Tuesday, August 3, 2021

#gretchensbook2021 - July



I made a big dent in reading this month! Despite a bit of travel, July was the first slow month I've had this year, which worked out great, because I can finally tell that my pile of TBR books is shrinking!! Also, I've loved having plenty of pool and hammock reading time. School starts here shortly, which means I'll have less time for the TBR stack :( I did just go through my TBR list on Goodreads and borrow/reserve as many audiobooks on Libby as they would let me, which is great because somehow I went from 260 books on that list a month or so ago to over 300!! HOW?!?


64. He Started It by Samantha Downing (3.5/5⭐)

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven't all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we'll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.
But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.
It's even harder when you're all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory, a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won't stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there's a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.
But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.

This was another “bookstagram made me do it” read. This suspense novel has a slow start, but it’s followed with all sorts of twists! And the ending! WHAT! This was definitely one of the better thrillers I have read in awhile.

That being said, I don’t think any of these characters were likable, which is a real testament to the author, because while it’s usually hard for me to read a story where I don’t like any of the characters, I was hooked into this story from the beginning. I can’t say I was really rooting for any of them, but I had to know what was happening and how it was going to end.


65. Rocket Boy by Homer Hickam Jr. (5/5⭐)

With the grace of a natural storyteller, NASA engineer Homer Hickam paints a warm, vivid portrait of the harsh West Virginia mining town of his youth, evoking a time of innocence and promise, when anything was possible, even in a company town that swallowed its men alive. A story of romance and loss, of growing up and getting out, Homer Hickam's lush, lyrical memoir is a chronicle of triumph—at once exquisitely written and marvelously entertaining.
When I went to Space Academy this summer, we got to hear Homer Hickam, a former NASA scientist, speak and read from his book. Y’all this book was so captivating! I think meeting the author really helped make this story better though. It was so fun to see how he and his buddies used their budding engineering skills to figure out rocketry, especially in a time where resources weren’t at your fingertips like they are with the technology we have available now. Science is awesome.
The book was a bit slow moving, but that’s because it held so much detail. About his life, about the coal mines, and of course, about rocketry. I cant believe I didn’t read this sooner, and I look forward to reading the sequels.
Also, the movie October Sky is based on this book, which I haven’t seen yet, but absolutely need to!


66. A Deadly Influence by Mike Omer (4/5⭐)

Lieutenant Abby Mullen is no stranger to crisis. As the hostage negotiation instructor for the NYPD, she deals with worst-case scenarios every day. Nothing fazes her anymore.
That all changes when she gets a call from Eden Fletcher, a fellow survivor of the infamous Wilcox cult. The two haven’t spoken since the night of a tragic, fiery massacre, when their paths diverged. But now Eden needs Abby’s help: someone has kidnapped her son and is demanding a $5 million ransom. As Abby throws herself into the case, she can’t help but wonder why the kidnapper has targeted Eden. But Eden refuses to talk. She’s silent about the relics of their shared past hanging on her walls. About the kidnapper’s possible motives. About what’s happened in the years since she and Abby parted ways.
As the truth closes in, Abby realizes that her past may not be as far behind as she thought…and it’s come home to collect.
I discovered Omer over quarantine, and have read everything he has put out! He has two separate trilogies, and this book which was published this past April. They’re all crime thrillers, and all very engaging, so I was happy to see this one follow suit.
A side note: did you know if you have Amazon Prime your have access to what they call “Prime First Reads?” Watch your email associated with your Prime account. I get one in the beginning of each month, and it gives you the choice of roughly 7 books from different genres that are new releases. You get to download one kindle book for free! They’re not usually popular books, but I’ve found they’re usually pretty good.
The further into this I got, the better it was! The storyline was great and unpredictable, the suspense increased throughout the whole book, and while the story wrapped up, it also left me on a cliff hanger! Ugh! I hope he published a sequel soon!!


