Thursday, August 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Our Little World, by Karen Winn {ends 8/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The summer of 1986, the hot weather arrived – swimming weather – but Deer Chase Lake remained closed. “They found bacteria in the lake,” Mother told Audrina and me one June morning over breakfast, “so it’s not going to open for a while. They have to clean it.”

I nodded, feeling relieved, and swirled around the milk in my cereal bowl to douse the remaining Cheerios that were still partially dry.

Audrina snorted. “Who’d want to go there anyway?”

I glanced up from my bowl of cereal, surprised that we were in agreement on this, albeit silently, when we still felt so far apart.

This isn’t just a story of a four-year-old who goes missing from the beach. It’s her neighbor Bee’s insights surrounding the tumultuous summer and all the changes this initiated in her life and other lives in the community over the next year. It’s the story of how one thing happening can change everything, forever.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Our Little World, by Karen Winn {ends 8/11}
July 1985. It’s a normal, sweltering New Jersey summer for soon-to-be seventh grader Bee Kocsis. Her thoughts center only on sunny days spent at Deer Chase Lake, on evenings chasing fireflies around her cul-de-sac with the neighborhood kids, and on Max, the boy who just moved in across the street. There's also the burgeoning worry that she'll never be as special as her younger sister, Audrina, who seems to effortlessly dazzle wherever she goes. 

But when Max’s little sister, Sally, goes missing at the lake, Bee’s long-held illusion of stability is shattered in an instant. As the families in her close-knit community turn inward, suspicious and protective, things in Bee’s own home become increasingly strained, most of all with Audrina, when a shameful secret surfaces. With everything changed, Bee and Audrina’s already-fraught sisterhood is pushed to the limit as they grow up—and apart—in the wake of an innocence lost too soon. 

This moving story tells of young Bee’s observations about her neighborhood and her family when she’s around 12 years old, but adds a few comments about her adult reflections on these memories. It was definitely a sort of "before-and-after" summer for her. When young Sally goes missing, it not only changes the way her entire community operates, but also her personal relationships with her parents and her younger sister. Everyone is processing the grief of not having Sally around, and potentially addressing that their community may not be perfect and safe, with the hope they’re holding out that Sally has just wandered off and will return, miraculously, unscathed.

But Sally’s story isn’t always the most important one, even when Bee and her neighbors want it to be. Other people are still growing, changing, and making choices about their own lives. Adults are still good or bad parents and spouses, and everyone still has good and bad things happen, that usually have nothing to do with Sally being gone.

Bee’s viewpoint from both her young self and her comments about it all once she’s an adult were heartfelt and memorable. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and loved it not just for the amazingly realistic character Bee was, but for the wholly memorable 1980s setting for it all. This book would be recommended for those who appreciate family dramas, sister stories, and re-living the 1980s.

{click here to purchase - Kindle edition is currently 46% off!}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys relaxing with a good book, driving on a dry sunny day, or curling up with a watermelon wine to watch a thunderstorm out the window. Check out a few of her captured memories on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Our Little World!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, August 11th, at 11:59pm ET, and winners will be notified 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!

Our Little World, by Karen Winn

Monday, August 1, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Hemlock Cure, by Joanne Burn {ends 8/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From the pantry, Mae hears the knocking.

‘See who it is!’ shouts Father. He is explaining to Sam about the humoral system, and the two of them are sitting at the kitchen table looking at a diagram of the human body.

Mae goes through to the lobby, pulling the door closed behind her to keep the warmth of the kitchen in. The key hangs from its nail and, taking it, she slips it into the lock, turning it easily, the ironwork of the door handle cold in her palm.

Isabel is backlit by the sun, her eyes the bright blue of forget-me-nots.

‘Mae.’

‘I cannot ask you in.’

‘You explained last time.’

Mae knows her life would be much better if her mother and her sister hadn’t died. Life with her father is hard, but it may be even worse than she thinks.

