Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Rival's Break, by Carla Neggers {ends 9/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Emma noticed an attractive brown mushroom under the pine tree, not far from where she stood. She had no idea what it was. “What about mushrooms that aren’t deadly but still can make you sick?”

Sister Cecilia hopped off the pine root and lifted a low-hanging branch, pointing to the ground. “See those red mushrooms? I haven’t had a mycologist make a positive identification, but I believe they’re the russula emetica species. They’d be my first candidate for yesterday.”

“Emetica? Another one appropriately named?”

“Says it all, doesn’t it? They’re commonly known as the sickener. Not as terrifying as death cap and destroying angel, but it gets the point across.”

Emma took a closer look at the trio of mushrooms, indeed a distinct red color. “They don’t look appetizing, and they certainly don’t bear any resemblance to chanterelles.”

I’m almost amazed any murders get solved, when there are so many different little ways to kill or maim people based on obscure hobbies I’d never even think about. In the case of Rival’s Break, it’s wild edibles—mushrooms—that lend a whole new angle to having to uncover a crime.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Rival's Break, by Carla Neggers
A deadly poisoning, a stolen painting and a criminal mastermind challenge the skills of FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan as never before in their latest high-stakes case. New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers has crafted a gripping novel of international intrigue and suspense not to be missed.

Emma Sharpe is recovering from a shattering loss while her husband, Colin Donovan, is deep into his latest undercover mission. So they’re grateful to enjoy a peaceful autumn weekend together on the southern Maine coast to celebrate Colin’s brother Andy’s wedding.

But the peace is short-lived when Kevin Donovan, a marine patrol officer, receives a call to check on suspected food poisoning at a party aboard a yacht. Colin decides to tag along. He is surprised to recognize one of the victims as an undercover British intelligence officer, and it quickly becomes evident they’re dealing with something very sinister. At the same time a valuable painting by Irish artist Aoife O’Byrne—a friend of Emma and Colin’s—is missing from the yacht, and the connections make the investigation international and extremely personal.

Emma and Colin discover they are up against a deadly foe who plans to strike again. With the help of HIT, their small, elite Boston-based FBI team, they must foil an attack that will have devastating effects. It’s a case that will alter their lives beyond anything they’ve ever imagined…

As the story started out, I was grateful for introductions to the characters. Although this is the 10th book in this series (including one novella), I had not previously read any of them, so I had some catching up to do. The characters were mostly likable, if a bit far-fetched. I think reading some of the previous books would have made them more understandable. And what do I really know about the private lives of secret agents anyway?

I’m not one to usually try to guess the ending to a book, or the solution to a mystery or crime, but I hadn’t even considered the one who was revealed to be the "bad guy," this time. The plot was intriguing and unpredictable for me. While I wasn’t sure if I might be a little too confused, I wanted to keep reading and have the whole story finally revealed. I did not see this ending coming! I’d love to check out more books by this author and see if plots are always so well thought-out.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was a fun summer read and escape from my everyday life. I also found the characters engaging and would like to hear more of their stories.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who loves to start the day with kitty snuggles soon followed by ice-cold Cherry Coke. She loves to read, and doesn’t mind writing a bit at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Rival's Break!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 3rd, 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!

Rival's Break, by Carla Neggers

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew, by Hendrika de Vries {ends 8/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The room grew silent, and I could barely breathe as she answered him: “But don’t you understand that is exactly why I did it,” and pointing her finger at his chest as if in reprimand, she added, “Don’t you realize that not one of our children is safe unless they are all safe.”

“Oh that’s just stupid, foolish nonsense,” he scoffed. At which point other family members chimed in to defend my mother, and one of my aunts shooed us children out of the room and out of earshot of the ensuing argument.

But something new broke into my awareness during that exchange between my mother and my uncle that would continue to plague me well into my adult years. In that crucial moment, a moment that would etch itself on my memory, I heard as if for the very first time how carelessly the word foolish rolled off men’s lips and how acceptable it seemed to them to address my mother in a tone of voice that belittled her as if she were a small, ignorant child. Memories of the Dutch Nazis mocking her for hiding “the Jewess” and the Amsterdam bureaucrat’s condescension as he lectured her on losing her identity card that had been stolen merged with the dismissive tone of my uncle’s scorn. I knew for certain in that moment that no one, absolutely no one, would have spoken to my father in that demeaning way, and it awakened a feeling of anger in me at an injustice I could not yet clearly name.

