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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

June 28, 2020

A Look Back at June

by Donna Huber

I'm getting ready to start my 16th week working solely from home. I'm still loving it. And the best part is that I'm over my reading slump and had one of my best reading months.
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I'm still not leaving the house much. I'm basically only going to the grocery store; I've tried really hard to limit those trips and do curbside pickup whenever possible. I had to run by the office once so I took my lunch to the Botanical Gardens which is close to my office. It wasn't too crowded and most people seemed to be aware so we were able to keep 6ft distance. My state and county are seeing an increase in cases so I'm still being super careful. I do go to my parents' house on the weekends because they have a pool. My yard doesn't have as many flowers this year, but otherwise, my summer is going about the same as usual.

What you may have missed on the blog

We had a pretty full month of reviews and bookish discussions. Be sure to check which books we name our favorite read of the month.

Check out our popular reviews

Susan's review of Viola Shipman's newest novel The Heirloom Garden was the most viewed post this month. 

MK's review of Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson was her most viewed post. 

My most viewed review was for The Summer Deal by Jill Shalvis. 

Alison reviewed Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland.

Did you miss our discussion posts?

PR by the Book provided marketing tips for authors trying to promote their books during the pandemic. 

I'm trying to up my interactions on Instagram so I shared (and asked for) tips on getting more likes and comments. 

As June marked the official start of summer, I shared beach reads that should be on your reading list, even if you are skipping the beach. 

And finally, I wonder how the pandemic will be reflected in novels written now and set in the present day.

Popular on Instagram

I participated in Bookstagram Photo Challenges this month and so I had a lot more book focused photos than usual. My photo for Father's Day was the most liked post.

What I read

I thought I did well last month with 12 books read. Well, I outdid myself this month with 14 books read. It probably helps that outside of Sunday night's Masterpiece shows on PBS there hasn't been anything on television I've wanted to watch. Plus, I've had a few shorter audiobooks to listen to so I've gone through them pretty quickly.

Of the 14 books read: 8 were audiobooks, 2 were print books, and 4 were ebooks. The paperbacks and ebooks were review copies. One of the audiobooks was sort of a review book. I had requested it via Netgalley when it came out but it archived before I downloaded it so I never read it. 

Let's take a look at how well I'm doing on my goals this year. I'm finally back on track (and occasional a book ahead) for my Goodreads reading challenge. I'm also adding a challenge for summer. While visiting blogs during last month's wrap-up, I learned about the Big Book Summer Challenge. I didn't think I would read any books that were 400+ since most books I read at <350 pages. To my surprise, one of the books I read this month was 422 pages - Becoming Mrs. Lewis. So I've decided to sign up. Also my current read, Hello, Summer, is 558 pages. So it looks like I'll read at least 2 Big Books this summer.

  • Goal 1 - Read as many, or more, review copies as non-review copies: 6/14 this month. (YTD: 34/59)
  • Goal 2 - Read at least 12 nonfiction books this year: 0 this month (YTD: 7).
  • Goal 3 - Read 12 backlog review copies: 0 this month, unless I count the audiobook I checked out that had been on my review list (YTD: 1).
  • Goodreads Challenge: 1 ahead of schedule (59/120)
  • Big Book Summer Challenge: 1/2
Here's a closer look at the 14 books I read.

The Summer Deal by Jill Shalvis

The Summer Deal cover
I've listened to one book by Shalvis and wanted to read more so I was thrilled to receive an ARC through NetGalley of her newest beach read. It was really enjoyable and didn't feel like it was part of series though it is book 5 in the Wildstone series. Read my full review.

Brynn Turner desperately wishes she had it together, but her personal life is like a ping-pong match that’s left her scared and hurt after so many attempts to get it right. In search of a place to lick her wounds and get a fresh start, she heads back home to Wildstone.

