June Reads & Listens

I did a lot of reading in June. I found myself making an effort to walk away from the computer and electronics to find a comfortable corner to curl up with one of my book club books. I managed to finish two of them this month! A form of my mindfulness at work. I listened to a lot of books too. The dogs, chickens and I listening to my books over the outdoor speakers as I weeded and planted the garden. It makes weeding much more enjoyable that’s for certain.

June was a mixed bag of titles ranging from historical fiction, a favorite genre of mine to supernatural mystery, a new genre I have started to explore. I read two really good memoirs. I read some authors that are new to me: Colleen Hoover and Simone St. James and continued to reread an old favorite, Kurt Vonnegut. One day I will have to explore why I am so drawn to his works.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Hamnet is a story of a multigenerational family and their domestic life in late 16th century England, around the time of the Plague. Grief is a central theme explored. The story revolves around how the individual family members deal with their grief and how that grief affects their relationships within the family.

The narrator, Ell Potter, does a beautiful job with the lyrical prose of Maggie O’Farrell. I was somewhat disappointed in this book. I was expecting more after reading some of the initial reviews, which caused me to put it on my TBR list. I found myself initially very confused; knowing I was reading a fictional account of the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway; it was hard to recognize them. Anne is only referred to as Agnes, and William is barely mentioned by name. The title character, Hamnet and Hamlet, were interchangeable at that time. This, coupled with the multiple viewpoints which make up the narration, made things even more unclear.

However, somewhere three-quarters of the way in, maybe sooner, I became more invested in the characters and what they were experiencing. Hamnet is a story of a marriage and a family who endure life in a time when survival was at its most challenging; sacrificing themselves for others, surviving separation when it is necessary, and finding love can bring about the greatest heartbreak of all. This isn’t my favorite piece of historical fiction, but it was a good story in the end. 2.5 Stars

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This is the first book I have read or listened to by Simone St. James, but I had read good reviews of this and other books of hers at some point and added this and a few others of hers to my TBR list. The Sun Down Motel seemed to have all the right makings for a great supernatural crime story with a perfect setting of fictional Fell, NY, and the creepy old Sun Down Motel. I’ve traveled upstate New York, and Simone St. James successfully delivers by setting the stage. St. James’ use of telling the story using alternating voices worked very well, but I would the problem was that I didn’t care about the storytellers. I didn’t find Vivian or Carly particularly likable or any other supporting characters.

Narrators Brittany Pressley and Kirsten Potter do a good job of bringing the story to life. I was disappointed overall, considering the possibilities of a multigenerational tale with unresolved family conflict, the perfect setting for an unsolved crime, and the potential for strong female characters. The story fell short and didn’t deliver for me.


Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Smile: The Story of A Face is a memoir of Sarah Ruhl’s journey through a slow recovery from Bell’s Palsy. Ruhl is a playwriter and mother of three children who winds up Bell’s Palsy after delivering her twins. It took me longer to finish this book than it should have. In the down moments I did have in my busy schedule – the book wasn’t begging me to come back to it to check in to see how Sarah was doing in her progress. I read this book as part of my Literati Book club – it was the book chosen for February’s read. It’s June now.

I decided I was tired of having the book sit around, so I forced myself to finish it. I was 50% into the book when I picked it up again. It’s an easy read; despite not being able to hold my attention. I was interested in her journey into Buddhism and meditation, mainly since I have recently found myself on a similar path. There are many quotes from others she admires in the book. I love a good quote and added a few from this book into my quote collection. However, there may have been too much reliance on this which I felt detracted from the book.

I am glad I finished the book, as it proves to be an excellent reminder to never give up on yourself and your health. Ruhl shows how faith, whether in God, Buddha, or in ourselves, can take us far and bring us some peace.


Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Cat’s Cradle is one of those books that you can read more than once. I first read it in 1985, twenty-two years from when it was first published in 1963. This time, I listened to the audiobook. Almost 60 years later, it still holds up. It’s not outdated and seems even more poignant; Vonnegut’s commentary on humanity is more relevant than ever. It’s a tremendous chaotic, weird, wild story.

I love Vonnegut’s style of writing and his dry humor. His books are easy to read, and I find myself thinking, wow was he spot on in his observations about issues that continue to plague us today: family, nation, religion, science, and technology. Cat’s Cradle focuses on humanity’s insatiable craving for knowledge and understanding of the world around us at any cost. Vonnegut recognizes the benefits of the advancements in modern science and technology but is distrustful of the destructive potential that goes hand in hand with those advancements.

The story follows the narrator, writing a book about what Felix Hoenikker was doing the day the United States dropped the atom bomb. Hoenikker was one of the scientists whose work led to the atom bomb creation. Vonnegut has a way of writing characters that, without being verbose, can tell us so much about who that character really is and what they are all about.

One of my favorite things about the audiobook was, at the very end, there is the interview with Kurt Vonnegut. It’s always so interesting to listen to him speak. I learn so much about him and what’s behind his writing every time.

Tony Roberts, the narrator, wasn’t my favorite. A bit too monotone for my liking; dry doesn’t mean monotone. Harper Audio: 7 hours, 11 minutes.



A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I just finished reading one of the most powerful memoirs, A Three Dog Life. I’m mad at myself that this raw, gut-punching, yet beautiful book sat on my bookshelf for so long – for years, I am ashamed to admit. Then it sat on my desk for months after I used it as a sizing reference for my memoir that I am working on. I thought this one had been on the TBR list way too long. It was published in 2006. I knew it was a memoir about dogs; the title gives that away immediately. That’s why I bought the book in the first place – I love dogs and stories about dogs. Plus, the cover has a picture of the author, Abigail Thomas sitting on the couch with her three dogs was something I can relate to – I do that all the time. It looked like a nice story.

Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down, and I finished it in two days. It’s an amazing story about a period in the author’s life. So much more than a dog story. The dogs are important characters, but they are more supporting roles, as dogs can be incredibly supportive. No, this is a story about a woman and her husband and how their lives took a dramatic turn in the blink of an eye. You don’t have to be a dog person to find this book as powerful as I did. You don’t have to like dogs to get something out of this book. Her story is about love, life, and how to live a reconfigured life. Read it; just have some tissue nearby.



Buy Yourself the Fcking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I did not like Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the Fcking Lilies. I stopped listening to it about 35% as there was no way I could waste more time listening to this woman. I hate giving bad reviews, but I wouldn’t want others like me to waste their time. Better self-help books are available if that’s what you’re looking for. This is a memoir/self-help book for maybe a younger audience. I’m 57 years old, and so far, what I’ve listened to was not in lightning. She had already started to repeat things so many times I couldn’t imagine nor care to find out what she possibly could have to say for another 7 1/2 hours. I found her style of giving help to be very condescending and childish. She assigns homework and says things that are supposed to be affirming, but from her, they sound trite. She has some good suggestions, such as journaling, using positive affirmations, and, yes, not feeling guilty about doing small niceties for yourself. Still, her delivery is terrible, particularly when she starts talking to the audience like she knows you and what you are going through. I am shocked that this has received as high a rating. This was just not my cup of tea. Next.

Verity by Colleen Hoover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Wow! Colleen Hoover’s Verity is incredible. From the moment I started to listen to the Audible audiobook, narrated by Vanessa Johansson and Amy Langdon, I was hooked on the story. The story’s action is told in two voices: the voice of the young writer who is called to take over writing another author’s series, who has been in an incapacitating accident, and the author who has been incapacitated. It is a thrilling ride of lies, manipulation, and some very effed-up stuff. There’s a lot of sex in this book – so if that’s not your thing – this won’t be either, but you’d be missing out on some incredible, masterful storytelling. I don’t want to say too much about this book, other than I highly recommend it. It’s the first book of Colleen Hoover’s that I have read, and I am an instant fan. Bravo!


