Sunday, October 17, 2021

Fall Break 2021: Orlando, Florida

My brother and I are both huge Harry Potter fans, and last Christmas we got to talking, thinking we wanted to visit Harry Potter World at Universal. Since I have a week off for fall break in October, we decided that was prime time! Turns out, we were right!

 Wednesday, October 13, 2021

My brother flew into Nashville to meet me on Tuesday and I took him downtown on Broadway for his first time. We ended up staying in a hotel near the airport that night so that we wouldn't have to drive down for our 5:45A flight. 

I ended up waking up at 2:40A, which worked out well because it had us out the door by 3:30A. I was glad we left early because I could NOT find the parking lot that I had made a reservation at! The one I use to use has been closed for at least the last six months, and now I try a different one each time I fly because I can never remember what I used the time before. We drove by the lot three times before I called to find out what they were located by. Turns out we LITERALLY drove right past the entrance, but the sign light was not on, so I couldn't see it's location!

We flew from BNA to Charlotte where we had enough time for Cinnabon for breakfast before boarding our connection to Orlando.

The flights were uneventful (which is always good), but when we went to get the rental car they didn't have the Corolla that I wanted. They "upgraded" us to a Jeep Compass (I know most people would be thrilled about this but I was NOT!). THEN we got the parking space where it was suppose to be and it was empty! We went to the desk in the parking garage and they found us a Mitsubishi Outlander Sport which I was still not thrilled about (give me a Toyota!!), but also I was just happy to have a vehicle! I had booked a rental vehicle ahead of time through Budget because I know there have been a lot of vehicle shortages lately; despite that I was still a little nervous they wouldn't have one for me! 

From there, we headed out to Kennedy Space Center.  They had little kiosks at the entrance to buy tickets at. At first none of them had tickets available for the day which made me mad, but then we found one kiosk that did! No idea why it worked that way, but I would definitely buy a ticket in advance next time. I wasn't sure if we would make it or not which is why I didn't, but now I know! 

A lot of the information presented there I already knew, but I did learn some fun facts about the Vehicle Assembly Building! There is a flag painted on the side of the building that doesn't seem to take up that much space BUT the blue part alone is the size of an NBA court! Each star is six feet across. You could fit the Roman Coliseum on the top of the building with room to spare for parking, and you can fit 250 BILLION ping pong balls inside the building! I know it has to be huge to assemble a rocket, it just doesn't seem THAT huge when you drive by it!

After Kennedy, we headed down to Cocoa Beach to stick our feet in the ocean before heading to the hotel.  We ordered pizza from a shop down the street called
Giordano's and it was pretty good! Definitely hit the spot after a long day of traveling. We were ready for bed that night. Especially poor Ike who is use to going to bed at 3AM after work rather than waking up at that time!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

I had all intentions of "sleeping in" this morning, but was still up by 5:40 AM. How this happens when I have LOST an hour due to the time change from Central to Eastern is beyond me! After getting up and getting ready, Ike and I drove to Universal Studios Florida about 7:30. The park was only a couple miles from our hotel which was awesome. Also, we learned that they tend to open the gates 10-15 minutes before the time posted so after parking, we were able to get in right away around 7:50! 

We headed straight to Diagon Alley to get on the
Escape from Gringotts ride since we knew it would be one of the busiest rides.  It said the wait time was 45 minutes when we got in, but we were on the ride with only a 30 minute wait. From there, we got butterbeer! It is basically a cream soda drink with butterscotch foam added on top.  

We rode
The Simpson's Ride which I think I remember from the last time I was at Universal, but it had a lot of humor that I don't think I understood before! There was no wait for the Simpson's Ride, nor for Men in Black - Alien Attack which we rode next. I was a little disappointed in this one. You had to shoot monsters, and in the beginning you "practice" shooting at target monsters that have little green dots on them that turn red once they've been hit. Once you get in though, they don't have the dots, so you can't tell if you've "hit" them. 

