What Shannon Read

Wrap-up: What Shannon Read in 2022

Somehow, another year has gone by and here I am writing yet another reading wrap-up post.

It’s been a fun and eventful year, with the most notable event being the birth of my first grandchild Ames in May.

Celebrations were had, selfies were taken, and collages were made.

These pics only tell part of the story.


And how did the 2022 reading go?

Well, I read a lot of books, though not all, for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Here’s a challenge wrap-up if you’re interested in a looong post about that.

And, generally, here are the year’s stats.

Reading Wrap-up with Nerdy Book Stats

Total books read: 107 (25 more than last year!!)
Fiction: 64
Nonfiction: 43
Female authors: 89
Male Authors: 19
Nonbinary: 0 (Geez, must work on this ASAP.)
Non-white authors: 24
E-books: 51
Audiobooks: 40 (15 fewer than last year)
Re-reads: 24 (I leaned into the re-reads this year and re-read comfort books to my heart’s content.)

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: I’m not surprised to see that I read more fiction than nonfiction this year. I needed some serious distraction in the later half of the year, so I went on a fiction rampage, diving into all the stories I could. Sometimes, you need to be anywhere but here, amirite?

Female vs. Male authors: I am also not surprised to see the number of female vs. male authors. A couple years ago, I got decidedly tired of men telling me things, so I tend to avoid their books unless they are a person of color or happen to be writing on a subject I really want to know about (usually, it’s a nature book).

Non-white authors: I did make more of a point to read books by authors who are not white, but it’s a challenge. Like a lot of other people, I tend to want to read books written by people like me and those, of course, are white cis women. But there are more books written by people of color than ever available right now, so I want to work on getting my numbers up. How else will I learn from other perspectives?


Most-read Genres

Historical Fiction – 20 books

I really delved into this genre, one of my favorites. Here are 10 of the best historical fiction books I read this year. I really can’t pick a favorite!

Memoir/Autobiography – 16 books

No surprise that this is right below historical fiction. It’s obviously another favorite genre. Learning from other perspectives, right?

These are eight of my faves.

Classics – 15 books

Ok, almost all my classics were re-reads of Edith Wharton books. Wharton is my summer reading. I go back to her every year after having first read The Age of Innocence two summers ago.

I did sprinkle in a few others. Notably, a new Elizabeth von Arnim and a new modern classic favorite, The Women of Brewster Place.

These were my top six.

Nature – 10 books

I tend to read nature books in the spring when the world is coming back to life, but this year, I read them throughout and mostly in audiobook form. I love to listen to a soothing audiobook at bedtime or while walking or collaging. And books about nature, at least the ones I’ve chosen, are often soothing. I include books on flora and fauna in this category, as well as general books on the effects of getting out into nature.

Here are my top few from 2022. The Inner Life of Animals is a re-read.

Mystery/Thriller – 5 books

This is another favorite category, but I had trouble finding good ones this year for some reason. Does anyone have any recommendations? I usually like stories focused on women and I tend to avoid the grizzled detective (male or female) trope. Let me know if you have thoughts!

3 Outliers

I wanted to make mention of three books I didn’t categorize above as they were three of my favorites this year and include two I wouldn’t normally have picked up.

One, The Wild Iris, is an incredible book of poetry that uses flowers as metaphors. I’m re-reading it this year for sure.

Two are books of essays, which I wouldn’t normally dip into.

I read The Lonely Stories, a moving series of essays on loneliness, for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. And I read Bad Vibes Only on a whim and enjoyed it thoroughly.

General Fiction

Another category that hit for me this year was general contemporary fiction. These are a few books I loved.


Do you pick a favorite book each year? Or a top 10 or top five?

I couldn’t pick a favorite. I tried. I could maybe be forced to pick a favorite from each category.

At any rate, that’s what I read in 2022! Overall, it was a hugely successful reading year. I enjoyed so many books, including some I wouldn’t normally choose to read thanks to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.

How about you? How was your year in books?

Advertisement
Standard
2022 Read Harder Challenge

The Read Harder Challenge Made Me Do It: 2022 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Wrap-up

This year, I Decided I Need a Challenge and took on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. The challenge consisted of 24 categories of books with the goal of reading outside of your comfort zone. I read 14 books out of 24 for the challenge and, honestly, I feel like that’s pretty good.

Most importantly, I stepped outside of my usual reading habits and ended up reading books, like an anthology of essays, that I wouldn’t normally read.

Because I love researching and reading about books, I also had a lot of fun looking up books and figuring out which to read for each category.

