Monday, September 6, 2021

#gretchensbooks2021 - August



I was going through formatting this post before sharing, and I am in complete shock that I managed 15 books this month. Between school starting and volleyball and concerts and trying to still get enough sleep, I didn't feel like I had much reading time, but I guess I had more than I thought! Hopefully I'll reach my goal for the year in TBR list says I could definitely do with surpassing it!


92. Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (3.5/5⭐️)

It’s the start of a new year at Snow Hill School, and seven students find themselves thrown together in Mr. Terupt’s fifth grade class. There’s . . . Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school. 

They don’t have much in common, and they’ve never gotten along. Not until a certain new teacher arrives and helps them to find strength inside themselves—and in each other. But when Mr. Terupt suffers a terrible accident, will his students be able to remember the lessons he taught them? Or will their lives go back to the way they were before—before fifth grade and before Mr. Terupt? 

This is a middle grade/upper elementary that came highly recommended as a read aloud for fifth graders. I think maybe my expectations were too high, because I didn’t love it like it seems everyone else does. It was a sweet story and made a lot of really good sense for ten years olds. However, it felt really simplistic. I understand that it’s meant for kids, but it just seems really low level, like the author could have gone a little deeper. There were big ideas and lessons learned, but it all seemed so easy. 


92. Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens (5/5🌟)

The Cold Creek Highway stretches close to five hundred miles through British Columbia’s rugged wilderness to the west coast. Isolated and vast, it has become a prime hunting ground for predators. For decades, young women traveling the road have gone missing. Motorists and hitchhikers, those passing through or living in one of the small towns scattered along the region, have fallen prey time and again. And no killer or abductor who has stalked the highway has ever been brought to justice.

Hailey McBride calls Cold Creek home. Her father taught her to respect nature, how to live and survive off the land, and to never travel the highway alone. Now he’s gone, leaving her a teenage orphan in the care of her aunt whose police officer husband uses his badge as a means to bully and control Hailey. Overwhelmed by grief and forbidden to work, socialize, or date, Hailey vanishes into the mountainous terrain, hoping everyone will believe she’s left town. Rumors spread that she was taken by the highway killer—who’s claimed another victim over the summer.

One year later, Beth Chevalier arrives in Cold Creek, where her sister Amber lived—and where she was murdered. Estranged from her parents and seeking closure, Beth takes a waitressing job at the local diner, just as Amber did, desperate to understand what happened to her and why. But Beth’s search for answers puts a target on her back—and threatens to reveal the truth behind Hailey’s disappearance…


By the time I was 50 pages in I already felt hopeful and angry and anxious and uncomfortable….each of those emotions was to an extreme amount. And it only got more intense from there!

I was constantly torn between wanting to keep reading it because I needed to know what happened next, and wanted to close it because my body couldn’t handle anymore extreme emotions….I was WAY too invested in this fictional story!

With school starting up, I’ve been working during the day, which meant my only reading time was at night. THIS IS NOT A GOOD NIGHTTIME READ. I mean it is, but not if you want to have a restful, nightmareless sleep.

Y’all I kept guessing and second guessing and I thought I knew what happened but then I would change my mind and that’s the kind of book I love to read! I love how it ended, and how much suspense the story held the whole time.


94. Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie (4/5⭐️)

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She's a scientist, which is why she can't think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she's made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There's something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour...he's gone.

Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad's ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.

Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something...and Claire needs to find out what before it's too late.

Oh, this was such a good ghost story! It’s a middle grade novel recommended to me by a friend, and combined two of my favorite things- ghosts and science! 

It wasn’t over-the-top creepy, but had just enough spook to keep you in suspense. Also, it made me very curious about the disasters and “hauntings” in Chicago, enough so that I may need to head back up to Chicago sooner rather than later.! I’ve also added some additional topics to me “to read” list because of this book, which is a sign of good writing, I think!


95. Crime Beat by Michael Connelly (3/5⭐️)

Before he became a novelist, Michael Connelly was a crime reporter, covering the detectives who worked the homicide beat in Florida and Los Angeles.

