Sunday, March 31, 2024

#gretchensbooks2024 - March

 Despite staying home for spring break for the first time in at least a decade, I knew I wouldn't get much reading done. I had a looooong to do list of house projects I wanted to complete instead. I also spent one weekend with strep, which left me with no energy to read (though did give me the opportunity to watch The Eras Tour on Disney+....four times....). That being said, I still read a lot of good books this month!!

Book 27 of 2024 📖 The Teacher by Freida McFadden (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 6 February 2024

Lesson #1: trust no one

Eve has a good life. She gets up each day, gets a kiss from her husband Nate, and heads off to teach math at the local high school. All is as it should be. Except…

Last year, Caseham High was rocked by a scandal involving a student-teacher affair, with one student, Addie, at its center. But Eve knows there is far more to these ugly rumors than meets the eye.

Addie can't be trusted. She lies. She hurts people. She destroys lives. At least, that's what everyone says. 

But nobody knows the real Addie. Nobody knows the secrets that could destroy her. And Addie will do anything to keep it quiet.

Bruh. The ending of this one 🤯. Being a school setting, I’m almost always interested, no matter how taboo the subject. I was captivated from the first page, and though the main male character infuriated me, I couldn’t put it down. The story was super fast paced and full of events. I wasn’t sure if this one would have a happy ending or not, but I rooted for Addie the whole way through. 

My only question is (spoiler alert) why did Tuttle tell Eve that Addie was dangerous? We never find out. It seems like their relationship was very innocent, and I don’t understand why he would know if she was capable of doing terrible things.

FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Book 28 of 2024 🎧 The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1) by Dot Hutchinson (3.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Dark Mystery

🗓PUBLISHED: 1 June 2016

Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.

In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees...and a collection of precious “butterflies” - young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.

When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.

As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding...

This series was recommend a few times to me, so when they were on sale for less than $2 each on Audible I bought all four books.

The way the story was told was interesting. It was told in the present perspective of a girl telling what happened to FBI agents, but when she told the story it was like the present. I didn’t really like this form of story telling, because everything already happened. I know the reader doesn’t know what happened, but I just didn’t find it as enjoyable as if it were all told in real time without the roles of the detectives inserted.

FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Book 29 of 2024 📖 Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Historical Fiction

🗓PUBLISHED: 12 November 2019

In a small Southern town where loyalty to family and to "your people" carries the weight of a sacred oath, defying those unspoken rules can be a deadly proposition. After fifteen years of growing up in the Ozark hills with his widowed mother, high-school freshman Boady Sanden is beyond ready to move on. He dreams of glass towers and cityscapes, driven by his desire to be anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri. The new kid at St. Ignatius High School, if he isn't being pushed around, he is being completely ignored. Even his beloved woods, his playground as a child and his sanctuary as he grew older, seem to be closing in on him, suffocating him.

Then Thomas Elgin moves in across the road, and Boady's life begins to twist and turn. Coming to know the Elgins -- a black family settling into a community where notions of "us" and "them" carry the weight of history -- forces Boady to rethink his understanding of the world he's taken for granted. Secrets hidden in plain sight begin to unfold: the mother who wraps herself in the loss of her husband, the neighbor who carries the wounds of a mysterious past that he holds close, the quiet boss who is fighting his own hidden battle.

But the biggest secret of all is the disappearance of Lida Poe, the African-American woman who keeps the books at the local plastics factory. Word has it that Ms. Poe left town, along with a hundred thousand dollars of company money. Although Boady has never met the missing woman, he discovers that the threads of her life are woven into the deepest fabric of his world.

As the mystery of her fate plays out, Boady begins to see the stark lines of race and class that both bind and divide this small town -- and he will be forced to choose sides.

I’m not crying, you’re crying. Okay, I’m crying. This book turned out to be so much better than I anticipated! It started as an interesting story, but it turns out the characters absolutely captivated my heart. 

Book 30 of 2024 🎧 Roses of May (The Collector #2) by Dot Hutchinson (4/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 23 May 2017

Four months after the explosion at the Garden, a place where young women known as the Butterflies were kept captive, FBI agents Brandon Eddison, Victor Hanoverian, and Mercedes Ramirez are still entrenched in the aftermath, helping survivors in the process of adjusting to life on the outside. With winter coming to an end, the Butterflies have longer, warmer days of healing ahead. But for the agents, the impending thaw means one gruesome thing: a chilling guarantee that somewhere in the country, another young woman will turn up dead in a church with her throat slit and her body surrounded by flowers.

