Thursday, June 6, 2024

Book Review: Corpse & Crown, by Alisa Kwitney

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

People often made the mistake of thinking that just because Justine Makepiece was paralyzed, she was a sweet, childlike waif, as pure of spirit as she was in body. They walked into her room and saw her delicate pale face – the only part of her visible inside the metal cylinder that was her prison and her lifeline – and thought of her as a lucent, disembodied mind.

Yet even though she spent most of her day lying prone in an artificial breathing machine, listening to the rhythmic pulsing of a vacuum pump, Justine was far from being some angelic creature. Untouched, yes. Innocent, no. After a mysterious childhood illness left her with weak lungs and wasted legs, Justine’s father had become obsessed with curing his only child. 

Back in her old room at Ingold, her father kept her isolated in an attempt to protect her from any possible breath of miasmic air. As the head of engineering, Professor Makepiece had invented the negative pressure ventilator that helped his daughter breathe. For at least twenty-one hours out of every day, she had to lie inside the metal canister that forced air in and out of her lungs. There were only a few hours each day she could spend on the outside, free to sit up, use her arms, and speak to people without staring up their nostrils.

Agatha DeLacey is a poor probationer nurse who is studying nursing at Ingold’s East End hospital in London. She definitely is not in the same social circles as Professor Makepiece and his family, but she and Justine end up with some friends in common.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Corpse & Crown, by Alisa Kwitney
Agatha DeLacey’s family isn’t rich or titled, so studying nursing at Ingold’s East End hospital in London is a rare opportunity for her. Despite the school’s focus on the innovative Bio-Mechanical program, Aggie cares more about the desperately poor human patients who flood the hospital, even if that means providing unauthorized treatment after-hours…and trusting a charming, endlessly resourceful thief.

But the Artful Dodger is barely a step ahead of his underworld rivals, the menacing Bill Sykes and mercurial Oliver Twist, and Aggie’s association with him soon leads her into danger. When a brutal attack leaves her blind, she and the Dodger find themselves at the mercy of an experimental Bio-Mech surgery. Though the procedure restores Aggie’s sight, her new eyes come at an unnerving cost, and the changes in Dodger are even more alarming—instead of seeing Aggie as the girl he fancies, he now views her as a potential threat.

As war between England and Germany brews on the horizon and a sinister medical conspiracy threatens to shatter the uneasy peace in Europe, Aggie and the Dodger must find a way to work together so they can protect their friends and expose the truth…even if it means risking their own survival.

While this was the second book in the series, after Cadaver & Queen, it read fine as a standalone. There were a couple references to events from the previous book, but enough detail was given to make events in this book understandable.

Aggie DeLacey knows her position as a probationer nurse is wholly dependent on the approval of her supervisor. As long as she continues showing an aptitude for what she’s learning and keeps the favor of those in charge, she can avoid returning to her mother’s house. Ensuring the favor of those in charge has also come to mean keeping their secrets, as the Ingold East End hospital is also serving as a research hospital for bio-mechanicals, but they of course don’t want the community to know about it.

The book was a fascinating combination of historical and speculative fiction, culminating with a bio-mechanical battle between the creations of Germany and England under Queen Victoria. It was a fun young adult read that would be enjoyed by those who enjoy historical fiction or speculative fiction, also described as "Victorian-era fiction with a steampunk flair." It earns 4 out of 5 stars from me.

{click here to purchase via my Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a reader who enjoys a variety of genres of books and loves to let her mind escape to other words. See more of what she’s read or done on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Book Review: A Song of Silence, by Steve N. Lee

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Mirek strode toward the courtyard gate. “It’s been a pleasure, Herr Hauptsturmführer. Be sure to send me your manuscript so I –”

Kruger wasn’t walking with him but was standing before the apple tree, studying its delicate new leaves that dared to brave the world. Without looking, he stabbed his stick at the gate. “Instruct my men to join us.”

More Nazis were coming into his home? Mirek’s gut twisted but, having no option, he did as instructed.

Three soldiers waltzed into the courtyard.

Kruger said, “I hope you won’t let this mar what has been a very pleasant visit, but” – he rolled his eyes – “while bureaucracy is tiresome, it’s a necessary evil.”