Below is a synopsis of what I read and what I didn’t.

p.s. Please forgive any typos. This is a long post and I’m being a lazy editor. 🙂


Categories I Read

Read a biography of an author you admire—Harriet Jacobs: A Life by Jean Fagan Yellin

Harriet Jacobs - Yellin, Jean Fagan

I adored Harriet Jacobs: A Life. What a difficult story to read. I’m glad I know more about her. Did you know she was hidden in a space where she couldn’t stand up for 7 years? I’d forgotten that from reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in college. Just, wow.


Read a book set in a bookstore—The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

I do not care that this book can be described as “cute.” I loved it. It’s the story of an English woman who gets downsized from her library job and, despite being fairly square and timid to boot, she moves to Scotland, buys an old van, fixes it up as a traveling bookshop, and becomes the local book dealer.

There are some love interests. It reads like a Hallmark movie—if Hallmark movies were actually good. I enjoyed it thoroughly. There’s also a charming intro. by Colgan about the best places to read a book. I love her even more as an author after reading that.


Read any book from the Women’s Prize shortlist/longlist/winner list.—Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

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!


Read a book in any genre by a POC that’s about joy and not trauma—The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America

What a wonderful category. It led me to The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris. Winfrey Harris explains the origins of stereotypes assigned to Black women and then takes them on, discussing the ways in which they hurt Black women and degrade their place in society.

From the “angry Black woman” stereotype to the “Mammy” stereotype, Winfrey Harris takes us on a journey of understanding. I finished this book a renewed sense of the unfairness and struggle placed on the shoulders of Black women.

The “joy” (per the prompt for this selection) is woven throughout, however. In interviews with Black women and experts who understand the issues, hope abounds. There’s also a section at the end of each chapter titled “Moments in Alright,” which presents examples of women, along with statistics, that defy the stereotypes society has put on Black women.


Read an anthology featuring diverse voices.—The Lonely Stories, Edited by Natalie Eve Garrett

In August, I read The Lonely Stories, a book of essays on the topic of loneliness. I found so many of these moving. The topics range from chronic illness to moving to a new country to taking care of an aging parent. I don’t normally like anthologies and I never seek them out, but I highly recommend this one.


Read a nonfiction YA comic—The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

This is a lovely memoir by a well-known artist who got her start in web comics. Sprinkled throughout the drawings are actual photos from Stevenson’s life, plus some solid writing. It’s a quick but touching work. Do recommend.


Read a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40.—Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This is the charming story of retired Major Pettigrew (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.


Read a classic written by a POC.—Quicksand by Nella Larsen

I fell in love with Nella Larsen last year after reading her perhaps more well-known classic Passing. There’s now a 2021 movie adaptation, which I have yet to watch. Need to get on that.

In the meantime, I enjoyed reading Quicksand in April 2022. 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 own ending to the imagination, which is both frustrating and a perfect ending in different ways.


Read a political thriller by a marginalized author (BIPOC, or LGBTQIA+).–Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua

This is a bit of a cheat. It’s not a thriller exactly, but it is political, and because I generally hate the political thriller genre, this is as good as we’re gonna’ get. I’m still counting it.

Anyway, 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 story features the rise and fall of one of these young women.


Read an entire poetry collection.—The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

I said I would read this one and I did. It’s WONDERFUL. I began reading it in February and finished it in August, which is kind of perfect because the book takes you through the seasons from the perspectives of the plants that grow throughout each.

This may be my new favorite book of poetry. 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.


Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author.—Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

I LOVED Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This is a heart-rending story of slavery and a young Black boy’s coming of age. The adventure comes in when Washington Black, an 11-year-old enslaved boy who lives on his master’s sugar plantation in Barbados, is selected by the master’s brother to assist him as he builds a “cloud-cutter,” a giant gas-powered balloon-like flying machine. Wash’s story is woven with heartbreak, adventure, love, and joy, and I lived it right along with him.


Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book).—The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Did you know this book was the second in a series? I had no idea. There are more Hannibal Lecter books, apparently. News to me.

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.


Read a horror novel by a BIPOC author.—Mirror Girls by Kelly McWilliams

On the recommendation of an old friend who commented on a Facebook post asking for suggestions, this was my selection. 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.


Read a queer retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, folklore, or myth.—Beast by Brie Spangler


Of course the Read Harder Challenge would have me read a retelling. I do not like retellings. I was becoming disheartened in my search for a good one back in March, finding all the books a bit plodding, and with my inability to suspend disbelief, it wasn’t going well. But I happily stumbled on Beast by Brie Spangler and it was great.

