Episode 15: Laura's June 2020 Reading Recap

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, Laura shares the 18 books she read in June and what she's currently reading. From historical fiction to middle grade, fantasy fiction to romance, it's a nice variety this month!
 Find me on Instagram @library.laura.
 Check out the booklist for all the books mentioned in today's episode (bookshop.org affiliate link)

Historical fiction/fantasy

 Kindred by Octavia E. Butler: I had requested this book as a result of a giveaway win several months ago. I heard about it on an episode of One Great Book by Anne Bogel (Volume II, Book 3). Kindred is a fascinating mix of sci-fi and historical fiction. I try to read diversely anyway, but I am trying to be even more intentional with my book choices these days. Finally getting around to reading Kindred was part of that this month! I found it to be incredibly thought provoking. I loved time-travel history books as a kid (see below when I talk about the Kairos Makers series!) and while this book deals with much heavier subject matter, the same element I tend to love was present too. I recommended this to my Dad on his episode!

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon: Apparently I have Anne Bogel to blame for many of my book choices. (And I'm not sad!) I decided to read Code Name Hélène after Ariel Lawhon was featured on Anne's Stay-at-Home Book Tour. She talked about the writing of Nancy Wake's character, and I was hooked. I listened to this book on audio. I loved that the narrators were split up, a woman for Nancy's character and a man for her husband Henri's character. That added a lot of benefit to the audio recording for me. The timeline was a little more challenging on audio, I did a bad job listening to the dates at the beginning of the chapters and it does jump back and forth in time. Oops! Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and that's definitely true for our protagonist here. She was a real person and almost all the events Lawhon documents really happened. It's an amazing story. One of the best historical fiction I've read in a while. (The last one that I enjoyed this much was probably We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter.)

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu: I wanted to really love this book. I usually enjoy historical fiction and fantasy, and I come from a pretty musical family. So it had a lot going for it. Nannerl Mozart’s real life was rather sad — especially living in the shadow of her insanely talented brother and having a father that strictly enforced the gender norms of the day. The fantasy element was also darker than I anticipated. I powered through and I am still glad I read it, but I’m not able to gush about it enthusiastically as I hoped I would. This also may be a case of having too high expectations. I had this book on hold at the library FOREVER thanks to the pandemic, so finally getting my hands on it and then not loving it was a letdown. But bonus points for a beautiful cover and an “untold story” of history.

 We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal: My friend Hannah N. recommended this fantasy book to me. It's set in a fictional country, but the language of the characters is Arabic. The use of language was really neat, as sometimes the words were defined, but often we were left to figure out the meaning using context clues. I enjoyed the audiobook here, too. Again there were male and female narrators that told the opposite view points. Zafira was a great character, defying the norms of her town to take care of her family and her people. Nasir was also fascinating, an assassin who still has a tender heart buried beneath the layers of emotional armor. A great adventure with a different setting than I'm accustomed to. It felt more...rooted...somehow than most of the fantasy I've read.


Featured Book ReviewerI've been reading and reviewing some books through BookSirens, which is a source of Advance Review Copies (ARC). I've been reading mostly kids and middle grade books there because it's one of my preferred genres anyway, and the shorter books feel like less of a time commitment. It's been fun! 

  The Trunk of Stars by Susie Dinneen: The Trunk of Stars brings us a young girl without her family, searching for a lost treasure and (perhaps even more importantly) a place to be safe and belong. While on its surface the plot is pretty simple --lost objects in need of being found -- the meaning of this book is more profound. You see, Cairo has never been in a safe family situation. It kind of reminded me of little orphan Annie or Oliver Twist at the beginning. The Mulches found her when she was a baby and have been using her to help their steal-and-resell-as-antiques scam ever since. She's unloved and her situation is uncertain. There are younger children that she feels the need to protect, but she is not always able to shield them from the abusive adults. This may be a hard reality for some younger readers to grapple with, as Cairo's misfortunes and feelings are recounted throughout the tale. One of the beauties of middle-grade fiction is the ability to introduce difficult topics in a child-friendly way, and this book could open up some dialog with older children if the adults are prepared to speak with them about what they read. Thankfully, we are also offered a hopeful resolution and all is well that ends well. The adventure is action-packed, there is intrigue, and the reveal at the end is exciting.

Jamestown's Deliverance by C.A. Gray:When I read and reviewed the first book in this series, I stated that I was excited to see more from this author. So I was really glad to see book 2 make an appearance! I love the premise of the series, which is telling kids about pivotal moments in history. The time-travel element is a lot of fun. This book had a few typos wander into the published copy, and I felt there was a little too much talk about one character's weight. But other than that it was a lovely book and I'm happy C.A. Gray is continuing on with this series. Given how many pivotal moments in history there are, she could go on for a long time. This could be the next Magic Tree House series.

