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!!

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(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??
  • 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, 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!

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