February/March AudioBook Club

It’s hard to believe it’s March already. The last month has been somewhat of a blur to me. A week into the month, my son called to tell me that he hurt his knee while sitting on his air mattress which has been doubling for a couch while he waits for the couch he ordered in December to arrive. The good news is that we learned just yesterday that it is scheduled for delivery the last Friday of this month. Finally.

Me and Mom

The second week of the month started with my mother experiencing her second stroke in 5 months – this stroke ultimately took her life 5 days later. Since then we have said our goodbyes to her as a family graveside and with extended friends and extended family via a zoom memorial. I miss my long conversations with her and now continue to grieve. It will take some time but life goes on.

I have been reminded of that fact this last week as I have been consumed with dealing with my son’s knee surgery and having to care for him during his recovery. My mother always said ‘the job of a parent isn’t ever really fully done.’ She was always there for me when I needed her and I will always be there for my kids when and if they need my help. In the last 7 days, I have averaged 3.4 miles of walking and 10 flights of stairs daily in my own house simply running around, going up and down the stairs (the house unfortunately is not set up with a first floor bedroom). My left knee hurts a little bit.

I find listening to my books to be such a relief. It’s my me-time. I have been downloading my tax forms and filing stuff from last year that never got filed in 2020. I haven’t felt very artistic lately but I am trying to relax and get back into the routine of drawing.

I listened to 2 books in February, the first was a title I had in my library for a while and as part of my resolution to read the older titles in my library and stop accumulating more books – which I still do anyway – I finally tackled it. I am so glad I did too! Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a phenomenal story by Mark T. Sullivan. The audiobook which I listened to is narrated by Will Damron and runs 17 hours and 43 minutes and is just amazing! Wow! I found this to be a fascinating book.

“It all made Pino realize that the earth did not know war, that nature would go on no matter what horror one man might inflict on another. Nature didn’t care a bit about men and their need to kill and conquer.

Mark T. Sullivan, Beneath a Scarlet Sky

The story is about the remarkable life of Pino Lello, a young boy from Italy during WWII. I was on the edge of my seat plenty of times throughout the story. I highly recommend this read to anyone who is interested in history and adventures. 5 Stars.

I decided to switch gears afterwards and listened to another Taylor Jenkins Reid novel – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I found this book to drag in areas, granted that’s a lot of husbands to go through. Overall the plot is interesting and Evelyn Hugo character who I found to be very deep and complex. However, the character of Monique annoyed me bit. She seemed a bit whiny at times and I don’t like hanging out with whiny people and I have begun to notice I don’t like books as much that feature whiny protagonists. The book is narrated by Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan and Robin Miles and runs 12 hours and 10 minutes. 3.5 Stars.

I am able to focus so much better on things and block out all the external clutter of the world which has been great lately. I continue to listen to The Word of Promise Audio Book, New King James Version which is narrated by Michael York, Jason Alexander, Joan Allen, Richard Dreyfus, Louis Gossett, Malcolm McDowell Jr., Gary Sinese, Marisa Tomei and Stacy Keach. This behemoth runs 98 hours and 1 minute. I’m only 2 hours 26 minutes into it so far but I have enjoyed listening to it. I have only read parts of the Bible and it is one of my resolutions to complete.

I began the March with A Burning: A Novel by Megha Majumdar. A classmate of mine who now lives in Australia recommended the book. The audiobook runs only 7 hours and 22 minutes and is narrated by Vikas Adam, Priya Ayyar, Deepti Gupta, Soneela Nankani, Neil Shah and Ulka Simone Monhanty who all take on the voices of the various characters features in this story about class, corruption, justice and the individual roads fated in life.

I found this to be an interesting glimpse into a different culture. The characters are unique and captivating – yet, all somewhat relatable despite living in a country where societal norms differ greatly from those in the western cultures. I felt frustrated for Jivan and Lovely and what they endure as women in India.

Many years ago I would have been asking why is this happening? But now I am knowing that there is no use in asking these questions. In life, many things happen for no reason at all.

Megha Majumdar, A Burning: A Novel

I thoroughly enjoyed the The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Since finishing it, there are descriptive scenes which have stayed with me and I thought about repeatedly. I love old fairy tales and I love the idea of taking a children’s story and turning it into a novel. I loved the passages about the landscape and I found the characters to be as deep and full as the Alaskan snows they endured. I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in adventures in the Alaskan wilderness with a touch of old fashioned fairy tale weaved into a modern day story of love and survival. 4 stars.

Currently I have started to listen to The Garden of Evening Mists by Tang Twan Eng, a recommendation from my cousin who first heard about the book from my Aunt. My cousin raved about it and thought I would enjoy since I love nature and gardening so much. I’ll let you know what I think about it next time.

