Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - July

The last full month of summer means it is likely the last solid month of reading of the year, especially knowing that this school year is going to be unusual. I didn't get through as many as I hoped I would, but I got in my ten!

80. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (3/5★)

The summer of '28 was a vintage season for a growing boy. A summer of green apple trees, mowed lawns, and new sneakers. Of half-burnt firecrackers, of gathering dandelions, of Grandma's belly-busting dinner. It was a summer of sorrows and marvels and gold-fuzzed bees. A magical, timeless summer in the life of a twelve-year-old boy named Douglas Spaulding—remembered forever by the incomparable Ray Bradbury. 

I’ve only read one Bradbury book before, and I think it was back in middle school, so I will definitely have to re-read it. 

I don’t really know how to come to terms with how I felt about this book. It was essentially a collection of short stories, and while they did fit well together, it also meant there wasn’t a real plot line or any real character development. What I liked about it was less the actual stories, and more the nostalgia for innocent childhood summers.

The writing was beautiful, and I really wanted to like the book. I think it is one of those novels that gets better every time you read it, so perhaps I will revisit it at a later date.

81. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (3.5/5★)

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. 

This has been on my TBR list since long before Goodreads was around to help me keep track of which books I wanted to read. I knew it had been around awhile, but I hadn’t realized it had been published in 1999. 

The story was written in letters, which I wasn’t sure I would like, but I found it didn’t distract from the story like I thought it would.

It is very much an old story, and though the themes are all still very applicable now in today’s day and age, I think kids today would have a harder time getting though the story and grasping its messages.

82. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green (4/5★)
Months later, April’s friends are trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda is contemplating defying her friends’ advice and pursuing a new scientific operation…one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension. Just as it is starting to seem like the gang may never learn the real story behind the events that changed their lives forever, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers—all of which seems to suggest that April could be very much alive. 
In the midst of the search for the truth and the search for April is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavoris the bold and brilliant follow-up to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It is a fast-paced adventure that is also a biting social commentary, asking hard, urgent questions about the way we live, our freedoms, our future, and how we handle the unknown.

The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While the robots were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction with only their presence. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories.  

I’m not a sci-fi reader, like, ever, but I’m glad I picked these books up. This was a great conclusion to the short series, and honestly I think I liked it better than book one! I really liked how the story was pieces together by different POVs, interview transcripts, articles, tweets, etc. 

Well if this isn’t an absolute reflection on society today, I don’t know what is. I know I said that about the last one, but like...this is the kind of stuff that could be taken apart in an English class, and quite frankly would be much more fun to analyze than anything I’ve ever had to. It’s a very fictional story, but really speaks to the use of power and social media and just humanity in general.

83. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (3.5/5★)

For years, rumors of the "Marsh Girl" have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life--until the unthinkable happens. 

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

I know this book had a lot of hype, and a forever-long wait list on Libby, but honestly, it didn’t live up to my expectations. It wasn’t a bad story, but it felt very padded, like there was a lot stuffed in there that was unnecessary. The story was bittersweet, and I liked it enough, but didn't quite see what all the hubbub was. I have to say, I do love how it ended! And the author wrote fabulous descriptions.

Michelle was a young single mother when she was kidnapped by a local school bus driver named Ariel Castro. For more than a decade afterward, she endured unimaginable torture at the hand of her abductor. In 2003 Amanda Berry joined her in captivity, followed by Gina DeJesus in 2004. Their escape on May 6, 2013, made headlines around the world. 

Barely out of her own tumultuous childhood, Michelle was estranged from her family and fighting for custody of her young son when she disappeared. Local police believed she had run away, so they removed her from the missing persons lists fifteen months after she vanished. Castro tormented her with these facts, reminding her that no one was looking for her, that the outside world had forgotten her. But Michelle would not be broken. 

In Finding Me, Michelle will reveal the heartbreaking details of her story, including the thoughts and prayers that helped her find courage to endure her unimaginable circumstances and now build a life worth living. By sharing both her past and her efforts to create a future, Michelle becomes a voice for the voiceless and a powerful symbol of hope for the thousands of children and young adults who go missing every year.

I feel very weird giving this memoir a “rating,” because though most memoirs have a point or a message or a lesson, this was literally just the story of what happened to her- there is (intentionally) nothing to learn from it (except that there is evil out there in the world.) I’m giving it 3.5 stars not because of the content, but because of the structure, pacing, etc. 