From there we immediately got on the Revenge of the Mummy ride with no wait (shockingly, because it was really fun!) before waiting in line for 50 minutes for the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket. Other than the Gringotts ride, this seemed to be the most coveted ride at Universal Studios - probably because it was the only actual roller coaster. It was also the only ride that I couldn't wear my fanny pack on at this park. I do like how they offer free lockers to store your belongings in when you go on rides that you cannot carry them on with you. This ride was fun because you got to choose the music you wanted to listen to when riding - I chose No Doubt because I've been on a Gwen Stefani kick lately! The downside to this ride was that my head banged all over the place and so I had a slight headache afterwards!

From there we went to Shrek 4D so my head could calm down. I definitely remembered this show, but it was still fun! It only had like a 15 minute wait, and was nice to spend some time in the AC. 

After that we did the Fast and the Furious - Supercharged ride which we got on right away. With the majority of the rides on our list checked off, we headed to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch. It only took about 15 minutes in the line to order. Then staff seats you immediately and brings you your food which also only took maybe 10-15 minutes. I had the Lamb, Beef, and Guinness Stew which came in a bread bowl with a side salad. Ike had the Cottage Pie which also came with a side salad. It was all delicious!

We wandered back out to the main drag just in time for the two o-clock parade, then headed to Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, which only had a 5 minute wait. Our last ride was Transformers: The Ride 3D which we waited 20 minutes for. We did some shopping before heading back to the hotel.

By this time my friends from Minnesota had arrived, so I sat and chatted with Ashley for a couple hours before we packed into my rental car and headed down to Icon Park for dinner. We ate at Ole Red (the Blake Shelton inspired tavern) which has always been delicious in Nashville and was no different in Orlando! I had the Dive Bar Tacos with fish and BBQ street corn and it was wonderful! I've rarely (if ever) cleared my whole plate at a restaurant, but I did this night! 

We wandered back through the park to the car, stopping in a shop and admiring the huge 450 foot tall swing ride. We made bets on how high it went and were all shocked that they actually took the riders all the way to the top! A woman about our age walked past us and said, "I've seen way too much Final Destination to ever do that!" to which I said "Yes! What she said!" which made her laugh.

I was really impressed with our Universal park experience today. There wasn't an overabundance of people and other than the one roller coaster, we hardly had any wait for anything. The weather was perfect - hot but had enough cloud coverage to keep us from overheating and we were in the rides quick enough that we really didn't spend an abundance of time out in the sun.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Today was another successful fun-filled day at Universal's Islands of Adventure.  We woke up about the same time today, despite Islands opening an hour later than Studios.  Parking was a breeze yesterday, so we wanted the same ease today.

Once we got to the parks, we waited in line for a bit, but since the park officially opened at 9, they began letting us in at 8:45AM. We headed straight back to Hogsmeade (along with everyone else!) Everyone was rushing back there to get on Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.  We were going to wait for my friends who were taking a Lyft in, so it was prime time for photo taking since no one was wandering Hogsmeade yet (and good thing we did, because it was JAM PACKED later!)

They changed the wait time from 30 minutes to 60 minutes for Hagrid's ride, so I told Ike we'd get in line and find our people later.  Luckily, we only ended up waiting like 35 minutes.  I can see why everyone goes there first - it is IMPOSSIBLE to get on later in the day.  It was also way more fun than I expected it to be!

We wandered Hogsmeade a bit then met up with Ashley and friends.  We all headed to the Flight of the Hippogriff next (which turned out to be a pretty tame kiddie coaster, but that was okay!) While we waited in line for that, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey opened up after being delayed so we headed to that next.  We probably waited at least 30-45 minutes for this ride, but the line had you walking through the castle, so that was cool. I did NOT like the ride however! You got in a chair thing with a total of four people and it twisted and turned to simulate the rider being on a broomstick racing through the Hogwarts grounds. My stomach was all sorts of twisty after that! (If anyone has recommendations for motion sickness meds, send them my way! I am NOT ready to give up rides!!)