The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs is a wonderful book if you are into puzzles. I read the book as part of my Literati book club selection, and since I enjoy puzzles, I enjoyed reading this book and liked the book. Jacobs covers many puzzles – anagrams, crosswords, cryptics, puzzles, puzzle boxes, chess, riddles, and more. The book can take some time to go through since it includes a bunch of historical crosswords and other puzzles for the reader to try out, plus a slew of original puzzles made for the book by Greg Pliska. You end up getting sidetracked trying to solve the puzzle and putting down the book.
Jacobs includes many excellent references for puzzler fanatics which is a great resource and threatens to kick up any addiction to puzzles up a few notches.
I read the hardback copy, which includes all sorts of visuals besides the puzzles and a color insert of photographs of puzzles, Rubik cubes, etc……… I photocopied the puzzles from the book to work on so I didn’t mess up my copy of the book for someone else in the future. I saw the audiobook includes a .pdf of all the puzzles.
You will enjoy going down this rabbit hole. Just have some pencils ready.

Once finishing The Puzzler, I picked a book from my ever growing TBR list that I added to the pile last summer called The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. It looks like the perfect book to curl up with on the deck. Happy summer reading everyone!

Creating New Habits

I have been trying to live a more mindful life in the last year. It’s not something that I woke up one day and said to myself, “Self, you should be more mindful.” No, it was a way subtler shift than that. 

My mother died in February 2021. I had to double-check that since I am terrible with times and dates. The last two and half years are feeling like more like five. I have trouble sometimes remembering how old I am sometimes. But I blame my best friend partially for that since her birthday precedes mine by six months. For half a year, referring to us as whatever age she was, even if my birthday was still 4 or 5 months away.

Then there is how I think about birthdays in general: when you have a birthday, you have just completed that year. You just successfully finished living the 1st, 10th, 25th, 36th year…of your life and are about to embark on living the 2nd, 11th, 26th, 37th…When I explained this to Mark one day, he didn’t like my reasoning as sound and correct as it was. I just made him a year older. No, I didn’t – he and many others have been thinking about this all wrong.

New parents understand this initially as they watch their children go from hours to days to months old. “How old is your baby?” Three months becomes six months. But they don’t stop there. “How old is your baby? “Nineteen months old.” The answer is seldom “One and a half years old.” 

But all that has little to do with what I originally started talking about, which was trying to become more mindful. I was 56 when my mother died, and I felt very untethered. It was too much – my mind racing around with all sorts of things, too many things. Life had been so unsettling that I felt as if I was clinging to a boat on high seas, and the storm would not pass.

Mark is my anchor and my navigator. As an offshore sailor who has crewed on teams sailing from Newport to Bermuda, he understands life at sea and lived through calm waters that churned up in moments forcing him to hold on for dear life and try to navigate through the storms. His mind, too, races, and he also was looking for a way to be able to settle it.

Together we decided to try to create a new habit of meditating daily. Now we made a mindful decision right there but didn’t recognize it as our first step towards living a more conscious life. The app we use is Insight Timer. I’ve written about this app before, and I guess I just can’t say more about it since it has helped us so much. As well as the guided meditations, there are many talks and lecture series which you can also listen to.

Mark wanted to learn more about Taoism and Buddhism, so we listened to lectures like the Taoist Principles for a Prosperous Life and Practicing the Tao Te Ching by Solar Towler; Exploring the Basics of Buddhism and Exploring the Fundamentals of Zen Buddhism by Silas Day. We listened to The Power of Tao: Live a Life of Harmony & Balance by Olivia Rosewood, as well as Learning From The Masters by David Gendelman. Every morning before we sat for our meditation, Mark and I would sit at the kitchen table drinking our coffee, eating breakfast, and listening to a session of one of the lecture series. For the most part, each session is no more than 10-25 minutes long but lasts 10 to 30 days. For 200 days, we listened and learned so much from these courses.

In my March 2022 post A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation, I talk more about Insight Timer and one of our favorite teachers, David Ji and the courses we took of his that we found to be so incredibly helpful. It was in his Forty Days to Transformation course which delivered a transformation in us – solidifying our new habit of mediation. I won’t repeat myself more than I have here in this post; just suffice it to say that I will forever be grateful that we took that course.

With mindfulness, I have discovered that I am consciously becoming a more grateful person. In the past, I took many things for granted. Perhaps age has something to do with that. We tend to be young and naive – we don’t know any better since we are newbies to experiencing life. Some people learn that lesson earlier than others, and some never learn the lesson. When choosing to live a mindful life, you don’t take things for granted. You live in the present moment, understanding that the past is done and the future isn’t something to waste your time worrying over in the present. You do that, and you miss what’s happening here and now.

Our cell phones and laptops have distracted us from being present. I have become increasingly aware of this and purposefully try to limit my time on these devices. Today’s children spend way too much time playing on their phones and devices – and our parents worried the TV would make us a bunch of couch potatoes! Which it did. No mindfulness is going on when you are staring into these electronic opiates. Which is precisely what they are and were designed to do.

I am glad I have adult-aged children who benefited from running around in the woods and spending time in the woods camping or on a mountain skiing. It’s not to say that my son didn’t have his video gaming phase. Call of Duty was his game of choice that he and the Cavemen played. The Cavemen are his friends and were so called when they dubbed my basement The Cave and spent as many nonschool nights overnight in the Cave as they did in their own houses. If I were raising a child in this day and age, it would be very different and challenging. Knowing what I know, I wouldn’t be handing out video games, laptops and cell phones. I would probably also be homeschooling as well. But that’s for another blog post. I’d like to think that at this point, we would have a much more mindful approach than we did in the past.

In being more mindful, I have been able to set more goals for myself and achieve them. For the last few years, I have been active in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which has you set a reading goal for yourself. I always wanted to be a reader. I was a very slow reader in school and didn’t enjoy reading then. They always told me I needed to practice, practice, practice. I just wish there had been audiobooks around then. If it weren’t for the audiobooks, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my lofty reading goal, which I set for the age I will be at the end of the year – 58 this year. So far, I am thirty-seven books in, three of which were physical hardback books!

The other goal that I set for myself was to write and publish a book. I am happy to say that in the last two years I have been working very purposefully on achieving this goal and seeing it through fruition. I would not have been able to do this without all that I have learned about mindfulness in this last year and half. In many of the guided mediations I have listen to in the last 446 days, many of the instructors have you plant a seed of intention. At first when I listened and was instructed to do this, I had so many things I wanted to accomplish I didn’t know what to focus on. I have many seeds in my bag to plant. I settled on one of the seeds that I had been holding onto the longest. And that was to write and publish my book.

Currently my book is in the hands of a publisher and it will be published. Thanks to the seed of intention that I planted, focused on and fertilized. I don’t know where this mindfulness and meditation will ultimately lead me. I am just focusing on the present moment, and presently I must start the laundry and get back to selecting photos that are going into the book. Namaste.

The Only Constant is Change

It’s mid June and the summer will be officially beginning next week. It’s one of the subtler shifts of seasons. Spring to summer is not as dramatic as the other shifts in seasons. Summer’s shift into fall greets us with crisp cooling winds and the leaves shift from greens to reds, oranges, yellows and browns. We switch our wardrobes, putting away the spring/summer clothes and start bringing out the leather boots and suede jackets. From fall to winter the landscape features changes even more dramatically as the trees shed their leaves and we are left with their mere silhouettes. Our heavier wardrobe comes front and center – coats, gloves, hats and scarves. Mother Nature gessoes her canvas with snow and ice. Winter into spring is one of the most dramatic shifts as we all thaw and watch with amazement Mother Nature begin to paint the barren landscape with fresh colors of a new season.

As the days fly by, my body seems to constantly change. An old ache here, a new ache there. Last summer I dropped 20 pounds, only to gain it all back by the end of the year. I made the mistake of buying myself smaller pants as I was losing the weight, vowing that this would be the last time I was a size 14. I’m back in my size 14 pants. Buying the 12s was fine but I tempted the weighty gods too much when I bought myself the 10s.

I’m 57 and my body continues to change as I age. I’m not yet in menopause but I have been experiencing night sweats since July 2011. I remember it well since I away with my kids looking at colleges. I had borrowed a t-shirt from my then new boyfriend (we are still together 11 years later) to have with me while I was traveling that I used as a night shirt. I remember at first thinking it might be the shirt because it had a Bob Marley graphic on it and the plastic stuff that made of the graphic I thought might be causing me to sweat. No such luck, it wasn’t the shirt. Just the first of what would eventually be many nights I’d wake up in the middle of the night cold from the soaking wet front of the my nightshirt.

