Sunday, February 25, 2024

Book Review: The Queens of London, by Heather Webb

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Lilian angled her body away from people rushing through the hallways of the police headquarters. They were all men, some of whom still stared at her as if she were a circus animal even after seven years on the force. Others gave her openly hostile glares or insulted her. Much as she liked being a part of Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police, she didn’t particularly enjoy the persisting derision. She couldn’t avoid it that day; she’d been told to meet with the chief. He’d said there was an important case to which he wanted to assign her. She couldn’t imagine what it was, but she was breathless with excitement at the thought.

She rapped decisively on his office door.

“Come in!” the chief barked.

“You wanted to see me, sir,” she said, stepping inside.

Diamond Annie and Officer Lilian Wyles were each powerful women in London, but Hira wasn’t sure how much she wanted to do with either one of them.

Official synopsis:

Book Review: The Queens of London, by Heather Webb
1925. London. When Alice Diamond, AKA "Diamond Annie," is elected the Queen of the Forty Elephants, she's determined to take the all-girl gang to new heights. She's ambitious, tough as nails, and a brilliant mastermind, with a plan to create a dynasty the likes of which no one has ever seen. Alice demands absolute loyalty from her "family"―it's how she's always kept the cops in line. Too bad she's now the target for one of Britain's first female policewomen.

Officer Lilian Wyles isn't merely one of the first female detectives at Scotland Yard, she's one of the best detectives on the force. Even so, she'll have to win a big score to prove herself, to break free from the "women's work" she's been assigned. When she hears about the large-scale heist in the works to fund Alice's new dynasty, she realizes she has the chance she's been looking for―and the added bonus of putting Diamond Annie out of business permanently.

When Hira runs away from her uncle’s house, she isn’t sure where she’ll go, but she knows if she stays she’ll be sent to a boarding house and school for orphans. Nothing in her coddled life so far has readied her for that. While she hasn’t been able to live with her parents in India, her uncle has taken care of keeping a roof over her head, good food on the table, and competent servants, governess and tutors. Now that her parents have died, her uncle has decided his responsibility is over.

Hira is soon a pawn in a much bigger game. Diamond Annie is grooming her to be a great thief in her organization, and at the same time Officer Wiles wants to catch Diamond Annie and help Hira choose a life that isn’t funded by crime. Between these three strong characters and a charming shopgirl who witnesses some of it and wants a happy ending for herself and everyone else, the perspectives of London in 1925 are quite varied.

The author’s research shines through in this historical fiction and what results is a great and engaging story. The book earned 4 out of 5 stars and would be recommended for those who enjoy stories from the early 1900s, London, and compelling characters with very different motivations.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a book reviewer and blogger, Instagram-er, and TikTok-er from Michigan who goes by SweetlyBSquared.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Molten Death, by Leslie Karst {ends 3/1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Valerie’s sleep was even more fitful than usual that night. Visions of bomb blasts and dark groves of gnarled trees had invaded her dreams – images that refused to dissipate as morning approached, instead stubbornly persisting through each succeeding sleep cycle.

By five o’clock when Kristen shook her shoulder, she’d finally fallen into a deep slumber, and it took her a few moments to return to consciousness.

‘Rise and shine, toots!’ Kristen exclaimed in a voice far too cheery for the hour. ‘No complaining, now. Remember, it was you who wanted to go on this fishing expedition.’

She was right, in more ways than one – though Valerie wasn’t about to mention everything she planned to fish for today. In fact, the primary reason she’d been so eager to join Jordan was indeed for the purpose of a metaphorical fishing expedition: she was hoping to pump the local Puna gal for locals-only information that might help her investigation.

When no one completely believes that Valerie says she saw a body in the lava, she decides she has to prove that she isn’t losing her mind, and find out whose body it was and how it ended up there.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Molten Death, by Leslie Karst {ends 3/1}
The first Orchid Isle cozy mystery, set in tropical Hilo, Hawai'i, introduces a fun and feisty LGBTQ+ couple who swap surfing lessons for sleuthing sessions!

Retired caterer Valerie Corbin and her wife Kristen have come to the Big Island of Hawai'i to treat themselves to a well-earned tropical vacation. After the recent loss of her brother, Valerie is in sore need of a distraction from her troubles and is looking forward to enjoying the delicious food and vibrant culture the state has to offer.

Early one morning, the couple and their friend—tattooed local boy, Isaac—set out to see an active lava flow, and Valerie is mesmerized by the shape-shifting mass of orange and red creeping over the field of black rock. Spying a boot in the distance, she strides off alone, pondering how it could have gotten there, only to realize to her horror that the boot is still attached to a leg - a leg which is slowly being engulfed by the hot lava.

Valerie's convinced a murder has been committed - but as she's the only witness to the now-vanished corpse, who's going to believe her?

Determined to prove what she saw, and get justice for the unknown victim, Valerie launches her own investigation. But, thrown into a Hawaiian culture far from the luaus and tiki bars of glossy tourist magazines, she soon begins to fear she may be the next one to end up entombed in shiny black rock...

What a fun cozy mystery—with more to come! This first book in the Orchid Isle Mystery series introduces Valerie and Kristen on their vacation to Hawai’i. They’re staying with a friend Kristen previously met near their home in California, but Valerie is the sort who meets more local people quickly through her love of food and then her secret investigation.