Ike and I split from the group at this point as they were going to spend more time in Hogsmeade and we were ready for the real coasters. We headed to get some popcorn and water to settle our tummies while waiting in line for the Jurassic World VelociCoaster which was HANDS DOWN my favorite ride here! I liked that they had the lockers to put your stuff in closer to the end of the line. Since the line was probably a 45 minute wait, it was nice to be able to eat/drink/have our phones, etc. while we waited.  My head hurt a little bit from jostling around on the coaster, but not too bad.  We immediately hit up the The Incredible Hulk Coaster next, which was the only ride other than VelociCoaster that I had to put my fanny pack in a locker. It was fun and took spot #2 in my list of favorites at Islands. 

At this point it was about 2PM and we were ready for lunch.  We headed back to Hogsmeade to eat at the Three Broomsticks. I'm a big supporter of doing the things you're suppose to do in the places you're suppose to do them, hence my need to eat at the Leaky Cauldron yesterday and the Three Broomsticks today. It took us about 15-20 minutes to get in and order. Unlike the LC, you had to wait for your food to be ready, then go get seated, but seating was immediate. I ordered the Rotisserie Smoked Chicken with roasted potatoes and corn on the cob and Ike ordered something similar except with ribs in addition to the chicken. I also got a Chocolate Trifle for dessert! I was very impressed with the food from both places. I thought that it would be bland since they have to make SO MUCH of it in bulk, but it was actually REALLY tasty! The potatoes were seasoned so perfectly I could have ordered just a big plateful of those!

We decided to take another walk around the park while our stomachs settled to see if there were any rides that wouldn't make us
nauseous while we digested. We ended up going on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ride before walking BACK to Hogsmeade for frozen butterbeer. It was good, but I liked the regular better! We went on Skull Island: Reign of Kong next before doing some shopping back in Hogsmeade.

We did not get to ride the
Hogwarts Express because you had to get the park-to-park pass which cost more and didn't seem worth it when we bought our tickets back in July. Next time, I would definitely do the park-to-park pass. I would like to experience the Hogwarts Express, and also that way I could do some of the rides more than once. I wasn't feeling the coasters more than once today, BUT had I done the park-to-park I could have done them both days which I would have liked.

Exhausted from early mornings and walking around the park eight billion times, we grabbed Panda Express to go from the City Walk on our way out and headed back to the hotel. I can tell that I'm getting old because though my feet were NOT sore from all the walking, MAN does my back hurt from the coasters!

Masks were NOT enforced anywhere at the Universal parks, but they WERE recommended when you were inside. I'm glad I chose to wear my fanny pack at these parks since I could wear it on almost all rides. You can have bags, but I think it would have been more of a hassle than it would be worth, having to store them frequently. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

We woke up bright at early at 5AM (on purpose!) to see the launch of the Lucy spacecraft! Lucy is going to spend the next twelve years exploring the seven Trojan asteroids that live in Jupiter's orbit of the sun. While I hope to someday see the launch of a manned space mission, this absolutely made my day! I found out only a week earlier that they would be launching when we were down there, but didn't know for sure if we'd be able to see it. We drove to the top of the parking garage in Icon Park and sure enough the skies were clear and at 5:35 AM we saw a big flaming ball blast off into the sky! I tried to take photos but with my iPhone in the dark it just looks like an orange dot in the sky! Regardless, it was AWESOME!

We headed back to the hotel afterwards hoping to get more sleep since Epcot didn't open until 10AM. Ike was able to snooze a bit, but I didn't have the same luck. We headed down about an hour before opening so we could get good parking and start our food tour ASAP! When we originally planned this trip, I just wanted to go to Epcot to see the world showcase. When I found out that the International Food and Wine Festival took place during this time frame I was ecstatic! My favorite part of travel is the food, and this was the perfect way to try new foods in small portions (though to be honest, I could have eaten some of these as an actual meal!) Before leaving I researched the menu and made a list of everything I wanted to try (because as spontaneous as some of my travels are, I am still Type A at heart!) 

