Monday, June 28, 2021

#gretchensbooks2021 - June


I thought with traveling so much this month I would get lots of audiobooks in, but that wasn't the case (curse you, Hamilton soundtrack!) I did make up for it in the last week since I've been home with lots of pool and hammock reading!! That being said, I haven't read anything REALLY GOOD in a hot minute, so if you have any suggestions, pass them my way!!


51. Fair Warning by Michael Connelly (4/5

The hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow is back in this thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly. Jack McEvoy, the journalist who never backs down, tracks a serial killer who has been operating completely under the radar—until now.  

Veteran reporter Jack McEvoy has taken down killers before, but when a woman he had a one-night stand with is murdered in a particularly brutal way, McEvoy realizes he might be facing a criminal mind unlike any he's ever encountered. 

Jack investigates—against the warnings of the police and his own editor—and makes a shocking discovery that connects the crime to other mysterious deaths across the country. Undetected by law enforcement, a vicious killer has been hunting women, using genetic data to select and stalk his targets. 

Uncovering the murkiest corners of the dark web, Jack races to find and protect the last source who can lead him to his quarry. But the killer has already chosen his next target, and he's ready to strike. 

This was the third book in the Jack McEvoy series; I read the second (“The Scarecrow”) just recently. Really enjoyed this one as well! I don’t really have a lot to say about this one, except that Connelly is a great crime writer. His stories are always engaging and keeps you hooked from the very beginning until the very end. Jack McEvoy is a likeable character and you can’t help but root for him. Though this is in a series, you could absolutely read it as a standalone. I also liked how this story hit on the reality of the lack of oversight in genetic testing. 


52. One Two Three by Laurie Frankel (3.5/5⭐️)

Everyone knows everyone in the tiny town of Bourne, but the Mitchell triplets are especially beloved. Mirabel is the smartest person anyone knows, and no one doubts it just because she can’t speak. Monday is the town’s purveyor of books now that the library’s closed―tell her the book you think you want, and she’ll pull the one you actually do from the microwave or her sock drawer. Mab’s job is hardest of all: get good grades, get into college, get out of Bourne.

For a few weeks seventeen years ago, Bourne was national news when its water turned green. The girls have come of age watching their mother’s endless fight for justice. But just when it seems life might go on the same forever, the first moving truck anyone’s seen in years pulls up and unloads new residents and old secrets. Soon, the Mitchell sisters are taking on a system stacked against them and uncovering mysteries buried longer than they’ve been alive. Because it's hard to let go of the past when the past won't let go of you.

Three unforgettable narrators join together here to tell a spellbinding story with wit, wonder, and deep affection. As she did in This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel has written a laugh-out-loud-on-one-page-grab-a-tissue-the-next novel, as only she can, about how expanding our notions of normal makes the world a better place for everyone and how when days are darkest, it’s our daughters who will save us all.

Thank you to Laurie Frankel and Henry Holt & Co publishing for my ARC of this book! It was so different from any book I’ve read before, and I really liked it!

The story is told from three perspectives, 16-year-old triplets who have names, but also go by One, Two, and Three. It took me a second to remember who was which number, but from a creative standpoint, I thought it was interesting. They live in a town where something happened, and now no one is “normal,” but in the beginning you don’t know exactly what happen. You do figure that out eventually, and it plays a big part in the plot.

The girls all have very different personalities, but they’re all so fun! This story was sweet but mysterious, and I loved the quirky humor in it.


53. Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen (3/5⭐️)

At the height of Palm Beach’s charity ball season, Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons, a prominent member of geriatric high society, suddenly vanishes during a swank gala. Kiki Pew was a founding member of the Potussies, a group of women dedicated to supporting the President, who spends half the year at the “Winter White House” just down the road. Meanwhile, Angie Armstrong, wildlife wrangler extraordinaire, is called to the island to deal with a monster-sized Burmese python that has taken residency in a tree. But the President is focused on the disappearance of Kiki Pew. Never one to miss an opportunity to play to his base, he immediately declares her a victim of rampaging immigrant hordes. This, it turns out, is far from the truth, which now lies in the middle of the road, where a bizarre discovery brings the First Lady’s motorcade to a grinding halt. Irreverent, ingenious, and uproariously entertaining,Squeeze Me perfectly captures the absurdity of our times.