Happy Reading –
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

January 2021 – My Audiobook Club

I started 2021 off with an old Oprah’s Book Club recommendation American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins narrated by Yareli Arizmendi, it runs 16 hours, 43 minutes. I really enjoyed this book as it is filled with good characters who you come to care about. You are taken on their journey and the author does a good job of putting the reader/listener right by their side. 4 Stars.

Trauma waits for stillness. Lydia feels like a cracked egg, and she doesn’t know if she is the shell or the yolk, or the whole white. She is scrambled.

Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt

My cousin recommended The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse to me and I will be forever grateful that she did. This is a beautiful book – which I listened to the audiobook but also ordered myself the hardcover version of and am still waiting to receive a month later. So I am really happy I listened to the audiobook and didn’t have to delay the wonderfully powerful words that Charlie Mackesy wrote and had the pleasure of listening to the author tell his tale. In 58 minutes, I listened to one of the most powerful and touching stories I know I have ever known. I am eager to see his beautiful illustrations that are set to his equally beautiful words. This is a MUST READ- MUST LISTEN TO. 5 Stars

“The greatest illusion,” said the mole “is that life should be perfect.”

Charlie Mackesy – The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

My son gave my the audiobook, From Here to There: The Art & Science of Finding & Losing Our Way for Christmas. We are always talking about finding our way in life whether it be on an actual road or hypothetical one. A Wired Most Fascinating Book of the Year, I am sure this is where he came across this title.

Michael Bond helps us explore from here to there and the fine art of navigating through life. Bond gives examples of people having been lost and then found and what they learned from their investigations. I found this to be a fascinating listen -albeit a bit technical in spots which is also why listening to this book was a better choice for me since I probably wouldn’t have read the technical parts as well as I listened to Pete Cross, the narrator read them to me. 3 Stars.

As the month rolled on I switched gears and listened to The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen- another recommendation from my Instagram friends over at Bites by the Page from the end of April. This was a great book that has your head spinning try to keep up with all the twists and turns. I highly recommend curling up with this book or audiobook. I listened to this book narrated by Julia Whelan and it runs 11 hours, 25 minutes. Four Stars.

I was happy,I think, but I wonder now if y memory is playing tricks on me. If it is giving me the gift of an illusion. We all layer them over our remembrances, the filters through which we want to see our lives.

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, The Wife Between Us

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is read by Janet Song and runs 11 hours and 6 minutes. This was an interesting story, the beginning reminded me of a young adult novel, I read with my children when they were in middle school called The Ties That Bind, the Ties that Break by Lensey Namioka and was published in 1999. The story of the relationship between Lily and Snow Flower is more than a story about two women in 19th century China and what they encounter in life. It’s the story about the close relationship women form and the depths of those bond and how misunderstandings can arise and threaten them. The more I thought about this book, the more I liked it. 4 Stars.

In our country we call this type of mother love teng ai. My son has told me that in men’s writing it is composed of two characters. The first means pain; the second means love. That is a mother’s love.

Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Switching genres, I decided to listen to Bryan Cranston’s memoir, A Life in Parts. I like Bryan Cranston – although not a Malcolm in the Middle viewer, although I may revisit that since listening to his book. Cranston is an interesting fellow who has lead a very interesting life. I enjoyed listening to his rise to fame and it was fun hearing some of the background about Breaking Bad. If you enjoy Bryan Cranston as an actor, you will enjoy his book. 4 stars.

The best teacher is experience. Find the educational in every situation.

Bryan Cranston, A Life in Parts

Next I listened to The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens, narrated by Lisa Flanagan, Katie Schorr, Jack de Golia and runs 8 hours and 47 minutes. This book touches upon a number of intense subjects – but I guess that’s what happens when you glimpse into the lives of a neighborhood. A good mystery to curl up with when you are in the mood for one. 3 Stars.

Finally I ended the month with Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski, narrated by Xe Sands and it runs 10 hours, 16 minutes. I found this book a little difficult to get through only because I did not like any of the characters in this book except for Marva – everyone else I was not a fan of and certainly would not hang out with any of them if they were real.
The issues dealt in the book are very real though – addiction, hoarding, suicide, aging and though I don’t like the character, Lucy, there are many Lucys in this world. She handles her son’s addiction the way a lot of parents would with denial. I am also not a fan of steamy love triangle but it can happen I suppose. That said the book as a whole is interesting, Marva’s story in particular. 2.5 stars

Holiday Reading and Listening 2020

I know this is not exactly the right time of year to be discussing holiday-themed books but life has been more difficult than usual lately and I wasn’t writing as much but have started again – or at least I am trying to write more. With that said …. If you are ever interested in book recommendations for something to enjoy over the holidays – save this post! Or put some of these books of on your Goodreads “I Want to Read” List. When the holidays start to roll around, I have started to look for books that help get me in the mood. 2020 was a very difficult year, especially to get into the mood for celebrating the holidays. I started off with Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak which about a family that quarantines together during Christmas – nothing to do with COVID though. I enjoyed listening to this book which was narrated by Jilly Bond and runs 9 hours 34 minutes. The story is a little predictable but a good listen for the holidays. 3.5 Stars.

