Tuesday, April 2, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - March





Finally, the water receded and I got a little bit of outdoor reading in (my personal favorite). When I was a kid, my dad was constantly urging me to read outside in the nice weather instead of curled up in my room, and I refused.  Now, I can't get enough of it. That being said, the majority of my books this month were audiobooks, because Lord help me, I just can’t seem to stay put in one place, especially with this sunshine that has finally found us and dried up the sixth Great Lake formally known as the state of Tennessee. 

*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!)


25. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4/5 ★)

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
 
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.


TBH, this one had been on my TBR list for awhile, then I took it off.  It was on there because I had seen so many other people reading it, and I liked the cover art. I honestly can't tell you why I took it off.  Probably because I had a list of over 300 books to read and since I hadn't chosen this one based on its synopsis it was easy to remove.  I ended up getting it as an audiobook anyway, and I'm glad I did. It was sad, and it was powerful, and it made my heart hurt. Its not a neat and pretty story, but the narration illustrates the impact that incarceration has on those whose loved ones are imprisoned.


26. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg (4/5 ★)

Folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a now-classic novel about two women: Evelyn, who’s in the sad slump of middle age, and gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode, who’s telling her life story. Her tale includes two more women—the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth—who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, offering good coffee, southern barbecue, and all kinds of love and laughter—even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present will never be quite the same again.



Despite this being one of my favorite movies since middle school, I had NO idea it was a book!! We had decide to read another book by the same author for our February book club book when a friend told me she had written Fried Green Tomatoes as well. So, instead of reading the book I was suppose to read, I downloaded this on audiobook instead. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was a little nervous that after being so familiar with the movie that I wouldn't like the book, but I listened to it in a span of a few days, so that definitely wasn't the case. I LOVED the voice of the woman reading this.  It was the perfect southern voice, and quite frankly she reminded me a lot of the actress who played Ninny Threadgoode in the movie. Some parts were word-for-word identical to the dialogue that I am all-too familiar with, but other parts were quite different and more elaborated.  A lot of the big things that happened in the movie also happened in the book, just maybe a little differently.  The book also had a lot more about Buddy Jr.'s life which was fun.  I was chuckling to myself quite frequently as I listened to it on my walk the other day, the neighbors down the street must have thought I was crazy laughing to myself. 

27. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (2.5/5 ★)


As the founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Rachel Hollis developed an immense online community by sharing tips for better living while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own life. Now, in this challenging and inspiring new book, Rachel exposes the twenty lies and misconceptions that too often hold us back from living joyfully and productively, lies we’ve told ourselves so often we don’t even hear them anymore.
With painful honesty and fearless humor, Rachel unpacks and examines the falsehoods that once left her feeling overwhelmed and unworthy, and reveals the specific practical strategies that helped her move past them. In the process, she encourages, entertains, and even kicks a little butt, all to convince you to do whatever it takes to get real and become the joyous, confident woman you were meant to be.
With unflinching faith and rock-hard tenacity, Girl, Wash Your Face shows you how to live with passion and hustle--and how to give yourself grace without giving up.

So I know I'm a little but behind in reading this, but I've been on the wait list from the library for FOREVER and I'm not allowed to buy anymore books until I read all the ones I've got....Anyway.  I had seen this one pop up on a lot of my socials and it seemed to come highly recommend.  I, however, was not thrilled by it.  It was a quick read, but it was also very shallow.  There was nothing new or special about it that isn't in every other self-help-esque book.  It was mostly just 213 pages of "if you believe in yourself, you can do it!" Since I'm neither a mom, nor an upper class woman getting $10,000 paychecks, it was extremely hard for me to relate to. 

28. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (5/5 ★)

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.


OMG this story. Holy cow! Seriously, I don't know how this chick and her corporation managed to con people for so long, but boy what a narrative.  I have as much background knowledge about medical labs and their procedures and rules as I do about operating a fork lift (which is pretty much none), but even I could spot the ZILLIONS of red flags flapping wildly throughout the whole operation. Elizabeth Holmes is obviously insane, but also incredibly smart to have been able to pull off all that she did. I'm not a big non-fiction reader outside of personal memoirs, and I did listen to this via audiobook, but it was so interesting I hated having to stop it when I reached my destination!


Aaron Hernandez was a college All-American who became the youngest player in the NFL and later reached the Super Bowl. His every move as a tight end with the New England Patriots played out the headlines, yet he led a secret life -- one that ended in a maximum-security prison. What drove him to go so wrong, so fast?

Between the summers of 2012 and 2013, not long after Hernandez made his first Pro Bowl, he was linked to a series of violent incidents culminating in the death of Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player who dated the sister of Hernandez's fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins.

All-American Murder is the first book to investigate Aaron Hernandez's first-degree murder conviction and the mystery of his own shocking and untimely death.

I vaguely recalled some chaos involving Aaron Hernandez back when I was in college, but I never knew the whole story.  I enjoy James Patterson as a fiction author, so I thought I would give his non-fiction book a try.  I chose this book for the true crime aspect, and while I know part of dissecting a criminal’s actions comes from analyzing his past, there were too many game recaps that I personally could have done without. Also, I listened to this via audiobook, and the narrator’s voice was odd. He sounded like a man who should be narrating an episode of Forensic Files, because everything he said sounded overly dramatic. I know it’s a true crime story, but when the whole book is read this way, it’s a bit much. Mild displeasures aside, I was captivated by the story and listened to the majority of it in the span on a day on my drive to Minnesota. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone with an interest in true crime.

Related image30. Unf*ck Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop (3/5 ★)
Joining the ranks of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, You Are a Badas*, and F*ck Feelings comes this refreshing, BS-free, self-empowerment guide that offers an honest, no-nonsense, tough-love approach to help you move past self-imposed limitations.

Are you tired of feeling fu*ked up? If you are, Gary John Bishop has the answer. In this straightforward handbook, he gives you the tools and advice you need to demolish the slag weighing you down and become the truly unfu*ked version of yourself. ''Wake up to the miracle you are,'' he directs. ''Here's what you've forgotten: You're a fu*king miracle of being.'' It isn't other people that are standing in your way, it isn't even your circumstances that are blocking your ability to thrive, it's yourself and the negative self-talk you keep telling yourself.
















In Unfu*k Yourself, Bishop leads you through a series of seven assertions: I am willing. I am wired to win. I got this. I embrace the uncertainty. I am not my thoughts; I am what I do. I am relentless. I expect nothing and accept everything. Lead the life you were meant to have—Unfu*k Yourself.

