Monday, September 20, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cold Snap, by Codi Schneider {ends 9/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

While Spencer, Eddy, and Hamlet took Fennec to the kitchen to make him a warm and comforting breakfast, Skunk and I decided to interview the cats upstairs. They may have seen the prowler. After all, their windows looked directly over the backyard.

First up was Miss Tut, who said she hadn’t seen a thing. Not with her cataracts and not with the extra glass of meowsling she’d ordered before bed. “Sorry, dears, I slept like a youth on holiday.” Dots of fuzz from her blanket balanced sleepily on her whiskers. “But check with Betty next door. She’s much more nocturnal.”

Betty, who’d come to the inn two nights ago, was just getting ready to sleep the morning away when we knocked. A fluffy ginger with white paws, she looked at us with annoyance.

“Yes, I was awake all night. I find I sleep much better during the day. But I didn’t see anything unusual.”

“And you didn’t hear anything unusual either?” Skunk asked.

Betty yawned. “Sorry, no. Try Minerva next door.”

Bijou isn’t just a cat, but also a powerful Viking! She’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep her clan safe, and to get her meals on time.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cold Snap, by Codi Schneider {ends 9/29}
Tucked in the cold Colorado mountains lies the remote village of Gray Birch, a place where outsiders are frowned upon. In this village lives a cat named Bijou. But she’s no ordinary house cat; her ancestors were mousers on Viking longships, and their blood runs through her veins. Since her battle skills are hardly needed in this modern age, however, she spends her energies running the Fox Burrow Pet Inn with her human, Spencer, and her assistant, Skunk, a mentally negligible Pomeranian. Together, the happy trio has created a safe haven for their four-legged guests.

But when Eddy Line, a handsome baker from California, comes to the inn—along with his piglet and pit bull puppy—everything changes. Spencer falls for Eddy, Bijou is unhappy with the sudden changes to her clan, and the townspeople are anything but welcoming; in fact, threats are made against Eddy when he buys the town’s historic firehouse in order to open a bakery.

Then a shocking murder/dognapping occurs on the night of the bakery’s grand opening, and Bijou finds herself thrust into a tangled mystery. To solve it, she will have to summon her inner Viking—and fight tooth and claw for her new clan.

Bijou is a cat with an impressive vocabulary, and she tells the story. It’s easy to forget you’re hearing it all from a cat. In this episode of Bijou’s story, she’s confronted with a pig at the Fox Burrow Pet Inn, which she manages for her human, Spencer. While she’s not pleased with the prospect of sharing her home with a swine at first, she soon learns that pigs play a much more important role in Viking legend than she previously thought.

Soon enough, Bijou, Skunk (Bijou’s assistant at the Inn, a pomeranian), and Hamlet (the pig, of course) are on a vital mission to rescue Fennec (Hamlet’s pit bull brother) from the evil clutches he was in before being adopted by Eddy (his human). 

While the book started a little slow, the rescue action was fun, and the mystery was indeed cozy. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to animal lovers who like a quirky cast of four-legged characters. 

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is the human to two cats who most probably have no Viking blood. Hopefully their bravery will never be tested to know for sure.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Cold Snap!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 29th, at 11:59pm EST, 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!


Cold Snap, by Codi Schneider

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Quick Pick Book Review: Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult

Quick Pick Book Review: Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult
  • Opening lines: March 13, 2020
    When I was six years old, I painted a corner of the sky. My father was working as a conservator, one of a handful restoring the zodiac ceiling on the main hall of Grand Central Terminal—an aqua sky strung with shimmering constellations. It was late, way past my bedtime, but my father took me to work because my mother—as usual—was not home. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan—all of her books are fantastic, because she does extensive research beforehand. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and The Book of Two Ways comes “a powerfully evocative story of resilience and the triumph of the human spirit” (Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of Malibu Rising)

    Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

    But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

    Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

    In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoyed Picoult's previous books, or anyone who enjoys well-written books in general. 
  • Favorite paragraph: As we get closer, the mass of land differentiates into individual sensations: hot gusts of wind and hooting pelicans; a man climbing a coconut tree and tossing the nuts down to a boy; a marine iguana, blinking its yellow dinosaur eye. As we sidle up to the dock, I think that this could not be any more different from New York City. It feels tropical and timeless, lazy, remote. It feels like a place where no one has ever heard of a pandemic. 
  • Something to know: At first I was like, ugh, I don't want to read another book set in COVID times—we already have to live it, currently—but then the book ended up winning me over. Also, something MAJOR happens midway through the book that completely changes the course of the narrative. After that I was hooked and had to find out immediately how the book ends.
  • What I would have changed: Not sure I would have changed anything. Maybe the ending but it felt right to me. 
  • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon—it will be out on November 30, 2021.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni {ends 9/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I was ten when I accompanied my father to the ACE Hardware store in Millbrae. I don’t recall what he purchased, but I do recall he handed the cashier a ten-dollar bill and she gave him back change for a twenty. I remember thinking we’d hit the mother lode.