In this, the most wonderful time of the year, food is the savior. It s food that oils the wheels between deaf aunt and mute teenager. It is food that fills the cracks between siblings with cinnamon scented nostalgia, and it is food that gives the guilt ridden mother purpose.

Francesca Hornak – Seven Days of Us

Winter Street by Erin Hilderbrand, narrated by Erin Bennett is a Christmas novel which I found to be alright. A good listen for December but it wasn’t my favorite and it’s the first in a series which may have something to do with it. I have found with “first in a series” books that the good ones can stand up alone, on their own, despite the series. The audiobook runs for 6 hours, 51 minutes. 2.5 stars.

With this in mind, Ava tells herself to be present and celebrate the holiday instead of wishing it were over. Afterall, one is given only a certain number of Christmases in one’s life.

Erin Hilderbrand – Winter Street

Children were an act of optimism – sheer belief – the future will outshine the present.

Samantha Silva – Mr. Dickens and His Carol

I love Charles Dickens and last year listened to his A Christmas Carol. So this year, I was particularly excited to stumble upon Mr. Dickens and his Carol by Samantha Silva. As a writer, I have often wondered where great authors have found their inspiration and this is a story which explores that very idea. I really enjoyed this story – it’s a classic unto itself. Samantha Silva does an excellent job of giving us a fantastical glimpse into the muses and catalysts for some of the greatest stories ever written. A wonderful book! Narrated by Euan Morton, who was very good and runs 8 hours, 9 minutes. 5 Stars.

A good biography tells us the truth about a person’ a good story, the truth about ourselves.

Samantha Silva – Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Next up was One Day in December by Josie Silver, narrated by Eleanor Tomlinson and Charlie Anson, who were very good. I enjoyed this book even though I am not one for romantic stories but there was something about this story I found relatable. Looking over my notes at all the quotes I liked, I see Josie Silver and I are on a similar wavelength. Four Stars

There comes a point where you have to make the choice to be happy, because being sad for too long is exhausting.

Josie Silver, One Day in December

Sometimes you meet the right person at the wrong time.

Josie Silver, One Day in December

Bites by the Page is a great Instagram account which I have gotten a lot of great book recommendations from in the past and it didn’t disappoint for a good holiday read either. A Christmas Memory is wonderful book by Truman Capote which includes three short stories about the holidays in the south. Truman Capote is a master storyteller, the stories are real and don’t make any pretense that holidays are always happy.

Of course there is a Santa Claus. It’s just that no single somebody could do all he has to do. So the Lord has spread the task among all of us. That’s why everybody is Santa Claus. I am. You are.

Truman Capote, One Christmas

Finally, a classic quickie at only 1 hour and 20 minutes long, The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, narrated by Katherine Kellgren. The Snow Queen is what Disney made into Frozen and is a story ultimately about friendship.

When we get to the end of the story, you will know more than you do now.

Hans Christian Andersen – The Snow Queen

My Audiobook Club- November/December 2020

There’s been a lot going on in my life and in the world and I have been way behind in my writing. The end of the year brought for me a whirlwind of listening to my audiobooks while I dealt with life, the holidays and worked on my drawings which you can see on my art blog Xine Segalas Creatives .

I have found listening to my audiobooks to be quite a comforting routine which I didn’t realize I was in until I well into it. I started listening to audiobooks while driving from New Hampshire down to visit my family in Connecticut almost 5 years ago. I still owned my house down there and I drive down frequently during the summer and fall to check in on the house, my son who was living in the house and visit my friends and family. I used to listen to music when I drove but the four hour drive after doing it for so long was boring and certain stretches I would struggle to stay awake. I remembered that listening to talk radio helped me once during a particularly long drive from Michigan to Connecticut, but I don’t enjoy listening to talk radio and thought audiobooks a better option. Since developing this new habit – which due to some great books, I extended my listening time to when I was indoors working on my art or on the computer. It makes tedious chores like filing and weeding a whole lot more enjoyable. Last year I listened to over 50 audiobooks – so much better than anything on TV.

I started the month of November 2020 with The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I am a huge fan of mythology – greek, roman, norse or otherwise. So I was ready to head back into another and I did not regret diving into Miller’s novel.

