Saturday, December 2, 2023

#gretchensbook2023 - November


So much reading this month! Mainly audiobooks, but I got some good physical reading done too, and read on my kindle app for the first time in forever! I also read a whole lot of a textbook for a training, but that one isn't listed yet because I have two units to go. It is the most interesting textbook I've ever read though!

Book #128 of 2023 📖 The Woman in Me by Britney Spears ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: Memoir

🗓PUBLISHED: 24 October 2023

In June 2021, the whole world was listening as Britney Spears spoke in open court. The impact of sharing her voice—her truth—was undeniable, and it changed the course of her life and the lives of countless others. The Woman in Me reveals for the first time her incredible journey—and the strength at the core of one of the greatest performers in pop music history.

Written with remarkable candor and humor, Spears’s groundbreaking book illuminates the enduring power of music and love—and the importance of a woman telling her own story, on her own terms, at last.

After reading the headlines about this book, I expected a royal trashing about Justin Timberlake and the Spears family. This was not that at all. I thought Britney was really respectful when telling her story, and I don’t know how  after what they put her through.

Book #129 of 2023 🎧 Just Another Missing Person by Gillian McAllister ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 August 2023

Not everyone who is lost should be found…

Twenty-two-year-old Olivia has been missing for one day…and counting. She was last seen on CCTV, entering a dead-end alley. And not coming back out again.

Julia, the detective heading up the search for Olivia, thinks she knows what to expect. A desperate family, a ticking clock, and long hours away from her husband and daughter. But she has no idea just how close to home this case is going to get.

Because the criminal at the heart of the disappearance has something she never expected. His weapon isn’t a gun, or a knife: it’s a secret. Her worst one. And her family's safety depends on one thing: Julia must NOT find out what happened to Olivia - and must frame somebody else for her murder.

If you find her, you will lose everything. What would you do?

I felt like the first half of this story was very blah. I couldn’t pay attention to the story, I couldn’t keep track of who was who, and quite frankly, I just didn’t care. I was just over halfway through when I promised myself I would power through until the end. I’m glad I did! I enjoyed the second half of this story. It was incredibly unbelievable, but I enjoyed all the twists and suspense.

Book #130 of 2023 🎧 A Twisted Love Story by Samantha Downing ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 18 July 2023

Wes and Ivy are madly in love. They've never felt anything like it. It's the type of romance people write stories about.
But what kind of story?
When it's good, it's great. Flowers. Grand gestures. Deep meaningful conversations where the whole world disappears.
When it's bad, it's really bad. Vengeful fights. Damaged property. Arrest warrants.
But their vicious cycle of catastrophic breakups and head-over-heels reconciliations needs to end fast. Because suddenly, Wes and Ivy have a common enemy--and she's a detective.
There's something Wes and Ivy never talk about--in good times or bad. The night of their worst breakup, when one of them took things too far, and someone ended up dead.
If they can stick together, they can survive anything--even the tightening net of a police investigation.
Because one more breakup might just be their last…

Blegh. And I don’t mean the story. I mean the characters! They were so toxic and annoying. I usually have to power through the books where I don’t like at least one of the characters, but I plowed through this one without any effort.

Yet somehow, I was still rooting for the couple. I don’t know why, they were awful, but I wanted them to win, and I kind of hate that. But I guess that means the author did her job!

Book #131 of 2023 📖 The Innocent Man by John Grisham 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5

📚GENRE: True Crime

🗓PUBLISHED: 10 October 2006

In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory.

Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits—drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa.

In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.

With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.

This was Grisham’s first true crime book (and I think his only one still??) so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. I don’t recall if I’d read this one before, but I did watch the Netflix limited series based on it. This book read like a true crime podcast that I binge. Sometimes true crime can be dry to read, but Grisham’s writing style had me engaged throughout. Also, I was so furious reading it because of the very obvious abuse of power.