It was an interesting, though morbid, story, and truly terrifying that this happened to her, and to others, and that it continues to happen. When reading you can tell that she didn’t have a solid education, because the writing is very juvenile and doesn’t flow well which makes it harder to read (which is why the 3.5 stars).

This autobiography had been on my TBR list for awhile. I remember when the girls were found, but never really knew the story. The other two girls wrote a book together as well, which is still on my TBR list.

85. Night Swim by Megan Goldin (4/5★)

Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name―and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The new season of Rachel's podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season 3 a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation―but the mysterious letters keep coming. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody in town wants to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases―and a revelation that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

I really enjoyed this story! Night Swim comes out on August 4, and is centered around two criminal cases- an active rape trial, and a “closed” accidental drowning/possible murder case. I sat outside and read until it was too dark, then laid down inside to read until I fell asleep, then promptly finished in the morning- I don’t sit still long very well, so that is a testament to how good it was!

I thought it was fun that the main character was a true crime podcast host since I love true crime podcasts. The pace was quick and kept you guessing all the way throughout as to what would happen and whether or not convictions would take place in the end.

A young woman is found dead on the floor of a Tijuana hotel room. An ID in a nearby purse reads “Atlantis Black.” The police report states that the body does not seem to match the identification, yet the body is quickly cremated and the case is considered closed.
So begins Betsy Bonner’s search for her sister, Atlantis, and the unraveling of the mysterious final months before Atlantis’s disappearance, alleged overdose, and death. With access to her sister’s email and social media accounts, Bonner attempts to decipher and construct a narrative: frantic and unintelligible Facebook posts, alarming images of a woman with a handgun, Craigslist companionship ads, DEA agent testimony, video surveillance, police reports, and various phone calls and moments in the flesh conjured from memory. Through a history only she and Atlantis shared―a childhood fraught with abuse and mental illness, Atlantis’s precocious yet short rise in the music world, and through it all an unshakable bond of sisterhood―Bonner finds questions that lead only to more questions and possible clues that seem to point in no particular direction. In this haunting memoir and piercing true crime account, Bonner must decide how far she will go to understand a sister who, like the mythical island she renamed herself for, might prove impossible to find.
This was a pretty brief read, a little more than 250 pages. The premise sounded interesting, but after reading I felt let down. Despite its topic and poetic writing, the content was very surface level and didn’t get too deep.  It was also very disjointed- skipping back and forth throughout time, making things occasionally confusing. I suspect it was written moreso as a means of catharsis for the sister/author than anything else. The description made it sound like the author was doing her own thorough investigation into her sister’s suspicious death, but really it was more or less a brief biography of her life and an overview of the events leading up to & following it. This was an ARC, but the release date is coming up in August 4.

87. Nightmare Hall: The Silent Scream by Diane Hoh (4/5★)

There’s a reason why they call it Nightmare Hall . . .
Jessica Vogt gets a rude awakening when she moves into Nightingale Hall and learns that the previous spring, a student named Giselle hanged herself from a light fixture—in Jess’s new room. Campus officials pronounced it a suicide. But did Giselle really kill herself? Or was it a setup?
Strange things are happening to Jess. One night, she is awakened by a terrifying scream. A photo taken of Jess and a classmate reveals a third person in the shot—a girl with long, pale hair and a sad face. Is Giselle trying to communicate with Jess? As Jess moves closer to what really happened that fateful night, someone starts targeting her. Is she being haunted by a ghost, or is there a killer on the loose?

Nightmare Hall was the very first thriller/horror series I fell in love with. Written in the early 90s, I remember buying them all from our local bookstore before binging them some point in my late elementary/early middle school years.

This was the only one available on the Libby app, so I borrowed it to see if the series was as good as I remembered it (it was). As an upper middle grade series, it was a quick afternoon/evening read. While it doesn’t have intense suspense, it is perfect for the age level it was written for. Now I need to find the remaining 28 books!!

88. Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (3.5/5★)

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.
Among this year’s incoming class is Ines Murillo, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. Even the school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves within the formidable iron gates of Catherine. For Ines, it is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had. But the House’s strange protocols soon make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.
This book came out in May, but it took until now for me to get a copy from the library. It came with a lot of positive reviews in the bookstagram world, so I was anxious to give it a go.

