Saturday, February 1, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - January

New year, new book list! JK...same book list..but the good news is my TBR list is under 300 books this year! Hoping to be under 200 by next year, however that means I need to read them faster than I add them, which is quite the feat. I did much better at reflecting on the book as I finished it this month, which is why this post is actually done in a timely manner. Also, I’ve been sharing them on Facebook which seems to be more helpful for others!

1. After by Anna Todd (3.5/5 ★)

“There was the time before Tessa met Hardin, and then there’s everything AFTER... Life will never be the same. #Hessa

Tessa is a good girl with a sweet, reliable boyfriend back home. She’s got direction, ambition, and a mother who’s intent on keeping her that way.

But she’s barely moved into her freshman dorm when she runs into Hardin. With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, and tattoos, Hardin is cute and different from what she’s used to.

But he’s also rude—to the point of cruelty, even. For all his attitude, Tessa should hate Hardin. And she does—until she finds herself alone with him in his room. Something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before.

He'll call her beautiful, then insist he isn’t the one for her and disappear again and again. Despite the reckless way he treats her, Tessa is compelled to dig deeper and find the real Hardin beneath all his lies. He pushes her away again and again, yet every time she pushes back, he only pulls her in deeper.

Tessa already has the perfect boyfriend. So why is she trying so hard to overcome her own hurt pride and Hardin's prejudice about nice girls like her?

Unless...could this be love?”

Frequent phrases uttered while reading “After”: “OMG, You moron.” “You stupid, stupid girl.” “&@$?!%#.” And a plethora of other colorful choice words.

I reserved this whole series from the library after one of my favorite bookstagrammers Leslie Ann (@lalalifebookclub) posted about it as an “amazing train wreck that was so awful it was good.” Obviously I couldn’t pass up that description. Choosing an almost 600 page book to kick of my 2020 reading was especially ambitious because it is due back to the library on Jan 2, and I can’t renew it because of other holds placed on it by more folks who want to read this awfully written and annoyingly engaging series. Also, there is a show on Netflix about it that I can’t watch until I read the series. It is exactly as Leslie Ann had explained it. Trash. It reads like a bad Fifty Shades fanfic. But, like Fifty Shades, a trash Twilight fanfic, it is trash that I will wholeheartedly consume the rest of the series of just as quick as my eyes can scan the pages. The main character is terrible. She has some serious character flaws that I hope she irons out by the end of this series. And the main male is an absolute jerk, go figure. Yet here I am, readily refusing to read anything else until I finish the series...

2. Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich (3/5 ★)
"Larry Virgil skipped out on his latest court date after he was arrested for hijacking an eighteen-wheeler full of premium bourbon. Fortunately for bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Larry is just stupid enough to attempt almost the exact same crime again. Only this time he flees the scene, leaving behind a freezer truck loaded with Bogart ice cream and a dead body—frozen solid and covered in chocolate and chopped pecans. 
As fate would have it, Stephanie’s mentor and occasional employer, Ranger, needs her to go undercover at the Bogart factory to find out who’s putting their employees on ice and sabotaging the business. It’s going to be hard for Stephanie to keep her hands off all that ice cream, and even harder for her to keep her hands off Ranger. It’s also going to be hard to explain to Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, why she is spending late nights with Ranger, late nights with Lula and Randy Briggs—who are naked and afraid—and late nights keeping tabs on Grandma Mazur and her new fella. Stephanie Plum has a lot on her plate, but for a girl who claims to have “virtually no marketable skills,” these are the kinds of sweet assignments she does best.
Events take a dark turn when headless bodies start appearing across town. At first, it’s just corpses from a funeral home and the morgue that have had the heads removed. But when a homeless man is murdered and dumped behind a church Stephanie knows that she’s the only one with a prayer of catching this killer.

If all that’s not enough, Diesel’s back in town. The 6-foot-tall, blonde-haired hunk is a man who accepts no limits—that includes locked doors, closed windows and underwear. Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli isn’t pleased at this unexpected arrival nor is Ranger, the high-powered security consultant who has his own plans for Stephanie.

As usual Jersey’s favorite bounty hunter is stuck in the middle with more questions than answers. What’s the deal with Grandma Mazur’s latest online paramour? Who is behind the startling epidemic of mutilated corpses? And is the enigmatic Diesel’s sudden appearance a coincidence or the cause of recent deadly events?" 

Nothing new to say about his one that hasn’t been said about the rest. The plot line is nothing special - the same as all the rest, just new characters. I don’t know why I enjoy these so much, they’re just easy, low stress reads (yes, there are high stress reads!!). I do have to say, that a lot of her character descriptions are the same, or very similar from book to book. Which I guess I understand - I mean how many ways can you describe the same characters? But it does get old.

3. Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich (3/5 ★) 

Trouble comes in bunches for Stephanie Plum. First, professional grave robber and semi-professional loon, Simon Diggery, won’t let her take him in until she agrees to care for his boa constrictor, Ethel. Stephanie’s main qualification for babysitting an extremely large snake is that she owns a stun gun—whether that’s for use on the wandering serpent or the petrified neighbors remains to be seen.

What a strange plot line this was. Again, nothing special, but just stranger than normal. Like zombies? What?? Unfortunately Stephanie Plum still hasn’t gotten any smarter. As humorous as these books can be, especially the audio versions, her serious lack of intelligence drives me nuts. 

4. After We Collided by Anna Todd (3/5 ★) 

"Tessa has everything to lose. Hardin has nothing to lose...except her. AFTER WE COLLIDED...Life will never be the same. #HESSA 

After a tumultuous beginning to their relationship, Tessa and Hardin were on the path to making things work. Tessa knew Hardin could be cruel, but when a bombshell revelation is dropped about the origins of their relationship—and Hardin’s mysterious past—Tessa is beside herself. 