Mirek, along with Hanka and Ania, are determined to do everything they can to keep the children of their orphanage safe and as unaffected by the horrors of war as possible.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: A Song of Silence, by Steve N. Lee
When the Nazis invade his sleepy Polish town, Mirek swears to keep everyone in his orphanage safe at all costs. Yet, despite his struggles and sacrifices, the war drags him and his children deeper and deeper into its violent nightmare.

With 89 children looking to him for hope, Mirek must do whatever it takes to protect them — no matter how criminal, distasteful, or perilous it may be.

And just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, the arrival of a sadistic SS captain brings unspeakable atrocities to his town — and surprisingly, a glimmer of hope for Mirek to save all those he cares about if only he has the courage to grasp it...

Mirek learns quickly that the Nazis don’t just enjoy physically abusing or killing their victims, they also revel in mental torture along the way. Kruger has the power to make life at the orphanage for Mirek, Hanka, Ania, and the orphans easier, and acts sometimes like he just may be their savior. They learn quickly not to trust him or his implied promises.

Trying to keep 89 children—both Jewish and non-Jewish—safe and happy in Poland in 1939 proves to be a huge challenge. Mirek can usually count on his royalties as a childrens' author to help buy food and supplies for the house, but he finds out the publishers are closing their doors at the same time he finds out the grocer is only selling food for cash, instead of on account. The threat of death isn’t the only obstacle Mirek is carrying for nearly 100 humans.

This is the second of three books in the author’s World War II Historical Fiction series. It reads fine as a stand-alone, as each book focuses on one main character’s conflict. The book was based on a real person, and some of the fact vs fiction is detailed in the afterword of the book. It was unique as a WWII book and would be enjoyed by those who like WWII stories, historical fiction, and human interest stories. The book earned 4 out of 5 stars.

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Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys a leisurely day with a good book and a cold drink, appreciating the nature in her Midwest yard. See what she and the kids have been up to on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Girl with Three Birthdays: An Adopted Daughter’s Memoir of Tiaras, Tough Truths, and Tall Tales, by Patti Eddington

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Did the fact that you were adopted have anything to do with you only having one child?” a friend asked me recently.

“Oh, gosh no,” I replied without even considering it.

Maybe it did, though. Maybe the adoption wasn’t a factor, but being adopted by my parents actually made more difference than I ever realized. Through no fault of theirs, they were so much older when they were able to bring me into their lives. Perhaps if they’d been younger, I’d still have been open to the possibility of taking on more responsibility during my own midlife years.

It’s thought-provoking. But it’s not something I mourn.
I had everything.

In the 1960s, a closed adoption was all that usually happened, so there was no question of Patti finding out about her life before she was an Eddington. After a happy childhood, she starts connecting with family members from her earlier life through the results of a DNA test on an ancestry site.

Official synopsis: 
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Girl with Three Birthdays: An Adopted Daughter’s Memoir of Tiaras, Tough Truths, and Tall Tales, by Patti Eddington
Patti Eddington always knew she was adopted, and her beloved parents seemed amenable enough to questions—but she never wanted to hurt them by expressing curiosity, so she didn’t. The story of her mother cutting off and dying her hair when she was a toddler? She thought it was eccentric and funny, nothing more. When she discovered at fifteen that her birthday wasn’t actually her birthday? She believed it when her mother said she’d changed it to protect her from the “nosy old biddies” who might try to discover her identity.

It wasn’t until decades later, when a genealogy test led Patti to her biological family (including an aunt with a shocking story) and the discovery of yet another birthday, that she really began to integrate what she thought she knew about her origins. Determined to know the truth, she finally petitioned a court to unseal records that had been locked up for almost sixty years—and began to put the pieces of her past together, bit by painstaking bit.

Framed by a brief but poignant 1963 “Report of Investigation” based on a caseworker’s one-day visit to Patti’s childhood home, The Girl With Three Birthdays tells the story of an adoptee who always believed she was the answer to a couple’s seventeen-year journey to become parents, until a manila envelope from a rural county court arrived and caused her to question . . . everything.

The more Patti finds out about her life before her adoption, the more it leaves her with questions about the truths she accepted from the only people she ever knew as her parents. As her discoveries are all made after their deaths, Patti is left to connect the dots herself.

The story is told in an engaging manner that presents most of the character’s motivations as understandable. Since Patti learned more details of her past as an adult, she has the perspective and maturity to make sense of some choices that, in retrospect, may not have been in everyone’s best interests.

