Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Innocent One, by Lisa Ballantyne {ends 12/6}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

As he approached the bar and restaurant where Rene had asked to meet him, Daniel slowed his pace, trying to shake off his mood. He thought about Sebastian locked inside his terraced house on this beautiful summer evening, with his panic button and the police officer outside. He thought of the woman who’d carried a bag of pig’s blood to central London in the hope of dousing a lawyer she’d never even met.

Named and shamed. Societal disapproval was no longer something it was possible to ignore. That disapproval could cost a job, a livelihood, even a life. Sebastian was still a young man, just twenty-one years old, yet he was being asked to atone for the child he had once been. It felt harsh to Daniel. He wouldn’t like to be held to account for the child he had once been. 

Daniel thought he was more or less satisfied with his life, but within a week, his wife asks for space, and a high-profile client from before his marriage returns. His wife’s accusations and the requests of his client have him re-examining everything.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Innocent One, by Lisa Ballentyne {ends 12/6}
Innocent?
Ten years have passed, but everyone remembers The Angel Killer. Sebastian Croll was just eleven years old when accused of murdering his playmate.

Criminal attorney Daniel Hunter helped prove Sebastian's innocence in a trial that gripped the nation—and now the past is being unearthed when he gets a call from his old client.

Or guilty?
Sebastian's university professor has been brutally murdered—and everyone who knew her is in the frame of suspicion. As Daniel steps in to represent Sebastian for a second time, news about the boy's past spreads like wildfire, instantly branding Sebastian as guilty.

With tensions around the country rising, can Daniel prove once again that Sebastian is the innocent one? Especially when he realizes that it's not just Sebastian who is in danger, but himself . . .

Daniel worries that his past influences everything. He was a foster kid without the advantages of his wife or others in his life now, and he wonders if that makes him different from everyone else in a potentially very bad way. When his wife suggests he hasn’t been emotionally there for her, he’s devastated. He desperately wants to do better, but his life has recently gotten quite complicated.

Sebastian is back. When Sebastian was 11 years old, he was accused of murdering another child. Daniel and his now-wife both worked on the case, and through their meeting, eventually married and had a child of their own. While Daniel isn’t sure he really wants to work with Sebastian on the new case he seems to be entangled with, a client is a client. Everyone deserves a defense, right?

Like the author’s previous works, this was well-written and compelling - what happens next?? Toward the end, there were a couple different directions hinted at for the story’s conclusion. I gave this 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it for those who enjoy a good psychological thriller. 

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, December 6th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Innocent One, by Lisa Ballentyne

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Witch Hunt, by Sasha Peyton Smith {ends 11/5}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The rest of the day passes quietly. Finn joins the family for dinner against Maxine’s will. Her mother set a place for him, insisting on meeting her daughter’s mysterious guest. Finn, never one to turn down a dinner party, borrows a jacket from Maxine’s stepfather and is seated directly between Maxine and Nina.

Maxine’s mother and stepfather do not seem to be particularly concerned with Finn, who has taken up indefinite residence in one of their many guest rooms. This is something I’m learning about the wealthy: when you don’t do your own housework, houseguests mean very little.

Finn breaks Maxine’s fourth rule and delights Nina by pulling a quarter from behind her ear. Maxine levitates her steak knife just slightly off the table. It hovers there as a threat. Finn just laughs as if it’s all one massive joke. It makes me lose what little appetite I had left.

This group of charming teenage witches, primarily described by Frances, seem to have more than their share of trouble, but being great friends as well as awesome witches is the secret to their success.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Witch Hunt, by Sasha Peyton Smith {ends 11/5}
Months after the devastating battle between the Sons of St. Druon and the witches of Haxahaven, Frances has built a quiet, safe life for herself, teaching young witches and tending the garden within the walls of Haxahaven Academy. But one thing nags; her magic has begun to act strangely. When an opportunity to visit Paris arises, Frances jumps at the chance to go, longing for adventure and seeking answers about her own power.

Once she and her classmates Maxine and Lena reach the vibrant streets of France, Frances learns that the spell she used to speak to her dead brother has had terrible consequences—the veil between the living and the dead has been torn by her recklessness, and a group of magicians are using the rift for their own gain at a horrifying cost.

To right this wrong, and save lives and her own magical powers, Frances must hunt down answers in the parlors of Parisian secret societies, the halls of the Louvre, and the tunnels of the catacombs. Her only choice is to team up with the person she swore she’d never trust again, risking further betrayal and her own life in the process.

This second book in The Witch Haven duology starts with Frances and her closest girlfriends on a ship crossing the ocean from New York to Paris. While the trip is certainly one they’ve been looking forward to, and they’re definitely enjoying each others’ company, Frances is a bit distracted because her magic isn’t working right. She doesn’t want anyone to really know about her struggles, and she isn’t entirely sure what has messed up the magical abilities she always took for granted.  

Soon enough, Frances and her friends have found themselves in a potentially epic confrontation between good and evil. Having not read the first book in the duology, the previous "devastating battle" wasn’t really clear. They have to work with a former friend-turned-enemy from their previous conflict, and learn a little more about Frances’ past along the way.

Overall, the characters were charming and engaging, and this book earned 3 out of 5 stars from this reader. Something seemed to be missing by not knowing the story of the first book, but this story was also entertaining with just a bit of the backstory unknown. I’d recommend this book and the first in the duology to be read in order by those who enjoy contemporary witch stories with strong female characters.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves all witchy stories. She’s a Gemini who enjoys staying cozy, reading, and snuggling with her black cats. She shares a few other book reviews on her own blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Witch Hunt!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Witch Hunt, by Sasha Peyton Smith

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Book Review: The Life Before, by Alexandra Monir (The Final Six #2)

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I stand in front of the square plastic smidge of mirror above my bathroom sink, checking my reflection half an hour before the landmark Earth-to-Deep Space press conference that will broadcast us live to hundreds of millions in a special live episode of the Final Six docuseries. It’s only the second time astronauts have ever video-chatted with Earth from this great a distance – nearly halfway to Mars – and I try not to think about what happened to the last crew as I run a brush through my hair.