67-69. Never Never, Never Never: Part 2 and Never Never: Part 3 by Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fischer (3.5/5⭐) 

Charlize Wynwood and Silas Nash have been best friends since they could walk. They've been in love since the age of fourteen. But as of this morning...they are complete strangers. Their first kiss, their first fight, the moment they fell in love...every memory has vanished. "I don't care what our real first kiss was," he says. "That's the one I want to remember." Charlize and Silas must work together to uncover the truth about what happened to them and why. But the more they learn about the couple they used to be...the more they question why they were ever together to begin with. "I want to remember what it feels like to love someone like that. And not just anyone. I want to know what it feels like to love Charlie."
The Never Never series was published as three books- parts one, two, and three, with approx. 6 months between each publishing date. This is important because the structure of the series is so odd compared to other series published as individual books and I think you’d have a totally different (and not good) experience with this trilogy if you don’t read each part immediately following it’s preceding part.
Part 1: First off, this story was bizarre, and it just kept getting stranger. I’m glad I’m reading this series now, and not right when it was published, because I would have HATED how this ended on its own if I had to wait six months for a sequel that I didn’t even know was coming. I don’t feel like part one was a full story on its own.
Part 2: My thoughts on Part Two are the same as the first part. I’m glad I wasn’t reading this as a stand-alone, or as it came out, because it would make little sense and I think I would have been very irritated with the lack of climax and conclusion. There is a lot going on, but not really a huge build-up with a solution. It just leaves you hanging.
Part 3/Final thoughts: okay I loved how this wrapped up, though it did NOT go the way I thought it would. I especially loved the final page! I still think it’s stupid that it was actually written and published in three separate parts. I would have been thoroughly disappointed if I had paid for three separate books upon their publishing dates. If you’re going to read this, definitely get the book that has all three parts together (which is what I linked above) so that you’re reading it like one story, not three separate ones.


70. Too Late by Colleen Hoover (3/5⭐)

Sloan will go through hell and back for those she loves.
And she does, every single day.
After finding herself stuck in a relationship with the dangerous and morally corrupt Asa Jackson, Sloan will do whatever it takes to get by until she's able to find a way out.
Nothing will get in her way.
Nothing except Carter.
Sloan is the best thing to ever happen to Asa. And if you ask Asa, he'd say he's the best thing to ever happen to Sloan. Despite Sloan's disapproval of Asa's sinister lifestyle, he does exactly what he needs to do in order to stay a step ahead in his business. He also does exactly what he needs to do in order to stay a step ahead of Sloan.
Nothing will get in his way.
Nothing except Carter.

This was soooo different from the typically CoHo novel, but that’s one thing I love about her. While *most* of her books are very chicklit romance, she also ventures out from that and writes things you don’t expect. If you just read Hoover for the tame feel good stuff, this book would not be for you. It’s much more along the Ellen Hopkins line of writing (whom I absolutely love).
I feel like this story had a lot of potential, but it didn’t quite reach where it needed to to make it a great book. Like it almost did, but then Hoover drug it out in places that made it kind of dull to read, and there just wasn’t a lot of character development.
I hated the structure. I don’t know why I was so irrationally upset about it, but I was. The story “ended” in a weird place, then had a pretty long epilogue. The epilogue was absolutely needed, but I don’t know why she didn’t just make it part of the story. Then after that was a prologue which was so redundant and I got bored reading it and quite frankly I think it should be taken out. THEN was an epilogue to the epilogue. WHY?? I don’t know. Again, it should have just been part of the story. IN SUMMARY, the prologue in the middle of the book should be removed completely and the “epilogue” headings should be taken out so that all the epilogues are just let of the original story.
I did like that the story was told from three perspectives, and there were parts of it that I was actively engaged with.
So much potential to be a good story if some re-structuring took place and some depth added to the characters.
**SPOILER** One thing that I didn’t like was that the ‘good’ main characters, who I was rooting for, were really evil to the to the villain of the story in the middle of the book. Which would be fine, except he’s the ‘villain’ because he is suffering from undiagnosed/untreated schizophrenia. While I understand WHY they feel and act the way they do at the end of the story, it just feels icky.


