Sunday, February 18, 2018

6 Podcasts for True Crime Lovers



Growing up, I always loved crime shows.  I remember being in middle school and watching CSI followed by Without A Trace on Thursday nights.  In high school, my favorite TV channel quickly became Investigation Discovery because it was filled with true crime shows.  Being a typical millennial, I haven't had cable in years, which means no more ID or other crime shows unless they're on Netflix or Hulu.  I've spent a lot of the last couple years in my car, driving between Clarksville and Huntsville on the weekends, to and from Nashville a couple times a week, and up to Minnesota and back for holidays.  As much as I love music, I needed something more to keep me company as I racked up the miles on my car.  This is when I decided to venture into the world of podcasts. Of the 13 podcasts that I am subscribed to, half of them are true crime, so I wanted to share my favorites!


1. Serial: Season 1

"A high-school senior named Hae Min Lee disappeared one day after school in 1999, in Baltimore County, Maryland.  A month later, he body was found in a city park.  She's been strangled.  Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was sentenced to life in prison.  The case against him was largely based on teh story of one witness, Adnan's friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae's body.  But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae's death.  Some people believe he's telling the true.  Many others don't."

I started Serial after hearing about it in an ad while listening to  S-Town (another great investigative journalism podcast produced by This American Life). At the time, they were still releasing season one episodes, but they do have two seasons out now. Hosted by Sarah Koenig, Serial only covers one crime in each season, so it goes into a lot of detail.  I did begin the second season, but I wasn't into it as much as I was the first season so I stopped listening to it.




2. Undisclosed

Like Serial, Undisclosed focuses on one case per season.  Since I had just listened to Serial and the case of Hae Min Lee/Adnan Syed, I was excited to find that season one of Undisclosed was on the same topic, because I could not get enough of this case.  I even ended up buying the audiobook about the case after finishing the Undisclosed season.  Another great thing about Undisclosed is that even though season one is over, they continue to release episodes as Adnan's case continues through present time.  I continue to listen to the new seasons of Undisclosed because they're just as engaging as the first.  As an added fun fact, their website offers the case files on each of the cases that they cover if you're looking for more information.


3. Up and Vanished

Hosted by documentarian Payne Lindsey, Up and Vanished explored the unsolved case of Tara Grinstad, a young woman who went missing in Georgia over 11 years ago.  As Lindsey investigated the case, new leads were discovered, and an arrest actually took place.  I loved that Lindsey incorporated news reports, interviews, and phone calls with people involved in the case into the episodes to get others' point of views and stories.  I'm really bummed that U&V didn't continue to release more seasons about other cases.




4. Sword and Scale 

Sword and Scale was recommended to me by a lot of people, and I could see why.  It covers a broad range of criminal activity, from murder, to kidnapping, to sexual assault.  S&S can get pretty graphic, but they usually provide warnings at the beginning of the episode, especially if it involves topics like sexual assault or child abuse.




5. True Crime Garage

This is definitely my favorite true crime podcast.  Hosted by beer aficionados Nic and The Captain, TCG explores a variety of crime.  They began by exploring a new crime each episode, but now each case sometimes spans two, three, or four episodes.  Sometimes the cases are closed, but sometimes they remain open to this day.  An added feature that most podcasts do not include is a short segment on beer!  TCG  takes place in an actual garage, and during each episode the hosts introduce the beer the're drinking, where it came from, and how they rate it.  Another thing I love about this podcast is that they have a recommended reading page on their website.  At the end of each episode, the guys share a couple true crime books that they recommend which are added to this page on their website.  As a book fiend and true crime lover, this feature is much appreciated!


6. Atlanta Monster

Atlanta Monster is a new true crime podcast hosted by one of my favorite podcast hosts, Payne Lindsey.  It focuses on the over 40-year-old Atlanta Child Murders.  Although a man was once arrested to the crime, many questions still exist that Lindsey is looking to have answered.  Like his previous podcast Up & Vanished, Payne includes true accounts from Atlanta residents and others who lived in the area during this era. This podcast has just begun, so I cannot speak to how good it is yet!