While I found the title of this book a little daunting (and I don’t think I’ve repeated it correctly yet), the book was excellent. It’s on my list of favorite memoirs, with a necessary recounting of history, in a readable and engaging style.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew, by Hendrika de Vries {ends 8/29}
Born in the Netherlands at a time when girls are to be housewives and mothers and nothing else, Hendrika de Vries is a “daddy’s girl” until her father is deported from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam to a POW camp in Germany and her mother joins the Resistance. In the aftermath of her father’s departure, Hendrika watches as freedoms formerly taken for granted are eroded with escalating brutality by men with swastika armbands who aim to exterminate those they deem “inferior” and those who do not obey.

As time goes on, Hendrika absorbs her mother’s strength and faith, and learns about moral choice and forced silence. She sees her hidden Jewish “stepsister” betrayed, and her mother interrogated at gunpoint. She and her mother suffer near starvation, and they narrowly escape death on the day of liberation. But they survive it all―and through these harrowing experiences, Hendrika discovers the woman she wants to become.

This is a beautifully written memoir about a girl living through Nazi occupation, just a few blocks from Anne Frank. Hendrika de Vries didn’t have to hide usually, but she and her mother had to live carefully and quietly, so they didn’t draw any unwanted attention. At the same time, her mother also had to do everything to provide for them while her father was a prisoner of war.

The author narrates the intertwined relationship with her mother in a way that shows not only its necessity, but also tells of the way it influenced her future with others, when they were finally able to move freely and separately. Gender roles became a lot more complicated when the women who took care of it all while the war was going on suddenly were expected to return to the nurturing background when their men returned.

I really liked this book. I haven’t read The Diary of Anne Frank in a long time, but I still find it fascinating that these two young girls were struggling within walking distance of each other, victims of the war in completely different ways. Overall, I’d give When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew 4.5 out of 5 stars. I would like to know more of the author’s life after her teenage years (when this story ended) and learn more about how she worked through the trauma of the war.

{click here to pre-order on Amazon - book will be released on August 27, 2019}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, school employee and book reviewer. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.


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

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

When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew, by Hendrika de Vries

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Quick Pick book review: The Two Lila Bennetts, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Quick Pick book review: The Two Lila Bennetts, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
  • Opening lines: (Prologue) Wake up! Wake the hell up! The sound of my own voice shakes me out of my deep slumber, and my stomach lurches. I've lost track of time.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I've read books by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke before, and enjoyed them.
  • And what's this book about?
  • Lila Bennett’s bad choices have finally caught up with her. And one of those decisions has split her life in two. Literally.

    In one life, she’s taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger but knows too much. As she’s trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she’s done or be killed. In an alternate life, she eludes her captor but is hunted by someone who is dismantling her happiness, exposing one secret at a time.

    Lila’s decorated career as a criminal defense attorney, her marriage, and her life are on the line. She must make a list of those she’s wronged—both in and out of the courtroom—to determine who is out to get her before it’s too late. But even if she can pinpoint her assailant, will she survive? And if she does, which parts of her life are worth saving, and which parts must die? Because one thing’s for certain—life as Lila Bennett knew it is over.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a good thriller.
  • Favorite paragraph: I open the door slowly and don't make eye contact. I don't want him to know that I overheard. That I am now quite sure that my husband or whoever has me in here has ordered me dead.

    Because there's nothing else to take from me except my life.
      • Something to know: It's definitely similar to the movie Sliding Doors - even the authors admitted in the post-script that Sliding Doors was the inspiration for the book. 
      • What I would have changed: Nothing, except one of the endings (yes, there are two!) was a little ambiguous ... no spoilers, though.
      • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
      • Where can I find this book? Click here to order on Amazon. Free for Kindle Unlimited right now and only $3.99 for Kindle!

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

      Saturday, August 17, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Birthday Girl, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 8/25}

      October 19
      The Present
      5:00 PM

      Ellie de Florent-Stinson had made a point of telling everyone she knew that she'd bought the house in Palm Springs for her birthday, as a gift to self.

      Renting a Palm Springs house for a celebration was practically a rite of passage among a certain Los Angeles set, a flurry of Paperless Post invites with the requite Rat-Pack-in-the-desert themes landing in one's inbox with a predictable thud over the years.

      But Ellie always had to one-up, take it to the next mile, power it beyond the goalpost and smash it on the turf while doing an illegal victory dance—so she had actually bought a house, for a little over two million. Renting was so bourgeois. 

      I'm a huge Melissa de la Cruz fan, as my long-time blog readers might know, so I was excited to get my hands on her newest book, The Birthday Girl. There were a few twists throughout that I didn't see coming, also, and I very much enjoyed the novel.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Birthday Girl, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 8/25}
      In the thrilling, suspenseful new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz, all of Ellie de Florent-Stinson’s secrets come to light in one eventful evening full of twists, turns, and surprises.

      Before she became a glamorous fashion designer, Ellie de Florent-Stinson was a trailer-park teen about to turn sixteen. But a night of birthday celebration doesn’t go exactly as planned and descends into a night she’ll never be able to forget.