71. Paradise Palms by Paul Haddad (3.5/5⭐)

It is October 1957. A time of Eisenhower conformity, police and mob strongholds, and Red Scare paranoia. A relic of Hollywood's Golden Age, the aging Paradise Palms Hotel is on the brink of change. David Shapiro-eldest son of recently widowed Max Shapiro-has assumed a leadership role. But the more he digs into the hotel's business, the more he questions who his father is. It's not just the tenuous ties to gangster Mickey Cohen, who is trying to commandeer "the Palms," but also the sudden appearance of a mysterious African American guest named Rae Lynn, who improbably rises in stature. As long-buried secrets come to light, David's battle to keep the family intact takes a tragic turn. His actions mirror an America lurching from the surface simplicity of the '50s to the turmoil of the 1960s in this riveting neo-noir family saga.
Thank you to Book Publicity Services and Paul Haddad for my ARC of this book! When Kelsey reached out about sending this book to me in exchange for a review, I was right on board. I unexpectedly loved the last trilogy she sent me, so even though this didn’t sound like a book I would usually read, I wanted to give it a go.
I really loved all of the description in this book, especially since the setting was the late 1950s, much before my lifetime. You could really picture the settings as the story took place. It was a family drama, but the addition of the mob really added a deeper criminal aspect to it. I really liked the Shapiro family, and rooted for them the whole way through.
Honestly, I think this would make a great movie!


72. The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony (4/5⭐️)

Their mother turns their world upside down. Raised to be fiercely curious by their grandmother Maggie, the twins become determined to learn the identity of their biological father. And when their mission goes viral, an eccentric producer offers them a dream platform: a fully sponsored podcast called The Kids Are Gonna Ask. To discover the truth, Thomas and Savannah begin interviewing people from their mother’s past and are shocked when the podcast ignites in popularity. As the attention mounts, they get caught in a national debate they never asked for—but nothing compares to the mayhem that ensues when they find him.

Despite its 400+ pages, this family drama felt like a quick read. The audience is probably more YA, but the main characters were likeable, so I was intrigued with the plot line. It probably helps that I love a good podcast that tells a story. I had originally received this as an ARC, but due to COVID shipping delays, it arrived after the publishing date and I only just now got around to reading it. 

One thing I really liked about this book is that it had a lot of little details I could relate to. For example, they mentioned Serial, one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, and Bible Bumps (of which I have one). Also, the book is set in Minneapolis so they make a lot of MN references, and of course the author’s name is Gretchen! 

Though the story is fairly realistic, the kids get around to finding their dad pretty quickly, and it lacks a lot of depth and character development. Of course there was a ‘bad guy,’ but they were taken care of pretty easily. I like the multi-perspective telling of the story between the twins, their dad, and their grandma.


73. Bliss by Shay Mitchell and Michaela Blaney (2.5/5⭐️)

Sophia Marcus has mapped out every aspect of her glamorous life as a Hollywood actor on her vision board. But her life right now in Toronto is anything but exciting. Attending fruitless auditions during the day and working at a club at night, Sophia is starting to feel like she's going nowhere...slowly. 

Demi Michaels, Sophia's best friend, didn't go to college. Short of ideas for her own future, she puts her energy into building the perfect relationship with an older man. And when that relationship crashes and burns, Demi is left to pick up the pieces.

Sophia's friend (and Demi's frenemy) Leandra Hunting doesn't give a crap about hard work or a loving relationship. She has other plans for her future. After college graduation, Leandra sets out to travel the world in the yachts, planes and limos of ridiculously wealthy men. Will any of them be able to show her what love really means-if she can take off her Chanel sunglasses long enough to see it?

Set in the exotic, intoxicating worlds of Hollywood, Thailand, and London, Shay Mitchell and Michaela Blaney's Bliss paints a relatable portrait of life in your early twenties with equal parts optimism and fear, hope and disappointment, expectation and reality. It's the Age of Uncertainty, but, if you're lucky enough to have one truly great friend, you can survive just about anything.

The only reason I chose this book was because Shay Mitchell was the co-author, AND it was autographed.

That being said, I think it was a bit of a let down. None of the characters were likeable for at least the first half of the book, though I did grow to sort of like two of the three. It was absolutely an unrealistic story, which was fine, but there was no real depth to it. Yes, two of the main characters seemed to maybe have a little growth, but they were so entitled and superficial! The plot line was very simple, and though the concept had potential, it fell flat. It was a light read and I read it in a day, but it’s definitely not a book you would read for substance.


74. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (3/5⭐️)

Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for . . . well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret . . . and fears she doesn’t know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought of as nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad, he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same—especially Penelope Featherington! The girl who was always simply there is suddenly the girl haunting his dreams. When he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide . . . is she his biggest threat— or his promise of a happy ending?

I listened to the first three books in the series earlier this year, but unfortunately Libby didn’t have the rest, so I had to take a hiatus from the Bridgerton series. However, the whole series is now available! Whoop whoop!

