Thursday, May 21, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Legends from Mom's Closet, by Sasha Olsen {ends 5/28}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Audrey Hepburn’s Classic Truths

Wow! Hepburn was planning to be a ballerina, but because of problems with her health, she ended up becoming an actress instead.

Hepburn’s favorite color was light blue, which is mine too!

I think Hepburn and I have a lot in common. She spoke five languages. I also speak several.


What a fun approach for a visual learner. Knowing how influential women expressed their style may help girls remember more about them.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Legends from Mom's Closet, by Sasha Olsen {ends 5/28}
Legends from Mom’s Closet documents Sasha’s summer, where she spends most of her time indoors because of stormy weather. Due to her boredom, she turns to learning about legendary people through books and research. She comes upon some incredible women, like Frida Kahlo, and delves into these legends’ lives which lead her to feel extremely inspired. She turns her inspiration into art by rummaging in her mom’s closet for vintage pieces to dress up as the legends she learned about. Sometimes she faces little troubles, but she quickly overcomes them in a mission to spend a day in a legend’s shoes and document it. Through this diary, readers will also learn the importance of vintage clothing and the need to prevent fast fashion. Legends from Mom’s Closet is abundant with colorful photos and illustrations for other kids to truly get a feel of Sasha’s imagination. She even shares little fun facts and a how-to for each icon. Experience the creativity a kid encounters when exploring what’s right around them and let it inspire you too!

Sasha gives us a little introduction to each of ten famous women before she dives into her mom’s closet to try and recreate their look. With help from her sister, her mom, and her grandma, Sasha has fun playing up the influential women’s trademark styles and telling us something that made each of them famous.

The best part of this book was the adorable pictures of Sasha dressed as each of the women she introduced. She claims her favorite part of recreating each look was getting to play with make-up. At the end of her diary, she stresses the need to prevent fast fashion and utilize vintage pieces, since cast-off clothing contributes a lot of waste when it is only thrown into the trash.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The photographs of Sasha in each inspired outfit, and then the separate photographs of the outfits for anyone who may want to search their own mom’s closet for the items to recreate were my favorite. The colored illustrations of each influential woman also added to the appeal. This book would be great for a child who is a visual learner and may inspire them to learn more about these female legends from history.

{click here to pre-order; book will be out on May 28, 2020.}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom. She enjoys reading, playing the flute, and blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Legends from Mom's Closet!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, May 28th, 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.

Open to both U.S. and Canadian residents!

Good luck!

Legends from Mom's Closet, by Sasha Olsen

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Glorious Boy, by Aimee Liu {ends 5/27}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From her first day at the white house, Naila sensed she had been to this place before. Or near here. She knew the dusty sweet smell of this hill, that jungle of brush across the gully, the steep angle of the slope below the road. Or, she thought she did.

The memory was dim and distant: her father taking her by the hand. She’s been younger than Ty Babu. The yellow-walled compound where her family lived then lay at the base of this hill, on the water. Her father had led her through the jungle up up up what had seemed a mountain. Never tell anyone. Our secret place.

The chance to test her memory came several days after their arrival, while Mem and Ty both were napping and everyone else had gone out. Naila slipped out of the house and across the gully, then skirted a thicket of leafy brambles and turned to get her bearings.

The banyans form their own citadel. Aerial roots had dangled like Shiva’s arms, while the base roots snaked into the earth. She pressed on. Forward. This way. That. The grass rose above her head. She was well out of sight of the white house when she spotted the grove. Dozens of trunks, each as big around as five men. They pressed so close against each other that it seemed there was no way in, but her father had shown her the hidden passage, behind one trunk and between two others. When she located the swirling root with the knot like a raised fist, she felt him urging her on.


Sometimes history doesn’t have happy endings. The same goes for historical fiction. While happy endings are usually preferred, this book offered a real feeling story with beautiful closure, even when it wasn’t happy.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Glorious Boy, by Aimee Liu {ends 5/27}
Glorious Boy is a tale of war and devotion, longing and loss, and the power of love to prevail. Set in India's remote Andaman Islands before and during WWII, the story revolves around a mysteriously mute 4-year-old who vanishes on the eve of Japanese Occupation. Little Ty's parents, Shep and Claire, will go to any lengths to rescue him, but neither is prepared for the brutal and soul-changing odyssey that awaits them.

Shep Durant and Claire get married because they met as Shep was planning his research trip to India’s Andaman Islands, and Claire wanted to be an ethnographer and researcher too. After their brief courtship in the U.S., everything we know about them is in the primitive islands. While it didn’t appear to be planned, they’re also soon caring for their infant, far from the civilization they’re used to. Ty Babu, their baby, doesn’t know of anything besides their home in Port Blair, and his ayah Naila. Naila is a bit young to care for the baby by U.S. standards, but her parents are the Durant’s house servants, and she and Ty Babu develop a strong bond very quickly.

While the book starts with the Durant family and their servants all happily under the same roof, before long they’re each trying to make their way alone. War changing everything on their island, and they end up going in separate directions to survive. The characters each evolve in their attempts to make it alone, while they still try to get back to each other against all odds.

The prose and descriptions of the island and its people were beautiful. The Andaman Islands of India sound truly magnificent, and finding out how the natives lived deep in the jungle was fascinating. Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a homebody who loves to take adventures through books. Find more of her reading adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Beautiful Boy!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, May 27th, at 11:59pm EST, and the 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!

Glorious Boy, by Aimee Liu

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen, by Ruby Walker {ends 5/23}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I’m trying to be a light.

I can’t do everything perfectly. But I am good for good. Most of the time I can feel this energy shaking my lymph nodes. I know who I am: loved, empathetic, excitable, forgiving. I want to write the stories I needed before. I’m trying to be the friend I needed when I felt completely alone. I’m glad, somehow, that I felt all those terrible things and stumbled my way out. Only for having been there do I know where my little world needs light.

Being a light means being kind when it isn’t required, good when nobody can see, and refusing to accept suffering as the status quo. I’m nothing like I was before: I let the things I care about take hold of my whole body.

Yet sometimes, when I get sad, I feel like I’m there again, a scared fourteen-year-old who can’t tell anyone she’s depressed.


Within the first few pages of the book, reading Ruby Walker’s words feels like talking to a friend. She’s been there, and now she wants to help others through it all.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen, by Ruby Walker {ends 5/23}
When Ruby Walker was fifteen, she went from a numb, silent, miserable high school dropout to a joyous loudmouth in one year flat. Advice I Ignored answers the question everyone's been asking her since: What happened? In ten illustrated chapters, you'll learn how to:

  • get out from under self-hatred
  • gain a sense of free will
  • deal with failure without falling apart
  • create your way through an existential crisis
  • use exercise to beg your brain for endorphins
  • have an identity beyond "sad"
  • and more!
Full of embarrassing stories, honest advice, and fierce hope, Advice I Ignored is a self-help book for people who hate help. And themselves.

