Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A House is a Body, by Shruti Swami {ends 8/19}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From ”My Brother at the Station”

What do the dead really look like?

Every month the moon grows bigger and bigger, and yesterday I saw it hanging ripe and hard as an apple in the black. I cannot imagine. Just before my brother and the woman went into that building, he turned. He turned to look at me. He opened the door and turned to me and I think he smiled.

Looking at me—or past me? I think of this moment so often. I imagine the life nested luminous inside me, he could have seen that, like he could see the faces of the dead. He could have seen a bald woman with red eyes. A stranger, or a sister, or nothing at all.

The short stories in this collection brought the author’s appreciation and memories of India vividly to life.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: A House is a Body, by Shruti Swami
Dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity in the twelve arresting stories of A House Is a Body. In “Earthly Pleasures,” a young painter living alone in San Francisco begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities, and desire and ego are laid bare. In “A Simple Composition,” a husband’s professional crisis leads to his wife’s discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy. And in the title story, an exhausted mother watches, hypnotized by fear, as a California wildfire approaches her home. Immersive and assured, provocative and probing, these are stories written with the edge and precision of a knife blade. Set in the United States and India, they reveal small but intense moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world.

The beautiful use of language in these stories made them so compelling to read. No two stories were similar. They told of memories from childhood, marriage, motherhood, and love. Most of the stories took place in India. Those that did not talked of memories from India. The nostalgia was touching and descriptive.

Of the twelve stories in the collection, “My Brother at the Station,” in which the narrator discusses memories of her brother from childhood into adulthood, and “Wedding Season,” with two females lovers trying to fit in around a family’s traditional Indian wedding, both stood out as most memorable. That was a hard distinction to make, and many of the stories left an impression.

Overall, I’d give this short story collection 4 out of 5 stars. The word choices were powerful and evocative. I’d recommend these stories to adults who enjoy Indian stories and literary fiction.

{click here to purchase - only $9.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley likes quiet, giving her kitties struggle snuggles, lying on the hammock, and the color orange. Find more of her book reviews but nothing too personal at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a galley copy of A House is a Body!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 19th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

A House is a Body, by Shruti Swami

Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: My One True North, by Milly Johnson {ends 8/17}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

When Pete pulled up in Spring Hill Square parking lot the next evening, Laurie’s white Mercedes was already there, and he felt quite gladdened by the sight. Maybe because they were both newbies, he reckoned. He didn’t put it down to anything more than someone his own age, going through similar things at the same time.

He walked in on a full house laughing.

“Ah, come in, Peter,” said Mr. Singh, wafting his hand in the air at him as if conducting an orchestra.

“What’s going on?” said Pete, his own smile appearing, brought to the fore by the merry atmosphere.

“We were just having a conversation about people taking advantage of the recently bereaved,” Mr. Singh replied before blowing his nose on his handkerchief.

“Well that sounds like dark humor,” said Pete.

“Have some coffee and cake, Peter,” said Molly.

“I’ll have a plain black coffee, please, and whatever that cake is there with the chocolate buttons on it.”

“Coming right up, sir,” said Mr. Singh.

Sometimes a book lets the reader know the characters so well that there’s an empty space when they’re gone. This book was like that.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: My One True North, by Milly Johnson {ends 8/17}
Laurie and Pete should never have met. But life has a different idea.

Six months ago, on the same night, Laurie and Pete both lost their partners. Overwhelmed by their grief, they join the same counselling group…and change their lives forever.

From their profound sadness, Pete and Laurie begin to find happiness and healing. Except, the more they get to know one another, the more Laurie begins to spot the strange parallels in their stories. Then Pete discovers a truth that changes everything—one which threatens to reverse everything they’ve worked towards.

But, as surely as a compass points north, some people cannot be kept apart.

There really aren’t enough good things to say about this book. The writing was beautiful and pleasing, the plot had reasonable ups and downs, and the characters were like friends to be missed as soon as the last page was turned.

Laurie and Pete were the main characters. They each lost their partner tragically a few months before the story starts. Their first meeting is when they are both referred to Molly’s group, a cozy group of folks who have experienced a loss and are working through their grief. Being new members on the same day, they’re naturally drawn to each other as they start considering how to move on with their lives.

As the story goes on, they find out their lives have more in common than they previously knew. The secrets they discover independently could bring them closer together, or tear them apart. The development of the story, while not entirely surprising, was still emotional and engaging. Overall, I’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy contemporary fiction and love stories. While a lot of the story addresses grief and loss, it was done in a mostly bittersweet and uplifting way.

{click here to purchase - only $7.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley is grateful for Cherry Coke, amusing cats, the feel of sun on her skin, and reading good books. Find more of her reading adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Three of my lucky readers will win an e-book copy of My One True North!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, August 17th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day.

Open to both U.S. and international!

Good luck!

My One True North (e-book copy), by Milly Johnson

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: With or Without You, by Caroline Leavitt {ends 8/15}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“I will be back,” Stella insisted. “Don’t you dare give my job to anyone else.”

“Take your time,” Libby said. “What’s the rush?” She looked over at Simon. “She’s going to need you more than ever,” she said carefully. “It’s a long process.”

Stella knew everyone in this room, the other nurses, the doctors, her physical therapist, and they knew her, too. But now they all knew her in a different way. She wasn’t Stella the nurse anymore. She was no longer one of them.

Once Stella wakes from her coma after two months, Simon thinks things will go back to what he used to consider "normal." But Stella after the coma isn’t someone that anyone really knows yet.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: With or Without You, by Caroline Leavitt {ends 8/15}
New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt writes novels that expertly explore the struggles and conflicts that people face in their search for happiness. For the characters in With or Without You, it seems at first that such happiness can come only at someone else’s expense. Stella is a nurse who has long suppressed her own needs and desires to nurture the dreams of her partner, Simon, the bass player for a rock band that has started to lose its edge. But when Stella gets unexpectedly ill and falls into a coma just as Simon is preparing to fly with his band to Los Angeles for a gig that could revive his career, Simon must learn the meaning of sacrifice, while Stella’s best friend, Libby, a doctor who treats Stella, must also make a difficult choice as the coma wears on.

When Stella at last awakes from her two-month sleep, she emerges into a striking new reality where Simon and Libby have formed an intense bond, and where she discovers that she has acquired a startling artistic talent of her own: the ability to draw portraits of people in which she captures their innermost feelings and desires. Stella’s whole identity, but also her role in her relationships, has been scrambled, and she has the chance to form a new life, one she hadn’t even realized she wanted.

A story of love, loyalty, loss, and resilience, With or Without You is a page-turner that asks the question, What do we owe the other people in our lives, and when does the cost become too great?

