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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