Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Louisiana Lucky, by Julie Pennell {ends 8/4}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“How did your coffee date with Martin go?” Callie asked Lexi, clearly trying to change the subject.

Lexi leaned forward. “He’s in! He’s coming to Brady on Monday to help us plan the wedding! We have so much work to do.”

“That’s amazing,” Callie said, rubbing her plum lips together. She then turned to Hanna. “How was your day? What did you do?”

She thought back to her shopping spree and how much money she had spent at the furniture store. In hindsight, it kind of made her sick to her stomach, but she reminded herself that twenty-seven thousand dollars right now was like pennies to her before she won the lottery. “Went to the mall and got some new workout clothes and furniture for the house.” She pushed her hair behind her ears, the scent of the eucalyptus oil the masseuse had used brushed against her nose. “But the highlight was the massage we all got this afternoon. Definitely considering making that a weekly thing.”

How does someone’s life change when a price tag is just a number and budget is no longer a limitation to anything? The lesson here is that it isn’t always a change for the good.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Louisiana Lucky, by Julie Pennell {ends 8/4}
Lexi, Callie, and Hanna Breaux grew up in small-town Louisiana, and have always struggled to make ends meet. For years, they’ve been playing the lottery, fantasizing about how much better life would be if they had the money.

For Lexi, it means the perfect wedding; for Callie, it means having the courage to go after her career dreams; and for Hanna, it means buying a house that isn’t falling apart and sending her bullied son to private school. When the incredible happens and the Breaux sisters hit it big—$204 million dollars big—all their dreams come true. Or so they think. Because it’s actually not a cliché—money isn’t the answer to everything, and it often comes with problems of its own.

The plot felt pretty predictable - three sisters win the lottery and are able to make all their dreams come true. But of course for every dream that comes true, they find out how much can go wrong. The classic lesson was more money, more problems. While it was easy to empathize with the sisters, it was also a bit annoying that they didn’t see some of these problems from miles away. If things seem too good to be true, they usually are.

The Louisiana vibe was fun, and the characters were likable and relatable.The writing was also fine, but watching all the good things the girls were trying to do unravel was disheartening. All’s well that ends well, but the middle got a bit tedious. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

{click here to pre-order - it will be out on August 4, 2020. Only $11.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley enjoys reading, relaxing and watching her neighborhood hummingbirds. She also posts on Instagram as PoshBecki.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Louisiana Lucky!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 4th, 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!

Louisiana Lucky, by Julie Pennell

Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Mall, by Megan McCafferty {ends 8/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I strutted all the way to Sam Goody.

And I kept right on strutting up and down the aisles until I finally found him crouched in front of the magazine rack. When I gently tapped him on the shoulder, he sprang backward in a scrambled panic.

“Whew!” he said. “I thought you were my boss.”

“Nope,” I said. “It’s me.”

He nodded approvingly at the image of the soldier on my chest.

“Meat is Murder.”

This was arguably The Smiths’ most iconic album cover. It had been proven that Sam Goody was paying attention to my t-shirts. So I had started paying even more attention to my t-shirts. But I couldn’t let him know that. Instead, I pinched the collar and made a bored face like, Oh, this old thing?

This book was definitely based on nostalgia. If you were ever a mall-rat in the early 1990s, prepare for some serious flashbacks.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Mall, by Megan McCafferty {ends 8/3}
New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty returns to her roots with this YA coming of age story set in a New Jersey mall.

The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans...

Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places. Megan McCafferty, beloved
New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall.

All the memories this book dredged up made it a delightful walk down memory lane. Adding in a little mystery to solve just gave it that much more to enjoy. The main character definitely felt relatable as a girl just finishing high school. She had a plan, but spending the spring laid up with mono had required her skipping a few memorable landmarks previously planned out with her boyfriend and partner in her long-term plan. Unfortunately, while she rested at home, he went on with life and youthful adventures. When she tried to step back in where she’d left off, a few details had changed and she was left scrambling for what to do in her last summer of childhood.

Cabbage Patch Kids? Sam Goody? Hanging at the mall? Yes, please! While it may not be as relatable as online shopping has taken over, anyone who remembers the mall—especially around 1990—will be amused by the references in this story. Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase - only $9.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley dreams of the simplicity of working at the mall during high school. She’s always happy to stroll down memory lane and be grateful that the internet didn’t broadcast these memories for everyone to see. She shares now at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Mall!

