Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Fever King, by Victoria Lee {ends 3/4}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Noam?” Dr. Howard zeroed in on him the second the other students had been ferried out the door. “It’s time for your aptitude testing.”

Noam didn’t move. “What does this ‘aptitude testing’ entail, exactly?”

She glared disapprovingly, but the carefully blank look on Noam’s face didn’t falter.

“We need to know what you can do and how well you can do it,” she elaborated at last. “We need to know more about your magic – any special affinities, any boundary conditions. It’s standard operating procedure, Mr. Alvaro. There’s nothing to worry about. Now come with me.”

Noam really, really didn’t want to go with her. He couldn’t imagine anything less appealing than being asked to make a fool of himself in front of a whole bunch of government officials.

Still. He was admittedly interested in figuring out what kind of magic he could do.

I do love a good dystopian novel. While characters are usually my biggest draw in a book, The Fever King had a stronger plot than characters for me. The interaction of the characters on the basis of their magical gifts was intriguing.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Fever King, by Victoria Lee
In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

While political drama isn’t usually my thing, the politics of Carolinia and Atlantia somehow drew me in. Maybe it was Noam’s passion to help the refugees, but I think it was even more how everyone’s personal experiences with the virus and with magic defined them. The characters as individuals did not make as much of an impression on me as their magical gifts and how they used them. You knew who the "witchlings" were based on their place in society, but knowing what they were didn’t necessarily tell you what they could do or what their individual power was.

All the main characters were using their powers—that we may or may not know about—to control or manipulate situations or other people secretly. Without spoiling the outcome for those who will read the book, not everyone is as they seem. Determining the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ is nearly impossible with so many secrets being kept for so many reasons. There was a very small romantic interlude, but it was really just to add depth to an interpersonal relationship.

Overall, I found The Fever King to be a very complicated book. It was a little slow for me in the middle, but once the action started, it was consuming and I didn’t want to set the book down til I knew what was going to happen. I’m glad I kept going, because the ending plot twist was a surprise.

I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend this book for those who enjoy dystopian fiction and military or political thrillers. I look forward to more books in this series, but I’m not really sure where the author will take it next.


Becki Bayley has been a retail clerk, day-care worker, chocolatier, receptionist, debt management counselor, pampering specialist, reader, and collections advocate. She is currently a breakfast lady and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Fever King!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, March 4th, 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!

The Fever King, by Victoria Lee

Monday, February 18, 2019

Quick Pick book review: The Unhoneymooners, by Christina Lauren

book review: The Unhoneymooners, by Christina Lauren
  • Opening lines: In the calm before the storm—in this case, the blessed quiet before the bridal suite is overrun by the wedding partymy twin sister stares critically down at a freshly painted shell-pink fingernail and says "I bet you're relieved I'm not a bridezilla. She glances across the room at me and smiles generously. "I bet you expected me to be impossible."

    It is a statement so perfectly dropped in the moment, I want to take a picture and frame it.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan and have reviewed most of, if not all, of their books.
  • And what's this book about?
  • Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Amy, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

    Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

    Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of... lucky.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys an easy read and/or a good love story, or who enjoys "chick lit."
  • Favorite paragraph: Whereas Ami is a four-leave clover, I have always been unlucky. I don't say that to be theatrical or because I only seem unlucky in comparison: it is an objective truth. Google Olive Torres, Minnesota, and you'll find dozens of articles and comment threads dedicated to the time I climbed into one of those claw crane arcade games and got stuck. I was six, and when the stuffed animal I'd captured didn't drop directly into the chute, I decided to go in and get it.
    • Something to know: Nothing. I'd love to see this book made into a movie, though!
    • What I would have changed: Nothing I can think of.
    • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
    • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon - it will be online and in stores on May 14, 2019.
    *Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

    Wednesday, February 13, 2019

    Book Review: Where the Forest Meets the Stars, by Glendy Vanderah

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley
    Turkey Creek Road was the five-mile gravel road that dead-ended at the creek and Kinney property. Driving it took a while, even in an SUV. After the first mile, it got narrow, snaky, potholed, and washboarded, and toward the end it was precariously steep in a few places where the creek washed it out in heavy rains. Jo’s return trip on the road was her favorite part of the day. She never knew what the next bend might bring – a turkey, a family of bobwhite quail, or even a bobcat. At its end, the road brought her to a pretty view of the clear, rocky creek and a left turn that led to her quaint cottage on the hill.

    But it wasn’t wildlife she saw staring back at her from the cottage walkway when she turned onto the Kinney property lane. It was the Ursa Major alien and her Ursa Minor dog. The girl was wearing the same clothes as the previous night, her feet still bare. Jo parked and jumped out of the car without removing her gear. “Why are you still here?”

