Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Book Review: Strange Fire, by Tommy Wallach

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Whooee, but ya’ll gave me a fright! Thought I was about to meet my maker!”

His name was Harry Pardo, and once he’d gotten over the surprise of finding a whole Descendant ministry on his doorstep (and put his puny dagger away), he’d invited them inside. Apparently, this was his hunting cabin; there were a whole lot of nasty-looking traps hanging from hooks on the walls, and a small table near a thin tick mattress bore the remains of a hearty dinner: apple core, rind of cheese, strip of gristle. Against the back wall was an assortment of ramshackle cabinets and a large wardrobe, all shut. The place had a strange smell to it—cloying with a layer of toxicity beneath the sweetness, like a ripe red berry you knew was poisonous—but otherwise it was pretty cozy.

How much does the existence of a hero or villain depend on someone’s perspective? When survival is at stake, doing the right thing for one group may mean condemning another.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Strange Fire, by Tommy Walach
It only takes a spark.

They said that the first generation of man was brought low by its appetites: for knowledge, for wealth, for power. They said mankind’s voracity was so great, the Lord sent his own Daughter to bring fire and devastation to the world.

The survivors were few, but over the course of centuries, they banded together to form a new civilization—the Descendancy—founded on the belief that the mistakes of the past must never be repeated.

Brothers Clive and Clover Hamill, the sons of a well-respected Descendant minister, have spent their lives spreading that gospel. But when their traveling ministry discovers a community intent on rediscovering the blasphemous technologies of the past, a chain of events will be set in motion that will pit city against city…and brother against brother.

Along with Gemma Poplin, Clive’s childhood sweetheart, and Paz Dedios, a revolutionary who dreams of overthrowing the Descendancy, Clive and Clover will each play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of this holy war, and the fate of humanity itself.

As the world starts over, the Descendancy has decided the advances of technology are what led to society’s initial demise. While those chosen to learn at the Library read about some evidence of the previous technology, their faith is strong and they are supposed to know that the simple way is better and safer. There are also missionaries from the Descendancy who travel to share their faith with those outside the safety of their city.

On a missionary trip, some teenagers and young adults learn of other viewpoints and begin to question their beliefs and their loyalty to the Descendancy. At the same time, another person joins their group, but with a real goal of seeking revenge for the death of their family at the hands of the Descendancy missionaries. Was it self-defense? Are people all good or all evil, and is this based on the way they believe the world should be? It’s teen angst, but the result of their questioning could mean life or death. The characters and their dilemmas felt reasonable and believable. Of course, teenagers also have to drop in a good dose of hormones with the rest of their troubles.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. Luckily it is labeled as the first book in the Anchor & Sophia series, so more books will be available about these post-apocalyptic societies and their battles. Other books by this author may also be of interest, as they seem to deal with the end of the world as we know it, and what happens next.

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

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys reading, counted cross-stitch, and wearing fun pajama pants. Find out more of what she’s up to at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Book Review - The President Factor: The Reality Show That Rocked a Nation, by Pat Obermeier

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The sun had set. Clusters of people lined the road, making everyone in the convoy of four U.S. military Humvees nervous. They streaked toward a group of low, spread-out, nondescript buildings two miles ahead: the airport. General Sykes wanted a safer mode of return transportation for Adhemar than the transports they arrived in. The general was right. The buzz was on. But whether it was benevolent buzz as in Let’s go see if we can catch a glimpse of the guy running for president of the United States or a Let’s run into the road and stop the convoy and then rob them crowd no one knew. The drivers weren’t slowing down to ask.

What if presidential candidates auditioned for their job? With carefully scripted situations that don’t have obvious solutions, the most important part may be keeping the "reality" out of reality TV.

Official synopsis:
Book Review - The President Factor: The Reality Show That Rocked a Nation, by Pat Obermeier
Fed up with the lack of credentials in an ever growing field of candidates, Democratic hopeful, Senator Adhemar Reyes spouts off on C-Span, “I’m tired of the I can see Russia from my porch candidates! I propose all presidential candidates be required to participate in a reality show to show how they handle crisis situations before we put them in the White House!” Uh-oh. Congress buys onto the idea and Reyes is sucked into the mother of all reality shows, The President Factor. As Reyes and his Republican counterpart tackle the challenges, the TV networks go about misusing the show's footage to satisfy their own political agendas, the slanted cable talk shows ratchet it up a notch and the current president spies on the team from the opposite party. Kinda like business as usual in DC today. Will the charismatic Hispanic candidate win? Why is one team getting Malaria shots? Can Washington politics be even more absurd? Yes...to the last question. The rest is inside.

