Friday, February 2, 2024

#gretchensbooks2024 - January


I usually start the year off pretty strong with reading, but I wasn't sure I would be able to do that this year. In the past, I didn't go back to school until like January 6, so I would spend the first week of the year on the couch with a pile of books. This year we went back a little earlier, which meant I didn't get that solid chunk of reading time to kick off the year. That being said, I did sit down and read 7 books this month, which I was pretty satisfied with. I prefer reading books to listening, but time doesn't allow me to consume them fast enough to pretend to keep up with my ever-growing list, and I do enjoy audiobooks (just not as much), so listening it is. It was also a month of good books! My lowest rating was 3.5/5, and I liked all of those books, just didn't love them. I also read a pretty equal amount of fiction and non-fiction. I don't read a ton of non-fiction (mostly memoirs), so this surprised me.

Book 1 of 2024 📖 If You Would Have Told Me: A Memoir by John Stamos (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Memoir

🗓PUBLISHED: 24 October 2023

If you would have told a young John Stamos flipping burgers at his dad’s fast-food joint that one day he’d be a household name and that, at the height of his success, he’d be living alone, divorced, with no kids, high on a cocktail of forgetting, he might’ve asked, “You want fries with that?” 

John burst onto the scene in 
General Hospital, propelling him into the teen idol stratosphere, a place that’s often a point of no return. But Stamos beat the odds and over the past four decades has proved himself to be one of his generation’s most successful and beloved actors. Whether showing off his comedic chops on Full House or his dramatic skills on ER, pushing the boundaries on Broadway or living out his youthful dreams as an honorary Beach Boy, John has surprised everyone, most of all himself.

A universal story about friendship, love, loss, and the courage to embrace love once more, John Stamos’s memoir is filled with some of the most memorable names in Hollywood, both old and new. Funny, deeply poignant, and brutally honest, 
If You Would Have Told Me is a portrait of a boy who went from believing in Disney magic to a man who learns that we have to create our own magical moments in life.

Things I Googled While Reading This Book

  • John Stamos Neet Girls [I’m not convinced this wasn’t a bottle of ranch]
  • Charles Manson The Beach Boys
  • Seth Meyers John Stamos Fuller House
  • Brian Wilson Dr. Landy

Though I adored John Stamos as Uncle Jesse in Full House, and watched Disney+’s Big Shot solely because he starred as the head coach, so much of his big work was before my time. I mean I was alive, but too young to know much about pop culture in the film/tv world. A lot of the people he mentioned and the events he recalled I had to Google because they meant nothing to me. That being said, it was still an interesting read. Stamos shared about his life without over-sharing what might have been private moments others wouldn’t want shared. It was well written, and I devoured it all on New Year’s Day!

Book 2 of 2024 📖 Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope by Petty Wetterling (5/5🌟)

📚GENRE: Memoir/True Crime

🗓PUBLISHED: 17 October 2024

On October 22, 1989, in the small town of St. Joseph, Minnesota, eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped at gunpoint. Twenty-seven years later, on September 2, 2016, Danny Heinrich led authorities to the boy’s remains. 

What lies between is the riveting story of the search for Jacob Wetterling, told by his mother, Patty. With down-to-earth candor, she details the investigation as it unfolds, discusses her family’s struggles, and shows how she maintained her energy and optimism. 

For her own survival, Patty chose to focus on hope. She became a speaker, trainer, and national advocate for missing children. Her lobbying work took her to Washington, DC, where in 1994 Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Act, establishing a national sex offender registry. 

In 2013 the Wetterlings were joined on their quest for answers by two unlikely allies: local blogger Joy Baker and plumber Jared Scheierl. Baker convinced Scheierl to come forward and share his story about being kidnapped from a nearby town and sexually assaulted the same year as Jacob. Together, Baker and Scheierl uncovered a string of similar assaults that had never been fully investigated. The combined efforts of this foursome led to the breakthrough that solved the case. 