Book #132 of 2023 🎧 Vanished in Vermillion by Lou Ragusa ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: True Crime

🗓PUBLISHED: 7 March 2023

In May 1971, Pam Jackson and Sherri Miller were two seventeen-year-olds driving to an end-of-the-school-year party in a rundown Studebaker Lark when they seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. Police back then didn’t do enough to try and find them. Investigators thirty years later did too much. Two families endure decades of pain as they await answers of what happened to their girls. When a third family is pulled into the mystery, they quickly learn their nightmare is just beginning.

This was a true crime read that my dad recommended to me. I was actually listening to this at the same time as I was reading The Innocent Man so the abuse of power I was hearing about was maddening to an even more amplified degree. The conclusion of this case was kind of anti-climactic (which I realize sounds like a terrible way to talk about the deaths of two girls) but that made what happened throughout the story even more horrific.

Book #133 of 2023 📖 Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 2 July 2019

FBI Agent Nell Flynn hasn't been home in ten years. Nell and her father, Homicide Detective Martin Flynn, have never had much of a relationship. And Suffolk County will always be awash in memories of her mother, Marisol, who was murdered when Nell was just seven. 

When Martin Flynn dies in a motorcycle accident, Nell returns to the house she grew up in so that she can spread her father's ashes and close his estate. At the behest of her father's partner, Detective Lee Davis, Nell becomes involved in an investigation into the murders of two young women in Suffolk County. The further Nell digs, the more likely it seems to her that her father should be the prime suspect--and that his friends on the police force are covering his tracks. Plagued by doubts about her mother's murder--and her own role in exonerating her father in that case--Nell can't help but ask questions about who killed Ria Ruiz and Adriana Marques and why. But she may not like the answers she finds--not just about those she loves, but about herself.

I had 5 books left in my 2023 TBR pile when I picked this one out of the stack to read, and after I read it in a day, I wondered why I hadn’t picked it up sooner.

This was a random purchase from my local used book store, and I enjoyed every page of it. There was constant drama and suspense, and I had no idea how it would end. I made the mistake of reading it in bed on a night I was alone in the house, which led to me staying up way too late on a school night because I couldn’t stop at a scary part and go to bed as I’d never sleep!

Book #134 of 2023 🎧 Don’t Go Down There by Kiersten Modglin ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 4 May 2023

Spencer Edwards has a beautiful wife, two perfect children, and a sinister secret locked in his basement…

When Andi Edwards discovers her husband isn’t where he’s supposed to be and isn’t answering her calls or texts, a flurry of scenarios races through her mind.

Is he hurt?
Is he cheating?
Is he dead?

The truth, she soon finds out, is so much worse than she could’ve imagined.

As she struggles to make sense of her new and chilling reality, she must decide whether to stand by the man she loves and help protect him or walk away and let him pay for his sins.

With time running out, the secret in the basement becomes more dangerous, and the spine-chilling truth becomes clear: 
if she makes the wrong decision, she stands to lose much more than her marriage.

When their best laid plans come back to haunt them, what will Spencer and Andi be willing to sacrifice to survive?

This one started off with a punch! The drama began right away, which is likely because it’s so short (only a 4.5 hour listen). I felt like because it was so short, it wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been. The twists and excitement all seemed to come at the end, and the rest was pretty mellow (after the initial kick off). I did like how the story ended, definitely in Kiersten Modglin style!

Book #135 of 2023 🎧 A Quiet Retreat by Kiersten Modglin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 31 October 2022

You are cordially invited to visit the new Black Hills Manor Writing Retreat.

That’s how it all begins—with a simple invitation.

For five authors, it’s meant to be the start of a restful week, filled with free food, drinks, and likeminded company.
But shortly after their arrival, things take an unsettling turn.

Broken property, missing items, and strange noises are just some of the odd occurrences that have each member questioning their companions. As suspicions mount, the authors are pitted against each other.

Whom can they trust in a house full of strangers?

With tensions rising, the writers find themselves in the middle of their own mystery. Death, terror, and despair are common elements in their books, but at Black Hills Manor, 
the murders being plotted are their own.

This book reminded me a lot of another thriller I’d read in the last year or two, but I can’t put my finger on which book it was. There were two perspectives in this story, and I couldn’t quite figure out how they were connected. I’m not sure I loved the ending of this one. I feel like it could have turned out differently and been better, though the story was fun to listen to.

