Thursday, April 30, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - April

This month started low on audiobooks since I NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE. Usually I listened to them in my car, or in the morning when I'm at school and getting set up for the day. I tried to play an audiobook when I went for a run or roller blading, but I couldn't focus on it and found I prefer music. Its easier to listen to when I walk though, or when I lay in the hammock.

42. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson (3/5 ★)

Mikael Blomkvist, crusading publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation. On the eve of its publication, the two reporters responsible for the article are murdered, and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to his friend, the troubled genius hacker Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, convinced of Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation. Meanwhile, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous game of cat and mouse, which forces her to face her dark past.

I read “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” for a literature class in college once upon a time, and I liked it well enough to want to read more of the Millennium books and this one was cheap at McKays. I don’t know. I wanted to like this more than I did. I had a hard time staying focused on it for the first half, but I did get more into it in the second half.

43. The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood  (4.5/5★)

Emily Warren Roebling refuses to live conventionally―she knows who she is and what she wants, and she's determined to make change. But then her husband Wash asks the unthinkable: give up her dreams to make his possible. 
Emily's fight for women's suffrage is put on hold, and her life transformed when Wash, the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, is injured on the job. Untrained for the task, but under his guidance, she assumes his role, despite stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Lines blur as Wash's vision becomes her own, and when he is unable to return to the job, Emily is consumed by it. But as the project takes shape under Emily's direction, she wonders whose legacy she is building―hers, or her husband's. As the monument rises, Emily's marriage, principles, and identity threaten to collapse. When the bridge finally stands finished, will she recognize the woman who built it? 
Based on the true story of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Engineer's Wife delivers an emotional portrait of a woman transformed by a project of unfathomable scale, which takes her into the bowels of the East River, suffragette riots, the halls of Manhattan's elite, and the heady, freewheeling temptations of P.T. Barnum. It's the story of a husband and wife determined to build something that lasts―even at the risk of losing each other.
I received an ARC of this book about a week before it’s official publishing date of April 7. I was a little unsure if I would like this one, but once I got into it I couldn’t put it down! 

I really had no idea about the history of the Brooklyn Bridge, though I’ve always had questions about bridge building in general. I loved how this book included not only Emily’s role in the construction of the bridge, but also pulled in the other battles women were fighting during this time. 

The book ended with a note from the author detailing which parts were fictional and sharing how the timeline had been adjusted. 

44. Cloud Warriors by Rob Jung ( 3.5/5 ★)

The discovery of the century... Anthropology professor Terry Castro, leading a summer-school program in the Peruvian rain forest, stumbles upon the remnant of a nation of tall, white-skinned warriors from the time of the Incan empire. But, when a simple accident leaves Castro poisoned, a series of events are set in motion that threaten his life, and the extinction of the tribe. With the help of a young medium, Carrie Waters, Castro tries to find a remedy and discovers the poison also has the capability of tripling life expectancy. Waters confides in her uncle, Vikter Glass, a pharmaceutical company executive, in the hope that the company can manufacture an antidote. Her innocent attempt to save the man she loves triggers a race to locate the lost tribe and its fountain-of-youth elixir. Scientific advancement collides with corporate greed as competing forces converge on the tribe. The ensuing battle leaves the survivors asking: might extending human life expectancy destroy society as we know it?

When I was visiting home last winter, mom and I paid our local bookstore a visit when the author of this book was there to speak. Just in reading the description, this is NOT a book I would normally pick up had I not met the author, which is probably why I put off reading it for so long. However, the bibliophile that I am, I couldn’t pass up getting an autographed copy, especially when it meant supporting my local book store. 

This book held my interest significantly more than I expected it to. It’s part suspense, part romance, part sci-fi-ish. 

There was one scene however that made me terribly uncomfortable. I literally shot up in bed reading it, thinking I must have misread. Nope. It really was that incredibly inappropriate. If you read it, I’m sure you’ll know which seen I’m talking about. It was bothersome enough that it took this rating down half a star.

I liked the way that it ended, but it was more abrupt that I hoped for; I wish they had given a little more.

45. Jay’s Journal by Anonymous (2.5/5★) 

Jay was a sweet, bright high school student who cared about his grades and his friends. He had ambitions. He was happy. And he thought he could handle anything.   
He was wrong.   
When Jay falls in with a crowd that's dabbling in drugs and the occult, he finds himself in over his head and doing things he never thought possible. Fascinated by the dark arts and in love with a dangerous girl, Jay falls deeper and deeper into a life he no longer recognizes...and sees no way out.
This is the second book edited by Beatrice Sparks, following “Go Ask Alice.” I read “Go Ask Alice,” in the car somewhere between Albuquerque and Amarillo on our SGD spring break road trip five years ago and loved it. Like “Go Ask Alice,” “Jay’s Journal,” was prepared in the 70s from a boy’s journal, letters, etc. and is supposedly more or less a true story. (There is a big debacle about that, but in my opinion, whether it’s true or not does not take away from the story).