*BONUS*
Two more true crime podcasts that I have just started listening to are My Favorite Murder and Someone Knows Something.  I can't attest to how good they are yet, but if you're in need of new listening material, you could definitely try those ones out!

Please let me know in the comments or email if you have any other True Crime podcasts that you'd recommend! I'm always looking for new podcasts to listen to!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

DIY Coffee Sugar Scrub




My inspiration for this DIY project was the Cup O Coffee shower scrub from Lush.  I had received a sample of the scrub and used it as a face mask and fell in love! I do not like coffee, nor do I like the smell of it, but the scent is a small price to pay for how soft my skin felt after I used it.   Additionally, this Alabama winter is sucking the moisture out of me so I am in need of all the exfoliation I can find.




In order to make this scrub, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup coffee grinds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup liquid coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice



Directions: 

First, mix together the coffee grinds and sugar in a bowl.
Next, add the coconut oil, honey, and lemon juice and stir until thoroughly mixed.
Use immediately or store in an airtight container for later use.


Uses:

Use as a scrub in the shower, specifically focusing on rough areas such as elbows, knees, and heels.
You can use this as a face mask if desired.  Let sit on face for 15 minutes, then rinse off by gently massaging the mask into your skin as you rinse.



Benefits:

Coffee grinds make for a great exfoliate to rid your skin of dead skin cells.  Sugar also helps to exfoliate your skin and remove dead skin cells while cleaning your pores.  Coconut oil is both antibacterial and anti-fungal and it provides moisture to your skin.
Honey is a natural moisturizing anti-biotic and is helpful in preventing and getting rid of acne.  The antioxidants help slow down the aging of skin.  Lemon juice helps to cleanse your pours and to even out your skin tone.


Coffee sugar scrub is a great DIY project for yourself or as a gift for someone else, because you likely already have all the ingredients in your home! Plus, its so much cheaper than paying more than $2 per ounce of the Lush coffee scrub!

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

#gretchensbooks2018 - January




I set my Goodreads reading challenge at 24 books again for 2018. I beat it by 13 last year and am hoping to surpass it again this year. I had a list of books I wanted to get from the library to read this month, but turns out the library was closed for the month because they were moving locations.  Luckily, I still have plenty of unread books in a pile at home!

(Note: book descriptions come from Amazon.com but all reviews are my own)

1. You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (2/5 ★)

"In this refreshingly entertaining how-to guide, bestselling author and world-traveling success coach, Jen Sincero, serves up 27 bite-sized chapters full of hilariously inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word, helping you to: Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, Create a life you totally love. And create it NOW, Make some damn money already. The kind you've never made before.


By the end of You Are a Badass, you'll understand why you are how you are, how to love what you can't change, how to change what you don't love, and how to use The Force to kick some serious ass."

I had been wanting to read this book for awhile so when Amazon had a $5/$15 book deal at the end of December I snagged it despite my "no buying books" declaration. I really, really, really wanted to like this book, and to learn from it, but I just didn't.  There was nothing original in it that I hadn't read in any other "self-help" book before (and I haven't read a whole lot of self-help books).  It was extraordinarily repetitive and quite frankly, not very helpful.  Basically the whole book summed up is, "believe you will, and you will." I'm absolutely a believe that in order to be successful, you do have to believe in yourself and your dreams, but you also have to work for them, and I felt like this book ignored the "work for them" part of that reality.


2. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (3/5 ★)

"Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch. The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them. There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive. Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off."

This was my first audiobook of the year.   I loved The Maze Runner when I read it back in college before the movie came out, so I had bought the whole series.  I never got around to reading them and ended up getting rid of them. I saw the audiobook at the library and figured I would give it a go.  I didn't love the audiobook, and I'm not sure if I would have liked it better in print or not.  That being said I was getting anxious to know what happened to the kids when they got out of the maze which made this book a little more interesting. 

3. The Death Cure by James Dashner (2/5 ★)

"WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test. What WICKED doesn’t know is that Thomas remembers far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what they say.Thomas beat the Maze. He survived the Scorch. He’ll risk anything to save his friends. But the truth might be what ends it all. The time for lies is over."

