Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Innocent One, by Lisa Ballantyne {ends 12/6}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

As he approached the bar and restaurant where Rene had asked to meet him, Daniel slowed his pace, trying to shake off his mood. He thought about Sebastian locked inside his terraced house on this beautiful summer evening, with his panic button and the police officer outside. He thought of the woman who’d carried a bag of pig’s blood to central London in the hope of dousing a lawyer she’d never even met.

Named and shamed. Societal disapproval was no longer something it was possible to ignore. That disapproval could cost a job, a livelihood, even a life. Sebastian was still a young man, just twenty-one years old, yet he was being asked to atone for the child he had once been. It felt harsh to Daniel. He wouldn’t like to be held to account for the child he had once been. 

Daniel thought he was more or less satisfied with his life, but within a week, his wife asks for space, and a high-profile client from before his marriage returns. His wife’s accusations and the requests of his client have him re-examining everything.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Innocent One, by Lisa Ballentyne {ends 12/6}
Innocent?
Ten years have passed, but everyone remembers The Angel Killer. Sebastian Croll was just eleven years old when accused of murdering his playmate.

Criminal attorney Daniel Hunter helped prove Sebastian's innocence in a trial that gripped the nation—and now the past is being unearthed when he gets a call from his old client.

Or guilty?
Sebastian's university professor has been brutally murdered—and everyone who knew her is in the frame of suspicion. As Daniel steps in to represent Sebastian for a second time, news about the boy's past spreads like wildfire, instantly branding Sebastian as guilty.

With tensions around the country rising, can Daniel prove once again that Sebastian is the innocent one? Especially when he realizes that it's not just Sebastian who is in danger, but himself . . .

Daniel worries that his past influences everything. He was a foster kid without the advantages of his wife or others in his life now, and he wonders if that makes him different from everyone else in a potentially very bad way. When his wife suggests he hasn’t been emotionally there for her, he’s devastated. He desperately wants to do better, but his life has recently gotten quite complicated.

Sebastian is back. When Sebastian was 11 years old, he was accused of murdering another child. Daniel and his now-wife both worked on the case, and through their meeting, eventually married and had a child of their own. While Daniel isn’t sure he really wants to work with Sebastian on the new case he seems to be entangled with, a client is a client. Everyone deserves a defense, right?

Like the author’s previous works, this was well-written and compelling - what happens next?? Toward the end, there were a couple different directions hinted at for the story’s conclusion. I gave this 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it for those who enjoy a good psychological thriller. 

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who likes feta cheese with olives, Cherry Coke with Southern Comfort, and a good book with a warm blanket. She also posts reviews on her own blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, December 6th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Innocent One, by Lisa Ballentyne

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Witch Hunt, by Sasha Peyton Smith {ends 11/5}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The rest of the day passes quietly. Finn joins the family for dinner against Maxine’s will. Her mother set a place for him, insisting on meeting her daughter’s mysterious guest. Finn, never one to turn down a dinner party, borrows a jacket from Maxine’s stepfather and is seated directly between Maxine and Nina.

Maxine’s mother and stepfather do not seem to be particularly concerned with Finn, who has taken up indefinite residence in one of their many guest rooms. This is something I’m learning about the wealthy: when you don’t do your own housework, houseguests mean very little.

Finn breaks Maxine’s fourth rule and delights Nina by pulling a quarter from behind her ear. Maxine levitates her steak knife just slightly off the table. It hovers there as a threat. Finn just laughs as if it’s all one massive joke. It makes me lose what little appetite I had left.

This group of charming teenage witches, primarily described by Frances, seem to have more than their share of trouble, but being great friends as well as awesome witches is the secret to their success.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Witch Hunt, by Sasha Peyton Smith {ends 11/5}
Months after the devastating battle between the Sons of St. Druon and the witches of Haxahaven, Frances has built a quiet, safe life for herself, teaching young witches and tending the garden within the walls of Haxahaven Academy. But one thing nags; her magic has begun to act strangely. When an opportunity to visit Paris arises, Frances jumps at the chance to go, longing for adventure and seeking answers about her own power.

