Episode 73: Laura's August 2021 Reading

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, podcast host Laura tells about all the books she read in August 2021. We've got loads of mysteries and fantasy this month, with some middle grade adventure and even some non-fiction thrown in for good measure. 

Drop a comment below and let me know what you've been reading lately! Or is there a book from this list that you're interested in reading?

Books from today's episode are on the Library Laura storefront on bookshop.org

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Mystery / Suspense 

On July's reading recap episode, I did some significant musing about why I think I enjoy mysteries better than romance as a genre. It has to do with the tropes and story arcs typical of the genres, and typically I don't like when everything falls apart 75% of the way through a romance and then gets patched back together really quickly and they lived happily ever after. I enjoy the resolution that I get from a typical mystery much better. So, after pondering that, I ended up reading four mysteries this month (and zero romance!) and generally enjoyed that reading experience. 

A Rule Against Murder and The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny - Continuing the adventures of Inspector Gamache series. I think I'm still trying to decide if I like Louise Penny's series.... The characters are nuanced and the topics she muses on are thought-provoking. So I'd definitely consider them compelling books...I just don't know if I find them personally enjoyable. I'm not that far into the series yet, so continuing on for now. 

A Finer End by Deborah Crombie - Continuing on in the Duncan Kincaid / Gemma James series. This one was a little weird and meandering. But there was also development of the detectives' overall story arcs and I'm here for that development. 

The Searcher by Tana French - This was a library book club selection and honestly I don't know if I would have stuck it out if it wasn't for the book discussion as a deadline. That being said, I'm glad I read it, and it was a great book for a book club discussion. (Shout out to Johnson County Library for great summer reading book clubs for adults with a free book and a zoom discussion at the end! A very good experience!)  I've only read one other book by Tana French, which was Faithful Place, recommended to me by Laura Stegman on episode 29. What French does very well is painting a detailed picture of the setting and then filling it with developed characters. The pacing on The Searcher was very interesting. It started out very deliberately, and continued at that steady pace throughout. There were some great plot twists. Not the way I'm used to a book going, but a fascinating way to do it. A retired police detective from Chicago is recently divorced and moves to a small town in Ireland to enjoy his new life. But there's a young man who's recently disappeared, and his younger sibling won't let it rest until Cal investigates. But what can Cal do in a new country with none of the tools or power he's used to having as a police officer when investigating something like this? This book pushes against some of the tropes of "normal" mystery books, but keeps an air of suspense throughout. 

Fantasy (with a side of Magical Realism and Time-Travel!) 

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern - Thanks to Rachel Huffmire for inspiring me to read this book! She posted pictures from a trip they took while she was reading this book, and talked about how the book was influencing how she was thinking about doorways (Doorways play a big part in the book and allow the characters access to the underground secret library thing that's going on). I loved the way she described the book making her feel, and wanted to feel those same emotions! Also shoutout to my former co-worker Haley for telling me about this book last year. I finally read it! 

The Starless Sea is fantastic and magical and interesting. I love the musings about the power of story. I love how the author wove the excerpts of stories that the characters were finding into the narrative. It kept you guessing how it would all tie together, but it definitely did. Morgenstern is amazing at keeping the tension going right to the very end! It left me with sort of a pondering feeling. This book is written in present tense, which I have some friends who don't like that...but I didn't really notice or mind. It's also incredibly heavy on visuals and symbolism. 

I love this quote from the book, "She found she no longer minded that the stories would linger. That some enjoyed them and others did not but that is the nature of a story. Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another."