I understand that it maybe easier to regulate my body temperature if I slept in the nude. According to WellandGood.com “Sleeping naked can also be beneficial for women experiencing menopause. “Hot flashes and night sweats can [wake] women up several times a night,” says Jodie Horton, MD, chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness, a women’s wellness and personal care products brand. Sleeping naked can help alleviate the not-so-fun symptoms of hot flashes.”

I slept naked for a while (although Mark would say it was for just a little bit). When the kids would come to visit I would wear a nightshirt. I raised two kids by myself, a single mom doesn’t sleep naked. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of sleeping naked in winter when it’s freezing cold. It seemed ridiculous so I fell out of the habit. Now from time to to I think maybe I should try to give it another shot.

One of the big changes that I was able to make for myself was in creating a new habit. I am trying to be more mindful in every aspect of my life. To make something a habit, I have read that you need to do whatever it is that you are trying to make that new habit for three weeks straight, And then keep going. I have been mediating daily for over a year now. I has helped give me tools to use when I get anxious. That’s another change I have been facing more recently – increased anxiety.

My anxiety increased yesterday when we discovered Mark has COVID. SO now after being so cautious and careful for the last two years, it’s here in our house. I feel like I now waiting for it to be my turn. He arrived home from a weekend away for a family funeral which required him to have to fly to Chicago. Who knows if it was the plane rides, was it on the way out? on the way back? Was it while he was with his family? I will never know the answer to these questions and it doesn’t really matter at this point. If I am going to get it, I am going to get it. He came home Sunday and today is Friday and he just started feeling shitty yesterday. So if I am going to get it I guess I may present symptoms this weekend? Breathe and stay in the present moment Xine ! Don’t let your mind go wildly off into tangents that may freak you the fuck out but never happen. Breathe.

Thankfully he is feeling better today than he was yesterday. He never gets sick so seeing not feel well is tough. I pray each day he gets stronger and we can continue on with our summer. We don’t have any plans to speak of really. We just want to enjoy working in our gardens, playing with the dogs, puttering around on the boat and enjoying one another’s company. I am so thankful for his presence in my life and the life that we share together. I am truly blessed. Which is probably why I feel like something is going to go wrong, something is going to change.

The summer solstice is approaching, sunset is now as late as 8:31pm here where I live. The irises are all in bloom, the wind is blowing in from the south right now. It’s 79ºF at 6:18pm and the barometer is dropping like a stone. The weather is changing – again. What is they say about New England? If you don’t like the weather just wait 5 minutes. I think they say this about everywhere.

When it comes to changes I try to remind myself that change can be good. Things can get stale and stagnant when there is no change at all. We change as people, not just outwardly in our physical appearance as we age – although that’s a biggie. I find I am in a minority when it comes to women my age. Many people just assume that I have already gone into menopause and are shocked if they find out otherwise. My mother was 60, she told me when she finally had her final period. It caught her off guard since she hadn’t been bleeding regularly and it had been some time, enough time that she thought she was done. Of course she was out when it decided to show up for the party one last time. She had been wearing a yellow dress and was at my brother’s graduation. Ironically she had been wearing a yellow dress the first day she got her period too. A terrifying day for her since – she had literally no idea what had just happened. She was at school and had to wear a sweater tied around her waist for the rest of the day.

At the graduation, my mother had a backup of sorts. It was my skirt that I was wearing. We had driven up for the day so we had no luggage to dive into for spare clothing. So I had to wear a pair of my brother’s pants which I literally had to hold up with my hand because his belt didn’t fit me either. What can you do? You just have to go with the flow?

One last change: Mark’s fever is back up

May Reads & Listens

This month I listened to six books and continued to make snail-like progress in the physical books I chose to read. Thirty-three books at the half-year mark isn’t a bad situation, considering I am 57% towards finishing my yearly goal of 58 books. I find that I continue to either choose home runs only to follow it up with a strike or a foul ball. Ok, maybe they are base hits and just feel like strikes after hitting homers.

I began the month coming off of a strike last month with My Year of Rest and Relaxation and choose Brood to begin the month with. I figured I could relate to another chicken tender.

Brood by Jackie Polzin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I really enjoyed listening to Brood by Jackie Polzin and narrated by Rebecca Lowman. Brood is more than a story about a woman’s experience with her four chickens. At the core, this is a book about loss and grief. So from that perspective, the book has a depth that some may not be able to fully relate to.

Despite the sadness that the reader can hear in the author’s voice, there is humor in the story. Where there are chickens, there is usually something to laugh and smile about. I have four chickens of my own just like the author, so I can relate to her experiences with them. I learned a few new things too which as a chicken owner is always helpful. Much like parenthood, I had no idea what to expect from raising chickens, so also like parenthood, it’s helpful to see how others do things.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has chickens, loves animals, or is interested in a quick good read.


I decided that I would like to read/listen my way through the entire Agatha Christie collection. As a young girl who struggled reading, I found I was always interested in reading an Agatha Christie mystery. I have read And Then There Were None many times. So to begin my journey through the Christie Collection I thought I would start at the beginning.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I aim to read/listen to all of Agatha Christie’s books, starting with this early work (1925), The Secret of Chimneys. This story is filled with a large cast of characters, some of who pop up in later works of Christie’s. Superintendent Battle is introduced, although he plays a more supporting role.

A lot is going on in this book, so I found myself confused for a good portion of the story and not in the good murder-mystery way. Upon doing some reading afterward, I discovered Agatha Christie admitted that when it came to ‘Chimneys,’ she made the mistake that many young authors do by trying to put “far too much plot into one book.” This explains my confusion. Overall, this wasn’t a favorite of mine and it was just okay.


I was disappointed that one of my favorite go-to authors let me down. But to keep it in perspective, it was her first novel and there was plenty of room for improvement which we know she achieves throughout her career. We can’t always hit home runs, particularly early in our career.

I choose The Henna Artist next, as it had been on my TBR list for some time and in following along with exploring authors from other countries and cultures, I picked this novel next.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Henna Artist submerses the reader/listener into a colorful world of saffrons and cinnamons, her words making you smell the curry and cumin wafting in the air as you learn about Lakshmi and her world. Alka Joshi’s debut novel paints a vivid picture of 1950s India and the challenge for women, particularly in a world controlled by men.

The story focuses on the life of Lakshmi, a woman who has fled an abusive husband and reinvents herself to gain her independence. Life becomes more challenging for Lakshmi as her past catches up to her and threatens to unravel all she has worked so hard for.

Trigger warning: two themes that may disturb readers/listeners are abortion and infidelity

I like this book and highly recommend it to readers and listeners. Sneha Mathan does a magnificent job narrating the book and giving life to various characters.


I felt it was time to switch things up and I discovered that Audible has a fantastic series out called Words + Music. I actually listened to one of the first in the series with the James Taylor: Break Shot two years ago. Each one is about 90 minutes long and narrated by the musician. The Who is touring this summer and I have never seen them. I don’t plan to, my concert days are behind me. But I do enjoying sitting down and listening to the artist tell their stories about the music and their lives.

Somebody Saved Me by Pete Townshend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I enjoyed listening to Pete Townshend’s Somebody Saved Me; it felt like you were sitting in a room with Pete as some instruments surrounded him while he talked about his career. I have always liked The Who’s music so learning a bit about the man behind the music and some of the songs that I grew up with is always a treat. Fans of The Who will appreciate spending a couple of hours with Pete. Well done, Audible Originals – I hope there will be more memoirs like this produced where the musician can play their music as they are talking about it. I realize ASCAP/BMI prohibits that a lot, but it adds to the overall experience of listening to the tunes, like in this wonderful Audible Original with Pete Townshend.



