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.
https://amzn.to/2TPjU1q


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
SATURDAY, JUNE 4TH

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.

GIVEAWAY:

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.

GIVEAWAY:

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.

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