The beautiful setting of the city where they’re staying and nearby surfing and fishing spots they explore during day trips made the book enjoyable and informational about day to day life in such a gorgeous yet volatile setting. As the title suggests, lava is a powerful force demanding respect.

Following Valerie’s restaurant background with her deceased brother, the book also provided authentic Hawai’ian recipes for the meals mentioned as part of the story, and a glossary of some Hawai’ian words and phrases used in character dialogue.

Overall, the story earned 3 out of 5 stars, and more cozy mysteries to follow are sure to be as pleasant. This series could be confidently recommended to those who enjoy cozy mysteries, unique characters in a dream vacation setting, and stories taking place in Hawai’i.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and reader who also enjoys the theatre and posting her adventures on Instagram as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

Enter to win a copy of Molten Death (An Orchid Isle Mystery)!

Giveaway will end on Saturday, March 1st, at 11:59pm ET, and winner will be contacted via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Molten Death, by Leslie Karst

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Book Review: Getting to Yes, by Tim Hunniecutt

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I met Chloe that Sunday and completely forgot Trudy. It had been a good evening with Trudy, but I did not have strong feelings for her.

I kept thinking about Chloe as I waited impatiently for the first day I would work with her. I arrived at work wearing a white shirt and black slacks and put on my red apron.

Surprised, Sonia asked, “Already here, Christopher? I wonder why? Tammie told me Christopher is already in love!” She teased, “I heard Christopher and Chloe generated so much electricity between them when they met that they caused the lights to flicker and little bolts to appear!”

I laughed, “Come on. We did not make the lights flicker.”

She smiled and responded, “The girls are not in yet, but you can start grating the cheese.”

Chris was ready to go away to college and enjoy every minute in the party dorm, but meeting Chloe after his first year had him reevaluating his long term plans.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Getting to Yes, by Tim Hunniecutt
Step into the sun-soaked embrace of 1978 Florida where nineteen-year-old Chris, a hopeless romantic, is determined to find something real.

Told from the perspective of a young man trying to make sense of his growing familiarity with women, their wants, their needs, as well as his own, Getting to Yes is a heartwarming and unexpected look at one of life’s most significant experiences: falling in love.

As Chris continues to learn about intimacy, we continue to learn about Chris through colorful, and often humorous vignettes of women that have come and gone.

And then he locks eyes with Chloe. And Chris knows this is what he’s been missing.

But is love ever simple? Rarely.

Step into a poignant, sweet, and nostalgic ode to the beauty of finding your way in this heartwarming adventure where love blooms and emotions unfold.

Getting to Yes captures the essence of innocence, the bittersweet taste of heartbreak, and the enduring power of hope when it comes to matters of the heart.

Chris sounds only a little surprised when the other residents of the dorm where he lives start thinking he may be the newest player with the most conquests. He tries to brush it off and pretend he’s nicer than that, but the girls keep coming his way.

The book starts with the life-changing experience of meeting Chloe back in his hometown when returning to his high school job after his first year of college. Then most of the stories are flashbacks to all the girls he connected with during his first independent year at college. While he states he wasn’t involved with that many girls in high school, his first year at college finds him meeting a variety of women and telling his experiences with them.

The stories felt like an honest retelling of Chris really enjoying his first year of college, and then after meeting Chloe, whom he claims he instantly knew was "the one," trying (and being somewhat successful) at valuing and respecting his life as a man committed to his future happiness. Overall, the book earned 2 out of 5 stars and shared an interesting male perspective of a college student living for the first time on his own in the late 1970s.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who also enjoys reading, writing, and scrolling social media. Find out more of what she’s been up to on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Book Review: Head Over Feet in Love, by Patti F. Smith

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I spend the rest of the day charting my mood. I feel okay for the entire morning and through the afternoon. In fact, by evening, I’m ready to boogie oogie oogie ‘til I just can’t boogie no more. Well, sort of. 

As the sun sets, I set off to find Mike. I haven’t seen him since he fell asleep this morning. I can’t find him downstairs or in his room. Finally, I locate him in the gym. He’s standing smack in front of the mirror, staring at his arms as he pumps hand weights.

I kind of clear my throat, but he doesn’t acknowledge me. I hear him counting softly, “328, 329…” Jesus! If I get to three I’m doing well.

At 350, he stops and looks at me. “Feeling better?”

“Oh yeah, I washed my hair and took a shower, and I just took the last dose, so I’m all caught up for today.”

Wiping sweat from his face, Mike nods with satisfaction. “I’m glad. I was worried.”

Both Becca and Mike are reluctant (with good reason) to trust those they don’t know. Will they be more or less likely to trust each other, knowing this?

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Head Over Feet in Love, by Patti F. Smith
Rebecca Slater is running away from a stay in a mental health facility, a writing career that never got off the ground, and a dying best friend. She has nowhere to go, but nothing can stop her—until she crashes her car into a tree, possibly on purpose, but probably not. Without a cell phone and in a strange town, Becca starts knocking on doors, looking for someone to help her. The only person who answers her call is Mike Riley.

Becca and Mike begin a friendship that neither realizes they need. A firebrand feminist devoted to all things Generation X, Becca shares her unique life view with Mike and finds an ally in the reclusive and shy man. Becca tells him her story and the pair falls in love slowly, and then passionately, realizing that two lost souls have finally found each other.

