Saturday, January 25, 2020

Book Review: Don't Read the Comments, by Eric Smith

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

My heart quickens, and my stomach twists itself up. Not for a second had I considered D1V might feel…unsafe, chatting and gaming with me. That never registered in my brain, not for a minute. When I think about myself, I envision the most unthreatening person imaginable…but that’s me. That’s my perception. And now that I know this is what she’s feeling, I want to help change that as quickly as possible.

I immediately flip to my phone’s camera and take a few selfies. It’s the first time I’ve ever taken photos for someone with no regard to how I look in the picture. It was a rushed morning, hurrying out the door to hustle across town, so my wavy black hair is a mess and there’s some stubble peeking through on my cheeks. The hair in between my eyebrows, which is technically just a single solid eyebrow that I meticulously try to maintain as two, is starting to grow back. Also I’m pretty sure I wore this t-shirt yesterday.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

“I could take those for you, you know,” Ryan offers. “Better yet…” I hold the phone further away from me, getting Ryan in the show and switching to video.

“Hey, Div!” I exclaim, awkwardly waving. “This is Ryan, one of the guys I make video games with. He also doubles as my best friend.”

While I’m not a video gamer (something central to these characters’ lives), I still felt like they were real people I could know, and would want to be my friends.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Don't Read the Comments, by Eric Smith
Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

When I picked up this book, I expected contemporary fluff. What I got was a great story about believable characters with real lives. Divya loves her gaming, but she needs the paydays it’s generating for real world survival. Aaron just games for fun, but he longs for a career in writing and development of the games he enjoys. This doesn’t line up with his mom’s dreams for him.

The book incorporated struggles with racism, sexism, and female empowerment. What could have been a more simple story of online relationships and boy-accidentally-meets-famous-girl-online took on a lot more depth. The characters experienced real problems of harassment, assault, and doxing (a new one to me, from to search for and publish private or identifying information about a particular group or individual on the Internet, typically with malicious intent).

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA fiction, or readers with YA people in their lives. It was an interesting perspective on online gaming and internet security influencing a player’s offline life.

{click here to pre-order - the book will be available on January 30, 2020}

Becki Bayley hasn't played a video game since original Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda. It was all fun while it lasted. Find her current activities at

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The God Game, by Danny Tobey {ends 1/28}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Hey!” Kenny shouted. “You promised.”

But before he could complain further, a creaking noise announced the opening of the fire gate, virtual smoke gushing out. They gathered around the furnace, which glowed a reddish orange, and the flames spoke to them.

What they whispered was a code, a series of instructions, commands and prompts and incantations basically – for at the end of the day, what was the difference between a hack and a spell? Both were a precise flow of words in a secret language known only to the initiated, to manipulate a reality that was inviolate only to those content to accept it as such. The Game gave them exactly what Hephaestus had promised: a tool that they could use in second period, when Kurt was in sight, to bring an invisible revenge down on him.

Just hearing the words and knowing what was to come, the Vindicators felt powerful, enriched.

Charlie’s phone buzzed.

There was a new text from God. But this time it was only for him.

While it’s not the first time I’ve read a book with this concept, I’m still so fascinated by good and bad deeds directed by an unseen person in charge.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The God Game, by Danny Tobey {ends 1/28}
They call themselves the Vindicators. Targeted by bullies and pressured by parents, these geeks and gamers rule the computer lab at Turner High School. Wealthy bad boy Peter makes and breaks rules. Vanhi is a punk bassist at odds with her heritage. Kenny's creativity is stifled by a religious home life. Insecure and temperamental, Alex is an outcast among the outcasts. And Charlie, the leader they all depend on, is reeling from the death of his mother, consumed with reckless fury.

They each receive an invitation to play The God Game. Created by dark-web coders and maintained by underground hackers, the video game is controlled by a mysterious artificial intelligence that believes it is God. Obey the almighty A.I. and be rewarded. Defiance is punished. Through their phone screens and high-tech glasses, Charlie and his friends see and interact with a fantasy world superimposed over reality. The quests they undertake on behalf of "God" seem harmless at first, but soon the tasks have them questioning and sacrificing their own morality.

High school tormentors get their comeuppance. Parents and teachers are exposed as hypocrites. And the Vindicators' behavior becomes more selfish and self-destructive as they compete against one another for prizes each believes will rescue them from their adolescent existence. But everything they do is being recorded. Hooded and masked thugs are stalking and attacking them. "God" threatens to expose their secrets if they attempt to quit the game. And losing the game means losing their lives.