What’s admired in one generation is abhorred in another.

Odyssus to Achilles’ son

Miller sticks pretty close to the events in Homer’s Iliad but casts Achilles’ best friend, Patroclus as the narrator. This allows us into Achilles’ world from the uniquely close perspective of his closest friend and paramour, Patroclus. Narrated by Frasier Douglas who has the perfect voice for this type of book which ran 11 hours and 15 minutes. I really enjoyed this take on Achilles’ story and gave the book four stars on my Goodreads page.

I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know in death, at the end of the world.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto was an interesting book. I listened to this book for one reason and one reason alone: I have always enjoyed Mitch Albom’s books. Albom did not disappoint me either this this story about a fictional musician as told by the narrator, Music. Music is exactly what and who you think he is – “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and color” – except he is telling us the story of Frankie Presto.

This is life. Things get taken away. You will learn to start over many times — or you will be useless.

Mitch Albom, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

It’s a brilliant epic story that takes us through a sort of history of music, as real musicians that we all know from Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett, The Byrds and more are interwoven throughout the story and Frankie Presto’s life.

There are so many great quotes from this book, it’s hard for me to just pull one or two. Mitch Albom is such a gifted writer when he pens such beautiful metaphors. The audiobook is narrated by Mitch Albom, Paul Stanley – yes, from the band KISS and George Guidall and runs 9 hours and 43 minutes.

” Everyone joins a band in this life. You are born into your first band. Your mother plays lead. She shares the stage with your father and siblings. Or perhaps your father is absent, an empty stool under a spotlight. But he is still a founding member, and if he surfaces one day, you will make room for him. As life goes on, you join other bands, some through friendship, some through romance, some through neighborhoods, school, an army. Maybe you will all dress the same, or laugh at your own private vocabulary. Maybe you will flop on couches backstage or share a boardroom table, or crowd around a galley inside a ship. But in each band you join, you play a distinct part and it will affect you as much as you affect it.”

Mitch Albom, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

I can’t remember where I first saw this book and thought – my, that looks interesting, but I am glad I did. The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson is a fascinating story about as the subtitle suggests about beauty, obsession, and the Natural History heist of the century. This was the second true-crime book I have ever ventured to read – In Cold Blood by Truman Capote being the first. But it took me decades to return to a genre which can be very interesting and not always bloody. I found this to be a interesting story about a terrible crime which more people should know and care about. The audiobook is narrated by Macleod Andrews and runs 8 hours and 4 minutes. Four Stars.

I guess I was in a mood and continued with the true-crime genre with a classic, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by Jeff Berendt and the version I listened to was narrated by Jeff Woodman. There are a couple of versions of this book in the Audible library, I choose the one with that had been listen to by more people and had a higher rating to boot than the other version offered. This book runs 15 hours and 4 minutes and there is a lot of meat to this story and I rated it 4 stars.

Rule Number One: Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen. That is when you find out everything you want to know.

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey is an unconventional but very funny memoir. Matt is a great storyteller and listening to his book is like sitting down with him and sharing a few beers. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir with his bumper sticker philosophy and all.

“I’m not perfect; no, I step in shit all the time and recognize it when I do. I’ve just learned how to scrape it off my boots and carry on.”

 Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

The Archer by Paulo Coelho narrated by Vikas Adam is 49 minutes of powerful storytelling. I have been a fan of Paulo Coehlo’s since reading The Alchemist, so when I came upon this quick little audio book , I was certainly open to listening. I like finding sort, quick listens. Length is not defines how deep or powerful a story can come across to the reader. A truly gifted author can send a profound message to the reader in just a few words. I found listening to the Archer I was hit with the arrows of his words. I highly recommend either reading or listening to The Archer.

Use your bad moments to discover what makes you tremble. Use your good moments to find your road to inner peace. But do no stop either out of fear or joy.

Paulo Coelho, The Archer

I have started to use the website Goodreads.com to track the books I have read, want to read etc… You can see some of these and other book reviews of mine on my profile page there. If you are also on the Goodreads.com site friend me!

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.

My Audiobook Club – April/May

Human Touch: A Story in Real Time
by Mitch Albom
Narrated by Mitch Albom (4 hours, 39 minutes)

The first of the books I listened to was Mitch Albom’s Human Touch: A Story in Real Time. The book was published episodically over the last two months. The story chronicles the lives of four families living on a cul-de-sac in Michigan during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

In the beginning, I found myself having a difficult time listening to my books during the quarantine. There were so many distractions I found it difficult to focus and it would take something special to catch my interest and keep it. I chose to listen to Human Touch primarily because I have enjoyed many of Mitch Albom’s books: The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Tuesdays With Morrie, and The Time Keeper. The fact that the chapters were being written in real time and published weekly, I found appealing and intriguing. Once I was listening, I found that I enjoyed this format and would look forward to upcoming installments which were no longer than 35 minutes or less with the exception of the final one (55 minutes).