The protagonist was quirky and strange. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t love her either. I don’t even know how to describe this book. It was odd. Like it had suspense, but not the kind that has you in the edge of your seat. It mixed sensuality, mystery, and introspection. The storyline isn’t very deep, nor is the plot line very expansive. It is most definitely different than your average “thriller,” and won’t be for everyone, but I did enjoy it.

89.  A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (4/5★)

A cannon. A strap. 
A piece. A biscuit. 
A burner. A heater. 
A chopper. A gat. 
A hammer 
A tool 
for RULE 

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching.Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? 

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? 

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES. 

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if Will gets off that elevator. 

This is a very haunting YA book that came highly recommended, and I can see why. I got literal chills on the last page. I started it as an audiobook, but after realizing the audio was less than two hours long I looked more into it and found that the book was written in verse, SO I returned the audiobook and checked out the actual book instead. If done right, I LOVE books written in verse, and this one was definitely done right. The whole story takes place on an elevator, a new visitor arriving on each floor. I’m going to read through it one more time before returning it, because it definitely seems like one of those books you get more out of every time you read it.

90. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds (4/5★)

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before. 

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this four-starred reviewed tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken directly from today’s headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

This was another YA read, so while I wasn’t the target audience, I still really enjoyed it. This was the second book I read by him this month, though it wasn’t written in verse like the previous. It was a powerful novel that stimulates a lot of thought.  I really liked the dual-perspectives offered in the storyline. Lots of tough topics, but a really excellent book. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - June

Summertime means pool reads!! As a kid, I hated being outside. I hated sweating and being hot. As an adult, I love it! (Well not the sweating part so much). I definitely spend the majority of my summer outside - whether it be doing something active or just reading for leisure in the pool or laying in my hammock. I read a lot of really good ones this month!!

70. I Found You by Lisa Jewell (3/5★)

In the windswept British seaside town of Ridinghouse Bay, single mom Alice Lake finds a man sitting on a beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, and no idea how he got there. Against her better judgment, she invites him inside. 

Meanwhile, in a suburb of London, newlywed Lily Monrose grows anxious when her husband fails to return home from work one night. Soon, she receives even worse news: according to the police, the man she married never even existed. 

Twenty-three years earlier, Gray and Kirsty Ross are teenagers on a summer holiday with their parents. The annual trip to Ridinghouse Bay is uneventful, until an enigmatic young man starts paying extra attention to Kirsty. Something about him makes Gray uncomfortable—and it’s not just because he’s a protective older brother. 

Who is the man on the beach? Where is Lily’s missing husband? And what ever happened to the man who made such a lasting and disturbing impression on Gray? 

I loved the first Lisa Jewell book that I read, but the last couple have kind of flopped for me. This one has begun to redeem her! It has some twists and suspense, which is exactly what I want out of a thriller. I was about ready to give up on her writing, but I think I will explore some other titles now!

71. Web of Fear by Mike Omer (3.5/5★)

Detective Hannah Shor gets a case in the worst way possible - a friend calls her for help. Her 12-year-old daughter has been kidnapped, and Hannah joins forces with the FBI to bring her home safely. 
When the kidnappers post an image of their captive on Instagram, the situation spins out of control. Now, the whole world is watching. Rumors spread like wildfire, and online vigilantes add fuel to the raging flames. As Hannah digs deeper, she unravels dark secrets from the family's past. With the realization that the kidnapping is about more than just a ransom, Hannah needs to close in on the truth, before Abigail's time runs out.
This was the third book (and so far final) in the short series by Omer, and I think it was my favorite one - but they’ve all been good! Though these mysteries have been a series, you do NOT have to read them in order. If you’re up for a good police procedural book, then I recommend these ones!

72.  Leave Me by Gayle Forman (4/5★)

Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention--meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack. 

Surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: she packs a bag and leaves. But, as is often the case, once we get where we’re going we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from herself and those she loves. 

With bighearted characters--husbands, wives, friends, and lovers--who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing the fears we’re all running from. Gayle Forman is a dazzling observer of human nature. She has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head on and asks, what happens when a grown woman runs away from home?

Forman has written some of my favorite books, and because of that I buy all of hers when they are released. This one has been out a few years, but I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. This was different than Forman’s other novels. Instead of the typical young adult character, this book focused on a mother in her forties. Though I love a good teenage angst book, I like this one as well! I think it is probably very relatable for many people. I was left with some unanswered questions that I need answers to, however!!