In vivid, hard-hitting articles, Connelly leads the reader past the yellow police tape as he follows the investigators, the victims, their families and friends--and, of course, the killers--to tell the real stories of murder and its aftermath.

Connelly's firsthand observations would lend inspiration to his novels, from The Black Echo, which was drawn from a real-life bank heist, to Trunk Music, based on an unsolved case of a man found in the trunk of his Rolls Royce. And the vital details of his best-known characters, both heroes and villains, would be drawn from the cops and killers he reported on: from loner detective Harry Bosch to the manipulative serial killer the Poet.

Stranger than fiction and every bit as gripping, these pieces show once again that Michael Connelly is not only a master of his craft, but also one of the great American writers in any form.

I didn’t realize what this book was when I bought it, as it is different than Connelly’s usual books, but I enjoyed it nonetheless!

Rather than being a crime thriller like his other books, this book detailed the true crime stories that inspired many of Connelly’s fictional books. It was kind of fun reading a bunch of short true crime stories (which were actually his original reports from when he was a crime reporter) but it did leave me wanting more. It was kind of weird to read a bunch of newspaper clips though.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it 1) told which of his books each story inspired and 2) if I had read more of his books recently so I knew what they were referencing. 

I do want to read more Connelly now, however, so I guess it worked out in that sense!


96. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel (4/5⭐️)

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books when her eyes lock on a photograph in the New York Times. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in more than sixty years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer, but does she have the strength to revisit old memories?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris and find refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, where she began forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice NetworkThe Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

This was a WWII historical fiction novel, and though sometimes I feel like these books blend together, this one had a premise that was a bit different than most!

I liked that the story included both present and past perspectives, but I wish it would have included a little more of present era. Also, though it was told well solely from the main character’s perspective, it would have been interesting to read with the perspectives from a variety of the characters, even only one or two more.

I really loved how it ended!


97. The Cousins by Karen M. McManus (4/5⭐️)

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they've never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they're surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point--not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother's good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it's immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious--and dark--their family's past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn't over--and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

I have no idea where I got the idea to read this book, as it wasn’t on my Goodreads lost, but I’m glad I picked it up!(it is the same author as “One of Us is Lying” which is suppose to be good, so maybe that’s why?? Or more likely I was just captivated by the cover art (I 100% judge a book by its cover, no shame).

The whole story was one big mystery and though I had a lot of thoughts and ideas, the ending still surprised me. It wasn’t a crazy thriller, but the suspense and drama was definitely there, with lots of twists! I look forward to reading more books by McManus!


98. The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard (3.5/5⭐️)

Ava, Caitlin, Mackenzie, Julie, and Parker are all driven to be perfect—no matter the cost.

At first the girls think they have nothing in common, until they discover that they all hate the same person: handsome womanizer Nolan Hotchkiss, who's done things to hurt each of them.

They come up with the perfect plan to murder Nolan—jokingly, of course. They'd never actually go through with it. But when Nolan turns up dead in the exact way they'd discussed, the girls suddenly become prime suspects in his murder. 

Only, they didn't do it

So who did? Unless they find the real killer, and soon, any one of them may be the next to die….

Many, many years ago, I absolutely gobbled up the Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game series by Sara Shepard. I loved her drama writing, and have all intentions of reading everything she’s ever written. I haven’t loved all of her writing as much as PLL and TLG, but for the most part they’ve all been worth reading.

The Perfectionists only has two books in the series, and it’s nothing like what I remember the show to be (so I guess I’m going to have to go back and re-watch it after finishing book two! There is less intensity I think than her other series, but it is similar in terms of crazy teenage drama.

My exact words when finishing this were, “What. That’s how it ends?!” Thank goodness I have book two queued up and ready to go!


99. The Perfectionists: The Good Girls by Sara Shepard (3.5/5⭐️)

Mackenzie, Ava, Caitlin, Julie, and Parker have done some not-so-perfect things. But even though they all talked about killing rich bully Nolan Hotchkiss, they didn’t actually go through with it. It’s just a coincidence that Nolan died in exactly the way they planned . . . right?