And then there’s Kinsey Davis, who after battling serious health issues her entire twenty-nine years of life, is tired of hoping for . . . well, anything. She's fierce, tough, and pretty much the opposite of Brynn except for one thing: they're half-sisters. Kinsey is keeping this bombshell, and a few others as well. Long time frenemies from summer camp, there’s no way she’s going to tell Brynn they’re related.

But then Brynn runs into Kinsey's lifelong best friend, Eli, renewing a childhood crush. He’s still easy-going and funny and sexy as hell. When he gets her to agree to a summer-time deal to trust him to do right by her, no matter what, she never dreams it’ll result in finding a piece of herself she didn’t even know was missing. She could have a sister, love, and a future―if she can only learn to let go of the past.

As the long days of summer wind down, the three of them must discover if forgiveness is enough to grasp the unconditional love that’s right in front of them. (Goodreads)

Buy The Summer Deal at Amazon

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night cover
I love this series and I decided to binge listen to the audiobooks as I've ever listened to the series. I had to wait a bit between finishing book 1 and getting book 2 as apparently a lot of people have decided to listen to the audiobooks through my digital library. I really enjoyed it and hated that I listened to it so quickly.

Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.

Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season. (Goodreads)

Buy Shadow of Night at Amazon

Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat by Leighann Dobbs

Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat cover
Dobbs is a recently discovered cozy mystery writer and I'm really enjoying her novels. I thought this one was perfect for summer. I love historical cozies and the river cruise was a great setting for a summer read. I received an ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

Nora elbowed her way up to the railing and looked down. The paddle wheel was making its last turn, dredging up a mass of turquoise chiffon made almost transparent by the water. A hand, its red lacquered fingernails a contrast to the pale white skin, stuck up from a bejeweled cuff…

A relaxing cruise down the Mississippi on the Miss Delta Belle steamboat turns to tragedy when celebrity Delilah Dove falls from the deck and is swallowed by the river faster than you can say ‘man overboard!’

It’s touted as a tragic accident, but guests Miss Nora Marsh and her wily great-aunt Julia know a murder when they see one. Can they get justice for Delilah and crack the case without alerting the murderer to their suspicions?

As Nora and Julia hunt for clues it emerges that nearly everyone had a reason to want Delilah dead. And that’s bad news for the two sleuths—who want to solve the case pronto, before Mississippi police chief and Aunt Julia’s nemesis Artemis Leonard comes on board at the next port to launch the official investigation. She’s not letting him get the credit if she can help it.

With multiple suspects and a series of mysterious thefts onboard—not to mention the distractingly handsome Max Lawton turning Nora’s head—this is shaping up to be one tough case to crack. What started as a gentle river voyage is far from plain sailing. (Goodreads)

Buy Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat by Leighann Dobbs

Burning Justice by Marti Green

Green really knows how to take a reader on an emotional rollercoaster. I haven't read the previous books in this series, but I didn't have any trouble connecting with the characters. I thought this would be my June pool book, but it only lasted me 2 days in the pool because the second day I couldn't put it down and read late into the night. The author sent me a free paperback. Read my full review.

Convicted of setting fire to her house and killing her three children, young Texas widow Becky Whitlaw is sentenced to death. Bechy maintains her innocence - even though a part of her worries she may have indeed committed arson during a drunken blackout.

Twenty years later, attorney Dani Trumball works with the Help Innocent Prisoners Project defending cases of the wrongfully convicted. Now living with her husband and two children in California, Dani takes Becky's case, even though the evidence paints a grim picture.

California has been besieged by wildfires, and the raging fires strike dangerously close to home. Dani fights to gather new information that might save Becky's life, while keeping her own family secure, but time is running out.

Getting justice, in this case, may test not only Dani's legal talents but also the limits of her own heart. (Goodreads)

Buy Burning Justice Amazon

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life cover
I didn't have to wait for this one as my hold came available just as I was finishing book 2 so I was able to listen to them back-to-back. I was torn between keep listening and not wanting it to end. I'm sad that the digital library doesn't have the spinoff book Time's Convert because I really want to read it again after finishing the series.