I originally wanted to read GAA because it was a similar story to what Ellen Hopkins would write, and she is one of my all-time favorite authors. I’d put the rest of the Beatrice Sparks books on my to read list, but wanted to wait until I could score them for cheap at McKays - which I finally did.

I didn’t like “Jay’s Journal” as much as I expected to. It really wasn’t as engaging as I anticipated it to be, and I didn’t feel the emotions I usually do when reading books like this.

46. Not With the Band by Kelli Warner (4/5★)

Drama. Jerks. Another new school.

Kassidy Perry vows to avoid those three things during her senior year of high school. Unfortunately, it looks like the Universe didn’t get the memo. When her mom marries the football coach from a rival high school, Kassidy’s forced to move (again), enroll in a new school (again) and adapt to life with three stepbrothers, including the school’s star quarterback who’s barely said two words to her. And what’s up with her incredibly hot-yet-cocky neighbor who’s developed a weird habit of climbing the trellis to her bedroom’s balcony? Nothing about her senior year is turning out the way Kassidy planned—and that’s before a revealed family secret drops the biggest bombshell yet.

Jordan Lawson couldn't care less about football, even though he’s starting his senior year on the radar of college recruiters. He just wants to play music with his band, win a national contest with a record label and pursue his dream of being a musician. When those plans are threatened, his saving grace lies in the hands of his new stepsister. But how can he ask Kassidy for a monumental favor, when he’s partly to blame for derailing her life? And what if getting what he wants puts her dreams in jeopardy? 

In her debut YA novel, Kelli Warner weaves a humorous and relatable story about finding your way in a world you can’t control—and what happens when the people you least expect turn out to be the ones you need the most.

I saw someone describe this as “the perfect palette cleanser book,” and I completely agree. It was fun and light, not too serious, but I ate up every page of it. 

I received an autographed copy when it was published, but hadn’t picked it up to read until now. Chick lit is definitely my guilty pleasure kinda read, and this book was no different. I started it briefly yesterday afternoon, but then flew through the rest tonight. It hit on everything- romance, sports, family drama, music, you name it, but it was well-done and not overwhelming. I really liked the duo-perspectives that the story was told in.

Fun and upbeat, this is definitely a book that I would recommend if you’re into this genre!

47. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (3.5/5★)
A genius hacker who has always been an outsider. A journalist with a penchant for danger. She is Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. He is Mikael Blomkvist, crusading editor ofMillennium. One night, Blomkvist receives a call from a source who claims to have been given information vital to the United States by a young female hacker. Blomkvist, always on the lookout for a story, reaches out to Salander for help. She, as usual, has plans of her own. Together they are drawn into a ruthless underworld of spies, cybercriminals, and government operatives—some willing to kill to protect their secrets.

This is the fourth book in the Millenium (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) series. I skipped the third one because I don’t have it, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I liked this one better than the last! The story was easier to follow, and I was definitely more engaged in it they book 2. Though not as suspenseful as I like, I did enjoy this book, and it has renewed my desire to continue the series (and probably go back to read book 3).

48.  A Killer’s Mind,” by Mike Omer (4/5★)

Three Chicago women have been found strangled, embalmed, and posed as if still alive. Doubting the findings of the local PD’s profiler, The FBI calls on forensic psychologist Zoe Bentley to investigate.
Zoe quickly gets off on the wrong foot with her new partner, Special Agent Tatum Gray. Zoe’s a hunter, intense and focused; Tatum’s a smug maverick with little respect for the rules. Together, they must descend into a serial killer’s psyche and untangle his twisted fantasies, or more women will die. But when the contents of three inconspicuous envelopes reveal a chilling connection to gruesome murders from Zoe’s childhood, suddenly the hunter becomes the hunted.
A friend recommended this thriller to me last summer, but they didn’t have it free on the Libby app and I refuse to pay for Kindle books. However, for some reason Goodreads have me two free months of Kindle Unlimited, and this was one of the books available. Bonus was that it came with the free Audible version as well!

I was so engaged the whole way through, and had a hard time turning it off. Then, the ending made my eyes get all big and I couldn’t believe they would end a book that way, but I see this was the first in the series, so now I have to see if I can get the next book!

49. Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts of Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle (4.5/5★)

Glennon Doyle’s hilarious and poignant reflections on our universal (yet often secret) experiences have inspired a social movement by reminding women that they’re not alone. In Carry On, Warrior, she shares her personal story in moving, refreshing, and laugh-out-loud new essays and some of the best-loved material from Momastery. Her writing invites us to believe in ourselves, to be brave and kind, to let go of the idea of perfection, and to stop making motherhood, marriage, and friendship harder by pretending they’re not hard. In this one woman’s attempt to love herself and others, readers will find a wise and witty friend who shows that we can build better lives in our hearts, homes, and communities.