This was a great book. The chapters are each broken neatly into three parts—an essay of good advice, a personal story, and simple instructions to implement the advice. Interspersed with these parts were illustrations that added to the emotion expressed in the mental health struggle.

The author’s voice is casual, friendly, and likable. She admits that a lot of the advice sounds overwhelming and possibly ridiculous to someone struggling, but the instructions really break it down as much as the reader needs. Is your first action step today sitting up in bed? That’s okay. She wants to start where the reader is, and hopefully show them the way she found back to the life they are meant to live.

While the book is targeted at teens with depression, it’s really a great manual about finding and acting on being your true self. Each of the chapter titles aren’t just advice for teens, but perhaps the secrets to living a contented life at any age. Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it be read, consumed, and acted on slowly. Read each chapter, story, and suggestions thoughtfully, and let them speak to your heart.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and human being. She likes reading, crafting, playing the flute and enjoying her own company. Find out more of her adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Advice I Ignored!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, May 23rd, 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!

Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen, by Ruby Walker

Monday, May 11, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: My Kind of People, by Lisa Duffy {ends 5/18}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

She follows Leo down the street, waiting for him to say something. He hasn’t spoken since they stood in the bedroom doorway and he said, “Come with me.”

She thought they might sit at the kitchen table and talk about whatever he wanted to talk about.

Instead, he walked right out the front door, down to the street, and turned left.

Now their footsteps match each other’s as they walk.

They pass Joe’s house in silence. A sprinkler is on across the street at Maggie’s house and Sky skips over, runs through it, the cold water making her gasp.

When she joins Leo again, he reaches out, tugs a strand of her hair.

“Give me half your energy,” he says.

There’s a car in the driveway of the house where nobody lives, and she points to it. “Is she here?”

He nods. “I think so, he says, and then steps around Sky so he’s on the inside of the sidewalk. Between her and the house. She glances up at him, but his eyes are on the sidewalk, as if nothing happened.

She’s not sure what to think about her grandmother living down the street. Which seems weird to her. It’s her grandmother. But she barely remembers her.


It’s always amusing to imagine living on an island like this one. Not just for a vacation, but the ins and outs of life in a tight-knit community. Especially if the community is full of likable characters like the ones in this book.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: My Kind of People, by Lisa Duffy {ends 5/18}
From the author of The Salt House and This Is Home comes a profound novel about the power of community and a small town’s long-buried secrets as a group of New England islanders come together for a recently orphaned girl.

On Ichabod Island, a jagged strip of land thirteen miles off the coast of Massachusetts, ten-year-old Sky becomes an orphan for the second time after a tragic accident claims the lives of her adoptive parents.

Grieving the death of his best friends, Leo’s life is turned upside down when he finds himself the guardian of young Sky. Back on the island and struggling to balance his new responsibilities and his marriage to his husband, Leo is supported by a powerful community of neighbors, many of them harboring secrets of their own.

Maggie, who helps with Sky’s childcare, has hit a breaking point with her police chief husband, who becomes embroiled in a local scandal. Her best friend Agnes, the island busybody, invites Sky’s estranged grandmother to stay for the summer, straining already precarious relationships. Their neighbor Joe struggles with whether to tell all was not well in Sky’s house in the months leading up to the accident. And among them all is a mysterious woman, drawn to Ichabod to fulfill a dying wish.

Perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Leary,
My Kind of People is a riveting, impassioned novel about the resilience of community and what connects us all in the face of tragedy.

This book wouldn’t just be a great movie, it’d be a whole soap opera. It was an engaging read with fun and varied characters. Watching Leo and his husband struggle to be good parents to poor Sky, who has known too much loss in her young life, was in turn amusing and heart-warming. Nothing is ever easy, and Ichabod Island seems to have more complications than other places people call home.

The development of the relationships as everyone learned more about each other was intriguing and sometimes unexpected. A few chapters were voiced by a mystery character who revealed more about herself as the book went on. The woman’s identity and existence changed experiences for other characters in many ways, some not shown until the very last pages.

I’d give this entertaining read 4 out of 5 stars. The author has a couple of previous books, which makes me wonder if some of the characters may carry over. I’d love to find out what happens for some of the characters after this book ends.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is thoughtful and compassionate. She enjoys caring for others and helping people have happier lives. Her reading adventures are posted at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of My Kind of People!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, May 18th, 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!

My Kind of People, by Lisa Duffy

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Book Review: The Book of Two Ways, by Jodi Picoult

For someone who makes a living through death, I haven't given a lot of thought to my own.

I have heard that when you are about to die, your life flashes before your eyes.

But I do not picture my husband, Brian, his sweater streaked with inevitable chalk dust from the old-school blackboards in his physics lab. Or Meret, as a little girl, asking me to check for monsters under the bed. I do not envision my mother, not like she was at the end or before that, when Kieran and I were young. 

Instead, I see him.

I'm a HUGE fan of Jodi Picoult's novels, and last week was my first time hearing about her new book, The Book of Two Ways. Surprisingly, I received an email inviting me to read it for my blog a day or two after that, which I was very excited about.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Book of Two Ways, by Jodi Picoult
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light comes a riveting novel about the choices that alter the course of our lives.

Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She’s on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: Prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband but of a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.

Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, their beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, in which she helps ease the transition between life and death for her clients.

But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a career Dawn once studied for but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.

After the crash landing, the airline ensures that the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation to wherever they want to go. The obvious option for Dawn is to continue down the path she is on and go home to her family. The other is to return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways—the first known map of the afterlife.

As the story unfolds, Dawn’s two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried with them. Dawn must confront the questions she’s never truly asked: What does a life well lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices . . . or do our choices make us? And who would you be if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?


As always, Picoult does extensive research for her books, and this one is no different. Half of the book takes place in Egypt, where Dawn and her ex-boyfriend Wyatt worked fifteen years ago, as a grad student—half a lifetime ago for Dawn, who now lives in Boston with her husband, Brian, and 14-year-old daughter, Meret. Dawn no longer studies Egyptology; instead, she's a death doula, helping clients who are in the last stages of death.

I want to say more but to say more would be to spoil the minor twist, which I didn't realize until the beginning, and which pulled a This is Us fast one ... and that's all I'll say about that.

