Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Homemade Caramels

Last fall, I made some crafty treat bags and wanted something to put in them besides the usual chocolate.  I was feeling especially motivated that day, so I decided I would make caramels.  We use to make them as a fundraiser for hockey, but I had never made them on my own - I didn't even have a recipe.  I explored some recipes to find the typical ingredients and set out to develop my own.  The first try was an absolute FAIL. By the time they had set, they were rock hard. The second set was SO MUCH BETTER. Probably the best caramels I had ever eaten. I thought maybe I was just full of myself, but when I had received a similar response from others, I knew it wasn't just me. They were a hit. Wanting to make sure it wasn't just a fluke, I knew I needed to test it again before sharing the recipe, so this fall I made another batch. They were definitely just as good, 


  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 tsp Watkins double strength vanilla**

  • Grease 12” x 15” glass baking dish
  • Melt butter in a 4-quart pot on the stove
  • Combine sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream, then stir into the melted butter
  • Continue to stir the mixture on medium heat until it reaches exactly 245.5 degrees F and your arm feels like it is going to fall off
  • Remove from heat promptly at 245.5 degrees F and stir in the vanilla
  • Pour slowly into the greased baking dish and let cool overnight before cutting
  • Cut into squares and wrap in wax paper. Enjoy!


**a little back story here. I have a very large bottle of Watkins double strength vanilla that I’ve had for what feels like forever. It’s been so long that I forgot it was double strength. When I was browsing recipes for caramels, most called for roughly 1 tsp of vanilla, so when I played around with developing my own recipe, I tried to use roughly that much. I called my mom to tell her I needed more Watkins vanilla (The Watkins company in my hometown, so I wanted my mom to get the vanilla for me.) Mom said, “okay, do you want the regular, or the double strength again?” At which point I said, “say what?” And promptly walked to my baking cupboard and pulled out the vanilla to find that it was in fact, double strength, and I was therefore only suppose to use HALF of what recipes called for. So like 1/2 tsp of it for caramels.

Moral of the story, sometimes mistakes turn out good. I swear the extra vanilla is what makes these so tasty!!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - October

I got out of the reading slump that last month had me in (or maybe I just had more time for reading this month - thank you, fall break and being caught up/ahead on school work!!!)

*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!)

 83. Newtown by Matthew Lysiak (4/5 ★)

The world mourned the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

We remember the numbers: twenty children and six adults, murdered in a place of nurture and trust. We remember the names: teachers like Victoria Soto, who lost her life protecting her students. A shooter named Adam Lanza. And we remember the questions: outraged conjecture instantly monopolized the worldwide response to the tragedy—while the truth went missing.

Here is the definitive journalistic account of Newtown, an essential examination of the facts—not only of that horrific day but the perfect storm of mental instability and obsession that preceded it and, in the aftermath of unspeakable heartbreak, the controversy that continues to play out on the national stage. Drawn from previously undisclosed emails, police reports, and in-depth interviews, Newtown: An American Tragedy breaks through a miasma of misinformation to present the comprehensive story that must be told—today—if we are to prevent another American tragedy in the days to come.

I read Columbine and Parkland by Dave Cullen during the summer for a reason. I should have done the same with Newtown. I began it just after school started, and took nearly two months to finish it, because I had to continuously put it down for something more uplifting. Its bizarre to me that the Sandy Hook shooting occurred seven years ago already. This book was absolutely heartbreaking, as was to be expected. I have not shed tears from anything other than laughter in over a year, but goodness, this book had them streaming down my cheeks. When the shooting took place, I was still in college, not yet an actual teacher. Every time I read these accounts of school shootings, I am constantly left on edge, re-thinking my plan for if this ever happens in my work place.

Image result for where am i now mara wilson84. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson (3.5/5 ★)

A former child actor best known for her starring roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and out of place: as the only kid on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, a Valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and a grown-up the world still remembers as a little girl. Tackling everything from what she learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to discovering in adolescence that she was no longer “cute” enough for Hollywood, these essays chart her journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. They also illuminate universal struggles, like navigating love and loss, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Candid, insightful, moving, and hilarious, Where Am I Now? introduces Mara Wilson as a brilliant new chronicler of the experience that is growing up female.

As a kid, Matilda was hands down my favorite movie, so when I found that Mara Wilson had written a memoir, of course I had to read it. I ended up getting the audiobook from the Libby app, which I like because Mara was the performer. It was a pretty brief read, but fun to learn about her life (which I knew absolutely nothing about) and what she's doing now. I love memoirs. Really, truly, a random person on the side of the road could give me a book and say, "here, read this. I wrote it about myself." and I would be all over it. Famous, semi-famous, or not at all famous, people's stories fascinate me.

Image result for dragon tears dean koontz85. Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz (3.5/5 ★)

Harry Lyon is a rational man, a cop who refuses to let his job harden his soul. His partner urges him to surrender to the chaos of life. But Harry believes in order and reason. Then one fateful day, he's forced to shoot a man—and a homeless stranger with bloodshot eyes utteres the haunting words that challenge Harry Lyon’s sanity...

“Ticktock, ticktock. You'll be dead in sixteen hours...Dead by dawn...Dead by dawn...Dead by dawn...”

