Tuesday, March 31, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - March

I didn't actually think I would manage to get my ten books in this month, but then COVID made his nasty appearance and made that easy for me. As much as I want to, I'm not allowing myself to just sit and read throughout all this mess (contrary to what this massive March list might have you believe). I love that I finally found some five-star reads this month!

24. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Flannie Flagg (4/5★)

Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with is her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future. 

Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family’s filling station. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station. Then, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure. As Sookie learns about the adventures of the girls at the All-Girl Filling Station, she finds herself with new inspiration for her own life. 

I had high expectations for this one, since I LOVE “Fried Green Tomatoes” by the same author. I was not let down. This was our book club pick for like...a full year ago..but I knew I wasn’t going to make that meeting so I read FGT instead 😜

This one is written in a similar fashion, skipping back and forth between the year 1941 and 2005, so you’re continuously wondering how exactly it is the stories are connected.  

25. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (3.5/5★)

Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted. 
To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne—a socialite and philanthropist—and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.
Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn't have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces. 
I had seen this book recommended in a few places, so when I saw it was available on the Libby app, I snagged it.

The story was a little too similar to one I’ve recently read for me to love it, but I was very much pulled in to the suspense. The author had you rooting for the husband-stealing character, even though you know what she’s doing it wrong, but also you want to root for the wife! I can’t say much without releasing spoilers, but I’m satisfied with how it ended!

26. Stories I Only Tell my Friends by Rob Lowe (3/5★) 

A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood. 
The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the eighties, leading to his quest for family and sobriety. 
Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last twenty-five years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.
I ran out of audiobooks to listen to, and had a minimum of two weeks wait on everything on my hold list, so I checked this one out since I was available. Full disclaimer, I only know Rob Lowe because of Parks and Rec.

The story followed his acting career mainly, and though it touched on it personal life, I wish there had been more. I know acting is (obviously) a huge part of his life, but when it comes to memoirs, I want to read about the non-googlable facts. It was good enough that I wanted to listen to the whole thing, but wasn’t my favorite.

27. Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover (3.5/5★)

At twenty-two years old, Sydney is enjoying a great life: She's in college, working a steady job, in love with her wonderful boyfriend, Hunter, and rooming with her best friend, Tori. But everything changes when she discovers that Hunter is cheating on her--and she's forced to decide what her next move should be. 

Soon, Sydney finds herself captivated by her mysterious and attractive neighbor, Ridge. She can't take her eyes off him or stop listening to the passionate way he plays his guitar every evening out on his balcony. And there's something about Sydney that Ridge can't ignore, either. They soon find themselves needing each other in more ways than one.

If you like Colleen Hoover, you’ll like this one. It wasn’t my favorite by her, but I liked it enough to want to read the novella and sequel that follow it. The girl performer was great, but he guy who read Ridge was quite dull. The story was unrealistic, but engaging. I’m not much for love stories (despite the over abundance that I’ve read this year), but I really love Colleen Hoover!! 

28. Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson (4/5★) 

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.
But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.
Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?
The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape. . .
This has been in my queue to read for MONTHS. The problem was there was only a digital copy of it, and though I borrowed it via the kindle app half a dozen times, I never got around to reading it. (I really don’t care for digital reading, and really reserve it for traveling when I have to pack light). Then, I saw they were finally releasing it it paperback, which I was going to request through the library, but THEN I saw their was also an audio version, so I reserved that instead. 

I had sworn a friend recommended this to me, but then we found she had never read it, so I have no idea where my absolute need to read this book came from.

Anyway. I hit the freakiest part of this book as I was driving on the backroads home from Nashville (because there was a wreck on the interstate, no surprise) and then had to walk through the dark to my apartment with murderers on my mind.

And then the ending had me. I don’t know HOW I did not see it coming 🤦🏼‍♀️ a good thriller- I recommend!!

29. Open Book by Jessica Simpson (5/5★) 

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie. 
Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her readers if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first. 
Now, America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality tv pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites readers on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.
I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did. This was an “I’m-on-the-wait-list-for-all-my-books-it’s-4-AM-and-I-have-an-11-hour-drive-ahead-of-me” choice. It’s no secret that I love memoirs, but when it comes to the Simpson’s, I’ve always been more of an Ashlee fan. 