I will, however, say this: I haven't been reading as much as I used to lately, and I devoured this book in a matter of days. The only negative thing I can say about it is that the end does stretch on for a bit, but when it's a book by Picoult, I don't mind as much, and eventually everything was wrapped up.

Ideal movie casting:
Dawn: Natalie Portman
Wyatt: Gerard Butler (but with an English accent)
Brian: Johnny Galecki
Meret: Millicent Simmons, from A Quiet Place

4 stars out of 5.

Click here to pre-order - this book will be out on September 22, 2020.


*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book for reviewing. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The American Crusade, by Mark Spivak {ends 5/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

It was challenging for some people, even those as close to the situation as Robert Hornsby, to pinpoint the precise moment when the wheels came off the situation in Sumeristan.

For many observers, the invasion started to unravel on August 9 with the murder of Sergeant Sam Gravino, just three weeks after the July 14 celebration. The father of three from Arkansas was on patrol with his company when he was shot by a rooftop sniper. His fellow soldiers stormed the building and killed the sniper, but it was too late for Gravino, who died shortly afterward at the base hospital.

This was not the first assassination of an American serviceman. Attacks had begun even as the National Day of Celebration was underway. The administration tried to hide them from the public, but this subterfuge became increasingly difficult as Sumeri snipers stepped up their activity in the weeks following the coalition’s occupation. Even before Gravino’s death in early August, several soldiers were dying every day.

As details of the soldier’s fate filtered back to his family, however, they became outraged as well as bereaved. They hired an attorney and began giving interviews to the press. By Labor Day, the “Gravino Incident,” along with rumors of many other Americans being slaughtered on the streets of Baghdad, had gone national. Major news outlets assigned investigative reporters assigned to the story. There were rumors the Gravinos had been booked on 60 minutes.

Politics is definitely a performance career. What happens, and how the story ends up being told, can vary depending on agendas and who is telling the tale.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The American Crusade, by Mark Spivak {ends 5/12}
On May 1, 2001, a group of radical Islamic terrorists crash a Boeing 737 jet airliner into the Mall of America—and Vice President Robert Hornsby knows his moment is coming.

The attack kills three thousand American citizens and throws an entire nation into a panic, but all Hornsby sees is an opportunity, a chance to imprint his fanatical values on the soul of the country he loves and become the most powerful vice president in American history.

With the aid of his affable but ineffectual president; the reluctant, conscience-stricken secretary of defense; and a preening, foppish faith leader with more than a few skeletons in his closet; Hornsby declares war on terror—and anyone who stands in his way. But as media scrutiny of the administration’s actions overseas intensifies, Hornby’s one-man campaign against evil begins to unravel—with striking parallels to the thirteenth century’s doomed Fourth Crusade—and sends the nation spiraling toward another deadly tragedy.

The American Crusade paints a grim and often cynical picture of America’s recent past, reflecting the attitudes, politics, and fears that shaped our nation in the new millennium. By sampling the contemporaneous French text on the Fourth Crusade, On the Conquest of Constantinople, author Mark Spivak reminds us of that ever-vital adage: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The characters in this book come off as quite believable. This is surely in part because they share many characteristics with recognizable politicians in real life. It added another level of engagement to a repeating of the high points from the Fourth Crusades (excerpted in part from 13th century French texts) and the terror attacks of 9/11.

The story is told in turn by the politicians in Washington (as the vice president attempted to manipulate them like puppets) and a young revolutionary growing up in war-torn Sumeristan. It was interesting to read history happening on both sides of the ocean, and how each action taken had so many unintended consequences. The voice of the mother of the young revolutionary was perhaps the most gut-wrenching, as she tried to keep her family safe and out of harm’s way.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Political thrillers definitely have a specific audience, especially when politics becomes such an avoided topic in some circles. This was well-written, and while a broader knowledge of politics would have made this book more relatable and entertaining, it was still understandable for a reader without a strong political background.

{click here to purchase - currently free for Kindle Unlimited!}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother. In her spare time she enjoys reading, washing dishes and laundry, playing the flute, and drinking Southern Comfort and Cherry Coke. More of her book reviews and adventures are available at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The American Crusade!

Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 12th, at 11:59pm EST, and the 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!

The American Crusade, by Mark Spivak

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Quick Pick book review - Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman (now a Netflix show)

Quick Pick book review - Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman (now a Netflix show)
  • Opening linesOn the eve of my twenty-fourth birthday I interview my mother. We meet at a vegetarian restaurants in Manhattan, one that announces itself as organic and farm-fresh, and despite my recent penchant for all things pork and shellfish, I am looking forward to the simplicity the meal promises.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I watched the series (also called Unorthodox) on Netflix and wanted to know more, since it was only four episodes long.
  • And what's this book about?
  • Now a Netflix original series!

    Unorthodox is the bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.

    As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. Yet in spite of her repressive upbringing, Deborah grew into an independent-minded young woman whose stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.

    Remarkable and fascinating, this “sensitive and memorable coming-of-age story” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) is one you won’t be able to put down.

  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a biography/memoir, or who wants to know more about Hasidic Jews.
  • Favorite paragraph: It was Chaya who convinced Zeidy to talk to the matchmaker, I learned, even though I had only just turned seventeen. In essence, she was my matchmaker; she was the one who decided to whom I was to be married. I'd like to hold her responsible for everything I went through as a result, but I am too wise for that. I know the way of our world, and the way people get swept along in the powerful current of our age-old traditions.
  • Something to know: The TV show is WAY different from the book; in the show, the main character moves to Germany before her baby is born. 
  • What I would have changed: Can't really change anything since this is a memoir. :) 
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Kill Code: A Dystopian Science Fiction Novel, by Clive Fleury {ends 5/5}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley
If the day had been difficult so far, things got increasingly competitive as the hours wore on. After the meal, the candidates who had passed the truth test were led into the gym again. I had tried to view the contest as being solely about my own abilities rather than the others. I liked Ruby from the start but was now resigned to her having to leave in order for me to win.

Jake was another matter. He was charm itself to the NSC officers and seemed to be popular with most of the other candidates. But there again, they hadn’t seen the real Jake. I’d met him, though – the asshole lurking under the smiling mask.

In the gym, Commander Beecham ordered the remaining candidates to form a circle around a featureless mannequin, which he referred to as a Hand-to-Hand Combat Simulation Unit. Beecham explained that the Unit was programmed to train in several different forms of hand-to-hand combat, including Aikido, Tai Kwon Do, Kung Fu, and good old-fashioned street fighting. Once activated, the Unit could only be turned off by lethal blows applied to the Unit’s throat, base of skull, or center of spine.

