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.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Quick Pick Book Review - You Love Me: A You Novel, by Caroline Kepnes (You #3)

  • Opening linesI think you're the one I spoke to on the phone, the librarian with a voice so soft that I went out and bought myself a cashmere sweater. Warm. Safe. And if this is you—please be you —well, you're a fox, Mary Kay, inside and out. I didn't go looking for you. I didn't even know you existed when I volunteered my services to the Bainbridge Public Library and I didn't google you after we spoke. Women can tell when a guy knows too much and I wanted to come in coolyou're my boss—and I do hope this is you. You're a hot one, Mary Kay, hiding your legs in opaque black tights, as concealing as RIP Beck's curtainless windows were revealing. Your skirt is short but functional and you push Haruku Murakami on an old man. He smells like Mothballs and gin and he's eating up our time and I've already read your MurakamiI too am a hot oneand you press your finger on a page and murmur one of the best parts, all but sucked inside. It's you. I'm officially sure of it. You're the one from the phone but holy shit, Mary Kay.

    Are you the one for me?
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of the You series—I actually watched it when it was back on Lifetime, I believe, before it made it to Netflix—and I've also read the other two books in the series. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • The highly anticipated new thriller in Caroline Kepnes’s hit You series, now a blockbuster Netflix show—a compulsively readable trip into the deviant mind of the uniquely antisocial, savvy bookseller Joe Goldberg.

    Joe Goldberg is done with the cities. He’s done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now he’s saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.

    He gets a job at the local library—he does know a thing or two about books—and that’s where he meets her: Mary Kay DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won’t meddle, he will not obsess. He’ll win her the old-fashioned way . . . by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they’ll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.

    The trouble is . . . Mary Kay already has a life. She’s a mother. She’s a friend. She’s . . . busy.

    True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He’s ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kay will do the right thing and make room for him.

  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoyed the previous two books or who enjoys the Netflix show. 
  • Favorite paragraph: I can't be here. And no I don't want to get on the ferry and ride to Seattle and stuff my face with salmon ampersand quinoa and visit a bookstore underneath a marketwe get it, Seattle, you have history—only to be hungry an hour later and hunt down some restaurant with a twee pink door. All of that is really only fun if you're doing it with someone you love and I love you but you're like the rest of the islanders right now.

    You're in bed.
  • Something to know: I'm curious to see if the TV show goes this direction for season 3, because season 2 ended with Love (Joe's now-ex, in this book) pregnant with his son. At the beginning of this book, Love has custody of their son, Forty (named after her deceased brother), and she lives in LA and Joe has just moved to Bainbridge Island, WA.
  • What I would have changed: It seemed really long—I guess it's about 400 pages—so I maybe would have cut it down to like 300-350 pages if possible. 
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Apology Project, by Jeanette Escudero {ends 8/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I like that I’m trying new things. I like that I’m doing things outside my comfort zone. In fact, the moments of solitude, when I’m alone, at home, with nothing to do, nothing pending, just me and my thoughts, they’ve been some of the best days I’ve had since leaving JJF. I never had that before.

While I was working, the moments I was alone were just breaks. Even sleeping at night felt like a break. Breaks from deadlines, from the meetings, the trials, the depos...If I could have worked 24-7 without causing myself physical harm, I probably would have done it. When you spend every waking moment of your life thinking of work, there’s no space for cooking lessons, walking, relationships, inner peace. There’s just the constant hum of stress.


Amelia Montgomery is an amazing litigator, until she’s not. Without the career she’s been in for half her life, who is she?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Apology Project, by Jeanette Escudero {ends 8/11}
Dear (almost) everyone: Can we be friends again?

Life is about to get complicated for Amelia Montgomery, a prominent litigator in Chicago. She’s been fired for not compromising her principles in a high-profile case and then punching her partner in the nose for the misogynistic comment he made in retort (not her finest moment). Leaving a career that gave her purpose, Amelia can only ask, What next?

