Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club, by Julia Bryan Thomas (ends 7/24)

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

During her weeks at home, Merritt thought a great deal about book club and Alice Campbell, whom she had already come to admire. It was a daring and exciting prospect to have a business of one’s own, especially a bookshop. It seemed an ideal place to work. Merritt daydreamed about it from time to time, having no idea what she would eventually do with her life. She loved painting and drawing and was in fact good at it, but her passion for art couldn’t possibly support her and it was time to think seriously about what she could do that might. The alternative was succumbing to the pressure to get married and start a family. Personally, she was somewhere on the spectrum between Evie and Tess: not boy crazy like the former, but not impervious to love like the latter. However, she was certain of one thing: she was not ready to settle down with one man and raise his children, certainly not before she was twenty years old.

Tess, Caroline, Evie, and Merritt quickly became a pretty tight-knit group when they arrived in their adjoining rooms at Radcliffe, but they soon discovered there may be more differences than similarities between them, except for their privilege in attending college as women.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club, by Julia Bryan Thomas (ends 7/25)
Massachusetts, 1954. With bags packed alongside her heavy heart, Alice Campbell escaped halfway across the country and found herself in front of a derelict building tucked among the cobblestone streets of Cambridge. She turns it into the enchanting bookshop of her dreams, knowing firsthand the power of books to comfort the brokenhearted.

The Cambridge Bookshop soon becomes a haven for Tess, Caroline, Evie, and Merritt, who are all navigating the struggles of being newly independent college women in a world that seems to want to keep them in the kitchen. But when a member of the group finds herself shattered, everything they know about themselves will be called into question.

When Tess enters Alice Campbell’s bookshop and grabs the flyer for her new fall book club, the new members don’t know how much Alice’s thought-provoking book choices will help the girls discover more about who they are and want to be. Whether the four new friends join to be a part of the group and belong, or to actually enjoy literature they may never have been exposed to at their childhood homes, there are always lessons to be learned from the books and from their relationships with the other girls and Alice.

Christmas break is what really precipitates the changes in the girls; either through going home and getting a reminder of where they’re from and who they were, or through the traumatic event for one of the girls that will soon affect them all. The book became an irresistible page-turner once everything started changing after their holiday break.

This story would be best enjoyed by those who enjoy reading about the evolution of women’s rights and experiences in the 1950s, as well as a classic story about a book store, which is always loved by so many readers. The book earned 3 out of 5 stars and would be a fun and distracting summer read as well.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliates link - 35% off this week due to Prime Day/Week!}

Becki Bayley enjoys quiet, new cocktails, time to relax, and accomplishing items on her to-do list. See some of her adventures on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, July 25th, at 11:59pm ET, 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 Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club, by Julia Bryan Thomas

Monday, July 15, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Jackie, by Dawn Tripp {ends 7/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

We talk about Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral the week before. I mention the piece I read by James Baldwin in The New Yorker, “Letter From a Region of My Mind.” We talk about Thanksgiving plans, the children’s birthday parties, Palm Beach at Christmas. We talk about the opening of the Mona Lisa at the National Gallery in January. Jack laughs when I tell him that, every night, I dream of that painting heading toward us across the Atlantic.

The evening air is cool against my face. I’ve found a piece of land where we can build in Middleburg, Virginia, on Rattlesnake Mountain – acres of rolling hills and field, a dizzying stretch of expanse looking out outward the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“We have Glen Ora,” Jack says.

“We only rent that. This will be ours. The house will be modest, I promise.”

He rolls his eyes.

“And when it’s finished,” I say, “we’ll call it Wexford.” Wexford is the name of his family’s ancestral land in Ireland. I can tell it makes him happy I’d suggest that.

Jackie was always true to herself.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Jackie, by Dawn Tripp {ends 7/22}
The world has divided my life into three:

Life with Jack
Life with Onassis
Life as a woman who goes to work because she wants to.

My life is all of these things, and it is none of these things. They continue to miss what’s right in front of them. I love books. I love the sea. I love horses. Children. Art. Ideas. History. Beauty. Because beauty blows us open to wonder.
Even the beauty that breaks your heart.

