Thursday, May 9, 2024

Quick Pick Book Review: By Any Other Name, by Jodi Picoult

  • Opening lines: Melina, May 2013
    Many years after Melina graduated from Bard College, the course she remembered the most was not a playwriting seminar or a theater intensive but an anthropology class. One day, the professor had flashed a slide of a bone with twenty-nine tiny incisions on one long side. "The Lebombo bone was found in a cave in Swaziland in the 1970s and is about forty-four thousand years old," she had said. "It's made of a baboon fibula. For years, it's been the first calendar attributed to man. But I ask you: what man used a twenty-nine day calendar?" The professor seemed to stare directly at Melina. "History", she said, "is written by those in power."
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan, and I think I've read most if not all of her books—you can read my previous reviews of them here.
  • And what's this book about? 
    From the New York Times bestselling co-author of Mad Honey comes a novel about two women, centuries apart—one of whom is the real author of Shakespeare’s plays—who are both forced to hide behind another name.

    Young playwright Melina Green has just written a new work inspired by the life of her Elizabethan ancestor Emilia Bassano. But seeing it performed is unlikely, in a theater world where the playing field isn’t level for women. As Melina wonders if she dares risk failure again, her best friend takes the decision out of her hands and submits the play to a festival under a male pseudonym.

    In 1581, young Emilia Bassano is a ward of English aristocrats. Her lessons on languages, history, and writing have endowed her with a sharp wit and a gift for storytelling, but like most women of her day, she is allowed no voice of her own. Forced to become a mistress to the Lord Chamberlain, who oversees all theatre productions in England, Emilia sees firsthand how the words of playwrights can move an audience. She begins to form a plan to secretly bring a play of her own to the stage—by paying an actor named William Shakespeare to front her work.

    Told in intertwining timelines, By Any Other Name, a sweeping tale of ambition, courage, and desire centers two women who are determined to create something beautiful despite the prejudices they face. Should a writer do whatever it takes to see her story live on ... no matter the cost? This remarkable novel, rooted in primary historical sources, ensures the name Emilia Bassano will no longer be forgotten.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys historical books or books that jump from past to present.
  • Favorite paragraph: In public, Emilia played the part of a decorative object. In private, when she felt too full at the seams of her own life, she spilled all that emotion and intelligence and hope onto pages and pages of poetry, fables, and snippets of dialogue. Emilia wrote from the point of view of the bird of prey, delighting in those few moments of freedom befroe the jesses were pulled. She wrote fairy tales about princesses who climbed down brick towers, rescuing themselves. She wrote female characters who were adored for both their minds and their beauty. She wrote witty banter with men who were not afraid of a woman who could think for herself. She wrote of what sex must be like when your soul was as invested as your skin. She wrote love poems, where sometimes love was fire, sometimes it was rote, and sometimes it was agony.

    She hid hundreds of pages under her mattress.

    She did not write happy endings. As any real poet knows, the best tales are the ones that contain kernel of truth.
  • Something to know: I vaguely remember hearing that Shakespeare perhaps did not write all of the work that he's known for, and this book explores that.
  • What I would have changed: I'll admit that this Picoult book took me a little longer to get in to—however, once the story/plot picks up, I enjoyed it a lot. So I would maybe change the beginning a bit, but I'm not entirely sure how. 
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order via my Amazon affiliate link—the book will be out on August 20, 2024.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Klara's Truth, by Susan Weissbach Friedman {ends 5/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

They arrived at Krakow’s main train station a half hour late, as Hannah had predicted. Their station, Krakow Glozny, was just northeast of the Old Town, formerly the Jewish Quarter. Some of the buildings looked like they could use a fresh coat of paint, but the town was bustling with people, mostly tourists. There were multiple cafes and bars with Jewish food as their specialty, and some restaurants featured klezmer music as well. The streets were narrow, with a mixture of three-story buildings, including a number of art galleries and antique shops with wooden shutters to go along with the historical sites. It was different from the other areas; there was a distinct bohemian feel, and Klara noticed there were no spires or churches here. 

“Wow,” she said, looking all around. “You weren’t kidding – this really seems to be a fascinating place.”