Let it be better than her epic failure of a fortieth birthday party: an open bar full of no-shows except for John Ellis, a total stranger and the new associate at her ex-firm. As it turns out, though, he’s very good company—and a wake-up call. With the help of John and a lot of champagne, Amelia considers the people she’s wronged, from old besties to former boyfriends to coworkers. Amelia resolves to make amends—to those who really deserve it.

One apology at a time, Amelia’s looking at the choices she’s made in the past, the new ones she’s making with John, and those she’s making for herself. What next? Maybe a second chance she never expected.


Oh, Amelia, where did Millie go? Amelia realizes that while she was effective, she wasn’t very likable as a lawyer. She wants to find some of the old her, who had friends and did something besides work. She went by Millie then. Some drunken revelations with a new-found acquaintance have her examining which of her old friends she’s been missing in her wildly successful career-filled life.

Her family is a bit concerned that she’s dedicating herself to her new interests and hobbies in much the same way she was obsessed with her career—to the exclusion of a well-rounded life. But with an enormous separation settlement from her old law firm and nothing but time on her hands, she can finally consider what she really wants to be doing.

While Amelia-turned-Millie got a bit annoying in the middle with too much money and time to self-analyze all day long, the ending of the book made up for some of the drag in the middle. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. Some parts tried be too enlightening (maybe to help those of us without unlimited bank accounts with a shortcut to self-awareness?), but I found the ending to be quite satisfying. I’d recommend this as an amusing read, good for those who enjoy modern stories with positive female characters and growth.

{click HERE to purchase—currently free for Kindle Unlimited!}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who would rather stay content with what she has than change her whole life for a few piddly million dollars. Get ready for the rest of summer pics at her Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Apology Project!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Apology Project, by Jeanette Escudero

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Unthinkable, by Brad Parks {ends 8/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Without Jenny, CMR would drop the CP&L lawsuit. We could let some time pass, to make sure it was good and gone. And maybe then it would be safe to resurface, because Vanslow DeGange would no longer perceive her as a threat, and the Praesidium would have moved on to preventing other cataclysms that had nothing to do with us.

This, of course, was assuming I could convince Jenny to come with me.

A daunting task. Think about the proposition from her perspective: your husband, who has already been acting squirrelly, is now proposing you hastily pack up your young family and run off in the dead of night with no plan of where you’re going and little thought of when you might return.

Yeah, no chance.

What seemed like a totally unique and thought provoking thriller based on its original premise launched into exciting plot twists and developments that will surprise most readers.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Unthinkable, by Brad Parks {ends 8/8}
Nate Lovejoy is a self-proclaimed nobody, a stay-at-home dad who doesn’t believe he’s important to anyone but his wife and their two daughters. So it’s a shock when members of a powerful secret society kidnap and spirit Nate away to a mansion at the behest of their leader, Vanslow DeGange, who claims to know the future. He’s foreseen that a billion people could die—unless Nate acts.

It seems improbable, especially given what DeGange says will set this mass casualty incident in motion: a lawsuit against the biggest power company in Virginia, being brought by Nate’s wife, Jenny.

Nate quickly smells a scam being perpetrated by the power company. But at every turn, it becomes apparent there’s more to DeGange’s gift than Nate wants to acknowledge. A billion people really could die, and Nate might be the only one who can save them.

All he has to do is the unthinkable.


If you’re familiar with the trolley problem, this book is a great expansion on that. Nate is told by some mysterious men that if he doesn’t kill his wife, the world will essentially end. What a horrible position to be in! He forces the man who has told him all this to prove the ability of the secret society’s leader to see the future several times, until he sees very few options for himself and his family.

While the problem seems ludicrous, the characters are still believable and likable. The pacing of the story felt just right—as soon as one scenario or choice felt resolvable, another loomed in its place. The twists in the story were also completely unexpected from this reader’s perspective.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was definitely a thought-provoking mystery as it progressed. I’d recommend it to those who enjoy contemporary stories with intricate plots.

{click HERE to purchase—currently free for Kindle Unlimited customers!}

Becki Bayley is a fan of fairness, intelligence, and problem-solving. Check out what else she’s been reading at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!


