Thursday, May 21, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Audrey Hepburn’s Classic Truths

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, May 28th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Open to both U.S. and Canadian residents!

Good luck!

Legends from Mom's Closet, by Sasha Olsen

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, May 27th, at 11:59pm EST, and the winner will be contacted via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Glorious Boy, by Aimee Liu

Saturday, May 16, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I’m trying to be a light.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, May 23rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

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

Monday, May 11, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give me half your energy,” he says.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, May 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

My Kind of People, by Lisa Duffy

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

Instead, I see him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

4 stars out of 5.

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


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

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The American Crusade, by Mark Spivak

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