Dr. Takumi told us that more than half of Earth’s population is expected to tune in today. I can barely wrap my head around that staggering a number, but the thought of my family watching – and maybe, hopefully, Leo – is what gives me focus. My feelings about the mission may waver, but my desire to make them proud is a constant.

This second book finishes telling the exciting story of The Final Six and their plan to colonize one of Jupiter’s moons, which is hopefully more stable than Earth.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Life Before, by Alexandra Monir (The Final Six #2)
It was hard enough for Naomi to leave Leo, a fellow Final Six contestant, behind on a dying Earth. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

The International Space Training Camp continues to dodge every question about its past failed mission, and Naomi is suspicious that not everything is as it seems on her own mission to Europa. With just one shot at Jupiter’s moon, Naomi is determined to find out if there is dangerous alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there. 

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can dock with Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite, and it’s up to Leo to find and warn Naomi and the crew.

With questions piling up, everything gets more dangerous the closer that the mission gets to Europa. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and all questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous mission get answered in a terrifying way.

If the dream was to establish a new world for humans on Europa…the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.
 
Book 1 of this duology covered the choosing of an international team of teens being taught to start an essentially new civilization on a moon of Jupiter. Unfortunately for a few of these brilliant teens, some of the bonds they made in training were now intended to be severed—and they’d be working and trusting their lives to others who they didn’t trust as much, if at all.
 
While they trained for a lot of obstacles and possibilities, they’re soon faced with even bigger problems, like potential sabotage on this life or death trip. The teens will have to re-examine their beliefs about who to trust, find out more about why they were chosen for this mission, and push their gifts and intelligence to new heights if they want to survive, let alone thrive, on a new planet.
 
This story was well-told and action-packed. It is definitely worth 3 out of 5 stars, and once someone has read the first one, they should totally read this book for the thrilling conclusion. 
 
{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys relaxing with a book and a cocktail when taking a break from the endless list of work and mom tasks. Check out snapshots of her life on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Fortunes of Jaded Women, by Carolyn Huynh {ends 10/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Priscilla’s frontal lobe kicked in, and it didn’t allow her to wallow for too long. She set out to optimize her chances at finding a life partner immediately after the breakup. She lined men up every night of the week, scheduling some nights back-to-back. For the more questionable ones, she did a series of video chats to screen them. Maximum results with minimum efforts. She realized if she followed a strict, rotational method, with a high turnover rate, she would have a higher percentage of finding love. 

But after three dates, she began to see a pattern with the single men in Seattle. The data was all there. Men who questioned her credentials. Men who felt threatened and insecure with her career. Men who dangled the promise of marriage and children one day, but didn’t actually mean it. Men who were obsessed with their package. Not that kind of package – their total compensation tech package, which included base salary and the number of stocks they were given. Men who paraded around as nice guys but secretly harbored incel thoughts. Priscilla’s thoughts took a dark turn as she kept rehashing Mark, Maggie Chen, and everything that had led her to this moment. She was spiraling, and she wasn’t sure how to pull herself out of it. But she continued to go on dates, and woke up next to strangers every morning because she was too afraid to go back to that empty apartment. 

The Duong sisters were part of a long line of Vietnamese women. They were women who gave birth to baby girls, because they were cursed to never have a son.

Official synopsis:
Everyone in Orange County’s Little Saigon knew that the Duong sisters were cursed.

It started with their ancestor, Oanh, who dared to leave her marriage for true love—so a fearsome Vietnamese witch cursed Oanh and her descendants so that they would never find love or happiness, and the Duong women would give birth to daughters, never sons.​

Oanh’s current descendant Mai Nguyen knows this curse well. She’s divorced, and after an explosive disagreement a decade ago, she’s estranged from her younger sisters, Minh Pham (the middle and the mediator) and Khuyen Lam (the youngest who swears she just runs humble coffee shops and nail salons, not Little Saigon’s underground). Though Mai’s three adult daughters, Priscilla, Thuy, and Thao, are successful in their careers (one of them is John Cho’s dermatologist!), the same can’t be said for their love lives. Mai is convinced they might drive her to an early grave.

Desperate for guidance, she consults Auntie Hua, her trusted psychic in Hawaii, who delivers an unexpected prediction: this year, her family will witness a marriage, a funeral, and the birth of a son. This prophecy will reunite estranged mothers, daughters, aunts, and cousins—for better or for worse.

A multi-narrative novel brimming with levity and candor, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is about mourning, meddling, celebrating, and healing together as a family. It shows how Vietnamese women emerge victorious, even if the world is against them.

These women are the very definition of character. While the family tree may take a little while to untangle, the daughters, sisters, and cousins are soon recognizable. The mothers are determined not to make the same mistakes their mothers made, but trying to follow tradition and blaze a new path at the same time obviously proves challenging. 

This story was a fun read, with all the characters having their positive personality traits and shortcomings. No one was really evil or unkind to anyone else, but they were believable women with their own strengths and weaknesses. Surely most readers can find aspects of these women familiar to themselves or people they know in real life.

The events foretold by Mai’s psychic were fun to read about and watch unfold. This book was an enjoyable read and 3 out of 5 stars. It could easily be recommended to those who enjoy family dramas, especially with the influence of Vietnamese family culture.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother of two delightful humans and two contrary but sometimes cuddly cats. She enjoys taking care of her space, reading, and being appreciated. Check out more that she’s posted on Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Fortunes of Jaded Women, by Carolyn Huynh

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Brighter Flame, by Christine Nolfi {ends 10/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Deliciously hot water pummeled Vale’s back.

