Nonfiction

Nonfiction November: Worldview Changers

I haven’t posted anything but monthly updates on the blog these days, but I couldn’t resist this prompt for Nonfiction November.

Rebekah of She Seeks Nonfiction is hosting this particular blog prompt, for which bloggers respond with nonfiction books they’ve read and recommend.

The prompt is Worldview Changers and here’s the explanation:

One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book (or books) has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?

So here are seven books that fit the bill for me, books that taught me something about the world and, well, why it is the way it is.

Move The Body, Heal The Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression, and Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity, and Sleep

I just read this one in September after struggling with fatigue and focus, especially at work. I know that movement helps me with both, but I wanted to learn why. This book explains a lot.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World

Trees feel and communicate. So that was news to me. This was the book that made me fall in love with German forester and author Peter Wohlleben. Highly recommend the audiobook if you need a soothing—but very interesting—bedtime story.

Harriet Jacobs: A Life

This is an incredible biography of escaped slave Harriet Jacobs, who authored the memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. I read Incidents in my first college course and never forgot it. After escaping slavery, Harriet hid in a small attic room where she couldn’t stand up for 7 (!!!) years. Amazing survival story. I recommend reading both books.

Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery

I talk about this book a lot. It’s Alice Fowler’s memoir of both coming out and how she rafted the canals of Birmingham, England to cope. The nature writing is beautiful and the details of her coming out and the dissolution of her marriage are heart-breaking and heartening at turns.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Need permission to slow down? Hi, me too. This book will give it to you. It’s part memoir, part ode, part self-help, and I’ve read it for the past two winters since I discovered it.

Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed

Housing—it’s not for everyone, as homelessness rates have proved. Neither are 9-to-5 jobs. Catrina Davies eschews conventional jobs and conventional housing and talks about why in this memoir. I thoroughly enjoy books about alternative living and recommend this one if you like those kinds of books too.

Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen

I’ve written about this one before too. Affluence Without Abundance offers a look at an existing hunter gatherer society in the Kalahari. It reflects on the Bushmen’s natural tendency to work only as much as is needed for food and comfort (as do/did most hunter gatherer societies). And author James Suzman introduces us to members of the group, illustrating the many new challenges such a society faces as their home territory is eaten up by the larger society, allowing them little room for their traditional way of life. Totally fascinating.


I could go on and on. There are so many nonfiction books that have helped shape my understanding of the world. Do you have some that fall into this category? I’d love to hear what they are!

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: October 2022

Hello there! Whatta’ ya know–another month has gone by. It’s been full of good books for me, as well as good family and friend time.

We hosted and attended birthday parties for Jacob and Desiree’, went to a Halloween party and pumpkin carving, and enjoyed having folks over on Halloween night to pass out candy to a couple hundred trick-or-treaters.

Front and center is me in my cat ears.

Here are Ben and I in our Halloween party costumes. He’s a sinister occultist. I’m a regency princess.

At work, I helped host a photos-in-the-stadium event at ND Stadium. Here’s mine.

How about you? How was your October?

On to the books!


What Shannon Read in October

Some Notes:

Hester:
This was good, solid historical fiction. It features a young Scottish woman, Hester, who is brought to the U.S. to live in Salem with her doctor husband Edward. She ends up meet Nathaniel Hathorne there and forms a relationship with him. She is also a talented seamstress and descended from a woman thought to be a witch. Salem is the perfect place for all of these themes to come together. I enjoyed this one.

A Fall of Marigolds:
I usually stay away from sentimental historical fiction like this, but for some reason I’m attracted to Susan Meissner’s books. I enjoyed this one. It was, as these kinds of books are, quite cheesy at times, but I overlooked that in favor of the ever-moving plot and historical setting. Everyone deserves a guilty pleasure, no?

The Book of the Goose:
I don’t quite know how to explain this one. This is probably the most unusual book I read this month. It centers on two young girls growing up in the post-WWII French countryside. The protagonist, Agnès is best friends with Fabienne. She tells the story of their friendship and that makes this book sound sedate, but it’s not. In fact, Fabienne is as unusual a girl as one could imagine, a person (a possible sociopath?) who does things for her own entertainment and enjoyment and damn the consequences. Agnès is loyal to her to her own detriment.

