Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Children's Book Review and GIVEAWAY: How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet {ends 8/7}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Don’t rush though:

Your eyes need time to taste.

Your soul needs room to bloom.

What an adorable picture book! It inspired me to want to do something crafty, and read a book.

Children's Book Review and GIVEAWAY: How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet {ends 8/7}
Official synopsis: A stunning new picture book from Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander and Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet! This New York Times bestselling duo has teamed up for the first time to bring you How to Read a Book, a poetic and beautiful journey about the experience of reading.

Find a tree—a

black tupelo or

dawn redwood will do—and

plant yourself.

(It’s okay if you prefer a stoop, like Langston Hughes.)

With these words, an adventure begins. Kwame Alexander’s evocative poetry and Melissa Sweet’s lush artwork come together to take readers on a sensory journey between the pages of a book.

This is such a fun book. The poem has great imagery in its words on how to really dive in to a book, and the art completely pops from the page. It has also sent us on a journey into other books and learning new things, as my young son asked who Langston Hughes is, and what a "stoop" is.

I’d recommend this book for reading with a child aged 4 to 8. Some of the words are almost disguised by the boisterous art, so kids may easily gloss over parts of the poem while only pulling out the words that are recognizable and easy to see. I could also imagine reading this book to a child without letting them see the art, and ask what they would imagine as illustrations to go with the poem.

Overall I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. The poem is colorful and descriptive, and the art is loud and includes some cut-shape pages.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves reading and loves watching kids love to read too! Check out her blog at


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of How to Read a Book!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 7th, 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!

How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf {ends 8/6}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

In any one year there were only three or four of us Jewish girls at Las Esclavas – always primas. We were a small group of Jews, about a hundred family units, and those of us niñas who attended Las Esclavas had to go to Mass before class like the other girls. The Catholic orders had the only good schools then. Some of my tios chose to send their children to public school in the American Canal Zone with no religious instruction – in spite of the English. Papi wanted us to be “panameñas primero.” Carlitos attended Javier, run by the Jesuit priests.

This interesting memoir focused more on the people in the author’s extended family than where parts of the story took place. This gave the book a very relatable feel – like it could have happened anywhere.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf
Raised by a lively family of Spanish Jews in tropical and Catholic Panama of the 1950s and 1960s, Marlena depends on her many tíos and tías for refuge from the difficulties of life, including the frequent absences of her troubled mother. As a teenager, she pulls away from this centered world—crossing borders—and begins a life in the United States very different from the one she has known.

This lyrical coming-of-age memoir explores the intense and profound relationship between mothers and daughters and highlights the importance of community and the beauty of a large Latin American family. It also explores the vital issues of mental illness and healing, forgiveness and acceptance. At the Narrow Waist of the World examines the author's gradual integration into a new culture, even as she understands that her home is still—and always will be—rooted in another place.

In her ‘Note to readers’ at the beginning of the book, the author says she has to leave in a lot of the Spanish phrases that didn’t translate with their full meaning to English. While I can appreciate the sentiment, I feel like I missed parts of the story that weren’t clearly translated. I don’t speak Spanish. Unfortunately, I felt this detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

The book was a lot about the author’s mother, her mother’s mental illness, and the rest of the family’s expectations and treatments of her mother, while they helped care for the author and her siblings. While the closeness of her extended family was seen as common to their community and culture, much of the events in the book felt like they could happen anywhere in the world. I loved the pictures that were shared within the book. They gave more life to the family members as I read about them.

I thought the treatment of her mother’s mental illness in the 1950s and 1960s was an important takeaway from the book. Psychiatry seemed to be inconsistent, and treatments put a lot of pressure on the author’s family to deal with the life her mother sometimes lived, and sometimes was away from for hospitalizations.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. While more Spanish language skills would probably have increased my enjoyment of the book, I feel I learned a lot about the author, her life, and her struggles in her relationship with her mother.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley’s favorite color is black, or maybe pink or orange. Her favorite dinosaur is a velociraptor, because it’s fun to say. She blogs at


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of At the Narrow Waist of the World!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 6th, 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!

