Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics, by Heather Lende {ends 7/7}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Some people can create a conflict out of anything. During the public hearing on an otherwise popular proposal to ban plastic shopping bags that I had sponsored at the request of the sixth grade class and Haines Friends of Recycling, one newer assembly member exploded. (There are annual elections for two of the six assembly seats; some members have remained and some have left during my three-year term.) The self-proclaimed progressive said that the ordinance did not go far enough and that all single-use plastic items in Haines should be banned or taxed so high that no one would use them, ever! Then another assembly member argued against the exemption for plastic bags that hold fish, meat, or bulk items like rice and candy. The ordinance was saved when we all took an imaginary trip to the store with our cloth bag, and pictured ourselves dropping in a piece of chicken, a bunch of grapes, and a scoop of rice, until everyone broke into fits of laughter and the original bag measure passed. And, yes, we all agreed that there was much more work to do to eliminate plastics from the environment but at least we had begun. Right here in Haines.

Heather Lende, the author, has been a resident of Haines, a small town in Alaska, for most of her adult life. She’s written a few books about her life there.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics, by Heather Lende {ends 7/7}
The writer whom the Los Angeles Times calls “part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott” now brings us her quirky and compassionate account of holding local office.

Heather Lende was one of the thousands of women inspired to take a more active role in politics during the past few years. Though her entire campaign for assembly member in Haines, Alaska, cost less than $1,000, she won! But tiny, breathtakingly beautiful Haines—a place accessible from the nearest city, Juneau, only by boat or plane—isn’t the sleepy town that it appears to be: from a bitter debate about the expansion of the fishing boat harbor to the matter of how to stop bears from rifling through garbage on Main Street to the recall campaign that targeted three assembly members, including Lende, we witness the nitty-gritty of passing legislation, the lofty ideals of our republic, and how the polarizing national politics of our era play out in one small town.

With an entertaining cast of offbeat but relatable characters, Of Bears and Ballots is an inspirational tale about what living in a community really means, and what we owe one another.

Lende knew what she was getting into when she ran for a position as an assembly member. Her husband had been an assembly member years earlier, and she had friends who were assembly members. Her book wasn’t so much about being an assembly member as it was about her perspective. She speculates that the climate of politics has gotten nastier as poor behavior has become more acceptable at higher levels. While observing this, she doesn’t want the negativity to outweigh all her positive relationships with other citizens of Haines who may not share political viewpoints, but still have to share their small town.

The best part about this book was Lende’s positive, yet realistic outlook. She shared some of the notes she made to herself for dealing with opposition in the assembly meetings. ‘Think, wait, and be quiet.’ She learned quickly that things she said that felt totally right would be taken differently by someone with a different perspective. The way she told it all made patience and grace sound like something that could help everyone.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to find a better view of the world through new eyes.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom and reader. She also talks about playing the flute and doing counted cross-stitch. Both of those activities are more talk than action. Read more posts about her life at SweetlyBSquared.com.


Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Of Bears and Ballots!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 7th, 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!

Of Bears and Ballots, by Heather Lende

Monday, June 29, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker {ends 7/6}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Gus got up and went into his bedroom. He rooted around in his sock drawer, searching for his bandanna. Lorena’s letters were hidden there or, rather, stored there—he had no reason to hide them, at least until that moment, when he realized that they were on the opposite side of the drawer from they’d been that morning. (Gus was strongly right-sided and would never have hidden the letters on the left side of the drawer.) He doubted Elise allowed her students to wander about his house, but he knew that her lessons sometimes went over, as he had come home to find pupils sitting in his parlor, impatiently waiting their turn. It could have been one of them. He remembered going through his father’s drawers and finding, beneath his socks, a photograph of his mother and a purple felt box containing a wedding band with a tiny diamond. His mother’s, obviously. There was also a photograph of his father and Aunt Mattie atop a donkey, the river in the background. When his father left to find work in Charlotte, he took most of his socks but not the wedding ring or the photographs. Gus had brought them along with him to Lone Wolf. The only reason they were not hidden in his sock drawer (they were just below, in his underwear drawer) was because he took great pains not to be like his father.