There are so many delicate and complicated emotions in this story. In the beginning, Simon is sure his band is getting their big break, and he and Stella will travel with the band to LA the next day. Then he and Stella argue, she decides to stay home, but he convinces her they can relax and have one more good evening with the pills he finds in his pocket. But between Stella’s stress and head cold, and Simon’s desperation for them to spend one more happy night together, something goes terribly wrong.

Stella spends the next two months in the hospital in a coma, and Simon spends as much time as possible by her side. Stella’s mother also comes to town, and she and Simon are sure their positive attitudes will bring their Stella back to them. The real story starts when Stella finally does wake up. Everyone has changed over the course of two months, but Stella’s brain has rewired differently than any of them can understand.

While there are plenty of stories of couples growing apart over time, the changes to Stella while she was unconscious, and to Simon as he tries to be the perfect boyfriend begging the universe for her recovery are extreme and fast. They both also have their long-held wishes for the future possibly influencing what their real memories are of the recent past.

The story was beautifully told, and the internal thoughts of Stella seeing everyone as colors when she can’t open her eyes were fascinating. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Its study of human nature was intriguing, and I hadn’t read anything similar before.

{click here to purchase - only $9.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley likes her cats, her kids, and a few other people. Find out more about the books she reads at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a galley copy of With or Without You!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, August 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.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

With or Without You, by Caroline Leavitt

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Behind the Red Door, by Megan Collins {ends 8/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Eric could tell me I’m spiraling. Dr. Lockwood could say I’ve been stuck in a groove. But I would know that I’m not. My nightmares and flashes, my time alone in Foster, this description in the memoir—it’s telling me it was all real, a memory and not a dream.

I do have a whisper of doubt, though. A tiny one. So insignificant I can barely hear it. It’s just -- I flip back to the beginning of the book. Skim the prologue until I find the sentence I’m looking for. Place my finger beneath it.

She saw a feature of the man that I never did, Astrid wrote about the witness. But in my memory of the man, I can’t see his face at all. The mask is a shield.

A crime, unsolved for two decades, may have been committed again? What a horror for the victim, and how scary for someone else who suspects she may have been involved.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Behind the Red Door, by Megan Collins {ends 8/12}
When Fern Douglas sees the news about Astrid Sullivan, a thirty-four-year-old missing woman from Maine, she is positive that she knows her. Fern’s husband is sure it’s because of Astrid’s famous kidnapping—and equally famous return—twenty years ago, but Fern has no memory of that, even though it happened an hour outside her New Hampshire hometown. And when Astrid appears in Fern’s recurring nightmare, one in which a girl reaches out to her, pleading, Fern fears that it’s not a dream at all, but a memory.

Back at her childhood home to help her father pack for a move, Fern purchases a copy of Astrid’s recently published memoir—which may have provoked her original kidnapper to abduct her again—and as she reads through its chapters and visits the people and places within it, she discovers more evidence that she has an unsettling connection to the missing woman. With the help of her psychologist father, Fern digs deeper, hoping to find evidence that her connection to Astrid can help the police locate her. But when Fern discovers more about her own past than she ever bargained for, the disturbing truth will change both of their lives forever.

Poor Fern Douglas. Her serious and constant anxiety, while written well and totally believable, make her not especially comfortable to hang around. She always was imagining what could go catastrophically wrong. The anxiety seems perfectly justified after the childhood she experienced. Her father, Ted, treated her horrifically. He pretty much spends most of the book maintaining that since she was his child, he could treat her however he wanted, short of physically abusing her.

When Fern goes back to her father’s house to help him pack and prepare to move, she thinks since he’s retired they can hang out and actually have a normal relationship. Unfortunately, Ted just wants to see her reactions when a 20-year-old abduction is brought back into the spotlight as the crime seems to have repeated itself.

Without spoiling anything, the plot in this book was really predictable. The author tries to throw a couple alternatives into our reading path, but it all came back around as originally expected. Overall, I’d give the book 3 out of 5 stars. While it was well-written and conveyed the horror of the whole experience of being Fern, the plot played out pretty predictability, and the ending didn’t really leave the reader feeling good about it all.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a school employee, wife, mom, and reader. See more of her books (and a few flowers) on her Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Behind the Red Door!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Behind the Red Door, by Megan Collins

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing, by Allison Winn Scotch {ends 8/8}

Cleo McDougal is not a good person. She does good, yes, but doing good and being good aren't the same thing, now, are they?

Cleo McDougal did not see the op-ed or this opening line in said op-ed on the home page of SeattleToday! until approximately seven fifteen a.m., after she had completed her morning at-home boxing class, after she had showered and meticulously applied the day's makeup (a routine that she admitted was getting lengthier and more discouraging at thirty-seven, but Cleo McDougal had never been one to shy away from a challenge), and after she had roused her fourteen-year-old from his bed, which was likely her day's hardest ordeal. 

Of course, she had not yet seen the op-ed. By the time she did, the political blogs had picked it up and run with it, which was why it took off, blazing around the internet and Twittersphere. (SeattleToday!, a hipster alternative online "paper," would otherwise really never have landed on Cleo's radar).

She had made a rule, which was clearly a mistakeshe could see that nowto give herself one hour in the mornings before checking her phone. 

I'm a big fan of Allison Winn Scotch's novels, and so I was excited to get an early copy of Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing, by Allison Winn Scotch {ends 8/8}
Politics is a test of wills in a sharp, funny, and emotional novel about truth and consequences by the New York Times bestselling author.

Cleo McDougal is a born politician. From congresswoman to senator, the magnetic, ambitious single mother now has her eye on the White House—always looking forward, never back. Until an estranged childhood friend shreds her in an op-ed hit piece gone viral.

With seven words—“Cleo McDougal is not a good person”—the presidential hopeful has gone from in control to damage control, and not just in Washington but in life.

Enter Cleo’s “regrets list” of 233 and counting. Her chief of staff has a brilliant idea: pick the top ten, make amends during a media blitz, and repair her reputation. But there are regrets, and there are regrets: like her broken relationship with her sister, her affair with a law school professor…and the regret too big to even say out loud.

But with risk comes reward, and as Cleo makes both peace and amends with her past, she becomes more empowered than ever to tackle her career, confront the hypocrites out to destroy her, and open her heart to what matters most—one regret at a time.


Cleo is very easy to relate to in this novel, and I liked her a lot. She's only 37 but is already a U.S. senator, from New York, although she lives in D.C. during the week. She has a 14-year-old son, Lucas, whom she had at 23, and the dad is not in the picture (we find out later in the novel why). Her childhood best friend, MaryAnne, has now written a scathing op-ed about her in a local Seattle paper, where she is from, which normally wouldn't mean much, but Cleo wants to run for president soon, so it irks her.