While Senator Reyes originally proposes a reality-show-style presidential contest as a sort of joking comment, he is very charismatic, and the right (or wrong) people take him seriously. Before he knows it, he’s picked his VP and a couple cabinet members to compete alongside him on The President Factor. On paper, this may have seemed like a way to really see how the major party’s presidential candidates handle the proposed catastrophe. In the actual playing of the game, they also have to deal with spies, cheating, and major world players misinterpreting the fiction of the show.

Overall, this was an entertaining read that may seem to be hitting close to home in parts. I did appreciate the final chapter, with a check-in to find out what happened to key candidates after the reality show. I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy political fiction and humor.

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

Becki Bayley obviously enjoys reading. She also likes drinking Southern Comfort and Cherry Coke, munching on Chewy Sprees, and lounging in new PJ pants and sweatshirts. See some pictures of her life on Instagram as PoshBecki.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Book Review - Family in Six Tones: A Refugee Mother, An American Daughter, by Lan Cao

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Almost all of my teachers in the department saw Vietnam as their experience, their rite of passage, the trigger to their disillusionment, the portal to their identity and worldview. They wanted their Vietnam to be my inheritance. I already had my own inheritance of loss, which came from my parents. My teachers told me those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But what they wanted was for me to remember their past, to accept and ventriloquize their memories, even though I was still trying to make sense of mine.

Like always remembering that my father had taken part in fifty-three airborne assault landings in Long An Province, almost all of which he commanded. I did not know this from him; my father did not talk to me about the war unless I asked him very specific questions. I knew this only because I found his Legion of Merit documents in a box that Papa Fritz gave me. Like remembering my mother’s multiple lives, each one sifted and rebuilt from the ashes of the prior ones: first, life in a village risen from the emerald fields of Sóc Trăng, burned down by insurgents; then fleeing from another hamlet pillaged by Japanese soldiers; and then escaping the French by floating corpselike, eyes closed, arms and legs outstretched, down a river bloated with decapitated heads and swollen bodies. Moving to the North before partition and then fleeing back to the South after 1954. Building a life in Saigon and then leaving in 1975.

This memoir was told in alternating chapters by Lan, an attorney and author who came to the U.S. as a young refugee girl in 1975, and Harlan, an American teenager and the daughter of Lan.

Official synopsis:
Book Review - Family in Six Tones: A Refugee Mother, An American Daughter, by Lan Cao
In 1975, thirteen-year-old Lan Cao boarded an airplane in Saigon and got off in a world where she faced hosts she had not met before, a language she didn't speak, and food she didn't recognize, with the faint hope that she would be able to go home soon. Lan fought her way through confusion, and racism, to become a successful lawyer and novelist. Four decades later, she faced the biggest challenge in her life: raising her daughter Harlan—half Vietnamese by birth and 100 percent American teenager by inclination. In their lyrical joint memoir, told in alternating voices, mother and daughter cross ages and ethnicities to tackle the hardest questions about assimilation, aspiration, and family.

Lan wrestles with her identities as not merely an immigrant but a refugee from an unpopular war. She has bigoted teachers who undermine her in the classroom and tormenting inner demons, but she does achieve—either despite or because of the work ethic and tight support of a traditional Vietnamese family struggling to get by in a small American town. Lan has ambitions, for herself, and for her daughter, but even as an adult feels tentative about her place in her adoptive country, and ventures through motherhood as if it is a foreign landscape.

Reflecting and refracting her mother's narrative, Harlan fiercely describes the rites of passage of childhood and adolescence, filtered through the aftereffects of her family's history of war, tragedy, and migration. Harlan's struggle to make friends in high school challenges her mother to step back and let her daughter find her own way.

Family in Six Tones speaks both to the unique struggles of refugees and to the universal tug-of-war between mothers and daughters. The journey of an immigrant—away from war and loss toward peace and a new life—and the journey of a mother raising a child to be secure and happy are both steep paths filled with detours and stumbling blocks. Through explosive fights and painful setbacks, mother and daughter search for a way to accept the past and face the future together.

Lan and Harlan struggle with different aspects of their heritage and life in America. Lan wants to preserve her memories of the Vietnam of her youth, and pass down some of the important (to her) societal norms of Vietnam to her daughter. At the same time, she also wants to forget the horrible memories of the war she grew up during, and the battleground that was realistically the Vietnam of her youth. Harlan just wants to be a normal American teen, which is difficult with her mother’s Vietnamese expectations and the background of the Vietnamese community. She understands her mother has struggled, but she just wants normalcy.

