Summer Listens

A good book, cold drink, and warm breeze are the perfect recipe for a summer day.

These audiobooks make the perfect companion for your sunny vacation spot. Whether you’re poolside or couch locked, these captivating novels will transport you to new places, experiences, and lives. The ultimate summer destination is the land of audiobooks and it’s right at your fingertips. So grab your sunscreen, settle into your lawn chair, and enjoy!

Prodigal Summer

Prodigal Summer

By Barbara Kingsolver

Acclaimed author Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Prodigal Summer is described as “a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself.” Kingsolver weaves the story of three characters together with a love of nature. The novel captures the essence of summer, the importance of every living thing, and what binds us together as humans. Written in her signature beautiful style, Kingsolver has created a novel that will transport you to the wild country forests of southern Appalachia and the heart of humanity itself.  

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

By Maria Semple

Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette will leave you rolling on the floor laughing. When the quirky-yet-endearing Bernadette Fox goes missing, it is up to her daughter Bee to follow her trail of cryptic clues leading her literally to the ends of the earth. Semple’s humor shines with the help of narrator Kathleen Wilhoite who brings the characters to another level entirely. This novel is perfect entertainment for your summer downtime.

Ender's Game

Ender’s Game

By Orson Scott Card

Science fiction is one of the best genres for the summertime, transporting you to new worlds and lives unimaginable in this day and age. Ender’s Game is no exception. In Andrew “Ender” Wiggins’s world, the government breeds child geniuses to be military leaders as a defense against the hostile aliens attacking Earth. Ender is drafted into the rigorous orbiting Battle School for his military training and quickly rises to the top of his class. Ender’s battles, both internal and external, will entrap you in the dystopian world Orson Scott Card has created and with one of the best plot twists in literature, this novel definitely is a lifetime must read.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

By Rebecca Wells

A New York Times Bestseller, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is a Southern fiction staple to be read over and over again. Funny, outrageous, and wise, this novel captures the lives of four Southern women and their lifetime of friendship. Through these relationships, author Rebecca Wells explores the bonds of female friendship, the ups and downs of mother-daughter relationships, and the power of love and humor. Come fall in love with the Ya-Ya sisters in Wells’s clever and endearing novel.

Beautiful Ruins

By Jess Walter

Our featured Book of the Month, Beautiful Ruins is obviously a Libro favorite, but it’s also a perfect summer read. Partially set on the lovely Italian coast, you will fall in love with the idyllic Porto Vergogna and irresistible characters whose lives intertwine by happenstance. Let Jess Walter take you on a journey through the drama of old hollywood and the picturesque Porto Vergogna in his wonderfully entertaining novel.

Island of the Sequined Love Nun

Island of the Sequined Love Nun

By Christopher Moore

Take a crazy trip with Tucker Chase to The Island of the Sequined Love Nun. Tucker is a hopeless geek who makes a living piloting a cargo plane for Mary Jean Cosmetics Corporation—that is, until he crashes the pink plane and finds himself running for his life from Mary Jane’s henchmen. The only employment he can then find is a sketchy gig piloting on secret missions for an unscrupulous medical missionary in the South Pacific. Christopher Moore is the master of the outrageous and if the title didn’t say enough, get ready, because you’re in for a wild ride.


The Shoemaker’s Wife

By Adriana Trigiani

Travel through time with Ciro and Enza, two lovers who part and reunite over the course of their lives until the power of their love changes them forever. This novel is set in the majestic beauty of the Italian Alps at the turn of the 20th century. It will take you on a journey through the Italian countryside, America during the First World War and the star-crossed love of Ciro and Enza. This story, inspired by the author Adriana Trigiani’s own family history, will give you a beautiful and unique look into the lives of characters at the turn of the century.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

By David Sedaris

David Sedaris’s newest book features a collection of essays, each one taking you on a journey that’s sure to make you laugh out loud. You’ll travel on a world tour, from experiences with French dentistry, to the Australian kookaburra, to the toilets of Beijing and eventually the wild country of North Carolina. Sedaris paints the world in a hilarious light as he recounts his absurd and ridiculous tales.

What have you been reading this summer? Let us know in the comments!

Jess Walter on Podcasts, Audiobooks, and Beautiful Ruins

Earlier this month I was passing through Spokane, WA, the home of Beautiful Ruins author Jess Walter. Walter and I sat down and talked about his podcast with his friend and fellow author Sherman Alexie, Beautiful Ruins, and how he’d feel if someone made him into a character in their novel.