“No. That’s not right,” my father said. “I only gave you a ten.” He handed the woman back her ten-dollar bill. She cried.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “We lost our nephew in Vietnam. My sister got the word last night.”

My dad expressed his condolences before we walked to the parking lot. “Why are we in that damn war?” he said.

“Hey, Dad?”

“Huh?”

“Why’d you give her back the ten dollars?”

“Never take anything that doesn’t belong to you or that you haven’t earned,” he said, sliding into the car. “You never know who you’re stealing from, and what that money means to them.”

I had forgotten that moment until that summer, when I worked with William.

This was a powerful coming-of-age story about three different generations of young men. 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni {ends 9/22}
In 1979, Vincent Bianco has just graduated high school. His only desire: collect a little beer money and enjoy his final summer before college. So he lands a job as a laborer on a construction crew. Working alongside two Vietnam vets, one suffering from PTSD, Vincent gets the education of a lifetime. Now forty years later, with his own son leaving for college, the lessons of that summer—Vincent’s last taste of innocence and first taste of real life—dramatically unfold in a novel about breaking away, shaping a life, and seeking one’s own destiny.

Vincent tells most of the story—it’s the story of his own year after high school, as well as the story of his own son (40 years later) graduating high school, and the story of him reading William’s journal from his time serving with the Marines in Vietnam. There are also parts of the story that show the relationship between William and Vincent during the time they worked on a construction site together (the year after Vincent’s high school graduation, during William’s decline into PTSD after his return from Vietnam about ten years earlier). 

While this puts Vincent’s and William’s stories in the first person, Vincent tells the story of his son Beau’s last year of high school and transition to college. The perspective seemed right, though, as Vincent had insight for all three stories. He not only told Beau’s story, but compared it to his story and that of William, and the different events that had forced the three young men to mature and move on to new stages of their lives. 

The writing for all of the story lines was empathetic and compelling. The experiences of the three young men were unique, but shared some common themes. Vincent’s narration often led the reader to the commonalities between the three very different lives.

Overall, I’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars. Thought should be given before recommending it, as the war stories could be triggering for some readers. It was a memoir-style literary fiction book that seemed as believable as non-fiction. If the subject matter sounds even a little interesting, the writing made this a fabulous book.

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

Becki Bayley loves rainy nights, supporting the arts, and Cherry Coke with Southern Comfort. She also enjoys sharing snippets of her life and that of her family on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of The World Played Chess!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 22nd, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Constance, by Matthew FitzSimmons {ends 9/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Two days after her dinner with Vernon Gaddis, Con left Charles Island driven by a late-model, two-door electric compact with Virginia plates. It was the color of cold oatmeal and not much to look at, but that’s the way she wanted it given where she was headed. The less attention she attracted, the less attention she attracted. In addition to this sweet, sweet ride, Gaddis had also linked her brand-new, out-of-the-box LFD to a bank account that would last her at least a couple of weeks. It was early morning, the sky was clear, and she was in good spirits. The first day after waking in Palingenesis had been a mad scramble to survive. Life reduced to its most basic needs: food, water, shelter. Hard to make a plan when you were hungry, tired, and scared all the time. It had narrowed her focus to navigating safely from point A to point B. Now things felt different. She had a plan. She was on the move.

Constance is almost like a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin. She wakes up with an 18-month hole in her memory, and a body that’s familiar, but not the same one she’s used to. Is she still who she thinks she is?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Constance, by Matthew FitzSimmons {ends 9/8}
In the near future, advances in medicine and quantum computing make human cloning a reality. For the wealthy, cheating death is the ultimate luxury. To anticloning militants, it’s an abomination against nature. For young Constance “Con” D’Arcy, who was gifted her own clone by her late aunt, it’s terrifying.

