Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mud Lilies, by Indra Ramayan {ends 7/5}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I knew a lot of dead girls. That was the cost of my profession. I’d tried to convince myself that Perry’s boyfriend had killed her. It was easier to accept that than it was to believe that there was a psycho actively hunting us. I could put her death in a container and go about my business without fearing every man who approached me. It helped to ease the feeling in my gut that I was always just a second away from being strangled and left by a garbage bin.

I’d met the first of the three dead girls a few days before her murder. A trick had just dropped me off in an alley where she was screaming at a guy in an old Malibu. Turns out, he was her scrawny pimp harassing her for cash. Her real name was Jamie, but I named her You Do the Math.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard to make any cash tonight! Look around!” she’d screamed as she spun around a couple of times with her palms to the sky. “Hmm, ten girls, one car! You do the math!” 

Chanie had little choice in the life she was living, and frequently wanted out. But she accidentally found her way into a program intended to help her make a life worth living.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mud Lilies, by Indra Ramayan {ends 7/5}
The night fourteen-year-old Chanie Nyrider ran away from her abusive parents, she was saved by an older woman who, after building a friendship with the teen, offers her a new life working as a prostitute. With nowhere to turn, Chanie is drawn into Edmonton’s dark underbelly, where she survives until arrested four years later. At this time she is given two options: jail or a high school equivalency program for troubled youth.

Reluctantly, Chanie agrees to attend the program — but only so she can maintain her freedom and get to know her new love interest, Blue. As she begins to make strides in the program and meets friends who share similar circumstances, her home life, such as it is, deteriorates. Blue becomes unstable, deceitful, and eventually violent. He puts himself between her and her new friends, between her and the promise of a new and better life.

This story felt unique. It wasn’t the story of Chanie’s end of a typical teen-age life (although the history is eventually shared). It’s the story of Chanie’s eventual chance at salvation. She’s a hooker, and doesn’t expect anything different from life. It’s never a question of who deserves what, or if life is fair; it’s just survival, and the life Chanie knows. 

Maybe even more than the life on the streets, this story really illustrates the challenges to getting out. How can a girl who is told she is owned by others find time to study, or uphold a promise to the program to not work as a hooker anymore, or drink, or use drugs? Is any of this a reasonable expectation if that’s all someone knows?

The book told Chanie’s story so powerfully, and probably the story of other women existing on the streets of Edmonton or any other major city. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars. I cried along with Chanie and her friends and wanted to reach out and make it all better. The characters were so touching and felt so real. I’d recommend this book for readers who enjoy true struggles for their beloved characters.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who would love to have a super-power ability to fix the world. You can find her @poshbecki on Instagram.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Mud Lilies!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, July 5th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or another winner will be chosen.

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

Good luck!

Mud Lilies, by Indra Ramayan

Monday, June 6, 2022

Book Review: Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Book Review: Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult
  • Opening lines: Olivia, December 7, 2018, The day of
    From the moment I knew I was having a baby, I wanted it to be a girl. I wandered the aisles of department stores, touching doll-size dresses and tiny sequined shoes. I pictured us with matching nail polish—me, who'd never had a manicure in my life. I imagined the day her fairy hair was long enough to capture in pigtails, her nose pressed to the glass of a school bus window; I saw her first crush, prom dress, heartbreak. Each vision was a bead on a rosary of future memories; I prayed daily.

    As it turned out I was not a zealot ... only a martyr.

    When I gave birth, and the doctor announced the baby's sex, I did not believe it at first. I had done such a stellar job of convincing myself of what I wanted that I completely forgot what I needed. But when I held Asher, slippery as a minnow, I was relieved. 

    Better to have a boy, who would never be someone's victim.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of Jodi Picoult's books, so I was very excited to get an e-galley of her newest novel.
  • And what's this book about? 
    A soul-stirring novel about what we choose to keep from our past and what we choose to leave behind, from the New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here and the bestselling author of She's Not There.

    Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.

    Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.

    And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .

    Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

    Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a good read with a twist.
  • Favorite paragraph: My father taught me that beekeeping is both a burder and a privilege. You don't both the bees unless they need your help, and you help them when they need it. It's a feudal relationship: protection in return for a percentage of the fruits of their labors.

    He taught me that if a body is easily crushed, it develops a weapon to prevent that from happening.

    He taught me that sudden movements get you stung.

    I took these lessons a bit too much to heart.
  • Something to know: I haven't been reading a lot during the pandemic (hence all the Becki guest reviews on here) but I binged this book in two to three days, because it was THAT goodas are most of Picoult's books, too.
  • What I would have changed: Not sure I would have changed anything. 
  • Overall rating: 5 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon—it will be out on October 4, 2022.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Bangalore Detectives Club, by Harini Nagendra {ends 6/9}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Kaveri was resting her sore feet in a bucket of hot water when she heard the gate open. Ramu had come home early. She tried to jump out, but her sari got caught in the bucket. By the time she’d disentangled herself and stepped out, Ramu was in the compound, alighting from the car. He turned to her, impassive as ever, though she saw the sides of his mouth twitching. Kaveri murmured a hasty apology as she fled to the garden with the bucket in tow. Just as she reached the papaya plant, he called, ‘Careful, Kaveri. Don’t cook the papaya plant. The water must be hot.’

She could definitely see his face twitching now. She gave up, and began to laugh, wringing the moisture from the folds of her sari at her feet. Ramu smiled back.

‘Did you sprain your leg?’ he asked.

‘It’s a long story,’ replied Kaveri. ‘Let me get you your coffee and then I can tell you the details.’

Kaveri and Ramu are such a sweet couple, and so supportive of each other. They were surely quite progressive for the 1920s in Bangalore, where the story takes place.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Bangalore Detectives Club, by Harini Nagendra {ends 6/9}
When clever, headstrong Kaveri moves to Bangalore to marry handsome young doctor Ramu, she's resigned herself to a quiet life.

But that all changes the night of the party at the Century Club, where she escapes to the garden for some peace and quiet—and instead spots an uninvited guest in the shadows. Half an hour later, the party turns into a murder scene.

When a vulnerable woman is connected to the crime, Kaveri becomes determined to save her and launches a private investigation to find the killer, tracing his steps from an illustrious brothel to an Englishman's mansion. She soon finds that sleuthing in a sari isn't as hard as it seems when you have a talent for mathematics, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband...