“Anything else,” said Commander Beecham, “will only piss it off.” So the object of this next test, he explained, was to defeat the Unit. Taking off his shirt to reveal an impressive physique, Beecham ordered the Unit to engage. On the command, its eyes glowed green.


Hogan Duran is the greatest action hero to be seen in ages – he has integrity, street-smarts, and physical abilities that he isn’t afraid to push to their limits. With Duran’s non-stop action, this book was hard to put down.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Kill Code: A Dystopian Science Fiction Novel, by Clive Fleury {ends
It's the year 2031. Our future. Their present. A world decimated by climate catastrophe, where the sun's heat is deadly and the ocean rises higher every day. A world ruled by the rich, powerful, and corrupt. A world where a good man can’t survive for long.

Hogan Duran was a good man once. He was a cop, forced to resign in disgrace when he couldn't save his partner from a bullet. Now Hogan lives on the fraying edges of society, serving cruel masters and scavenging trash dumps just to survive.

But after four years of living in poverty, Hogan finally gets a chance to get back on his feet. He's invited to join the National Security Council, the powerful paramilitary organization responsible for protecting the rich and powerful from the more unsavory elements of society. All he needs to do is pass their deadly entrance exam, and he'll be rewarded with wealth and opportunity beyond his wildest dreams.

But this ex-cop's path to redemption won't be easy. The NSC are hiding something, and as Hogan descends deeper and deeper into their world, he starts to uncover the terrible truth of how the powerful in this new world maintain their power...and just how far they will go to protect their secrets.

In a world gone wrong, can one man actually make a difference, or will he die trying?


The disparity in society in 2031 is staggering, and well-told by the author. His detailed descriptions make it easy to imagine the despair in which Hogan Duran and his best friend live. The environment is physically hot, all the time, with limited water supplies. To feed them both, Duran has to hustle to try and get a job for some money each day, and follow that up with foraging at the dump for food. It’s easy to see why Duran would be willing to do nearly anything to get a coveted job with the NSC.

While the action was nonstop in this book, the characters were also well set-up. The three main NSC candidates (out of a whole transport full initially) are Duran, Ruby Mason, and Jake Teerman. There were also commanding officers overseeing their entrance exams. The Krail start out as the bad guys, but more is told about them and their missions as the book continues.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. While this book was published in 2018, there is still no further information about a sequel, although the author’s page does say this is the first in a dystopian series. Hopefully another story about Hogan Duran will be announced soon.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves Cherry Coke, Better Made White Cheddar popcorn, and delicious meals cooked by someone else. She spends most of her time reading and posting at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Click here to visit TCK Publishing.
Click here to visit the author's website.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Kill Code!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 5th, 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!

Kill Code, by Clive Fleury

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Gotham High, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 5/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to a classic American high school

No matter how many feel-good, guidance counselor-approved, school spirit-encouraging mandatory events there are, the fiefdoms are as rigid as the rules that govern them.

The jocks never sit with the nerds

The joiners hate the slackers.

But everyone worships the rich and beautiful people.

Why not? I’m one of them

And so is Bruce.


There seem to be so many versions, or maybe just different sets of details, from Batman stories. This graphic novel seems to look at a time of Bruce Wayne’s life that hasn’t had a lot of scrutiny.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Gotham High, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 5/3}
After being kicked out of his boarding school, 17-year-old Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City to find that nothing is as he left it. What once was his family home is now an empty husk, lonely but haunted by the memory of his parents' murder. Selina Kyle, once the innocent girl next door, now rules over Gotham High School with a dangerous flair, aided by the class clown, Jack Napier.

When a kidnapping rattles the school, Bruce seeks answers as the dark and troubled knight--but is he actually the pawn? Nothing is ever as it seems, especially at Gotham High, where the parties and romances are of the highest stakes ... and where everyone is a suspect.

With enchanting art by Thomas Pitilli, this new graphic novel is just as intoxicating as it is chilling, in which dearest friends turn into greatest enemies—all within the hallways of Gotham High!


This graphic novel had both gorgeous illustrations, and a story line that wasn’t entirely expected. The glimpse into Bruce Wayne’s middle years was a welcome change from the story of his parents dying when he was young, and his escapades as Batman as an adult.

While this is currently listed as Book 1 of 1, an expansion to cover the eventual alter-egos of several students with Wayne at Gotham High would be easy to imagine. At Gotham High, we meet Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, Jack Napier, Harvey Dent, and Ivy (who works with herbs at the apothecary). Without spoiling who’s ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ let’s just say that we see a bit about each of their characters in this book.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend it for young adults and adults who enjoy graphic novels, but not necessarily for diehard Batman fans. The characters are not the same at this age as they are portrayed traditionally as adults.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a reader, a weeder, and a popcorn eater. Find more of her Cherry Coke-fueled book meanderings at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Gotham High!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, May 3rd, 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!

Gotham High, by Melissa de la Cruz

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Book Review: Act of Murder, by John Bishop (A Doc Brady Mystery, Book 1)

Guest review by: Becki Bayley
We had a slight argument Saturday morning. I wanted to go into town, do a little research at the UT Medical Branch Library, and find out what I could about osteogenesis imperfecta. My curiosity was burning inside of me.

“Jim Bob,” she started, “we had a wonderful afternoon and evening, didn’t we?”

Nod.

“I brought you down here to relax, not to go running off to the library to get involved in something that’s none of your business. Jim Bob, there are trained professionals to do that kind of work. Would you want an untrained person replacing your hip or fixing your broken ankle? Well, would you?”

I shook my head.

“Then why in the world are you getting involved in all this? If it’s my fault because of the interview I convinced you to do, I’m very sorry. If I had known it would lead to your playing detective, I never would have agreed to it. You’re not Matlock. And we are definitely not Hart to Hart. If there is something bad going on out there, I do not want you involved. I want to keep you all to myself, until you’re a wizened old man. I love you, and I don’t want you to take any unnecessary chances. Are you listening?”

“Yes.” I felt like a school kid, but in a very different way than the night before. Maybe more like a puppy who had forgotten what it meant to be housebroken.

