What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: July 2022

July is over and I’m not totally sure how that happened. My body decided to celebrate the end of the month by contracting COVID. Not super fun. Would not recommend. I’m on day 5 of clogged sinuses and quarantine. I shouldn’t complain though. Feeling like you have a bad sinus infection is nothing compared to what some people have been through with this illness.

Other than the very end, July was a lovely month. Ben and I had a stay-cation, which included day trips to the beaches of Lake Michigan and to Chicago. The heat was ghastly, but we had fun. Next time you’re in Chicago, hit up Cindy’s Rooftop on Michigan Ave.

The view is amazing:

And so is the dessert!

One more of the view:

How about some books though?


What Shannon Read in July

Some Notes:

Rules for Visiting:

I love a quirky main character and this 40-year-old woman is kind of a curmudgeon. “Prickly” is how one of her friends describes her. I also love this concept. At 40, botanist May wins some recognition and time off from her university work and decides to spend it visiting four old friends. I enjoyed watching her rekindle her friendships with four very different women and seeing how they interacted after being out of touch for years at a time. Also, she’s a botanist who loves trees. So you know I liked the tree content.

Two Edith Whartons:

Love an Edith Wharton novella and this is the first time I’d read Bunner Sisters. I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it. (Sorry, boring, milquetoast review here as I wasn’t in love with it.) I read The Age of Innocence for about the 4th time and of course enjoyed that. Though I must say, if we’re comparing Wharton’s great novels, I prefer The House of Mirth. It’s just more up my alley, possibly because it’s a woman’s story.

What the Fireflies Knew:

This one has a very coming-of-age feel. It centers on 10-year-old Kenyatta Bernice (KB), who is growing up in Detroit in the mid-90s. When her father dies of a drug overdose, KB’s mom drops her and her sister off at the home of the granddaddy they’ve never met and heads to an in-patient treatment facility for depression. The resulting story is the rest of what happens that summer, with endearing and heart-breaking results at turns. It’s a wonderful book and it feels like summer. Highly recommend.

Another view pic to break up the text

Forbidden City:

What a great concept for a story. Apparently, Chairman Mao loved ballroom dancing and while he was in power, his underlings organized dances for him and his comrades featuring the company of beautiful teenage girls plucked from all over China for his entertainment (and bedding). This is the fictional story of one of them. I chose it because I thought I could sneak it into the “political thriller written by a BIPOC author” for the Read Harder Challenge. Well, it’s definitely not a thriller, but it’s the closest I’m gonna’ get because I just hate political thrillers.

This is a heart-breaking story and is just fantastic. Here’s the Goodreads synopsis if you want to know more. Highly recommend.

Other People’s Houses:

Good, not great. I do like Abbi Waxman for her relatable writing and LA settings. But my favorites of hers are The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and The Garden of Small Beginnings (which, interestingly, have cross-over characters). I’d start there if you’re interested and new to Waxman.

Four Treasures of the Sky:

Another fascinating premise for a story. Here’s the Goodreads synopsis. I cried. Someone somewhere has probably said that this book just has too much tragedy for their taste, but each tragedy in the book feels real to me as well as lending the story its epic flavor. I’ll probably reread this one at some point.

The Good Sister:

This cover looks like the cover of a thriller, doesn’t it? With that font and the creepy sister in the window? It’s not really a thriller, but there is a creepy sister and a kind of murky mystery. It’s the story of Fern, a librarian (you know I love that) on the spectrum (where? unsure) who has a dark secret in her past. Good enough premise for me. She also has an overbearing sister, a new tech-guy boyfriend, and a plot to get pregnant as a surrogate for said overbearing sister.

I enjoyed this one, but thought it was a bit overblown. I wasn’t expecting great literature, though, so it went down just fine.


And that’s what I read in July! I swear these monthly recaps come closer and closer together. How’s things with you? What are you reading? Tell me!

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What Shannon Read

What Shannon Read in June

A not-so-happy June just ended with the horrific news of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Devastating news for women’s rights. I find I’m unable to care about much else right now, so there is not much of a cheery update for June.

I am still collaging though. Creative work is a balm to the angry soul.

And the garden is giving us more blooms as we head toward mid-July, when it’s at its best. Here, interestingly, is some lettuce I allowed to bolt (didn’t harvest it, then it bloomed). I’d never seen lettuce flower before and the blooms are so pretty.

On to the books!