And she's going to need them all as the case leads her deeper into a hotbed of danger, sedition, and intrigue in Bangalore's darkest alleyways.

First of all, the book starts out with the author pointing out that there are not only some simplified versions of the recipes in the story included at the back of the book, but also an appreciated glossary of some terms from the 1920s in Bangalore with which the reader may not be familiar. While there were some unfamiliar words and phrases, they were usually discernible from context clues.

Kaveri was such a cute, independent young bride. She expected married life to be boring and predictable, but she lucked out in the husband department. When a local crime catches her interest, she’s excited to use all the skills she’s learned from her reading and schooling to try and help the police find the culprit. While they say many husbands of the time would not support such crazy actions from a wife, Ramu is amused and wants to help his wife safely uncover clues and learn important facts about those who may be involved.

As far as the actual crimes went, the true guilty party was a surprise, at least to me. Reading as Kaveri and Ramu put the facts together (along with the help of the police detective, Ismail) was so fun. I’m excited that this book says it’s the first in a series, as I’d give this one 4 out of 5 stars. It was an interesting mystery set in a time and place I haven’t read a lot from. I’d recommend it to those who enjoy mysteries and Indian stories.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and reader. She likes to go with the flow and sometimes post pictures on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Bangalore Detectives Club!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, June 9th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!


The Bangalore Detectives Club, by Harini Nagendra

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Breach, by Kelly Sokol {ends 6/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Their routine was simple those first few months. Marleigh was surprised and thankful at how quickly she mastered breastfeeding – certainly Jason deserved some credit, too. That boy was born ready to eat. She could feed Jason sitting, laying on her side, and standing up.

“I’m kinda jealous of that little fucker,” Jace said with a smile as wide as the horizon. “He’s got round-the-clock access to my wife’s tits.”

Marleigh sighed. “And they’re still so big and heavy.”

“Yeah, I hadn’t noticed.”

Jason’s hair grew in curly like Marleigh’s. “He’ll have to be a special operator with a mop like that,” Jace said with a smile. Military special forces were granted greater leeway when it came to regulation grooming appearance. Marleigh had learned a few things in her crash course in becoming a Navy wife.

Marleigh dozed when she could, and for the first time in her life she felt no guilt about resting. 

“I want you to do nothing while I’m home, babe,” Jace told her. “This is my time to help on the home front. I’ve always got you covered.”

While Marleigh and Jace definitely had their good and bad traits, a reader could want nothing more than their happily-ever-after.

Official synopsis:

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Breach, by Kelly Sokol {ends 6/8}
Marleigh Mulcahy grew up in a boxing gym, the daughter of hard-drinking parents who didn't keep a stable roof overhead. In the cinder-block Box-n-Go, amidst the sweat and funk, she meets EOD specialist Jace Holt, a highly and expensively trained bomb diffuser with three successful deployments behind him. With a heady mix of hope, carelessness, and a ridiculous amount of courage, they begin a family. When Jace returns to active duty, a roadside bomb resurrects ghosts from the couple's past and threatens the life they've built. An unflinching and timely gaze into the marriage of an enlisted special operator and his wife, Breach is a story of betting it all on love, a couple's determination to change the trajectory of their lives, and one woman's promises to the man she loves and the boys they're raising.

What choices will a desperate mother make to keep her family whole?

Marleigh had fought for everything she had, but once she met Jace at her family’s boxing gym, he promised she’d have it easier. They both had paid their dues and were ready for happily-ever-after. But karma doesn’t always cooperate.

Jace’s job as a bomb diffuser with the Navy was a level of stress that most people could never even comprehend, and after every deployment, a little more of him seemed to be left behind. The transition back to family man was harder every time.

They never planned on having kids who would have to struggle as they had, but no one can ever really know the future. The characters in this book were so gripping, I gave the story 4 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend this book for those who enjoy character and family dramas, and military stories (although there is not actual combat re-told in the story, they were definitely a military family, which influenced everything).

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a homebody who enjoys quirky movies and stories, playing board games, and relaxing with a good book. Check out her summer reading activities on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

Breach, by Kelly Sokol

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Strangers We Know, by Elle Marr {ends 6/2}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Peering into the nightstand, I see the sharp white corner of an envelope. I pull it out. My letter. Someone retrieved the envelope from my suitcase, then placed it in this drawer.

Fear creases my forehead as I recall that Lottie always leaves the front door unlocked, citing  small-town trust and the fact that the Caine house doesn’t exclusively belong to her. 

Someone else was in my room. Did they have to hide the letter in a hurry when they heard me drive up?

I grab my Swiss Army knife and creep through the house, flinging open doors, searching in closets, and stooping down to peer under furniturebehind curtains, anywhere a person could still be hiding—all while terrified I’ll come face-to-face with them. 

Panting in the foyer before the stained glass of the entryway, I pause. Strain my ears. Only the soft ticking of the grandfather clock behind me registers in an otherwise empty home.

Someone has been killing women for decades, and the FBI wants Ivy to find out who. It’s someone she’s related to, but as an adoptee, she’s just starting to meet her blood relatives.

Official synopsis:
Adopted when she was only days old, Ivy Hon knows little about her lineage. But when she’s stricken with a mystery illness, the results of a genetic test to identify the cause attract the FBI. According to Ivy’s DNA, she’s related to the Full Moon Killer, who has terrorized the Pacific Northwest for decades. Ivy is the FBI’s hope to stop the enigmatic predator from killing again.

When an online search connects Ivy with her younger cousin, she heads to rural Rock Island, Washington, to meet the woman. Motivated by a secret desire to unmask a murderous relative, Ivy reaches out to what’s left of a family of strangers.

Discovering her mother’s tragic fate and her father’s disappearance is just the beginning. As Ivy ventures into a serial killer’s home territory, she realizes that she may be the next victim of poisonous blood ties.

Ivy Hon was close with her adoptive parents and brother, but what would it be like to be really biologically related to someone? She hopes it would at least help her figure out her awful health flare-ups, that keep her trapped in her apartment so much of the time. A DNA test seems to be the way to start trying to locate someone with answers, but instead it quickly leads to more questions. 

She’s determined to make the trip to visit her biological cousin, but the FBI gives her another reason - they want her to find out which of her biological relatives may be the Full Moon Killer. Someone is on to her task nearly as soon as she arrives. While she wants to know the truth, she’s not sure how much she may need to risk to find it.