This was a very quick audiobook.  The author is also the narrator of the audiobook, and his Scottish accent was somewhat distracting to me, but I do love when authors read their own books! Bishop's book is focused on seven assertions that he wants you to tell yourself, and he explains why they're important.  One thing he said really stuck with me - something to do with 'believing you can do something is only part of what you need to do.'  So many self-help-y books preach the "if you believe in yourself, you can do anything!" attitude.  While I 100% believe that is a huge part of accomplishing your goals, its not everything.  He mentions that believing you will succeed absolutely helps, but you can still accomplish things if you don't believe you can do them, its just much, much more difficult.  And on the flip side, believing you can accomplish something won't get you very far if you don't put in the time and effort to actually do it. Apparently I am just not in a season of life where I need a lot of self-empowerment, because I didn't get much out of this one either. Most self-empowerment books do more for me when I'm struggling or feeling like there is something more than I should be doing.  However, a great self-empowerment guide motivates me more, even during the seasons like I'm in now, where I'm already feeling pretty satisfied with where my life is at. I guess I will keep searching! Any recommendations?



31. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2.5/5 ★)

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. 

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.


As my sixth and final audiobook of the month, I really expected to like this book more than I did. It was recommended everywhere, and it took months until the audiobook was available for me to listen to.It wasn’t great, but it wasn't bad either. It was a pleasant enough story, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened. In fact, I didn't even really get into it until the last three hours (it was an 11/5 hour long audiobook). It was sweet and nice, but lacked the action and suspense that I prefer in my fictional novels.



Reading Challenge: 31/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - February





My February weekends were jam-packed with time with friends and family, which meant my reading time was minimal, though I did manage to squeeze a few from my TBR list in!

*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!)


19. Bird Box by Josh Malerman (3/5 🟊)


Something is out there . . .
Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?
So obviously I watched this on Netflix the day after it was out, but I had heard a commercial on the radio for it prior to release which had intrigued me to watch it. I'm very torn on how I feel about this book. I never watch a movie before I read a book, so that aspect through me off.  Plus, there was so much hype after the movie came out that I honestly can't form an opinion solely about the book. I also listened to it as an audiobook, and it felt weird not hearing Sandra Bullock's voice which also altered how I felt about it.  This is the worst "review" ever, I'm so sorry.


20. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris (2/5 🟊) 


Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He’s a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. Though they are still newlyweds, they seem to have it all. You might not want to like them, but you do. You’re hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You’d like to get to know Grace better.
But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable.
Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows.
Some might wonder what’s really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed.
I don't know about this one.  I listened to the whole thing via audiobook, and there wasn't a point that I said to myself, "maybe I should just scrap listening to this one," but it wasn't great.  It wasn't terrible, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone to read.  I love suspense stories, and this one, though marketed as a psychological thriller, wasn't very suspenseful.  It was fairly predictable, and once you figured out Grace and Jack's relationship (which didn't take long), there really wasn't any unexpected twists in the plot line.

21. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (5/5 🟊) 
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy—exasperating, irresponsible, and beguiling—does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors—yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness.

This was our March book club book, but I read it early because I had already been recommended it and had it on my TBR list.  I loved the writing style of Frank McCourt; it was written in the style of childish ramblings, but not in the annoying, Junie B. Jones kind of way. (Not hating on Junie B. I loved her when I was 6, just not my style as a 27-year-old). Memoirs are my favorite form of non-fiction, especially one like this one that describes a life so very different from my own. It was fascinating (maybe not the right word to describe such a troubling childhood??) to read about McCourt's world. I just loved loved loved everything about this book. I loved the story line. I loved the dialect. I loved the point of view and McCourt’s unusual style. It took me a good chunk of time to read, but I was absolutely engrossed in it every time I picked the book up. It is so very rare that I find a book that I truly do not want to end, and this was one of them. Don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely a morbid tale, but there is nothing glamorous about growing poverty, especially during this time period. Also, I’m going to start using the phrase, “I don’t give a fiddler’s fart,” much more frequently because it cracked me up every time I read it. I borrowed the book from the library, but when I came across a copy at my book store back home I bought it because I wanted my own copy - so I have it to borrow if anyone would like to read it!


23. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (4/5 🟊)


In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

I was so excited when I received the email from my library saying that this book was ready for me to pick up.  I've been waiting to read this since its release this past September. I really enjoyed the storyline, but the writing wasn’t great. It was very heavy on the dialogue and light on any sort of detail and description.  My research after reading it led me to find that the author is a screenwriter, which may be why it was written this way. Having read Auschwitz Lullaby last month, I was left with so many questions about the people of both books (they’re both based on true stories) since they were all in the same area of Auschwitz-Birkenau. 


24. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir by Kristin Newman (5/5 ★)

Kristin Newman spent much of her twenties and thirties buying dresses to wear to her friends' weddings and baby showers. Not ready to settle down and in need of an escape from her fast-paced job as a sitcom writer, Kristin instead traveled the world, often alone, for several weeks each year. In addition to falling madly in love with the planet, Kristin fell for many attractive locals, men who could provide the emotional connection she wanted without costing her the freedom she desperately needed. 
Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into "Kristin-Adjacent" on the road–a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a compelling debut that will have readers rushing to renew their passports.


This book was a re-read and is one of my all-time favorite books because I relate to it so deeply.  While I don't have the funds available to me for travel like she did (because #teacherlife), I always use my time off from work to travel wherever I can.  I have no idea where my original copy of this book went, with all its tabbed pages and underlined quotes, but I had no guilt in buying this again - that's how great it is.  I found myself underlining new quotes this time around, but am still loving the ones I saved before.  You can find my original thoughts and saved quotes from this memoir here! This is a great book for anyone with big dreams who just isn't ready to settle down yet.

Reading Challenge: 24/50 books read in 2019 
Almost half way already!

You can find previous book reviews here!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

My Life With Chronic Headaches/Migraines: Part 5 FINDING MY HAPPY & LIVING IN THE NOW




If you haven't read the previous posts in this five part series, you can find them here:
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

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I ended post 4 with a "cliffhanger" about my career prospects, which, if you know me IRL, it wasn't actually a cliffhanger, because you know exactly what I'm up to.  While the position in Huntsville at the Arsenal was tempting, especially with all the travel it entailed, I knew that in this season of life, my heart belonged in Tennessee.  The months following my move back proved how true that feeling was.

This next part is a little weird.  I originally wrote all five posts back in early January.  Then things shifted.  But I couldn't decide if I wanted to re-write post 5 or add a post six so I did neither.  Below is post five.  Then.....post five and a half??