Once she and her classmates Maxine and Lena reach the vibrant streets of France, Frances learns that the spell she used to speak to her dead brother has had terrible consequences—the veil between the living and the dead has been torn by her recklessness, and a group of magicians are using the rift for their own gain at a horrifying cost.

To right this wrong, and save lives and her own magical powers, Frances must hunt down answers in the parlors of Parisian secret societies, the halls of the Louvre, and the tunnels of the catacombs. Her only choice is to team up with the person she swore she’d never trust again, risking further betrayal and her own life in the process.

This second book in The Witch Haven duology starts with Frances and her closest girlfriends on a ship crossing the ocean from New York to Paris. While the trip is certainly one they’ve been looking forward to, and they’re definitely enjoying each others’ company, Frances is a bit distracted because her magic isn’t working right. She doesn’t want anyone to really know about her struggles, and she isn’t entirely sure what has messed up the magical abilities she always took for granted.  

Soon enough, Frances and her friends have found themselves in a potentially epic confrontation between good and evil. Having not read the first book in the duology, the previous "devastating battle" wasn’t really clear. They have to work with a former friend-turned-enemy from their previous conflict, and learn a little more about Frances’ past along the way.

Overall, the characters were charming and engaging, and this book earned 3 out of 5 stars from this reader. Something seemed to be missing by not knowing the story of the first book, but this story was also entertaining with just a bit of the backstory unknown. I’d recommend this book and the first in the duology to be read in order by those who enjoy contemporary witch stories with strong female characters.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves all witchy stories. She’s a Gemini who enjoys staying cozy, reading, and snuggling with her black cats. She shares a few other book reviews on her own blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Witch Hunt!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, November 5th, at 11:59pm ET, 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 Witch Hunt, by Sasha Peyton Smith

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Book Review: The Life Before, by Alexandra Monir (The Final Six #2)

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I stand in front of the square plastic smidge of mirror above my bathroom sink, checking my reflection half an hour before the landmark Earth-to-Deep Space press conference that will broadcast us live to hundreds of millions in a special live episode of the Final Six docuseries. It’s only the second time astronauts have ever video-chatted with Earth from this great a distance – nearly halfway to Mars – and I try not to think about what happened to the last crew as I run a brush through my hair.

Dr. Takumi told us that more than half of Earth’s population is expected to tune in today. I can barely wrap my head around that staggering a number, but the thought of my family watching – and maybe, hopefully, Leo – is what gives me focus. My feelings about the mission may waver, but my desire to make them proud is a constant.

This second book finishes telling the exciting story of The Final Six and their plan to colonize one of Jupiter’s moons, which is hopefully more stable than Earth.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Life Before, by Alexandra Monir (The Final Six #2)
It was hard enough for Naomi to leave Leo, a fellow Final Six contestant, behind on a dying Earth. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

The International Space Training Camp continues to dodge every question about its past failed mission, and Naomi is suspicious that not everything is as it seems on her own mission to Europa. With just one shot at Jupiter’s moon, Naomi is determined to find out if there is dangerous alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there. 

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can dock with Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite, and it’s up to Leo to find and warn Naomi and the crew.

With questions piling up, everything gets more dangerous the closer that the mission gets to Europa. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and all questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous mission get answered in a terrifying way.

If the dream was to establish a new world for humans on Europa…the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.
 
Book 1 of this duology covered the choosing of an international team of teens being taught to start an essentially new civilization on a moon of Jupiter. Unfortunately for a few of these brilliant teens, some of the bonds they made in training were now intended to be severed—and they’d be working and trusting their lives to others who they didn’t trust as much, if at all.
 
While they trained for a lot of obstacles and possibilities, they’re soon faced with even bigger problems, like potential sabotage on this life or death trip. The teens will have to re-examine their beliefs about who to trust, find out more about why they were chosen for this mission, and push their gifts and intelligence to new heights if they want to survive, let alone thrive, on a new planet.
 
