Saturday, December 11, 2021

Book Review: The Sweet Taste of Muscadines, by Pamela Terry

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

On the long polished dresser sat two framed photographs. One was of a laughing Aunt Jo taken on a snowy day in the mountains when she was young, and the other was of my father. It was a picture I had never seen, and the resemblance to Henry was stunning. Daddy must have been in his thirties. He was sitting on a low stone wall, his hair as black as a crow’s wing in the sunshine, and he was smiling up at the photographer with an unabashed joy. The land behind him was foreign to my eyes, certainly unlike anything in the vicinity of Wesleyan, and it fell away sharply to a faint silver line of sea. Behind him I could make out a corrugation of mountains rising up like the shadows of unimaginable things. I turned the frame over and gently pried my thumbnail under the metal stays that held the photo in place. Carefully I removed the cardboard backing. The underside of the picture bore the handwritten words “Scotland, 1969.”

What if the past you’d built your future on wasn’t really your true past? Lila is on a quest to find out what her true past was, and whether it’s meant to stay in the past.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Sweet Taste of Muscadines, by Pamela Terry
Lila Bruce Breedlove never quite felt at home in Wesleyan, Georgia, especially after her father’s untimely demise when she was a child. Both Lila and her brother, Henry, fled north after high school, establishing fulfilling lives of their own. In contrast, their younger sister, Abigail, opted to remain behind to dote on their domineering, larger-than-life mother, Geneva. Yet despite their independence, Lila and Henry know deep down that they’ve never quite reckoned with their upbringing.

When their elderly mother dies suddenly and suspiciously in the muscadine arbor behind the family estate, Lila and Henry return to the town that essentially raised them. But as they uncover the facts about Geneva’s death, shocking truths are revealed that overturn the family’s history as they know it, sending the pair on an extraordinary journey to chase a truth that will dramatically alter the course of their lives. The Sweet Taste of Muscadines reminds us all that true love never dies.

What a beautiful family drama! Every time that the "drama" attempted to overpower the ‘family,’ Lila’s brother Henry was quick to step in and help her find forgiveness for all the slights she’d experienced at the hands of her parents or sister. No member of their family was ever really trying to be hurtful; everyone was just trying to get by.

This book was really all about the characters: stable, predictable Lila; even-keeled, caring Henry; and mama’s favorite, Abby. They’re learning their place in the world all over again. Their father died when they were almost too young to remember, and their overbearing mother has been calling all the shots since then. When their mother dies, they suddenly unearth (literally) pretty serious secrets about what they thought was their past. A visit to charming Uncle Audie helps set them on the path to uncover all the secrets that have been kept for way too long.

My favorite parts of this book are the mystery character, who turns up far from their original home. The idea of escaping and starting a whole new life is tempting to everyone at some point, right? I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy contemporary family dramas. 

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who hopes to make more time in the new year for counted cross-stitch and papercrafts. See a few pictures of how she spends her time on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: House of Glass Hearts, by Leila Siddiqui {ends 12/16}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Calcutta, India, 1943

I walked the streets of Calcutta, periodically looking up at the sky. The city was transforming day by day. Before, I could stick my tongue out and taste the salt in the air; now, it was the rusty tang of gunmetal and war. Soldiers streamed into the city, taking over Chowringhee Road, filling up The Grand Hotel, and pouring in and out of the shops. They roared by in jeeps on the way to nightclubs, whooping and throwing money at us pedestrians.

I spotted a group of soldiers on their way to the Maidan, with two brown boys scurrying after them, carrying burlap bags. “Hai!” I shouted and hurried after them.

As I neared the group, I grabbed one of the boys by his shoulder and turned him around. The boy’s bag fell to the ground. He scowled up at me. “What do you want? Can’t you see I’m working?”

“Oi, blackie!”

A tall British soldier strode over to us. He stared at us as his boy hauled up his bag. “And you filthy wog,” the soldier added, turning to me. “You leave our errand boys alone.”

With a sudden crack, the soldier slapped me across the face. I stumbled to the ground, angry tears stinging my eyes.

The soldier towered over me. “Don’t you speak English?”

I glared up at the man. “I do,” I replied in English. “And my wog father is fighting for your country.”

When Maera’s grandfather dies, she finally learns about his life, and how it may have led to the disappearance of her older brother more than a decade earlier.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: House of Glass Hearts, by Leila Siddiqui {ends 12/16}
Maera and her ammi never talk about the Past, a place where they’ve banished their family’s heartache and grief forever. They especially never mention the night Maera’s older brother Asad disappeared from her naana’s house in Karachi ten years ago. But when her grandfather dies and his derelict greenhouse appears in her backyard from thousands of miles away, Maera is forced to confront the horrors of her grandfather’s past. To find out what happened to her brother, she must face the keepers of her family’s secrets—the monsters that live inside her grandfather’s mysterious house of glass.

Seamlessly blending history with myth, HOUSE OF GLASS HEARTS follows a Pakistani-American teen’s ruthless quest to find her missing sibling, even if the truth would reveal her grandfather’s devastating secret and tear her family apart. In a narrative that switches between colonial India and present-day America, this ambitious young adult debut explores how the horrors of the past continue to shape the lives of South Asians around the world.

Maera and her best friend Sara realize that India’s role in WWII was never taught in their US school. Luckily, Jimmy, Maera’s cousin, arrives just in time to read the journal of their recently deceased grandfather, which is in Urdu. The book magically appears under Maera’s pillow, the same night a giant greenhouse apparently transports from the family house in Pakistan to her backyard overnight.

Maera, Sara, Jimmy, and Maera’s next door neighbor Rob begin a search that they hope will lead to finding Asad, Maera’s older brother and Rob’s best friend from childhood, who disappeared more than a decade ago, during a visit to Pakistan.

The magical realism was complicated but interesting. The Indian history as told in the journal from WWII was so descriptive and well-told. The adventures and unique characters within the greenhouse were probably my favorite. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy Indian stories and magical realism.

{click here to purchase - only $7.99 on Kindle currently!}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys delivered pizza best when accompanied by a good book. Check out her holiday wish list and other book reviews at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of House of Glass Hearts!

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

House of Glass Hearts, by Leila Siddiqui

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: How to Murder a Marriage, by Gabrielle St. George {ends 12/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Lillian’s husband kept his promise. He came back just as he said he would.

Florrie is frantic. “Is it the maniac from last night?”

I’m nodding. “I have to go outside to get the picture so I can show it to Lloyd.”

Florrie is nodding also. We’re both doing a lot of nodding. Robotically.