Official summary:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Hemlock Cure, by Joanne Burn {ends 8/8}
A glitteringly dark historical novel of love, persecution, and survival set against the backdrop of one of history's most terrifying episodes: the Bubonic Plague.

It is 1665 and the women of Eyam village keep many secrets. Especially Isabel and Mae.

Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about the pious, reclusive apothecary, on whom she is keeping a watchful eye.

Mae, the apothecary's youngest daughter, dreads her father's rage if he discovers what she keeps from him: her feelings for Rafe, Isabel's ward, or the fact that she studies from her father's books at night.

But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.

When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae will place them both in unimaginable peril. Meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all. . . 

After Mae’s mother died, she started hanging out regularly with her mother’s friends, Isabel and Elizabeth. Her father especially did not approve of Isabel, the village’s midwife, who he held responsible for the death of any brothers Mae may have had. 

Soon, the plague hits their small village. Mae’s father encourages prayer and a few remedies he offers as the apothecary. When Isabel’s husband goes to London to help other family members, pregnant Isabel watches Mae’s home life get worse and worse. Should someone help Mae? And if so, how? Standing up to an apothecary with an upstanding reputation is risky for any woman, but especially one with a sketchy past for herself.

This was a great book about female empowerment when it seemed impossible. I loved Mae’s spirit and gave the book 4 out of 5 stars. This book could be recommended to any reader who wants to read more about a period of history about which not a lot of books are written. The author includes a note at the back that credits some characters based on real people from that period.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is always a wife and mom first. Check out her posts about what she’s reading and enjoying in her yard on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Hemlock Cure!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, August 8th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be chosen the next day and notified via email. Winner will have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Hemlock Cure, by Joanne Burn

Monday, July 18, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Assassin's Lullaby, by Mark Rubenstein {ends 7/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Eli knows that if the feds get their hands on that flash drive, Gorlov could be charged with a shitload of crimes, mainly financial, but there could be details on the device implicating him in other felonies as well. Crimes that go beyond white-collar stuff:  extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, or murder.

No matter what Gorlov says, Irina Sakharov will be nothing more than collateral damage for Gorlov and Viktor.

This woman is innocent, has nothing to do with Russian organized crime.

Yet she’s going down. As for her brother, when Gorlov suspected he’d been disloyal, he ended up leaving this world.

This is how the Bratva operates.

Eli has only been an assassin. But as he gets a bit older, maybe it’s time for him to take the money he’s hidden away, create yet another identity, and start a new life for himself.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Assassin's Lullaby, by Mark Rubenstein {ends 7/25}
In every life, there lurks catastrophe.

So believes Eli Dagan, a thirty-nine-year-old man whose traumatic past led to his service as an assassin for the Mossad. He now lives in New York City, where under various assumed names he’s a contract killer.

Anton Gorlov, the head of the Brooklyn-based Odessa mafia, has a new and challenging assignment for Eli. Gorlov wants to leave the country permanently, so all loose ends must be eliminated. He’s willing to pay $1 million for a task divided into two parts. The job involves extreme measures along with unprecedented danger for Eli, who has lived a ghostly existence over the last ten years.

Is accepting Gorlov’s offer a subliminal death wish? Or is it a way to reclaim part of his damaged soul?

For the first time since his pregnant wife and parents were killed by a suicide bomber years earlier, Eli Dagan faces challenges that will reconnect him with his blighted past and may yet offer hope for a new and better life.

There’s apparently no alone like assassin alone. Eli takes readers on a journey of always looking over one’s shoulder, and having no contacts for an employer or enemy to use against him. He assesses every building or room he enters, and always has an emergency escape plan. He realizes he’s getting older, and maybe it’s time to take the substantial money he’s earned and start a new life, with no links to his assassin history.

But his newest job is oddly pulling at his heartstrings. The employer has simply told him to get a flash drive from a woman, but he knows just getting the flash drive won’t end up being enough, and the woman has done nothing to deserve the end he’s sure she’ll meet. 