A friend of mine was telling me about the book Dragon Tears that she was reading, and was describing it as really weird.  When I realized who the author was, I was like "Yes! Dean Koontz! All of his books are weird! Good, but weird!" Dean Koontz was one of my favorite authors through high school. Its been awhile since I've read anything by him, and I figured with this month being October, it was the perfect time. It was a fun story, but not one of my favorite's of his. I listened to it with audiobook, and the narration of the dog's voice was on point! 

86. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (3/5 ★)

Who will be with you in the darkest hour? Amy Redwing has devoted her life to rescuing dogs. But the unique bond she shares with Nickie, a golden retriever she saves in the most dangerous encounter of her life, is deeper than any she has ever known. In one night, their loyalty will be put to the test, and each will prove to the other how far they will go—when the stakes turn deadly serious.

After the last Koontz book, I decided to download all of the audiobook they had of his on Libby. Again, I wasn't super thrilled with this one, but I still enjoyed listening to it. There was a slight element of weirdness than Dean Koontz in known for, but nothing near as strange as every other book of his that I have read.

87. I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman (4/5 ★)

A fateful accident draws three strangers together over the course of a single day:
Freya who has lost her voice while recording her debut album.
Harun who is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved.
Nathaniel who has just arrived in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose.
As the day progresses, their secrets start to unravel and they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in help­ing the others out of theirs. 

I love Gayle Forman's books. The most popular are the If I Stay series, which are actually my least favorite. It was hard not to be emotionally invested in the stories of the three main characters.  If you like John Green books, you would definitely like Forman's. They're beautiful stories, and are always tied up in some form of a happy ending. 

88. Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich (3/5 ★)

This time Stephanie, Morelli, Ranger. Lula, Valerie, and Grandma Mazur are strapped in for the ride of their lives. Stephanie is hired to find a missing child. But things aren't always as they seem and Stephanie must determine if she's working for the right side of the law. Plus, there's the Morelli question: can a Jersey girl keep her head on straight when more than just bullets are aimed for her heart? And with the Plum and Morelli relationship looking rocky, is it time for Ranger to move in for the kill? Janet Evanovich's latest thriller proves that Hard Eight will never be enough.

I'm determined to have finished this series by this time next year, which shouldn't be a problem, because they're pretty quick reads. The downside is that Stephanie Plum continues to be a crappy bounty hunter, which is seriously starting to annoy me. Her lack of common sense was endearing in the first few books, but now that I'm on book eight, I just wish she had some sense of what she was doing. The charm she once held now just makes her look dumb, and quite frankly, much less likeable. 

False Step by [Stone, Victoria Helen]89. False Step by Victoria Helen Stone (3.5/5 ★)

For days, all of Denver, Colorado, has worried over the fate of a missing child, little Tanner Holcomb. Then, a miracle: handsome, athletic Johnny Bradley finds him, frightened but unharmed, on a hiking trail miles from his wealthy family’s mountain home.
In a heartbeat, his rescuer goes from financially strapped fitness trainer to celebrated hero. The heat of the spotlight may prove too much for Johnny’s picture-perfect family, however. His wife, Veronica, despises the pressure of the sudden fame, afraid that secrets and bitter resentments of her marriage may come to light. And she’s willing to do anything to keep them hidden.
But when a shocking revelation exposes an even darker side to Tanner’s disappearance, Veronica realizes that nothing in her life can be trusted. And everything should be feared.

This was my kindle book over the last couple of months. If I’m reading a book, I prefer to have the physical copy versus a digital one, but I’ve always got one on my kindle app to read when I’m stuck somewhere without a book (or in this case, when I’m at the beach and already finished both books I brought with). I also found that if you have Amazon Prime, you get a free new release kindle book everything! You have to choose from a certain selection, but still, free is free. Honestly, it took me way to long before I started figuring this one out- like I was probably 75% of the way through the book before thinking OMG I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. It is what it is. An easy read without too much suspense until the end, but still a good enough story.

90. The Guardians by John Grisham (4/5 ★)

In the small Florida town of Seabrook, a young lawyer named Keith Russo was shot dead at his desk as he worked late one night. The killer left no clues. There were no witnesses, no one with a motive. But the police soon came to suspect Quincy Miller, a young black man who was once a client of Russo’s. 

Quincy was tried, convicted, and sent to prison for life. For twenty-two years he languished in prison, maintaining his innocence.  But no one was listening.  He had no lawyer, no advocate on the outside. In desperation, he writes a letter to Guardian Ministries, a small nonprofit run by Cullen Post, a lawyer who is also an Episcopal minister.

Guardian accepts only a few innocence cases at a time.  Cullen Post travels the country fighting wrongful convictions and taking on clients forgotten by the system. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for. Powerful, ruthless people murdered Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy Miller exonerated.

They killed one lawyer twenty-two years ago, and they will kill another without a second thought.

Grisham's novels always have me questioning our justice system. I am always left thinking about all of the innocent people who end up incarcerated, and all of the guilty who do not. I feel like some of his more recent books haven't been as great as his earlier ones, but I really enjoyed this one! There were two parts to this story, one was wrapped up nicely, but I felt like the other still had a lot of loose ends. Definitely recommend!!