Florrie is shaking her head now. “No, you can’t go out there. What if this lunatic is outside waiting for you to retrieve the note? We can get it in the morning when it’s light.”

“No, it might be gone by then. Lloyd said I have to have physical evidence to be able to charge the guy with anything. I have to get it now.”

Florrie grabs my arm to stop me from leaving. “Let’s call Lloyd and have him get the note.”

“No, I’m not doing that.”

“Okay, we’ll go together, then. Take Phoebe with us.” Florrie locks her arm around mine in human-wall style.

We both try desperately to drum up the courage we need to do this thing as we inch toward the door. The progress is very slow. And then, at the exact moment, we reach it and I touch the handle and begin to turn it, a heavy banging reverberates through its oak planks.

Gina Malone has some seriously lousy luck with men, both hers and ones she encounters through her advice column as the "Ex-Whisperer."

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: How to Murder a Marriage, by Gabrielle St. George {ends 12/12}
Gina Malone, a bestselling relationships advice author and expert on exes, meddles in other people’s affairs for a living. It makes for enemies. One of them is scaring her to death.

A modern-day Miss Lonelyhearts, Gina’s smart, she’s sassy, she’s got a potty mouth, and she’s determined to live life on her own terms. She’s also divorced, an empty nester, and turning fifty. In the true spirit of mid-life crises, Gina dyes her hair, pierces her nose, and moves to a tiny tourist town on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron.

Just as she’s settling into her new life and deciding whether to fall into bed with her hot contractor, Gina advises a reader to leave her husband, right before the woman goes missing. And Gina’s got a stalker. Is it her vengeful ex-husband, the abusive ex of the missing woman, or her new crush’s crazy ex? All three would love to get her alone in some dark and deserted place, which isn’t tough to do since her new residence is an old family cottage she’s renovating on an empty stretch of beach.

Can Gina outsmart her stalker and find the missing woman before the noose around her own neck gets any tighter?

Oh, Gina. Turning 50 soon, she’s hoping to have moved on from her stalker ex-husband. She’s ready to enjoy downsizing from the family home they lost in the divorce and making the cottage in her hometown livable and comfortable for her grown children to visit from time to time. But she suddenly finds her peace threatened by not just her stalker ex-husband, but also the ex-wife of her contractor, and the spouse of a woman she advised in her "Ex-Whisperer" column. She doesn’t want to be more of a burden to her small-town family as they rally to protect her from whoever the current threat is.

Gina’s story is told in a quirky and conversational style. It definitely reads as the first in a series, as we get to know a bit of her style and the family and friends who are important to her. I’d give this one 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy a contemporary story with a sassy, strong female protagonist and a fun mystery storyline.

{click here to purchase - only $5.99 for Kindle currently!}

Becki Bayley is a mom, first and foremost. She loves her husband, her kids, and her kids’ friends whenever they need it. Find a bit of what she’s doing, and currently her holiday wish list, at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of How to Murder a Marriage!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, December 12th, 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!

How to Murder a Marriage, by Gabrielle St. George

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Wolf Point, by Ian K. Smith {ends 11/28}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

My intel had been spot on, which was why I found Amy Bonnegan sitting alone at a back table in Randolph Tavern, a busy pub just a couple of blocks from city hall. She tore into a mountain of greens while tapping furiously on her phone. She didn’t notice me as I approached.

“This chair taken?” I asked.

She looked up. The disappointment registered immediately on her face. I took a seat.

“It’s been a while,” I said.

“Are you following me?” she said.

“What makes you say that?

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that of all the restaurants in Chicago you just happen to choose the one where I’m eating lunch.”

“I like salads,” I said. “I read a study where the average American eats only a third of the recommended amount of daily fiber. Leafy greens are loaded with fiber, but those chia seeds you have sprinkled on top...now that’s where the gold is. They are probably the single best food source of fiber on the planet.”

“Thanks for that nutritional tidbit,” she said. “But I’m sure you’re not here to talk about fiber.”

Ashe Cayne left his law enforcement career to be a private investigator, and pursue real justice.

Official synopsis:
A Cadillac, a pistol, and a corpse make for another morning in Chicago. The body belongs to Walter Griffin, a prominent Black Chicagoan insider hailing from the city’s West Side. He ascended to the upper echelons of the mayor’s office only to meet his end in a watery grave at Wolf Point. Forensics finds his prints on the gun; it’s ruled a suicide.

But grizzled private investigator Ashe Cayne knows better.

Griffin’s children plead with a reluctant Ashe to hunt their father’s killer. They know their dad wouldn’t have taken his own life without a goodbye. And Ashe knows this town’s dark secrets often mean murder is not too far away.

Ashe decides to take on the case and navigate a city rotting with corruption, racial tensions, and sketchy backroom deals. On the bleak streets of Chicago, it’s every man for himself—and that makes everyone a suspect.

Ashe Cayne’s previous experience working at the police department has given him all the connections he could need. Walter Griffin’s children are also convinced that he is the one to find out the truth about their father’s death. This time of year, he usually spends less time working so he can focus on his golf handicap, but he makes an exception to find the real story behind this previously high-profile case. Oh, what a tangled web Walter Griffin left. While he was certainly well-known, and everyone talked about how likable he was, no one gets to a position of power without making several enemies.

While he’s working this case by the light of day, Ashe Cayne is also exacting his own version of justice for another crime where no one else can see. Plenty of people may not have approved of his ideas and methods, but there was definitely something karmically satisfying about the good guys getting even.

The Ashe Cayne series is amusing. He’s a great character with a sharp mind, and his randomly dropped literature quotes are fun and shocking to some of the people he has to work with to get to the bottom of the street crimes he’s solving. This book would also stand alone fine, as you are always learning about Ashe Cayne through his adventures. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars and look forward to reading what’s next in the series. 

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who tries to hold her house together while working full time and reading/reviewing 100 books this year. Follow along and see if she makes it at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of Wolf Point!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Wolf Point, by Ian K. Smith

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Violence, by Delilah S. Dawson {ends 11/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

She scrolls back through all the texts she’s sent her mom, but they’re all unread. Now she thinks she knows why. Her mom’s phone was probably in her minivan with Jeanie when her mom ran away. 

So there’s no point in texting her at all.

And yet...there’s something comforting about it, too.

I’m scared, she types.

There’s no response to that, either.

Please help me.

As if by magic, the doorbell rings.

For the tiniest, briefest, stupidest moment, her heart lifts. Have her prayers been answered?

But then reality descends. No one should be here. No one should ring this doorbell.

This is not a good sign.

