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.

Happy Birthday Boomer and Gunner!

My boys turned three today! It’s so hard to believe they are three. Where did the time go? We were all going to go on a boat ride today and when we were exiting the car, Gunner jumped out and ran into the street. Thankfully the truck that was coming near didn’t hit him. He saw what was going on and slowed. I was able to get a hold of Gunner in time to pull him back to far side of the car and take a breath. That dog still hasn’t figured out how to use his noggin and almost had it flattened as a result!

I needed to take a deep breath and steady my nerves. I still had Boomer to get out of the car. Mark had Marley who was whining once we parked the car and was so anxious to exit the car she practically trambelled Mark on the way out. Boomer thankfully was well behaved although excited, he knew where we going. They all knew where we going from the time I put their life jackets on back at the house before leaving.

My baby boys at 9 weeks old

Watching Boomer and Gunner grow and mature these last three years has been a fantastic experience. Although they are littermates, they each have their own unique personality. We were all able to settle into a routine among the rest of the pack. When they joined our family we had three other dogs: Artemis, Winston and Marley. Artemis and Winston died within the first six months. They were 14-1/2 and 15 years old respectively. Each one taught the puppies something about being in a pack.

Currently, the pack is three with Marley, our six year old mixed shepherd with the occasional visits from grand dogs Kona and Blue who both just spent ten weeks with us due to COVID-19. I like the pack at this size knowing that the others dogs will be coming and going the way they do. Kona spends the most time with us but on occasion goes on an adventure with her father.

Three years old today

Three years seems to have whizzed by. The boys have learned so much but obviously still have so much more to learn. They have learned to simply watch the chickens and not run around all crazy barking at them, thankfully that got old quickly. Happy Birthday Boomer and Gunner and here’s to many more years together!

Throwback Thursday – Copper

My Throwback Thursday post remembers one of the beloved members of my pack, Copper. He was the quintessential Brittany with his white and orange markings. From a line of show dogs, I never took him into the ring – that’s not my style. He was a backyard sniffing, bed sleeping family dog.

Copper died in the fall of 2016 at the ripe old age of 16 yrs. Copper was my shadow all those years, making sure that I was never alone – even in the bathroom. He was a gentle dog, a true bird dog although I’m not hunter. In his youth he would spring off the steps, catch a bird in flight and then proudly bring his bounty to me and lay it down at my feet. Sometimes it was birds, other times frogs. I miss my my little buddy everyday.

Meet The Pack

I just realized this but I haven’t had a post about the actual pack which makes up Xine’s Pack. Although, I’ve had many dogs throughout my life, I currently have three of my own dogs in the pack as well as 2 grand-dogs. The grand-dogs come visit enough and spend so much time here (especially being quarantined together, but even before that) that they are definitely considered a part of #Xinespack. I have used that hashtag for about ten years now so if you ever check it out on Instagram, you will also see some of the previous incarnations of the pack.

Currently, the self appointed alpha, besides myself, is Marley. Marley Sage Mulch is her full name since as a pup she had a habit of chewing on the sage and the mulch out in the garden. 6 years later, she still seeks out the mulch. Marley is a mutt in every sense of the word. We did two different DNA test kits on her from two different companies since we had adopted her from a shelter at the age of 9 weeks. The DNA tests were inconclusive as they came up with different answers. One kit said she was 50% Jack Russell Terrier with a blend of brittany, golden retriever, australian shepherd and shetland sheepdog. The other had everything from Norwegian Elkhound to Australian cattle dog. When I first saw Marley and her little freckled nose, it instantly reminded me of our brittanies who also had freckles. Plus she has the same coloring as the Brittanys except she is mostly reddish-brown and they were white with reddish brown markings She’s an awesome dog – she loves to go for rides in the gator and hike around in the woods.

