Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Book Review: Jane Doe, by Victoria Helen Stone

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I gasp as Steven pulls into his driveway. “Oh my God, what a beautiful yard!”

“Thank you.” The garage door rises and I see that the garage is perfectly clean, tools hung on walls and shelves neatly lined with boxes.

“Everything is so pretty. And it seems like such a great neighborhood.”

“It’s nice. There are a lot of older folks here, so there aren’t too many asshole kids around. But the school district is one of the best, so home values are solid.”

He’s so cold and practical that I have trouble imagining what free spirit Meg saw in him. She never thought about home values or school districts during her walks around town. She liked pretty trim and brightly painted porches. But opposites attract, I suppose. His serious and responsible nature must have felt like safety to her.

Sometimes it’s beautiful when karma has a name. This time, karma’s name is Jane, and Steven Hepsworth is about to pay for his bad treatment of another woman.

Official synopsis:
Jane Doe book review, Victoria Helen Stone
Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s just the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes—meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. No one has any idea who Jane really is. Least of all Steven.

But plain Jane is hiding something. And Steven’s bringing out the worst in her.

Nothing can distract Jane from going straight for his heart: allowing herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, to insinuate herself into his career and his family, and to expose all his dirty secrets. It’s time for Jane to dig out everything that matters to Steven. So she can take it all away.

Just as he did to her.

This quick read introduces a unique character: Jane, who repeatedly recognizes herself as a sociopath and isn’t ashamed to keep telling the reader about how she’s getting through life by pretending to be like other people while not experiencing any real emotions of her own. 

Jane’s ability to read people and anticipate who they want her to be makes her the perfect woman to exact revenge on the man who broke her college best friend’s heart. She has no problem getting close to him so she can decide how to most efficiently and effectively ruin him. 

A really fun book (not sure what that says about this reader!), it could be recommended for those who enjoy contemporary psychological thrillers and stories of what may look like female empowerment. It earned 3 out of 5 stars, and Problem Child, the second book in the Jane series, has already received great reviews as well.

{click here to purchase on Amazon—currently free for Kindle Unlimited!}

Becki Bayley is a mom and wife who enjoys reading, spending time with her family, and relaxing outside in her flower garden. Check out reviews of other books she’s read on her blog,

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Stockwell Letters, by Jacqueline Friedland {ends 8/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Boston, June 1854
The guards gave Anthony a new suit that morning. After so many days wearing the same rank outfits all the time, he was glad for something clean to put on. And the clothes they gave him were fine. The only time he saw Black folk dressed so costly was when they were being sold at auction for house slaving. He took his time putting on the trousers and the sharp coat, and he found himself still hoping. If they gave him all those fine fabrics and even a top hat to wear, that maybe signified more good was to come.

But it turned out those clothes were meant just to show folks outside that he’d been treated well, that maybe the slave life wasn’t so bad after all.

When the commissioner announced his decision, Anthony could scarcely believe it, even though he heard it clear with his very own ears.

Life as a former slave in a divided country presented many challenges and conflicts for all of the country’s citizens.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Stockwell Letters, by Jacqueline Friedland {ends 8/22}
A passionate advocate of abolition from her earliest years, Ann’s activism was derailed just before her twenty-fourth birthday, when she fell sick with a mysterious illness. In order to protect her fragile health, her husband, the famous abolitionist Wendell Phillips, forbade her from joining any further anti-slavery outings. Even so, when fugitive slave Anthony Burns is apprehended in Boston, Ann is determined to help him, no matter what it costs her.  

With a particular focus on the predicament of nineteenth-century women who wanted to effect change despite the restrictions society imposed on them, The Stockwell Letters takes a deep dive into the harrowing conditions of the antebellum South and the obstacles faced by abolitionists who fought tirelessly to eradicate slavery. A fast-paced, arresting recounting of America’s not-so-distant history, the story will stay with readers long after the final page.
Told from the viewpoints of Anthony Burns, Colette, and Ann Phillips, this story gave fascinating perspective on abolitionist activists in Boston in the 1830s through the 1850s (with one last follow-up in the mid-1880s). The title of the book wasn’t obvious, and didn’t really occur to this reader until the book was done, but when it made sense it was excellent.