Book #136 of 2023 🎧 Ghost 19 by Simone St. James ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 3 January 2023

Is there something wrong with Ginette Cox? It’s what everyone seems to think. When a doctor suggests that what she might need is less excitement, she packs up and moves from New York City to a house in suburban NY: 19 Howard Ave.
The town offers Ginette little in the way of entertainment in 1959, but at least she has interesting neighbors. Whether it’s the little girl with her doll or the couple and their mother-in-law, Ginette watches them from her window and makes up names and stories for them.
But it’s not all peaceful in suburbia. Ginette finds it hard to sleep in her new house. There are strange and scary noises coming from the basement, and she is trapped, either by a ghost or her own madness.
But when Ginette starts to think a murder has taken place and a mysterious man starts making terrifying appearances outside her window, it’s clear she must deal with whatever isn’t allowing her to escape this house…

Okay, so this was moreso a short story, though I didn’t know it when I borrowed it. Generally, I don’t much care for short stories, and this was no different. It wasn’t bad, I just felt like there could have been more. I did really enjoy the ending of it though!

Book #137 of 2023 📖 Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey by Fred Minnick 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5

📚GENRE: Non-Fiction/History

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 October 2016

Once and for all, America learns the likely inventor of its beloved bourbon.
Bourbon is not just alcohol -- this amber-colored drink is deeply ingrained in American culture and tangled in American history. From the early days of raw corn liquor to the myriad distilleries that have proliferated around the country today, bourbon has come to symbolize America. In 
Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, award-winning whiskey author Fred Minnick traces bourbon's entire history, from the 1700s with Irish, Scottish, and French settlers setting up stills and making distilled spirits in the New World through today's booming resurgence. He also lays out in expert detail the critical role this spirit has played throughout the cultural and even political history of the nation -- from Congress passing whiskey-protection laws to consumers standing in long lines just for a glimpse of a rare bottle of Pappy Van Winkle -- complemented by more than 100 illustrations and photos. And most importantly, Minnick explores the mystery of who most likely created the sweet corn liquor we now know as bourbon. He studies the men who've been championed as its inventors over time -- from Daniel Boone's cousin to Baptist minister Elijah Craig -- and, based on new research and never-before-seen documentation, answers the question of who deserves the credit.

This book was so interesting! I’ve done my fair share of distillery tastings and tours, and while they do a great job at sharing THEIR history, I really hadn’t yet learned the history of whiskey. I loved the images in this book, and it was a nice read.

Book #138 of 2023 🎧 Widow Falls by Kiersten Modglin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 21 September 2023

The last girl went missing…
Someone doesn’t want her to be found.

When Sloane takes a job at the infamous whitewater rafting camp, Widow Falls, she quickly learns that the camp has a reputation for more than just summer fun.

People go missing at Widow Falls.

The guide she’s replacing was just one of many. As Sloane settles into her new home—a one-room apartment she’ll be sharing with the five other guides—she can’t help asking questions and digging into the disappearances she’s heard about. Her new roommates tell her stories of dark legends and dangerous folklore surrounding the secluded camp but assure her there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all just superstition.

When Sloane stumbles upon a clue and a secret message hidden beneath the floorboards of their loft, she begins to realize there may be more to the myths than she’s been told. 

The message gets her attention: 
Don’t trust anyone at Widow Falls. 

As she follows clues to better understand the missing guide she replaced, Sloane can’t help noticing the similarities between the two of them.

What happened to the other girl?
Why won’t the others help her search?
Are they all in danger?

Whatever’s happening at Widow Falls, it’s clear someone doesn’t want her digging into it. As the seams of her reality are torn apart, making her question everything she sees, feels, and believes, Sloane will have to uncover the truth about the camp—and its occupants—before someone else goes missing.

Because this time…it might be her.

This was a fun little thriller! I knew there had to be something going on behind the scenes of this camp, but I did not see what it was coming. Also, the way the author ended this book was fabulous! 