Sleeping Brilliant by Jessica Williams:A short and sweet retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty fairytale, but we get people of color in the illustrations, STEM representation, and a kind, smart, self-sufficient princess who doesn't need anyone else to save her. Perfect read-aloud for parents wanting to raise strong, smart AND beautiful girls. I loved the illustrations and the adaptation was charming.

Middle Grade

Summer At Meadow Wood by Amy Rebecca Tan: This book just released in May and is by the same author that wrote A Kind of Paradise, which I also loved!! Summer at Meadow Wood is set a summer camp and the setting is so vivid you can almost feel the sweat, hear the camp cheers, and taste the fresh produce. I love the cast of characters who made mistakes, discovered more about themselves, and began friendships they never expected. Yet another example of why I love middle grade books and the way they can address big issues and life changes in a render and positive way.

New Kid by Jerry Craft: If a picture is worth a thousand words, where do you even start with a graphic novel like this?! New Kid is the winner of the 2020 Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award, and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature. I have been falling deeper and deeper in love with middle grade books, and one of the many reasons why is their ability to describe real, big issues in a tender and age-appropriate way. Jordan is one of the only kids of color in the new private school to which his parents send him. He has some really fantastic experiences, but also experiences racism, not fitting in, and self-doubt as he navigates his first year at this school. The author, Jerry Craft, does a masterful job of painting the scene in a funny, sincere, and totally believable way.
If you haven’t already, you need to get your hands on this book, whether you are in middle school or middle age. This is also my pick for the #mmdchallenge2020 as a book nominated for an award.


Tweet Cute by Emma Lord: I heard about Tweet Cute on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide 2020. A local friend from the coffee shop I used to work at started a summer book club online for the purpose of reading SRG books, and Tweet Cute was the June selection. I did stay up really late one night while reading this book, because there was not a good place to stop in the middle of all that was going on. So in that sense it's very engaging and readable. It's not one of those books that deeply impacted me or is going to stick with me forever. However I did enjoy the engagement with modern technology and communication (Twitter, chat apps, etc) and the romance was cute. This book also definitely made me want to make cookies and grilled cheese!

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: I read When Dimple Met Rishi because it was featured in the Summer Reading Guide as one of the "8 Favorites from 8 Past Summer Reading Guides" as the 2017 selection. Anne describes it as a "feel-good Bollywood-inspired YA debut novel about a high school girl who accidentally falls in love with the future husband her parents chose for her." I listened to this one on audiobook, which was fantastic. Several chapters in I told my husband about the premise and how good the narration was, and he started listening too. Cue the jockeying for who was listening at which times, trying not to share spoilers, and making sure we put digital bookmarks at the other's spot before we started listening....It was a fun time! 😀  Really though, it was the narration that made this book for me. Again we had a male and female taking the sides of the story. They also NAILED the Indian parents in my opinion. Also great about this story was Dimple being able to chase her dreams of working in app development...such a good story when women in STEM is still disproportionate. My husband and I did find Dimple's character to be a bit annoying at times, but Rishi's character more than made up for it with his patient and humorously awkward interactions.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune: Another book that wandered onto my library queue thanks to the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide 2020. Between the beautiful cover and the description of the book as a "whimsical fantasy," I was intrigued. There were many things I loved about this book. The characterization was great, and I was very surprised at the identity of the children on the island. The themes of coming into your own, how to respond when you're a marginalized person, and the optimistic tone were lovely. It was interesting seeing queer characters represented (honestly that challenged me personally), especially in a tale that feels like a mix between a stuffy British procedural and a wild romping fantasy. It did lean a little bit too far on the "just love yourself and everything will be amazing" side of things for me. But whimsical, hopeful, and magical storytelling it certainly is.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Houang - Woah! This book was way more steamy than I expected it to be...so just know this is an open door romance. However I loved the representation of a woman with high-functioning autism falling in love with a man with Vietnamese heritage. Their interactions with his family were so great. Given that the author is both asian and high-functioning autistic herself, the story felt very genuine. One of the most intriguing parts to me was her author's note, where she told about getting diagnosed in 2016 with autism at about 34 years old. She mentioned several books that aided her on the journey, and because of that I am now interested in reading  Aspergirls at her recommendation.
A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn - I've been loving the Veronica Speedwell series, which is primarily mystery but with a slow-burning romance arc going on as well. This 4th installment in the series has Veronica and her faithful companion Stoker going out to an island shrouded in family secrets. Veronica is going out there at the invitation of Stoker's brother Tiberius and with the promise of rare and beautiful glasswing butterflies. Stoker is begrudgingly coming along to keep Tiberius and Veronica out of trouble. All is not as it seems and soon the trio is helping solve yet another mystery. If you've been listening to the podcast, you know I've found a way to weave this series into many conversations lately, and I don't think I am going to stop. They're too fun!

Reading aloud with the Rollers

After the episode with my sister Rachel where we talked about me being jealous that she's gotten family story time long after I left the nest,  I got invited to join the family Facetime stories each evening. That's been a delightful way of connecting as a family amid periods of isolation thanks to the pandemic. 