Overall, this was a quick read and an interesting memoir that tells of a life and experiences unique to this entertaining author. It earned 4 out of 5 stars and would be recommended to those who enjoy family dramas with a non-conventional spin.

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a daughter, sister, wife, and mother who enjoys reading when she isn’t busy taking care of those she loves. Check out some of their adventures on Instagram where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Girl with Three Birthdays!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, June 10th, 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!

The Girl with Three Birthdays: An Adopted Daughter’s Memoir of Tiaras, Tough Truths, and Tall Tales, by Patti Eddington

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Nest of Vipers, by Harini Nagendra {ends 5/28}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

‘You are not the same person you were when you first came to Bangalore. You are an experienced detective now. Think about all the different cases you have solved. Not just the murders, but also the smaller cases. The missing goat, the woman who lost her memory, the boy who ran away from home and didn’t want to go back – and refused to tell you where his home was. How did you solve those cases?’

Kaveri looked at him.

‘You didn’t give up.’ Ramu took her by the shoulders, and gave her a little shake. ‘My Kaveri, the woman I married and fell in love with, never gives up. You realize that, don’t you?’

Kaveri squared her shoulders, giving him a small smile. ‘I won’t give up.’

Kaveri and Ramu have the best arranged marriage ever. She ended up with a true partner who loves her and supports her unique Bangalore Detectives Club and her crime-solving adventures.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Nest of Vipers, by Harini Nagendra {ends 5/28}
This latest novel in the
Bangalore Detectives Club mystery series takes the reader deep into the historical era surrounding the visit by Edward, Prince of Wales, to Bangalore in 1921. When the prince begins a tour of a number of Indian cities, he encounters passionate crowds demanding independence from Britain, with rioting on the streets of Bombay in November 1921.

The mood of the prince's subsequent trip to Bangalore and Mysore in January 1922 appears, at first glance, very different and is made to large, welcoming crowds. But perhaps all is not what it seems to be. While exploring another (seemingly unrelated) crime scene, Kaveri and Ramu become tangled in a complex web of intrigue, getting pulled into a potentially dangerous plan that could endanger the life of the visiting prince.

This new novel also takes us into the world of jadoo—Indian street magic—with sleight-of-hand magicians, snake charmers, and rope tricks. Kaveri and Ramu continue their sleuthing, with help from the Bangalore Detectives Club, amidst the growing rumblings of Indian independence and the backdrop of female emancipation.

The third book in the series starts with Kaveri and Ramu being gifted surprise tickets to a popular magician’s show. Once they arrive, they are even invited to meet Das, the famous and gifted magician and his son/assistant. The show is as amazing as expected, but the ending sets Kareri on solving a new mystery. As usual, she isn’t entirely sure who to trust and which question will lead her on the right path to solving what is really happening.

The Bangalore Detectives Club mystery series again has several intersecting plot lines, and some beloved characters returning, including Kaveri’s husband, Ramu, her mother-in-law, and a few people she’s helped in earlier books.

Overall, this was another engaging and entertaining mystery with a great setting and interesting characters. The story earns 4 out of 5 stars and would be enjoyed by readers who enjoy cozy mysteries and books about other times and cultures.

{click here to purchase via the blog's Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a reader, wife, and mother of two humans and two black cats. She loves learning about the world through books with an element of true history, while reading in the comfort of her own home. Check out what she and her family are up to on Instagram where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of A Nest of Vipers!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 28th, at 11:5pm EST, 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!

A Nest of Vipers, by Harini Nagendra

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Quick Pick Book Review: By Any Other Name, by Jodi Picoult

  • Opening lines: Melina, May 2013
    Many years after Melina graduated from Bard College, the course she remembered the most was not a playwriting seminar or a theater intensive but an anthropology class. One day, the professor had flashed a slide of a bone with twenty-nine tiny incisions on one long side. "The Lebombo bone was found in a cave in Swaziland in the 1970s and is about forty-four thousand years old," she had said. "It's made of a baboon fibula. For years, it's been the first calendar attributed to man. But I ask you: what man used a twenty-nine day calendar?" The professor seemed to stare directly at Melina. "History", she said, "is written by those in power."
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan, and I think I've read most if not all of her books—you can read my previous reviews of them here.
  • And what's this book about? 
    From the New York Times bestselling co-author of Mad Honey comes a novel about two women, centuries apart—one of whom is the real author of Shakespeare’s plays—who are both forced to hide behind another name.