It was a rare treat. In her apartment in Pittsburgh, the water never heated past lukewarm. Showering consisted of a mad dash to finish before chilly droplets prickled her skin. Bathing until the steam turned the bathroom into a sauna was a luxury. As was sleeping until noon. Vale couldn’t recall the last time she’d done so.

Taking her time, she washed her hair with Blythe’s rosemary-mint shampoo. She lathered her body with the milk-and-honey bath gel her grandmother kept on hand. After last night’s date with Emmett, she felt good. Stepping from the shower, Vale reminded herself that long-distance dating rarely worked out. Still, there was no harm in savoring Emmett’s company until she returned to Pittsburgh. She looked forward to seeing him again this afternoon.

Toweling off, she perked her ears for the Motown songs that had woken her. They were no longer playing. Was Blythe downstairs? Vale padded into her bedroom after grabbing a robe. If they bumped into each other, she resolved to avoid another spat.

As the story starts out, Vale would have no luck at all if it weren’t for her awful luck. She thinks returning home to Philadelphia would be the worst thing ever, but it may just save her after all.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Brighter Flame, by Christine Nolfi {ends 10/12}
Vale Lightner’s dreams turn to ash when the Pittsburgh bar she owns goes up in flames. Just like the past she escaped, very little seems salvageable. Facing unavoidable change, Vale returns to her hometown of Philadelphia to stay with her grandmother.

She knows that returning also means facing everything she left behind: a mother and stepfather who shunted her into the background from the day they married, and her charmed and favored half sister, Blythe, who has abandoned a perfect marriage and is now at a crossroads of her own. Everyone has their secrets, and this reunited family racked by them is about to reach a crisis point.

For a mother and her two daughters, this reunion is a chance for closure, newfound love, and forgiveness. As each of them reassesses her own memories of the past, only the truth can bring them together—in ways that could last forever. 

Vale is used to her family’s poor opinions of her. Growing up, she ran from her mother, stepfather, and sister to her grandmother’s house more than a few times. Once she’s moved away and bought a bar with her father, she thinks she may have found her success. When the bar burns to the ground and can’t be rebuilt, the only fault of hers is her choice of an unreliable business partner. 

She doesn’t want to start over with a bar ownership job she really didn’t love anyway, and her grandmother gives her the perfect excuse—she’s sworn to secrecy while she moves back to her grandmother’s house to help out. She may have made a different choice if she knew her sister was already there. Vale and Blythe had a horrible relationship growing up, and neither one is ready to forgive and forget.

Overall, the story was charming, but predictable. It really had to have a happy ending, as most of the characters were really good people at heart. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it for those who enjoy family dramas and strong female characters.

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

Becki Bayley is a Gemini with a husband, two kids, and a full-time job she doesn’t hate. She tries to post what she’s up to from time to time on Instagram, where she is known as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of A Brighter Flame!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, October 11th, 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!

A Brighter Flame, by Christine Nolfi

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Her Majesty's Royal Coven, by Juno Dawson {ends 10/9}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Helena
It was only correct that Helena should have the best corner office in HMRC (Her Majesty’s Royal Coven). Double aspect with windows on two sides overlooking the redbrick and steel sprawl of Manchester. The Beetham Tower – still the tallest building for miles – gleamed in a hazy tangerine late-afternoon sun.

There was still plenty to clear from her desk before she could leave for the day: sign-off on repairs for the damage caused in the Smythe sting operation; check-in with Sandhya about prep for Solstice; a quick Zoom meeting with Sanne Visser, the notoriously – and perhaps ironically – frosty head of the International Global Warming Action Coven. But first, and most importantly, the Sullied Child. Her intercom buzzed. ‘Yes?’

‘Incoming teleport,’ her secretary said.

‘Thanks, Karen.’

The hairs on her arm stood on end and there was a familiar bonfire-night odour as her daughter’s particles started to swirl around the centre of the office. Her expression was sour. ‘I hate teleporting,’ she whined before she’d even fully formed.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven may not be publicly acknowledged by the government, but everyone knows that the gifts witches have can benefit mundanes, as long as they don’t scare them too much in the process.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Her Majesty's Royal Coven, by Juno Dawson {ends 10/9}
At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls – Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle – took the oath to join Her Majesty's Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she's a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

The book starts when the girls are just friends, scared of growing up, and more than a little nervous to soon join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (HMRC). They’re the offspring of witches who are already members, and really don’t know any other path, but they do know it’s a lot of responsibility too.

The story then moves on to adulthood. While some of the original witches have chosen not to stay with HMRC, there has been a major war of the witchy variety. While the mundanes (non-witches) may have noticed a bit of it, most of the fighting and losses involved the witches. 

Overall, the characters were unique, memorable, and believable (at least if you love magical realism). I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy. The end was a fantastic cliffhanger and I need to know what happens next!

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves fall, Halloween, and witch books year-round! Check out a bit more of what she’s up to and the books she’s reading at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Her Majesty's Royal Coven!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, October 9th, 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!

Her Majesty's Royal Coven, by Juno Dawson

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Evangeline's Heaven, by Jen Braaksma {ends 10/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“No,” she says, “I go in alone.”

Michael turns to her, again with that look of vexation. “That’s stupid, Evie,” he says.

Evangeline bristles with indignation. No, not stupid. Smart, cunning, strategic. They need her, so she’ll make the rules. She’ll ensure she gets the book — alone  and then she’ll flee. She has absolutely no intention of handing this most valuable text over to her archenemy. She’d be mad if she did. Assuming Gabriel and Michael are right, assuming this book truly is the Key to the Kingdom, she’s not going to let it disappear into the bowels of the Archangel vaults. Because she knows Gabriel will never return it to the Archives, no matter how hard the Cherubim protest. 