I found this novel to be both very timely and also funny, in parts. Both Cleo and the supporting characters are ones you want to root for (except maybe MaryAnne!), and Cleo is very ambitious, to which I could also relate. Her life isn't perfect, either, though, and she was a very well-developed character.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of Winn Scotch's previous books, or who like a good story.

4 stars out of 5.

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

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, August 8th, at 11:59pm EST, and the 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!

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing, by Allison Winn Scotch

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Louisiana Lucky, by Julie Pennell {ends 8/4}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“How did your coffee date with Martin go?” Callie asked Lexi, clearly trying to change the subject.

Lexi leaned forward. “He’s in! He’s coming to Brady on Monday to help us plan the wedding! We have so much work to do.”

“That’s amazing,” Callie said, rubbing her plum lips together. She then turned to Hanna. “How was your day? What did you do?”

She thought back to her shopping spree and how much money she had spent at the furniture store. In hindsight, it kind of made her sick to her stomach, but she reminded herself that twenty-seven thousand dollars right now was like pennies to her before she won the lottery. “Went to the mall and got some new workout clothes and furniture for the house.” She pushed her hair behind her ears, the scent of the eucalyptus oil the masseuse had used brushed against her nose. “But the highlight was the massage we all got this afternoon. Definitely considering making that a weekly thing.”

How does someone’s life change when a price tag is just a number and budget is no longer a limitation to anything? The lesson here is that it isn’t always a change for the good.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Louisiana Lucky, by Julie Pennell {ends 8/4}
Lexi, Callie, and Hanna Breaux grew up in small-town Louisiana, and have always struggled to make ends meet. For years, they’ve been playing the lottery, fantasizing about how much better life would be if they had the money.

For Lexi, it means the perfect wedding; for Callie, it means having the courage to go after her career dreams; and for Hanna, it means buying a house that isn’t falling apart and sending her bullied son to private school. When the incredible happens and the Breaux sisters hit it big—$204 million dollars big—all their dreams come true. Or so they think. Because it’s actually not a cliché—money isn’t the answer to everything, and it often comes with problems of its own.

The plot felt pretty predictable - three sisters win the lottery and are able to make all their dreams come true. But of course for every dream that comes true, they find out how much can go wrong. The classic lesson was more money, more problems. While it was easy to empathize with the sisters, it was also a bit annoying that they didn’t see some of these problems from miles away. If things seem too good to be true, they usually are.

The Louisiana vibe was fun, and the characters were likable and relatable.The writing was also fine, but watching all the good things the girls were trying to do unravel was disheartening. All’s well that ends well, but the middle got a bit tedious. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

{click here to pre-order - it will be out on August 4, 2020. Only $11.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley enjoys reading, relaxing and watching her neighborhood hummingbirds. She also posts on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Louisiana Lucky!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 4th, 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!

Louisiana Lucky, by Julie Pennell

Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Mall, by Megan McCafferty {ends 8/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I strutted all the way to Sam Goody.

And I kept right on strutting up and down the aisles until I finally found him crouched in front of the magazine rack. When I gently tapped him on the shoulder, he sprang backward in a scrambled panic.

“Whew!” he said. “I thought you were my boss.”

“Nope,” I said. “It’s me.”

He nodded approvingly at the image of the soldier on my chest.

“Meat is Murder.”

This was arguably The Smiths’ most iconic album cover. It had been proven that Sam Goody was paying attention to my t-shirts. So I had started paying even more attention to my t-shirts. But I couldn’t let him know that. Instead, I pinched the collar and made a bored face like, Oh, this old thing?


This book was definitely based on nostalgia. If you were ever a mall-rat in the early 1990s, prepare for some serious flashbacks.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Mall, by Megan McCafferty {ends 8/3}
New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty returns to her roots with this YA coming of age story set in a New Jersey mall.

The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans...

Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places. Megan McCafferty, beloved
New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall.

All the memories this book dredged up made it a delightful walk down memory lane. Adding in a little mystery to solve just gave it that much more to enjoy. The main character definitely felt relatable as a girl just finishing high school. She had a plan, but spending the spring laid up with mono had required her skipping a few memorable landmarks previously planned out with her boyfriend and partner in her long-term plan. Unfortunately, while she rested at home, he went on with life and youthful adventures. When she tried to step back in where she’d left off, a few details had changed and she was left scrambling for what to do in her last summer of childhood.

Cabbage Patch Kids? Sam Goody? Hanging at the mall? Yes, please! While it may not be as relatable as online shopping has taken over, anyone who remembers the mall—especially around 1990—will be amused by the references in this story. Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase - only $9.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley dreams of the simplicity of working at the mall during high school. She’s always happy to stroll down memory lane and be grateful that the internet didn’t broadcast these memories for everyone to see. She shares now at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Mall!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, August 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!

The Mall, by Megan McCafferty

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Lives of Edie Pritchard, by Larry Watson {ends 7/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

At the end of her workday, Edie walks out of the bank into a November evening so mild she gives a little gasp. She’d walked to work that morning in a fog thick enough to eliminate all distances, but by noon the fog had lifted and now the day’s vanishing light lingers just long enough to give Gladstone’s business district a smoky amber glow and the sky a darkening rose and deepening blue.

A car that Edie doesn’t recognize, a humpbacked rusting gray-black Plymouth right out of the 1940s, pulls to the curb alongside her.

The car’s horn bleats, and then Roy climbs out, grinning and shouting, “Edie! Edie!”

He limps around the front of the car, making his way toward her. “The cast! It’s off!”

His joy invades her, and she steps into his open arms.


Edie’s life in small-town Minnesota and beyond feels both remarkable and ordinary, as any life taken a day at a time could feel.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Lives of Edie Pritchard, by Larry Watson
From acclaimed novelist Larry Watson, a multigenerational story of the West told through the history of one woman trying to navigate life on her own terms.

Edie—smart, self‑assured, beautiful—always worked hard. She worked as a teller at a bank, she worked to save her first marriage, and later, she worked to raise her daughter even as her second marriage came apart. Really, Edie just wanted a good life, but everywhere she turned, her looks defined her. Two brothers fought over her. Her second husband became unreasonably possessive and jealous. Her daughter resented her. And now, as a grandmother, Edie finds herself harassed by a younger man. It’s been a lifetime of proving that she is allowed to exist in her own sphere. The Lives of Edie Pritchard tells the story of one woman just trying to be herself, even as multiple men attempt to categorize and own her.