While this book was somewhat historical fiction, the words used were what was important to the fictional Stewart sisters and Gus McQueen in telling their stories.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker {ends 7/6}
The Stewart sisters, pragmatic Lorena and chimerical Elise, are bound together not only by their isolation on the prairie of early 1900s Oklahoma, but also by their deep emotional reliance on each other. They’re all they’ve got . . . until Gus McQueen arrives in Lone Wolf.

An inexperienced first-time teacher, Gus is challenged by the sisters’ wit and ingenuity. Then one impulsive decision and a cataclysmic blizzard trap Elise and her horse on the prairie—and the balance of everything is forever changed.

With honesty, poetic intensity, and the deadpan humor of Paulette Jiles and Charles Portis, this novel tells the story of characters tested as much by life on the prairie as they are by their own churning hearts.

Reading Prairie Fever was reading about the Stewart sisters and Gus McQueen. While there are a few events in the book, the story was about the main characters’ perceptions of the events. Their descriptions were each unique, and sometimes beautiful. Unfortunately, it was somewhat redundant to read of the same event as it happened to three different people.

While the beginning of the narration felt unfocused, as the book progressed the style felt more like meandering prose and each narrator’s voice became more clearly developed. The word choices didn’t seem specific to the time period when the book was taking place, but they were pretty and sometimes thought-provoking.

This book would be good for readers who enjoy a slower paced book and colorful descriptions. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley likes reading, napping, playing Animal Crossing - New Horizons, and blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com.


Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Prairie Fever!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, July 6th, 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.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Last Sword Maker, by Brian Nelson {ends 7/2}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The horseshoe crab was Eric’s reminder of the roots of his science.

He had been nine years old when he got it -- on the Hill family’s summer vacation to Cape May, New Jersey. His sister, Ellen, who had just turned six, was wading in the shallow water with Dad when she stepped on the poor creature. She screeched in horror and tried to bolt for shore, but Dad held her by the wrist, likely knowing exactly what had frightened her. Intrepid in the name of science, he had fished through the ankle-deep water with his free hand until, a moment later, he pulled up a handsome specimen of the Precambrian arthropod. He held it up proudly by its hard tail, its spindly legs moving in the air like typing fingers while its armor plates clanked and flapped about. Ellen shrieked with renewed vigor at this monster that was now joined to her father
who was still joined to her.

“Settle down,” Dad said, or some such thing, but Ellen was having none of it. She squirmed until she broke free and raced up the beach crying, straight to their mother. Dad had shrugged and lumbered up the beach after her, still holding his struggling prize. “Eric, I want to show you something.”

Eric was instantly intrigued. Cool, it grosses girls out!

The horseshoe crab had been marvelous to him even then. Dad had explained everything. Its beauty was in its simplicity: an armored exoskeleton with toothed ridges that protected its sensitive belly, primitive gills that had evolved only in horseshoe crabs—book gills, each with one hundred leaves. Water was circulated over them by the movement of the legs. The long tail, the telson, was used to right itself during mating
not for defense, as many thought. Simple. Perfect.

This was definitely a compelling thriller. The science in this science fiction felt possible, which made it all a little scary.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Last Sword Maker, by Brian Nelson {ends 7/2}
In the high mountains of Tibet, rumors are spreading. People whisper of an outbreak, of thousands of dead, of bodies pushed into mass graves. It is some strange new disease … a disease, they say, that can kill in minutes.

The Chinese government says the rumors aren’t true, but no one is allowed in or out of Tibet.