In his eyes, the book is a dangerous weapon, and Evangeline fears he will use it against her people, to destroy Commoners for good. She can’t let that happen. If her father can’t get the Key, the one thing that will win them this war, then she will.

What a fascinating telling of the fall of Lucifer. His daughter, Evangeline, gives her version of the events in Heaven leading to Lucifer’s challenge and defeat.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Evangeline's Heaven, by Jen Braaksma {ends 10/3}

War is ravaging the Seven Heavens. Lucifer and his Commoner supporters, the lowest class of angels, are rebelling against God’s plan to exile them to the new Earth. When Lucifer departs on a desperate war mission, he leaves his daughter, Evangeline, to defend their home in First Heaven. Fiercely loyal and trained to fight, Evangeline stands ready to do her father’s bidding.

But things change when Evangeline overhears the archangel Gabriel forming a plan to destroy Lucifer—because, as he tells his son, Michael, he believes Lucifer’s plan is to find the Key to the Kingdom and claim the power of God to control all the Heavens for eternity. Refusing to believe her father capable of such treachery, Evangeline sets off to alert her father.

As she battles through the Heavens, however, Evangeline is shocked to discover that what she believed she knew about her father might not be true after all. For the first time in her life, she begins to question whether or not her father’s motives are pure. With the fate of the Heavens hanging in the balance, she must decide who she’s going to be: her father’s daughter, or her own person.

Evangeline has been trained for battle, but her father, Lucifer, usually keeps her safe at home, asking her only to serve as his representative to the people while he is off leading his armies in the war. But Evangeline is soon on the run to find her father and initially, to warn him of attack from his enemies. As Evangeline fights her way through the different levels of Heaven to try and reach her father, she hears from many angels she trusts that not everything with her father is as it seems.

The story included excellent world-building, describing the different levels of Heaven and the different classes of angels who resided in each. The descriptions of the separate specific angels and their relationships to each other were also very helpful. Overall, I gave this book a high 3 out of 5 stars. While it could easily have turned a bit preachy with the Christianity background, the author did a wonderful job of presenting this as an interesting fantasy read.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, niece, and aunt. In her spare time, she tries to post more reviews of books and life experiences at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Evangeline's Heaven!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, October 3rd, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Evangeline's Heaven, by Jen Braaksma

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Quick Pick Book Review: The Rewind, by Allison Winn Scotch

Quick Pick Book Review: The Rewind, by Allison Winn Scotch
  • Opening lines: Frankie Harriman took a long last look in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door of her decently appointed hotel room. The lighting was, as expected, quite grim, but even without the shadowing and the unflattering overtone of yellow, she startled herself. She fidgeted with the cuff of her oversize wool sweater, tried tucking it into the waist of her Levi's, then decided that made her look like she was trying too hard, so untucked it, but she still wasn't happy. She turned to the side and gave herself a final once-over. It would have to do. The rehearsal dinner invite had called for College Chic! and this was all she had: her old J.Crew fisherman sweater that she'd dug out of a box in the back of her closet in her Los Feliz apartment and her vintage Levi's, which she now bought at a used-clothes store on Fairfax, but she may just as well have been wearing the ones from 1989, the year they graduated. The last time she'd set foot on campus at Middleton University.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of Allison Winn Scotch's books, and the synopsis sounded intriguing—I love books that involve reunions of a sort.
  • And what's this book about? Two exes wake up together with wedding bands on their fingers—and no idea how they got there. They have just one New Year’s Eve at the end of 1999 to figure it out in this big-hearted and nostalgic rom-com from New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch. 

    When college sweethearts Frankie and Ezra broke up before graduation, they vowed to never speak to each other again. Ten years later, on the eve of the new millennium, they find themselves back on their snowy, picturesque New England campus together for the first time for the wedding of mutual friends. Frankie’s on the rise as a music manager for the hottest bands of the late ’90s, and Ezra’s ready to propose to his girlfriend after the wedding. Everything is going to plan—they just have to avoid the chasm of emotions brought up when they inevitably come face to face.

    But when they wake up in bed next to each other the following morning with Ezra’s grandmother’s diamond on Frankie’s finger, they have zero memory of how they got there—or about any of the events that transpired the night before. Now Frankie and Ezra have to put aside old grievances in order to figure out what happened, what
    didn’t happen...and to ask themselves the most troubling question of all: what if they both got it wrong the first time around?
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys "reunion" books as well, or cute rom-coms with a dash of drama.
  • Favorite paragraph: What Ezra Jones always needed was a plan. What Frankie Harriman always needed was a foil. They never could have worked. They were always a thunderstorm of impending doom.
  • Something to know: I haven't been reading a lot throughout the pandemic—as you may have noticed, my guest reviewer Becki has been doing the heavy lifting on this blog with her reviews—but this was the first book I've read that I wanted to keep reading ASAP to see how it ended.
  • What I would have changed: Nothing. Now I want to see it made into a movie, too.
  • 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 November 1st.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Book Review and Signed Copy GIVEAWAY: Devil's Chew Toy, by Rob Osler {ends 8/30}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Hollister called. She apologized for bagging out on me the night before. Her excuse: Mysti had felt neglected, and so for the sake of their relationship, Hollister had needed to hang out with her. I said I understood (I didn’t). I was eager to fill her in on my discovery of 6969 Bounder Road, the second threatening note, and the detectives’ visit – along with the bombshell that Camilo was in the country because of his DACA status. For all that, I decided it was better to talk in person. We agreed to meet at Slice in an hour. 

When I arrived, Hollister was already at the same table by the window. “Top of the morning, Batwoman.”