91. To The Nines by Janet Evanovich (3/5 ★)

Stephanie Plum's got rent to pay, people shooting at her, and psychos wanting her dead every day of the week (much to the dismay of her mother, her family, the men in her life, the guy who slices meat at the deli . . . oh, the list goes on). An ordinary person would cave under the pressure.
But hey, she's from Jersey.
Stephanie Plum may not be the best bounty hunter in beautiful downtown Trenton, but she's pretty darn good at turning bad situations her way . . . and she always gets her man. In To the Nines, her cousin Vinnie (who's also her boss) has posted bail on Samuel Singh, an illegal immigrant. When the elusive Mr. Singh goes missing, Stephanie is on the case. But what she uncovers is far more sinister than anyone imagines and leads to a group of killers who give new meaning to the word hunter.
In a race against time that takes her from the Jersey Turnpike to the Vegas Strip, Stephanie Plum is on the chase of her life. The unforgettable characters, nonstop action, high-stakes suspense, and sheer entertainment of To the Nines define Janet Evanovich as unique among today's writers.

Another day, another Evanovich story. I ran out of books to read on vacation, but we swung by McKay's on our way through Nashville so I could pick up the next novel in the Stephanie Plum series. I started it on the drive home from Nashville, but then had to put it down to squeeze in the new Grisham release and a book that came in from being on hold from the library. I finished it this month regardless.  It was slightly different than the previous books in the series, and probably my least favorite so far.  That being said, it did have the quirky one-liners that keep me reading this series!

Image result for where'd you go bernadette
92. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (4/5 ★)

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is her best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette vanishes. It all began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, and secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and surprisingly touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

This book was recommended by a friend and a fun read, and fun it was! It was light, and witty, and I loved the satire of it. The story is written in a letter/email format between all of the characters. I listened to it as an audiobook, which I was apprehensive about at first because her voice was kind of obnoxious, but then I came to appreciate her gusto. It was definitely not the kind of writing I usually go for, but I'm glad I did. The movie was recently in theaters, so I will have to rent it when it comes out!

93. Someone We Know by Shari Lapena (4/5 ★)

"This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. . . My son broke into your home recently while you were out."

In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses--and into the owners' computers as well--learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.

Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they're telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

In this neighborhood, it's not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide . . .You never really know what people are capable of.

Lapena has four books out now - I thought the first two were great, but didn't much care for the third. I was worried this would be a flop as well, but I actually really enjoyed it! There was a lot of secrets and suspense, and the characters with given a lot of depth.  You're kept wondering throughout the whole book, as to who the murderer is. I hate that it ended on a cliffhanger, because she isn't one to write multiple books on the same story line, but who knows?! I stayed up all night finishing this one!

Icebound94. Icebound by Dean Koontz (2.5/5 ★) 

The arctic night is endless. The fear is numbing. Screams freeze in the throat. Death arrives in shades of white. And cold-blooded murder seems right at home.
Conducting a strange and urgent experiment on the Arctic icefield, a team of scientists has planted sixty powerful explosive charges that will detonate at midnight. Before they can withdraw to the safety of their base camp, a shattering tidal wave breaks loose the ice on which they are working. Now they are hopelessly marooned on an iceberg during a violent winter storm. The bombs beneath them are buried irretrievably deep . . . and ticking. And they discover that one of them is an assassin with a mission of his own.

I was quite bored with this one.  It is one of Koontz's earlier novels, published in 2000 under a pseudonym, and I didn't like it near as much as I've enjoyed many of his others.  For one, it didn't have the weird, horror, sci-fi feel.  It was murder based, but that didn't make it any more exciting. The writing did not flow, the story line was flat, and to be completely honest, I could hardly keep track of which character was which, even with the performer giving them different voices. The whole story line took place in less than a day, which is a short amount of time to write about in such a long novel.  It would be different if the book had a lot of suspense, but the only reason I finished it was because I was waiting my turn on all of the other audiobooks I had requested. I highly recommended Dean Koontz as an author, just not this book.  He should have left it released under the pseudonym and never claimed it as his.

Reading Challenge: 94/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

My Life With Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 6: the Injections

My last official migraine update was 8 months ago, February!! A lot has changed in headacheland since then.

I began seeing a neurologist in Clarksville for the first time in March, and she’s great. She bumped up my nightly meds to 100 mg (and if I thought they knocked me out before...uffda! Talk about permanently sleepy...) as a last ditch effort to see if they worked before trying something different. 

I also began a 3-month long migraine study through Stanford University. Using an app, for 90 days I tracked my headaches (the length, the time of day they began, the medication I used to treat them, the symptoms that came with them, etc.). I also had to record caffeine intake/alcoholic beverages and the time I drank them, menstruation days, the times I took/forgot to take my prescribed medications, whether it was a workday/vacation day/weekend/half work day, the time I went to bed and the time I woke up. They also sent me an Apple Watch to wear to monitor my location- altitude, weather, allergens, etc. I was excited to get back the results in June, only to find there was absolutely no pattern. None. Zilch. Nada. Zero. What was causing my headaches and migraines? Stanford sure as heck couldn’t tell me.

June and July were tough months to make headache care a priority. I was busy, busy, busy and traveling what felt like all over the US (okay, only 13 states, one quarter of the US). Getting back to the neuro wasn't anywhere near the top of my to-do list. I was having daily, to every-other-day headaches. The good news was that between Excedrin and the Riz I was able to get rid of them. I maybe spent a day or two in bed waiting for severe pain to go away, but nothing near compared to two summers ago. 

Finally we headed back to school, and I headed back to the neuro. I had officially had little to no success with enough preventatives that injections were now a viable option for me to try. I was scared out of my mind to go to the neuro that August afternoon, because I knew that was what she would suggest. I didn’t know much about injections. I knew that was my next step, but I was under the impression that injection meant Botox, and Botox meant roughly 30 freakin’ needles being stuck into my neck at one time. UM NOPE. 