      Now, on the cusp of her fortieth birthday, it appears Ellie has everything she ever wanted: a handsome husband; an accomplished, college-age stepdaughter; a beautiful ten-year-old girl; adorable and rambunctious six-year-old twin boys; lush, well-appointed homes in Los Angeles, Park City, and Palm Springs; a thriving career; and a dazzling circle of friends.

      Except everything is not quite as perfect as it looks on the outside—Ellie is keeping many secrets. And hiding those skeletons has a cost, and it all comes to a head the night of her fabulous birthday party in the desert—where everyone who matters in her life shows up, invited or not. Old and new friends and frenemies, stepdaughters and business partners, ex-wives and ex-husbands congregate, and the glittering facade of Ellie’s life begins to crumble.

      Beautifully paced and full of surprises,
      The Birthday Girl is an enthralling tale of a life lived in shadow and its unavoidable consequences.

      The novel goes back and forth between the present, which is Ellie's 40th birthday party, and the past, which took place 24 years ago, when she was 16. The two characters in the past are named Leo and Mish, so it took me a while to figure out which one was Ellie ... and even then, there's a twist at the end and it turned out I was wrong.

      I really like novels that flip-flop like that (go between past and present) and this one was no exception. The characters are written very well, too, and just when you think you've figured out who is who, and what the ending will be, de la Cruz flips the script on you.

      4.5 stars out of 5.

      {click here to purchase}

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


      One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The Birthday Girl!

      Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, August 25th, 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!

      Hardcover copy of The Birthday Girl, by Melissa de la Cruz

      Thursday, August 15, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Fist or a Heart, by Kristín Eiríksdóttir {ends 8/25}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      He sat next to me one morning, and we started chatting. He said he’d bought a little house in Ko Samui without having ever laid eyes on it. This was the first time he’d been to Thailand, but he’d decided he was never going to leave.

      Why Thailand? I asked, and he shrugged, said he couldn’t come up with anything more original.

      The food’s good, he said. Then he asked if I’d seen the Wat Phra Kaew temple and suggested we go check it out together the next day. I was taken aback. I shook my head, but something within me awoke from its stupor, something I’d quieted that’s supposed to kick and wriggle, and I accepted the invitation.

      The language in this book was beautiful, which I find curious since it was originally written in Icelandic and translated.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Fist or a Heart, by Kristín Eiríksdóttir
      The past returns with a fury for a woman coming to terms with her life in this award-winning novel by an acclaimed Icelandic author making her English-language debut.

      Elín Jónsdóttir lives an isolated existence in Reykjavík, Iceland, making props and prosthetics for theatrical productions and Nordic crime flicks. In her early seventies, she has recently become fascinated with another loner, Ellen Álfsdóttir, a sensitive young playwright and illegitimate daughter of a famous writer. The girl has aroused maternal feelings in Elín, but she has also stirred discomfiting memories long packed away. Because their paths have crossed before. One doesn’t remember. The other is about to forget.

      Soon they’ll discover all they have in common: difficult childhoods, trauma, and being outliers who have found space to breathe in creative expression. Yet the more Elín tries to connect with the young woman and unbox painful memories, the more tenuous her grasp on reality becomes.

      Winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize,
      A Fist or a Heart is a gripping, artfully interwoven novel of power, secrets, and isolation by one of the most bracing and original voices of the author’s generation.

      While I’m still not sure if I understood the plot of this book, I definitely was engaged with the characters’ feelings. The author’s use of language was incredible. I could feel the despair, the confusion, and the detachment of the characters. There were descriptions of a few events in their lives that led to them feeling the way they did, but the actions weren’t really the story – the resulting feelings and behaviors going forward were.

      Overall, this book made me feel things. I may have felt a little dumb since I can’t tell you for sure what happened in the story, but the emotions of the characters were indisputable. I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The writing is beautiful and evocative, but the story line was either unclear, or way above my level of understanding.

      {click here to purchase - currently free for Kindle Unlimited members, too}

      Becki Bayley’s favorite season is autumn. She likes it warm enough to be cozy, but cool enough to go out and enjoy. You’ll find her looking forward to hoodies and shorts in SE Michigan at SweetlyBSquared.com.


      Two of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of A Fist or a Heart

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, August 25th, 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!