This book was full of false leads and dangerous possibilities. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars and was genuinely surprised at some of the revelations (although they all seemed to work out, plot-wise). I’d recommend this book for those who like thrillers, and found-family stories. Ivy learning about the family she may have grown up with was bittersweet, while saying nothing negative about her adoptive family.

{click here to purchasecurrently free for Kindle Unlimited!

Becki Bayley is a lot of things to a lot of people. She’s so glad the weather may be turning to spring so she can enjoy her front garden with a cold drink and a good book. Check out her reads on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Strangers We Know!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, June 2nd, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, otherwise an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Strangers We Know, by Elle Marr

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mallory's Manly Methods, by Thomas Keech {ends 5/17}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The party wasn’t anything like he expected. While he waited on the landing for Nell to arrive, he saw only three people arriving, and two of them were from the apartment immediately below Thomas’s. It was a warm, bright, late September afternoon. There was no smell of marijuana or hint of other drugs in the air, no loud music, no sketchy characters coming or going.

Nell arrived on the dot of five, clicking up the stairs in heels. Her dress had no glitter on it, but it was made of a powder blue, shiny fabric that ended just under the knee and showed just a bit of her shoulders at the top. She wore a rhinestone belt and silver, open-toed heels. “Hello,” she called out to him as she reached the top of the stairs. He was sitting on Thomas’s empty cooler on the landing. 

“What happened to your face?” She backed off as if the scratches were contagious.

“Oh. Um…just a run-in with some gangbangers in the parking lot trying to steal my dinner.”

“Gangbangers? Did you call the police?”

“Um, no. I scared them pretty good. I don’t think they’ll be back around here for a while.”

Oh dear. Mallory is a legend in his own mind. His imagination, at least, is second to none. He never tells the truth when a lie could be presented quickly enough.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Mallory's Manly Methods, by Thomas Keech {ends 5/17}
Kevin Mallory is so good at lying he has convinced himself he has almost an average life. He tries to use his exceptional skill at prevarication to hang onto his job without doing any work, win the love of his co-worker without recognizing who she really is, take advantage of the young Black man who moves in next door, and manipulate the police and the courts into accepting his warped idea of justice

Mallory pursues his co-worker, Nell, even as his supervisor at the UniCast Cable Company attempts to prove he is cutting off customers' calls. He joins Nell's dysfunctional Employee Cheer Committee as it tries to avoid disaster at the upcoming holiday party. He agrees to cat sit for Nell while she goes on a series of girls' nights out. He buys a rifle for protection from imaginary hoodlums but cannot get the box of bullets open. When Thomas, his neighbor, is assaulted by the police, Mallory impersonates a lawyer and represents him. When he is later criminally charged himself, he summons Nell as a witness, brings his rifle to court, and parks in a handicapped parking spot.
 
Mallory is just a small step above the stereotypical loser living in their mother’s basement. He is in his own apartment, and has a job, even if his greatest goal in life is to make it through his days without actually doing his job. For anyone who has ever dealt with a customer service representative who seemed to do anything but help, that is truly who Mallory is. 

He decides he may want to be a better man when he is sure he’s fallen in love with his co-worker, Nell. But does just pretending to be a better man really count? Somehow, he’s been telling so many lies for so long, he may not even know the truth himself anymore.

With such an unlikable main character, this could have been a hard book to like. I appreciated the humor in all of Mallory’s many flaws and bad decisions, and gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. It definitely needed to be approached in the right frame of mind, and I would recommend it for a reader who can dislike the main character, but still find humor in his misery and hilariously bad choices.

{click here to purchase}
 
Becki Bayley likes warming weather, cold drinks, and reading outside. Check out more of her adventures and what she’s been reading at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:
 
One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Mallory's Manly Methods!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 17th, at 11:59pm ET, 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!

Mallory's Manly Methods, by Thomas Keech

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Scarlet Carnation, by Laila Ibrahim {ends 5/13}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

MAY

June 1915

The exhibition was as grand as the accounts in the newspaper reported. Blocks and blocks of the city of San Francisco were transformed into a walled fortress along the waterfront. Dome-topped buildings in art deco designs anchored the four corners. The city was declaring to the entire world: we are recovered from the 1906 earthquake, ready to be an important city of the future. 

The two couples strolled through the Joy Zone, a midway lined with games, rides, and attractions. It spread blocks and blocks from Fillmore Street to Van Ness Avenue, making what had been a familiar neighborhood entirely unrecognizable. Each booth’s distinct and dramatic façade broadcast the attraction in order to draw customers. 

“Oh dear!” May exclaimed as she tapped John’s arm and pointed.

Ahead was a grotesque caricature of an African man. His chin rested on his hands and a large ring passed through his nose. The words African Dip filled in the space between his arms. It was one of those horrid dunk tanks that were supposedly an improvement over the African Dodger game. But May disapproved of anything that encouraged White men to hurl abuse at Colored men. Dropping a man in a tank of water was scarcely better than throwing baseballs at his head.

She teared up. “I believed San Francisco was better than stooping to such degradation for profit.”

This was the story of two distant relations living in the same city, but still worlds apart based in part on the color of their skin.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Scarlet Carnation, by Laila Ibrahim {ends 5/13}
1915. May and Naomi are extended family, their grandmothers’ lives inseparably entwined on a Virginia plantation in the volatile time leading up to the Civil War. For both women, the twentieth century promises social transformation and equal opportunity.

May, a young white woman, is on the brink of achieving the independent life she’s dreamed of since childhood. Naomi, a nurse, mother, and leader of the NAACP, has fulfilled her own dearest desire: buying a home for her family. But they both are about to learn that dreams can be destroyed in an instant. May’s future is upended, and she is forced to rely once again on her mother. Meanwhile, the white-majority neighborhood into which Naomi has moved is organizing against her while her sons are away fighting for their country.

In the tumult of a changing nation, these two women—whose grandmothers survived the Civil War—support each other’s quest for liberation and dignity. Both find the strength to confront injustice and the faith to thrive on their chosen paths.

May and Naomi are distant cousins, but still see each other a few times a year. They’re in different stages of their life, have different goals and plans for their life, and look quite different: Naomi is black, while May is white. But this has never given them any confusion about the fact that they’re family.

With that said, the story is told in separate turns of each woman’s story. The book starts with May anxiously waiting for her boyfriend to propose once he is gainfully employed as he finishes college. Naomi would love to move her family into a better home, with modern amenities and more room for them all. Neither of their plans go quite as expected. 

