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May 31, 2020

May: a Month of Reading and Gardening

by Donna Huber

Here we are at the end of another month. I'm starting my 12th week working solely from home. I have so enjoyed working from home, but there is talk about slowly bringing people back to campus but I think I will still work mostly from home through the summer. Life has definitely settled into a routine and I'm back to my pre-pandemic reading level - actually I read a couple more books than usual.

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What I did this month

I'm still getting a lot of yard work done. A friend with a nursery had some plants leftover from her victory flat sale so I was able to get what I usually do in containers - 2 tomatoes and 2 bell peppers. But then I decided I would go ahead a build a raised bed. We've had a cooler spring than usual so there's time for a few more plants. Thankfully I could get most of my materials by ordering online and picking up at the store. Plants, on the other hand, were going to be a problem. It rained a lot this week so I headed to the garden store in the drizzle in hopes that the crowds would be less. It wasn't too crowded (though more than I expected for a rainy Wednesday). If it remains dry today I hope to get the squash, zucchini, and eggplant in the ground. My friends with the nursery found some basil plants while cleaning out the greenhouse so I'm going to plant them in some of the block holes in hopes of deterring pests and of course to make pesto.

What happened on the blog

Our most popular post this month was MK's review of the Tactical Crime Division series, which has a book coming out each month through the summer.

Susan's review of Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews was her most viewed review.

My most viewed review was for Earth Almanac by Ted Williams

Now that television shows have mostly wrapped up for summer I thought readers may be looking for series to binge read. I discussed 5 fantasy series that I have loved and would be great to read straight through. I know a lot of people have had trouble reading since the pandemic struck, I shared my tips for getting my reading groove back.

Alison shared some of her favorite movies and shows she has marathoned during the pandemic.

Susan typically attends multiple author events each month, but since the pandemic has canceled the in-person events, she has turned to virtual author events. She has put together a list of some of her favorite virtual events.

We also hosted Andrew Altschul, author of The Gringa, with an interview.

Susan, MK, and I highlighted our favorite reads for the month.

What was popular on Instagram

I haven't posted much on Instagram this month. Perhaps I should take part in a Bookstagram Challenge for June.

What I read

I had a really good reading month - 12 books. That's twice as many books I read in March and 4 more than I read in April. I'm still a 4 or 5 books behind schedule but that is better than the 7 books I was behind at the end of April. Of the 12 books read, 7 were ebooks and 5 were audiobooks. All 7 ebooks were ARCs. 2 of the audiobooks were re-reads.

This year's reading goals 

  • Goal 1 - Read as many, or more, review copies as non-review copies: 7/12 this month. (YTD: 28/45)
  • Goal 2 - Read at least 12 nonfiction books this year: 1 this month (YTD: 7).
  • Goal 3 - Read 12 backlog review copies: 0 this month (YTD: 1).
I'm doing well with the first two goals, but I'm still lagging behind on goal 3. Hopefully, now that summer is here and I will be in the pool reading I will get through some of the print copies on my backlog shelf. Also, I don't have as many new releases ARCs for June and July.


Pumpkin Spice Peril by Jenn McKinlay

Pumpkin Spice Peril by Jenn McKinlay
I really enjoyed this cozy mystery. It was light and fluffy - just like a cupcake. I wish there wasn't a flour shortage right now so I could try the pumpkin spice cupcake recipe at the end of the book. I haven't read this series before but the book stood on its own well enough. I will probably try to catch up though as I really liked the characters. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

In the twelfth Cupcake Bakery Mystery from New York Times bestselling author Jenn McKinlay, the Fairy Tale Cupcake crew follows the clever crumb trail of a killer who's anything but cookie-cutter.

Life is all sugar and spice for the Fairy Tale Cupcake bakers--Melanie Cooper is engaged to the delectable Joe DeLaura, Angie Harper and her husband Tate are savoring married life, and the bakery is bustling with happy customers. Until one of their most valued cupcake connoisseurs ends up dead.

Local glass artist and cupcake lover Rene Fischer-Klein has always suffered from a wide variety of health issues. In an effort to cheer her up, her doting husband, Peter, brings her a four-pack of her favorite cupcakes every week. But when the police discover that Rene has been poisoned, there's no sugarcoating the fact that the last things she ate were the bakery's signature pumpkin spice cupcakes! With their lives and bakery at stake, it's up to Mel and Angie to find out who poisoned their artist friend and why, before their future is frosted for good. (Goodreads)

Buy Pumpkin Spice Peril at Amazon

The Children of Men by P.D. James

I'm not sure what to think about this book. The voice of the narrator seemed to drone on in the beginning so it made it difficult to get into the story. But I think it was appropriate for the character once I got to know the character. It made for a good discussion for the book club. I listened to the audiobook which I checked out the digital library.