Though this story was suppose to be mainly about Colin Bridgerton, I feel like it was just as much about figuring out who Lady Whistledown was. I will be very curious to see if the Netflix show plays out the same way (if they continue the series through all the books) or if they will change it/string it out longer for cinematic purposes.

This is probably my least favorite of the series so far. Colin, who has been a witty and likeable character thus far, was kind of a jerk. Penelope was fine, but their love story felt off. The courting was brief, and lacked the romance that the first three books in the series had.


75. Tell Me by Lisa Jackson (3/5⭐️)

The most hated woman in Savannah, Georgia, is about to be set free. Twenty years ago, beautiful Blondell O'Henry was convicted of murdering her eldest daughter, Amity, and wounding her two other children. Though she swore she was innocent, the prosecution insisted that Blondell did it all to be with her lover. But Blondell's son has now recanted his crucial testimony.

Reporter Nikki Gillette is determined to get the truth for her true crime book—as well as personal reasons. Amity was Nikki’s childhood friend. The night she died, Amity begged her to meet with her, insisting she had a secret to tell, but Nikki didn't go. Now Nikki's fiancé, Detective Pierce Reed, worries for her safety. Because somehow, the events of that tragic night connect to Nikki's own fractured family. Soon Nikki will discover what really happened two decades ago, but the answers may come too late to save her life. . .

This was a random book purchase at a used bookstore within the last year. It’s the third book in a series (which I didn’t know at the time). It’s not critical that you read the previous two, but there is mention to a few prior events that would probably spoil the previous books of you do intend to read them.

Honestly it was a pretty slow moving story. Not bad, just not as action-filled as I expected. The description said someone was killing again, but it was barely a part of the story. The last 75 pages or so had me in high suspense! It just took awhile to get there.


76. The New Girl Code by Niki Smit (3.5/5⭐️)

Charlie is a 15-year-old girl living in Brooklyn, NY who feels as if she’s living in her best friend’s shadow. She’s a little awkward and a lot uncertain - about her future, friendships, and ahem, lack of kissing experience. But then she discovers an idea for an app, The Fashionist, that goes viral and rockets her to fame, both at her school and in the tech community. But everything is in jeopardy as she deals with a catfish who befriends her and steals her code, rumors at school, and the newfound attention of a crush.

I had won this YA read in an instagram giveaway a couple years ago, but I had been saving it for a pool read, and the pool wasn’t open last summer! 

Anywho, I loved the ‘girls in STEM’ concept. The main character wasn’t super likeable in the beginning, but she redeemed herself by the end. The organization of the book was fun, and I liked how they included coding within the text. It’s definitely unrealistic when you look at the time frame this all took place in, but it was a good story nonetheless.

I was hoping to put this in my classroom library, but the content is just a bit too advanced. I would definitely recommend this for a middle school aged girl, especially once who is into computer science! If you want my copy, it’s yours!


77. To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn (3.5/5⭐️)

Sir Phillip knew that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, and so he’d proposed, figuring that she’d be homely and unassuming, and more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except . . . she wasn’t. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking long enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her . . . and more.

Did he think she was mad? Eloise Bridgerton couldn’t marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking . . . and wondering . . . and before she knew it, she was in a hired carriage in the middle of the night, on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except . . . he wasn’t. Her perfect husband wouldn’t be so moody and ill-mannered, and while Phillip was certainly handsome, he was a large brute of a man, rough and rugged, and totally unlike the London gentlemen vying for her hand. But when he smiled . . . and when he kissed her . . . the rest of the world simply fell away, and she couldn’t help but wonder . . . could this imperfect man be perfect for her?

I was SO SAD to read this book! Eloise has been my favorite character so far because I could relate to her the most. I loved how she didn’t care about marriage and that she saw a fabulous future for herself as a single woman, living life as she pleased. Welp, that all went out the window with this story.

Regardless, I still appreciate Eloise for the plucky little spitfire that she is. And though I was disappointed to learn that she in fact DID want a man, I was at least pleased to know that she was keeping her standards high. 


78. Anxious People by Fredrick Backman (3.5/5⭐️)

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them - the bank robber included - desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

“This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots.”