At the Pentagon, Admiral James Curtiss is called to an emergency meeting. Satellite images prove that a massive genocide is underway, and an American spy has made a startling discovery. This is no disease. It’s a weapons test. Chinese scientists have developed a way to kill based on a person’s genetic traits. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The success of their new weapon proves that the Chinese are nearing “Replication”—a revolutionary breakthrough that will tip the global balance of power and change the way wars are waged.

Now the US must scramble to catch up before it is too late. Admiral Curtiss gathers the nation’s top scientists, including a promising young graduate student named Eric Hill who just might hold the missing piece to the replication puzzle. Soon Hill and his colleague Jane Hunter are caught up in a deadly game of sabotage as the two nations strive to be the first to reach the coveted goal. But in their headlong race, they create something unexpected … something the world has never seen and something more powerful than they had ever imagined.

The Last Sword Maker is an exciting globe-trotting thriller with unforgettable characters that depicts a haunting vision of the future of warfare.

Once the plot and action started in this book, they didn’t stop! While there were several important characters, they all got their turn in the spotlight. This helped share the perspectives of spies for the Americans, scientists for the Americans and Chinese, a Tibetan man hoping to save his country and people, and an American Admiral highly respected for his personal strength in doing what needed to be done.

This book has elements to hold the interest of a variety of readers. It also says it’s the first book in The Course of Empire Series. The author points out at the beginning of the book that the Tibetan and Chinese history mentioned is factual. The science parts of the book are also consistent with research forecasts by current scientists (the story takes place in 2025). While the science is definitely advanced, it is explained well enough to make sense to the average reader.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for readers who enjoy political or military thrillers, as well as speculative science fiction.

{click here to purchase - only $1.99 for Kindle, currently!}

Becki Bayley enjoys reading, watching birds, butterflies and flowers, and feeling the sun warm her skin. She sometimes remembers to post pictures of some of these on her Instagram as PoshBecki.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Last Sword Maker!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, July 2nd, 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!

The Last Sword Maker, by Brian Nelson

Monday, June 22, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Head over Heels, by Hannah Orenstein {ends 6/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Gymnastics has changed lightning-fast, even in the decade since I was Hallie’s age. The top athletes in the sport these days aren’t eighty-five-pound waifs like some of the ones I looked up to as a kid -- they have real, solid muscle and power, like Hallie does. She’s smarter than I ever was, and she knows she can’t perform her best if she’s starving. But she faces a new set of pressures I never could have imagined: a more difficult scoring system; watching her competitors’ skills ratchet up every day on Instagram, just like their follower counts do; the disturbing sexual abuse scandal and its coverage on every news channel in America right now.

“I’m just saying, I think she’s going through a tough time right now, and what I loved about the yoga class I went to was the emphasis on self-care,” I say.

I cringe at how hokey that sounds, and I try again.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea for her to have a place to chill and zone out, where she doesn’t have to worry about being the best, or training for some goal,” I explain.

A contemporary fiction and romance book can be an escape and a fun read. This book also sounded knowledgeable about the main character’s life as an athlete, and made a good statement on some aspects of gymnastics.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Head over Heels, by Hannah Orenstein {ends 6/29}
The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.

Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.

While the cover made this book look like more fluff than anything else, it went deeper than expected. Avery remembers her childhood career as an elite gymnast. While it gave her a great sense of determination and strength for both her mind and body, in retrospect she recognizes the abuse and impossible standards imposed by her coach during the last five years of her career.

When Avery becomes a coach for Hallie, a young potential Olympian, she sees some of herself and doesn’t want the girl to feel the insecurities and isolation that plagued Avery’s hyper-focused childhood in the sport. In the middle of that, a sexual abuse scandal about a doctor who treats many gymnasts also impacts Hallie, who knew the doctor and recognized that something wasn’t right.