The real action of the story takes place when Fabienne begins dictating stories to Agnès and they begin to write books together, then solicit the help of a local man to get them published. Fabienne wants to remain in the background, so Agnès becomes the “author” and face of the books and no one ever hears of Fabienne.

It’s complicated to explain without just narrating the whole plot for you. Here’s the Goodreads synopsis, which does a slightly better job than I’m doing. Anyway, I loved this book. It’s about friendship, but also art and memory and moving on from one’s past. I recommend it if you’re up for something unique.


Breaking up the text with a pic of my Halloween mantle.


Zorrie:
This was a short one that I randomly stumbled across at the library. It’s the story of a young woman living in Depression-era rural Indiana. When Zorrie’s aunt dies, she becomes homeless and penniless and ends up traveling to find work. During her travels, she finds friendship in a clock factory where workers use radium to paint clock faces. I actually thought this was going to end up being the primary action of the book, but it wasn’t. In fact, Zorrie leaves the factory because she misses Indiana. She returns and works on a farm, where she meets a loving couple who help her out. She marries their son…and the story continues until Zorrie’s death.

This was a lovely look at the full life of a character who endures difficulties, love, loss, and great pain, but who also lives a somewhat ordinary life at the same time. For a short book, it was kind of epic.

Small Things Like These:
I’ll just give you the Goodreads synopsis for this one.
“It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.”

It was another short one that kept me wrapt. It’s understated with work-a-day language, but it felt lyrical. Maybe because of the setting, but the excellent writing played a part too.

Bastard Out of Carolina:
Another one that sucked me in. This book has been in my awareness for a long time, but I somehow just got to it. It’s the story of a young girl, called Bone, who grows up in a large family in the rural South. The story explores in depth the family dynamics and place of a young girl in that family. Bone suffers incredible hardship and experiences great love all within this insular community. It’s a heart-wrenching novel and a classic of Southern literature. Well worth your time.

I’m Glad My Mom Died:
This memoir by iCarly star Jeanette McCurdy has gotten a ton of buzz and for good reason. It tells the story of her rise to stardom, with a focus on her relationship with her abusive, now-deceased mother. McCurdy is not a writer–she is telling a story. So I wouldn’t look for writing that blows your socks off. I skimmed some portions of the book. But the story is intriguing, if terribly sad at times.


That’s a wrap for October. What are you reading?

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: September 2022

Hey, hi, hello! Happy October!

The weather has taken a turn for the fall-ish here and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a long, hot summer. Time for sweaters and falling leaves and definitely no more watering of the garden. To be fair, I gave that up in August.

How about some books?

What Shannon Read in September

I read 10 books in September, including a couple of rereads and one book for my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.

Some Notes:

Knitting: This is a novel about an unlikely friendship struck up between two Australian women, one who loves to knit and one who is a textile historian at a university. The two meet when they are walking down the same street and encounter a man who’s fallen over and they arrange to get him some help. All three remain in contact and the two women embark on a project for a textile exhibit. Through this plot, a wealth of themes are explored (from the death of a spouse to mental illness) and, as the two women face conflict with each other, it becomes a sort of discovery of what friendship means, especially between two such unlikely friends. I enjoyed it immensely.

We Do What We Do in the Dark: A college woman has an affair with an older female professor. This read like someone’s MFA project. But I found it an exceptional example of someone’s MFA project, so I read the whole thing.

The Custom of the Country: A reread and one of my favorite Whartons. I now tend to think of Wharton as summer reading because last year, when I began reading her, I plowed through around 6 of her novels and novellas in the summer. That became locked in my brain, so I reread several novels this summer too. Sadly, it is fall and Wharton Summer is over again. On to other things!

My Notorious Life: I don’t remember where I heard about this book, but I wish it had gotten more hype because it is a slam-banger of historical fiction with all the themes I love: a woman’s story, love, friendship, hardship, rags to riches, illicit activity, and overall incredible exposition against a background of the past. It’s a long one, but I was glued to it. Hugely recommend.