This was a quote from the book, and it was 100% true. Some of these people!! Which was totally the point, but still!! It’s hard for me to really like a novel when I don’t particularly like any of the characters, which is why I didn’t love this one as much as most people did, I think. This reminded me of a Nick Hornby novel, but for grownups. It was a fun story, and neat to see how everything connected. I like his other books better, but I would recommend this if you’re looking for a happy-ending read and you can deal with bumbling fools as all the characters 😝


79. Impostors by Scott Westerfeld (3.5/5⭐️)

Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . two edges of the same knife. But Frey's very existence is a secret. Frey is Rafi's twin sister-and her body double. Their powerful father has many enemies, and the world has grown dangerous as the old order falls apart. So while Rafi was raised to be the perfect daughter, Frey has been taught to kill. Her only purpose is to protect her sister, to sacrifice herself for Rafi if she must. When her father sends Frey in Rafi's place as collateral in a precarious deal, she becomes the perfect impostor -- as poised and charming as her sister. But Col, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her. As the deal starts to crumble, Frey must decide if she can trust him with the truth . . . and if she can risk becoming her own person. With Impostors, master storyteller Scott Westerfeld returns with a new series set in a world full of twists and turns, rebellion and intrigue, where any wrong step could be Frey's last.

Westerfeld wrote what was to me, the OG dystopian series, “The Uglies.” I read it back in 8th grade (I think? Roughly?) and LOVED it so much that I recently bought the series for my personal bookshelf from a Scholastic book order. The series came with two other Westerfeld books, this and another, that sort of continue the series.

They aren’t about the same characters, but it’s about the civilization that existed AFTER The Uglies generations. There isn’t a lot of depth to the story or the characters, but it is a YA read, or maybe even middle grade. Im kinda wishing I would have re-read the Uglies series before reading this one, but it’s not necessary. I’m looking forward to reading book two!


80. The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (4.5/5⭐️)

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for. 

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending?

This thriller was released earlier this year and came highly recommended. I can absolutely see why!! This is the best thriller I’ve read/listened to in a long time. It was such a fun read and I had no idea which twist and turn was going to happen next. It’s so juicy and engaging; there wasn’t a single dull part or character. I definitely did not predict the ending, but I loved how everything turned out! 


81. The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie (5/5🌟)

Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Sunshine Griffith and her mother Kat move from sunny Austin, Texas, to the rain-drenched town of Ridgemont, Washington. Though Sunshine is adopted, she and her mother have always been close, sharing a special bond filled with laughter and inside jokes. But from the moment they arrive, Sunshine feels her world darken with an eeriness she cannot place. And even if Kat doesn't recognize it, Sunshine knows that something about their new house is just...creepy. 

In the days that follow, things only get stranger. Sunshine is followed around the house by an icy breeze, phantom wind slams her bedroom door shut, and eventually, the laughter Sunshine hears on her first night evolves into sobs. She can hardly believe it, but as the spirits haunting her house become more frightening-and it becomes clear that Kat is in danger-Sunshine must accept what she is, pass the test before her, and save her mother from a fate worse than death.

A GHOST STORY. 👻 This book was awesome!!

I started reading this on my balcony, laying in my hammock at dusk, which was was PRIME TIME for being SPOOKED.  My lights were off inside, but I kept seeing something move out of the corner of my eye in the sliding glass door…turns out it was just the tree’s reflection from rustling in the wind, but the story already had me jumpy. Then, the story talked about the faint sound of a little girl laughing, shortly after which I HEARD THE FAINT SOUND OF CHILDREN LAUGHING. Which of course was coming from kids I couldn’t see somewhere out in my complex, BUT STILL. Just as I think it’s necessary to watch scary movies in the dark, it is also necessary to read scary books in the (almost) dark. Ghost stories should never just be read, you need the whole experience of being as creeped out as possible.

I picked the book up again a little before midnight, and made it roughly one chapter before getting up to turn off the AC because this book was giving me CHILLS!!  I could have stayed up all night reading this, but it started thundering outside and here in Clarksville, if you just *think* the word ‘thunderstorm,’ the power will go out, and I did NOT want the power to go out in the middle of reading a ghost story.

Anyway, enough about my reading experience - moving on to my book thoughts. This was everything I wanted in a ghost story. It’s a YA book so it’s not in the category of “horror,” and the main character is a junior in high school. It’s not gory or gross, but is unnerving and suspenseful. Definitely recommend if you’re into being spooked!

There are two more books in the series and I’m not sure if I want to read them. There was a huge mystery in this book, and while the story with the characters can absolutely continue, I think the mystery is what made it so good. Now that it’s been solved, I’m not sure the suspense will be there. I guess maybe I just need to continue reading them to find out!

