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.


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,

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,


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

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