I decided from there to revisit a genre that I hadn’t in a while – the world of fantasy. I am a fan of fantasy books and so going back to my trusty TBR list, I checked out the Fantasy collection and selected Piranesi which had been on my list since 2020.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Suzanna Clarke’s Piranesi is a story centered around the title character, a likable man in harmony with nature and his surroundings. I was struck by the feeling of having gone through the wardrobe ala C.S. Lewis and ending up in a world like the Eagle’s Hotel California. “Such a lovely place…There’s plenty of room at the Hotel California…You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
In the fantastical world in which Piranesi inhabits, the House is an ever-expanding one, filled with endless halls and marble statues, the ocean floods its basement, and the clouds engulf its top floors. The narration is mainly through Piranesi’s journals which he meticulously keeps, so we discover and untangle the mystery along with him. He is an engaging character whom I came to care about as I saw his patience and fortitude. I also keep journals, so I was amused at his indexing system and thought it somewhat clever. The few characters in the book add to the isolation of Piranesi’s world. The story is not just one of fantasy though but also one of dark mystery challenging the reader/listener.
Clarke borrows the name from the 18th-century artist, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, known for his etchings Carceri d’Invenzione, (Imaginary Prisons). It’s not essential to know this upon reading the story; however, it helps in being able to interpret the larger picture. There are multiple layers to this book, rich in imagery and symbolism; you’d probably see something you missed the first time in each reading.
I listened to the unabridged version from Bloomsbury Publishing on Audible which was wonderfully narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor. It’s a quick listen at 6 hours and 58 minutes. 4.5 stars

So far it had been a good month of listening. My dog needed surgery so I was stuck at the house for a couple of weeks since we were literally tethered to one another via a 6-foot leash the entire time. I made some headway reading Smile by Sarah Ruhl. I haven’t even touched There, There by Tommy Orange all month, as I was trying to finish Smile before moving on to another physical book. This month for my Literati club, I switched to the Atlas Obscura club and have added to the TBR List The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs. I love puzzles and games, so I could not miss the opportunity to read this book. Which I will – hopefully soon.

To close the month I went to another book which had been on my TBR list for about a year – Hamnet.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Hamnet is a story of a multigenerational family and their domestic life in late 16th century England, around the time of the Plague. Grief is a central theme explored. The story revolves around how the individual family members deal with their grief and how that grief affects their relationships within the family.

The narrator, Ell Potter, does a beautiful job with the lyrical prose of Maggie O’Farrell. I was somewhat disappointed in this book. I was expecting more after reading some of the initial reviews, which caused me to put it on my TBR list. I found myself initially very confused; knowing I was reading a fictional account of the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway; it was hard to recognize them. Anne is only referred to as Agnes, and William is barely mentioned by name. The title character, Hamnet and Hamlet, were interchangeable at that time. This, coupled with the multiple viewpoints which make up the narration, made things even more unclear.

However, somewhere three-quarters of the way in, maybe sooner, I became more invested in the characters and what they were experiencing. Hamnet is a story of a marriage and a family who endure life in a time when survival was at its most challenging; sacrificing themselves for others, surviving separation when it is necessary, and finding love can bring about the greatest heartbreak of all. This isn’t my favorite piece of historical fiction, but it was a good story in the end. 2.5 Stars

Oh, well – we can’t always pick winners. So where now will I turn my attention? I have a lot of things going on here. I am working on having my book published which is very exciting and a huge undertaking. I have my garden to finish planting and seeding for this season. There will also be plenty of weeding to do since it’s been raining here for the last few days and things are getting lush. I’ll need a good book to listen to as I weed, it makes that chore so much more enjoyable! I wish I had a wheel I could spin that contained all the names of the books on my TBR list that at a push of a button would spin and reveal the title of my next book to read or listen to. Sometimes I find selecting a book to be the biggest challenge of all.

Let me know what you are reading or listening to this summer. I am always looking for new titles to add to my ever-growing TBR list. Until next month, happy reading and listening, everyone!

April Reads and Listens

April was a full month where I was able to add four more books to the Read category getting closer to my goal of 58 books for the year. I am currently at 27 books completed. This month I read two fantastic books and two lesser so. I started the month off listening to The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. I saw the title on my Goodreads feed because a friend of mine had read and liked it; so I thought I would give it a try.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book and thought that it was a touching story about a catholic family and their ‘extraordinary” son, Sam. From the moment I started listening to the book, I was absorbed in the world of Sam, his parents, and his friends, Ernie and Mickey. Each character is well-developed and well-rounded and adds their own spark to the story.
This book is the story of a boy who spends his life being judged by appearance. Unfortunately, our society continues to look too much at the shell and not remember it’s what’s inside that makes us who we really are.
“Our skin, our hair, and our eyes are simply the shell that surrounds our soul, and our soul is who we are. What counts is on the inside.”
I highly recommend this book – it’s a great story that the author also narrates wonderfully as well.

I always find it difficult to follow up on a book that I have really liked. I tend to switch genres completely and often I will fall back on short stories. I decided to to go this route after having finished The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. I turned to a collection by one of my all-time favorite authors, Neil Gaiman.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version, which was only available through my audiobooks.com account, and it did not allow me to view the chapters at all if I wanted. The book starts with a long foreward by Gaiman, where he gives a little background about each story. To his credit, he mentions that the listener may want to jump ahead, but I decided to listen anyway. I’m not sure how far into the foreward I was when I started to think about jumping ahead to the stories, realizing that I would only be able to jump away in small 15-second increments. So I continued to listen.

The short stories in this collection range from chilling and scary to sad and sentimental, many of which had been published before. There are several homages to some literary influences of Gaiman’s from Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Case of Death and Honey’ to ‘The Man who forgot Ray Bradbury.’ Then there is the tribute to Doctor Who in the story ‘Nothing O’Clock,’ which I enjoyed despite never having seen any Doctor Who before. There is also a nob to David Bowie in ‘Kether and Malkuth’. The collection wraps up with a short story called ‘Black Dog,’ which features Shadow Moon, the protagonist from Gaiman’s American Gods novel.

‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains’
‘Nothing O’Clock’
‘Kether to Malkuth’
‘Orange’
‘A Calendar of Tales’
‘The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury’
‘An Invocation of Incuriosity’
‘The Case of Death and Honey’
‘Pearls’
‘Black Dog’

Overall, I liked this collection, but it was not one of my favorites, so I was also disappointed. I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s and a big fan of short stories, so I felt this collection fell short.

A good book for a long drive

I found myself wondering where to turn my attention next. I had a long 8-hour plus drive that I would have to contend with and I really needed to pick a good book for the drive. As I looked over my TBR list, I came across a book that I put on the list after having seen the book on my father’s coffee table last summer, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. I thought this might be a good pick since I could possibly talk about the book with my dad when I was visiting with him that weekend. The long drive down to Connecticut was to see my father and celebrate Greek Easter with my family whom I hadn’t seen since last July.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the moment I started listening to this book, I was sucked down the rabbit hole! This is the first book I have read of Kate Quinn’s and it will not be the last. The Rose Code is a masterful piece of historical fiction based around the real men and women Enigma code-breakers who worked at Bletchley Park in the English countryside during World War II.


The story revolves around three young women from different backgrounds called to Bletchley Park to serve their country by cracking codes and keeping secrets. Quinn didn’t write just one heroine but she wrote about three of them. Three strong women who I came to care very deeply about their story.


The narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, does a fantastic job of bringing to life all of the characters of which there are quite a few.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, mystery, and espionage stories.

How Do You Follow Up a 5 Star Book?

Twice in one month, I found myself having to figure out how to follow up a great book. So I pivoted to a book that I knew one of my nieces had read and thought from the cover it might be a good change of pace.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy this book and only managed to finish it because it was short, and I was waiting to see if there was a point or climax – which never came. The depression that the main character is dealing with is conveyed in the writing style, but the main character wasn’t someone you come to care about. I don’t enjoy books where the protagonist is a narcissist. I felt bad for and cared more about her friend, Reva. The only good thing about the book was the narrator, Julia Whelan, does a good job bringing the characters to life.

Not a great book to end the month, but not all books can be winners. The important thing is to keep on reading. Currently, I am reading Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl. I’ve been bad about reading my physical books lately because I have been painting, drawing, driving, and listening to my audiobooks. My Literati club books are piling up, with the latest one coming in There, There by Tommy Orange, which I am only 10 pages into. I didn’t mean to start it, but I began to peruse upon opening the box, which led me to read a bit.