    Young playwright Melina Green has just written a new work inspired by the life of her Elizabethan ancestor Emilia Bassano. But seeing it performed is unlikely, in a theater world where the playing field isn’t level for women. As Melina wonders if she dares risk failure again, her best friend takes the decision out of her hands and submits the play to a festival under a male pseudonym.

    In 1581, young Emilia Bassano is a ward of English aristocrats. Her lessons on languages, history, and writing have endowed her with a sharp wit and a gift for storytelling, but like most women of her day, she is allowed no voice of her own. Forced to become a mistress to the Lord Chamberlain, who oversees all theatre productions in England, Emilia sees firsthand how the words of playwrights can move an audience. She begins to form a plan to secretly bring a play of her own to the stage—by paying an actor named William Shakespeare to front her work.

    Told in intertwining timelines, By Any Other Name, a sweeping tale of ambition, courage, and desire centers two women who are determined to create something beautiful despite the prejudices they face. Should a writer do whatever it takes to see her story live on ... no matter the cost? This remarkable novel, rooted in primary historical sources, ensures the name Emilia Bassano will no longer be forgotten.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys historical books or books that jump from past to present.
  • Favorite paragraph: In public, Emilia played the part of a decorative object. In private, when she felt too full at the seams of her own life, she spilled all that emotion and intelligence and hope onto pages and pages of poetry, fables, and snippets of dialogue. Emilia wrote from the point of view of the bird of prey, delighting in those few moments of freedom befroe the jesses were pulled. She wrote fairy tales about princesses who climbed down brick towers, rescuing themselves. She wrote female characters who were adored for both their minds and their beauty. She wrote witty banter with men who were not afraid of a woman who could think for herself. She wrote of what sex must be like when your soul was as invested as your skin. She wrote love poems, where sometimes love was fire, sometimes it was rote, and sometimes it was agony.

    She hid hundreds of pages under her mattress.

    She did not write happy endings. As any real poet knows, the best tales are the ones that contain kernel of truth.
  • Something to know: I vaguely remember hearing that Shakespeare perhaps did not write all of the work that he's known for, and this book explores that.
  • What I would have changed: I'll admit that this Picoult book took me a little longer to get in to—however, once the story/plot picks up, I enjoyed it a lot. So I would maybe change the beginning a bit, but I'm not entirely sure how. 
  • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order via my Amazon affiliate link—the book will be out on August 20, 2024.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Klara's Truth, by Susan Weissbach Friedman {ends 5/12}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

They arrived at Krakow’s main train station a half hour late, as Hannah had predicted. Their station, Krakow Glozny, was just northeast of the Old Town, formerly the Jewish Quarter. Some of the buildings looked like they could use a fresh coat of paint, but the town was bustling with people, mostly tourists. There were multiple cafes and bars with Jewish food as their specialty, and some restaurants featured klezmer music as well. The streets were narrow, with a mixture of three-story buildings, including a number of art galleries and antique shops with wooden shutters to go along with the historical sites. It was different from the other areas; there was a distinct bohemian feel, and Klara noticed there were no spires or churches here. 

“Wow,” she said, looking all around. “You weren’t kidding – this really seems to be a fascinating place.”

Klara has spent her adult life pretty independent. After her dad left when she was six, she decided not to risk letting anyone close to her heart.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Klara's Truth, by Susan Weissbach Friedman {ends 5/12}
It is May 2014, and Dr. Klara Lieberman—forty-nine, single, professor of archaeology at a small liberal arts college in Maine, a contained person living a contained life—has just received a letter from her estranged mother, Bessie, that will dramatically change her life. Her father, she learns—the man who has been absent from her life for the last forty-three years, and about whom she has long been desperate for information—is dead. Has been for many years, in fact, which Bessie clearly knew. But now the Polish government is giving financial reparations for land it stole from its Jewish citizens during WWII, and Bessie wants the money. Klara has little interest in the money—but she does want answers about her father. She flies to Warsaw, determined to learn more.