The 8 episodes totaling 4 hours and 39 minutes were narrated by author Mitch Albom, so it’s not a terribly long story. Albom peaks into the lives of four families struggling through the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan. At first, I was hesitant to start listening to a story about the virus; afterall, wasn’t I trying to escape listening to things that could be upsetting or triggering at this time? I found myself taking a little comfort in hearing the stories of others and how they were coping at this time.

All in all, Albom once again creates characters that you come to care about and can empathize with. The topic of the pandemic is a sensitize one and since the virus is still a threat and states are reopening, so wrapping up the story in a neat bowed package isn’t really possible in my opinion. Overall, I’d give this audiobook about 3.5 stars.

The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
Narrated by Eleanor Bron (12 hours, 35 minutes)

This is the first book I’ve ever read/listened to of Edith Wharton. I choose to listen to this story since it had been recommended by one of my Master Class teachers as an example of baroque literature. Baroque literature has lots of metaphors, symbols, hyperbole and multiple layers of meaning. A common theme in baroque literature is that characters’ struggle to find deep meaning in their existence.

The House of Mirth focuses on Lily Bart’s plight to find a place for herself in New York’s elite society in the 19th century. I didn’t like Lily Bart throughout most of the novel – I don’t think if we ever met I would have been friends with her. She reminded me of some people I have come across in my life. I found the novel beautifully and masterfully written. By the end of the novel I found myself so invested in Lily’s struggle and was genuinely touched by this heartfelt story. I’d give this one 4 stars overall for story and narrator, Eleanor Bron seemed to be the perfect choice.

Cesar Millan’s Lessons from the Pack
by Melissa Jo Peltier & Cesar Millan
Narrated by Angelo Di Loreto, Cesar Millan (5 hours, 29 minutes)

I love dogs and I love reading or listening to dog stories. I am in the process of writing my own book of dog stories, so I naturally I wanted to listen to the Dog Whisperer’s stories.

Millan intersperses the lessons he’s learned personally with stories from his past along with tidbits under the headings of From the Celebrity Files, From the Science Files etc..the information given in these sections demonstrates the enormous impact dogs have had on mankind in general. I highly recommend this book for any dog or animal enthusiast. 4 stars

The Making of A Miracle: The Untold Story of the Captain of the 1980 Gold Medal-Winning U.S.Olympic Hockey Team
by Mike Eruzione with Neal E. Boudette (7 hrs, 8 mins)

I was a freshman in high school when the miracle happened. I remember watching the games and falling for goalie, Jim Craig, whose I plastered all over the inside of my locker from the New York Post, Daily News and New York Times coverage of the So I was automatically excited when I saw this memoir. I am also a fan of a good sports story and this was and still is an incredible story told by the captain, Mike Eruzione.

I enjoyed listening to Eruzione tell about his humble beginnings and the fun stories about his family. When he mentioned parts of Boston where I too spent many years, it brought back fond memories. Eruzione, a Boston University alum (Wheelock’77) talks about his journey to BU which is not where he originally started and how a twist of fate changed his course. I also went to BU College of Communications (COM’87) as did the co-author Neal E. Boudette (COM’84).

It’s so interesting to hear his perspective and the behind the scenes stories about Herb Brooks and the rest of the team. It was like walking down memory lane, hearing the familiar names of the young men which made America believe in miracles. If you are looking for a good sports story, you don’t have to be a hockey fan to enjoy listening to Eruzione who is funny and whose riveting replays bring alive the plays and games of those 1980 Olympic hockey underdogs. 4 stars.

Xine’s Audiobook-Book Club

Welcome to Xine’s Audiobook-Book Club, where I am the one and only member of the club that I know of at least. I’ve found listening to my audiobooks more difficult lately. Everything that’s been going on in the world and being in quarantine now these last what 6 or 7 weeks – I’m losing count. Actually I’m not sure I really want to know. Focus is difficult with my normal routine so upended.

I finished The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister in early March.It had been a selection from the Reese’s Book Club narrated by Gabra Zackman and ran 9 hours, 34 minutes. I enjoyed listening to this book. The story flowed and the author’s descriptions of the scents enveloped my senses taking me further into the story and Emmaline’s world.

The concept of the Nightingale invention is an intriguing idea and when I googled the concept I found a 2013 Wired.com article about a scent capturing machine. Some of the quotes which stood out to me in this audiobook included:

“Scents were like rain and birds. They left and came back.”

“It’s amazing how easily we can cast ourselves in the role of hero.”