Regardless, this was quite possibly one of the best celebrity memoirs I’ve ever read (listened to). It discussed her career for sure, but it mostly was focused her personal life, surrounding her career and otherwise. Maybe it’s because I was never a fan, but I had no idea that she grew up so sheltered and involved in the Baptist church. In fact, she began her music career in gospel music. 

The beginning of the audiobook took some getting used to, because the emotion she used while reading felt very forced, but got better as it went on. Definitely well-written and very engaging. And the audio version and a few new songs at the end of it, which was cool!!

30. Untamed by Glennon Doyle (5/5★)

There is a voice of longing inside each woman. We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees, and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. We look at our lives and wonder:  Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this? We quickly silence that question, telling ourselves to be grateful, hiding our discontent—even from ourselves. 

For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living. 

Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is.

You guys 😍 full disclaimer: I’m quite certain I loved this book before I had even read it. Probably before it was even published. If you’re going to buy one book this year, let “Untamed” be that book. And if you haven’t already read Glennon’s “Love Warrior,” buy that one too.

I fell in love with Glennon’s words when I saw her speak in Nashville a few years back at a Together Live event. Then, I read her book “Love Warrior,” to which my response was YES. THIS.

Glennon’s Untamed book tour began in Nashville the day of its release. We received a signed copy of the book at the door and I was 50 pages in before her and Abby came on stage.

If you are content with sitting back and letting the world happen around you, then this book is not for you. But if you’ve got even a little flame inside of you, telling you that you deserve your best life, then order “Untamed” now. It is not a self-help book, but I don’t think it’s possible to hear or read Glennon’s words and not feel inspired.

31. Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris  (3.5/5★)

Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in 1942, where the commandant immediately notices how beautiful she is. Forcibly separated from the other women prisoners, Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly taken, equals survival.
When the war is over and the camp is liberated, freedom is not granted to Cilka: She is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian prison camp. But did she really have a choice? And where do the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was send to Auschwitz when she was still a child? 
In Siberia, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she meets a kind female doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing and begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.
Confronting death and terror daily, Cilka discovers a strength she never knew she had. And when she begins to tentatively form bonds and relationships in this harsh, new reality, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.
From child to woman, from woman to healer, Cilka's journey illuminates the resilience of the human spirit―and the will we have to survive.
I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile, as it came highly recommended, but I was hesitant to begin once i was finally off the hold list. I’ve been struggling with books of this era on audio, in part because of the accent reading them. 

It took me a bit to get into it, but I listened to the whole thing on my drive today. I haven’t read much about the Soviet labor camps, so while I wasn’t as engaged as I hoped I would be, it was interesting to me. 

32. Watching You by Lisa Jewell (3/5★)

You’re back home after four years working abroad, new husband in tow. You’re keen to find a place of your own. But for now, you’re crashing in your big brother’s spare room. 

That’s when you meet the man next door. He’s the head teacher at the local school. Twice your age. Extraordinarily attractive. 

You find yourself watching him. All the time. But you never dreamed that your innocent crush might become a deadly obsession. 

Or that someone is watching you.

I had this book reserved on audio when I found it at Ollie’s brand new for only $4. The waitlist on Libby was still 6+ months, so I had to buy it. 🤷🏼‍♀️ The story took me a little while to get into. I picked it up and put it down many, many times before I finally got a big enough chunk of it read that I was engaged.

This one wasn’t as captivating as other books that I have read by her, but it was still good. The story line was just a little odd, and not very in depth. I kind of had it figured out, but just hadn’t made all the connections. And of course, just as you think the mystery is all closed up and all the info is out there, she hits you hard on the last page!

33. Maybe Not by Colleen Hoover (1/5★)

When Warren has the opportunity to live with a female roommate, he instantly agrees. It could be an exciting change. 
Or maybe not. 
Especially when that roommate is the cold and seemingly calculating Bridgette. Tensions run high and tempers flare as the two can hardly stand to be in the same room together. But Warren has a theory about Bridgette: anyone who can hate with that much passion should also have the capability to love with that much passion. And he wants to be the one to test this theory. 
Will Bridgette find it in herself to warm her heart to Warren and finally learn to love? 
Maybe not.

This is the short novella between “Maybe Someday,” and “Maybe Now.” The waitlist for the audio was 6+ months, and since I already had “Maybe Now” ready to listen to, I had to sneak this one in quick.

Guys. This book is NOT what I expect out of Colleen Hoover. It is way more graphic than any of her others, and not in a good way. Instead of the two main characters from “Maybe Someday,” this novella is from the perspective of one of the roommates and his relationship with the other roommate. AKA it’s 80% a play-by-play of their sex life. Totally not worth reading.