There is also a stack 3 feet high ( I am not exaggerating) sitting on my file cabinet of books waiting to be read. I can’t help myself around books sometimes. I just love books. I remember the old days of hanging out in bookstores. I would spend hours in the stacks of books, particularly if they had cozy chairs and spaces for you to hang out and check out the selections more thoroughly. Those were the old days, though. Today I purchase books via my Literati book club or the Book of the Month Club or Amazon. There was a small independent bookstore in my old hometown that I would frequent, but there isn’t one near me where I live now. Now I share the books I have read with my community via the Marleywood Little Free Library, where I am the steward.

If you have any book recommendations, please leave me a comment. I am always looking for new book ideas. Happy reading.

March Reads and Listens

This month I took a small break from listening to audiobooks for a few days. I needed to step back for a bit since I had been on such a roll. I tried to make more headway in the physical reading of my Literati book club books: Smile by Sarah Ruhl and Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I’m on page 60 of Smile, unfortunately. I need to schedule my reading time better – I always leave it until bedtime, which only allows me a few minutes before my eyelids are too heavy to feel open. Luckily the chapters are short, so I have been able to knock off one or two at a time. Four Thousand Weeks – the title alone intimidating.

When I returned to listening to my audiobook library, I decided to one of the longest titles that had been on my TBR List – The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was 21 hours and 43 minutes.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Signature of All Things explores the mysteries and wonders of the world through its rich characters, Henry and Alma Whittaker, both figuratively and literally. Elizabeth Gilbert’s epic story spans 80 years, two generations and takes the reader on adventures around the world.
Henry Whittaker’s rags-to-riches story starts in the orchards of Kew Gardens and leads the reader along for his adventure aboard the HMS Resolution with Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore. I was intrigued by all the history woven into this fantastic story and want to read more. The characters are full of depth. Henry is a force to be reckoned with, and I believe it was necessary to share as much about Henry and his story as Gilbert did to get the full scope of Alma’s character.

The bulk of the story is all Alma’s story, Henry’s firstborn and only biological child. Seeing Alma through Henry’s eyes gives the reader an intimate familial perspective of our heroine. Born in January 1800, the reader follows Alma through 8 decades of her lifetime. We are with her for the peaks and valleys, the unexpected detours, and the most intimate moments of her life. We learn about Alma slowly and closely, mimicking the way Alma learns about and studies her mosses. Alma is a fictional amalgamation of real-life women that Gilbert researched thoroughly for her story. Women such as Mary Treat, an expert on carnivorous plants who corresponded with Darwin, and Elizabeth Knight Britton, a respected moss expert who founded the New York Botanical Gardens with her husband. And Marianne North, who was a beautiful illustrator and botanist. These are just some of the 19th-century women whom Elizabeth Gilbert researched and used as such a solid foundation for building into her character in Alma.

I was intrigued by so many parts of this incredible story. I listened to this masterful piece of literature, and the narrator, Juliet Stevenson, is excellent. I understand the print edition includes beautiful illustrations, which I was sorry to learn were not included as a separate .pdf file for audiobook listeners.

However, I can see how this book may not be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s long, and some people aren’t capable of taking the time to share someone else’s story in such detail. I enjoyed every little detail and don’t think that Gilbert could have taken any part of this story out and been able to tell the whole story. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction.

I wrapped up the month with a short listen after having come off of my previous long listen. My son had asked me to check out The Doors of Perception a few years ago and I was finally in the right mood for it.

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Doors of Perception, initially published in 1954, is a day in the life memoir of Aldous Huxley recounting his first experience with a psychodelic drug, mescaline, aka peyote.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
– William Blake

Heavily influenced by Blake, Huxley borrows the phrase ‘doors of perception’ for the title of his book.


I laughed along with Huxley during certain parts of his trip as memories of my own experiences on psychedelics were brought to mind. What’s impressive is that those memories are as vivid today as 40 years ago. Since I am familiar with psychedelics, I thought Huxley’s initial encounter with mescaline gives the reader a decent impression of what it is like to have a psychedelic experience.

He reflects on his experience recognizing that “for the moment the interfering neurotic who, in waking hours, tries to run the show, was blessedly out of the way.” His observations into his experiences on that day gave him a different perspective of the intimate world around him, the everyday objects such as a vase of flowers or the folds in his trousers.

Humankind’s search for enlightenment or transcendence to some spiritual awakening has been entwined with our beings for centuries. H.G Well’s called this The Door In the Wall, which Huxley refers to many times in the text.

I found this to be an interesting book and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Huxley’s or psychedelic fiction or anyone curious to experience what someone could be experiencing under a psychedelic drug.

I listened to the Audible version narrated by Rudolph Schirmer and was a quick listen at 2 hours, 16 minutes.



View all my reviews

The Importance of Soil

This past year, as part of our journey into meditation and living a more mindful life, Mark and I began listening to talks and lectures covering topics about Buddhism, Taoism, spirituality… The app Insight Timer which is our go-to app for all things mediations also has a number of courses and talks. The talks vary in length depending on topic and teachers- some as short as 4 minutes long, others over an hour.

One of the teachers we follow is Sadhguru. Sadhguru and the Isha Foundation are dedicated to raising human consciousness and fostering global harmony through individual transformation. Sadhguru (Jagadish “Jaggi” Vasudev) started teaching yoga in southern India in 1982. He established the Isha Foundation ten years later. According to their website as part of their mission, “the foundation offers a variety of programs that provide methods for anyone to attain physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Its offerings allow participants to deepen their experience of life, and reach their ultimate potential.”

Sadhguru gives great talks – he has a wonderful sense of humor which you don’t expect from an Indian yogi. “Stop Limiting Life’s Possibility”, A Crash Course to Become More Receptive”, Enjoy the Creation” and “Inner Engineering” are just a few of the wonderful talks he has on Insight Timer. It was Mark who always does the deep diving and found Sadhguru’s website which introduced us to the Isha Foundation and his other projects.

Specifically, my ears perked up when I started to hear him discuss the importance of soil. I was a research analyst who covered the agribusiness and water sectors in another lifetime. During this time, I first learned about the importance of our soil and how our global soil is in trouble. Soil degradation is not just a problem that Americans face but also a worldwide issue.  So when I heard Sadhguru talking about it, I was intrigued.

Save Soil – Conscious Planet is a global movement launched by Sadhguru to save soil from extinction, and bring the necessary policies to address the catastrophic issue facing humanity.

This movement has garnered support from global leaders including Marc Benioff, Jane Goodall, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and institutions such as United Nations – Convention to Combat Desertification, World Economic Forum, World Food Programme, Food & Agriculture Organization of United Nations.”

#Savesoil

Yesterday was the first day of spring! A day that everybody starts to look at the ground more in anticipation of the arrival of the beautiful colorful flowers which grace our earth. Others are testing their soil and preparing their beds for planting.

Sadhguru began a quest to bring more awareness to people about the importance of our earth’s soil. Yesterday he embarked on a 100-day journey from the United Kingdom to India. 26 countries, 30,000 kilometers on his motorcycle. Sadhguru has worked for two decades to bring awareness to this soil crisis.

In 2004 he started the Project GreenHands initiative which resulted in 35 million saplings being planted over the years. They even hold the Guinness World Record for most saplings planted in a day. 6,284 trees were planted across 27 districts in Tamil Nadu, India in 2006. During the three day event, 852,587 trees were planted.

Too many people don’t fully comprehend why it is imperative to focus our attention on the global soil crisis. Sadhguru continues his mission to raise conscious awareness of the importance of our soil so that there will be nutritional soil to grow food for generations to come.

He has asked people to help him raise awareness about the soil crisis by talking about it or with your friends and family in person or on social media. I join this him in this mission – I have understood the importance of our soil for decades and have been frustrated with how our world seems to take it for granted.

When Mark and I ran our business, Homegrown Harvest, we started it to help to make it easier for people to grow some of their own food. We taught people about the quality of their soil and how commercial agriculture has decimated our farmlands with chemicals, over-fertilization, mono-cropping, and destroying the microbial organisms with heavy machinery.