73. The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan (4.5/5★) 

While Hilarie Burton Morgan's hectic lifestyle as an actress in New York and Los Angeles gave her a comfortable life, it did not fulfill her spiritually or emotionally. After the birth of their first son, she and her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the star of The Walking Dead, decided to make a major change: they bought a working farm in Rhinebeck, New York, and began a new chapter in their lives.
The Rural Diaries chronicles her inspiring story of farm life: chopping wood, making dandelion wine, building chicken coops. Burton looks back at her transition from urban to country living—discovering how to manage a farm while raising her son and making friends with her new neighbors. She mixes charming stories of learning to raise alpacas and buying and revitalizing the town’s beloved candy store, Samuel’s Sweet Shop, with raw observations on the ups and downs of marriage and her struggles with secondary infertility. Burton also includes delicious recipes that can be made with fresh ingredients at home, as well as home renovation and gardening tips.
Burton’s charisma, wide eyed attitude, and fortitude—both internal and physical—propels this moving story of transformation and self-discovery. The Rural Diaries honors the values and lifestyle of small-town America and offers inspiration for anyone longing to embark on their own unconventional journey.
I would have read this book regardless due to Burton being the author, but as someone who 90% of the time unashamedly chooses books based on their cover, LOOK GORGEOUS THIS BOOK JACKET IS.

Anyway, I picked this book up one night with the intention of reading a chapter or two and then packing it for my trip home that week, and next thing I knew I had turned the last page. A beautiful story, Burton will have you laughing one minute, and crying the next. Some stories fill your heart, this is one of them. 

74. Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier (4.5/5★)

All it takes to unravel a life is one little secret...

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They're admired in their community and are a loving family―until their world falls apart the day their son Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding Sebastian, she learns that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman. This discovery sparks Marin back to life. She's lost her son; she's not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix.


This one another book that came highly recommended by the bookstagram universe. As soon as our library ordered it I put in a request so I could be the first to read! Wow, y’all. This one was suspenseful! It has been a busy week, so it took me a bit to get through this, I can see why it came so highly recommended. The ending especially, I was unintentionally verbalizing my shock as things just keep happening. I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers!!

75. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (4/5★)

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. 
The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

I told myself I wasn’t allowed to but any more books until I made a reasonable dent in my TBR stack at home. Whoops. That didn’t last long. I was unsure as to how I would feel about this, as prequels tend to be letdowns IMO. However, I was pulled to know Coriolanus’s history, and whether he was always such a villain, or if he was such your typical victim of society villain.

It was a LONG story- 517 pages, ending with an epilogue. I read the original trilogy my sophomore year of college when a friend recommended them to me, a couple years after the third book was published. While I don’t remember the books exactly (after having seen the movies so many times), this one felt more philosophical than the others. That being said, I googled  nearly every name of all the characters in this prequel and the original series which led me to really admire the research Collins had to do to write these novels. It probably could have been shorter, but it also may be one of my favorite villain stories.  I also really liked that you could see bits and pieces of how the Hunger Games evolved over time.

(This last sentence may be a bit of a spoiler, but I like that I was left disliking Snow, and feeling that he was just an evil person, rather than feeling bad for him because of a poor upbringing like most villain stories tend to leave you feeling.)

76.  Filthy Rich: The True Story Behind the Jeffrey Epstein Scandal by James Patterson (4/5★)

Jeffrey Epstein rose from humble origins into the New York City and Palm Beach elite. A college dropout with an instinct for numbers -- and for people -- Epstein amassed his wealth through a combination of access and skill. But even after he had it all, Epstein wanted more. That unceasing desire -- and especially a taste for underage girls --resulted in sexual-abuse charges, to which he pleaded guilty and received a shockingly lenient sentence.

Included here are police interviews with girls who have alleged sexual abuse by Epstein, details of the investigation against him, and a new introduction with up-to-the-minute developments on the case, including Epstein's death by suicide.

An explosive true story from the world's most popular thriller writer, FILTHY RICH is a riveting tale of wealth, power, and the easy price of justice for America's wealthiest citizens.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely heard of the most recent events regarding Jeffrey Epstein, but I would fathom that most don’t know the history. There is a Netflix special with a handful of episodes that details a lot of this, and is based on the book. The Netflix version focuses mainly on the sexual exploitation of the underage girls, and also includes the recent events. Since the book was published four years ago, it doesn’t include the recent arrest/death, but I liked that it went a little more into who he was professionally, etc. than the Netflix episodes did. It’s definitely one I would recommend, if only because it really shows how money is power, especially when you’re a member of that good ol’ boys club. 