Unthinkable, by Brad Parks

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Book Review: Dead Certain, by Adam Mitzner

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

In a police interrogation, when the suspect asks for a lawyer all questions must cease. The police are precluded from trying to talk someone out of invoking his right to counsel. If they do, anything that’s said after the request for counsel is inadmissible at trial.

But this isn’t a police interrogation.

“She’s giving you terrible legal advice, Zach. Trust me, I’m not some first-year law student trying to impress you. I was a prosecutor for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of people dig deep holes for themselves by keeping their mouths shut. But I’ll say this: If you did kill Charlotte, then your friend is absolutely right. One hundred percent. But if you didn’t, then all lawyering up does is cause reasonable people to conclude that you’re guilty. Because why else wouldn’t you cooperate? So, which one is it? Did you kill her? Because if you did, you should definitely tell me to leave. But if you’ve got nothing to hide, then all you’re doing by staying silent is making me think you murdered my baby sister. And if I think that, you bet your ass that I’m going to make it my mission in life to make you pay. So, which is it, Zach?”


Sometimes, life may imitate art, right? Charlotte Broden’s book may have come true, before it’s even published.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Dead Certain, by Adam Mitzner
Ella Broden is living a double life.

By day, Ella works as a buttoned-up attorney on some of the city’s most grueling cases. By night, she pursues her passion for singing in the darkest clubs of Manhattan.

No one knows her secret, not even Charlotte, the younger sister she practically raised. But it seems she’s not the only one in the family with something to hide. When Charlotte announces she’s sold her first novel, Ella couldn’t be more thrilled…until she gets a call that her sister’s gone missing.

Ella starts investigating with the help of Detective Gabriel Velasquez, an old flame in the NYPD, and what she finds is shocking. If art imitates life, then her sister’s novel may contain details of her real-life affairs. And any one of her lovers could be involved in her disappearance.

Desperate to bring Charlotte home, Ella works through her list of suspects, matching fictitious characters with flesh-and-blood men. But will it be too late to save the sister she only thought she knew?

Although there are a few years between Ella and Charlotte, the sisters are the best of friends, especially since their mother passed away when they were younger. Neither sister suspects that the other could be keeping secrets. But the secrets they’re keeping are about to change both of their lives!

The sisters’ relationship was really sweet. While it seemed they both hung out with other people more, when there was something important to them, they each turned to their sister first. As is usually the case, less secrets between them could have led to a happier ending for everyone.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The plot was kind of predictable, as Ella pointed out by knowing that her sister’s book would be a little more based in fact than just fiction (although there seems no way Charlotte could have known just how much truth was in her story). It was a fun/escape read, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend other books by this author, or read more if I had the chance.

{Click HERE to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a woman without a secret life, who lives vicariously through the books she reads. Read more of her book reviews and other observations at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story, by Peter Zheutlin {ends 8/4, three winners!}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

There are two versions, well many more, really, but two principal ones, of how I reached the eastern shores of China and then Japan from Marseille, and I told both of them, sometimes to different reporters on the same day in the same city, depending on how much time I had and what struck my fancy in the moment. There was the long story and the short one, but in truth the longer one was conjured during the shorter one. I can tell you this: I sailed from Marseille on the twentieth of January 1895, and arrived in Yokohama in early March of that year.

For those paying attention, this was a remarkably fast passage for a woman supposedly riding a bicycle across Europe, through Persia, Palestine, South Asia, and China, but it was filled with adventure. The ride from Bombay to Calcutta was made miserable by insects. I hitched myself to a royal hunting party and spent three days pursuing the great Bengal tiger. In the hinterlands of Asia, where many had never seen a bicycle, I was mistaken for a flying squirrel, an evil spirit, or, on one occasion, a visitor from Mars. Many times my life was in mortal danger, my escapes always narrow, and my courage, and my spirits always high.