Hardin will always be...Hardin. But is he really the deep, thoughtful guy Tessa fell madly in love with despite his angry exterior—or has he been a stranger all along? She wishes she could walk away. It’s just not that easy. Not with the memory of passionate nights spent in his arms. His electric touch. His hungry kisses. 

Still, Tessa’s not sure she can endure one more broken promise. She put so much on hold for Hardin—school, friends, her mom, a relationship with a guy who really loved her, and now possibly even a promising new career. She needs to move forward with her life. 

Hardin knows he made a mistake, possibly the biggest one of his life. He’s not going down without a fight. But can he change? Will he change...for love?"

674 pages of pure garbage that I couldn’t put down. The writing? Terrible. The plot line? Repetitive. The over abundance of cringey sex scenes? Unnecessary. Mostly it was 123 chapters of me wondering if Tessa, the male dependent moron, was ever going to grow a brain while knowing she clearly doesn’t since there are two more books following this one. It was page after page of them breaking up and getting back together and breaking up and getting back together. Also, DUDE IS A👏🏼BU👏🏼SIVE👏🏼. (Not a spoiler, you’ll figure that out in chapter 1 of “After”). But why is this being glorified??? I’m infuriated with these characters and these books are absolute crap. But also I can’t put them down.. 😩

Also, I found that the Netflix movie is solely based on the first book, so I’m about to watch that. I’m told it’s different than the book. According to Todd’s Instagram, the script has been written and “After We Collided” will also be getting a movie on Netflix..

5. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (4/5 ★) 

"Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty. 

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption. 

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong."

This was such a beautifully sad, yet sweet, story. I listened to it on audiobook, so I liked that they use different narrators for the two different time periods. I love a story that goes between two perspectives, and this one was especially fun, because though you knew the stories were connected, you spent the whole story figuring out exactly how. Also, since it is based on a true story, I am now curious to learn more about the reality behind it. The only thing I didn’t like about this was the barely there love story involving the main character - it was really forced, pointless, and predictable.

6. The Heiresses by Sara Shepard (3/5 ★) 

"The only thing more flawless than a Saybrook’s solitaire is the family behind the diamond empire. Beauties, entrepreneurs, debutantes, and mavens, the Saybrooks are the epitome of high society. Anyone would kill to be one of them. But be careful what you wish for, because if you were a Saybrook, you’d be haunted by secrets and plagued by a dark streak of luck.

Tragedy strikes the prominent family yet again on a beautiful morning in May when thirty-four-year-old Poppy, the most remarkable Saybrook of them all, flings herself from the window of her office. Everyone is shocked that someone so perfect would end her own life—until her cousins receive an ominous warning: One heiress down, four to go.

Was it suicide . . . or murder? And who will be next: Aster, the beautiful but reckless girl who’s never worked a day in her life—and who’s covering up her father’s darkest secret? Her older sister, Corrine, whose meticulously planned future is about to come crashing down around her? Perhaps it will be Natasha, the black sheep of the family who suddenly disinherited herself five years ago. Or maybe the perpetually single Rowan, who had the most to gain from her cousin’s death.

A gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller about heiresses who must uncover a dark truth about their family before they lose the only thing money can’t buy: their lives."

This one another I chose to read due to the author. Shepard wrote the Pretty Little Liars series which I loved way back when. “The Heiresses” was most definitely a juvenile read, and while I would recommend it to upper middle school/high school readers, it’s definitely not a mystery for grown adults. That being said, I did not predict the ending at all!!

7. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen (3/5 ★)

"Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when Emma was twelve. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.

Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family that she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.
When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is also divided into two people. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.

Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.
For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her—Emma or Saylor—will win out?"

I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen’s work since at least high school, but maybe as early as middle school. I’m not usually one for “sweet” stories, I much prefer suspense and mystery, but she is an exception. It was her typically happy ending love story. Nothing super special, but fun for YA readers.

8. After We Fell by Anna Todd (3/5 ★) 

Tessa and Hardin’s love was complicated before. Now it’s more confusing than ever. AFTER WE FELL...Life will never be the same. #HESSA

It’s never been all rainbows and sunshine for Tessa and Hardin, but each new challenge they’ve faced has only made their passionate bond stronger and stronger. But when a revelation about the past shakes Hardin’s inpenetrable façade to the core—and then Tessa suffers a tragedy—will they stick together again, or be torn apart?
As the shocking truth about each of their families emerges, it’s clear the two lovers are not so different from each other. Tessa is no longer the sweet, simple, good girl she was when she met Hardin—any more than he is the cruel, moody boy she fell so hard for. Tessa understands all the troubling emotions brewing beneath Hardin’s exterior, and she knows she’s the only one who can calm him when he erupts. He needs her.

But the more layers of his past come to light, the darker he grows, and the harder he pushes Tessa—and everyone else in his life—away. Tessa’s not sure if she really can save him—not without sacrificing herself. She refuses to go down without a fight. But who is she fighting for—Hardin or herself?

First off, why was this book over 800 pages?? Second off, why am I still reading this terrible series? Someone described it as the “potato chip bag of a book series,” on goodreads, and that is so accurate. Once you start, you can’t stop no matter how much you intend to.

Just when I think Tessa is growing some cajones, she behaves like a complete moron again. “You’re borderline emotionally abusive,” she says. No honey, there is no borderline about it. I mean I know people who are abused don’t always  understand that they’re being abused, but my goodness!

This book was the actual worst. Until the last page where I was left with a cliffhanger so now I HAVE to continue. 