This is the first of Glennon’s three memoirs, and the only one I had yet to read. The other two were five-star reads for me, so I figured I ought to go back and read this one.

No surprise, I loved it as much as the others. Somehow, reading Glennon’s words ALWAYS teaches me something about myself. I was listening to this one as I was washing dishes and literally stopped in my tracks and said aloud, “Oh! That’s why I felt that way! It makes so much sense now!” She didn’t tell me I felt a certain way for a certain reason, but hearing of her experiences made something just click with mine. 

I found a lot of beauty in reading the first memoir last because it showed me how you can think you’re living the life you’re suppose to live, you can believe it with all your heart, but that doesn’t make it true. I know how Glennon’s life turns out in the years to follow, and though the Glennon in this book would have never predicted what would happened, it turned out better than she could have ever hoped and I relate to that so hard!!

If you haven’t read any of Glennon’s work, I highly recommend everything!!!

50.  Unqualified by Anna Faris (3/5★)

Anna Faris has advice for you. And it's great advice, because she's been through it all, and she wants to tell you what she's learned. 

After surviving an awkward childhood (when she bribed the fastest boy in the third grade with ice cream), navigating dating and marriage in Hollywood, and building a podcast around romantic advice, Anna has plenty of lessons to share: Advocate for yourself. Know that there are wonderful people out there and that a great relationship is possible. And, finally, don't date magicians.

Her comic memoir, Unqualified, shares Anna's candid, sympathetic, and entertaining stories of love lost and won. Part memoir—including stories about being “the short girl” in elementary school, finding and keeping female friends, and dealing with the pressures of the entertainment industry and parenthood—part humorous, unflinching advice from her hit podcast, Anna Faris Is Unqualified, the book will reveal Anna's unique take on how to master the bizarre, chaotic, and ultimately rewarding world of love.

Hilarious, honest, and useful, Unqualified is the book Anna's fans have been waiting for.

Whoa, we’re halfway there! Halfway to my goal of 100 books by the end of the year. According to Goodreads, I’m 20 books ahead of schedule. Sounds like me 🤷🏼‍♀️

I really like Anna Faris. I don’t know why, I just do. And even more so now, I think. Maybe it’s because she’s the lead in one of my favorite movies. Or maybe because now after listening to this, I feel I relate to her.

She started by sharing her love for learning about other people’s lives, something I love as well. And not in a nosey way, but in an I-love-to-learn-about-others way. She she shared the importance of having girlfriends and that your S.O. should NOT be your best friend, an unpopular opinion that I have whole-heartedly believed for as long as I can remember.

It wasn’t the most entertaining of memoirs that I’ve read/listened to, but I did enjoy her as the audiobook performer.

51. Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and the World’s Last Custody Trial by Michelle McDonald (1/5★)

On April 19, 2013, two of the Rucki children ran away from home in the middle of a custody battle which would soon make international headlines. For two years the media all but ignored the story even as the two missing girls’ faces quietly made their way on the backs of milk cartons. Then, exactly two years later everything changed and the Rucki divorce became a tabloid story covered breathlessly by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a segment on ABC’s 20/20. While the media focused on the salacious aspects of the case, they all but ignored the corruption and abuse. Now comes the inside story and the real story; it’s a story of domestic abuse, court cover up, and a compliant media covering up for everyone. A lawyer is forced to represent her client while “under arrest”, a flight attendant and mother of five with no criminal record is forced to share a cell with a convicted murderer just off death row, and a violent and dangerous man is never held accountable and now has total control over his five children

After reading “The Girl’s Are Gone,” and finding the erratic defense lawyer had written a book about the trials, etc., I had to read it. Luckily, it was free with Kindle Unlimited. 

Full disclaimer, I went into reading this with the bias that the author is nutso. I say this because I see this book as a work of fiction, or as manipulative writing, and not simply “the other side of the story.” So it got one star because I was engaged enough to know what she would come up with next, but not more that one because it was crap.

This was definitely written in an attempt to claim innocence for Sandra and discredit everything anyone who was against her said. 

The author spewed on about all these things that “happened,” despite the fact that these claims had already been proven incorrect in court, or by conveniently leaving out the things she/her client did that let to the results she didn’t like. My favorite part was when she essentially said, “I know you have it all on video but it didn’t happen and even if it did, it doesn’t matter.” 

Besides all that, it was very poorly written, and had a lot of editing errors. The book followed a chronological order, but it still seemed very all over the place - every paragraph feeling like it was trying, but failing, to justify something. 

The author came across as very unprofessional and disorganized. As a lawyer, I would have thought her arguments would have been a little more convincing, and sound less like a child trying to stay out of trouble by placing the blame on everyone else.