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

The Mall, by Megan McCafferty

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Lives of Edie Pritchard, by Larry Watson {ends 7/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

At the end of her workday, Edie walks out of the bank into a November evening so mild she gives a little gasp. She’d walked to work that morning in a fog thick enough to eliminate all distances, but by noon the fog had lifted and now the day’s vanishing light lingers just long enough to give Gladstone’s business district a smoky amber glow and the sky a darkening rose and deepening blue.

A car that Edie doesn’t recognize, a humpbacked rusting gray-black Plymouth right out of the 1940s, pulls to the curb alongside her.

The car’s horn bleats, and then Roy climbs out, grinning and shouting, “Edie! Edie!”

He limps around the front of the car, making his way toward her. “The cast! It’s off!”

His joy invades her, and she steps into his open arms.

Edie’s life in small-town Minnesota and beyond feels both remarkable and ordinary, as any life taken a day at a time could feel.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Lives of Edie Pritchard, by Larry Watson
From acclaimed novelist Larry Watson, a multigenerational story of the West told through the history of one woman trying to navigate life on her own terms.

Edie—smart, self‑assured, beautiful—always worked hard. She worked as a teller at a bank, she worked to save her first marriage, and later, she worked to raise her daughter even as her second marriage came apart. Really, Edie just wanted a good life, but everywhere she turned, her looks defined her. Two brothers fought over her. Her second husband became unreasonably possessive and jealous. Her daughter resented her. And now, as a grandmother, Edie finds herself harassed by a younger man. It’s been a lifetime of proving that she is allowed to exist in her own sphere. The Lives of Edie Pritchard tells the story of one woman just trying to be herself, even as multiple men attempt to categorize and own her.

Triumphant, engaging, and perceptive, Watson’s novel examines a woman both aware of her physical power and constrained by it, and how perceptions of someone in a small town can shape her life.

While she was born as Edie Pritchard (and living in a small town, some people will always call her that), her story is told from her perspective as Edie Linderman (Dean’s wife, not that of his twin brother, Roy), Edie Dunn (Gary’s wife, and Jennifer’s mother), and then by the end back to Edie Pritchard again. Through it all, she notices that who she really is doesn’t seem to matter to most people, as they’ll make up their own minds about who they think she is.

Edie’s story was presented in a very conversational manner, but with a depth of self-understanding. She frequently knew why she made the choices she did, good or bad, and wasn’t shy about disclosing her reasoning and emotions. Overall, I really enjoyed Edie’s story and the way it was told. The book spans from 1967 to the present time, so while it wasn’t really historical, it also wasn’t strictly contemporary. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy memoir-style fiction and women’s stories.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a woman with a pretty mundane life. But that means she usually knows what to expect. Find out more of what she’s reading at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Lives of Edie Pritchard!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, July 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!

The Lives of Edie Pritchard, by Larry Watson

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In a Holidaze, by Christina Lauren {ends 7/28}

Outside, I can breathe. 

Inhale, exhale.

Deep inhale, slow exhale.

It wasn't a dream.

I traveled through time, backward six days.

I've seen things like this in books and movies: Someone has an accident and comes out of it with superpowers. Flight, superstrength, super-vision.

Man, I wish I'd paid attention to lotto numbers last week.

The thought makes me laugh out loud, and my breath puffs in the cold air. Mae, you are losing it.

I'm a huge fan of Christina Lauren's work (see: my other reviews), and this one was no exception: a light holiday read with the HEA that we have come to expect from their work. (I say "their" because they are actually two women with one pen name!)

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In a Holidaze, by Christina Lauren {ends 7/28}
One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

Mae is very easy to relate to. She moved back in with her parents, I believe after she lost or quit her previous job, and now works a job she dislikes. The best part of the year for her is spending Christmas with family and friends at one of their friend's cabins. Especially because she's in love with one friend ... 

This year, however, she makes a mistake, and hooks up with said friend's BROTHER. Good news though, kinda: she then wakes up six days previously, on the airplane she rode on to get to Utah. Kind of frustrating (a la Groundhog Day style), but also a chance for a do-over. 

