Audiobooks, Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: August 2021

I guess I only blog once a month now, but since I don’t have a lot of readers, I feel like that’s OK. This space is mostly for me to get out my thoughts about books. If you enjoy reading them, thank you! Let’s be friends and talk about books. 🙂

Life updates:

I went back to the office. It was a rough transition, but we have a brand new building on campus, so that’s fun. Here’s my new cubicle. It needs some artwork.

I’m still collaging and sharing what I make on Instagram.

Still gardening too. Here’s a local volunteer garden I have been helping with. I’m a little over halfway toward getting my Master Gardener certificate.

And that’s about it. What’s up with you? Tell me in the comments.


Now, in case you just came for the books, here is…

What Shannon Read in August

Some Notes ‘n’ Things

The Great Gatsby:

Still great! I hadn’t read this in so long. It’s a summery book in my mind, so I went for in the 90-degree melee that was August, and I read it in about two days. I know we’re not supposed to call classics “readable” but I must say, this one is, OK? I’d forgotten how easy it is to get wrapped up in the story. Does good writing sometimes make you forget about the writing entirely because you’re so involved in the story? Let’s discuss.

Also, why is everyone but Nick a terrible person?

The Chaperone:

Also a re-read for me. This is about a woman who chaperones the famous Louise Brooks on her first trip to New York to become a dancer. I love the characters, the simultaneous story lines, and the glimpse into 1920s Kansas and NYC. Recommend.

The Wonder:

Good historical fiction, but will not be a favorite for me. This one is about a Florence Nightengale-trained nurse who in 1859 travels from England to care for a young Irish girl, “the wonder.” The girl has been fasting for months, taking in nothing but water. This is ostensibly for religious reasons, but the reader, along with the nurse, gets to the bottom of the mystery as the nurse observes the girl and her family day in and day out. Watch out for the English bigotry against the Irish.

The Underground Railroad:

Why did it take me so long to read this? You probably beat me to it and already know that this is a heart-breaking and wonderfully written novel about living in and escaping from slavery. 10/10

Cork Dork:

My sister-in-law Susannah, founder of Wines and Bends, is a wine afficianado. When she and her family moved here during quarantine, we became a tightly-knit crew, mostly hanging out with each other. We had wine at pretty much every gathering and I learned a ton from Susannah just by asking about the different wines. That led me to Cork Dork, the memoir of a journalist turned sommelier in NYC.

This book tells the story of wine and serving wine in restaurants, while offering education on the sciences of taste and smell–oh, and there are about 100 types of wine mentioned, so I now recognize many more in every day situations than I ever did before. The process of becoming a somm is explored in detail. What a fascinating world. I’d recommend it even if you’re not that interested in wine. I wasn’t and now I am.

The Four Winds:

This is an epic tale of one woman struggling to keep her children safe in Dust Bowl Texas and small town California of the 1930s. I listened to the audiobook and fell in love with narrator Julia Whelan. I will now listen to pretty much anything she reads.

The book itself totally grabbed me. Though melodramatic at times, I found the writing generally excellent and the characters engrossing. Many driveway moments were had.


That’s it from me! What are you reading? I’m on a total historical fiction kick, so let me know if you have recommendations!

Standard
Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: July 2021

It’s August. What happened? I blinked, went to New Orleans at the end of July, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew moved, and now here we are.

We are going to miss those folks like crazy. We became a tight crew during the raging-est part of the pandemic.

I’m also going back to the office tomorrow for the first time in months and months. My anxiety knows no bounds and I have no idea what to wear. I just know I can’t show up in my Metallica tshirt the way I do for Zoom meetings.

But here we are.

Anywho, here’s what I read in July. Mostly audiobooks, with some library books sprinkled in. I’ve now got a yen for contemporary gothic novels, especially if they are about spinsters or mansions or nannies. So hit me up if you have suggestions!

What Shannon read in July

Some notes:

Flowers in the Attic:

When I was a teenager, I read every V.C. Andrews book I could get from the library. I thought it would be good fun to revisit Flowers in the Attic as an adult and see how it held up. I listened to the audiobook and it was weirdly engrossing. Seriously, I’ll probably reread it again sometime. That said, the melodrama was almost unbearable at times. Still good fun.

Like One of the Family:

This is a classic about a black domestic worker and her experiences throughout her working life, as well as during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. If you don’t understand what domestic workers have been through in the U.S., and what many go through even now, I recommend reading this one. The way Childress handles the subtleties of racism may be illuminating. Or, as it did for me, the book may reinforce your understanding and remind you that we still have a lot to fight for in this country.