When Becca thinks Mike is dead, she impulsively runs away again, this time to a place where she thinks no one will ever find her. She prepares for a life without her true love, but committed to remaining mentally healthy and strong, continuing her story that she now believes will have an unhappy ending.

But will it?

Becca is convinced her life is pretty much a wreck when she’s out late at night and crashes her car into a tree in a desolate area. Without her phone, she’s left walking from door to door hoping someone will come to her aid. Eventually she falls asleep on the porch of a house at the top of a huge hill after no one answers the door, of course. She even saw the curtains move, so someone is in there, but she’s too tired to head to the next house when they choose not to help.

Eventually, Mike does help her out, reluctantly. There’s an undeniable connection, when they both let down their guard, and she returns until they are hanging out regularly. Neither of them are initially ready to share their secrets, but having someone to spend time with certainly isn’t bad.

While the treatment of mental illness was definitely biased, from Becca’s perspective when she usually just insisted she was fine, the story was warm and comforting, and the book earned 3 out of 5 stars. Having previously lived in Ann Arbor also made it easy to relate to Becca’s love for her hometown. The story could be recommended to those who enjoy Ann Arbor, as well as readers who like love stories of unique characters with challenges.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link - currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited members}

Becki Bayley was in Ann Arbor for a few years, more than a decade ago. Check out what she’s up to now on Instagram where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Tainted Cup, by Robert Jackson Bennett {ends 2/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I counted five of them in the dark, large men in light armor, their buckles and buttons winking in the dim light – along with the points of their swords, of course.

Imperial longswords. Bright and glimmering. Finely made tools for quick and easy killing. They offered no shout or cry of warning. They just advanced, swords unsheathed.

Strovi reacted much faster than I, raising his weapon to guard position quickly. His attacker moved in, swinging his sword in a diagonal downward slash, left to right. Strovi caught the blow with his blade and stepped forward into his stance, and I watched him, waiting to see if the gallant captain would live more than a second longer. But then a second attacker was on me, his sword raised high, and all I could think about was the edge of his blade.

I watched the sword approach, unable to comprehend or believe what was happening – and then my eyes shivered and trembled.

Everything slowed down.

Din Kol wasn’t sure what his job would be as a new assistant investigator, but solving murders as the engraver and eyes for the eccentric Ana Dolabra is full of surprises!

Official synopsis:

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Tainted Cup, by Robert Jackson Bennett {ends 2/8}
In Daretana’s greatest mansion, a high imperial officer lies dead—killed, to all appearances, when a tree erupted from his body. Even here at the Empire’s borders, where contagions abound and the blood of the leviathans works strange magical changes, it’s a death both terrifying and impossible.

Assigned to investigate is Ana Dolabra, a detective whose reputation for brilliance is matched only by her eccentricities. Rumor has it that she wears a blindfold at all times, and that she can solve impossible cases without even stepping outside the walls of her home.

At her side is her new assistant, Dinios Kol, magically altered in ways that make him the perfect aide to Ana’s brilliance. Din is at turns scandalized, perplexed, and utterly infuriated by his new superior—but as the case unfolds and he watches Ana’s mind leap from one startling deduction to the next, he must admit that she is, indeed, the Empire’s greatest detective.

As the two close in on a mastermind and uncover a scheme that threatens the Empire itself, Din realizes he’s barely begun to assemble the puzzle that is Ana Dolabra—and wonders how long he’ll be able to keep his own secrets safe from her piercing intellect.

While parts of the setting and story sounded like any regular Empire, they’re on constant watch for an attack of a leviathan from the surrounding waters. The threat from within the Empire is a poisoning that results in trees sprouting from the victim’s body! There isn’t much to be done other than being prepared for the next leviathan attack, but it makes a great distraction for whoever is doing the poisoning.

Din explained about some of the features of sublimes—characters with modifications that gave them special skills or altered their appearance. Din himself was in his position especially because he was an engraver. By associating memories with a carefully carried scent vial, he could recall everything down to the smallest detail. The memories then stayed with him forever. This helped him serve as a great assistant investigator to Ana, who preferred not to leave her home or remove her blindfold.

The story was unique and the characters were so interesting. The book is the first in a series about the Empire called Shadow of the Leviathan. It was an engaging and well-explained fantasy read which earned 4 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who also enjoys supporting her kids activities and reading books to review and just for her pleasure. Check out more of her reviews at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Tainted Cup!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, February 8th, 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 Tainted Cup, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Book Review: When Jasmine Blooms, by Tif Marcelo

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

In this life I was a brand influencer in the truest sense. 

This Celine and I both had the same drive, but our focus differed. Having children had steered me toward being a coach, and without children, this Celine was a personality. Both were valuable careers. Both required so much work—it was evident with all this stuff in the attic. 

But what did that say about me when my love life in both worlds was on the rocks? When I had avoided dealing with a home and its issues? And my social media was full of curated images?

It says that you’re not who you say you are.

The foreboding words from my conscience triggered my heart rate. Moving quickly, I repacked packages and pushed away my dreary thoughts. Every minute in this place was dragging me to emotional spaces I’d successfully avoided, and more than ever, I wanted to go home.