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Now, here I am, back in Tennessee, doing what I love again. As I write this in the beginning of 2019, I can look back on the last few months and can count on one hand how many headaches I have had, which is miraculous. This miserable pain that CONSUMED my life for months is finally under control...for the time being anyway.  And let me tell you, it has been a PROCESS.

I no longer take my muscle relaxers unless I feel abnormally tight, and I no longer take the anti-anxiety meds unless I need to get my sleep under control. I still refill my Riz, because its still the only thing that takes away my headaches, I just need it a lot less.

I wear my hair in a ponytail again.  I partake in the consumption of adult beverages again.  I roll around in my sleep, and even sleep on my stomach again. I still don't sleep on a pillow, because those suckers still mess with my neck. I've found a chiropractor back home that I go to when I visit, who is a specialist in the atlas, the area of my neck that just can't seem to stay in place.

People ask me what changed, and honestly I have to say, everything.  Everything changed.  In a way, I'm right back where I was when I lived in Tennessee the first time.  I'm working in the same school district, teaching the same grade, and even living in the same apartment complex. But I'm so happy now, and that has been the biggest deterrent of my headaches.

Not that I wasn't happy before, because I was, but not like this.  I deeply feel like I'm in the right place in my life, in every aspect.  I don't know how to explain it.  I was happy before, and I was enjoying life, but something I can't quite pinpoint or describe is different now.

I love my work environment, I love living where I live.  I love my friends, both new and old.  I love teaching again, but I also love that it no longer takes over my life.  I love that I'm always excited about things, no matter how mundane they may seem to everyone else.  I love feeling like I have options, and that I don't have to rush to make choices on those options.  I'm much less anxious, and much more carefree. I do the things I want to do, I don't do the things I don't want to do.  I'm much better about giving up control, and letting things just be.

I wake up in the morning thankful to have the option to get out of bed. I think when it comes down to it, I hit my rock bottom, and its made me a more optimistic person. I've never really been a negative person per se, but I'm much more glass half full now.  Most days I am deliriously giddy, for what reason, I'm not entirely sure. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I walk around my apartment sometimes, smiling like a fool, because I'm just so grateful to be where I am, so grateful to be healthy and able to make choices that aren't centered around things out of my control. Every opportunity excites me, because I very clearly remember feeling like I had no options. I'm less worried about the tomorrows, and just happy to be living in the todays. I realize that most things people worry about, most things I used to worry about, aren't worth a second thought.

My journal is no longer filled with frustrations and concerns.  It's full of great memories and stories and positive reflections.  One of my kids told me at the beginning of the school year that she kept two journals, one for the happy things, and one for the sad things.  I thought this was a great idea.  I always enjoyed flipping through my old journals, but when you need happy memories to look back on, it sucks to see the sad ones, so I borrowed her idea.  Months later, and all I have are happy memories and thoughts to look back on.  I'm sure the day will come when I need the sad stuff journal, but until then, I've been really enjoying reveling in all the moments that have brought me joy.

The downside with chronic pain, is that it will probably always be there.  The downside with migraines, is that medical professionals really don't have any answers.  Remedies work, until they don't.  Preventatives work, until they don't.  Will my headaches and migraines get worse again?  Possibly. Probably.  But for now, I am enjoying every day that they don't, but also continuously making myself aware of new things to try if they do.

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If I had published each of these five posts back in early January when I originally wrote them, that's where the series would end.  But I didn't.  And then January happened.  So, here is this oddly formatted addendum here....post 5.5

Y'all.  I was doing GREAT. (As noted above).  I had no complaints for month, headaches or otherwise.  Then I flipped my head upside down to shake my hair out after a shower and knocked my atlas out of place.  Which sounds like the punchline to a dumb blonde joke, but it's my REAL LIFE. 🤦

I began seeing an atlas specialist in November, when I was home for Thanksgiving (and by began seeing, I mean I went twice).  Then I had another adjustment when I was home over Christmas.  Honestly, I wasn't sure if it helped or not, since my headaches had already improved so much, but I knew it couldn't hurt, and it had helped all of my family members who also suffer from them, so I figured I'd have an open mind.  If I've learned anything on this headache journey, its to give absolutely everything a shot.

Some background info - the atlas is the topmost vertebra in your spine.  I've had enough x-rays of my back done to know that my neck in general is all outta wack.  Too much reading!!! Apparently that's a thing.  I've been trying to break the habit of looking down while I read, but that's so much easier said than done.  I'd been told by my general chiropractors before that this was my issue, and I've been told by general chiropractors before that they were adjusting it, but it never made a difference.

Anywho, I know I messed things up after that hair flip because my headaches have been daily/every other day ever since, and the dizziness when I turn my head in certain ways has set in.  Unfortunately, the closest atlas specialist to me is south of Nashville, and despite my constant pestering over the past few weeks, the new patient consultant for the clinic has yet to call me back so I can finally set up an appointment. Luckily, I have an appointment set up back home when I'm there next weekend. HALLELUJAH!

So this is my now.  It's not the happy ending I thought I had a month ago, but even then I knew it was only a matter of time before they infiltrated my life again.  Some days are good, some months are good, and others not so much, but I'm getting by.  I'm going to make another appointment with another neurologist because this is life with chronic migraines and I can live it or I can be miserable from it. If you know me now, especially after the Year of Suffering, you know I have been absolutely refusing to settle for anything but my very best life, even if it entails more doctors visit and new trials with different treatments and prevention.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

My Life With Chronic Headaches/Migraines: Part 4 NEW STATE, SAME HEADACHES





If you haven't read the previous posts in this five part series, you can find them here:
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

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This is the post that leaves me feeling vulnerable. It's the stuff that is harder to share.  If I'm happy, you'll know it, because I love to share the happiness. I love to include the people around me in the joy.  If I could take some of my bliss and sprinkle it like fairy dust onto everyone I come in contact with, I would.

If I'm not happy, if I'm being held hostage by my dear, old friend depression, I'm radio silent. Not because I'm ashamed or embarrassed, but because I've always been one to figure things out on my own, to deal with my problems on my own.  My independence has definitely had its benefits throughout my life, but sometimes I need to let others in.  That's the part I failed to do during this season.  That's the part I'm working on. Opening up has never been my strong suit, but here I am, doing it anyway, because growth comes from doing the things that scare you.

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Plain and simple, these next 8ish months sucked. If I made a web map of everything that sucked during this period, the word HEADACHES would be in big, bold, capital letters in the center, with all the suck listed in spindly legs flailing off of it.  They impacted every aspect of my life.