Okay Fine Whatever:

One of those fun memoirs about trying new things. Lots of good fish out of water moments for Hameister, but mostly I remember the sex-capades, to be honest. I can’t recall if the book focused a lot on those or if they just stood out to me. I feel more informed about polyamory though.

The Invited and The Companion:

Great spooky, gothic fun.

The Unsuitable:

I loved the protagonist, who is a Victorian spinster with a terrible father who is trying to marry her off. There’s a loving housekeeper, some will-they-won’t-they action with a fiancĂ©, and, wait for it, a dead mother who lives in the woman’s neck. Yep, I thought it would be too weird for me too, but I loved this book. Again, good gothic fun. This was my favorite book of the month.


And that’s all she read! Thanks for visiting.

I leave you now with a great view of the Mighty Mississippi and a pic of us at the New Orleans Audubon aquarium–a rare moment when no alcohol was being consumed. Don’t worry, we fortified with daiquiris directly before.

Standard
Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: April/May 2021

`Tis the season when I give everything the brush-off in favor of gardening and outdoor activities. If you live in a Northern state or, you know, the Northern Hemisphere, I assume you understand why. Total desperation.

Special thanks to Mother Nature for giving us a real spring here in Northern Indiana. I’ve got all kinds of plant babies cookin’.

Terrible lighting and terrible phone camera photos, but clockwise from top left:


> Geranium phaeum ‘Raven’–a real stunner in the shade garden
> Rhododendron maximum: (Great laurel aka azaleas, as they’re generally referred to around here)
> Proof you can grow seeds in anything–those are plastic berry containers and they’re growing in the guest room under lights.
> Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern)–another shade garden special. I planted it last year and it was just getting going when the cold hit. Looking forward to seeing how big it gets this year.

And there is lots of porch sitting to be done.

We’ve gotten an awesome dog trainer and that nervous little muffin is getting schooled on proper behavior–not biting small children being one of the objectives.

I’m still collaging and posting to Instagram @shannonrooneycreative.

And our crew is playing Dungeons and Dragons nearly weekly now. I feel like a qualified nerd now that I’ve played, even though I don’t understand half of what’s happening and why. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’re about to see Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies added to my current reads.

But my Jacob, our DM (that’s Dungeon Master for the unschooled), is awfully patient and helpful. He’s amazing at running our campaigns, writing fun adventures each week. He even does special voices for the characters we encounter.

In other news, my mom and I hit Chicago last week and it was so fun to get out into a big city and pal around. We went to the Art Institute first, always a joy. Then we walked around downtown, hit some shops, mourned the loss of Fields, stared at the river for awhile, and wound up at Navy Pier. That place was hoppin’. Did you know you can walk around with frozen margs there now??? Saving this info. for future trips.

We look a lot alike.

That’s the life update for now because BOOKS.


Past recaps here.

What Shannon read in April/May:

NOTES

Women Who Run with Wolves: A feminist new-classic. Meaning, it was written in the 90s so it’s somewhat contemporary, but it has a very Second Wave feel.

I recommend it for any woman looking to *eyeroll* step into her power. I’m rolling my eyes because that’s become a bit of a meaningless catch-phrase. But let me just say that if you know you have innate power but are having trouble accessing it, or are feeling powerless, it may help to read this book because it is about the natural power of being woman-identified in our world.

The House of Mirth and The Old Maid: MOAR Edith Wharton! I can’t get enough of her ever, so I’m now rereading the major novels and finally dipping into more of the novellas. The Old Maid is one such novella. I loved it.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden: Read this for the first time last year and it is now one of my favorite books of all time. I can see myself rereading it each spring. I got myself a very pretty Penguin version as a gift.

I have loved every book I’ve read in the past two months. If I had to pick a few favorites, other than the rereads, which are always favorites, I’d have to list every book.


I leave you now with a glimpse of my fussy spring mantel-scape, including my two Mother’s Day cards made by Jacob and Desiree’ (peep my hand in the mirror, haha).

Thanks for stopping by!

Standard
Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

What if your kids spontaneously burst into flames?

HIGHLY recommend the audiobook version of Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, narrated by Marin Ireland.

It’s the story of Lillian, a 28-year-old woman from rural Tennessee who moves to the home of her wealthy high school friend Madison to take care of Madison’s stepchildren.

The two met at an elite boarding school some years before, to which Lillian had a scholarship and which she thought of as her way out of the sticks. Lillian and Madison, her randomly assigned roommate, became fast friends and played basketball together.

Lillian is everything I love in a protagonist: weird, dark with a tender side, funny, selfish, fallible, and self-aware but not enough to prevent the drama of the novel.