I gave many talks at local libraries and clubs to help educate people about the degradation of our farmlands, encouraging people to grow some of their own food so that they will be able to increase the nutritional quality of what they eat by planting in healthy soil.

We also made it a point to teach people to be gentler with their soil and not use root-tillers that destroy the microbial organisms which are so important to good soil.

Awareness is just one step in the right direction; however, I feel that everyone can make an effort towards saving our soil each day, simply by composting their food waste. Landfills are one of the largest anthropogenic sources of the methane gas produced by this world. Food waste is about 22% of what ends up in landfills and it can not organically decompose which results in the output of methane gas. Composting food waste would keep food waste out of landfills and would nutritionally benefit the environment’s soil.

Another way that people can make a difference is by helping to plant more trees. Today is International Day of Forests, a day in which we should reflect on the importance of our global forests. Trees are a crucial ingredient in helping our lands maintain healthy soil. Their roots help maintain the soil structure, helping to reduce erosion. Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s article How Trees Make A Difference to learn more.

A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation

A little over a year ago my mother died and about a year ago I started a new habit of daily meditation. After my mother’s death, I felt untethered and my mind was overwhelmed with emotions, feeling, questions and thoughts. I needed to regain some control. There are so many things in life that we can’t control. When I get upset, I clean. It’s the one thing I can control when things seem to be spiraling out of control.

I write in a journal on a daily basis and have for well over a decade and have diaries that date back to 1980! Writing is a form of meditation for me – a download of thoughts and emotions. I found this to be incredibly helpful for me to proceed with my days having dumped out whatever was on my mind earlier that morning on paper. Unlike right now where I am typing this article directly into my computer; my diary is handwritten. I love the feeling of pen to paper. I find that therapeutic in of itself. However, I needed some tools in my tool belt to be able to help calm me down sometimes for when sitting down with pen and paper is not an option.

Many years ago when my life was spiraling out of control, I started having panic attacks. So I turned to meditation. I started a little each morning here and there. That was about 7 years ago now. I had been meditating on and off for many years but never every day as I have in the last 346 consecutive days (and counting). I have meditated 577 days using my Insight Timer app over the course of all those years.

I like the Insight Timer app since you can learn to meditate through the app which offers a wide range of guided meditations of varying lengths and focuses. I have listened to a number of talks and lectures about Buddhism, Taoism and more. I have used their app at bedtime at times when I need a guided meditation to help me drop off to sleep. They even have bedtime tales you can choose from – one night I fell asleep to The Velveteen Rabbit read to me. By the way, I don’t get anything from them to talk about them. I just really have enjoyed using their app.

I enjoy the way Insight Timer is set up allowing for searching by topics such as Affirmations, Chakras, Mantra, Mindfulness, Pranayama, Vipassana, Walking Mediations and Zen. Both Zazen and Kōan. If you want to use their timer feature to create your own customized meditation timer with the ability to use starting, interim and ending bells, chimes, gongs, or nothing at all. You can set background music or sounds or mediate in silence. You set the time and can save your presets. They make everything quite easy for you.

You can also save your favorites and can follow teachers that you like. They encourage you to donate to the teachers and make that easy for you to do charging it to your Apple Pay account. The teachers are from all over the world.

After so long by far one of our favorite teachers has become DavidJi from Los Angeles, CA. He offers a number of courses and we have taken three of the four of them that he offers on the Insight Timer. Mark and I dove into The 40 Days of Transformation where he guided us through meditations, intention setting, yoga philosophy, pranayama and so much more.

We were hooked after completing the forty days and followed it up with his course 30 Day Journey to Rebirth. We have also done his Awaken The Sacred Power of Shakti this year and plan on taking The Healing Sessions: Freeing Your Soul Through The Second Meditation of the Day.

Early on, we took the Masterclass –Mindfulness and Meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn. This was an extremely helpful class to take which broke down a lot of questions that we had about mediation and ways to do it, what it was all about, etc… Soon after finishing that class I bought Mark and I both proper mediation cushions and pillows to ensure that, as David Ji says “Comfort is Queen and feather your nest” so that you can be still during your mediation practice. It’s amazing the difference the right set up can make which will allow me to sit still and “drop in” to meditation for 30 minutes or more. Sometimes without moving at all. Other times, I may have to stretch a leg to regain circulation.

I have found that this new habit is addictive and I will do what I need to protect my precious time to sit on the cushion, although sometimes I will be laying down, using on my acupressure mat or on some ice packs for the time. It has opened a door up to so many other doors. Mark and I find ourselves exploring Buddhism, Taoism, Collective Consciousness just to begin with.

I have learned a few things about myself and what I am capable of. I have found that I have a calmness within that I am able to tap into when things around me start to get crazy. Mark and I have started to introduce Tai Chi into our lives. Although it is not a daily practice yet but that is our goal to incorporate it into our daily practice. I look forward to this continued journey of discovery.

Namaste.

February Reads & Listens

For such a short month, I packed in quite a few reads and listens. I started the month finally finishing the January Literati Club selection, We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider. There are a scattering of his signature cartoons throughout the book which is a collection of essays.

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I struggled reading this book at first, perhaps it was just the first couple of stories that I didn’t find interesting or relatable or just juvenile in a way. However, as I kept on read, that changed when I read the line,”What dooms our best efforts to cultivate empathy and compassion is always, of course, other people.” Okay, maybe I can relate to Tim Kreider more than I thought. Then I read “you’d think that given our shared loathing for the Wall/K Street oligarchy that’s running this country like a Ponzi scheme we’d be able to put aside our brand loyalties…” I saw someone put into words so spot on describing how our government runs our country.


I enjoyed reading this book , overall, some essays more than others but it’s a good read which is sad, honest, sometimes brutally so, but truly funny. 228 pages.

I stated the month off with a selection from my historical fiction section f my TBR List and dove into What The Wind Knows by Amy Harmon.

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I think fans of historical fiction with a time travel twist will enjoy this as much as I did. It’s a skilled author who can write a tale that transports not only the main character but the reader into believing they have been transported back in time and Amy Harmon does just that.

I was fascinated by the Irish history which I admit to knowing little about the country’s struggle for independence, but knew of some of the names. I found myself looking up some of the Easter Rising and some of the key players mentioned in between listening to the book and can see reading more. Although I was never one for poetry the way that W.B. Yeats’ poetry is woven into the text lowered the bar in my understanding his words which set alone, I would be more effective translating a language I have never seen before. But it adds and was so fitting to include.

This is a romantic novel and I am not one to be drawn to romance, but this book is neither too saturated in sex, although there is some, nor is it to sappy in it’s love story but just the right balance to make you see the love. I also found many times to be laughing or smiling to myself in listening to the story, particularly in the parts where Anne compares our modern day luxuries that she no longer has in 1916.

The narrators Saskia Maarleveld, Will Damron do a fantastic job.
All is in all, I highly recommend this book and now I want to read more of Amy Harmon’s books. The Audible Audiobook is 12 hours, 24 minutes long.

Having been intrigued by the mythology within What They Wind Knows I decided to check out Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology next.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing and I am an a mythology enthusiasts, so I really enjoyed listening to Norse Mythology. Gaiman’s writing is so clever and humorous and he is such a great storyteller infusing new life into these old myths. The only thing that makes this better is that Neil Gaiman is the narrator which makes the illusion of him telling you a story all the more real! The Audible Audiobook is 6 hours, 29 minutes.

With everything going on in the world today and the younger generation having no attention span whatsoever. I decided that this month I was ready to tackle the Ready Player One Series. I had a bedroom to paint and wanted something that would keep me focused while I painted. I had seen the movie Ready Player One a long time ago but since the second book came out in 2021, I decided I wanted to read the first book and then read the new book.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I loved this book! But I grew up in the 80s, so listening to this book was like reminiscing about my teen years. Ernest Cline creates a fantastic world of the future 2044 and reality is a nasty place to live so many escape to the Oasis, a virtual reality world where you can be any avatar you choose and experience things in augmented reality.