It's not often I say this, but I should have just waited for the movie without reading (or rather listening to) this book. This was the last book in the trilogy, and to be honest I thought it was kind of dull.  Again, its possible that is just because I listened to it as an audiobook rather than reading it in print.  I will definitely see the movie (released in theaters on January 17) now that I have listened to the audiobook though.



4. Now Go Out There (and get curious) by Mary Karr

"A celebration of curiosity, compassion, and the surprising power of fear, based on the New York Times bestselling author and renowned professor’s 2015 commencement address at Syracuse University.


Every year there are one or two commencement speeches that strike a chord with audiences far greater than the student bodies for which they are intended. In 2015 Mary Karr’s speech to the graduating class of Syracuse University caught fire, hailed across the Internet as one of the most memorable in recent years, and lighting up the Twittersphere.
In Now Go Out There, Karr explains why having your heart broken is just as—if not more—important than falling in love; why getting what you want often scares you more than not getting it; how those experiences that appear to be the worst cannot be so easily categorized; and how to cope with the setbacks that inevitably befall all of us. “Don’t make the mistake of comparing your twisted up insides to other people’s blow-dried outsides,” she cautions. “Even the most privileged person in this stadium suffers the torments of the damned just going about the business of being human.”
An ideal—and beautifully designed—gift for a graduate or for anyone looking for some down-to-earth life advice, Now Go Out There is destined to become a classic."

Okay so technically this is a book, but its not actually a story.  It is literally just her speech spread out across pages and bound into a book which is why I did not give it a rating.  Its a great speech, but I would guess you can probably just find it on the internet if you wanted to read it.  That being said, I think it would be a great "guest book" for a graduation party!



5. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle (5/5 ★)

"Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out―three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list―her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, Glennon found that rock bottom was a familiar place. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life.
Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another—and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they've been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, commit to living true—true to themselves and to each other.
Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life."

I had seen Glennon speak at Together Live in Nashville last fall and I knew immediately that I wanted to read her book.  She is a fascinating speaker and storyteller.  Lucky for me, there were piles of her book outside the door as we left! I was not let down.  Glennon's story growing up was so different than my own and her writing about her struggles is exquisite and beautiful.  I envy her writing talent and her ability to put feelings into words.  This was definitely the best book I read this month, hands down.


6. I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi (2/5 ★)


"With over 500,000 readers a month at her enormously popular blog, AwesomelyLuvvie.com, Luvvie Ajayi is a go-to source for smart takes on pop culture. I'm Judging You is her debut book of humorous essays that dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives. It passes on lessons and side-eyes on life, social media, culture, and fame, from addressing those terrible friends we all have to serious discussions of race and media representation to what to do about your fool cousin sharing casket pictures from Grandma's wake on Facebook.
With a lighthearted, razor sharp wit and a unique perspective, I'm Judging You is the handbook the world needs, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some "act right" into our lives, social media, and popular culture. It is the Do-Better Manual."

I am going to start my saying that Luvvie is an AMAZING speaker so if you get the chance to see her speak I would highly encourage it!  Because of that, I expected to LOVE her book.  Unfortunately it took me a really long time to get into. It began talking about all these types of “friends” and essentially how each type is bad but she talks about each friend as though she is describing an actual person in her life. I just keep reading thinking, “if they’re so bad, why do you still call them friends?” Then it continued to whine about societal standards and relationships and social media habits and so on and so forth.  That being said, she did make a lot of very valid points later in the book in terms of racism, homophobia and privilege which is why I gave this book two stars instead of zero.  I really loved what she had to say in these chapters, but it was still difficult to power through it.  If you choose to read this book, I recommend you skip the beginning chapters because they read like a bad Elite Daily article...so much whining! I'm a pretty positive person who doesn't care to dwell on the negatives and I do everything I can to change or eliminate the bad stuff in my life, which is why I was so turned off by this book.  If you're a Negative Nancy, then this book may interest you, but if you're a fairly positive person like myself then do yourself a favor and give this book a hard pass. (Side note: if you took a shot every time she use the phrase "side eye," you would be smashed by page 5. SERIOUS SIDE EYE OVERLOAD.)