“But you’re going anyway, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”


“Yes.”
While this is labeled as the first book in the Doc Brady mystery series, no information is available saying when subsequent books may be expected. It was a great read on its own, and there were no unresolved plot lines.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Act of Murder, by John Bishop (A Doc Brady Mystery, Book 1)
On a beautiful spring day in Houston, Texas, in 1994, Dr. Jim Bob Brady, orthopedic surgeon at University Hospital, witnesses a hit-and-run accident. The victim is his neighbor’s child, Stevie Huntley, who suffers from Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a brittle bone disease. Stevie is dead at the scene, and detectives declare the event an Act of Murder. Detective Susan Beeson, the lead detective and daughter of the Police Chief, enlists Brady, his wife Mary Louise, and their son J. J. in discovering the identity of the killer. Soon, there are two more deaths, as the team encounters a macabre conspiracy involving unsavory people in the medical and legal professions. From the ivory towers of academic medicine, to the downtown skyscrapers full of attorneys, to the shores of Galveston, Brady sadly finds the old adage holds true…the love of money is, in fact, the root of all evil.

Lost for over 20 years, Act of Murder is the first rediscovered novel in a new medical thriller series set in the changing environment of medicine in the mid-1990s. Bishop’s sense of humor and surprising wit create a story of medical miscreants capable of murder, mayhem, and greed. His 30 years as a practicing orthopedic surgeon give the reader a unique glimpse into the medical world with all its problems, intricacies and complexities, while at the same time revealing the compassion and dedication of most health care professionals.

Dr. Jim Bob Brady is so charming. He’s a somewhat simple minded (yet smart enough to be a doctor) "good ole boy." His wife, who he loves and lusts after regularly, may be the brains of their marriage. She keeps him comfortably in the dark about things that may stress him out more than necessary. The arrangement seems to work for them.

Jim Bob is frequently working at his wife’s prompting when it comes to social graces, or finding more clues in the mystery of finding out who would want the child living next door to them killed. She knows people, but he knows the medical bureaucracy he’s worked in for most of his career. Together they’re getting the information to connect the dots and bring the poor neighbor’s killer to justice.

This book was definitely a page-turner. While the attempted romance felt forced and extraneous, the murder mystery and medical thriller plot kept the story moving at a quick pace. I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for adults who enjoy medical thrillers.

{click here to purchase - currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited}

Becki Bayley enjoys crushing candy, watching Glee, reading, and getting plenty of sleepy-time, while she dreams of wandering Target again someday. Find out when she finally makes it at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Love, Life and Lucille: Lessons Learned from a Centenarian, by Judy Gaman {ends 4/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Lucille grasped her black flowing skirt with one hand and the stair railing with the other. Her black-and-white shirt with white lace collar served as the perfect backdrop for the black-and-white cameo dangling from her neck and the white silk rose that bloomed on her shoulder.

Once her feet touched the brown carpet that met the wood-paneled walls of Trevi’s, she let out a sigh of relief. “Okay. Better. I feel at home here. This is more like how it used to be.”

As we were seated, she leaned over and asked me, “I know it’s lunch, but I really want a Belgian waffle. Do you think I can get one?”

“It’s a hotel, so my guess is yes,” I replied. When the waiter approached, I made sure to ask in just the right way: “Lucille here is 102. She requested that we come here today. And one more thing: she also would like a Belgian waffle with blueberries.”

“A waffle? The waiter questioned, looking confused for a moment before catching my wink. “Yes, of course, a waffle. If Lucille wants a waffle, she can have a waffle.”

“With blueberries?” she asked sheepishly.

The waiter made a slight bow to her, as if to say, “Yes, your majesty.”

I’ll have the salmon,” I said, handing the menus back to him.

Her eyes lit up as he walked away. “Waffles! They’re my favorite. Nothing makes you feel better than a waffle.”


When Judy Gaman first interviewed Lucille Fleming to include her in a book, Age to Perfection: How to Thrive to 100, Happy, Healthy, and Wise, she had no idea they would become so close, so fast, for the rest of Lucille’s life.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Love, Life and Lucille: Lessons Learned from a Centenarian, by Judy Gaman {ends 4/27}
Judy Gaman was so busy making a name for herself that she barely took the time to meet a stranger, enjoy life, or simply stop to breathe. Immersed in her job as the director of business development for a high-profile medical practice―a job that required her to write health and wellness books and host a nationally syndicated radio show―she spent every day going full speed ahead with no looking back. That is, until the day she met Lucille Fleming.

While writing a book on longevity, Judy interviewed Lucille, an elegant and spirited woman who had just recently turned 100. Lucille had the fashion and style of old Hollywood, but it was all hidden behind the doors of her assisted living center. What began as a quick meeting became a lasting friendship that transformed into an inseparable bond. Lucille brought incredible wisdom and great stories to the table, while Judy provided an avenue for excitement and new opportunities. Together, the two began living life to the fullest, and meeting the most interesting people along the way (including Suzanne Somers). But then Lucille’s life came to an end through unexpected and unfortunate circumstances―and the very first lesson she ever taught Judy proved to be the most important one of all.


What started out as one interview ran much longer than expected. After a couple hours talking about the secrets to a long, healthy life, Judy Gaman was still reluctant to leave. When she and Lucille connected again through a phone call later that week, they ended up setting up a lunch, that would turn into weekly lunches and other adventures. In Love, Life, & Lucille, Judy shares the ups and downs of her life, and the highlights of her relationship with Lucille.

Lucille shows that sometimes all you have to do to put your dreams in motion is to ask. She’s an incredibly charismatic old woman who isn’t done living an active life yet. When she sees something she wants to do, she says so. And frequently, Judy knows someone who can make it happen. Watching their friendship grow was heartwarming. Everyone they met along the way was taken in with Lucille’s charm.

After several years of Judy and Lucille experiencing life together, time begins running out for Lucille. While she lives each moment to its fullest, no one can live forever. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The beginning was wonderful and inspirational, but having it all come to an end was hard to witness.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini, enneagram type 2 (I think?), and an extroverted introvert (or the other way around?). Find out about more of her reading adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Love, Life and Lucille!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Love, Life and Lucille: Lessons Learned from a Centenarian, by Judy Gaman

Monday, April 13, 2020

Book Review: Quantum, by Patricia Cornwell

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“This is bad, really bad.” I’m not going to sugarcoat it. “Either the ID wasn’t deactivated after all, or something far more nefarious is going on.”

“I guess you can drill down into the metadata or whatever and see if something was tampered with,” Fran says with little enthusiasm, likely thinking such a thing isn’t possible, and she couldn’t be more mistaken. “I sure hope not, but again, what’s the truth about her badge, and why is she dead? Have you had a chance to look at the call sheet I sent you? And the suicide note?”

“Not yet. I’ll take a look when I’m not driving.”