Triumphant, engaging, and perceptive, Watson’s novel examines a woman both aware of her physical power and constrained by it, and how perceptions of someone in a small town can shape her life.

While she was born as Edie Pritchard (and living in a small town, some people will always call her that), her story is told from her perspective as Edie Linderman (Dean’s wife, not that of his twin brother, Roy), Edie Dunn (Gary’s wife, and Jennifer’s mother), and then by the end back to Edie Pritchard again. Through it all, she notices that who she really is doesn’t seem to matter to most people, as they’ll make up their own minds about who they think she is.

Edie’s story was presented in a very conversational manner, but with a depth of self-understanding. She frequently knew why she made the choices she did, good or bad, and wasn’t shy about disclosing her reasoning and emotions. Overall, I really enjoyed Edie’s story and the way it was told. The book spans from 1967 to the present time, so while it wasn’t really historical, it also wasn’t strictly contemporary. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy memoir-style fiction and women’s stories.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a woman with a pretty mundane life. But that means she usually knows what to expect. Find out more of what she’s reading at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Lives of Edie Pritchard!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Lives of Edie Pritchard, by Larry Watson

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In a Holidaze, by Christina Lauren {ends 7/28}

Outside, I can breathe. 

Inhale, exhale.

Deep inhale, slow exhale.

It wasn't a dream.

I traveled through time, backward six days.

I've seen things like this in books and movies: Someone has an accident and comes out of it with superpowers. Flight, superstrength, super-vision.

Man, I wish I'd paid attention to lotto numbers last week.

The thought makes me laugh out loud, and my breath puffs in the cold air. Mae, you are losing it.

I'm a huge fan of Christina Lauren's work (see: my other reviews), and this one was no exception: a light holiday read with the HEA that we have come to expect from their work. (I say "their" because they are actually two women with one pen name!)

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In a Holidaze, by Christina Lauren {ends 7/28}
One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

Mae is very easy to relate to. She moved back in with her parents, I believe after she lost or quit her previous job, and now works a job she dislikes. The best part of the year for her is spending Christmas with family and friends at one of their friend's cabins. Especially because she's in love with one friend ... 

This year, however, she makes a mistake, and hooks up with said friend's BROTHER. Good news though, kinda: she then wakes up six days previously, on the airplane she rode on to get to Utah. Kind of frustrating (a la Groundhog Day style), but also a chance for a do-over. 

I really enjoy Christina Lauren's books, and this one was great too. Even though it's scheduled to be released in October, since it's a holiday-themed book, I enjoyed it now; I feel like nowadays, in quarantine, we could all use some fluffy humor and romance to get us through the day.

Mae was a great character and the supporting characters are well-written as well. 

4 stars out of 5.

{click here to pre-order; it will be in stores on October 6, 2020}

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of In a Holidaze!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 28, 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!

In a Holidaze, by Christina Lauren

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Fire and Vengeance, by Robert McCaw {ends 7/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Mica Osbourne’s face filled half the TV screen. Her daughter’s picture -- a darling little girl in a pink dress with a pink ribbon in her hair and a teddy bear in her arms -- appeared opposite. The grieving mother’s red eyes and haggard appearance haunted viewers. Koa couldn’t imagine the depth of her despair. “The Education Department is supposed to protect our children. Instead, they took my beautiful daughter, my beautiful little angel. How could they…” her voice broke… “how could they build a school over a volcanic vent?” The picture changed to an aerial view of the wrecked school with the roof ripped off, the walls collapsed, and clouds of steam and noxious gas billowing upward in a mushroom cloud.

These books give me a solid feeling for good and bad things about living in Hawai’i. The author doesn’t limit it to beaches, beauty, and sunshine.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Fire and Vengeance, by Robert McCaw {ends 7/25}
Having killed his father's nemesis and gotten away with it, Hilo, Hawai`i Chief Detective Koa Kane, is not your ordinary cop. Estranged from his younger brother who has been convicted of multiple crimes, he is not from a typical law enforcement family. Yet, Koa's secret demons fuel his unwavering drive to pursue justice. Never has Koa's motivation been greater than when he learns that an elementary school was placed atop a volcanic vent, which has now exploded. The subsequent murders of the school's contractor and architect only add urgency to his search for the truth. As Koa's investigation heats up, his brother collapses in jail from a previously undiagnosed brain tumor. Using his connections, Koa devises a risky plan to win his brother's freedom. As Koa gradually unravels the obscure connections between multiple suspects, he uncovers a 40 year-old conspiracy. When he is about to apprehend the perpetrators, his investigation suddenly becomes entwined with his brother's future, forcing Koa to choose between justice for the victims and his brother's freedom.

So much going on! An explosion at the elementary school opens the book, but the more Koa Kane tries to find out how such an atrocity in planning could have happened (the school was built on a volcanic vent, that was scientifically certain to explode eventually), the deeper the mess gets. Several people in positions of power in Hawai’i have been connected to each other for more than 40 years.

Koa Kane and his co-workers and girlfriend all return for this, the third book in the series. We also learn a lot more about Koa’s family. His brother, Ikaika, has always been a troublemaker, but what if there’s a medical explanation for his bad choices? It’s cutting edge medical technology, so they need to think outside the box for Ikaika to get a fresh start. Koa has an opportunity to help his brother more than ever before, and his brother is politely requesting his help. But what will this cost for Koa?

While the characters continued to be charming and engaging, the plot of this book intricately intersects at the most unlikely moments. Between the current building crime, the college history of several key players, and Koa’s own family, there’s a lot of conflict to resolve and truths to unravel. Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend it for those who like suspense and police procedurals.

{click here to purchase - only $1.99 on Kindle at the time of this writing!}

{read our review of Off the Grid, the first book in the series, here}

Becki Bayley enjoys listening to Handel’s flute sonatas and drinking grape-flavored water while she reads. Find out more of what she’s been up to at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Fire and Vengeance!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, July 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!

Fire and Vengeance, by Robert McCaw

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Book Review: Mayhem, by Estelle Laure

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Listen, it won’t be long now,” he says. “You should get some rest while you can. When you wake up, if I’m not right here, go back to the water and you’ll be okay. Just remember that.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Part of me thinks nothing will at all, that I’ll wake up in the morning and this will all have been some silliness, Julianna’s letter the fantasies of a bored wife and mother, Neve and her warnings some drugged-out joke. The rock beneath me heats me from the inside out, and as I fall asleep with Kidd snoring beside me, I decide no matter what happens next, I will never regret being here, taking mushrooms, drinking the water, holding Jason’s hand. I’m glad we came to Santa Maria. Things are finally real, they’re finally happening. I can finally sleep.