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchant­ing series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they re­unite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its miss­ing pages takes on even more urgency. In the tril­ogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowl­edge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago. (Goodreads)

Buy The Book of Life at Amazon

The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

The Girl from Widow Hills cover
I love this author. Her books are so good. I was emotionally invested in the main character from the start and was the edge of my seat throughout the novel because I didn't want her to be the killer. I received an ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor. (Goodreads)

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

The Last Town on Earth cover
I discovered this book when I was researching books for my post about pandemic fiction. It is about the Influenza epidemic. I was a little shocked that it was available through the digital library but as I am still waiting for holds to come in I decided to listen to it. It is an interesting read and I wonder if my post-apocalyptic book club could think it fits (we have a broad definition of post-apocalyptic fiction). What I found so interesting was how similar the actions and reactions were to what we are experiencing now.

During World War I, the influenza pandemic ultimately killed more people around the world than the war itself. The Last Town on Earth takes as its launching point a striking historical footnote: some uninfected towns were so terrified of the surrounding flu that they closed their entrances, posted signs warning strangers not to enter, and even stationed armed guards to make sure no outsiders brought infection into their communities. Mullen incisively imagines this situation, employing it as the basis for the moral drama spurring his story forward. One night, an infected soldier approaches the newly founded town of Commonwealth, which was created as a refuge for its mill worker residents, begging for food and shelter. Should the guards on duty admit a stranger to their town (someone who has been fighting a war on their behalf), thereby putting their families and loved ones at risk of infection? Or should they place their lives above his and leave him to freeze to death in the dark woods? (Goodreads)

Buy The Last Town on Earth at Amazon

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cover
I decided to do a re-listen of the series (I love Jim Dale) back when I was having trouble focusing on ebooks. Apparently, everyone has decided to listen to the series too as the hold list is long. Maybe I will get book 3 by Harry's birthday. It was still fun to listen to, even though I did accidentally take a nap while listening to part of it. I remembered most of the story so I didn't try to figure out when I fell asleep.

When the Chamber of Secrets is opened again at the Hogswart School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, second-year student Harry Potter finds himself in danger from a dark power that has once more been released on the school. (Goodreads)

Rock-a-bye Bones by Carolyn Haines

Rock-a-bye Bones cover
Since all the books I want to listen to from the digital library have long hold lines, I thought I would see what books were available from the list of galleys I requested from NetGalley but didn't actually read. (In the early years I was horrible about keeping up with archive dates and often would forget to download the galley before it archived). This is one of the few books I found at the digital library. It was okay. I think I probably should read at least the first book in the series as I didn't feel much chemistry between the characters. I think it is because I don't really know the characters since i haven't read any books the series. Read my full review.

Sarah Booth Delaney knows the perfect way to begin recovering from both the recent attack on Scott Hampton's blues club and her broken heart. She's going to host a Thanksgiving feast for all of her friends at her ancestral home in Zinnia, Mississippi. But one bitterly cold night with the holiday just around the corner, Sarah Booth awakens to the insistent ring of her doorbell. She opens the door to find a newborn baby in a basket sitting on her front porch and a pool of blood slowly seeping out from the basket.

Before she can respond, an engine guns and a dark vehicle takes off. After the police and a doctor ensure the baby is otherwise safe and healthy, Sarah Booth calls Tinkie Richmond, her partner at the Delaney Detective Agency. They know they need to do everything they can to find the baby's mother...even if they are starting to fall in love with the baby themselves. But as they track the baby's mother, Sarah Booth soon begins to suspect the woman might have been in danger; in fact, she might have been running for her life. And following in the woman's footsteps, Sarah Booth might find her own life on the line next. (Goodreads)

Buy Rock-a-bye Bones at Amazon

The Reflecting Pool by Otho Eskin

The Reflecting Pool cover
I don't read a lot of crime fiction because I don't really like police procedurals. This one is more of a suspense novel. The main character Marko Zorn reminded me a lot of the main character from the television show Bosch (I haven't read the novels the series is based on). I received an ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