My neuro calmed me and said no way, that would be a last resort. A little over a year before this appointment, monthly injections were approved by the FDA for migraine prevention. In order for insurance to cover this injection, you have to have tried multiple other avenues of prevention first. Even still, it’s so new that most health insurance doesn’t quite cover them yet. I’m set up on some co-pay plan through the Aimovig company (Aimovig is the name of the injection) in which they pay the $700 for my injection each month for the first year, and eventually my insurance will pay them back. (I know there is a more technical and accurate way to explain this whole insurance thing, but that’s about what I understood from my neuro and the pharmacist).

Image result for aimovig

In normal people explanation, Aimovig releases an antibody that is suppose to wedge into these receptors in your brain and block one of the proteins released during a migraine from getting in those receptors and causing the pain.
Image result for aimovig

I get the injection mailed to me once a month from a specialty pharmacy in Nashville, and as of the writing of this post I have had three injections so far.

When I got the first box in the mail I panicked. I had read all about Aimovig as soon as the neuro sent up the prescription and I saw that people either did a 70 mg shot once a month, or 140 mg shot once a month, which was actually 2-70 mg shots given simultaneously. My box said 140 mg. My eyes bulged- I had been mentally preparing for one shot, not two!! I tore the box open to find one injection pen, hallelujah. I guess they’ve updated their drugs since release, but not whatever website I read it on.

I’m supposed to be doing the injection myself, but if you know me IRL you know that’s never going to happen. Literally, never. I thought it would look like a shot that you get at the doctor, but it’s more like an epi-pen, except less dramatic. All you have to do is press the bottom of the tube against your thigh, click the button down at the top which pushes the needle into your skin, then wait 10-15 seconds until you hear the click of the needle pop back up inside the tube. 

Did you hear that?? I said there is a NEEDLE stuck INSIDE OF ME for a whole 10-15 SECONDS!! (Imagine the 10-15 capitalized over there for dramatic effect). BLEGH.

I had our school nurse do the first two since they were given on school days. (Carlotta you da real MVP here). For the first one, my friend Josie came along to hold my hand. (She wanted to see it, I needed the moral support- Josie, you are also da real MVP). When Carlotta pushed down the button I felt NOTHING. I was so excited! It was way easier than I thought it would be- heck, I could do this myself!! Then we realized the needle hadn’t even gone in.... so we tried again. And this time it did NOT feel like nothing. I whined for the whole 15 minutes. 15 seconds, whatever. It felt like F.O.R.E.V.E.R.

Month two wasn’t as bad. I bought my hoodie to put over my face so I couldn’t see what was happening. My heart rate barely raced to over one hundred this time, versus the 115 BMP it reached during the first injection. #trypanophobiaproblems I still whined, but less, so I got a sticker.

Month three took place at the doctor because I had to get it on a Saturday and there was still no way in you-know-where that I was doing it to myself. The nurse was nice, she reminded me to breathe 28 times and kept talking about the beach to try and distract me. It didn’t hurt so bad at second one but by second 15 I was ready to rip the darn thing out. I didn’t even get a sticker outta her. Rude.

There are really no side effects to this other than  possible constiptation or a reaction/rash at the injection site. I get a small bruise a couple days after the injection, but that’s it. 

After month one I wasn’t sure it was helping. I still was getting headaches, but at least now they were almost always purely headaches instead of migraines and were treatable with a little caffeine and some Excedrin. Leading up to injection #3 I hadn’t had a headache in two weeks, so that’s good news.

They advertise Aimovig as reducing headache days by 50%. As mentioned before, this past summer had nearly daily migraines. We'll say roughly 20-25/month. In the month after injection #1 I had 8, and in the month after injection #2, I had 7. Making them go away permanently will likely never happen, and while 7-8 per month isn't ideal, its much better that 20-25/month.

This is the now. For now I get 140 mg of Aimovig injected into my thigh once a month. If we determine this isn’t working, there are similar injections I can try instead. If none of those work, that’s when Botox become an option. Let us all pray to the migraine gods that that never happens. I can hardly handle one needle, let alone 30...

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Fall Break 2019 - Gulf Shores, AL

I wasn't going to do a blog post about this trip, because it was short & sweet and for the most part, it was a lot of what I've already done and shared, but the only way to become a better writer is to write, so here I am.

Mom and dad left the now nearly-freezing weather of Minnesota to come down and visit me over my fall break. When discussing plans the week before, we still weren't entirely sure where we were going to head (Atlanta? Pensacola?) but when it came down to it, the high temps of the gulf coast lured us down.

Day 1 - Sunday, October 13, 2019

We left middle Tennessee just as the cold began to set in for the first time, which is great, because I'm cheap and refuse to pay for heat in any month besides January because I live in freakin' Tennessee and its suppose to be warm.  Exactly one week before fall break I had been sweating my tail off at an apple orchard and corn maze, trying to pretend like it was fall in nearly 90 degree weather. The temps as we woke up this morning were hovering in the 40s - it was suppose to warm up to nearly 70, but why stay in warm and nearly 70 when you can have hot and definitely 80s??

After a 7.5 hour drive (and a few stops along the way - one for Snickers Cinnabon, yum!) we made it to the beach mid-afternoon, and boy was it beautiful! Rain was predicted off  and on over the next few days, so we stayed out in the sand for as long as possible, just in case we didn't get the chance again. (This seems to be a trend when I head down to the Gulf Shores area....)