What if COVID is just the first pandemic? In The Violence, the next pandemic causes people to go crazy and kill one person they’ve decided is the enemy.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Violence, by Delilah S. Dawson {ends 11/25}
When Chelsea Martin kisses her husband hello at the door of their perfect home, a chilled bottle of beer in hand and dinner on the table, she may look like the ideal wife, mother, and homemaker—but in fact she’s following an unwritten rulebook, carefully navigating David’s stormy moods in a desperate nightly bid to avoid catastrophe. If family time doesn’t go exactly the way David wants, bad things happen—to Chelsea, and to the couple’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Ella. Cut off from all support, controlled and manipulated for years, Chelsea has no resources and no one to turn to. Her wealthy, narcissistic mother, Patricia, would rather focus on the dust on her chandelier than acknowledge Chelsea’s bruises. After all, Patricia’s life looks perfect on the surface, too.

But the façade crumbles when a mysterious condition overtakes the nation. Known as the Violence, it causes the infected to experience sudden, explosive bursts of animalistic rage and attack anyone in their path. The ensuing chaos brings opportunity for Chelsea—and inspires a plan to liberate herself and her family once and for all.

This was definitely a page-turner, and believable in a horrible way. It uniquely combines a pandemic after COVID, an intricate domestic violence situation and its influence on three generations of women, and society’s responses to violence in general. While these all summon strong emotions and reactions, they also send thoughts of possible options of what’s next in every direction. The big picture of the book had a few somewhat expected endings, but getting there was a suspenseful adventure.

Chelsea, her daughter Ella, and her mother Patricia all have their own conditioned responses to violence and power in their personal lives, but the violence pandemic gives everything a new perspective. Whether they were used to being in control, or thought they never could be, their interactions with the pandemic changed their ideas of what was possible repeatedly.

While it’s fair to warn of some, well, violent scenarios described in the book, personally the satisfaction of vigilante justice was worth it. I’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars. The characters and situations they dealt with felt realistic (if a bit choreographed for convenience near the end). I’d recommend this for those who enjoy contemporary fiction and family stories, but don’t mind some graphic depictions of violence. 

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a cat person and music lover. You’ll find her reading, puttering around her home office, and listening to a variety of 80s, holiday, the Chicks, Ke$ha, and Stevie Nicks. She posts about what she reads and other events in her life on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, November 25th, 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 Violence, by Delilah S. Dawson

Monday, November 15, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Her Name is Knight, by Yasmin Angoe {ends 11/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

BEFORE

The woman in the fur coat is the first to break our three-way stare down. Maybe she reads the determination on my face, a look that says I will not give up these items without a fight. I know I can do it, fight...until the death. Once you have killed your first, another may not be as difficult.

“Monsieur, it’s fine. She’s picking up items I asked for.”

“Madame? How so? You two did not come in together.”

She turns to me with a hint of a smile. “But darling, you need to get the new ones. Not the testers.” She steps to the shelf, picking up a box of Hugo, and holds it out to me.

“Madame, no. She is nothing but a misérable, a vagabonde. The police can handle her accordingly.”

Wretch and vagrant. Two more names to add to my growing list.

Aninyeh has many names through her life, but the one she chooses to go by ends up being the most important.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Her Name is Knight, by Yasmin Angoe {ends 11/22}
Stolen from her Ghanaian village as a child, Nena Knight has plenty of motives to kill. Now an elite assassin for a powerful business syndicate called the Tribe, she gets plenty of chances.
But while on assignment in Miami, Nena ends up saving a life, not taking one. She emerges from the experience a changed woman, finally hopeful for a life beyond rage and revenge. Tasked with killing a man she’s come to respect, Nena struggles to reconcile her loyalty to the Tribe with her new purpose.

Meanwhile, she learns a new Tribe council member is the same man who razed her village, murdered her family, and sold her into captivity. Nena can’t resist the temptation of vengeance—and she doesn’t want to. Before she can reclaim her life, she must leverage everything she was and everything she is to take him down and end the cycle of bloodshed for good.

This was quite a thriller, told in "before" and "after" storylines. Usually alternating timelines result in one being a more enjoyable read, but in this case, they were both intriguing stories with non-stop action. 

The "before" stories led from the destruction of her childhood village and family to her realization of having taken back her own power by becoming a trained assassin, helping her new family and Tribe right the wrongs of the world. The "after" story is when she suddenly knows more than the intel of the Tribe, and needs to personally right much older wrongs from her own destroyed world.

This book earns 4 out of 5 stars. The action and violence are a bit daunting in some parts of the story, but the only reason I wouldn’t re-read this is because I know what happens. The good news is that this is book one of a Nena Knight series, so there’s more action and vigilante justice to come!

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and Gemini. She enjoys Faygo Rock & Rye with Southern Comfort, and dinner cooked by someone else. Read more of her book reviews and info about local Detroit events on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Her Name is Knight!

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

Her Name is Knight, by Yasmin Angoe

Monday, November 8, 2021

Book Review: The Becoming of Noah Shaw, by Michelle Hodkin

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I’d never wanted to see the place before, and now that I stand here, looking up at it, nondescript and shuttered in a toxically ugly part of Brooklyn, I feel justified. There are windows stretching up for stories, boarded shut, crudely. Father always was good at hiding. 

“You’re serious?” Daniel asks, staring at the building.

“Deadly,” I say. I lift the metal shutter; it groans in protestation, and I feel my way for the lock. The rusted red door opens, and I slide my hand over the wall for the light switch.

The lights slam on at once, the sudden artificial brightness a bit shocking. “I don’t think we’re going to find anything in here that’s going to help prevent whatever’s going on,” I say, looking up at the towering shelves, “but you do. And I trust you with whatever might or might not be in here.”

Daniel’s quiet, staring ahead at the aisles that go on forever.

“So this is what’s happening today,” I go on. “Mara, Jamie, and Goose are at the brownstone with Leo—”

“And Sophie, probably,” Daniel mumbles.

I shrug a shoulder, as if it doesn’t matter. “Perhaps. No one’s texted yet, and I don’t much care, honestly. But listenthere was a map that I just barely got a glimpse ofI have a near-photographic memory, but the room was dark and I couldn’t make everything out. Now that we’re all on the same team

Daniels’s eyes drop, and he looks away.

“The same let’s-not-allow-innocent-people-to-die team,” I inhale, trying not to sound frustrated.

Noah, his love Mara, and their friends have Gifts, with a capital ‘G.’ Perspectives vary on if their Gifts are good or not, but they are what tie this group of friends together.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Becoming of Noah Shaw, by Michelle Hodkin
In the first book of the Shaw Confessions, the companion series to the New York Times bestselling Mara Dyer novels, old skeletons are laid bare and new promises prove deadly. This is what happens after happily ever after.

