Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mallory's Manly Methods, by Thomas Keech {ends 5/17}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The party wasn’t anything like he expected. While he waited on the landing for Nell to arrive, he saw only three people arriving, and two of them were from the apartment immediately below Thomas’s. It was a warm, bright, late September afternoon. There was no smell of marijuana or hint of other drugs in the air, no loud music, no sketchy characters coming or going.

Nell arrived on the dot of five, clicking up the stairs in heels. Her dress had no glitter on it, but it was made of a powder blue, shiny fabric that ended just under the knee and showed just a bit of her shoulders at the top. She wore a rhinestone belt and silver, open-toed heels. “Hello,” she called out to him as she reached the top of the stairs. He was sitting on Thomas’s empty cooler on the landing. 

“What happened to your face?” She backed off as if the scratches were contagious.

“Oh. Um…just a run-in with some gangbangers in the parking lot trying to steal my dinner.”

“Gangbangers? Did you call the police?”

“Um, no. I scared them pretty good. I don’t think they’ll be back around here for a while.”

Oh dear. Mallory is a legend in his own mind. His imagination, at least, is second to none. He never tells the truth when a lie could be presented quickly enough.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mallory's Manly Methods, by Thomas Keech {ends 5/17}
Kevin Mallory is so good at lying he has convinced himself he has almost an average life. He tries to use his exceptional skill at prevarication to hang onto his job without doing any work, win the love of his co-worker without recognizing who she really is, take advantage of the young Black man who moves in next door, and manipulate the police and the courts into accepting his warped idea of justice

Mallory pursues his co-worker, Nell, even as his supervisor at the UniCast Cable Company attempts to prove he is cutting off customers' calls. He joins Nell's dysfunctional Employee Cheer Committee as it tries to avoid disaster at the upcoming holiday party. He agrees to cat sit for Nell while she goes on a series of girls' nights out. He buys a rifle for protection from imaginary hoodlums but cannot get the box of bullets open. When Thomas, his neighbor, is assaulted by the police, Mallory impersonates a lawyer and represents him. When he is later criminally charged himself, he summons Nell as a witness, brings his rifle to court, and parks in a handicapped parking spot.
 
Mallory is just a small step above the stereotypical loser living in their mother’s basement. He is in his own apartment, and has a job, even if his greatest goal in life is to make it through his days without actually doing his job. For anyone who has ever dealt with a customer service representative who seemed to do anything but help, that is truly who Mallory is. 

He decides he may want to be a better man when he is sure he’s fallen in love with his co-worker, Nell. But does just pretending to be a better man really count? Somehow, he’s been telling so many lies for so long, he may not even know the truth himself anymore.

With such an unlikable main character, this could have been a hard book to like. I appreciated the humor in all of Mallory’s many flaws and bad decisions, and gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. It definitely needed to be approached in the right frame of mind, and I would recommend it for a reader who can dislike the main character, but still find humor in his misery and hilariously bad choices.

{click here to purchase}
 
Becki Bayley likes warming weather, cold drinks, and reading outside. Check out more of her adventures and what she’s been reading at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:
 
One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Mallory's Manly Methods!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 17th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Mallory's Manly Methods, by Thomas Keech

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Scarlet Carnation, by Laila Ibrahim {ends 5/13}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

MAY

June 1915

The exhibition was as grand as the accounts in the newspaper reported. Blocks and blocks of the city of San Francisco were transformed into a walled fortress along the waterfront. Dome-topped buildings in art deco designs anchored the four corners. The city was declaring to the entire world: we are recovered from the 1906 earthquake, ready to be an important city of the future. 

The two couples strolled through the Joy Zone, a midway lined with games, rides, and attractions. It spread blocks and blocks from Fillmore Street to Van Ness Avenue, making what had been a familiar neighborhood entirely unrecognizable. Each booth’s distinct and dramatic fa├žade broadcast the attraction in order to draw customers. 

“Oh dear!” May exclaimed as she tapped John’s arm and pointed.