Both women shared their lives and hardships eloquently and clearly, but the same event can be perceived quite differently from two different people who experienced it. Lan and Harlan definitely had different takeaways from the same experiences. They held nothing back while describing the full impact of events on them physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Lan’s viewpoint was a unique presentation of life in a war zone and as a refugee. Harlan told the interesting story of a teenager who doesn’t want to ignore her heritage, but also doesn’t want to be held to standards from a world that is not reality for her.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother. In her spare time she enjoys reading, washing dishes and laundry, playing the flute, and drinking Southern Comfort and Cherry Coke. More of her book reviews and adventures are available at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Forgotten Kingdom, by Signe Pike {ends 9/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The Selgovae were not like other Britons. They kept close to their gods and the beings of the old forest they tended. Those I’d met had little care for finery, though they possessed wealth in plenty, for they traded in furs—wolf, bear, rabbit, hind. Their huts were warm and dark, tight from weather. Their halls were modest and made entirely from wood, devoid of the rich outer carvings beloved by our people.

Soon we reached the foot of another small hill, and their huts appeared, hunched beneath the snow-covered branches of the forest. People peered from quickly opened doors, then disappeared behind them. I could not blame them, given the sight of us. At last we climbed an ice-slicked footpath through rusty spines of bracken, and my face was met with a gust of woodsmoke. The hall was long and narrow, with tidy thatching, a heavy set of oaken doors waiting beneath unadorned beams.

While this is the second book in a trilogy, it was understandable without having read the first book, and still a quite compelling story on its own.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Forgotten Kingdom, by Signe Pike {ends 9/22}
AD 573. Imprisoned in her chamber, Languoreth awaits news in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to wage war against her brother, Lailoken. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter, Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history scatters its survivors to the wind, Lailoken and his men must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her and follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.

In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way for the ambitious adherents of the new religion: Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to survive her marriage to the next Christian king of Strathclyde. Worst yet, the new King of the Angles is bent on expanding his kingdom at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artur, may be the only man who can bring the Christians and the pagans together to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him. He must become the man known to history as “Myrddin.”

Bitter rivalries are ignited, lost loves are found, new loves are born, and old enemies come face-to-face with their reckoning in this compellingly fresh look at one of the most enduring legends of all time.

Wow. The beginning of this book was a little confusing. The names were unfamiliar, and there was a whole book before it—was there some fundamental knowledge that was needed to understand what was happening here? But the magic that is a well-written book soon took over. The pages kept turning in a desire to find out what happens next!

The basics of the story are covered in the summary, but the Author’s Note at the end was very interesting. What is the difference between historical fiction and historical fantasy? This book could be quite enjoyable for fans of historical fiction, or for fans of fantasy as well. The difference is hard to discern when based on a time period of which the reader has limited previous knowledge.

While following along with characters whose names are difficult to pronounce sometimes presents a challenge, the fates of Languoreth, Lailoken, and Angharad kept me engaged. I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars and will definitely consider putting the other two books of the trilogy on my to-be-read list.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and remote-learning supervisor to a middle schooler and an elementary school student. She enjoys snacking, reading, and overcoming zoom challenges. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Forgotten Kingdom!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 22nd, at 11:59pm EST, and the 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 Forgotten Kingdom, by Signe Pike

Monday, September 14, 2020

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless, by Charlotte Markey {ends 9/21}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

There is evidence that people think they benefit from being hard on themselves. They think they’ll improve themselves if they bully themselves. However, people tend to benefit from self-compassion. Self-compassion is basically being kind to yourself and treating yourself like you would treat a friend. Scientists have found that people who are self-compassionate tend to experience success because they don’t waste energy getting upset with themselves; instead, they focus this energy toward motivating themselves to achieve self-acceptance and success.

The next time you want to tell yourself that you’re out of shape or unattractive, take a deep breath. Remember, this isn’t a good use of your energy. Think of a close friend. You’re as deserving as your friend, so don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a close friend.

With chapter headings like ‘Love your body,’ ‘Keep food fun,’ ‘Self-care,’ and ‘Be the Change,’ this book gives some great guidance for a happy life. What amazing lessons for human beings—especially pre-teen and teenage girls!