When deciding on dinner plans, I remembered a restaurant I had gone to with friends when we had been down in July. At the time, I tried the oysters, but because I was so apprehensive about the fact that I was eating something predictably slimy that came out of a seashell, I refused to acknowledge that it was good. However, when I recommended we go to this restaurant this time around, I believe my exact words when mom asked me if I liked the oysters were, "Well, they were okay. If someone else ordered them, I would try them again, but I wouldn't order them myself." Then five minutes later..."actually oysters sound really good, I vote we got to ACME." So to ACME Oyster House we went, and yes, I ordered the oysters. They were ten hundred times better than I even remembered them being, and not at all slimy. And the butter! I soaked up every last bit of it with my bread and fries. If you've never been to an ACME, I highly recommend you try it. If you have been to one, I highly recommend you go back!

Day 2 - Monday, October 14, 2019

A family of early risers, we were up, had eaten breakfast, and were at the beach by 8 AM. Again, there were storms predicted in the forecast, so we wanted to soak up as much sun as we could before the rain began to fall. And soak up sun we did. (oops! sorry skin...) The water was wonderfully warm, and it was so relaxing to be pulled back and forth, by the calming waves. The riptide warning was on yellow, but the water seemed incredibly calm to me. I guess compared to the hurricane-like waves that were here in July, it was incredibly calm!  Dad had a Moon Jellyfish brush up against him, so that was enough of being in the water for us! The jellyfish were HUGE! Nearly a foot in diameter! I looked them up later and found that their tentacles are short, and their sting not quite strong enough to cause anything more than mild irritation, but I wasn't taking any chances.

Eventually it looked like it was about to rain, so we broke for a late lunch a little after one and went to the Sunliner Diner on the strip. It was a cute little establishment with a lot of tasty menu options. I ended up getting the fish and chips, which was alright. I wanted the cereal waffles, but I had a waffle for breakfast and needed something with less sugar (<-- things I rarely say....) I was envious of the milkshakes a table near us had ordered...I would say I would go back just for a milkshake, but when The Yard Milkshake Bar is just down the strip, I'd have to go there instead.

We tried to drive down to Orange Beach, but there wasn't a whole lot to do, nor was there much for public parking, so we ended up heading back to the Gulf Shores beach. I strolled a mile and a half up and down the beach while working my way through an audiobook, and found there to be quite a few beachgoers for a Monday in October. We stayed until the sun began to set and the weather got dark and cloudy once again.

Can you spot the (dead) jellyfish??

We headed back to our hotel and showered before exploring town a little bit and grabbing a quick bite. The rain finally began, but it wasn't too terrible. It definitely seemed like it had rained more downtown than on the beach side.

Day 3 - Tuesday, October 15, 2019

In true Larson fashion, we were packed up, checked out, and out the door not too long after 7AM (which is late compared to days we spent on the road as a kid!) We were at the beach by 7:30AM, because again, it was suppose to rain and we wanted to enjoy the warm weather while we still could. We sat for a bit, then dad and I went for a mile and a half walk heading the opposite direction than we had both walked the day before. Again, there were quite a few people out on a Tuesday morning in mid-October. There were some fisherman, but mainly families with kids.

A little before noon we began to head towards home - taking the long route through Mississippi. We stopped in Meridian, MS for Cracker Barrel, because when in the south, that's where you eat! We hit some pretty hard downpour on the way, and it seemed we had left Gulf Shores at the right time (even more so now that they have a tropical storm on the way!)

We swung through Tuscaloosa to check out the University of Alabama, but it had to be a quick drive through as the rain was still coming down. We ended up staying at a hotel south of Birmingham which worked out great because it was right next to a Whataburger! (Not quite as good as In-N-Out, but also YUM!)

Day 4 - Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Honestly there is nothing really to add about this day except that we made it home after a lot of Birmingham traffic and a quick stop at McKay's!!

You can find all travel posts from Hey Dreamer Blog here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - September

Remember how I said I would do better about recapping books and post about them while they were still relevant in my mind? - well I am! Here it is, in September, and I'm actually sharing my thoughts to this empty post about books I read THIS MONTH. And I’m actually going to post it as soon as this month is over. I swear!

*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!)

Image result for 102 minutes79. 102 Minutes The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn (4/5 ★)
Hailed upon its hardcover publication as an instant classic, the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction is now available in a revised edition timed to honor the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

At 8:46 a.m. that morning, fourteen thousand people were inside the World Trade Center just starting their workdays, but over the next 102 minutes, each would become part of a drama for the ages. Of the millions of words written about this wrenching day, most were told from the outside looking in. New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn draw on hundreds of interviews with rescuers and survivors, thousands of pages of oral histories, and countless phone, e-mail, and emergency radio transcripts to tell the story of September 11 from the inside looking out.

Dwyer and Flynn have woven an epic and unforgettable account of the struggle, determination, and grace of the ordinary men and women who made 102 minutes count as never before.

I was three months short of ten years old when the Twin Towers fell. Old enough to know something terrible had happened, but too young to really understand it. 102 Minutes gave a look into the lives of those in the towers when tragedy struck. Though terrifying, it was interesting to me to learn about what in what like in the time between the first plane hitting the tower and the final collapse. I also am naive enough to think that police departments and fire departments get along, which apparently was so far from reality when 9/11 happened.