You don't play the Game. The Game plays you....

Who wouldn’t like high school to be easier? Wouldn’t having all your dreams come true as a teenager be a great enticement just to play a game? Oh, but if you die in the game, you die in real life. This book was definitely a page-turner, as I wanted to know what was going to happen next!

The kids’ choices were believable, based on their options, and knowing about their backgrounds and motivations. One kid will do anything to avoid his father’s wrath. One will do anything for her family’s approval. And one of them will do anything, just to see what will happen next.

I really liked the references to actual philosophical theories as justifications for some of the AI’s scenarios. For instance, they discussed Pascal’s Wager when deciding whether to play the Game or not. Pascal’s Wager is a seventeenth-century philosophy argument that states believing in God is safe whether you’re right or wrong, but doubting the existence of God could be eternally damning (literally) if you’re wrong. This attitude influences whether or not the kids think they should play the God Game.

Overall, the theory of the Game and how it could change the kids’ lives was very interesting. Some of the coding and technology talk was way over my head, but I don’t feel that detracted from my enjoyment of the story. I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. Also worth noting that while the book is about teenagers, it’s definitely for adult readers.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley can be found at


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The God Game!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, January 28th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be emailed the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The God Game, by Danny Tobey

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Quick Pick book review: This Won't End Well, by Camille Pagán

Quick Pick book review: This Won't End Well, by Camille Pagan
  • Opening lines:
    July 14
    To: Jon Nichols
    From: Annie Mercer
    SUBJECT: What I didn't say.

    Dear Jon,
    Hello seems like such an innocuous word, but it's really a portal to loss. One minute you're exchanging small talk with a green-eyed stranger; the next thing you know, five years have passed, that stranger is now your fiance, and he's just informed you that he needs time to get his head on straight before marrying you.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I've read books by Camille Pagán before, and liked them. She's also a local author, based out of Ann Arbor.
  • And what's this book about?
  • An ingeniously witty novel about the risks—and rewards—of opening your life to new people by Amazon Charts bestselling author Camille Pagán. No new people: that’s Annie Mercer’s vow. It’s bad enough that her boss sabotaged her chemistry career and her best friend tried to cure her with crystals. But after her fiancé, Jon, asks for space while he’s gallivanting around Paris, Annie decides she needs space too—from everyone.

    Yet when Harper moves in next door, Annie can’t help but train a watchful eye on the glamorous but fragile young woman. And if keeping Harper safe requires teaming up with Mo, a maddeningly optimistic amateur detective, who is she to mind her own business?

    Soon Annie has let not one but two new people into her life. Then Jon reappears—and he wants her to join him in France. She’s pretty sure letting anyone get close won’t end well. So she must decide: Is another shot at happiness worth the risk?
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a novel about an interesting protagonist.
  • Favorite paragraph: I waved goodbye and walked to my car. After I closed the door, I looked out the window and saw Mo still standing on the sidewalk. I wanted to soak up the good feeling the evening had left me with. I wanted to tell myself that I had been wrong to swear off new people—and wasn't my friendship with Mo proof of that? But one thought kept rising over all that cheery clamor:

    This won't end well.

      • Something to know: This book still has a HEA (Happily Ever After) ending but it might not be what you originally think it will be.
      • What I would have changed: Nothing.
      • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
      • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon - it will be out on February 25, 2020. It's also free for Kindle Unlimited customers.

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

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Fly, Fly Again, by Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson {ends 1/18}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      From the time she was born,
      Jenny dreamed of flying.
      Even when she crashed,
      she never stopped trying.
      She took to the air
      without caution or fear…
      …despite the disaster
      of mom’s chandelier.

      The cover of this book is its first attraction – the optimistic smiles and the aviator goggles immediately stole my heart.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Fly, Fly Again, by Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson {ends 1/18}
      Fly, Fly Again is a clever and charming story about Jenny, a child who dreams of flying. After years of tinkering in makeshift laboratories and studying the mechanics of flight with her pet Hawk, Jenny builds a plane--only to crash into the yard of her skateboarding neighbor, Jude, and his pet Cheetah. Working with Jude, Jenny successfully learns how to control and fly her plane. This unique story includes lessons about problem solving, teamwork, and determination as well as family-friendly information about the basics of aeronautical engineering like lift, drift, and more!