    “I told you,” the girl said, “I’m visiting from –”

    “You’ve got to go home!”

    “I will! I promise I will when I’ve seen five miracles.”

    Jo took her phone from her pants pocket. “I’m sorry… I have to call the police.”

    I found this book very enchanting from the beginning. I absolutely loved the characters, which is really the key to my heart when I’m reading books for enjoyment.

    Official synopsis:
    Book Review: Where the Forest Meets the Stars, by Glendy Vanderah
    After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.

    The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.

    Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?

    Though the three have formed an incredible bond, they know difficult choices must be made. As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.

    I’m worried to say too much about Where the Forest Meets the Stars and give away the ending. I promise there’s a happy ending, but you’ll need to read it to find out the details for yourself.

    Jo has purposely chosen a remote cabin for her research project on some local birds. Most ornithologists would have a field assistant, but after several personal struggles, she just wants some peace and solitude. Her solitude is short-lived, however, when a mysterious girl shows up at the cabin wearing just pajamas. Jo soon enlists the help of her nearest neighbor, Gabe, in caring for the girl and trying to solve the mystery of where she came from.

    The characters were so engaging, and I really wanted to find out all the good things that could happen for them. The writing in this debut novel is beautiful and so imaginative. I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I look forward to reading it again.

    Becki Bayley is a 46-year-old woman in the SE Detroit area who shares her adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.

    Monday, February 11, 2019

    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman {ends 2/18}


    The kitchen faucet makes the most bizarre sounds.

    It coughs and wheezes like it's gone asthmatic. It gurgles like someone drowning. It spits once, then goes silent. Our dog, Kingston, raises his ears, but still keeps his distance from the sink, unsure if it might unexpectedly come back to life, but no such luck.

    Mom just stands there holding Kingston's water bowl beneath the faucet, puzzling. Then she moves the handle to the off position and says, "Alyssa, go get your father."

    This novel was kind of a dystopian novel, but it was a bit scary because it could definitely happen to us in 2019, as well. California runs out of water and people start to die because of it.

    Official synopsis:
    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman
    When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

    The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

    Until the taps run dry.

    Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

    This book was pretty interesting to read, as it was told from several different perspectives: Alyssa; Kelton, her next-door neighbor who has a crush on her; and Jacqui and Henry, people they meet along the way. 

    Kelton's family are "doomsday preppers," so although they were prepared for the drought, their neighbors want them to share their spoils with the rest of the neighborhood. Alyssa's family definitely was not prepared, and soon she and Kelton find themselves on the run to find water. 

    I enjoyed this book but it did take me a week or two to get through—I'm thinking this was more because I had less time to read during that time period, and not because the book was less interesting. I was curious to see if the "Tap-Out" would resolve itself or not, and, if so, if the main characters would live to see the end of it.

    3.5 stars out of 5.

    *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.


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

    Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, February 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners 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, and no P.O. Boxes.

    Good luck!

    2 copies of DRY, by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

    Sunday, February 10, 2019

    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Forgotten Hours, by Katrin Schumann {ends 2/17}

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley
    The lake is calm. The moonlight shimmies over the water, turning it into acres of gray silk. Katie and Lulu slip down onto the spider-riddled bottom of a canoe and lie in the middle of the lake, bored and not bored, staring up at the sky. Tonight it is crisscrossed with highways of sparkling space debris, and they count the shooting stars aloud, one after another – five, ten, thirty flashes. The very next day they are both going home.

    “You know, I’m gonna miss you, Katie Gregory,” Lulu says. When summer is over, Lulu returns to her world, and Katie returns to hers. They talk now and then on the phone, but it’s nothing like when they yare together, breathing the same air, egging each other on. “It’s the pits, living upstate,” Lulu adds, grabbing the bottle of Campari from Katie and sitting up so she can take another swig. A dribble of pink liquid creeps down her chin.

    What a difficult topic to turn into popular fiction, without making someone a truly hated character! After learning more about Katie and Lulu, it was hard to imagine their lives turning out any different than they finally did.

    Official synopsis:
    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Forgotten Hours, by Katrin Schumann
    At twenty-four, Katie Gregory feels like life is looking up: she’s snagged a great job in New York City and is falling for a captivating artist—and memories of her traumatic past are finally fading. Katie’s life fell apart almost a decade earlier, during an idyllic summer at her family’s cabin on Eagle Lake when her best friend accused her father of sexual assault. Throughout his trial and imprisonment, Katie insisted on his innocence, dodging reporters and clinging to memories of the man she adores.

