that you could feel her hopeful emotions, even while knowing that each choice she made directed her further from the happy ending she said she still wanted.

      Official Synopsis: 
      Book Review: Sugar Run, by Mesha Maren
      In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison. When she’s released eighteen years later, she finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom but determined to chart a better course for herself. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian Mountains, she heads south in search of someone she left behind, as a way of finally making amends. There, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother living in a motel room with her children. Together they head toward what they hope will be a fresh start. But what do you do with your past—and with a town and a family that refuses to forget, or to change?

      Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a break for another life, the use and treachery of makeshift families, and how, no matter the distance we think we’ve traveled from the mistakes we’ve made, too often we find ourselves standing in precisely the place we began.

      Sugar Run is the story of Jodi’s release from prison after serving 18 years. She’s never been an adult who wasn’t behind bars. While reading alternating chapters between her old life in the late 1980s, and what’s happening in her life since her unexpected release in 2007, the choices she makes seem to make more sense for her, even though the reader can see them only leading to disaster.

      The characters felt very real. I felt bad for Jodi and could see the lack of resources that led to her poor choices. I was mostly annoyed at Miranda, who seemed like she started off with more advantages than Jodi, but then chose wrong over right every time, and wallowed in self-pity at the consequences of her actions. I never knew what to think of Ricky, who seemed to not want anyone to really know his whole story.

      There are some books that just stay with you, and this is one of those for me. I would love to see another book with Jodi’s continuing story after this debut novel. Overall, I’d give Sugar Run 3.5 out of 5 stars.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley has been blogging about her life in SE Michigan for more than 15 years at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      Monday, January 21, 2019

      Book Review - For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon, by Laurie R. King

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      Los Angeles was the sort of town that, if you aren’t watching television, you might not even know it was Christmas. What’s Christmas to a movie star who has a three-picture deal and graces every red carpet at the Kodak Theater? What’s Christmas to a homeless guy who just wants his next meal? What’s Christmas to a surfer other than a bullshit story about a red and white fat man whose entire gig was to be a mythical creature who gives children toys they don’t need? No, Christmas might be important to some, but to the denizens of Los Angeles, especially those of us working the docks down in L.A. Harbor, Christmas meant only two things: you weren’t with your family and you were getting time and a half.

      I’ve never sought out any of the Sherlock Holmes stories to read, so I was pleasantly surprised when I enjoyed these stories as much as I did. From a graphic story, to a song, and several mysteries based on logic and deduction, the stories were entertaining and fun to read.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review - For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon, by Laurie R. King
      For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

      The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

      This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

      Featuring Stories by: Peter S. Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni L. P. Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, D. P. Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoe Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson.

      I enjoyed For the Sake of the Game way more than I expected to. Short stories are not generally my jam, and I’d never purposely read any Sherlock Holmes stories before. I may have to reconsider my opinion on short stories—I’ve enjoyed the last couple collections I’ve read.

      One of my favorites in this collection was The Girl in the Key of C, which the opening excerpt in this review is from. It is by Weston Ochse, the author of more than 20 books, mostly science-fiction and horror novels. With just a few characters, the story is unexpected and thought-provoking.

      I also especially liked The Adventure of the Six Sherlocks by Toni L.P. Kelner (a murder mystery at a Baker Street fan convention) and Tough Guy Ballet by Duane Swierczynski (a decidedly sci-fi mystery and police drama).

      Overall, I would give For the Sake of the Game 4 out of 5 stars. Since it was written with inspiration from the Sherlock Holmes canon, I’m sure those who enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories would like it, as well as those like me with minimal Sherlock Homes exposure. The stories were fun, engaging, and varied, with just their inspiration tying them together.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley is an avid reader, school employee, and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com.

      Sunday, January 20, 2019

      Quick Pick book review: Puddin', by Julie Murphy {companion novel to Dumplin'}

      • Opening lines: I'm a list maker. Write it down. (Using my gel pens and a predetermined color scheme, of course.) Make it happen. Scratch it off. There is no greater satisfaction than a notebook full of beautifully executed lists. 
      • Reason I picked up the book: Dumplin' was excellent, as was the recent Netflix movie, and this is the companion novel to it - Willowdean (star of Dumplin') makes a few appearances, but this is mostly a story about Millie, one of Willowdean's friends. 
      • And what's this book about?
      • The irresistible companion to the #1 New York Times bestseller Dumplin’, now a Netflix feature film starring Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston, and a soundtrack by Dolly Parton!

        Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a little girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream of being a newscaster—and to kiss the boy she’s crushing on.

        Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend.

        When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing that they might have more in common than they ever imagined.