I really enjoy Christina Lauren's books, and this one was great too. Even though it's scheduled to be released in October, since it's a holiday-themed book, I enjoyed it now; I feel like nowadays, in quarantine, we could all use some fluffy humor and romance to get us through the day.

Mae was a great character and the supporting characters are well-written as well. 

4 stars out of 5.

{click here to pre-order; it will be in stores on October 6, 2020}


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of In a Holidaze!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 28, 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!

In a Holidaze, by Christina Lauren

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Fire and Vengeance, by Robert McCaw {ends 7/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Mica Osbourne’s face filled half the TV screen. Her daughter’s picture -- a darling little girl in a pink dress with a pink ribbon in her hair and a teddy bear in her arms -- appeared opposite. The grieving mother’s red eyes and haggard appearance haunted viewers. Koa couldn’t imagine the depth of her despair. “The Education Department is supposed to protect our children. Instead, they took my beautiful daughter, my beautiful little angel. How could they…” her voice broke… “how could they build a school over a volcanic vent?” The picture changed to an aerial view of the wrecked school with the roof ripped off, the walls collapsed, and clouds of steam and noxious gas billowing upward in a mushroom cloud.

These books give me a solid feeling for good and bad things about living in Hawai’i. The author doesn’t limit it to beaches, beauty, and sunshine.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Fire and Vengeance, by Robert McCaw {ends 7/25}
Having killed his father's nemesis and gotten away with it, Hilo, Hawai`i Chief Detective Koa Kane, is not your ordinary cop. Estranged from his younger brother who has been convicted of multiple crimes, he is not from a typical law enforcement family. Yet, Koa's secret demons fuel his unwavering drive to pursue justice. Never has Koa's motivation been greater than when he learns that an elementary school was placed atop a volcanic vent, which has now exploded. The subsequent murders of the school's contractor and architect only add urgency to his search for the truth. As Koa's investigation heats up, his brother collapses in jail from a previously undiagnosed brain tumor. Using his connections, Koa devises a risky plan to win his brother's freedom. As Koa gradually unravels the obscure connections between multiple suspects, he uncovers a 40 year-old conspiracy. When he is about to apprehend the perpetrators, his investigation suddenly becomes entwined with his brother's future, forcing Koa to choose between justice for the victims and his brother's freedom.

So much going on! An explosion at the elementary school opens the book, but the more Koa Kane tries to find out how such an atrocity in planning could have happened (the school was built on a volcanic vent, that was scientifically certain to explode eventually), the deeper the mess gets. Several people in positions of power in Hawai’i have been connected to each other for more than 40 years.

Koa Kane and his co-workers and girlfriend all return for this, the third book in the series. We also learn a lot more about Koa’s family. His brother, Ikaika, has always been a troublemaker, but what if there’s a medical explanation for his bad choices? It’s cutting edge medical technology, so they need to think outside the box for Ikaika to get a fresh start. Koa has an opportunity to help his brother more than ever before, and his brother is politely requesting his help. But what will this cost for Koa?

While the characters continued to be charming and engaging, the plot of this book intricately intersects at the most unlikely moments. Between the current building crime, the college history of several key players, and Koa’s own family, there’s a lot of conflict to resolve and truths to unravel. Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend it for those who like suspense and police procedurals.

{click here to purchase - only $1.99 on Kindle at the time of this writing!}

{read our review of Off the Grid, the first book in the series, here}

Becki Bayley enjoys listening to Handel’s flute sonatas and drinking grape-flavored water while she reads. Find out more of what she’s been up to at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Fire and Vengeance!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, July 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!

Fire and Vengeance, by Robert McCaw

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Book Review: Mayhem, by Estelle Laure

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Listen, it won’t be long now,” he says. “You should get some rest while you can. When you wake up, if I’m not right here, go back to the water and you’ll be okay. Just remember that.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Part of me thinks nothing will at all, that I’ll wake up in the morning and this will all have been some silliness, Julianna’s letter the fantasies of a bored wife and mother, Neve and her warnings some drugged-out joke. The rock beneath me heats me from the inside out, and as I fall asleep with Kidd snoring beside me, I decide no matter what happens next, I will never regret being here, taking mushrooms, drinking the water, holding Jason’s hand. I’m glad we came to Santa Maria. Things are finally real, they’re finally happening. I can finally sleep.