Superhuman knowledge and powers sound super useful, both to the individuals who have them, and the community which benefits. Hopefully everyone can agree to use those powers for good.

Official synopsis:

Book Review: Mayhem, by Estelle Laure
It's 1987 and unfortunately it's not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy's constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem's own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren't like everyone else.

But when May's stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem's questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.


Mayhem’s story is all about girl power! Braeburn women are special. Once they have the water from the secret cave, they’re unstoppable. They’ve taken it upon themselves to use their powers to stop those who want to do evil in Santa Maria.

When Mayhem arrives in Santa Maria, there are already a few kids who live with her aunt and regularly imbibe the water. It gives them powers, but their powers look like a soft breeze compared to the howling wind that the water brings about in Mayhem. Together they can keep Santa Maria safe for all the mere mortals, and the mortals are grateful for their interventions.

This story was emotionally satisfying, as Mayhem and her cohorts got revenge on behalf of the defenseless. Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. The 80s vibe was fun and familiar, and watching a battle between good and evil turn out right is always rewarding.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Cherry Coke guzzling, Fun-Dip enjoying, sun-worshipper. She enjoys watering her flowers and reading on her porch. See more of her adventures on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Musical Chairs, by Amy Poeppel {ends 7/21}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

After hanging up, Bridget took advantage of the quiet and got her cello out of its case. She’d bought the honey-colored instrument on a post-Juilliard trip to visit her father’s family in London, using a good portion of the graduation check he’d given her to pay for it. She went from shop to shop, landing at Tom Woods (her father’s recommendation) and decided on a Thomas Kennedy, made in the 1820s. Will never asked her what it cost; she would have lied if he had.

Her cello wasn’t appreciating the weather either. It was grumpy about the humidity and oppressive heat, and it took Bridget over five minutes to tune it properly. Practicing had become a challenge here. It was hard to concentrate with Oscar’s Skype meetings in the mornings, three-to-four-hour sessions where he would sit at the dining room table with his laptop, wearing a dress shirt, tie, and blazer on top, nothing but boxers underneath, and talk loudly about energy policy and legislation. When he was done, he would change into shorts and a t-shirt, pop open a beer and lie down on the couch to watch Netflix. Or he would sit in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal, leaving the milk out on the counter. She couldn’t figure out how much she should parent him. He was too old to be assigned chores, and too young, apparently, to do them properly. Having him as a roommate was both a joy and a nuisance.


What a cast of characters! This story had so many threads it could easily have a prequel or sequel, but it also had enough to satisfy on its own.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Musical Chairs, by Amy Poeppel
Bridget and Will have the kind of relationship that people envy: they’re loving, compatible, and completely devoted to each other. The fact that they’re strictly friends seems to get lost on nearly everyone; after all, they’re as good as married in (almost) every way. For three decades, they’ve nurtured their baby, the Forsyth Trio—a chamber group they created as students with their Juilliard classmate Gavin Glantz. In the intervening years, Gavin has gone on to become one of the classical music world’s reigning stars, while Bridget and Will have learned to embrace the warm reviews and smaller venues that accompany modest success.

Bridget has been dreaming of spending the summer at her well-worn Connecticut country home with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are upended when Sterling, dutifully following his ex-wife’s advice, breaks up with her over email and her twin twenty-somethings arrive unannounced, filling her empty nest with their big dogs, dirty laundry, and respective crises.

Bridget has problems of her own: her elderly father announces he’s getting married, and the Forsyth Trio is once again missing its violinist. She concocts a plan to host her dad’s wedding on her ramshackle property, while putting the Forsyth Trio back into the spotlight. But to catch the attention of the music world, she and Will place their bets on luring back Gavin, whom they’ve both avoided ever since their stormy parting.


With her trademark humor, pitch-perfect voice, and sly perspective on the human heart, Amy Poeppel crafts a love letter to modern family life with all of its discord and harmony. In the tradition of novels by Maria Semple and Stephen McCauley, Musical Chairs is an irresistibly romantic story of role reversals, reinvention, and sweet synchronicity.

This book truly had a little of everything. There’s Bridget, the main character who is the mother to twins born more than 20 years ago via artificial insemination—she thinks. Bridget’s musical partner is Will, and everyone assumes Bridget and Will are partners in more than music. They’re not. Now summering in Connecticut, Bridget is joined by Will (of course) and her twins, but at her father’s estate not far away are her father, his housekeeper, Bridget’s sister, and her father’s new assistant.

The whole cast has their own unique issues to process and get through this summer. Will Bridget finally find love? Can Will find a new love after swearing off of marrying again? Will Bridget’s son and his husband reconcile? And with Bridget’s daughter quitting her job in Hong Kong, what will she do next with her life? There’s always something happening in this book, and of course it all has to wrap up before the climactic wedding at the end of the book.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. With so much happening, this could easily have expanded to more than one book about the same group of people, but this book still wraps up all the loose ends nicely. It was a nice summer read and escape to a dreamworld instead of a regular life.

{click here to pre-order—it will be released on July 21, 2020}

Becki Bayley is summering at the same house she wintered. Luckily she’s an introvert who’s happy reading at the same location year-round. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Musical Chairs!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 21st, 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!

Musical Chairs, by Amy Poeppel

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton {ends 7/16}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Back in the parking lot, we dropped our pocketbooks in the Savoy and found a wooden sign carved with yellow letters for the Walk-Up Trail—one mile to the summit. We climbed single file—Nattie, then me, then Mother. The ascent was gentle to start, skipping over smooth stones, but the trail soon turned heart-thumpy. The ground was strewn with rocks, with tall grasses, their roots forced up through the stone, and with little yellow daisies that were impossible not to love. It was hard to keep our footing, Nattie in her slick-soled Mary Janes, and Mother and me in low-heeled pumps. I tried to imagine hauling a pine cross and a jug of kerosene up this path. I tried to imagine hating someone enough to strike a match.

Nattie hummed a ditty over and over and over, and Mother was silent for what must’ve been twenty minutes.

At the top, there were giant depressions in the stone, little ponds filled with water, filled with life, filled with shrimp—of all things to be filled with. The rest of the summit was moonlike. There were no signs of burnings. Maybe the ash had floated off the mountain into the ether of constellations.

When Ruth Robb moves with her mother and her younger sister from New York to Atlanta after her father’s death, she finds out the world can be a very different place, at the same time.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton {ends 7/16}
After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

With a whole new life in Atlanta, Ruth wants to be popular, and her grandmother, Fontaine, can help her get there. Unfortunately, she has to deny the parts of her that are impossible to make popular, like being Jewish. At first, she’s willing to do exactly that for her own pre-debutante success, and continuing the family legacy of Magnolia Queens. Ruth’s mother’s rules say that Ruth can do what makes her happy, but she has to trade off by doing what makes her mother happy and attending synagogue meetings.