She tipped her mug. “Robin.”

“No, no, no. We’ve been through this before. Spiderman, please.”

“What, you don’t want to wear a kick-ass cape and sexy tights? Fine by me. Wouldn’t be my choice.”

The cast of characters could have made this book sound just ridiculous, but it’s a well-written and interesting story too!

Official synopsis: 
Book Review and Signed Copy GIVEAWAY: Devil's Chew Toy, by Rob Osler {ends 8/30}
Seattle teacher and part-time blogger Hayden McCall wakes sporting one hell of a shiner, with the police knocking at his door. It seems that his new crush, dancer Camilo Rodriguez, has gone missing and they suspect foul play. What happened the night before? And where is Camilo?

Determined to find answers, pint-sized, good-hearted Hayden seeks out two of Camilo’s friends—Hollister and Burley—both lesbians and both fiercely devoted to their friend. From them, Hayden learns that Camilo is a “Dreamer” whose parents had been deported years earlier, and whose sister, Daniela, is presumed to have returned to Venezuela with them. Convinced that the cops won’t take a brown boy’s disappearance seriously, the girls join Hayden’s hunt for Camilo. 

The first clues turn up at Barkingham Palace, a pet store where Camilo had taken a part-time job. The store’s owner, Della Rupert, claims ignorance, but Hayden knows something is up. And then there’s Camilo’s ex-boyfriend, Ryan, who’s suddenly grown inexplicably wealthy. When Hayden and Hollister follow Ryan to a secure airport warehouse, they make a shocking connection between him and Della—and uncover the twisted scheme that’s made both of them rich.

The trail of clues leads them to the grounds of a magnificent estate on an island in Puget Sound, where they’ll finally learn the truth about Camilo’s disappearance—and the fate of his family.

The first pitch for this book read: “...this hilarious, big-hearted LGBTQ+ mystery follows an unlucky in love—and life—gay relationship blogger who teams up with a take-charge lesbian and a fiesty bull terrier to find a missing go-go boy and bring down an international crime ring…” Who could pass that up?? While it was a big promise for a super-fun story, Hayden, Hollister, Burley, and Commander truly may be the best set of heroes ever!

Their stories felt real, and not over-embellished for stereotypes. The daily struggles they faced included college, working to make ends meet, immigration, and yes, peoples’ perceptions of them based on how they presented. But they all had hearts of gold (usually) and recognized the good in those around them whenever possible. 

Overall, this book got 4 out of 5 stars from me. While the author could have leaned on the quirks of the characters to sell books, the great writing and depth of the story made it a thoroughly enjoyable read. Hopefully we can find out what happens next! I’d recommend this book for those who like found family stories, unique and varied characters, and quirky cozy mysteries.

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

Becki Bayley has lived more than a half century and enjoys reading (obvs), writing, and learning more about the world around her. Check out some of her discoveries at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a SIGNED COPY of Devil's Chew Toy, as well as a dog bone bookmark!

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

Devil's Chew Toy, by Rob Osler

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Finding Edward, by Sheila Murray {ends 8/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The racket of sound is the rattle and clang of a passing trolley. Edward is on a street corner. It is a cold day and his hands are wrapped in strips of cloth. He’s wearing an oversized pair of shoes, insulated with more fabric. He has a cart with him. A small thing with wheels that is piled high with newspapers. Edward must be fourteen now, grown a couple of inches. His skin seems darker, though his eyes reveal the same contradiction, apprehension and defiance

He is holding a newspaper and shouting, “Telegram. Evening Edition. Bennett’s New Deal.” There is urgency in his voice. Now that he is his own man, newspaper sales are the difference between food or not. He’s run from the children’s home. They say he still owes them money, for keep that was never paid. He sells his papers on a corner that is across town, where they’re unlikely to find him. If they do, he’ll take the beating and move on.

Cyril is sure he’d feel it if the mysterious Edward has died. He keeps searching for clues, initially feeling like Edward is his only ‘friend’ in his new Canadian home.

Official synopsis:

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Finding Edward, by Sheila Murray {ends 8/22}
Cyril Rowntree, a mixed-race Jamaican, migrates to Canada after his mother and surrogate grandfather die. Cyril arrives in Toronto and sets about earning a degree, works two jobs and begins to navigate his way through the implications of being racialized in his new land.

A chance encounter with a panhandler named Patricia leads Cyril to a suitcase full of photographs and letters dating back to the early 1920s. Cyril is drawn into the letters and their story of a white mother’s struggle to come to terms with the need to give up her mixed-race baby, Edward. Abandoned by his white father as a small child, Cyril feels a compelling connection to the boy and begins to look for the rest of Edward’s story.

As he searches, Cyril unearths hidden pieces of Black history and gradually gains the confidence to trust his own judgment.

Cyril has never known anything besides his life in Jamaica, where he shared a home with his mother and two younger siblings, and had spent a lot of time with his mom’s employer, Nelson. When his mom dies shortly after Nelson died, Cyril’s siblings stay in Jamaica to live with their aunt, and he is sent to Canada to live with distant relatives he doesn’t know and attend University.

The story of Cyril’s new life and discoveries in Canada is beautiful. It’s not beautiful because everything is right in the world, but because it feels so real. Cyril learns that opportunities always have a cost, and frequently that cost varies based on who you are, what you look like, and where you’re from. As Cyril tries to find Edward and prove that he’s real, he meets other students and people in the city who let him share their journey as well. 

Spending time in Cyril’s world, with his few school friends, his Jamaican family, possibly crazy Patricia, and the stories Mr. Addo has to share is so enlightening and comforting. This book was definitely 4 out of 5 stars from me. It was an enjoyable read, while also teaching me a little more about Canadian history, and the fascinating history of Africville. I’d recommend this book to those who like family dramas, 1900s historical fiction, and stories about Canada.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley likes listening to music while she works, relaxing with a chilled old-fashioned while she reads, and knowing that her nails are neatly polished. She posts more book reviews and some of her activities on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Giveaway will end on Monday, August 22nd, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be contacted via emial and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Open to both U.S. and Canadian residents.