Klara has spent her adult life pretty independent. After her dad left when she was six, she decided not to risk letting anyone close to her heart.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Klara's Truth, by Susan Weissbach Friedman {ends 5/12}
It is May 2014, and Dr. Klara Lieberman—forty-nine, single, professor of archaeology at a small liberal arts college in Maine, a contained person living a contained life—has just received a letter from her estranged mother, Bessie, that will dramatically change her life. Her father, she learns—the man who has been absent from her life for the last forty-three years, and about whom she has long been desperate for information—is dead. Has been for many years, in fact, which Bessie clearly knew. But now the Polish government is giving financial reparations for land it stole from its Jewish citizens during WWII, and Bessie wants the money. Klara has little interest in the money—but she does want answers about her father. She flies to Warsaw, determined to learn more.

In Poland, Klara begins to piece together her father’s, and her own, story. She also connects with extended family, begins a romantic relationship, and discovers her calling: repairing the hundreds of forgotten, and mostly destroyed, pre-War Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Along the way, she becomes a more integrated, embodied, and interpersonally connected individual—one with the tools to make peace with her past and, for the first time in her life, build purposefully toward a bigger future.

Klara has largely moved on from her family. Her dad left, and her mom and grandfather were people she’d rather be as far away from as possible. While she never really considered needing closure to her early years of a happy childhood that ended too soon, hearing from her mother that her father had actually been dead for almost as long as he’d been gone sets a series of things in motion for Klara, both physically and mentally.

She evolved into a whole new person during a somewhat impulsive visit to Poland to see where her father had been laid to rest. While she’s always been intelligent, determined, and successful, she now wants to be involved and passionate about her life. Everywhere she looks she sees more that she wants to be engaged in—extended family, a romantic relationship, and a real purpose that aligns with the education she gained along the way.

While this book may appear to be somewhat related to WWII on the surface, the story was really about a modern woman’s life and how strongly it was shaped by her family’s past. The book earned 4 out of 5 stars and would be good for readers who enjoy contemporary fiction, light historical fiction, and stories of Jewish families. 

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and reader who enjoys learning about other cultures and lives through books. Check out her other interest on Instagram where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Klara's Truth!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, May 12th, 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!

Klara's Truth, by Susan Weissbach Friedman

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Where the Dark Stands Still, by A.B. Poranek {ends 4/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Kazimiera purses her lips. “One day, you are going to have to face this demon of yours, Eliasz.”

He laughs, mirthless. “If that day were to come, I would fall, and the Driada along with me. Judge me as you please, Kazimiera, but I will not let one intrepid, doe-eyed girl ruin seven hundred years of stability.”

With that, he slams his hand against the maple’s trunk. It splits like an opening mouth, revealing a cluster of slender saplings and red-leaved thickets beyond. Before Liska can call out to him, he steps through the spelldoor and is gone.

Left alone, a rueful apathy falls over Liska. So the Leszy does feel something for her, and he is adamant to not feel that thing. So be it – it makes everything easier. She only needs to survive this year and get home. But ah, it hurts. There had been a moment, so close to the Leszy, where she had felt…certain. Like she could see a different path, a new way forward, a path where she would find a place for herself at the manor.

Liska is willing to serve a year in captivity to the Leszy in order to return to her town as an average girl with the ability to just get on with a normal life. But the longer she’s at the manor, she’s learning that there can be a lot of secrets in 700 years.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Where the Dark Stands Still, by A.B. Poranek {ends 4/25}
Liska knows that magic is monstrous, and its practitioners are monsters. She has done everything possible to suppress her own magic, to disastrous consequences. Desperate to be free of it, Liska flees her small village and delves into the dangerous, demon-inhabited spirit-wood to steal a mythical fern flower. If she plucks it, she can use its one wish to banish her powers. Everyone who has sought the fern flower has fallen prey to unknown horrors, so when Liska is caught by the demon warden of the wood—called The Leszy—a bargain seems better than death: one year of servitude in exchange for the fern flower and its wish.

Whisked away to The Leszy’s crumbling manor, Liska soon makes an unsettling discovery: she is not the first person to strike this bargain, and all her predecessors have mysteriously vanished. If Liska wants to survive the year and return home, she must unravel her taciturn host’s spool of secrets and face the ghosts—figurative and literal—of his past. Because something wakes in the woods, something deadly and without mercy. It frightens even The Leszy…and cannot be defeated unless Liska embraces the monster she’s always feared becoming.

This story had such great references to old Polish folklore and demons, but explained them well enough that the book was enjoyable without the background info. Liska grew up shunned in her small community because magic could only be evil, according to the older villagers. Liska is willing to do anything to be rid of her magic and live a normal, boring life, but her quest for the one legend she knows of to grant her wish lands her in the very magical castle of the Leszy, deep in the Driada.