Superhuman knowledge and powers sound super useful, both to the individuals who have them, and the community which benefits. Hopefully everyone can agree to use those powers for good.

Official synopsis:

Book Review: Mayhem, by Estelle Laure
It's 1987 and unfortunately it's not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy's constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem's own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren't like everyone else.

But when May's stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem's questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

Mayhem’s story is all about girl power! Braeburn women are special. Once they have the water from the secret cave, they’re unstoppable. They’ve taken it upon themselves to use their powers to stop those who want to do evil in Santa Maria.

When Mayhem arrives in Santa Maria, there are already a few kids who live with her aunt and regularly imbibe the water. It gives them powers, but their powers look like a soft breeze compared to the howling wind that the water brings about in Mayhem. Together they can keep Santa Maria safe for all the mere mortals, and the mortals are grateful for their interventions.

This story was emotionally satisfying, as Mayhem and her cohorts got revenge on behalf of the defenseless. Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. The 80s vibe was fun and familiar, and watching a battle between good and evil turn out right is always rewarding.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Cherry Coke guzzling, Fun-Dip enjoying, sun-worshipper. She enjoys watering her flowers and reading on her porch. See more of her adventures on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Musical Chairs, by Amy Poeppel {ends 7/21}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

After hanging up, Bridget took advantage of the quiet and got her cello out of its case. She’d bought the honey-colored instrument on a post-Juilliard trip to visit her father’s family in London, using a good portion of the graduation check he’d given her to pay for it. She went from shop to shop, landing at Tom Woods (her father’s recommendation) and decided on a Thomas Kennedy, made in the 1820s. Will never asked her what it cost; she would have lied if he had.

Her cello wasn’t appreciating the weather either. It was grumpy about the humidity and oppressive heat, and it took Bridget over five minutes to tune it properly. Practicing had become a challenge here. It was hard to concentrate with Oscar’s Skype meetings in the mornings, three-to-four-hour sessions where he would sit at the dining room table with his laptop, wearing a dress shirt, tie, and blazer on top, nothing but boxers underneath, and talk loudly about energy policy and legislation. When he was done, he would change into shorts and a t-shirt, pop open a beer and lie down on the couch to watch Netflix. Or he would sit in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal, leaving the milk out on the counter. She couldn’t figure out how much she should parent him. He was too old to be assigned chores, and too young, apparently, to do them properly. Having him as a roommate was both a joy and a nuisance.

What a cast of characters! This story had so many threads it could easily have a prequel or sequel, but it also had enough to satisfy on its own.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Musical Chairs, by Amy Poeppel
Bridget and Will have the kind of relationship that people envy: they’re loving, compatible, and completely devoted to each other. The fact that they’re strictly friends seems to get lost on nearly everyone; after all, they’re as good as married in (almost) every way. For three decades, they’ve nurtured their baby, the Forsyth Trio—a chamber group they created as students with their Juilliard classmate Gavin Glantz. In the intervening years, Gavin has gone on to become one of the classical music world’s reigning stars, while Bridget and Will have learned to embrace the warm reviews and smaller venues that accompany modest success.

Bridget has been dreaming of spending the summer at her well-worn Connecticut country home with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are upended when Sterling, dutifully following his ex-wife’s advice, breaks up with her over email and her twin twenty-somethings arrive unannounced, filling her empty nest with their big dogs, dirty laundry, and respective crises.

Bridget has problems of her own: her elderly father announces he’s getting married, and the Forsyth Trio is once again missing its violinist. She concocts a plan to host her dad’s wedding on her ramshackle property, while putting the Forsyth Trio back into the spotlight. But to catch the attention of the music world, she and Will place their bets on luring back Gavin, whom they’ve both avoided ever since their stormy parting.

With her trademark humor, pitch-perfect voice, and sly perspective on the human heart, Amy Poeppel crafts a love letter to modern family life with all of its discord and harmony. In the tradition of novels by Maria Semple and Stephen McCauley, Musical Chairs is an irresistibly romantic story of role reversals, reinvention, and sweet synchronicity.

This book truly had a little of everything. There’s Bridget, the main character who is the mother to twins born more than 20 years ago via artificial insemination—she thinks. Bridget’s musical partner is Will, and everyone assumes Bridget and Will are partners in more than music. They’re not. Now summering in Connecticut, Bridget is joined by Will (of course) and her twins, but at her father’s estate not far away are her father, his housekeeper, Bridget’s sister, and her father’s new assistant.