Book #139 of 2023 📖 Thistles & Thorns by Jessica Lee Peterson 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5

📚GENRE: Memoir

🗓PUBLISHED: 25 October 2022

This true crime memoir will wreak havoc on the status quo of how to survive and grieve. On July 10, 2012, Jessica Lee Peterson woke up as a single mother of three complicated creatures named Amara, Sophie, and Cecilia. By the end of that bright summer day, she had empty arms and broken dreams due to domestic violence. Her journey of survival would start from the deepest pit of despair, a world in which her daughters had been murdered by their father. This is her story about the people she made, how they were taken from the world, and how she survived without them.

Jessica was not alone in her grief. The small-town Wisconsin community the girls had grown up in was rocked to its core and rose up to support her family. Her battles would take her from court rooms to playgrounds to the edges of the world. Tragedy and suffering are endemic in this world, but Jessica shows how it can be overcome by grace and love.

Oh my goodness this book. I don’t even know where to start. 

I remember these murders happening, because it was in the very middle of my college experience at UWRF. I had field experience/worked at the school the two oldest girls went to. 

The way this mama writes is so candid. I hate to say her writing was lovely, because it’s a horrific topic to have to write your memoir about, but her descriptions were fabulous. It was pure pain to read, and you could easily tell how deeply these three souls were loved.

Book #140 of 2023 🎧 The Surrogate Mother by Freida McFadden 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 19 July 2022

She gave you a life. Now she wants yours.

wants a baby more than anything.

But after years of failed infertility treatments and adoptions that have fallen through, it seems like motherhood is not in her future. That is, until 
her personal assistant Monica makes a generous offer that will make all of Abby's dreams come true.

But it turns out Monica isn't who she says she is. The woman now carrying Abby's child has 
an unspeakable secret.

she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

The way the characters in this book infuriated me!!! I nearly quit 3 times (at least)  because I was so worked up I figured my stress levels couldn’t handle this book. I just wanted to shake the main character sometimes, and tell her to trust her gut. And don’t even get me started on Monica!!

FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Book #141 of 2023 📱 Dark Moon (Nightmare Hall #23) by Diane Hoh ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: YA Horror


By moonlight, a psychotic teenager unleashes a terrifying evil on Salem University
Eve Forsythe has been chosen to cochair Salem U’s annual Founders’ Day celebration, and she is determined to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. The honor student can’t let anyone see that beneath her perfectionist exterior is a teenager terrified she’ll make a mistake. Eve’s worst fears are realized when, on the first day of the festival, a runaway horse goes crazy, killing a student.
But the nightmare is just beginning: A boy is impaled by a dart with a pointed metal tip. A Ferris wheel filled with students speeds out control. And Eve is trapped and terrorized in the Mirror Maze.
Someone has big plans for the festival—and for Eve. Someone whose true evil will soon be revealed . . .

With the Nightmare Halls books, I never know if I’m dealing wither supernatural forces or not. I also never know who the bad guy is, but this time I pegged it right from the beginning! I think im getting used to Hoh’s style now, 20 books in.

Book #142 of 2023 🎧 The Next Chapter by Jana Kramer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Memoir

🗓PUBLISHED: 24 October 2023

The Next Chapter is Jana Kramer’s intimate and moving account about setting her life back on the right path after her sudden divorce. Chronicling the year that follows, Jana relives personal stories of early traumas and past relationships, and with raw honesty she shares topics dear to her heart and music, including hearing God, loving oneself, navigating setbacks, female friendships, grief, and motherhood.  

As she grapples with questions such as: Am I doing this right? Is this the truest truth? Is there more to life than this? she finds and tells a story of freedom and redemption. Relatable to anyone who has walked a road of change, heartbreak, or grief, readers will be encouraged by the wisdom Jana finds in that distinct and critical transition from chaos to clarity, as she plants seeds for her future to begin the next chapter of her life.

Personal and profound, The Next Chapter is about being truly alone for the first time, and the road traveled from heartbreak, pain, and anger to forgiveness, confidence, and peace.