Jacob's kidnapping forever changed the way parents raised their children. 
Dear Jacob offers not only a behind-the-scenes account of one of America's most notorious crimes but also a historical account of what has been done in the years since Jacob's kidnapping to combat the problem of missing and exploited children. 

In this powerful memoir—written with Joy Baker, the local blogger—Patty Wetterling finally tells readers what happened and shows how, in searching for Jacob, she found her purpose.

This was so well written. I was wondering how a 25+ year case could have a whole book about it (I mean if it takes that long to solve it, is there really that much information?) but Patty and Joy did a great job. It was a smooth read and so informative. I could feel Patty’s pain, but also her hope, in every page.

The book covered Jacob’s case, but also talked about Patty’s involvement in other groups that helped with missing children. I wasn’t sure that would keep my interest, as I was more interested in the case aspects, but it was cool to hear about all the great things she has done to help other families and their missing children.

I finished this book with tears in my eyes and covered in goosebumps. It’s a tragic story, but well worth the read.

Book 3 of 2024 🎧 The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller (3.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Non-Fiction/Education 

🗓PUBLISHED: 16 March 2009

Turn any student into a bookworm with a few easy and practical strategies

Donalyn Miller says she has yet to meet a child she can't turn into a reader. No matter how far behind Miller's students might be when they reach her 6th grade classroom, they end up reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year.

Miller's unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets that make reading a chore. Instead, she helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves. Her love of books and teaching is both infectious and inspiring.

In the book, you'll find:

  • Hands-on strategies for managing and improving your own school library
  • Tactics for helping students walk on their own two feet and continue the reading habit after they've finished with your class
  • Data from student surveys and end-of-year feedback that proves how well the Miller Method works

The Book Whisperer includes a dynamite list of recommended "kid lit" that helps parents and teachers find the books that students really like to read.

My thoughts on this book are mixed.

I’d come across it recommended in many teacher groups on Facebook, and it was free with an Audible subscription. Since I have 3 months of Audible, I figured now was my time. 

I liked it because of the message it conveyed. I saw first hand in my old district why students did not have the love of reading. Everything was about tests and data. I agreed with most everything that had to do with giving kids time to read in class.

The part I didn’t like, was that she didn’t explain what her reading instruction looked like. She talked about making sure kids had time to read what they liked, and going to the library, but it would have been much more helpful to show HOW to implement this, rather than just telling people they should. It felt like a lot of "I have my kids read all the time, and it works." No real proof. No real guidance.

I also think this is more applicable to upper elementary and middle grades, and not so much lower elementary.

If you have an Audible subscription, this book is FREE.

Book 4 of 2024 🎧 Teacher in Space: Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger Legacy by Colin Burgess (4.5/5⭐️)

 📚GENRE: Non-Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 January 2020

On January 28, 1986, NASA space shuttle orbiter Challenger lifted off into the clear blue skies over Florida on mission STS-51L, carrying a crew of seven, including teacher Christa McAuliffe. Just seventy-three seconds into the launch, a massive explosion tore Challenger apart. This newly revised edition of Teacher in Space tells the story of how McAuliffe graduated from her role as a much-loved high school teacher to occupying a seat on the veteran orbiter’s tenth and last flight into space.

McAuliffe’s dream was to carry out science projects while in orbit around the earth that were to be telecast live to school students across the United States. Her dream came to a sudden and tragic end that terrible day. Nevertheless, that ambition to educate from space remained an inspiration to many and, in her name and those of the 
Challenger crew, manifested itself in the establishment of hundreds of youth education programs and institutes of learning across America and around the world.

Teacher in Space is a remarkable story of renewed faith, cooperation, and hope for the future and of a dedicated and much-loved teacher who came to symbolize the best of human achievement.

I’m a sucker for space books, but this one has the added bonus of also being about a teacher in space! 

The Challenger explosion happened nearly 6 years before I was born, but I’ve seen the clips and read enough about it to know how tragic it was. 