A good happily-ever-after is always appreciated, and the ending of Head Over Heels definitely fits the bill. Overall I’d give this book 3.5/5 stars. It would be recommended for any reader who enjoys a good contemporary rom-com, but its subtle message would be especially appreciated by anyone familiar with competitive youth sports.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves sleeping in, laughing with her kids, shaking trees and chasing bees on Animal Crossing, and reading. She also blogs (mostly about books) at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Head Over Heels!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, June 29th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Head Over Heels, by Hannah Orenstein

Friday, June 19, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Final Judgment, by Marcia Clark {ends 6/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I pointed to a closed door on the left side of the room. “The master bath?:

Niko shrugged. We moved to the door and opened it. I heard the scream almost before I could process what I was seeing. Bryan’s body -- naked and bloated -- was floating under the water in the large jetted bathtub. Judging by the condition of his body, he’d been there for days. A nearly empty bottle of wine stood on the floor next to it. Gwen must’ve followed behind us. She’d screamed at the sight of her son -- who was clearly dead. And now, tears streaming down her face, she couldn’t stop screaming. “My son! Oh my God! No!” she sagged to the floor as she sobbed.

I leaned down and put an arm around her as I stared at Bryan’s half-closed eyes. Was this an accident? Or -- given all that’d happened -- was it a suicide? Or … murder?

Although this was the fourth book in Marcia Clark’s Samantha Brinkman series, it was still easy to read and understand without finishing the previous three books in the series.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Final Judgment, by Marcia Clark {ends 6/26}
When it comes to relationships and self-preservation, defense attorney Samantha Brinkman has always been cut and run. But it’s different with her new lover, Niko, an ambitious and globally famous entrepreneur. Sam is putting her faith in him. She has to. He’s also her new client—a suspect in the murder of an investor whose shady dealings turned Niko’s good life upside down.

He had the motive: revenge. As did many others who banked a fortune on the wrong man. That’s a point in Niko’s favor. So is his alibi for the day of the slaying. Until that alibi mysteriously disappears. As Sam’s feverish search for another viable killer begins, the investigation only leads deeper into Niko’s past and its secrets.

From the darkest suspicions to final judgment, fighting for Niko is Sam’s job. To do it, she must risk everything on a man who could make all her worst fears come true.

Sam Brinkman is a sassy, smart defense attorney with a not-so-happy past. She tries to do what’s actually right for justice in a lot of cases, especially when the law doesn’t mete out what she feels is appropriate punishment. While this could make her a crazy character, instead it made it sound like she deserves a fist bump.

Ms. Brinkman also had great relationships with each of the other people in her law office. Her ‘bestie’ from childhood was her office manager (and anything else that needed to be done). A previous client who had proved his computer and research skills was her investigator. The respect and admiration they all demonstrated for each other was enjoyable to witness. Great characters can often make a book a better read.

Although it was book four of the Samantha Brinkman series, this book stood alone just fine. There were references to events in her past, but it wasn’t easily discernible if the events were featured in previous books, or just memories from her past.

This book was a great summer read, with a satisfying ending. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy contemporary fiction and legal thrillers. I’d also be interested in checking out the previous books in the series, and other novels by this author.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys watering her flower garden, reading, and relaxing with a cold cocktail on a beautiful summer day. She also posts occasionally on Instagram as PoshBecki.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Final Judgment!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Friday, June 26th, 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!

Final Judgment, by Marcia Clark

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ordinary Girls, by Jaquira Díaz {ends 6/24}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Ms. Gold was known in most cliques as the counselor for the losers, druggies, troublemakers, kids who got suspended, kids who fought or brought knives to school, kids who flunked so much they were already too old for Nautilus, kids whose parents were drunks or junkies, or whose parents beat them, homeless kids, bullied kids, kids with eating disorders, or brain disorders, or anger problems. So naturally, when I showed up at her door, she knew exactly who I was.

Jaqui Díaz’s life as a child and teenager is constant chaos. This memoir tells of her survival through abuse and her own bad choices, and the value of her friendships over the long haul.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ordinary Girls, by Jaquira Díaz {ends 6/24}
In this searing memoir, Jaquira Díaz writes fiercely and eloquently of her challenging girlhood and triumphant coming of age.

While growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Díaz found herself caught between extremes. As her family split apart and her mother battled schizophrenia, she was supported by the love of her friends. As she longed for a family and home, her life was upended by violence. As she celebrated her Puerto Rican culture, she couldn’t find support for her burgeoning sexual identity. From her own struggles with depression and sexual assault to Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism, every page of Ordinary Girls vibrates with music and lyricism. Díaz writes with raw and refreshing honesty, triumphantly mapping a way out of despair toward love and hope to become her version of the girl she always wanted to be.

The writing in this memoir is powerful. It doesn’t ask for your pity or sympathy for the abuse and hardships the author endured. It just shows you how life is for some unfortunate kids. The language and depictions of some incidents in her life make it easy to feel empathy and even justification for some of her poor choices (that generally led to more negative consequences). The beautiful part was recognizing the nurturing relationships and friendships that lasted throughout, even when they didn’t feel helpful in the moment.

As a memoir that reads as engagingly as a fiction story, this book also shows that even without the additional abuses, the author’s life was never going to be easy. As a Puerto Rican woman struggling with her sexual identity, she had so many struggles to face without adding in her father’s infidelity, and her mother’s and grandmother’s mental illnesses and addictions. It would have been a story about overcoming adversity even if the rest of her circumstances had been ideal.

This book would be recommended for any adult who enjoys memoirs and learning about other people’s lives. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Michigander through and through. She loves having four seasons, drinking Rock and Rye, and going up-north in the summertime. Check out her other reading adventures at SweetlyBSquared.com.


Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Ordinary Girls!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, June 24th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners 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!

Ordinary Girls, by Jaquira Díaz

Monday, June 15, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Electric Heir, by Victoria Lee {ends 6/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Winter in Texas was snowless, but this close to the coast, the wind that blew in off the Gulf chilled to the bone. Noam drew his military-issue jacket a little closer around his shoulders as the icy air rippled through his hair and sent the evacuation notices fluttering against every window, every wall.

“These are the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” Bethany announced when she emerged from the little corner store, the screen door falling shut behind her. The sound of her voice seemed to echo down the empty street. Her cheeks were a little pink, but that was the only sign she noticed the cold at all.

“You said that about taquitos.”

“That was before I had these.” She kicked his ankle with the edge of her boot and held out the open bag. “Go on - try one.”

Noam peered at the label. “Cheese straws? We have cheese straws in Carolinia.”

“These are jalapeño flavored. It makes them ten times better. Trust me.”

Noam took a handful, popping one into his mouth. It was crunchy, cheesy...and Bethany was right: the spiciness did make it better.

“I’m going out on the lines tomorrow,” he said after he’d chewed, swallowed.

He felt Bethany’s gaze like the point of a blade pressed against his cheek. When he turned to look at her, she tilted her chin up. The bloody light of the late sun deepened her hair from blonde to red. “Are you going to…”

“No,” he said with a heavy exhale, and he wished he wasn’t holding so many cheese straws; he fought the urge to knot his hands in fists. “No. Not yet. We should wait for orders.”

“We give the orders out here, Noam.”

This book was the second in the Feverwake duology. It was great to follow Dara, Noam and the other Level IV witchings through to some happy endings.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Electric Heir, by Victoria Lee {ends 6/22}
Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

A well laid-out dystopian fantasy book can make an alternate reality understandable. The Feverwake duology definitely does that and more. The world of magic (as a virus), witchings, and a 124-year-old tyrannical dictator doesn’t seem crazy at all, when described by the author in these books.

Dara and Noam had strong powers after surviving the magic virus, but they’re still young adults, and the person who is supposed to be taking care of each of them is using his telepathy and persuasion to abuse and take advantage of them. The only way they can save themselves - and their country - is by outsmarting him. Several times they think they’re on the right track, until Chancellor Lehrer seems to be coming out ahead again.

