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, JoaquĆ­n 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.

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