My only complaint about this book is that it was too short. I loved that it covered who McAuliffe was and how she ended up on The Challenger, as well as what happened after the tragedy. It was written well, I just could have used more!

Book 5 of 2024 📖 Brutally Honest by Melanie Brown (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Memoir 

🗓PUBLISHED: 27 November 2018

The memoir from the real woman behind the leopard print, for real women everywhere. 

As one-fifth of the iconic Spice Girls and judge on X Factor and America's Got Talent, Melanie Brown, aka Scary Spice, has been an international star since the age of 19. And yet there are sides of Mel that no one has ever seen or really known. 

Brutally Honest is an exposé of the struggles and acute pain that lay behind the glamour and success. With deep personal insight, remarkable frankness and Melanie’s trademark Yorkshire humour, this audiobook removes the mask of fame and reveals the mother, wife and daughter behind the Spice Girl everyone thinks they know. 

The audiobook edition features narration from Melanie, her daughter, Phoenix, and her mother, Andrea.

As prefaced by its title, this book was brutal. After reading Mel C’s memoir last year, I felt compelled to explore more of the Spice Girl autobiographies. Though I know every Spice lyric by heart, I was very young when they were big, so I never knew much about them as people. Growing older, I never paid much attention to celebrity life, which I guess is why I didn’t know about all the chaos Mel B has endured in her personal life.

This was a really interesting read, and I appreciated how she included other’s perspectives about some of the tough times she went through. It didn’t cover much about the Spice Girls, which was fine - I suspect if I read her first book it would cover that more. I imagine this was a tough book to write, but such an important one. 

This is a super minor thing, but someone needed to do a better job at editing this book. There were editing errors with minor things like spacing and capitalization, and there were a few times where she repeated herself with minor things that didn’t seem like they needed to be repeated (for example, she mentioned the word serendipitous and said she got it from her English thesaurus twice). Again, super minor things, but they picked at me.

Book 6 of 2024 📖 The Appeal by John Grisham (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Legal Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 29 January 2008

The company appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, whose nine justices will one day either approve the verdict—or reverse it. 

The chemical company is owned by a Wall Street predator named Carl Trudeau, and Mr. Trudeau is convinced the Court is not friendly enough to his interests. With judicial elections looming, he decides to try to purchase himself a seat on the Court. The cost is a few million dollars, a drop in the bucket for a billionaire like Mr. Trudeau. Through an intricate web of conspiracy and deceit, his political operatives recruit a young, unsuspecting candidate. They finance him, manipulate him, market him, and mold him into a potential Supreme Court justice. 
Their Supreme Court justice.

The thing I love about Grisham, is you never know how his books will end. They may end the way you want them to with the good guys winning, or they may end with the bad guys getting what they want. And you never know what it’s going to be until the very last page! 

Book 7 of 2024 🎧 The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (3.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Mystery

🗓PUBLISHED: 11 February 2014

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

This isn’t a book I would have likely picked up in my own, but it was recommended to me at a book exchange, and I typically follow through with suggestions. 

I will say, I wish I would have physically read the book rather than listen to the audio. Sometimes the form of book makes a difference, and while the performer was fine for this one, I just think it didn’t convey what it could have.

That being said, I did enjoy this story and the mystery within.

Book 8 of 2024 📱 Please Tell Me by Mike Omer (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Crime Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 7 November 2023

When eight-year-old Kathy Stone turns up on the side of the road a year after her abduction, the world awaits her harrowing story. But Kathy doesn’t say a word. Traumatized by her ordeal, she doesn’t speak at all, not even to her own parents.

Child therapist Robin Hart is the only one who’s had success connecting with the girl. Robin has been using play therapy to help Kathy process her memories. But as their work continues, Kathy’s playtime takes a grim turn: a doll stabs another doll, a tiny figurine is chained to a plastic toy couch. All of these horrifying moments, enacted within a Victorian doll house. Every session, another toy dies.