Marko Zorn, a Washington D.C. homicide detective with expensive tastes, must take on extra work—not always strictly legal, often unorthodox, and usually dangerous—to supplement his income. When Zorn encounters the body of a Secret Service agent—a supposed drowning victim—it leads him to a domestic terrorist group with tentacles into the White House that does not want this death investigated. As the demands of his professional life escalate, Zorn’s alternate career heats up, placing him in the middle of competing D.C. crime bosses feuding over a shipment of illegal arms—making Zorn the hunted and the hunter. He needs to avoid becoming the victim as he navigates the twin forces of evil closing in on him from his legitimate job—facing down political power—and his secret side job. (Goodreads)

Buy The Reflecting Pool at Amazon

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by MC Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage cover
I don't know if it was the dissatisfaction I felt after listening to Rock-a-bye Bones or if it is because I've only read one cozy mystery this month, but I'm craving cozies. I wasn't sure what to listen to so I fell back on a favorite author to see what the digital library had to offer and found this one. I think it might be my favorite Agatha Raisin so far. It is kind of short so, unfortunately, I blew through it really quickly.

Almost bigamy and absolute murder—Agatha's life is never dull... The morning of Agatha's longed-for marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. But her luck runs out in the church when Jimmy, the husband she had believed long dead, turns up large as life and twice as ugly. Agatha has a go at strangling him. It's all too much for James, who breaks off the engagement. So when Jimmy is found murdered the next day. Agatha and James are both suspects. And they'll have to work together in order to clear their names. (Goodreads)

A Spoonful of Poison by MC Beaton

A Spoonful of Poison cover
There was only one other Agatha Raisin book at the digital library that I had read so I went ahead and checked it out after finishing the other one. Now I've read all the Beaton books that are available right now through the digital library. Hopefully, they will get more as I enjoy the series. 

Agatha Raisin's detective agency has become so successful that now all she wants is some R&R. But as soon as she cuts back her hours, Agatha remembers that when she has too much quality time, she doesn't know what to do with it. So it doesn't take much for the vicar of a nearby village to persuade her to help publicize the church fete, especially when the fair's organizer, George Selby, happens to be a gorgeous widower.The problem is that several of the offerings in the jam-tasting booth turn out to be poisoned, and the festive family event soon becomes a murder scene. Now Agatha must uncover the truth behind the jam tampering and expose the nasty secrets lurking in the seemingly innocent village-all while falling for handsome George, who just may have some secrets of his own. (Goodreads)

Buy A Spoonful of Poison at Amazon

Reading Up a Storm by Eva Gates

Reading up a storm cover
I'm really on a cozy mystery kick again. I wanted to try a new-to-me cozy so I looked for recommendations from Goodreads and landed on one by Eva Gates. The one recommended was a later book but I wanted to start at the beginning if possible. Unfortunately, my digital library only had one book by Gates. It's very unfortunate because I loved Reading Up a Storm. I think I'm always a little partial to library cozies but the characters are great and the coastal setting was good for summer.

After a successful party at Bodie Island’s Lighthouse Library, librarian Lucy Richardson is ready to curl up with her cat, Charles, and a good book. But her R and R is cut short when she notices some mysterious lights leading a small boat to crash into the coast.
The two shipwrecked seafarers survive the ordeal—but one of them shows up dead ashore a few days later. Lucy finds herself again roped into a murder investigation and navigating a sea of suspects, all of whom had motives to deep-six the deceased. And this time, she has a sinking feeling that finding the real killer won’t be so easy. (Goodreads)

Buy Reading Up a Storm at Amazon

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Becoming Mrs. Lewis cover
I knew very little about C.S Lewis's personal life. I'm not sure if I ever knew he had a wife, or really cared. But I remember Susan reviewing this book and really enjoying it. I've read a few other "Becoming Mrs..." books the last couple of years, which I have enjoyed more than I thought I would. So when I was asked to review the expanded version I said yes. I'm so glad I did. I will admit I got a little impatient with wanting to know how it ended and read Joy Davidman's Wikipedia page. Even knowing the end, I still cried as I read the last few chapters. Callahan's imaginings of their love story is so beautiful. I received a free paperback from the publisher. Read my full review.

