Sunday, November 24, 2019

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

Guest book review by: Becki Bayley

Dr. Doomsday’s Guide to Ultimate Survival

Rule One: Always be prepared.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, November 26th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Mama Hissa's Mice, by Saud Alsanousi


Monday, November 18, 2019

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

Guest review by: Andrea Hodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give it 3 stars out of 5.

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of The Current, by Tim Johnston

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

Could it really be that easy?

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

Thursday, November 7, 2019

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

"Are you okay? Skylar asks. 

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

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

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

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

Official synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

4 stars out of 5.

{click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Breathe In, Cash Out, by Madeleine Henry

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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


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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, November 13th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Katy's Ghost, by Trish Evans

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