Tuesday, June 1, 2021

#gretchensbooks2021 - May


As of May 29 all of my grad school papers have been submitted, which means I can freely read again without feeling like I should be doing school work!! Which is great, because I've not made nearly the dent in my TBR stack that I would have liked to so far this year. Read some decent ones this month, but nothing that super blew me out of the water.


44. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (2.5/5⭐️)

In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders -- Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police , and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. 

In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, careers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work. 

I loved Donoghue’s “Room,” so I was really excited when I was sent this book by her as well. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet my expectations. It was kinda fun hearing a story set during the 1918 pandemic as we sit here stumbling through the current one, but I didn’t feel like there was any real plot line. The book just read like a narrative of this fictional character’s experience, which would be okay, but it just wasn’t interesting enough to make it a good narrative.


45. The Last Lie I Told by Riley Sager (3.5/5⭐️)

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she--or anyone--saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips. 

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings--massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Seeing an opportunity to find out what really happened to her friends all those years ago, Emma agrees. 

Familiar faces, unchanged cabins, and the same dark lake haunt Nightingale, even though the camp is opening its doors for the first time since the disappearances. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, but soon discovers a security camera--the only one on the property--pointed directly at its door. Then cryptic clues that Vivian left behind about the camp's twisted origins begin surfacing. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing mysterious threats in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale and what really happened to those girls, the more she realizes that closure could come at a deadly price.

This wasn’t my favorite Sager thriller, but it was enjoyable! Honestly, I wondered throughout the whole story whodunnit, and you had to wait until the very, very end to learn the full story. If you like thrillers, I recommend Sager as an author to look into!


46. The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (4/5⭐️)

Forced out of the Los Angeles Times amid the latest budget cuts, newspaperman Jack McEvoy decides to go out with a bang, using his final days at the paper to write the definitive murder story of his career. 

He focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a sixteen-year-old drug dealer in jail after confessing to a brutal murder. But as he delves into the story, Jack realizes that Winslow's so-called confession is bogus. The kid might actually be innocent. 

Jack is soon running with his biggest story since The Poet made his career years ago. He is tracking a killer who operates completely below police radar-and with perfect knowledge of any move against him. Including Jack's. 

It’s been a hot minute since I read a Connelly novel, and I forgot how much I enjoyed them! He writes crime stories, and though I haven’t read a ton, I haven’t read one I didn’t like yet. The characters are likeable and the storyline was engaging. This was apparently the second book in a series, and though I don’t think I read the first, it didn’t seem to matter. I zipped through this one, rooting for Jack the whole time. My first Connelly book was, of course, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” way back in high school. If you like crime novels, I definitely recommend him as an author!!


47. The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron (4/5⭐️)

My father had thirteen wives and more than fifty children . . . 
This is the haunting memoir of Anna LeBaron, daughter of the notorious polygamist and murderer Ervil LeBaron. Ervil’s criminal activity kept Anna and her siblings constantly on the run from the FBI. Often starving, the children lived in a perpetual state of fear―and despite their numbers, Anna always felt alone. Would she ever find a place she truly belonged? Would she ever be anything other than the polygamist’s daughter?

My mom had gotten me an autographed copy of this book from the local bookstore in my hometown when the author was there on a visit. I’ve read a handful of books written by daughter’s of polygamists, and though I’m always baffled that that was reality in my lifetime, they’re typically pretty similar stories. This one was different, which I liked. Her childhood was a mess, but not like the others that I’ve read. An interesting read if your looking for a new memoir to read!


48. Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (3/5⭐️)

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity—and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution... 

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest—until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary... 

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth. 

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

I read another book by Cleeton last year that I liked, so when I found this at McKay’s I grabbed it. Honestly it took me forever to get through. Probably three weeks I’ve been working on it? It’s not poorly written or anything, I just think it wasn’t my style. There were two love stories woven throughout, and while I don’t really do love stories anyway, the love-at-first-sight thing really was a turn off for me. The story was also really repetitive. It did get me more curious about Cuba’s history, and made me want to visit even more than I already do!


49. Sooley by John Grisham (3.5/5⭐️)

In the summer of his seventeenth year, Sam­uel Sooleymon gets the chance of a lifetime: a trip to the United States with his South Sudanese teammates to play in a showcase basket­ball tournament. He has never been away from home, nor has he ever been on an airplane. The opportunity to be scouted by dozens of college coaches is a dream come true.

Samuel is an amazing athlete, with speed, quick­ness, and an astonishing vertical leap. The rest of his game, though, needs work, and the American coaches are less than impressed.

During the tournament, Samuel receives dev­astating news from home: A civil war is raging across South Sudan, and rebel troops have ran­sacked his village. His father is dead, his sister is missing, and his mother and two younger brothers are in a refugee camp.

Samuel desperately wants to go home, but it’s just not possible. Partly out of sympathy, the coach of North Carolina Central offers him a scholar­ship. Samuel moves to Durham, enrolls in classes, joins the team, and prepares to sit out his freshman season. There is plenty of more mature talent and he isn’t immediately needed.

But Samuel has something no other player has: a fierce determination to succeed so he can bring his family to America. He works tirelessly on his game, shooting baskets every morning at dawn by himself in the gym, and soon he’s dominating everyone in practice. With the Central team los­ing and suffering injury after injury, Sooley, as he is nicknamed, is called off the bench. And the legend begins.

But how far can Sooley take his team? And will success allow him to save his family?

Though he is my favorite author, I’m not sure I’ve read any of Grisham’s non-law books until now. This is his newest release, and despite my immediate purchase, I only just finished it over a month later. Life’s been busy, but I also just wasn’t as engaged with it as I am with the law novels. 

It was a good storyline, and I’m sure he put a lot of research into it, but it just wasn’t what I love about Grisham’s writing. Also, when it comes to sports, basketball is pretty low on the totem pole for me, so maybe that was why I just wasn’t hooked. I wish they would have had more about Sooley’s family in South Sudan.

Except, the end. The ending absolutely got me in all my feels. I really can’t say more without giving anything away, but man, my heart! 😭❤️


50. The Push by Ashley Audrain (4/5⭐️)

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had. 

But in the thick of motherhood's exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter—she doesn't behave like most children do. 

Or is it all in Blythe's head? Her husband, Fox, says she's imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well. 

Then their son Sam is born—and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she'd always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth. 

This was recommended by a friend, and I finally was able to borrow it on Libby! I liked the intertwining of technically three stories from three different times. Honestly I didn’t know what the real point of the story was, but I was incredibly engaged regardless. I was absolutely rooting for the main character the whole story, and I hated the husband. The ending was a bit predictable, but it was a good story nonetheless.

The whole story really revolves around motherhood, which is not a role I intend on having, so I’m really curious as to reactions to this book from mothers. Have any of my mom friends read this? What did you think?

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

Reading Challenge: 50/120 books read in 2021

You can find previous book reviews here!

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