What Shannon Read in June

Photo galleries continue to be somewhat wonky in WordPress. Sorry about that. :/

Some Notes:

I read five great books this month, including one reread, which I’m counting for the Read Harder Challenge. Here are my thoughts, none of them all that coherent…

That Kind of Mother:

This was…interesting. I enjoy reading about experiences of motherhood that give you the gritty side of things. As other moms know, motherhood isn’t all kittens and roses and this book was written from the perspective of a woman who devoted her life to her children when they were born…and had some qualms. I appreciate that kind of honesty.

I admit that I trusted the main character’s point of view less when I opened the back cover and saw that it was written by a man. May be my own bias, but I couldn’t trust a man’s view of motherhood as much as that of a woman who’d actually been a mother.

At any rate, I really enjoyed the style of Alam’s writing. It gave a weird sort of distancing effect. I felt involved in this family’s life, but also like I couldn’t quite get close enough to the details. He reminded me of Laurie Colwin’s writing, if that means anything to you.

I haven’t said anything about what the book is about, but read the Goodreads synopsis. It’s a pretty interesting storyline.

Greenwich Park:

I love a British mystery. This one features a not-totally-reliable narrator. It’s set in contemporary London and revolves around a circle of friends and siblings, a few of which have dark secrets…my favorite kind of secrets. The writing was solid and the mystery was good enough to keep me reading.

The House of Mirth:

This is my fourth or fifth reread of this classic by Edith Wharton. I’m counting it for the Read Harder Challenge category: Pick a challenge from any of the previous years’ challenges to repeat!. The category is “Re-read a favorite.”

I like to read Wharton in the summer, but I think that’s just because I started reading Wharton one summer and it was, like, the best summer of reading I’d had in a while. It’s now become a tradition.

This, of course, is Wharton’s classic novel about protagonist Lily Bart set around the 1880s. Bart is a New York society woman who is ousted by her friends. She’s “past her prime” as far as marriagability and therefore in some danger. Having been raised in a society that sets only the goal of marriage for women, Bart’s fight to support herself becomes her main struggle. It has a tragic ending. Essentially, I think this is a book about what happens when women are raised to be men’s ornaments rather than given the independence they need and deserve.

Silver Sparrow:

This is the fascinating story of a woman whose father is a bigamist. Dana is the daughter of James. James is married to Dana’s mother, but he is also married to Laverne. He has daughters with both women and married them in different states. So, this is Dana’s story, but also the story of her disjointed family. It’s complicated because James’ first wife and daughter know nothing about Dana and her mother.

Highly recommend this one. It’s great writing and an in-depth, character-driven story about family.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan:

I am late to the party on this one, but finally read it. It was excellent. Check out the Goodreads synopsis here. It was an interesting look into 19th-century China, but I’m sorry to tell you that the most memorable part for me was arguably the most disturbing. Since foot-binding was still a thing, there is a somewhat excruciating description of that process as the girls in the book suffer through it. *shudder*


And that’s what I read this June. How about you? Got any recommendations? I’m especially interested in reading more for the Read Harder Challenge, including these categories:

Read a political thriller by a marginalized author (BIPOC, or LGBTQIA+).

Read a book with an asexual and/or aromantic main character.

Read a memoir written by someone who is trans or nonbinary.

Read a “Best _ Writing of the year” book for a topic and year of your choice.

Read a horror novel by a BIPOC author.

Let me know if you think of anything!

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: May 2022

May started off with a bang when Baby Ames was born on the first. We are all totally in love, of course. (Side note: he is over a month old now and he is officially a smiler. Ahh!)

For us grandparents, the month soon settled back into the usual day-to-day routine, then finished with lots of fun when my brother and sister and their spouses visited over Memorial Day weekend. We had lots of fun eating on restaurant patios and visiting one of the local botanical gardens.

That hour or so in nature really soothed my soul. And so did being with the people I love. Here are some scenes in the gardens.

That’s about it for May. On to the books!


What Shannon read in May

Excuse this weird-looking gallery…the quirks of WordPress prevail.

Some Notes:

Call Your Daughter Home

This is the story of three women living in South Carolina in 1924. Goodreads has a good synopsis.

Gertrude, a mother of four, is striving to save her daughters from starvation after freeing herself of an abusive husband. Retta, a first-generation free slave, has built a life with her beloved husband and makes her living working for the prominent Coles family, which includes keeping their appalling secrets. Over the course of the book, Annie, a.k.a. Mrs. Coles, is estranged from her daughters thanks to her appalling husband, and eventually learns he is keeping a pretty disgusting secret.