7. Clean by Amy Reed (4/5 ★)

"Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They’re addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves. None of them wants to be there. None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts. And they certainly don’t want to share their darkest secrets and most desperate fears with a room of strangers. But they’ll all have to deal with themselves—and one another—if they want to learn how to live. Because when you get that high, there’s nowhere to go but down, down, down."

After struggling through that last book, I needed an easy read and this was the perfect choice.  Our public library just re-opened in a new building at the end of January and it is SO NICE! Clean is a young adult book that I would recommend for late middle schoolers/early high schoolers.  That being said, I enjoyed it as a 26 year old because as far as I'm concerned books know no age levels.



One last bit of information, if you love to read I recommend you first, get a Goodreads account, second: add me as a friend, and third: enter the Goodreads book giveaways! I just discovered these mid-October and I've already won 10+ books. Its a great way to try new books that you may not buy otherwise, and get advanced reader copies!

Reading Challenge: 7/24 books

Friday, February 2, 2018

Flashback Friday: Florida 2004

**This post is part of a Flashback Friday series. I will be posting photos from the trips I took as a kid accompanied by the journal entries I kept while traveling**



3/24/04                8:50PM

Zzzzzzzz we’ve been in the car for 5 hours and 40 minutes taking a 20 minute break at McDonald’s to eat.  I think I’m gonna barf.  I have to sit in back of the station wagon and it is so hot and stuffy back here.  It is very uncomfortable.  I think I’m gonna break my back.  We are in Illinois.  I’ve seen two accidents.  At the first there were seven cop cars and I don’t know what happened and at the second one there was a car with a trailer.  The trailer came unhooked and tipped over.  The car drove into a ditch.  I am so bored.  I already used my first set of batteries up in my Walkman.


3/24/04                10:36PM

Dude, that was so cool! We just went to Phillips 66 which is a gas station.  A guy who worked at Fazoli’s was there.  Someone paid him with a $50 bill that was counterfeit.  The guy at Phillips 66 could tell because he had a marker and when you wrote on a real bill it was yellow.  When you wrote on a fake bill it was black. TT4N.


3/25/04                6:05AM at home, 7:05AM here

I just saw army cars on a train.  We are in Tennessee.  I am writing down the license plate states.


3/25/04                7:47AM at home, 8:47AM here

A while ago we saw a car in a ditch that fell off of the bridge.  And we call Iowans dumb! Right now we are stick in lines of traffic aka a traffic jam, and at 8:47 in the morning!  We still have awhile to go, and it doesn’t help much that we’re barely moving.  I’m about to fall asleep.  I must have listened to at least 654 songs by now.  Right now I am listening to “I’m a Believer.” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!


3/25/04                1:04PM at home, 2:04PM here

We are finally in Florida but we still have 4 hours until we get to our place that we are staying.  It is sooooooooooooooo hot in the car and I have a headache.  I am all sticky because Isaac just spilled Sierra Mist all over me.  We went through a dust storm earlier.  If I have to be stuck in this car much longer I’m going to explode.

(Note: Yes, we drove straight from MN to FL without stopping somewhere to stay overnight.  Also it’s nice to see I was just as dramatic as a child as I am now :P)


3/25/04                6:58PM at home, 7:58PM here

We finally got to the villa and it almost looks the same as last time.  My head hurts so bad it is about to explode.  Tomorrow we are going to Sea World.  We ate Hardees for breakfast and Krystal’s, which is like White Castle, for lunch.  Who knows what we’re having for supper.  Mom and Grandma are taking forever to get back from wherever they went.



3/26/04                8:44PM at home, 9:44PM here

Today we went to Sea World.  It was kinda boring.  I liked the Journey to Atlantis, Kraken, the dolphin show, and the whale show.  The Wild Artic was alright.  Everyone kept screaming and it wasn’t even scary.  Mom and grandma are sick, Dad has a headache, and I have a headache and a case of the hiccups.  Tomorrow we are meeting the Kramers at Universal Studios.