Everyone thinks seventeen-year-old Noah Shaw has the world on a string.

They’re wrong.

Mara Dyer is the only one he trusts with his secrets and his future.

He shouldn’t.

And both are scared that uncovering the truth about themselves will force them apart.

They’re right.

While these characters seem interesting, a lot of their background was surely explained in the previous Mara Dyer books. Having not read those, some parts of their characters or their relationships were unclear. 

In this book, Noah Shaw starts out in England for a family function, and his girlfriend Mara is around, but not directly with Noah and his family at first. They soon travel to the U.S., and are joined by Noah’s school friend, Goose, who has nowhere else to go at the moment.

In the U.S., Noah, Mara, and Goose meet up with some other young adults with Gifts who apparently Mara had been staying with at an earlier date. Since they all chose to separate at some point, no one is sure who to trust, especially when other kids like them have been disappearing or being found dead. Not a lot of the population knows about these unique kids and their Gifts—could it be one of them causing all the trouble? It’s never said for sure, but there are more books that follow in the Noah Shaw series.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The characters were definitely intriguing, but there was a large chunk of the story I was missing since I’m unfamiliar with the rest of the Mara Dyer series books. The Mara Dyer and Noah Shaw series would probably be enjoyable for those who enjoy teen series with a twist of paranormal mystery.

{Click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley still likes zombies, Christmas movies and music, and sitting close to her space heater in the office. Check out her other book reviews and Detroit area posts at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Christmas in Peachtree Bluff, by Kristy Woodson Harvey {ends 11/9}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

He was right. Adam and I might not have agreed one hundred percent of the time on things like where we should live and precisely what our future should hold. But it didn’t matter. I knew now that that didn’t mean I should just roll over and give in to anything he wanted, and that was growth for me. But I did know that something like a house didn’t matter at the end of the day. Not really.

I squeezed James’s knee and got up. “We are lucky. Let’s just hope our luck holds out.”

I left James and stood in the doorway of the stateroom I was sharing with my family, watching as my husband fluffed the comforter and spread it out over the top of the bed. I walked into the room and locked the door shut behind me. “Hey,” he said, smiling.

I put my finger to his mouth  and then kissed him. He pulled back and smiled at me. I kissed him again and lifted his shirt over his head, drawing him close enough that I could feel his heartbeat. My heart swelled with love for this man who was always there for me, who I knew was always on my team. As I lay back on the comforter, everything we’d been going through faded into the background. It was just Adam and me and a bright, shining future, stretched out into the distance like the eternal tide before us. And I knew James was right: we were, without a doubt, the lucky ones.

What a quaint, cozy town and charming cast of characters! The author’s note stated that she thought the Peachtree Bluff stories were done, til pandemic upheaval inspired one last holiday visit.

Official synopsis:
When the Murphy women are in trouble, they always know they can turn to their mother, Ansley. So when eldest daughter Caroline and her husband, James, announce they are divorcing—and fifteen-year-old daughter Vivi acts out in response—Caroline, at her wits end, can’t think of anything to do besides leave her with Ansley in Peachtree Bluff for the holidays. After all, how much trouble can one teenager get into on a tiny island?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

As the “storm of the century” heads toward Peachtree Bluff, Ansley and her husband, Jack, with Vivi in tow, are grateful they’re planning to leave for the trip of a lifetime. But Vivi’s recklessness forces the trio to shelter in place during the worst hurricane Peachtree has ever seen. With no power, no provisions, and the water rising, the circumstances become dire very quickly…and the Murphy sisters, who evacuated to New York, soon realize it’s up to them to conduct a rescue mission. With the bridges closed and no way to access Peachtree Bluff by land or air, they set sail on Caroline’s boat, The Starlite Sisters, determined to rebuild their beloved town—as well as their family.

This book was wonderful as a stand-alone. While there are three other Peachtree Bluff books (and some of their focal characters can probably be guessed based on references in the holiday book), Christmas in Peachtree Bluff was really about the Murphy family, with just a dash of romance on the side.

Viv, Caroline’s teenage daughter, started out as very unlikable. Her rage at her parents’ divorce was leading her to make some poor choices and act like quite a brat. While her introspection during her transformation seemed especially deep for a 15-year-old, it was acceptable to just have her as a more pleasant human being.

The author’s note made it sound like the series may be done, the holiday book did open up a couple more options for other books that could extend the series. The writing style was conversational, friendly, and engaging, and books about quaint towns and charming people are always a lovely escape.

That being said, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. While it may not be too memorable months from now (or maybe just a bit from the hurricane), it was a nice way to spend a few hours and start thinking about the Christmas-y time coming soon.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is ready for holiday music now. Find out what she’s listening to and reading in her infrequent Instagram posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Christmas in Peachtree Bluff!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, November 9th, 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!

Christmas in Peachtree Bluff, by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Litani, by Jess Lourey {ends 10/24}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I lifted my head slowly, expecting an emotional blow. I was shocked to meet both Crane’s eyes. Blue and sincere and bare to the world.

“I’m really sorry, Frankie,” he said.

I gripped my elbows.

“I’m sorry your dad didn’t tell you everything bad that ever happened to him, but that doesn’t make what he did tell you a lie. Did he tell you he loved you?”

“Yeah.” I sniffed.

“I bet that was true. Did he stick around?”

“For sure.”

“That’s true, too.”

We were both silent for a while. I liked that Crane didn’t try and touch me and make things weird.

There’s a whole lot not right in the town of Litani, Minnesota. Unfortunately, a lot of the truth is wrapped in secrets that 14-year-old Frankie is left to untangle on her own, or she may also fall victim to the evil in the town.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Litani, by Jess Lourey {ends 10/24}
In the summer of ’84, fourteen-year-old Frankie Jubilee is shuttled off to Litani, Minnesota, to live with her estranged mother, a county prosecutor she barely knows. From the start, Frankie senses something uneasy going on in the small town. The locals whisper about The Game, and her mother warns her to stay out of the woods and away from adults.

When a bullying gang of girls invites Frankie to The Game, she accepts, determined to find out what’s really going on in Litani. She’s not the only one becoming paranoid. Hysteria burns through the community. Dark secrets emerge. And Frankie fears that, even in the bright light of day, she might be living among monsters.

A book that isn’t written to be pleasant can still be written to be quite compelling. Reading the story of Litani, MN from Frankie’s perspective was mystifying. Everyone else in town seemed to think they knew exactly what was going on, but no one was willing to share. Frankie really just wants to keep to herself and grieve the loss of her father, but somehow the bad and good about the town engaged her anyway.