I hadn’t realized how much I counted on the emotional armor of his friendship until he wasn’t there.”

“Maybe that’s how it always is, I thought – we all just go along, cathing glimpses of one another, thinking we know everything.”

“Grief makes a tunnel of our lives. And it is all too easy to lose sight of the other people in the dark with us. To wish they weren’t there so their loss wouldn’t rub up against us.”

Good Dog:True Stories of Love, Loss and Loyalty by David DiBenedetto and the editors of Garden & Gun Magazine. I loved this book and highly recommend it particularly for any dog enthusiasts out there. I actually read this book – an actual book where I could feel the paper as I turned the pages. Not an electronic one on my kindle. The stories were manageable in length, so I would breeze through a few of them at a time. I was forced to take a break for a couple of days when I misplaced the book – it had been hiding under a blanket that was tossed onto a chair next to where I had been reading it. I could relate to these stories as I have my own dogs and have lived through the same if not very similar experiences. I enjoyed reading this book so much that it prompted me to start writing my own stories down about my pack, Xine’s Pack. I had been struggling for years with notes about writing the stories of my own dogs, but something happened to me after I finished Good Dog, I sat down and the words came flying out 45 pages I wrote immediately. In the time we’ve been in quarantine I am now up to close to 200 pages. Some of my favorite quotes from Good Dog include:

“Life is heard. People can’t be trusted. Vigilance is key. Be wise who you love and when you do love, do it with every fiber of your being. Till death do you part.”

“When a pet dies, as with any beloved person or thing, you do not mourn the departed. You mourn the life you’ve lived along with the departed.”

I was only able to get through half of the 8 hours and 8 minutes of John Waters Hitchhikes Across America. I enjoyed the first half of the book, strange as it was; however, I found the second part so disturbing and disgusting that after trying a few times to get through it, I finally gave up. I had to turn it off for good. Not my cup of tea, I’ll definitely be exchanging this title.

I finished Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan (9hrs, 1min). A manifesto for gardeners and environmentalists, the American Horticulture Society lists this as one of 75 greatest books ever written on gardening. As I am a gardener and have written many articles related to gardening I know that making gardening sound interesting without making it sound too technical can be a challenge. I could easily relate to to his stories and chuckled at some as every gardener goes through similar experiences in one way or another. Listening to Michael Pollan describe his experiences I found very enjoyable as it took my mind away from the world’s problems and into the garden, despite that it was cold, rainy and even snowy in my own garden. I highly recommend this book to other gardeners or people who have an interest in nature and the environment.

I followed that book up with another Michael Pollan book, Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World, an Audible exclusive – this was a quick listen at 2 hours, 2minutes. I love caffeine and have been pretty much addicted to it for 45 years now. I found this to be an interesting history and explanation of how caffeine has shaped our world, so it was an easy listen.

Currently, as April finally wraps up – it seems like it’s been one of the longest months ever, I’m listening to two more books. The first is Cesar Milan’s Lessons From The Pack by Melissa Jo Peltier and Cesar Milan, 5 hours and 29 minutes. I just started this book and I’m only an hour in but as someone who has lived with many dogs and learned many lessons myself from them – I can again relate to this book and enjoy listening to Cesar’s stories.

Finally, I am listening to another Audible Original, this one by Mitch Albom called Human Touch. This book is actually in progress taking place in current time in a small town in Michigan during the Covid19 pandemic. Each week there is a new installment released, so far there have only been three installments and I’m on pins and needles waiting for the next chapter to be released. The story follows the interwoven lives of four families who live on a cul-de-sac and how the pandemic touches each and every one of them. I have always loved reading Albom’s books like Tuesdays with Morrie and Five People You Meet In Heaven. But I was a little hesitant at first to listen to this book since part of listening to the stories is to take my mind off of everything that it going on currently. But I have found that I am again able to relate to what is going on in the book and there is some sort of comfort knowing that others are going through some of the exact same things I am right now.

In the Library for next month I’m thinking about a classic Agatha Christie mystery, And Then There Were None. If you have any recommendations for future reads or listens, please let me know by leaving a comment – I’m always looking for new book sto enjoy. appy listening and reading everyone!

Xine’s Audiobook Club- What I’m listening to this month

Hi! I’m Xine and welcome to my Audiobook Club. Since we are all practicing social distancing, I’ve decided to start an online Audiobook Club. I hope you join me as we are all entering this new world of social distancing, but just because we need to distance ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t still all have to be isolated. We can all keep up an online conversation one way or another. So with that, once again welcome to Xine’s Audiobook Club. I’m Xine and this is what I’ve been listing to this month.