This great telling of two parallel stories in and around San Francisco in the early 1900s shows the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how a woman can respond and hopefully try to make it better for everyone. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction and women’s stories. 

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

Becki Bayley’s greatest wish for her life is for her children to grow into happy, healthy, productive adults. She has no idea what will happen once that goal is met. Check out what else she’s reading and doing with her time at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

TWO of my lucky readers will win a copy of Scarlet Carnation!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, May 12th, at 11:59pm ET, 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!

Scarlet Carnation, by Laila Ibrahim

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One of Us is Dead, by Jeneva Rose {ends 5/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

CRYSTAL

I held the glass ever so gently, careful not to mess up my freshly done manicure. I went for a soft-pink color – no acrylics, no fancy designs or bold colors. Just something simple and practical. I raised the mimosa to my lips and took a long drink, while one of the manicurists worked on my other hand.

So far, so good. We made it past the first potential blowup. I thought for sure Keisha was going to throw Olivia out, but thank Jesus for Karen stepping in. Keisha and Olivia both have strong personalities – who knows what would have happened? I had no idea Olivia manipulated this event. It was completely out of line as Glow is Jenny’s salon, and she should have asked Jenny first. However, in a way, I could see where Oliva was coming from. Maybe she genuinely wanted it to be just as girls. Maybe she wanted to open up about what was all going on with her and Dean. It wasn’t the best way to do it, but I think her intentions were good…at least I hoped so.

Talk about frenemies! This small group are all grown women, and they fill the roles of each others’ best friends and worst enemies at exactly the same time.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One of Us is Dead, by Jeneva Rose {ends 5/11}
Meet the women of Buckhead—a place of expensive cars, huge houses, and competitive friendships.

Shannon was once the queen bee of Buckhead. But she’s been unceremoniously dumped by Bryce, her politician husband. When Bryce replaces her with a much younger woman, Shannon sets out to take revenge …

Crystal has stepped into Shannon’s old shoes. A young, innocent Texan girl, she simply has no idea what she’s up against …

Olivia has waited years to take Shannon’s crown as the unofficial queen of Buckhead. Finally, her moment has come. But to take her rightful place, she will need to use every backstabbing, manipulative, underhand trick in the book …

Jenny owns Glow, the most exclusive salon in town. Jenny knows all her clients’ secrets and darkest desires. But will she ever tell?

Who amongst these women will be clever enough to survive Buckhead—and who will wind up dead?

They say that friendships can be complex, but no one said it could ever be this deadly.

The whole story is told in alternating chapters that jump between the characters leading up to the death, and with chapters of Jenny telling the police detective the whole story in between. Whom is actually dead is not revealed until nearly the end of the book. Most of the characters were loved or hated at different points of the story.

Shannon has been replaced in the heart (and home) of the politician by Crystal, a former bartender who was first his mistress before marrying him and trying to fill the large role Shannon had played in the community before being unexpectedly replaced.

Olivia definitely fancies herself the biggest puppeteer in Buckhead. She tells how she has made each of the women who they are, and how she plans to manipulate them next. Even the men associated with each woman play a role in the story, and how everyone expects it to go.

Overall, I gave this quirky mystery 3 out of 5 stars. I liked the writing style, although I did have to flip back to the beginning of a chapter a few times to remind myself of whose story I was in right then. It was a quick read with a "right" ending, in my opinion. 

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who mostly minds her own business, but doesn’t mind hearing vicariously of the entertaining drama of others. She blogs at sweetlybsquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of One of Us is Dead!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, May 11th, at 11:59pm ET, 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!

One of Us is Dead, by Jeneva Rose

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Quick Pick Book Review: Upgrade, by Blake Crouch

Quick Pick Book Review: Upgrade, by Blake Crouch
  • Opening lines: We found Henrik Soren at a wine bar in the international terminal, thirty minutes from boarding a hyperjet to Tokyo.

    Before tonight, I had only seen him in INTERPOL photographs and CCTV footage. In the flesh, he was less impressive
    five and a half feet in his artificially distressed Saint Laurent sneakers with a designer hoodie hiding most of his face. He was sitting at the end of the bar with a book and a bottle of Krug.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I read Recursion by Blake Crouch for my book club, and really enjoyed it.
  • And what's this book about?
    “You are the next step in human evolution.”

    At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

    But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

    The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

    Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

    Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

    And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

    Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys sci-fi or dystopian books, or books about gene editing.
  • Favorite paragraph: Scythe was the revolutionary, biological DNA modifier system—now extremely illegal—discovered and patented by my mother, Miriam Ramsay. It had been a seismic leap forward that left the previous generations of technologies—ZFNs, TALENs, CRISPR-Cas9—gasping in the dust. Scythe had ushered in a new era of gene editing and delivery, one that brought about catastrophic results. Which is why getting caught using or selling it for germline modification—the making of a new organism—came with a mandatory thirty-year prison sentence.
  • Something to know: I would love to see this book made into a movie—definitely would be very exciting, and I could probably come up with a dream cast if I thought about it, as well.
  • What I would have changed: Not sure I would have changed anything. 
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon—it will be out on July 13, 2022.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Devil's Whispers: A Gothic Horror Novel, by Lucas Hault {ends 5/2}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I’m agitated and numb. My body shivers in horror.

As I was lingering on the verge of sleep, I sensed the presence of a shadow trailing across my window. It looked so real, as if I was standing there to watch it pass along the mist. Suddenly, I bolted awake and sat up with a horrible sense of fear and emptiness inside me. I remained motionless and vigilant, and then I heard a harrowing whisper pass through my room. What made the noise I know not, but the idle talks of the womenfolk echoed inside my head.

Quickly, I rose to my feet and opened the door.

It was a beautiful night. Stars twinkled in the sky, surrounding the moon like the subjects of an empire assembling before their queen. A cool breeze swept the land. I inhaled a long breath to ignite the fire of courage in my heart, and without wasting a moment further, snuck away towards the south, where I again heard the whisper.

What is haunting Gerard Woodward and his love Raelyn? Whatever it is, it follows them around the countryside and lurks closer all the time, destroying those they love and threatening to destroy them too.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Devil's Whispers: A Gothic Horror Novel, by Lucas Hault {ends 5/2}
Famed British lawyer Gerard Woodward is summoned to an ancient Welsh castle to assist a dying lord in his final affairs. But as his host slips closer to death, Gerard begins to feel less like a guest and more like a prisoner. When he finds himself locked inside his room, he realizes he must escape.