3/27/04                

Today we went to Universal Studios.  We watched Slime Time Live.  My favorite ride was Men in Black: Alien Attack.  On there, you shoot aliens.  My score was 60,325 and Sam’s was 30,125.  I liked Twister as well.  On there you got to stand on a porch and there was a twister coming and it was raining on us.  There were fires and a flying cow.  Other things we went to were: Earthquake, Shrek: 4D, Terminator 2: 3-D, Jimmy Neutron, Back to the Future, Woody Woodpecker’s Rollercoaster, Beetlejuice’s Graveyard, Animal Planet Live, The ET Adventure, and Slime Time Live.  I got autographs and pictures of Angelica, Chuckie, Tommy, Eliza, Donnie, Princess Fiona, and Woody Woodpecker.  I also got pictures of Shrek and SpongeBob.  At 9:00PM there was a parade.  It was about Mardi Gras.  There were real Mardi Gras floats with people on it who threw bead necklaces at us.  There were tall people with stilts too!  It was fun!  I got 3 matching bracelets for Bethany, me, and Amanda.  I also got a t-shirt that says Mardi Gras on it. TA4N!









3/28/04

Today we stayed at the condo.  We went swimming and got burnt.  We went to Downtown Disney.  I got a hockey puck.  It was very boring.




3/29/04

We went to Epcot.  I made a mask.  We went on Test Track twice.  I went on Mission: Space.  It was really fun.  Me and Sam had to steer four things.  We went on Spaceship Earth twice.  It was kinda boring since we have already been here.  We had two beaver tails each.

Enjoying our beaver tails from Canada





3/30/04

We went to Islands of Adventure.  I went on Hulk and Spiderman three times.  We saw two shows, Sinbad and Poseidon.  I went on Dueling Dragons twice.  I went on Dudley’s Rip-saw.  We got really wet then.  We also got really wet on Jurassic Park’s River adventure.  That was fun.  I went on it twice.  We also went to Jimmy Buffet’sMargaritaville.


3/31/04

Today we went to Clearwater Beach.  We got really sunburned.  The water was real gross.  It made me gag.  I got some shells.  We stayed at Comfort Inn.  It was really got.  The sand was really white.  There were two parks there.  We built a sand hockey rink.  The waves were big and fun.




4/1/04

I played the first April Fool’s joke!  It was on Sam.  We went shopping with Rick and Helen.  I got two things: a beach in a bag and a sun catcher.  We drove to Birmingham, Alabama.  We went to three hotels before we finally found one with a non-smoking room.  The hotel we finally stayed at was really nice.


Previous Flashback Friday posts:

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

Happy National Peanut Butter Day!! Well, almost.. Wednesday, January 24th is National Peanut Butter Day in the US, so I wanted to share with you an easy peasy recipe to make delicious peanut butter cookies. My best friend taught me this recipe back in college and to this day they are still some of the best tasting peanut butter cookies I've ever eaten.










Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg








Directions:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 

2. Add the sugar, peanut butter, and egg to a bowl and mix 

3. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and put on an ungreased cookie sheet

4. Dip a fork in sugar and use it to flatten the cookie balls

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes and enjoy!

(Yields approx. 20-24 1.5” cookies)

So easy, and so good! Even better, they are both dairy and gluten free. The kind of peanut butter that you use does make a bit of a difference.  For example, I usually eat Skippy Natural Peanut Butter or Skippy Natural with Honey and the cookies come out not as good, so I buy regular peanut butter to make these.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

22 Birthday Freebies



I love my birthday. I think it should be celebrated all year long! Sometimes, it can be! (Well, all month long anyway). Over the years I have subscribed to a number of offers that all come pouring in once December rolls around, helping me to celebrate another completed trip around the sun.

The following are offers I have gotten by signing up for emails.  Often times, if you go to a restaurant ON your birthday they will give you the same offer, but if you get the coupon you can usually use it anytime during your birthday month (or week, depending on the expiration date).