Here’s a happy dog to break up the text.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: An exploration of therapy by a therapist who is, herself, in therapy. I found this both insightful and affirming as someone who’s been in therapy before. Recommend!

Mirror Girls: On the recommendation of an old friend who commented on a Facebook post asking for suggestions, this was my selection for the Read Harder Challenge category “Read a horror novel by a BIPOC author.” Mirror Girls is a gothic-y YA novel set in the South at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. It centers on two sisters, one Black and one passing for white, who have just found out that they are sisters. Drama ensues. It’s good, but I don’t know that I was in the mood for the breeziness of a typical YA novel. It wasn’t too scary and it didn’t delve deeply enough emotionally for my tastes.

Move the Body, Heal the Mind: An easy read about the power of exercise to affect the brain. Recommend!

Fatigue: Jennifer Acker writes about a painful period in her life when she came down with (is that how you’d say it?) chronic fatigue syndrome while, at the same time, her husband developed two frozen shoulders. She explores what it’s like to contract a mysterious illness and put her life on hold to deal with it. I myself have had some mysterious fatigue crop up in my life recently, so this was investigative as well as affirmation reading for me.

One More Croissant for the Road: I enjoyed this one so much. Special thanks to What’s Nonfiction? for bringing this one to my attention. Her review is much better and more thorough than mine, so definitely check that out if this one interests you.

It’s an excellent memoir by foodie Felicity Cloake, who cycles throughout France on a culinary tour. She travels through each major region seeking out the foods for which a particular region is most known. She also grabs a croissant in each, rating them on a scale from 1-10, which I found fun and cute.

I enjoyed travelling around France with her, getting nerdy about the food, meeting some of the people, and dealing with the cycling foibles. This book also made me very, very hungry.


That’s all she wrote for September. I’m now moving on to spooky fall reads, so do let me know if you have ghost/creepy/gothic story suggestions!

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: August 2022

Gah, it’s almost mid-September! I’m running behind.

Got any news from the month of August? No, me neither. It went by in a flurry of routine, sprinkled with some random fun times with friends and family. What I know for sure is that fall is coming. It was almost 90 degrees three days ago and yesterday it was in the 60s. A sure sign of the seasons changing.

Since I have no real life update this month, I thought I’d show you some pretty flowers.

Here’s my “sweet autumn clematis” in full bloom:

And here we have some marigolds that have taken over this bed and grown to about 3 feet tall:

They’re outta’ control and I love them.

On to the books!


What Shannon Read in August

I read 8 books in August, almost all fiction, including one for my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and 2 re-reads.

Some notes:

The Book of Unknown Americans: This is the story of several Latino immigrant families who wound up living in the same apartment complex in Delaware. It’s both hopeful and heartbreaking and I wish every xenophobe on the planet would read books like this.

Eleanor Oliphant: A re-read for me! This is a book I resisted reading when it first came out several years ago because it got so much hype. I tend to stay away from books with a lot of hype. Anyway, I finally read it about two years ago and ended up loving it. This time, I listened to the audiobook and highly recommend it.

Girl in Translation: Another immigrant story from the perspective of a young girl from Hong Kong who moves to the U.S. with her mother. She works in a textile factory (Chinese sweatshop) in Brooklyn after school. This book really imprinted on me the daily drudgery that kind of life involves.

Just Like Mother: ***[SPOILER ALERT]*** There’s a really gory scene in about the middle/last half of this book where a bunch of women are ripping two police officers limb from limb and I put the book down and thought to myself, “Gee, that was gory for a thriller.” Well, I got online to read the synopsis and, sure enough, this one is regarded as a horror novel. I don’t really read horror and didn’t realize it til that scene. *shrug* So, I guess this one’s kind of light on the horror front–it’s more of a thriller with freakier elements.

Other than that funny note, this one was a good romp.

The Wild Iris: This may be my new favorite book of poetry. I read it for, obviously, the “Read an entire poetry collection” category in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. It’s such a gorgeous book. Most of the poems are written from the perspective of plants and the imagery and perspective are so unique, with the content being both playful and profound at turns. If you like poetry, and especially if you are obsessed with plants like me, this is a great volume for you.


That’s it for the August recap. How about you? What are you reading in September?

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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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