But the most disturbing detail? Kathy seems to be playacting real unsolved murders.

Soon Robin wonders if Kathy not only holds the key to the murders of the past but if she knows something about the murders of the future. Can Robin unlock the secrets in Kathy’s brain and stop a serial killer before he strikes again? Or is Robin’s work with Kathy putting her in the killer’s sights?

A friend had recommended a Mike Omer book to me a few years back and I’ve been hooked ever since. Now whenever he releases something new I always get it.

This story wasn’t one from any of his series (though maybe he will turn it into one? A Dr. Robin Hart trilogy?) I hope so! 

This is currently only $1.99 on Audible.

Spoiler to follow: I thought I knew how this would end, but I was wrong. I’m not super sold on the guy who was involved because he kind of came out of nowhere, and I’m not a fan of when that happens.

Book 9 of 2024 🎧 The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Horror/Mystery

🗓PUBLISHED: 26 April 2022

1978: At her renowned treatment center in picturesque Vermont, the brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hildreth, is acclaimed for her compassionate work with the mentally ill. But when she’s home with her cherished grandchildren, Vi and Eric, she’s just Gran—teaching them how to take care of their pets, preparing them home-cooked meals, providing them with care and attention and love.

Then one day Gran brings home a child to stay with the family. Iris—silent, hollow-eyed, skittish, and feral—does not behave like a normal girl.

Still, Violet is thrilled to have a new playmate. She and Eric invite Iris to join their Monster Club, where they catalogue all kinds of monsters and dream up ways to defeat them. Before long, Iris begins to come out of her shell. She and Vi and Eric do everything together: ride their bicycles, go to the drive-in, meet at their clubhouse in secret to hunt monsters. Because, as Vi explains, monsters are everywhere.

2019: Lizzy Shelley, the host of the popular podcast 
Monsters Among Us, is traveling to Vermont, where a young girl has been abducted, and a monster sighting has the town in an uproar. She’s determined to hunt it down, because Lizzy knows better than anyone that monsters are real—and one of them is her very own sister.

I was so proud because I figured out the twist waaay in the beginning of the book. Except then there was another twist. And another twist. And another twist. And it turned out that I only figured out the smallest of the twists. I don’t venture into the horror genre often, and I’d say this is mild horror at best, but it was certainly interesting!

Book 10 of 2024 📱 Rebellion (Jack Randall #5) by Randall Wood (3.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Action/Mystery

🗓PUBLISHED: 16 September 2017

Justice isn't dead . . . yet. It’s been two years since Sam Shepherd embarked on a one-man mission to change the judicial system, a mission that ended on live television in front of a stunned nation. His mission became a calling, a movement for change that demanded to be heard. They didn’t listen. From the ashes of that mission rises a new group, one that has vowed to succeed where Sam failed. Special Agent Jack Randall of the FBI is tasked with stopping them. It promises to be a fight such as he’s never known. This time he’s not after one killer. He’s up against twelve.

I’m halfway through this series and ready to finish it this year! I don’t read ebooks often, but this series is a go to when I do. 

The downside of this book is that it is the first in a three-part story, so while a lot took place in this book, there was nothing close to a resolution in any kind, which made this hard to rate. I was interested, and am anxious to continue, so that’s a good sign!

The downside to reading this book now is that I already have my (large) TBR pile ready to go for February (all romance bc obvious reasons) so I’ll probably have to wait until March to continue. This storyline will be an interesting one, and I suspect the next in the series will be an eventful one! 

You wouldn't have to read the whole series to understand this book, but I would recommend starting with the first book anyway!

Book 11 of 2024 🎧 The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (4/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Mystery 

🗓PUBLISHED: 7 March 2017

After her mother's suicide, 15-year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother's mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she and far away. 

Eleven years later Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run, too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again. 

As it weaves between Lane's first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart

Whoa. This took a turn I did not see coming. I ended up rewinding (do we still say rewinding?? Scooting back the time?? Idk??) a few second because I thought I had misheard what I actually heard. Turns out, I did not. This story was very unsettling, and completely un-put-down-able.