34. The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman (4/5★)

In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.
Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.
Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.
I believe this book came highly recommend from....someone somewhere...anyway. It was on the hold list forever, so I assumed that must have meant it was good.

I’m usually pretty particular about the era of historical fiction that I read, and this isn’t the typical time frame. However, I really enjoyed this story! I knew literally nothing about 1950s Quebec. While this isn’t a true story, it does draw on true events.

35. I’ll Be There For You by Kelsey Miller (5/5★)

Today, Friends is remembered as an icon of ’90s comedy and the Must See TV years. But when the series debuted in 1994, no one anticipated the sensation it would become. From the first wave of Friends mania to the backlash and renaissance that followed, the show maintained an uncanny connection to its audience, who saw it both as a reflection of their own lives and an aspirational escape from reality. In the years since, Friends has evolved from prime-time mega-hit to nostalgic novelty, and finally, to certified classic. Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe have entered the pantheon of great television characters, and yet their stories remain relevant still. 

I’ll Be There for You is a deep dive into Friends history and lore, exploring all aspects of the show, from its unlikely origins to the societal conditions that amplified its success. Journalist and pop culture expert Kelsey Miller relives the show’s most powerful moments, sheds light on its sometimes dated and problematic elements, and examines the worldwide trends that Friends catalyzed, from contemporary coffee culture to the wildly popular ’90s haircut The Rachel. Taking readers behind the scenes, Miller traces the cast’s rise to fame and untangles the complex relationship between the actors and their characters. Weaving in revelatory interviews and personal stories, she investigates the role of celebrity media, world-changing events and the dawning of the digital age—all of which influenced both the series and its viewers. 

I’ll Be There for You is the definitive retrospective of Friends, not only for fans of the series, but for anyone who’s ever wondered what it is about this show—and television comedy—that resonates so powerfully.

Full disclosure: if you’re not a FRIENDS fan, then this would not be a five star book for you. For me, it was incredibly interesting. But I’m the kind of FRIENDS fan who quotes along every line in every episode without realizing it. 

I loved how it began with the creation of FRIENDS, including like background of the actors and the creation of the characters. Like, did you know that Phoebe only had a twin named Ursula because Lisa Kudrow played a character named Ursula on another show set in NYC that aired on the same network and same night as FRIENDS? 

It was also interesting because it explained a lot of references to the time period that I was unfamiliar with. (I turned three the year season one aired). I had no idea what other shoes coincided with it, and therefore did not understand a lot of the cameos that seem to be a big deal according to the audience shrieking.

I had to google a lot of things. Okay I didn’t have to, but I did. Like, the FRIENDS cast on Oprah after season 1, a French magazine having a FRIENDS fashion shoot with look-a-likes, the coca-cola commercial, etc. All these things I didn’t know about because I was in elementary school when it originally aired. 

Anyway, super informative. I highly recommend for any FRIENDS fanatics out there!

36. Maybe Now by Colleen Hoover (2.5/5★)

What is more important? Friendship, loyalty or love? Colleen Hoover and Griffin Peterson collaborate once again to bring fans of Maybe Someday back into the musical world of Ridge Lawson and Sydney Blake. And Maggie. And Warren and Bridgette.This full length novel is a follow-up to the New York Times bestselling novel, Maybe Someday. For the best reading experience, Maybe Now should be read after Maybe Someday and the spin-off novella, Maybe Not. However, Maybe Now can also be read immediately following Maybe Someday.

This was the sequel to “Maybe Someday.” It was written from more perspectives than the first book was, which was fun. I feel like a sequel wasn’t necessary, however, though incredibly cheesy, it was better than the short novella that went between the two. Except the ending, the ending was dumb and even more unnecessary than the rest of the book.

37. Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris (3/5★)

It's June 1814, and the royal families of Austria, Russia, and the German states have gathered in London at the Prince Regent's invitation to celebrate the defeat of Napoléon and the restoration of monarchical control throughout Europe. But the festive atmosphere is marred one warm summer evening by the brutal murder of a disgraced British nobleman long thought dead.

