Saturday, April 3, 2021

#gretchensbooks2021 - March


 Grad school kicked my butt this month!! Listen, the concept of 'the history of mathematics' sounds really interesting, but reading a whole textbook about it and then having to write a paper about the evolution of various areas is sooo time consuming, and a bit dull! The vast majority of my books this month were audiobooks - thank goodness for commute times and early mornings at school!


29. A Promised Land by Barrack Obama (5/5🌟)

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil. 

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office. 

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden. 

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective—the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change,” and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible. 

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.

I decided to listen to this via audio instead of reading the physical copy because I’m a big fan of Barrack Obama’s voice! It is just so calming and reassuring. That being said, when I saw this was 30 hours, I was like “okay, we’ll see..” but then it was over and I couldn’t believe it had gone so quickly!

It is hard to do justice when reflecting on this book. After 30 hours of such eloquent writing, I can’t even come close. I liked how he gave background on all his decisions, and I liked how reflective he was. It wasn’t all “I’m so great” like we’ve been exposed to the last four years, but more “this went hindsight I could have done that better.” 

The book didn’t cover as much of Obama’s youth as I had hoped, but I did watch “Barry” on Netflix, so at least I had that background. I had to laugh when he mentioned that being short and concise wasn’t a strength of his, especially considering this 700 page memoir was only a “part 1.” I am definitely looking forward to the part 2!


30. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (3.5/5⭐️)

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it's the truth?

I really loved Feeney’s “His & Hers” when I read it last month, so I immediately reserved a few more of hers on the Libby app.

Truthfully I didn’t love this one for the first half. I felt like it was predictable and that I knew how it was going to go. EXCEPT THAT I WAS WRONG. 

I did really like the dual-POV and that it flipped back and forth from present, almost-present, and past.

And the ending!! What?!? I need to know what happens next!! 


31. Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia (2.5/5⭐️)

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.    
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom. 
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.  
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. 

I really don’t know how to feel about this one. It was quite popular when it came out, so though it didn’t quite sound like something I would pick out on my own, I figured I’d give it a go. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t particularly enjoy it.

It was....strange. And not necessarily in a good way. The best thing it had going for it was the cover. Otherwise it was very slow moving; all the action seemed to take place in the last third. The book was creepy, which I usually love, but there was no distinguishable plot for most of the book, and it took forever for the characters to have any depth.

That last third (or probably less) was a bunch of craziness all jumbled up together. It was a little too out there for my tastes. Also, and I’m going to place a spoiler alert here: I really didn’t care for the weird sexual harassment/almost rape attempt. That was too icky for me.


32. I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney (3.5/5⭐️)

Meet Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from.

Except one person.

Someone knows Aimee very well.

They know who she is and they know what she did.

When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is―but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

In I Know Who You Are, Alice Feeney proves that she is a master of brilliantly complicated plots and killer twists that will keep you guessing until the final page.

Oh. Em. Gee. 

What. The. Heck.

The majority of this book was pretty typical thriller. It was engaging and semi-fast paced. Though I had guesses and suspicions, I ended up being way off as to how it would all play out. I thought knowing her style would help me predict the ending, but nope!!

And the ending of this, in typical Feeney-fashion was SO BIZARRE. Like what!! Who thinks this stuff up!!


33. The Last Straw by Ed Duncan (4/5⭐️)

When a teenage girl witnesses a carjacking gone bad, she is marked for death by a crime boss.

A lawyer and an enforcer forge an uneasy alliance to protect the girl from a hit man with an agenda of his own. Soon after, Paul Elliott - lawyer and close friend of the witness's family - begins counseling them and becomes entangled in the murder plot.

As the long-simmering feud between Rico - the white enforcer - and the hitman John D'Angelo reaches boiling point, bodies start to pile up in rapid succession... and old scores will be settled.

After reading and reviewing book one in this trilogy, Duncan’s publicist offered to send me the remaining two books, which of course I accepted!

I enjoyed Pigeon-Blood Red, but I liked this one even better! It took me a bit to get through (because grad school took over my life this month), but I was engaged the whole way through! I like the relationship that grew between Rico and Paul Elliot, and though making a hit man into a likable  character is a difficult task, Duncan definitely did it with Rico!

This book had a couple storylines wonderfully twisted together, and the pacing is perfect. The story keeps moving at a good pace, woven with twists and turns. I’m really looking forward to reading the next book!!