Anthony Burns starts out the story as a slave who is being rented out by his owner to a business-owner in another town. His escape is what starts most of the action in the story. Colette lives in the city where Anthony is working. She likes to think that she has a progressive view of human rights, and is sneaking around to teach her maid, Adelia, to read. When they first meet Anthony, she wants to add him to their classes since he has expressed an interest in reading as well. Ann Phillips was raised in an abolitionist family and married famous abolitionist Wendell Phillips. 

The story of the three main characters and the commitment to and evolution of their ideals is fascinating. While the story is based on their common beliefs, why they believed what they did, or how they interpreted their actions based on these beliefs, varies. Overall, the book was enlightening and earned 4 out of 5 stars. It was wonderfully told historical fiction, with some of the characters actually based in fact. There was more than average history available about what happened with Anthony Burns, and the author researched it well.

{click here to purchase on Amazon}

Becki Bayley enjoys writing, reading, and snuggling with her two cats. Catch a glimpse of what she’s up to on Instagram where she posts as PoshBecki.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Stockwell Letters!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 22nd at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be chosen and emailed the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Stockwell Letters, by Jacqueline Friedland

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Three Fires, by Denise Mina {ends 8/15}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley 

This is how Savonarola knows that he has lost Florence: not one of the apartments overlooking the Piazza della Signoria has a candle flickering inside. The apartments seem deserted but they’re not. There’s nowhere to go any more: the inns are closed and the gambling dens are all shut. People must be home. In one room a figure is shifting, watching, looking straight at him. It’s a man, he thinks, a man with his arms crossed. At this same event last year all the windows were bright; a lot of them were open for people to watch the march come in for the big bonfire. Last year was better.

Savonarola is losing the city.

Of course we’ll never know what was really in Savonarola’s mind, but this story makes some pretty good guesses.

Official synopsis: 
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Three Fires, by Denise Mina {ends 8/15}
Girolamo Savonarola was a Dominican friar living in Florence at the end of the fifteenth century. An anti-corruption campaigner, his hellfire preaching increasingly spilled over into tirades against all luxuries that tempted his followers toward sin. These sermons led to the infamous "Bonfire of the Vanities”—a series of fires lit throughout Florence for the incineration of everything from books, extravagant clothing, playing cards, musical instruments, make-up, and mirrors to paintings, tapestries, and sculptures.

Railing against the vice and avarice of the ruling Medici family, he was instrumental in their removal from power—and for a short time became the puritanical leader of the city. After turning his attention to corruption within the Catholic Church, he was first excommunicated and then executed by a combination of hanging and being burned at the stake.

Just as in Rizzio—her latest novel with Pegasus Crime—Denise Mina brings a modern take to this fascinating historical story, drawing parallels between the febrile atmosphere of medieval Florence and the culture wars of the present day. In dramatizing the life and last days of Savonarola, she explores the downfall of the original architect of cancel culture and, in the process, explores the never-ending tensions between wealth, inequality, and freedom of speech that so dominate our modern world.

This enlightening and imaginative re-telling of the late fifteenth century really brought a not necessarily popular or well-known time in history to life. From a childhood that may have led to Savonarola’s passion for sharing his truth, to his actual practice preaching to get his message out, this book made the struggles in Savonarola’s life feel understandable and relevant.

While not a long book, the journeys, sermons, and confrontations of Savonarola as a force within the Church and outside of it were fascinating. No chapter or incident was too long to bore a reader, but instead just gave a hint at the surface of the characters’ lives that left the reader’s imagination open for more.

The book was quite enjoyable and earned 4 out of 5 stars while also teaching a lot about a time and place with which this reader was previously unfamiliar. Those who enjoy historical fiction, especially with a religious angle, would like this book.

{click here to purchase on Amazon}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who is married with two children. She loves the theater, her flower garden, and watching her kids enjoy their lives. Check out other book reviews and their activities on her blog,


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Three Fires!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 15th, 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!

Three Fires, by Denise Mina

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