      A Fist or a Heart, by Kristín Eiríksdóttir

      Wednesday, August 14, 2019

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Off the Grid, by Robert McCaw {ends 8/21}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      The crime-scene team searched the Campbells’ remote artist’s studio. They collected DNA samples from bed linens, a woman’s hairbrush, Q-tips, cosmetic swabs, and a man’s comb. Dozens of fingerprints throughout the house belonged to two people, presumably Gwendolyn and Arthur Campbell. A ledger, found in a drawer under one of the worktables, revealed that Gwendolyn Campbell had sold drawings and paintings for the last decade at prices ranging from $50 to $3,000. The absence of ID bothered Koa. There were no letters, no bank or credit card records, no tax returns, deeds, wills, Social Security cards, or other legal papers.

      Do people who don’t even technically exist count as gone once they’re dead? Chief Detective Koa Kane is determined to find out who they were, and why they were killed.

      Official synopsis:
      A scrap of cloth fluttering in the wind leads Hilo police Chief Detective Koa Kāne to the tortured remains of an unfortunate soul left to burn in the path of an advancing lava flow. For Koa, it’s the second gruesome homicide of the day, and he soon discovers the murders are linked. These grisly crimes on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island could rewrite history—or cost Chief Detective Koa Kāne his career.

      The dead, a reclusive couple living off the grid, turn out to be mysterious fugitives. The CIA, the Chinese government, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, attempt to thwart Koa’s investigation and obscure the victims’ true identities. Undeterred by mounting political pressure, Koa pursues the truth only to find himself drawn into a web of international intrigue.

      While Koa investigates, the Big Island scrambles to prepare for the biggest and most explosive political rally in its history. Despite police resources stretched to the breaking point, Koa uncovers a government conspiracy so shocking its exposure topples senior officials far beyond Hawaiʻi’s shores.

      I really enjoyed reading this book. The descriptions of the land and plants around Hawaii were beautiful and inspiring – the next best thing to taking a trip, right? But the author didn’t just rely on the thorough and colorful descriptions. The plot was also intriguing and thought-provoking. Books with believable government cover-ups and mysteries always get passed along to my dad, and I think he’ll really enjoy this one.

      Off the Grid is actually the second novel in the Koa Kane Hawaiian Mystery series by Robert McCaw. There were a couple references to Chief Detective Kane’s past, and I’m looking forward to finding out which events were in the first book. I had no trouble getting to know the characters and enjoying this book without having read the first one.

      Overall, I’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It felt like my own private Hawaiian vacation with lots of adventure, from the safe comfort of my own home.

      {click here to purchase - as of this writing, only 99c for Kindle!}

      Becki Bayley is a mom, wife, daughter, and friend who chronicles her own adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.


      One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Off the Grid!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 21st, 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.

      Good luck!

      Off the Grid, by Robert McCaw

      Tuesday, August 13, 2019

      Book Review: Say You Still Love Me, by K.A. Tucker

      My intelligent, mature self keeps telling me to let it go. That's what we had thirteen years ago. We were teenagers then. Stupid kids, really. We're adults now, and complete strangers. If Kyle wants to keep it that way ... fine.

      Except he was the first boy I ever lovedmy first in many waysand he crushed my heart. How can he keep treating me like I mean nothing to him?

      I have to stop thinking about the mischievous, playful guy from Camp Wawa. The one who was chasing and charming me from the moment he first laid eyes on me. The one who grabbed my attention from forty feet away and seized my heart not long after.

      Clearly, that guy is long gone.

      I'm a huge K.A. Tucker fan, so I was excited to get my hands on this one early. The book moves between Camp Wawa, 2006, and the present (2019 or so), and I really liked how we got to see Piper and Kyle's romance, both past and present.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review: Say You Still Love Me, by K.A. Tucker
      The bestselling author of The Simple Wild and Keep Her Safe and “master of steamy romance” (Kirkus Reviews) delivers a sizzling novel about an ambitious and high-powered executive who reconnects with her first love: the boy who broke her heart.

      Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

      On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

      Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

      The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counselors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

      Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is still alive and strong, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

      The "camp romance" trope has been done before, but this time there's a little bit of a twist; both Piper and Kyle were counselors at the camp, not campers. 

      Piper Calloway is mostly content with her life; she's not dating anyone at the moment, as she broke off her engagement to David, a coworker who is also a jerk, but she's a workaholic and is working her way up the company ladder at her father's company.

      Until she runs into Kyle, the building's newest security guard ... who was also the first love of her life.

      It was interesting to see the dynamics in Piper and Kyle's friendship and, later, relationship. I really liked how the author moved between 2006 and 2019, and showed how they originally met at camp and how her father did not want her to have anything to do with him, since he was from the "wrong side of the tracks." We learn later that he actually took some actions to ensure that Piper wouldn't hear from Kyle again, which Piper didn't know about until present-day.

      Overall, I'd recommend this one for fans of K.A. Tucker or for anyone that likes a good coming-of-age love story.

      4 stars out of 5.

      {click here to purchase}

      *Disclosure: I participated in a blog tour of this book, for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

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