It’s my first monthly recap of the year! Welcome!
I hope you had as good a January as I did. There’s been some work stress, but mostly I’ve managed to focus on the many good things in life this month, with extra emphasis on coziness and light.
It’s important for me to add light during these dreary winter months after the excitement of Christmas and New Year’s is over.
I love my cozy candles and these twinkly trees from Amazon.
I’m also big on cozy hobbies right now. I’ve been doing a puzzle and indulging in some coloring while listening to audiobooks. And, of course, lots of collage. So comforting.
A few recent collages:
I share these on Instagram regularly @shannonrooneycreative if you’d like to follow along.
Do you tend to “lean in” to the winter months? I’m curious about how others survive them. Let me know your tricks if you have them!
On to the January books!
What Shannon Read in January
I read 11 books in January, including a whopping six books for my When Are You Reading? Challenge. Major progress!
(Sorry, this is a hugely text-heavy post!!)
The House of Fortune (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): Ok, I didn’t fully read the cover before I started this book. So I had no idea it was a sequel to famed novel The Miniaturist until the main character started receiving miniatures on her doorstep…I was reading along like, “Gee, this sounds a lot like The Miniaturist…Wait, is this just a rip-off of The Miniaturist?” No, smarty, it says right on the cover that it’s the literal sequel to The Miniaturist.
Whoops. I didn’t actually read The Miniaturist, but I did see the movie adaptation, so I could follow along with this sequel just fine.
Unfortunately, this book did what a lot of sequels do—it followed less interesting characters, lagged horribly in pace, and was all around just kind of slow and predictable.
Despite that scathing take, though, I finished it. I had to find out if main character, the young Dutch-African woman Thea Brandt, got to marry who she wanted in the end. And I did. Meh
The Stepford Wives (Read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): The Stepford Wives, published and set in 1972, was a fun romp. It’s the second of Ira Levin’s books that I have read and loved—the first being Rosemary’s Baby. He’s so good at building suspense. This is the story of a woman, Joanna, her husband Walter, and their two children, who move to the town of Stepford for Walter’s job.
Walter immediately joins the Men’s Association and Joanna tries to drum up some friendships of her own but only has success with one other woman in the town. The reason is that all of the Stepford wives look and act the same—like subservient “hausfraus,” as Joanna calls them. She and her one friend, Bobbie, slowly come to realize that something isn’t quite right with the wives and Joanna thinks the men of Stepford might be responsible.
The build of suspense is a slow, fun burn and the ending is, well, I won’t spoil it for you. But it’s good.
Malibu Rising (Also read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): It’s August 1983 and famed model-surfer Nina Riva is about to throw the party of a lifetime. The story of this particular end-of-summer party spans an entire day, but dips out regularly for flashbacks to Nina’s and her family’s past. So, in the end, we can see how the story ended up here, at the party happenning tonight.
This is a fantastic novel. I loved the breezy and bright Malibu setting—just the sunshine I needed in January—and the historical settings as the story flashes from the 80s back to the 1950s, when Nina’s parents first meet.
This book is essentially the story of a family—Nina and her three siblings and their parents. It’s intense despite the sunny setting and covers a gamut of themes, including familial relationships, parenthood, alcoholism, fame, friendship, loss, and betrayal. There’s some good atmospheric surfing too. I loved it.
Also, I highly recommend the audiobook. Narrator Julia Whelan reads it and she’s one of my favorites. I’d listen to her read the phonebook.
Breaking up the text with a pic of my mushroom light, also helpful in these dark winter days/nights.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking: “If you have never tried to make conversation with a monarch over the hog-tied body of an evil wizard, it’s very hard.” I feel that funny sentence communicates the mood and tone of this book to a T. I don’t read much fantasy, as you know, but again, I’m leaning into the #cozygirl life this winter and this is definitely a cozy fantasy.
It centers on a wizard girl, Mona, who is also a baker and who can command dough to do minor (and sometimes major) feats. For example, she constantly feeds a sourdough starter named Bob that she accidentally animated and which has taken on a life of his own. She also has an animated gingerbread man as a familiar.