The action was frequently the imaginings of Eli, getting paranoid after all of his real life risks. The story was well told, and never quite clear where it would go next. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and would certainly recommend it to those who enjoy an edge-of-your-seat action/adventure story.

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

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys reading a wide variety of books. Check out her interesting  reads and cozy reading nooks on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Assassin's Lullaby!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, July 25th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Assassin's Lullaby, by Mark Rubenstein

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One Day in June, by Sam Martin {ends 7/24}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

With his mobile phone on the seat next to him as a Satellite Navigator, Adrian headed west out of the city and out into the suburbs, passing through St. Pauli and Altona on the river road. He had no idea what he would find when he got to Teufelsbrück (has a place ever been more perfectly named: the ‘Devil’s Bridge’?), but as he got nearer he sensed that he was leaving something of his old life behind him and that in seeking answers to the questions which he now felt compelled to ask, a new chapter of his life might just be about to begin. But he was unsure whether to embrace it or to fear it.

Without doubt he’d been scarred and badly hurt so much by his ‘old’ life and he had spent the past eleven years sinking deep into himself in an effort to exorcise the demons which had been eating away at him, so in that way a new start was something he could welcome. But this wasn’t the same as a snake shedding its old skin. 

When Adrian Kramer’s mother dies somewhat unexpectedly, a few years after his father had died, packing up her house leads him to discover that he may not know his own parents like he thought he did.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One Day in June, by Sam Martin {ends 7/24}
All his adult life Adrian Kramer had carried around with him a secret. But was it as big a secret, or one as explosive or life-threatening as the secret he stumbled into? Based on a true story and series of historical events,
One Day In June is one man’s journey of self discovery into the dark and bleeding heart of Europe.

Adrian doesn’t have a lot of people he considers close friends, so when he finds something unusual while packing up his parents’ house, he isn’t sure where to turn to unravel the mystery of what he’s found, and what it may mean about the man who was his father. Unfortunately, there are some very bad people who are ecstatic at Adrian’s discovery and will stop at nothing to have it for their own.

What starts as a slow self-discovery and time of contemplation for Adrian gets fast-tracked to a dangerous search that risks the lives of Adrian and those close to him. Before he’s had time to decide what it all means for him and the family he’s already known, he’s in a race against the clock without knowing who to trust.

This was an intriguing story and a unique perspective. What Adrian felt was his biggest secret suddenly felt miniscule against what he was learning about his own family ties. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it for those who enjoy historical mysteries and interesting stories with ties to WW2 and German ancestors.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys reading, listening to music, and snuggling with her cats. See more of what she’s been up to on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a Kindle (digital) copy of One Day in June!

Must have Amazon account to claim. Kindle copy will be sent by the author.

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

Open to U.S., Canadian, and international residents!

Good luck!

One Day in June, by Sam Martin

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Book Review: We Lie Here, by Rachel Howzell Hall

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Overnight, rain had fallen, and now the world smells new and crisp. Some of the dust has washed off my car, and the black paint looks fashionably matte instead of flat-our filthy. Dominique slides into the front passenger seat of Mom’s Cherokee, and I pop into the back seat with my purse and foil-wrapped bacon-and-egg breakfast sandwich. Like the Camaro, the SUV’s interior smells of cigarettes smoked yesterday and one hundred years before, and instead of Clinque’s Happy, there’s a hint of rose and jasmine from Mom’s current perfume as well as heavier notes of running shoes, discarded athletic tape, and sweat.

Dominique drops her traveling mug into a cup holder, then pops down the visor mirror to add more shine to her bright-red lips and tighten her two French braids. Mom looks like our older sister in her black Vans and Thrasher tank top. I wish I could’ve kept on my pajama bottoms and hoodie and stayed in bed.

My eyes skip around our neighborhood. Who could’ve sent that postcard? Where is the man in the green Mazda? Has this Nissan Pathfinder parked here before? Who’s hiding behind that hedge?

When nothing is as it seems, wouldn’t it be nice to at least trust your own recollections? Yara knew she didn’t want to visit her hometown, but the longer she’s there, the more reasons she has to leave ASAP.