      What an adorable book! The rhymes and fun motion words (lift, drift, tilt) are not only fun to say, but also lead to lessons about the engineering behind Jenny and Jude’s attempts at flight. The illustrations are also bright, detailed, and informative. They contain even more descriptions of what Jenny and Jude will use in their creations and arrows showing how they want the parts to move. Not sure if a flying adventure sounds too intimidating for your young reader? Add in a pet hawk and a pet cheetah for even more appeal!

      This is a super fun book for early readers. The fabulous illustrations always make it great for reading aloud with a group. I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley can be found at


      Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Fly, Fly Again!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, January 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(s) will be chosen.

      U.S. residents only, please.

      Good luck!

      Fly, Fly Again

      Monday, January 6, 2020

      Book Review: Lost Hills, by Lee Goldberg {Eve Ronin Book #1}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      Eve sat down on the hillside, closed her eyes, and tried to clear her head. It was as if every synapse in her brain was firing at once, a thousand firecrackers exploding, making her ears ring.

      The discovery that the Realtor and her car were missing, and the proximity of the dead man in the truck to Coyle’s mobile home, gave Eve a new, terrifying perspective on the murders. It was forcing her to rethink her assumptions, the meaning of the evidence they’d collected, and the significance of what she’d seen in her last walk-through of the house before Jared set it ablaze.

      She was still trying to make sense of it all when her phone rang.

      It was Duncan. “There’s a huge fire in Topanga.”

      “I can see it,” Eve said.

      “You’ll never guess where it started.”

      It pained her, but she knew. “Tanya’s house.”

      She thought about what Jared told her: How am I supposed to live here now? How can anyone live here now?

      As I’ve come to expect from Lee Goldberg, this was another great page-turner. The nice, short chapters give convenient stop points, but I never want to stop reading.

      Official synopsis: 
      Book Review: Lost Hills, by Lee Goldberg {Eve Ronin Book #1}
      A video of Deputy Eve Ronin’s off-duty arrest of an abusive movie star goes viral, turning her into a popular hero at a time when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is plagued by scandal. The sheriff, desperate for more positive press, makes Eve the youngest female homicide detective in the department’s history.

      Now Eve, with a lot to learn and resented by her colleagues, has to justify her new badge. Her chance comes when she and her burned-out, soon-to-retire partner are called to the blood-splattered home of a missing single mother and her two kids. The horrific carnage screams multiple murder—but there are no corpses.

      Eve has to rely on her instincts and tenacity to find the bodies and capture the vicious killer, all while battling her own insecurities and mounting pressure from the media, her bosses, and the bereaved family. It’s a deadly ordeal that will either prove her skills…or totally destroy her.

      I was excited to see this book in my to-be-read pile. Both of the thrillers I’ve read from Lee Goldberg have been great. This was the first book with his new character, Deputy Eve Ronin, who earned a transfer to homicide after apprehending a Hollywood star for assault when she was off-duty.

      Eve is determined to solve what starts as a missing persons case, but quickly transforms to a triple murder. She doesn’t want any more press, but she does want to do right by the single mom and her two kids who go missing and leave behind a horrific crime scene. Thanks to her determination to actually solve the case and not just place the blame, there’s a great twist near the end when Eve really gets to play the hero.

      I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I could not set it down and it felt there was a new development to the case happening all the time. The intricacies of the plot did overshadow the new Eve Ronin character a bit, but I’m sure we’ll get to know her more through the subsequent books in the series.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley can also be found at

      Sunday, January 5, 2020

      Book Review: First Cut, by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      “The Avenues go into the forties?” Tommy quipped when I called to ask if he would check it out. My tech-serf little brother had left our hometown of Lynn, Massachusetts, years before and had gone native in Northern California just as I had done in Los Angeles, and he was willing to do the apartment-search legwork for me as I prepared for the move to San Francisco.

      He called me back that same night.

      “You have got to rent that place.”

      Tommy is a man of few words. Infernally few, sometimes.

      “Why do I got to rent it, Tomasz?”

      “It’s a cable car!”


      “A cable car! It got dumped out in the sand dunes like a hundred years ago.”

      “But it’s listed as a house.”

      “Somebody jacked the thing up and built a foundation, then added a kitchen and toilet.”

      “A cable car house…?”


      Send pictures, I told him.

      I really like books where I learn something. This book telling the story of a new-to-San Francisco medical examiner had plenty of technical details of autopsies which definitely taught me a few things (that I’ll probably never need to know).

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review: First Cut, by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
      For San Francisco’s newest medical examiner, Dr. Jessie Teska, it was supposed to be a fresh start. A new job in a new city. A way to escape her own dark past.