34. The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris (4/5⭐️)

Vice President Kamala Harris's commitment to speaking truth is informed by her upbringing. The daughter of immigrants, she was raised in an Oakland, California community that cared deeply about social justice; her parents--an esteemed economist from Jamaica and an admired cancer researcher from India--met as activists in the civil rights movement when they were graduate students at Berkeley. Growing up, Harris herself never hid her passion for justice, and when she became a prosecutor out of law school, a deputy district attorney, she quickly established herself as one of the most innovative change agents in American law enforcement. She progressed rapidly to become the elected District Attorney for San Francisco, and then the chief law enforcement officer of the state of California as a whole. Known for bringing a voice to the voiceless, she took on the big banks during the foreclosure crisis, winning a historic settlement for California's working families. Her hallmarks were applying a holistic, data-driven approach to many of California's thorniest issues, always eschewing stale "tough on crime" rhetoric as presenting a series of false choices. Neither "tough" nor "soft" but smart on crime became her mantra. Being smart means learning the truths that can make us better as a community, and supporting those truths with all our might. That has been the pole star that guided Harris to a transformational career as the top law enforcement official in California, and it is guiding her now as a transformational United States Senator, grappling with an array of complex issues that affect her state, our country, and the world, from health care and the new economy to immigration, national security, the opioid crisis, and accelerating inequality. 

By reckoning with the big challenges we face together, drawing on the hard-won wisdom and insight from her own career and the work of those who have most inspired her, Kamala Harris offers in THE TRUTHS WE HOLD a master class in problem solving, in crisis management, and leadership in challenging times. Through the arc of her own life, on into the great work of our day, she communicates a vision of shared struggle, shared purpose, and shared values. In a book rich in many home truths, not least is that a relatively small number of people work very hard to convince a great many of us that we have less in common than we actually do, but it falls to us to look past them and get on with the good work of living our common truth. When we do, our shared effort will continue to sustain us and this great nation, now and in the years to come.

I listened to this on audio, which of course Harris performed, and I think she did a great job with that. The content was good, but I had hoped for a little more history into her past. Like more of what made her the person she is today, and what caused her to fight for the things that she does. The book DOES include some of that, but not to the extent I had hoped. It seemed more focused on her beliefs and goals (which is great, and absolutely covers much of what I want to know), but I love reading memoirs because I like seeing people’s growth, and seeing the things that formed them into the people they are. Good book, just was hoping for a little more!


35. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (4/5⭐️)

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me. 
Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges—how to get relative with the inevitable—you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.” 
So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops. 
Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears. 
It’s a love letter. To life. 
It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights—and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too. 
Good luck. 

Prior to listening to this, I knew very little of  McConaughey’s life, but I’ve always been a fan (it’s the hair and the voice for me). I’m always surprised when I find people who stumble into acting, and didn’t have family members already in the business to pull strings for them.

I loved how he constantly pulled the title “greenlight” into the memoir, and boy did he have some good stories! He was just descriptive enough that I felt like I could imagine him as a child, but it wasn’t so overboard that it was dull. Very engaging, and of course his performance of the audiobook was wonderful.


36. Rico Stays by Ed Duncan (4.5/5⭐️)

After enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders stepped in to protect his girlfriend from a local mob boss’s hot-headed nephew, all hell broke loose.

When the smoke cleared, the nephew had vanished and three goons lay dying where they’d stood. Fighting for his life, Rico was alive but gravely wounded.

Out of the hospital but not fully recovered, he needed a place to crash – a place where he wouldn’t be found. A place like the cabin owned by lawyer Paul Elliott, whose life Rico had saved more than once.

Trouble was, Paul’s girlfriend hadn’t forgotten Rico’s dark history - or Paul’s fascination with him. Vengeful killers would soon be coming for him.

The only question was whether he would be ready to face them.

This was book three of three, and they just keep getting better! I liked book one, but two was better, and three was the best!

I loved how the main characters’ relationships continued to evolve throughout this book, and though I was a bit worried as to how things would resolve in the end, I was pleased with how everything turned out.

This is not a series I would have picked out on my own, so I’m very thankful that Kelsey at Book Publicity Services reached out to me and sent me the copies. I was absolutely captivated!

If you’re into action-packed stories, this one is a must read. It is a very fast paced crime thriller series that gets better with each book. Definitely recommend!!

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

Reading Challenge: 36/120 books read in 2021

You can find previous book reviews here!

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