Official synopsis:
We Lie Here book review, Rachel Howzell Hall
TV writer Yara Gibson’s hometown of Palmdale, California, isn’t her first choice for a vacation. But she’s back to host her parents’ twentieth-anniversary party and find the perfect family mementos for the celebration. Everything is going to plan until Yara receives a disturbing text: I have information that will change your life.

The message is from Felicia Campbell, who claims to be a childhood friend of Yara’s mother. But they’ve been estranged for years—drama best ignored and forgotten. But Yara can’t forget Felicia, who keeps texting, insisting that Yara talk to her “before it’s too late.”

But the next day is already too late for Felicia, whose body is found floating in Lake Palmdale. Before she died, Felicia left Yara a key to a remote lakeside cabin. In the basement are files related to a mysterious tragedy, unsolved since 1998. What secrets was Felicia hiding? How much of what Yara 
knows about her family has been true?

The deeper Yara digs for answers, the more she fears that Felicia was right. Uncovering the truth about what happened at the cabin all those years ago will change Yara’s life—or end it.
 
When Yara goes back to her hometown to oversee the last week of planning and putting on the biggest party the community has ever seen for her popular parents’ anniversary, she thinks that dealing with her mother will be the most stressful aspect. Within the first day, she finds so much more to worry about. 
 
An old friend of her mother insists she has secrets about her family that Yara needs to know, but she acts pretty sketchy the whole time she tries to convince Yara to meet her to learn more. Yara doesn’t have to worry whether or not to trust the friend when the friend turns up dead soon after talking to Yara. 
 
Yara should just be dealing with the party, but instead she has her severe asthma, threats with absolutely no clue where they’re coming from, and an apparent murderer on the loose. While some of it was guessable part way through, how it all fit together wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The book was an interesting combination of an unreliable narrator, with an unexpected mystery.
 
{click here to purchase - currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited}
 
Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and investigator who loves to find out how things really work. Check out her cozy reading spot and other fun snapshots on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Quick Pick Book Review: Happy-Go-Lucky, by David Sedaris

  • Opening lines: It was spring and my sister Lisa and I were in her toy-sized car, riding from the airport in Greensboro, North Carolina, to her house in Winston-Salem. I'd gotten up early to catch my flight from Raleigh, but still she had me beat by an hour. "I like to be at Starbucks right when they open, at five a.m.," she said. "Speaking of which, I was there a few months ago and saw a lady with a monkey. I don't know what kind, but it was small—not much bigger than a doll—and was in a pink frilly dress. And it was just so ... upsetting to me. I wanted to go up to this woman and ask, 'What do you plan on doing with that thing once you lose interest in it?'"
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris's books, and I've actually seen him at readings a few times, as well.
  • And what's this book about?
    David Sedaris, the “champion storyteller,” (Los Angeles Times) returns with his first new collection of personal essays since the bestselling Calypso.

    Back when restaurant menus were still printed on paper, and wearing a mask—or not—was a decision made mostly on Halloween, David Sedaris spent his time doing normal things. As
    Happy-Go-Lucky opens, he is learning to shoot guns with his sister, visiting muddy flea markets in Serbia, buying gummy worms to feed to ants, and telling his nonagenarian father wheelchair jokes.

    But then the pandemic hits, and like so many others, he’s stuck in lockdown, unable to tour and read for audiences, the part of his work he loves most. To cope, he walks for miles through a nearly deserted city, smelling only his own breath. He vacuums his apartment twice a day, fails to hoard anything, and contemplates how sex workers and acupuncturists might be getting by during quarantine.

    As the world gradually settles into a new reality, Sedaris too finds himself changed. His offer to fix a stranger’s teeth rebuffed, he straightens his own, and ventures into the world with new confidence. Newly orphaned, he considers what it means, in his seventh decade, no longer to be someone’s son. And back on the road, he discovers a battle-scarred America: people weary, storefronts empty or festooned with Help Wanted signs, walls painted with graffiti reflecting the contradictory messages of our time: Eat the Rich. Trump 2024. Black Lives Matter.