With July came the worst. I spent the last three weeks of the month with a pretty much constant headache/migraine; nothing would make it go away, and the side effects were getting worse too.  The migraines were continuously making me sick to my stomach, to the point that I would wake up in the middle of the night and have to throw up. It got worse and worse until one night, my boyfriend at the time woke up at 1AM to find me curled in a ball on the couch, crying in pain. What followed was a $500 emergency room visit (The downside of still having Tennessee insurance when you're living in Alabama). I was in so much pain, and so out of it, that when the nurse told me he had to give me two shots in the rear end, I dropped my drawers and didn't give it another thought. (If you know me, you know that needles terrify me. I avoid shots like they're Green Bay Packers fans.) I was later told that the needles were HUGE; honestly, I could have looked right at them without seeing them, that's what my state of mind was. Three weeks straight of headaches leaves you with literally no will nor energy to care about anything.

I knew I couldn't teach that school year. I knew I couldn't be in a position that required me to prepare for being out. The migraines were so bad that I could hardly put clothes on in the morning, let alone write sub plans. It was a difficult decision to make, but I felt a weight off my shoulders once I had made it. It's not easy to give up the thing you thought you would spend the rest of your life doing, but when that thing stresses you to the point of making you physically ill, it's a little easier of a concept to handle. Taking the year off of teaching sucked, but looking back, it was hands down the best thing I've ever done for myself, and I'm really, really blessed and thankful that I was in a situation where I could afford to do that.

I spent the next month or two trying to be optimistic, but honestly I was more anxious and depressed than I had ever been.  I had a lot of blood drawn for a lot of various testing and counted to 60 fifteen times with my eyes clenched shut in an MRI machine. I wasn't concerned about tumors or anything, but it was best to rule it all out, especially since I had to wait three months to get into the neurologist. I had been put back on 50 mg of amitriptyline each night and was given a new prescription for rizatriptin. As much as I hated that stuff before, it was a lifesaver to me at this point. It still made me feel like my body was falling apart from the inside out, but it was the ONLY thing that could get rid of the constant, throbbing pain in my head. 

I spent most of my days at the end of summer/early fall curled in a ball on the couch, typically with a headache/migraine. If it was a rare day that I didn't have one, I would still just lie there, usually with one of those migraine hangovers, wondering when the next one would be. It was hard to get motivated to accomplish anything because I couldn't get passed the thought of, "How am I supposed to live the rest of my life like this? In constant pain, or wondering when the pain will return? I'm only 25. I can't. I cannot live like this."

The hardest part of this season of life was not being able to talk to anyone about it. Not that I couldn’t, but unless you’ve been there (and honestly I don’t know anyone who has, not to that extent) you can’t begin to understand it. And how do you tell the people that you love that if this is the life you’re stuck with, a life of constant pain, nausea, frustration, the inability to uncurl from your ball and do ANYTHING, that you’re not so sure you want to live it? This was a really terrifying time for me, but I don't think anyone really knew it. It's a lot easier to talk about now that I'm passed it, because now things are good. It's harder to talk about when you don't believe things will ever be good.

My parents visited for my graduation ceremony at the end of August. We watched the eclipse in Nashville that Monday, then made it back to Huntsville only to immediately head on down to Walgreens to pick up my Riz refill so I could take one before we went to dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, where I sat in a zombie-like state and didn't eat a bite.

Graduation was that Saturday, and I hadn't slept a wink Friday night. I was getting a headache that evening, and was stressed out that I would get a headache during the ceremony the following day, which made it that much worse. I took some Excedrine, which kept me up because of the caffeine, but I worried if I took the PM stuff, I wouldn't be able to get up early like I needed to. I was dropped off at the Symphony Center that morning, where I tried my best to function. (It's painfully obvious in my grad photos that I was out of it that day). While my friend and I waited for the ceremony to begin, I felt a panic attack come on. My heart felt like it was pounding so hard, and I felt like I couldn't breath and just wished I had my inhaler. Luckily, I wasn't new to this anxiety, so I keep my cool and stayed seated and tried to relax. It did freak me out however, because I had never had one that lasted that long, and it took me awhile to figure out that it was a panic attack. Eventually I felt okay, and I made it through the ceremony and most of pictures before I began to feel nauseous and sick again. We had a short lunch, after which I said goodbye to my parents and was whisked off to the car where I slept most of the way home.

Come September, I was trying my hardest not to take Excedrine, because I didn't want to become any more reliant on it than I already was, but as anyone with chronic head pain knows, if you don't take something right away, you're SOL. I didn't want to use Riz on every headache or migraine either because insurance limited me to how many I could get with them paying in a certain time frame. It was a never ending battle of what to take and when to take it and unfortunately, constantly suffering because I hadn't taken the right thing, or I hadn't taken enough of it, or I hadn't taken it soon enough.

In November, after a three month wait, I finally got in to the neurologist. He confirmed what I already knew, that it was tension headaches/migraines that had taken over my life, and he upped my dosage of amitriptyline plus added in a muscle relaxer that I was supposed to take twice a day.

I was hesitant to be so reliant on medication, but nothing else had worked.  I tried chiropractor after chiropractor.  I tried essential oils and other herbal and natural supplements.  I tried massages and stretches and yoga.  This was hands down the most desperate I had ever been in my life.

I finally started substitute teaching late fall 2017.  It was great because I could wait until the morning to pick up a job, when I knew whether I had a headache that day or not.  I got to still work with kids and teach, and I got to finally interact with human beings outside of a doctor's office again.  As the months passed, I grew to really love subbing.  My headaches were beginning to decrease so I could schedule jobs with my preferred teachers/classes ahead of time without being worried about having to cancel. I had April and May fully booked with jobs before March even ended.  I was getting to teach without it taking over my life, and I was building such fun relationships with so many kids and other teachers.  It felt great to be in a classroom again, especially after I thought it was no longer an option.

I was learning coping and preventative strategies for my headaches.  I don't know which things actually helped, but I was constantly doing them all regardless.  I slept straight on my back with my arms at my sides (which sounds awful, but I was on such a high dosage of anti-anxiety meds and muscle relaxers that I was knocked into such a deep sleep I didn't move anyway).  I didn't wear a ponytail for almost a year.  I never raised my arms above my head (because my muscle would tighten immediately).  I stayed away from alcohol, and even gave up dairy for a month (this didn't help, thankfully!) I had to be constantly aware of how long I sat, how long I stood, how long I laid down, how long I watched Netflix, how long and in what positions I read a book. I never slept on a pillow. I always slept on a heating pad.

The months came and went and from the beginning of 2018 to the summer of 2018, and my headaches went from 15-ish a month to 7-ish a month.  After months of "real" job searching, I had a decision to make.  Accept a position in Alabama to train people on different technologies on military bases around the world, or go back to teaching.

