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.



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