    In
    Happy-Go-Lucky, David Sedaris once again captures what is most unexpected, hilarious, and poignant about these recent upheavals, personal and public, and expresses in precise language both the misanthropy and desire for connection that drive us all. If we must live in interesting times, there is no one better to chronicle them than the incomparable David Sedaris.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys non-fiction, memoirs, or other Sedaris books.
  • Favorite paragraph: I decided from the start of the pandemic not to get Zoom. "What do you mean, 'get' it?" Hugh asked. "It's nothing you have to buy or attach to your computer. You press a button and, wham, it's there.

    "Well, can you mark which button?" I asked. "I want to make sure I never push it."
  • Something to know: David Sedaris is the only nonfiction storyteller who can consistently make me laugh with his books. I recommend this novel if you enjoy humorous slice-of-life stories.
  • What I would have changed: I found the first few stories to be a little slow-paced, but I enjoyed the second half of the book more.
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to order on Amazon—today (Prime Day, 7/13/22) the Kindle version is on sale for 48% off, and the hardcover version is on sale for 39% off.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mud Lilies, by Indra Ramayan {ends 7/5}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I knew a lot of dead girls. That was the cost of my profession. I’d tried to convince myself that Perry’s boyfriend had killed her. It was easier to accept that than it was to believe that there was a psycho actively hunting us. I could put her death in a container and go about my business without fearing every man who approached me. It helped to ease the feeling in my gut that I was always just a second away from being strangled and left by a garbage bin.

I’d met the first of the three dead girls a few days before her murder. A trick had just dropped me off in an alley where she was screaming at a guy in an old Malibu. Turns out, he was her scrawny pimp harassing her for cash. Her real name was Jamie, but I named her You Do the Math.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard to make any cash tonight! Look around!” she’d screamed as she spun around a couple of times with her palms to the sky. “Hmm, ten girls, one car! You do the math!” 

Chanie had little choice in the life she was living, and frequently wanted out. But she accidentally found her way into a program intended to help her make a life worth living.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mud Lilies, by Indra Ramayan {ends 7/5}
The night fourteen-year-old Chanie Nyrider ran away from her abusive parents, she was saved by an older woman who, after building a friendship with the teen, offers her a new life working as a prostitute. With nowhere to turn, Chanie is drawn into Edmonton’s dark underbelly, where she survives until arrested four years later. At this time she is given two options: jail or a high school equivalency program for troubled youth.

Reluctantly, Chanie agrees to attend the program — but only so she can maintain her freedom and get to know her new love interest, Blue. As she begins to make strides in the program and meets friends who share similar circumstances, her home life, such as it is, deteriorates. Blue becomes unstable, deceitful, and eventually violent. He puts himself between her and her new friends, between her and the promise of a new and better life.

This story felt unique. It wasn’t the story of Chanie’s end of a typical teen-age life (although the history is eventually shared). It’s the story of Chanie’s eventual chance at salvation. She’s a hooker, and doesn’t expect anything different from life. It’s never a question of who deserves what, or if life is fair; it’s just survival, and the life Chanie knows. 

Maybe even more than the life on the streets, this story really illustrates the challenges to getting out. How can a girl who is told she is owned by others find time to study, or uphold a promise to the program to not work as a hooker anymore, or drink, or use drugs? Is any of this a reasonable expectation if that’s all someone knows?

The book told Chanie’s story so powerfully, and probably the story of other women existing on the streets of Edmonton or any other major city. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars. I cried along with Chanie and her friends and wanted to reach out and make it all better. The characters were so touching and felt so real. I’d recommend this book for readers who enjoy true struggles for their beloved characters.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who would love to have a super-power ability to fix the world. You can find her @poshbecki on Instagram.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Mud Lilies!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 5th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or another winner will be chosen.

This one is open to both U.S. and Canadian residents!

Good luck!

Mud Lilies, by Indra Ramayan

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