Ahead was a grotesque caricature of an African man. His chin rested on his hands and a large ring passed through his nose. The words African Dip filled in the space between his arms. It was one of those horrid dunk tanks that were supposedly an improvement over the African Dodger game. But May disapproved of anything that encouraged White men to hurl abuse at Colored men. Dropping a man in a tank of water was scarcely better than throwing baseballs at his head.

She teared up. “I believed San Francisco was better than stooping to such degradation for profit.”

This was the story of two distant relations living in the same city, but still worlds apart based in part on the color of their skin.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Scarlet Carnation, by Laila Ibrahim {ends 5/13}
1915. May and Naomi are extended family, their grandmothers’ lives inseparably entwined on a Virginia plantation in the volatile time leading up to the Civil War. For both women, the twentieth century promises social transformation and equal opportunity.

May, a young white woman, is on the brink of achieving the independent life she’s dreamed of since childhood. Naomi, a nurse, mother, and leader of the NAACP, has fulfilled her own dearest desire: buying a home for her family. But they both are about to learn that dreams can be destroyed in an instant. May’s future is upended, and she is forced to rely once again on her mother. Meanwhile, the white-majority neighborhood into which Naomi has moved is organizing against her while her sons are away fighting for their country.

In the tumult of a changing nation, these two women—whose grandmothers survived the Civil War—support each other’s quest for liberation and dignity. Both find the strength to confront injustice and the faith to thrive on their chosen paths.

May and Naomi are distant cousins, but still see each other a few times a year. They’re in different stages of their life, have different goals and plans for their life, and look quite different: Naomi is black, while May is white. But this has never given them any confusion about the fact that they’re family.

With that said, the story is told in separate turns of each woman’s story. The book starts with May anxiously waiting for her boyfriend to propose once he is gainfully employed as he finishes college. Naomi would love to move her family into a better home, with modern amenities and more room for them all. Neither of their plans go quite as expected. 

This great telling of two parallel stories in and around San Francisco in the early 1900s shows the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how a woman can respond and hopefully try to make it better for everyone. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction and women’s stories. 

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

Becki Bayley’s greatest wish for her life is for her children to grow into happy, healthy, productive adults. She has no idea what will happen once that goal is met. Check out what else she’s reading and doing with her time at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

TWO of my lucky readers will win a copy of Scarlet Carnation!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Scarlet Carnation, by Laila Ibrahim

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One of Us is Dead, by Jeneva Rose {ends 5/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

CRYSTAL

I held the glass ever so gently, careful not to mess up my freshly done manicure. I went for a soft-pink color – no acrylics, no fancy designs or bold colors. Just something simple and practical. I raised the mimosa to my lips and took a long drink, while one of the manicurists worked on my other hand.

So far, so good. We made it past the first potential blowup. I thought for sure Keisha was going to throw Olivia out, but thank Jesus for Karen stepping in. Keisha and Olivia both have strong personalities – who knows what would have happened? I had no idea Olivia manipulated this event. It was completely out of line as Glow is Jenny’s salon, and she should have asked Jenny first. However, in a way, I could see where Oliva was coming from. Maybe she genuinely wanted it to be just as girls. Maybe she wanted to open up about what was all going on with her and Dean. It wasn’t the best way to do it, but I think her intentions were good…at least I hoped so.

Talk about frenemies! This small group are all grown women, and they fill the roles of each others’ best friends and worst enemies at exactly the same time.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One of Us is Dead, by Jeneva Rose {ends 5/11}
Meet the women of Buckhead—a place of expensive cars, huge houses, and competitive friendships.

Shannon was once the queen bee of Buckhead. But she’s been unceremoniously dumped by Bryce, her politician husband. When Bryce replaces her with a much younger woman, Shannon sets out to take revenge …

Crystal has stepped into Shannon’s old shoes. A young, innocent Texan girl, she simply has no idea what she’s up against …

Olivia has waited years to take Shannon’s crown as the unofficial queen of Buckhead. Finally, her moment has come. But to take her rightful place, she will need to use every backstabbing, manipulative, underhand trick in the book …

Jenny owns Glow, the most exclusive salon in town. Jenny knows all her clients’ secrets and darkest desires. But will she ever tell?