Once there, Liska acts the only way she knows how, trying to take good care of the castle that is her new home for the year, and her new master, the Leszy. Along the way, new characters are discovered, and a legend presents itself that never could have occurred to Liska, and may even change her mind about her long term goals.

The book was engaging and entertaining. It earned 4 out of 5 stars and was a great escapist fantasy read. Others who would enjoy this book are those who like young adult fantasy with interesting worlds and characters, and those with an interest in ancient Polish legends.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a mom and reader. Check out more of what she’s been up to on her blog:


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Where the Dark Stands Still!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, April 25, 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.

Good luck!

Where the Dark Stands Still, by A.B. Poranek

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Book Review: The Cemetery of Untold Stories, by Julia Alvarez

Guest review by: Becki Bayley


Three years into our marriage, el Jefe becomes president, and I am thrust into the role of primera dama with a round of official duties. Often, I’m invited to preside over numerous functions, a stand-in for our busy Jefe, JoaquĆ­n at my side. A splendid first lady, the papers report. I host endless receptions and dinners, never laughing too loud or voicing an opinion or embarrassing my husband in any way. I supervise the menus, arrange the flowers and settings at the table, deciding where to seat each person – in short, I make sure everyone is happy. Most of all mi Jefe, the center of my life.

I am learning to master that second language of all devoted wives. I read my husband’s expressions for the slightest hint of displeasure – the lift of an eyebrow, tightening of a smile – and act accordingly. In photographs from that time, I am seen standing behind mi Jefe, my face radiant with love. This may sound vain, but I believe I become more attractive. It helps to have a superb seamstress who knows which styles best suit my stocky figure and a stylist who fixes my hair and works magic with creams and makeup. Not that I care a whit about attracting any eye but my husband’s.

Often, after a successful event, mi Jefe praises me. You live up to your name, Bienvenida.

Alma has carried so many stories in her mind for so long. As she attempts to bury them and move on, Filomena is learning that the stories still want to be heard.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Cemetery of Untold Stories, by Julia Alvarez
Alma Cruz, the celebrated writer at the heart of
The Cemetery of Untold Stories, doesn’t want to end up like her friend, a novelist who fought so long and hard to finish a book that it threatened her sanity. So when Alma inherits a small plot of land in the Dominican Republic, her homeland, she has the beautiful idea of turning it into a place to bury her untold stories—literally. She creates a graveyard for the manuscript drafts and the characters whose lives she tried and failed to bring to life and who still haunt her.

Alma wants her characters to rest in peace. But they have other ideas and soon begin to defy their author: they talk back to her and talk to one another behind her back, rewriting and revising themselves. Filomena, a local woman hired as the groundskeeper, becomes a sympathetic listener to the secret tales unspooled by Alma's characters. Among them, Bienvenida, dictator Rafael Trujillo's abandoned wife who was erased from the official history, and Manuel Cruz, a doctor who fought in the Dominican underground and escaped to the United States.
The Cemetery of Untold Stories asks: Whose stories get to be told, and whose buried? Finally, Alma finds the meaning she and her characters yearn for in the everlasting vitality of stories. Julia Alvarez reminds us that the stories of our lives are never truly finished, even at the end.

Alma, better known as the famous storyteller/author Sheherazade, does not want to continue writing until her mind breaks down. She wants to retire in her homeland and enjoy some peace at the end of her life. Unsure how to properly deal with her unfinished drafts, she decides to use a piece of inherited property in the Dominican Republic and build herself a small house and a cemetery for the drafts of her untold stories. A local woman, Filomena, proves to be her best option for a helper and groundskeeper. Since Filomena appreciates this great job that she needed after her own family dramas, she doesn’t tell Alma when the stories buried in their graves begin talking to her, too.

The two most active stories sharing themselves are Bienvenida, the dictator’s abandoned wife, and Manuel Cruz, a U.S. immigrant trying to rebuild his life in his new home. Filomena also shares her own complicated story with readers. The story lines were all engaging and revealing of the people they involved. The writing was beautiful and the characters’ voices were distinct and told even more by what they shared and what they left untold.

