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.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: This Terrible Beauty, by Katrin Schumann {ends 3/21}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley
“It will be all right,” he tells her, “as long as we keep working honestly. And by that, well…what I’m trying to say is the struggle to tell our truth must never stop. I want to do this in service of my country –”

“But doesn’t that dilute it? Art with a purpose?”

“It’s about believing. It’s about that and trusting our hearts are in the right place, that we have the good of others in mind, too, not just ourselves. See? Work with a heart, yes, it’s work with integrity.”

All this talk about his “work” is an infinite loop of learning for her. This is the first time Bettina has considered work to be anything other than a place you go to complete defined tasks in order to earn money and be part of a community. For her, work is physical, practical. Peter’s work is not like this – it involves exploration and analysis, an opportunity for expression, for sharing and testing out ideas. In particular, he explains, he loves taking popular literature and letting the kids play with it, creating allegories or drawing on mythology and rewriting. It’s clear that his students adore him, writing him letters in their perfect cursive declaring their admiration.

He reads to her from one of his notebooks the text of a banner he put up in his classroom: An education that does not awaken the youth to a sense of conscience and personal moral responsibility is not worthy of that name. – Eduard Spranger, 1947. But her gut tells her to be wary of trying to shape the creative impulse into a sword or a scythe.


I love the way this author takes someone who is a villain by circumstance (a German after WWII) and shows how this casting changes their life. I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: This Terrible Beauty, by Katrin Schumann {ends 3/21}
On the windswept shores of an East German island, Bettina Heilstrom struggles to build a life from the ashes. World War II has ended, and her country is torn apart. Longing for a family, she marries Werner, an older bureaucrat who adores her. But after joining the fledgling secret police, he is drawn deep into its dark mission and becomes a dangerous man.

When Bettina falls in love with an idealistic young renegade, Werner discovers her infidelity and forces her to make a terrible choice: spend her life in prison or leave her home forever. Either way she loses both her lover and child.

Ten years later, Bettina has reinvented herself as a celebrated photographer in Chicago, but she’s never stopped yearning for the baby she left behind. Surprised by an unexpected visitor from her past, she resolves to return to her ravaged homeland to reclaim her daughter and uncover her beloved’s fate, whatever the cost.


I really liked the realness of this book. Everything isn’t sunshine and roses, especially on an occupied island after your previous country loses the war. And not participating as a citizen is not an option. Is true love still an option? Some parts of life happen regardless of the world going on around us.

The telling of this story alternated between Bettina’s life at the end of World War II on the island where she’s spent her whole life, and her modern-day life ten years later in Chicago as an acclaimed photographer and a loner. I felt that her life at the end of the war is a story that hasn’t been often told. Living on an occupied island that was becoming part of East Germany was a limiting and oppressed existence that is hard for us to even imagine. Coming of age and trying to decide who you are as an adult during this backdrop sounds extremely challenging.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy WWII era fiction or characters dealing with moral dilemmas. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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

Becki Bayley is a reader, a thinker, and a writer at SweetlyBSquared.com for more than 18 years.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of A Terrible Beauty!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, March 21st, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be emailed the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

This Terrible Beauty, by Katrin Schumann

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Far Away Bird, by Douglas A. Burton {ends 3/17}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Hypatius led Theodora past a bowing male chamberlain and into a doorway off the main hallway. She couldn’t suppress her awe at the interior of the bedchamber. In her experience, sleeping quarters weren’t unlike the fornices she worked in – small, practical, and disconnected from the world. But this chamber was cavernous. The ceilings hovered high above, like a fisherman’s net of timber beams. A fireplace occupied the back wall; only this one had an ornate marble mantel adorned with numerous shimmering candles. In the middle of the room was the largest bed that Theodora had ever seen. The bed and canopy looked like an enormous green cube with each face of the cube parted down the middle, its curtains forming a triangular opening that showed a silken bed within. Beside the bed, Theodora spotted silver jugs and chalices.

“Wine?” she said and filled two cups.

“Yes, please. Though I doubt there’s enough wine in the empire to drown out the memory of this evening.”

She handed him a chalice of wine that trickled over the rim. “Stop it. It’s hard to love another person when others are watching.”

“Is that what you call it? Loving another person?” He laughed and guzzled the wine, allowing trails of the red liquid to run alongside his mouth and drip from his chin. When he finished, he wiped his face. “And is that what it was on stage tonight with that man in the faun costume? Love?”

“Yes,” said Theodora, undaunted. She took a quick sip of wine, slipped out of her gown, and crawled onto the bed. The feathery fabric enveloped her naked skin like a cool and soothing caress. She laid onto her back with arms stretched out above her head, raising one knee and smiling at Hypatius. “I’ve loved an aspect of every man at one time or another. I find the attractive part of him, and that’s the part I love.”