      Instead she faces a chilling discovery when an opioid-overdose case contains hints of something more sinister. Jessie’s superiors urge her to close the case, but as more bodies land on her autopsy table, she uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate plot involving drug dealers and Bitcoin brokers.

      Drawing on her real-life experiences as a forensics expert, Judy Melinek teams up with husband T.J. Mitchell to deliver the most exhilarating mystery of the year. Autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she has seen it all—even if it means that the next corpse on the table could be her own.

      The first autopsy in the book is the precursor to Dr Teska’s move to a new job in San Francisco. While she tries to put her past behind her and prove herself in her new department, one of her first autopsies in the new job reminds her a little too much of the past she left behind. Looking at the case gives her more and more reason to question what led to the death.

      Due to the close scrutiny of Dr Teska, some of the deaths that seem to be almost accidental soon appear related. The twists and turns of the plot were unpredictable to me. Only with further research outside of the morgue does Dr Teska start proving more and more relationships between decedents and those accused of causing the deaths. Before long even those close to her new life are under suspicion.

      I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars and look forward to seeing more of Dr Jessie Teska and her investigations.

      {click here to pre-order - First Cut will be available on January 7, 2020}

      Becki Bayley loves organization, magical realism, and happy endings. She also blogs at

      Thursday, January 2, 2020

      Book Review: A Love Hate Thing, by Whitney D. Grandison

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      Warhol sat back, staring ahead. “The bastards, man. Don’t let them get you down. I’ve seen some newcomers come and be eaten alive by this place. You’re from the ‘Wood – stick your chest out, don’t let these people get you.”

      “They won’t.” If I stayed in town until I was eighteen, nothing was going to get me down. And I wasn’t about to conform to fit in, either. I still couldn’t give a fuck about Pacific Hills and its phoniness.

      Warhol laughed as the light turned green. “The first thing people tell you when you get to Cross High is to stay away from Travis Catalano, but you know what? I think they’re all just scared, because he’s got it figured out. He’s beaten this system placed on us. Chad’s parents practically run this place, and they’re complete fascists.”

      The poor kids. “Perhaps we’ll rebel, spark a little anarchy, and overthrow the system.”

      Warhol caught my sarcasm and laughed as I pulled into the Smith’s driveway and parked.

      With an ethnically diverse and somewhat stereotypical cast of characters, this book felt really familiar to me, but I’m not sure what book it reminded me of. This is the first book by this author, and it isn’t officially publishing until January 2020.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review: A Love Hate Thing, by Whitney D. Grandison
      When Tyson Trice finds himself tossed into the wealthy coastal community of Pacific Hills, he's ready for the questions, the stares and the feeling of not belonging. Not that he cares. After recovering from being shot and surviving the rough streets of Lindenwood, he doesn't care about anyone or anything, much less how the rest of his life will play out.

      Golden girl Nandy Smith has spent most of her life building the pristine image that it takes to fit in when it comes to her hometown Pacific Hills where image is everything. After learning that her parents are taking in a troubled teen boy, Nandy fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames.

      Now with Trice living under the same roof, the wall between their bedrooms feels as thin as the line between love and hate. Beneath the angst, their growing attraction won't be denied. Through time, Trice brings Nandy out of her shell, and Nandy attempts to melt the ice that's taken Trice's heart and being. Only, with the ever-present pull back to the Lindenwood streets, it'll be a wonder if Trice makes it through this summer at all.

      While Nandy and Tyson had spent a couple childhood summers together while Tyson’s grandfather took care of the neighbor’s landscaping, Nandy sees only an unfamiliar person coming into her home, instead of the boy she spent years missing. As Tyson becomes closer with her friends, Nandy’s jealousy is what finally helps her see Tyson as the boy she loved when they were both much younger.

      Most of the characters felt likable and believable, and their Pacific Hills friend Travis was a personal favorite. Some of the characters felt exactly like their stereotypes (inner-city thug, or spoiled rich kid) and I felt that detracted somewhat from the overall feel of the book. There were enough genuine characters to lead the story though, and I definitely was pulling for a happy ending for all the kids.

      I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The writing already felt familiar to me, which was a plus or a minus at times. The Smith family were a great unit and I wished I could have friends and neighbors like them.

      {click here to pre-order - A Love Hate Thing will be in stores and online on January 7, 2020}

      Becki Bayley is a homemaker, reader, mom, baker, drinker and popcorn-lover. She loves tracking data, reviewing places and things, and sharing stuff most people don’t care about at

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