Sunday, December 31, 2023

#gretchensbooks2023 - December


Though I beat my reading goal, I didn't get near as much reading in this month as I'd hoped (though I've been sick for half of it, so I guess I'm using that as an excuse!) Guess that just means I am going to have to start off the new year strong!!

Book #146 of 2023 🎧 After That Night (Will Trent #11) by Karin Slaughter 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5

📚GENRE: Police Procedural

🗓PUBLISHED: 22 August 2023

Will Trent and Sara Linton are back! This is the eleventh electrifying thriller featuring GBI investigator Will Trent and medical examiner Sara Linton from New York Times bestselling author Karin Slaughter.

After that night, nothing was ever the same again.

Fifteen years ago, Sara Linton’s life changed forever when a celebratory night out ended in a violent attack that tore her world apart. Since then, Sara has remade her life. A successful doctor, engaged to a man she loves, she has finally managed to leave the past behind her.

Until one evening, on call in the ER, everything changes. Sara battles to save a broken young woman who’s been brutally attacked. But as the investigation progresses, led by GBI Special Agent Will Trent, it becomes clear that Dani Cooper’s assault is uncannily linked to Sara’s.

And it seems the past isn’t going to stay buried forever.

When I saw the audio was 17 hours I was worried it wouldn’t be able to keep my attention. I don’t know why I even worried! I was absolutely hooked from the beginning. For the most part, I’ve really like all the Will Trent books, but this one is easily my favorite. I did not see the ending coming, though maybe I should have. As traumatic as the storyline is, I’m glad they pulled in more of Sara’s background too.

Book #147 of 2023 📖 Playing for Pizza by John Grisham ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Sports Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 4 September 2007

Rick Dockery was the third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. In the deciding game at the climax of the season, to the surprise and dismay of virtually everyone, Rick actually got into the game. With a 17-point lead and just minutes to go, Rick provided what was arguably the worst single performance in the history of the NFL. Overnight, he became a national laughing stock and, of course, was immediately dropped by the Browns and shunned by all other teams. But all Rick knows is football, and he insists that his agent, Arnie, finds a team that needs him. Against enormous odds, Arnie finally locates just such a team and informs Rick that, miraculously, he can in fact now be a starting quarterback. Great says Rick - for which team? The mighty Panthers of Parma, Italy. Yes, Italians do play American football, to one degree or another, and the Parma Panthers desperately want a player from the home of American footballat their helm. So Rick reluctantly agrees to play for the Panthers - at least until a better offer comes along - and heads off to Italy. He knows nothing about Parma (not even where it is), has never been to Europe, and doesn't speak or understand a word of Italian. To say that Italy - the land of opera, fine wines, extremely small cars, romance and football americano - holds a few surprises for Rick Dockery would be something of an understatement.

Usually Grisham’s non-law books don’t appeal to m me as much, but I enjoyed this one! From the premise on the jacket of the book, I thought there would be more drama, but I found I wasn’t super disappointed when there wasn’t. It was just a fun story of a man figuring his life out in kind of a sweet way. Also, now I would like to go to Italy. 

Book #148 of 2023 🎧 The Summer Girl (Avalon Bay #3) by Elle Kennedy ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Contemporary Romance 

🗓PUBLISHED: 18 July 2023

College student Cassie Soul hasn’t spent an entire summer in Avalon Bay in years, not since her parents divorced and her mother spitefully whisked her away to Boston. Now that her grandmother is selling the boardwalk hotel that’s been in their family for five decades, Cassie returns to the quaint beach town to spend time with family, ring in her twenty-first birthday…and maybe find herself a summer fling.

On her first night in town, she finds the perfect candidate: Tate Bartlett, Avalon Bay’s fun-loving golden boy.

Tate, sailing instructor and lovable player, is no stranger to flings. In fact, he’s always down for a good time. But the moment he meets Cassie, he knows she’s not the girl you play games with. Cassie is gorgeous, hilarious, and, frankly, the coolest person he’s ever met. The last thing he wants to do is risk breaking her heart, and so he reluctantly puts her in the friend-zone…only to realize he made a 
huge mistake. Soon, his attraction to Cassie becomes impossible to ignore. He wants that fling now. Big-time.

And maybe even something more.

As Cassie and Tate walk the line between friends and lovers, they’re about to discover that their situation is the least complicated part of this equation. Because Avalon Bay is full of secrets—and their relationship might not survive when those secrets come to light.

This one was fine, but nothing special. I liked the previous two books in the series better. I loathed the way the main male character talked/thought about the main female characters boobs. I get that it’s a romance book, but blegh. The characters were likable, but again, not as much as in the former books in this series.

Book #149 of 2023 🎧 Find A Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: YA Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: February 1990

Natalie Armstrong has everything: she’s smart and beautiful, has the perfect boyfriend, early acceptance to college, and a loving family. But the summer she turns seventeen, she finally decides to ask some unanswered questions: Who are her biological parents and why did they give her up when she was born?

These questions take her on a journey from the deep woods of Maine to the streets of New York City, from the pages of old phone books and a tattered yearbook photo to the realization that she might actually meet her biological mother face-to-face.

Lois Lowry wrote some of my favorite books, so I figured I should read some of hers that I hadn’t read yet. I think I would have really enjoyed this book in middle school, but at this age it was just a sweet story. Some of her books are timeless to me, but this is definitely meant for a YA audience.