(To be continued...)

Stay tuned next week for part 5!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - January



A new year, a new reading challenge! My goal is to read 50 books this year. I managed 79 last year, but I wasn't working 40+ hours a week for the first seven months of the year like I am now, so I thought any more than 50 would be an unrealistic goal.  After this month's lofty reading list however, I'm beginning to rethink that.  The best part of having the first week of January off was that I could take time to relax, which of course meant reading three books in the first two days of the month. This was definitely a good month for good books!!

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

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


1. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (4/5 ★)

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?


This one had been on my "to read" list since it first came out back in 2017.  Unfortunately that list has been rapidly growing since I first started it back in 2013, which means books on it only get read if I happen upon them.  Luckily, my sister in law was clearing off her own bookshelf and passed this one on to me! The plot line was semi-predictably, but that didn’t make the story any less enjoyable. If your’re into suspense, this should definitely be added to your “to read” list. I look forward to reading other books by this author!



2. A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena (4/5 ★)

Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There's a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes.  Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good.

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won't stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet.

Wow. I kept thinking I knew what was going on and that it was a predictable storyline, but then something new was thrown at me. I read this whole thing in one day, easily; it was so captivating! Again, if you’re into suspense, this was a great story!




3. I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales From My So-Called Adult Life by Beth Evans (3.5/5 ★)


Did you ever wish your best friend—the person you would trust with your innermost secrets, the person whose wisdom and comfort you seek in times of stress or self-doubt—could draw?
Like Mindy Kaling meets Hyperbole and a Half, I Really Didn’t Think This Through gets at the heart of what makes life both so challenging and so joyful—figuring out how to be a person in the world. Armed with her beloved illustrations, popular Instagram artist Beth Evans tackles a range of issues—from whimsical musings to deeply personal struggles—in this imaginative anti-guide to being your own person.

This book is a compendium of Beth’s collected wisdom and stories, interwoven with her tremendously popular and loveable illustrations. The book is a wonderful mix of fun (playful meditations on the band Rush and international pen-pals) and thoughtful (Beth delves into her personal history with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression while commiserating on topics like dating and credit card shame) all with a simple candor that anyone from a teen to their grandparent can relate to. Through all of her experiences, Beth manages to extract valuable lessons, and the book is replete with friendly advice about caring for yourself, getting help no matter what your problems are, and embracing what makes you happy. Beth is a compelling storyteller, her drawings picking up where her words leave off, creating an approachable and immersive experience for the reader. Beth’s work feels like a hug from your best friend. And like a best friend, she’s here to say “You got this!”
I wish I would have read this book a year ago when I first got it. I had received an uncorrected proof pre-official release, but since it wasn’t a title already on my “to read” list, I had set it aside. Some of what Evans writes about is relatable to most of us just trying to make it through our 20s alive. Most parts are only relatable to some. If you’ve dealt with mental health issues, you’ll find solace in knowing you’re not alone. If you haven’t, it gives you a look into the life of someone who has. 

For me, it was a flashback to my life a little over a year ago. Frightened of the future. Frustrated with the present. Just trying to get through one day at a time. She mentioned sitting in her closet, wishing the back wall led to another world, and I was like “HEY, ME TOO! I DID THAT!” While for me this was a “oh yes, I’ve been there..” as I continued to nod my head after every page, I would most recommend it to anyone going through the suck now. I learned a lot on that mental health roller coaster, but I figured it out on my own. I think it would have been so beneficial for me to have read this during that time. I guess it’s a kind of self-help book, in a way, for anyone stuck in that “what’s the point?” rut.  

Also, she inserts a lot of illustrations to make her points. At first they were a little distracting, because they do interrupt the flow of the story, but then I learned to skip and come back to them which was made it better. I did receive an uncorrected proof, however, so it’s possible that they are arranged differently in the final copy.


4. Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult (3.5/5 ★)

In the course of her everyday work, career-driven assistant district attorney Nina Frost prosecutes child molesters and works determinedly to ensure that a legal system with too many loopholes keeps these criminals behind bars. But when her own five-year-old son, Nathaniel, is traumatized by a sexual assault, Nina and her husband, Caleb, a quiet and methodical stone mason, are shattered, ripped apart by an enraging sense of helplessness in the face of a futile justice system that Nina knows all too well. In a heartbeat, Nina's absolute truths and convictions are turned upside down, and she hurtles toward a plan to exact her own justice for her son -- no matter the consequence, whatever the sacrifice.

I've read a handful of Picoult's books before, but I'd really had to push myself to get through all but one of them.  The only one I didn't struggle through, I had listened to as an audiobook.  As gut-wrenching as it sounds, the story-line of this one seemed like something that I would read had it been from another author, so I decided to give it a go. It was a good book, but not great. I’m torn between liking how Picoult writes from different perspectives, and just wishing there was a little more mystery behind other characters thoughts and intentions. I also was not a fan of the main character...she was unpleasantly arrogant and a bit of a know-it-all. Though the ending was fairly predictable and quite frankly, unrealistic, there were enough twists and turns in the plot-line to keep me engaged. As with all of her stories, however, she could easily take out 100 pages and make it shorter, and more enjoyable.  I feel like Picoult drags on and on and inserts far too many irrelevant events into her books. I do appreciate the amount of research that she puts into her books, especially law-centered ones like this.


5. Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar (4/5 ★)


On an otherwise ordinary morning in 1943, Helene Hannemann is preparing her five children for the day when the German police arrive at her home. Helene’s worst fears come true when the police, under strict orders from the SS, demand that her children and husband, all of Romani heritage, be taken into custody. Though Helene is German and safe from the forces invading her home, she refuses to leave her family—sealing her fate in a way she never could have imagined.
After a terrifying trek across the continent, Helene and her family arrive at Auschwitz and are thrown into the chaos of the camp. Her husband, Johann, is separated from them, but Helene remains fiercely protective of her children and those around her. When the powers-that-be discover that Helene is not only a German but also a trained nurse, she is forced into service at the camp hospital, which is overseen by the notorious Dr. Mengele himself.
Helene is under no illusions in terms of Dr. Mengele’s intentions, but she agrees to cooperate when he asks her to organize a day care and school for the Romani children in the camp. Though physically and emotionally brutalized by the conditions at Auschwitz, Helene musters the strength to protect the children in her care at any cost. Through sheer force of will, Helene provides a haven for the children of Auschwitz—an act of kindness and selflessness so great that it illuminates the darkest night of human history.
Based on a true story, Mario Escobar’s Auschwitz Lullaby demonstrates the power of sacrifice and the strength of human dignity—even when all hope seems lost.

