Wednesday, March 3, 2021

#gretchensbooks2021 - February


A good mix of audio and physical books this month! I finished the HP series, listened to roughly half of the Bridgerton books, and finished the anonymous diary books that I hadn't yet read. (Though I did find that a new one came out in 2019, so I'll have to get that!) I would have liked to get in two more books this month, but that's okay. I did finish two grad school classes and started a do textbooks count?? 


16. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn (4/5⭐️)

Can there be any greater challenge to London's Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke?—Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1813

By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend's sister—the lovely and almost-on-the-shelf—Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth—it's all an elaborate ruse to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable.

But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it's hard to remember that their courtship is a sham. Maybe it's his devilish smile, certainly it's the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her . . . but somehow Daphne is falling for the dashing duke . . . for real! And now she must do the impossible and convince the handsome rogue that their clever little scheme deserves a slight alteration, and that nothing makes quite as much sense as falling in love.

This was 100% not the kind of book I would have ever chosen to read, and Bridgerton was 100% not the type of show I would have chosen to watch, but once we started watching it on Netflix over holiday break, I binged the whole thing in two days. 

At that point I figured I would give the book series a go. 

It’s like Gossip Girl, but 200 years earlier. There are definitely some differences between the book and the show, and while I really enjoyed the book, I think the changes Shonda Rimes made for cinematic purposes made complete sense. 

I’m told the next book is from Anthony’s perspective, so I’m excited to listen to that one next!


17. The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn (2.5/5⭐️)

The first book in the exciting Bar Code series.

Individuality vs. conformity. Identity vs. access. Freedom vs. control. The bar code tattoo. 

The bar code tattoo. Everybody's getting it. It will make your life easier, they say. It will hook you in. It will become your identity. 

But what if you say no? What if you don't want to become a code? For Kayla, this one choice changes everything. She becomes an outcast in her high school. Dangerous things start happening to her family. There's no option but to run . . . for her life.

Individuality vs. conformity. 
Identity vs. access. 
Freedom vs. control. 
The bar code tattoo.

I think I ordered this because it was cheap in my Scholastic book order, and it sounded like something I would have enjoyed in high school, so I wanted to give it a go.

It was a bit underdeveloped, and I think could have been a much better story if it had been expanded. The pacing from one event to the next was incredibly quick. It definitely could have used some more drama, as there was really no plot development. Also, there wasn’t a lot of depth to the characters. 

Though I did enjoy the first book, I don’t think I’ll go on to read the remainder of the series. There just wasn’t enough in book one to leave me wanting more. The book had potential, but didn’t quite meet my expectations.


18. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (3/5⭐️)

Vermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants—the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the ones too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall, and local legend says the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their friendship blossoming—until one of them mysteriously disappears.... 

Vermont, 2014. Twenty years ago, journalist Fiona Sheridan's elder sister’s body was found in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And although her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of the murder, Fiona can’t stop revisiting the events, unable to shake the feeling that something was never right about the case. 

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during renovations links the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past—and a voice that won’t be silenced....

I feel like this was highly recommended, but I wasn’t super impressed with it. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t keep me hooked. The twists towards the end were very welcomed, but there was no big “WHOA! WHAT?!” moment for me. 

I did like the twisting of the two storylines/POVs, but I preferred the ‘past’ story more than the ‘present.’ It was quick paced, but a little too much so towards the end. Usually I really enjoy ghosty stories like this one, but it just didn’t really hit the mark for me.


19. Lucy in the Sky by Anonymous (2/5⭐️)

The author of this diary began journaling on her sixteenth birthday. She lived in an upper middle class neighborhood in Santa Monica with her mom, dad, and Berkeley-bound older brother. She was a good girl, living a good life...but one party changed everything. One party, where she took one taste—and liked it. Really liked it.

Social drinking and drugging lead to more, faster, harder... She convinced herself that she was no different from anyone else who liked to party. But the evidence indicates otherwise: Soon she was she hanging out with an edgy crowd, blowing off school and everything she used to care about, all to find her next high.
But what goes up must come down, and everything—from her first swig, to her last breath—is chronicled in the diary she left behind.

I grabbed the whole collection of these “Anonymous diaries” at McKay’s a little over a year ago, and since these little books are at the top of my stacked-according-to-size TBR pile, they’re getting read first. 

I really loved “Go Ask Alice,” but wasn’t super thrilled with “Jay’s Journal.” This one didn’t do a lot for me either. I think the author did a great job in writing like a teenage girl, but the story felt repetitive, like I’d read it before. (Probably because it’s basically “Go Ask Alice,” except not as good and I feel like it glorified drugs and alcohol which I don’t think was it’s intended purpose). 

The main character was a bit annoying, but also she was a (very immature) 16 year old girl, so it was kind of to be expected. I don’t know. Maybe if I had read this when I was younger, or before I read Go As Alice, I may have liked it more. 


20. The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (2.5/5⭐️)

Thursday’s husband, Seth, has two other wives. She’s never met them, and she doesn’t know anything about them. She agreed to this unusual arrangement because she’s so crazy about him. 