The whole cast has their own unique issues to process and get through this summer. Will Bridget finally find love? Can Will find a new love after swearing off of marrying again? Will Bridget’s son and his husband reconcile? And with Bridget’s daughter quitting her job in Hong Kong, what will she do next with her life? There’s always something happening in this book, and of course it all has to wrap up before the climactic wedding at the end of the book.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. With so much happening, this could easily have expanded to more than one book about the same group of people, but this book still wraps up all the loose ends nicely. It was a nice summer read and escape to a dreamworld instead of a regular life.

{click here to pre-order—it will be released on July 21, 2020}

Becki Bayley is summering at the same house she wintered. Luckily she’s an introvert who’s happy reading at the same location year-round. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Musical Chairs!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 21st, 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!

Musical Chairs, by Amy Poeppel

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton {ends 7/16}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Back in the parking lot, we dropped our pocketbooks in the Savoy and found a wooden sign carved with yellow letters for the Walk-Up Trail—one mile to the summit. We climbed single file—Nattie, then me, then Mother. The ascent was gentle to start, skipping over smooth stones, but the trail soon turned heart-thumpy. The ground was strewn with rocks, with tall grasses, their roots forced up through the stone, and with little yellow daisies that were impossible not to love. It was hard to keep our footing, Nattie in her slick-soled Mary Janes, and Mother and me in low-heeled pumps. I tried to imagine hauling a pine cross and a jug of kerosene up this path. I tried to imagine hating someone enough to strike a match.

Nattie hummed a ditty over and over and over, and Mother was silent for what must’ve been twenty minutes.

At the top, there were giant depressions in the stone, little ponds filled with water, filled with life, filled with shrimp—of all things to be filled with. The rest of the summit was moonlike. There were no signs of burnings. Maybe the ash had floated off the mountain into the ether of constellations.

When Ruth Robb moves with her mother and her younger sister from New York to Atlanta after her father’s death, she finds out the world can be a very different place, at the same time.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton {ends 7/16}
After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

With a whole new life in Atlanta, Ruth wants to be popular, and her grandmother, Fontaine, can help her get there. Unfortunately, she has to deny the parts of her that are impossible to make popular, like being Jewish. At first, she’s willing to do exactly that for her own pre-debutante success, and continuing the family legacy of Magnolia Queens. Ruth’s mother’s rules say that Ruth can do what makes her happy, but she has to trade off by doing what makes her mother happy and attending synagogue meetings.

Ruth’s voice in telling the story sounds quite true. She really wants to have it all work out, but what starts as one of the best nights of her life soon becomes the night when she learns that she’ll have to make choices about what to stand for if she really wants to be happy with herself. Sometimes being just ‘in the neighborhood of true’ isn’t enough.

The unique viewpoint in this book gave a great perspective of the struggle of being Jewish and discriminated against or attacked in the 1950s and 1960s. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.


Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of In The Neighborhood of True!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, July 16th, 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!

In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Falling Woman, by Richard Farrell {ends 7/13}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

In spite of himself, he imagined a woman falling through the sky and heading toward the barn. He pictured her dropping, imagined what she felt—the cold air, the speed, the rush of wind. In all likelihood, she would’ve lost consciousness, which, given the circumstances, was a gift. Did she wake up at some point? Did she see the ground rushing toward her? What did she think in that moment?

“Could someone really have made it through?” he asked.

Lucy looked up. Their hands were still touching.

“Charlie, I don’t know, but you need to find out. We need to be certain. You can’t let all these questions just float out there unanswered. There are families waiting to hear. There are people who need to know.”

“Listening to these tapes,” he said, “hearing the voices of the other pilots and the air traffic controllers, everything seems so grounded. With all the work ahead of us, a miracle hardly seems plausible.”

“You think you’ll be able to ignore it then?” she asked. “You think you can just wait for someone else to solve it?”

“I’ve done my part,” Radford said.