9. After Ever Happy by Anna Todd (3.5/5 ★)

Tessa and Hardin have defied all the odds, but will their fairy tale ending be turned on its head? AFTER EVER HAPPY...Life will never be the same. #HESSA

It’s never been all rainbows and sunshine for Tessa and Hardin, but each new challenge they’ve faced has only made their passionate bond stronger and stronger. But when a revelation about the past shakes Hardin’s inpenetrable façade to the core—and then Tessa suffers a tragedy—will they stick together again, or be torn apart?
As the shocking truth about each of their families emerges, it’s clear the two lovers are not so different from each other. Tessa is no longer the sweet, simple, good girl she was when she met Hardin—any more than he is the cruel, moody boy she fell so hard for. Tessa understands all the troubling emotions brewing beneath Hardin’s exterior, and she knows she’s the only one who can calm him when he erupts. He needs her.
But the more layers of his past come to light, the darker he grows, and the harder he pushes Tessa—and everyone else in his life—away. Tessa’s not sure if she really can save him—not without sacrificing herself. She refuses to go down without a fight. But who is she fighting for—Hardin or herself?

Yes, I’m still reading this series (1 book to go, and it’s the prequel). I really liked how this one began, and it actually generated emotion from me other than near-violent frustration! But then it went back to the same old, “I’ve made mistakes, but I’m not abusive,” gaslighting BS that the first three books had. I actually started to be okay with it again as the story approached the last hundred pages. And if the author would have ended the book about 17 pages sooner, I may even have even said I was satisfied with how the series ended. But alas, she totally ruined by stopping at page 500 instead of 483🤷🏼‍♀️

10. Before by Anna Todd (2.5/5)

BEFORE Hardin met Tessa he was a raging storm. DURING those first moments they met, he realized he needed to keep her for himself—his life depended on it. AFTER they got together, the world would never be the same.

Hardin and Tessa’s dramatic love affair became a vortex pulling in everyone around them. For the first time these others are given voice as they appear before, during, and after the events in original After novels. Alongside them, Hardin’s account of his first encounters with Tessa—which will change what you thought you knew about the brooding boy and the angel who loved him.

FINALLY I can read an actual book outside of this series because I am DONE. That is not to say I didn’t like this series, because I did, but I’m also very ashamed to say I liked it. I am NOT a love story kind of girl, which is what this series was. (Or at least I think that is what you would classify 3,000 pages of breaking up and getting back together and breaking up and getting back together as). “Before” was sort of a prequel, sort of an addendum, sort of an accompaniment to the first book of the series, “After.” It began with a quick blurb from some of the main character’s perspectives set prior to the first book. The majority of it was just “After,” from Hardin’s perspective, since the first book was only Tessa’s point of view. (The second, third, and forth books all switched between Tessa and Hardin, which I liked). It was kind of pointless, since I’d already read “After” from Tessa’s view, it was basically like re-reading the story over. I complete understand why the first book wasn’t dual-perspective, as it was pertinent to the plot line that the reader doesn’t know what Hardin is thinking, but I don’t think Todd needed to write a whole new book describing it. Then I ended with a few short blurbs from the perspective of a couple other characters. Honestly, it was an unnecessary addition to the series, but I would have felt like I left something unfinished if I hadn’t read it.

Reading Challenge: 10/100 books read in 2020

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You can find previous book reviews here!

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

Flashback Friday: Europe 2000

Back story on my first out-of-the-country experience.  I was in second grade when my mom asked me if I wanted to go with her and my aunts, uncles, and grandpa on her side of the family to Europe. (My brothers were too young, so they were staying home with dad).  My aunt (married to my mom's brother) is from Germany. We would be going at the end of the school year, which meant I would miss the talent show. I did NOT want to miss the talent show.  (Spoiler: I missed the talent show). Mom says I made the decision to go myself, I’m not so sure..

Over the course of 12 days I got to check the Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria, and Luxembourg off of what would turn into a never-ending travel list.

The journal accounts are not in depth and lack a lot of substance (I was eight, what do you want from me?) but I thought they'd be fun to share with some photos, regardless. I threw in some extra info in italics based on my mom's journaling in my scrapbooks. I threw my own memories in as well, proceeded by "Edit."

May 25, 2000 Day 1

Dear Journal,
Today I went on my first airplane.  It was fun, but I got a headache.  I was in the cities, then I flew to Chicago and then to Amsterdam.

Dad and the boys took us to the airport.  We took an early flight from Minneapolis to Chicago, which took 50 minutes.  Then, we had a five hour layover until we left Chicago.  The next flight took about seven hours to Amsterdam.  We shuttled form one terminal to another.  There, MaryAnn met someone that she knew from Mankato - small world! The last leg of the trip was our flight to Munich.

May 26, 2000 Day 2

Today was a very fun day.  We went to a restaurant called The Golden Goose.  We went shopping.  We are staying at a hotel for the night. We are going to take a tour of a concentration camp tomorrow.  Our plane also was in Holland.  Our suitcases got on the place after us so we had to wait for them.

Then the adventure began!  When we arrived in Munich we went to get our luggage and it wasn't there.  We arrived and not our suitcases.  After Dagmar straightened that out, we went to get our car.  But, there was no car for us! Dagmar and Lou got that figured out while we rested.  Everything worked out and we were on the way to our first stop.

Edit: What I remember most from the hotel is the hotel key! It was a real key, with strings hanging off the end of it.  It was like the kind of key you see in movies at fancy old hotels.  I also remember the breakfast being delicious!

Outside our hotel in Munich

May 27, 2000 Day 3

Today we went to a castle.  It was fun.  We went to Dachau.  We went to a concentration camp and it was kind of scary.  When we were at the concentration camp we watched a video that showed us what it was like.  The gas chambers were empty.  There was one house still up from when that happened.  We are in Füssen, Germany.  We rented a car yesterday. We had a fancy dinner tonight at our hotel.  I have some German money.  We came to a different hotel and we will stay here for two nights.  I got a necklace with my birthstone on it and it has dolphins on it.  I will be leaving on Monday, June 5th.  I will be going on three more airplanes.

