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!