[Judy Oldfield]: Let’s talk about your podcast with Sherman Alexie, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment. How did you decide to get into this new medium?

[Jess Walter]: The people asking for guests on Minnesota Public Radio asked Sherman if he’d be interested and he said, “I’d do it with my friend Jess”. It’s really haphazard and could fall apart at any time. We both like the tentative nature of it. One bad mood and either of us could kill it but we have so much fun. The thing we like the most is the live shows. We can feed off the energy of the crowd.

[JO]: Your friendship with Sherman goes back a really long way and that’s probably why the podcast feels so natural.

[JW]: We’ve known each other for 27-28 years and have developed a really close friendship over basketball and parenthood and writing and being from the place we’re from, where there aren’t a whole lot of writers. We can compare notes on things. It’s been great to have that friendship and then be able to share it with people. Because we do have a great time together, sometimes we laugh so hard we would think, “It’s a shame nobody gets to see this”.

[JO]: Do you feel like you’ve influenced each other’s writing?

[JW]: I can’t answer for him, but he’s definitely influenced mine. I think certainly in subtle ways. We both have very strong ideas about voice and form. Everything you read influences you. With friends sometimes its more, “I hope so and so likes this story” or “I hope Jess likes this novel”. So I think we influence each other more as friends than as literary influences.

[JO]: You’ve both spoken on your podcasts about what respect and love you have for each other as writers, which is sort of unique in the world of writing where you’re always looking at people a little sideways.

[JW]: One of the things I dislike about publishing now is that everyone has this idea that it’s a careerist thing. The, “I‘ve got to have this many followers and do this many things”. And it doesn’t take long before some writers begin to believe that someone else’s success affects them in some way. I have very little patience for that. If you’ve written a great book, you’ve written a great book. For me the entire enterprise ends there. It doesn’t matter how you promote it, it doesn’t matter if it was a bestseller, or won awards, the thing that you’ve created is what you get excited about and that’s what I’ve always loved about my conversations with Sherman. We talk about the thing itself. We don’t usually talk about the noise around it.

[JO]: Art is about more than your Twitter followers.

[JW]: Oh yeah, and there’s something about the way we measure everything, how we quantify everything that is, by nature, bad for art. And I think with books especially.

[JO]: How about audiobooks? That’s a new format.

[JW]: Or is it the oldest format? I mean when you think of The Iliad and The Odyssey writing comes from this oral form. I love to read my work aloud. I love to have readings. So to have a great audiobook come out of a piece of work, to me, is the most traditional form in some ways.

[JO]: Right. You get this great experience, but it’s not off the cuff—it’s still edited and finalized. I just saw this study that said that writing and speaking come from different parts of the brain, which makes sense to me, because I’m a far better writer than I am a speaker.

[JW]: But I think they’re linked in some way. A writer is always trying to find his voice, her voice. And my writing process is so tied into reading aloud; at the end of every day I read aloud what I’ve written. A lot of times I’ll find hitches in things. They’re different, certainly, and some books are better on the page. But I think those links are really interesting and that’s one of the things Sherman and I really like is reading our work and that process of hearing it out loud.

[JO]: You’ve said Beautiful Ruins is one of your only audiobooks that you can listen to comfortably.

[JW]: Yeah, it was always hard because actors would do a terrific job and other people would tell me how great they did, but when other actors would read my books it would always stop me cold. It would be simply phrasing something in a way I hadn’t heard it or reading dialogue in a way I hadn’t imagined it. A slight mispronunciation or something. Those things would always catch me and I would have to stop listening.

The analogy I use is it was like watching a video of someone making out with my wife. No matter how well they did it, it wasn’t going to seem right to me. But the minute I heard Eduardo’s spot on pronunciations and the subtleties he brings to the characters (not to mention Richard Burton, Joe the Irish music guy, and all the characters) . . . he seems to just embody them and it’s great when you hear a version of your book that adds to your own sense of it. And that’s what I think Eduardo did.

[JO]: Beautiful Ruins just has so many details in it. One of my very favorite moments is when the production assistant takes the “digital hit” of her phone. It resonated with me—not particularly in a good way—because I totally do that. You write a lot about technology and the interplay between technology and the modern world in Beautiful Ruins, and in The Financial Lives of the Poets. Is that something that creeps into your writing or something that you think about a lot?

