Pod Review January 22-28 & other updates

This weekly post has evolved from exclusive podcast reviews to a more general weekly update… and this week, I’m afraid this will be less about podcasts. Last Monday my 8yo son tested positive with Covid, he had fever. He was the one scheduled for vaccination next weekend! Following the local regulations he spent the week including today in isolation in his room while the rest of the family did self-tests on Day 2 and tonight Day 4… Unfortunately my husband is now positive with Covid (cough mostly), so we will enter another round of isolation and self tests. I’m negative and my teenager is too. I feel so lucky to be in a country where testing is easy and cheap (see below*). The isolation instructions have been so much communicated everywhere that we knew what to do, although it is still scary. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, here are the podcasts I’ve listened to this week.

  • Radiolab Darkode
  • A Slob Comes Clean #299 I solved my paper clutter problem! [new-to-me]
  • Before Breakfast with Laura Vanderkam Three minutes to a better schedule
  • Where should we begin with Esther Perel: I don’t mean to be mean, but… This episode presented a couple really at odds with one another… so much so that Esther herself almost lost her cool.
  • This American Life #757 The ghost in the machine
  • A Slob Comes Clean #298 Decluttering deeper without getting overwhelmed
  • The Waves (Slate) The case against Ghislaine Maxwell [new-to-me]
  • Short Wave: The hodgepodge of Covid testing in the U.S. (*) this made me shake my head in disbelief. Here rapid tests done at the drugstore are free if you’re vaccinated (or if you have a doctor’s prescription and no vaccine) but rapid self-tests cost 5.20€ each. I couldn’t believe how much Americans pay for tests (and some are fake or never give out results!)
  • Edit Your Life #254 Sustainale habits and joyful goals. Not sure I was in the mood for joyful goals this week, bad timing.
  • The Wages (Slate) Middle Aged women are getting their due on TV. About the Sex and the city sequel and another show I haven’t watched either… but I was a die-hard fan of the original SATC which I discovered in Asia before 2000, and I am curious…
  • Radiolab The 11th, a letter from George

I tried 2 new podcasts this week. The Slob Comes Clean is good, but too long for my taste. It could easily be resumed in 10-15 minutes episodes if the host was less chatty. This tells you as much about the show as about me: in short, it’s probably not my style. The Waves by Slate is a great podcast about “gender, relationships, feminism” (as they say). The hosts and topics are each time different, so my experience was a bit all over the place. But for sure I’ll check out their back catalogue.

I wish you a good weekend and stay safe !

Michael Connelly, Dark Sacred Night (2018)

In 2021 I read three books by Michael Connelly and this one was the last one, after the blunder I made about The Night Fire. I was sure I was reading this book, which is #2 in the series, while I was reading the Night Fire (#3) instead… so after that I had to retrace my steps and read Dark Sacred Night, right? Well, I normally don’t read series in order anyway, and for years I said I didn’t really care (I read from libraries and got what was available, and also international books were so much harder to procure) but I am slowly acknowledging that the experience of reading it in the correct order is, in fact, quite satisfying. Maybe the rebel in me has grown up… 😂 and I’m probably using an emoji that dates me…

Still, you came here for a review of Dark Sacred Night, and I’ll announce right away that you won’t get any plot details from me. It’s a bit fuzzy in my memory. I had fun while reading it for sure but I felt that it was not as good as The Night Fire. Not that I will quit Ballard and Bosch duo anytime soon, but since I had already seen the two of them work together in #3, I had little patience for the will-they-won’t-they of the two starting to get to know each other and learning to trust each other.

A big chunk of the book feels like a second part to Two Kinds of Truth. One of the cold cases Bosch takes here, the murder of a young girl called Daisy Clayton, is the result of a promise he made to her mother Elizabeth Clayton who had descended into drugs addiction as a result of the murder and the lack of justice. The relationship between Bosch and Clayton is ambiguous and well described.

I enjoyed the relentless pace and the renewed surprises of the plot. I absolutely didn’t see the solution coming! I do look forward to reading about this fabulous pair again and I will be careful about the right order!