Book #150 of 2023 📖 Good As Gone by Amy Gentry ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 26 July 2016

Anna’s daughter Julie was kidnapped from her own bedroom when she was thirteen years old, while Anna slept just downstairs, unaware that her daughter was being ripped away from her. For eight years, she has lived with the guilt and the void in her family, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. 

And then one night, the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. Anna and the rest of the family are thrilled, but soon Anna begins to see holes in Julie’s story. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she is forced to wonder if this young woman is even her daughter at all. And if she isn’t Julie, what is it that she wants?

This was a random purchase from McKays, so I didn’t know what to expect going in. I really enjoyed it! I liked the dual-perspective, and the way Gentry unfolded the story of “Julie.” I thought that though the premise isn’t a super unusual one, the execution and how the story ended seemed unique.

Book #151 of 2023 🎧 Dirty Thirty (Stephanie Plum #30) by Janet Evanovich ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 31 October 2023

Stephanie Plum, Trenton’s hardest working, most underappreciated bounty hunter, is offered a freelance assignment that seems simple enough. Local jeweler Martin Rabner wants her to locate his former security guard, Andy Manley (a.k.a. Nutsy), who he is convinced stole a fortune in diamonds out of his safe. Stephanie is also looking for another troubled man, Duncan Dugan, a fugitive from justice arrested for robbing the same jewelry store on the same day.

With her boyfriend Morelli away in Miami on police business, Stephanie is taking care of Bob, Morelli’s giant orange dog who will devour anything, from Stephanie’s stray donuts to the upholstery in her car. Morelli’s absence also means the inscrutable, irresistible security expert Ranger is front and center in Stephanie’s life when things inevitably go sideways. And he seems determined to stay there.

To complicate matters, her best friend Lula is convinced she is being stalked by a mythological demon hell-bent on relieving her of her wardrobe. An overnight stakeout with Stephanie’s mother and Grandma Mazur reveals three generations of women with nerves of steel and driving skills worthy of NASCAR champions.

As the body count rises and witnesses start to disappear, it won’t be easy for Stephanie to keep herself clean when everyone else is playing dirty. It’s a good thing Stephanie isn’t afraid of getting a little dirty, too.

It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to a Stephanie Plum book (well, since the last release). I forgot how much I enjoy the performer of this series. She does a great job making the comedy of the story even funnier with her intonation. I started out this series reading the physical books, but I’m glad I made the switch to audio. It’s rare when audio is better than the physical, but with this series it definitely is!

Book #152 of 2023 🎧 Never Knowing by a Chevy Stevens ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 5 July 2011

All her life, Sara Gallagher has wondered about her birth parents. As an adopted child with two sisters who were born naturally to her parents, Sara did not have an ideal home life. The question of why she was given up for adoption has always haunted her. Finally, she is ready to take steps and to find closure. 

But some questions are better left unanswered. 

After months of research, Sara locates her birth mother---only to be met with horror and rejection. Then she discovers the devastating truth: Her mother was the only victim ever to escape a killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out about her father is him finding out about her. 

What if murder is in your blood? 

Never Knowing is a complex and compelling portrayal of one woman's quest to understand herself, her origins, and her family. That is, if she can survive. . . .

The performer was not great. When I finished the book, reviews came up and from all the reviews I saw, this was not an unpopular opinion. The story wasn’t my favorite of hers. It was well enough written, but I feel like it resolved pretty quickly. I figured there would be a final twist, but it wasn’t at all the one I predicted. 

Book #153 of 2023 📖 The Windeby Child by Lois Lowry ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 14 February 2023

Estrild is not like the other girls in her village; she wants to be a warrior. Varick, the orphan boy who helps her train in spite of his twisted back, also stands apart. In a world where differences are poorly tolerated, just how much danger are they in?

Inspired by the true discovery of the 2,000-year-old Windeby bog body in Northern Germany, Newbery Medalist and master storyteller Lois Lowry transports readers to an Iron age world as she breathes life back into the Windeby child, left in the bog to drown with a woolen blindfold over its eyes.

This was a really neat concept for a book. It’s like a creative writing assignment, or a game I would have played growing up - see a photo and make up a story for it. Or see a person in a place and make up a story for them. I think I’m hovering between a 3.5-4 ⭐️ rating for the one. 

Book #154 of 2023 🎧 Chalked Up: My Life in Elite Gymnastics by Jennifer Sey ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

📚GENRE: Memoir

🗓PUBLISHED: 22 April 2008

Fanciful dreams of becoming the next Nadia Comaneci led Jennifer Sey to become a gymnast at the age of six. Her early success propelled her family to sacrifice everything to help her become, by age 11, one of America’s elite. But as she set her sights higher and higher, Jennifer began to change, setting her needs, her health, and her well-being aside in the name of winning. And the adults in her life refused to notice her downward spiral.

Now, Sey reveals the tarnish beneath her gold medals. A powerful portrait of intensity and drive, eating disorders and stage parents, abusive coaches and manipulative businessmen, 
Chalked Up is the story of a young girl whose dreams would become subsumed by the adults around her.

My expectations for this book were not met. I thought it would be about how a girls love for the sport of gymnastics was diminished by the toxicity of the sport, and while that was certainly talked about, it never felt like she actually liked gymnastics, which made it hard to read. I didn’t research into her life, so maybe she has taken care of this, but homegirl needs therapy. She was really back and forth on how great her parents were for giving everything up so she could pursue gymnastics and how awful they were for making her pursue gymnastics. It read like she didn’t quite have her feelings in order about a lot of things, which is valid, but doesn’t bode well for a book.

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

Reading Challenge: 154/120 books read in 2023

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