When Mrs. Kopchovsky has a chance to see the world, and leave behind the drudgery of motherhood and housekeeping, she barely bats an eye before packing her bags and becoming the adventurous Annie Londonderry.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story, by Peter Zheutlin {ends 8/4, three winners!}
Who was Annie Londonderry? She captured the popular imagination with her daring ‘round the world trip on two wheels. It was, declared The New York World in October of 1895, “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.”

But beyond the headlines, Londonderry was really Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a young, Jewish mother of three small children, who climbed onto a 42-pound Columbia bicycle and pedaled away into history.

Reportedly set in motion by a wager between two wealthy Boston merchants, the bet required Annie not only to circle the earth by bicycle in 15 months, but to earn $5,000 en route, as well. This was no mere test of a woman’s physical endurance and mental fortitude; it was a test of a woman’s ability to fend for herself in the world.

Often attired in a man’s riding suit, Annie turned every Victorian notion of female propriety on its head. Not only did she abandon, temporarily, her role of wife and mother (scandalous in the 1890s), she earned her way selling photographs of herself, appearing as an attraction in stores, and by turning herself into a mobile billboard.

Zheutlin, a descendent of Annie, brilliantly probes the inner life and seeming boundless courage of this outlandish, brash, and charismatic woman. In a time when women could not vote and few worked outside the home, Annie was a master of public relations, a consummate self-promoter, and a skillful creator of her own myth. Yet, for more than a century her remarkable story was lost to history. In SPIN, this remarkable heroine and her marvelous, stranger-than-fiction story is vividly brought to life for a new generation.


While inspired by a true story, the character of Annie Londonderry in this story sounds like she may be flattered for you to find her version of events to be unbelievable. Her goal was not only to make it around the world and be awarded the cash prize, but to build a story she could really run with to fame and fortune. She wanted to be so much more than a wife and mother.

It was her unwillingness to be just an average 1890s woman that got her into this unique situation. She originally heard about the wager and potential adventure and prize at one of the shops where she sold newspaper ads. Not many husbands of the time would have allowed their wife to hold her own job outside the home as Mrs. Kopchovsky did.

It wasn’t just her gender that put her at a disadvantage—even those willing to bet on a woman’s ability or lack thereof to navigate the world independently still wouldn’t sponsor a woman of Jewish background to do the same. That was why even her name was required to be changed before her adventure and recognition began.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I’d be somewhat curious how it compares to the author’s non-fiction of the same subject. Annie Londonderry’s narration of her real and imagined adventures grew a bit tedious in the exaggeration at times, but that’s almost certainly exactly the way a woman would need to be to push her way through a world that cleared no path for her at the time. This would be a great book for someone who enjoys historical adventure stories, and reading about steps toward womens’ rights.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a modern-day wife, mother, and employee. While she can see why an escape may be nice sometimes, she can’t imagine the energy it would require to take on a new life. See her real life in pictures from time to time on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Spin!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 4th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted 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!

Spin, by Peter Zheutlin

Monday, July 19, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: It Came From the Sky, by Chelsea Sedoti {ends 7/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Why are you saying everything you do?” Ishmael asked.

“We’ve been over this,” I replied absently. “I’m recording everything related to the hoax.”

“You must be blowing through your phone’s memory.”

I was. The hoax had taken over my life to the point where I was recording nearly every conversation I had.

Ishmael craned his neck to see what I was working on. “You sure I can’t help?”

“Considering that last time you ‘helped,’ you blew up the yard, so no thanks.”

Ishmel shrugged and spun in circles in the swivel chair. It made me dizzy just looking at him.

“So, he said. “We’re just gonna point this thing at cars and it’ll screw up their radios?”

“In theory.”


Two brothers have a plan that serves very different purposes for each of them. Gideon wants a brilliant social experiment for his MIT application. Ishmael wants to pull an epic prank that will never be forgotten.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: It Came From the Sky, by Chelsea Sedoti {ends 7/26}
This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.

Only...there were no aliens.

Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town—it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon's obsession with their tale threatens his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever?


It started as a simple experiment to test Gideon’s latest handmade scientific tool. But when Ishmael was left in charge of setting off the explosion necessary for the test, he wanted to make sure it was big enough to be appreciated. Mission accomplished!