As soon as we got in, we headed straight to Mission Space. I wanted to get the rides in before food, lest I be too full for rapid movements. We did the orange mission (the more intense version) to Mars. I remembered this ride from when it first came out! It was fun! Then we headed straight to Test Track which read a 70 minute wait, but was only 40 minutes. It was just as fun as I remembered as well!

Because my eyes are bigger than my stomach, and I am a total grazer, we had to eat at a couple countries, then go on a ride, then eat, then ride (or shop), etc. Other than Mission Space and Test Track, I made Ike go on the Frozen ride (which honestly seemed to have the highest demand!) and was also kind of fun because it was on a boat, the Nemo ride, and Spaceship Earth (once in English and once in Spanish!) It was SO hot on this day that the little kiddie rides were nice because it let us sit down in the AC and chill for a bit. Masks WERE enforced in all indoor areas of Epcot - including on rides/indoor ride wait lines.

And now, the food!

SHIMMERING SIPS: Shimmering Strawberry Soft-serve in a Waffle Cone (5/5⭐)

MEXICO: El Tigre Margarita - Ojo de Tigre Mezcal with Pomegranate, Prickly Pear, Pineapple, and Ginger Juices served on the rocks with a Hibiscus Salt Rim (3/5⭐)

MEXICO: Capirotada de Chocolate - Abuelita Chocolate Bread Pudding served with a Chocolate Creme Anglaise (4.5/5⭐)

CHINA: Pan-fried Chicken Dumplings with House-made Sweet and Spicy Sauce (4.5/5⭐)

INDIA: Korma Chicken with Basmati Rice, Crispy Chickpeas, and Spiced Yogurt Sauce (3.5/5⭐)

BELGIUM: Beer Braised Beef served with Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes (4.5/5⭐)

GERMANY: Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll (3.5/5⭐)

REFRESHMENT PORT: Traditional Poutine: French Fries, Beef Gravy, Boursin Cracked Black Pepper Crumbles, and Cheese Curds (3/5⭐)

CANADA: ”Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce (4.5/5⭐)

ITALY: Mezzelune Croccanti: Crispy Half-Moon Breaded Mozzarella-filled Ravioli with Pomodoro Sauce (4/5⭐)

ITALY: Bomboloni: Cream-filled Italian Doughnut with Raspberry Sauce and Powdered Sugar (4/5⭐)

Fun shirts I saw at Epcot:

"I only had one drink! (at 11 different countries)"


"World Drinking Tour" with all the countries from the World Showcase listed on the back with Mickey Mouse heads as bullet points

The International Food and Wine Festival was really neat, and I would LOVE to go back again someday. I wanted to try SO MANY more things, but just couldn't fit anything else. We left around 6:30 or 7, even though the park was open until 10. If we didn't have to leave so early for the airport the following day, or even if I hadn't gotten up so early that morning, I MAY have been able to stick it out until close, but to be honest I'm still full the next day! 

I wore my fanny pack today with no issues, but I think if I go back I will bring a backpack or drawstring bag. It was SO hot, so we bought A LOT of water. It would have been nice to pack a Yeti water bottle with ice to fill up at the fountains and save some money on water. I could have just re-used a bottle at the fountains, I know, but I like my water COLD. I am glad I wore my Chacos though. 23+ miles walked in the last three days and my feet don't hurt a bit!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

This morning was another early 3AM wake up so we had time to fill up the gas tank on the rental, return the car, and get through security before my 6AM flight. On our way back to the airport we stopped at a 7-Eleven to get gas at Exit 8 which I do NOT RECOMMEND. I filled my tank and pressed "get receipt" when I was prompted to go see the cashier for the receipt. I went to the door, but despite the lights being on, I didn't see anyone inside and there were crates and stuff barricading the OUTSIDE of the door. Another car had been sitting there idling the whole time but the windows were tinted so I couldn't see inside. About this time another car pulled up to get gas, and he was also confused. I just said forget the receipt and took a picture of the gas pump just in case I needed it for the rental agency. As we left, a guy had pulled up near the dumpster and stood outside his car between the car and the dumpster while we drove around to the other exit. It was all very bizarre. 