Celine feels confident in her career, until she overhears some women questioning her sincerity. A confrontation with her family soon after leaves her wondering—what if she’d taken another path decades ago?

Official synopsis:

Book Review: When Jasmine Blooms, by Tif Marcelo
It’s been two years since Celine lost her daughter Libby. Desperate to escape her grief, Celine throws herself into her work, determined to be the strong, capable woman the world believes her to be. But there’s no fooling her family.

A shocking intervention brings an impossible choice: confront her grief or risk losing the family she still has. Reeling, Celine wonders what her life would have been like if she’d chosen her first love instead of her husband and avoided this pain altogether.

Celine wakes the following day and is shocked to realize that what-if has become reality. She’s with her high school sweetheart, her daughters aren’t quite her daughters, and her home is being rented by the daughter she thought she’d lost forever.

As she reconnects with Libby in this parallel world, Celine is forced to face the problems in her real life: her unwillingness to move forward, the tension that’s always rocked her family, and the hard truth that not everything can be fixed by a mother’s love.

Celine is sure that she’s a mother first, and that her career always comes second. When her family collectively questions that, her world and self-image is completely rocked. She suddenly finds herself in the small town where it all started, but this Celine made completely different choices. Her children are not her own, and the love of her life—her real-life husband of decades—will barely even speak to her.

While the message to be learned is pretty clear from the beginning of the book, the presentation felt new and insightful. It was heartwarming to read about Celine trying to bring the best of herself from both versions of reality to try and make it all better for past/alternative Celine, and hopefully get original Celine back to the life she now acknowledges that she misses and needs to work to set right.

The book earned 4 out of 5 stars, and it was so entertaining to watch the slight variations the people in Celine’s life had based on how they responded to the different Celine. How many lives are just that little bit different because of who they knew or interacted with regularly? This was a fun contemporary fiction story with a non-judgmental look at the choices made in life and lifestyle.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link—currently free for Kindle Unlimited members}

Becki Bayley knows that Faygo makes the best Red Pop, and Die Hard is an excellent Christmas movie. Learn more of what makes her tick on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Book Review: The Waiting Room, by Emily Bleeker

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Veronica flipped her hair back, the blow dryer sending the nearly dry strands across her face as though she were on a photo shoot. After her Friday fifteen-miler, she’d spent an extra ten minutes in the shower, buffing and shaving all the neglected areas that might show in the dress she’d laid out for the night. It was a simple maroon shirt dress made of T-shirt material that was comfortable but wouldn’t be too out of place in Marco’s, the nicest restaurant in town and the only bar on the west side of the city that wasn’t a dive.

When her mother came home with Sophie safely in her car seat after the alarm fiasco, Veronica had decided to at least bring up the idea of going out with the waiting-room lady, especially since Gillian had sworn that she’d never tell a soul about the strange figure in all of Veronica’s paintings. The rest of the week was spent secretly painting over the little girl in her illustrations. It was going to take some time to get them all taken care of, but even more daunting than the work was figuring out a way to ignore the insanity of not remembering painting the child to begin with. 

Veronica has finally taken her mother’s suggestion to start therapy after her husband and baby daughter went missing one night, and then her husband died. She hasn’t been able to even hold her baby since then, as a result of her anxiety and postpartum depression.

Official synopsis:

Book Review: The Waiting Room, by Emily Bleeker
Ever since her husband’s death collided with the birth of her daughter, postpartum depression has taken hold of Veronica Shelton. She can’t sleep, can’t work, and can’t bear to touch her beautiful baby girl. Her emotional state is whispering lies in Veronica’s ear: You’re a bad mother. Your baby would be better off without you. But not everything can be reasoned away by Veronica’s despair. Can it?

After all, the break-in at her house happened. The disturbing sketches she found in her studio are real. So is the fear for her daughter’s safety—especially when Veronica comes home to a cold, silent nursery and a missing baby.

As she turns from victim into primary suspect, Veronica realizes that only she can find her daughter. Authorities aren’t helping. They’re only watching. Veronica’s concerned mother has suddenly vanished from her life. And a new friend seems to be keeping secrets from her too. Now, reality is waiting for Veronica in a dark place—because someone’s mind games have only just begun.

Veronica’s life has gotten much smaller since losing her husband. Her mom has moved in, since Veronica can’t bring herself to touch or hold the baby, but she still does what she can to provide for her beautiful daughter’s needs. 

She thinks therapy is really helping. She takes her therapist’s suggestion to supplement with formula so breastfeeding doesn’t feel so stressful, and then she even meets a woman who really wants to be her friend in the waiting room. Going out with her friend and working up to touching her sleeping daughter means she’s getting healthier and more "normal," right?

This twisty thriller was a page-turner until the end. While it got a bit chaotic in the middle, the ending brought it to 4 out of 5 stars. The book would be enjoyed by those who like family dramas and unreliable narrators. As stated on the book cover and summary, there is a missing daughter, in case this may be triggering for some.

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who enjoys '80s and '90s music and movies, especially dark comedies. Check out what else she’s up to on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

Click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Orchid Tattoo, by Carla Damron {ends 1/31}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

From the cobwebbed window, Kitten watched Roman’s car pull away, the three Mexican girls who stayed in Dulce’s room crammed in the back seat. He had left as soon as he got a call from Jefe. Roman said Lito was on his way, but she saw no trace of the nasty van.