        A story about unexpected friendship, romance, and Texas-size girl power, this is another winner from Julie Murphy.
      • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys YA stories and/or books with a good message.
      • Favorite paragraph: If Malik's nervous, it doesn't show. His head tilts to the side as he pulls me closer to him, holding me tight. It's way too warm out to have this many goose bumps, but my body defies science as Malik's lips meet mine. I almost forget to breathe through my nose as he deepens the kiss and combs his fingers through my hair.

        I can have it all. I decide in that moment. Everything I want can be had. 
        • Something to know: Nothing, really. I hope Netflix makes this one into a movie too! It's such a cute story.
        • What I would have changed: I'll admit that the ending is a LITTLE too "HEA" than I would have expected, but I still liked it.
        • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
        • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

        Friday, January 18, 2019

        Book Review: Charlie Hernández & the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

        In that split second, the spell broke: The dreamy daze instantly evaporated, and so did my crazy need to follow the lights.

        What the heck was that about? I thought, looking around wildly. But I had no more than asked myself that when the answer came, and all the tiny hairs on the back of my neck prickled like the spines on a porcupine.

        “Violet, STOP!” I shouted. “It’s La Luz Mala!”

        I couldn’t believe what I was saying—couldn’t believe those words had actually come out of my mouth
        but I knew it was true all the same. The lights were almost identical to how my abuela had described them: the wispy, glowing orbs with mesmerizing powers; the strings of tiny lights that lured unsuspecting people into the dangers of the swamp. Even the color was the same – a brilliant Spanish blue! 

        It was crazy to think about
        insane, evenbut this was now the fourth myth we’d encountered – the fourth in just two days! The real question was, why did we keep running into things from my abuela’s old stories?

        I was excited to read Charlie Hernandez & the League of Shadows after reading comparisons of it to the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. I’ve always enjoyed myths, and figured learning myths from a culture different than mine would be interesting too.

        Official synopsis:
        Book Review: Charlie Hernandez & the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo
        Charlie Hernández has always been proud of his Latin American heritage. He loves the culture, the art, and especially the myths. Thanks to his abuela’s stories, Charlie possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the monsters and ghouls who have spent the last five hundred years haunting the imaginations of children all across the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Central and South America. And even though his grandmother sometimes hinted that the tales might be more than mere myth, Charlie’s always been a pragmatist. Even barely out of diapers, he knew the stories were just make-believe—nothing more than intricately woven fables meant to keep little kids from misbehaving.

        But when Charlie begins to experience freaky bodily manifestations—ones all too similar to those described by his grandma in his favorite legend—he is suddenly swept up in a world where the mythical beings he’s spent his entire life hearing about seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Hispanic folklore and into his life. And even stranger, they seem to know more about him than he knows about himself.

        Soon, Charlie finds himself in the middle of an ancient battle between La Liga, a secret society of legendary mythological beings sworn to protect the Land of the Living, and La Mano Negra (a.k.a. the Black Hand), a cabal of evil spirits determined to rule mankind. With only the help of his lifelong crush, Violet Rey, and his grandmother’s stories to guide him, Charlie must navigate a world where monsters and brujas rule and things he couldn’t possibly imagine go bump in the night. That is, if he has any hope of discovering what’s happening to him and saving his missing parents (oh, and maybe even the world).

        No pressure, muchacho.

        I found this book interesting and engaging, even without knowing the myths in advance. A glossary at the back of the book was helpful when I came across a few terms and creatures with which I was unfamiliar. I also found the comparison to the Percy Jackson series helpful. The story was indeed about a student who many of the readers could relate to, who then finds himself in some interesting situations that he previously would have classified as just impossible stories.

        Everyone likes to fancy themselves as the hero of a story, and Charlie was easy to identify with as an average student. The other students he interacted with were also easily recognizable from typical student stereotypes. When he stops being ‘average,’ Charlie isn’t sure who to turn to. Afraid that his best friends would just find his life changes to be weird, his lifelong crush is the one person who surprisingly seems to find it all fascinating, and has his back through the adventures. They are off and following clues after finding a mysterious map in a locket left by Charlie’s mom before she and Charlie’s dad disappeared.

        At every turn, Charlie and Violet are finding themselves face to face with another myth told to Charlie by his abuela before she died. Usually it’s Charlie’s memory of the stories that helps them deal with the danger just in time.

        Overall, I enjoyed this book and would give it 3 out of 5 stars. It was a pleasant read, and provided information about cultural myths with which I was previously unfamiliar. It would be a great book for 11- to 14-year-olds of varying backgrounds.

        {click here to purchase}

        Becki Bayley is a mom of two, wife, bruffus lady, and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com.


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