“You want to fill me in on what you’ve been doing since I talked to you what…? Forty-five minutes ago?” she then says. “Not answering emails or your phone. Off the radar. Where have you been and with whom? You get abducted by aliens? You sure you’re okay? You don’t sound happy.”

“I’m headed to a death scene,” I almost snap at her, and that’s not like me. What’s happy about it? Especially this one?

“Something’s happened since I saw you last. You’re in a funk, all right.” Fran cares about me enough that she’s not going to stop until I confide what’s wrong, and I can’t.


Patricia Cornwell has been a recognizable bestselling author for years, so the chance to read the first book in a new series by her was exciting. Unfortunately this book appears to be the first half of one story, with no real conclusions at the end of 300+ pages.

Official synopsis:

Book Review: Quantum, by Patricia Cornwell
On the eve of a top secret space mission, Captain Calli Chase detects a tripped alarm in the tunnels deep below a NASA research center. A NASA pilot, quantum physicist, and cybercrime investigator, Calli knows that a looming blizzard and government shutdown could provide the perfect cover for sabotage, with deadly consequences.

As it turns out, the danger is worse than she thought. A spatter of dried blood, a missing security badge, a suspicious suicide—a series of disturbing clues point to Calli’s twin sister, Carme, who’s been MIA for days.

Desperate to halt the countdown to disaster and to clear her sister’s name, Captain Chase digs deep into her vast cyber security knowledge and her painful past, probing for answers to her twin’s erratic conduct. As time is running out, she realizes that failure means catastrophe—not just for the space program but for the safety of the whole nation.

Brilliantly crafted, gripping, and smart, Patricia Cornwell’s cliffhanger ending will keep readers wondering what’s next for Captain Calli Chase.


Captain Calli Chase and her twin sister Carme could be interesting characters. While Carme is just in the shadows of this book, Calli is the constant narrator. In a disappointing twist, Calli was meticulous in everything she did, and how she explained it all in her internal monologue for the reader. More than 15 pages covered her getting ready to head in to work and her mental meanderings at one point.

Several story lines are left open-ended, including a teaser story about trauma in the sisters’ past, what’s going on with Carme now, a staged suicide, and a missing person last seen with Carme. Calli is supposed to be one of the smartest people around NASA (she says so repeatedly) but for some reason she’s out of the loop during the day this book takes place. While she seems to be finding clues, she never exactly finds out why she’s not included in things she says she usually would be.

Overall, I’d give this book 2 out of 5 stars, mostly just in anticipation that the second book may tie things together more.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley reads for fun. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Book Review: Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Antonia has to defer to Mona’s expertise. Still, it’s a shame how every grand passion has been coopted by some pathology or other. Indignation is now wounded narcissism. Outrage an issue with anger management. Revenge, a post-traumatic embitterment disorder. These old-time passions only exist anymore in Russian novels and on stage, especially in the Met operas broadcast at the Town Hall Theatre. As Madame Butterfly stabs herself in despair or Desdemona spends her last virtuous breaths singing, the victim of Otello’s jealous rage, Antonia weeps with abandon, embarrassed when the lights come up and she is surrounded by her dry-eyed fellow audience members. Catharsis, that’s what she feels, a term she often used when teaching Greek tragedy to her students. Once again, she is reminded how much she will miss them.

How does life change when you only have yourself to answer for? Antonia is finding that it also means all the decisions are your responsibility, which can be good or bad.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez
Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves—lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack—but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words.

Afterlife is a compact, nimble, and sharply droll novel. Set in this political moment of tribalism and distrust, it asks: What do we owe those in crisis in our families, including—maybe especially—members of our human family? How do we live in a broken world without losing faith in one another or ourselves? And how do we stay true to those glorious souls we have lost?


When Antonia’s role as wife ends, she’s not sure what’s left. Almost a year after her husband’s death, she’s forced to re-enter the world more fully as a sister, and then as a member of her community without her husband by her side.

Antonia is one of four sisters whose parents passed away years ago. Now when one sister disappears while on her way to visit the other three, Antonia spends a lot of time in her own head, contemplating the roles and responsibilities they each have in the sisterhood.

Then she returns home to find a very young, very pregnant immigrant without papers in her garage. Antonia knows the important humanitarian role her husband played in their community as a doctor and defender of the underdogs.

All of this plays alongside Antonia’s need to find the right words. She relentlessly remembers quotes and passages from favorite and influential authors who she read and taught to her students. Finding the right words will solve her dilemmas, she’s convinced.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. The unique writing style of Antonia’s internal monologue felt a bit awkward at first, but charming and beautiful as the story developed.


Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and reader. She loves sunshine and being clean, warm, and cozy. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, by Gae Polisner {ends 4/15}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

And suddenly I feel like I’m going to cry and I don’t know why. Maybe because it hits me that we’re really not friends anymore. Forget barely. Not at all. And what I wish most in this moment is that I could have her back, the old Aubrey, the one who ran through sprinklers with me, the one who played House and lugged Mary Lennox up on her canopied bed, sharing her deepest, darkest secrets with me. The one who fell into fits of conspiratorial laughter when we caught Ethan looking at porn on his computer. The one I could talk to, who wasn’t so different from me.

Lying here in Max’s bedroom, I want to feel good about how I’m finally doing in real life all those things Aubrey and I only imagined back then, pretending o n hands and dolls, in hopes that one day we’d actually know what we were doing. I miss that Aubrey, the one who would have wanted to know everything about how he felt, and sounded, how it smelled. The one who would have made me spill every lurid detail.


Coming of age can mean a lot of things—finishing school, deciding what life holds next, or discovering sex. Jean Louise Markham is trying to go through all three at once, without much responsible guidance.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, by Gae Polisner {ends 4/21}
Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.

With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother struggling with her mental illness, JL takes solace in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he's going to hit the road - with or without JL.

JL can't bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story about the fragility of female friendship, of falling in love and wondering if you are ready for more, and of the glimmers of hope we find by taking stock in ourselves.

Jean Louise (better known as JL) has a loneliness that seems obvious to those around her, but even more hopeless within her own head. Her dad is on a long-term business trip, leaving her with only her mentally unstable mother and her grandma who wants to pretend her mom is fine. Then JL gets an older boyfriend, but maybe at the cost of her disapproving best friend. It’s a challenging time of life, and she is navigating it with little support.

At 15 years old, her life is filled with questions and choices about her own identity, her future, and her relationships. She thinks she could love her boyfriend, but she knows there’s only one time she’ll lose her virginity, and she isn’t sure if the time is right yet. The community expects her to be free-spirited and beautiful like her mother, but now their opinions of her mother are changing their perceptions of JL.