And narrator Marin Ireland’s reading from Lillian’s perspective is *finger kiss* perfect. I loved every minute of her reading and took a couple of extra long bubble baths to listen to more.

Lillian is also poor and Madison is astonishingly wealthy. I always enjoy seeing what rich people get up to through the eyes of characters who have less money. I empathize with that. Can’t think why…

Lillian and Madison’s relationship is weirdly, I don’t know, entangled, or something. And we don’t quite know why at the beginning of the novel. The two are attached. And we very slowly learn that, actually, Lillian took the fall for Madison in high school when she got into some big trouble. In fact, Lillian was actually kicked out of her boarding school because of this incident. And she never quite got her life back on track. But she remained in touch with and attached to Madison anyway.

When Madison asks her a very, very big favor to begin the novel, Lillian surely owes her absolutely nothing, but agrees to help her anyway. And we find out that Madison wants Lillian to care for Madison’s new stepchildren who have this teensy little problem.

They burst into flames when they’re upset.

It’s wild. I thought I would hate it. I have a very low tolerance for magical realism. I am annoyed by fairy tales and I find fantasy that isn’t Lord of the Rings irritating. And yet. This kids-bursting-into-flames novel is so well done. So believable. That I couldn’t get enough.

It was ridiculous and I loved it.

The resulting character development and sheer fun of the story is worth suspending your disbelief. And Kevin Wilson doesn’t make you work very hard to do it anyway.

He even rewards you with a fairly happy ending. A satisfying one anyway. I won’t give it away. But read this one if you are at all tempted. And let me know how you liked it.

Standard
2020 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

2020 Classics Challenge: The Spring and Summer of Edith Wharton

What happens when a girl is raised to be nothing more in life than ornamental? When the outer and inner life of a woman must center on a man? When the substance of a human being is trained toward one goal and one goal only: to marry well and serve her husband and children until death?

These, to me, seem the essential questions asked by Edith Wharton throughout her entire extensive body of work.

And you can bet they are answered in the most disatrous of ways.

This spring and summer I have so far read:

Ethan Frome (read in January, actually)

The House of Mirth

The Age of Innocence

The Custom of the Country

The Buccaneers

The Reef

…and there’s nary a happy ending among them.

Because what happens when a woman is raised to believe her existence is purely ornamental–that is, the point of her being alive is to appear prettily on the arm of a man–is that she becomes a wholly social creature, existing only for others with a vacuousness of heart and mind in place of an actual personality, her needs and desires replaced (or suppressed) by her own constant social striving.

And that’s when she survives at all.

As you may know, Wharton famously writes of New York City socialites during the Gilded Age. She and her family were players in this scene and she writes from an insider perspective, even including characters which may remind you of real life socialites you’ve heard of: Nan St. George, protagonist in The Buccaneers, was modeled on Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the British Duke of Marlborough, representing a trend–rich American marries cash-poor English gentry–made familiar to contemporary audiences by by Downton Abbey.  

To me, Wharton’s genius is demonstrated in her depiction of social climbers.

In each of her major novels the world of upper-class New York is laid bare, its players representing each “type” in that world. For example, the Custom of the Country features the Spraggs, midwesterners who made it big in their hometown but struggle in New York–they represent the “new money” crowd.

I won’t go into detail on each book here because I’m separating them out so that Karen of Books and Chocolate, host of the classics challenge, has an easier time tallying my books.

But I wanted to write an overall sort of intro. first.

Spending so much time in Wharton’s New York (and Western Europe) has been so pleasurable and interesting. I see myself rereading these novels for the rest of my life, partly because the characters and writing are so engaging and partly because, well, I just love to see what rich people get up to.

p.s. Do you know of a good Edith Wharton biography? I hear the Hermione Lee bio is the place to start, but I’m open to suggestions.

p.p.s. Has anyone figured out how to insert special characters into their text? I’d really like to find the em dashes in this block editor! Clue me in if you know. 🙂

Standard
Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Hearth and Eagle

I discovered Anya Seton last year via her novel The Winthrop Woman, which was displayed in the shop at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, and I am so glad I did.

Her historical novels were impeccably researched and she is an ace storyteller with a knack for writing female protagonists in historic settings.

Plus, Mariner Books has released them in recent years with these incredibly lovely patterned covers and I’m hoping to collect them all.

I chose The Hearth and Eagle as my next Seton novel because it centers on the very same colonial American town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, in which The Winthrop Woman is set.

Seton discovered the town when researching her own family history. Apparently she found an ancestor that had lived there and became captivated by the “sea-girdled town of rocks and winding lanes and clustered old houses.”

