Monday, May 1, 2023

#gretchensbooks2023 - April

The way I read this month was bizarre. I started by reading and listening to two romance stories, then read and listened to two thrillers (in which the main characters had something bad/mysterious to their sisters), then listened to and read two non-fiction books. Usually my genres don’t correspond like that, so it would take me a second at times to remember which story was which! I've also been super obsessed with documentaries this month. Which has absolutely nothing to do with books, but also if you have any that you'd recommend, send them my way!


Book #61 of 2023 📖 Dani’s Story: A Journey From Neglect to Love by Diane & Bernie Lierow ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

📚GENRE: Nonfiction/Memoir

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 July 2011

The story that captivated a nation - how a horribly neglected little girl was rescued by her loving adoptive parents. In July 2005, a six-year-old girl named Danielle was removed from her Florida home after authorities found her living in bug-ridden squalor, subjected to horrific neglect and so damaged by her own mother that recovery seemed hopeless. But hope was waiting for Dani?and help. In October 2007, Bernie and Diane Lierow, a hard-working couple with five boys of their own, adopted her and utterly transformed her life. This book tells the moving story of how the Lierows rescued Dani and helped her recover to the point where she can not only communicate, something once thought impossible, but can say of herself, "I pretty."


This story was captivating. I thought it would be a memoir from the girl’s point of view (not realizing how severe her disabilities were before starting it). It ended up being from the adoptive mom’s perspective, and it was very well-written. I found myself tearing up more than once, and googling A LOT. I kept thinking “I couldn’t even handle taking care of cats, and look what they chose to do for this girl!”


Book #62 of 2023 🎧 The Night Shift by Alex Finlay ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Mystery/Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 March 2022

It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in New Jersey, four teenagers working late at the store are attacked. Only one inexplicably survives. Police quickly identify a suspect, the boyfriend of one of the victims, who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, more teenage employees are attacked at an ice cream store in the same town, and again only one makes it out alive.

In the aftermath of the latest crime, three lives intersect: the lone survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive the horrors of her tragedy; the brother of the fugitive accused, who’s convinced the police have the wrong suspect; and FBI agent Sarah Keller who must delve into the secrets of both nights—stirring up memories of teen love and lies—to uncover the truth about murders on the night shift.


This was a well-written mystery with a lot (though not too many) of people who could have been the murderer. I liked that the story wrapped everything up in the end, and that the resolution made sense and was believable. I enjoyed the different points of views.


Book #63 of 2023 🎧 Good Girl Complex by Elle Kennedy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Contemporary Romance

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 February 2022

She does everything right. So what could go wrong?

Mackenzie “Mac” Cabot is a people pleaser. Her demanding parents. Her prep school friends. Her long-time boyfriend. It’s exhausting, really, always following the rules. All she wants to do is focus on growing her internet business, but first she must get a college degree at her parents’ insistence. That means moving to the beachside town of Avalon Bay, a community made up of locals and the wealthy students of Garnet College.

Twenty-year-old Mac has had plenty of practice suppressing her wilder impulses, but when she meets local bad boy Cooper Hartley, that ability is suddenly tested. Cooper is rough around the edges. Raw. Candid. A threat to her ordered existence. Their friendship soon becomes the realest thing in her life.

Despite his disdain for the trust-fund kids he sees coming and going from his town, Cooper soon realizes Mac isn’t just another rich clone and falls for her. Hard. But as Mac finally starts feeling accepted by Cooper and his friends, the secret he’s been keeping from her threatens the only place she’s ever felt at home.

I really enjoyed Kennedy’s Off-Campus and Briar U series, so I figured I’d check out some of her non-hockey romances as well.


I liked the storyline of this one. I was a little apprehensive about the main character at first, because I thought she was naive, but she toughened up which made me really like her!


It ended very rapidly. Like CONFLICT RESOLVED BAM DONE. I would have like a little more of a wrap up to everything else that was going on.


Book #64 of 2023 📖 Scandalized by Ivy Owens ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Contemporary Romance

🗓PUBLISHED: 23 August 2022

Exhausted and on deadline with a story that could make or break her career, investigative journalist Georgia Ross is on the verge of a meltdown when a cancelled flight leaves her stuck in the airport overnight. But when a familiar face appears—the older brother of her childhood friend—and offers help, Gigi seems to have caught a break. 

Alec Kim is handsome, humble, and kind—exactly the sort of man that Gigi has forgotten existed after her own painful heartbreaks. An evening of reconnection followed by a night of no-strings-attached passion with Alec feels like a gift—that is, until Gigi finally realizes that their childhood connection isn’t the only reason he seems so familiar to her.