Priya Sravasti’s sister fell victim to the killer years ago. Now she and her mother move every few months, hoping for a new beginning. But when she ends up in the madman’s crosshairs, the hunt takes on new urgency. Only with Priya’s help can the killer be found―but will her desperate hope for closure compel her to put her very life on the line?

It’s rare that I like a book in a series more than the first in the series, but that was the case in this book. You don’t HAVE to read The Butterfly Garden first to understand this book, but it would make some of the smaller events and details make sense.

I liked that this one was told in real time rather than the flashbacks of the real book. I also really enjoyed the female performer for this story - she has a wonderful voice. 

FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Book 31 of 2024 🎧 The Summer Children (The Collector #3) by Dot Hutchinson (4/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 22 May 2018

This FBI agent has come to expect almost anything―just not this…

When Agent Mercedes Ramirez finds an abused young boy on her porch, covered in blood and clutching a teddy bear, she has no idea that this is just the beginning. He tells her a chilling tale: an angel killed his parents and then brought him here so Mercedes could keep him safe.

His parents weren’t just murdered. It was a slaughter―a rage kill like no one on the Crimes Against Children team had seen before. But they’re going to see it again. An avenging angel is meting out savage justice, and she’s far from through.

One by one, more children arrive at Mercedes’s door with the same horror story. Each one a traumatized survivor of an abusive home. Each one chafing at Mercedes’s own scars from the past. And each one taking its toll on her life and career.

Now, as the investigation draws her deeper into the dark, Mercedes is beginning to fear that if this case doesn’t destroy her, her memories might.

I think this was my favorite in this series so far! The storyline was compelling, and the FBI agent that narrated was so far the most interesting to me. Each book in the series is from a different agent’s perspective (and another main character as well - until this one). I liked that this was completely from Mercedes’s perspective. 

The story itself was also very captivating. Sometimes I feel like audiobooks can lose the audience, but this one didn’t lose me at all! The performer did a great job, so well that I forgot I wasn’t actually listening to an FBI agent narrating her reality. I also loved the Spanish mixed it! It was good practice.

FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Book 32 of 2024 🎧 The Vanishing Season (The Collector #4) by Dot Hutchinson (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Police Procedural 

🗓PUBLISHED: 21 May 2019

A recent abduction becomes an unexpected link to a decades-long spree of unspeakable crimes. 

Eight-year-old Brooklyn Mercer has gone missing. And as accustomed as FBI agents Eliza Sterling and Brandon Eddison are to such harrowing cases, this one has struck a nerve. It marks the anniversary of the disappearance of Eddison’s own little sister. Disturbing, too, is the girl’s resemblance to Eliza - so uncanny they could be mother and daughter. 

With Eddison’s unsettled past rising again with rage and pain, Eliza is determined to solve this case at any cost. But the closer she looks, the more reluctant she is to divulge to her increasingly shaken partner what she finds. Brooklyn isn’t the only girl of her exact description to go missing. She’s just the latest in a frightening pattern going back decades in cities throughout the entire country. 

In a race against time, Eliza’s determined to bring Brooklyn home and somehow find the link to the cold case that has haunted Eddison - and the entire Crimes Against Children team - since its inception.

The first book in this series was good, but then every one I listened to after I liked even better! I’m a little disappointed it’s all over now. I loved the relationships between the characters and the support they had for each other. The storyline was interesting, and though not suspenseful, still engaging.

FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Book 33 of 2024 📖 The Confession by John Grisham (4.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Legal Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 26 October 2010

For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of his crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed. 

Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

This book was not slow to start, and just picked up speed from there. Honestly, there were times I was frustrated I couldn’t read it fast enough because I had no idea what would happen. With Grisham, you never know! That being said, Grisham never lets me down, even when the story breaks my heart, and this one was no different.

Book 34 of 2024 🎧 Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak (4/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Horror/Mystery

🗓PUBLISHED: 10 May 2022

Fresh out of rehab, Mallory Quinn takes a job as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.

Mallory immediately loves it. She has her own living space, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

Then, Teddy’s artwork becomes increasingly sinister, and his stick figures quickly evolve into lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to wonder if these are glimpses of a long-unsolved murder, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force.

Knowing just how crazy it all sounds, Mallory nevertheless sets out to decipher the images and save Teddy before it’s too late.

I’d seen this one pop up a lot on Facebook and Instagram, so I was surprised that I was able to get it from Libby in just a couple short weeks. 