While this book is recommended as a great queer-friendly book for young adults, there is a content warning given by the author. There are depictions of sexual assault and child abuse, as well as references to suicide, eating disorders and substance abuse.

This series was excellent. I’d give this book 4.5/5 stars. I’d recommend both books in the duology to be read in order by anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction.

{click here to purchase - currently free for Kindle Unlimited users!}

Becki Bayley enjoys reading, playing Animal Crossing, and sunbathing. You can find out more about what she’s reading now by following @PoshBecki on Instagram.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Electric Heir!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, June 22nd, 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 Electric Heir, by Victoria Lee

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Daring to Live: How the Power of Sisterhood and Taking Risks Can Jump-Start Your Joy, by Sheri Hunter {ends 6/17}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Brenda spoke up. “I’m kinda afraid of heights. Why not a bicycling trip or something? I’m good with anything that keeps us on the ground.”

“I second that!” I said. Brenda and I clinked coffee mugs. “If there’s a mishap with a coaster, you usually live to tell the tale. Can’t say the same about a parachute gone bad.”

“Yeah, things can go wrong,” Mia began, “but that’s true of all the dares. Heck, it’s true of driving a car! I think I’d like to try it anyway.” This from the same girl who’d gotten stuck dangling hundreds of feet in the air during our ziplining dare.

Ang nodded in agreement as Mia continued. “If we are going to call ourselves the Dare Divas, then we should be daring! I mean, cycling? Big whoop! We’ve all been riding bikes since we were little. No offense, Brenda.”

Brenda gave a lackluster smile, and I signed at the direction this conversation was headed.

I did think about what I’d miss if I didn’t do the dare. I’d miss out on bragging rights, the unity of accomplishing a death-defying challenge with the Divas, and the sense of pride that came from being afraid but doing it anyway. I finally decided that my God was bigger than my fears, even though I wasn’t absolutely sure I wouldn’t go splat during the dare.

I called up Ang later and gave her my vote. “I’m in.”

Sheri Hunter and her sister-friends, the Dare Divas, consider their friendship as vital to how they’ve navigated their lives. This book could be inspirational to those cautious about chasing their own dreams.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Daring to Live: How the Power of Sisterhood and Taking Risks Can Jump-Start Your Joy, by Sheri Hunter {ends 6/17}
When her husband, Mannard, unexpectedly passed away at just 50 years of age, Sheri Hunter was devastated. With her whole world falling down around her, she turned to her friends. Years before, she and these Dare Divas had gone on a whitewater rafting trip. Now they sought out other adventures - zip-lining, skydiving, mountain climbing, and more. Through these death-defying activities and the unwavering support of her friends, Sheri slowly found the strength to move forward in life.

More than just a memoir, this empowering female travelogue pairs emotionally resonant, confessional storytelling with spiritual takeaways, challenging readers to engage fully in their own lives, surround themselves with friends who will support them, and face life's challenges with courage and faith.

If you've ever experienced a sudden loss or upheaval in life, Sheri's story will reassure you that even if life as you knew it is over, the future God has for you is always full of new adventures.

A couple years before her husband’s untimely death, Sheri Hunter felt she needed more girlfriends and convinced him to join a ministry group at their church with her. In this group she met Mia, Ang, and Brenda. Together these four women became each others’ closest friends, and the Dare Divas.

When her husband died, her friendships were more important than ever. They helped her come through using pills and alcohol to deal with her grief, and the ministry they had in common reminded her to always trust God to see her through.

Overall, this book has the potential to be inspirational to someone interested in renewing or strengthening their religious faith. Whatever else happened, Sheri always reminded her readers to trust in God’s will above all else. I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to Christian women who enjoy inspiring memoir-style stories.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and book reviewer. In her spare time she plays Animal Crossing and Nonogram. Find a little more of her life at SweetlyBSquared.com.


Two of my lucky readers will win both a copy of the book and a "Dare Divas" t-shirt! Click here to check out the t-shirts (available in gray and black).