This story was well-told and action-packed. It is definitely worth 3 out of 5 stars, and once someone has read the first one, they should totally read this book for the thrilling conclusion. 
 
{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys relaxing with a book and a cocktail when taking a break from the endless list of work and mom tasks. Check out snapshots of her life on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Fortunes of Jaded Women, by Carolyn Huynh {ends 10/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Priscilla’s frontal lobe kicked in, and it didn’t allow her to wallow for too long. She set out to optimize her chances at finding a life partner immediately after the breakup. She lined men up every night of the week, scheduling some nights back-to-back. For the more questionable ones, she did a series of video chats to screen them. Maximum results with minimum efforts. She realized if she followed a strict, rotational method, with a high turnover rate, she would have a higher percentage of finding love. 

But after three dates, she began to see a pattern with the single men in Seattle. The data was all there. Men who questioned her credentials. Men who felt threatened and insecure with her career. Men who dangled the promise of marriage and children one day, but didn’t actually mean it. Men who were obsessed with their package. Not that kind of package – their total compensation tech package, which included base salary and the number of stocks they were given. Men who paraded around as nice guys but secretly harbored incel thoughts. Priscilla’s thoughts took a dark turn as she kept rehashing Mark, Maggie Chen, and everything that had led her to this moment. She was spiraling, and she wasn’t sure how to pull herself out of it. But she continued to go on dates, and woke up next to strangers every morning because she was too afraid to go back to that empty apartment. 

The Duong sisters were part of a long line of Vietnamese women. They were women who gave birth to baby girls, because they were cursed to never have a son.

Official synopsis:
Everyone in Orange County’s Little Saigon knew that the Duong sisters were cursed.

It started with their ancestor, Oanh, who dared to leave her marriage for true love—so a fearsome Vietnamese witch cursed Oanh and her descendants so that they would never find love or happiness, and the Duong women would give birth to daughters, never sons.​

Oanh’s current descendant Mai Nguyen knows this curse well. She’s divorced, and after an explosive disagreement a decade ago, she’s estranged from her younger sisters, Minh Pham (the middle and the mediator) and Khuyen Lam (the youngest who swears she just runs humble coffee shops and nail salons, not Little Saigon’s underground). Though Mai’s three adult daughters, Priscilla, Thuy, and Thao, are successful in their careers (one of them is John Cho’s dermatologist!), the same can’t be said for their love lives. Mai is convinced they might drive her to an early grave.

Desperate for guidance, she consults Auntie Hua, her trusted psychic in Hawaii, who delivers an unexpected prediction: this year, her family will witness a marriage, a funeral, and the birth of a son. This prophecy will reunite estranged mothers, daughters, aunts, and cousins—for better or for worse.

A multi-narrative novel brimming with levity and candor, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is about mourning, meddling, celebrating, and healing together as a family. It shows how Vietnamese women emerge victorious, even if the world is against them.

These women are the very definition of character. While the family tree may take a little while to untangle, the daughters, sisters, and cousins are soon recognizable. The mothers are determined not to make the same mistakes their mothers made, but trying to follow tradition and blaze a new path at the same time obviously proves challenging. 

This story was a fun read, with all the characters having their positive personality traits and shortcomings. No one was really evil or unkind to anyone else, but they were believable women with their own strengths and weaknesses. Surely most readers can find aspects of these women familiar to themselves or people they know in real life.

The events foretold by Mai’s psychic were fun to read about and watch unfold. This book was an enjoyable read and 3 out of 5 stars. It could easily be recommended to those who enjoy family dramas, especially with the influence of Vietnamese family culture.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother of two delightful humans and two contrary but sometimes cuddly cats. She enjoys taking care of her space, reading, and being appreciated. Check out more that she’s posted on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Fortunes of Jaded Women!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, October 26th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Fortunes of Jaded Women, by Carolyn Huynh

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Brighter Flame, by Christine Nolfi {ends 10/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Deliciously hot water pummeled Vale’s back.