One thing I love about historical fiction is how much I learn from it, even though it’s “fake.” Does anyone else constantly Google stuff as they read?? For example, in the story, they used the term “bigwig,” and I thought surely that was a slang term that we use today and not a term that would have been used in 1943, so I quickly googled the etymology of the word. Turns out, it originated in the 17th century and was used to talk about the rich people who wore big wigs. Duh - makes sense!

Anywho, this one left me with a heavy heart. There were tears at the end, as there always are with stories like this. The author shares at the end the parts that were real and the parts that were changed, which of course breaks your heart a little more because the parts that were changed were the ones that left you with a little bit of hope. I’ve read a lot of WWII historical fiction, but this was the first regarding the Gypsy people. It is scary, how many stories there are to be told, and how many stories never will be told, about the Holocaust and it’s insurmountable victims.


6. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (3.5/5 ★)

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

I was excited to find this on McKays shelves for a couple bucks, since it was on my “to read” list. (My new McKays rule is that I’m only allowed to buy books that are already on my list! And adding them at the store does not count...) I'm not usually one for love stories, but this had been recommended by enough friends in my Instagram feed that I figured I would give it a shot.

For starters, I really love reading books set in the U.K. The different vocabulary and nuances always amuse me, and I can’t read the words “trousers” or “knickers” without chuckling. This story ended differently than I thought it would, which I can’t decide if I like or not. It was the kind of story that has you laughing on one page, then crying on the next. It was good enough to read the whole thing, but I’m not sure if I will continue the series. I also checked the movie out at the library after reading the book. I was disappointed! Louisa wasn't nearly as stubborn sounding as I felt she was in the book.


7. Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult, and My Father, Warren Jeffs by Rachel Jeffs (4/5 ★)


In this searing memoir of survival in the spirit of Stolen Innocence, the daughter of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed Prophet of the FLDS Church, takes you deep inside the secretive polygamist Mormon fundamentalist cult run by her family and how she escaped it.
Born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Rachel Jeffs was raised in a strict patriarchal culture defined by subordinate sister wives and men they must obey. No one in this radical splinter sect of the Mormon Church was more powerful or terrifying than its leader Warren Jeffs—Rachel’s father.
Living outside mainstream Mormonism and federal law, Jeffs arranged marriages between under-age girls and middle-aged and elderly members of his congregation. In 2006, he gained international notoriety when the FBI placed him on its Ten Most Wanted List. Though he is serving a life sentence for child sexual assault, Jeffs’ iron grip on the church remains firm, and his edicts to his followers increasingly restrictive and bizarre.
In Breaking Free, Rachel blows the lid off this taciturn community made famous by Jon Krakauer’s bestselling Under the Banner of Heaven to offer a harrowing look at her life with Warren Jeffs, and the years of physical and emotional abuse she suffered. Sexually assaulted, compelled into an arranged polygamous marriage, locked away in "houses of hiding" as punishment for perceived transgressions, and physically separated from her children, Rachel, Jeffs’ first plural daughter by his second of more than fifty wives, eventually found the courage to leave the church in 2015. But Breaking Free is not only her story—Rachel’s experiences illuminate those of her family and the countless others who remain trapped in the strange world she left behind.
A shocking and mesmerizing memoir of faith, abuse, courage, and freedom, Breaking Free is an expose of religious extremism and a beacon of hope for anyone trying to overcome personal obstacles.

Ever since I was in high school, some of my favorite non-fiction to read has been FLDS-related. I love learning about different cultures, which is why I love traveling so much, and this topic fascinated me because it’s a culture so much different from my own, though not all that far from me geographically. In fact, Warren Jeff's brother now resides in Minnesota.

I’m always curious as to how accurate stories like these are. They always cover such a vast time span, and begin when the author was a child, which means their views and recollections are bound to be distorted in some way; there is just no way to know for sure. Additionally, she only escaped from the FLDS cult three years ago, and I’m not sure three years is really enough time to process 30 years of emotional trauma, etc. 

I’m also more skeptical the more I read. She referenced how other people felt quite frequently, but from the sounds of it they didn’t discuss their feelings much, if at all, so it’s completely her interpretation. At one point she said, “I was done feeling like a teenager trying to get his attention.” But in the FLDS, they aren’t allowed to have any interaction with males from age 10 until they are given their husband, their marriages are arranged, and they aren’t conditioned to “flirting,” so she would have had no idea what that felt like, or that teenagers even did that.

If the topic interests you, I recommend the book, but know that it is not extremely well-written. There was no ghost-writer, and despite obtaining her GED after her escape, Jeffs only went to formal schooling (taught by an unlicensed, and seemingly also uneducated teacher) through 8th grade. Regardless, it’s an interesting look into her life as Warren Jeff’s daughter, and its full of loads of information about life as a member of the FLDS.

Also, a trigger warning, as the book does include detailed accounts of her molestation as a child by her father.

8. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (5/5 ★)

Trevor Noah's unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents' indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa's tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man's relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother-his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life. The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother's unconventional, unconditional love.

I LOVE reading autobiographies. I love learning people's stories.  People I've only heard of, people I know personally, people I've never met. Human beings are fascinating to me.  If someone randomly stopped me on the street and said, "Hey! Come sit with me on this bench and let me tell you my life story!" I would 100% be all for it (after I texted someone to let them know where I was and also made sure it was a public area, of course). I really liked this one, because it was SO SO very different than anything I knew growing up.  It is a different country and a different culture, though one I knew enough about to not be totally confused.  I listened to this as an audiobook, which I think made it that much better.  Biographies are great too, but its fun hearing someone speak about themselves.  How do they view their memories? What are the things that were important enough about their live that they chose to not only store that memory, but share it with others? Fascinating!! Also Trevor Noah is a hoot!

9. Ask An Astronaut: My Guide to Living in Space by Tim Peake (4/5 ★)

Based on his historic mission to the International Space Station, Ask an Astronaut is Tim Peake's guide to life in space, and his answers to the thousands of questions he has been asked since his return to Earth. With explanations ranging from the mundane--how do you wash your clothes or go to the bathroom while in orbit?--to the profound--what's the point?--all written in Tim's characteristically warm style, Tim shares his thoughts on every aspect of space exploration.

From training for the mission to launch, to his historic spacewalk, to re-entry, he reveals for readers of all ages the cutting-edge science behind his groundbreaking experiments, and the wonders of daily life on board the International Space Station.

The public was invited to submit questions using the hashtag #askanastronaut, and a selection are answered by Tim in the book, accompanied with illustrations, diagrams, and never-before-seen photos.