Who amongst these women will be clever enough to survive Buckhead—and who will wind up dead?

They say that friendships can be complex, but no one said it could ever be this deadly.

The whole story is told in alternating chapters that jump between the characters leading up to the death, and with chapters of Jenny telling the police detective the whole story in between. Whom is actually dead is not revealed until nearly the end of the book. Most of the characters were loved or hated at different points of the story.

Shannon has been replaced in the heart (and home) of the politician by Crystal, a former bartender who was first his mistress before marrying him and trying to fill the large role Shannon had played in the community before being unexpectedly replaced.

Olivia definitely fancies herself the biggest puppeteer in Buckhead. She tells how she has made each of the women who they are, and how she plans to manipulate them next. Even the men associated with each woman play a role in the story, and how everyone expects it to go.

Overall, I gave this quirky mystery 3 out of 5 stars. I liked the writing style, although I did have to flip back to the beginning of a chapter a few times to remind myself of whose story I was in right then. It was a quick read with a "right" ending, in my opinion. 

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who mostly minds her own business, but doesn’t mind hearing vicariously of the entertaining drama of others. She blogs at sweetlybsquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of One of Us is Dead!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

One of Us is Dead, by Jeneva Rose

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Quick Pick Book Review: Upgrade, by Blake Crouch

Quick Pick Book Review: Upgrade, by Blake Crouch
  • Opening lines: We found Henrik Soren at a wine bar in the international terminal, thirty minutes from boarding a hyperjet to Tokyo.

    Before tonight, I had only seen him in INTERPOL photographs and CCTV footage. In the flesh, he was less impressive
    five and a half feet in his artificially distressed Saint Laurent sneakers with a designer hoodie hiding most of his face. He was sitting at the end of the bar with a book and a bottle of Krug.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I read Recursion by Blake Crouch for my book club, and really enjoyed it.
  • And what's this book about?
    “You are the next step in human evolution.”

    At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

    But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

    The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

    Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

    Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

    And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

    Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys sci-fi or dystopian books, or books about gene editing.
  • Favorite paragraph: Scythe was the revolutionary, biological DNA modifier system—now extremely illegal—discovered and patented by my mother, Miriam Ramsay. It had been a seismic leap forward that left the previous generations of technologies—ZFNs, TALENs, CRISPR-Cas9—gasping in the dust. Scythe had ushered in a new era of gene editing and delivery, one that brought about catastrophic results. Which is why getting caught using or selling it for germline modification—the making of a new organism—came with a mandatory thirty-year prison sentence.
  • Something to know: I would love to see this book made into a movie—definitely would be very exciting, and I could probably come up with a dream cast if I thought about it, as well.
  • What I would have changed: Not sure I would have changed anything. 
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon—it will be out on July 13, 2022.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Devil's Whispers: A Gothic Horror Novel, by Lucas Hault {ends 5/2}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I’m agitated and numb. My body shivers in horror.

As I was lingering on the verge of sleep, I sensed the presence of a shadow trailing across my window. It looked so real, as if I was standing there to watch it pass along the mist. Suddenly, I bolted awake and sat up with a horrible sense of fear and emptiness inside me. I remained motionless and vigilant, and then I heard a harrowing whisper pass through my room. What made the noise I know not, but the idle talks of the womenfolk echoed inside my head.

Quickly, I rose to my feet and opened the door.

It was a beautiful night. Stars twinkled in the sky, surrounding the moon like the subjects of an empire assembling before their queen. A cool breeze swept the land. I inhaled a long breath to ignite the fire of courage in my heart, and without wasting a moment further, snuck away towards the south, where I again heard the whisper.

