Thursday, May 26, 2022

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchasecurrently free for Kindle Unlimited!

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Strangers We Know, by Elle Marr

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

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

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

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

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

“Gangbangers? Did you call the police?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 17th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Mallory's Manly Methods, by Thomas Keech

Thursday, May 5, 2022

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

MAY

June 1915

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, May 12th, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Scarlet Carnation, by Laila Ibrahim

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

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

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

CRYSTAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{click here to purchase}

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

GIVEAWAY:

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

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

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

One of Us is Dead, by Jeneva Rose

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Quick Pick Book Review: Upgrade, by Blake Crouch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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