Alec is determined to prove to Gigi that he is truly the man she thinks he is, even if it means coming clean about his fame—and his family’s connection to the story Gigi’s been working so hard to break. But as their feelings for each other grow deeper, Gigi and Alec must navigate a new reality…one where both of their hard-won careers are put directly in the path of an international scandal.

I read that Ivy Owens is the pen name for Lauren of Christina Lauren (of whose books I haven’t read any of yet!)


I was (almost) more into the side scandal than the actual romance in this book! How do I get a spin-off with more of that story? That being said, I enjoyed the romance as well, and found both the main characters to be very likeable.


Book #65 of 2023 📖 A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 10 April 2018

Child psychiatrist Kate Wolfe's world comes crashing down when one of her young patients commits suicide, so when a troubled girl is left at the hospital ward, she doubts her ability to help. But the girl knows things about Kate's past, things she shouldn't know, forcing Kate to face the murky evidence surrounding her own sister's murder sixteen years before, bringing Kate face to face with her deepest fear.

This book has been on my TBR list for half a decade. It was only in my desire to clear my public library list of books I saved to read that I finally borrowed it to read.


I never wanted to put this book down. I started it one night and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Then as soon as I woke up, I picked the book up again and read until I had to leave for an appointment. I was SO SURE I knew what was going to happen, but I was SO WRONG. This was a page turner for me! 


Book #66 of 2023 🎧 All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 10 January 2023

One year ago, Isabelle Drake's life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her—literally.

Except for the occasional catnap or small blackout where she loses track of time, she hasn’t slept in a year.

Isabelle's entire existence now revolves around finding him, but she knows she can’t go on this way forever. In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster—but his interest in Isabelle's past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guess who she can trust... including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth no matter where it leads.

This one came highly recommended by one of my favorite bookstagramers, so as soon as it was available on Libby I put a hold on it. I really liked her debut novel, A Flicker in the Dark, so I was hoping this would be just as good!


This one could have gone in a lot of different directions, and because of that, I didn’t find it predictable. I laid in bed listening to this instead of watching tv because I needed to know what would happen. 


Book #67 of 2023 📖 Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t by Edward Humes ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

📚GENRE: Non-Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 8 January 2019

On an April night in 1989, Jo Ann Parks survived a house fire that claimed the lives of her three small children. Though the fire at first seemed a tragic accident, investigators soon reported finding evidence proving that Parks had sabotaged wiring, set several fires herself, and even barricade her four-year-old son inside a closet to prevent his escape. Though she insisted she did nothing wrong, Jo Ann Parks received a life sentence without parole based on the power of forensic fire science that convincingly proved her guilt.

But more than a quarter century later, a revolution in the science of fire has exposed many of the incontrovertible truths of 1989 as guesswork in disguise. The California Innocence Project is challenging Parks's conviction and the so-called science behind it, claiming that false assumptions and outright bias convicted an innocent mother of a crime that never actually happened.

If Parks is exonerated, she could well be the "Patient Zero" in an epidemic of overturned guilty verdicts—but only if she wins. Can prosecutors dredge up enough evidence and roadblocks to make sure Jo Ann Parks dies in prison? No matter how her last-ditch effort for freedom turns out, the scenes of betrayal, ruin, and hope will leave readers longing for justice we can trust.

I’m not sure how this ended up on my TBR list, but the story was very intriguing.


I knew next to nothing about fire forensics, so I was a bit concerned that this would be a difficult read due to my own lack of understanding. I was very wrong. This was an easy read (despite all the new info!) 


The ending! I need more closure. This book was published too soon. Google to the rescue!


Book #68 of 2023 🎧 The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer by Caitlin Murray ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Non-Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 2 April 2019

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals, set record TV ratings, drawn massive crowds, earned huge revenues for FIFA and U.S. Soccer, and helped to redefine the place of women in sports. But despite their dominance, and their rosters of superstar players, they’ve endured striking inequality: low pay, poor playing conditions, and limited opportunities to play in professional leagues.

The National Team, from leading soccer journalist Caitlin Murray, tells the history of the USWNT in full, from their formation in the 1980s to the run-up to the 2019 World Cup, chronicling both their athletic triumphs and less visible challenges off the pitch. Murray also recounts the rise and fall of U.S. professional leagues, including the burgeoning National Women’s Soccer League, an essential part of the women’s game.