    Now he’s getting out. Yet when Katie returns to the shuttered lakeside cabin, details of that fateful night resurface: the chill of the lake, the heat of first love, the terrible sting of jealousy. And as old memories collide with new realities, they call into question everything she thinks she knows about family, friends, and, ultimately, herself. Now, Katie’s choices will be put to the test with life-altering consequences.

    Katie and Lulu were best friends who just spent summers together. Other than their shared summers, their lives and family situations were vastly different. Their friendship ends when Lulu makes accusations against Katie’s father, and their attorneys tell them to have no contact.

    The book picks up nearly a decade later, when the trial is long since over, and Katie’s dad has served six years in prison for his crimes. But Katie has lived her life like she and Lulu just lost touch. She’s gone on, finished college, and made a new life for herself, including a new name, while keeping her visits with her dad a secret from her new friends. She’s sure he must be innocent, and Lulu was just making things up.

    Most of the book just catalogs Katie’s thoughts about everything. I feel like the book could have gotten to the point and told us the original story in half the time. The chapters alternately took place as recounting the girls’ past together, and the present, but didn’t clearly identify which you were in until you started reading. It wasn’t hard to tell, just annoying to not know right away.

    All of the plot lines were neatly tied up (and a bit more interestingly) in the last couple chapters, and in the epilogue. I do like endings that come together nicely.

    Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It was an agreeable enough read to pass the time, but I didn’t like dragging on and on with a generally uncomfortable topic.

    Becki Bayley has been blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com since March 2002. She’s generally polite and tries not to offend anyone.


    One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The Forgotten Hours!

    Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 17th, 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!

    1 copy of THE FORGOTTEN HOURS, by Katrin Schumann

    Saturday, February 2, 2019

    Book Review: The Killer Collective, by Barry Eisler

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley

    She took a deep breath and eased through the doorway. The door had spring-loaded hinges, and she slowed it down with her free hand to make sure it closed quietly. Then she moved left, keeping her back to the brick building, the Glock in a two-handed grip now, tracking left and right in sync with her gaze. She paused and listened. She heard the hum of an electrical transformer, the drip of water from a leaking gutter. Nothing else. She moved left again, logging a puddle in her peripheral vision and stepping over it. A duct ahead of her was spewing steam. She moved forward to get an angle past it, and–

    A man slipped around the corner less than six feet from her, a pistol in his right hand alongside his thigh. Holding the gun for concealment, not in the expectation of immediate engagement. He saw her and froze, his eyes widening.

    Livia thrust her arms forward, putting her sights directly on his sternum, and shouted, “Drop the weapon!”

    While this book hints at stories from previous books for several of the characters, I felt I knew enough of what was going on to really enjoy this book and its plot and characters. It was an entertaining read as a stand-alone book, and I’m sure it would really enhance the two series that feature its characters.

    Official synopsis:
    When a joint FBI–Seattle Police investigation of an international child pornography ring gets too close to certain powerful people, sex-crimes detective Livia Lone becomes the target of a hit that barely goes awry—a hit that had been offered to John Rain, a retired specialist in “natural causes.”

    Suspecting the FBI itself was behind the attack, Livia reaches out to former Marine sniper Dox. Together, they assemble an ad hoc group to identify and neutralize the threat. There’s Rain. Rain’s estranged lover, Mossad agent and honeytrap specialist Delilah. And black ops soldiers Ben Treven and Daniel Larison, along with their former commander, SpecOps legend Colonel Scot “Hort” Horton.

    Moving from Japan to Seattle to DC to Paris, the group fights a series of interlocking conspiracies, each edging closer and closer to the highest levels of the US government.

    With uncertain loyalties, conflicting agendas, and smoldering romantic entanglements, these operators will have a hard time forming a team. But in a match as uneven as this one, a collective of killers might be even better.

    The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler was an engaging action/adventure book that rang of truth. The characters were well-developed. This is the third book in the Livia Lone series, and the tenth book in the John Rain series. Each of these primary characters brought their friends to the book this time, for an interesting conglomeration of relationships between friends and hired killers. Having not read any of either series previously, the background given was adequate that I felt acquainted enough with all the characters in the book to follow the intriguing plot.

    Adding to the believability, the author included footnotes, of a sort. At the back of the book, Eisler cites different articles and videos he’s seen that he credits with some of the ideas his characters use, sorted by the chapter in which the ideas were mentioned. I loved this!

    Overall, I greatly enjoyed the characters and the exciting storyline. I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

    Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, direct-seller, lunch-lady and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com. She also enjoys doing laundry and dishes every day to keep her household running.

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