First, I couldn’t resist that pretty cover art. Second, I didn’t find it plodding. Third, the “retelling” part of the retelling was more of a theme than this overriding airy-fairiness that I usually can’t abide in retellings.

It’s about an exceptionally large and hairy teenager named Dylan. In the first scene he falls or jumps off of a roof–we don’t know whether he’s fallen or jumped, but readers will have their suspicions. After doctors treat his broken leg, Dylan’s mom sends him to group therapy because she has her own suspicions.

This is where he meets Jamie, a trans girl with issues of her own. The thing is, when they first meet, Dylan doesn’t hear Jamie say that she’s trans. Dylan falls in love and complications ensue. There’s a lot about identity in this one (and not just gender identity) so if you like books with that as a central theme, I recommend this one.


Categories I Didn’t Read

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

Read a new-to-you literary magazine (print or digital).

Read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes.

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 an award-winning book from the year you were born.

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

Read a history about a period you know little about.

Read a book by a disabled author.

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


Can you tell I ran out of steam after awhile? It would’ve been so easy to pick a category to repeat from a previous year or to read about a historical period I knew little about. And Ben recommended at least 10 ideas for the “read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes” category.

But after awhile, I couldn’t be bothered. I just wanted to read what I wanted to read.

So here we are at the end of the challenge year. All in all, not too shabby.

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays, friends!

Standard
What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: November 2022

It’s December. What?!

How’s life? How was your November?

Mine was busy and included a great Thanksgiving, plus what Ben and I now call “birthday season.” My birthday is actually November 28, but I had so many celebrations, little and big, that we’ve been celebrating for a solid two-and-a-half weeks.

Special thanks to all my loved ones who showered me with cake, gifts, a manicure, coffee, dinner out, drinks, and a generally amazing amount of festivity!

I remembered to take a few pics, but not many. You know how it is.

On to the November books!


What Shannon Read in November

Nonfiction November is officially over. Did I actually read any nonfiction in November? Surprisingly, yes. I’ve been on a solid fiction kick for a while, but I managed to sneak in a few nonfiction volumes, including some re-reads.

Some Notes:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Fascinating look into the history of humans and how our species developed. The first half of the book is about the evolution of humans and the second is about how humans formed societies, especially after the agricultural revolution.

This was a re-read for me for good reason. It’s one I keep coming back to.

Jog On: How Running Saved My Life

I loved this memoir about running because it focuses, not on racing and achieving, but on how running can help support mental health.

British writer Bella Mackie suffers from severe anxiety and, after the break-up of her marriage, she decides to go for a jog as a sort of coping mechanism. Running becomes one of her main methods for dealing with stress and anxiety. In the book she talks about why it’s effective and goes on to detail her journey as a runner.

One of the reasons I loved Mackie’s story is that she talks about how running is accessible for everyone. It was especially encouraging to me as someone who wants to run but hasn’t been able to make it a habit. Yet…

2 Elizabeth Berg books

I enjoyed both Elizabeth Berg books, but favored The Pull of the Moon, which is about a middle-aged woman whose children are grown and who is on a sort of mission to find herself.

She leaves her husband at home one day and takes a road trip around the country by herself. Throughout her travels, we learn more about her and her life.

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

This is another nonfiction re-read for me. In it, Neff talks about why being kind to yourself helps and how to do it. Recommend.

Nobody, Somebody, Anybody

This is a novel with a quirky main character that reminded me of the book The Maid by Nita Prose. It’s about a woman who longs to be an EMT, but is working as a housekeeper in a resort and just can’t quite get it together to take her EMT certification test.

Over the course of the book, we learn about her relationship with her father, her burgeoning friendship with her neighbor and landlord, and watch her start to form a life of her own, rather than living in the shadows watching others live.

The House Next Door

I started this a little past Halloween this year, but it’s one of my favorite books to read during spooky season. It features a married couple living in Atlanta and their neighbors.

A house is built on the lot next door to them and things go terribly wrong from the very beginning–for anyone who comes in contact with the house.

I love the southern setting and the relationships between the couples in the insular neighborhood. And the creep factor is fun too.


That was it for November! I’m planning to read a couple more running memoirs in December.

I’ll also be re-reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, which I like to re-read in the winter, of course. And I just got a fantastic book from my sister- and brother-in-law: Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit. I’ll be digging into that.

Do you have certain books or kinds of books you like to read in the winter? If so, let me know what they are.

Standard
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?

Standard
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!

Standard
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?

Standard
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!

Standard
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!

Standard
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.

Standard
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.


Standard