Jackie is the story of a woman—deeply private with a nuanced, formidable intellect—who forged a legacy out of grief and shaped history even as she was living it. It is the story of a love affair, a complicated marriage, and the fracturing of identity that comes in the wake of unthinkable violence.

When Jackie meets the charismatic congressman Jack Kennedy in Georgetown, she is twenty-one and dreaming of France. She has won an internship at Vogue. Kennedy, she thinks, is not her kind of adventure: “Too American. Too good-looking. Too boy.” Yet she is drawn to his mind, his humor, his drive. The chemistry between them ignites. During the White House years, the love between two independent people deepens. Then, a motorcade in Dallas: “Three and a half seconds—that’s all it was—a slivered instant between the first shot, which missed the car, and the second, which did not. . . . A hypnotic burst of sunlight off her bracelet as she waved.”

This vivid, exquisitely written novel is at once a captivating work of the imagination and a window into the world of a woman who led many lives: Jackie, Jacks, Jacqueline, Miss Bouvier, Mrs. Kennedy, Jackie O.

Truly enjoyable historical fiction reads like fiction, with a cohesive plot and compelling character development, and facts blended into the entertainment. Jackie definitely fulfilled all of the criteria. Without necessarily knowing which anecdotes were factual and which were created from knowledge of Jackie’s life, everything led to the development of Jackie from a young single girl making monumental decisions about how her life would go, to marrying JFK and contributing her insights to his political career and presidency, to her marriage to Aristotle Onassis, and finally her choices to continue the path of her life as she wanted to, regardless of the public’s expectations based on her previous relationships and persona.

The story also gave a glimpse into other well-known figures, like Joe (JFK’s dad) and Bobby (his brother), as well as potential impressions of other historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr.’s family and the Clintons. Overall, the book was both educational and enjoyable and earned a high 4 out of 5 stars. The book would be a good read for history buffs or fans of fiction from the era.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who likes just getting by. Reading is a great way for her to relax and escape, without leaving home. Check out what she’s up to when not reading on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, July 22nd, at 11:59pm ET, and the winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Jackie, by Dawn Tripp

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Walk the Dark, by Paul Cody {ends 7/1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Maybe I was eleven by then. I think I was eleven.

We were still living in the first-floor place with the big rooms, and for a while I went to middle school, for sixth grade, and the school was four or five times bigger than Fall Creek Elementary, where I had gone, briefly, before.

Mother still had quite a few boyfriends, and she still drank and took pills. Sometimes she gave me a pill or two, and sometimes she’d say that pills were bad for me, and for a week or a month she wouldn’t give me any.

But she was out of the house, for hours, or now and then, for days. I’d look through her closet and her dresser, and the brown plastic bottles with the white caps were always in the small top drawer on the right. Five or ten bottles and they were mixed in with her underwear. All that silky stuff that made me nervous.

Oliver knew his life wasn’t like other kids, but he was getting along okay. 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Walk the Dark, by Paul Cody {ends 7/1}
Oliver Curtin grows up in a nocturnal world with a mother who is a sex worker and drug addict, and whose love is real yet increasingly unreliable. His narration alternates between that troubled childhood and the present of the novel, where he is serving the last months of a thirty-years-to-life sentence in a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, for a crime he committed at age seventeen. His redemption is closely allied with his memories, seen with growing clarity and courage. If he can remember, then life in the larger world is possible for him.

Oliver’s life didn’t sound like the life most readers experience. He was mostly raising himself, as his mother, who he called in turns Margaret, Maggie, Peg, or Mother, was busy with her boyfriends or her addiction. One long-time friend of his mother’s, Mabel, stepped in sometimes to fill some gaps, but that still didn’t bring his life anywhere near something familiar to most. 

The fluid naming of his mother gave another window to Oliver’s perception of her—it felt like he never knew what to expect any more than we did. His flashbacks to childhood really told of the unstable and unpredictable nature of his life as he grew older. Prison is the first time that Oliver has things expected of him, and he seems to adjust adequately to the new environment.

The book ends with many questions, primarily about the other transient characters in Oliver’s story. While the book is fiction, the characters and emotions were so well written that they were undeniably engaging, and readers are left wondering what happened for everyone else next. This compelling story of Oliver’s life earned 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a beautifully told non-traditional family drama.