This was just a random book I picked up in Minnesota months and months ago, and I’m so glad I did! My only regret is not reading it sooner!


82. When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn (3/5⭐️)


In every life there is a turning point. A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one’s life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London’s most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.

After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca’s surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer—the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin.

But that was then . . . Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love . . . until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms, and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets . . .

Usually I’m a firm believer in reading the books before watching the movie/show, but this case was different. I would have NEVER picked up the Bridgerton series on my own, romance novels just aren’t my genre of choice. However, after watching the show (which was only based off book one), I HAD to read the series. I guess at least I’m reading books 2-8 before the come out ob Netflix!

This was the sixth book in the Bridgerton series, and was all about Francesca’s life AFTER her husband John died and left her a widow. Honestly the books get to be pretty repetitive after the first couple. You know they’re going to end up together, so though there is technically ‘suspense’ leading up to how it happens, they’re predictable stories. Wasn’t super engaged with this one, but I started the series so now I have to finish it!


83. It’s In His Kiss by Julia Quinn (4/5⭐️)


Meet Our Hero . . .

Gareth St. Clair is in a bind. His father, who detests him, is determined to beggar the St. Clair estates and ruin his inheritance. Gareth’s sole bequest is an old family diary, which may or may not contain the secrets of his past . . . and the key to his future. The problem is—it’s written in Italian, of which Gareth speaks not a word.

Meet Our Heroine . . .

All the ton agreed: there was no one quite like Hyacinth Bridgerton. She’s fiendishly smart, devilishly outspoken, and according to Gareth, probably best in small doses. But there’s something about her—something charming and vexing—that grabs him and won’t quite let go . . .

Meet Poor Mr. Mozart . . .

Or don’t. But rest assured, he’s spinning in his grave when Gareth and Hyacinth cross paths at the annual—and annually discordant—Smythe-Smith musicale. To Hyacinth, Gareth’s every word seems a dare, and she offers to translate his diary, even though her Italian is slightly less than perfect. But as they delve into the mysterious text, they discover that the answers they seek lie not in the diary, but in each other . . . and that there is nothing as simple—or as complicated—as a single, perfect kiss.

Hyacinth is was my second favorite Bridgerton, after Eloise, though she may be tied with Eloise now. Or perhaps even passed her up! 

I loved Hyacinth’s confidence and spunk. She says what’s on her mind and does what she wants. I was getting a bit bored with the Bridgerton novels, but this one had a mystery element to it that pulled me right back in!


84. On the Way to the Wedding by Julia Quinn (4/5⭐️)


Unlike most men of his acquaintance, Gregory Bridgerton believes in true love. And he is convinced that when he finds the woman of his dreams, he will know in an instant that she is the one. And that is exactly what happened. Except ...

She wasn’t the one. In fact, the ravishing Miss Hermione Watson is in love with another. But her best friend, the ever-practical Lady Lucinda Abernathy, wants to save Hermione from a disastrous alliance, so she offers to help Gregory win her over. But in the process, Lucy falls in love. With Gregory! Except ...

Lucy is engaged. And her uncle is not inclined to let her back out of the betrothal, even once Gregory comes to his senses and realizes that it is Lucy, with her sharp wit and sunny smile, who makes his heart sing. And now, on the way to the wedding, Gregory must risk everything to ensure that when it comes time to kiss the bride, he is the only man standing at the altar …

This was the last book in the Bridgerton series, and the perfect ending. The middle of the series started to bore me, but the action and drama really picked up with the last couple books. I was worried I wouldn’t like how this book ended, but it went just the way I hoped!

The copies I read all had the second epilogue in them, which tells about the characters’ lives years, if not decades, after the original story ends. I’m torn on how I feel about the epilogues. On one hand, it’s nice to have the “what happened to them next?” questions answered, but on the other hand, wondering is half the fun!

An another note, I’ve listened to the whole series on audio, and really enjoyed the performer!


85. Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz (3.5/5⭐️)

At thirty-four, Internet entrepreneur Ryan Perry seemed to have the world in his pocket—until the first troubling symptoms appeared out of nowhere. Within days, he’s diagnosed with incurable cardiomyopathy and finds himself on the waiting list for a heart transplant; it’s his only hope, and it’s dwindling fast. Ryan is about to lose it all…his health, his girlfriend Samantha, and his life.