It was easy to see the shadow of guilt cast over each of the current and former town members at some point during the story. The author’s note goes a bit into the odd hysteria of child abductions, human sacrifices, and devil worship that made several headlines in the 1980s. Having lived through that time at about the same age as Frankie, there is a vague recollection of these horrifying news stories. 

While the story was not intended to be a "fun" read, it was definitely a page-turner. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. The depictions of 1984 and life in a small-town in the midwest were definitely familiar. 

{click here to purchase - only $4.99 for Kindle as of this writing, and free for Kindle Unlimited!}

Becki Bayley is a midwest girl who shares some of her life in photos on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Litani!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, October 24th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be contacted the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Litani, by Jess Lourey

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Eight Perfect Hours, by Lia Louis {ends 10/16}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

You can see for miles up here. Stretches of houses and buildings, but just on the horizon, hills and lush green trees and blue sky. There’s a particular specific smell up here. The smell of other people’s houses; evidence of other people’s lives. Freshly cut grass of someone’s garden, the smell of frying onions from another flat. I grip the balcony rail and close my eyes. Daisy and I used to do this on her balcony, or at night at a sleepover, the night silent through the open window except for the distant whoosh of motorway traffic far in the distance.

“Where are you, Elle?” she’d ask sleepily, and I’d always make her go first, because she had the best ideas—the best imagination. It’s why she took art. It’s why she wrote the best short stories and poems, in English Lit.

“Oh, I’m in Italy with you,” she’d say, closing her eyes. “We’re celebrating. I just sold this movie script and they’re saying I’m the new Nora Ephron, so I have a shitload of money to spend. We’ll pick up some hot, tortured poets at some dive bar tonight. They’ll romance us.” She would always giggle, as if with glee at the glory of her own little stories. “Come on, Elle, close your eyes. Use your imagination. What do you see?”

Noelle just hasn’t been the same since Daisy died. She can give lots of reasons for putting the needs of other people first, but is she still hesitating from moving on without Daisy?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Eight Perfect Hours, by Lia Louis {ends 10/16}
On a snowy evening in March, thirty-something Noelle Butterby is on her way back from an event at her old college when disaster strikes. With a blizzard closing off roads, she finds herself stranded, alone in her car, without food, drink, or a working charger for her phone.

All seems lost until Sam Attwood, a handsome American stranger also trapped in a nearby car, knocks on her window and offers assistance. What follows is eight perfect hours together, until morning arrives and the roads finally clear. The two strangers part, positive they’ll never see each other again but fate, it seems, has a different plan. As the two keep serendipitously bumping into one another, they begin to realize that perhaps there truly is no such thing as coincidence.

While the amount of coincidence in this book is truly staggering, suspension of disbelief is worth it for the abundance of warm fuzzies that go along with just believing. Daisy is gone, and Noelle struggles to keep her life and her mother’s life on an even keel. They do what they do each day, without much fanfare. Noelle cleans houses on a schedule that lets her be home to help her mom, and her mom is so appreciative, even if her dependence isn’t understandable to others in Noelle’s life. 

Noelle’s charming best friends Charlie and Theo are super-strong believers in fate and true love. As Noelle thinks back to her night spent with the American stranger, Charlie is sure that every coincidence after that is another sign that they’re meant to be. Is she right? Or is rekindling things with her ex the best safe plan for Noelle?

This was such a charming book and reminiscent of the emotionally evocative writing from Lia Louis in her previous novel, Dear Emmie Blue. I’d give this one 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a great contemporary story of families, love, loss, and trusting your heart.

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who likes feta cheese with olives, Cherry Coke with Southern Comfort, and a good book with a warm blanket. She also posts reviews on her own blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Eight Perfect Hours!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, October 16th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Eight Perfect Hours, by Lia Louis

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All These Bodies, by Kendare Blake {ends 10/2}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Marie, do you know where he is?”

“No. But I always thought he might stick around to watch.” She looked at me seriously. “You shouldn’t go off on your own, Michael.”

I almost smiled. I wasn’t going to hide from a make-believe monster. But someone real had killed Steve Carlson.

“You think he’d come after me? Or my family?” I asked. But she didn’t answer. I suppose she couldn’t have known. “Marie, why did he leave you that night after the murders?”

She clenched her teeth.

“Because the bastard wanted me to get caught.”

When a teenage girl is found at a murder scene drenched in blood, how can anyone comprehend the truth behind the murders, or the unharmed girl? 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All These Bodies, by Kendare Blake {ends 10/2}
Summer 1958. A gruesome killer plagues the Midwest, leaving behind a trail of bodies completely drained of blood. 

Michael Jensen, an aspiring journalist whose father happens to be the town sheriff, never imagined that the Bloodless Murders would come to his backyard. Not until the night the Carlson family was found murdered in their home. Marie Catherine Hale, a diminutive fifteen-year-old, was discovered at the scene—covered in blood. She is the sole suspect in custody.

Michael didn’t think that he would be part of the investigation, but he is pulled in when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to. As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?

Marie Catherine Hale is just a year younger than Michael Jenson, so there’s no way he can fathom that someone even younger than him could possibly kill people - especially if it also means leaving them bloodless, as the serial killer plaguing the midwest has been doing! Michael feels safe and curious hanging out with her at the jail where his father is the sheriff, but being given the responsibility of interviewing her for the truth behind the murders is a daunting task.

This was a unique, slow-burning thriller. Michael wasn’t sure whether he believed a lot of what Marie told him, but he also didn’t have any better alternative stories. Regardless, just listening to her version of events was making enemies all over town for Michael and his family. Marie was the closest thing they had to someone for the community to blame for the death of a family they had all liked and respected.

Overall, I’d give this one 3 out of 5 stars. It was surprisingly easy to forget that Michael and Marie were high-school-aged kids. While there were no jump-scare moments, the thrill was almost psychological in nature. The book was definitely about Marie’s telling of the story.
 
{click HERE to purchase}
 
Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys fall, Halloween, and warm blankets to wrap up in while she reads. Check out more of her reviews of books and life at www.SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of All These Bodies!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, October 2nd, 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!

All These Bodies, by Kendare Blake

Monday, September 20, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cold Snap, by Codi Schneider {ends 9/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

While Spencer, Eddy, and Hamlet took Fennec to the kitchen to make him a warm and comforting breakfast, Skunk and I decided to interview the cats upstairs. They may have seen the prowler. After all, their windows looked directly over the backyard.