But one day, she finds something. Something that tells a very different—and horrifying—story about the man she married. 

What follows is one of the most twisted, shocking thrillers you’ll ever read. 

You’ll have to grab a copy to find out why.

A friend of mine was reading this, and I thought the description sounded good, so I added it to my list. I love a good marital thriller! (Probably why I choose to stay single 😝)

I’m torn on how I felt about this one. I feel like there was only two ways this could have ended, and at no point could there have been any other path for the story to take. I was engaged throughout the whole story, but overall it was a pretty flat plot line. 

I don’t know. It’s hard to say too much about this without giving things away. I’ll have to try another book by this author and see if I like it any better. 


21. The Book of David by Anonymous (4.5/5⭐️)

His secret is his downfall. A riveting, first-person tale in the tradition of Go Ask Alice and Lucy in the Sky

The author of this fictional diary began writing for a class assignment, but soon it became much more to him. As the star player of his high school football team, he faces a lot of pressure and expectation. Not to mention the secret that he’s harboring inside. The secret that could change everything. 

And as David quickly learns, nothing stays secret forever. 

His innermost thoughts and feelings are chronicled in the diary he left behind.

Oh I loved this one!! There was something so heart-warming reading about the main character learning about who he was and coming to terms with what he wanted, despite what his world around him wanted. There was a brief moment where I thought I was going to hate the ending, but then it rectified itself.

I really loved David and Jon, both as individual characters, and together. They were both written as really genuine people. Jon had so much insight into life, and David had so much growth to form that same insight. It was hard not to feel strong emotions when reading this, essentially for what the characters were going through, but also for actually people who go through life like this- both the good parts where you heart is happy for them, and the bad where your heart breaks for them. 


22. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn (4.5/5⭐️)


This time the gossip columnists have it wrong. London’s most elusive bachelor Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry—he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield—the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate’s the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams...

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands—and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate’s determined to protect her sister—but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself...

Real talk- I think I liked this even more than The Duke and I. I’m not sure if it was because I enjoyed the storyline that much more, or if I just like all of this Anthony!! 🔥 🔥 

Book two focused all around Anthony and I loved how the plot played out (though it was sort of predictable). And I love how this series is dual-POV, starting with the main characters’ back stories. AND I love how they contain TWO epilogues so you know how the rest of their lives play out.

I did become quite attached to Daphne and Simon in the first book however, and I do wish their characters appeared more. 

I’ve already started book three, but Libby doesn’t have the audiobooks any further than that, so I guess I’m going to have to seek out the actual books!


23. Letting Ana Go by Anonymous (4.5/5⭐️)

She was a good girl from a good family, with everything she could want or need. But below the surface, she felt like she could never be good enough. Like she could never live up to the expectations that surrounded her. Like she couldn’t do anything to make a change.

But there was one thing she could control completely: how much she ate. The less she ate, the better—stronger—she felt.

But it’s a dangerous game, and there is such a thing as going too far…

Her innermost thoughts and feelings are chronicled in the diary she left behind.

This was the final “diary” I had left to read, and I’m glad I saved it for last. 

I loved the main character. She was smart and had a strong vocabulary. I loved all the figurative language. I also liked that the character was introduced as smart and tough, because it really drove home the point that mental health issues can effect anyone. That being said, I think this book would likely be pretty triggering for some.

At my age, the storyline is pretty predictable and it’s pretty much cliche after cliche, but I’m definitely not the intended audience for this book. Also that being said, I’m not sure much of the target audience for this book SHOULD read this book.


24. Twisted by Andrew E. Kaufman (4.5/5⭐️)

The psychologist with a troubled past…

Dr. Christopher Kellan spends his days at Loveland Psychiatric Hospital, overseeing a unit known as Alpha Twelve, home to the most deranged and psychotic killers imaginable. His newest patient, Donny Ray Smith, is accused of murdering ten young girls and making their bodies disappear. But during his first encounter with Donny, Christopher finds something else unsettling: the man looks familiar.

The killer with a secret…

Donny Ray knows things about Christopher—things he couldn’t have possibly learned at Loveland. As the psychologist delves deeper into the mysterious patient’s case, Christopher’s life whirls out of control. The contours of his mind are rapidly losing shape, and his grasp on reality is slipping even faster. Is he going mad, or is that what Donny Ray wants him to think?

The terror that binds them…

In this taut psychological thriller from Andrew E. Kaufman, bestselling author of The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, a tormented man must face his fear and enter the mind of a killer to find the truth…even if it costs him his sanity.

Holy moly. Talk about a psychological thriller! It was definitely a “do not read before bed” kind of book, that is for sure. (Not that that stopped me from reading it before bed, but my dreams those nights were terrifying..) 

I had no idea where this book was going to go or how it was going to end, all I knew was that I could not put it down!! I finished it in a day, and accomplished nothing else, but it was totally worth it. The story got a little too chaotic for me in the last 50 pages, but I liked how it all turned out overall!


