Sunday, March 1, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - February

In order to beat last years total books (116) I need to read ten books a month this year. I managed to do just that in January, shockingly, considering the books in the after series were LONG, and February as well. I'm beginning to run out of books on my TBR list that are available on audio, so if you have any recommendations I would love to hear them!

11. No Exit by Taylor Adams (4/5★)

A kidnapped little girl locked in a stranger’s van. No help for miles. What would you do?
On her way to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets caught in a fierce blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. With the roads impassable, she’s forced to wait out the storm at a remote highway rest stop. Inside are some vending machines, a coffee maker, and four complete strangers.
Desperate to find a signal to call home, Darby goes back out into the storm . . . and makes a horrifying discovery. In the back of the van parked next to her car, a little girl is locked in an animal crate.
Who is the child? Why has she been taken? And how can Darby save her?
There is no cell phone reception, no telephone, and no way out. One of her fellow travelers is a kidnapper. But which one?
Trapped in an increasingly dangerous situation, with a child’s life and her own on the line, Darby must find a way to break the girl out of the van and escape.
But who can she trust?
The last week and a half of January had been long and exhausting. I had some level of migraine/headache everyday, which I thought was just from regular tension in my neck and back, but apparently was from muscle spasms causing even worse tension in my neck and back that my regular medications did not touch. Just when I think I’ve made progress in the migraine world, another battle forces it’s way in. 🙄  Anyway, Feb 1 was the first day in some time that I had woken up 100% pain free. Now I’m smart enough to not get excited about that, because it doesn’t always last, so I took the morning to relax and what better way to relax than curl up in your papasan chair and read, right?

I may not have been tense before reading this, but I sure was after! I won this book from a readathon a year ago, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. I had heard great things about it though. 
In the beginning I felt like I had too much information, like there was no way this book could be as suspenseful as others had claimed. Boy was I wrong! Accompanied by hot chocolate and a lot of anxious cuss words, it was a quick one day (well, one morning) read that I could. Not. Put. Down. The ending had me feeling so many emotions, all at the same time, so strongly that I can’t even name them.  If you like suspense and haven’t read this yet, I would highly recommend it!

12. Look Alive, Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich (3/5)

There's nothing like a good deli, and the Red River Deli in Trenton is one of the best. World-famous for its pastrami, cole slaw, and for its disappearing managers. Over the last month, three have vanished from the face of the earth, and the only clue in each case is one shoe that's been left behind. The police are baffled. Lula is convinced that it's a case of alien abduction. Whatever it is, they'd better figure out what's going on before they lose their new manager, Ms. Stephanie Plum.

One more to go, and I’ll be caught up on the series! Pretty good since I only started it last June. Unfortunately it will be a few months before it is my turn on the wait list for book 26. I did the one on audio again because the performer is wonderful. These are really good pool/beach reads, but once I started listening to the most recent performer’a audiobooks, I couldn’t go back! 

13. A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry (4/5★)

Thirteen-year-old Meg and her sister Molly couldn't be more different. Molly is beautiful and popular, and Meg is brainy and introverted. Accepting these differences has always been difficult for Meg. When Molly falls ill, however, Meg must learn not only to accept Molly and her life, but to accept death.

I chose the author more so than the book for this one. Lois Lowry wrote Gathering Blue, one of my favorite books since I was in the fifth grade (also, part of The Giver quartet). Over the last couple years I’ve been trying to read books by her that I haven’t read yet.

Beautifully written, this was such a sad, sweet story. Meant for middle grade readers, it discussed birth and death and everything in between. I only gave it four stars, because at 28, I’m not the target audience, but I think I would have really loved this book in middle school.

14. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (3.5/5★)

It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships threatening Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety. 
As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere. 

Usually WWII historical fiction is one of my favorite things to read, but I’m beginning to think maybe I’ve read too many? I tried The Librarian of Auschwitz last month and could not get into it, so I quit. (If you’ve read that one let me know what you thought; I tried the audio version). A lot of people recommended this one, but again, I struggled to get into it. I’m wondering if maybe i just can’t get past the performer’s accents on the audio versions, and that was why I struggled. I read a couple I loved last year, but they were physical copies, so maybe I just need to go back to that. I always have a hard time when it isn’t an accent similar to my own performing.

Anyway, I powered through, and liked it more the further into it I got. I loved that all the stories were connected. At the end of the audio, the author described how it was based on a true story, and that made me like it even more. You never know how true the “based on a true story” books are. 

15. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (3.5/5★)

In Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told. 
“Take My Virginity (No Really, Take It)” is the account of Dunham’s first time, and how her expectations of sex didn’t quite live up to the actual event (“No floodgate had been opened, no vault of true womanhood unlocked”); “Girls & Jerks” explores her former attraction to less-than-nice guys—guys who had perfected the “dynamic of disrespect” she found so intriguing; “Is This Even Real?” is a meditation on her lifelong obsession with death and dying—what she calls her “genetically predestined morbidity.” And in “I Didn’t F*** Them, but They Yelled at Me,” she imagines the tell-all she will write when she is eighty and past caring, able to reflect honestly on the sexism and condescension she has encountered in Hollywood, where women are “treated like the paper thingies that protect glasses in hotel bathrooms—necessary but infinitely disposable.” 
Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not That Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.” 

I picked this one up from McKay's awhile ago because it was an inexpensive memoir of a name I'd heard, but wasn't super familiar with.  I've shared this disclaimer before, but I love memoirs.  Literally anyone in the world could write one, and I would read it.  I'm so intrigued with people's stories and memories, whether I know who they are or not.  Dunham's was no different.  Super relatable, I constantly found myself thinking, "yep, I get that!!"  Not that our lives mirror each other in any form, but I have battled enough of my own demons that I understood.