Marley Sage Mulch

My other two are my doodles, Boomer and Gunner. They are littermates, mini goldendoodles that weigh 48 lbs and 52 lbs, respectively. At first I was nervous about having two puppies to train at the same time but I had dealt with so many dogs at that point in my life it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and a lot of the time they would simply either copy the other or Marley. They are some of the best companion dogs I could have ever hoped for and they are so affectionate. It’s hard to believe they will turn 3 years old in a couple of weeks. Gunner has always been a pup who plays hard and sleeps harder. When he passes out, he’s out. There were many nights when he was younger where either Mark or I had to carry him upstairs to put him in his overnight crate where he used to sleep. He prefers to sleep now on the ottoman I have pulled up next to my side of the bed and stretch out though. But he loves using the crate during the day to go and hang out in and take a nap.

Gunner and Boomer

Boomer is my shadow, following me pretty much everywhere. He’s learned in time to sometimes wait at my desk if I head out to the kitchen for another cup of coffee or something but for the most part he walks right be me. Mark has given him the nickname CB – Charley Bravo since Boomer likes to plant himself at night right between Mark and I. It’s his polite way of saying he is a cock block. He will move reluctantly when told, however. Boomer that is, of course. Boomer is a happy dog, he loves going on the boat or the gator and getting up on the seat, feeling the breeze in his fur as ears flap in the wind. He also smiles. I’ve never had a dog that actually will smile at you. It was a little strange at first since we all weren’t sure if he was doing it on purpose, a friend at first thought it was him snarling but he’s not snarling. He very clearly is showing you his teeth and smiling.

Kona Athena, my first grand dog

Then we have Kona. Where to start, where to start with this one. I’ll tell you living with Kona is like living with blonde Elmo, or what I imagine living with Elmo would be like if you could live with a live muppet who is so living but acts a little (a lot) crazy at times. Kona Athena is my son’s 4-1/2 year old standard goldendoodle and she is the most loving and affectionate dog I’ve ever known. Kona will crawl in your lap while you are working at your desk so nonchalantly with her long legs and slinky body that you can’t help but just hug her back. If you are upset she senses it immediately and will come over to make you feel better. All the doodles are really good at sensing when you are upset or anxious and come cuddle with you immediately.

But this sweet little blonde has the stomach of I don’t know what. Since being in quarantine she has managed to eat 5 loaves of freshly baked bread (1 loaf Easter bread, 1 loaf sourdough, 3 loaves French bread), a dozen English muffins, 3 hard boiled eggs and a pound and half of Amaretto cookies. Her farts were bad before quarantine and have become so much more toxic since her bread addiction started in quarantine.

Blue, my second grand dog

Then there is Blue, my daughter’s 2 year old red merle mini Aussie Shepherd. Blue is definitely the smartest of the pack. Samantha’s done a great job training him. He loves running on the beach and going for hikes with his human and friends. Thankfully Blue grew up to be on the larger size of mini and weighs about 35lbs. By far the lightest in the pack but by the far the fastest. When Blue gets the zoomies and the others dogs are in pursuit, all you see is a light streak breeze by.

Morning treats at coffeetime

We’ve all been up here on the mountain together since mid-March and the pack has settled into a routine, although we need to break Kona of her counter surfing somehow. The weird thing is she was doing this initially, but then again Mark wasn’t baking delicious loaves of homemade bread a few weeks ago. Hopefully the weather will start warming up and we can get outside more. It has still been on the chillier side and wet and windy making being outside for too long still a bit challenging. We’ve learned after 4-1/2 years up here that you have to take advantage of the nice and mostly nice days up here when you get them.

One of the things I was able to accomplish during these last few months though is I finally started and am about to finish writing my book. It’s a book about all of the dogs that have touched my life basically. I don’t yet have a title for my book, the working title on my spiral notebooks that I have handwritten it all in simply says The Dog Book #1, #2 and #3. The other day I finally got to the point where I think I’m done with the first draft and now need to sit down at the computer and type and edit it. I’m sort of in disbelief that I have written it finally – I’ve thought about it for so long and was scared to start it. Actually I had no idea how to start it and after talking to some friends of mine who are authors they simply said “just start writing”. Sounds simple but it wasn’t for me. I had been writing notes over the years of stories I wanted to remember to tell but that’s as far as I ever got. It took me reading another book about dogs and their stories to get me going, this time I just started to write.

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!