First up was Miss Tut, who said she hadn’t seen a thing. Not with her cataracts and not with the extra glass of meowsling she’d ordered before bed. “Sorry, dears, I slept like a youth on holiday.” Dots of fuzz from her blanket balanced sleepily on her whiskers. “But check with Betty next door. She’s much more nocturnal.”

Betty, who’d come to the inn two nights ago, was just getting ready to sleep the morning away when we knocked. A fluffy ginger with white paws, she looked at us with annoyance.

“Yes, I was awake all night. I find I sleep much better during the day. But I didn’t see anything unusual.”

“And you didn’t hear anything unusual either?” Skunk asked.

Betty yawned. “Sorry, no. Try Minerva next door.”

Bijou isn’t just a cat, but also a powerful Viking! She’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep her clan safe, and to get her meals on time.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Cold Snap, by Codi Schneider {ends 9/29}
Tucked in the cold Colorado mountains lies the remote village of Gray Birch, a place where outsiders are frowned upon. In this village lives a cat named Bijou. But she’s no ordinary house cat; her ancestors were mousers on Viking longships, and their blood runs through her veins. Since her battle skills are hardly needed in this modern age, however, she spends her energies running the Fox Burrow Pet Inn with her human, Spencer, and her assistant, Skunk, a mentally negligible Pomeranian. Together, the happy trio has created a safe haven for their four-legged guests.

But when Eddy Line, a handsome baker from California, comes to the inn—along with his piglet and pit bull puppy—everything changes. Spencer falls for Eddy, Bijou is unhappy with the sudden changes to her clan, and the townspeople are anything but welcoming; in fact, threats are made against Eddy when he buys the town’s historic firehouse in order to open a bakery.

Then a shocking murder/dognapping occurs on the night of the bakery’s grand opening, and Bijou finds herself thrust into a tangled mystery. To solve it, she will have to summon her inner Viking—and fight tooth and claw for her new clan.

Bijou is a cat with an impressive vocabulary, and she tells the story. It’s easy to forget you’re hearing it all from a cat. In this episode of Bijou’s story, she’s confronted with a pig at the Fox Burrow Pet Inn, which she manages for her human, Spencer. While she’s not pleased with the prospect of sharing her home with a swine at first, she soon learns that pigs play a much more important role in Viking legend than she previously thought.

Soon enough, Bijou, Skunk (Bijou’s assistant at the Inn, a pomeranian), and Hamlet (the pig, of course) are on a vital mission to rescue Fennec (Hamlet’s pit bull brother) from the evil clutches he was in before being adopted by Eddy (his human). 

While the book started a little slow, the rescue action was fun, and the mystery was indeed cozy. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to animal lovers who like a quirky cast of four-legged characters. 

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is the human to two cats who most probably have no Viking blood. Hopefully their bravery will never be tested to know for sure.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Cold Snap!

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


Cold Snap, by Codi Schneider

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Quick Pick Book Review: Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult

Quick Pick Book Review: Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult
  • Opening lines: March 13, 2020
    When I was six years old, I painted a corner of the sky. My father was working as a conservator, one of a handful restoring the zodiac ceiling on the main hall of Grand Central Terminal—an aqua sky strung with shimmering constellations. It was late, way past my bedtime, but my father took me to work because my mother—as usual—was not home. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan—all of her books are fantastic, because she does extensive research beforehand. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and The Book of Two Ways comes “a powerfully evocative story of resilience and the triumph of the human spirit” (Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of Malibu Rising)

    Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

    But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

    Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

    In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoyed Picoult's previous books, or anyone who enjoys well-written books in general. 
  • Favorite paragraph: As we get closer, the mass of land differentiates into individual sensations: hot gusts of wind and hooting pelicans; a man climbing a coconut tree and tossing the nuts down to a boy; a marine iguana, blinking its yellow dinosaur eye. As we sidle up to the dock, I think that this could not be any more different from New York City. It feels tropical and timeless, lazy, remote. It feels like a place where no one has ever heard of a pandemic. 
  • Something to know: At first I was like, ugh, I don't want to read another book set in COVID times—we already have to live it, currently—but then the book ended up winning me over. Also, something MAJOR happens midway through the book that completely changes the course of the narrative. After that I was hooked and had to find out immediately how the book ends.
  • What I would have changed: Not sure I would have changed anything. Maybe the ending but it felt right to me. 
  • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon—it will be out on November 30, 2021.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni {ends 9/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I was ten when I accompanied my father to the ACE Hardware store in Millbrae. I don’t recall what he purchased, but I do recall he handed the cashier a ten-dollar bill and she gave him back change for a twenty. I remember thinking we’d hit the mother lode.

“No. That’s not right,” my father said. “I only gave you a ten.” He handed the woman back her ten-dollar bill. She cried.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “We lost our nephew in Vietnam. My sister got the word last night.”

My dad expressed his condolences before we walked to the parking lot. “Why are we in that damn war?” he said.

“Hey, Dad?”

“Huh?”

“Why’d you give her back the ten dollars?”

“Never take anything that doesn’t belong to you or that you haven’t earned,” he said, sliding into the car. “You never know who you’re stealing from, and what that money means to them.”

I had forgotten that moment until that summer, when I worked with William.

This was a powerful coming-of-age story about three different generations of young men. 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni {ends 9/22}
In 1979, Vincent Bianco has just graduated high school. His only desire: collect a little beer money and enjoy his final summer before college. So he lands a job as a laborer on a construction crew. Working alongside two Vietnam vets, one suffering from PTSD, Vincent gets the education of a lifetime. Now forty years later, with his own son leaving for college, the lessons of that summer—Vincent’s last taste of innocence and first taste of real life—dramatically unfold in a novel about breaking away, shaping a life, and seeking one’s own destiny.

Vincent tells most of the story—it’s the story of his own year after high school, as well as the story of his own son (40 years later) graduating high school, and the story of him reading William’s journal from his time serving with the Marines in Vietnam. There are also parts of the story that show the relationship between William and Vincent during the time they worked on a construction site together (the year after Vincent’s high school graduation, during William’s decline into PTSD after his return from Vietnam about ten years earlier). 

While this puts Vincent’s and William’s stories in the first person, Vincent tells the story of his son Beau’s last year of high school and transition to college. The perspective seemed right, though, as Vincent had insight for all three stories. He not only told Beau’s story, but compared it to his story and that of William, and the different events that had forced the three young men to mature and move on to new stages of their lives. 

The writing for all of the story lines was empathetic and compelling. The experiences of the three young men were unique, but shared some common themes. Vincent’s narration often led the reader to the commonalities between the three very different lives.

Overall, I’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars. Thought should be given before recommending it, as the war stories could be triggering for some readers. It was a memoir-style literary fiction book that seemed as believable as non-fiction. If the subject matter sounds even a little interesting, the writing made this a fabulous book.