While I didn’t dislike this book, I learned that political satire is not my preferred genre of reading. I probably couldn’t have already figured that out, but ya know, don’t knock it til ya try it. The story was well-written, and very “Florida Man”-esque, but just wasn’t my style.


54. The Dilemma by B.A. Paris (3.5/5⭐️)

Knowing the truth will destroy her. Keeping it secret will destroy him.

It’s Livia’s 40th birthday, and her husband Adam is throwing her the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding they never had. Everyone she loves will be there, except her daughter Marnie, who’s studying abroad. But Livia is secretly glad Marnie won’t be there. 

Livia has recently uncovered a secret about their daughter which, if revealed, will shake the foundation of their family to its core. She needs to tell Adam, but she’s waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together.

Adam, meanwhile, has his own surprise for Livia: he’s arranged for Marnie to secretly fly back for the party. But before Marnie arrives, Adam hears some terrible news. Now he too is faced with a dilemma: Does he share what he's learned with his wife? Is hiding the truth the same as telling a lie? And how far are Adam and Livia willing to go to protect the ones they love—and give each other a last few hours of happiness?

B.A. Paris is a pretty well-known thriller writer at this point, and while I don’t think I’ve LOVED any her books, they’ve all been enjoyable. This was no different. It didn’t really have any deep suspense, but I was constantly engaged nonetheless, and MAY have gotten a little emotional at some parts! It was pretty tame for a thriller, but still a good read.


55. In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham (4/5⭐️)

In this expansion of the 2017 commencement speech she gave at her hometown Langley High, Lauren Graham, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, reflects on growing up, pursuing your dreams, and living in the here and now. “Whatever path you choose, whatever career you decide to go after, the important thing is that you keep finding joy in what you’re doing, especially when the joy isn’t finding you.” In her hilarious, relatable voice, Graham reminds us to be curious and compassionate, no matter where life takes us or what we’ve yet to achieve. Grounded and inspiring—and illustrated throughout with drawings by Graham herself—here is a comforting road map to a happy life. 

This was a very short and sweet pool read. In fact, other than it literally being a book, I feel like I can hardly count it as a book. “In Conclusion…” is an expansion of Graham’s commencement speech a few years ago at her hometown high school. If I were to re-title it, I would call it “Enjoy the Little Things,” because that was the message I got from this. I just love Lauren Graham, and highly recommend her memoir “Talking As Fast As I Can,” and her fiction novel “Someday, Someday Maybe.” In fact, I’ll link those below as well.


56. Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen (5/5⭐️)

A young boy spends his tenth summer on his aunt and uncle’s farm, where he is constantly involved in crazy escapades with his cousin Harris. On the Larson farm, readers will experience hearts as large as farmers’ appetites, humor as broad as the country landscape and adventures as wild as boyhood imaginations. All this adds up to a hearty helping of old-fashioned, rip-roaring entertainment.

Full disclaimer: this is a children’s book, so I’m reflecting on it with that lens!

When I was in 6th grade, one of my teachers read this to us as a read aloud, and though I couldn’t remember the title, I remember how engaged we all were. (Probably because one of the main characters says “damn” and “hell” and we thought it was just so funny to hear our teacher read that aloud!) Anyway, I kept talking about this book and had my mom ask my former teacher what it was when she ran into her, then mom proceeded to get it for me.

Paulsen is obviously a well known children’s author, but I think this book is less well known, and I’m not sure why. In today’s day and age I could never read this aloud to my class, but I think it would be a great book for reluctant readers because it is FUNNY!!



57. Smart Girl by Rachel Hollis (3.5/5⭐️)

Brilliant designer Miko Jin has spent most of her life falling in love over and over again...with the men she finds in the pages of her favorite novels.

When Miko meets Liam Ashton, it’s love at first sight. At least, for her. Sure, the two of them are polar opposites, and yes, he seems to be dating someone new each week. But Miko knows what true love is and that you can’t rush it - after all, what she lacks in real-world experience, she makes up for in book smarts. With novels as her guide, and her best friends by her side, she knows she can get Liam to love her back. 

But just like any good romance novel, fate has a few plot twists in store. Will Miko get her own happy ending? Will she find the strength to stand up for what she deserves...even if it means breaking her own heart?

To start, I can’t stand Rachel Hollis. Or at least I can’t stand the persona she puts off to the world. I’ve never actually met her, so I guess I can’t truly say I don’t like her. She has released two memoirs that I found quite gross, and when she inevitably releases another I will not be reading it.