I enjoy historical fiction, but I don’t recall reading anything based on this time period before. I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed getting to know the characters and how they lived.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Far Away Bird, by Douglas A. Burton
Inspired by true events, Far Away Bird delves into the complex mind of Byzantine Empress Theodora. This intimate account deftly follows her rise from actress-prostitute in Constantinople’s red-light district to the throne of the Byzantine Empire. Her salacious past has left historians blushing and uncomfortable. Tales of her shamelessness have survived for centuries, and yet her accomplishments as an empress are unparalleled. Theodora goes on to influence sweeping reforms that result in some of the first ever Western laws granting women freedom and protection. More than a millennium before the women’s rights movement, Theodora, alone, took on the world’s greatest superpower and succeeded. Far Away Bird goes where history classrooms fear to tread in hopes that Theodora can finally take her seat among the greatest women in history. Theodora seems impossible—yet her transcendence teaches us that society can’t tell us who we are deep down. Before there was a legendary empress, there was a conflicted young woman from the lower classes. And her name was Theodora.

What an amazing period in history. While the synopsis hints at the actual accomplishments of Theodora, I haven’t researched any of that. This book gives us a powerful portrayal of Theodora’s earlier years, and the events that seem to have shaped her later achievements. The story also had me wondering at the lives and policies of Emperor Justin and his son Justinian.

Unfortunately, much of the stories of Theodora’s earlier years were entirely too believable in their oppression and abuse of women of a lower class by men in positions of power. The idea that her treatment at the hands of oppressors inspired her so strongly to defend those in similar positions is beautiful. The author described Theodora’s challenges, emotions and resolutions with amazing compassion and clarity.

Overall, I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. This is definitely an adult book, with some explicit scenes from Theodora’s early life as a prostitute and performer. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to adult history buffs, especially with any interest in this time period.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife of one and mother of four (two human, two feline). She enjoys reading, writing, sunshine, bird-watching, and sleeping in. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Far Away Bird!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, March 17th, 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!

Far Away Bird, by Douglas A. Burton

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Queen's Assassin, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 3/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

There are no books to read, and no letters arrive in the post. He has no idea what’s happening outside the prison walls, no way of knowing when he will be released. It’s maddening.

He examines the handkerchief over and over again. Holds it up to the bit of sunlight that streams in the tiny cell window every morning, in case there’s something he missed, perhaps a secret message written in milk or lemon juice – but there’s nothing.

Maybe the handkerchief itself was the code, and her words: You’re not alone. He may be reading too much into the encounter – she could have merely been a sympathetic bystander. But there was something familiar about her…When – if – he finishes the task in Montrice, he decides he’s going to find her.


This was my favorite sort of fantasy book. It felt kind of medieval-ish, with kingdoms and royalty and such. And of course people learning magic – I always love people learning magic!

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Queen's Assassin, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 3/12}
Caledon Holt is the kingdom's deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in speed, strength, or brains, which is why he's the Hearthstone Guild's most dangerous member. Cal is also the Queen's Assassin, bound to her by magic and unable to leave her service until the task she's set for him is fulfilled.

Shadow of the Honey Glade has been training all her life to join the Guild, hoping that one day she'll become an assassin as feared and revered as Cal. But Shadow's mother and aunts expect her to serve the crown as a lady of the Renovian Court.

When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they're forced to team up as assassin and apprentice. Even though Shadow's life belongs to the court and Cal's belongs to the queen, they cannot deny their attraction to each other. But now, with war on the horizon and true love at risk, Shadow and Cal will uncover a shocking web of lies that will change their paths forever.


We’ve got warring kingdoms, spies, history, and tangled family lineages. What could be better? Shadow has been raised to join the court, but what she really wants is to fight with the Guild. When she finally arranges to meet the best person to help her learn to fight, she doesn’t bother telling him she’s supposed to join the court – then he might not help her follow her dreams!

There’s risk at every turn, and luckily Shadow seems to be a bit of a natural with the whole fighting thing, or else the book would have ended much earlier, and she would probably be dead. Not to be a spoiler, but the main characters we meet make it to the end. I enjoyed hanging out with Shadow and Cal. Shadow’s aunts were especially endearing, although we don’t get to spend a lot of time with them.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and I’d definitely considering what comes next in the series. I’d recommend this one to fans of young adult fantasy books. Some adult fantasy readers may enjoy it as well, as long as their main motivator for reading isn’t steamy stuff – none of that here!

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a mom of two baton twirlers, who enjoys the hurry-up-and-wait time at competitions to get extra reading done. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Queen's Assassin!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, March 12th, 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 Queen's Assassin, by Melissa de la Cruz

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