{click here to purchase via my Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys reading, writing, and working with her kids to pursue their joy. See where this is currently headed on her blog, www.SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Walk the Dark!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday. July 1st, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be chosen the next day and notified via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Walk the Dark, by Paul Cody

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Book Review: The Nature of Disappearing, by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Emlyn takes a shower. She brews herself a cup of tea. She picks up her library book and tries to read. She wanders back to the bathroom and combs her long hair, still wet.

What just happened? Did Janessa, in a matter of five minutes, completely convince Emlyn to stop seeing someone? A person she’d felt a real connection with. Who maybe liked her, too. And she’d barely pushed back; she’d hardly resisted. Her word swims to her. Pathetic. She stares at herself in the mirror and sees that she is frowning, eyes narrowed. She looks like her mothers.

Tyler was right. Since that first meeting at Bumpy’s Diner, Janessa has always called the shots. She decides where they go on a Friday night, what they eat, what they drink. She sets the tone. And Emlyn has gone along with it. But she thinks of her swim with Tyler, the stars glittering overhead, the feel of his lips on her forehead, and for the first time, she doesn’t want to go along with Janessa’s plans.

Emlyn is used to not getting what she wants, and settling for what she gets. After starting her life over again without her college friend, Janessa, or the man she thought may be the grand love of her life, she isn’t sure that she should risk it all helping the two of them again.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Nature of Disappearing, by Kimi Cunningham Grant
Emlyn doesn't let herself think about the past.

How she and her best friend, Janessa, barely speak anymore. How Tyler, the love of her life, left her half dead on the side of the road three years ago.

Her new life is simple and safe. She lives alone in her Airstream trailer and works as a fishing and hunting guide in scenic Idaho. Her closest friends are the community's makeshift reverend and a handsome Forest Service ranger who took her in at her lowest.

But when Tyler shows up with the news that Janessa is missing, Emlyn is propelled back into the world she worked so hard to forget. Janessa has become a social media star, documenting her #vanlife adventures with her rugged boyfriend. She hasn't posted lately, though, and when Emlyn realizes the most recent photo doesn't match up with its caption, she reluctantly joins Tyler to find her old friend. As the two trace Janessa's path through miles of wild country, Emlyn can't deny the chemistry still crackling between them. But the deeper they press into the wilderness, the more she begins to suspect that a darker truth lies in the woods―and that Janessa isn't the only one in danger.

Emlyn has found herself pretty content in her new life. She was rescued from the side of the road, near death, and nursed back to health by the members of a close knit community who make most of their living off of the tourists and the forest. She quickly finds her skills make her an excellent fishing and hunting guide.

When her past comes back, she isn’t sure if she should help out, but she knows things are unlikely to end well otherwise. She consults with Rev, whose great insight with people could give her answers, but Rev of course can’t give her clear answers of what she should or should not do. Emlyn reluctantly tries to help the two people who practically turned their backs on her. 

Emlyn and the characters from her past were so clear and engaging. While they started out seeming like they’d all be close forever, they each had their secrets even then. Their stories when they all meet up again are suspenseful, especially with the addition of a character who was never mentioned in their earlier lives. The unpredictable story earned 4 out of 5 stars and would be great for those who enjoy outdoorsy stories and thrillers.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife, reader, and mom of humans and cats. When she’s not reading, you can find her enjoying activities with her family including theater, band, and flower gardening. Check out their fun on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Book Review: Corpse & Crown, by Alisa Kwitney

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

People often made the mistake of thinking that just because Justine Makepiece was paralyzed, she was a sweet, childlike waif, as pure of spirit as she was in body. They walked into her room and saw her delicate pale face – the only part of her visible inside the metal cylinder that was her prison and her lifeline – and thought of her as a lucent, disembodied mind.

Yet even though she spent most of her day lying prone in an artificial breathing machine, listening to the rhythmic pulsing of a vacuum pump, Justine was far from being some angelic creature. Untouched, yes. Innocent, no. After a mysterious childhood illness left her with weak lungs and wasted legs, Justine’s father had become obsessed with curing his only child. 