77.  Thicker Than Blood by Mike Omer (4/5★)

A murderer who drinks his victim’s blood? FBI profiler Zoe Bentley and Agent Tatum Gray thought they’d seen it all, but this young woman’s barbaric murder is especially hard to stomach.
They didn’t expect to work this case. But vampirism aside, the murderer’s MO is identical to that of Rod Glover—the serial killer who’s been pursuing Zoe since childhood. Forensics reveals the murder to be his work, but not his alone; desperate to fulfill his sick purpose, he has taken on an equally depraved partner.
Zoe’s own frustration grows after another woman turns up dead and drained—and another goes missing. Time is running out: Zoe knows her own death will be the climax of Glover’s sinister play, which has been unfolding for twenty years. To stop Glover and his vile partner, she’ll need to plunge deep into their motives; but this means drawing ever closer to becoming another casualty of a dark, dark thirst.
I need to stop reading murder books before bed. I went to cancel my two month free trial of Kindle Unlimited earlier this month, and they gave me a third free month! Which was great, because this book is the third in a series I began during  quarantine available on Unlimited and was just published on June 23. I really enjoy the varied perspectives of this series, and that they include the killer’s perspective throughout. I also really liked that this one had more of a psychological aspect to it than the first two did. This is the sixth book I have read by Omer in the past few months, and I really recommend him as an author!

78. Coyote Zone by Kathryn Lane (3.5/5★)

(Since it’s original release, this has been republished as Danger in the Coyote Zone.) 

Nikki Garcia is an unlikely Sam Spade: a former international auditor turned private investigator who lands an assignment in Mexico to find a missing ten-year-old girl, Bibi Lombardi. The child’s estranged parents have been fighting over custody of her and one of them could be responsible for her disappearance. It’s an easy child-snatching case—right? Nikki thinks so until a marijuana-smoking bag lady provides eye-witness information on the girl’s abduction. Following the lead, Nikki pursues a group of dangerous criminals through designated UNESCO locations, archaeological sites, picturesque colonial towns, and barren deserts . But when Bibi’s mother Sofía receives a ransom request, Nikki is already undercover with a gang of “Coyotes.” Nikki’s boss and fellow private eye, Floyd Webber, thinks she is on the wrong trail. Floyd is certain someone purposely gave her misleading information on the abduction to prevent her from recovering the child. Or is the kidnapper headed north to the U.S. border where Bibi’s fate could be much worse than her current situation? Eduardo Duarte, who is enthralled with Nikki, fears the forces of evil will prevail if she continues in the search, so he starts a search of his own to find her. Will he locate her before it’s too late? And what will become of little Bibi?

I received this book a couple years ago, right after it was published, but it sat in the stack of my other received books that I never got around to reading because I kept checking things out at the library. Honestly it took me awhile to get through, but I was in kind of a reading slump in general. I must have picked it up and put it back down a dozen or so times over the past two months. That being said, I got really into it the past couple days. It was a different sort of mystery than I typically read, but I could feel the anxiety build up in me during the suspenseful parts, which is pertinent to a good suspense novel. I know she has another book out, and I may have to give it a go.

79. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (4/5★)

Roaming through New York City at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor—April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight. 
Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us. 

The Carls just appeared. 

Since I’ve read (and loved) all of the other Green brother’s work, and since I know they’ve worked together on many endeavors, I figured I should give Hank’s a shot as well. I bought the book awhile ago, but hadn’t read it yet. With the sequel coming out this July, I figured it was time. What an absolutely bizarre story this was. I’m quite certain I’m slightly above the age range of the target audience for this one, but I really enjoyed it. The more I read, the harder it was to put down. The protagonist is very unlike able, but I think that’s kinda the point. I’m glad I put reading it off this long because now I’m super anxious for the sequel to come out next week!!

This is definitely a YA novel, and while I would have enjoyed it in high school, I think I got more out of it now. There was such a reflection of modern-day society, with some seriously deep undercurrents about people’s fear of change, social media, and how many will do/say what they need to in order to get their face in the limelight. There is definitely surface level reading of this book, and digging deep into reality when reading this book.

Y’all this book was so out there, and will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it!