{click here to purchase—currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited members}

Becki Bayley loves rainy nights, supporting the arts, and Cherry Coke with Southern Comfort. She also enjoys sharing snippets of her life and that of her family on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of The World Played Chess!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 22nd, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Constance, by Matthew FitzSimmons {ends 9/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Two days after her dinner with Vernon Gaddis, Con left Charles Island driven by a late-model, two-door electric compact with Virginia plates. It was the color of cold oatmeal and not much to look at, but that’s the way she wanted it given where she was headed. The less attention she attracted, the less attention she attracted. In addition to this sweet, sweet ride, Gaddis had also linked her brand-new, out-of-the-box LFD to a bank account that would last her at least a couple of weeks. It was early morning, the sky was clear, and she was in good spirits. The first day after waking in Palingenesis had been a mad scramble to survive. Life reduced to its most basic needs: food, water, shelter. Hard to make a plan when you were hungry, tired, and scared all the time. It had narrowed her focus to navigating safely from point A to point B. Now things felt different. She had a plan. She was on the move.

Constance is almost like a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin. She wakes up with an 18-month hole in her memory, and a body that’s familiar, but not the same one she’s used to. Is she still who she thinks she is?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Constance, by Matthew FitzSimmons {ends 9/8}
In the near future, advances in medicine and quantum computing make human cloning a reality. For the wealthy, cheating death is the ultimate luxury. To anticloning militants, it’s an abomination against nature. For young Constance “Con” D’Arcy, who was gifted her own clone by her late aunt, it’s terrifying.

After a routine monthly upload of her consciousness—stored for that inevitable transition—something goes wrong. When Con wakes up in the clinic, it’s eighteen months later. Her recent memories are missing. Her original, she’s told, is dead. If that’s true, what does that make her?

The secrets of Con’s disorienting new life are buried deep. So are those of how and why she died. To uncover the truth, Con is retracing the last days she can recall, crossing paths with a detective who’s just as curious. On the run, she needs someone she can trust. Because only one thing has become clear: Con is being marked for murder—all over again.

The last thing Con remembers is going in on the day after Christmas in 2038 to have an upload of her consciousness (required periodically for the clone that was gifted to her by her aunt, the scientific genius behind the clones). Now she needs to try and catch her mind up to the rest of her, figure out most importantly who killed her (causing her clone to come to life)—oh, and stay away from those who don’t think clones should exist.

This is one of those books that’s hard to explain, but it was worth it. The speculation and presentation of the not-so-distant future was interesting and believable. The scientific developments of the future also made the plot even more challenging to predict.

Overall, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. The science part of the science fiction wasn’t that hard to comprehend and imagine. The human nature in the story also played a major part, if less science is more to the reader’s taste. 

{Click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley likes red meat, bourbon old-fashioneds, and remembering to post pictures of her adventures. Check out what she’s remembered to post lately on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Constance!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 8th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Constance, by Matthew FitzSimmons

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Family Plot, by Megan Collins {ends 9/1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From upstairs, there’s a thump, followed by a sound like furniture sliding across the floor. Charlie glances at the ceiling.

“Are you sure you’re safe in here?” he asks Officer Bailey. “If we’re as murderous as you think, who knows what we might do? Maybe you should call one of your friends for backup.”

Finally, the officer acknowledges him. “Is that a threat?”

“No, Officer,” Tate says. Sitting up, she throws a glance at Charlie that slaps the smile off his face. He looks away like a chastised child before his eyes bolt back to hers.

As their gaze lingers, I see it morph, deepening into something anxious and fearful. When Tate slides her hand across the table, Charlie grabs it, his fingers squeezing hers until his knuckles turn white. I study their shared look, their clasped hands, and a thought blazes through my mind.

They know something.

It was obvious that something was off about this family, but figuring out exactly what, and when it all started, added a bit more mystery. 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Family Plot, by Megan Collins {ends 9/1}
At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse is haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she is unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house, where the family makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of her family reacts to the revelation in unsettling ways. Her brother, Charlie, pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister, Tate, forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic facade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

Despite growing up homeschooled with a curriculum of mostly serial killer details, Dahlia Lighthouse seems normal-ish. When her father dies, she finds herself back in her childhood home with her mother and two of her three siblings. The last time they were all together was the night Dahlia’s twin brother left home with only a note saying goodbye. No one had seen or heard from him since.

A grisly discovery is made shortly after they all reunite—their brother Andy is buried in their father’s plot, and he didn’t die of natural causes. How much do the Lighthouse siblings know about their family and each other? Can they figure out what really happened before the police decide who to blame so they can close the case?

This is a really hard story to talk about without revealing too much! I give it 3 out of 5 stars. It felt like the time without knowing any of the story, just the Lighthouse’s reputation in the community, went on for quite a while, and it would have been interesting to have more of a build up to the truths that most of the family knew all along. It was an intriguing family drama, and the backstory of the murder victims they learned about in their mother’s customized homeschool was curious. 

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki is a wife and mother of two. When she's not reading, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, playing with her family's two black cats, and speaking about herself in the third person.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 1st, 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.

This one is open to BOTH U.S. and Canadian residents!

Good luck!

The Family Plot, by Megan Collins

Monday, August 23, 2021

Book Review & GIVEAWAY - It's Not About the Gun: Lessons from My Global Career as a Female FBI Agent, by Kathy Stearman {ends 8/30}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Despite my rocky start, India began to feel like home. I recall coming back to Delhi from a conference in the US. The embassy car had picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at my house. Walking up the driveway, I could hear the family of lime green parrots singing in the garden, the scent of the frangipani blossoms floated on the humid air. I felt like I belonged to this place. I realized, regardless how my tenure had begun, that I loved my job. I loved being in India, and I loved being part of something larger than myself. I was only beginning to understand how this time in my career would change my life.

Kathy Stearman grew up on a farm, and wanted the career she could find the farthest from her childhood. A job with the FBI was not like she’d seen in the movies, but it definitely wasn’t like life on the farm either.

Official synopsis:
Book Review & GIVEAWAY - It's Not About the Gun: Lessons from My Global Career as a Female FBI Agent, by Kathy Stearman {ends 8/30}
When former FBI Agent Kathy Stearman read in the
New York Times that sixteen women were suing the FBI for discrimination at the training academy, she was surprised to see the women come forward—no one ever had before. But the truth behind their accusations resonated.