We returned the car and got through security quickly. I figured we would but since I'd never been through the Orlando airport on my own before, I wasn't sure what to expect. The downside is it was 4AM and we had to sit there for two hours! Poor Ike had to sit there until 8! 

I flew from MCO to Miami, then back up to Nashville and was home by noon. It was such a great trip, but I will be thankful to sleep in my own bed tonight!

Monday, October 11, 2021

#gretchensbooks2021 - September


Squeezing in all the reading that I can, and almost met my goal for the year! Two books to go! A little sad that there will be no more pool reads for awhile, however...


107. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy (4/5⭐️)

Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

This was a really awesome women in STEM book! It was mainly about the women who were recruited to break code during WWII, but also discussed how many women became involved in STEM jobs during this time as well, since the men who originally did these jobs were sent off to war. Over half of the code breakers were women, which is an incredible amount, especially in this era.

There were some parts that got a little dull, but overall it was very informative. The story followed a few women specifically, including personal details about their lives which made me wish I could sit down with them myself and hear their stories!


108. the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur (4/5⭐️)

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms. 

Oof. This book was a lot heavier than the cover led me to believe it would be, but in the best way. I took my time and read it slowly, feeling all the feels. Sadness and joy, pain and empowerment. My heart feels exhausted, now that I’ve closed the back cover. I haven’t read her first book of poetry, but now I need to. I don’t usually read poetry, but I’m glad I picked this one up.

Favorite pieces:

Despite knowing / they won’t be here for long / they still choose to live / their brightest lives


Your husband and children will take from your plate / we will emotionally and mentally starve you / all of it is wrong / don’t let us convince you that / sacrificing yourself is / how you must show love 

Look down at your body / whisper / there is no home like you

Take the compliment / do not shy away from / another thing that belongs to you


109. The Good Neighbor: the Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (3.5/5⭐️)

Fred Rogers (1928–2003) was an enormously influential figure in the history of television. As the creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he was a champion of compassion, equality, and kindness, fiercely devoted to children and taking their questions about the world seriously. The Good Neighbor is the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers. 

Based on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, The Good Neighbor traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work. It includes his surprising decision to walk away from the show in 1976 to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood to help children face complex issues such as divorce, discipline, mistakes, anger, and competition. The Good Neighbor is the definitive portrait of a beloved figure.  

I didn’t know much about Mr. Rodgers before reading this book (but I do have an autographed picture of him from when I was a baby and he visited my grandma’s work!) My lack of knowledge made this book more interesting. I didn’t know that he came from money, and to me, that makes the life he chose to live that much more admirable. Also, they quoted him saying “ass” which made me laugh, because I can’t imagine Mr. Rodgers cussing!! The book got a little dull for me in the middle, but picked up again in the las third. 


110. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (4/5⭐️)

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

I’m actually surprised that there hasn’t already been a book with this premise published. (Or perhaps there has, I’ve just never heard of it??) Minus the attempted suicide, it was such a fun and interesting topic. I’d have to think long and hard to come up with regrets in my life, but I do frequently think about how every choice we make has infinite impact, and this story was a great example of that. 