While this is a work of fiction, the similar cases cited (of people falling from airplanes and surviving) were real. The circumstances all varied greatly, but they proved that the improbability of falling from such a height and surviving did not mean it would be impossible.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Falling Woman, by Richard Farrell {ends 7/13}
Erin feels that she has reached a breaking point in her cancer treatment. Having gone through two exhausting programs of medication and facing a third, she decides to take a week off from doctors and hospitals and even her family, and to fly from her home in Washington D.C. to a retreat in California that is designed for people like her, cancer victims with no chance of survival. She has reached middle age, is in a mostly loveless, mechanical marriage, has successfully seen her twin daughters enrolled in college and starting their own lives independent of her, has ended an affair she was having with a man in her office, another lawyer, and is facing the reality that for all those people—husband, daughters, ex-lover—she is essentially already dead. So when the plane she is on, headed cross country to San Francisco, encounters extreme turbulence and comes apart in midair, she accepts the reality of the fact that this will be her real death. Only fate has other ideas, for she miraculously survives not only the explosion but also the fall from the sky.

Charlie Radford is a young NTSB investigator who is on the team sent to Kansas to try to determine what caused the crash, and also to find and identify all the bodies. When, several days into his investigation, he hears a rumor that a woman was found alive in a barn, still strapped to her seat, he assumes it is a hoax, but because of word of this “miracle” has reached the media—as well as the men and women in Congress—he is forced to assume responsibility for tracking down the source of the rumor and to find the woman, should she actually exist. So for young Radford, what began as a routine crash investigation becomes a search to find the truth of the story, and then, once he realizes that in fact there is a survivor, he must convince her to come forward. The problem is that once found, Erin refuses to cooperate, having decided that her family has already mourned her death twice; all she wants is to be left alone, to live out what time she has left away from the rest of the world. But then one reporter gets wind of her location, and Radford must decide how to protect this “falling woman” while at the same time answering the commands of his superiors in the government agency.

Fast paced, and full of twists and surprises, The Falling Woman is a story of the irony of fate, and of which conflicting factor will prevail: the need of the government and its people to know the truth, or the right of a woman to determine how her personal story will play out.

This was a deep emotional story. How could someone, when given a miracle second chance, walk away and choose to maintain her status as already dead? Really, this was most of the critical question for Charlie Radford, the NTSB investigator in the story. His job is to disprove, or prove, that the explosion of a flight over Kansas had an improbable survivor. The rest of his agency assumes the odds are too great and Radford is on a wild goose chase and embarrassing himself over a hoax.

Without giving too much away, once Radford finds the woman who may have been on the flight, his real dilemma begins. What legal or moral obligation does he have? Does he owe more to the mystery woman or the government and his employer? The story premise was exciting enough on its own, but the real contemplation came with Radford’s and the woman’s soul-searching.

I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. Unless reading about a plane crash will give too much anxiety on its own, anyone who enjoys questions of the human condition and contemporary fiction would enjoy this book.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, reader, and flower-raiser. Now that she’s declared it, she’ll be posting more pictures of her flowers as PoshBecki on Instagram.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Falling Woman!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, July 13th, 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!
The Falling Woman, by Richard Farrell

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Book Review: Jo & Laurie, by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz

Book Review: Jo & Laurie, by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz
  • Opening lines: The Offices of Roberts Brothers, Publishers and Bookbinders, Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 1868

    "Little Women? That's the title?" The author looked concerned. Above her light brown eyes and beneath her threadbare linen cap, the chestnut curls that framed her face were shaking. Miss Josephine March was all of seventeen years old, and though her girlish curves were slight, her spirit was immense.

    There was nothing
    little about her, or her characters. Or so she had thought. The book in questiona volume of domestic stories, loosely inspired by her own familywas one she hadn't wanted to write, had in fact steadfastly refused to write, until her editor had offered a notably unrefusable royalty, instead of the usual piffling advance. Only then had she dashed off a dozen chapters in a fit of pique. To her dismay, he'd loved them, and she'd had no choice but to finish the final chapters, which she'd come to deliver now.

    And lo
    insult beyond injuryit would be called Little Women.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of both of these authors—I've reviewed quite a few of Melissa de la Cruz's books, and Margaret Stohl is the author of the Beautiful Creatures series. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Bestselling authors Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz bring us a romantic retelling of Little Women starring Jo March and her best friend, the boy next door, Theodore "Laurie" Laurence.

    1869, Concord, Massachusetts: After the publication of her first novel, Jo March is shocked to discover her book of scribbles has become a bestseller, and her publisher and fans demand a sequel. While pressured into coming up with a story, she goes to New York with her dear friend Laurie for a week of inspiration--museums, operas, and even a once-in-a-lifetime reading by Charles Dickens himself!