Good luck!

Finding Edward, by Sheila Murray

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Our Little World, by Karen Winn {ends 8/11}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The summer of 1986, the hot weather arrived – swimming weather – but Deer Chase Lake remained closed. “They found bacteria in the lake,” Mother told Audrina and me one June morning over breakfast, “so it’s not going to open for a while. They have to clean it.”

I nodded, feeling relieved, and swirled around the milk in my cereal bowl to douse the remaining Cheerios that were still partially dry.

Audrina snorted. “Who’d want to go there anyway?”

I glanced up from my bowl of cereal, surprised that we were in agreement on this, albeit silently, when we still felt so far apart.

This isn’t just a story of a four-year-old who goes missing from the beach. It’s her neighbor Bee’s insights surrounding the tumultuous summer and all the changes this initiated in her life and other lives in the community over the next year. It’s the story of how one thing happening can change everything, forever.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Our Little World, by Karen Winn {ends 8/11}
July 1985. It’s a normal, sweltering New Jersey summer for soon-to-be seventh grader Bee Kocsis. Her thoughts center only on sunny days spent at Deer Chase Lake, on evenings chasing fireflies around her cul-de-sac with the neighborhood kids, and on Max, the boy who just moved in across the street. There's also the burgeoning worry that she'll never be as special as her younger sister, Audrina, who seems to effortlessly dazzle wherever she goes. 

But when Max’s little sister, Sally, goes missing at the lake, Bee’s long-held illusion of stability is shattered in an instant. As the families in her close-knit community turn inward, suspicious and protective, things in Bee’s own home become increasingly strained, most of all with Audrina, when a shameful secret surfaces. With everything changed, Bee and Audrina’s already-fraught sisterhood is pushed to the limit as they grow up—and apart—in the wake of an innocence lost too soon. 

This moving story tells of young Bee’s observations about her neighborhood and her family when she’s around 12 years old, but adds a few comments about her adult reflections on these memories. It was definitely a sort of "before-and-after" summer for her. When young Sally goes missing, it not only changes the way her entire community operates, but also her personal relationships with her parents and her younger sister. Everyone is processing the grief of not having Sally around, and potentially addressing that their community may not be perfect and safe, with the hope they’re holding out that Sally has just wandered off and will return, miraculously, unscathed.

But Sally’s story isn’t always the most important one, even when Bee and her neighbors want it to be. Other people are still growing, changing, and making choices about their own lives. Adults are still good or bad parents and spouses, and everyone still has good and bad things happen, that usually have nothing to do with Sally being gone.

Bee’s viewpoint from both her young self and her comments about it all once she’s an adult were heartfelt and memorable. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and loved it not just for the amazingly realistic character Bee was, but for the wholly memorable 1980s setting for it all. This book would be recommended for those who appreciate family dramas, sister stories, and re-living the 1980s.

{click here to purchase - Kindle edition is currently 46% off!}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys relaxing with a good book, driving on a dry sunny day, or curling up with a watermelon wine to watch a thunderstorm out the window. Check out a few of her captured memories on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Our Little World!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Our Little World, by Karen Winn

Monday, August 1, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Hemlock Cure, by Joanne Burn {ends 8/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From the pantry, Mae hears the knocking.

‘See who it is!’ shouts Father. He is explaining to Sam about the humoral system, and the two of them are sitting at the kitchen table looking at a diagram of the human body.

Mae goes through to the lobby, pulling the door closed behind her to keep the warmth of the kitchen in. The key hangs from its nail and, taking it, she slips it into the lock, turning it easily, the ironwork of the door handle cold in her palm.

Isabel is backlit by the sun, her eyes the bright blue of forget-me-nots.

‘Mae.’

‘I cannot ask you in.’

‘You explained last time.’

Mae knows her life would be much better if her mother and her sister hadn’t died. Life with her father is hard, but it may be even worse than she thinks.

Official summary:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Hemlock Cure, by Joanne Burn {ends 8/8}
A glitteringly dark historical novel of love, persecution, and survival set against the backdrop of one of history's most terrifying episodes: the Bubonic Plague.

It is 1665 and the women of Eyam village keep many secrets. Especially Isabel and Mae.

Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about the pious, reclusive apothecary, on whom she is keeping a watchful eye.

Mae, the apothecary's youngest daughter, dreads her father's rage if he discovers what she keeps from him: her feelings for Rafe, Isabel's ward, or the fact that she studies from her father's books at night.

But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.

When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae will place them both in unimaginable peril. Meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all. . . 

After Mae’s mother died, she started hanging out regularly with her mother’s friends, Isabel and Elizabeth. Her father especially did not approve of Isabel, the village’s midwife, who he held responsible for the death of any brothers Mae may have had. 

Soon, the plague hits their small village. Mae’s father encourages prayer and a few remedies he offers as the apothecary. When Isabel’s husband goes to London to help other family members, pregnant Isabel watches Mae’s home life get worse and worse. Should someone help Mae? And if so, how? Standing up to an apothecary with an upstanding reputation is risky for any woman, but especially one with a sketchy past for herself.

