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

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