Monday, August 31, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Dear Emmie Blue, by Lia Louis {ends 9/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“You know what I think, Emmie?” he says. “I think you put too much onus on this man. You don’t give yourself enough credit. Who you are on your own.”

We walk back to the hotel, all three of us in a line, arms around one another, regardless of how reluctant Fox was to let Rosie’s hand hold on to his waist. And deep down, I know he is right.

But it’s hard for them to realize, I suppose—Rosie with her large and warm loving family; Fox with his dad who visits, and his postcard-sending mother—that over the last fourteen years, Lucas has been my only constant. And when I had nobody, he was right there.

Emmie Blue is watching her life-plan fall to pieces, but maybe it’s really just revealing the real path? As her best friend has told her, she’s made of strong stuff.

Official synopsis:
At sixteen, Emmie Blue stood in the fields of her school and released a red balloon into the sky. Attached was her name, her email address…and a secret she desperately wanted to be free of. Weeks later, on a beach in France, Lucas Moreau discovered the balloon and immediately emailed the attached address, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens.

Now, fourteen years later, Emmie is hiding the fact that she’s desperately in love with Lucas. She has pinned all her hopes on him and waits patiently for him to finally admit that she’s the one for him. So dedicated to her love for Lucas, Emmie has all but neglected her life outside of this relationship—she’s given up the search for her absentee father, no longer tries to build bridges with her distant mother, and lives as a lodger to an old lady she barely knows after being laid off from her job. And when Lucas tells Emmie he has a big question to ask her, she’s convinced this is the moment he’ll reveal his feelings for her. But nothing in life ever quite goes as planned, does it?

Despite Emmie’s unique life history and struggles, she felt universally relatable and easy to empathize with. As she turns 30 years old, she’s convinced her love for her best friend is all she’s had to rely on for years. She doesn’t know who her father is, her mother hasn’t been reliable or supportive since her mid-teens, and she never made any more close friends after an incident when she was 16-years-old left her on her own. She thinks all she has is the hope for her and Lucas to get their happily-ever-after.

Through the course of the book, Emmie learns that there’s a lot more depth and value to her life and her friendships than she’s been recognizing. Unfortunately the only way for her to learn all this is to have the security blanket that is her relationship with Lucas shaken loose. Watching Emmie realize who her true friends are and how much joy is really in her life is so emotionally rewarding.

Overall, I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. Emmie’s character and relationships were so fulfilling and comfortable, once they were recognized; I wish they all could be my neighbors and friends.

{click here to purchase - only $11.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, reader, and lunch lady. She loves making plans and checking off her to-do list. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Dear Emmie Blue!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 8th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Dear Emmie Blue, by Lia Louis

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: I Killed Zoe Spanos, by Kit Frick {ends 9/2}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Inside, Kaylee grabs a small shopping cart and takes off past the wine displays and toward the aisles of hard alcohol like she owns the place. By the time I catch up, she has our cart stocked with a bottle of Jose Cuervo, a bottle of Bacardi white, and a yellow-green jug of margarita mix.

“Have you been here before?”

Kaylee tilts her head to one side and squints at me. “It’s a liquor store, Anna. They’re all the same. See if you can find us some pineapple juice and seltzer in the back?”

I nod and do as instructed. While I’m pulling a six-pack of little pineapple juice cans from the cold case, I hear a throat clear behind me. I straighten up, prepared to move out of the way.

“Anna?”

I spin around. “Penguin guy.”

“I prefer penguin expert,” Max says, grinning. He brushes a piece of floppy brown hair out of his eyes, and it falls right back.

The mysterious disappearance of Zoe Spanos isn’t the only mystery revealed in this book, which is full of plot twists and emotional confusion and revelations.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: I Killed Zoe Spanos, by Kit Frick {ends 9/2}
When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

This was definitely a page-turner. Anna, the new nanny, is mistaken on her first full day of work for a girl who has been missing for months. She quickly decides to wear her hair up instead of down, so hopefully she can have less awkward encounters with the locals. Matters only get more complicated as Anna can’t resist the thought that so much of Herron Mills feels familiar to her, although her mother and her best friend insist she’s never been there before.