Sounds idyllic, no?

The protagonist of this story is Hesper Honeywell. She is the descendant of Phebe Honeywell who came over from England in 1630. After introducing a very young Hesper, the story flashes back to Phebe’s time, describing her arrival in the colonies and her early life there.

From the first, I found Phebe’s story much more interesting than Hesper’s. There was adventure from the beginning as Phebe struggles through a long ocean journey and then nearly starves to death in the New World. But, alas, we stayed just long enough with her to give a sense of place to Hesper, who lives in Civil War era Marblehead.

Not to worry. Hesper’s family life is rather interesting as Hesper lives with her mother, a tired and resentful woman who has spent her life running the inn, The Hearth and Eagle, with little help from Hesper’s father, an absent-minded professor type obsessed with researching his family’s history.

Hesper helps her mother run the inn but, of course, longs for something more. Love, fulfillment, adventure, something beyond Marblehead. And into her longings wanders artist and avowed Bohemian Evan Redlake.

Thus begins an arduous saga of love and loss and Hesper’s search for meaning in a society that gives women few choices in deciding their own fates.

I’ll leave you with that grand statement. I ended up loving the novel, as I’d hoped I would. And, if you enjoy well-written historical fiction, you will too.

Standard
Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Bookshop

319388I saw the movie adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop before I read the book.

I found them to be equally lovely, but one, to me, was more depressing than the other.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

“In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop – the only bookshop – in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.”

The post-war English seaside is the setting for this short, tightly-focused novel. Even though it’s 1959, references to WWII are made throughout and you get the sense that Hardborough hasn’t really recovered from the war.

The book has many of the quirks often found in stories set in insular British communities—like children (scouts of some sort) turning up to do Florence’s handyman work; a domineering and well-connected older lady menacing the townspeople in order to assert her importance; old, damp buildings prized for their history but lacking in function; a wealthy recluse who abhors village politics; and a shop assistant, Christine, who is12 years old and, quite acerbic and, of course, wise for her years.

the-bookshop-hero

Florence, played by Emily Mortimer, reading at the seaside in The Bookshop (2017)

Sadly, Florence’s dream of running a bookshop is supported only by a few and the end of the story has her beset by financial troubles thanks to the subterfuge of Mrs. Gamart.

It is a very depressing ending. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that at least in that there is a small, dramatic triumph at the end. But that must’ve been the screenwriter’s urge to leave the audience with some hope. I’m afraid the book leaves you without it.

Standard
2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading Challenge? Convenience Store Woman

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 2000-Present.


36739755._SX318_I sped through Convenience Store Woman by  Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

It’s a quick read at 163 pages and has a nice, tight focus on a loveable and quirky character, Keiko Furukura.

Thanks to constant anxiety overload due to coronavirus frenzy at work (and, let’s face, on social media, which I’ve been hounding :/ ), my brain is not focused enough to provide my own blurb for you today.

So here’s part of the Goodreads summary:

“Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?”

Weirdly, that bitter young man moves in with Keiko and kind of gets her family off her back because they think, “Oh, Keiko has a boyfriend; maybe she’s finally going to be normal now.” (Not a quote from the book, just ad-libbing). But he’s clearly taking advantage of her.

The saddest part of this book, to me, is that Keiko’s family want her to be “cured.” They see her as having something wrong with her that needs to be fixed. And because she’s unable to judge their treatment of her, she just believes them. It’s likely that Keiko has some form of autism and just hasn’t been diagnosed. And she certainly has not been treated or given any kind of care relevant to her condition. This is never resolved in the story.

When her boyfriend convinces her to quit her job at the convenience store, Keiko stops taking care of herself. She loses the thing that gives her life structure and her sense of purpose.

Keiko reclaims that sense of purpose when she finally realizes she needs to be a convenience store worker despite what others’ think of her. She sees this position as something she was made to do. So she shrugs off the faux boyfriend, goes back to working in a convenience store and, we are to assume, lives contentedly to the end of her days.

The ending is weird to me. If there were a moral of this story, it would be something like, “do what makes you feel most like yourself.” For Keiko, there is an intrinsic and indisputable identity to which one must conform in order to be happy with one’s life.

But, for me, that didn’t actually resolve all the issues in the book. What about Keiko’s family’s expectations? What about the fact that she can’t seem to function without the convenience store? What about the fact that she’s vulnerable to predators like the faux boyfriend and rather than seeing that she needed help to get out from under him, people were excited that she actually had a boyfriend?

I need answers, people.

Instead, the ending seemed to say, well, this particular woman is probably going to be OK, and you’ll have to be satisfied with that. I wasn’t really. But I’m not sad I read it either.