The action starts with a murder in the bakery where Mona works, and which her aunt owns. And the plot escalates from there.
I would say this one was a little slow for me, but I understand that might be typical of the genre. I still enjoyed listening to the audiobook and was glad I dipped into a fun, new-to-me genre. I give it a cozy 3 out of 5 stars.
Lavender House (Also read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): I read this baby in two sessions. It’s a queer murder mystery set in 1952. Former police inspector Evander Mills has just been outed and fired from his job. He’s planning to hurl himself off of the Golden Gate Bridge and stops for a last drink beforehand. That’s when Pearl Velez finds him in a local bar and hires him to investigate the potential murder of her dead wife, Irene Lamontaine, head of the Lamontaine soap empire.
I was drawn in from the beginning. The mystery is interesting, but it’s mostly about the characters and atmosphere for me. Pearl and Irene live/lived in a secluded mansion with a fun cast of characters. The only member of the household who isn’t queer is the mother of one of the characters. Even the staff are gay/bisexual. The house has been a haven for all of them, though, of course, there’s been a potential murder, so all is not well among them.
I won’t ruin the story with any spoilers, but will say I highly recommend this one.
Station Eleven (Yet another read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge): I’m a late-comer to this book. It got a ton of hype when it came out and for good reason. It’s very accessible speculative fiction.
The story is about what happens to the characters in the aftermath of—this will sound familiar—a global pandemic.
Unlike covid, this pandemic (also a flu, which I found eery and relatable), wipes out most of the world’s population. Within a matter of days, death abounds and human life on earth changes drastically as infrastructure and society as we know it collapse.
This one was an emotional roller coaster and I definitely cried at the end.
Remainders of the Day: This is the third in the series of diaries by Shaun Bythell. I LOVED going back to Wigtown. Talk about cozy and comforting.
Mozart’s Starling: I did not, apparently, know how special starlings are. Did you know they were introduced to the U.S. from Europe in 1890 when a flock was released into Central Park? Here’s a good story about it.
They took over the entire country from there, breeding more quickly than anyone imagined possible and migrating from the East Coast across the country to the West Coast and into Canada and Mexico.
They have become such a menace, taking over and having such disastrous effects on natural habitats, that people have made it totally legal to kill them and destroy their nests.
This book is part history, part memoir as the author tells the story of Mozart and the pet starling he raised, plus raises one of her own. I couldn’t read this and not become compassionate toward starlings and their plight. After all, it was humans who introduced them to the U.S.
Did you know that they can learn to talk? Fascinating. And look—how pretty their feathers are:
Rooted: A lovely meditation on nature and spirituality. I hadn’t heard of this until I received it as a birthday gift from my sister- and brother-in-law, for which I am grateful.
I mostly enjoyed the author’s own story as she describes becoming closer to nature through activities like walking barefoot in the forest. This book made me want to escape to a cabin in the woods and never come back.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation: I don’t know why this weird book is one of my favorite books ever. It’s an odd one, but I’ve read it around five times. I guess I love the unlikeable narrator, the idea of sleeping for a year fascinates me, and I love the well-written dialogue. The character of Dr. Tuttle is incredibly funny and I truly enjoyed the scenes in which she appears.
I think Ottessa Moshfeg’s writing just always hits for me. She’s such a talent.
The Mercies: A witch hunt in the 17th-century Norway town of Vardø. This is an excellent novel that largely tells the story of two Norwegian women. One, Maren, was witness to a storm over the sea that claimed the lives of over 40 men from her village, leaving the women of Vardø to fend for themselves. And fend they would as a new Commissioner has been appointed to their village. The second woman, Ursa (short for Ursula) of the major city Bergen, is newly married to that Commissioner, who turns out to be a witch-hunter of the most violent order.
While the characters in the book are fictional, the storm and witch-hunting in this area of Norway are real. Both actually happened during this time period.
I found the story truly engrossing, the suspense building to a terrible and exciting climax and ending. I don’t feel my description has done it nearly enough justice. Highly recommend this book.
That’s all she wrote! If you’ve stayed with me this far, thank you. 🙂 I hope you have a lovely February—turn on the twinkly lights and stay warm!