At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Quick Pick book review: Twice in a Blue Moon, by Christina Lauren

Quick Pick book review: Twice in a Blue Moon, by Christina Lauren
  • Opening lines: (Fourteen years ago) Nana turned to inspect the hotel room. Behind her, the curtains drifted closed with a whisper. With her dark, sharp eyes, she surveyed the cream and red decor, the generic paintings, and the television she no doubt thought gaudily perched on the otherwise beautiful dresser. Never in my life had I been in a room this fancy, but her gaze, as it touched everything, read Given the cost, I expected more.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan and have read all of their books (it's two people, writing under one pseudonym). 
  • And what's this book about?
  • From the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners and the “delectable, moving” (Entertainment Weekly) My Favorite Half-Night Stand comes a modern love story about what happens when your first love reenters your life when you least expect it…

    Sam Brandis was Tate Jones’s first: Her first love. Her first everything. Including her first heartbreak.

    During a whirlwind two-week vacation abroad, Sam and Tate fell for each other in only the way that first loves do: sharing all of their hopes, dreams, and deepest secrets along the way. Sam was the first, and only, person that Tate—the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars—ever revealed her identity to. So when it became clear her trust was misplaced, her world shattered for good.

    Fourteen years later, Tate, now an up-and-coming actress, only thinks about her first love every once in a blue moon. When she steps onto the set of her first big break, he’s the last person she expects to see. Yet here Sam is, the same charming, confident man she knew, but even more alluring than she remembered. Forced to confront the man who betrayed her, Tate must ask herself if it’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason… and whether “once in a lifetime” can come around twice.

    With Christina Lauren’s signature “beautifully written and remarkably compelling” (Sarah J. Maas, New York Times bestselling author) prose and perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner,
    Twice in a Blue Moon is an unforgettable and moving novel of young love and second chances.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a love story or stories about the movie industry.
  • Favorite paragraph: (Now) The tires crunch over gravel, and I stir awake at the sound: we've reached Ruby Farm. I'm nervous and excited and feel the proverbial weight of a thousand pounds on my chest, but stillsomething tight inside me unwinds instinctively at the unfolding green serenity directly ahead of us.
    We pass through the gates, waving to a guard there who notes the license plate, and I assume, check the box to indicate Tate Butler has arrived.

    I am officially on set. 
    • Something to know: I'd compared this to a situation like if Suri Cruise (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter) all of a sudden disappeared from the limelight, and Katie Holmes disappeared as well. It was a pretty compelling read.
    • What I would have changed: Nothing except the ending was a little short, and I wanted more! (can we have a sequel?!)
    • Overall rating: 5 stars out of 5.
    • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon - it will be out on October 22, 2019.

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

    Thursday, July 25, 2019

    Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Optimistic Decade, by Heather Abel {ends 8/1}

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley

    “For years I was bitter. A constant state of rage because the world hadn’t gone the way I told it to, over and over, week after week, editorial after goddamn editorial!” He shouted this to the air around them, to the cows sleeping standing up, to the lizards scurrying, to the fossils wedged in the shale beneath the car. “The superiority I would feel every time I saw one of the inane bumper stickers. ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth.’ ‘War is not the Answer.’ And for what? What was I doing differently?”

    “But all those years you could do it, and then suddenly you can’t?”

    “Obviously I’ve given this plenty of thought. And you know” – he sighed – “I’m just not sure. But I have thought this. I’ve thought that maybe everybody has one decade, call it an optimistic decade, when the world feels malleable and the self strong. And then it’s over. It doesn’t come back.”

    I could really feel the struggle of all of the characters to hold on to their optimism, and their commitment to doing good, while still trying to be happy being themselves.

    Official Synopsis:
    A smart and sly story about a utopian summer camp, a charismatic leader, and the people who are drawn to his vision, The Optimistic Decade follows four unforgettable characters and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it.

    There is Caleb, founder of the back-to-the-land camp Llamalo, who is determined to teach others to live simply. There is Donnie, the rancher who gave up his land to Caleb and who now wants it back. There is Rebecca, determined to become an activist like her father and undone by the spell of both Llamalo and new love. And there is David, a teenager who has turned Llamalo into his personal religion.

    The Optimistic Decade brilliantly explores love, class, and the bloom and fade of idealism, and asks smart questions about good intentions gone wrong.