Back in her old room at Ingold, her father kept her isolated in an attempt to protect her from any possible breath of miasmic air. As the head of engineering, Professor Makepiece had invented the negative pressure ventilator that helped his daughter breathe. For at least twenty-one hours out of every day, she had to lie inside the metal canister that forced air in and out of her lungs. There were only a few hours each day she could spend on the outside, free to sit up, use her arms, and speak to people without staring up their nostrils.

Agatha DeLacey is a poor probationer nurse who is studying nursing at Ingold’s East End hospital in London. She definitely is not in the same social circles as Professor Makepiece and his family, but she and Justine end up with some friends in common.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Corpse & Crown, by Alisa Kwitney
Agatha DeLacey’s family isn’t rich or titled, so studying nursing at Ingold’s East End hospital in London is a rare opportunity for her. Despite the school’s focus on the innovative Bio-Mechanical program, Aggie cares more about the desperately poor human patients who flood the hospital, even if that means providing unauthorized treatment after-hours…and trusting a charming, endlessly resourceful thief.

But the Artful Dodger is barely a step ahead of his underworld rivals, the menacing Bill Sykes and mercurial Oliver Twist, and Aggie’s association with him soon leads her into danger. When a brutal attack leaves her blind, she and the Dodger find themselves at the mercy of an experimental Bio-Mech surgery. Though the procedure restores Aggie’s sight, her new eyes come at an unnerving cost, and the changes in Dodger are even more alarming—instead of seeing Aggie as the girl he fancies, he now views her as a potential threat.

As war between England and Germany brews on the horizon and a sinister medical conspiracy threatens to shatter the uneasy peace in Europe, Aggie and the Dodger must find a way to work together so they can protect their friends and expose the truth…even if it means risking their own survival.

While this was the second book in the series, after Cadaver & Queen, it read fine as a standalone. There were a couple references to events from the previous book, but enough detail was given to make events in this book understandable.

Aggie DeLacey knows her position as a probationer nurse is wholly dependent on the approval of her supervisor. As long as she continues showing an aptitude for what she’s learning and keeps the favor of those in charge, she can avoid returning to her mother’s house. Ensuring the favor of those in charge has also come to mean keeping their secrets, as the Ingold East End hospital is also serving as a research hospital for bio-mechanicals, but they of course don’t want the community to know about it.

The book was a fascinating combination of historical and speculative fiction, culminating with a bio-mechanical battle between the creations of Germany and England under Queen Victoria. It was a fun young adult read that would be enjoyed by those who enjoy historical fiction or speculative fiction, also described as "Victorian-era fiction with a steampunk flair." It earns 4 out of 5 stars from me.

{click here to purchase via my Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a reader who enjoys a variety of genres of books and loves to let her mind escape to other words. See more of what she’s read or done on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Book Review: A Song of Silence, by Steve N. Lee

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Mirek strode toward the courtyard gate. “It’s been a pleasure, Herr Hauptsturmf├╝hrer. Be sure to send me your manuscript so I –”

Kruger wasn’t walking with him but was standing before the apple tree, studying its delicate new leaves that dared to brave the world. Without looking, he stabbed his stick at the gate. “Instruct my men to join us.”

More Nazis were coming into his home? Mirek’s gut twisted but, having no option, he did as instructed.

Three soldiers waltzed into the courtyard.

Kruger said, “I hope you won’t let this mar what has been a very pleasant visit, but” – he rolled his eyes – “while bureaucracy is tiresome, it’s a necessary evil.”

Mirek, along with Hanka and Ania, are determined to do everything they can to keep the children of their orphanage safe and as unaffected by the horrors of war as possible.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: A Song of Silence, by Steve N. Lee
When the Nazis invade his sleepy Polish town, Mirek swears to keep everyone in his orphanage safe at all costs. Yet, despite his struggles and sacrifices, the war drags him and his children deeper and deeper into its violent nightmare.

With 89 children looking to him for hope, Mirek must do whatever it takes to protect them — no matter how criminal, distasteful, or perilous it may be.

And just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, the arrival of a sadistic SS captain brings unspeakable atrocities to his town — and surprisingly, a glimmer of hope for Mirek to save all those he cares about if only he has the courage to grasp it...