Through nearly 100 exclusive interviews with players, coaches, and team officials, including Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Heather O’Reilly, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Pia Sundhage, Tom Sermanni, and Sunil Gulati, Murray takes readers inside the locker rooms and board rooms in engrossing detail. A story of endurance and determination, 
The National Team is a complete portrait of this beloved and important team.


I knew there had been a lot that happened with the Women’s National Team, but I never knew the true extent of their story. WOW. Girl power! I found the story easy to listen to. Informative, but not overwhelming. It covered the whole history, essentially from conception until their latest World Cup win.


Book #69 of 2023 🎧 The Last Orphan (Orphan X #8) by Gregg Hurwitz ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Adventure Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 14 February 2023

As a child, Evan Smoak was plucked out of a group home, raised and trained as an off-the-books assassin for the government as part of the Orphan program. When he broke with the program and went deep underground, he left with a lot of secrets in his head that the government would do anything to make sure never got out. 

When he remade himself as The Nowhere Man, dedicated to helping the most desperate in their times of trouble, Evan found himself slowly back on the government's radar. Having eliminated most of the Orphans in the program, the government will stop at nothing to eliminate the threat they see in Evan. But Orphan X has always been several steps ahead of his pursuers.

Until he makes one little mistake...

Now the President has him in her control and offers Evan a deal - eliminate a rich, powerful man she says is too dangerous to live and, in turn, she'll let Evan survive. But when Evan left the Program he swore to only use his skills against those who really deserve it. Now he has to decide what's more important - his principles or his life.


I’ve really enjoyed all of the stories in this series, and this most recent release was no different. I enjoyed Evan’s relationship with the girl he was helping. He always has so much character growth in each book.


Book #70 of 2023 📖 Always Watching by Chevy Stevens ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 18 June 2013

She helps people put their demons to rest. 

But she has a few of her own…

In the lockdown ward of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. Nadine Lavoie is in her element. She has the tools to help people, and she has the desire—healing broken families is what she lives for. But Nadine doesn't want to look too closely at her own past because there are whole chunks of her life that are black holes. It takes all her willpower to tamp down her recurrent claustrophobia, and her daughter, Lisa, is a runaway who has been on the streets for seven years.

When a distraught woman, Heather Simeon, is brought into the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit after a suicide attempt, Nadine gently coaxes her story out of her—and learns of some troubling parallels with her own life. Digging deeper, Nadine is forced to confront her traumatic childhood, and the damage that began when she and her brother were brought by their mother to a remote commune on Vancouver Island. What happened to Nadine? Why was their family destroyed? And why does the name Aaron Quinn, the group's leader, bring complex feelings of terror to Nadine even today? 

And then, the unthinkable happens, and Nadine realizes that danger is closer to home than she ever imagined. She has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most…and fight back. 

Sometimes you can leave the past, but you can never escape. 


I’ve been watching 20/20 lately, and while reading this book, I just happened to be watching an episode on a cult! Talk about perfect timing. This story was different from Stevens’s others in that aspect, but still just as intriguing. I was rooting for the main character the whole time, and was genuinely worried about how this (very fictional) story would turn out. There were a couple storylines intertwined which made it even more interesting!


This was a little slow at times. I’m not much for a slow burn book, I prefer rapid suspense!


Book #71 of 2023 📖 Skipping Christmas by John Grisham ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Holiday Humor

🗓PUBLISHED: 6 November 2004

Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether. 

Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty, they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash, they aren’t even going to have a tree. They won’t need one, because come December 25 they’re setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences—and isn’t half as easy as they’d imagined.


This was a fun little story (and what the movie Christmas With Kranks is based on, which I have surprisingly never seen - going to rectify that now!) Unlike Grisham’s usual stuff, this was not law based in anyway. It was a fun little holiday story!


Book #72 of 2023 🎧 Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 13 October 2020

Young Saffyre Maddox spent three years under the care of renowned child psychologist Roan Fours. When Dr. Fours decides their sessions should end, Saffyre feels abandoned. She begins looking for ways to connect with him, from waiting outside his office to walking through his neighborhood late at night. She soon learns more than she ever wanted to about Roan and his deceptively perfect family life. On a chilly Valentine’s night, Saffyre will disappear, taking any secrets she has learned with her.

Owen Pick’s life is falling apart. In his thirties and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct—accusations he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel forums, where he meets a charismatic and mysterious figure.

Owen lives across the street from the Fours family. The Fours have a bad feeling about their neighbor; Owen is a bit creepy and suspect and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night. Could Owen be responsible? What happened to the beautiful missing Saffyre, and does her disappearance truly connect them all?