I haven’t read Jana’s first book with Mike, and knowing how that relationship ended, I don’t know that I ever will. This book was all about after the divorce, though it included bits from during the marriage and before she met him. I really liked Jana Kramer, which was why I wanted to read this one. I don’t think I would have read a memoir about the topics she covered had it been by someone I didn’t really know, or someone I only felt so-so about. It was interesting to hear her experience with anxiety as I could relate to some, but a lot were so very different from my own.

Book #143 of 2023 📱 The Biker (Nightmare Hall #24) by Diane Hoh ⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: YA Horror


A joyride turns deadly in this tale of murder and retribution 
The motorcycle appears out of nowhere, thundering down the quiet residential street. By the time it roars back up the block and disappears from view, a little boy is injured and an elderly woman is dead.
Salem University outsider Echo Glenn is paying her own way through college by working part time at the school infirmary. She thinks she knows the identity of the Mad Biker in black leather who’s been terrorizing the town—she just needs confirmation. And while she’s at it, maybe she’ll sneak a ride on his Harley. But the joyride turns into a journey of terror when the bike plows into a group of students outside a college hangout.
Now Echo is an accomplice to murder—and the target of an avenging killer who’s going to make sure she doesn’t live to tell the tale.

The number of times I rolled my eyes during this story… this is by far the worst book in the Nightmare Hall series. For starters, the main character was not very bright. I didn’t like her one bit either. Secondly, the way they talked about motorcyclists…like, what?? All the interactions the main character, Echo, had with the bike were completely unbelievable.

Book #144 of 2023 📖 7 Mighty Moves: Research-Backed, Classroom-Tested Strategies to Ensure K-to-3 Reading Success by Lindsay Kemeny 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5

📚GENRE: Non-Fiction/Education

🗓PUBLISHED: 20 July 2023

In this no-nonsense guide, primary reading expert and classroom teacher Lindsay Kemeny shares seven ways K–3 teachers can modify what they are currently doing to transform their reading instruction. Each chapter focuses on a critical area of foundational reading–from the most efficient ways to teach phonemic awareness and phonics to the most effective ways to boost comprehension. Kemeny clears up confusing terms and concepts and offers up  “do-tomorrow” strategies to help kids acquire reading skills efficiently and successfully transfer those skills to their reading. Readers will find the literacy routines and lessons Kemeny uses every day with her students detailed in the book, along with links to video demonstrations showing how she puts them into practice.

I’m in the middle of my LETRS training, but also joined a book study group on this book. Teaching reading is new to me, and I like to understand things, so I’ve been doing everything I can to learn about being a more effective reading teacher. The LETRS training has been amazing, but it’s a 2-year program and I’m in charge of helping first graders learn to read NOW. I liked how concise this book was while still being very informative. I was only suppose to read the first 30 pages or so for our first session, but I read the whole thing because that’s just who I am. I took away a lot of great ideas that I’m hoping to start implementing before winter break. 

Book #145 of 2023 🎧 Tell Me The Truth by Kiersten Modglin

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 March 2022

It’s not the first time Edith’s husband, Joe, has lied to her.
But it will be the last.

When she finds 
photos of a mysterious woman on her husband’s phone, the heartbreaking implications are all too familiar, and Edith sets out to discover her identity. What starts as a desperate search for answers quickly becomes a terrifying spiral of obsession and subterfuge.

With each new secret uncovered about her life, her marriage, and the man she loves, Edith is left with even more questions. 

What exactly is Joe hiding?
Who is the woman in his photos?

Refusing to accept Joe's lies any longer, 
Edith soon finds herself living a double life, telling lies and keeping secrets of her own. When she uncovers a final piece of the puzzle, something darker and more gut-wrenching than even she could’ve anticipated, Edith is forced to make a choice about the future of her marriage. 

The truth always comes at a price.
Sometimes, that price is your life.

I usually really enjoy Kiersten Modglin's writing, but this one fell a little flat for me. The story was interesting, but the ending let me down. I feel like she usually has some kind of crazy twist, and while I guess this one technically did, it felt predictable, and I usually don't see her endings coming.

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

Reading Challenge: 145/120 books read in 2023

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