September Reads & Listens

I am amazed how quickly summer came and went and yet still parts crawled by. As I am still dealing with things which started earlier this summer, I can’t help but think that all the reading and listening I have been doing has helped time to march along. Certainly my book club selections have opened whole new worlds to me for which I am grateful to escape into as do my audiobook selections. September was a month filled with some wonderful selections, all very different from the next!

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The influences of H.G. Wells, Agatha Christie, and the writers of Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, can be seen throughout Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. The English countryside setting is straight out of a Hercule Poirot mystery. Blackheath is the remote country estate of the wealthy Hardcastle family, who are throwing a party for their daughter, Evelyn, on the anniversary of their son’s murder. Family can be so twisted. The guests that have all been summoned were also present all those years ago, the night of the murder, except one. One guest, the narrator/protagonist, decided to come to Blackheath because he wanted to be there. This complex novel is further complicated by deliberately confusing the protagonist from the beginning.

Are people whom they appear to be? A question for the ages, and it’s presented rather cleverly. There is a large cast of characters to keep straight as we figure out the mystery. This gets tricky since we learn about many of them as the protagonist jumps from body to body, day by day. Each time he jumps, he has no recollection of who he is and what he learned about the murder when he was in the other bodies. So, there is a lot to keep straight.

Can people change given a chance to relive their mistakes? Would they repeat them, ever learn from them? Like the classic 1983 comedy Groundhog Day, Turton has turned this question into a darker story at Blackheath. An essential element of the story which some might find triggering is suicide.
Overall, I liked the book; but being so confused for so long throughout made following along challenging. The audiobook is 17 hours and 4 minutes long and narrated by James Cameron Stewart.

Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect when my August Literati book from Cheryl Stray’s Wild Reads arrived last month. Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow sounded like a potentially scary memoir. In ways, Chow was haunted by images of her mother’s “taxidermic self,” picturing what her mother would be doing in situations after her death from cancer. They shared a fascination with death – a subject that many find uncomfortable to discuss, but Chow discussed freely with her mother. Like many memoirs, she talks about family, loss, love, and grief, but the book goes far beyond exploring the process of her loss and grief. The mother-daughter initial focus of the story is just part of the larger story.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this book to be an intimate and poignant narrative about three generations of Chow’s Chinese American family and how we are not just affected by death but how we can grow from it. Chow delves into her family’s history through her father’s plight to reunite the remains of his parents. Her extensive research of political and historical events shows how they directly altered the lives of her ancestors and millions of Chinese. She touches upon her struggle with trying to learn Cantonese, the language of her ancestors and mother, and how essential pieces are lost in assimilating with the American culture. She shares the rituals she learned from her mother as a child, not realizing their importance until later in life(like many of us). She uses humor effectively in demonstrating the absurdities life will throw at you in the worst of times. Her story is raw in places, making you feel as if you are reading her diary, as Chow processes her grief as she writes.

A great read and relatable in many ways, which surprised me a bit. I am a second-generation Greek American struggling to learn Greek via an app. I know and have seen how as time ticks by, cultural traditions are lost or fade and how the yearning to be able to speak the language of your grandparents makes you feel closer to them. Even if you never met them. Chow’s memoir Seeing Ghosts pays homage to her ancestors and her culture. At the very core, this book is about family and the relationships within a family, a story that almost everyone can relate to on some level.

Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started listening to the Random House Audio version of Carrie Soto is Back on the last day of the 2022 US Open. Serena William, age 40, had played and lost her final match before retiring, and 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz from Spain had just won the men’s singles title. I had forgotten how thrilling it is to witness athletes play at such a high and admirable level of physical skill and mental acuity.

Taylor Jenkins Reid captures the excitement of the rhythm of the game, the highs, the lows, the give and take. She shows how the best players can defeat themselves on the court if they get too much into their own heads. But Carrie Soto is Back goes well beyond being a story about tennis or the mindset of an aging athlete coming out of retirement. It’s a story about commitment, love, grief, and personal growth.

As I stated earlier, I listened to the audiobook, which had a cast of narrators – twelve exactly. Several narrators are the tennis commentators discussing the matches, which helps move the narration along. I couldn’t help but think about the 2004 film Wimbledon with Kirstin Dunst and Paul Bettany – which I loved – and the first part of the book Carrie Soto reminded me of. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a tennis fan for sure, but you don’t have to know or understand tennis to enjoy a great story about a family.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you enjoy historical fiction, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
If you enjoy words and are interested in their history, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
If you enjoy reading stories with good character development, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
If you enjoy reading stories about family, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
And if you enjoy reading stories about love, I highly recommend reading The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Pip William wrote a masterpiece. Her thorough research about the times surrounding the period in which the words were compiled and published in the first edition of the Oxford-English Dictionary allowed Williams to create a vivid and accurate historical backdrop for the reader to follow Esme grow up in an ever-changing world. I enjoyed every moment of this book and was delighted with how Williams focused on certain provocative words to make a point about how words can be ‘lost’ depending on who oversees the editing. Narrator Pippa Bennett-Warner does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life.


View all my reviews

I am currently 51 books into my goal of 58 books for this reads Goodreads Reading Challenge. Now that I have completed 88% of my goal with still ninety-one days left of 2022, I am excited to have the luxury of some time in case I opt to pick one of the longer books on my TBR list. There are some of the classics which I would like to listen to such as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo or The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. But at 57 hours and 48 minutes and 52 hours, 41 minutes respectively these selections make Dicken’s David Copperfield or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina at 36 hours, 30 minutes and 35 hours, 35 minutes look more doable. The longest book I have listened to so far is A Little Life by  Hanya Yanagihara at 32 hours, 51 minutes; so I know I could get through something so long, as long as it’s a good story.

Happy reading and listening everyone!


“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

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!

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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