After finding his way out of his room, Gerard begins to wonder if he was safer locked inside. The labyrinthine halls echo secrets. A terrible wail and the rattling of chains sets his nerves on end. Something sinister is happening within the walls of Mathers Castle, and when he descends into the dungeons, he discovers a horrible secret…

In nearby London, children vanish into the night, animals are horribly mutilated, and a savage creature stalks the shadows. When Gerard’s wife, Raelyn, becomes the creature’s next target, his need to escape reaches a fever pitch. He must get out alive so he can dispel the evil that threatens to destroy his beloved Raelyn… and the rest of us.

The story starts out as Gerard Woodward leaves for a brief assignment to sort out the final affairs of Lord Mathers at his secluded castle far from the home he plans to share with his fiance Raelyn. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself locked in his room, and Lord Mathers possibly not as near death as he was led to believe.

Meanwhile back in London, Raelyn is dealing with her own creepy occurrences. Her cousin has come to stay in her guest house, and he is less and less how she remembers him every day. Could all the horrors be linked?

The terrors and suspense build in this story slowly and steadily. An ancient curse is branching out from the Mathers Castle and haunting them all. I gave this chilling story 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy traditional dark gothic stories. 

{click here to purchase—currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited users!}
 
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.
 
GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Devil's Whispers!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, May 2nd, at 11:59pm ET, 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! 

The Devil's Whispers: A Gothic Horror Novel, by Lucas Hault

Monday, April 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Teach Me Tonight, by Susan Coventry {ends 4/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Lily managed to pull herself together while eating dinner and dessert with Trey’s family. They were a likable bunch and didn’t pay her too much attention other than asking a few basic questions about her job and where she lived. Morgan, however, kept a close eye on her and Trey, smiling and looking like she had a secret, which, of course, she did.

Finally, shortly after dessert, Trey announced that they were leaving. The goodbyes took a while, and then Morgan and Denise walked them to the door.

“We really enjoyed having you, Lily. I hope we’ll see you again sometime,” Denise said.

If his mom thought something fishy was going on, she did a good job of hiding it.

While this was a fun fake-romance to true-love story, it was neat to recognize the places the characters mentioned too.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Teach Me Tonight, by Susan Coventry {ends 4/12}
Two teachers embark on a pretend romance, but there is no accounting for real love!

Friends and coworkers…

Lily Caldwell loves her job as a junior high school language arts teacher. It doesn’t hurt that her classroom is right across the hall from her handsome, charming coworker Trey. While she enjoys his friendship, she hides her attraction to him for a variety of reasons, and she’s determined to keep it that way.

A mutual attraction…

Trey Garrison enjoys his job as a math teacher even if it makes him sound nerdy. He also likes his pretty coworker across the hall and interacts with her every chance he gets. Lily is sweet and friendly, but she keeps her distance, and he’s dying to know why.

One conversation changes everything…

Lily tells Trey about her friend’s upcoming wedding at a popular ski resort. It should be fun, but she’s standing up in the wedding with Collin, her controlling ex-boyfriend, and wishes she had a date. She never expected Trey to volunteer or to play her “fake boyfriend” to prove to Collin that she’s moved on.

Love Lessons…

Trey can’t wait to spend more time with Lily. He excitedly prepares “lesson plans” to pull off their ruse. However, he hasn’t accounted for everything, including falling in love.

Teach Me Tonight is book one in the Love Lessons series, a sweet and sexy contemporary romance.

Lily and Trey are work friends—they teach across the hall from each other at the local junior high, and usually take a few minutes for some small talk as they wrap up each day. When Lily vents about having to be in the bridal party for a wedding where her controlling ex will also be, Trey sees his big chance to be a good friend, and get in a weekend of skiing at a fun resort not too far away. 

Before the wedding, they of course have to get to know each other a bit better outside of work, so their story of being a happy couple can be convincing to the rest of the wedding guests, and Lily’s dreaded ex. It’s no surprise to the reader that their "pretending" gets more real in a hurry.

This book was especially fun as it mentioned several Michigan ski resorts and destinations. Recognizing the familiar settings for the book, as well as the amusing story of Lily and Trey’s growing romance, earned it a 4 out of 5 star rating. I’d recommend it as a fun wintery romance between friends and co-workers. This was the first book in the new Love Lessons series from the author. The hints have already been revealed of which middle school staff couple will be the next to get the opportunity to find true love.

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

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and reader in southeast Michigan. While she hates the cold, the rest of her household are downhill skiing fans. Check out their family adventures on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Teach Me Tonight!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, April 12th, at 11:59pm ET, 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!

Teach Me Tonight, by Susan Coventry

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Damage Done, by Michael Landweber {ends 4/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The Murderer had been practicing sounding sorry for years. But he had trouble convincing parole board members he wouldn’t do it again. He had the hands and face of a killer – dead eyes and meat-hook fists. He couldn’t help that. All the apologies in the world couldn’t change the fact that he looked like someone you didn’t want to fuck with.

The words in the parole handbook, provided by a do-gooder nonprofit, blurred before his eyes. He had been reading it over and over, trying to identify the way out. The universe had provided the loophole – for him, for everyone in for murder. He was sorry for the past, and now, whether he wanted to or not, he couldn’t repeat his crime. There was no possibility he was a danger to society.

How much would a permanent relief—or escape—from violence change someone’s life? The answer varies so much on the individual’s circumstances.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Damage Done, by Michael Landweber {ends 4/11}
Violence is a thing of the past—but do new horrors lie in wait?
 
Imagine a world devoid of violence—a world where fists can’t hit, guns don’t kill, and bombs can’t destroy. In this tantalizing novel of possibility, this has—suddenly and inexplicably—become our new reality.

The U.S. president must find a new way to wage war. The Pope ponders whether the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is still relevant. A dictator takes his own life after realizing that the violence he used to control his people is no longer an option.

In the first days after the change, seven people who have experienced violence struggle to adapt to this radical new paradigm: Dab, a bullied middle schooler; Marcus, a high school student whose brother is the last victim of gun violence in America; Ann, a social worker stuck in an abusive marriage; Richard, a professor whose past makes him expect the worst inthe present; Gabriela, who is making a dangerous border crossing into the U.S.; the Empty Shell, a dissident writer waiting to be tortured in a notorious prison; and Julian, a white supremacist plotting a horrific massacre. As their fates intertwine, the promise and perils of this new world begin to take shape.
 