Ruth’s voice in telling the story sounds quite true. She really wants to have it all work out, but what starts as one of the best nights of her life soon becomes the night when she learns that she’ll have to make choices about what to stand for if she really wants to be happy with herself. Sometimes being just ‘in the neighborhood of true’ isn’t enough.

The unique viewpoint in this book gave a great perspective of the struggle of being Jewish and discriminated against or attacked in the 1950s and 1960s. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of In The Neighborhood of True!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, July 16th, 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!

In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Falling Woman, by Richard Farrell {ends 7/13}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

In spite of himself, he imagined a woman falling through the sky and heading toward the barn. He pictured her dropping, imagined what she felt—the cold air, the speed, the rush of wind. In all likelihood, she would’ve lost consciousness, which, given the circumstances, was a gift. Did she wake up at some point? Did she see the ground rushing toward her? What did she think in that moment?

“Could someone really have made it through?” he asked.

Lucy looked up. Their hands were still touching.

“Charlie, I don’t know, but you need to find out. We need to be certain. You can’t let all these questions just float out there unanswered. There are families waiting to hear. There are people who need to know.”

“Listening to these tapes,” he said, “hearing the voices of the other pilots and the air traffic controllers, everything seems so grounded. With all the work ahead of us, a miracle hardly seems plausible.”


“You think you’ll be able to ignore it then?” she asked. “You think you can just wait for someone else to solve it?”

“I’ve done my part,” Radford said.


While this is a work of fiction, the similar cases cited (of people falling from airplanes and surviving) were real. The circumstances all varied greatly, but they proved that the improbability of falling from such a height and surviving did not mean it would be impossible.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Falling Woman, by Richard Farrell {ends 7/13}
Erin feels that she has reached a breaking point in her cancer treatment. Having gone through two exhausting programs of medication and facing a third, she decides to take a week off from doctors and hospitals and even her family, and to fly from her home in Washington D.C. to a retreat in California that is designed for people like her, cancer victims with no chance of survival. She has reached middle age, is in a mostly loveless, mechanical marriage, has successfully seen her twin daughters enrolled in college and starting their own lives independent of her, has ended an affair she was having with a man in her office, another lawyer, and is facing the reality that for all those people—husband, daughters, ex-lover—she is essentially already dead. So when the plane she is on, headed cross country to San Francisco, encounters extreme turbulence and comes apart in midair, she accepts the reality of the fact that this will be her real death. Only fate has other ideas, for she miraculously survives not only the explosion but also the fall from the sky.

Charlie Radford is a young NTSB investigator who is on the team sent to Kansas to try to determine what caused the crash, and also to find and identify all the bodies. When, several days into his investigation, he hears a rumor that a woman was found alive in a barn, still strapped to her seat, he assumes it is a hoax, but because of word of this “miracle” has reached the media—as well as the men and women in Congress—he is forced to assume responsibility for tracking down the source of the rumor and to find the woman, should she actually exist. So for young Radford, what began as a routine crash investigation becomes a search to find the truth of the story, and then, once he realizes that in fact there is a survivor, he must convince her to come forward. The problem is that once found, Erin refuses to cooperate, having decided that her family has already mourned her death twice; all she wants is to be left alone, to live out what time she has left away from the rest of the world. But then one reporter gets wind of her location, and Radford must decide how to protect this “falling woman” while at the same time answering the commands of his superiors in the government agency.

Fast paced, and full of twists and surprises, The Falling Woman is a story of the irony of fate, and of which conflicting factor will prevail: the need of the government and its people to know the truth, or the right of a woman to determine how her personal story will play out.

This was a deep emotional story. How could someone, when given a miracle second chance, walk away and choose to maintain her status as already dead? Really, this was most of the critical question for Charlie Radford, the NTSB investigator in the story. His job is to disprove, or prove, that the explosion of a flight over Kansas had an improbable survivor. The rest of his agency assumes the odds are too great and Radford is on a wild goose chase and embarrassing himself over a hoax.

Without giving too much away, once Radford finds the woman who may have been on the flight, his real dilemma begins. What legal or moral obligation does he have? Does he owe more to the mystery woman or the government and his employer? The story premise was exciting enough on its own, but the real contemplation came with Radford’s and the woman’s soul-searching.

I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. Unless reading about a plane crash will give too much anxiety on its own, anyone who enjoys questions of the human condition and contemporary fiction would enjoy this book.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, reader, and flower-raiser. Now that she’s declared it, she’ll be posting more pictures of her flowers as PoshBecki on Instagram.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Falling Woman!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, July 13th, 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!
The Falling Woman, by Richard Farrell

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Book Review: Jo & Laurie, by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz

Book Review: Jo & Laurie, by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz
  • Opening lines: The Offices of Roberts Brothers, Publishers and Bookbinders, Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 1868

    "Little Women? That's the title?" The author looked concerned. Above her light brown eyes and beneath her threadbare linen cap, the chestnut curls that framed her face were shaking. Miss Josephine March was all of seventeen years old, and though her girlish curves were slight, her spirit was immense.

    There was nothing
    little about her, or her characters. Or so she had thought. The book in questiona volume of domestic stories, loosely inspired by her own familywas one she hadn't wanted to write, had in fact steadfastly refused to write, until her editor had offered a notably unrefusable royalty, instead of the usual piffling advance. Only then had she dashed off a dozen chapters in a fit of pique. To her dismay, he'd loved them, and she'd had no choice but to finish the final chapters, which she'd come to deliver now.

    And lo
    insult beyond injuryit would be called Little Women.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of both of these authors—I've reviewed quite a few of Melissa de la Cruz's books, and Margaret Stohl is the author of the Beautiful Creatures series. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Bestselling authors Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz bring us a romantic retelling of Little Women starring Jo March and her best friend, the boy next door, Theodore "Laurie" Laurence.

    1869, Concord, Massachusetts: After the publication of her first novel, Jo March is shocked to discover her book of scribbles has become a bestseller, and her publisher and fans demand a sequel. While pressured into coming up with a story, she goes to New York with her dear friend Laurie for a week of inspiration--museums, operas, and even a once-in-a-lifetime reading by Charles Dickens himself!

    But Laurie has romance on his mind, and despite her growing feelings, Jo's desire to remain independent leads her to turn down his heartfelt marriage proposal and sends the poor boy off to college heartbroken. When Laurie returns to Concord with a sophisticated new girlfriend, will Jo finally communicate her true heart's desire or lose the love of her life forever?