I found the book both riveting and sensationalist (shrug) and would give it about 3/5 stars. Spera excelled at writing in the three women’s voices, with the best, in my opinion, being Gertrude’s.

But the content was a bit rushed at times, the writing just OK. Other times, the story flowed and the writing was quotable even.

So, a mixed review of this one from me.

To Marry an English Lord

This was a reread. I just rewatched Downton Abbey and saw both movies, including Downton Abbey: A New Era.

Definitely recommend A New Era if you’re interested! It’s good fun.

Being immersed in that world again made me want to reread this book, which centers on the era when cash-poor English gentry went looking for rich American women to marry.

This was the situation for Cora, Countess of Grantham, an American who married the Earl on the show–and brought gobs of money with her.

The synopsis on Goodreads says this book is filled with gossipy stories and I’d agree. It’s got fun tales about people like Consuelo Vanderbilt and the famous Astors, along with a lot of English gentry I hadn’t heard of.

I found the most interesting bits to be the view into daily life in the Edwardian Era as the book discusses the family’s home lives after the couples are married. Would recommend!

Falling Angels

I find that Tracy Chevalier’s novels fall along the lines of “historical fiction lite.” They’re something to fill in the gaps between other books. Reliable storytelling in well-researched historical settings, her novels always pull me right into the story, and I’ll usually finish the book in about a day or so.

That was the case for this one, the story of two girls growing up in the middle- to upper-middle class in early-20th-century England. I don’t have much to say about it except that I enjoyed the setting more than the story, but I never had much interest in any of the characters and how their lives turned out. I’m not totally sure why.

Unf*ck Your Brain

I found this mildly helpful book to be spoiled by the author’s use of swearing as a crutch. I don’t mind a lot of swearing in general. I do mind it when it’s employed in the guise of being “conversational,” which typically means it’s used in place of actual good writing. Wouldn’t recommend this one. There are plenty of other good brain books out there.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

This book counts as my selection for the category “Read a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40” in the Read Harder challenge.

It’s the charming story of the Major (68), who falls in love with the Pakistani woman who runs one of the local shops in his English village. Romance and foibles ensue. There is also a story line about his son with whom the Major has a rocky relationship, which I found interesting. The characters, story, and tone come across with depth and wryness—a tough combo that author Helen Simonson masters. Would recommend.

Belgravia

Another Julian Fellowes special! He is, if you do not know, the creator of Downtown Abbey. He also wrote this novel and created a TV series to go along with it. I saw the series first and enjoyed it, then decided to listen to the audiobook version of the novel. Here’s the Belgravia Goodreads synopsis if you’re interested.

I really enjoyed the story and characters. A novel in which “the aristocracy rub shoulders with the emerging nouveau riche,” it’s chock full of class and family drama. It’s a little slow and subdued, so if slow historical fiction doesn’t work for you, you may want to skip it. I loved it and will probably rewatch the show soon.


That’s it for May! What are you reading this summer? Do tell! I need some ideas.

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: April 2022

It’s been kind of a whirlwind around here. I almost forgot to do an April wrap-up.

We spent April very anxiously awaiting the birth of my grandson, Baby Ames. Due April 22, he was actually born May 1!

He was a very healthy 9 lbs 1 oz and 21.5 inches. A long little guy just like his tall parents and OH SO SWEET. I can’t get over him and I never will. We’re not splashing his photo across the internet for now, but trust me when I say he is adorable and perfect and so very loved.

That’s the big life update and the only thing (person) that’s been commanding our attention right now.

In less important news, it’s World Collage Day! Hosted by the online collage community, it’s a day to celebrate collage in all its forms. This is what I posted on Instagram to celebrate.

On to the April books!


What Shannon Read in April

I read a total of 8 books in April and it was quite a mix, with a couple of rereads, a couple Read Harder Challenge selections, and a good smattering of nature.