The book quickly felt like an old friend and was a welcome escape to so many different worlds and circumstances. The concept was unique and the book earned 4 out of 5 stars. It was not a straight plot or story and would be most enjoyed by those who appreciate literary fiction or reading a story for its own sake, not just to find resolution to the ideas and conflicts of the characters.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link} 

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys quiet time as much as connecting with others regarding their passions. Check out other things she’s up to on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Book Review: Expiration Dates, by Rebecca Searle

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“I think I’m kind of a commitment-phobe.”

Jake clears his throat. “Say more.”

I put my elbows on the table. It’s wood, unrefined. Lots of black hardware.

“I got kind of stuck after college, and, truthfully, sometimes I still am. It’s not that I don’t like my job, I do. I enjoy movies, I like assisting – I honestly think I’m good at it. But I don’t know if I want Irina’s job. I guess the most honest answer would be that I don’t think I can have it.”

I see Jake’s eyes searching mine. “Why?”

“I feel like I missed the chance, maybe? I waited too long? Everyone I know who is on a stratospheric trajectory identified the steps a long time ago.”

Daphne is used to knowing what to expect. Does she act differently if she doesn’t know what’s next? Wouldn’t anyone?

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Expiration Dates, by Rebecca Searle
Daphne Bell believes the universe has a plan for her. Every time she meets a new man, she receives a slip of paper with his name and a number on it—the exact amount of time they will be together. The papers told her she’d spend three days with Martin in Paris; five weeks with Noah in San Francisco; and three months with Hugo, her ex-boyfriend turned best friend. Daphne has been receiving the numbered papers for over twenty years, always wondering when there might be one without an expiration. Finally, the night of a blind date at her favorite Los Angeles restaurant, there’s only a name: Jake.

But as Jake and Daphne’s story unfolds, Daphne finds herself doubting the paper’s prediction, and wrestling with what it means to be both committed and truthful. Because Daphne knows things Jake doesn’t, information that—if he found out—would break his heart.

Every book from this author has been emotionally compelling, and this was no exception. As long as she’s been in any sort of romantic relationships, Daphne has always received a message either just before or as soon as a relationship starts, telling her precisely how long the relationships will last. And all the slips are correct! So when she gets a slip with just a name, and no time length, does it mean he is her forever connection?

She overlooks some things she might not have overlooked, because she is trusting in the power of the message slips. If it’s meant to be, she may just be along for the ride. But as more truths are revealed about Daphne’s relationships and Daphne herself, the reader comes to wonder if an expectation of forever because of a magical note is fair to everyone involved.

This is another great, cozy book with an original concept, as expected from this author. It earns 4 out of 5 stars and could be enjoyed by those who like popular fiction, relatively quick reads with contemporary, original characters.

Liz's Note: I also read this one, via NetGalley, and enjoyed it a lotI agree with Becki's 4 out of 5 stars assessment. It reminded me a bit of The Big Door Prize, on AppleTV, actually, in that a slip of paper could determine your future. Daphne was a likeable character, as well, and I was happy with the way the story ended, too.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and American employee who gives it her all for a wage that couldn’t support her family. Check out other fun tidbits she shares on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Fortune Teller's Prophecy: A Memoir of an Unlikely Doctor, by Dr. Lally Pia

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Flight attendants, prepare yourselves. Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be landing at San Francisco International Airport. Welcome to California.”

As the pilot’s jovial announcement crackled on the intercom, my legs trembled in anxious anticipation. A sharp, stabbing jolt of excitement hit my chest so hard that I doubled over and grasped both knees for a few seconds. I pulled out my immigration and naturalization paperwork from my handbag for the tenth time, to assure myself that it had not disintegrated in transit, and caressed the shiny stamp at the top of the precious document that symbolized my passport into this new culture.

Squashing my face against the window, I tried to capture every image and sensation of this descent into my new home, America! I’d imagined tons of skyscrapers, not this blue crescent of ocean glimmering next to golden sand. A towering bridge came into view. I wondered which one it was. It looked magnificent. We got so close to the water that I could see sunlight glinting on bright blue waves.

Lally encountered many obstacles, but she always held on to the prediction to her father from the fortune teller when she was just a baby.

Official synopsis:

When a military coup in Ghana leads to the abrupt closure of Lally Pia’s medical school, she is left stranded there, thousands of miles away from her family in California, with no educational prospects or money. Adding to her turmoil is her discovery that her American Green Card has been botched, which means she has no country to call home. But a Sri Lankan priest told Lally that she would one day become a “Doctor of Doctors” —and she is intent on proving him right.