Gideon and Ishmael Hofstadt are each typical teenaged boys, unique in their own ways. Gideon is the smart one—he doesn’t count on any one liking him, and just doesn’t let anyone close since he’s sure they won’t. Ishmael figures he’s smart enough to get by, and being a fun prankster surrounds him with lots of fans and friends. Neither one is sure what to do when their experiment and/or prank doesn’t wrap up neatly when they’re done with it. It’s taken on a life of its own.

When the FBI and a charismatic cult leader are among the national audience drawn to their town by its reputation of alien encounters, the boys start to realize things are out of their control. Now they just want to find a way to straighten it all out, without losing the respect of their friends, or ending up in jail.

This was an interesting story in which Gideon wanted to share every minute of the experience. By interviewing all of those involved, the author tried to present the viewpoints of the boys and many of those who thought they were having alien encounters as well. I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It was an interesting young adult read for boys or girls who enjoy a unique story.

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

Becki Bayley doesn’t rock the boat. Check out her book reviews and other observations at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of It Came from the Sky!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, July 26th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be chosen the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen. 

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

It Came from the Sky, by Chelsea Sedoti

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Lockhart Women, by Mary Camarillo {ends 7/20}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Why don’t you stop by this afternoon?” Brenda tells Bill when he calls. “I have a business opportunity I’d like to talk to you about. Have you heard of network marketing?” She’s practiced the spiel from the handbook Tim left her and she’s sure she sounds convincing, but Bill’s not listening.

“I can’t get away this afternoon. Jack Bowen’s in town.”

She’s heard of Jack Bowen from the Pacific Area office in San Francisco. Frank was always worried about impressing him.

“How about after the Laker game tonight?” Bill says. “Maybe you could invite a friend for Jack to hang out with while we’re, you know, busy. You have any girlfriends who like to party?”

“Is that what we’re doing? Partying?”

“I thought we were having fun. He’ll be with me. I can’t get away otherwise.”

“Another time, then.”

“Oh, come on, Bren. Leave your front door unlocked. I’ll have him wait in the living room. You won’t even know he’s there.”

Brenda pulls the phone away from her ear and stares at it. Does he seriously expect her to have sex with him while Jack Bowen waits in the living room? Does he think she’s a whore? She doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment. She’s a free and independent woman with a new business to focus on.

“Bren? You still there?

She puts the phone back in her ear. “Don’t call me anymore. This party is over.”


The Lockhart women are stronger than they think, but does life have to keep making them prove it?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Lockhart Women, by Mary Camarillo {ends 7/20}
Brenda Lockhart’s family has been living well beyond their means for too long when Brenda’s husband leaves them—for an older and less attractive woman than Brenda, no less. Brenda’s never worked outside the home, and the family’s economic situation quickly declines. Oldest daughter Peggy is certain she’s heading off to a university, until her father offers her a job sorting mail while she attends community college instead. Younger daughter Allison, a high school senior, can’t believe her luck that California golden boy Kevin has fallen in love with her.

Meanwhile, the chatter about the O. J. Simpson murder investigations is always on in the background, a media frenzy that underscores domestic violence against women and race and class divisions in Southern California. Brenda, increasingly obsessed with the case, is convinced O. J. is innocent and has been framed by the LAPD. Both daughters are more interested in their own lives—that is, until Peggy starts noticing bruises Allison can’t explain. For a while, it feels to everyone as if the family is falling apart; but in the end, they all come together again in unexpected ways.

The Lockhart women definitely make their share of bad choices, but somehow the results seem to turn out even more catastrophic for them. However, they’re willing and able to persevere. Eventually they learn from their mistakes, and learn to forgive others for the mistakes they’ve made as well. Their roles within their family are evolving, and as hard and cold as it seems, they really don’t have any choice than to play the role they’re now cast in.

Brenda knew only how to be a trophy wife and spend her husband’s money maintaining appearances. Peggy was the golden child, determined to go out and be successful, with completely different priorities than her parents. Allison knows she’s pretty, and figures she’ll continue using her charm and beauty to get what she wants out of life. They’re all in for big surprises, and figuring out how to make the most of the cards they are now dealt.