Some Notes:

The Inner Life of Animals: Peter Wohlleben is quickly becoming one of my favorite nature writers. I enjoyed these animal stories and recommend the audiobook. Just know that if you’re looking for a bunch of science with your nature writing, you may be disappointed. I was mostly looking for interesting stories about animal behavior and that’s what I got, so I really enjoyed it.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. du Bois: This one was recommended by my friend Brigid and I’m so glad! It was epic at more than 800 pages. I had no idea it would be that long when I started because I read it on a Kindle, but I didn’t care and I stuck with it to the end. Jeffers is an incredibly talented fiction writer and I was easily drawn into the story of Ailey and her family history. Synopsis on Goodreads if you’d like to know what the story is about.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden and The Enchanted April: If you read this blog, you’re sick of hearing about von Arnim’s books, I imagine. But she’s one of my favorite authors and these are two of my favorite books to read in the spring (ahem, “second winter”). Highly recommend the audiobook versions of both.

Quicksand: I loved Passing by Nella Larsen (if you haven’t heard of the book, you may have seen the screen adaptation advertised on Prime Video), so I decided to seek out this author once again for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge category “Read a Classic Written by a Person of Color.”

I’m so glad I did.

The story centers on Helga Crane, a woman who quits her comfortable teaching job despite the security it offers and goes from situation to situation, moving to Harlem, Denmark, and eventually to Alabama for various reasons. Race is a major theme as Crane has her own thoughts about how her race (she is half Black, half white) has affected her life and situation.

This is a story about a woman trying to find herself and the various geographical locations she finds herself in each teach her something about who she is and what she wants. The ending leaves Helga’s ending to the imagination, which is both frustrating and a perfect ending in different ways.

Sorrow and Bliss: This contemporary novel is part love story (or marriage story, more like), part introspection on the part of the protagonist Martha, and part family drama.

If someone had described the novel in that way to me, I’d probably have passed. But I came to it with no expectations, not really knowing what the book was about, and was immediately sucked in by Mason’s incredible writing. Here’s the Goodreads link if you need a better description than mine!

The Wild Remedy: Get ready for this–I read this because Britney Spears recommended it on her Instagram account. Yeah, it’s a funny way to get a book recommendation, but you know what? This book was excellent.

Mitchell explores the ways in which nature can help us heal while telling of its influence on her own life and especially her struggle with depression. I loved it. It reminded me a lot of another favorite of mine in the same vein–Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.

The Silence of the Lambs: Did you know this book was the second in a series? I had no idea. I read it for the Read Harder Challenge category “Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book).”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the story. The book was just as gritty as the movie, but I found it slightly less dramatic because it’s definitely a police procedural. Not my usual brand, but I still enjoyed reading the book, then watching the movie again for comparison.


And that’s it for April, friend. I’m happy to say the weather has started behaving itself, relatively speaking. So it seems we are finally over “second winter” and on to summer. Hope you’re doing well!

I leave you with a few pics of this year’s daffs and tulips.


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That Reading Life

My favorite books to read in spring

Spring (aka second winter) has descended on the Midwest, which means wildly unpredictable weather.

One morning it’s snowing and that same afternoon it’s 50 and we’re drinking wine on the porch. It’s…a lot…for a person to handle.

Exhibit A: Some gorgeous daffodils on the university campus where I work

Exhibit B: We took an urban hike to this cool historic cemetery in our city and it straight up hailed on us.

But my favorite thing about spring, aside from the fantastic flowers, is reading spring-y books. I’ve found it the best way to combat the blues that hit along with second winter.

Thus, I give you my list of faves to reread in the spring.


Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

You know by now that I am obsessed with this book. If you like a little feminism and humor thrown in with your garden reading, this one is for you.

Duh…The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I need hardly go on about this one. It’s obvious. I like to read the book, then watch the 90s film adaptation, one of my personal childhood faves.

The Enchanted April by–who else?–Elizabeth von Arnim

I mean, she’s just so good at spring. Read this and then watch the 90s film adaptation. The film is a bit slow, but I honestly don’t care since the characters I love so much come to life in it.

Here they are in their 1920s glory:

Any Gardening Book at All

This is my recent haul from AbeBooks. Don’t sleep on used books from Abe–I got all of these for $12.

Jane Austen–Preferably Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion

Then, of course, watch the movie adaptations. I just watched the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version for the first time a couple of weeks ago! I know I’m late to the party, but most definitely better late than never because this is a classic for a reason.

Sigh…

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Ahhh, pure comfort reading. I relax just thinking about this one.

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Hah! Snuck in some contemporary fiction on ya’. I read this for the first time last year and really fell for Waxman as a writer. She writes stories about women in many difficult situations (single mothers, widows, women looking for love, etc.). The protagonists feel contemporary, as if your best Millennial friend was really going through something and you’re along for the ride.