111. Shatter City by Scott Westerfeld (4/5⭐️)

When the world sees Frey, they think they see her twin sister Rafi. Frey was raised to be Rafi's double, and now she's taken on the role . . . without anyone else knowing. Her goal? To destroy the forces that created her.But with the world watching and a rebellion rising, Frey is forced into a detour. Suddenly she is stranded on her own in Paz, a city where many of the citizens attempt to regulate their emotions through an interface on their arms. Paz is an easy place to get lost . . . and also an easy place to lose yourself. As the city comes under a catastrophic attack, Frey must leave the shadows and enter the chaos of warfare - because there is no other way for her to find her missing sister and have her revenge against her murderous father.

I. Need. More!!! This is the second book in the Imposter series (a follow-up of the Uglies series) and while it got a little slow at points, by the end I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and then IT JUST ENDED!!! I was all mad about it because I thought this was the last book since no more came with the set when I bought it a couple years ago. But THEN I looked and saw it was only just published in 2019 and the next book came out this past April! So now I will absolutely be buying that and I already made the mistake in seeing that it ends in another cliffhanger and book 4 will not be out until March 2022 so I’m going to have to take my time.

Anyway, if you like dystopian-style novels I recommend this series, but read the Uglies series first! 


112. Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (3/5⭐️)

Ever since he was young, John Robison longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” It was not until he was forty that he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way he saw himself—and the world. A born storyteller, Robison has written a moving, darkly funny memoir about a life that has taken him from developing exploding guitars for KISS to building a family of his own. It’s a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien yet always deeply human.

I didn’t realize when I had originally added this to my list that the author was the brother of Augusten Burroughs. Based on the title, I was under the impression that the book would tell a lot about how Asperger’s influenced the author’s life, which was what I was looking forward to reading about. Though it did talk about that a little, it was more just a narrative of his life in general. The Asperger’s part of the story felt like an afterthought, tossed in randomly throughout the book. 


113. Nightmare Hall: Deadly Attraction by Diane Hoh (3.5/5⭐️)

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned 
High atop a hillside sits Nightmare Hall. For Hailey Kingman, the nightmare is just beginning . . .
A sophomore at Salem U, Robert Q. Parker is the BMOC (Big Man on Campus). But when he humiliates his girlfriend, Darlene Riggs, by cruelly dumping her, things turn ugly.
First, Robert Q’s new girlfriend, Gerrie, is attacked. Then, his jacket is slashed to shreds and his sports car is set on fire. Is Darlene getting her revenge? Or is it someone with a different ax to grind? The mystery deepens when Hailey’s room at Nightingale Hall is trashed. But when a student is killed and Hailey herself becomes a target, she realizes that the truth is far from what everyone thinks. The students of Salem U are about to find out what happens when obsession turns deadly.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Diane Hoh including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.

I very much prefer physical books, but since this series is about as old as I am, I cant find them anywhere! I’ve been downloading them on Kindle which works out okay because then I can read on my phone when waiting around.

I happened to be reading this book between sets as a concert, thinking about how old thrillers, while enjoyable, just don’t have the suspense that newer ones do. Then, just as the lights when down for Blake Shelton to come out, I hit a major plot twist that I did not see coming!! I was excited for Blake, but so made I had to stop reading!!

And then the dang book ended in a cliffhanger!! I mean they answered the big question, but I wasn’t done with the story!!


114. Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky (3/5⭐️)

We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It's as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.
At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six long days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a treehouse in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.
Twenty years ago, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower made readers everywhere feel infinite. Now, Chbosky has returned with an epic work of literary horror, years in the making, whose grand scale and rich emotion redefine the genre. Read it with the lights on.

Well this was about as far from "Perks of Being a Wallflower" as you can get!! I think I liked the storyline for the most part, but holy cow was this long. I’m not opposed to long books, but this one wasn’t quite strong enough to keep my interest the whole way through. It started out super creepy, and had a lot of potential, it just felt like there was too much going on while nothing new was happening. There were good scenes,but too much blah blah blah in between. I like horror novels, but I guess this just wasn’t the kind of horror I’m looking for. Maybe it was all the religious parts I found weird?? I don’t know, I tried, it was okay.