This was her chance.

She ran to her room and stuffed a pair of jeans, underwear, and two T-shirts into her knapsack. As fast as she could, she donned the pink sneakers still scuffed from her last attempt at running, and secured her hair in a barrette. She hefted the knapsack on her shoulder and closed the bedroom door behind her. A bubble of guilt surfaced as she passed Dulce’s room. Betrayal? No. Once safe, I’ll find a way to get her out of this. I’ll find a way to help all of them.

Georgia is used to being told she is too impulsive and makes some poor choices regarding her personal health and safety, but this time she’s decided the risk is worth it.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Orchid Tattoo, by Carla Damron {ends 1/31}
Crime fiction that makes a difference: in
The Orchid Tattoo, award-winning author Carla Damron delves into the disturbing world of human trafficking. 

Social worker Georgia Thayer can balance her own mental illness with the demands of an impossible job. Mostly. But when her sister vanishes in the dead of night, her desperate quest to find Peyton takes her into the tentacles of a human trafficking network-where she encounters a young victim called "Kitten." Kitten is determined to escape. She won't be trapped like the others. She won't sell her soul like Lillian, victim-turned-madam, feeding the dark appetites of international business moguls and government leaders. But the Estate won't let her out of its lethal grip, and her attempts at freedom threaten her very life. Aided by Kitten and, at times, by the voices in her head, Georgia maneuvers to bring down the kingpin of Estate and expose its dark secrets, but her efforts place her—and the few people she allows to get close-in grave danger.

Narrated by Georgia, Kitten, and Lillian, The Orchid Tattoo gives three viewpoints of a human trafficking operation. Georgia only finds out about it when she’s pretty sure her sister died as she got too close to the truth. Kitten was a lonely foster child who was tricked into joining the nasty business. And Lillian doesn’t remember much of her life before being forced into it, but has worked her way up to earning the big boss’s trust and acting as madam of the fanciest house.

To complicate matters, Georgia hears voices—somewhat controlled by medication, but undeniably getting worse as her stress level increases. Luckily she has a great support system. Her boss at the hospital is kind and understanding, and her best friend has a history of his own demons and respects her ability to navigate the chaos in her head.

Kitten knows the longer she’s there, the less her likelihood of escape. Lillian, unfortunately, seems to have little to strive for besides keeping the big boss happy and surviving. She tries to convince the girls in her charge that they can make a pleasant existence at the Estate with her.

There was a surprising twist at the end, as they all worked together to hopefully find their happily ever after. Without working together and at least starting to trust each other, none of the three women could have made it as far as they did. This was a powerful and exciting book that earned 4 out of 5 stars. It would be recommended for those who like a thriller about a disturbing subject. 

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom. Find out more about what she’s reading and her adventures at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Orchid Tattoo!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, January 31st, 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!

The Orchid Tattoo, by Carla Damron

Monday, January 22, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Blueprint, by Rae Giana Rashad {ends 1/29}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

We weren’t supposed to feel anything for these men. It was dangerous – this paradox Black girls couldn’t take the long way around to avoid. But Black girls are not parts created from perceptions. We are human in a world that told us we couldn’t be. 

I awoke each day pretending we were on our own island. We never left the house. No one visited other than a plump, graying woman who came twice a day to clean and leave protein-heavy meals on warming trays or wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. He called her Service as if it were her name. This ghost in pink lipstick and blue shoe covers floated around the house never acknowledging me or Bastien.

Solenne has been raised to be quiet and do as she’s told. After her first assignment at the capital, she ends up with the Order’s highest Official, who thinks he cares for her so well she would never want freedom.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Blueprint, by Rae Giana Rashad {ends 1/29}
Solenne Bonet lives in Texas where choice no longer exists. An algorithm determines a Black woman’s occupation, spouse, and residence. Solenne finds solace in penning the biography of Henriette, an ancestor who’d been an enslaved concubine to a wealthy planter in 1800s Louisiana. But history repeats itself when Solenne, lonely and na├»ve, finds herself entangled with Bastien Martin, a high-ranking government official. Solenne finds the psychological bond unbearable, so she considers alternatives. With Henriette as her guide, she must decide whether and how to leave behind all she knows.  

Inspired by the lives of enslaved concubines to U.S. politicians and planters, The Blueprint unfolds over dual timelines to explore bodily autonomy, hypocrisy, and power imbalances through the lens of the nation’s most unprotected: a Black girl.

This is a book that was speculative fiction (based in 2030) but read as literary fiction. Solenne is a woman trapped in the laws of the Order for DoS (Descendants of Slavery) who can’t help noticing the similarities with her ancestor Henriette, a concubine who was sold to a plantation owner in the United States in the early 1800's. She communicates both of their tragic stories beautifully.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints, with sections about Solenne’s girlhood years in school, the time at the beginning of her assignment, her re-telling of Henriette’s story, and the ‘current’ time when she’s actually determining what to do after reflecting on everything that has been. All of the viewpoints were equally compelling and contributed meaning to the story.