This book showed some great evolution of the characters. None of them were used to looking beyond their own life, even when their actions unintentionally affected others. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. It could definitely have had a stronger ending. While I liked the ending, it felt like it was summed up at a much faster pace than the rest of the book.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys sweet drinks, salty snacks, and usually some noise in the background. See more of her life on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Lockhart Women!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 20th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be chosen the next day and notified via email, and will have 24 hours to respond or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Lockhart Women, by Mary Camarillo

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Book Review: The Lily Garden by Barbara Josselsohn

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

They left the building and started down the hill. “So, where were you teaching before?” Caroline asked.”

“Florida,” he told her. “A small city school called Pine Beach College. Although I grew up in Minnesota. Where’s home for you two?”

“Chicago,” Caroline answered.

“I knew I recognized a couple of fellow Midwesterners. Do you live in the city?”

“No, about a half hour north.”

“Oh, nice. I mean, it sounds nice,” he said. “Not that I’ve ever been outside the city. But I do like Chicago.”

Caroline nodded. She could tell that Aaron was the kind of person who didn’t seem to worry about every little word he said, and that put her at ease. He fit in so well with the Lake Summers vibe. Back home, everyone was always intense, so even funny mistakes became calamities. Once Uncle Rich sent a message to a client saying that a salesperson “named Nancy Sanders would stop by—except he typed a k instead of an m, so the sentence read, “naked Nancy Sanders.” Caroline, who’d been cc’d on the memo, laughed out loud as she read it—but when she went down the hall to point it out to Uncle Rich, he became apoplectic. “Get it back!” he’d screamed at his assistant. “Get it back, now!”

Caroline has a whole lot going on all of a sudden. It has barely occurred to her how long she’s been away from the town where she was born, and she may have missed it more than she realized.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Lily Garden by Barbara Josselsohn
She held the letter that she had found in the garden, and noticed the distinctive curls of her father’s handwriting etched on the worn paper. Her life had already been turned upside down by one family secret, would his last words force her to leave her childhood home forever?

When Caroline left Lake Summers thirty years ago, she thought she’d never go back to the place where she lost her parents. But when she finds out that the town’s lily garden lovingly built by her mother is going to be destroyed, she knows fate is calling. Dropping everything at her office in Chicago, she knows she is the only person who can save the garden.

Caroline and her daughter Lee are welcomed home by the warm smile of her mother’s best friend Maxine, and piles of pancakes at her cozy little restaurant in town. And Caroline soon learns that she isn’t the only person invested in saving her mother’s legacy, when she meets handsome historian Aaron. As she gets to know him, strolling along the sparkling lakeshore, she can’t imagine anywhere else she’d rather be.

But then Caroline learns a terrible secret about the day her mother died. And soon the real reason Aaron is in Lake Summers comes to light. Will the truth about the people she loves force her to give up a future with Aaron, and the beautiful town that has always been in her heart?

Since Caroline moved in with her Aunt Risa when she was 12, she’s known exactly what was expected of her. When she had her daughter Lee, the baby was chosen to be the successor to Aunt Risa’s vast business empire. Now that Caroline is finally revisiting her hometown after almost 30 years, it occurs to her to question her place, and Lee’s place, in the world they never really made a choice to join.

There’s a lot going on in this feel-good summer story. Caroline is remembering how strong the ties can be to one’s chosen family. She’s also used to knowing exactly what her daughter wants, but as Lee gets ready to graduate from high school and embark on her own story, Caroline may not know her as well as she’s always assumed.

While I loved the beginning and middle of this book, the ending felt a bit rushed, so it overall gets 3 out of 5 stars. While I loved the characters, there were a few for which I wanted a little different ending. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy family stories, strong female characters, and contemporary fiction.

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

Becki Bayley is a Mean Girls fan who enjoys snack foods, bubbly drinks, and reading while cozy under her weighted blanket. Find out more of what she read at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

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