Outer space was the first thing I ever remember being absolutely obsessed with. The summer after I was in 4th grade, I went to the library whenever I could and checked out all the books on planets, the solar system, etc. that they would let me. I wrote reports all summer long on the planets and other celestial objects, and used my dad’s binoculars to find constellations and planets in the night sky, using the star charts I had also swiped from the library (My nerd is showing, I’m well aware). My first dream job was to work for NASA. Who am I kidding, I would still love to work for NASA. When The Martian came out, I got the audiobook, the kindle book, AND the DVD. I guess I'm still a little obsessed...

Anyway, I digress...I was excited to win this one from a Goodreads giveaway, because I knew it was full of all sorts of information I had yet to get my hands on. It took me awhile to get through it, as nonfiction usually does, but I loved soaking it all in.  There was a lot of really interesting content.  Another great thing about this book is how organized it was.  The content all followed questions real people asked, so if you aren't interested in the information, it would be easy to skip over. At the risk of sounding like more of a nerd than I already do, I had literal tears streaming down my face as I read this because I was so enthralled with it all. Do you realize how freakin’ cool it is that multiple space agencies from around the world worked together to build the ISS? A $100 billion space craft! And they BUILT IT ALL IN SPACE?!? Seriously this stuff blows my mind. It is absolutely fascinating. Some days I seriously question why I didn’t pursue some form of science as a career, because I honestly can’t get enough.


10. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (4/5 ★)

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.
 
Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.
 
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
 
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.


I didn't love The Girl on the Train, but I wanted to give this one a shot anyway, and I'm glad I did.  The story kept me guessing the whole way through, and I honestly wasn't sure who the murderer was or if the death was a suicide attempt.  There was an incredible amount of suspense throughout the story, and I enjoyed the varied viewpoints that were provided.  This one was much better than TGOTT, so even if you didn't care for that one, I encourage any suspense lover to give this one a shot!



11. Miss Hildreth Wore Brown: Anecdotes of a Southern Belle by Olivia deBelle Byrd (2/5 ★)

While Olivia deBelle Byrd was repeating one of her many Southern stories for the umpteenth time, her long-suffering husband looked at her with glazed over eyes and said,“Why don’t you write this stuff down?” Thus was born Miss Hildreth Wore Brown—Anecdotes of a Southern Belle. If the genesis for a book is to shut your wife up, I guess that’s as good as any.  On top of that, Olivia’s mother had burdened her with one of those Southern middle names kids love to make fun.  To see “deBelle” printed on the front of a book seemed vindication for all the childhood teasing.  With storytelling written in the finest Southern tradition from the soap operas of Chandler Street in the quaint town of Gainesville, Georgia, to a country store on the Alabama state line, Oliviade Belle Byrd delves with wit and amusement into the world of the Deep South with all its unique idiosyncrasies and colloquialisms.  The characters who dance across the pages range from Great-Aunt LottieMae, who is as “old-fashioned and opinionated as the day is long,” to Mrs. Brewton, who calls everyone “dahling” whether they are darling or not, to Isabella with her penchant for mint juleps and drama.  Humorous anecdotes from a Christmas coffee, where one can converse with a lady who has Christmas trees with blinking lights dangling from her ears, to Sunday church,where a mink coat is mistaken for possum, will delight Southerners and baffle many a non-Southerner. There is the proverbial Southern beauty pageant, where even a six-month-old can win a tiara, to a funeral faux pas of the iron clad Southern rule—one never wears white after Labor Day and, dear gussy, most certainly not to a funeral.  Miss Hildreth Wore Brown—Anecdotes of a Southern Belle is guaranteed to provide an afternoon of laugh-out-loud reading and hilarious enjoyment.

This was our January book club book, and it was a very quick read. 


My thoughts before beginning this book; “Hey! This will be a fun. Southern belle, I am most certainly not. What a fun life to learn about!”

LOL JK. I thought this book would be about the southerners wierd obsessions with sororities and monograms, or having two names. It was not.

Instead, it was plagued with short stories that the author thought were charmingly southern, when in fact they were not at all unique to the south. I was constantly questioning whether this lady had ever left the south, or even met someone who was not from the south, because mostly she just described human beings and the weird, quirky things that they sometimes do. It was a constant stream of short stories, where one person did one “bizarre” thing and the author played it off like southern do these things all the time. Like nah, lady. You just associated with some oddballs, and they have those worldwide. Also, if I had to predict the age of the author, I would say about 150 years old because she was totally lost on commonplace things like thongs and 

I could write this book. I could write a book about random stories from my life, and it would be exactly the same concept as this. Some random person that no one knows or cares about telling random stories from their life.  Don't get me wrong, I love hearing people's random stories!  But this book was marketed as stories that described a lifestyle unique to the south, of which they definitely did not.

My thoughts while reading were as follow...
  • no, it’s not something only southerners do, its something anyone with common sense does
  • is this lady dumb??
  • THIS 👏🏼 ISNT 👏🏼EXCLUSIVE👏🏼TO👏🏼THE👏🏼SOUTH
  • yeah. I’m pretty sure she’s nuts.
  • also she whines about really fruitless things
  • does Florida even count as "the south?"
  • do you actually talk this way, or did you use a thesaurus to write this? because you just said the same thing two times using different words and it flowed like it came straight outta someone’s high school English paper after they used a dictionary to help them hit the required word count
  • I still don’t think Floridian counts as "southern...."
  • the phrase “lost her marbles” is most definitely not a “picturesque southern phrase”
  • Lady, lady, lady....wanting nice hair -not exclusive to southern woman! I mean I know I’m not an example of a non-southerner who cares about their hair, but believe me. People in the north are just as fussy about their locks
  • Ugh. This woman.
I got unnecessarily worked up while reading this..🤦🤦

12. nine, ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin (5/5 ★) 

Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined. Award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin weaves together their stories into an unforgettable novel about that seemingly perfect September day—the day our world changed forever.


I really, really loved this story.  It is a children's book - upper elementary, lower middle. I like this because I was about the age of these kids when the attacks took place.  I remember being in fourth grade, and they didn't tell us anything at school.  I remember things being off, but the teachers didn't say anything.  I found out from a friend who had been told by her mom after school.  It took awhile before I really comprehended.  This story puts the attacks into perspective for kids today who were born after it happened.  I got this from the public library, but I think I will be getting my own copy.


13. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (5/5 ★)


For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle's dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer.

I spent months continuously telling myself that I didn’t need to purchase this book, I could just wait until it was finally available at the library...44 holds later. Then I moved, and had to start the queue over again.