Overall, this wonderful book earned 5 out of 5 stars. It’s impossible not to empathize with Solenne and feel like she’s someone the reader really knows. The book would be loved by those who enjoy speculative fiction, women’s stories, and literary fiction.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who loves reading and writing. She appreciates the sun on her skin, but is also willing to hunker down in the home that she loves until it’s warm enough to go outside again. Find out more about her life and reading on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, January 29th at 11:59pm ET, 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 Blueprint, by Rae Giana Rashad

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Northwoods, by Amy Pease {ends 1/20}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“You look like shit, Eli.”

“Good morning to you, too, Dan.” Eli had left his car windows open last night in the rain, and he realized just now that his backside was damp from the soggy, musty upholstery. He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and crammed it into the breast pocket of his shirt, where it sagged and wobbled stupidly in the thin fabric. On the drive here, he had fantasized about never having to see Alyssa Mason again. At least she was gracious enough not to text him this morning to see how he was doing. He still had no idea why she’d covered for him last night.

“What have I done now, Deputy?” Dan leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs in front of him. Despite his skinniness, he had a round face and wide shoulders that hinted at the meaty guy he had been years ago. He was just a couple of years older than Eli, early forties, but time had not been kind to him. 

Eli used to be an excellent investigator—can he pull it together again for a murdered teenage boy and the boy’s missing friend? It may not be the small town crime that usually happens in Shaky Lake.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Northwoods, by Amy Pease {ends 1/20}
Eli North is not okay.

His drinking is getting worse by the day, his emotional wounds after a deployment to Afghanistan are as raw as ever, his marriage and career are over, and the only job he can hold down is with the local sheriff’s department. And that’s only because the sheriff is his mother—and she’s overwhelmed with small town Shaky Lake’s dwindling budget and the fallout from the opioid epidemic. The Northwoods of Wisconsin may be a vacationer’s paradise, but amidst the fishing trips and campfires and Paul Bunyan festivals, something sinister is taking shape.

When the body of a teenage boy is found in the lake, it sets in motion an investigation that leads Eli to a wealthy enclave with a violent past, a pharmaceutical salesman, and a missing teenage girl. Soon, Eli and his mother, along with a young FBI agent, are on the hunt for more than just a killer.

If Eli solves the case, could he finally get the shot at redemption he so desperately needs? Or will answers to this dark case elude him and continue to bring destruction to the Northwoods?

This book definitely felt like the first of a series, and the reader is left wondering what’s next when this case is solved. The story starts out with Eli drunk more often than not, running from his memories of war and his failure to readjust to his previous life. His mom, Marge, is the police chief who has given him a job to try and help him get back on his feet, but she spends a lot of her time and emotional energy covering for him and trying to convince them all that he’s just having a rough patch. 

When Eli finds a dead boy in a docked boat while responding to a noise complaint, their little police department of four employees really does not seem like enough to handle such a serious situation. Once a missing girl is added to the mix, the FBI is called in to collaborate. Luckily the FBI agent, Alyssa, seems the perfect addition to their awkward little cast of characters. With their few leads going in opposite directions, it’s soon apparent that the crime they think they’re investigating may only be covering up for an even more devious network of trouble.

Overall, the book had a few unexpected twists and turns, but the characters were especially rich with their own back stories and experiences. The story earned 4 out of 5 stars with just a few loose ends that would be great to hear more about in follow-up. This book would come recommended to those who enjoy crime thrillers, police procedurals, and small town stories.

{click here to purchase on Amazon - affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who enjoys living a predictable life with her family, her cats, and her books. Check out more from her on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Northwoods!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, January 20th, 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!

Northwoods, by Amy Pease

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Twelve Days of Murder, by Andreina Cordani {ends 1/19}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Charley stares up at the stag again, which definitely doesn’t match the art deco print hanging next to it. On the sideboard beneath it there’s a large, lidded porcelain serving bowl, another stylised art-deco affair, and Charley moves it so it sits directly beneath the stag, but that just makes things look even more off-centre. As she shifts it back, the lid falls askew. There’s something inside.

It’s a square, brown parcel wrapped up with a bow. Another present, just like the ones they found at breakfast. It must be Pan’s. Of course, Lady Partridge was supposed to have been ‘murdered’ before breakfast, but Ali must have arranged this gift as an extra clue - or an extra grenade to throw into the midst of the Murder Masquerade Society. So why would someone hide it?

Because it incriminates the killer somehow.
Her stomach churns as she lifts the box out, slides her fingers under the box. She braces herself, knowing there could be something horrible inside, and pulls out a square of blue cottony fabric, the size of a handkerchief but frayed at the edges, covered in blood.

Whatever happened to the previous leader of their Murder Masquerade Society at the last party, years ago? And could the answer to that mystery save them from what’s happening this time around?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Twelve Days of Murder, by Andreina Cordani {ends 1/19}
Twelve years ago, eight friends ran an exclusive group at university: The Masquerade Murder Society. The mysteries they solved may have been grisly, and brilliantly staged, but they were always fictional—until their final Christmas Masquerade, when one of the group disappeared, never to be seen again.

Now our young, privileged cast of old university friends are summoned to the depths of Scotland for a Christmas-themed masquerade party. But all are hiding something deep below the surface that could make or break their careers. Charley is a struggling actress who has always been on the periphery of this high-flying group, but has decided to reunite with her frenemies on the promise of career help if she joins the old cast for one last weekend.

