Summer Reading: August Wrap-Up by Madeleine Riley

Farewell, summer!

I had a great summer reading experience this year. I read a ton. (I think something like 40-ish books.) I took a weeklong break from Instagram. I organized and re-organized my bookshelves about ten times, and donated approximately 7 full bags of books to friends and Little Free Libraries. I took stock of TST and decided to just read what I want, when I want. I took a break from writing individual reviews and started these wrap-up posts, which helped take the pressure off while I channeled my energy toward enjoying my summer break. Today I want to share with you 16 of the 18 books I read in the month of August. See any favorite titles below? Have a recommendation for my September reading? Drop a note in the comments!

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to Doubleday Books for my free copy!

Read my full review here. Also, just read this book. It was heartbreaking but such a powerful reading experience.

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to Teen Vogue and Flatiron Books for my free copy!

I am notoriously picky when it comes to young adult fantasy, but I absolutely loved Mirage. This debut novel introduces us to an interplanetary world where magic and space form a unique mix. A take on the princess and the pauper formula, with a romance that didn't make me roll my eyes. Read more about this title here.

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Rating: 3/5

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Anchor Books for my free copy!

Years ago, I read and loved Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth and I thought this would be a comparable read alike, as it takes place in 1880's Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Quaker community. The writing was steeped in historical detail and I found myself desperately hoping for a happy ending for Lilli, who finds herself in a home for unwed mothers after being betrayed by her beloved and cast out of her community. Despite the fact that it was well-written and I was totally immersed, this was a hard book for me to read. It felt much longer than necessary, with a lot of repetition, which made me glad to have finished it at the end. Still, I'd recommend it for historical fiction readers, with a warning that it could be potentially triggering for new or expectant mothers, or those having experienced child loss.

A Brush with Death (Susie Mahl Mystery #1) by Ali Carter

Rating: 5/5

I have been picking up cozy mysteries more often this year and this one was a stand-out for me. I love British mysteries in particular, and this one took place among the upper classes, with the added perspective of a protagonist who is somewhat of an outsider. The amateur sleuth, Susie Mahl, was relatable and refreshing. A thirty-something, single woman working as a pet portraitist, Susie gets involved in the mystery out of concern for close friends, but winds up being quite the detective. Highly recommended for fans of cozy mysteries, Agatha Christie, and for those looking for a detective story without gruesome details.

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The Elizas by Sara Shepard

Rating: 1/5

We read this for my book club this month and it was a unanimous flop. Out of the five of us, four disliked it and one never made it past the first 100 pages. (We told her not to bother.) The story became predictable about halfway through, and the main character was unlikable. Shepard tried to work the unreliable narrator angle and kept building up suspense for anticlimactic moments throughout. Plus, the romance was just weird and a little creepy. If you have this one on your pile, I'd recommend skipping it.

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A Study in Treason (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #2) by Leonard Goldberg

Rating: 5/5

I read the first in this new series back in April and really enjoyed it. This second installment was even better. Our sleuth, Joanna Blalock, is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, so naturally she's both gorgeous and a genius. These books must be read in order, but if you're a fan of historical mysteries and/or the Holmes canon, I'd recommend this one.

Safari Pug: The Dog Who Walked on the Wild Side by Laura James

Rating: 3/5

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my free copy!

I read this early chapter book to recommend to students this year and I think it'll be a hit. My only critique is that Pug's owner is called Lady Miranda, and I could see that moniker as potentially confusing for students who don't have background knowledge. I want to explore the first two in the series to see if the story line is more established beforehand, but the cute illustrations and Pug's hijinks have me eager to put this series on my shelf this year.

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Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Rating: 5/5

Another outstanding young adult fantasy! Absolutely recommended for both YA and adult readers. More of my thoughts on it here.

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The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce #9) by Alan Bradley

Rating: 5/5

I only started listening to this series on audiobook back in March of this year, and I've already worked my way through the 9 that are currently available on audio. I adore the narration and the characters. Flavia has been the soundtrack to my weekend chores and to be honest, I'm feeling a little lost now that I've caught up!

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House of Furies (House of Furies #1) by Madeleine Roux

Rating: 3/5

I read this to preview for my annual Spooktober reads list, and though I'll most likely include it on that list, I'm thinking I need to read more of the series before I truly decide on my feelings about it. The story felt a little drawn out -- I was hoping more about the world would be explained. For this reason, I found it hard to keep myself immersed in the story. I did, however, like the characters a lot. They were memorable and the bond of misfits reminded me a bit of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. HSP warning: there was a fair bit of gruesome detail in this book.