Although violence is no longer possible, that doesn’t mean that some among us won’t keep trying. Mindless cruelty is still alive and well—and those bent on destruction will seek the most devious means to achieve it.

This was a fascinating speculative story told from the viewpoints of seven people around the world, who later had some overlap between their characters, usually influenced by the sudden cease of violence that happened all at once. The different perspectives really brought to light that the elimination of violence, while obviously perceived as good at first glance, would affect people and populations in a lot of different ways. 

Several of their stories were haunting in their ability to keep the reader thinking about the possibilities changing around the world. While safety from violence is easy to dream about, what about the social changes and other positions of power that may have been achieved or maintained through violence? The book definitely attempted to look at the situation from many different angles.

Overall, I found this book to be quite thought-provoking in a way that tried hard not to pass judgment on the varied characters. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it as an interesting social commentary on a situation many would imagine as only good.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a middle-aged wife and mom who enjoys using her few spare minutes to herself to read. Find out what else she’s been reading on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Damage Done!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, April 11th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond; if not, an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!


The Damage Done, by Michael Landweber

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Finding Grace, by Gary Lee Miller {ends 3/23}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Amarillo, TX to Erick, OK

Judith was surprised to see Lucille ready to take her bag, greeting her with that same million-dollar smile as the morning before.

“Well, good morning, Ms. Gucci!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. “You look positively bubbly this morning. Had a good night’s rest, I assume?”

Lucille did not wait for an answer; her observations poured out like coins from a penny slot machine. “Mm-hmm. Positively bubbly and mighty fine, dressed to the nines. Fine shoes those are. Don’t know how anyone can balance on those without breaking’ somethin’.”

She chuckled. “My, my. That I would have the pleasure of handling a fine piece of luggage like this two days in a row.”

Who knew my luggage and attire would end up being such a big deal?

Judith Lee is on the trip of a lifetime, that she never would have chosen for herself. The people she meets on her bus trip across the country all have their own stories, and Judith has been tasked with listening to them.

Official synopsis:
Grace Lee calls her granddaughter, Judith, with a dying wish…for Judith to travel from Los Angeles to Nashville to come visit her. But there’s a catch. Judith must make the journey by bus.
The award-winning novel Finding Grace shares Judith Lee’s transformative, cross-country journey, revealing what truly matters. Each day of Judith’s journey becomes a story on its own, as the people she meets and places she visits along the way challenge her to rethink her life. Finding Grace is about Judith’s transformation back into the real world during this journey as a result of the people she meets on the bus, how she deals with the imminent passing of her grandmother, and how all this changes her life’s future plans. There are tears and laughter throughout, with interesting characters whom readers would recognize from their own lives. Today, more people are reflecting on what is and is not important. Finding Grace provides food for thought on many levels.
 
Judith is richer than rich. And everyone on the bus can spot that a mile away. She definitely does not fit in, but her dying grandmother, Mimi, wants her to call each night to check in and tell stories about all the people she’s met and adventures she’s had. Mimi knows that Judith has been living to work, and not doing much else to experience life. She’s using her last wish to force Judith out of her cozy comfort zone, and getting her to interact with people she never would have encountered in her ivory tower.
 
The stories are told to the reader in enlightening alternating chapters—first a bus passenger’s backstory, and then the story of them and Judith hanging out together on their travels. The background stories vary from bad choices, to bad luck, to just life running its course. Of course none of the stories are anything Judith has dealt with before, in her sheltered and luxurious current life. Most of the stories also lead to the main characters giving some expression of their faith, whether it’s faith in a higher power, or just faith in the goodness of people.
 
Overall, the book was enjoyable, as well as inspirational in parts. Judith’s wealth was almost beyond imagining, but her character was still likable. The information about St. Jude’s hospital was also interesting. I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it as a pleasant contemporary story.

{click here to purchase}
 
Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who enjoys catering to her children’s whims, ingesting caffeine like her life depends on it, and insisting on being in bed (okay, usually with a book) by 9pm. Check out her exciting spring adventures on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Finding Grace!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, March 23rd, at 11:59pm EDT, 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!


Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Finding Grace, by Gary Lee Miller

Monday, February 28, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Karitas Untitled, by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir {ends 3/7}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The white jug of lukewarm milk was there every morning, framed by the window with the elf city as a backdrop, but Karitas never managed to wake up early enough to thank Kára for her trouble. She didn’t stir in the slightest when Kára came in; that woman must do the milking in the dead of night. It struck Karitas that, without Kára, she would probably wither away, as she got the milk and the water, which often lasted for several days when there were no large washings to be done. Karitas had just finished mixing the dark brown color to paint the buckets, deciding to make them darker than they really were in order to create greater contrast, when she realized that it would be most convenient to put the clotheslines down where the buckets had come to rest. A large washing was needed, and as a woman, she could hardly ask Kára to do it for her, even though she had washed Sigmar’s clothes when he was single. She would be considered a show-off or a wretch, if not both. It might have been different had she been a lady in a distinguished home, or the astute wife of a parish administrator in Skagafjörður who had her maids scrub away on washboards. But Karitas was neither, and it was time to wash the duvet covers.

Karitas knows she doesn’t usually fit in, but she can only be her true self. Pretending to fit someone else’s mold has never been the way she could survive.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Karitas Untitled, by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir {ends 3/8}
Growing up on a farm in early twentieth-century rural Iceland, Karitas Jónsdóttir, one of six siblings, yearns for a new life. An artist, Karitas has a powerful calling and is determined to never let go of her true being, one unsuited for the conventional. But she is powerless against the fateful turns of real life and all its expectations of women. Pulled back time and again by design and by chance to the Icelandic countryside—as dutiful daughter, loving mother, and fisherman’s wife—she struggles to thrive, to be what she was meant to be.

The story starts with Karitas’ single mother taking Karitas and her five siblings north in Iceland so they will have better educational opportunities. In their new home, Karitas becomes the household manager, of sorts, while her two older sisters get paying jobs, and then leave for school. Karitas does the laundry and takes care of her three brothers during the day. Over time, she grows to think that everyone is getting an education but her, since it just isn’t her turn yet. A chance meeting once she is working as a household servant uncovers her true passion, and eventually, a possible way to realize her potential.