The East Area Rapist’s crimes took place long before I was born, but being as obsessed with true crime as I am, I’ve certainly heard a lot about it- especially since they finally made an arrest less than a year ago, after a four decade long search.

I loved all the details McNamara included and really appreciated the the research the she put into telling this tragic series of events. It’s hard to say it was a great book due to the topic of its content, but it was such an intriguing read for any true crime addict. She explains the crimes of the EAR, but also goes into detail about the detective work put forth and the technological advancements used to search for the killer. It’s factual, but full of a lot of descriptive analogies that keep the story flowing.

I was slightly confused because there were a fair number of editors notes, and chapters pieced together by the editor. I thought it was odd that the editor wouldn’t just have the author write the chapters. But then about a third of the way through the book I did some research and found that the author passed away two years before publishing, so the editor and another journalist/researcher finished the book for her.

I began this book at 10:30 one night which was a HORRIBLE idea. Do not read serial killer books at nighttime, Gretchen!! When will you learn!!! Then of course it was so enthralling that I continued to pick it up each night as my pre-bedtime reading because I just could not wait for the following weekend when I would have daylight reading time to continue. Alas, every bump and creak and movement of any variety that I heard from anywhere around me scared the living crap out of me, but it was worth it. I definitely recommend!!

14. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (5/5 ★)

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. 
 
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He's tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
 
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I'm not sure what inspired me to add this to my to read list, but if I'm honest it was probably because I liked the cover.  I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but that is absolutely how I choose books that aren't recommended to me/written by my favorite authors. I checked this one out from the library and as soon as I finished book #13, I picked this one up and didn't put it down until I was done.  It is definitely a YA romance story, and as long as you keep that in mind, its a great read.  The story is NOT about the girl's illness, though that does play a part. There is also a movie for this one that came out a couple years ago, which I will definitely be reserving from the library now that I've read the book!


15. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (5/5 ★)

Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. It was a belief that helped shape her own childhood and that of her brother. It shaped her view of her family and their dynamics. It influenced her entire life. Now, more than twenty years later, her father has passed away and she's in New Bern, North Carolina, cleaning out his house when she finds evidence that what she has always believed is not the truth. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why, exactly, was she on the run all those years ago? What secrets are being kept now, and what will happen if those secrets are revealed? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality. Told with Diane Chamberlain's powerful prose and illumination into the human heart and soul, The Silent Sister is an evocative novel of love, loss, and the bonds among siblings.

This one had been recommended to me time and time again, so when I saw it at McKay's for uber-cheap, I grabbed it. Another great suspense story to add to this month's already excellent list. I finished this book halfway through the 24in48 readathon, and now I am pausing my reading to work on this post because I need to decompress after finishing that one.  I have a habit of not breathing when I'm anxious.  I found this out the first time (and every time afterwards) that I have had blood drawn and the nurses have had to remind me to breathe.  I was reminded of this flaw today when we went shooting and I held my breath until all the rounds were shot.  Then again, when I released a huge amount of air from my lungs after closing the back cover of this book.  Holy cow.  I mean I kind of predicted a lot of what was happening along the way, but it was still so captivating that once I picked it up I couldn't put it back down. 

16. Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover (4/5 ★)

When Tate Collins meets airline pilot Miles Archer, she doesn't think it's love at first sight. They wouldn’t even go so far as to consider themselves friends. The only thing Tate and Miles have in common is an undeniable mutual attraction. Once their desires are out in the open, they realize they have the perfect set-up. He doesn’t want love, she doesn’t have time for love, so that just leaves the sex. Their arrangement could be surprisingly seamless, as long as Tate can stick to the only two rules Miles has for her.

Never ask about the past.  Don’t expect a future.

They think they can handle it, but realize almost immediately they can’t handle it at all.

Hearts get infiltrated. Promises get broken. Rules get shattered. Love gets ugly.


Man, oh man, does Colleen Hoover have a way with words.  I borrowed this book from my sister-in-law over Christmas, but the storyline of this didn't compel me, which is why I hadn't read it earlier this month like I had the other books I borrowed from her. Love stories aren't usually my thing, but the description doesn't do this story justice.  It was WAY better than it sounded.  The story flips back and forth between Miles and Tate's POV, but Miles story is six year prior to the current time which Tate's is set in which leaves you constantly wondering what happened to Miles that makes him the way he is.  The way that Hoover strings together words has me in awe.  Feelings I've never been able to put into words, she pens so flawlessly.  I've seen her name around in various online book communities, but had never given any of her novels a thought until Sarah told me I HAD to read this one.  She was right.  I will definitely be reserving more of her's from the library!



17. American Drifter by Chad Michael Murray and Heather Graham (2.5/5 ★)


A young veteran of the US Army, River Roulet is struggling to shake the horrors of his past. War is behind him, but the memories remain. Desperate to distract himself from the images haunting him daily, River abandons the world he knows and flees to the country he’s always dreamed of visiting: Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro is everything he hoped for and more. In the lead-up to Carnaval, the city is alight with music, energy, and life. With a few friends at his side, River seems to be pulling his life together at last.
Then he meets the enchanting Natal, an impassioned journalist and free spirit―who lives with the gangster that rules much of Rio.
As their romance blossoms, River and Natal flee together into the interior of Brazil, where they are pursued by the sadistic drug lord, Tio Amato, and his men. When River is forced to kill one of those men, the chase becomes even deadlier. Not only is the powerful drug boss after them, the Brazilian government is on their trail as well.
Will the two lovers escape―and will River ever be free of the bloody memories that haunt him?

Being completely truthful, the only reason I picked up this book was because Chad Michael Murray was a co-author.  When I say he was publishing a novel, I knew I needed to read it.  When I read the description, I realized it wasn't exactly a book I would usually pick up, so I got it on audiobook instead.  I find that some books I will listen to and enjoy, but could never get into actually physically reading it. Also, Chad Michael Murray was the one reading it, which would be enough to get me to listen to pretty much ANY audiobook! The story was okay.  It was hard for me to stay focused, which may have been because it was an audiobook, but I doubt it.  Honestly, the only reason I finished it was because I started it and I don't like to not finish things I start.

18. The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney (2.5/5 ★)

Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life. The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

EMMA Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.


JANE After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before

This story was odd.  I thought it would be more of a thriller than it was.  I never felt like I was waiting in suspense to see what would happen.  I did listen to this on audiobook, which made it harder to follow as the chapters switched between the two women's stories. I'm curious if anyone has read this in print and what they thought of it?  The audiobook was also read by a narrator with a British accent which I think throws things a bit, just because it isn't what my ear is use to hearing.



Reading Challenge: 18/50 books read in 2019 (36% Complete)

You can find previous book reviews here!