80. Gretchen by Shannon Kirk (3.5/5 ★)

The new tenants have a terrible secret. So do the landlord and his daughter…
Ever since Lucy was two, she’s been on the run alongside her mother. She’s never understood the reason for a lifetime of paranoia, aliases, and lies. All she understands are the rules: never lock eyes with strangers, never let down your guard, and always be ready to move on.
Finally, after thirteen years and eleven states, their next hideaway seems perfect. An isolated, fortresslike place in the New Hampshire woods is the new home they share with its owner, a gentlemanly pianist, and his lonely daughter, Gretchen. She’s Lucy’s age and soon becomes Lucy’s first real friend.
But Gretchen and her father have secrets of their own—and an obsession with puzzles that draws Lucy into a terrifying new game of hide-and-seek. Lucy’s dark past is about to come calling. And this time, for her and her mother in the house on the hill, it might be too late to run.

Obviously, I only read this book because of the title.  Well that, and a lot of bookstagrammers were recommending it. At first it felt kinda of slow. I kept putting it down and picking up another book. It was odd, but nothing too suspenseful. Then it got absolutely weird. Like to the point that I had to put it down at night because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to sleep if I kept reading it. The last third of the book was SO much better than the beginning.i could NOT put it down, and stayed up much too late on a school night finishing it!!

Image result for i am malala81. I am Malala by MalalaYousafzai (5/5 ★) 

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren't allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn't go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive.

Now Malala is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. In this Young Readers Edition of her bestselling memoir, which has been reimagined specifically for a younger audience and includes exclusive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world -- and did.

Malala's powerful story will open your eyes to another world and will make you believe in hope, truth, miracles and the possibility that one person -- one young person -- can inspire change in her community and beyond.

I don’t know how I made it this far past publication before reading this book. It listened to it on audio, so I finished it in a day, but it was really good! I knew of Malala, and the very basics of her story, but I really didn’t know any details. I highly recommend this for any middle grade reader, and even for adults. Though she did not narrate the audiobook, a performer with a similar accent did, which I loved. The audio also included her UN speech at the end which was intriguing to hear. I think I listened to the version meant for children, but I'm sure the storyline is the same.

82. Final Girls by Riley Sager (4/5 ★)
Image result for final girls by riley sager
Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls: Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout's knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them and, with that, one another. Despite the media's attempts, they never meet.
Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancĂ©, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.
That is until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit; and Sam, the second Final Girl, appears on Quincy's doorstep. Blowing through Quincy's life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa's death come to light, Quincy's life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam's truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

This was a good one!! I had predictions throughout, but I truly had no idea what to think about who was guilty of what until I got to the end. I’d think I knew, then something would happen and I’d think something else, then something else would happen and I’d change my mind again! Not my favorite suspense read of this year, but definitely a good one!!

Reading Challenge: 82/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - July/August

Ah. Another month where I said I would be better about writing my thoughts as soon as I finished a book, and another month where I sit here IN THE MIDDLE OF SEPTEMBER, trying to remember how I felt about the books I finished over a month ago. Whoops. My thoughts are short and sweet, y'all. (I WILL do better in September!)

*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!)

63. Bear Town by Fredrik Backman (3.5/5 ★)

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

I honestly think I chose this book because of the hockey theme, but it was about a lot more than that. I feel like it is geared toward a younger age group, probably older teen, as it is a tough topic on a pretty surface level. It took awhile to get into the plot. I was about a third of the way in and was thinking, "what is the point of this story??" It also wrapped up really quickly. I don't know. I think younger readers would enjoy it more than I did.

64. Four to Score by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5★)

Working for her bail bondsman cousin Vinnie, Stephanie is hot on the trail of revenge-seeking waitress Maxine Nowicki, whose crimes include bail jumping, theft, and extortion. Someone is terrifying Maxine's friends, and those who have seen her are turning up dead. Also on the hunt for Maxine is Joyce Barnhardt, Stephanie's archenemy and rival bounty hunter. Stephanie's attitude never wavers-- even when aided by crazy Grandma Mazur, ex-hooker and wannabe bounty hunter Lula, and transvestite rock musician Sally Sweet-- and even when Stephanie makes an enemy whose deadly tactics escalate from threatening messages to firebombs. All of this pales in comparison, though, with an even greater danger Stephanie faces, when, homeless and broke, she and her hamster Rex move in with a vice cop Joe Morelli. RATED PG35 for licentious wit and libidinous cohabitation.

Again, there is nothing I can say for this books that wasn't true for the rest of the series. I think I liked this one less than the first ones, but there were still parts that made me literally LOL.

65. A Murder in Music City: Corruption, Scandal, and the Framing of an Innocent Man by Michael Bishop (5/5 ★)

A private citizen discovers compelling evidence that a decades-old murder in Nashville was not committed by the man who went to prison for the crime but was the result of a conspiracy involving elite members of Nashville society.Nashville 1964. Eighteen-year-old babysitter Paula Herring is murdered in her home while her six-year-old brother apparently sleeps through the grisly event. A few months later a judge's son is convicted of the crime. Decades after the slaying, Michael Bishop, a private citizen,stumbles upon a secret file related to the case and with the help of some of the world's top forensic experts--including forensic psychologist Richard Walter (aka "the living Sherlock Holmes")--he uncovers the truth. What really happened is completely different from what the public was led to believe.Now, for the very first time, Bishop reveals the true story. In this true-crime page-turner, the author lays out compelling evidence that a circle of powerful citizens were key participants in the crime and the subsequent cover-up. The ne'er-do-well judge's son, who was falsely accused and sent to prison, proved to be the perfect setup man. The perpetrators used his checkered history to conceal the real facts for over half a century. Including interviews with the original defense attorney and a murder confession elicited from a nursing-home resident, the information presented here will change Nashville history forever.