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This Side of Murder (Verity Kent Mystery #1) by Anna Lee Huber

Rating: 4/5

Thank you to Kensington Books for my free copy!

This series reminded me very much of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, and I love having another amateur detective to add to my list of favorite series' heroines. Verity Kent is whip-smart and this mystery gave me all of the Agatha Christie vibes. I can't wait to pick up the next one in the series, which comes out this October!

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Rating: 5/5

The Happiness Project was a re-read for me and it resonated even more with me the second time around. I just love Gretchen Rubin's insatiable appetite for making small improvements in her life. I've found multiple opportunities to apply some of Gretchen's tactics to my life. (The thing most on my mind this month? Be Madeleine.) Self reflection can be uncomfortable, but I'm in a season of digging deep in evaluating multiple areas of my life.

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A Quiet Life in the Country (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #1) by T.E. Kinsey

After catching up with the most recent audiobook in the Flavia de Luce series, I listened to these both on audio for the third time since purchasing them last spring. Guess what? I'm still not tired of them. I absolutely love the wit, charm, and cheekiness of these characters. Elizabeth Knowlden is a terrific narrator, and my obsession has grown to the point where she reached out when she got the script for the fourth book just to let me know a new one was in the works. (I love her. Listen to this series. That's all.)

Mortal Arts (Lady Darby Mysteries #2) by Anna Lee Huber

Rating: 4/5

Clearly, I was in the mood for mysteries in the month of August. I read the first in this series back in March and loved it. I just can't resist a good historical mystery. If you like Deanna Raybourn's novels, I'd recommend this series. I'm looking forward to picking up the third installment at the library soon!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter #5) by J.K. Rowling

Rating: 5/5

J.K. Rowling is my queen. We read this for our #HarreadPotter discussion group, for which we've been reading through the whole series throughout the course of the year. This one actually took me a full two months to read as "background reading" -- meaning, I picked it up sporadically throughout the summer until I hit a book slump caused by decision fatigued and used it to ignore the dilemma of what to read next. Spoiler: Dolores Umbridge is a you-know-what and Harry has impulse control issues. Hermione is the best character ever. At this point, reading this story feels like being around childhood friends that I've grown up with. That's all I have to say on that.

Reader Recommendations with Donna Hetchler by Madeleine Riley

It's the last Wednesday of the month, which means it's time for Reader Recommendations!

Except today, we're doing things a little differently. When I reached out to my friend Donna for her recommendations, she countered with a fabulous idea -- to tell us a little bit more about how she leads a bookish lifestyle. I love how creatively Donna weaves reading into her life, and I hope some of her projects inspire you, Readers!


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Hi I'm Donna and I live in the Bay Area in CA but I'm about to move to Boise, ID. My career has been in financial planning and reporting but secretly I just want to be in a bookstore or library all day long. I love coming up with different book projects because I think picking the book is half the fun. Here are three of my projects and some favorite books for each of them.


Project #1 - The Bookstore Road Trip

Last year for my 50th birthday I drove from San Diego to San Francisco and stopped at 18 bookstores and bought 50 books along the way. I tried to pick books that I would want to reread so years from now when I pick them up for the fourth time they'll seem like old friends.

(Psst! You can hear more about this adventure on Anne Bogel's literary podcast, What Should I Read Next? on Episode 83: An Epic Birthday Road Trip.)

Here are two of my favorites from that trip:

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I was on a cruise to Alaska with Oprah (!) and she told us when this book came out she loved it so much she bought multiple copies and carried them around in her backpack and handed them out to strangers. The book takes place in the 30s in the South where a young, black woman-Celie-is living a hard life that includes abuse, loss and poverty. Ultimately the story is about Celie's journey to finding the freedom to be her true self and I'm always inspired by her when I read it.

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Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I'm not sure how to describe this book-it's a memoir, a set of blog posts, a bunch of crude drawings-it's definitely unique. I love the subtitle: 'Unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened.' It's very funny but it is also brutally real as the author deals with her depression. I've never read anything like it.


Project #2 - Classics and Movies

I love reading Classic books but sometimes I need a little extra motivation to pick one up since there are always bright and shiny new books that I want to read on everyone's Bookstagram feeds! So here's my solution to that-I pick a Classic where I know I also want to watch the movie and it's fun to do them back-to-back and see how they differ. Here are two I've really enjoyed:

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

 The book is only 200 pages long so it's a good one to start with. Lucy Honeychurch (love that name) is a proper young woman living a proper life in proper society (yawn). Then she goes to Italy and gets kissed and it turns her upside down...now what will she do? The movie is gorgeous and includes Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith and Daniel Day-Lewis.