[JW]: I do think about it a lot. I mean it is the profound change of our time. In the same way that the automobile, the Industrial Revolution, spears, and every technological advance [shifted culture] ours is this interpersonal communication. These devices we have come up with that begin as a way to enhance your life end up changing it. All of our lives are altered by the technology we carry around.

[JO]: You also write a lot about failure. Why is that? You’ve been nominated for a National Book Award, you’ve written six novels, you’ve been a New York Times Bestseller. Why is that something that still interests you?

[JW]: I remember watching The Smurfs, and a typical plot would be they decide to have a party and everyone shows up to the party and they all have a good time, which is great for a Smurfs episode but not so great for fiction. In general, fiction arises out of conflict and difficulty.

Every writer sees themselves as wanting and lacking. I don’t feel like I’ve produced the great book that I’ve set out to write. That’s what keeps me going as a writer. That fuel is the failure to have outdone this outlandish thing that you’ve set out to do. So I don’t think you have to scratch too far, for most writers, to find this idea of failure.

[JO]: In Beautiful Ruins, there are some things you’ve made up. Porto Vergogna is fictional but then there are also some real people and events like Cleopatra and obviously the Burton character. How do you decide which things to just create and which things to use from real life?

[JW]: It’s more inspiration than decision-making. If you think about novels, there’s a huge amount of the real world in them. People climb in cars; they don’t climb in bubble rolling machines that propel them down the street on their own thoughts.

[JO]: Not in literary fiction.

[JW]: Exactly! The place, the setting, tends to be real. We’re constantly bringing fiction to bear in the real world. Historical fiction uses real characters all the time. Abraham Lincoln wanders around in historical fiction all the time, and sometimes he kills vampires. You never quite know what your historical figures are going to do. So to me the process was not too much different than that.

I started with this woman arriving in Italy—at first I didn’t know who she was . . . then I decided she’s this beautiful actress. Then I had to find out what would an actress be doing in Italy and I stumbled upon Cleopatra being shot in Rome at that time. The story was so compelling and wild and I really committed to it when it touched something thematic (theme is what I often return to in my work). Thematically it really seemed as if this movie had invented a certain kind of fame that we live in this moment. I began imagining a studio hack who had invented fame, essentially. That seemed like such a worthy topic . . . I kind of fell in love with Richard Burton . . . Burton hovered over the novel like a talisman, as a character who had a choice between his talent and some outward kind of fame, some clearly easier, cheaper more seductive kind of thing that in the end, as Americans, we’ve all chosen. It can feel bold and audacious to be a character like Burton so I was thrilled to try and write those scenes and then I was afraid that he would never leave my book.

[JO]: Say 50 years from now there’s a novelist writing about the Pacific Northwest and you show up as a character. How would you feel?

[JW]: I worked pretty hard researching Burton and then honestly I threw that research away. You invent a fictional version of that character. I would be flattered if a novelist chose me. I mean, I’m a writer; we have such boring lives. Hopefully he would come up with something more interesting for me to do. Maybe some out-of-wedlock drama or blackout drunk event, that I don’t know about, to make the book interesting.

Beautiful Ruins is our Book of the Month, and on sale until the end of July. Get it now!

Narrator Edoardo Ballerini on Genres, Beautiful Ruins, and Hollywood

Edoardo Ballerini has had a varied career. He’s had recurring roles in  hit television series such as The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and will be in Quarry next year. He’s worked as a stage actor and film producer. He’s also narrated numerous audiobooks, including books by James Patterson, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Cherie Priest.

Ballerini’s father is Italian, and he grew up both in America and Italy, which is part of why he was such a natural fit to narrate Beautiful Ruins. I called him up to talk about Beautiful Ruins, the differences between acting and narrating, and his dream audiobook gig.

[Judy Oldfield]: You’ve narrated several audiobooks of all different sorts, including thrillers and mysteries, like James Patterson’s NYPD series, books about mindfulness, and more literary books like Beautiful Ruins. Do you approach reading for different genres differently?

[Edoardo Ballerini]: Absolutely. I have always said that the narrator’s job is to follow the author, to be as faithful to the text in representing it as possible. So the difference between narrating James Patterson and the Dalai Lama as you can imagine is pretty broad.

I really feel like my job is to be James Patterson as much as I can be when I am narrating James Patterson and to be the Dalai Lama—which is a tall order—when I’m narrating the Dalai Lama. It’s an interesting acting exercise. I feel like the narrator is meant to be as faithful to what is presented as possible, as opposed to let’s say theater, where you can be more interpretive, take your instinct, and do something new and different. I feel like the narrator’s job is not that. And so I do approach the different genres very differently.