Anna as an unreliable narrator was an excellent character. She takes the job in Herron Mills to remove herself from what she knows was an unhealthy lifestyle. Before nannying, she had finished up high school by just partying. Lots of drinking, a handful of drugs, a few blackouts. Life had been chaotic enough that she now questions her own memories of events in her life. She’s trying to be a good person, but she’s not entirely sure what kind of person she was before.

Could Anna and Zoe have been connected before? Why is Herron Mills so familiar to Anna? And most importantly, what actually happened to Zoe? Different characters want the answer to these questions either discovered, or hidden, for all different reasons. Who is telling the truth, and who is doing their best to hide the truth?

Overall, this book was a compelling read, and getting to the end to find the answers was an irresistible race. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to young adults and adults who enjoy a great, unpredictable mystery.

{click here to purchase - only $10.99 for Kindle}

Becki Bayley shares more of what she’s reading and other fun stuff on her Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of I Killed Zoe Spanos!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 2nd, 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!

I Killed Zoe Spanos, by Kit Frick

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha Waters {ends 9/1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“What the devil do you think you’re about?” Jeremy continued, sitting up straighter behind his desk. His own glass of brandy was sitting untouched before him—a sure sign of how deadly serious he was. “Fawning all over Sophie like that—and in front of Violet, no less?”

“I was under the impression—from you yourself—that you and Lady Fitzwilliam were ending your liaison,” James murmured.

“That’s not the bloody point,” Jeremy replied, which was his standard response in any situation in which he didn’t want to acknowledge the truth of someone else’s words. “I still want to know what the deuce you thought you were doing."

James shoved his chair back and stood, suddenly unable to bear the thought of sitting still a moment longer. He’d been filled with a sort of frenzied energy ever since he and Violet had left the park. He’d been unable to settle to any single task at home, despite the numerous ones that demanded his attention, and hadn’t waited long before seizing his hat and gloves to visit Jeremy. Instead of calling for his horse or carriage, he’d walked to Jeremy’s house in Fitzroy Square, the exercise doing little to calm the jangle of his nerves.

Besting one’s wife, it seemed, was highly invigorating.

A "hoax" is defined as a humorous or malicious deception. Neither description fully fit the tricks these characters played on each other. They were just grasping for attention.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha Waters {ends 9/1}
Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.

Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.

Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?

While the period vernacular and costumes were amusing, the main characters were mostly just annoying. That would have been okay, if they’d learned their lessons and moved on. Instead, this book felt like it was ending at least four times before it actually did. It sounded like even their friends were getting tired of pointing out the obvious to them—“Did you try talking to him/her?”

Overall, the writing was good and the characters could have been redeemed, but the plot started feeling too loose to just wrap up. The best part of this was that they got steamy every time they almost made up, and those scenes were well done. A few of the characters also hinted at future conflicts—will there be a follow-up? I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy period fiction and romantic comedies.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley likes reading and enjoying fresh air. If she had any pull with a divine power, she’d hope for the continued good health and happiness of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Betty White. See what she’s reading and ranting about at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of To Have and To Hoax!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 1st, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted 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!

To Have and To Hoax, by Martha Waters

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Jackal, by J.R. Ward {ends 8/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Just when she was about to lose it, when she was opening her mouth to tell him she couldn’t go another foot, the smell changed.

Is that fresh air? she wondered.

Jack stopped and had to force his head around. Or at least she assumed that was what he did, given that his voice suddenly reached her ears more directly.

“We’re heading to the left, and we’re going to have to move very fast. I don’t need to tell you how dangerous this is.”

“I got it.”

“Nyx, I’m serious --”

“Shut up. If this fails, it will not be because of me,” she vowed.

While this is not the first story of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, it was easy to catch up and get to know the characters.

Official synopsis:
The location of the glymera’s notorious prison camp was lost after the raids. When a freak accident provides Nyx clues to where her sister may still be doing time, she becomes determined to find the secret subterranean labyrinth. Embarking on a journey under the earth, she learns a terrible truth—and meets a male who changes everything forever.