It was a rare treat. In her apartment in Pittsburgh, the water never heated past lukewarm. Showering consisted of a mad dash to finish before chilly droplets prickled her skin. Bathing until the steam turned the bathroom into a sauna was a luxury. As was sleeping until noon. Vale couldn’t recall the last time she’d done so.

Taking her time, she washed her hair with Blythe’s rosemary-mint shampoo. She lathered her body with the milk-and-honey bath gel her grandmother kept on hand. After last night’s date with Emmett, she felt good. Stepping from the shower, Vale reminded herself that long-distance dating rarely worked out. Still, there was no harm in savoring Emmett’s company until she returned to Pittsburgh. She looked forward to seeing him again this afternoon.

Toweling off, she perked her ears for the Motown songs that had woken her. They were no longer playing. Was Blythe downstairs? Vale padded into her bedroom after grabbing a robe. If they bumped into each other, she resolved to avoid another spat.

As the story starts out, Vale would have no luck at all if it weren’t for her awful luck. She thinks returning home to Philadelphia would be the worst thing ever, but it may just save her after all.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Brighter Flame, by Christine Nolfi {ends 10/12}
Vale Lightner’s dreams turn to ash when the Pittsburgh bar she owns goes up in flames. Just like the past she escaped, very little seems salvageable. Facing unavoidable change, Vale returns to her hometown of Philadelphia to stay with her grandmother.

She knows that returning also means facing everything she left behind: a mother and stepfather who shunted her into the background from the day they married, and her charmed and favored half sister, Blythe, who has abandoned a perfect marriage and is now at a crossroads of her own. Everyone has their secrets, and this reunited family racked by them is about to reach a crisis point.

For a mother and her two daughters, this reunion is a chance for closure, newfound love, and forgiveness. As each of them reassesses her own memories of the past, only the truth can bring them together—in ways that could last forever. 

Vale is used to her family’s poor opinions of her. Growing up, she ran from her mother, stepfather, and sister to her grandmother’s house more than a few times. Once she’s moved away and bought a bar with her father, she thinks she may have found her success. When the bar burns to the ground and can’t be rebuilt, the only fault of hers is her choice of an unreliable business partner. 

She doesn’t want to start over with a bar ownership job she really didn’t love anyway, and her grandmother gives her the perfect excuse—she’s sworn to secrecy while she moves back to her grandmother’s house to help out. She may have made a different choice if she knew her sister was already there. Vale and Blythe had a horrible relationship growing up, and neither one is ready to forgive and forget.

Overall, the story was charming, but predictable. It really had to have a happy ending, as most of the characters were really good people at heart. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it for those who enjoy family dramas and strong female characters.

{click here to purchase—currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited members}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini with a husband, two kids, and a full-time job she doesn’t hate. She tries to post what she’s up to from time to time on Instagram, where she is known as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of A Brighter Flame!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, October 11th, at 11:59pm ET, 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!

A Brighter Flame, by Christine Nolfi

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Her Majesty's Royal Coven, by Juno Dawson {ends 10/9}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Helena
It was only correct that Helena should have the best corner office in HMRC (Her Majesty’s Royal Coven). Double aspect with windows on two sides overlooking the redbrick and steel sprawl of Manchester. The Beetham Tower – still the tallest building for miles – gleamed in a hazy tangerine late-afternoon sun.

There was still plenty to clear from her desk before she could leave for the day: sign-off on repairs for the damage caused in the Smythe sting operation; check-in with Sandhya about prep for Solstice; a quick Zoom meeting with Sanne Visser, the notoriously – and perhaps ironically – frosty head of the International Global Warming Action Coven. But first, and most importantly, the Sullied Child. Her intercom buzzed. ‘Yes?’

‘Incoming teleport,’ her secretary said.

‘Thanks, Karen.’