That being said, I do like her fictional stories. This is the third book in the Girls trilogy. I read the first last summer and really enjoyed it. Not realizing this was the third, I picked it up before the second. Oops.

This was a fun, light pool read, perfect to sandwich between the thriller and the civil war historical fiction that I’m also reading. The characters have very little depth, and it doesn’t have as much angst as I usually prefer for this genre, but it was good nonetheless. Now I will need to pack the second book for the pool tomorrow!


58. A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight (3.5/5⭐️)

Lizzie Kitsakis is working late when she gets the call. Grueling hours are standard at elite law firms like Young & Crane, but they’d be easier to swallow if Lizzie was there voluntarily. Until recently, she’d been a happily underpaid federal prosecutor. That job and her brilliant, devoted husband Sam—she had everything she’d ever wanted. And then, suddenly, it all fell apart. 

No. That’s a lie. It wasn’t sudden, was it? Long ago the cracks in Lizzie’s marriage had started to show. She was just good at averting her eyes. 

The last thing Lizzie needs right now is a call from an inmate at Rikers asking for help—even if Zach Grayson is an old friend. But Zach is desperate: his wife, Amanda, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their Brooklyn brownstone. And Zach’s the primary suspect. 

As Lizzie is drawn into the dark heart of idyllic Park Slope, she learns that Zach and Amanda weren’t what they seemed—and that their friends, a close-knit group of fellow parents at the exclusive Brooklyn Country Day school, might be protecting troubling secrets of their own. In the end, she’s left wondering not only whether her own marriage can be saved, but what it means to have a good marriage in the first place.

McCreight has written some of my favorite thrillers, the well known “Reconstructing Amelia,” and my personal favorite, “Where They Found Her.”

This was her most recent release that I only just stumbled across. As with her previous novels, I was absolutely captivated throughout the whole story. I had my (wrong) guesses as to who the murderer was, and they were constantly changing as the story continued. It was very much a slow-burn thriller, with new information consistently coming at you until the very end. The do with the ending would have wrapped up Amanda’s thoughts a little better than it did (which of course would be hard, because she is dead). I just felt like we were left hanging on what was going on with her.


59. The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks (4/5⭐️)

This debut novel is based on the true story of Carrie McGavock. During the Civil War's Battle of Franklin, a five-hour bloodbath with 9,200 casualties, McGavock's home was turned into a field hospital where four generals died. For 40 years she tended the private cemetery on her property where more than 1,000 were laid to rest.

This isn’t the era of historical fiction that is normally read, but a friend lent it to me telling me I would like it, and I did! “The Widow is the South” is based on a true story and I think it helped that I’ve been to Carton Plantation as it’s not far from where I live, so I already knew bits of Carrie McGavock’s story. It has been a few years though, and now I want to go back down to Franklin and tour the home/grounds again! Also, I really like the alternating perspectives, with Carrie, a confederate soldier, and a union soldier. 


60. Hey Ladies! by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss (2/5⭐️)

Based on the column of the same name that appeared in The Toast, Hey Ladies! is a laugh-out-loud read that follows a fictitious group of eight 20-and-30-something female friends for one year of holidays, summer house rentals, dates, brunches, breakups, and, of course, the planning of a disastrous wedding. This instantly relatable story is told entirely through emails, texts, DMs, and every other form of communication known to man. 
The women in the book are stand-ins for annoying friends that we all have. There’s Nicole, who’s always broke and tries to pay for things in Forever21 gift cards. There’s Katie, the self-important budding journalist, who thinks a retweet and a byline are the same thing. And there’s Jen, the DIY suburban bride-to-be. With a perfectly pitched sardonic tone, Hey Ladies! will have you cringing and laughing as you recognize your own friends, and even yourself.

Ugh. I was really hopeful for this book, because I love the email/text message format of it. Unfortunately, the “story” was way too obnoxious for me. I think (or maybe hope) it was meant as satire, because dang, these girls were annoying! The description said the characters were “relatable,” but my goodness, if my friends were anywhere near this self-absorbed I would not be friends with them! (Or maybe that is why I have the group of friends that I do? Because I didn’t put up with the people who were this high-maintenance for very long?) Of the eight girls in this book, MAYBE three were likable characters. (But really, probably only one) I’m also a little concerned that a couple of women wrote this book based on relationships they think women have because seriously, they think women actually act like this?!? Do they?!? Blegh. Honestly the book left me feeling very incredibly grateful for the amazing, caring, low-maintenance circle of friends that I have!!


61. Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg (3.5/5⭐️)

Life is the strangest thing. One minute, Mrs. Elner Shimfissle is up in her tree, picking figs, and the next thing she knows, she is off on an adventure she never dreamed of, running into people she never in a million years expected to meet. Meanwhile, back home, Elner’s nervous, high-strung niece Norma faints and winds up in bed with a cold rag on her head; Elner’s neighbor Verbena rushes immediately to the Bible; her truck driver friend, Luther Griggs, runs his eighteen-wheeler into a ditch–and the entire town is thrown for a loop and left wondering, “What is life all about, anyway?” Except for Tot Whooten, who owns Tot’s Tell It Like It Is Beauty Shop. Her main concern is that the end of the world might come before she can collect her social security. 

In this comedy-mystery, those near and dear to Elner discover something wonderful: Heaven is actually right here, right now, with people you love, neighbors you help, friendships you keep. Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven is proof once more that Fannie Flagg “was put on this earth to write” (Southern Living), spinning tales as sweet and refreshing as iced tea on a summer day, with a little extra kick thrown in.

Fannie Flagg never lets me down! Everything I’ve read by Flagg has been sweet and funny, so when I saw this one the last time I was at McKays I had to grab it. I was not let down. I really like her humor and the quirky characters she creates. I thought it was fun that she included recipes in the back that went with the story. Also, I liked the message this book held because it is one I like whole-heartedly by: life is short, do the things and spend time with the people that make you happy! It is definitely a feel good story if you’re looking for one!


62. Party Girl by Rachel Hollis (4/5⭐️)

Landon Brinkley’s dreams are all coming true. She’s landed an internship with a fabulous event planner for the Hollywood elite, taking her from small-town Texas to the bright lights of LA. Landon finds herself in a world in which spending a million dollars on an event—even a child’s birthday party—is de rigueur, and the whims of celebrity clients are life-and-death matters. At first, the thrill of working on A-list parties and celebrity weddings is enough to survive the seventy-five-hour workweeks and her mercurial boss. But when the reality of the business reveals itself, she’s forced to make a choice: do whatever it takes to get ahead, or stay true to herself.

Drawing on the author’s real-life experiences as an event planner to the stars, Party Girl takes readers on an adventure among Hollywood’s most beautiful—and most outrageous—people, revealing the ugly side of Hollywood’s prettiest parties.

Turns out I was way off, and THIS was book 1. I don’t think it hurt too much that I read them out of order (because honestly relationship-wise, you know how it’s going to end from the beginning of the book anyway). As I said previously, Hollis fiction is way better than Hollis non-fiction, and this was no different. The girl this book focuses on was really likeable, and it was fun to see where the friendships that I’d already read about in books 2 and 3 developed from. The book had definite Devil Wears Prada vibes, except more fun. It was of course completely unrealistic, but that’s what I like about chicklit like this!


63. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs (1/5⭐️)

When Augusten Burroughs was small, his father was a shadowy presence in his life: a form on the stairs, a cough from the basement, a silent figure smoking a cigarette in the dark. As Augusten grew older, something sinister within his father began to unfurl. Something dark and secretive that could not be named. 

Betrayal after shocking betrayal ensued, and Augusten's childhood was over. The kind of father he wanted didn't exist for him. This father was distant, aloof, uninterested…

And then the "games" began. 

I struggled with this one. I was semi-excited to read it, because I’d read two of his “memoirs” before and really liked them, but this one fell very flat for me. It’s marketed as a memoir, but like many others I’m very skeptical. Does he really have memories from infancy? Doubtful. He is very dramatic, and while I’m not saying he necessarily made things up, they feel very exaggerated at the very least. From an artist’s perspective, I’m sure there is an argument for that, but it just wasn’t what I look for in a memoir. I wanted to DNF the book from the beginning, but I hate not finishing things, so I powered through. Also, this memoir was all about his terrible relationship with his dad, who is dead and cannot defend himself, which felt was icky to sell books about, even if he was a jerk. Honestly I spent this whole book just waiting for it to be over.

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

Reading Challenge: 63/120 books read in 2021

You can find previous book reviews here!

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