The Jackal has been in the camp for so long he cannot recall anything of the freedom he once knew. Trapped by circumstances out of his control, he helps Nyx because he cannot help himself. After she discovers what happened to her sister, getting her back out becomes a deadly mission for them both.

United by a passion they can’t deny, they work together on an escape plan for Nyx—even though their destiny is to be forever apart. And as the Black Dagger Brotherhood is called upon for help, and Rhage discovers he has a half-brother who’s falsely imprisoned, a devious warden plots the deaths of them all…even the Brothers.

The book opens with a glossary. Luckily, most of the book was understandable through context clues, and referencing the glossary wasn’t usually necessary. Most of the characters in the story are vampires. While that can mean different things for different book series, the most important part of these vampires is that they live a really long time.

Nyx and her sister Posie unexpectedly receive a clue to where their sister Janelle may be serving her prison sentence - for the last 50 years. Nyx is initially convinced Janelle was wrongly convicted, and with the new information she makes it her goal to break into the prison and help her sister to escape. As soon as she gets into the prison, another inmate known as The Jackal (who has been in the prison for longer than a century) starts helping her, to both of their surprise.

Although the plot could have been confusing, the book was well written and engaging. Nyx and The Jackal had a little help from a few other inmates that The Jackal trusted, but their odds never seemed good. Despite it all, the reader couldn’t help but want things to turn out well for Nyx, The Jackal, and true love.

While this book was the first in the Black Dagger Brotherhood Prison Camp series, it was actually the fifth book in the Black Dagger Legacy. The other books may be worth checking into as well. Overall, I’d give The Jackal 4 out of 5 stars on its own. I’d recommend it to paranormal fans, and those who have previously enjoyed the books in the overlapping series. Please keep it to adults, though. Nyx and The Jackal somehow found plenty of private time during their life or death experiences.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, August 29th, 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!

The Jackal, by J.R. Ward

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Crave, by Tracy Wolff {ends 8/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley 

I stand, staring down at where Jaxon should be but isn’t for several seconds. He couldn’t have just disappeared. It’s impossible.

I start down after him—the sane way—but I’ve barely made it four steps before someone is calling behind me. “Hey, Grace! Where are you going?”

I turn to see Lia coming across the landing toward me. She’s dressed in all black, as per usual, and looks totally badass in a chic, feminine way. Also as per usual.

“I wanted to talk to Jaxon, but he’s too fast for me.”

“No news there. When Jaxon doesn’t want to be caught, he’s too fast for everyone.” She rests a hand lightly on my shoulder. “But, Grace, honey, are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

I’m pretty sure that’s the understatement of the year, so I just kind of shake my head. “It’s been a weird day. And a long one.”

“It always is when Jaxon is involved,” she tells me with a laugh. “What you need is a little more of my tea and some girl time. We should arrange that for later.”

“Yeah, definitely.”

Vampires, and dragons, and witches - oh my! There weren’t a lot of surprises in this YA vampire story, but it did have a few unique twists that made it an enjoyable read.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Crave, by Tracy Wolff {ends 8/26}
The moment she steps foot inside, Grace knows there is nothing normal about Katmere Academy, or the students in it. Her uncle's exclusive and secretive boarding school is the last place she wants to be, but after the tragic deaths of both of her parents, she is left with no choice.

It's not long before she discovers that she has entered a world like nothing she has ever known. Shapeshifters, witches and vampires roam the halls, existing in uneasy cooperation, a fragile web of alliances the only thing keeping them from war. As the lone mortal, the only thing Grace is sure of is that she doesn't belong.

Then she meets Jaxon Vega, a vampire with deadly secrets who hasn't felt anything for a hundred years. Something in him calls to Grace—something that could spell her death.

Because Jaxon walled himself off for a reason. And as Grace is drawn further under his spell, she begins to wonder: did she come to Katmere by accident, or was she brought here . . . as bait?