Applebees - free dessert coupon via email
Arby's - free small shake with any sandwich purchase via coupon in email, free classic roast beef sandwich with purchase of drink via coupon in email
Baskin Robbins - $3 off ice cream cake via coupon in email, one FREE ice cream scoop coupon via email
Blake Shelton - 15% off + free shipping from online store code via email
Brueggers Bagel's - free bagel with cream cheese coupon via email
Buffalo Wild Wings - $5 off a $25 purchase coupon via email
Cinnabon - free iced coffee coupon via email
Coca-Cola - $1 off a personalized bottle of Coca Cola coupon code via email
Dairy Queen- B1G1 Blizzard coupon via email, $3 off a DQ ice cream cake coupon via email
Dave & Buster's - free $10 game play coupon via email
Dunkin' Donuts - free drink coupon via email
Godiva - free $10 of a $10 or more puchase coupon via email
iHop - free pancakes via coupon in email
Jack in the Box - 2 free tacos coupon via email
Maurice's - $10 off a $10 purchase via coupon in email
Noodles & Company- free Rice Crispy treat coupon via email
Sephora - free make up email (with purchase, varies)
Sonic - free small classic shake (coupon in app)
Sprinkles - free cupcake (must tell the Sprinkles employee that you are a perks member)
Starbucks - free drink (if you have a registered Starbucks gift card)
Victoria's Secret - $10 rewards card (if you have an Angel Rewards Credit Card)
Walgreens - 5x points everyday in your birthday month



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

#gretchensbooks2017 - December

Concluding the count of 2017's books, here are the Amazon.com descriptions and my own personal reviews for December's reads, books 31- 37 of #gretchensbooks2017.

For those of you who have already asked to borrow books from my last post- just a heads up that I finally got a library card, so instead of continuing to buy books that I have no room for, I'm utilizing the great free service known as the Public Library! I will however still link the books to Amazon so you can purchase them for your own (or a friend's) over-flowing bookshelves.


31. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (1/5 ★)

"Erik Larson—author of #1 bestseller In the Garden of Beasts—intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction."

This book was so painfully dull and boring...First off, it should have been called The Devil AND the White City because it seemed more like a story about the construction of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago (the White City) with a tiny bit of sprinkling detail about Dr. Henry H. Holmes's killings (The Devil). I had heard so many good things about this book that I used my monthly Audible credit to get the audiobook. It took me a couple times to finally listen to it long enough to follow the story-line, but it never got interesting. I tried to tell myself to quit listening to it but I hate not finishing things (no matter how dull they are) and I had no new podcast episodes to listen to. I can tell that Erik Larson put a lot of research into this book, because that is literally what this book was- a bunch of research written in a failed attempt to form an engaging story-line. Unless you are abnormally into learning about Chicago as it prepared for this event, do yourself a favor and stay far, far away from this book.




32. A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin (5/5 ★)

"The summer Hattie turns 12, her predictable small town life is turned on end when her uncle Adam returns home for the first time in over ten years. Hattie has never met him, never known about him. He's been institutionalized; his condition involves schizophrenia and autism. 

Hattie, a shy girl who prefers the company of adults, takes immediately to her excitable uncle, even when the rest of the family -- her parents and grandparents -- have trouble dealing with his intense way of seeing the world. And Adam, too, sees that Hattie is special, that her quiet, shy ways are not a disability,"



This book has unofficially been on my "to read" list for years. Ann M. Martin was one of my favorite authors growing up as I was a big fan of the both the Baby-Sitters Club and Baby-Sitters Little Sister series. This book is categorized as young adult, so I breezed through it in a day. I love how Hattie is a totally relatable character to a young reader, even though she lives in the 60s. I would definitely recommend this book to any early middle school/late elementary school aged kid! 



33. Maybe by Brent Runyon (2/5 )

"Maybe everything will be different here. Maybe I should drive away and never come back. Maybe my brother didn't mean to. Maybe my brother was right. Maybe I can get someone to have sex with me. Maybe no one will ever love me. Maybe I should be an actor. Maybe I shouldn't pretend to be deaf. Maybe if I mouth the words no one will know I'm not singing. But maybe someone, somehow, will hear me anyway. 