Blood of Heaven by Bill Meyers: What an interesting book! The premise is that a genetic research lab has found and sequenced the DNA of Jesus Christ and is starting on an experiment to insert it into a human being in hopes of changing his behavior. But it isn't any human being, it's a serial killer on death row. Then things get interesting. This Christian thriller kept us on our toes, and based on consultation with our resident chemist, the science was pretty sound as well. We are now reading the second book in Myer's series, Threshold.


 Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Ryan and I watched the 2019 re-make of The Little Women the movie  several weeks ago. We both thought it was lovely and very well done. About half-way through the movie we both realized that we had never seen another film remake or read the book...so we were genuinely surprised by the course of events! The movie version we watched also is told in flashbacks, so the timeline was a little disorienting if you're not already familiar with the story, which further fueled my desire to read the book and see for myself. Since I'm home currently thanks to the virus, the industriousness and contentedness to be in one's home is a message I think I needed to hear right now. I also dearly love Jo and her passion for telling stories. I cried real tears when I discovered Beth's fate during the movie. A lovely story all told.


Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi: It seems kind of silly to count a board book as a book on my list. But really, sometimes starting with the basics is important. Also, to be honest I read this as a digital book, so I didn't realize it was a board-book until I started looking for copies to add to my booklist!  And you know, sometimes kids books have the challenge of removing all the big messy stuff and focusing on the small, important nuggets of truth. So, if you're looking for a primer, here is a good one. For you, or your kids. Cute illustrations, succinct actionable text.

Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen: So, you know how sometimes you check your library holds and realize that you have books that are already one day overdue? And that you haven't read them? Yeah...that's what happened to Get Out of Your Head at my house. I decided to sit down with it and skim it, because I'd waited a while to get it from the library and the holds list was long enough that I wouldn't be getting it back quickly. Soon I wasn't skimming anymore. I was reading. Then I was reading every word. Then I was typing out the main point from each chapter so that when I returned it to the library I could still hold onto the lessons I learned. Allen's big point is that we have a choice with what to do about the toxic thoughts in our minds. We can speak truth to ourselves that has the power to interrupt a negative spiral. So, for example, if the lie is "I cannot trust God to take care of my tomorrows (fear)" then the
truth is God is in control of every day of my life and the choice is to surrender my fears to God. This book is NOT saying that if you have clinical anxiety and/or depression that you can just think yourself to be better. Nope. But what it is saying is that if you're human that deals with toxic thoughts, you can train your brain to handle them better over time, and the truth and choices are the keys to doing that. I also loved that Jennie is a self-professed Enneagram type 7, like me! I think that made her experiences more relatable to me.

Book types breakdown: 

  • Fiction books: 16
  • Non-fiction books: 2
  • Owned: 1
  • eBook / Kindle books: 7
  • Advanced Review Copies (ARCs): 3
  • Library books: 3
  • Audiobooks: 3
  • Read aloud with family: 1 

June Totals: 

  • 18 books
  • 5,414 pages*

2020 Totals: 

  • 89 books out of goal of 100 for the year
  • 26,620 total pages*

*A note on page counts: I do convert audiobooks to page numbers in order to keep track of this number. I use the most reasonable page number I can find for the book on Goodreads. So if the hardback has way more pages than the paper back or vice versa, I choose the lower number of pages. Because I do read some shorter books, I decided to keep track of page counts this year too. Because someone else might read only thick tomes and therefore have a lower book count, while I have read lots of books but it might be less pages per book on average. I'm enjoying the data!

Currently reading:

How To Be Fine by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer: Yet another Stay-At-Home Book Tour book that I've finally gotten my hands on. I'm listening to it on audio, which is great because it's narrated by the authors. Since they're podcasters, it's kind of like a 5 hour podcast!! Jolenta and Kristen are the hosts of the By the Book podcast, where they live by the rules of a self-help book for 2 weeks and then discuss how it went, which is played partly for humor, partly for actual self development. Their book is about what they learned through this process. I thought it was pretty insightful. There are three main sections to the book, 1) Things that were helpful 2) Things that were unhelpful 3) Things that aren't in self-help books that they think should be. This book feels very truthful (sometimes overly so?) and insightful. And the interview with Anne is 100% worth watching even if you don't read the book or listen to the podcast.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Thanks to bookstagram, where I kept seeing this beautiful book everywhere, I had it on my list of books that I finally got to pick up at the library. It's been great so far!

 I will be reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates for book club next week. One of the baristas from the coffee shop I used to work at has started an anti-racism book club online and this is our first book. We'll be reading and discussing the book on July 7th! I've been really impressed with what I've read of Coates' writing so far. But I have a ways to go until the end of the book and I better get going because book club waits for no one!

Also, I told you about starting to read The Body Keeps the Score in May, and I read exactly zero pages during June. So, I'll be getting back into it in July!

What did you read in June? What are you excited to read in July?

In the meantime, with lots of literary love from my library to yours, have a wonderful day!


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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