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

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Circus of Wonders, by Elizabeth Macneal {ends 2/9}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

One day Toby and I’ll own a troupe, and she’ll be in the center of it,” Jasper said, and at that his brother brightened.

“We’ll ride in on camels,” Toby added. “In red capes.”

“I’ll build Stella a swing or a tightrope,” Jasper said.

“Not if I marry her first,” Dash said, biting hard into a bottled plum, wounding the soft red flesh.

“Don’t be absurd,” Jasper said, and laughed. “Marry her!”

He broke off when Stella walked toward them. Jasper reached out his hand, but she ducked away,  settled herself under Dash’s arm as if she belonged there. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. It was a gesture of such tenderness that Jasper had to look away.

The relationships and stories of the characters in this book were often more than they seemed at first glance. The ties of friends and family were respected and earned.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Circus of Wonders, by Elizabeth Macneal {ends 2/9}
Step up, step up! In 1860s England, circus mania is sweeping the nation. Crowds jostle for a glimpse of the lion-tamers, the dazzling trapeze artists and, most thrilling of all, the so-called “human wonders.”

When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders pitches its tent in a poor coastal town, the life of one young girl changes forever. Sold to the ringmaster as a “leopard girl” because of the birthmarks that cover her body, Nell is utterly devastated. But as she grows close to the other performers, she finds herself enchanted by the glittering freedom of the circus, and by her own role as the Queen of the Moon and Stars.

Before long, Nell’s fame spreads across the world—and with it, a chance for Jasper Jupiter to grow his own name and fortune. But what happens when her fame begins to eclipse his own, when even Jasper’s loyal brother Toby becomes captivated by Nell? No longer the quiet flower-picker, Nell knows her own place in the world, and she will fight for it.

When Nell is just a child, she is unwillingly sold to the circus by her family, and spends days devastated that no one is following or trying to rescue her. Soon, she decides that she must be on her own, and the rest of the performers really don’t look too miserable. With a change of heart, success is at her fingertips. While whole books have been built around this part of the circus, this book had even more.

All the handbills gush about the fabulous circus as Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, but Nell wonders about Jasper’s quiet brother, who she first noticed before she was even sold to the circus. Jasper and Toby apparently had a whole life before the circus. They were part of a family with its own issues, and then they were part of the Crimean War. These events perhaps made up more of their personalities and loyalties than their lives with the circus.

While the circus was the first feature that made this book intriguing, as the family drama is revealed more and more, the book becomes much more complex. Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It told of the whole lives of the brothers, and then the lives they inspired in others. The characters had interesting stories of being true to themselves, and the responsibilities of how one persons’ choices may change the life of someone else. I’d recommend this book for those who like circus stories or late-1800s family dramas.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is an introvert who lives a quiet afternoon with a good book and some snacks. See more of what she’s reading on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Circus of Wonders!

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Circus of Wonders, by Elizabeth Macneal

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