What is haunting Gerard Woodward and his love Raelyn? Whatever it is, it follows them around the countryside and lurks closer all the time, destroying those they love and threatening to destroy them too.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Devil's Whispers: A Gothic Horror Novel, by Lucas Hault {ends 5/2}
Famed British lawyer Gerard Woodward is summoned to an ancient Welsh castle to assist a dying lord in his final affairs. But as his host slips closer to death, Gerard begins to feel less like a guest and more like a prisoner. When he finds himself locked inside his room, he realizes he must escape.

After finding his way out of his room, Gerard begins to wonder if he was safer locked inside. The labyrinthine halls echo secrets. A terrible wail and the rattling of chains sets his nerves on end. Something sinister is happening within the walls of Mathers Castle, and when he descends into the dungeons, he discovers a horrible secret…

In nearby London, children vanish into the night, animals are horribly mutilated, and a savage creature stalks the shadows. When Gerard’s wife, Raelyn, becomes the creature’s next target, his need to escape reaches a fever pitch. He must get out alive so he can dispel the evil that threatens to destroy his beloved Raelyn… and the rest of us.

The story starts out as Gerard Woodward leaves for a brief assignment to sort out the final affairs of Lord Mathers at his secluded castle far from the home he plans to share with his fiance Raelyn. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself locked in his room, and Lord Mathers possibly not as near death as he was led to believe.

Meanwhile back in London, Raelyn is dealing with her own creepy occurrences. Her cousin has come to stay in her guest house, and he is less and less how she remembers him every day. Could all the horrors be linked?

The terrors and suspense build in this story slowly and steadily. An ancient curse is branching out from the Mathers Castle and haunting them all. I gave this chilling story 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy traditional dark gothic stories. 

{click here to purchase—currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited users!}
 
Becki Bayley is a woman without a secret life, who lives vicariously through the books she reads. Read more of her book reviews and other observations at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.
 
GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Devil's Whispers!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, May 2nd, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck! 

The Devil's Whispers: A Gothic Horror Novel, by Lucas Hault

Monday, April 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Teach Me Tonight, by Susan Coventry {ends 4/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Lily managed to pull herself together while eating dinner and dessert with Trey’s family. They were a likable bunch and didn’t pay her too much attention other than asking a few basic questions about her job and where she lived. Morgan, however, kept a close eye on her and Trey, smiling and looking like she had a secret, which, of course, she did.

Finally, shortly after dessert, Trey announced that they were leaving. The goodbyes took a while, and then Morgan and Denise walked them to the door.

“We really enjoyed having you, Lily. I hope we’ll see you again sometime,” Denise said.

If his mom thought something fishy was going on, she did a good job of hiding it.

While this was a fun fake-romance to true-love story, it was neat to recognize the places the characters mentioned too.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Teach Me Tonight, by Susan Coventry {ends 4/12}
Two teachers embark on a pretend romance, but there is no accounting for real love!

Friends and coworkers…

Lily Caldwell loves her job as a junior high school language arts teacher. It doesn’t hurt that her classroom is right across the hall from her handsome, charming coworker Trey. While she enjoys his friendship, she hides her attraction to him for a variety of reasons, and she’s determined to keep it that way.

A mutual attraction…

Trey Garrison enjoys his job as a math teacher even if it makes him sound nerdy. He also likes his pretty coworker across the hall and interacts with her every chance he gets. Lily is sweet and friendly, but she keeps her distance, and he’s dying to know why.

One conversation changes everything…

Lily tells Trey about her friend’s upcoming wedding at a popular ski resort. It should be fun, but she’s standing up in the wedding with Collin, her controlling ex-boyfriend, and wishes she had a date. She never expected Trey to volunteer or to play her “fake boyfriend” to prove to Collin that she’s moved on.

Love Lessons…

Trey can’t wait to spend more time with Lily. He excitedly prepares “lesson plans” to pull off their ruse. However, he hasn’t accounted for everything, including falling in love.

Teach Me Tonight is book one in the Love Lessons series, a sweet and sexy contemporary romance.