This sizzling multicultural roller coaster illustrates the power of self-determination as Lally, a young immigrant with a drive to succeed, takes on obstacle after obstacle—an abusive relationship, the welfare state, and a gruesome job where she has to dismember human bodies—in order to fulfill her dreams. A story that will resonate with anyone who has faced cultural and immigration hardships, The Fortune Teller’s Prophecy is a nail-biting journey across continents, through hardships, and into ultimate triumph.

The cards seemed to be stacked against Lally. The reader is brought into the story of a twenty-year-old woman left behind by her family. Her parents and siblings moved to California while Lally stayed to finish up medical school in Ghana. But when the medical school closes and Lally’s green card doesn’t get her a clear exit strategy to join her family in California, she’s left to rely on the kindness of family friends for months waiting for either the medical school to reopen, or her green card status to grant her admittance to California. 

Through it all, Lally’s positive spirit remains unstoppable, and the fortune teller’s prediction to her father remains a voice whispering to her through all her struggles. She’s supposed to be a medical doctor, and she isn’t sure who she is if this basic belief held by her and her family doesn’t end up to be true. 

Lally’s story is a compelling and well-written memoir of her journey through young adulthood and some tough choices. The book earned 5 out of 5 stars and would be great for those who like female success stories and stories of life in other countries and cultures. Lally’s life could have gone in so many different directions, and she appreciates this and tells it well.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link - only $8.99 on Kindle right now!}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys taking care of her family, reading, and doing things to surprise her kids. Check out other books she’s read lately at her blog,


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Fortune Teller's Prophecy!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, March 27th, 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.

Good luck!

The Fortune Teller's Prophecy: A Memoir of an Unlikely Doctor, by Dr. Lally Pia

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Resort, by Sarah Ochs {ends 3/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“I don’t know, it’s just…” Neil looks behind him, checking to make sure no one’s listening in on our conversation. But other than the two of us and a bored waiter lounging on the front counter and playing on his phone we’re alone. “There are rumors that it could be a group of locals. People who are resentful of the farangs who come in and act like they own the place. Others think it’s the Thai Mafia, like Doug mentioned last night. They sell drugs on the island – they bribe the police to look the other way – and I know that they own at least one or two of the bars on Pho Tau beach."

“But the moral of the story is that you need to stop looking into this. Whoever’s involved, they’re dangerous. And I’m worried that if you try to get in the way, they’ll come after you.” 

I nod, but I’m not fully convinced. Neil must see it, too, because he wraps his hands around my forearms. I feel my breath catch as he gently pulls me toward him across the table, so that our faces are mere inches from one another.

When Brooke arrives at the resort island, she seems to fit in okay with some of the permanents, but especially starts to get close with Cassie. Is Brooke just another traveler seeking out a quiet, private life, or is she there for something more?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Resort, by Sarah Ochs {ends 3/26}
There are three rules to follow during a vacation at the famous Koh Sang Resort

1 – Leave the past behind.

When Cass sets foot on the coast of Thailand's world-famous party island, she's searching for an escape. With dark secrets following her every move, Koh Sang becomes the perfect place to hide.

2 - Always be careful of who you trust.

Now, years later, Cass is a local dive instructor alongside the Permanents, a group of expats who have claimed the island as their own. The Permanents don't linger on who they were before the island. Simply because, like Cass, they all have something to outrun.

3 – If someone discovers who you really are, run.

But suddenly, a dive student is found dead and paradise comes crashing down. Because this isn't the first mysterious death on the island, and it won't be the last. Someone knows who Cass is and they're ready to make sure justice is finally served.

Everyone at the Resort is happy to live in the present. They all seem to assume that their secret is worth protecting, and they really don’t spend much time worrying about anyone else’s secrets. This works out fine, until it doesn’t.

Brooke thinks she is drawn to the Resort because of someone else’s secrets, and she hopes to finally get revenge. But perhaps time and perspective has changed them all, and maybe the enemy is no longer who they each originally thought it was.

This was an ever-changing thriller and mystery. Different facets of each character made the reader wonder about all of the characters, and the possible villain changed from chapter to chapter. It was a great read that earned 4 out of 5 stars. The depictions of living at the resort island were fun and intriguing, and untangling each character’s backstory and mystery was fun. This would be an excellent vacation read for those who enjoy dreaming about island locales.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys reading and writing. Check out some of her free time on TikTok or Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.


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

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

Good luck!

The Resort, by Sarah Ochs

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