Summer Reading: July Wrap-Up / by Madeleine Riley

What an incredible month! I felt so busy in July (more thoughts on that in an upcoming post), and I was thinking that my reading numbers for this month would be lower than average. But of course, reading is my escape, and I found myself with 12 completed books in July. A few of those were previews for the Diverse Books Club, so I can't share them here, but below you'll find my thoughts on the remainder of the books that I read this month. I will say, there are some standout titles on this list. In the past six months, I've become a lot more picky when assigning star ratings to books. So when you see those 5-star ratings on this post, you'll know that there were quite a few books this month that blew me away.


Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Rating: 2.5/5

Thank you to Random House for my free copy!

My initial rating for this book hovered somewhere around 3 stars. I shared some thoughts on my Instagram stories and got so many responses from readers. Before picking up Something in the Water, I had abandoned a bunch of titles in quick succession and could feel a reading slump coming. I picked this book because thrillers generally take me only a day to read and are my go-to when I'm feeling meh about all the books I'm reading. This title was the June selection for Reese Witherspoon's Book Club. It's about a couple on their honeymoon in Bora Bora. When out scuba diving, they discover something that changes the course of their lives. This one successfully saved me from a slump, but the story itself was mediocre. I didn't find any of the characters likable, and I felt like the protagonist's decisions were so irrational. As I chatted with other readers who shared my frustration, I admitted to myself that although I had high hopes, this isn't one that I'd necessarily recommend to others.


Breakout by Kate Messner

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my free copy!

I read Breakout for #dbcsummer. This middle grade novel was selected by Lorraine for our Summer Reading Guide, and it's on the top of my list for middle grade books this year. The story follows three 7th grade girls in a tiny Adirondack town where a maximum security prison is located. In the last few weeks of the school year, there's a breakout at the prison. The town effectively shuts down, and the girls take it upon themselves to record all the happenings for the town's time capsule. One of the main characters is the new girl in town; she stands out because she's African American (in a place with little diversity) and has a brother who's an inmate in the prison. The story is told through letters, comics, text messages, etc. and is both suspenseful and a great catalyst for conversations about race, incarceration, class, and more. I recently had dinner with Lorraine and while discussing this book, I brought up my concern about Messner writing from the perspective of a young black girl when she herself is white. Lorraine shared this interview with me and it made a significant difference in my thoughts around that concern. I loved that Messner said her own concern was that teachers would use this book to introduce racism but would stop there. It's true that it's a book to spur discussions about these issues, but it should be used in conjunction with other stories from "own voices" authors.


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Rating: 4/5

I somehow missed out on this classic back in high school, so this was my first time reading (what seems to be) every bookworm's favorite classic novel. Occasionally, I get overwhelmed by my number of unread books and come down with a case of decision fatigue. When that happens, I'll ask my fiancé to pick my next read for me. He picked this one, knowing I hadn't read it and recommending it as his own favorite classic. I did love the story. I thought it was poignant, and so fascinating how these "dystopian" novels from decades ago echo our current society so closely. I was a little confused in the beginning of the novel, with the references to "three walls" and the entertainment devices. My favorite section of the novel was "Burning Bright." Highly recommended if, like me, you missed out on this one.

Journey's End by Rachel Hawkins

Rating: 3/5

This cover caught my eye on a recent trip to a local independent bookstore. This middle grade story follows a young girl visiting her father for a summer in the tiny village of Journey's End, Scotland. Her father works at The Institute, a science-based organization studying a mysterious fog that hovers off the coast of the village. When Nolie arrives at Journey's End, things are changing. The fog, called The Boundary by the locals, is the stuff of legend -- those who venture into it never return, and it's drawing closer to the village. I enjoyed this story, but it wasn't quite as developed as I'd hoped. I'd recommend for middle grade readers in 4th and 5th grade who enjoy ghost stories and mysteries.


Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

Rating: 5/5

I loved this book. If you're a bookworm and you haven't yet picked it up, I highly recommend it. It also makes for a great bookish gift for those readers in your life who are hard to buy for because they've seemingly read everything already. This nonfiction title features letters from Spence, a librarian, to the books in her life. Spence has incredible humor and wit and I laughed out loud more than once while reading. Bonus: she includes lists of recommended books by topic at the end, further growing my never-ending TBR list.


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Rating: 5/5

I read this as part of our fundraising effort for this year's PMC (you can read more about that here) and it was a standout nonfiction title. Don't be surprised if you see this end up on my top ten for the entire year. Gawande writes about medicine, end-of-life care, and the differences and perils of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It was gripping and sorrowful and hopeful all at the same time. Highly recommended for every adult reader, for starting those necessary conversations about what do when the time comes to think about the last years of our lives.


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Flavia de Luce #7) by Alan Bradley

Rating: 4/5

I'm continuing to listen to this series and already dreading reaching the end (there are currently 10 books). If you're an audiobook listener, I highly recommend these. This particular installment felt like a turning point in the series. 

Calypso by David Sedaris

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to Random House for my free copy!

David Sedaris is one of those authors that I don't read often, but absolutely love when I do. This book had me laughing out loud. Sedaris writes about middle age, his family dynamics, and his unique habits (like walking miles each day while picking up roadside trash at his home in France). If you're already a fan of Sedaris, I'd highly recommend this. If you're not yet a fan, I'd highly recommend this -- especially if you enjoy witty writing like that of Dear Fahrenheit 451 and Bossypants. 


Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Rating: 5/5


Jefferson's Sons was one of my two picks on our DBC Summer Reading Guide This was a re-read for me, and remains one of my favorite middle grade novels. Brubaker Bradley wrote The War That Saved My Life and is a fabulous voice in historical fiction for MG readers. I recently hosted a discussion on the Diverse Books Club, which you can join at any time here. I'd recommend this for all adult readers, but within middle grade I think it's most appropriate for mature readers 4th grade (~10 years old) and up.

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Rating: 3/5

I stumbled upon this one at the library and it was the perfect random find. I love to read cozy mysteries (more on my favorites soon) and I'm so glad I found a new series to follow! This one features an amateur sleuth who also happens to be a (penniless) member of the royal family. The mystery wasn't too hard to guess, but the characters are memorable and I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Rating: 5/5

This was my second book about cancer and medicine for our PMC fundraiser, and there's no doubt in my mind that it'll remain on my top ten list for the year. This book was powerful in the most heartbreaking and breathtaking way. Kalanithi is quite obviously a genius -- with tremendous skill sets in both medicine and writing. This book altered my perspective. If you feel intimidated or frankly, terrified, at the thought of reading about death, I'd recommend this book. 


Shelved Under Murder (Blue Ridge Library Mysteries #2) by Victoria Gilbert

Rating: 4/5

I have been loving cozy mysteries this year, and this is my latest favorite. The first book, A Murder for the Books, introduces us to a small town librarian named Amy. She's living with her aunt in a beautiful historic home and putting her life back together after a devastating breakup. When someone is found dead in the archives of the library, she finds herself involved in an investigation. In this second book, we get to know more about Amy and the other members of the community, and of course there's another mystery involved. I love this series for the suspense, the sweet romance, and because it's such an easy read. Sadly, the third installment won't be released until February!

What did you read (and love) this month?