Told with P. D. James's trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future. The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race. (Goodreads)

Buy The Children of Men at Amazon

Earth Almanac by Ted Williams

This was really a perfect book for me to read during the pandemic as I've been trying to pay attention more to the nature around me during my daily walks. I've written some nature poetry but now I'm thinking of writing an essay about the vultures that I watched yesterday. The short essays made it easy to pick up between tasks. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

From winter candy and spring quackers to summer’s scarlet farewell and autumn reveilles, noted nature writer Ted Williams invites readers along on a year-long immersion in the wild and fleeting moments of the natural world. This beautifully crafted collection of short, seasonal essays combines in-depth information with evocative descriptions of nature’s marvels and mysteries. Williams explains the weather conditions that bring out the brightest reds in autumn leaves, how hungry wolf spiders catch their prey, and why American goldfinches wait until late July or August to build their nests. In the tradition of Thoreau, Carson, and Leopold, Ted Williams’s writing stands as a testament to the delicate balance of nature’s resilience and fragility, and inspires readers to experience the natural world for themselves and to become advocates for protecting and preserving the amazing diversity and activity found there.  (Goodreads)

Buy Earth Almanac at Amazon

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone
Still a great story. It's the first time I've listened to Stephen Fry read it. I think I prefer Jim Dale, but it was still very good. I listened to this via Audible Stories as part of the free listens for kids.

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin! (Goodreads)

The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes

The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes
This was so good. While there were some elements of the typical WWII story of a country girl falling in love with a POW there were definitely some differences. It would be really cool if someone read this book and knew who the main characters were in real life. I receive a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

Inspired by the true story of a daring deception that plunges a courageous young woman deep into the horrors of a Nazi POW camp to be with the man she loves.

In the dead of night, a Czech farm girl and a British soldier travel through the countryside. Izabela and prisoner of war Bill have secretly married and are on the run, with Izzy dressed as a man. The young husband and wife evade capture for as long as possible--until they are cornered by Nazi soldiers with tracking dogs.

Izzy's disguise works. The couple are assumed to be escaped British soldiers and transported to a POW camp. However, their ordeal has just begun, as they face appalling living conditions and the constant fear of Izzy's exposure. But in the midst of danger and deprivation comes hope, for the young couple are befriended by a small group of fellow prisoners. These men become their new family, willing to jeopardize their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot.

The Prisoner's Wife tells of an incredible risk, and of how our deepest bonds are tested in desperate times. Bill and Izzy's story is one of love and survival against the darkest odds. (Goodreads)

Buy The Prisoner's Wife at Amazon

The Banty House by Carolyn Brown

The Banty House by Carolyn Brown
This would be a great book to read while rocking on the porch on a pleasant summer evening. I enjoyed the characters. It did get a bit slow in the middle but overall I thought it was well done. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

In the fading town of Rooster, Texas, all that’s really left is a service station, a church…and the Banty House, a long-ago Depression-era brothel. For more than seventy-five years, Betsy, Connie, and Kate Carson have called their mama’s house a home. The three eccentric sisters get by just fine with their homemade jams and jellies, a little moonshine on the side, and big hearts always open to strangers. Like Ginger Andrews.

An abandoned teen with a baby on the way and nowhere to go, she’s given a room to call her own for as long as she wants. The kind invitation is made all the sweeter when Ginger meets the sisters’ young handyman, Sloan Baker. But with a past as broken as Ginger’s, he’s vowed never to get close to anyone again. As a season of change unfolds, Ginger and Sloan might discover a warm haven to heal in the Banty House, a place to finally belong, where hope and dreams never fade. (Goodreads)

Buy The Banty House at Amazon

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches
This is the first time I've listened to the book and while the characters didn't sound like the ones in my head when I read the book the performance was well done. I can't remember how many times I've read this series but the story still sucked me in and I didn't want to put it down. I checked out the audiobook from my digital library.

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism. (Goodreads)

Buy A Discovery of Witches at Amazon

Girls of Summer by Nancy Thayer

Girls fo Summer
For me, summer starts when I have Nancy Thayer's latest beach read in my hands. This one felt a little different than some of the books I've read by her. One, the main character is in her 50s. Most that I've read had women in their 30s and early 40s. There are also some younger characters (in their 20s and 30s). Another difference in this book is its focus on the environment. What was the same was how enjoyable the story is. I can't wait to slip on a sundress and a pair of sandals. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

From star-crossed matches to unexpected love triangles, summer on Nantucket always holds the promise of romance in this sensational novel from New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer.

