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!

My Audiobook Club – August/September

The last days of summer were crazy busy for me. We’ve been getting all the wood cut, split and stacked for our wood furnace which we use primarily for our winter heat. Later this morning we will go out and do four more gator loads which we estimate will complete filling our woodshed, the last remaining space we have for wood stacking.

While I’m out there doing a lot this work and some of my other gardening work, I have my headphones on all the while listening to one of my audiobooks. Since my last My Audiobook Club post I have listened to and completed 8 more books. That brings my total this year to 27 books and counting.

I started the month with a recommendation from my 22 year old niece and goddaughter, The Guest List by Lucy Foley. The audiobook is narrated by a cast of voices and runs 9 hours and 54 minutes. A fun mystery in the style of a good Agatha Christie thriller, I give this a four star rating. I hate to say too much about a book, always fearing that I may inadvertently give away too much. 3.75 stars

In my experience, those who have the greatest respect for the rules also take the most enjoyment in breaking them.

Lucy Foley, The Guest List

I followed up this audiobook with another recommendation from my goddaughter since she’d steered me well the last time. Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid is also narrated by a cast of voices and runs 9 hours and 3 minutes. This was another fun listen which reminded me of hanging out and listening to old friends, if I had hung out with a bunch of rock musicians that is. Taylor Jenkins Reid weaves a tale about a fictional band into a musical world that was the soundtrack of my generation’s lifetime. I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook and give it 4 stars.

You can’t control another person. It doesn’t matter how much you love them. You can’t love someone back to health and you can’t hate someone back to health and no matter how right you are about something, it doesn’t mean they will change their mind.

Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel

I followed up this book with Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng narration by Jennifer Lim with a run time of 11 hours, 27 minutes. This is a book with lots of different storylines going on at once which sometimes can be difficult to follow. I enjoyed this book though, there was something about the family which I found relatable – probably the dysfunctionality. I can see how this was made into a television miniseries. 3.5 Stars

Sometimes you have to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that too. They start over. They find a way.

Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

I dove into an oldie but a goodie, a book I read in high-school, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut narrated by James Franco for 5 hours and 13 minutes. I liked this book in high school and 35 years later I enjoyed listening to the audiobook. Vonnegut has a way of creating interesting characters that you come to care about, some you may have met in another of his books. Slaughterhouse Five is an intense book about Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran and POW and his experience at Dresden. It’s a timeless book which reminds us of a moment in history form a very personal point of view. If you have never read Slaughterhouse Five, you should. 5 Stars. Must read/listen.

That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

After such an intense book, I decided to completely switch gears and check out something completely different. Tomorrow by Damian Dibben, narration by George Blagden at 10 hours and 42 minutes was a fantastical story of a dog and his master. Most of the story is set in one of my favorite cities in the world, Venice, Italy which is described time and gain throughout the story. Having visited Venice many times I found it easy to put myself right there in the action. I love dog stories and particularly stories which remind you of the incredibly strong bond between a dog and their human. I highly recommend this book or audiobook for any dog enthusiast, it’s a certainly a must read/listen. 4 Stars.

Humans possess a fascination for our species, and an innate kindness that they do not always have for each other.

Damian Dibben, Tomorrow

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout was narrated by Kimberly Farr and was a long 12 hours and 2 minutes. I was underwhelmed by this story. I had all sorts of expectations considering it is a Pulitzer Prize Winner and was named best book of the year by a bunch of different media organizations. But that right there should have been my tip off. The media has been a less than reliable source in recent years. So what would they know about a good book. The book is about the title character and her family and I kept thinking at some point things would come together but they didn’t. There are more Olive books which is why things felt a little unfinished. There were a few poignant quotes I took from the book though. This one in particular made me chuckle: “She didn’t like being alone. Even more, she didn’t like being with people.” 2 Stars

Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most like not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it.

Kimberly Farr, Olive Kitteridge

I went back to another classic, not wanting to be disappointed and I wasn’t. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury narrated by Tim Robbins was poignant to me today as it was back when I read it for the first time in high school. Time and again I kept going back over certain lines which stood out to me where I was astounded by the timelessness of Bradbury’s ideas. It’s a story which demonstrates how important it is to have books and art, know your history and remember the facts. It’s a story about how facts and how history can be distorted and falsified. This is a must read/listen – 5 Stars.

Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitch the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

We need not be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Finally, I circled back to an audiobook I had started a few months earlier but stopped because it just wasn’t into it initially. The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward and narrated by Theresa Plummer ran 8 hours and 3 minutes. Recently I made a commitment to myself to finish projects that I started and walked away from, so I gave this book another try.

The story was a lot deeper than it initially appeared to be and perhaps I was more in the right frame of mind to listen to this type of story. Another dysfunctional family’s story is always something I can relate to. Overall, the book was better than I thought it would be in the beginning. A Reese’s Book Club X Hello Sunshine Book Club pick, so I had big expectations and I can see Witherspoon producing this story in movie or something one day. 3.5 stars.