    But Laurie has romance on his mind, and despite her growing feelings, Jo's desire to remain independent leads her to turn down his heartfelt marriage proposal and sends the poor boy off to college heartbroken. When Laurie returns to Concord with a sophisticated new girlfriend, will Jo finally communicate her true heart's desire or lose the love of her life forever?

  • Recommended for: Anyone who is a fan of Little Women, or who enjoys romance books.
  • Favorite paragraph: slight spoilers below ...
    How could he think the bosoms would make him happy? Not her Theodore Laurence. Not ever.

    But then again, he wasn't
    her Theodore Laurence. If he could profess his love for Jo and propose to Lady Hat all within the space of a season, then it was likely Jo really didn't know Theodore Laurence at all.
  • Something to know: I attended a Zoom chat with both of the authors and it's interesting that both of them wrote the book, because I never would have thought that it had two authors; the chapters are seamless, and the writing style is the same throughout. Also, this takes place before Laurie goes off to Harvard, and in Little Women I believe some of the events took place after he graduated.
  • What I would have changed: Nothing.
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Book Review: No One Will Hear Your Screams, by Thomas O'Callaghan

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Before returning to the office, Driscoll parked the Chevy on Montague Street, where Margaret hopped out and ducked inside Avgerinos Restaurant to purchase lunch.

“Nothing says New York alfresco like at Chicken Souvlaki and a Coke,” Margaret said returning to the passenger seat where she peeled back the waxed paper from her savory sandwich and handed half to Driscoll.

“You know, Margaret, I can’t shake the feeling we’re overlooking something,” The Lieutenant said before biting into the Greek delicacy.

“OK. Let’s break down his lunacy. He’s arterially embalming his victims then sews a locket featuring the patron saint of prostitutes under the tongue. It suggests he’s not a fan of the working girl, but why burn down a church?”

“Beats the hell out o’ me.”

“And why that church?”

“Maybe he’s got a gripe with Sally Fields.”

Driscoll looked at her wondering where she was going with an odd comment like that.

“What’s Sally Fields got to do with it?” he asked.

“The actress. Sally Fields. She played the flying nun on TV. The church he torched was Saint Teresa of Avila. The original flying nun.”

A little bit of religious trivia mixed in with crimes is always interesting. This serial killer definitely had a few issues with his religious upbringing.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: No One Will Hear Your Screams, by Thomas O'Callaghan
Is there a sociopathic killer on the loose and murdering prostitutes in New York City? NYPD’s top cop, Homicide Commander Lieutenant John Driscoll, believes there is. Someone who calls himself “Tilden” and claims to have been sexually abused as a child by his mother’s john. But what could have triggered Tilden’s rage that has him on a mission to eradicate all the women of the night in The Big Apple?

More importantly, will Driscoll put an end to the madness? He soon discovers Tilden’s not the run-of-the-mill sociopath. After all, would a common murderer have taken the time to embalm his victims, which the New York City chief medical examiner determined was the cause of their deaths?

Driscoll, a man haunted by the events of an unstable childhood himself, must put aside any sympathy he may have for Tilden and put a stop to his murderous rampage. Teamed up with Sergeant Margaret Aligante and Detective Cedric Thomlinson, who have their own issues, the commander sets out to stop the killings and bring Tilden to justice before he kills again.

The action in this book starts pretty quickly. Tilden is on a mission - he’s got a list of women who have done him wrong, and he’s decided their punishment is death. While each of the bodies are discovered in unique places and situations, Lieutenant John Driscoll finds enough clues to know they’re connected.

While there was more about Tilden than the other characters, this was not the first book in the series about Lieutenant Driscoll. Several characteristics of Driscoll and his co-workers are stated in passing, with the sense that they were developed more in previous books. Everyone was still explained adequately to understand in just this book, but having read the others may have given more of a sense of attachment to the characters.

Without giving too much away, there were some loose ends in the background of the Tilden that could have been better explored. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy crime thrillers (and don’t mind them a bit gory).

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves sleeping in, laughing with her kids, and watching the birds and butterflies in her yard. She also blogs (mostly about books) at SweetlyBSquared.com.

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