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!