Episode 23: Laura's August 2020 Reading

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, Laura shares the 19 books she read in August!  From middle grade graphic novels to ya sports stories, historical fiction, to poetry and romance, there's a lot of good books here. So let's dive right in!

Listener Note: If your episode cut off at about minute 28, there are a few more minutes of content missing! I've fixed the issue, but you'll need to download the episode in your podcatcher again. Sorry about that! And thanks to Hannah W. for catching this and letting me know. 

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Loving reading my "buddy read" book, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry in my hammock one evening in August 

August reading summary: 
  • 17 Fiction 
  • 2 Non-Fiction
  • 19 Total books
  • 6,567 Pages (including audiobooks converted to page count) 

Book type breakdown: 
  • 3 Owned 
  • 5 Library
  • 5 Audiobooks
  • 5 eBooks
  • 1 Story time read-aloud with my family
2020 reading summary: 
  • 128 Books
  • 39,413 Pages 

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart - Recommended by my sister, Rachel. I also talked about this book on Episode 21 with Kaitlyn who also enjoys this series. I loved the smart kids using their unique strengths and working together to save their world. So many good characters. I even went on a deep dive about the meanings of their names after I finished the book. I would have LOVED this a book as a kid. My sister started learning Morse Code after reading. There are 3 more books in this series, too. 


With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo - This novel in verse about a girl named Emoni wandered onto my to be read list thanks to Kris @noextrawords. The prose is gorgeous. I loved the writing about food and Emoni's magical way with her cooking is awesome. I wish I loved to cook and create in the kitchen as much as she does! She's a teenage single parent and is working through all the struggles that come with that. Her dad is absent and she's being raised by her grandmother. This story is full of love, hopes, dreams, and challenges. I did love how well things worked out for her. It felt like they worked out almost too well given the challenges she was up against. But you know I love a hopeful ending, so I'm all for it! 

Stargazing by Jen Wang - This juvenile graphic novel was a fun read! (It was much more fun than the work the plumbers were doing on my house while I was reading it. Ha!) Christine is a straight-laced girl who tries to live up to expectations and do things right. Meanwhile Moon is a free spirit. When they become neighbors, their friendship grows and pushes both of them out of their comfort zones. Then something unexpected happens! I loved how this book was inspired by the author's own experience. The characters were sweet and the twist was unexpected. 

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett - I've been listening to my several friends who said that I ought to read more Terry Pratchett, so I picked up Witches Abroad this month, which was recommended by Hannah Wright. She thought I would appreciate the role that Stories play in this book, and she was right. I love the witches, and the theme of Story was fascinating. I devoured this book! Interestingly, my dad read Epic by John Eldredge aloud to us this month, which also deals with the theme of story, but applied to one's spiritual life. I love when my reading unexpectedly overlaps like this. 


Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley - I realized this book existed on the episode with Jewel Gilbert when we were talking about our love for Lucy's work. I enjoyed this graphic novel, which is her first one for a kid audience. I would encourage reading the authors note! It gave me some needed perspective on the book, as it is based on Lucy's own experience. In the story, Jen and her mom move out to the country after her parents divorce, and are living on a farm. Her mom's new boyfriend has two daughters, and Jen has to learn to get along with them. I was really frustrated with how the mom and new boyfriend responded to Jen at several points along the way. Like, don't shame people who love to draw or aren't good at math! But...again, this was based on Lucy's own story. So, perspective helps! And I think there are kids out there for whom this will be the exact book they need. If you or your child has been sheltered from divorce or toxic adults, they might want to talk about this book and how it made them feel too. 

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner -This was recommended on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide. It's a historical fiction novel about an unlikely group that banded together to preserve Jane Austen's legacy in the town she was from. It's set just past WWII. I think I was expecting to learn more about Jane Austen and less about the other fictional characters in this book? This book is really less about Jane Austen herself, and more about the power of literature and her books specifically to heal and unite. But for what it was I enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook. It moved a little slow, but was a good story! 


The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin - This was Unread Shelf Project Buddy Read for August. I've been planning this for several months...ever since I posted a stack of books and found out that several of my Instagram friends also had it on their unread shelves. This was a sweet but sober book. There were sadder and more dramatic moments than I might have expected. But also so many lovely ones. A bit of mystery thrown in for good measure. I love Maya!!!  I am going to have a little book club discussion with my "buddies" who read this book this week and I'm looking forward to chatting about it. 

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver - Y'all!!! I finally finished a poetry book! This collection was short and sweet. I'm not a dog person, really. But this book made me love Mary Oliver's dogs and was also surprisingly touching and thought provoking. I'm glad I bought it for a few bucks on Kindle when I saw it.  I'm still working on Devotions, also by Mary Oliver. 

Throw Like a Girl by Sarah Henning - I was so pleasantly surprised by this book! I'm not a huge sports fan, so am very rarely found reading sports fiction. (That's usually my husband's territory.) However, this YA book was a Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide pick, so I gave it a try. When I picked it up, I realized that Sarah Henning is a local author! A few days later, the Johnson County Library was hosting an author talk with her and several others about YA Fantasy, so I even got to hear her speak this month.  Even more surprising is that Throw Like a Girl is set in the Kansas City metro! I can't tell you the last time I read a book set in my home city. It was kind of weird, actually. But in a great way. Liv is a softball player that ends up playing on the men's football team and falling for the quarterback. Part girl-power, part YA romance. I read this book so fast...it was very readable and the action was compelling. 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave - This historical fiction novel set in WWII was recommended by Laura Santos. Laura was the coordinator of our in person book club that got squashed (at least for a while) due to COVID. But this spring she suggested this book as one of her favorites, and I was intrigued. I think Anne Bogel also talked about it. Anyway, it was time to give it a try. The audiobook narration was enjoyable. The plot was challenging for me at times....lots of bad things happened to people that made me sad. There was also a racial element to the story and people were super judgmental of the main character for befriending a young black boy. I know that the language and prejudice were typical of the time period, but it was hard to read. All in all, these were unique takes on the time period that I hadn't heard told before, which is hard to do in a WWII novel sometimes. But I didn't like the feeling it left me with, and the journey was hard and long. Well written and told, but maybe not the book for me. 