From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.

In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.

At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all. (Goodreads)

Buy Becoming Mrs. Lewis at Amazon

So that is what I read in June.

Have you read any good books lately?

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.

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  1. Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat sounds good so I bought a copy and plan on reading it soon.

    Have a great week!

  2. Congrats on the return of your reading mojo.
    The Discovery of Witches trilogy is still on my must read list, and I’m looking forward to Season 2 of the tv adaption which should be out soon.

    Wishing you a great reading week

  3. Doesn't The Last Town on Earth sound good? I read Pale Horse, Pale Rider, a novella by Katherine Anne Porter that takes place during the influenza epidemic, this week. Very sad.

    I always think it would be nice to do more with Instagram, but I get overwhelmed by trying to do too much. I am always happy when I visit Instagram. The photos are fun or beautiful or interesting. I don't hear a lot of political talk or hate talk there, either, and I love that.

    I hope you have a great week. I hope July is even better than June.

  4. Can't say I blame you for not venturing far from home. It's just too soon for any of us I think. Happy July!

  5. I've read the first two Discovery of Witches books but I still haven't read Book of Life

  6. What a busy month! I do love Agatha Raisin books so I shall have to look for that one. Happy reading 😊

  7. Tempting books. I have a few of them: The Summer Deal, The Girl from Widow Hills, and Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

    Enjoy! Thanks for sharing, and for visiting my blog.

  8. What a great reading month! I've had a good month too since I still don't want to leave my house. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  9. You've read some good books! I've had my eye on Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I've been seeing The Girl from Widow Hills on a lot of blogs. I look forward to reading the reviews.

  10. I really need to start the Deborah Harkness series. I've only heard good things about it. I haven't read an Agatha Raisin book in *years* but I used to enjoy them! I've lost track of where I was in the series. Enjoy your week!

  11. Great reading month. A couple of your books are on my TBR list. Hope July is just as great.

  12. So many great looking books on your list. We are staying close to home too since our numbers are rising too. Hope you have a great week and that July is a good month.

  13. I like working from home too. I could get used to it! (and I have lol). I try not to go to too many places too, still not comfortable with that, and especially as things seem to be on an uptick.

    Love the cookie pic! :)

  14. Wow you had an excellent June reading month. Superb. I loved Becoming Mrs Lewis too. Patti CH did a great job with it. Take care and keep well and safe.

  15. Glad that you're appreciating working from home. Seems like most people are. :-) And yay for getting out of your reading slump. Hopefully I'll join you!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  16. Welcome to the 2020 Big Book Summer Challenge, Donna! So glad you decided to join the fun (and very sorry for my late visit here - it's been crisis time at my house lately).

    And wow, 14 books in one month - that's very impressive!

    And congrats on finishing your first Big Book, too! You're well on your way.

    Enjoy your summer reading and remember you can come back by the challenge page to post Big Book reviews or updates.


    2020 Big Book Summer Challenge

  17. I always want to do better on Instagram, other than just promo posts from PR Groups. I see all the cool stuff other book bloggers do, but then I don't feel like messing up my carefully arranged bookcases and end up just posting another picture of my dogs. LOL. Hope you have a good July!
    Lisa Loves Literature

  18. I'm so glad you can still work mostly from home and are adjusted and thriving. We've been consistently using curbside pickup for groceries and although never ideal, we feel safer. Twelve books is really awesome and you had a great variety too.

  19. The Last Town on Earth Seems interesting and i hope you enjoy it. I am glad you can work from home and can stay safe and healthy. Best of Luck with July books reads. Thank you for stopping by my blog.