Standard
Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

I’ll pretty much read anything by Natalie Barelli

I discovered Natalie Barelli three weeks ago and I am now already at the point where I will read anything she writes.

On her website, Barelli says she writes “psychological thrillers, domestic noir with a touch of dark humor” and I’ve only just now realized that “domestic thrillers” is a genre.

I have only listened to the audiobook versions of her books so I can’t speak for the hard copy reading experience. The audiobooks are always narrated well by talented readers and the productions are solid.

So far, I have listened to:

10The Housekeeper

Blurb: “When Claire sees Hannah Wilson at an exclusive Manhattan hair salon, it’s like a knife slicing through barely healed scars. It may have been ten years since Claire last saw Hannah, but she has thought of her every day, and not in a good way. So Claire does what anyone would do in her position—she stalks her.”

Unreliable narrator, domestic worker, haunting past. Loved it from the get-go.

12The Loyal Wife

Blurb: “Tamra never dreamed she would marry someone like Mike Mitchell: handsome, rich, a wonderful husband… until she finds out that Mike is having an affair. But Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Mike Mitchell should have remembered that before he made a fool of her.”

It’s not as cheesy as it sounds. I mean, in some respect all thrillers are melodramatic and often lack character development and plot depth, I know. But this book is not soap-opera-melodramatic. It’s logical. But still spicy enough to keep me reading. I loved the protagonist.

13The Accident

Blurb: “Katherine knew she’d had too many drinks, but they were only going a short distance. And as Eve pointed out, it was late, there was no traffic anyway…Now, Katherine would do anything to turn back the clock.”

This is a delicious romp involving a blackmail scam. I loved it.

 


missingAnd right now I’m listening to Missing Molly, which I find to be a bit less skillful as far as building suspense. Also, the story often quotes websites, newspapers, and podcast episodes, and I always get annoyed by that kind of thing. I feel like I’m stepping away from the story even though they’re supposed to enhance the story. So I think that is coloring my opinion.

What I love about Barelli’s books is that they all involve a female narrator who trusts the wrong person/people. Sometimes they are naive, but that’s probably also what makes them relatable.

I bet that quality is appealing to readers because one always like to feel they know more than the protagonist. Think of all the times you’ve shouted at an actor in a horror movie, “No, don’t go in there!” You know what’s coming and the character doesn’t. It’s part of the fun.

Standard
Fiction, Re-reading Project, What Shannon Read

Re-reading Project: Object of My Affection

ObjectofMyAffectionBookA while ago I realized I was slowly buying and re-reading all the books I loved as a teenager and young adult.

When I remember a book, I buy it and am slowly re-stocking my library with books I loved during those formative years.

I thought it would be fun to track this, sort of a side reading project. You know how I love a reading project: Exhibit A, Exhibit B.

Last night I finished Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley. I enjoyed it. I had to laugh at Teenage Shannon though. Why this book in particular? What drew me to it in the first place? Why did I read it five or so times at the age of 16? How odd and endearing.

The story is about narrator George Mullen, who is gay and lives in Brooklyn with his closest friend, Nina. When Nina becomes pregnant and decides to keep and raise the baby, she asks George to raise the baby with her.

The narrative becomes a peculiar will-they-won’t-they, but not between two lovers, as we’re generally used to. Instead, we follow the friendship between two people who are wholly devoted to one another, but must navigate a huge change ushered in by circumstance.

I love the character of George. He’s just so relatable. He has fears about being underemployed, for one thing. He’s a kindergarten teacher at a private school in Manhattan and he gets criticized for this even though he’s clearly good at his job.

McCauley excels at writing dialogue and I particularly enjoyed George’s conversations with his little student Doran Dunne, whose parents are battling through a divorce and constantly fighting over him. At one point, George loses his temper with Doran, then apologizes (Daniel and Theodora are Doran’s parents):

Excerpt I also enjoyed the tight focus on the main characters. There’s George and Nina, of course, but also Nina’s boyfriend Howard and George’s coworker, Melissa.

Howard is a wonderful character. He’s a big personality, a take-charge legal aid attorney, who is deeply in love with Nina and has hilarious nicknames for her “She’s a Dumpling!” he declares to George at one point, crying on the couch after Nina begins to push him away.

All in all, I wonder if it’s the unique characters and Brooklyn setting that captured the attention of Teenage Shannon. I’m going with that.

I’m leaving out whole parts/themes of the book in this review, like George’s love life, but maybe you’ll want to discover those for yourself. I recommend it and am glad I re-read it. Good find, Teenage Shannon.

Standard