Thursday, April 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 5th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Kill Code, by Clive Fleury

Sunday, April 26, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

The jocks never sit with the nerds

The joiners hate the slackers.

But everyone worships the rich and beautiful people.

Why not? I’m one of them

And so is Bruce.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, May 3rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Gotham High, by Melissa de la Cruz

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

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

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

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

Nod.

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

I shook my head.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 18, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

“With blueberries?” she asked sheepishly.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

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

Monday, April 13, 2020

Book Review: Quantum, by Patricia Cornwell

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Official synopsis:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Book Review: Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

Open to both U.S. and Canadian residents!

Good luck!

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, by Gae Polisner

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Book Review: Adequate Yearly Progress, by Roxanna Elden

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, April 9th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified by email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Where The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow, by Rashi Rohatgi

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