Book 12 of 2024 🎧 The Family Secret by Kiersten Modglin (3.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 31 January 2023

When freshly engaged Austyn Murphy and Lowell Bass receive the news that Lowell's parents have died unexpectedly, they set out for the historic Bass estate to handle their affairs and lay the former heads of the family to rest.

Enshrouded in layers of secrecy and tradition, the Bass estate, and the family residing within its walls, give anything but a warm welcome. When the idea of staying in the home permanently is brought up, Austyn witnesses a side of her future husband she's never seen before.

Late one night, Austyn overhears a whispered conversation, revealing she hasn't been given the full truth about the world she's marrying into. And when Emily, an old friend, calls with devastating news of her own, Lowell and Austyn invite her to join them for a visit at the estate.

Upon Emily's arrival, a confession is made, causing a rift in the seemingly impenetrable bond the girls once had. As Emily settles into their home, becoming closer to Lowell than ever before, Austyn fears she's made a grave mistake.

Trapped inside the Bass estate under the ever-watchful eye of the staff and her soon-to-be family, Austyn makes another chilling discovery—something so terrible it changes everything.

With distressing revelations hidden around every corner and time running out before final decisions are made about her future, Austyn must uncover the truth about the opulent and powerful Bass the risk of becoming another one of their dark secrets.

Not my favorite of hers, but still worth a listen! It had a little bit of darkness in it, but not as much as usual I didn’t think. There was q bit of mystery, and ended up turning into a direction I did not expect, but some would probably see coming.

Book 13 of 2024 🎧 Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Fiction/Mystery

🗓PUBLISHED: 2 March 2023

Reclusive Sally Diamond is thrust into the media spotlight when she tries to incinerate her dead father, causing widespread outrage. Now she’s the center of attention, not only from hungry reporters and police detectives, but also a sinister voice from a past she does not remember. As she begins to discover the repressed memories of her horrific early childhood, Sally steps into the world for the first time, making new friends, big decisions, and learning that people don’t always mean what they say.

But who is the man observing Sally from the other side of the world, and why does he call her Mary? And why does her new neighbor seem to be obsessed with her? Sally’s trust issues are about to be severely challenged.

This story was strange, indeed. I didn’t really read the description before reading (which I almost ALWAYS do), but went with it because I’d seen it recommended on Instagram. This was a bizarre story that I’m not sure I would have chosen on my own. I’m a big fan of varied perspectives, and this one gave perspectives that covered a few timelines of the story. I thought the book was unique, as I've never read a story quite like this one.

Book 14 of 2024 📖 So Fetch: The Making of Mean Girls (And Why We’re Still So Obsessed With It) by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Non-Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 16 January 2024

I loved everything about this. This book was published at the perfect time, and immediately after going to see the new Mean Girls adaptation, I began to read it.

The first half is all about the original filming, which I found incredibly interesting. It covered the chaos of casting, on-set anecdotes, and script revisions. It was interesting to read about how the script was originally written and how they had to change it to bring the rating down to PG-13.

From there is covered the next steps of the cast, specifically Lohan, as well as how the creation and evolution of things like gifs and memes have kept Mean Girls alive. I found the second half of the book to be just as interesting as the first!

As an added bonus, my review of the “new movie” that you didn’t ask for! I loved it! I went into it knowing that it was the film version of the Broadway musical, and I attended the musical when they came to Nashville. I thought all the “updates” to modern Girl World were perfect. The only part I didn’t buy into was Renee Rapp as Regina George. The purpose of Regina is that you know she is the mean girl/Queen Bee, but you still kind of root for her. I didn’t find Renee-Regina likeable at all. She truly just seemed like a mean girl, and not like the Regina character originally written. Anyone else, or is it just me?? 

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(Summaries are from Amazon, but all thoughts about them are my own!)

Reading Challenge: 14/120 books read in 2024

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