Mirek learns quickly that the Nazis don’t just enjoy physically abusing or killing their victims, they also revel in mental torture along the way. Kruger has the power to make life at the orphanage for Mirek, Hanka, Ania, and the orphans easier, and acts sometimes like he just may be their savior. They learn quickly not to trust him or his implied promises.

Trying to keep 89 children—both Jewish and non-Jewish—safe and happy in Poland in 1939 proves to be a huge challenge. Mirek can usually count on his royalties as a childrens' author to help buy food and supplies for the house, but he finds out the publishers are closing their doors at the same time he finds out the grocer is only selling food for cash, instead of on account. The threat of death isn’t the only obstacle Mirek is carrying for nearly 100 humans.

This is the second of three books in the author’s World War II Historical Fiction series. It reads fine as a stand-alone, as each book focuses on one main character’s conflict. The book was based on a real person, and some of the fact vs fiction is detailed in the afterword of the book. It was unique as a WWII book and would be enjoyed by those who like WWII stories, historical fiction, and human interest stories. The book earned 4 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase via my Amazon Affiliate link; currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited users}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys a leisurely day with a good book and a cold drink, appreciating the nature in her Midwest yard. See what she and the kids have been up to on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Girl with Three Birthdays: An Adopted Daughter’s Memoir of Tiaras, Tough Truths, and Tall Tales, by Patti Eddington

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Did the fact that you were adopted have anything to do with you only having one child?” a friend asked me recently.

“Oh, gosh no,” I replied without even considering it.

Maybe it did, though. Maybe the adoption wasn’t a factor, but being adopted by my parents actually made more difference than I ever realized. Through no fault of theirs, they were so much older when they were able to bring me into their lives. Perhaps if they’d been younger, I’d still have been open to the possibility of taking on more responsibility during my own midlife years.

It’s thought-provoking. But it’s not something I mourn.
I had everything.

In the 1960s, a closed adoption was all that usually happened, so there was no question of Patti finding out about her life before she was an Eddington. After a happy childhood, she starts connecting with family members from her earlier life through the results of a DNA test on an ancestry site.

Official synopsis: 
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Girl with Three Birthdays: An Adopted Daughter’s Memoir of Tiaras, Tough Truths, and Tall Tales, by Patti Eddington
Patti Eddington always knew she was adopted, and her beloved parents seemed amenable enough to questions—but she never wanted to hurt them by expressing curiosity, so she didn’t. The story of her mother cutting off and dying her hair when she was a toddler? She thought it was eccentric and funny, nothing more. When she discovered at fifteen that her birthday wasn’t actually her birthday? She believed it when her mother said she’d changed it to protect her from the “nosy old biddies” who might try to discover her identity.

It wasn’t until decades later, when a genealogy test led Patti to her biological family (including an aunt with a shocking story) and the discovery of yet another birthday, that she really began to integrate what she thought she knew about her origins. Determined to know the truth, she finally petitioned a court to unseal records that had been locked up for almost sixty years—and began to put the pieces of her past together, bit by painstaking bit.

Framed by a brief but poignant 1963 “Report of Investigation” based on a caseworker’s one-day visit to Patti’s childhood home, The Girl With Three Birthdays tells the story of an adoptee who always believed she was the answer to a couple’s seventeen-year journey to become parents, until a manila envelope from a rural county court arrived and caused her to question . . . everything.

The more Patti finds out about her life before her adoption, the more it leaves her with questions about the truths she accepted from the only people she ever knew as her parents. As her discoveries are all made after their deaths, Patti is left to connect the dots herself.

The story is told in an engaging manner that presents most of the character’s motivations as understandable. Since Patti learned more details of her past as an adult, she has the perspective and maturity to make sense of some choices that, in retrospect, may not have been in everyone’s best interests.

Overall, this was a quick read and an interesting memoir that tells of a life and experiences unique to this entertaining author. It earned 4 out of 5 stars and would be recommended to those who enjoy family dramas with a non-conventional spin.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a daughter, sister, wife, and mother who enjoys reading when she isn’t busy taking care of those she loves. Check out some of their adventures on Instagram where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Girl with Three Birthdays!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, June 10th, 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!

The Girl with Three Birthdays: An Adopted Daughter’s Memoir of Tiaras, Tough Truths, and Tall Tales, by Patti Eddington

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