One year later, Ryan has never felt better. Business is good and he hopes to renew his relationship with Samantha. Then the unmarked gifts begin to appear—a box of Valentine candy hearts, a heart pendant. Most disturbing of all, a graphic heart surgery video and the chilling message: Your heart belongs to me.

In a heartbeat, the medical miracle that gave Ryan a second chance at life is about to become a curse worse than death. For Ryan is being stalked by a mysterious woman who feels entitled to everything he has. She’s the spitting image of the twenty-six-year-old donor of the heart beating steadily in Ryan’s own chest.

And she’s come to take it back.

Dean Koontz was one of my favorite authors in high school. A friend gave me one of his books at hockey camp the summer before I was a freshman, and I was immediately obsessed. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read one of his novels, and since this one was in my TBR pile anyway, I figured I was overdue.

This was a good book, though it wasn’t a favorite. Even though it wasn’t as creepy or as bizarre as the ones I really love by him, it had a good mystery element with some suspense. I had no idea why the things that were happening to the main character were happening, but I was satisfied with the reasoning once I reached the end. Though I do wish the final ending was different!! One thing I like about Koontz, and in this book in particular, is that you can never quite be sure as to weather something supernatural is occurring or if it’s human’s that are doing the creeping.


86. Survive the Night by Riley Sager (3.5/5⭐️)

It’s November 1991. Nirvana's in the tape deck, George H. W. Bush is in the White House, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the shocking murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father—or so he says. 
The longer she sits in the passenger seat, the more Charlie notices there’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t want her to see inside the trunk. As they travel an empty, twisty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly anxious Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s jittery mistrust merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?
One thing is certain—Charlie has nowhere to run and no way to call for help. Trapped in a terrifying game of cat and mouse played out on pitch-black roads and in neon-lit parking lots, Charlie knows the only way to win is to survive the night.

Sager’s thrillers have always been 4 and 5 star reads for me, so this was one of my most anticipated reads this summer.

My emotions with this book, y’all. 

It was a very slow start. 

First, I could not get myself to like the protagonist. The story is about a girl named Charlie who is riding overnight via campus rideshare and thinks the guy she is riding with is a murderer. But she doesn’t do anything about it! She has ideas of what to do, but then doesn’t do it! 

Second, I just couldn’t get on board with the “movies” in her head. Like, what?

But THEN, things happened about halfway through, and I was like okay, I can maybe get on board with this story now. 


Not my favorite Sager novel, but though it started slow, it redeemed itself in the end!


87. The Murder House by James Patterson (4/5⭐️)

Detective Jenna Murphy comes to the Hamptons to solve a murder -- but what she finds is more deadly than she could ever imagine.

Trying to escape her troubled past and rehabilitate a career on the rocks, former New York City cop Jenna Murphy hardly expects her lush and wealthy surroundings to be a hotbed of grisly depravity. But when a Hollywood power broker and his mistress are found dead in the abandoned Murder House, the gruesome crime scene rivals anything Jenna experienced in Manhattan. And what at first seems like an open and shut case turns out to have as many shocking secrets as the Murder House itself, as Jenna quickly realizes that the mansion's history is much darker than even the town's most salacious gossips could have imagined. 
As more bodies surface, and the secret that Jenna has tried desperately to escape closes in on her, she must risk her own life to expose the truth-before the Murder House claims another victim. 

I used to love James Patterson in high school, but haven’t read a lot by him in the last decade. This was a great book to start back up with!

The pacing was quick; things just kept happening! Every time I thought I had it figured out, something dramatic would happen and make me change my mind. 


88. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard (4/5⭐️)

In the summer of June of 1991, I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother that loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen. 

For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I was an object for someone to use and abuse. For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation. 

On August 26, 2009, I took my name back. My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard. I don’t think of myself as a victim, I simply survived an intolerable situation. A Stolen Life is my story—in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.