After a routine monthly upload of her consciousness—stored for that inevitable transition—something goes wrong. When Con wakes up in the clinic, it’s eighteen months later. Her recent memories are missing. Her original, she’s told, is dead. If that’s true, what does that make her?

The secrets of Con’s disorienting new life are buried deep. So are those of how and why she died. To uncover the truth, Con is retracing the last days she can recall, crossing paths with a detective who’s just as curious. On the run, she needs someone she can trust. Because only one thing has become clear: Con is being marked for murder—all over again.

The last thing Con remembers is going in on the day after Christmas in 2038 to have an upload of her consciousness (required periodically for the clone that was gifted to her by her aunt, the scientific genius behind the clones). Now she needs to try and catch her mind up to the rest of her, figure out most importantly who killed her (causing her clone to come to life)—oh, and stay away from those who don’t think clones should exist.

This is one of those books that’s hard to explain, but it was worth it. The speculation and presentation of the not-so-distant future was interesting and believable. The scientific developments of the future also made the plot even more challenging to predict.

Overall, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. The science part of the science fiction wasn’t that hard to comprehend and imagine. The human nature in the story also played a major part, if less science is more to the reader’s taste. 

{Click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley likes red meat, bourbon old-fashioneds, and remembering to post pictures of her adventures. Check out what she’s remembered to post lately on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Constance!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 8th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Constance, by Matthew FitzSimmons

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Family Plot, by Megan Collins {ends 9/1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From upstairs, there’s a thump, followed by a sound like furniture sliding across the floor. Charlie glances at the ceiling.

“Are you sure you’re safe in here?” he asks Officer Bailey. “If we’re as murderous as you think, who knows what we might do? Maybe you should call one of your friends for backup.”

Finally, the officer acknowledges him. “Is that a threat?”

“No, Officer,” Tate says. Sitting up, she throws a glance at Charlie that slaps the smile off his face. He looks away like a chastised child before his eyes bolt back to hers.

As their gaze lingers, I see it morph, deepening into something anxious and fearful. When Tate slides her hand across the table, Charlie grabs it, his fingers squeezing hers until his knuckles turn white. I study their shared look, their clasped hands, and a thought blazes through my mind.

They know something.

It was obvious that something was off about this family, but figuring out exactly what, and when it all started, added a bit more mystery. 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Family Plot, by Megan Collins {ends 9/1}
At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse is haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she is unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house, where the family makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of her family reacts to the revelation in unsettling ways. Her brother, Charlie, pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister, Tate, forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic facade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

Despite growing up homeschooled with a curriculum of mostly serial killer details, Dahlia Lighthouse seems normal-ish. When her father dies, she finds herself back in her childhood home with her mother and two of her three siblings. The last time they were all together was the night Dahlia’s twin brother left home with only a note saying goodbye. No one had seen or heard from him since.

A grisly discovery is made shortly after they all reunite—their brother Andy is buried in their father’s plot, and he didn’t die of natural causes. How much do the Lighthouse siblings know about their family and each other? Can they figure out what really happened before the police decide who to blame so they can close the case?

This is a really hard story to talk about without revealing too much! I give it 3 out of 5 stars. It felt like the time without knowing any of the story, just the Lighthouse’s reputation in the community, went on for quite a while, and it would have been interesting to have more of a build up to the truths that most of the family knew all along. It was an intriguing family drama, and the backstory of the murder victims they learned about in their mother’s customized homeschool was curious. 

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki is a wife and mother of two. When she's not reading, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, playing with her family's two black cats, and speaking about herself in the third person.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of this book!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 1st, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

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

Good luck!

The Family Plot, by Megan Collins

Monday, August 23, 2021

Book Review & GIVEAWAY - It's Not About the Gun: Lessons from My Global Career as a Female FBI Agent, by Kathy Stearman {ends 8/30}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Despite my rocky start, India began to feel like home. I recall coming back to Delhi from a conference in the US. The embassy car had picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at my house. Walking up the driveway, I could hear the family of lime green parrots singing in the garden, the scent of the frangipani blossoms floated on the humid air. I felt like I belonged to this place. I realized, regardless how my tenure had begun, that I loved my job. I loved being in India, and I loved being part of something larger than myself. I was only beginning to understand how this time in my career would change my life.

Kathy Stearman grew up on a farm, and wanted the career she could find the farthest from her childhood. A job with the FBI was not like she’d seen in the movies, but it definitely wasn’t like life on the farm either.