This was a beautiful literary fiction told in Karitas’ voice, that revealed everything about her—perhaps most importantly, how little she sometimes knew about herself. I’d give this book 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy interesting character stories. The story takes place in the early 1900s in Iceland, so it was definitely an unfamiliar viewpoint that was wonderfully told and greatly enjoyed.

{click here to purchase—currently only $4.99 for Kindle!}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys daily Wordle and Quordle puzzles. Check out more of what she’s reading on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Karitas Untitled!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, March 7th, 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!


Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Karitas Untitled, by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Duchess Countess: The Woman Who Scandalized Eighteenth Century London, by Catherine Ostler {ends 3/6}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Elizabeth’s household wrote to the Duke of Portland to tell him that her health was suffering under the strain. She was “very ill in a fever and inflammation in her bowels wore almost to death with sorrow and fatigue.” She was “seized with a fainting” and had to be carried home from a service at the Chapel Royal in St. James’s in early December, an event Walpole described as a “scream that roused all the palace” and then “ripened to madness.” What he saw as attention-seeking was undoubtedly a resurgence of her anxiety disorder, those faints which overcame her at moments of intense fear. Her hopes of a nolle prosequi (dismissal of the case) looked vanishingly thin. The date was set and discussions about logistics were beginning. How much seating would be needed? And as Elizabeth heard – the Meadowses were only too keen to repeat it – as a suspect could not be tried from a state of freedom, should she be put in the Tower of London?

As she was “confined to her bed by a very severe illness,” her three physicians, doctors Richard Warren, Isaac Schomberg, and Nicholas Faulk, advised she could not possibly appear in court on the set date, and requested the trial be delayed by two months. By now, she was so desperate she took the step everyone had advised her against: she wrote to the king asking him to intercede, making an impassioned, personal plea for his sympathy, reminding him of the vitriol that had pursued his own mother.

What a life! Elizabeth Chudleigh certainly made the best of some less-than-ideal circumstances in her life. It was a different time, and she worked hard for a title and reputation that seemingly meant everything to her.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Duchess Countess: The Woman Who Scandalized Eighteenth Century London, by Catherine Ostler {ends 3/6}
When the glamorous Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, Countess of Bristol, went on trial at Westminster Hall for bigamy in April 1776, the story drew more attention in society than the American War of Independence.

A clandestine, candlelit wedding to the young heir to an earldom, a second marriage to a Duke, a lust for diamonds and an electrifying appearance at a masquerade ball in a diaphanous dress: no wonder the trial was a sensation. However, Elizabeth refused to submit to public humiliation and retire quietly. Rather than backing gracefully out of the limelight, she embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, being welcomed by the Pope and Catherine the Great among others.

As maid of honour to Augusta, Princess of Wales, Elizabeth led her life in the inner circle of the Hanoverian court and her exploits delighted and scandalised the press and the people. She made headlines, and was a constant feature in penny prints and gossip columns. Writers were intrigued by her. Thackeray drew on Elizabeth as inspiration for his calculating, alluring Becky Sharp. But her behaviour, often depicted as attention-seeking and manipulative, hid a more complex tale – that of Elizabeth’s fight to overcome personal tragedy and loss.

Elizabeth Chudleigh was born to a comfortable life, if not an extravagant one. All that could have possibly changed when her father died while she was still a child. She, her brother, and their mother lost the housing that came with his job, and their lives and futures became suddenly much less secure. Elizabeth’s big break came from her placement as a maid of honor to Augusta, Princess of Wales. It was a position for spinsters, but many were married soon as they were presented and entertained at court. Elizabeth, though, made some impetuous choices that left her as a maid of honor for much longer than most of the others in the position.

This story starts out really dry, as it introduces all the characters of the royal family and court. A reader with more interest may have recognized more names and kept them straight, but without existing background, all the details became confusing quickly. Once the facts of the drama were established, it all became entertaining.

The author gives others’ opinions of what mental illness or other condition may have inspired Elizabeth’s over-the-top behaviors, but without an actual live patient to examine, most of these opinions were really just conjecture and labeling. Without having lived in the time period, few of us could say what behaviors were normal or not.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars and I’m glad I’ve learned more about the early 1700's in England and the surrounding areas. Elizabeth’s potential falls from grace were made more interesting with her blatant denial that she could ever be anything other than a titled lady of means. Those with an interest in biographies of the period would definitely appreciate the author’s detailed descriptions of Elizabeth, those around her, and the lives they led.

{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 Duchess Countess!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, March 6th, 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 Duchess Countess: The Woman Who Scandalized Eighteenth Century London, by Catherine Ostler

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Book Review: The Next Ship Home, by Heather Webb

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Don’t talk to her that way.” Fritz’s voice came low, menacing. “I’m warning you.”

The men glanced at Fritz, surprised, a damper falling over their good humor. Even Robert’s laughter stopped abruptly.

Francesca met Fritz’s eye. He held her gaze an instant, and nodded.

Alma ate hurriedly, suddenly desperate to take her new friend upstairs to hide until they’d all left. When they’d finished, they helped Else and Greta briefly in the kitchen and afterward headed to the bedroom.

Some hours later, the noise in the hall had subsided, and they crept back downstairs to make Francesca’s bed.

Fritz was sitting at a table alone, reading through a stack of papers. An anarchist pamphlet sat on top. Alma bristled. It wasn’t like him to make a poor choice but entirely usual for him to be obstinate about it. She feared a terrible incident would befall him before he’d desert his cause.

Francesca touched Fritz’s forearm lightly. “The men…” she said. “Thank you.”

His bright eyes darkened. “Any friend of my sister’s is a friend of mine, and I look out for my friends.”

Alma has been brought up to see the immigrants as ‘less than’ and notice their differences. What if there are things they have in common too?

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Next Ship Home, by Heather Webb
Ellis Island, 1902: Two women band together to hold America to its promise: "Give me your tired, your poor ... your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

A young Italian woman arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life. That same day, a young American woman reports to her first day of work at the immigration center. But Ellis Island isn't a refuge for Francesca or Alma, not when ships depart every day with those who are refused entry to the country and when corruption ripples through every corridor. While Francesca resorts to desperate measures to ensure she will make it off the island, Alma fights for her dreams of becoming a translator, even as women are denied the chance.

As the two women face the misdeeds of a system known to manipulate and abuse immigrants searching for new hope in America, they form an unlikely friendship—and share a terrible secret—altering their fates and the lives of the immigrants who come after them.