In Poland, Klara begins to piece together her father’s, and her own, story. She also connects with extended family, begins a romantic relationship, and discovers her calling: repairing the hundreds of forgotten, and mostly destroyed, pre-War Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Along the way, she becomes a more integrated, embodied, and interpersonally connected individual—one with the tools to make peace with her past and, for the first time in her life, build purposefully toward a bigger future.

Klara has largely moved on from her family. Her dad left, and her mom and grandfather were people she’d rather be as far away from as possible. While she never really considered needing closure to her early years of a happy childhood that ended too soon, hearing from her mother that her father had actually been dead for almost as long as he’d been gone sets a series of things in motion for Klara, both physically and mentally.

She evolved into a whole new person during a somewhat impulsive visit to Poland to see where her father had been laid to rest. While she’s always been intelligent, determined, and successful, she now wants to be involved and passionate about her life. Everywhere she looks she sees more that she wants to be engaged in—extended family, a romantic relationship, and a real purpose that aligns with the education she gained along the way.

While this book may appear to be somewhat related to WWII on the surface, the story was really about a modern woman’s life and how strongly it was shaped by her family’s past. The book earned 4 out of 5 stars and would be good for readers who enjoy contemporary fiction, light historical fiction, and stories of Jewish families. 

{click here to purchase via Amazon Affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and reader who enjoys learning about other cultures and lives through books. Check out her other interest on Instagram where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Klara's Truth!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, May 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!

Klara's Truth, by Susan Weissbach Friedman

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Where the Dark Stands Still, by A.B. Poranek {ends 4/25}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Kazimiera purses her lips. “One day, you are going to have to face this demon of yours, Eliasz.”

He laughs, mirthless. “If that day were to come, I would fall, and the Driada along with me. Judge me as you please, Kazimiera, but I will not let one intrepid, doe-eyed girl ruin seven hundred years of stability.”

With that, he slams his hand against the maple’s trunk. It splits like an opening mouth, revealing a cluster of slender saplings and red-leaved thickets beyond. Before Liska can call out to him, he steps through the spelldoor and is gone.

Left alone, a rueful apathy falls over Liska. So the Leszy does feel something for her, and he is adamant to not feel that thing. So be it – it makes everything easier. She only needs to survive this year and get home. But ah, it hurts. There had been a moment, so close to the Leszy, where she had felt…certain. Like she could see a different path, a new way forward, a path where she would find a place for herself at the manor.

Liska is willing to serve a year in captivity to the Leszy in order to return to her town as an average girl with the ability to just get on with a normal life. But the longer she’s at the manor, she’s learning that there can be a lot of secrets in 700 years.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Where the Dark Stands Still, by A.B. Poranek {ends 4/25}
Liska knows that magic is monstrous, and its practitioners are monsters. She has done everything possible to suppress her own magic, to disastrous consequences. Desperate to be free of it, Liska flees her small village and delves into the dangerous, demon-inhabited spirit-wood to steal a mythical fern flower. If she plucks it, she can use its one wish to banish her powers. Everyone who has sought the fern flower has fallen prey to unknown horrors, so when Liska is caught by the demon warden of the wood—called The Leszy—a bargain seems better than death: one year of servitude in exchange for the fern flower and its wish.

Whisked away to The Leszy’s crumbling manor, Liska soon makes an unsettling discovery: she is not the first person to strike this bargain, and all her predecessors have mysteriously vanished. If Liska wants to survive the year and return home, she must unravel her taciturn host’s spool of secrets and face the ghosts—figurative and literal—of his past. Because something wakes in the woods, something deadly and without mercy. It frightens even The Leszy…and cannot be defeated unless Liska embraces the monster she’s always feared becoming.

This story had such great references to old Polish folklore and demons, but explained them well enough that the book was enjoyable without the background info. Liska grew up shunned in her small community because magic could only be evil, according to the older villagers. Liska is willing to do anything to be rid of her magic and live a normal, boring life, but her quest for the one legend she knows of to grant her wish lands her in the very magical castle of the Leszy, deep in the Driada.

Once there, Liska acts the only way she knows how, trying to take good care of the castle that is her new home for the year, and her new master, the Leszy. Along the way, new characters are discovered, and a legend presents itself that never could have occurred to Liska, and may even change her mind about her long term goals.