This ended up being a re-read that I didn’t realize was a re-read until I was already reading it 😬 I didn’t have it marked as “read” on Goodreads, but every chapter I kept thinking “this sounds so familiar.” First I thought maybe it reminded me of Elizabeth Smart’s memoir, or maybe “The Room,” but it seemed too much like I’d read the exact book before. I Google a lot when I read, and finally I got to the point where I KNEW I had read the articles before, so I went to my Instagram and found a picture of the book with #gretchensbooks2016 🤦🏼‍♀️THEN I checked my bookshelf, and there it was, my copy of the book. I had checked this copy out from the library, because I have her second memoir and I wanted to read this one first. Apparently I’ve gone full on summer brain, which isn’t good considering I’m heading into school in a few days to start getting ready for the new year! Since I was already halfway through, I kept reading and finished it.


This was a tough read. It’s hard to hear about the terrible things people do, especially from a first hand account. She had part of her journal from 2003-2004 in the book, and I just kept thinking how terrifying it was that I was living my normal  life, going to middle school like a normal kid, while this terrible stuff was happening to her (and of course while terrible stuff was happening to other people). And she was 29 when she was found, that’s my age now. I think about everything that has happened since I was 11 until now, and she missed out on all of that because she was held hostage is some guy’s backyard for 18 years. I get so lost in thought when reading memoirs like this, because it’s so hard to process and comprehend. 

I really liked that she had a reflection at the end of each chapter, because to me a memoir tells not only your story, but also what you learned along the way. 

The psychology part of this was really interesting to me. It really shows how much words DO matter, and how much harm they can do, especially over time, and especially for a child.


89. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs (4.5/5⭐️)

Like his fellow lunarnauts—otherwise known as Moonies—living on Moon Base Alpha, twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson is famous the world over for being one of the first humans to live on the moon. 

And he’s bored out of his mind. Kids aren’t allowed on the lunar surface, meaning they’re trapped inside the tiny moon base with next to nothing to occupy their time—and the only other kid Dash’s age spends all his time hooked into virtual reality games. 

Then Moon Base Alpha’s top scientist turns up dead. Dash senses there’s foul play afoot, but no one believes him. Everyone agrees Dr. Holtz went onto the lunar surface without his helmet properly affixed, simple as that. But Dr. Holtz was on the verge of an important new discovery, Dash finds out, and it’s a secret that could change everything for the Moonies—a secret someone just might kill to keep...

A murder mystery on the moon?!? SOLD!!

I bought these books for my classroom, but HAD to read them first, you know, to vet! Okay, maybe I just couldn’t pass up a story set on the moon..

This is the first in a middle grade trilogy, and I loved every second of it. I specifically liked how the author incorporated actual facts of surviving in space, and it wasn’t all sci-fi. In fact, I’d hardly consider it sci-if at all. It takes place roughly 20 years from now, and it’s cool to see how things change, and how he reflects back on pop culture, etc. of the current time.


90. Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs (4.5/5⭐️)

There’s nowhere to hide on the world’s first moon base. After all, it’s only the size of a soccer field. So when Nina Stack, the commander of Moon Base Alpha, mysteriously vanishes, the Moonies are at a total loss. 

Though he may be just twelve years old, Dashiell Gibson is the best detective they’ve got. But this confusing mystery pushes Dash to his limits. Especially since Dash accidentally made contact with an alien and has to keep it a secret. With the fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance, will Dash be able to solve the mystery of the missing Moonie?

This was the second book in the Moon Based Alpha trilogy, and they definitely need to be read in order. My thoughts on this book are about the same as the previous- I love the reality of what living in space would entail. The mystery is absolutely grade appropriate, and very engaging. Also, I loved how it ended because it makes me even more curious for the next book!


91. Sold on a Monday by Kristina M. Morris (3.5/5⭐️)


The sign is a last resort. It sits on a farmhouse porch in 1931, but could be found anywhere in an era of breadlines, bank runs and broken dreams. It could have been written by any mother facing impossible choices.

For struggling reporter Ellis Reed, the gut-wrenching scene evokes memories of his family's dark past. He snaps a photograph of the children, not meant for publication. But when it leads to his big break, the consequences are more devastating than he ever imagined.

Inspired by an actual newspaper photograph that stunned the nation, Sold on a Monday is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and the unexpected paths that bring us home.

This was a little slow moving to start, but once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it! The pacing was a bit off for me, but the storyline flowed well otherwise. The topic was absolutely heart breaking, but I felt it lacked the real emotional pull at your heart strings that a story on this topic should have. I did think the era was depicted well. Despite (obviously) not being alive during this time, I could picture it well.

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

Reading Challenge: 91/120 books read in 2021

You can find previous book reviews here!

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