Lisa Hudson feels more alive than she has in a long time after hiring hunky carpenter Mack Whitney to renovate her old Nantucket home. There's no denying the spark growing between them--despite the fact that Mack is ten years her junior. But her twentysomething children, Juliet and Theo, on the island for the summer, worry that the new relationship will only lead to Lisa's heartbreak.

Yet Juliet and Theo are in for tangled love stories all their own. When dreamy Cooper Hastings moves to the island to pursue a new environmental venture, Juliet feels an unwelcome attraction, her rocky romantic history pushing her to steer clear of love. Theo only has eyes for Mack's daughter, Bethany, with whom he was bound by an unspeakable tragedy in high school--but can they overcome their past? By August, when an impending storm threatens to shatter the peace of the golden island, everyone discovers what they can and cannot control. Nancy Thayer dazzles again with this new tale of a magical summer. (Goodreads)

Buy Girls of Summer at Amazon

Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke

A fun short cozy. While it is a Christmas story it wasn't so Christmasy that it wasn't enjoyable to read in May. So far it is one of the few stories in the series that doesn't really have any scenes in the Cookie Jar as the book takes place almost completely at a potluck dinner at the community center.

Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series has won high praise while satisfying the discerning tastes of mystery fans and food connoiseurs alike. When Hannah’s mother’ cherished cake knife is used to kill a beautiful out-of-towner at the town of Lake Eden’s annual Christmas party, the stage is set for Hannah to once again unmask a killer. (Goodreads)

Buy Sugar Cookie Murder at Amazon

Murder with Clotted Cream by Karen Rose Smith

Murder with Clotted Cream by Karen Rose Smith
This is my first time reading this series or this author. It reminded me a little too much of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen. The main character's last name is even similar Daisy Swenson. It seemed to be a more serious cozy mystery. There weren't really any quirky characters which is usually a hallmark on a cozy series. I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters, but that might be because I'm reading book 5 and it would have been different if I had started at the beginning of the series. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

A catering job has come in for Daisy’s Tea Garden in Pennsylvania’s Amish country—but death will be served before dessert . . .

Margaret Vaughn has hired Daisy to provide afternoon tea for her theater group. A local girl who left long ago for an acting career in New York, Margaret has returned home—with a multimillionaire husband in tow. But while Daisy bustles around Margaret’s historic farmhouse, she senses that there’s tension behind the scenes. Then she discovers the hostess on the floor of the pantry—dead and covered with clotted cream.
Barely recovered from her previous sleuthing adventure, Daisy joins forces with the former detective she’s been dating to help solve the case. Should she cast suspicion on the stars of the upcoming play? Can Margaret’s sister shine a spotlight on potential culprits? Or are there clues to be found in the victim’s past? With plenty of family stress of her own to deal with, all Daisy knows is she better act fast. (Goodreads)


Peach Cobbler Murder by Joanne Fluke

Peach Cobbler Murder by Joanne Fluke
I think this might be my favorite one so far. There are some fun kitty antics. I checked out the audiobook from my digital library.

With The Cookie Jar, Hannah Swensen has a mouthwatering monopoly on the bakery business of Lake Eden, Minnesota. But when a rival store opens, tensions begin to bubble. . .

As she sits in her nearly empty store on Groundhog Day, Hannah can only hope that spring is just around the corner--and that the popularity of the new Magnolia Blossom Bakery is just a passing fad. The southern hospitality of Lake Eden's two Georgia transplants, Shawna Lee and Vanessa Quinn, is grating on Hannah's nerves—and cutting into her profits.

At least Hannah has her business partner Lisa's wedding to look forward to. She's turned one of Lisa's favorite childhood treats into a spectacular Wedding Cookie Cake. And Lisa's aunt will be bringing her famous Peach Cobbler to the reception. But Hannah starts to steam when she finds out that Shawna Lee has been invited--and is bringing her own Peach Cobbler.

Hannah doesn't like having the Georgia Peach in the mix, especially when both Shawna Lee and Hannah's sometime-boyfriend, Detective Mike Kingston, are no-shows to the wedding. Hannah has suspected that Mike is interested in more than Shawna Lee's baking abilities. So when she sees lights on at the Magnolia Blossom Bakery after the reception, she investigates--and finds Shawna Lee shot to death.