  • Recommended for: Anyone who is a fan of Little Women, or who enjoys romance books.
  • Favorite paragraph: slight spoilers below ...
    How could he think the bosoms would make him happy? Not her Theodore Laurence. Not ever.

    But then again, he wasn't
    her Theodore Laurence. If he could profess his love for Jo and propose to Lady Hat all within the space of a season, then it was likely Jo really didn't know Theodore Laurence at all.
  • Something to know: I attended a Zoom chat with both of the authors and it's interesting that both of them wrote the book, because I never would have thought that it had two authors; the chapters are seamless, and the writing style is the same throughout. Also, this takes place before Laurie goes off to Harvard, and in Little Women I believe some of the events took place after he graduated.
  • What I would have changed: Nothing.
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Book Review: No One Will Hear Your Screams, by Thomas O'Callaghan

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Before returning to the office, Driscoll parked the Chevy on Montague Street, where Margaret hopped out and ducked inside Avgerinos Restaurant to purchase lunch.

“Nothing says New York alfresco like at Chicken Souvlaki and a Coke,” Margaret said returning to the passenger seat where she peeled back the waxed paper from her savory sandwich and handed half to Driscoll.

“You know, Margaret, I can’t shake the feeling we’re overlooking something,” The Lieutenant said before biting into the Greek delicacy.

“OK. Let’s break down his lunacy. He’s arterially embalming his victims then sews a locket featuring the patron saint of prostitutes under the tongue. It suggests he’s not a fan of the working girl, but why burn down a church?”

“Beats the hell out o’ me.”

“And why that church?”

“Maybe he’s got a gripe with Sally Fields.”

Driscoll looked at her wondering where she was going with an odd comment like that.

“What’s Sally Fields got to do with it?” he asked.

“The actress. Sally Fields. She played the flying nun on TV. The church he torched was Saint Teresa of Avila. The original flying nun.”


A little bit of religious trivia mixed in with crimes is always interesting. This serial killer definitely had a few issues with his religious upbringing.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: No One Will Hear Your Screams, by Thomas O'Callaghan
Is there a sociopathic killer on the loose and murdering prostitutes in New York City? NYPD’s top cop, Homicide Commander Lieutenant John Driscoll, believes there is. Someone who calls himself “Tilden” and claims to have been sexually abused as a child by his mother’s john. But what could have triggered Tilden’s rage that has him on a mission to eradicate all the women of the night in The Big Apple?

More importantly, will Driscoll put an end to the madness? He soon discovers Tilden’s not the run-of-the-mill sociopath. After all, would a common murderer have taken the time to embalm his victims, which the New York City chief medical examiner determined was the cause of their deaths?

Driscoll, a man haunted by the events of an unstable childhood himself, must put aside any sympathy he may have for Tilden and put a stop to his murderous rampage. Teamed up with Sergeant Margaret Aligante and Detective Cedric Thomlinson, who have their own issues, the commander sets out to stop the killings and bring Tilden to justice before he kills again.


The action in this book starts pretty quickly. Tilden is on a mission - he’s got a list of women who have done him wrong, and he’s decided their punishment is death. While each of the bodies are discovered in unique places and situations, Lieutenant John Driscoll finds enough clues to know they’re connected.

While there was more about Tilden than the other characters, this was not the first book in the series about Lieutenant Driscoll. Several characteristics of Driscoll and his co-workers are stated in passing, with the sense that they were developed more in previous books. Everyone was still explained adequately to understand in just this book, but having read the others may have given more of a sense of attachment to the characters.

Without giving too much away, there were some loose ends in the background of the Tilden that could have been better explored. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy crime thrillers (and don’t mind them a bit gory).

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves sleeping in, laughing with her kids, and watching the birds and butterflies in her yard. She also blogs (mostly about books) at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics, by Heather Lende {ends 7/7}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Some people can create a conflict out of anything. During the public hearing on an otherwise popular proposal to ban plastic shopping bags that I had sponsored at the request of the sixth grade class and Haines Friends of Recycling, one newer assembly member exploded. (There are annual elections for two of the six assembly seats; some members have remained and some have left during my three-year term.) The self-proclaimed progressive said that the ordinance did not go far enough and that all single-use plastic items in Haines should be banned or taxed so high that no one would use them, ever! Then another assembly member argued against the exemption for plastic bags that hold fish, meat, or bulk items like rice and candy. The ordinance was saved when we all took an imaginary trip to the store with our cloth bag, and pictured ourselves dropping in a piece of chicken, a bunch of grapes, and a scoop of rice, until everyone broke into fits of laughter and the original bag measure passed. And, yes, we all agreed that there was much more work to do to eliminate plastics from the environment but at least we had begun. Right here in Haines.

Heather Lende, the author, has been a resident of Haines, a small town in Alaska, for most of her adult life. She’s written a few books about her life there.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics, by Heather Lende {ends 7/7}
The writer whom the Los Angeles Times calls “part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott” now brings us her quirky and compassionate account of holding local office.

Heather Lende was one of the thousands of women inspired to take a more active role in politics during the past few years. Though her entire campaign for assembly member in Haines, Alaska, cost less than $1,000, she won! But tiny, breathtakingly beautiful Haines—a place accessible from the nearest city, Juneau, only by boat or plane—isn’t the sleepy town that it appears to be: from a bitter debate about the expansion of the fishing boat harbor to the matter of how to stop bears from rifling through garbage on Main Street to the recall campaign that targeted three assembly members, including Lende, we witness the nitty-gritty of passing legislation, the lofty ideals of our republic, and how the polarizing national politics of our era play out in one small town.


With an entertaining cast of offbeat but relatable characters, Of Bears and Ballots is an inspirational tale about what living in a community really means, and what we owe one another.

Lende knew what she was getting into when she ran for a position as an assembly member. Her husband had been an assembly member years earlier, and she had friends who were assembly members. Her book wasn’t so much about being an assembly member as it was about her perspective. She speculates that the climate of politics has gotten nastier as poor behavior has become more acceptable at higher levels. While observing this, she doesn’t want the negativity to outweigh all her positive relationships with other citizens of Haines who may not share political viewpoints, but still have to share their small town.

The best part about this book was Lende’s positive, yet realistic outlook. She shared some of the notes she made to herself for dealing with opposition in the assembly meetings. ‘Think, wait, and be quiet.’ She learned quickly that things she said that felt totally right would be taken differently by someone with a different perspective. The way she told it all made patience and grace sound like something that could help everyone.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to find a better view of the world through new eyes.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom and reader. She also talks about playing the flute and doing counted cross-stitch. Both of those activities are more talk than action. Read more posts about her life at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Of Bears and Ballots!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 7th, 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!