This was my favorite book this month, I think mainly in part due to my familiarity with its setting. It was so easy for me to picture the places these events took place, even though Nashville has drastically changed since the 1960s. One thing I hated was that they kept calling the victim the 'babysitter' when she was the kid's older sister. I understand that was what the media called her when it all took place, but it just kept popping up and annoying me.  It was fascinating to read about the conspiracies and cover ups that took place.

66. The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand (3.5 ★)

It's Nantucket wedding season, also known as summer-the sight of a bride racing down Main Street is as common as the sun setting at Madaket Beach. The Otis-Winbury wedding promises to be an event to remember: the groom's wealthy parents have spared no expense to host a lavish ceremony at their oceanfront estate.

But it's going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons after tragedy strikes: a body is discovered in Nantucket Harbor just hours before the ceremony-and everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash interviews the bride, the groom, the groom's famous mystery-novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, he discovers that every wedding is a minefield-and no couple is perfect. Featuring beloved characters from The Castaways, Beautiful Day, and A Summer Affair, The Perfect Couple proves once again that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read.

This would have been the perfect beach read, though I listened to it on audiobook. A friend had recommended it to me, but I had also seen it recommended by a lot of bookstagramers this summer. This is the first Hilderbrand book that I've read, but afterwards I definitely plan on reading more. It was a fun little mystery that kept me guessing. I have seen many friends post about her, so I am excited to starting reading more from her collection.

67. A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (5/5★)

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center - a women's reproductive health services clinic - its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage. 
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his 15-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic. 
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard. 
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day. 
I've read enough of Picoult to know that I don't usually care for her books.  The storyline is usually good, but they're so long and she drags them out that I lose interest.  This one was different. I loved this book. I listened to part on audiobook which may have helped because I speed up to 1.5x, but every part of it felt relevant and necessary to the story. Also, the performer for the audiobook was Bahni Turpin, who also performed The Hate U Give and she is fabulous. I originally chose this book because of her narration, actually.

68. Still Alice by Lisa Genova (4/5★)

Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what's it's like to literally lose your mind...
This book was recommended to me pretty frequently, so I finally got around to reading it. Alzheimer's isn't something I've had personal experience with - as in I've never known anyone who has had it - so this was really my first perspective. It is a fictional story, but in a realistic sense. I watched the movie afterwards which was also good, minus the whole Kristin Stewart thing.

Image result for thin air 69. Thin Air by Lisa Gray (3/5★)

Private investigator Jessica Shaw is used to getting anonymous tips. But after receiving a photo of a three-year-old kidnapped from Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, Jessica is stunned to recognize the little girl as herself.
Eager for answers, Jessica heads to LA’s dark underbelly. When she learns that her biological mother was killed the night she was abducted, Jessica’s determined to solve a case the police have forgotten. Meanwhile, veteran LAPD detective Jason Pryce is in the midst of a gruesome investigation into a murdered college student moonlighting as a prostitute. A chance encounter leads to them crossing paths, but Jessica soon realizes that Pryce is hiding something about her father’s checkered history and her mother’s death.
To solve her mother’s murder and her own disappearance, Jessica must dig into the past and find the secrets buried there. But the air gets thinner as she crawls closer to the truth, and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe.

I read this one on my kindle spread over some time. I don't read digital books often, but I always keep one on my phone just in case I'm stuck somewhere waiting. I received this free through Prime reading, and it was okay. I was curious throughout the story, but didn't feel like it was overly suspenseful.

70. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (3/5★)

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben.

Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

Of her three books that I have read, this is my least favorite. It wasn't bad, it was just weird, way too weird. That is all.

71. The Elizas by Sara Shepard (3/5 ★)

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

I chose this book because it was written by the same author as the Pretty Little Liar and The Lying Game series, which I loved when I read them five years ago. This one was a little slower. About half way through I got a little more into it and felt like the suspense increased, but it definitely wasn't a favorite. 

Image result for high five janet evanovich 72. High Five by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Out of bail skippers and rent money, Stephanie Plum throws caution to the wind and follows in the entrepreneurial bootsteps of Super Bounty Hunter, Ranger, engaging in morally correct and marginally legal enterprises. So, a scumball blows himself to smithereens on her first day of policing a crack house and the sheik she was chauffeuring stole the limo. But hey, nobody's perfect! Anyway, Stephanie has other things on her mind. Her mother wants her to find Uncle Fred who's missing after arguing with his garbage company; homicidal rapist Benito Ramirez is back, quoting scripture and stalking Stephanie; vice cop Joe Morelli has a box of condoms with Stephanie's name on it; and Stephanie's afraid Ranger has his finger on her trigger.

I listened to this one on audiobook because the library didn't have a physical copy and I didn't want to wait until I could get to McKay's. Everyone said the audiobooks were great, but I didn't love it. The narrator was weird, and not in a good way. I like to speed up my audiobooks, but I listened to this one via discs and was unable to speed it up, so it felt like the story moved slow because the narration was slow. Still a fun, lighthearted story though!