Except Nolan wasn’t the only one they fantasized about killing. When someone else they named dies, the girls wonder if they’re being framed. Or are they about to become the killer’s next targets?

I was on board with this series at first, but then it felt like she was trying to write another PLL series and it didn’t quite reach that level.

About half way through I was thinking I was glad there was only two books, because I wasn’t sure I’d want to continue if there had been more. But then, three-fourths of the way through things took a turn that I did NOT see coming and I don’t know how!! It definitely redeemed itself a bit with that, and the way the story ended, I’m surprised she didn’t continue. 

Also, I went back and looked at the TV series and like PLL it’s similar in that it has some of the same characters and plot line, but definitely veers from the books.


100. The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (4/5⭐️)

A lot has changed in years since Ambrosia Wellington graduated from college, and she’s worked hard to create a new life for herself. But then an invitation to her ten-year reunion arrives in the mail, along with an anonymous note that reads, “We need to talk about what we did that night.

It seems that the secrets of Ambrosia’s past—and the people she thought she’d left there—aren’t as buried as she believed. Amb can’t stop fixating on what she did or who she did it with: larger-than-life Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, Amb’s former best friend, who could make anyone do anything.

At the reunion, Amb and Sully receive increasingly menacing messages, and it becomes clear that they’re being pursued by someone who wants more than just the truth of what happened that first semester. This person wants revenge for what they did and the damage they caused—the extent of which Amb is only now fully understanding. And it was all because of the game they played to get a boy who belonged to someone else and the girl who paid the price.

Alternating between the reunion and Amb’s freshman year, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a “chilling and twisty thriller” (Book Riot) about the brutal lengths girls can go to get what they think they’re owed, and what happens when the games we play in college become matters of life and death.

This was a bookstagram recommendation, and it was pretty good! There was a lot of drama and mystery, even though you didn’t know what the mystery was exactly for most of it! I liked that they went back and forth between present and past, because it helped you start to put the pieces together, even though you really had to wait until the very end to see the whole picture. I’m not sure how I felt about the ending! From a literary perspective it was great, but I was kinda rooting for the character who got the shaft in the end!


101. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (4/5

Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life -- until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father's prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive? 

I had bought this for my classroom library, but wanted to read it first due to the topic. While it’s mostly age appropriate, I’ve decided not to put it in my library since it mentions the girl being groped by a guard, as well as rape. It is WWII historical fiction, but revolves around the story of Lithuanians displaced to Siberian work camps. Sometimes I feel like so many stories of this era are repetitive, but this felt like a new story. 


102. A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold (4/5⭐️)

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill 12 students and a teacher and wound 24 others before taking their own lives. 

For the last 16 years, Sue Klebold, Dylan's mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently? 

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother's Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and countless interviews with mental health experts. 

This was, as expected, absolutely heart-wrenching. After a tragedy, we think so much about the victims and their families (and rightly so), but we forget that the families of those who carry out these tragedies are victims too. Everything I’d ever heard about the Klebold family was that they were loving, caring people, so when I found Sue had written a book I was immediately curious. A friend told me that there was also a documentary from her perspective (along with professionals, etc.) on Prime. I wanted to read the book first, so I borrowed it from the library. 

If there was such thing as a professional student, that’s what I would be. I would love to just study psychology for the rest of my life. I’ve always loved hearing people’s stories because they’re such a huge part of what makes people who they are. Tragedies like this are no different. Why did Columbine happen? Why do these tragedies STILL happen? How do victim’s and communities recover and move on? How do lives change internally? I just have so many questions and this book gave a lot of perspective into many of them. 

I can’t imagine what it must be like for Sur Klebold to have to try to come to terms with what her son did, and then to talk about it with the rest of the world. I’m sure writing this book was likely a part of the grief process for her as well.