I had NO idea what this book was about - and it’s rare that I go in blind. I wasn’t disappointed! The story was fast paced, and the mystery interesting. I loved the main character, and was rooting for her throughout. 

FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Book 35 of 2024 🎧 First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston (4/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 2 January 2024

Evie Porter has everything a nice, Southern girl could want: a perfect, doting boyfriend, a house with a white picket fence and a garden, a fancy group of friends. The only catch: Evie Porter doesn’t exist.

The identity comes first: Evie Porter. Once she’s given a name and location by her mysterious boss Mr. Smith, she learns everything there is to know about the town and the people in it. Then the mark: Ryan Sumner. The last piece of the puzzle is the job.

Evie isn’t privy to Mr. Smith’s real identity, but she knows this job will be different. Ryan has gotten under her skin, and she’s starting to envision a different sort of life for herself. But Evie can’t make any mistakes—especially after what happened last time.

Because the one thing she’s worked her entire life to keep clean, the one identity she could always go back to—her real identity—just walked right into this town. Evie Porter must stay one step ahead of her past while making sure there’s still a future in front of her. The stakes couldn't be higher—but then, Evie has always liked a challenge...

This thriller was awesome! It was very twisty and kept my curiosity peeked! I almost always read the blurb to tell what the story is about (like 99% of the time), but with this one I didn’t, and I’m not mad about it! A lot of thrillers seem kind of repetitive, but this storyline was definitely unique!

The only thing I didn’t like so much was all the back and forth between the personas. I get why the author felt it was needed in the story, I just wish maybe some of the background needed was inserted in some other way.

Book 36 of 2024 📱 Rubicon (Jack Randall #7) by Randall Wood (3.5/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Police Procedural/Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 29 June 2017

In book three of The Twelve Shepherds Saga we discover that the mission of the Shepherds is more than just the pursuit of justice. The corruption and unscrupulousness of those in power have resulted in a public outcry that can no longer be ignored. With the help of the press the people themselves apply pressure on those in office, and as a result the mission reaches a turning point. The Shepherds now target the root of the problem, knowing that when crossing that line, there is no turning back.

I really enjoyed the continued storyline of the Twelve Shepherds and Jack Randall, but man this story just keeps going! I think I’m only halfway through the storyline, and though there were (kind of) two big events in this book, it feels  like it just keeps going. I wish these were in like 3 books, rather than six. The story is broken up in a reasonable spot, but it still seems unnecessary to put it into 6 separate books.

Book 37 of 2024 🎧 Only Survivors by Megan Miranda (3/5⭐️)

📚GENRE: Thriller

🗓PUBLISHED: 12 March 2024

Seven hours in the past. Seven days in the present. Seven survivors remaining. Who would you save?

A decade ago, two vans filled with high school seniors on a school service trip crashed into a Tennessee ravine—a tragedy that claimed the lives of multiple classmates and teachers. The nine students who managed to escape the river that night were irrevocably changed. A year later, after one of the survivors dies by suicide on the anniversary of the crash, the rest of them make a pact: to come together each year to commemorate that terrible night.

To keep one another safe.

To hold one another accountable.

Or both.

Their annual meeting place, a house on the Outer Banks, has long been a refuge. But by the tenth anniversary, Cassidy Bent has worked to distance herself from the tragedy and from the other survivors. She’s changed her mobile number. She’s blocked the others’ email addresses. This year, she is determined to finally break ties once and for all. But on the day of the reunion, she receives a text with an obituary attached: another survivor is gone. Now they are seven—and Cassidy finds herself hurling back toward the group, wild with grief—and suspicion.

Almost immediately, something feels off this year. Cassidy is the first to notice when Amaya, the annual organizer, slips away, overwhelmed. This wouldn’t raise alarm except for the impending storm. Suddenly, they’re facing the threat of closed roads and surging waters…again. Then Amaya stops responding to her phone. After all they’ve been through, she wouldn’t willfully make them worry. Would she?

And—as they promised long ago—each survivor will do whatever he or she can do to save one another. Won’t they?

This one could not hold my interest. I don’t know if it was because I listened to the audio version (though I think I’ve read most of Miranda’s books via audio), but I was constantly having to go back. The storyline was fine, but I didn’t feel the suspense.

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means when you purchase something through that link, you're helping support this blog (and my reading addiction!) at no additional cost to you!*

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

Reading Challenge: 37/120 books read in 2024

You can find previous book reviews here and add me on Goodreads here! Also, if you use StoryGraph, you can add me here!