I decided to listen to this book, originally published in 2011 since Cline just came out with the sequel in 2021 so I wanted to listen to the two books back to back. I enjoyed the movie a long time ago produced by Spielberg so I wanted to check out the book.

I’m not a gamer, nor am I a programmer but thought that Cline captured the essence of someone who can become so absorbed in the gaming and computer programming world. It’s a dystopian view of the future having seen what social networking has done to some people coupled with recent announcements about the Metaverse being developed by tech giants Facebook, excuse me, META, Microsoft, Nvidia, and others, Cline’s OASIS doesn’t seem so far off from reality these days.

The protagonist is an atheist and that may bother some people, however, it did not bother me. I read some reviews where people were really put off by this. I also read so reviews that some people purchased this book for their children to listen to, probably because they simply were naive enough to think its a book about a bunch of nerds and gamers. This is not a book for 9 year olds but it is a great book for high school aged kids and above.

Ultimately I believe this book is about the importance of human interaction – face to face interaction and how important that is to have in our world. I liked Will Wheaton as the narrator, he seemed a perfect choice to me. I give this book a 4.5 rating. The Audible Audiobook is 15 hours, 40 minutes.

My next selection was based off of a recommendation by my sister, Daphne. She raved about The Power of Neuroplasticity by Shad Helmstetter. She said it had helped her “have the power to change [her] program (how [she] think[s]) from negative/ catastrophizing to positivity and productivity.  So I had to check it out for myself. I actually listened to this book at the same time – not actually at the same time but during the same time period that I was listening to Ready Player Two.

The Power of Neuroplasticity by Shad Helmstetter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a must listen to for everyone! Shad Helmstetter breaks down some pretty scientific stuff in an easy and understandable way – uncomplicating the complex. He gives the listener/reader the keys which they always held to unlock the endless possibilities to change their lives.

Helmstetter reinforces the evidence that how and what we think and tell ourselves matters greatly. I highly recommend to those who feel like they are stuck in a rut or have no ability to change their daily lives for the better. The Audible audiobook is 6 hours and 18 minutes long and narrated by Douglas Martin

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I was disappointed in this book overall. I was a huge fan of Ready Player One but all the originality that was in that book – was missing from this book. There are some themes in the book which are worthy of exploring like man’s obsession with immortality and man playing God but they seemed to get lost. I was also particularly disappointed to see that much of the story had been ripped from a popular Japanese novel series called Sword Art Online. So much so that the author admits to this within the novel. I also found there is a lot of virtue signaling in this book.

Fans of Prince may have fun going down that rabbit hole. I have to wonder whether Prince’s Estate has already authorized usage of his music and likeness since it would be impossible to make the movie version of this book without it.
Although I am a fan of Tolkien – I haven’t read The Silmarillion and thought a lot of the references so obscure they were difficult to follow.

Wil Wheaton was the narrator and I didn’t really feel like he added much to the performance, he’s a a little monotone but I since the main character Wade is the narrator of the story, I imagine Wade to be a little monotone too. The Audible Audiobook is 13 hours, 46 minutes.

Once I I had emerged from the cyberspace rabbit hole of the OASIS and the world Ernest Cline foresees, I did an about face. I wanted something short and I also wanted to continue to work on my ever growing TBR list. I started this book actually initially in 2016 on my Kindle.

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this book to be interesting more as a writer who would potentially be writing stories which strong female characters, but many women look it as a helpful guide in their own personal lives. Perhaps I am one of the wild woman since a lot of what I thought she said was simple common sense.


I found listening to most of this reminiscent of listening to a professor lecture in college – just going on and on because they like the sound of their own voice. The only part I really enjoyed was listening to the old fairy tales and myths – then it was a treat to listen to the soothing and skilled story-telling voice of author, Clarissa Estés.


I was surprised by all the very high ratings and reviews for this book. I think it really depend on the type of person you are which will dictate how much you like the book or consider it ground-breaking and life changing. I found it to be neither.
The Audible Audiobook is 2 hours, 18 minutes.

After listening to that lecture-like book, I wanted something that I could depend on. My last couple of books were rather disappointing. I always find that turning to the short story collections can be a good way to turn things around and once again I was not disappointed.

Selected Shorts: American Classics by Amy Tan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a fantastic collection of short stories by some of America’s greatest writers. The Audible Audiobook is 3 hours, 45 minutes.

Amy Tan’s “Rules of the Game”, performed by Freda Foh Shen. 4.5 stars – I loved this story about a young Chinese girl who becomes a chess prodigy. The relationship which Amy Tan depicts between the strict mother and her young daughter is priceless!

Donald Barthelme’s “Game”, performed by David Strathairn. 4.5 – Wow! A humorous look at what would happen when two people are left in the nuclear bunker for too long.

Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”, performed by Stockard Channing. 4 – Funny story about family and getting away from them

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” performed by René Auberjonois. 4.5 – Classic Poe masterpiece.

Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” performed by Christine Baranski. 4
-Creepy and disturbing – really well written – 4.5

John Sayles’ “At the Anarchists’ Convention”, performed by Jerry Stiller. – Humorous 4

Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, performed by Carmen de Lavallade. 4
-A glimpse of how siblings look at family treasures differently

John Cheever’s “Christmas Is a Sad Season for the Poor”, performed by Malachy McCourt. 4
-Funny story about the kindness people have towards each other at Christmas.

February Wrap Up

Besides these eight books which I seemed to have plowed through this month. I also listened to the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu – A New English Version read by its translator Stephen Mitchell. I have been meditating every day now for almost a year. In that time, I have also been listening to different lectures and talks about Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity. I have been listening to The Bible in A Year podcast since I never read the Bible fully and thought it would be interesting to do. I started on that journey in 2021 actually, so for me it will most likely be The Bible in Two Years, possibly Three. Listening to the Tao Te Ching for me was simply an exercise in learning the teachings of Lao Tzu. At the time I was listening I was also drawing zentangle patterns. In short, drawing zentangles a form of artistic meditation so it was the perfect companion to listen to as I drew. I purposely chose not to rate or review the Tao Te Ching, nor the Taming The Tiger Within by Thich Nhat Hanh which I also listened to shortly learning of his death. Except that I will say that it was enough to spark a curiosity to further read more of his writing in the future.

February may have been the shortest month of the year but I managed to make it a productive one bringing my total books read this year so far up to 19. My ultimate goal on Goodreads is 58, so I am 33% of the way to my ultimate goal. I am backlogged with actual physical hard copies of my Literati book club books right now. Currently still reading Smile: The Story of A Face by Sarah Ruhl and then there is the next book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. That one could come in handy as far as being able to make time for actual reading.

The problem is I get tired at night when I usually read which makes finishing impossible. I have been writing, actually editing the book I have been working on writing and hoping to get it to the stage of actually submitting to a publisher. I also was painting my bedroom last month which is why I was able to go down the rabbit hole of the Ready Player One Series (One and Two) and stay down there while I painted away the old paint which was on the walls since before I moved here 6 years ago! Yes, I have been living in the previous owners paint and carpets until last month. I always had plans to change things but other things were more important and it wasn’t that horrible until after the last two years which everyone – my kids, that is – back in my house for more months than we have lived together in 8 years. I needed a clean slate. It took 6 months from the time I ordered them – not a special order or anything – to the time they were installed. Currently I am painting another room in the house which had terra cotta colored walls. I put the first coat of primer down yesterday while listening to my current audiobook, Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. I’m only a few hours into this epic 21 hour and 43 minute book, so perhaps I’ll be able to complete the room and the book around the same time.

Until next month, I hope you enjoyed my review. View all my reviews.

Happy Reading!

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.

Charles W. Eliot



January 2022 Reads and Listens

At the start the year, I pledged on my Goodreads Reading Challenge 58 books, one more than last year and I am turning 58 later this year. I have to admit, I hated seeing the 0 books Read This Year on the first day of January. Then just few days in to the new year, the Goodreads site not only said I had read 0 books for the year so far but I was behind! WTF?! I was no even a full week into 2022 and I am behind already?! Ugh, well after quickly doing the math in my head 52 weeks in a year and here I shot away the first week and I hadn’t finished a book yet.