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory - Another Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide recommendation! I really like Jasmine Guillory's style of romance books. Strong female characters,  consensual intimacy, and lots of cake. So much cake!  I also really found the Senator's story interesting, especially in light of reading a good percentage of The New Jim Crow for a book club recently. He was working on getting legislation passed to reform the criminal justice system. There's also a character who had an arrest in their past and that information comes out, and the response is really interesting. A well done, sweet romance, with some substance. (Heads up for a few sex scenes that are "open door.") 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo - a Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide recommendation. Written by the same author as With The Fire on High (mentioned above). Wow. This was an emotional and beautiful story. Two girls find out that their father dies in a plane accident on his way from New York to the Dominican Republic. What they don't know is that the other sibling exists. The story is told from both their perspectives, in verse. It's a quick read, but it packs a punch. Themes of grief, sisterhood, and familial ties. While it starts rough, the ending is hopeful. (content warning: loss of parent, pervert guy trying to pick up girls for sex trafficking) 


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick - I was so happy to have found this book at a thrift store recently. I wasn't really planning on reading it this month, but I was in a reading funk and I wanted something fun to read, so I picked this up one weekend. While it's over 500 pages, it's technically a children's book and a Caldecott winner to boot. The illustrations are definitely the star of this story. It's such a beautiful book. I also love the Hugo movie that came out based on this book, which is also beautiful. The story is about a Hugo, who is a little boy who has an automatron he's trying to fix, and who lives in a train station. It also is about Georges MΓ©liΓ¨s, one of the pioneers of modern cinematography. I love the friendship with the little girl and Hugo in this book as well. 

Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie - The third book in the Gemma James and Duncan Kinkaid mysteries series, recommended by Whitney on Episode 11.  I hadn't read a Deborah Crombie book in several months and it seemed time for another one. An interesting character driven mystery. I am excited about the character arc of the detectives. 

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed - Recommended by Kris @noextrawords on our recent episode. WOW. This book was amazing. It's about two Somali brother living in a refugee camp in Kenya. It's an amazing mix of heartbreaking and hopeful. Victoria Jamieson did an an amazing job telling Omar Mohamed's story through the graphic novel medium. A beautiful book, both in terms of art and narrative. Highly recommend!! 

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel -My friend Anna, who I met while I was working at a coffee shop this spring, started a book club this summer devoted to reading some of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading books. This was the book for August. It surprised me, because I went from not really caring about the characters to being motivated to finish the book because I was invested in their lives and wanted to know their fates. Katherine is a cellist in a trio and has a perfect summer planned. Then it all falls apart around her, and she has to figure out what to do about it. Anne Bogel had it categorized as a tale of complicated families, and that definitely applies. If the element of being a musician in an ensemble and all the craziness that brings appeals to you, you'll also probably enjoy The Ensemble by Aja Gobel. 

Lovely War by Julie Berry - Wow! I am so glad I read this Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading guide selection. It's the story of two couples during WWI, but it opens with Aphrodite and Ares walking into a hotel, and proceeds to have the story narrated by them and a few other Greek gods.  When I heard that was the premise of this book, I was equal parts intrigued and unsure. Could that really work? But boy oh boy, it sure did! I was sucked into the story and it’s an amazing one of hope, perseverance, sacrifice, love, and second chances. It’s so good. One of my favorite books this month, for sure. 

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - Because apparently I felt like being an overachiever, I also decided to do a Buddy Read with Kris @noextrawords in August. We both had Oliver Kitteridge on our shelves so that's what we picked. However...both of us really didn't like it. It was sad, lots of horrible things happened. I didn't feel like I was able to get to know any of the characters because there were so many. I don't know what the plot was. The setting was depressing. Ugh... Honestly I debated quitting it, but I didn't want to give up on it, especially since Kris was reading it too. But...yeah. I really didn't like this book. Why are Pulitzer Prize winners so often horribly depressing? 

 

Fire of Heaven by Bill Myers - Roller Family Read Aloud - As you may know, I've been joining in on family read-aloud time on Facetime with my mom and dad in Texas, and my sister who is in grad school in Indiana. We've been working our way through the Fire of Heaven trilogy by Bill Myers, and we finished it just a few days ago. It's a fascinating series! It would be best categorized as a Christian Suspense or Thriller, but it also has some apocalyptic elements. The first book is very heavily scientific, and the second and third focus more on spiritual warfare and prophecy. The dialog is a bit...rough...in some places, but the plot and thought provoking nature of the story was great. Next we are reading Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead. It's long, so that'll keep us busy for about 2 months I'm guessing.

A sneak peek at my unread shelf during August...so many good books, so little time! 


I'd love to hear how your August was! Whether you read a lot or a little, tell me in the comments below. Did you have a favorite book? Did you do a buddy read? 

Until next time, with lots of literary love from my library to yours! 

~Laura 

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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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