Eighteen years before, Nicholas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaford, was accused of killing a beautiful young French émigré and transported to Botany Bay for life. Even before his conviction, Hayes had been disowned by his father, and few in London were surprised when they heard the ne'er-do-well had died in disgrace in New South Wales. But those reports were obviously wrong. Recently Hayes returned to London with a mysterious young boy in tow--a child who vanishes shortly after Nicholas's body is discovered.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is drawn into the investigation by his valet, Jules Calhoun, an old friend of the dead man. With Calhoun's help, Sebastian begins to piece together the shattered life of the late Earl's ill-fated youngest son. Why did Nicholas risk his life and freedom by returning to England? And why did he bring the now-missing young boy with him? Several nervous Londoners had reason to fear that Nicholas Hayes had returned to kill them. One of them might have decided to kill him first.

I received an uncorrected ARC of this. One of my 101 in 2020 things to do was read all my ARC copies before their publishing dates. This was an ARC that I requested on accident, but it was good to step out of my comfort zone. Publishing date it April 7, 2020.

It’s definitely not something I would have chosen to read. I have very little understanding of this era and setting over all. Sometimes the language was hard to follow, or maybe I just wasn’t interested in it. I googled a lot of phrases. Ladies and lordship and Earls and Duchesses, I had a hard time keeping up with who the characters were for the first half at least.

Aside from all of that, the mystery was good. I did not have it figured out until they explicitly stated at the end. This is the fifteenth book in the series, so if the topic interests you, there are many more!

It's not easy being a parent these days. There are bills to pay. Kids to feed. And hordes of undead monsters to keep at bay.There are plenty of guides out there about how to survive the zombie apocalypse. All of them assume readers are young, fit, and unencumbered by children. In that scenario, the only living humans left will be smug, outdoorsy Millennials. That's hell on earth, even without the zombies.Only Dead on the Inside is the answer for the rest of us.Written by professional comedy writer and amateur father-of-four James Breakwell (@XplodingUnicorn), Only Dead on the Inside blends traditional parenting advice with zombie survival tips, bringing together two totally unrelated genres in a book no one asked for but everyone needs.This step-by-step manual teaches you how to raise happy, healthy children in a world overrun by the undead. Motivated moms and dads want it all, and that won't change at the end of the world. There's no reason you can't be a zomb..

I purchased this a couple years ago, but hadn’t got around to reading it yet. Now seemed like the perfect time, considered it discussed buying our grocery stores and hoarding diapers and toilet paper 🤷🏼‍♀️

I’m not a parent, nor do I intend to be one, but that didn’t make this book any less amusing. I’d heard of it because I follow him on Twitter (@XplodingUnicorn) and he tweets always give me a laugh. It wasn’t quite as funny as I’d expected it to be, but it definitely made me chuckle!!

39. Forever and Ever, Amen by Randy Travis (4/5★)

From a working-class background in North Carolina to a job as a cook and club singer in Nashville to his "overnight success" with his smash 1986 album Storms of Life--which launched the neotraditional movement in country music--Randy’s first three decades are a true rags-to-riches story.
But in 2009, this seemingly charmed life began a downward spiral. His marriage dissolved, he discovered that his finances had unraveled, and his struggles with anger led to alcohol abuse, public embarrassment, and even police arrest in 2012.
Then, just as he was putting his life back together, Randy suffered a devastating viral cardiomyopathy that led to a massive stroke which he was not expected to survive.  Yet he not only survived but also learned to walk again and in 2016 accepted his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame by singing the hymn that explains his life today: "Amazing Grace."
I bought this book as I waited in line to meet Randy at CMA Fest this past summer. I’ve listened to Randy Travis since I was a kid, but I hadn’t realized how little I knew about him, his life, and his career until I read this.

Very informative, describing from his childhood up until now, this book describes the ups and downs of both his career and personal life.

The book ended describing the Heroes and Friends Tribute to Randy Travis concert that I attended a couple years ago in Nashville. I remember it being a magical night, but reading about it gave me goosebumps!!

I really enjoyed reading his story! 

40. Lies You Never Told Me by Jennifer Donaldson (4/5★)

Gabe and Elyse have never met. But they both have something to hide. 

Quiet, shy Elyse can't believe it when she's cast as the lead in her Portland high school's production of Romeo and Juliet. Her best friend, Brynn, is usually the star, and Elyse isn't sure she's up to the task. But when someone at rehearsals starts to catch her eye--someone she knows she absolutely shouldn't be with--she can't help but be pulled into the spotlight. 
Austin native Gabe is contemplating the unthinkable--breaking up with Sasha, his headstrong, popular girlfriend. She's not going to let him slip through her fingers, though, and when rumors start to circulate around school, he knows she has the power to change his life forever. 
Gabe and Elyse both make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. Told in parallel narratives, this twisty, shocking story shows how one bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences that not everyone will survive.