Everyone in town knew the Cookie Jar was losing business to the Magnolia Bakery--a fact that puts Hannah at the top of the initial list of suspects. But with a little help from her friends, Hannah's determined to prove that she wasn't the only one who had an axe to grind with the Quinn sisters. Somebody wasn't fooled by the Georgia Peaches and their sweet-as-pie act--and now it's up to Hannah to track down whoever had the right ingredients to whip up a murder. (Goodreads)

Buy Peach Cobbler Murder at Amazon

The Hitwoman and the Exorcism by JB Lynn

The Hitwoman and the Exorcism by JB Lynn
I loved it! Though my heart stopped a time or two at the end. I smiled every time I saw Matilda - she gives me the warm fuzzies. I received a free ebook from the author. Read my full review.

Maggie Lee will do anything to protect her family…including participating in an exorcism.

When her niece is threatened by an evil spirit, Maggie and her menagerie (with the help of friends Armani and RV) must find a missing skull and rob a graveyard. As if that isn't enough, they must also go on a quest to collect a list of magical ingredients (including pumpkin spice coffee, because everyone knows that’s some magical stuff right there).

God is being snarkier than usual, as Maggie also contends with the demands of a mob boss, the fallout of a killing, and an offer of a job that could be her most dangerous yet.

Will she figure out a way to exorcise the evil spirit to save her beloved niece Katie or will the cursed cloud Maggie’s always lived under finally get the best of her? (Goodreads)

My month was very full and I'm looking forward to the summer months. What have you been reading?

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

Linked to Reader Buzz's Sunday Salon, Feed Your Fiction Addiction's Monthly Wrap Up, The Book Dates's It's Monday! What are you reading?

Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.


  1. The Prisoner's Wife looks really good , but I just finished three WW2/Nazi stories and I think I want some lighter reading. I am a snowbird and will be leaving Florida tomorrow to drive home to Pennsylvania. I'm looking forward to planting an herb and cherry tomato garden. Hope there will still be plants left to buy!~ Have a good week

  2. Planting in block holes is a great idea! I'll be checking out Alison's post about her favorite movies and shows. I see a few books that I'd like to read. I hope you have a great week!

  3. I've had a backyard garden for thirty-five years, but a couple of years ago we built raised beds. I have been astounded to see what new soil and raised beds had done for us. Our tomatoes and peppers made it through the winter and reseeded themselves.

    I just added Earth Almanac to my tbr. It looks exactly like a book I would enjoy.

    Have a good week.

  4. So many great looking books on your list! I love Nancy Thayer's books. I have to check out her latest. The Banty House sounds perfect for this time of year. Or at least the cover is very inviting. I'll have to check that one out too. I hope June is as good as May was for you! Have a great week!

  5. Lots of really useful posts, and great books listed this week. Thankyou.

    Wishing you a great week

  6. Discovery of Witches is soooo good! I read quite a few of the Joanne Fluke books years ago but gave up after a while.

  7. A month of reading and gardening is my kind of month! I am glad that you got some plants. :) And Earth Almanac looks great! I will have to look it up.

  8. Hope your gardening goes well! I think the raised garden is a great idea.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  9. Good luck with the gardening! I enjoyed your post on 5 fantasy series since I do need a good fantasy series to try, and same for the shows post. I'll take all the recommendations I can get! :) The Joanna Fluke books look cute too, I always like those covers.

    The Children of Men has me super curious as I've seen part of the movie (but never the whole thing).

  10. What a great list of books. Nancy Thayer is always a good read.

    Great job on the gardening and reading goals. Hope you are able to stay on track wiht reading.

    Thanks for visiting my blog today.

  11. Wow, you have some great reads listed. I have to say I'm a bit jealous.

    I've started Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone audio a couple times throughout this pandemic, but never managed to actually get into with work, etc. concerns coming up. I've only read the print and really want to listen, though, so I need to get at it.

    Happy reading! I hope June goes as well for you.

  12. Your garden sounds wonderful!!

    Twelve books is a lot...great job!!

    Happy June Reading!!!

    Thanks for coming by my blog.

  13. Good luck with the garden, and congrats on reading 12 books! I hope you have a good June.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  14. Hope everyone is safe and healthy! A Discover of Witches is just a fantastic read! And man, the struggle with backlist review books is real! I have over 100 ARC's to read. Thanks for stopping by! Happy reading!

  15. Ah, I'm tired of working from home, but I actually didn't get to do much work as a school librarian. I miss being at school and interacting with the students. I need to read A Discover of Witches some day. I'm not a fan of cozy mysteries, but I do adore their covers and titles. Hope you have a good June!
    Lisa Loves Literature's May Wrap-Up

  16. We've been completely home here until my husband had to start going back one day a week. It was difficult to get used to but now is really good because no longer do I have to text/email him when I have a question and need an answer. I put in a vegetable garden too--tomatoes, peppers, beans, zucchini, and cauliflower. Unfortunately my cauliflower was breakfast for a bunny that found a hole in my fencing.