*This post contains affiliate links, which means when you purchase something through that link, you're helping support this blog at no additional cost to you!*

(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)

Reading Challenge: 79/100 books read in 2020

You can find previous book reviews here!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Universal Yums: Snacks from the UK! (June 2020)

The Universal Yums monthly subscription box combines a couple of my favorite things: learning about other cultures and snacks! I had come across snack boxes such as these advertised on Facebook and Instagram for awhile, but finally decided to pull the trigger on this one for a couple reasons. A friend of mine and her husband have been doing “quarantastings” with different types of beer vía Snapchat every night of quarantine. I thought that was such a fun idea and wanted to do it too....except that I don’t like beer. But I LOVE snacks! I knew another friend did a snack subscription box, so I checked in with her and got her referral code for this one to try it out myself. Turns out multiple friends of mine subscribe to Universal Yums!

Universal Yums is a box that comes out on the 15th of each month filled with snacks from a specific country (or in this month's case, region). There are three different sizes, ranging from $15-$35 per box. I’m getting the medium box ($25/month) which includes 12+ snacks, a booklet with games and trivia, and recipes from the country. All boxes include free shipping. If you want to know which country is going to show up on your door step the next month, you can follow them on Instagram or Facebook. I ordered mine in May, but since it was too late to receive the May box I could pay $1 to get the June box early, which is what I did.

If you’d like to try it, click here for $5 off your first box! 

I did a lot of traveling before I reached adulthood, but something that I struggled with on those travels was trying new foods. I can’t tell you how many times I went to McDonald’s on our Japan trip when I was 15. (A lot, okay. It was a lot.)

I’ve always been picky when it comes to food, but I’ve gotten a lot better over the last half decade! The biggest thing for me is texture; there are so many things I struggle to eat because the texture freaks me out (yogurt, avocado, guacamole, eggs, pasta salad, etc.) I also struggle with seafood because of the smell, the texture, the fact that I grew up in the midwest far away from any sort of fresh sea delicacy. Five years ago I wouldn’t touch seafood. Now I’ll eat just about any of it on tacos, I’ve tried calamari, and I LOVE chargrilled oysters! Also, growing up I refused to eat foods that sounded weird. I wouldn’t touch cream cheese, sour cream, cheesecake... I’ve come a long way lol.

Anyway, my goal with these boxes is to try every snack that comes in them, no matter how weird it sounds. I plan to post about each box to help hold myself accountable to that! The UK was pretty easy, since their snacks were similar to things I'm used to. I'm a little more nervous about the asian countries....all I can think about is the stringy squid things and wasabi peas that we tried when preparing to travel there!

Grandma Wild's Toffee Flapjacks (1/5★)

This was an oat bar with toffee. Turns out, though flapjacks is synonymous with pancakes in the US, they are a type of bar in the UK. In a foodie/travel Facebook group I am in, someone asked about the foods in this box and if they were actually popular in the UK- someone responded that these were popular in England. I was not a fan. Full disclosure, I took a bite of this expecting to love it and promptly spit it out. The texture was strange; I could not handle it. Also, the flavor was different, too. I don’t really know how to explain it. Talking about food is going to be harder than I thought...

Bristow's Sherbet Lemons (5/5★)

Honestly, every time I look at the name I think of McGonagall saying "Sherbet Lemon" as the password to Dumbledore's office in Chamber of Secrets. They were nice and lemony, nothing special, but a good hard candy if you’re looking for something sweet to suck on. I liked that it wasn’t super sour like many lemon candies are. I'm told these are very popular in England!

Bristow's Bucks Fizz Chews (4/5★)

These were a fizzy orange and champagne chew, though they weren't very fizzy. I was excited to try these because dreamsicle is my favorite flavor, and that was what the orange and white made me think of. Apparently the candy was inspired by a mimosa-type drink (though invented before the mimosa) created in London. It is not dreamsicle flavored, but is very citrusy, and very chewy! Its not  candy you could eat a bunch of at once (probably a good thing), but definitely one I would grab one of when I was looking for a bit of sweetness!

Bristow's Chocolate Limes (4/5★)

This treat was lime on the outside, filled with chocolate on the inside. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this candy, but it is one Ive found that I can definitely get on board with! I love the lime hard candy part of it; it is the perfect amount of sweetness with exactly zero sour. The chocolate in the middle throws me a bit, but it’s a very minimal amount. As much as I like chocolate, I think this treat would be better without, but it wasn’t bad!