    This has been one of those books that I liked better once I finished reading it and stepped away. Much of the story was watching several characters head toward disillusionment – which isn’t a fun way to be headed. One of my main goals when I read is escaping the stress of daily life, not to live through additional struggles with the characters. And let’s say my idealism is no longer prominent in my daily choices – my optimistic decade may be already passed.

    After a lot of set-up and getting to know our main characters and anticipate their choices, they all encountered some catalyst for change about two-thirds of the way through the book. The timing worked out very well, as one of the character’s back-story was mostly through flashbacks to the establishing of the camp, Llamalo, that they all existed in and around.

    I don’t know how true it actually is, but one of my favorite parts of the book were the comparisons between the procedures and rituals at the camp with Jewish mitzvahs – defined in this book as actions they took to be closer to God. I felt like I could relate to the characters who found such comfort in predictable routines.

    Overall, I’d give The Optimistic Decade 3.25 stars out of 5. It started a little slow, but I really appreciated the big picture once I had finished reading the book.

    {click here to purchase this book - affiliate link.}

    Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, reader and lunch lady. You can check out her escapades at


    One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Optimistic Decade!

    Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, August 1st, 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.

    Open to mainland U.S. only, please (no Alaska or Hawaii residents).

    Good luck!

    The Optimistic Decade, by Heather Abel

    Saturday, July 6, 2019

    Book Review: Girl Unknown, by Karen Perry

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley

    It was late that night when Zoe came home. I was sitting at the writing desk in the living room, darkness pressing up against the window, the only light thrown by the small anglepoise lamp onto my notes spread in front of me. The rest of the household was sleeping when I heard the crunch of her footfall on the gravel outside.

    I could have stayed where I was, working out my thoughts in preparation for the radio interview I was scheduled to give early the next morning. All week, I had been meaning to prepare for it, but what with my trip to Belfast, the time had gotten away from me, and despite my good intentions to set aside a few hours to get ready, here I was on the eve of the interview with very little done. In hindsight, I often come back to this moment, and wonder had I chosen to remain at my desk, had I not gotten up from my chair and gone outside into the hall, would things have turned out differently? So much of what went wrong in the ensuing days and weeks seemed to stem from that night’s events.

    I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Girl Unknown. What can happen when a normal family finds out about something that happened years ago – how can it really change the whole family?

    Official synopsis:
    Book Review: Girl Unknown, by Karen Perry
    David and Caroline Connolly are swimming successfully through their marriage’s middle years—raising two children; overseeing care for David’s ailing mother; leaning into their careers, both at David’s university teaching job, where he’s up for an important promotion, and at the ad agency where Caroline has recently returned to work after years away while the children were little. The recent stresses of home renovation and of a brief romantic betrayal (Caroline’s) are behind them. The Connollys know and care for each other deeply.

    Then one early fall afternoon, a student of sublime, waiflike beauty appears in David’s university office and says, “I think you might be my father.” And the fact of a youthful passion that David had tried to forget comes rushing back. In the person of this intriguing young woman, the Connollys may have a chance to expand who they are and how much they can love, or they may be making themselves vulnerable to menace. They face either an opportunity or a threat—but which is which? What happens when their hard-won family happiness meets a hard-luck beautiful girl?

    Before I even start, I have to make two confessions about my reading of this book: I read the ending first, and then I finished the whole book in a day.

    See, as I started reading this book, some of the references were a little weird to me (since the whole book takes place in Ireland, with an Irish family). I can’t remember exactly what it was anymore, but something sounded awkward, but I knew what it was from context clues. It slowed my reading down ... so I skipped to the end. And found out what was going to happen, and then I NEEDED to get there and find out how it actually happened.

    All that being said, the story was great, and unraveled wonderfully. I’m very glad I read this book, but it was hard for me to get into, initially. I’m really good at hating characters that authors try to get me to hate, but sometimes I then don’t want to read about them anymore. Trust me, this one is worth pushing through. The ending was admittedly my favorite part of the story, but once I read the whole book, the ending gave so much more depth to understanding everything that led up to it. The book was a great psychological thriller, and I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

    {click here to purchase}

    Becki Bayley has met her reading goal for 2019 (some books reviewed, some books just read) – should she go for double? Find out this and more about her at

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