16. The Way I Use to Be by Amber Smith (4/5★)

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes. 

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be. 

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, all while learning to embrace the power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

Oh, my heart. This one made me feel something. I could not stop listening to it, but the story was absolutely crushing. I may have even tested up at the end. Not technically a true story, but unfortunately still a reality for way too many people. 

17. Twisted Twenty-Six by Janet Evanovich (4/5★)

Grandma Mazur has decided to get married again - this time to a local gangster named Jimmy Rosolli. If Stephanie has her doubts about this marriage, she doesn't have to worry for long, because the groom drops dead of a heart attack 45 minutes after saying, "I do."     

A sad day for Grandma Mazur turns into something far more dangerous when Jimmy's former "business partners" are convinced that his new widow is keeping the keys to a financial windfall all to herself. But the one thing these wise guys didn't count on was the widow's bounty hunter granddaughter, who'll do anything to save her.

Finally, I am caught up! I managed to snag a skip-the-line copy of this on audio this week, which was great because I was still 60th in line. Again, nothing to say about this book that hasn’t been said about the others, but definitely a series I recommend!

Has anyone read her other series? I want to, but need to make a bigger dent in my TBR list before I get captivated again!

18. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (3/5★)

Korede’s sister Ayoola is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead, stabbed through the heart with Ayoola’s knife. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood (bleach, bleach, and more bleach), the best way to move a body (wrap it in sheets like a mummy), and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit. 

Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her. 

I originally added this book to my TBR list because I thought it was a true story. (It’s not). I listened to it anyway, because I figured since it had such a long wait list it must be good. It was okay, but not nearly as thrilling as I expected based on reviews. 

19. Us Against You by Frederik Backman (4/5★)

A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, they’ve always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that Beartown ice hockey might soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in the neighboring town of Hed, take in that fact. As the tension mounts between the two adversaries, a newcomer arrives who gives Beartown hockey a surprising new coach and a chance at a comeback. 

Soon a team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; always dutiful and eager-to-please Bobo; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the town’s enmity with Hed grows more and more acute. 

As the big game approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt intensifies. By the time the last goal is scored, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after everything, the game they love can ever return to something as simple and innocent as a field of ice, two nets, and two teams. Us against you. 

I didn’t realize that “Beartown” had a sequel, or I would have read (listened to) it soon. I had originally picked up the first book of the series because it’s set in a hockey town, and I found I really enjoyed it. This two book series addresses a lot of societal issues in a sports setting which was really engaging. Definitely recommend!

20. The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser (3.5/5★)

Rebecca Musser grew up in fear, concealing her family's polygamous lifestyle from the "dangerous" outside world. Covered head-to-toe in strict, modest clothing, she received a rigorous education at Alta Academy, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' school headed by Warren Jeffs. Always seeking to be an obedient Priesthood girl, in her teens she became the nineteenth wife of her people's prophet: 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs, Warren's father. Finally sickened by the abuse she suffered and saw around her, she pulled off a daring escape and sought to build a new life and family. 

The church, however, had a way of pulling her back in-and by 2007, Rebecca had no choice but to take the witness stand against the new prophet of the FLDS in order to protect her little sisters and other young girls from being forced to marry at shockingly young ages. The following year, Rebecca and the rest of the world watched as a team of Texas Rangers raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a stronghold of the FLDS. Rebecca's subsequent testimony would reveal the horrific secrets taking place behind closed doors of the temple, sending their leaders to prison for years, and Warren Jeffs for life. 

By this point, I’m pretty familiar with Warren Jeffs and the semi-recent history of the FLDS. Regardless, it’s fascinating to me to read/hear the various perspectives of those who were once indoctrinated with these beliefs. It baffles me that when I was growing up as a normal kid, this craziness was happening in my own country. 

21. Willow by Julia Hoban (3/5★)

Seven months ago, on a rainy March night, sixteen-year- old Willow's parents drank too much wine and asked her to drive them home. They never made it. Willow lost control of the car and her parents died in the accident. Now she has left behind her old home, friends, and school, and blocks the pain by secretly cutting herself. But when Willow meets Guy, a boy as sensitive and complicated as she is, she begins an intense, life-changing relationship that turns her world upside down.
Told in an arresting, fresh voice, Willow is an unforgettable novel about one girl's struggle to cope with tragedy, and one boy's refusal to give up on her.

This has been on my to read list since I first started the list back in 2010 when I was still in high school. I probably would have liked it better had I read it then too. A sad story with a sweet ending, this is much better fitted for teen readers. That being said, I will happily pass mine along if someone wants it!

22. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (4.5/5★)

Grown-up Meg, tomboyish Jo, timid Beth, and precocious Amy. The four March sisters couldn't be more different. But with their father away at war, and their mother working to support the family, they have to rely on one another. Whether they're putting on a play, forming a secret society, or celebrating Christmas, there's one thing they can't help wondering: Will Father return home safely?

Forget the storyline, I LOVED the language of this book! I listened to it on audio and the performer did an absolutely perfect job at narrating it. My mom tried to get me to read this when I was younger, but I was stubborn and didn’t like to be told what to do. So at the risk of this being held over my head for the rest of my, you were right! Truth is, I decided to finally read it because I want to see the movie and i can’t watch the movie to a book I haven’t read because as a bibliophile, that is against my moral code. 

23. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks by Sarah Pekkanen (4.5/5★)

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love. 
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

This thriller came out in 2018, and as I finished my last audio, this one was immediately available. It wasn’t on my list, but I’ve been itching for another thriller. 
It wasn’t the best I’ve ever read (listened to). Half way through and I wasn’t entirely sure what the major problem was suppose to be. The ending definitely had some fun twists though!!

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

Reading Challenge: 23/100 books read in 2020

You can find previous book reviews here!

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