Mackies Honey & Mustard Potato Chips (1/5★)

My first taste of English crisps! I was interested in trying these because I love honey mustard pretzels! I'm told this is a popular brand in Scotland (which makes sense, as per the wrapper). I ended up not being a fan of these. The consistency reminded me of the Lays stacks potato chips which was fine, but the flavor was odd. I should have taken the ampersand in the flavor seriously, because it was definitely not honey mustard flavored. There was an after taste of spicy mustard and though it wasn’t a powerful flavor, it takes up your whole mouth, like smoke. I managed two chips then tossed the rest.

Johnny's Pickled Onion Rings (0/5★)

The name of this one scared me. Anything with the word "pickled" in it is something that does NOT sound good to me (except actual pickles!) But looking at them, they looked like Funyuns, which I like, so I figured I would try them. Also, some girls in the facebook group said these were the best snacks in Scotland! Y’all. Not trying to yuck anyone’s yum, because that is my biggest pet peeve, but BLEGH. I did NOT like these! Maybe if I hadn’t had the anticipation of Funyuns they wouldn’t have been so bad, but these got a big ole NOPE from me. They were very overwhelmingly  pickle flavory. Like, I can’t get the smell/taste out of my nose/mouth intensity. Now I’ve had pickle flavored chips before and enjoyed them, but not these!! I could only stomach one cute little ring...thinking I need to try these around someone with a less sensitive palette so they can eat the stuff I don’t like! 🤪

Dean's Shortbread Rounds (3/5★)

You really can't go wrong with shortbread cookies! I use to love dunking them in my kool-aid. My Facebook group said that this was a popular brand in Scotland, specifically. They were okay. A little doughy tasting, and not as sweet as I’m use to. It wouldn’t be my go-to for a short bread cookie (I like the sugar!), but I would eat it again.

Yummy Banana Toffee (4/5★)

I like banana and toffee, so this sounded interesting to try! It was yummy! This reminded me nothing of toffee, but more so like a banana Laffy Taffy (which happen to be my favorite flavor of Laffy Taffy). It was slightly less sweet than a taffy, and slightly less sticky, though it was impossible to pull apart into the units it appears you're suppose to pull it apart into  without it sticking to your fingers, so you had to just bite into it and eat the whole thing at once. It probably isn't something that I would eat all the time, but I would definitely indulge in it again! Also, according to the group, this was the least common treat- only one person had heard of it!

Clotted Cream Fudge (3/5★)

I had to learn about what clotted cream was before I ate this.  Apparently it is just heated cream being stirred while it cools so it clots. These had the flavor of caramels, with a texture more like that of fudge. They pretty much fell apart in your mouth. Not something I would eat a lot of at once, but would grab one every now and then.

Welsh Potato Crisps Lamb & Mint (2/5★)

This was the most bizarre thing of the bunch, I think. I've eaten lamb a time or two, but never had lamb flavored chips. Or mint flavored chips for that matter! After the other two chips in the box were complete flops, I didn't hold out much hope for this flavor. First of all, I need to learn to stop smelling things before I taste them. The smell was VERY minty, though the taste less so. These weren’t bad, they were just different. I could see where people would like them, but the flavor was just a little too odd for me.

Chewy Bonbons Rhubard & Custard (3/5★)

These chews were inspired by a British desert called a "fool," which is a parfait-type delicacy layered with custard and boiled fruit - typically rhubarb. They looked like hard candies in the bag, and I don't think I've ever eaten something that was rhubarb flavored. Even my experience with rhubarb in baked goods is pretty limited, due to my inability to eat things that sound weird. These were unlike anything I have eaten before. They were not super sweet or intense in flavor. They feel like of fluffy, but also chewy, but not sticky chewy. I seriously have no idea how to describe this treat, but it was pretty good!!

Kent Crisps Ashmore Cheese & Onion (5/5★)

According to the booklet sent with my snacks, this is the most popular flavor of crisps in the UK. Plain chips are the most popular in the US, followed by barbecue and sour cream & onion. These crisps were slightly thicker than a normal Lay’s potato chip, but thinner than a kettle chip. I can definitely see why this is the most popular flavor in the UK, they were very tasty! Not too salty with the perfect amount of flavor, I could definitely eat these as a frequent snack.

Favorite: Sherbet Lemons

Least Favorite: Johnny's Pickled Onion Rings

Weirdest: Lamb & Mint Welsh Potato Crisps

If you’ve traveled in the UK, or even lived there, are any of these snacks familiar to you? Are there ones not pictured that you would recommend? If you ordered this box, what were your thoughts??