I would be very curious to hear how someone felt about this book having read it with no prior knowledge of the case.

52. In the Beginning by Gary Ponzo (3/5★)

THIS IS A SHORT STORY: FBI Agent Nick Bracco spent his teenage years being raised by his aunt and uncle. This is where Nick and his cousin Tommy developed their close relationship. Readers have often asked- How did Nick's parents die? How did he get into law enforcement while his Tommy was getting established with the mob? All these questions are answered in this tense drama which relives the most traumatic event in Nick's life. Fans of the Nick Bracco series and newcomers alike will enjoy this return to Nick's teenage years where one fateful night changed his life forever. The drama begins on page one and doesn't stop until The End. This short story will get you excited about discovering the Nick Bracco series all over again.

This was a short story that precedes an ebook series that I love. When I say short, I mean short, like so short I don’t know if I can even count it as a book.

It was interesting to see where the characters came from, but I feel like it could have been put into one of the full length novels, maybe thrown the chapters in sporadically as flashbacks.

The series is the Nick Bracco series by Gary Ponzo. I’m pretty sure they’re all free with kindle unlimited. I read the first four when I was in Costa Rica five years ago. The fifth book didn’t come out until 2017 and I only read it last summer, and I have the sixth book downloaded to read next. 

I highly recommend you read the series, and if I were to do it over I would have read this short story after reading the first book in the series!

53. Regretting You by Colleen Hoover (4/5🟊)

Morgan Grant and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Clara, would like nothing more than to be nothing alike.
Morgan is determined to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she did. By getting pregnant and married way too young, Morgan put her own dreams on hold. Clara doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her predictable mother doesn’t have a spontaneous bone in her body.
With warring personalities and conflicting goals, Morgan and Clara find it increasingly difficult to coexist. The only person who can bring peace to the household is Chris—Morgan’s husband, Clara’s father, and the family anchor. But that peace is shattered when Chris is involved in a tragic and questionable accident. The heartbreaking and long-lasting consequences will reach far beyond just Morgan and Clara.
While struggling to rebuild everything that crashed around them, Morgan finds comfort in the last person she expects to, and Clara turns to the one boy she’s been forbidden to see. With each passing day, new secrets, resentment, and misunderstandings make mother and daughter fall further apart. So far apart, it might be impossible for them to ever fall back together.
This one was a little different than Hoover’s typically stories. It included the romance, but I felt like the heartbreak was more severe, and of a different kind. This might be one of my favorites of hers. It hit a lot on the importance of being honest (which I’m great at) and open (which I’m not so great at) with your loved ones. The only thing I didn’t like was the performer’s take on the male voices...they were awful!!

54. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (3/5★)

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored. 

We look like a normal couple. We're your neighbors, the parents of your kid's friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with. 
We all have our secrets to keeping a marriage alive. 
Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.
I had seen good reviews on this one, but I had a hard time getting into it at first. I listened to the majority of the first third on a walk, so perhaps I was distracted. The second third I was a little more intrigued, wondering how it would end, but by the last third I was absolutely intrigued. I predicted most of the ending, and it wasn’t my favorite of thrillers, but it was still pretty good!

55. Camino Winds by John Grisham (4.5/5★)

Just as Bruce Cable’s Bay Books is preparing for the return of bestselling author Mercer Mann, Hurricane Leo veers from its predicted course and heads straight for the island. Florida’s governor orders a mandatory evacuation, and most residents board up their houses and flee to the mainland, but Bruce decides to stay and ride out the storm. 
The hurricane is devastating: homes and condos are leveled, hotels and storefronts ruined, streets flooded, and a dozen people lose their lives. One of the apparent victims is Nelson Kerr, a friend of Bruce’s and an author of thrillers. But the nature of Nelson’s injuries suggests that the storm wasn’t the cause of his death: He has suffered several suspicious blows to the head. 
Who would want Nelson dead? The local police are overwhelmed in the aftermath of the storm and ill equipped to handle the case. Bruce begins to wonder if the shady characters in Nelson’s novels might be more real than fictional. And somewhere on Nelson’s computer is the manuscript of his new novel. Could the key to the case be right there—in black and white? As Bruce starts to investigate, what he discovers between the lines is more shocking than any of Nelson’s plot twists—and far more dangerous.  

This is Grisham’s newest release, published yesterday, and is more or less the sequel to “Camino Island.” Really, it just has the same characters. You don’t have to read CI in order to read this one, however this book contains a lot of spoilers if you haven’t.

While still a legal thriller, this one didn’t deal as much with the law as many of his stories do. Like it’s predecessor, the literary world plays a part in the storyline, mixed in with murder and financial scamming.

It was a little slow for me in parts, but overall I enjoyed it!

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

Reading Challenge: 55/100 books read in 2020

You can find previous book reviews here!

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