It’s been a weird month so far and my book selections this month seem to mimicking that. An eclectic selection I started the month listening to Carsick – John Waters Hitchhikes across America. I’m currently on chapter 16, 4 hours 56 minutes remaining of this 8 hour, 8 minute journey. So I’m over halfway there. I started listening to Carsick because the description sounded interesting and different from my usual picks and I was up for something different. I know who John Waters is but haven’t seen any of his movies but I’ve heard of them.

I was also waiting for the new Reese Witherspoon’s Book of the Month Club selection to be released. I had enjoyed listening to the February book, The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister and narrated by Gabra Zackman. I started following the book club since I sometimes get overwhelmed by all the books and don’t know what to listen to so having someone else choose is nice. I end up listening to titles I, myself, never would have selected and a usually pleasantly surprised but not aways.

I always end up listening to more than one book at a time, I like to mix up the rotation with a biography or memoir, a novel of fiction, perhaps some comedy essays or short stories. I had started listening to George Carlin Reads to You, but found myself no longer amused by some of the comedian’s once funny observations about life. In today’s world it’s just not so funny right now. Maybe I’m just getting old. So I stopped listening and exchanged the title for a credit. Did you know you can do that on Audible? You can exchange your titles back at any time, even after you have listened to them completely. You get the option of exchanging it for another title right away or receiving a credit back. I listen to so many more books since discovering this little seemingly hidden feature which is the only logical reason as to why they do this. I say hidden only because I accidentally discovered it on iPhone and when I looked on my desktop it doesn’t seem to be an option.

This month’s Reese’s Book Club selection is The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward and narrated by Theresa Plummer. It looks to be about family relationships, something I can certainly relate to. I’m currently only on chapter 4 and just been introduced to all the characters and their lives.and still have 7 hours and 9 minutes remaining in this 8 hr and 3 minute book. So I have much to look forward to.

Finally, I have selected Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan since I am a gardener and have read another titles by Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and enjoyed it. I hadn’t known about this book when I looked up titles under his name in the the Audible library and it intrigued me. Plus it’s a nice change of pace from whatever wild tale Waters’ is spinning and from just trying to figure out who is who of The Jetsetters.

These days, I find I can only take so much of listening to the news, although that’s important to stay up-to-date on what’s going on, particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic gripping our world right now. As I work on other things, whether it be on the computer, cleaning the house, folding the laundry, even while outside in my garden with my headphones on – I can escape to another world even if it’s only for a few hours.

Stay safe, and healthy everyone!

End Note: You may have noticed by now that I have included some links to the books and or audiobooks when and where I could to make things easy for anyone who may be interested in checkin any of these titles out. In the interest of transparency I am part of the Amazon affiliate program. So if you were to click on the link and actually purchase something – I would get a small commission for the referral. Just wanted you to know.

I’ve Become an Audiobook Enthusiast

It started all because I wanted to read more. I had the thought a few years ago while I was driving back and forth from my house in New Hampshire to my other house in Connecticut that I could be spending my time better in the car rather than purely getting myself from one location to the other.

It takes four hours give or take to take to do the drive – 8 roads total including I89, I91 and Route15. I’ve done the I91, Route 15 part hundreds of times over the years since that was my route to the condo trailside at Okemo I used to once enjoy. A different lifetime now.

I used to love driving but as I have aged – I’m only 55 yrs old – I find it more difficult now. I get tired easier and really don’t like driving at night. Too much glare and won’t unless I absolutely have to because one of my kids has an emergency of some sort.

At the time this all started I was obsessed with the show, The Game of Thrones and wanted to read the books. Problem was, when I would go to read at bedtime usually, I would fall asleep literally minutes later. So I decided to start listening to audiobooks on my drives down and back to Connecticut. Music would sometimes have the opposite effect of keeping me alert at the wheel despite listening to SiriusXM’s Lithium or Classic Vinyl.

Over two decades ago I had to drive a long distance from Michigan and I was advised to listen to talk radio instead of music. I found myself switching from the music stations to the news and talk radio stations to keep myself awake and was happy it worked.

I started listening to The Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One by George R.R. Martin and narrated by Roy Divine. It took 33 hours and 47 minutes. I listened to the book while driving back and forth to Connecticut. I listened while I was working in New Hampshire either splitting wood outside – we have a hydraulic wood splitter so it’s not as tough as it may sound, although it is physical labor. Sometimes I’d be inside with my headphones on in the wood shop making our garden kits, listening to the story. I discovered quickly how much faster some of my work was done while listening to my book. Or at least it felt like it went faster. I began to look forward to my long drives or work knowing I’d be submerged in another world and the time would fly by.

I loved the first book, A Game of Thrones and the second, A Clash of Kings. By the time I got to Book 3, A Storm of Swords I had found myself a little bored and Game of Throned out. After all, these are long marathon books upwards of 34 hours and that was the shortest one. Storm of Swords is 48 hours long!