The book was engaging and entertaining. It earned 4 out of 5 stars and was a great escapist fantasy read. Others who would enjoy this book are those who like young adult fantasy with interesting worlds and characters, and those with an interest in ancient Polish legends.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a mom and reader. Check out more of what she’s been up to on her blog: SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY: 

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Where the Dark Stands Still!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, April 25, 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.

Good luck!

Where the Dark Stands Still, by A.B. Poranek

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Book Review: The Cemetery of Untold Stories, by Julia Alvarez

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Bienvenida

Three years into our marriage, el Jefe becomes president, and I am thrust into the role of primera dama with a round of official duties. Often, I’m invited to preside over numerous functions, a stand-in for our busy Jefe, Joaquín at my side. A splendid first lady, the papers report. I host endless receptions and dinners, never laughing too loud or voicing an opinion or embarrassing my husband in any way. I supervise the menus, arrange the flowers and settings at the table, deciding where to seat each person – in short, I make sure everyone is happy. Most of all mi Jefe, the center of my life.

I am learning to master that second language of all devoted wives. I read my husband’s expressions for the slightest hint of displeasure – the lift of an eyebrow, tightening of a smile – and act accordingly. In photographs from that time, I am seen standing behind mi Jefe, my face radiant with love. This may sound vain, but I believe I become more attractive. It helps to have a superb seamstress who knows which styles best suit my stocky figure and a stylist who fixes my hair and works magic with creams and makeup. Not that I care a whit about attracting any eye but my husband’s.

Often, after a successful event, mi Jefe praises me. You live up to your name, Bienvenida.

Alma has carried so many stories in her mind for so long. As she attempts to bury them and move on, Filomena is learning that the stories still want to be heard.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Cemetery of Untold Stories, by Julia Alvarez
Alma Cruz, the celebrated writer at the heart of
The Cemetery of Untold Stories, doesn’t want to end up like her friend, a novelist who fought so long and hard to finish a book that it threatened her sanity. So when Alma inherits a small plot of land in the Dominican Republic, her homeland, she has the beautiful idea of turning it into a place to bury her untold stories—literally. She creates a graveyard for the manuscript drafts and the characters whose lives she tried and failed to bring to life and who still haunt her.

Alma wants her characters to rest in peace. But they have other ideas and soon begin to defy their author: they talk back to her and talk to one another behind her back, rewriting and revising themselves. Filomena, a local woman hired as the groundskeeper, becomes a sympathetic listener to the secret tales unspooled by Alma's characters. Among them, Bienvenida, dictator Rafael Trujillo's abandoned wife who was erased from the official history, and Manuel Cruz, a doctor who fought in the Dominican underground and escaped to the United States.
 
The Cemetery of Untold Stories asks: Whose stories get to be told, and whose buried? Finally, Alma finds the meaning she and her characters yearn for in the everlasting vitality of stories. Julia Alvarez reminds us that the stories of our lives are never truly finished, even at the end.

Alma, better known as the famous storyteller/author Sheherazade, does not want to continue writing until her mind breaks down. She wants to retire in her homeland and enjoy some peace at the end of her life. Unsure how to properly deal with her unfinished drafts, she decides to use a piece of inherited property in the Dominican Republic and build herself a small house and a cemetery for the drafts of her untold stories. A local woman, Filomena, proves to be her best option for a helper and groundskeeper. Since Filomena appreciates this great job that she needed after her own family dramas, she doesn’t tell Alma when the stories buried in their graves begin talking to her, too.

The two most active stories sharing themselves are Bienvenida, the dictator’s abandoned wife, and Manuel Cruz, a U.S. immigrant trying to rebuild his life in his new home. Filomena also shares her own complicated story with readers. The story lines were all engaging and revealing of the people they involved. The writing was beautiful and the characters’ voices were distinct and told even more by what they shared and what they left untold.

The book quickly felt like an old friend and was a welcome escape to so many different worlds and circumstances. The concept was unique and the book earned 4 out of 5 stars. It was not a straight plot or story and would be most enjoyed by those who appreciate literary fiction or reading a story for its own sake, not just to find resolution to the ideas and conflicts of the characters.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link} 

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys quiet time as much as connecting with others regarding their passions. Check out other things she’s up to on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Book Review: Expiration Dates, by Rebecca Searle

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“I think I’m kind of a commitment-phobe.”

Jake clears his throat. “Say more.”