The hairs on her arm stood on end and there was a familiar bonfire-night odour as her daughter’s particles started to swirl around the centre of the office. Her expression was sour. ‘I hate teleporting,’ she whined before she’d even fully formed.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven may not be publicly acknowledged by the government, but everyone knows that the gifts witches have can benefit mundanes, as long as they don’t scare them too much in the process.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Her Majesty's Royal Coven, by Juno Dawson {ends 10/9}
At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls – Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle – took the oath to join Her Majesty's Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she's a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

The book starts when the girls are just friends, scared of growing up, and more than a little nervous to soon join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (HMRC). They’re the offspring of witches who are already members, and really don’t know any other path, but they do know it’s a lot of responsibility too.

The story then moves on to adulthood. While some of the original witches have chosen not to stay with HMRC, there has been a major war of the witchy variety. While the mundanes (non-witches) may have noticed a bit of it, most of the fighting and losses involved the witches. 

Overall, the characters were unique, memorable, and believable (at least if you love magical realism). I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy. The end was a fantastic cliffhanger and I need to know what happens next!

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves fall, Halloween, and witch books year-round! Check out a bit more of what she’s up to and the books she’s reading at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Her Majesty's Royal Coven!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, October 9th, at 11:59pm ET, 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!

Her Majesty's Royal Coven, by Juno Dawson

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Evangeline's Heaven, by Jen Braaksma {ends 10/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“No,” she says, “I go in alone.”

Michael turns to her, again with that look of vexation. “That’s stupid, Evie,” he says.

Evangeline bristles with indignation. No, not stupid. Smart, cunning, strategic. They need her, so she’ll make the rules. She’ll ensure she gets the book — alone  and then she’ll flee. She has absolutely no intention of handing this most valuable text over to her archenemy. She’d be mad if she did. Assuming Gabriel and Michael are right, assuming this book truly is the Key to the Kingdom, she’s not going to let it disappear into the bowels of the Archangel vaults. Because she knows Gabriel will never return it to the Archives, no matter how hard the Cherubim protest. 

In his eyes, the book is a dangerous weapon, and Evangeline fears he will use it against her people, to destroy Commoners for good. She can’t let that happen. If her father can’t get the Key, the one thing that will win them this war, then she will.

What a fascinating telling of the fall of Lucifer. His daughter, Evangeline, gives her version of the events in Heaven leading to Lucifer’s challenge and defeat.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Evangeline's Heaven, by Jen Braaksma {ends 10/3}

War is ravaging the Seven Heavens. Lucifer and his Commoner supporters, the lowest class of angels, are rebelling against God’s plan to exile them to the new Earth. When Lucifer departs on a desperate war mission, he leaves his daughter, Evangeline, to defend their home in First Heaven. Fiercely loyal and trained to fight, Evangeline stands ready to do her father’s bidding.

But things change when Evangeline overhears the archangel Gabriel forming a plan to destroy Lucifer—because, as he tells his son, Michael, he believes Lucifer’s plan is to find the Key to the Kingdom and claim the power of God to control all the Heavens for eternity. Refusing to believe her father capable of such treachery, Evangeline sets off to alert her father.

As she battles through the Heavens, however, Evangeline is shocked to discover that what she believed she knew about her father might not be true after all. For the first time in her life, she begins to question whether or not her father’s motives are pure. With the fate of the Heavens hanging in the balance, she must decide who she’s going to be: her father’s daughter, or her own person.

Evangeline has been trained for battle, but her father, Lucifer, usually keeps her safe at home, asking her only to serve as his representative to the people while he is off leading his armies in the war. But Evangeline is soon on the run to find her father and initially, to warn him of attack from his enemies. As Evangeline fights her way through the different levels of Heaven to try and reach her father, she hears from many angels she trusts that not everything with her father is as it seems.

The story included excellent world-building, describing the different levels of Heaven and the different classes of angels who resided in each. The descriptions of the separate specific angels and their relationships to each other were also very helpful. Overall, I gave this book a high 3 out of 5 stars. While it could easily have turned a bit preachy with the Christianity background, the author did a wonderful job of presenting this as an interesting fantasy read.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, niece, and aunt. In her spare time, she tries to post more reviews of books and life experiences at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Evangeline's Heaven!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Evangeline's Heaven, by Jen Braaksma

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