Charley does not really miss her college days. When she’s invited to join a reunion of some college acquaintances for another Masquerade Murder Society, she probably would not have attended, until the woman organizing it offers her some extra incentives. She still doesn’t expect it to be much fun, but she also certainly doesn’t expect her life to be at risk!

The characters in the fictional script they’re there to act out are based on the twelve days of Christmas, but one of the members of the group insists that death was intended at every verse. When people start dying, no one is sure where to look for answers. Is it all tied to Karl’s disappearance and suspected death years ago? And if so, is it a continuation to whatever happened then, or fresh revenge?

The interpretation of the twelve days’ characters and the explanations of how their deaths fit their characters was interesting. The characters themselves were also unique and great illustrations of the rich not really having everything go their way—they each had their own secrets and possible struggles that they didn’t want the rest of the group to know. It colored everyone’s motivations and expectations in a way that deepened the plot. Overall, this book earned 3 out of 5 stars. While the surface read a bit like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the actual revealed conclusions at the end deviated from the original.

{click here to purchase on Amazon - affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys volunteering with the local high school theatre group. See what she’s been up to and reading lately on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Twelve Days of Murder!

Enter via the widget below. The giveaway will end on Friday, January 19th, at 11:59pm ET, and the 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 Twelve Days of Murder, by Andreina Cordani

Monday, January 8, 2024

Book Review: Husbands & Lovers, by Beatriz Williams

I sit down and lean back against the clothes dryer. "All right, Sherlock. So what else?"

"What do you mean, what else?"

"What else makes you think you're Monk Adams's love child? Other than your otherworldly handsomeness and universe-exploding charisma, I mean.

Sam wads up the trunks in his hand and turns to walk out of the room.

"Because you never play any of his songs."

This was an interesting read and a great way to start off 2024—my goal is to try and read more this year (as you may have noticed, my guest reviewer Becki penned most of our reviews in 2023), and I received this one from NetGalley.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Husbands & Lovers, by Beatriz Williams
Two women—separated by decades and continents, and united by a mysterious family heirloom—reclaim family secrets and lost loves in this sweeping novel from the New York Times bestselling author of
The Summer Wives.

New England, 2022. Three years ago, single mother Mallory Dunne received the telephone call every parent dreads—her ten-year-old son Sam had been airlifted from summer camp with acute poisoning from a toxic death cap mushroom, leaving him fighting for his life. Now, in a search for the donor kidney that will give her son a chance for a normal life, Mallory’s forced to confront two harrowing secrets from her past: her mother’s adoption from an infamous Irish orphanage in 1952, and her own all-consuming summer romance fourteen years earlier with her childhood best friend Monk Adams—now one of the world’s most beloved singer-songwriters—a fairytale cut short by an agonizing betrayal.

Cairo, 1951. After suffering tragedy beyond comprehension in the war, Hungarian refugee Hannah Ainsworth has forged a respectable new life for herself—marriage to a wealthy British diplomat, a coveted posting in glamorous Cairo. But a fateful encounter with the enigmatic manager of a hotel bristling with spies leads to a passionate affair that will reawaken Hannah's longing for everything she once lost. As revolution simmers in the Egyptian streets, a pregnant Hannah finds herself snared into a game of intrigue between two men…and an act of sacrifice that will echo down the generations.

Timeless and bittersweet, Husbands And Lovers draws readers on an unforgettable journey of heartbreak and redemption, from the revolutionary fires of midcentury Egypt to the moneyed beaches of contemporary New England. Acclaimed author Beatriz Williams has written a poignant and beautifully voiced novel of deeply human characters entangled by morally complex issues—of privilege, class, and the female experience—inside worlds brought shimmeringly to life.

This novel jumps between 1951, Cairo; 2008; and 2022. In 1951 Cairo, Hannah Ainsworth, who has a few secrets, is married to a British diplomat, but has an affair with the manager of a hotel. In 2008, Mallory Dunne has agreed to nanny for the siblings of Monk Adams, a college friend and someone who she secretly has a crush on. And in 2022, Mallory and her son are vacationing on the East Coast and run into Monk Adams, now a superstar musician, who is engaged and about to get married that week. 

It's hard to navigate multiple storylines/timelines, and I thought the author did this well, although I did think the book ended on a cliffhanger/resolution of sorts that could have been expanded. At first I didn't see why the Cairo part was relevant, but it soon reveals itself, and I didn't know much about wartime in Cairo anyways so it was interesting. My favorite parts were actually the ones set in 2008, when Mallory and Monk (who I pictured as John Mayer in my head, for some reason) were falling in love. 

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in historical and/or romance books, or anyone who enjoys a good mystery, too, actually—it covered a few genres. 

4.5/5 stars.

Husbands & Lovers will be available on June 25, 2024—click here to pre-order on Amazon (affiliate link).

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Book Review AND GIVEAWAY: Missed Cue, by Lynn Slaughter

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Victor Pesetsky lived in a sprawling Victorian on the outskirts of the city. He glowered at us when we arrived and showed him our search warrant. He held a miniature poodle in his arms who was feverishly barking. “It’s okay, Felicia.” He turned his gaze on us. “Strangers make her a bit nervous at first.”

“Any place she can go while we search?”

He sniffed. “I’ll take her to the backyard, and she can stay there while you’re here. How long is this going to take?”