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless, by Charlotte Markey {ends 9/21}
It is worrying to think that most girls feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and that this can lead to serious problems including depression and eating disorders. Can some of those body image worries be eased? Body image expert and psychology professor Dr Charlotte Markey helps girls aged 9-15 to understand, accept, and appreciate their bodies. She provides all the facts on puberty, mental health, self-care, why diets are bad news, dealing with social media, and everything in-between. Girls will find answers to questions they always wanted to ask, the truth behind many body image myths, and real-life stories from girls who share their own experiences. Through this easy-to-read and beautifully illustrated guide, Dr Markey teaches girls how to nurture both mental and physical health to improve their own body image, shows the positive impact they can have on others, and enables them to go out into the world feeling fearless!

This book really covers all the bases. In addition to graphic illustrations to show a girl what her anatomy usually looks like and what to expect during puberty for body changes, the author goes on to talk about how all these changes can make a girl feel. The book isn’t just about taking care of what you’ve got, it’s about appreciating what your body is and does inside and out. While giving some of the best options for appreciating and taking care of a girl's body, the author presents the information in a non-judgmental way. Choosing other options is not automatically wrong.

While the 13-year-old who helped me review this book admittedly skimmed over the more technical descriptions of body changes, she said her favorite part was the Q&As interspersed in all the chapters. The ‘My Story’ sections with real life experiences from real girls with their ages was also engaging. Her favorite chapters were Chapter 3: Love your body, and Chapter 9: Self-care.

Overall, this book contains invaluable information for girls ages 9 to 15 regarding how they are maturing and growing. We’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars and will keep our copy handy for a little while longer. The tone is reassuring about changes during these crazy years and offers comforting advice.

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

Becki Bayley is a wife, and mother to a 13-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy. She believes a mother’s job is to give her children roots and wings. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Body Image Book for Girls!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, September 21st, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted 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 Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless, by Charlotte Markey

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Review: The White Coat Diaries, by Madi Sinha

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The automatic computer readout --NORMAL STUDY-- is printed across the top of the pink-and-white graph paper.

“And? Is it normal?”

“It says ‘Normal Study.’”

“But does it look normal to you?” Ethan says.

I hesitate. Something isn’t right. The waves alternate in size: big wave, little wave, big wave, little wave.

“Shock him again!” Ethan says. “Norah? Norah?”

“No, it’s electrical alternans.”

“Are you sure?”

“I think so.”

“Norah, I’m going to tap him. Are you sure?”

My mouth goes dry. Ethan is preparing to put a needle into Dan’s chest to drain the fluid that, presumably, is compressing his heart. If I’m wrong, the needle could puncture Dan’s heart and kill him.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

I hear him take a breath. “Okay.”

Being a medical resident is definitely not easy. Being a medical resident and having a life sounds darn near impossible.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The White Coat Diaries, by Madi Sinha
Having spent the last twenty-something years with her nose in a textbook, brilliant and driven Norah Kapadia has just landed the medical residency of her dreams. But after a disastrous first day, she's ready to quit. Disgruntled patients, sleep deprivation, and her duty to be the "perfect Indian daughter" have her questioning her future as a doctor.

Enter chief resident Ethan Cantor. He's everything Norah aspires to be: respected by the attending physicians, calm during emergencies, and charismatic with his patients. And as he morphs from Norah’s mentor to something more, it seems her luck is finally changing.

But when a fatal medical mistake is made, pulling Norah into a cover-up, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect the secret. What if “doing no harm” means putting herself at risk?

Oh, Norah. She’s not just a medical resident, she’s also the never-even-dated daughter of a well-known Indian pediatrician who passed away years ago in an auto accident. So no pressure, but she’s supposed to be an obedient, married Indian daughter to her mother, and a brilliant doctor to carry on her father’s legacy. For a few minutes, she thinks she’s on the right track. She graduated and got a coveted medical residency, and even thinks there’s romantic chemistry with the handsome and successful chief resident.

Norah does what she thinks she has to in order to ensure her success and that of the man she wants to fall in love with. Unfortunately, drastic actions taken for the wrong reasons don’t stay feeling good over time.

This book was interesting in its depiction of Norah’s medical residency, and the lives of the other residents. While this book was presented as fiction, the way the medical staff referred to some of the patients was a little disappointing. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It would be recommended for those who enjoy medical dramas or Indian fiction.

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

Becki Bayley is a remote-classroom-supervising mom and wife. She enjoys caffeine, running up and down stairs, and cleaning her glasses to see if that helps make things more clear. She also posts somewhat regularly at SweetlyBSquared.com.

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