When we visited Dachau, it was cold and damp.  We toured most of it on our own.  We cu tthe visi shorted than expected when it started raining. On our drive from Munich to Füssen, we drove into Austria.  We were disappointed no one stopped us at the border to stamp our passports.  The scenery was beautiful.

Glacial Lake in Austria

May 28, 2000 Day 4

We went to three castles.  They are called Linderhof, Hohenschwangau, and Neuschwanstein. They were fun.  King Ludwig built all three castles.  He lived in them all.  He never finished one.  He did not have a throne finished because he died too early.  We have a very nice hotel room.

Hohenschwangau was the first castle we visited on this day.  We took a carriage ride up the long, winding road.  We toured only a small part of the castle, then we had a long walk down!! Neuschwanstein was also a long way up.  We took a shuttle bus up a very curvy road, and then walked down the very steep road. On the way down, we crossed over the gorge on Mary's bridge.  We started up the path on the other side of the bridge, but had to return back.  Looking over the bridge, it was a long way down!

We walked across this bridge!!
At Hohenschwangau

May 29, 2000 Day 5

We went to Dinkelsbühl.  We went to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  We spend a lot of time shopping.  There was a big wall around the town.  We also went to a museum of dolls.

We left Fussen and headed up the Romantic Road.  We stopped for lunch and shopping at Dinkelsbühl.  This was a shopping mecca.  Then we continued on to Rothenburg.  Rothenburg is a city completely surrounded by a wall.  The wall was built to protect the city from invasion. Inside the wall, there were no parks or grass, so the houses had plots of trees, flowers, and grass patches. We visited both a doll museum (Puppen & Spielzeug Museum) and a medival criminal museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminal Museum).


May 30, 2000 Day 6

We went to Würzburg and a residents' castle.  We went to a fancy restaurant with Dagmar's uncle.  We went to Dauscheid where we met Dagmar's aunt, cousin, and family.  I met Dagmar's cousin's daughter Shelby and she is German.  Shelby played with me a lot.

We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast.  It was someone's home that had two extra bedrooms which were rented out.

May 31, 2000 Day 7

I stayed and played with Shelby while the rest of them went to a castle.  Shelby and I were swinging a lot.

Edit: I remember watching Sailor Moon with Shelby in her living room.  I can't remember if it was in German or English, but I know we both loved the show. 

June 1, 2000 Day 8

I went to some castle's I had five ice creams.  We, well the kids, got chocolate coins.

Edit: I ate A LOT of ice cream in Germany.  They had ice cream vending machines outside the castles, which I had yet to see in America at this time. When we went out to eat for lunch/dinner, Shelby taught me to mix mayo and ketchup to dip my fries into. I didn't like mayo OR ketchup, but they were good mixed!

Outside Eltz Castle

June 2, 2000 Day 9

TODAY WAS SO EXCITING. We drove to Paris.  We could not find our hotel.  It took us forty-five more minutes than we had thought it would to get to the hotel.  Our hotel is called Hotel Louvre Marsollier Opéra.  We took a metro and that is a subway. The money in France is called francs. The money in Germany is called Deutsche marks. We will be here two more days.

We drove through Luxembourg on our way to France.  We stopped just over the German-Luxembourg border at a rest area.  We got out to fill up with gas and to grab something to eat.  It was only a six hour drive from Dauscheid to Paris.  The countryside was very pretty.

The metro was the easiest form of transportation It was the easiest and most efficient way to get acorss the city. Our hotel room was on the sixth floor.  The elevator was no larger than a phone booth...we took the stairs a lot!!

On the metro
The River Seine
Our hotel
In front of the Eiffel Tower with Uncle Ho

Calling home to Minnesota from Paris

June 3, 2000 Day 10

Today we went to the Louvre.  We took the bus from the Louvre to Notre Dame.  Last night we went to the Eiffel Tower! It was fun! We took the elevator to the middle part of the tower.  On the Notre Dame we saw gargoyles.

The Louvre was our first stop of the morning.  We spent a few hours there and just saw only parts of the museum. 

Edit: Twenty years later, the thing I remember most about the Eiffel Tower is the people selling stuff. Knock off bags and other knick knacks.  They were selling illegally, and I remember the police coming and the venders running off. I also remember a little cafe around the corner from our hotel where we got croissants and Nutella! This was my first time having Nutella - I was in love! Also, Notre-Dame had A LOT of stairs. It became a game to me at the castles in Germany to count the stairs we walked.

Heading into the Metro

Outside the Louvre

Venus de Milo

Gargoyles outside the Notre Dame
View from the top of Notre Dame
On the top level of the double-decker bus.
(Those are headphones from the bus tour, not a stethoscope!)

June 4, 2000 Day 11

Tomorrow we will leave.  I don't want to leave.

June 5, 2000 Day 12

We flew back June 5, 2000.  We flew from Paris to Amsterdam to Minneapolis.  We almost missed our flight from Paris, but made it home safely.

Plane ride home to Minnesota!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

101 Things to Do in 2020

Okay, so I really slacked on prepping this list ahead of time, hence the 20 empty spots at the bottom. However, if life has taught me anything, Forrest Gump was right, and you never know what you’re going to get. I have no doubt I will come up with some ambitions to fill those last 20 spots before the end of the year!

A little background, if you don’t know about my 101 lists- I’ve never been much for new year’s resolutions. I think it’s stupid to wait for a new year to try to better yourself (sorry if you’re into that, it’s just not me). I’ve been making these lists since 2013, but only started publishing them in recent years. They’re basically lists of things I’d love to accomplish in a year’s time. I don’t get to everything, and I’m 100% okay with that, because my desires and needs change over the course of 365 days, but it is fun for me to look back and see what I do accomplish!