I received an ARC of this before it was published...two years ago 😅😅 hence why the front cover is on the back of the book and vice verse.

This is a young adult thriller; the back says ages 14 and up, and was a quick one day read. It was very engaging, more so than I thought it would be. I felt a lot of emotions reading it - one being frustration because the teacher didn’t call child services when he obviously should have as a mandated reporter!! Anyway. I found myself very anxious as to what was going to happen and the ending was not what I expected which took this from a 3.5 to a 4 in regards to YA books. Definitely one of the better YA thrillers that I’ve read!

41, The Girls Are Gone by Michael Brodkorb & Allison Mann (4.5/5★)

On the evening of April 19, 2013, Samantha and Gianna Rucki disappeared. Two of five children born to David Rucki and Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, the teenage sisters vanished in the midst of their parents divorce.
The girls father, David Rucki, worked tirelessly with law enforcement to search day and night for his two missing daughters, following every lead while raising three remaining children at home. Their mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, used her newfound freedom to vacation around the world, abandoning her children. And as the investigation intensified, catching the attention of the media, Sandra also disappeared. 

The Girls Are Gone is the true story of two sisters who went missing, the father who kept searching, and the adults who conspired to keep the truth hidden.

I had an autographed copy of this in my TBR pile, but I couldn’t remember where it came from. Found out my mom had gotten it at our local bookstore back home  when the authors were there to speak.

Anyway, this is NOT your average true crime story. It is a long, time consuming book, with A LOT going on, which is I think why I hadn’t picked it up until now. Holy cow, guys. I couldn’t put this book down!! It still took me three days to get through, but I also found myself googling things every other page...a reporter’s name, and article, a photo, a YouTube clip...once to watch a whole 20/20 episode about the case...

The story covers the events (of which there are many) of a recent case in my home state of Minnesota. Shockingly, I had not heard of this case, despite it being just a couple hours from my hometown, and only an hour or so from my college town- where I was living at the time most of this took place.

The first quarter of the book is all about the divorce and custody issues of the parents of the missing girls. You guys. This woman (the mother) is seriously deranged and the impact she had on her children’s development is terrifying. I don’t know if she is a complete moron, or a master manipulator. Maybe it’s because I cannot tell a lie to save my life, but she spews tales like she actually believes them! (Which maybe she does??)

And her fourth? fifth? lawyer was just as bonkers!  Apparently she has written a short hundred-something page ebook on her side of the story which I am eager to read if only to understand what could possible be going on in her head. Full disclosure - this book is biased and goes towards the side of the father, but like....for any rational person, I honestly don’t know if it’s possible not to.

This whole story just blew my mind. How people exist in the world and get away with things for so long truly baffles me. If you’re not interested in legal proceedings, then you would have a hard time with this book. It includes a lot of court transcript which I think is pertinent in really getting the true picture. You also have to either be semi-familiar with court proceedings, or make google your friend and learn as you go, otherwise this would be a lot to handle. If you are interested however, then this is a MUST READ!! The only thing keeping it from a full 5 stars is that there were a lot of editing errors that were missed prior to publishing.

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

Reading Challenge: 41/100 books read in 2020

You can find previous book reviews here!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

My Top 17 All-Time Favorite Books

I'm always thrown when people asked for my absolute top recommendations. I read so many books that sometimes I can't remember my absolute favorites at the drop of a hat. Anyway, I went through my book shelves and compiled a list of my all time favorite books in hopes that it gives you something to read while you social distance yourself from the outside world! (All books are available via e-book as well!)

Personal Development

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (available in e-book)

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.
In this lively and compelling account—now updated with new material by the author—Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.


Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle (available in e-book)

A memoir of betrayal and self-discovery by bestselling author Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are all born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (available in e-book)

There is a voice of longing inside each woman. We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees, and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. We look at our lives and wonder: Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this? We quickly silence that question, telling ourselves to be grateful, hiding our discontent—even from ourselves.

For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living.

Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (available in e-book)

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy—exasperating, irresponsible, and beguiling—does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

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

Angela’s Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt’s astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman (available in e-book)

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

Etched in Sand by Regina Calceterra (available in e-book)

Regina Calcaterra is a successful lawyer, former New York State official, and foster youth activist. Her painful early life, however, was quite different. Regina and her four siblings survived an abusive and painful childhood only to find themselves faced with the challenges of the foster-care system and intermittent homelessness in the shadows of Manhattan and the Hamptons.
A true-life rags-to-riches story, Etched in Sand chronicles Regina’s rising above her past, while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together through it all.
Beautifully written, with heartbreaking honesty, Etched in Sand is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American Dream is still within reach for those who have the desire and the determination to succeed.


Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (available in e-book, also - soon to be a Netflix mini-series!)

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.
When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.
And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.
David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?
As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

The Chamber by John Grisham (available in e-book)

In the corridors of Chicago's top law firm:

Twenty-six-year-old Adam Hall stands on the brink  of a brilliant legal career. Now he is risking it  all for a death-row killer and an impossible case.  

Maximum Security Unit, Mississippi State  Prison:

Sam Cayhall is a former Klansman  and unrepentant racist now facing the death penalty  for a fatal bombing in 1967. He has run out of  chances -- except for one: the young, liberal Chicago  lawyer who just happens to be his grandson. While  the executioners prepare the gas chamber, while  the protesters gather and the TV  cameras wait, Adam has only days, hours, minutes  to save his client. For between the two men is a  chasm of shame, family lies, and secrets --  including the one secret that could save Sam Cayhall's  life...or cost Adam his.

The Never List by Koethi Zan (available in e-book)

For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”:  a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs.  But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.

Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

Historical Fiction

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (available in e-book)

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

Young Adult/Middle Grade

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (available in e-book)

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Bloomability by Sharon Creech (available in e-book)

The kidnappers are actually her Aunt Sandy and Uncle Max, but that doesn't matter to Domenica Santolina Doone, better known as Dinnie. She feels as if she's being taken out of the country against her will. Certainly no one asked her opinion. Dinnie is used to change-with her family constantly moving from state to state while her father searches for one new "opportunity" after another. But when her aunt and uncle whisk her away to an international school in Lugano, Switzerland, Dinnie feels that this might be one "opportunity"that isn't right for her.
Suddenly Dinnie's surrounded by kids from many different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. Home, and her first life, seem so far away. Can she adapt to a new country, a new home, and new friends? Or will it just be easier to close herself off-just survive-and never realize all the "bloomabilities" that are possible?

All American Girl by Meg Cabot (available in e-book)

Samantha Madison is just your average sophomore gal living in DC when, in an inadvertent moment sandwiched between cookie-buying and CD-perusing, she puts a stop to an attempt on the life of the president. Before she can say “MTV2” she’s appointed Teen Ambassador to the UN and has caught the eye of the very cute First Son.
Featuring Meg Cabot’s delightful sense of humor and signature romance that made The Princess Diaries such a hit, this New York Times bestselling standalone novel is sure to please fans and new readers alike.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (available in e-book)

In her strongest work to date, Lois Lowry once again creates a mysterious but plausible future world. It is a society ruled by savagery and deceit that shuns and discards the weak. Left orphaned and physically flawed, young Kira faces a frightening, uncertain future. Blessed with an almost magical talent that keeps her alive, she struggles with ever broadening responsibilities in her quest for truth, discovering things that will change her life forever.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman (available in e-book)

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

Looking for Alaska by John Green (available in e-book, also has a Hulu series)

First drink. First prank. First friend. First love.

Last words.

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words—and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet François Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young, who will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Identical by Ellen Hopkins (available in e-book, anything by her is fabulous!)

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are 16-year-old identical twins, the daughters of a district court judge father and politician mother running for US Congress. Everything on the surface seems fine, but underneath run very deep and damaging secrets. What really happened when the girls were 7 years old in that car accident that Daddy caused? And why is Mom never home, always running far away to pursue some new dream? Raeanne goes after painkillers, drugs, alcohol, and sex to dull her pain and anger. Kaeleigh always tries so hard to be the good girl -- her father's perfect little flower. But when the girls were 9, Daddy started to turn to his beloved Kaeleigh in ways a father never should and has been sexually abusing her for years. For Raeanne, she needs to numb the pain of not being Daddy's favorite; for Kaeleigh, she wants to do everything she can to feel something normal, even if it means cutting herself and vomiting after every binge.

How Kaeleigh and Raeanne figure out just what it means to be whole again when their entire world has been torn to shreads is the guts and heart of this powerful, disturbing, and utterly remarkable book.