Saturday, June 6, 2020

My Life With Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 7: 7 Things I’ve Learned From Living With Chronic Pain

June is National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month, and since headaches and migraines have had such an enormous impact on every aspect of my life, its a pretty important subject for me, and something I have done an extensive amount of research on. I have officially been dealing with them for half my life, and truly cannot imagine a headache/migraine free life. If you're interested, you can find my story my following the posts below.

My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 1: In the Beginning
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 2: Welcome to the Real World
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 3: No Stress Like Teacher Stress
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 4: New State, Same Headaches
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 5: Finding My Happy and Living in the Now
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 6: the Injections


Because there is so much unknown about migraines, their causes, and their relief, I've found the best info I've gotten has been anecdotal from people who experience them IRL. Doctors can help, but since their is no real conclusive research, there is only so much they can do. Additionally, like any chronic pain, unless you've been there, its hard to understand. It is nice to hear from others who are in a similar boat, trying to navigate through the same storm. Invisible pain is a struggle to live with, but it has taught me a lot!! The following is a list of seven things (in no particular order) I've learned from living with chronic pain....

1. Don't procrastinate. Seriously.

You never know when a flare up will hit, or how long it will last. It is an awful feeling when you know you have things that need to be done but you’re in too much pain to even uncurl out of the ball you’ve wrapped yourself into. 

2. Make sure you have a solid support system.

The thing about chronic pain is that it leads to issues with your mental health. It is so easy to fall into depression and not be able to turn off the anxiety. You’re always wondering when the next episode will occur, how long it will last, how bad will it be, what events or other fun (or important) things will you have to miss out on because of it...it’s so important to have people in your corner willing to help you out when you physically cannot help yourself.

3. Always be prepared.

Whatever medications or other physical coping mechanisms you may POSSIBLY need- be sure to always have them. Always. There is nothing worse than being stuck somewhere in the middle of an episode and have no escape from it because all your tools and relief are at home.

4. What works for some people, may not work for you.

I'm not the only one in the world who gets headaches or migraines, obviously, so I am always looking for remedies that others have used.  Unfortunately, that doesn't always work.  I've got a closet full of essential oils and natural remedies, massagers, heating pads, and every prescription under the sun. I'm willing to try just about anything; unfortunately, I have yet to find a suggestion that has consistently worked. HOWEVER, getting suggestions from people who have been there is always helpful, and even though some things may not work, or may only work for a short time, the sharing is always appreciated!

5. If you feel okay enough to do fun things, do them.

(Thought I am posting this in June, I wrote the little blurb for this one back in January) I write this as I’m sitting here on day 6 of consecutive headaches and migraines. I went to work crying this morning, and those who know me know that I’m not a crier unless things are really bad. I bawled through my whole last-minute doctor appointment, because I was in so much pain, and terrified that I was back where I was two years ago, in a slump of never ending pain. But, rewind...on day 2 of this mess, I went to a concert. On day 3, I was out with friends. Day 5, to a Predators game. Did I feel 100% on any of these days? Absolutely not. But I felt okay enough to go. Chronic pain has taken so much from me, that I stop letting it take away my fun on days that I don’t absolutely have to. You learn to power through and live with the pain when possible.

6. If you travel frequently, make sure your prescriptions are at an accessible pharmacy

I send my prescriptions to Walgreens. Its nice because there are Walgreens EVERYWHERE. When I visit MN, I can easily send my prescriptions up there if I forget to pack them.  When we went to the beach last summer, I was able to refill in Gulf Shores when I unexpectedly started to run low. This eliminates A LOT of stress.

7. Slow down and appreciate the little things.

This is hands down the most important thing I have learned. Life is not a race, and the faster you move through it, the more you miss. Take the time to appreciate the little things you take for granted, it makes it easier to appreciate things on the days you feel like life isn't worth the pain.

It has taken some serious time to get to the point that I am at now, but I would go as far as to say that I am one of the happiest people that I know, and I credit most of that to dealing with chronic pain. The smallest, tiniest things excite me because I know how sucky life can be if you let it, and now that I have the control to stop letting it, I've done just that.

After I got through the worst year of it, I had a nice long chat with myself, I said, "Gretchen. Let go of what you can't control, and stop being so worried about the things you can." I just like that, I did, and I'm so much better for it. Migraines suck. Chronic pain sucks. I would love to give them up for good (and believe me, I am trying!), but I wouldn't be the person I am now without them.