This one, about a woman who’s lost her husband and has two children, centers on the creation of a garden and the strangers who become a family because of it. It’s also a story of loss with a hopeful ending. Hope is an excellent theme for spring.

The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

And here’s some incredible poetry for you. I haven’t finished reading this one yet because every poem kills me and I have to take them in very slowly. Gluck writes with a theme of flowers and begins with the flowers that bloom in early spring. Many of the poems are from the perspective of the flowers themselves. Divine.

Anne of Green Gables, Jane of Lantern Hill, The Blue Castle

Really, read any L.M. Montgomery in spring and you won’t regret it.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

I love Wohlleben as a writer. His books are bound to become classics of nature writing, as I’ve said before. This one, about trees, is my favorite.


I’ve just realized that this list doesn’t include a single author that isn’t white. I will work on that for my spring reading in general.

Do you have a list of books, or just one book, that you like to read while the snow and sun and hail and flowers fight for precedence? Do tell!

Meanwhile, I am going to work on my summer list. Stay tuned for all of Edith Wharton. 😉

I leave you with a bad picture of a gorgeous magnolia on campus.

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What Shannon Read

What Shannon Read: March 2022

March was a thing that happened. It had nowhere near the pizazz of the February baby shower or Vegas trip, but it happened.

There were a few sunny days that allowed for some porching and drinking of drinks. And, thanks to Fall Shannon, there are about 50 tulips (and lots of daffs) coming up this month. No blooms yet. You know I’ll keep you posted.

That is my somewhat boring life update. Chugging along. Nothing new.

To the books!


Some Notes:

I read 10 books this month, including one reread and four—count ’em four!—books that count toward my 2022 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Whoop! Here are some thoughts.

The Secret Wisdom of Nature

Peter Wohlleben’s books are bound to end up classics of nature writing. I loved listening to the audiobook version of this. Lots of fascinating stories about plants and animals.

Washington Black

This is my entry for the 2022 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge category “adventure book by a BIPOC author.” It’s fantastic and heartbreaking and deserves all the hype it gets.

The Genius of Birds

More wonderful nature writing. This book lulled me to sleep each night for a week as I listened to interesting stories of robins, jays, corvids, and so much more.

Boy of the Painted Cave

I ordered this via interlibrary loan from my library because I’m pretty sure it’s the book my sixth grade teacher (oh hey, Mrs. Czynowski) read to my social studies class. I fell in love with it as an 11-year-old and found it just as good as a 41-year-old. Was it written for children? Absolutely. Did I get absorbed in the hunting and cave painting adventures of a prehistoric boy just as much as I did when I was a child? Absolutely.

The Bookshop on the Corner

I can’t help myself. I love Jenny Colgan. Her books are comfort reads for me. This one, which fits the Read Harder Challenge category “Read a book set in a bookshop,” was no exception. After being let go from her library job, a woman moves to Scotland, fixes up an old van and turns it into a roaming bookshop, and falls in love. This may read like a Hallmark movie, but it couldn’t be more on brand for me.

Maybe I’m being unfair though. Colgan is a talented writer who does more than scratch a character’s surface (as in a Hallmark movie). There is depth to her characters if not to her plots. Regardless, I love them as they are.

Beast

This is my entry for the Read Harder Challenge’s category “Read a queer retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, folklore, or myth.” I don’t like retellings. Fairy tales and related fantasy stories are not my jam. But I boldly searched through many of the selection at my library (I tried to start five other books that would fit this category) and eventually settled into this one. I’m glad I did. I think I liked it because it was a realistic retelling with no elements of magic or magical realism in sight. I liked that.

If you like YA and themes of identity around sexuality and just in general, you may like this one too.

The Fire Never Goes Out

This is my choice for the Read Harder Challenge category “Read a nonfiction YA comic.” It’s a wonderful memoir in graphic format which explores issues of gender identity, creativity, and young-adulthood.

The Benefactress

Elizabeth von Arnim has quickly become one of my favorite authors. After I first read Elizabeth and Her German Garden about two years ago, it became one of my favorite books of all time, and then I snagged her complete novels on Amazon.

The Benefactress explores that relatable topic of a woman’s lack of options back in the days when women were raised solely to become wives and mothers. What happens when a woman doesn’t become a wife or mother? What happens if she doesn’t become either and also has no money?