The titles that sucked me in to the wonderful world of audiobook listening

On one of my trips down to Connecticut or back, something happened with my book I was listening to, so while driving I had to quickly select something that would play since I still had over 2 hours left in the drive. I wound up listening to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, narrated by Dan O’Grady.

This narrator’s voice perked me up – Roy Dotrice’s deep tones were beginning to lull me to sleep some. But this guy was much more upbeat. I didn’t know anything about the book when I started listening to it. I must have added it to my library at some point because it sounded interesting or was on sale or both. But I found that I was much more alert and involved in the story listening to Dan O’Grady reading now.

Since then, which is only about 18 months or so give or take, I’ve listened so far to twenty-three more titles and counting. Plus I actually read a book. So with that I am adding a new regular feature to my Xines’ Pack blog – Xine’s Book Club. I won’t limit it to calling it Xine’s Audiobook Club because I do want to actually read more too. So look for future posts about the books and audiobooks I read. I’m open to hearing suggestions and thoughts from others that have read or listened to these titles. It would be great to have an online discussion going.

Until happy listening or reading to you!

The Fine Art of Communication

I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff lately about various people’s life stories.  Yesterday I finished reading a novel by yet another of my incredibly gifted old classmates, Kim Green entitled, hallucination. Its touching story about a woman’s life journey flows effortlessly off the pages, or in my case my Kindle screen.

In some ways, I could relate to main character, Morgan, she too attended an upper east side private girls school.  Originally I thought that would be all I would share with this character when I was first introduced to her. But as got to know her more through this beautiful story I discovered we share a love of dancing, music, travel, children and writing.  I don’t share her struggles however I, too have gone through my own failed marriage and deal with my own dysfunctional family.

I understand what’s it like to begin a life with someone – a life with so much hope for the future, just to watch it disintegrate despite your best efforts.  One person can not save a marriage. A marriage is an intimate relationship which when one partner ceases to be involved in the caring, communicating and nurturing  – it falls apart.  This need for communicating is not reserved simply for preserving relationships of husbands and wives.

I have a brother who lives in New York City who I only see on the occasional holiday now.  We used to very close as kids but our busy life paths took us very far apart and unfortunately have kept us that way – at least for now.  We hardly talk on any sort of regular basis. Matter of fact, its been so long that to pick up the phone would be weird. Plus who ever knows when its a good time to talk. So a few months ago I decided to start sending the occasional text to see if I could break the ice and get the conversation flowing again. It’s kind of working I guess – there has been some exchange – a step in the right direction considering we didn’t have even that before. So I’ll take it as a positive.

The need for communicating between family members is as important in maintaining those relationships as it is with your friends.  I have a friend who if I want to hear from her I have to initiate the call. This has gone on for years and years because I let it. But she has shunned the electronic world and my best efforts to get together, so we don’t talk so much anymore unfortunately.  I don’t enjoy talking on the phone too much. I find it difficult to single-handedly multitask during a busy day.  If the conversation is long my elbow gets stiff and aches the rest of the day. I still ache from my 45 minutes phone conversation I had with my sister six hours ago! If its not face-to face, my main form of communicating with people is via text or chat behind one of our word or dice games we play on our phones.

Some people were hesitant to get on board with email and now they hate texting or don’t know how to do it,  or they don’t do social networking.  To each their own but I couldn’t do it. My son is in college and he calls me weekly. His phone conversation skills are improving.  We text each other intermittently and we also follow each other on Facebook and Instagram.  I am part of his conversation with the “social world”.

I find having an ongoing dialogue important particularly with my children. This can get difficult as grow up, go to college and eventually leave home and start their own family. If this is their way of communicating, I must join in. Recently as we were preparing for Hurricane Sandy,  I started a family group text which included my parents, siblings and a sister-in-law to make it easier to stay in touch in case anyone lost phones and power. Everyone in the family who lives Connecticut lost power whereas the New York contingency didn’t.  My parents liked the intermittent exchanges of stray comments and photos they asked us to keep the conversation going after the power outages were over. They said they left more a part of our daily lives and less isolated. As a parent of a child who lives away at college I have a better understanding of this now.

In Kim’s book, Morgan’s father repeatedly pleads for his daughter’s attention demanding more frequent phone calls as her life path takes her across the country away from him and the home she grew up in.  That’s our role in life as parents, to raise our children so they an stand on their own two feet and start their own families. It’s just as parents we’d like to hear from our all too busy children from time to time. So if that’s a quick text, then so be it. The conversation still continues at least, even if in short snippets.

“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” Winnie the Pooh

Peace – Xine S.