This is a novel of the dark secrets of Ellis Island, when entry to "the land of the free" promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, and when immigrant strength and female friendship found ways to triumph even on the darkest days.

Alma is new at her job on Ellis Island when she is touched by the story of Francesca and her sister Maria. In a job like hers, Alma certainly can’t be helping every single woman who she feels deserves a break, but the stars aligned and Alma truly can’t bear the thought of Francesca and Maria being sent back to Italy. 

Through their growing relationship, Alma learns more about being her own woman, while Francesca puts all her efforts toward fitting in as an American. The systems and treatment of women at the time doesn’t make either of their goals easy.

This was a touching story about how far these women may be willing to go for someone they haven’t known very long. The atmosphere and functioning of the processes on Ellis Island during this time period was interesting and involved history that I mostly knew nothing about. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. It felt like an honest historical fiction about the early 1900s, and the author did a great job of breathing life into the characters.
 
{click here to purchase}
 
Becki Bayley is a married Gemini mom of two. Living in the Midwest, her favorite place to read is on her heated mattress pad under a cozy blanket. Check out what she’s reading on her Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton, by Eleanor Ray {ends 2/15}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

When Amy arrived at her street that evening, she discovered Rachel, Nina, Richard, and both boys staring up at the enormous tree outside Amy’s front garden. Amy slowed her pace as she approached, wondering if there was a chance she could sneak past and into her house without them noticing. There always seemed to be someone lingering around the street now, waiting to make poor Amy’s life more difficult. All she wanted to do now was sit among her things and think about what to do next.

A branch in the tree shook unnaturally, and Rachel reached her arms up towards it. “Come down now, sweetheart. There’s a good boy.”

Amy pushed her gate, which squeaked in an act of betrayal. They all turned towards her. “I told you about the vermin,” said Rachel, her voice agitated. “And now poor Smudge is frightened out of his wits.”

“He’s not much of a cat if he’s been scared by a mouse,” said Amy, her patience already gone.

Amy’s house is dangerously full of her treasures, but she hasn’t always lived like this.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton, by Eleanor Ray {ends 2/10}
Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist and creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow-cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things instead of people.

But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.

The book starts out being just about Amy Ashton. There’s obviously something she thinks about from her past, but she’s moved on. She’s a functioning adult, albeit one who has chosen to have no real attachments to other people. While she could be grumpy and rude, she shows in an early incident in the book that she cares about other people being treated right and getting what they deserve. Fairness is important.

With that said, Amy doesn’t expect the best for herself from anyone. So she hoards her treasures. Her house is full of newspapers, empty wine bottles, lighters (although she doesn’t smoke), porcelain birds, clocks, and mugs, to name just a few of her categories of treasures. Her treasures don’t disappoint her, right? Some flashback chapters show that she hasn’t always been alone and hoarding. 

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It was an interesting character exploration that slowly revealed the events leading up to Amy’s chosen solitude. The other characters who end up being a part of Amy’s life each had their specific purposes, to contribute to the resolution of some issues and the plot’s development. This was an interesting contemporary story of adulting, learning who someone may want to be in the world, and maybe even changing some of those choices and assumptions.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is content to stay inside and read whenever snow may fall. She finds the best company, besides books, to be her family (including cats), snack foods, and cozy blankets. See some of what she’s up to on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, February 10th, 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 Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton, by Eleanor Ray

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham {ends 2/10}

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham {ends 2/10}
Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The trials of the three Berwind sailors began on November 1, 1905, only three weeks after the ship was intercepted off Southport and the crime discovered. Today, of course, it is inconceivable that a murder case in federal court could be conducted with such haste. Defendants must have ample opportunity to meet with attorneys, plan strategy, receive discovery from the prosecution, and file motions accordingly. All of that takes months at the very least, and usually longer in a case like this one, which involved multiple codefendants and conflicting defenses.

But federal officials in Wilmington wanted to get the business over and done. For one reason, the defendants seemed easily convictable, even if the details of the mutiny and killings were ambiguous. There was no doubt that four white men had been brutally killed by at least one Black man, and even if not all were equally complicit, surely they must all have been in on it somehow. That, at least, appeared a safe assumption.

What started as a shipping schooner with eight men on board was recovered while traveling erratically along the coast with one dead body on board, one man tied up, and two more yelling for rescue. 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham {ends 2/10}
In October 1905, North Carolina and much of the nation was captivated by the mass murder found aboard the Harry A. Berwind as it sailed the coast of Cape Fear. All four of the ship’s officers had been shot and tossed overboard, one crewman lay dead on the deck, and another was chained hand and foot. The three survivors, Henry Scott, Arthur Adams, and Robert Sawyer, had different stories. Scott claimed other sailors conspired together and restrained him when he would not cooperate; Adams and Sawyer claimed Scott pulled a gun and acted alone until they tackled and restrained him.

The most inflammatory factor that captured the nation: all the murdered officers were white, and the survivors Black.

Just seven years earlier, Wilmington, North Carolina witnessed a brutal white supremacist insurrection that killed dozens of Black citizens in the streets, and by 1905, Jim Crow laws were firmly in place. Predictably, all three survivors were found guilty and sentenced to hang. Yet the legal drama went on, defying all other predictions. Lasting seven years, the case reached the Supreme Court and even presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Adams and Sawyer were eventually found innocent and freed.

In-depth non-fiction is never about just one event. This book was no exception: the history in the years before this tragedy contributed so much to the political climate and the players involved in the drama. Thankfully the author was thorough in his descriptions and explanations leading up to the slaughter aboard the Harry A. Berwind.

The way this book presented the facts before, during, and after the high seas massacre makes it a wonder that a similar presentation wasn’t done much earlier. There was follow-through with any information available regarding what happened to the participants in the original event and legal fall-out afterward. While it turns out the drama was made into a movie in the 1950s, there is even a comparison between this movie (stated to be based on a true story) and the vast differences from the available truth.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. The level of detail was compelling, but not overwhelming. The author found the perfect meeting point between giving enough trivia to keep it interesting, but not detracting from the original intended story. I would recommend this as a great read for those who enjoy historical crime stories, as well as a healthy dose of race history around the early 1900s.

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

Becki Bayley is a reader. When she’s not reading, she’s taking care of her house and family, writing book reviews and blogging, or putting in hours of work that pay the bills. Check out her blog at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Ship of Blood!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, February 10th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be chosen the next day and notified by email. Winner will have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!


Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham

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