[JO]: So then it really does differ from your work as a TV or a movie or a stage actor. Was it hard for you to make that switch when you started narrating audiobooks?

[EB]: No, my background is actually literary. Both my parents were academics and I went to school with the intention of being an academic myself—an English major. And so the world of books—the world of literature—was very natural to me, and it’s something that I had wanted to do for a very long time. It felt like a very comfortable fit for me, and I am so pleased that it worked out the way it has. I’ve met so many wonderful people, and I feel very at home in the world of audiobooks.

[JO]: How were you selected to narrate Beautiful Ruins?

[EB]: That’s an interesting question. A woman named Paula Parker was in charge of producing it in concert with HarperAudio and she knew me from some other work we’d done. She knew I spoke Italian, that I have an Italian background, and that I move between acting genres (meaning I do some in television and some in Hollywood). And along came a title which somehow blended Italy and Hollywood, and so she thought of me.

Beautiful Ruins and I, I feel like, were a match made in heaven. I really feel like if there was ever a book I was meant to narrate, that was it. To me—I’m almost embarrassed to say this—but it was easy. It was an easy book to narrate because it just felt so natural. It just felt like these worlds that were being written, these characters—I knew them all. I didn’t have to do that much outside of myself, and so I remember when I first read it I thought, “Wow, this is going to be special.” And I think the longevity of the success of the audiobook has proven that there was this kind of perfect match of narrator and text.

[JO]: Yeah, I heard Jess Walter talking about audiobooks on his podcast and he said that of his books that have been made into audiobooks, this was definitely his favorite and the only one he can really listen to comfortably.

[EB]: Yeah he said that to me as well. . . . We actually did an event together here in New York where I read a piece of the book and we discussed it in front of the audience and he said to me the same thing, privately, that it’s the only book of his that’s on audio that he can really listen to. So, it was the right pairing. I think casting, be it in audiobooks or be it in film, television, stage, whatever it is, is so important and this was just one of those moments where it all came together in the right way.

[JO]: You talked about having a bit of insider information. How did you feel about his depictions of Italy or Italians?

[EB]: I thought the main character, Pasquale, is a very beautiful character. That was in the sixties portion of the book as readers and listeners might be familiar with. My father is of that generation and so I’ve certainly met a lot of these people, and been to a lot of these smaller towns up the coast. It felt very honest to me. It felt very pure. It felt like this guy really could have existed and I could see him very easily. I thought it was a very honest, fair depiction of an Italian man of that time and that place in a small town, falling in love, and trying to expand his world and trying to break out.

[JO]: And what about Hollywood?

[EB]: The Hollywood characters also felt equally honest. You know, the Michael Dean producer, the young development assistant who is trying to make her way, and her slacker boyfriend. I feel like I’ve met these people a hundred times over.

I think, the success of the book, both in print and in audio, speaks to these chords that it struck in people, that these were real characters, that they lived authentic lives.

[JO]: Do you have a favorite moment in the story?

[EB]: It’s very easily the Richard Burton parts. I mean I know it’s an easy thing to point to, but it was so delicious, these scenes. And believe me, I’m never going to get to play Richard Burton ever again in my life. Just the chance to embody this legendary actor was just so absurd. From what I was told about Burton, it seems that too was an honest depiction of what the man was like. And just the chance to be in his voice and his head—it contrasted with Pasquale who is this beautiful young innocent. Those scenes were so great, they were so great.

[JO]: I know you said that this was almost like the ultimate audiobook for you, but if you had the chance to record any audiobook, what would it be?

[EB]: That’s a tough one. There are so many. You know one that I would love to do, is Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again—which is Thomas Wolfe, not Tom Wolfe. I’m not a Southerner so I probably shouldn’t be asked to do it, but it was a book that had such an impact on me as a young man in college that I would love to do that.

There’s another actually, now that I think about it: Jack London’s Martin Eden. It’s essentially London’s semi-autobiographical story of how he was this sort of brutish sailor who ended up in this wealthy man’s library and was introduced to the world of books and then launched into being a writer. It’s such a beautiful story, I’d love to do Martin Eden. So if anybody’s ever producing Martin Eden please give me a call.

Edoardo Ballerini shows great range as a narrator. Check out some of the many books he’s narrated.

A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment

Basketball? Check. Poetry? Check. Humor? Check. The inside scoop from two successful authors? Check.