Here is one option according to the story of a woman with a generous uncle and peculiar ideas about helping others like her. It was fascinating.

The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology

I very much enjoy reading books about alternative ways of living and this one was excellent.

The Maid

This book is home to one of my favorite kinds of protagonists: undeniably quirky and a flauter of social conventions. There is a good mystery too.


And that’s that! I had the pleasure of reading some great books this month and I look forward to an equally fun April, after which I also hope to report the arrival of a grandchild! Woo!

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2022 Read Harder Challenge, What Shannon Read

What Shannon Read: February 2022

Wow, February walluped me with the terrible weather and corresponding winter blues. I’m not sad to see it in the rearview mirror. March is being kind to us so far, but I know what’s coming–at least one random snow storm and a damp cold that chills to the bone. And that’s the official weather report.

Two super fun events saved February from being a total loss. One, at the very end, we went to Vegas and saw a Metallica concert, among other delights.

Here we are outside the venue, ready to rock.

The weekend prior to that was the grandbaby’s baby shower and it was a hit!

We and the parents-to-be are all so grateful to our family and friends who came out to celebrate and shower them with gifts.

That’s the life update. Now, how about those books?

What Shannon Read in February

I read 8 books in February, including some repeats.

Some notes:

Less than Angels

I continue to work my way through Barbara Pym’s catalog. This was good, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Quartet in Autumn or Excellent Women. I believe this is exactly what I said last month about Jane and Prudence. Ah, well. Something keeps me coming back to Pym anyway, it seems.

Bookseller books

I re-read these in January….and then again in February—an unheard of turnaround for me as far as re-reads go. It seems I can’t get enough of Wigtown and Bythell’s snark.

Harriet Jacobs: A Life

This was fantastic. I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in college and it was one of my favorite required reads. It helped me to really feel the evils of slavery better (as a middle-class, suburban white girl), which I’m sure was the professor’s intent for us, a class of similar women.

At any rate, it affected me greatly, so I was excited to read this biography of Harriet Jacobs. It’s also my book for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge category “book about an author you admire.”

It was fantastic. As with all good biographies, it gave excellent cultural background for the events that took place in Jacobs’ life. Also, I was reminded that she spent 7 years—7 years!!!—hiding in a tiny attic space where she couldn’t stand up. Jesus. This country.

A Sand County Almanac

This is a classic of nature writing and I was glad to see it listed on Audible. I enjoyed it so very much. If you enjoy nature writing, I highly recommend it. I was floored by the essay “Good Oak,” through which Leopold tells the history of Wisconsin’s land and people. Here it is if you’re interested.

Educated

I tried to read this book when it came out and couldn’t get into it. And I’m not sure why because this time, I read it in a day. A memoir about growing up in a Christian fundie family with a mentally ill and volatile father, this book was what the critics call “gripping.”

Also, why are all fundie fathers mentally ill? Every time I read a book by the children of these uber-Christians, the father, set up to be the “head” of the family, has lost his shit in one way or another—mostly via untreated mental illness. And, cut off from society at-large, the father gets no treatment and conducts a reign of terror over his family. Mental illnes + fundamentalist Christianity—conincidence? I think not.

Ghost Girl

This was a hard-to-stomach re-read. At one point in my life as a younger mother, I was contemplating taking in foster children, along with a career in social work with a focus on “troubled” kids. I gobbled up books about professionals working with children in need of some kind of services. Hayden’s books were among them. I wanted to re-read this to see what I thought of it as an older adult. I see now that the writing is sensational, but I found the story to be just as engrossing, though, I imagine, mostly for its shock value. Remember the book A Child Called It? This is similar, except that it’s written from the perspective of of a professional who helps a terribly abused child. As I said, hard to stomach.

I’m a Wild Seed

I was browsing graphic novels for the Read Harder Challenge and just happened upon this one. The art is wonderful and the story is touching and affirming. This is a memoir about identity in which Sharon Lee De La Cruz illustrates the challenges of coming of age as a queer, minority woman.


Possibly a bit of a boring recap here, sorry. I’ve got a more interesting mix planned for February. I leave you with my new favorite reading meme:

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: January 2022, plus a fun bonus announcement!

Happy end of January! I can’t lie–I’m not sad to see it go. It’s five degrees out right now. I’m cold and tired and I wish it were spring already.