I put my elbows on the table. It’s wood, unrefined. Lots of black hardware.

“I got kind of stuck after college, and, truthfully, sometimes I still am. It’s not that I don’t like my job, I do. I enjoy movies, I like assisting – I honestly think I’m good at it. But I don’t know if I want Irina’s job. I guess the most honest answer would be that I don’t think I can have it.”

I see Jake’s eyes searching mine. “Why?”

“I feel like I missed the chance, maybe? I waited too long? Everyone I know who is on a stratospheric trajectory identified the steps a long time ago.”

Daphne is used to knowing what to expect. Does she act differently if she doesn’t know what’s next? Wouldn’t anyone?

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Expiration Dates, by Rebecca Searle
Daphne Bell believes the universe has a plan for her. Every time she meets a new man, she receives a slip of paper with his name and a number on it—the exact amount of time they will be together. The papers told her she’d spend three days with Martin in Paris; five weeks with Noah in San Francisco; and three months with Hugo, her ex-boyfriend turned best friend. Daphne has been receiving the numbered papers for over twenty years, always wondering when there might be one without an expiration. Finally, the night of a blind date at her favorite Los Angeles restaurant, there’s only a name: Jake.

But as Jake and Daphne’s story unfolds, Daphne finds herself doubting the paper’s prediction, and wrestling with what it means to be both committed and truthful. Because Daphne knows things Jake doesn’t, information that—if he found out—would break his heart.

Every book from this author has been emotionally compelling, and this was no exception. As long as she’s been in any sort of romantic relationships, Daphne has always received a message either just before or as soon as a relationship starts, telling her precisely how long the relationships will last. And all the slips are correct! So when she gets a slip with just a name, and no time length, does it mean he is her forever connection?

She overlooks some things she might not have overlooked, because she is trusting in the power of the message slips. If it’s meant to be, she may just be along for the ride. But as more truths are revealed about Daphne’s relationships and Daphne herself, the reader comes to wonder if an expectation of forever because of a magical note is fair to everyone involved.

This is another great, cozy book with an original concept, as expected from this author. It earns 4 out of 5 stars and could be enjoyed by those who like popular fiction, relatively quick reads with contemporary, original characters.

Liz's Note: I also read this one, via NetGalley, and enjoyed it a lotI agree with Becki's 4 out of 5 stars assessment. It reminded me a bit of The Big Door Prize, on AppleTV, actually, in that a slip of paper could determine your future. Daphne was a likeable character, as well, and I was happy with the way the story ended, too.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and American employee who gives it her all for a wage that couldn’t support her family. Check out other fun tidbits she shares on Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Fortune Teller's Prophecy: A Memoir of an Unlikely Doctor, by Dr. Lally Pia

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Flight attendants, prepare yourselves. Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be landing at San Francisco International Airport. Welcome to California.”

As the pilot’s jovial announcement crackled on the intercom, my legs trembled in anxious anticipation. A sharp, stabbing jolt of excitement hit my chest so hard that I doubled over and grasped both knees for a few seconds. I pulled out my immigration and naturalization paperwork from my handbag for the tenth time, to assure myself that it had not disintegrated in transit, and caressed the shiny stamp at the top of the precious document that symbolized my passport into this new culture.

Squashing my face against the window, I tried to capture every image and sensation of this descent into my new home, America! I’d imagined tons of skyscrapers, not this blue crescent of ocean glimmering next to golden sand. A towering bridge came into view. I wondered which one it was. It looked magnificent. We got so close to the water that I could see sunlight glinting on bright blue waves.

Lally encountered many obstacles, but she always held on to the prediction to her father from the fortune teller when she was just a baby.

Official synopsis:

When a military coup in Ghana leads to the abrupt closure of Lally Pia’s medical school, she is left stranded there, thousands of miles away from her family in California, with no educational prospects or money. Adding to her turmoil is her discovery that her American Green Card has been botched, which means she has no country to call home. But a Sri Lankan priest told Lally that she would one day become a “Doctor of Doctors” —and she is intent on proving him right.

This sizzling multicultural roller coaster illustrates the power of self-determination as Lally, a young immigrant with a drive to succeed, takes on obstacle after obstacle—an abusive relationship, the welfare state, and a gruesome job where she has to dismember human bodies—in order to fulfill her dreams. A story that will resonate with anyone who has faced cultural and immigration hardships, The Fortune Teller’s Prophecy is a nail-biting journey across continents, through hardships, and into ultimate triumph.