Lily and Trey are work friends—they teach across the hall from each other at the local junior high, and usually take a few minutes for some small talk as they wrap up each day. When Lily vents about having to be in the bridal party for a wedding where her controlling ex will also be, Trey sees his big chance to be a good friend, and get in a weekend of skiing at a fun resort not too far away. 

Before the wedding, they of course have to get to know each other a bit better outside of work, so their story of being a happy couple can be convincing to the rest of the wedding guests, and Lily’s dreaded ex. It’s no surprise to the reader that their "pretending" gets more real in a hurry.

This book was especially fun as it mentioned several Michigan ski resorts and destinations. Recognizing the familiar settings for the book, as well as the amusing story of Lily and Trey’s growing romance, earned it a 4 out of 5 star rating. I’d recommend it as a fun wintery romance between friends and co-workers. This was the first book in the new Love Lessons series from the author. The hints have already been revealed of which middle school staff couple will be the next to get the opportunity to find true love.

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

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and reader in southeast Michigan. While she hates the cold, the rest of her household are downhill skiing fans. Check out their family adventures on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Teach Me Tonight!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, April 12th, 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!

Teach Me Tonight, by Susan Coventry

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Damage Done, by Michael Landweber {ends 4/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The Murderer had been practicing sounding sorry for years. But he had trouble convincing parole board members he wouldn’t do it again. He had the hands and face of a killer – dead eyes and meat-hook fists. He couldn’t help that. All the apologies in the world couldn’t change the fact that he looked like someone you didn’t want to fuck with.

The words in the parole handbook, provided by a do-gooder nonprofit, blurred before his eyes. He had been reading it over and over, trying to identify the way out. The universe had provided the loophole – for him, for everyone in for murder. He was sorry for the past, and now, whether he wanted to or not, he couldn’t repeat his crime. There was no possibility he was a danger to society.

How much would a permanent relief—or escape—from violence change someone’s life? The answer varies so much on the individual’s circumstances.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Damage Done, by Michael Landweber {ends 4/11}
Violence is a thing of the past—but do new horrors lie in wait?
 
Imagine a world devoid of violence—a world where fists can’t hit, guns don’t kill, and bombs can’t destroy. In this tantalizing novel of possibility, this has—suddenly and inexplicably—become our new reality.

The U.S. president must find a new way to wage war. The Pope ponders whether the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is still relevant. A dictator takes his own life after realizing that the violence he used to control his people is no longer an option.

In the first days after the change, seven people who have experienced violence struggle to adapt to this radical new paradigm: Dab, a bullied middle schooler; Marcus, a high school student whose brother is the last victim of gun violence in America; Ann, a social worker stuck in an abusive marriage; Richard, a professor whose past makes him expect the worst inthe present; Gabriela, who is making a dangerous border crossing into the U.S.; the Empty Shell, a dissident writer waiting to be tortured in a notorious prison; and Julian, a white supremacist plotting a horrific massacre. As their fates intertwine, the promise and perils of this new world begin to take shape.
 
Although violence is no longer possible, that doesn’t mean that some among us won’t keep trying. Mindless cruelty is still alive and well—and those bent on destruction will seek the most devious means to achieve it.

This was a fascinating speculative story told from the viewpoints of seven people around the world, who later had some overlap between their characters, usually influenced by the sudden cease of violence that happened all at once. The different perspectives really brought to light that the elimination of violence, while obviously perceived as good at first glance, would affect people and populations in a lot of different ways. 

Several of their stories were haunting in their ability to keep the reader thinking about the possibilities changing around the world. While safety from violence is easy to dream about, what about the social changes and other positions of power that may have been achieved or maintained through violence? The book definitely attempted to look at the situation from many different angles.

Overall, I found this book to be quite thought-provoking in a way that tried hard not to pass judgment on the varied characters. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it as an interesting social commentary on a situation many would imagine as only good.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a middle-aged wife and mom who enjoys using her few spare minutes to herself to read. Find out what else she’s been reading on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Damage Done!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!


The Damage Done, by Michael Landweber

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