Overall, this book was more engaging than expected. The Jack Kerouac tie-in was just a casual family story that turned into JL’s mother’s obsession. I’d give this book 3/5 stars and recommend it as a touching coming-of-age story for those who don’t mind a little sex with their stories.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves sleeping in, laughing with her kids, and watching Glee and Better Call Saul. She also blogs (mostly about books) at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, April 15th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Open to both U.S. and Canadian residents!

Good luck!

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, by Gae Polisner

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Book Review: Adequate Yearly Progress, by Roxanna Elden

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Mr. Hernandez.” In the doorway stood Hernan’s least-favorite assistant principal, Mr. Scamphers. He was giving Hernan the look one might give a child who had indeed put someone’s eye out in a game he’d warned them would only be fun until someone got hurt. “You are out of compliance with the Curriculum Standard of the Day Achievement Initiative.”

“We’re working on the scientific method,” said Hernan, pointing to the board. “Isn’t that the standard?”

“The standard is to be written on the board in its entirety, Mr. Hernandez, as per this morning’s announcement.”

“Sorry.” But then, since Hernan wasn’t actually sorry, he added, “It’s just that we were already in the middle of the lesson when that announcement came on.”


“Well, I’ll certainly make a note of that.” Scamphers scribbled on his clipboard.


Working in a school, I see some of the teaching guidelines and buzzwords in behind-the-scenes emails. I’m also privy to some of the unexpected student behaviors (good and bad). I’m not a teacher though, and hearing the full brunt of some expectations and experiences in this book may have made me a bit glad of that.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Adequate Yearly Progress, by Roxanna Elden
Each new school year brings familiar challenges to Brae Hill Valley, a struggling high school in one the biggest cities in Texas. But the teachers also face plenty of personal challenges and this year, they may finally spill over into the classroom.

English teacher Lena Wright, a spoken-word poet, can never seem to truly connect with her students. Hernan D. Hernandez is confident in front of his biology classes, but tongue-tied around the woman he most wants to impress. Down the hall, math teacher Maybelline Galang focuses on the numbers as she struggles to parent her daughter, while Coach Ray hustles his troubled football team toward another winning season. Recording it all is idealistic second-year history teacher Kaytee Mahoney, whose anonymous blog gains new readers by the day as it drifts ever further from her in-class reality. And this year, a new superintendent is determined to leave his own mark on the school—even if that means shutting the whole place down.


While the teachers in this book mostly chose to work at a school with mostly disadvantaged children to make a difference, the year they get a famous educational consultant as their superintendent is the year their "making a difference" backfires for many of them. There had always been a degree of teaching-to-the-test and working with unmotivated students; now their "Believer Score" is paramount to their career success, because "Believers make Achievers."

All the inspirational stories, crazy acronyms, and metrics for diluting all of the teachers’ work into success scores and measurable results are laughable. My kids came running down the hall to see what I was laughing about when I came across the mention of the "starfish story." I’ve heard the story at multiple motivational seminars and sales trainings, which just goes to show how much their school district is turning into a number-generating, success-driven clearinghouse for their customers, I mean, students.

Overall, this book (the first novel by an author with other non-fiction educational texts) is an amusing satire, with a few too many relatable anecdotes to be funny all the time. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. I was pulling for most of the teachers (we didn’t know individual students as much), but most of their stereotypes were pretty clear. I’d recommend his book to most who work in the educational field, but remember to go into it as I believe it was intended – a funny satire.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley works in the school kitchen, when the school is open. She has enough casual teacher friends and overhears enough chit-chat to recognize that anything is indeed possible in a job working with children, who are largely unpredictable. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow, by Rashi Rohatgi {2 winners, ends 4/9}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I run down the stairs, only the tips of my toes gracing the smooth, hard floors, and slip through the gate, pretending to latch it behind me, hoping the moon will discourage thieves or rapscallions from testing its truth. The sweet moo of the cow nestled into the space between our house and the alley makes me smile, and I know that though this is not how Mumma might have imagined it, this is how I will become a woman.

The streets are not empty; a city of Chandrapur’s size and honor bustles whilst most of its citizens are abed. Any other year, my white nightgown would have the street sweepers, the deliverymen with bicycle-wagons full of fish and fowl and fruit, the mouse eaters gape; instead, I float as though in a sea of ghosts.

“Are you all right, miss?” asks a woman with pan-reddened teeth and a village accent so thick I lean in to make sense of it even as I recoil from the scent of rotting jasmine that surrounds her. An opium-eater! Perhaps. But when I nod and rush forward, she does not follow.


I feel like I’m learning a bit more about Indian culture and traditions with each book of Indian fiction I read. Every author has made it sound so beautiful – I think it’s not just the authors appreciating the beauty, but the value the culture places on its beauty.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow, by Rashi Rohatgi {2 winners, ends 4/9}
It's 1905, and the Japanese victory over the Russians has shocked the British and their imperial subjects. Sixteen-year-old Leela and her younger sister, Maya, are spurred on to wear homespun to show the British that the Indians won't be oppressed for much longer, either, but when Leela's betrothed, Nash, asks her to circulate a petition amongst her classmates to desegregate the girls' school in Chandrapur, she's wary. She needs to remind Maya that the old ways are not all bad, for soon Maya will have to join her own betrothed and his family in their quiet village. When she discovers that Maya has embarked on a forbidden romance, Leela's response shocks her family, her town, and her country firmly into the new century.
The author’s conversational style made me feel like I was hanging out with Leela, Maya and their friends and family. Oddly enough, while I felt like we were nearly in the same room, I forgot that the story was taking place in 1905. Since I have a limited knowledge of world politics, the background wasn’t obvious to me, and I sometimes didn’t understand what was really going on.

I felt the conversational style, while very readable, never lent what maybe should have been a sense of urgency to the sisters and their motivations. The emotion of the characters felt about the same through everything in the book, to me.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I may have enjoyed it a bit more on my Kindle, as there were some words I didn’t understand initially.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother. She enjoys reading and shopping online. Find out about more of her bookish adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, April 9th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified by 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!

Where The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow, by Rashi Rohatgi

Monday, March 30, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Darkness We Hide, by Debra Webb - 5 winners, ends 4/6

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“You questioned her,“ Billy argued. “What else did you want to know? I’m certain she’ll answer whatever other questions you have. I’m just trying to figure out what else you could possibly want to ask.”