This was a great book about female empowerment when it seemed impossible. I loved Mae’s spirit and gave the book 4 out of 5 stars. This book could be recommended to any reader who wants to read more about a period of history about which not a lot of books are written. The author includes a note at the back that credits some characters based on real people from that period.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is always a wife and mom first. Check out her posts about what she’s reading and enjoying in her yard on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Hemlock Cure!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Hemlock Cure, by Joanne Burn

Monday, July 18, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Assassin's Lullaby, by Mark Rubenstein {ends 7/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Eli knows that if the feds get their hands on that flash drive, Gorlov could be charged with a shitload of crimes, mainly financial, but there could be details on the device implicating him in other felonies as well. Crimes that go beyond white-collar stuff:  extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, or murder.

No matter what Gorlov says, Irina Sakharov will be nothing more than collateral damage for Gorlov and Viktor.

This woman is innocent, has nothing to do with Russian organized crime.

Yet she’s going down. As for her brother, when Gorlov suspected he’d been disloyal, he ended up leaving this world.

This is how the Bratva operates.

Eli has only been an assassin. But as he gets a bit older, maybe it’s time for him to take the money he’s hidden away, create yet another identity, and start a new life for himself.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Assassin's Lullaby, by Mark Rubenstein {ends 7/25}
In every life, there lurks catastrophe.

So believes Eli Dagan, a thirty-nine-year-old man whose traumatic past led to his service as an assassin for the Mossad. He now lives in New York City, where under various assumed names he’s a contract killer.

Anton Gorlov, the head of the Brooklyn-based Odessa mafia, has a new and challenging assignment for Eli. Gorlov wants to leave the country permanently, so all loose ends must be eliminated. He’s willing to pay $1 million for a task divided into two parts. The job involves extreme measures along with unprecedented danger for Eli, who has lived a ghostly existence over the last ten years.

Is accepting Gorlov’s offer a subliminal death wish? Or is it a way to reclaim part of his damaged soul?

For the first time since his pregnant wife and parents were killed by a suicide bomber years earlier, Eli Dagan faces challenges that will reconnect him with his blighted past and may yet offer hope for a new and better life.

There’s apparently no alone like assassin alone. Eli takes readers on a journey of always looking over one’s shoulder, and having no contacts for an employer or enemy to use against him. He assesses every building or room he enters, and always has an emergency escape plan. He realizes he’s getting older, and maybe it’s time to take the substantial money he’s earned and start a new life, with no links to his assassin history.

But his newest job is oddly pulling at his heartstrings. The employer has simply told him to get a flash drive from a woman, but he knows just getting the flash drive won’t end up being enough, and the woman has done nothing to deserve the end he’s sure she’ll meet. 

The action was frequently the imaginings of Eli, getting paranoid after all of his real life risks. The story was well told, and never quite clear where it would go next. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and would certainly recommend it to those who enjoy an edge-of-your-seat action/adventure story.

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

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys reading a wide variety of books. Check out her interesting  reads and cozy reading nooks on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Assassin's Lullaby!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, July 25th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Assassin's Lullaby, by Mark Rubenstein

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One Day in June, by Sam Martin {ends 7/24}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

With his mobile phone on the seat next to him as a Satellite Navigator, Adrian headed west out of the city and out into the suburbs, passing through St. Pauli and Altona on the river road. He had no idea what he would find when he got to Teufelsbrück (has a place ever been more perfectly named: the ‘Devil’s Bridge’?), but as he got nearer he sensed that he was leaving something of his old life behind him and that in seeking answers to the questions which he now felt compelled to ask, a new chapter of his life might just be about to begin. But he was unsure whether to embrace it or to fear it.

Without doubt he’d been scarred and badly hurt so much by his ‘old’ life and he had spent the past eleven years sinking deep into himself in an effort to exorcise the demons which had been eating away at him, so in that way a new start was something he could welcome. But this wasn’t the same as a snake shedding its old skin. 

When Adrian Kramer’s mother dies somewhat unexpectedly, a few years after his father had died, packing up her house leads him to discover that he may not know his own parents like he thought he did.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: One Day in June, by Sam Martin {ends 7/24}
All his adult life Adrian Kramer had carried around with him a secret. But was it as big a secret, or one as explosive or life-threatening as the secret he stumbled into? Based on a true story and series of historical events,
One Day In June is one man’s journey of self discovery into the dark and bleeding heart of Europe.

Adrian doesn’t have a lot of people he considers close friends, so when he finds something unusual while packing up his parents’ house, he isn’t sure where to turn to unravel the mystery of what he’s found, and what it may mean about the man who was his father. Unfortunately, there are some very bad people who are ecstatic at Adrian’s discovery and will stop at nothing to have it for their own.

What starts as a slow self-discovery and time of contemplation for Adrian gets fast-tracked to a dangerous search that risks the lives of Adrian and those close to him. Before he’s had time to decide what it all means for him and the family he’s already known, he’s in a race against the clock without knowing who to trust.

This was an intriguing story and a unique perspective. What Adrian felt was his biggest secret suddenly felt miniscule against what he was learning about his own family ties. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it for those who enjoy historical mysteries and interesting stories with ties to WW2 and German ancestors.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley enjoys reading, listening to music, and snuggling with her cats. See more of what she’s been up to on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a Kindle (digital) copy of One Day in June!

Must have Amazon account to claim. Kindle copy will be sent by the author.

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

Open to U.S., Canadian, and international residents!

Good luck!

One Day in June, by Sam Martin

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Book Review: We Lie Here, by Rachel Howzell Hall

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Overnight, rain had fallen, and now the world smells new and crisp. Some of the dust has washed off my car, and the black paint looks fashionably matte instead of flat-our filthy. Dominique slides into the front passenger seat of Mom’s Cherokee, and I pop into the back seat with my purse and foil-wrapped bacon-and-egg breakfast sandwich. Like the Camaro, the SUV’s interior smells of cigarettes smoked yesterday and one hundred years before, and instead of Clinque’s Happy, there’s a hint of rose and jasmine from Mom’s current perfume as well as heavier notes of running shoes, discarded athletic tape, and sweat.