What better place than rural Alaska for a boarding school full of paranormal students? When Grace’s parents die, her uncle (the headmaster of the school) and her cousin (a student close to Grace’s age) are her only family left. The story starts with Grace boarding a tiny plane, and then a snowmobile with her cousin to get to the school’s very remote campus.

Sometimes the buildup is a dry necessity for a story, but in this case, Grace’s snarky voice was amusing as she learned her way around the monstrous (in size and residents) school. Her descriptions of the building were captivating. There was lots of gothic architecture, as well as an amazing library, and cozy reading nooks hidden in unexpected dark hallways and towers.

While there was some expectation of this being ‘just another vampire story,’ its plot held some unique elements. The variety of paranormal characters and their motivation for evil was different than other vampire books I’ve read. Overall I’d give this 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’m looking forward to the follow-up book from another character’s perspective, and I’d recommend this one to those who enjoy paranormal stories.

{click here to purchase - only $7.67 for hardcover!}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys Cherry Coke, salty snack foods, and Chewy Sprees. You can usually find her in late summer relaxing on her front porch and reading or playing Nonograms. She tries to remember to post on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Crave!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 26th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond; if not, alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Crave, by Tracy Wolff

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cobble Hill, by Cecily von Ziegesar {ends 8/23}

The thing was, she'd already gotten so used to pretending, it had become real. The idea of attempting to do anything—walk to the corner deli for toilet paper, open the mail, pay the bills, attend to the Blind Mice fan page, shop online for new clothes for Teddyjust seemed exhausting. She had always been the "responsible adult" in their marriage, the one who made sure the bills and taxes were paid and filed, Teddy's shots up-to-date, Stu's fan mail in order. Now she used Post-its for toilet paper until Stu brought home more. The bills stacked up under the bed, unopened, and the late fees accumulated. The fans continued to post adoring stupid shit whether anyone responded or not. And when Stu took Ted for his checkup, even Dr. Goldberg said Ted's short pants looked fine with long socks.

Besides, she liked it. She liked pretending to have MS and staying in bed. It didn't feel like she was doing nothing. It felt like she was doing something earned and deserved. She was resting.

I was excited to see a new novel coming out by Cecily von Ziegesar, because I used to LOVE both the Gossip Girl books and also the TV show. This is almost like a more grown-up version of Gossip Girl, and still includes plenty of drama.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cobble Hill, by Cecily von Ziegesar {ends 8/23}
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Gossip Girl series, a deliciously irresistible novel chronicling a year in the life of four families in an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood as they seek purpose, community, and meaningful relationships—until one unforgettable night at a raucous neighborhood party knocks them to their senses.

Welcome to Cobble Hill.

In this eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood, private storms brew amongst four married couples and their children. There’s ex-groupie Mandy, so underwhelmed by motherhood and her current physical state that she fakes a debilitating disease to get the attention of her skateboarding, ex-boyband member husband Stuart. There’s the unconventional new school nurse, Peaches, on whom Stuart has an unrequited crush, and her disappointing husband Greg, who wears noise-cancelling headphones—everywhere.

A few blocks away, Roy, a well-known, newly transplanted British novelist, has lost the thread of his next novel and his marriage to capable, indefatigable Wendy. Around the corner, Tupper, the nervous, introverted industrial designer with a warehose full of prosthetic limbs struggles to pin down his elusive artist wife Elizabeth. She remains… elusive. Throw in two hormonal teenagers, a ten-year-old pyromaniac, a drug dealer pretending to be a doctor, and a lot of hidden cameras, and you’ve got a combustible mix of egos, desires, and secrets bubbling in brownstone Brooklyn.

Smart, sophisticated, yet surprisingly tender, Cobble Hill is highly entertaining portrait of contemporary family life and the colorful characters who call Brooklyn home.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. The characters were all very well fleshed-out, and it was interesting to see some of their story arcs.

von Ziegesar must like setting her stories in the NYC area, too; this one was based in Brooklyn (Gossip Girl primarily took place in Manhattan, although some of the characters lived in Brooklyn).

