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.


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.


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

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