(Pretty winter sunrise though)

This time of year, I become an indoor-Shan and try to entertain myself by planning my garden, making collage, baking, anxiety-pacing the house because it’s too cold to walk outside, and, of course, reading.

I managed a whopping 18 books in January, which has to be some kind of record for me. I am just that bored.

The one highlight has been the fun of planning a baby shower because–drumroll please–your girl is about to become a v. young grandma!

That’s right, Jacob (my son) and Desiree’ (his partner) are expecting and we couldn’t be more excited. The baby is due in April and will be the highlight of the spring (and the year, obvi).

I truly can’t wait. Are there any good books for grandmas out there? Let me know.

(This will soon be a meme about me.)

Okay, on to the books!

What Shannon Read in January

See past monthly recaps here.

Re-reading

I did some heavy re-reading and some comfort reading in January.

Re-reads include:
Diary of a Bookseller–Fun, witty, touching, and interesting insight into owning a second-hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. Great writer/narrator and filled with fun characters.
Confessions of a Bookseller–Sequel to the above. Ditto.
Their Eyes Were Watching God–I read this in high school and hadn’t picked it up since. What a saga. Just. Yeah. There’s a reason this is a classic. It floored me.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry–Comfort reading here.
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times–Very obvious comfort reading. I recommend this one if you’re sick of winter and may benefit from “leaning in” to this trying season.
The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman–Fascinating story of a woman (girl at the time) taken captive by Yavapai and then Mojave Indians.

The Women of Brewster Place

I adored this book. The women’s stories are fascinating and often heartbreaking. A true modern classic. I plan to read lots more Gloria Naylor.

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

The author examines several cults, both modern-day and historic, along with fanaticism that leans toward “cultish,” while showing how the language used by leaders and followers in cult movements foments/fomented each one’s influence. Really interesting.

More Barbara Pym

Really liked A Glass of Blessings. Didn’t particularly care for Jane and Prudence. Overall, the rest of Pym’s novels aren’t really hitting for me the way Quartet in Autumn and Excellent Women did last year. I’m currently listening to Less Than Angels though and will report back.

I’m afraid my impressions on the rest of the books I read are rather boring. In sum:
Secret Daughter: Really good!
She Came to Slay: Short but informative.
The Bluest Eye: I’ve only read two other Morrison books–Beloved and God Help the Child. I liked both better than The Bluest Eye. I’m not totally sure why. Maybe the story just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Bad With Money: A Millennial tells you how to money. Fun listen.
Joan is Okay: You know I love a quirky main character and this fit the bill.
Pizza Girl: Whole different kind of quirky and good.


In February, I plan to go right down my TBR and either read the books I think I want to read or dispense with them already. It’s a long list, so wish me luck.

And tell me what you’re reading this month!

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2022 Read Harder Challenge, That Reading Life

I decided I need a challenge…

January garden…apropos of nothing

…and the 2022 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge seems to fit the bill.

I debated about doing the Classics Challenge and the When Are You Reading Challenge, but neither suited my mood this year.

With classics, I’d rather just see where my natural impulses take me. (So far, they’ve taken me to The Women of Brewster Place, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Barbara Pym.)

And, with historical fiction, well, I read a lot of it last year and I’ll probably continue reading it this year, with no prompts needed. It is one of my favorite genres after all.

I decided I wanted to break out of my usual genres/themes and also learn a little more about contemporary fiction.

The Read Harder Challenges seems to offer some new-to-me types of categories and I will definitely enjoy looking for books to fit them.

All that said, here’s the list for the Read Harder Challenge and my best laid plans. We all know what happens to those. 😉


Read a biography of an author you admire.

Harriet Jacobs - Yellin, Jean Fagan

Read a book set in a bookstore.

Read any book from the Women’s Prize shortlist/longlist/winner list.

Read a book in any genre by a POC that’s about joy and not trauma.

Read an anthology featuring diverse voices.

Read a nonfiction YA comic.

Read a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40.

Read a classic written by a POC.

Read the book that’s been on your TBR the longest.

Read a political thriller by a marginalized author (BIPOC, or LGBTQIA+).
I hate political thrillers, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.

Read a book with an asexual and/or aromantic main character.

Read an entire poetry collection.
I’m already rolling on this one because I received this for my bday last year. It’s becoming one of my favorite books of all time. I have to read it slowly because every poem kills me. Right in the feels.

Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author.
Cool, I was planning to read this anyway.

Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book).
This is a tough one for me because I usually read a book then look for and watch the adaptation. Just me? Welp, maybe this is the year I finally read the books made into Merchant Ivory films. Howard’s End perhaps? A Room with a View? Maybe…

Read a new-to-you literary magazine (print or digital).
After I stopped submitting my poetry to them (with middling success), literary mags pretty much fell off the map for me. This looks like a good list though.

Read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes.
That’ll be easy. I don’t know anyone who has the same taste as me. I’ll ask Ben and see what he picks for me.

Read a memoir written by someone who is trans or nonbinary.
I just like the cover.

Read a “Best _ Writing of the year” book for a topic and year of your choice.
I’m not looking forward to this. I can’t seem to get through these contemporary anthologies.

Read a horror novel by a BIPOC author.
Can’t resist a creepy/haunted house story.

Read an award-winning book from the year you were born.
1980, here we come?
Actually, this is post-WWII literature. But it won the National Book Award in 1980.

Read a queer retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, folklore, or myth.
Definitely don’t like retellings. But, sigh, we’ll giver her a whirl.

Read a history about a period you know little about.
I rarely read histories focused on time periods. Rather, I read histories of specific people. It’s hard for me to look at a straight history book and be like, yes, that’s the one for me. I’ll give this one a whirl.

Read a book by a disabled author.
Torn between this and Hellen Keller’s autobiography.

Pick a challenge from any of the previous years’ challenges to repeat!

I think I’m going with “Read a book that takes place in a rural setting.” That leaves the field pretty open for me.


Are you doing the Read Harder Challenge this year? Or, do you have any books to recommend for these specific categories? Let me know!

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: 2021 End of Year Wrap-up

Hey hai hello and Happy New Year! I’m back as promised with an end-of-year wrap on the reading.

But First, Some Pics from Our NYE Party

Just had to share these moments.

Ben knocked it out of the park this year by commissioning an amazing ice sculpture. Family and friends turned out to celebrate and make it the best time. We all wore either “black tie” or just what we were feeling. I, of course, turned up in sequins with champagne bottle earrings because I am that extra. We had a ton of food, drinks, beer pong, and fireworks.

It couldn’t have been a better way to say good-bye to a rough year and hello to a new one.



And Now for the Reading Wrap-up with Nerdy Book Stats

Note that these numbers won’t reasonably add up to the total number of books read due to issues like books that cross genres and books written by both a male and a female author. In these cases, I logged both stats for one book.

Total books read: 82 (3 fewer than last year)
Fiction: 58
Nonfiction: 24
Female authors: 65
Male Authors: 18
Nonbinary/Trans authors: 0 (Same as last year. That’s a real miss for me. Determined to work on it this year.)
Non-white authors: I managed 11, 7 of which happened in December when I realized I’d barely read anything by someone who was not of my same race. I want to be a more informed and aware person than that, so…
E-books: 16
Audiobooks: 55 (damn)
Re-reads: Started an official re-reading project in 2019 and am keeping it up.

Year of the Audiobook

The bulk of my reading happened via audiobook. Here are a few of my favorites from the year.

Most-read Genres

Classics: 13

I didn’t succeed at the Classics Challenge this year. In fact, I ignored it completely and read whatever I wanted. 🙂 C’est la ME.

Historical Fiction: 13

It was a goal of mine to read more historical fiction this year and I learned that there is a lot of bad historical fiction out there. But here are a few I loved. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Pachinko.

Mystery/Thriller: 13

There’s almost nothing I like more than settling into a warm bath with a glass of wine and a thriller. It’s always a true break for my tired brain.

Memoir/Autobiography: 11

Always a winning genre for me. A few of my favorites:

Other Genres I Read

Biography: 2
Fantasy/Magical Realism: 1
Nonfiction History: 3
Letters (nonfiction): 1
Myth/Folktale/Legend: 2
Psychology: 1
Speculative Fiction: 1
Self-help: 5 (Do not remember reading that many…)
Social Issues: 3
Spirituality: 1
YA Fiction: 1

2021 Takeaways/2022 Goals

I want to read more diversely and will be making a point to read many more books by BIPOC authors in 2022.

I loved the classics I read and plan to, once again, choose them at random rather than completing a Classics Challenge.

I’ve had a little time to reflect and can’t think what my other reading goals for 2022 should be. Just…drawing a blank. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s 2022 is off to a good start!



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