Official synopsis:
Book Review & GIVEAWAY - It's Not About the Gun: Lessons from My Global Career as a Female FBI Agent, by Kathy Stearman {ends 8/30}
When former FBI Agent Kathy Stearman read in the
New York Times that sixteen women were suing the FBI for discrimination at the training academy, she was surprised to see the women come forward—no one ever had before. But the truth behind their accusations resonated.

After a twenty-six-year career in the Bureau, Kathy Stearman knows from personal experience that this type of behavior has been prevalent for decades. Stearman’s It’s Not About the Gun examines the influence of attitude and gender in her journey to becoming FBI Legal Attaché, the most senior FBI representative in a foreign office.

When she entered the FBI Academy in 1987, Stearman was one of about 600 women in a force of 10,000 agents. While there, she evolved into an assertive woman, working her way up the ranks and across the globe to hold positions that very few women have held before. And yet, even at the height of her career, Stearman had to check herself to make sure that she never appeared weak, inferior, or afraid. The accepted attitude for women in power has long been cool, calm, and in control—and sometimes that means coming across as cold and emotionless.

Stearman changed for the FBI, but she longs for a different path for future women of the Bureau. If the system changes, then women can remain constant, valuing their female identity and nurturing the people they truly are. In It's Not About the Gun, Stearman describes how she was viewed as a woman and an American overseas, and how her perception of her country and the FBI, observed from the optics of distance, has evolved.

This book was wonderfully written and engaging. The author comes across as straight-forward and not overly-emotional (probably a necessary stance, working among mostly men). The stories about her upbringing, training, and career were all interesting, and then became even more compelling when paired with her retrospective insight.

Not all of the book was about the author’s own life. The commentary she offered about different political, military, and cultural events and occurrences around the world were also enlightening. As a reader without a desire to tour the world, the author’s descriptions of the physical beauty and traditions in the countries where she worked were colorful and appreciated.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It would surely be enjoyed by those who enjoy law enforcement or FBI stories, and also highly recommended to those who like true stories about strong women, especially in non-traditional roles.

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys blasting Kesha or The Chicks on her CD player for a mental escape while working from home again. See what else she’s been up to on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of It's Not About the Gun!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, August 30th, 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.

Thanks!

It's Not About the Gun: Lessons from My Global Career as a Female FBI Agent, by Kathy Stearman

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All's Well, by Mona Awad {ends 8/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Impossible, I think, sheets snaked around my body, still light as air, light as the breeze in my hair, lifting it lightly off my shoulders. My window’s open, but I’m not cold. I stare at the blue, blue sky through the window screen. A bright blue that reminds me spring is coming. Right around the corner, Miranda. Almost here. And for once, I feel no fear. No pain. Nothing. Nothing? No. Not nothing. Something. Something else is here. Inside. Deep, deep, what is it? Whatever it is, I’m humming with it. Limbs buzzing with it. Heart brimming with it. Eyes filling with it. Bones brightening with it. Blood singing with it. Lips smiling with it. Smiling at three black crows perched upon the branch outside.

“Good morning,” I say.

And they fly away.


How much of Miranda’s life is real, and how much is her own drug-induced perception of it all? There doesn’t seem to be any way to tell for sure.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All's Well, by Mona Awad {ends 8/26}
Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised, and cost, her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.

That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible, doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.

With prose Margaret Atwood has described as “no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged...genius,” Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is the story of a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain.


What a unique book! Nothing goes right for Miranda, until everything does. Since she’s admittedly drug-addled and spending most of her time in her own head, it’s hard to know how much of her story is real and how much is her fantasy, or even her mind playing tricks. If one could have everything just the way they wanted it, is that really how they’d want it?

Miranda’s interesting observations and perceptions also question the experience of chronic pain, and the way those with pain are treated differently by those who may not understand it the same. Perhaps the most intriguing question Miranda faces, though, is what cost one would be willing to pay for everything they thought they wanted...or what cost would they be willing to have someone else pay?

Overall, this story was definitely open to imagination and interpretation. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars, but the reader definitely needs to be willing to appreciate an unreliable narrator.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who likes unreliable narrators in a fictional capacity, fantasy stories with happy endings, and the company of sleeping cats. Find out more of what she’s been up to at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of All's Well!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

All's Well, by Mona Awad

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