Brent Runyon offers a raw, wrenching novel of a boy on the edge. It's a powerful story about love and loss and death and anger and the near impossibility for a sixteen-year-old boy to both understand how he feels and to make himself heard."


It was an easy read, but honestly this book wasn't that great. I had been looking for a different title by the same author at the library when I came across this book. It's about a boy navigating the roads of a new high school after he loses his older brother. I'm confused however because the book starts out with him moving after his brother passes and going into his new high school to sign up for classes, but then later in the story he talks about going to his brother's bedroom which shouldn't exist if they just moved. Another problem I have with the story is that his brother is mentioned off and on, but infrequently enough that I kept forgetting he even had a brother. The story ends with his sharing what happened to his brother, but it seems odd that that is so important to the conclusion of the story when he wasn't mentioned frequently or in any sort of depth throughout the story.  Lastly, the book is super stream-of-consciousness-y, so much so that I just wanted to yell at the kid to get on with it already. The topics of sex and drugs make it not-so middle school friendly, but I think it's a book that I would have been more interested in when I was in the 8th/9th grade.



34. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (4/5 )

"By the author of the #1 New York Timesbestseller The Book Thief, this is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. 

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.
 
That's when the first ace arrives in the mail. That's when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?"


Finally having a library card means I can check out new audiobooks whenever I want which is great since I canceled my audible membership! I had read The Book Thief a couple years back, so I have been wanting to read this book for awhile too since it's by the same author. I expected the topic to be a little heavier like the Book Thief, so I was surprised when I found this was a completely fictional story with no historic roots. There is a bit of a love story taking place throughout the book, but quite frankly I think it would have been better without it. I enjoy this as an audiobook, but I think I would have enjoyed it more in print.



35. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (5/5 ★)

"Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you'll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under."

This book gave me ALL the feels, y'all. The description is correct in saying that it will have you remembering your own first love and how hard it pulled you under. The ending of this book was so beautiful I literally cried, and I don't think that has ever happened before! Best book I read this month hands down!




36. Stained by Cheryl Rainfield (2/5 ★)

"Sixteen-year-old Sarah Meadows longs for "normal." Born with a port wine stain covering half her face, all her life she’s been plagued by stares, giggles, bullying, and disgust. But when she’s abducted on the way home from school, Sarah is forced to uncover the courage she never knew she had, become a hero rather than a victim, and learn to look beyond her face to find the beauty and strength she has inside. It’s that—or succumb to a killer."

I wanted to like this book, I really did, but it seemed so drawn out.  Like it just kept going back and forth between the main character being locked up in an old shack and her friend Nick helping her parents put up "Missing" posters.  I gave it two stars because I wasn't bored out of my mind forcing myself to read it, but even the minimal plot lines that existed in the story were fairly predictable. It is definitely directed towards middle school aged kids, but deals with topics like rape which I wouldn't recommend to early middle schoolers.


37. The Company of Demons by Michael Jordan (3/5★)

"The brutal murder of a friend leaves lawyer John Coleman stunned and sends shockwaves through the city of Cleveland. The technique of the killing recalls memories of the Torso Murderer, who dismembered at least twelve people decades ago and then vanished—eluding even legendary crime fighter Eliot Ness. Jennifer, the victim's beautiful daughter, hires John to handle her father's estate, and romantic feelings for her soon complicate his already troubled marriage. When John finds himself entangled with a cold-blooded biker gang, an ex-cop with a fuzzy past, and the drug-addicted son of the dead man, he struggles to make sense of it all."


I won an advanced reader copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway that I had entered after reading the description. I'm a big fan of crime novels so this was right up my alley. I enjoyed the storyline for the most part and it contained a lot of suspense, but the main character was not very likeable...like at all. Also, although the end of the story ties up all the loose ends, it happens so quickly in the span of a few pages and is fairly anti-climactic because of that.

Stay tuned for January's reads, coming to the blog on February 6th!