Of Bears and Ballots, by Heather Lende



Monday, June 29, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker {ends 7/6}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Gus got up and went into his bedroom. He rooted around in his sock drawer, searching for his bandanna. Lorena’s letters were hidden there or, rather, stored there—he had no reason to hide them, at least until that moment, when he realized that they were on the opposite side of the drawer from they’d been that morning. (Gus was strongly right-sided and would never have hidden the letters on the left side of the drawer.) He doubted Elise allowed her students to wander about his house, but he knew that her lessons sometimes went over, as he had come home to find pupils sitting in his parlor, impatiently waiting their turn. It could have been one of them. He remembered going through his father’s drawers and finding, beneath his socks, a photograph of his mother and a purple felt box containing a wedding band with a tiny diamond. His mother’s, obviously. There was also a photograph of his father and Aunt Mattie atop a donkey, the river in the background. When his father left to find work in Charlotte, he took most of his socks but not the wedding ring or the photographs. Gus had brought them along with him to Lone Wolf. The only reason they were not hidden in his sock drawer (they were just below, in his underwear drawer) was because he took great pains not to be like his father.

While this book was somewhat historical fiction, the words used were what was important to the fictional Stewart sisters and Gus McQueen in telling their stories.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker {ends 7/6}
The Stewart sisters, pragmatic Lorena and chimerical Elise, are bound together not only by their isolation on the prairie of early 1900s Oklahoma, but also by their deep emotional reliance on each other. They’re all they’ve got . . . until Gus McQueen arrives in Lone Wolf.

An inexperienced first-time teacher, Gus is challenged by the sisters’ wit and ingenuity. Then one impulsive decision and a cataclysmic blizzard trap Elise and her horse on the prairie—and the balance of everything is forever changed.

With honesty, poetic intensity, and the deadpan humor of Paulette Jiles and Charles Portis, this novel tells the story of characters tested as much by life on the prairie as they are by their own churning hearts.

Reading Prairie Fever was reading about the Stewart sisters and Gus McQueen. While there are a few events in the book, the story was about the main characters’ perceptions of the events. Their descriptions were each unique, and sometimes beautiful. Unfortunately, it was somewhat redundant to read of the same event as it happened to three different people.

While the beginning of the narration felt unfocused, as the book progressed the style felt more like meandering prose and each narrator’s voice became more clearly developed. The word choices didn’t seem specific to the time period when the book was taking place, but they were pretty and sometimes thought-provoking.

This book would be good for readers who enjoy a slower paced book and colorful descriptions. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley likes reading, napping, playing Animal Crossing - New Horizons, and blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Prairie Fever!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Last Sword Maker, by Brian Nelson {ends 7/2}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The horseshoe crab was Eric’s reminder of the roots of his science.

He had been nine years old when he got it -- on the Hill family’s summer vacation to Cape May, New Jersey. His sister, Ellen, who had just turned six, was wading in the shallow water with Dad when she stepped on the poor creature. She screeched in horror and tried to bolt for shore, but Dad held her by the wrist, likely knowing exactly what had frightened her. Intrepid in the name of science, he had fished through the ankle-deep water with his free hand until, a moment later, he pulled up a handsome specimen of the Precambrian arthropod. He held it up proudly by its hard tail, its spindly legs moving in the air like typing fingers while its armor plates clanked and flapped about. Ellen shrieked with renewed vigor at this monster that was now joined to her father
who was still joined to her.

“Settle down,” Dad said, or some such thing, but Ellen was having none of it. She squirmed until she broke free and raced up the beach crying, straight to their mother. Dad had shrugged and lumbered up the beach after her, still holding his struggling prize. “Eric, I want to show you something.”

Eric was instantly intrigued. Cool, it grosses girls out!

The horseshoe crab had been marvelous to him even then. Dad had explained everything. Its beauty was in its simplicity: an armored exoskeleton with toothed ridges that protected its sensitive belly, primitive gills that had evolved only in horseshoe crabs—book gills, each with one hundred leaves. Water was circulated over them by the movement of the legs. The long tail, the telson, was used to right itself during mating
not for defense, as many thought. Simple. Perfect.

This was definitely a compelling thriller. The science in this science fiction felt possible, which made it all a little scary.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Last Sword Maker, by Brian Nelson {ends 7/2}
In the high mountains of Tibet, rumors are spreading. People whisper of an outbreak, of thousands of dead, of bodies pushed into mass graves. It is some strange new disease … a disease, they say, that can kill in minutes.

The Chinese government says the rumors aren’t true, but no one is allowed in or out of Tibet.

At the Pentagon, Admiral James Curtiss is called to an emergency meeting. Satellite images prove that a massive genocide is underway, and an American spy has made a startling discovery. This is no disease. It’s a weapons test. Chinese scientists have developed a way to kill based on a person’s genetic traits. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The success of their new weapon proves that the Chinese are nearing “Replication”—a revolutionary breakthrough that will tip the global balance of power and change the way wars are waged.

Now the US must scramble to catch up before it is too late. Admiral Curtiss gathers the nation’s top scientists, including a promising young graduate student named Eric Hill who just might hold the missing piece to the replication puzzle. Soon Hill and his colleague Jane Hunter are caught up in a deadly game of sabotage as the two nations strive to be the first to reach the coveted goal. But in their headlong race, they create something unexpected … something the world has never seen and something more powerful than they had ever imagined.

The Last Sword Maker is an exciting globe-trotting thriller with unforgettable characters that depicts a haunting vision of the future of warfare.

Once the plot and action started in this book, they didn’t stop! While there were several important characters, they all got their turn in the spotlight. This helped share the perspectives of spies for the Americans, scientists for the Americans and Chinese, a Tibetan man hoping to save his country and people, and an American Admiral highly respected for his personal strength in doing what needed to be done.

This book has elements to hold the interest of a variety of readers. It also says it’s the first book in The Course of Empire Series. The author points out at the beginning of the book that the Tibetan and Chinese history mentioned is factual. The science parts of the book are also consistent with research forecasts by current scientists (the story takes place in 2025). While the science is definitely advanced, it is explained well enough to make sense to the average reader.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for readers who enjoy political or military thrillers, as well as speculative science fiction.

{click here to purchase - only $1.99 for Kindle, currently!}

Becki Bayley enjoys reading, watching birds, butterflies and flowers, and feeling the sun warm her skin. She sometimes remembers to post pictures of some of these on her Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Last Sword Maker!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, July 2nd, 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!

The Last Sword Maker, by Brian Nelson

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