73. Hot Six by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5★)

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and Trenton vice cop Joe Morelli join forces to find the madman killer who shot and barbecued the youngest son of international black-market arms dealer Alexander Ramos.
Carlos Manoso, street name Ranger, is caught on video just minutes before the crime occurs. He's at the scene, he's with the victim, and he's the number-one suspect. Ranger is former special forces turned soldier of fortune. He has a blue-chip stock portfolio and no known address. He moves in mysterious circles. He's Stephanie's mentor--the man who taught her everything she knows about fugitive apprehension. And he's more than her friend.
Now he's the hunted and Stephanie's the hunter, and it's time for her to test her skills against the master. But if she does catch him...what then? Can she bring herself to turn him in?

Plus there are other things keeping Stephanie awake at night. Her maternal grandmother has set up housekeeping in Stephanie's apartment, a homicidal maniac has selected Stephanie as his next victim, her love life is in the toilet, she's adopted a dog with an eating disorder, and she can't button the top snap on her Levi's.

See above thoughts haha. As I've said before, these books are mostly all the same, but they're fun and light, especially when read between books with heavier content or extra suspense.

Image result for the silent patient74. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (4/5★) 

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations―a search for the truth that threatens to consume him....

Holy cow. yes to this book. Yes yes yes. At first I was like, "nah, kinda slow and predictable." Then I finsihed it. And as it turns out it was not predictable. I feel like I should have figured it out before I got to the end, but I didn't. I was fooled.

75. Becoming by Michelle Obama (5/5 ★)

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. 

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

I waited forever and a year to finally get my hands on a copy of this one. And then I didn't have the time to actually sit down and read it once I finally got it checked out.  Luckily, a friend had a copy she let me borrow! I just want to start by saying, I LOVE Michelle's writing, just absolutely love it.  She writes so eloquently; it was a very smooth read. That being said, it is LONG. I put it down and picked it up a handful of times, eventually finishing it on audiobook (which I enjoyed since Michelle was the narrator). She speaks at such a higher level however, that it is a lot to handle at one time. I broke it up with other books quite frequently. Outside of Barrack's presidency, I knew very little about her life, so this was an interesting read.

76. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (5/5★)
Image result for on the come up

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.  
Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

I listened to this on audiobook after LOVING Thomas's The Hate You Give. The narrator is absolutely fabulous - I've raved about her before. This was another great book by Thomas. Whether you read a physical/digital copy, or listen to it via audio, I definitely recommend it. It is so very eye opening to anyone NOT living a life like this.

77. Seven Up by Janet Evanovich (3.5★)

Semiretired mob guy Eddie DeCooch is caught trafficking contraband cigarettes through Trenton, New Jersey. When DeCooch fails to show for a court appearance, bond enforcement agent Stephanie Plum is assigned the task of finding him and dragging his decrepit ass back to jail. Not such an easy job, it turns out, since DeCooch has learned a lot of tricks over the years and isn't afraid to use his gun. He's already shot Loretta Ricci, an innocent old lady, and left her for worm food in his shed. He wouldn't mind shooting Stephanie next.
Likeable losers (and Steph's former high school classmates) Walter "MoonMan" Dunphy and Dougie "The Dealer" Kruper have inadvertently become involved with DeCooch. They've gotten sucked into an operation that is much more than simple cigarette smuggling and holds risks far greater than anyone could have imagined.
When Dougie disappears, Steph goes into search mode. When Mooner disappears, she calls in the heavy artillery and asks master bounty hunter Ranger for help. Ranger's price for the job? One night with Stephanie, dusk to dawn. Not information she's want to share with her sometime live-in roommate, vice cop Joe Morelli,
A typical dilemma in the world of Plum.
And on the homefront, Stephanie's "perfect" sister, Valerie, has decided to move back to Trenton, bringing her two kids from hell with her. Grandma Mazur is asking questions about being a lesbian, and Bob, the bulimic dog, is eating everything in sight--including the furniture.
Mud wrestling, motorcycles, fast cars, fast food, and fast men. It's Seven Up. Absolutely Janet Evanovich at her very best.

Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V above thoughts :) 

Image result for bring me back78. Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris (4/5★)

Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone―never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.
Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him...even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.

Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla―hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive―and on Finn’s trail―what does she want? And how much does she know?

This book was strange, and unpredictable. I've read a couple B.A. Paris before, but I think this has been my favorite. It was suspenseful and kept you wondering throughout! 

Image result for just one night79. Just One Night by Gayle Forman (5/5 ★) 

It all starts when American good girl Allyson--better known as Lulu-- decides to spend just one day in Paris with Dutch hottie Willem. It's a whirlwind adventure filled with heart-racing romance, but the next day Willem is gone without a trace. What follows is one year of searching that ends with a steamy reunion on the one wonderful night when they finally find one another again. Filled with mystery, drama, adventure, and of course romance, this is a swoony and satisfying entry point for new readers of Gayle Forman's bestselling fiction.

To be compeltely honest, this book was rated because I loved the series rather than just this story. Just One Night was a short story that goes along with Just One Day  and Just One Year. The whole set is linked in the title. Forman is the author of If I Stay, which is what originally led me to read this series. I definitely prefer this series to the If I Stay books. I put off reading this one because they only make a digital copy and I had been hoping a hard copy would come out so I could buy it to put with the others. It never did so I finally caved and checked it out via Kindle!

Reading Challenge: 78/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!