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Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

You probably already know the basic plot-Mr. Bennett is marrying off his five daughters and independent Elizabeth must overcome her pride when dealing with wealthy suitor Mr. Darcy. The beauty of reading a Jane Austen classic is then there are usually multiple movie versions to watch. I think choosing your favorite Mr. Darcy is an excellent use of your time.


Project #3 - The Reading Road Trip

Since I couldn't do another bookstore road trip this summer I launched a Reading Road Trip where each month for the next year I'm picking 4 books from 4 states in order to read my way across the country. I've been getting wonderful suggestions from readers on my site and here have been a couple of favorites:

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March by John Lewis, Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin

This was my pick for Alabama and it's a graphic novel trilogy that tells the story of Congressman John Lewis' rural upbringing and his experience with the Civil Rights Movement. The graphic novels bring history to life in a way that just words couldn't have done. The determination in the face of violence and many setbacks is inspiring and hopeful.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

This was my pick for Arizona and Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors so it was an easy selection. I'm so impressed that this was her first novel, I feel like there is a depth and richness to her writing but it's also very accessible. Taylor Greer is a young woman who leaves her hard life in Kentucky and ends up in Arizona when her car breaks down there. She ends up with a child along the way (just read the book, it will make sense) and forms a makeshift family as she takes on her new responsibility. This book is full of characters you will remember.


Thank you, Donna, for sharing these picks with us!

Readers, do you have your own projects you're working on, or recommendations to share with Donna? Leave a comment below!

8 Books to Read with Your Kids This Month by Madeleine Riley

My reading pile is stacked with amazing children's literature right now, including this stack of eight picture books that are perfect for reading aloud with the littles in your life. We are a few weeks away from the start of a new school year, and I'm moving from second to first grade -- my youngest grade yet! I always gravitate towards picture books leading up to a new school season, as I'm looking to stock my shelves (and library holds list) with great picture books to share in our first few weeks of school. Here are the ones on my radar this month!

Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

Thank you to Running Press Books for my free copy!

It's 2018 folks, and I'm still telling my students that no color gender specific. I love this for a beginning of the school year read aloud, to remind students that all people can like all colors. Bonus: these illustrations include a diverse array of children without making a big deal of it.

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It's Show and Tell, Dexter! by Lindsay Ward

Thank you to Blue Slip Media for my free copy!

Dexter T. Rexter is back and ready for show-and-tell day at school, but he's feeling really nervous. What if his owner decides to pick another toy? What if he's not cool enough? Or interesting enough? This fun picture book is silly and a good base for discussions about being yourself.

The Squirrels' Busy Year by Martin Jenkins

Thank you to Candlewick Press for my free copy!

This beautifully illustrated picture book is the perfect introduction to the cyclical nature of the four seasons. It follows a family of squirrels as the seasons change throughout the year. It's simple and could be a great mentor text for teaching perspective. It also includes questions in the back, to encourage young readers to look carefully through the book and think further about the science behind the seasons.

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Henry and the Yeti by Russell Ayto

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my free copy!

This quirky book made me giggle and I can't wait to share it with my students this year. Henry believes fiercely in yetis, yet everyone in his life demands proof of their existence. So, Henry sets out to find a yeti. This simple and charming tale would make for perfect bedtime reading.

Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my free copy!

I absolutely love this picture book. It'll be the first book I read to the kids this year, with a message that "normal" doesn't exist, and when you feel free to be yourself, you'll discover more in common with others!

Maximillian Villainous by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Thank you to Running Press Books for my free copy!

Maximillian Villainous hails from a long line of infamous villains, but he's the oddball of the family. He's rather friendly and kind, and that makes his parents worry that he'll never live up to the family name. This story is great for beginning of the year reads or teaching that golden life lesson of, "If everyone's doing it, doesn't mean it's right!" Kindness prevails in the end, and Maximillian is endearing for readers of all ages. (This title releases on August 28, 2018.)

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Bear's Scare by Jacob Grant

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my free copy!

Bear loves a neat and tidy home. (Bear is my kindred spirit.) One day, he notices that something isn't quite right. There's a spiderweb...in his neat and tidy home. Bear searches everywhere for the spider, creating and mess and accidentally ripping his favorite teddy bear in the process. He's lots all hope when the spider reveals itself with a kind deed, and suddenly, Bear is happy to share his home with a new friend.

Eraser by Anna Kang

Thank you to Blue Slip Media for my free copy!

If you're a fan of The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, then I think you'll like this one. Eraser is frustrated that she lacks the creativity of her school supply friends. Everyone else gets to make things, and all she can do is clean up their mess. She feels unappreciated until she realizes that everyone makes mistakes, and therefore she's one of the most important friends to have around.