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, June 17th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Daring to Live, by Sheri Hunter

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Book Review: Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld

At Wellesley, I'd once babysat for a professor's nine-year-old daughter, and she'd said as I was putting her to bed, "Tell me a story that's long, interesting, and hilarious." Having Bill as my boyfriend, loving Bill, felt like living inside such a story.

I'm a huge fan of Curtis Sittenfeld's books—I've reviewed Eligible and You Think It, I'll Say It on here, but Prep was one of my all-time favorite books for a long time—so I was excited to read this one. I also LOVE "parallel universe" books—where one or two things change, and thus a person's life or all of history is changed—and that's what you get here, in a universe where Hillary Rodham never married Bill Clinton.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.

In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.

I read a political book a while ago called Christian Nation that I never forgot about, where McCain won the 2008 election instead of Obama and then dropped dead a few months in, and Sarah Palin became president; Rodham reminded me of that, a little bit, in that one or two tweaks changed a person's entire life.

In real life, Bill Clinton apparently proposed to Hillary three times, and she said no the first two times, but accepted on the third time. In this book, she does accept; but once she finds out about his philandering ways, and he says that this is an unchangeable fact about him, she breaks off the engagement. He eventually becomes a tech mogul in California and she heads into politics, but they end up meeting again in the political world later on in the novel. 

I had a prediction that ended up being true about the 2016 election featured in the book (no spoilers, but I'll say that Trump was not the Republican candidate), and although it wasn't a plot twist, it was a great idea by the author. 

I love "parallel universe" types of books and this was definitely a good one. I had just watched Hillary on Hulu, as well, so her history with Bill Clinton was fresh in my mind, and it was interesting to see how Sittenfeld twisted Rodham's life history after she declines Clinton's marriage proposal; some things stay the same (Obama/Biden still won in 2008 and 2012, for example) but other things were different, especially who wins the '92 election and a few others. 

4.5/5 stars.

Click here to purchase.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Quick Pick book review - The Chosen Ones, by Veronica Roth (Chosen Ones #1)

Quick Pick book review - The Chosen Ones, by Veronica Roth (Chosen Ones #1)
  • Opening lines: excerpt from Comedian Jessica Krys's standup routine, Laugh Factory, Chicago, March 20, 2011

    I've got a question for you: How the fuck did we end up with the name "Dark One" anyway? This guy shows up out of nowhere in a cloud of fucking smoke or whatever, literally rips people limb from limb—apparently using only the power of his mind—recruits an army of minions, levels whole cities, brings about a degree of destruction heretofore unknown to humankind ... and "Dark One" is the best we can do? We might as well have named him after the creepy guy in your building who looks at you a couple seconds too long int he elevator. You know, the one with the really moist, soft hands? Tim. His name is Tim.

    Personally I would have gone with something like "Portent of Doom in the Form of a Man" or "Terrifying Fucking Killing Machine" but unfortunately, nobody asked me.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Veronica Roth fan (she's the author of the Divergent series).
  • And what's this book about?
  • Fifteen years ago, five ordinary teenagers were singled out by a prophecy to take down an impossibly powerful entity wreaking havoc across North America. He was known as the Dark One, and his weapon of choice—catastrophic events known as Drains—leveled cities and claimed thousands of lives. Chosen Ones, as the teens were known, gave everything they had to defeat him.

    After the Dark One fell, the world went back to normal . . . for everyone but them. After all, what do you do when you’re the most famous people on Earth, your only education was in magical destruction, and your purpose in life is now fulfilled?

    Of the five, Sloane has had the hardest time adjusting. Everyone else blames the PTSD—and her huge attitude problem—but really, she’s hiding secrets from them . . . secrets that keep her tied to the past and alienate her from the only four people in the world who understand her.