"Maybe a few hours,” I said.

“All right. I’m going out then.” He handed me a card. “Please call my cell when you’re done.”

I nodded and asked him to point us to his kitchen. We walked across gleaming hardwood floors through high-ceilinged rooms filled with antiques and dance-related art. The framed Degas print of his Dancing Class was familiar, but I’d never seen the bronze sculpture of a ballerina in arabesque with her head thrown back in ecstasy. I wondered if the model had been his late wife.

The first step of finding a murderer is determining how the victim was actually murdered. Detective Caitlin O’Connor has a pretty good solve record, but for a death that occurred right in front of many witnesses, she’s having a hard time tying up loose ends.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Missed Cue, by Lynn Slaughter
When ballerina Lydia Miseau dies onstage in the final dress rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet, homicide detective Caitlin O’Connor is faced with the most complicated case of her career. She strongly suspects that someone murdered the ballerina, and her investigation uncovers several people close to the star who had reasons to kill her. But the autopsy reveals no apparent cause of death. If Lydia Miseau was murdered, who did it, and how?

Meantime, there’s Caitlin’s hot mess of a personal life. She has a bad habit of getting involved with married men. She knows it’s wrong, so why does she keep entangling herself in unhealthy relationships? She’s finally decided to go into therapy to find out.

Oh, Caitlin. She’s got a good reputation for doing her job well, but all of it could be lost in a moment between her continued affair with a married man she has to work with and personal complications with her partner. If she can’t get her own head on straight, she definitely can’t solve this case. It takes a full team to find how the victim died so they can then move on to finding who killed her.

The cast in this book was quite realistic—no one was just the role they were playing in the story, and who they were outside of their primary story parts was important too. While a few people had obvious motivations to kill the famous and gifted ballerina, was it still possible she just happened to have the bad luck to die unexpectedly? Caitlin and her partner really don’t think so.

The solution to the crime was not obvious and different parts of the story had to be connected to make it all fall into place. The story earned 3 out of 5 stars, and the ending left room for more developments and cases in Caitlin’s future.

{click here to purchase via Amazon - affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini, wife, and mother. She enjoys BBQ chips, HI-CHEW, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done. See how she spends a few more of her spare moments on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a SIGNED COPY of Missed Cue!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Friday, January 12th, 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!

Missed Cue, by Lynn Slaughter

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Book Review: The Impossible Girl, by Lydia Kang

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Cora had sent out several notes to the physicians who knew the dead man, as well as her boys, asking if they knew anything of William Timothy’s burial site. Her little messenger boy had been fairly flying all over town with her notes in tow. Leah made herself busy with sponging and pressing Cora’s dress, which had gotten dusty on the walk near the Battery.

The rest of the evening, Cora’s thoughts were consumed with Suzette Cutter. “How could she know about me? I thought they’d been told I was a boy.”

“I don’t know,” Leah said. She shuffled from her left to right foot as she sponged the dress. Her nervous dance again.

“Why would she care about my health? Does she know about my … condition?”

“Perhaps Charlotte spoke to her and didn’t tell us,” Leah said.

“I suppose I could ask Miss Cutter myself,” Cora said, thinking out loud.

“Oh, fie, dear! That’s a mistake, it is!” Leat set down her iron. “Don’t encourage her. We’re not to speak to them!”

Cora’s physical anomaly was not the most interesting thing about her. Her entire life (or lives?) were a mystery to all but a couple of friends who were like family.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Impossible Girl, by Lydia Kang
Two hearts. Twice as vulnerable.

Manhattan, 1850. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and a nameless immigrant, Cora Lee can mingle with the rich just as easily as she can slip unnoticed into the slums and graveyards of the city. As the only female resurrectionist in New York, she’s carved out a niche procuring bodies afflicted with the strangest of anomalies. Anatomists will pay exorbitant sums for such specimens—dissecting and displaying them for the eager public.

Cora’s specialty is not only profitable, it’s a means to keep a finger on the pulse of those searching for her. She’s the girl born with two hearts—a legend among grave robbers and anatomists—sought after as an endangered prize.

Now, as a series of murders unfolds closer and closer to Cora, she can no longer trust those she holds dear, including the young medical student she’s fallen for. Because someone has no intention of waiting for Cora to die a natural death.

The easiest way for Cora’s aunt to keep her a secret while raising her was to give her a whole new identity. After her hidden childhood, she begins carving out her own special place in the world, with a goal of knowing if anyone is looking for her, and keeping nearly everyone at enough of a distance that they could never find her.

The real story starts as several things happen at once—the rumors about the girl with two hearts start spreading again, Cora meets someone she may want to get to know better, and other citizens with physical anomalies that shouldn’t shorten their lives start dying much sooner than expected. Cora hardly knows which crisis needs to be managed first.

The characters in this book were so interesting. Besides Cora, there are her grave-robbing employees, her ladies’ maid, and the man who has been almost a father figure for most of her life. As the book progresses she meets another grave-robbing entrepreneur/medical student, and relatives of her dead mother. They all have their own goals, and sometimes Cora needs to untangle who is trying to do what. The book was a nice historical read and earned 4 out of 5 stars. 

{click here to purchase on Amazon - affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who has been married almost 17 years and is mother to two school-aged children. She shares some of their adventures on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

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