For more 101 list posts, click here

1. Take a chocolate making class at Goo Goo Clusters
2. Attend a Motion City Soundtrack concert
3. Finish the Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich book series
4. Get a tarot card reading
5. Read 100 books
6. Unsubscribe from junk emails
7. Watch all the Star Wars movies
8. Raleigh roadtrip
9. Be a part of my best friend's wedding
10. Read all of the books that I own that I have never read
11. Take a self-defense course
12. Glass blowing
13. Go to Hawaii
14. See 25 artists in concert
15. Charleston roadtrip
16. Make fried green tomatoes
17. Attend the Southern Festival of Books
18. Visit all the stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
19. Go to the beach
20. Go kayaking
21. Take a wine pairing class
22. Go to CMA Fest
23. Get a kitten
24. Take a cooking class
25. Be an extra in something
26. Go to an NHL game
27. Take a craft class
28. See 5 different movies in theater
29. Go to the Bluebird Cafe
30. Try a new food
31. Grow a vegetable
32. Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway
33. Finish hiking the Lookout Mountain Parkway
34. Go to Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin
35. Complete a puzzle
36. Celebrate National Taco Day
37. Get my tattoo
38. Take guitar lessons
39. See 5 artists I've never seen before
40.  Go to Belle Witch Cave
41. Finish my papercraft scrapbooks
42. Win something
43. Finish all of my draft blog posts
44. Re-learn the piano
45. Watch everything on my Hulu watch list
46. Watch everything on my Netflix watch list
47. Watch everything on my Disney+ watch list
48. Re-design my blog using my coding skills
49. Go to the Opry
50. Go hiking
51. Get the footlong taco in Evansville
52. Go to the Nashville Ballet
53. Have a Girl's Night Out in Nash
54. Check everything off my "Clarksville" list
55. Make another Nashville tacos post
56. Meet an artist I haven't met yet
57. See Lindsay Ell in concert again
58. Go to Country Boom
59. Get caught up/stay caught up on my podcasts
60. Use all of my cookbooks at least once
61. Finish my music wall
62. Update my map project
63. Go skating
64. Use up my stash of samples
65. Save my change all year
66. Return everything to the library on time - no fines 2020!
67. Make $1000 in Poshmark sales
68. Learn to juggle
69. Bake a homemade pie
70. Find the galaxy mural in Huntsville 
71. Watch 50 movies I’ve never seen before 
72. Play games at an arcade
73. Practice Spanish every day
74. Read all ARC I receive this year before their actual publishing date
75. Go to a water park
76. Ride a roller coaster
77. Take a trip with friends
78. Start using my ETSY shop
79. Go to a blogger event
80. Actually complete one of my to do lists
81. Try boxing
82. XX
83. XX
84. XX
85. XX
86. XX
87. XX
88. XX
89. XX
90. XX
91. XX
92. XX
93. XX
94. XX
95. XX
96. XX
97. XX
98. XX
99. XX
100. XX
101. XX

Friday, January 3, 2020

#gretchensbook2019 - December

Last book post of the year! Disclaimer: the majority of these books were from the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum series. I got hooked on the audio and couldn't stop! That being said, I haven't read a really GREAT book in awhile. While the Evanovich series is fast paced and fun, there is no super intriguing plotline. If you have a must read from this year, please let me know!!

*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!)

Since there were so many Evanovich books this month, I decided not to write a specific blurb about each one, because to be completely honest, the blurbs would all sound the same. I don't know why I'm so sucked into these books, but I am. There is no great plot line in any of them, and there is no in depth lesson, but I think that is why I've been so engaged. They're easy, surface level stories that make me laugh - especially the audiobooks!! I got back on the audiobook train with #12, and I'm glad I did.  I seriously cannot give enough accolades to the performer of this series - she is fabulous.My goal is to get completely caught up on the series in 2020. I have a list of my books that I'm reading on my door at school to promote reading, and a kid will frequently ask, "Do you like reading books with numbers?!"

101. Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich (4/5 ★)

Stephanie Plum is thinking her career as a fugitive apprehension agent has run its course. She's been shot at, spat at, cussed at, fire-bombed, mooned, and attacked by dogs. Time for a change, Stephanie thinks. Time to find the kind of job her mother can tell her friends about without making the sign of the cross.
So Stephanie Plum quits. Resigns. No looking back. No changing her mind. She wants something safe and normal. As it turns out, jobs that are safe and normal for most people aren't necessarily safe and normal for Stephanie Plum. Trouble follows her, and the kind of trouble she had at the bail bonds office can't compare to the kind of trouble she finds herself facing now. Her past has come back to haunt her. She's stalked by a maniac returned from the grave for the sole purpose of putting her into a burial plot of her own. He's killed before, and he'll kill again if given the chance. Caught between staying far away from the bounty hunter business and staying alive, Stephanie reexamines her life and the possibility that being a bounty hunter is the solution rather than the problem. After disturbingly brief careers at the button factory, Kan Klean Dry Cleaners, and Cluck-in-a-Bucket, Stephanie takes an office position in security, working for Ranger, the sexiest, baddest bounty hunter and businessman on two continents. It might not be the job she'll keep for the rest of her life, but for now it gives her the technical access she needs to find her stalker. Tempers and temperatures rise as competition ratchets up between the two men in her life---her on-again, off-again boyfriend, tough Trenton cop Joe Morelli, and her bad-ass boss, Ranger. Can Stephanie Plum take the heat? Can you?
102. Twelve Sharp  by Janet Evanovich (4/5 ★)

Welcome to Trenton, New Jersey, where bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's life is about to implode in Janet Evanovich's wildest, hottest novel yet!
FIRST A STRANGER APPEARS. While chasing down the usual cast of miscreants and weirdos Stephanie discovers that a crazed woman is stalking her.
THEN THE STRANGER REVEALS HER SECRETS. The woman dresses in black, carries a 9mm Glock, and has a bad attitude and a mysterious connection to dark and dangerous Carlos Manoso …street name, Ranger.
NEXT, SOMEBODY DIES. The action turns deadly serious, and Stephanie goes from hunting skips to hunting a murderer.
SOON, THE CHASE IS ON. Ranger needs Stephanie for more reasons than he can say. And now, the two are working together to find a killer, rescue a missing child, and stop a lunatic from raising the body count. When Stephanie Plum and Ranger get too close for comfort, vice cop Joe Morelli (her on-again, off-again boyfriend) steps in.
Will the ticking clock stop at the stroke of twelve, or will a stranger in the wind find a way to stop Stephanie Plum…forever?

103. Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich (4/5 ★)

New secrets, old flames, and hidden agendas are about to send bounty hunter Stephanie Plum on her most outrageous adventure yet!
MISTAKE #1 Dickie Orr
Stephanie was married to him for about fifteen minutes before she caught him cheating on her with her archnemesis, Joyce Barnhardt. Another fifteen minutes after that, Stephanie filed for divorce, hoping never to see either one of them again.
MISTAKE #2 Doing favors for super bounty hunter Carlos Manoso (aka Ranger)
Ranger needs Stephanie to meet with Dickie and find out if he's doing something shady. Turns out, he is. Turns out, Dickie's also back to doing Joyce Barnhardt. And it turns out Ranger's favors always come with a price. . . .
MISTAKE #3 Going completely nutso while doing the favor for Ranger, and trying to apply bodily injury to Dickie in front of the entire office
Now Dickie has disappeared, and Stephanie is the natural suspect in his disappearance. Is Dickie dead? Can he be found? And can Stephanie Plum stay one step ahead in this new, dangerous game? Joe Morelli, the hottest cop in Trenton, New Jersey, is also keeping Stephanie on her toes---and he may know more than he's saying about many things in Stephanie's life. It's a cat-and-mouse game for Stephanie Plum wherein the ultimate prize might be her life.
104. Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich (4/5 ★)

Personal vendettas, hidden treasure, and a monkey named Carl will send bounty hunter Stephanie Plum on her most explosive adventure yet.
The Crime: Armed robbery to the tune of nine million dollars. Dom Rizzi robbed a bank, stashed the money, and did the time. His family couldn't be more proud. He always was the smart one.
The Cousin: Joe Morelli. Joe Morelli, Dom Rizzi, and Dom's sister, Loretta, are cousins. Morelli is a cop, Rizzi robs banks, and Loretta is a single mother waiting tables at the firehouse. The all-American family.
The Complications: Murder, kidnapping, destruction of personal property, and acid reflux. Less than a week after Dom's release from prison, Joe Morelli has shadowy figures breaking into his house and dying in his basement. He's getting threatening messages, Loretta is kidnapped, and Dom is missing.
The Catastrophe: Moonman. Morelli hires Walter "Mooner" Dunphy, stoner and "inventor" turned crime fighter, to protect his house. Morelli can't afford a lot on a cop's salary, and Mooner will work for potatoes.
The Cupcake: Stephanie Plum. Stephanie and Morelli have a long-standing relationship that involves sex, affection, and driving each other nuts. She's a bond enforcement agent with more luck than talent, and she's involved in this bank-robbery-gone-bad disaster from day one.
The Crisis: A favor for Ranger. Security expert Carlos Manoso, street name Ranger, has a job for Stephanie that will involve night work. Morelli has his own ideas regarding Stephanie's evening activities.
The Conclusion: Only the fearless should listen to Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich.
Thrills, chills, and incontinence may result.

105. Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich (3/5 ★)

Recipe for disaster: Celebrity chef Stanley Chipotle comes to Trenton to participate in a barbecue cook-off and loses his head – literally.
Throw in some spice: Bail bonds office worker Lula is witness to the crime, and the only one she'll talk to is Trenton cop, Joe Morelli.
Pump up the heat: Chipotle's sponsor is offering a million-dollar reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the capture of the killers.
Stir the pot: Lula recruits bounty hunter Stephanie Plum to help her find the killers and collect the moolah.
Add a secret ingredient: Stephanie's Grandma Mazur. Enough said.
Bring to a boil: Can Stephanie hunt down two killers, a traitor, five skips, keep her grandmother out of the sauce, solve Ranger's problems and not jump his bones?
106. Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Trenton, New Jersey, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has inherited a "lucky" bottle from her Uncle Pip. Problem is, Uncle Pip didn't specify if the bottle brought good luck or bad luck. . . .
BAD LUCK: Vinnie, of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, has run up a gambling debt of $786,000 with mobster Bobby Sunflower and is being held until the cash can be produced. Nobody else will pay to get Vinnie back, leaving it up to Stephanie, office manager Connie, and file clerk Lula to raise the money if they want to save their jobs.
GOOD LUCK: Being in the business of tracking down people, Stephanie, Lula, and Connie have an advantage in finding Vinnie. If they can rescue him, it will buy them some time to raise the cash.
BAD LUCK: Finding a safe place to hide Vinnie turns out to be harder than raising $786,000. Vinnie's messing up Mooner's vibe, running up pay-per-view porn charges in Ranger's apartment, and making Stephanie question genetics.
GOOD LUCK: Between a bonds office yard sale that has the entire Burg turning out, Mooner's Hobbit-Con charity event, and Uncle Pip's lucky bottle, they just might raise enough money to save the business, and Vinnie, from ruin.
BAD LUCK: Saving Vincent Plum Bail Bonds means Stephanie can keep being a bounty hunter. In Trenton, this involves hunting down a man wanted for polygamy, a turnpike toilet paper bandit, and a drug dealer with a pet alligator named Mr. Jingles.
GOOD LUCK: The job of bounty hunter comes with perks in the guise of Trenton's hottest cop, Joe Morelli, and the dark and dangerous security expert, Ranger. With any luck at all, Uncle Pip's lucky bottle will have Stephanie getting lucky---the only question is . . . with whom?

107. Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Dead bodies are showing up in shallow graves on the empty construction lot of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. No one is sure who the killer is, or why the victims have been offed, but what is clear is that Stephanie’s name is on the killer’s list. Short on time to find the murderer, Stephanie is also under pressure from family and friends to choose between her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Trenton cop Joe Morelli, and the bad boy in her life, security expert Ranger. Stephanie’s mom wants her to dump them both for a former high school football star who’s just returned to town. Stephanie’s sidekick, Lula, suggests a red-hot boudoir “bake-off.” And Joe’s old-world grandmother gives Stephanie “the eye,” which may mean that it’s time to get out of town.

With a cold-blooded killer after her, a handful of hot men, and a capture list that includes a dancing bear and a senior citizen vampire, Stephanie’s life looks like it’s about to go up in smoke.

108. Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Before Stephanie can even step foot off Flight 127 Hawaii to Newark, she’s knee deep in trouble. Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare, and she’s flying back to New Jersey solo. Worse still, her seatmate never returned to the plane after the L.A. layover. Now he’s dead—and a ragtag collection of thugs and psychos, not to mention the FBI, are all looking for a photograph he was supposed to be carrying.
Only one person has seen the missing photo: Stephanie Plum. Now she’s the target. An FBI sketch artist helps Stephanie re-create the person in the photo, but Stephanie’s descriptive skills are lacking. Until she can improve them, she’ll need to watch her back.
Over at the bail bonds agency things are going from bad to worse. Vinnie’s temporary HQ has gone up in smoke. Stephanie’s wheelman, Lula, falls for their largest skip yet. Lifetime arch nemesis Joyce Barnhardt moves into Stephanie’s apartment. And everyone wants to know what happened in Hawaii?
Morelli, Trenton’s hottest cop, isn’t talking about Hawaii. Ranger, the man of mystery, isn’t talking about Hawaii. And all Stephanie is willing to say about her Hawaiian vacation is . . . It’s complicated.

109. Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is certain of three truths: People don’t just vanish into thin air. Never anger old people. And don’t do what Tiki tells you to do.
After a slow summer of chasing low-level skips for her cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds agency, Stephanie Plum finally lands an assignment that could put her checkbook back in the black. Geoffrey Cubbin, facing trial for embezzling millions from Trenton’s premier assisted-living facility, has mysteriously vanished from the hospital after an emergency appendectomy. Now it’s on Stephanie to track him down. Unfortunately, Cubbin has disappeared without a trace, a witness, or his money-hungry wife. Rumors are stirring that he must have had help with the daring escape . . . or that maybe he never made it out of his room alive. Since the hospital staff’s lips seem to be tighter than the security, and it’s hard for Stephanie to blend in to assisted living, Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur goes in undercover. But when a second felon goes missing from the same hospital, Stephanie is forced into working side by side with Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, in order to crack the case.
The real problem is, no Cubbin also means no way to pay the rent. Desperate for money—or maybe just desperate—Stephanie accepts a secondary job guarding her secretive and mouthwatering mentor Ranger from a deadly Special Forces adversary. While Stephanie is notorious for finding trouble, she may have found a little more than she bargained for this time around. Then again—a little food poisoning, some threatening notes, and a bridesmaid’s dress with an excess of taffeta never killed anyone . . . or did they? If Stephanie Plum wants to bring in a paycheck, she’ll have to remember: No guts, no glory.

110. Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Stephanie Plum has her sights set on catching a notorious mob boss. If she doesn’t take him down, he may take her out.
New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum knows better than to mess with family. But when powerful mobster Salvatore “Uncle Sunny” Sunucchi goes on the lam in Trenton, it’s up to Stephanie to find him. Uncle Sunny is charged with murder for running over a guy (twice), and nobody wants to turn him in—not his poker buddies, not his bimbo girlfriend, not his two right-hand men, Shorty and Moe. Even Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, has skin in the game, because—just Stephanie’s luck—the godfather is his actual godfather. And while Morelli understands that the law is the law, his old-world grandmother, Bella, is doing everything she can to throw Stephanie off the trail.
It’s not just Uncle Sunny giving Stephanie the run-around. Security specialist Ranger needs her help to solve the bizarre death of a top client’s mother, a woman who happened to play bingo with Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur. Before Stephanie knows it, she’s working side by side with Ranger and Grandma at the senior center, trying to catch a killer on the loose—and the bingo balls are not rolling in their favor. 
With bullet holes in her car, henchmen on her tail, and a giraffe named Kevin running wild in the streets of Trenton, Stephanie will have to up her game for the ultimate takedown.

111. Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Catch a professional assassin: top priority. Find a failure-to-appear and collect big bucks: top score. How she’ll pull it all off: top secret.
Trenton, New Jersey’s favorite used-car dealer, Jimmy Poletti, was caught selling a lot more than used cars out of his dealerships. Now he’s out on bail and has missed his date in court, and bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is looking to bring him in. Leads are quickly turning into dead ends, and all too frequently into dead bodies. Even Joe Morelli, the city’s hottest cop, is struggling to find a clue to the suspected killer’s whereabouts. These are desperate times, and they call for desperate measures. So Stephanie is going to have to do something she really doesn’t want to do: protect former hospital security guard and general pain in her behind Randy Briggs. Briggs was picking up quick cash as Poletti’s bookkeeper and knows all his boss’s dirty secrets. Now Briggs is next on Poletti’s list of people to put six feet under.
To top things off, Ranger—resident security expert and Stephanie’s greatest temptation—has been the target of an assassination plot. He’s dodged the bullet this time, but if Ranger wants to survive the next attempt on his life, he’ll have to enlist Stephanie’s help and reveal a bit more of his mysterious past.
Death threats, highly trained assassins, highly untrained assassins, and Stark Street being overrun by a pack of feral Chihuahuas are all in a day’s work for Stephanie Plum. The real challenge is dealing with her Grandma Mazur’s wild bucket list. A boob job and getting revenge on Joe Morelli’s Grandma Bella can barely hold a candle to what’s number one on the list—but that’s top secret.

112. Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Stephanie Plum might not be the world’s greatest bounty hunter, but she knows when she’s being played. Ken Globovic (aka Gobbles), hailed as the Supreme Exalted Zookeeper of the animal house known as Zeta fraternity, has been arrested for beating up the dean of students at Kiltman College. Gobbles has missed his court date and gone into hiding. People have seen him on campus, but no one will talk. Things just aren’t adding up, and Stephanie can’t shake the feeling that something funny is going on at the college—and it’s not just Zeta fraternity pranks.
As much as people love Gobbles, they hate Doug Linken. When Linken is gunned down in his backyard it’s good riddance, and the list of possible murder suspects is long. The only people who care about finding Linken’s killer are Trenton cop Joe Morelli, who has been assigned the case, security expert Ranger, who was hired to protect Linken, and Stephanie, who has her eye on a cash prize and hopefully has some tricks up her sleeve.

113. The Playground by Jane Shemilt (2/5 ★)

Over the course of a long, hot summer in London, the lives of three very different married couples collide when their children join the same tutoring circle, resulting in illicit relationships, shocking violence, and unimaginable fallout.
There’s Eve, a bougie earth mother with a well-stocked trust fund; she has three little ones, a blue-collar husband and is obsessed with her Instagrammable recipes and lifestyle. And Melissa, a successful interior designer whose casually cruel banker husband is careful not to leave visible bruises; she curates her perfectly thin body so closely she misses everything their teenage daughter is hiding. Then there’s Grace, a young Zimbabwean immigrant, who lives in high-rise housing project with her two children and their English father Martin, an award-winning but chronically broke novelist; she does far more for her family than she should have to.
As the weeks go by, the couples become very close; there are barbecues, garden parties, a holiday at a country villa in Greece. Resentments flare. An affair begins. Unnoticed, the children run wild. The couples are busily watching each other, so distracted and self-absorbed that they forget to watch their children. No one sees the five children at their secret games or realize how much their family dynamics are changing until tragedy strikes.
The story twists and then twists again while the three families desperately search for answers. It’s only as they begin to unravel the truth of what happened over the summer that they realize evil has crept quietly into their world.
But has this knowledge come too late?

I received an ARC of this a month or so ago, and figured I should read it before its publishing date of December 30th. This took me for-ev-er to get through. Like at least a month, maybe a month and a half, I started it some time in November. I couldn't keep up with the characters and who was related to who.  It jumped through time so quickly and was such a surface level story that the characters seemed to be best friends who hardly knew each other. I was half way through the book before anything truly "eventful" happened. That being said....if anyone wants my copy and are in C-ville, its all yours!

Image result for catering to nobody114.  Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson (2.5/5 ★)

Even though working a wake isn’t Goldy Bear’s idea of fun, the Colorado caterer throws herself into preparing a savory feast featuring Poached Salmon and Strawberry Shortcake Buffet designed to soothe forty mourners. Her culinary efforts seem to be exactly what the doctor ordered . . . until her former father-in-law, gynecologist Fritz Korman, is struck down—and Goldy is accused of adding poison to the menu. Now, with the Department of Health impounding her leftovers, her ex-husband trashing her name, and her business close to being shut down, Goldy knows she can’t wait for the police to serve up answers. She soon uncovers more than one skeleton in the closet, along with a veritable slew of unpalatable secrets—the kind that could make Goldy the main course in an unsavory killer’s next murder.

This was our December book club book; I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. I listened to it on audiobook, and it seemed to take forever to get through, though maybe that is just because the Evanovich ones that I listened to freakin' ten of this month are so fast paced. It was a fine enough mystery, but nothing special. 

Image result for i choose you by gayle curtis book115. I Choose You  by Gayle Curtis (2.5/5 ★)

When a killer chooses you, what choice do you have?

Thirty years ago, Elise and Nathaniel shared a horrific trauma that united them in grief. Now, grown up and married with a young family, they feel their worst nightmares are behind them. Until the day their daughter is abducted and murdered.
Both Elise and Nathaniel lost their mothers to a notorious killer who manipulated innocent victims into taking their own lives. Could it be that ‘the Watcher’ has returned for another round of the same sadistic game? Why now? And why are Elise and Nathaniel being targeted again?
When Elise’s family falls under suspicion, her world crashes down around her. Is there anyone she can trust, or is her whole life built on lies?
Only one thing is clear: someone left their cruel game unfinished all those years ago. This time the Watcher intends to win – once and for all.

This was my free Amazing Prime kindle book for December - I always choose the thrillers. It also was my pre-concert book, aka the book I read while waiting in line/in the audience for the show to start. I wasn't impressed. It was slow moving, and while I couldn't predict who the murderer was with certainty, I also wasn't engaged enough to care. 

116. One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn (4/5 ★)
Image result for one for sorrow book
Against the ominous backdrop of the 1918 influenza epidemic, new girl Annie is claimed as best friend by Elsie, the tattletale, liar, and thief of the class. But Annie would rather spend time with the other girls, since Elsie is so mean. When Elsie dies of influenza, Annie thinks she’s free of her torment—until the bully returns to reclaim Annie’s friendship and take revenge.

Mary Downing Hahn writes the best children's ghost stories, so I originally had gotten this book as a read aloud for my fifth grade classroom. We had started it, but then got 5 new students and our routine changed so I decided to just finish it on my own time. It was very slow to start, but then kicked up a notch! I would definitely recommend this for middle grade readers! It was a fun ghost story that also threw in some historical facts. 

Reading Challenge: 116/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!