    On the tenth anniversary of the Dark One’s defeat, something unthinkable happens: one of the Chosen Ones dies. When the others gather for the funeral, they discover the Dark One’s ultimate goal was much bigger than they, the government, or even prophecy could have foretold—bigger than the world itself.

    And this time, fighting back might take more than Sloane has to give.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys fantasy books, or who enjoyed the Harry Potter books.
  • Favorite paragraph: Magic was not a weapon or even an amoral source of energy  it was an infection. Wherever it was, people died, places turned rotten, and the order of things was disrupted, sometimes irreparably. But there was no other weapon against the magic ARIS had developed than magic itself. 
  • Something to know: There were a LOT of similarities to the Harry Potter series here. It's almost as if this book was following the HP kids like 10 years after they defeated Voldemort (aka "The Dark One," here). Also, this is the first in a series; there's no release date yet for the second book, though.
  • What I would have changed: Can't think of anything right now that I would have changed.
  • Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Hide Away, by Jason Pinter {ends 6/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

She approached a filthy pay phone nestled between a Chinese takeout restaurant and a check-cashing joint. A group of teens loitered outside, performing skateboard tricks. One of the kids filmed the stunts with his cell phone.

Rachel took a packet of disinfectant towelettes from her pocketbook and wiped down the phone and handset.

She opened an app on her cell and tested it several times for clarity, pitch, and tone. Then she put on her gloves and dialed 911. Time to see if the Ashby Police Department was worth a damn.

When the dispatcher picked up, Rachel said, “This message is for Detective Serrano of the Ashby PD. It’s regarding the body found at the Albertson Bridge last night. He needs to know this was not a suicide.”

This was an exciting thriller with several gripping plotlines. So many characters have secrets, but the real mystery is which secrets are harmful to other characters, and which are truly just personal details.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Hide Away, by Jason Pinter {ends 6/8}
On the surface, Rachel Marin is an ordinary single mother; on the inside, she’s a fierce, brilliant vigilante. After an unspeakable crime shatters her life, she changes her identity and moves to a small town in Illinois, hoping to spare her children from further trauma…or worse. But crime follows her everywhere.

When the former mayor winds up dead, Rachel can’t help but get involved. Where local detectives see suicide, she sees murder. They resent her for butting in—especially since she’s always one step ahead. But her investigative genius may be her undoing: the deeper she digs, the harder it is to keep her own secrets buried.

Her persistence makes her the target of both the cops and a killer. Meanwhile, the terrifying truth about her past threatens to come to light, and Rachel learns the hard way that she can’t trust anyone. Surrounded by danger, she must keep her steely resolve, protect her family, and stay one step ahead, or else she may become the next victim.

Sometimes, a book with multiple timelines and plots can be hard to follow, but not in this case. The story started four years ago, when a woman and her young son find something horrible on their front porch. Then the book begins alternating between the present, and the past working closer to the present. We’re constantly finding out more about how the woman and her children got to where they are, trying to solve another woman’s murder, and a political conspiracy that had ruined the woman’s life before her murder. The players in all three dramas potentially overlap. It could be chaos, but instead comes off exciting and detailed.

Rachel Marin is an impossible woman not to like. She’s strong, smart, and sassy. She does what she thinks is right, regardless of the consequences. Watching her character evolve and try to mete out justice was entertaining and satisfying. Who doesn’t want to see the good guys win? But everyone has secrets, and hers may be deeper than most. She insists she’s trying to help two police detectives, but they all spend time being wary of each other.

Overall, this was a very readable and enjoyable book. I’d give this 4 out of 5 stars, and I’m excited for the next book in the series, due next January. I’d recommend this for readers who like thrillers and strong female characters.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a married mom of two. She has no secrets in her basement or skeletons in her closet. Her life—especially about the books she reads—is an open book at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Hide Away!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, June 8th, 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.

Due to the pandemic: winner can choose a finished copy of the book, but shipping may be delayed, or a PDF (digital) copy.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hide Away, by Jason Pinter

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