Pryor’s face darkened. Now he was the one pissed. “Are you serious? He shook his head. “Obviously, Chief, you don’t understand how this works. DuPont is more than a mere pawn in Addington’s game. She is the game”

“Why don’t you explain what you believe that means?” Billy suggested. “Because I have a feeling that it means something entirely different to me.”

“Apparently,” Pryor said, emphasizing the word, “your personal relationship is adversely affecting your ability to be objective.”

Billy laughed. “Why don’t you stop beating around the bush and just say whatever it is you have to say, Pryor. You’re dancing all around it, and I’m here to tell you I’m not going to say it for you.”

This was what he wanted. He wanted Billy to say the words suggesting Rowan was somehow a part of what Addington was doing. No way in hell he was going down that path. The man was out of his mind.

“This all started with her,“ Pryor said.


While this was the third book in The Undertaker’s Daughter series and had a fairly intricate case of characters, I was able to follow along despite having not read the previous two books.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Darkness We Hide, by Debra Webb
For months, Doctor Rowan Dupont has been staring death in the face. It followed her back to her hometown of Winchester, Tennessee, ten months ago, cloaking the walls of her family’s Victorian funeral home like a shroud. In investigating the mysterious deaths of her loved ones, Rowan has unearthed enough family secrets to bury everything she’d previously thought true. But each shocking discovery has only led to more bodies and more questions; the rabbit hole is deeper than she ever imagined.

Despite settling in to a comfortable life with Police Chief Billy Brannigan, Rowan knows dangerous serial killer Julian Addington is still out there. She can’t let her guard down now. Not when she’s this close to ending his torment once and for all. But with a storm brewing on the horizon, she’ll get only one shot before the impending darkness takes hold, threatening to wipe away every truth she’s uncovered—and everything she holds dear.


What a story! Rowan DuPont is the only member of her family left after her twin sister and both parents had come to tragic ends before this book starts. She and her boyfriend (the chief of the local police department) are now still trying to figure out the convoluted story of her family and other deaths that all seem to link back to Rowan. We usually found out the mysterious link to Rowan and her family after someone was murdered.

Looking back, there were quite a few characters introduced (usually on their way out), but not knowing them from the previous books didn’t really confuse things. It’s obvious which parts of Rowan’s story could have been covered in the previous two books, but everything we needed to know was explained enough for this, the third book, to be understandable.

Luckily I like a far-fetched story. Because Rowan’s background? Whoa. Overall, I’d still give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars, especially for the creativity of the plot. If I happened across either of the first two books, I wouldn’t mind reading them too. The author’s style was definitely engaging and entertaining (which feels like a weird thing to say in a book mostly based on murders, but oh well).

{click here to pre-order - the book is out tomorrow, March 31st}

Becki Bayley is questioning the necessity of any apparel besides PJs, and the occasional shirt to look presentable during video communications. She misses junk food and still doesn’t like cooking. While she may run low on some supplies, she's still got a case and a half of Cherry Coke. Check out more of her book reviews at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

*Five* of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Darkness We Hide!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, April 6th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Quick Pick book review: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

Quick Pick book review: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
  • Opening linesEveryone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I started watching the series on Hulu and wanted to read the book as well. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

    In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

    Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

    When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

    Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a dramatic novel about families and mothers.
  • Favorite paragraph: Mrs. Richardson had, her entire existence, lived an orderly and regimented life. She weighed herself once per week, and although her weight did not fluctuate more than the three pounds her doctor assured her was normal, she took pains to maintain herself. Every morning she measured exactly one half cup of Cheerios, the serving size indicated on the box, using the flowered plastic measuring cup she'd gotten from Higbee's as a new bride. Each evening, at dinner, she allowed herself one glass of wine—red, which the news said was most beneficial for your heart—a faint scratch in the wineglass marking the right level to pour. Three times weekly she took an aerobics class, checking her watch throughout to be sure her heart rate had exceeded one hundred and twenty beats per minute. She had been brought up to follow rules, to believe that the proper functioning of the world depended upon her compliance, and follow them—and believe she did. She had had a plan, from girlhood on, and had followed it scrupulously: high school, college, boyfriend, marriage, job, mortgage, children.
  • Something to know: The TV show is already a bit different from the book. However, I liked both of them.
  • What I would have changed: Nothing although I wanted to know more about the characters' lives at the end than the author gives us.
  • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters, by Samantha Mabry

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Rosa had just found a place to sit near the peak of the roof when she heard a rustle from the oak tree. The leaves then shook, but it was too small of a shake to have been caused by a squirrel. Rosa took a step back down toward the tree. It was dim in the twilight, but she swore she could see dark red deep in the tree. Her first thought was that it was the wing of a lonely bird.

Rosa took another step and lost her balance. There was no traction between the sole of one of her shoes and the roof tile, so her right foot slid forward six inches. She fell on her left knee and caught herself in an awkward split. Rosa closed her eyes and let out a breath. Another airplane flew overhead. When she opened her eyes she saw the red again, deep in the leaves. Crouching, Rosa leaned forward as far as she could. She didn’t look down.

“I’m here, I’m here,” Rosa said, pressing the palms of her hands into the roof tiles to gain as much traction as possible. She wanted to be ready for anything. Then she said, “Play tricks.”


The four sisters in this book are all about family being a necessary, sturdy foundation for whatever else life throws at you. Despite their struggles, the sisters’ reliance on each other and them all being there felt like a comfort, even when they didn’t appreciate each other.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters, by Samantha Mabry
The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel
All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

This book gave a feeling of hope (eventually) to what didn’t sound like a very charmed life of the Torres sisters. Ana (the oldest sister) seems larger than life, both to her younger sisters and to the neighborhood boys who make a hobby of observing the sisters. But her death strikes them all with the same power. Before-Ana-died and after-Ana-died are the segments of life for them all.

A year later, the younger girls still have no idea what life is supposed to be without Ana. Unfortunately, each of them is floundering in her own way. Creepy signs that maybe Ana isn’t so far away after all finally start to bring the sisters to the same team again. The girls united are a force to be reckoned with. The ghost of Ana doesn’t seem to be exceptionally good or bad, but she helps the girls remember who they are together.

I loved the prose style of this book. The girls were objectively not happy, but they didn’t need to be fixed. The ghost of Ana wasn’t scary, just making her presence known, and the girls responded in their own individual ways. It was all presented in a matter-of-fact way, and the resulting emotions were up to the reader.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would be curious to read the author’s first book and see what else it said about the characters.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is at home. Everyone is at home. Reading should be faster than ever, but social distancing has many distractions. Becki also enjoys blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com, washing her hands, and talking about herself in the third person.

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2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge
Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 50 books.
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