After a twenty-six-year career in the Bureau, Kathy Stearman knows from personal experience that this type of behavior has been prevalent for decades. Stearman’s It’s Not About the Gun examines the influence of attitude and gender in her journey to becoming FBI Legal Attaché, the most senior FBI representative in a foreign office.

When she entered the FBI Academy in 1987, Stearman was one of about 600 women in a force of 10,000 agents. While there, she evolved into an assertive woman, working her way up the ranks and across the globe to hold positions that very few women have held before. And yet, even at the height of her career, Stearman had to check herself to make sure that she never appeared weak, inferior, or afraid. The accepted attitude for women in power has long been cool, calm, and in control—and sometimes that means coming across as cold and emotionless.

Stearman changed for the FBI, but she longs for a different path for future women of the Bureau. If the system changes, then women can remain constant, valuing their female identity and nurturing the people they truly are. In It's Not About the Gun, Stearman describes how she was viewed as a woman and an American overseas, and how her perception of her country and the FBI, observed from the optics of distance, has evolved.

This book was wonderfully written and engaging. The author comes across as straight-forward and not overly-emotional (probably a necessary stance, working among mostly men). The stories about her upbringing, training, and career were all interesting, and then became even more compelling when paired with her retrospective insight.

Not all of the book was about the author’s own life. The commentary she offered about different political, military, and cultural events and occurrences around the world were also enlightening. As a reader without a desire to tour the world, the author’s descriptions of the physical beauty and traditions in the countries where she worked were colorful and appreciated.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It would surely be enjoyed by those who enjoy law enforcement or FBI stories, and also highly recommended to those who like true stories about strong women, especially in non-traditional roles.

{click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys blasting Kesha or The Chicks on her CD player for a mental escape while working from home again. See what else she’s been up to on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of It's Not About the Gun!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, August 30th, 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.

Thanks!

It's Not About the Gun: Lessons from My Global Career as a Female FBI Agent, by Kathy Stearman

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All's Well, by Mona Awad {ends 8/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Impossible, I think, sheets snaked around my body, still light as air, light as the breeze in my hair, lifting it lightly off my shoulders. My window’s open, but I’m not cold. I stare at the blue, blue sky through the window screen. A bright blue that reminds me spring is coming. Right around the corner, Miranda. Almost here. And for once, I feel no fear. No pain. Nothing. Nothing? No. Not nothing. Something. Something else is here. Inside. Deep, deep, what is it? Whatever it is, I’m humming with it. Limbs buzzing with it. Heart brimming with it. Eyes filling with it. Bones brightening with it. Blood singing with it. Lips smiling with it. Smiling at three black crows perched upon the branch outside.

“Good morning,” I say.

And they fly away.


How much of Miranda’s life is real, and how much is her own drug-induced perception of it all? There doesn’t seem to be any way to tell for sure.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All's Well, by Mona Awad {ends 8/26}
Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised, and cost, her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.

That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible, doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.

With prose Margaret Atwood has described as “no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged...genius,” Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is the story of a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain.


What a unique book! Nothing goes right for Miranda, until everything does. Since she’s admittedly drug-addled and spending most of her time in her own head, it’s hard to know how much of her story is real and how much is her fantasy, or even her mind playing tricks. If one could have everything just the way they wanted it, is that really how they’d want it?

Miranda’s interesting observations and perceptions also question the experience of chronic pain, and the way those with pain are treated differently by those who may not understand it the same. Perhaps the most intriguing question Miranda faces, though, is what cost one would be willing to pay for everything they thought they wanted...or what cost would they be willing to have someone else pay?

Overall, this story was definitely open to imagination and interpretation. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars, but the reader definitely needs to be willing to appreciate an unreliable narrator.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who likes unreliable narrators in a fictional capacity, fantasy stories with happy endings, and the company of sleeping cats. Find out more of what she’s been up to at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of All's Well!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, August 26th, 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!

All's Well, by Mona Awad

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Book Review: Murder Among the Stars, by Adam Shankman & Laura L. Sullivan

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Lulu and Freddie met in the Assembly Room before dinner when everyone gathered for their two-drink limit. With great difficulty Lulu managed not to tell Freddie what she’d learned about the scarf and the argument. There were just too many missing pieces, and she wanted to be sure before she made a fool of herself.

“Just focus on the competition, my angel,” he said, sneaking a kiss on the soft curve of her cheek. “I can see those little detective wheels whirling in that beautiful head of yours. I wish I could show you a copy of the blackmail letter. It’s straight out of a gangster movie.”

“I’m sure many criminals get their best ideas from the movies,” Lulu said.


This Old Hollywood mystery was a fun read, and the second installment of the Lulu Kelly Mystery series. Lulu Kelly is a spunky young actress who’s not afraid to think outside the box and solve the mysteries the police seem to struggle with.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Murder Among the Stars, by Adam Shankman & Laura L. Sullivan
A murderer is picking off the young Hollywood starlets gathered at the swanky Hearst Castle, and Lulu Kelly might be next—unless she can find the killer first in this glitzy, glamorous, and cinematic sequel to acclaimed film producer/director Adam Shankman and coauthor Laura Sullivan’s
Girl About Town.

After being framed for attempted murder, Lulu Kelly has earned a rest. Unfortunately, there is no rest in Hollywood for a rising starlet. Lulu and her boyfriend Freddie are invited to posh Hearst Castle, where Lulu will be competing against other young actresses for the role of a lifetime. But what’s a house party without a little murder?

When a rival actress is found dead under the dining room table, Lulu makes it her mission to solve the mystery. But illusion is this town’s number one export, and it’s hard to tell the ambitious from the truly evil. As the clues pile up, Lulu and Freddie race to find the killer, even as Lulu becomes the next target.

The 1930s or 1940s setting for this book made it a quirky, wholesome, young adult read. It was notable and amusing that Lulu Kelly and her boyfriend Freddie (whose relationship apparently developed in the first book in the series) never did more than steal a kiss. How refreshing!

Most of the characters were unremarkable and primarily defined by their roles—a bunch of Hollywood starlets competing for what they’ve been told is "the role of a lifetime!"—but the name-dropping of Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford established a bit more of the timeline for the book. The gossip Lulu learned as the story went along was what established some of the possible background and motivation for the crimes, and helped lead Lulu and Freddie to where their sleuthing could uncover more clues.

Overall, I enjoyed this book more than expected. It was a great young adult mystery, and I’d be interested in reading others in the series. I’d give this one 4 out of 5 stars, and it read fine as a stand-alone.

{Click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a fan of Jenson Ackles, Jessica Alba, and the whole Dark Angel crew way back in the day. She loves spending time with her family, or alone with just junk food and books. Follow her on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

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