This was an intriguing psychological drama. I had no idea which turn it would take, and though it wasn’t high suspense, I was still eager to find what would happen next.


I didn’t find any of the characters to be particularly likeable. They weren’t exactly unlikeable, but none of the appealed to me.


Book #73 of 2023 📖 The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and a Hunt for Detroit’s Most Notorious Serial Killer by J. Reuben Appelman ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: True Crime/Non-Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 14 August 2018

Four children were abducted and murdered outside of Detroit during the winters of 1976 and 1977, their bodies eventually dumped in snow banks around the city. J. Reuben Appelman was only six years old when the murders began and even evaded an abduction attempt during that same period, fueling a lifelong obsession with what became known as the Oakland County Child Killings.

Autopsies showed that the victims had been fed while in captivity, reportedly held with care. And yet, with equal care, their bodies had allegedly been groomed post-mortem, scrubbed-free of evidence that might link to a killer. There were few credible leads, and equally few credible suspects. That’s what the cops had passed down to the press, and that’s what the city of Detroit, and Appelman, had come to believe. When the abductions mysteriously stopped, a task force operating on one of the largest manhunt budgets in history shut down without an arrest. Although no more murders occurred, Detroit remained haunted.

I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately. Less so with books (but that’s mainly because I have so many fiction already stacked in my nightstand), but especially with tv. Other than the Grey’s I put on for noise when I sleep, my tv viewing has been nothing but documentaries and docuseries  for the last month. Currently, I am binging old seasons of 20/20. (My doctor told me that it is good for people with depression to watch tv because it gives them a break from reality…I don’t think this is what she had in mind!)


The story is certainly interesting, and makes me wonder about all the conspiracies behind it. In fact, I wish there was a book that focused more on that (perhaps someday!)


So my library only had a “large print” version of this book, and since I can’t find it anywhere else, I borrowed it. The print size was so distracting to me! Which isn’t a flaw with the book, just my reading experience.

With the writing, I felt like the author writing about himself detracted a lot from the story. I kept saying, “wait, what does this have to do with anything?” The story felt very scattered. I’m now going to go re-listen to the True Crime Garage episodes on this case to hopefully get a better understanding.


Book #74 of 2023 🎧 The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

📚GENRE: Family Drama

🗓PUBLISHED: 3 July 2014

In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman steps into the path of an oncoming bus. A tragic accident? Or suicide?

At the center of this puzzle is Adrian Wolfe, a successful architect and grief-stricken widower, who, a year after his third wife’s death, begins to investigate the cause. As Adrian looks back on their brief but seemingly happy marriage, disturbing secrets begin to surface. The divorces from his two previous wives had been amicable, or so it seemed; his children, all five of them, were resilient as ever, or so he thought. But something, or someone, must have pushed Maya over the edge.


At no point did I find the story to be highly engaging, but also I wanted to know how it was going to turn out.


Again, I didn’t find these characters particularly likeable. The description made it sound like it would be more of a thriller, but it was definitely more of a drama.


Book #75 of 2023 🎧 Last Seen (Amateurs #3) by Sara Shepard ⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚GENRE: Mystery

🗓PUBLISHED: 4 October 2018

When you make a deal with the devil . . .

Someone will get burned. Shy and musically gifted nine-year-old Damien Dover went missing from his home in the Catskills two months ago. The trail has gone cold, with no new leads.

When the killer they know all too well tasks Seneca, Maddox, and Madison with solving the case and finding the boy, they can't imagine what his interest in the tragedy could be. But with Aerin kidnapped and at the twisted mastermind's mercy, her friends have no choice but to play his game and try to solve the puzzle.

As the three amateur sleuths hit the Jersey Shore to gather clues, they begin to uncover the true background of the killer, and the horrors that shaped him into who he is. The scavenger hunt leads them to a serial criminal, a former victim, and dark secrets they could never have seen coming. 

Aerin struggles to play nice with the person who killed her sister while her friends work feverishly against the ticking clock to save her life. Every clue they uncover leads them closer to Aerin--and to the killer. But will he really let Aerin go... or does he have one more murderous surprise in store?

I read the first book in this series a hot minute ago, but never read the second one. I wish I would have read them all in succession in a close time proximity..I think that would have made me like this more.


The characters are all likeable (well, the good ones) and I rooted for them the whole story. I enjoyed the twists this little mystery took.


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

Reading Challenge: 75/120 books read in 2023

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