115. What About Will by Ellen Hopkins (5/5🌟)

Twelve-year-old Trace Reynolds has always looked up to his brother, mostly because Will, who's five years older, has never looked down on him. It was Will who taught Trace to ride a bike, would watch sports on TV with him, and cheer him on at Little League. But when Will was knocked out cold during a football game, resulting in a brain injury--everything changed. Now, seventeen months later, their family is still living under the weight of "the incident," that left Will with a facial tic, depression, and an anger he cannot always control, culminating in their parents' divorce. Afraid of further fracturing his family, Trace begins to cover for Will who, struggling with addiction to pain medication, becomes someone Trace doesn’t recognize. But when the brother he loves so much becomes more and more withdrawn, and escalates to stealing money and ditching school, Trace realizes some secrets cannot be kept if we ever hope to heal.

The newest release by one of my favorite authors, “What About Will” is much tamer than her usual novels, but it’s also a middle grade audience so that makes sense. I bought this for my personal collection, but after reading it I think I may add a copy to my classroom library as well. It was so heartbreaking, but sweet, and I couldn’t help but tear up at the end. I really like that she’s been writing middle grade novels about tough stuff, I think it’s really needed for a lot of kids.


116. People Like Us by Dana Mele (3/5⭐️)

Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she's reinvented herself entirely. Now she's a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl's body is found in the lake, Kay's carefully constructed life begins to topple. The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay's finally backed into a corner, she'll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make...not something that happened. 

Debut author Dana Mele has written a taut, sophisticated suspense novel that will keep readers guessing until the very end.

This was marketed as Gossip Girl meets Pretty Little Liars meets Mean Girls, all of which I love, so I was excited for this crazy drama!

The story was interesting, but I predicted the killer from the beginning. Though I questioned it a little throughout, I felt it was mostly pretty obvious. That being said, I didn’t predict all of the ending. Doesn’t quite live up to either the PLL or GG books, but still enjoyable!


117. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (3/5⭐️)

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. 

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. 

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career. 

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

This book was one of the most anticipated reads of the year in the book world, but I don’t think it lived up to the potential. The idea was great, but there was so much extra fluff that could have been taken out because it didn’t add to the story. I think some would call it a slow burn, but I didn’t feel like anything was burning at all. Most of the drama happened in the end, with a very bizarre twist, and while I hated the final chapters because it wasn’t what I WANTED to happen, from a literary perspective it was great. 


118. Triptych by Karin Slaughter (3.5/5⭐️)

From Atlanta’s wealthiest suburbs to its stark inner-city housing projects, a killer has crossed the boundaries of wealth and race. And the people who are chasing him must cross those boundaries, too. Among them is Michael Ormewood, a veteran detective whose marriage is hanging by a thread—and whose arrogance and explosive temper are threatening his career. And Angie Polaski, a beautiful vice cop who was once Michael’ s lover before she became his enemy. But unbeknownst to both of them, another player has entered the game: a loser ex-con who has stumbled upon the killer’s trail in the most coincidental of ways—and who may be the key to breaking the case wide open.

In this gritty, gripping firecracker of a novel, the author of the bestselling Grant County, Georgia, series breaks thrilling new ground, weaving together the threads of a complex, multilayered story with the skill of a master craftsman. Packed with body-bending switchbacks, searing psychological suspense and human emotions, Triptych ratchets up the tension one revelation at a time as it races to a shattering and unforgettable climax.

I love the title of this book. It’s just a fun word! (And the perfect title). The story was fun too. Well, as fun as a murder mystery can be. I was eating while listening to this when I big ole twist happened that literally made my jaw drop and I stopped chewing. If you like cop thrillers, this is a good one! Someone recommended the Will Trent series to me (this is the first book) and I’m glad they did! I look forward to listening to more!

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

Reading Challenge: 118/120 books read in 2021

You can find previous book reviews here!