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

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