It was also interesting to see how the characters all knew each otherwe don't initially know how, at first, and then later we see how all of their lives are interconnected.

(and on a random note, I especially liked the meal box delivery mentions"Full Plate, and "Grandma's House"definitely a spinoff of services like "EveryPlate" and "Hello Fresh"!)

4 stars out of 5.

{click here to pre-order! It will be out on October 20, 2020.}

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Cobble Hill!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, August 23rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be emailed the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

Open to BOTH U.S. and Canada!

Good luck!

Cobble Hill, by Cecily von Ziegesar

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Journalist: Life and Loss in America's Secret War, by Jerry A. Rose {ends 8/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The dirt roads are craggy and craterous, difficult for our aging bus. Despite an occasional seizure of sweaty palms, my companions show fine courage in sticking with me.

As we drive down a dirt road, we come to a point where a bamboo tree has been bent over the road. Vuong and Ba say a few words to each other in Vietnamese. Then Vuong says to me, “This doesn’t look good. This is a message from the Viet Cong - they are trying to tell us to go away, to warn us off.”

“What do you think we should do?” I ask both of them.

Vuong and Ba are silent for a moment; then they speak again with each other in Vietnamese. Finally, Vuong says, “What do you think, Jerry? It’s up to you.”

I take a deep breath and say, “I think we should go on.” But I feel a chill in my spine - I’m responsible for their lives too.

Vuong and I get out and cut the lashing on the tree. We keep going.

Jerry Rose’s sister Lucy spent years going over Jerry’s notes, photos, articles, and journals to recreate his career path and life in Vietnam from 1959 - 1965. His story from this time is finally a book that shares his passion for his life and work in several Asian countries.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Journalist: Life and Loss in America's Secret War, by Jerry A. Rose {ends 8/22}
Jerry Rose, a young journalist and photographer in Vietnam, exposed the secret beginnings of America’s Vietnam War in the early 1960s. Putting his life in danger, he interviewed Vietnamese villagers in a countryside riddled by a war of terror and intimidation and embedded himself with soldiers on the ground, experiences that he distilled into the first major article to be written about American troops fighting in Vietnam. His writing was acclaimed as “war reporting that ranks with the best of Ernest Hemingway and Ernie Pyle,” and in the years to follow, Time, The New York Times, The Reporter, New Republic, and The Saturday Evening Post regularly published his stories and photographs.

In spring 1965, Jerry’s friend and former doctor, Phan Huy Quat, became the new Prime Minister of Vietnam, and he invited Jerry to become an advisor to his government. Jerry agreed, hoping to use his deep knowledge of the country to help Vietnam. In September 1965, while on a trip to investigate corruption in the provinces of Vietnam, he died in a plane crash in Vietnam, leaving behind a treasure trove of journals, letters, stories, and a partially completed novel. The Journalist is the result of his sister, Lucy Rose Fischer, taking those writings and crafting a memoir in “collaboration” with her late brother―giving the term “ghostwritten” a whole new meaning.

The beginning of the book has Jerry Rose deciding to move to Vietnam for just a couple years to teach English. It sounded like just a fun diversion at first—take a couple years to teach at the University of HuĂȘ, then return to finish his PhD program. What started as just a chance to take a break from the rigors of completing his formal education and focus on his writing and painting, became a trip that changed the rest of his life.

The stories from Jerry’s life from 1959-1965 were recreated from his sister’s research of his journals, notes and photographs, along with interviews with the people closest to him. The final product is a conversational and enjoyable retelling of events in Jerry’s life in Vietnam and the surrounding countries, as well as the impressions of Jerry and his friends regarding the constantly changing political culture in Vietnam in the early 1960s that most Americans were unaware of.

Overall, this was a great non-fiction book that read more as a novel than a biography. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for adults who enjoy history, non-fiction, memoirs, and politics.

{click here to purchase - only $8.99 for Kindle}

Becki Bayley learns most things in her life through reading. Knowledge is power - the more you know, the more you know. Check out more of what she’s reading at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, August 22nd, 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 Journalist: Life and Loss in America's Secret War, by Jerry A. Rose

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

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