The first book that I started 2022 was based off a recommendation by my other half, Mark. He knows that I love books about dogs, fantasy and mystery – so he recommended Devoted by Dean Koontz. I knew of Koontz, seen his name many times and he was one of the author’s recommended in one of my Masterclass’s on writing – although I don’t recall which class specifically. If I had to guess it was the writing class with Robert Patterson, but it could have been Atwood’s or Gaiman’s class too or also.

Devoted by Dean Koontz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


So this was the first Dean Koontz book I have ever read or listened to. That said I am a big fan of books that incorporate dogs and are about dogs, as I am a big fan of dogs and have had and have many dogs in my life.


This book felt a little too cookie cutter for me. The characters all seemed a little too cliche in many ways and weren’t as well developed – with the exception of Kip, the dog. There are a supernatural aspect to the story with the dogs and the “wire” which I found to be more believable than some of the other things in the book, which I won’t mention since I don’t want to give anything away.


It’s a light sort of book, so if you are interested in something like that it’s entertaining enough, particularly if you are a fan of dogs; but not necessarily Dean Koontz’s other books, as I have seen from other reviews, his fans were disappointed in this book.

After being a bit disappointed with my start to the new year and already being a bit behind but not as much, I decided to listen to a quickie. A quickie being a book or story that is under 2 hours long. I went with Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk.

I’ve been getting into to story stories and novellas more recently – finding they balance some of the longer books out nicely. I took Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass a few years ago and I enjoy his books and stories very much. I find he is a great storyteller, which is quite a skill. I didn’t write a review on Goodreads when I finished it – not sure why, but I quickly gave it 3 stars out of 5 – the Goodreads rating for I liked it.

I next decided to dive into a novel which has been sitting on my TBR list for a number of years. One of the suggestions in the PopSugar 2022 Challenge and many other reading challenges is to read a book that has been sitting on your list for a long time. In my case, the book was The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – it had been on my list since 2016.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have tears in my eyes as I have just finished listening this incredibly beautiful book. Names are powerful – and this book captures the power that comes with your name. What a terrific story – so many depths to this story and very well executed. Very touching writing, I cried a few times during this book – I will miss spending time with the Ganguli family. Jhumpa Lahrai wrote such wonderful characters in Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli, telling their story as much as the story of Gogol their son. The reader is transported from Calcutta, India to Cambridge, MA and back again. I enjoyed, as I said earlier spending time with Ganguli family – Lahiri’s descriptions of their family life painted such a vivid picture that I felt like I was one of their guests at times. You could just smell Ashram’s cooking!


The narrator, Sarita Choudhury, has a beautiful voice – I would listen to her read a grocery list and it be soothing! I absolutely loved this book and am very sad that it over.

I always find it so hard to follow up a book that I loved and enjoyed so much. It can be a tough act to follow, so I decided to go back to short stories and started Selected Shorts; New American Stories, mainly picking this particular collection since I saw that Jhumpa Lahiri had a story in the collection.

Selected Shorts: New American Stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to tackle this collection after having read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri which I loved, I wanted to hear a little more from her and was thrilled that she had a story within this collection. This is a terrific collection of short stories by four amazing writers of today. Each with their own perspective of life in America. All the stories were so interesting – humorous mixed with some heavy topics as well – finely balanced making the stories stage out all the more.I am looking forward to reading more from all of these authors.

I love finding out about authors that I was previously unaware of through these collections of short stories – I highly recommend this to anyone who interested in a quick listen to solid collection of stories.

Chap 1. Good Living by Aleksandar Hemon
Chap 2. Hell Heaven by Jhumpa Lahiri
Chap 3. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngoni Adiche
Chap 4.Breaking & Entering by Sherman Alexie


Three weeks into the new year and I had already listened to a some wonderful and not so wonderful books and stories. I decided to go back to novels that had been on my TBR list a long time and settled on one by Sue Monk Kidd.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This isn’t the first book of Sue Monk Kidd’s that I have read and it won’t be my last. She is so thorough in her research of a subject that she is able to capture its essence and deliver it on the paper in the form of well crafted characters and plots.


As Sue Monk Kidd explains in her author’s note that it was her desire to write a story revolving around two sisters and the universe lead her to learn about Sarah Grimke and her younger sister, Angelina and what a story she wrote! The first of the two narrators, Sarah Grimke, is the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner and judge. Sarah is not fictional and was one of the early abolitionists and women’s right activists.


The stories of Charlotte and Handful are a gut-wrenching reminder of a very ugly part of our history and are told by Handful, a young slave girl given to Sarah as a birthday gift on her 11th birthday. The story spans 35 years of their lives from childhood well into their adulthood. Kidd includes the good, the bad and the ugly, other its in the situation or in her characters – making the reader care deeply for them.
I highly recommend 4.5

As I said earlier, it is so hard to follow a fantastic story – so I pivoted in my listening pleasures and listening to another quickie.

Lying by Sam Harris

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Although I find the subject very interesting – I found this book – although it’s really an essay to be dry. Sam Harris didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know but much of what he says in the book is common sense. Unfortunately society has gotten to a point where there are so many lies that it’s hard to figure out the truth. I wish the book could have been more in depth in some ways.
A super quick read or listen on an interesting subject.

Time to pivot again. Cue Ross and his couch.

I was worried to go into another novel since I had been so fortunate to have already listened to two awesome books this month with The Namesake and The Invention of Wings. Now what? So I looked to my gallery of musician’s memoirs and decided to listen to Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I enjoyed listening to Dave Grohl talk about how he got to where he is. Dave is a natural storyteller and he tells the stories behind how he found himself in bands such as Scream, Nirvana, Foo Fighters as if he were sitting in your living room smoking a joint, tossing back a few drinks and reminiscing. You could tell he would love to have included the music as well, when he discussed certain things – but due to the expense they would have to pay for the licensing, so that didn’t happen.
It’s something that would add so much to the musicians’ memoirs, so I found myself pausing and going over to Apple Music or YouTube to listen to the song or video Dave was referring. I have always been a fan of both Nirvana and Foo Fighters and so when I saw this book, I was curious enough to listen and I am glad I did.
I love learning more about the stories behind the musicians who I love to listen to. Learning about who influenced them directly from them. If you enjoy the music, you will enjoy listening to The Storyteller.

And since I started this next book in January and just finished it earlier today – I’ll include it in the January Reads & Listens. Again, in my attempts to chip away at my TBR list and I opted to pick one of the newer names on the list – This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I had no idea what this book was about when I started and I am glad that I went in so blind, I may not have read it otherwise. Laurie Frankel tells a story about a family who is faced with navigating the deep and dangerous waters of having a son who struggles with gender-identity. A difficult and complex issue for any family to deal with and something any family could find themselves faced with, is something that I thing Frankel conveys in her portrait of the Rosie and Penn’s family.

What I didn’t find myself buying was the fairytale aspect of the story which somewhat mimics the fairytale that Penn tells his children . The story wrapped up a little too neatly and fairy tale-like, which seems contrary to the way I imagine the real story for families that are struggling with this issue.

What I feel Frankel does well is show you how a family holding one family members secret affects the entire family’s lives, siblings, parents and of course the individual whose secret the family is protecting.


In reviewing the month’s selection of books I am struck by a few themes that came up in a good many of the selections: The importance of a name and what comes along with a name. I saw this obviously in The Namesake, but also in Dave Grohl’s The Story Teller, and Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is. It’s even seen in The Invention of Wings. Storytelling seems to also be a common theme – Dave Grohl’s book of course, but the stories that are told and passed down with the quilts in The Invention of Wings and the fairy tale within This is How It Always Is. And of course, Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk is a story being told by the narrator to his children. Lastly, there is the common thread of stories about family which most, including some of the short stories.

View all my reviews

For my January Literati Club book, I am reading We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider. I am currently on page 131. I also read – sort of – Zentangle PRIMER Vol. 1 by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. I plan to write a review but will do so in a separate post.

As the new month begins, I am 9 books into the new year and 4 ahead of schedule. I like being ahead of schedule and considering I am over 60% in to Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing, I’m feeling really good about where I am in my reading goals. Now just to figure out what to read next.