If you’re curious about the documentary on Prime, it’s called “American Tragedy”


103. Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus (4/5⭐️)

On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry made headlines around the world when she fled a Cleveland home and called 911, saying: “Help me, I’m Amanda Berry. . . . I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for ten years.” 
A horrifying story rapidly unfolded. Ariel Castro, a local school bus driver, had separately lured Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight to his home, where he kept them chained. In the decade that followed, the three were raped, psychologically abused, and threatened with death. Berry had a daughter—Jocelyn—by their captor. 
Drawing upon their recollections and the diary kept by Amanda Berry, Berry and Gina DeJesus describe a tale of unimaginable torment, and Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan interweave the events within Castro’s house with original reporting on efforts to find the missing girls. The full story behind the headlines—including details never previously released on Castro’s life and motivations— Hope is a harrowing yet inspiring chronicle of two women whose courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness ultimately delivered them back to their lives and families.

I was in middle school when these girls went missing, and I think it must not have been super nationally publicized, because I don’t remember it. I DO however remember when they escaped during my college years.

There was a third woman as well, Michelle Knight, whose book I read a few years ago, who was part of this terrible story as well. 

Theirs is another story that is absolutely horrific, but makes my mind wonder. Even with everything they share, it’s so bizarre to grasp how psychologically damaging situations like this are. I can’t imagine how different I would be if I had missed out on my high school and college years in the “real world” like they had. It’s crazy how the mind adapts (hence Stockholm Syndrome) to attempt to save you not only physically, but psychologically and emotionally as well. 


104. Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica (4/5⭐️)

People don't just disappear without a trace…

Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they'll find…

Well I did not see that coming!! This was a thriller published in May, and while my library had ordered a physical copy, I couldn’t wait and checked out the audio on Libby. So good!!

I loved the different perspectives and the switch between past and present. This book keeps you guessing until the very end. It was well-written and the suspense was on point, especially nearing the end. If you like thrillers, I definitely recommend this one!


105. The Beach House by James Patterson (3/5⭐️)

When New York law student Jack Mullen learns that his brother has drowned, he knows it can't be an accident . . . 
Jack Mullen is in law school in New York City when the shocking news comes that his brother Peter has drowned in the ocean off East Hampton. Jack knows his brother and knows this couldn't be an accident; someone must have wanted his brother dead. But the powers that be say otherwise. As Jack tries to uncover details of his brothers last night, he confronts a barricade of lawyers, police, and paid protectors who separate the multibillionaire summer residents from local workers like Peter.
Soon he discovers that Peter wasn't just parking cars at the summer parties of the rich. He was making serious money satisfying the sexual needs of the richest women and men in town. The Beach House reveals the secret lives of celebrities in a breathtaking drama of revenge-with a finale so shocking that only James Patterson could have written it.

James Patterson is another old favorite that I don’t read enough of any more. I used to have a pretty extensive collection of his books, buy got rid of most when I moved south six years ago. Why I decided to get rid of a bunch of books I hadn’t read, I don’t know!! 

Anyway, this book was pretty basic. The 358 pages was comprised of 113 chapters, so that tells you how brief each event was. While I was curious and interested, the whole story was very surface level. I felt like it jumped from one event and perspective to the next without a whole lot of detail.

That being said, it was a fun read, and I was absolutely cheering for the main character at the end!


106. The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor (3.5/5⭐️)

Joe never wanted to come back to Arnhill. After the way things ended with his old gang—the betrayal, the suicide—and what happened when his sister went missing, the last thing he wanted to do was return to his hometown. But Joe doesn’t have a choice, not after a chilling email surfaces in his inbox: I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again . . .
Lying his way into a teaching job at his former high school is the easy part. Facing off with onetime friends who aren’t too happy to have him back in town—while avoiding the enemies he’s made in the years since—is tougher. But the hardest part of all will be returning to the abandoned mine where his life changed forever, and finally confronting the horrifying truth about Arnhill, his sister, and himself. Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing.
It was the day she came back.

This thriller was published a few years ago, and I can’t quite remember what made me pick it up. It wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t as engaging and suspenseful as I like my thrillers to be. 

This story did have some bizarre and strange aspects that set it apart from other books in its genre, however, and I did not predict the ending, so I liked that! It also jumped back and forth between par and present which added to the mystery.

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

Reading Challenge: 106/120 books read in 2021

You can find previous book reviews here!