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley - Thanks to Anne Bogel's Summer Reading Guide for this recommendation. I was excited because it was compared to The Once and Future Witches (which I would say is a good read-alike). It also reminded me a bit of The Seven-and-a-Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Anne described it as, "A mind-bending mystery, alternate history, and queer romance rolled into one." It was absolutely mind-bending. I loved the alternate history element - What if the British lost the Battle of Trafalgar? I was mad at the author for killing off as many characters as she did. I had dreams while reading this book where my mind totally made up alternate endings / fanfiction for this story. (Like, what if they also could travel forward in time by 100 years, that would put them in like 2009! And what would that do to history by accident?) 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi - Thanks to Mackenzie Finklea (on Episode 68) for the recommendation on this book! This is a book in translation from Japanese into English. I loved this story of the little cafe in Japan where one can travel back in time. The vignettes of the different characters were all touching and fascinating. The last story made me cry (I blame pregnancy hormones!). Can someone please make this story into an anime? It also reminded me of Strange Weather in Tokyo a little bit. 

Middle Grade

Into the Lion's Mouth by Nancy McConnell - this is a middle grade adventure inside a love letter to Venice. Nico is born and bred Venetian, and is intensely loyal to the city. (At times almost unbelievably so.) He’s has a big faith in God and big aspirations for the future. When he’s picked as the orphan who is included in the ceremony for selection of the Council of Ten, he sees something he shouldn’t have seen and his life quickly turns upside down. Will he keep his knowledge a secret? Or will he risk everything to save the city he loves from danger?  I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It reminded me of some of the great historical fiction I read as a homeschooled kid… Shakespeare Stealer or Shadow Spinner come to mind. The kind of book that takes a child, dumps them in an immersive historical context, and then weaves an engaging tale based on actual events. The city of Venice and its history came alive in Into The Lion’s Mouth. This is the kind of book that makes you want to Google some art and history and then go make some pasta or fresh-baked bread. Thanks to Nancy and Immortal Works  for a review copy. I'm looking forward to talking with Nancy on an upcoming episode of the podcast. 

100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson - Thanks to my sister Rachel for the final push to read this series! I read books one and two this month and am really enjoying them so far. AJ Vanderhorst told me about these books when he was on the podcast (Episode 24). AJ also has a brand new book out set in the Casey Grimes universe, so check that out! Anyway, I loved that the real-world setting of the 100 Cupboard series is a small town called Henry, KS. The boy, Henry, comes to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. It turns out that there are 100 Cupboards behind his bedroom walls that open up a whole world of danger and adventure. 

The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Hanna Luechtefeld - thanks so much to Andrews McMeel for the copy of this book! They actually sent it to me a while ago and I have no idea why it took me so long to read it. It's a charming little illustrated adaptation of the Secret Garden story. For some reason, some of the illustration style reminded me of the Madeline books I grew up on...especially Mary's character. I also grew up on the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre adaptation of The Secret Garden, which meant that as a read the graphic novel, I had all the voices of those characters in my mind. I still highly recommend that adaptation, too. I loved revisiting the beauty and magic of this story. This adaptation would be great for introducing the story to a younger audience, or for revisiting an old favorite in a new way. 


Weird: Because Normal Isn't Working by Craig Groeschel - This was mentioned by pastor Doug at church during a sermon illustration, and the title caught my attention (I'm weird after all). I got some good thoughts from this book but it won't be one that I'm going to recommend widely. 

Dear Arlo: Adventures in Dadding by Tom Kreffer - Tom started writing journal entries every day during his wife's pregnancy and then their first year of parenting. He alternates between being profound and profane in this day-by-day account of his son’s first year. Be prepared to stifle giggles in your pillow and to be touched by thoughtful insights on parenting from the underrepresented point-of-view of a first-time dad.  currently reading Dear Dory, which is the one that happens during pregnancy. 

I'm Just No Good At Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith - This collection of poetry had me giggling and shaking my head the whole time. It’s ridiculous and wonderful. I also had to keep myself from reading most of it aloud to my husband while he was try to play his video game. Thanks to @redeemed_reader for putting it on my radar, and to @literaritea_megan for telling me stories on an upcoming episode of how much her boys enjoyed this book. If you grew up on Shel Silverstein, this would be a home run for you.It would be great read aloud, too. ….And apparently I’m an immature grown-up…no one is shocked by this.

With lots of literary love from my library to yours, 



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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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