Dominique drops her traveling mug into a cup holder, then pops down the visor mirror to add more shine to her bright-red lips and tighten her two French braids. Mom looks like our older sister in her black Vans and Thrasher tank top. I wish I could’ve kept on my pajama bottoms and hoodie and stayed in bed.

My eyes skip around our neighborhood. Who could’ve sent that postcard? Where is the man in the green Mazda? Has this Nissan Pathfinder parked here before? Who’s hiding behind that hedge?

When nothing is as it seems, wouldn’t it be nice to at least trust your own recollections? Yara knew she didn’t want to visit her hometown, but the longer she’s there, the more reasons she has to leave ASAP.

Official synopsis:
We Lie Here book review, Rachel Howzell Hall
TV writer Yara Gibson’s hometown of Palmdale, California, isn’t her first choice for a vacation. But she’s back to host her parents’ twentieth-anniversary party and find the perfect family mementos for the celebration. Everything is going to plan until Yara receives a disturbing text: I have information that will change your life.

The message is from Felicia Campbell, who claims to be a childhood friend of Yara’s mother. But they’ve been estranged for years—drama best ignored and forgotten. But Yara can’t forget Felicia, who keeps texting, insisting that Yara talk to her “before it’s too late.”

But the next day is already too late for Felicia, whose body is found floating in Lake Palmdale. Before she died, Felicia left Yara a key to a remote lakeside cabin. In the basement are files related to a mysterious tragedy, unsolved since 1998. What secrets was Felicia hiding? How much of what Yara 
knows about her family has been true?

The deeper Yara digs for answers, the more she fears that Felicia was right. Uncovering the truth about what happened at the cabin all those years ago will change Yara’s life—or end it.
 
When Yara goes back to her hometown to oversee the last week of planning and putting on the biggest party the community has ever seen for her popular parents’ anniversary, she thinks that dealing with her mother will be the most stressful aspect. Within the first day, she finds so much more to worry about. 
 
An old friend of her mother insists she has secrets about her family that Yara needs to know, but she acts pretty sketchy the whole time she tries to convince Yara to meet her to learn more. Yara doesn’t have to worry whether or not to trust the friend when the friend turns up dead soon after talking to Yara. 
 
Yara should just be dealing with the party, but instead she has her severe asthma, threats with absolutely no clue where they’re coming from, and an apparent murderer on the loose. While some of it was guessable part way through, how it all fit together wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The book was an interesting combination of an unreliable narrator, with an unexpected mystery.
 
{click here to purchase - currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited}
 
Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and investigator who loves to find out how things really work. Check out her cozy reading spot and other fun snapshots on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Quick Pick Book Review: Happy-Go-Lucky, by David Sedaris

  • Opening lines: It was spring and my sister Lisa and I were in her toy-sized car, riding from the airport in Greensboro, North Carolina, to her house in Winston-Salem. I'd gotten up early to catch my flight from Raleigh, but still she had me beat by an hour. "I like to be at Starbucks right when they open, at five a.m.," she said. "Speaking of which, I was there a few months ago and saw a lady with a monkey. I don't know what kind, but it was small—not much bigger than a doll—and was in a pink frilly dress. And it was just so ... upsetting to me. I wanted to go up to this woman and ask, 'What do you plan on doing with that thing once you lose interest in it?'"
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris's books, and I've actually seen him at readings a few times, as well.
  • And what's this book about?
    David Sedaris, the “champion storyteller,” (Los Angeles Times) returns with his first new collection of personal essays since the bestselling Calypso.

    Back when restaurant menus were still printed on paper, and wearing a mask—or not—was a decision made mostly on Halloween, David Sedaris spent his time doing normal things. As
    Happy-Go-Lucky opens, he is learning to shoot guns with his sister, visiting muddy flea markets in Serbia, buying gummy worms to feed to ants, and telling his nonagenarian father wheelchair jokes.

    But then the pandemic hits, and like so many others, he’s stuck in lockdown, unable to tour and read for audiences, the part of his work he loves most. To cope, he walks for miles through a nearly deserted city, smelling only his own breath. He vacuums his apartment twice a day, fails to hoard anything, and contemplates how sex workers and acupuncturists might be getting by during quarantine.

    As the world gradually settles into a new reality, Sedaris too finds himself changed. His offer to fix a stranger’s teeth rebuffed, he straightens his own, and ventures into the world with new confidence. Newly orphaned, he considers what it means, in his seventh decade, no longer to be someone’s son. And back on the road, he discovers a battle-scarred America: people weary, storefronts empty or festooned with Help Wanted signs, walls painted with graffiti reflecting the contradictory messages of our time: Eat the Rich. Trump 2024. Black Lives Matter.

    In
    Happy-Go-Lucky, David Sedaris once again captures what is most unexpected, hilarious, and poignant about these recent upheavals, personal and public, and expresses in precise language both the misanthropy and desire for connection that drive us all. If we must live in interesting times, there is no one better to chronicle them than the incomparable David Sedaris.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys non-fiction, memoirs, or other Sedaris books.
  • Favorite paragraph: I decided from the start of the pandemic not to get Zoom. "What do you mean, 'get' it?" Hugh asked. "It's nothing you have to buy or attach to your computer. You press a button and, wham, it's there.

    "Well, can you mark which button?" I asked. "I want to make sure I never push it."
  • Something to know: David Sedaris is the only nonfiction storyteller who can consistently make me laugh with his books. I recommend this novel if you enjoy humorous slice-of-life stories.
  • What I would have changed: I found the first few stories to be a little slow-paced, but I enjoyed the second half of the book more.
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to order on Amazon—today (Prime Day, 7/13/22) the Kindle version is on sale for 48% off, and the hardcover version is on sale for 39% off.

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.

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