It seems like every day a new podcast pops up, but none covers the broad topics as Sherman Alexie’s and Jess Walter’s A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment.

Sherman Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur D’Alene Indian from Washington State whose writing is reflective of not only his life experience, but also the collective experience of being human. Alexie’s gift as a storyteller is obvious in his writing,—some of his novels include Flight, War Dances, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—and it’s one of the things that drew Walter to Alexie in the first place and that he admires most in his friend.

Jess Walter has written six novels, including The Financial Lives of the Poets and Beautiful Ruins, our Book of the Month. He also writes about everyday people whose stories exemplify modern life. Walter and Alexie grew up up together in Spokane, WA, where Walter still lives.

Listening to A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment is wildly entertaining, not only because of the topics Walter and Alexie choose to cover, but also because their on-air chemistry is so energetic.

Though each of them are brilliant wordsmiths, they both agree that making a podcast is challenging because of its improvisational nature. Despite this challenge, Walter and Alexie are just as well-spoken on the fly, moving deftly from unexpected topics like Walter’s stint as an unassuming 7th grade trumpet-carrying drug mule to advice on how to perform your own writing, but even if what you’re really looking for is talk about basketball, you’re in luck because they do that too!

What strikes me most about their friendship is how remarkably in-tune they are. It’s almost as if each podcast is a performance of sorts, though of course, it’s just the two of them having a casual conversation. Each listen is like experiencing Alexie and Walter weave together a tapestry of intimate pictures and stories that, as an outsider, are a privilege to witness.

Do you have a favorite episode of A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment? Let us know in the comments!

Book of the Month: Beautiful Ruins

Creating a community of listeners is important to us at

Our Book of the Month is one of the ways we like to invite listeners into an open dialogue on social media and our blog about the book, and give them a chance to join in.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to listen to Beautiful Ruins while sailing through the Mediterranean, which provided a beautiful backdrop while absorbing Jess Walter’s novel. It’s a book that has stayed with me ever since, and perhaps because of this I’ve convinced most members of the Libro team to listen to it. We’re not the only ones enjoying Beautiful Ruins this summer, because it’s a book you’ll see on a front table at your local independent bookstore.

Since it’s the perfect soundtrack it for any summer adventure—whether that be on a walk to a nearby park or a trek on the other side of the world—we decided it would be a great pick for July’s Book of the Month.

The magic of the story begins along the Cinque Terre coastline in Italy, bordered in blue by the Ligurian Sea, in a small village called Porto Vergogna. Young Pasquale Tursi works tirelessly to keep his father’s dream alive, running the Hotel Adequate View, though most of his guests arrive by accident, mistaking the sleepy fishing village for the luxurious Porto Venere. His small world takes a turn when, almost as if in a dream, Dee Moray, an American movie star, enters Pasquale’s life.  Dee has just been diagnosed with cancer, but through Pasquale’s broken English the two form a friendship. Years later, memories of Dee compel Pasquale to go to Hollywood and seek answers to the questions that have haunted him ever since.

While that is the heart of the story, it’s so much more than that. Switching between 1962 Italy and 21st-century Hollywood, with a cast of quirky characters along the way, it’s easy to get swept up in the magic of Walter’s intertwining storylines.

In an interview, Walter admits that both the hardest and most rewarding part of writing Beautiful Ruins was working with it’s many different narrative forms. It’s part of the reason why the novel is so unique. I found myself transfixed while listening to the narrator dive into a movie pitch about die-hard cannibal cowboys, then deftly switch gears and follow the sweet love story of Pasquale and Dee, while still flowing seamlessly within the overall plot.

Beautiful Ruins is not just a love story or a tale of adventure. Honestly, I can’t say that it really fits into one genre at all, yet somehow it pulls off being romantic, thrilling, and mysterious all at the same time, which is a testament to Jess Walter’s skills as a writer and Edoardo Ballerini’s as narrator. There’s a reason why Ballerini won the 2013 Audie Award (the “Oscar” of spoken word entertainment) for best Solo Narration/Male. You’re going to love this book!

Listen to a clip of the first few minutes of Beautiful Ruins in which you are introduced to the sleepy village of Porto Vergogna where Pasquale Tursi’s journey begins.

We’ve discounted Beautiful Ruins to $9.95 all month (that’s 64% off)! Visit our Beautiful Ruins page to find out more, and make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, where we will continue this dialogue throughout July.