The cards seemed to be stacked against Lally. The reader is brought into the story of a twenty-year-old woman left behind by her family. Her parents and siblings moved to California while Lally stayed to finish up medical school in Ghana. But when the medical school closes and Lally’s green card doesn’t get her a clear exit strategy to join her family in California, she’s left to rely on the kindness of family friends for months waiting for either the medical school to reopen, or her green card status to grant her admittance to California. 

Through it all, Lally’s positive spirit remains unstoppable, and the fortune teller’s prediction to her father remains a voice whispering to her through all her struggles. She’s supposed to be a medical doctor, and she isn’t sure who she is if this basic belief held by her and her family doesn’t end up to be true. 

Lally’s story is a compelling and well-written memoir of her journey through young adulthood and some tough choices. The book earned 5 out of 5 stars and would be great for those who like female success stories and stories of life in other countries and cultures. Lally’s life could have gone in so many different directions, and she appreciates this and tells it well.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link - only $8.99 on Kindle right now!}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother who enjoys taking care of her family, reading, and doing things to surprise her kids. Check out other books she’s read lately at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Fortune Teller's Prophecy!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, March 27th, 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.

Good luck!


The Fortune Teller's Prophecy: A Memoir of an Unlikely Doctor, by Dr. Lally Pia

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Resort, by Sarah Ochs {ends 3/26}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“I don’t know, it’s just…” Neil looks behind him, checking to make sure no one’s listening in on our conversation. But other than the two of us and a bored waiter lounging on the front counter and playing on his phone we’re alone. “There are rumors that it could be a group of locals. People who are resentful of the farangs who come in and act like they own the place. Others think it’s the Thai Mafia, like Doug mentioned last night. They sell drugs on the island – they bribe the police to look the other way – and I know that they own at least one or two of the bars on Pho Tau beach."

“But the moral of the story is that you need to stop looking into this. Whoever’s involved, they’re dangerous. And I’m worried that if you try to get in the way, they’ll come after you.” 

I nod, but I’m not fully convinced. Neil must see it, too, because he wraps his hands around my forearms. I feel my breath catch as he gently pulls me toward him across the table, so that our faces are mere inches from one another.

When Brooke arrives at the resort island, she seems to fit in okay with some of the permanents, but especially starts to get close with Cassie. Is Brooke just another traveler seeking out a quiet, private life, or is she there for something more?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Resort, by Sarah Ochs {ends 3/26}
There are three rules to follow during a vacation at the famous Koh Sang Resort

1 – Leave the past behind.

When Cass sets foot on the coast of Thailand's world-famous party island, she's searching for an escape. With dark secrets following her every move, Koh Sang becomes the perfect place to hide.

2 - Always be careful of who you trust.

Now, years later, Cass is a local dive instructor alongside the Permanents, a group of expats who have claimed the island as their own. The Permanents don't linger on who they were before the island. Simply because, like Cass, they all have something to outrun.

3 – If someone discovers who you really are, run.

But suddenly, a dive student is found dead and paradise comes crashing down. Because this isn't the first mysterious death on the island, and it won't be the last. Someone knows who Cass is and they're ready to make sure justice is finally served.

Everyone at the Resort is happy to live in the present. They all seem to assume that their secret is worth protecting, and they really don’t spend much time worrying about anyone else’s secrets. This works out fine, until it doesn’t.

Brooke thinks she is drawn to the Resort because of someone else’s secrets, and she hopes to finally get revenge. But perhaps time and perspective has changed them all, and maybe the enemy is no longer who they each originally thought it was.

This was an ever-changing thriller and mystery. Different facets of each character made the reader wonder about all of the characters, and the possible villain changed from chapter to chapter. It was a great read that earned 4 out of 5 stars. The depictions of living at the resort island were fun and intriguing, and untangling each character’s backstory and mystery was fun. This would be an excellent vacation read for those who enjoy dreaming about island locales.

{click here to purchase via Amazon affiliate link}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who enjoys reading and writing. Check out some of her free time on TikTok or Instagram, where she posts as SweetlyBSquared.

GIVEAWAY:

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

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, March 26th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Good luck!

The Resort, by Sarah Ochs

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

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