25. An Offer From a Gentlemen by Julia Quinn (4/5⭐️)

Sophie Beckett never dreamed she'd be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton's famed masquerade ball—or that "Prince Charming" would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight.

Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other—except, perhaps, this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid's garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet, if he offers her his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?

This novel includes The 2nd epilogue, a peek at the story after the story.

Book 3 of the series may have well as been called “A Bridgerton Cinderella Story.” Poor girl whose dad died and stepmom treats her like a maid  meets rich fancy man at a rich, fancy party, girl knows man, man doesn’t know girl, clock strikes midnight and girl runs off, leaving something behind for man to use to find her.

I wonder how many people are reading these books right now after watching the Netflix series. I bet Julia Quinn’s sales sky-rocketed. I’m going to have to go look that up now. (I couldn’t find exact numbers, but the answer is yes lol).

I really enjoyed this one, and it was fun to see a side of Benedict that we don’t already know, either from the first two books nor the Netflix adaptation. I also really enjoyed that Eloise played a bigger role in this book, and I’m really coming to appreciate Violet!!


26. Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik (3/5⭐️)

The Secret History meets Sharp Objects in this stunning debut about murder and glamour set in the ambiguous and claustrophobic world of an exclusive New England prep school.

Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only sixteen. The crime is solved, and quickly—a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide note confession—but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister, Grace, to accept the case as closed.

Dropping out of college and living at home, working at the moneyed and progressive private high school in Hartford, Connecticut, from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer.

I picked this up at my local bookstore up in Minnesota because it sounded like an interesting thriller read. I expected it to be Gillian Flynn-esque, but this was its own type of suspense novel.

The writing was a little long winded. For example, one sentence lasted for five lines and included 5 dashes/commas. There is description, and there is DESCRIPTION, and I think the author went a little overboard sometimes in this one.

Also, the synopsis of the story said that the main character, Gracie, was essentially on a hunt to find her sister’s killer. This doesn’t even begin to happen until you are a third of the way into the book. The first hundred pages are all, essentially, background info. I’m all for it if it helps the story, but by the time I was at page 90 I had to go read the back cover to find what the book was about, because there was no plot line that I could decipher.

Anyway, I didn’t think I was that engaged in the story, but instead of doing the things I should have been doing, I kept picking this book up. Everyone was a suspect because they all had their secrets, and I had no idea how the story was going to play out. The characters were all super odd, and seemed older than high schoolers. 

Overall, I wasn’t super thrilled with the ending, and the suspense leading up to it -while it kept me pulled it- wasn’t super strong. 

I did think that this book had a lot of unique aspects in it that I haven’t come across in other books that I really appreciated, though I can’t elaborate without giving things away.


27. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (5/5⭐️)

The heart of Book 7 is a hero's mission--not just in Harry's quest for the Horcruxes, but in his journey from boy to man--and Harry faces more danger than that found in all six books combined, from the direct threat of the Death Eaters and you-know-who, to the subtle perils of losing faith in himself. Attentive readers would do well to remember Dumbledore's warning about making the choice between "what is right and what is easy," and know that Rowling applies the same difficult principle to the conclusion of her series. While fans will find the answers to hotly speculated questions about Dumbledore, Snape, and you-know-who, it is a testament to Rowling's skill as a storyteller that even the most astute and careful reader will be taken by surprise.

Finished! Now it’s time for a Harry Potter movie marathon! (ABC Family, where you at??) I’m glad I chose to listen to these this year. Even though I just re-read the series back in 2018, and I know the whole story by heart, it was fun to hear the audiobook version, and I really appreciated the performer!


28. The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan (4/5⭐️)

When her beloved nanny, Hannah, left without a trace in the summer of 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt was devastated. Haunted by the loss, Jo grew up bitter and distant, and eventually left her parents and Lake Hall, their faded aristocratic home, behind.

Thirty years later, Jo returns to the house and is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her mother. But when human remains are accidentally uncovered in a lake on the estate, Jo begins to question everything she thought she knew.

Then an unexpected visitor knocks on the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again. Desperate to piece together the gaping holes in her memory, Jo must uncover who her nanny really was, why she left, and if she can trust her own mother…

In this compulsively readable tale of secrets, lies, and deception, Gilly Macmillan explores the darkest impulses and desires of the human heart. Diabolically clever, The Nanny reminds us that sometimes the truth hurts so much you’d rather hear the lie.

This book is a couple years old, but I was just sent a copy by the publisher this year. I had read one book by this same author fairly recently and wasn’t super impressed, but I’m always willing o give an author another go.

This was very much a slow burn. The suspense took time to build, yet I was still constantly curious as to how the situation would all play out. Talk about family secrets!!  Though it took me a minute to get into, by the last third I couldn’t put it down. I was absolutely enraged with the situation towards the end, and I think my feelings about every single character flipped 180 degrees between the beginning of the story and the end. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how Macmillan was going to wrap this story up, but I’m very pleased with how everything turned out.

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

Reading Challenge: 28/100 books read in 2021

You can find previous book reviews here!