Kayte Nunn, The Silk House (2020)

I bought this book from the Kindle deal pages at the same time I bought The Familiars by Stacey Halls. Clearly I was onto something that evening: similar cute covers with flowers, female focus and historical fiction, with a bit of supernatural thrown into the plot. I chose both books totally perchance without knowing anything about the writers. But apart from that, both books are rather different and leave me with a different impression.

The Silk House has one of those dual timelines structure, moving back and forth between now and then, and this book doesn’t escape the common problem that one line is usually much stronger than the other. I didn’t care much for the contemporary story, centered on a young Australian woman arriving in England to teach in an exclusive boarding school that now accepts girls for the first school year. Thea will be housed together with her charges in a very old building dating back from the 18th century that has a complicated past, and as soon as she gets settled, strange things seem to happen there, related to the past. Yes, it’s spooky, but not really as tense as one would expect.

I enjoyed a lot more the other story line. In the 1770s, the point of view is split between a young maid of all works and an educated but penniless spinster who wants to be a pattern drawer for the silk weavers. Rowan the maid gets hired in a rather unconventional way by a silk merchant. Rowan has a particular gift that she doesn’t want people to know about, that of knowing plants that heal, a dangerous knowledge for women easily accused of witchcraft. And Mary Louise the painter, after many rejections by a male-dominated industry, is getting into a business deal with the same silk merchant.

I really enjoyed Rowan’s storyline, and I enjoyed learning about the silk weavers and pattern drawing (but if I hadn’t been interested, those pages would have felt particularly long as the writer gets into a lot of details that don’t really belong to the story). Mary Louise doesn’t feel very realistic to me in the way she behaves and talks, she seems anachronistic, and that’s a shame. But the main weakness is that there were probably too many stories and clues within one book, and so the last part of the story, where the writer tries to tie all the story lines together, feels rushed and disappointing.

While this one was not a complete success, I am definitely loving historical fiction these days, and that’s great because I have a few other ones lined up!

Pod Review January 15-21

I need a January reset on this blog. I would like to post more but I can’t seem to find the time since the xmas holidays ended. Sigh… Personally, I’m convinced that Covid is to blame (what else?). Due to full-time WFH, I lose track of time à la Groundhog Day, and I end up working too late at the expense of my blog. On the other side, books pile up without a chance to be mentioned on the blog! The week was especially stressful as my younger kid had some Covid-positive classmates (they’re all masked in class and recess, but very few are vaccinated), and according to local regulations we had him tested 3 times within 5 days… All negative ! 😛 One more good reason to celebrate the weekend: happy Friday everyone!

  • You’re wrong About… Political Correctedness. This show runs about my usual time limit (this one in particular was 1h20!)… I enjoyed it but I wish it was a bit more focused.
  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin #359 We reveal our 22 for 2022. This year I did one such list and I’ll see if it’s helpful or not! Got some pressure off when the hosts said that they don’t cross off everything on their own list, by far! 😅
  • Before Breakfast with Laura Vanderkam: Find ways to use it up. This host has been criticized for her privileged point of view and this one tidbit about not wasting resources is a departure from her usual focus on productivity and organization. (1)
  • American Vigilante Episodes 11 (Dee Dee) and 12 What do we think?
  • 💙 Throughline: The Nostalgia Bone. People in history have considered that nostalgia is an illness, and searched for a medical cure. A very nice balance between historical insights and contemporary analysis (how much marketing people want to use nostalgia to sell us more stuff)
  • Before Breakfast with Laura Vanderkam: Mondays aren’t for deciding. I agree with this phrase, but my Friday afternoons at work are just crazy, so I’m really not sure when I should find some downtime and plan. I should rather reframe this as: find your peak hours and don’t waste them on non-productive stuff.
  • Maintenance Phase: The Keto diet. Diets are not my things, but this one seems really hard-core AND dangerous…
  • Pekingology: Cyber nationalism and regime support under Xi Jinping

A 5 minutes podcast (1) sent me down a rabbit hole of reflections. I enjoy productivity podcasts, not always but at some periods of the year (January and September, mostly), but I also enjoy sustainable living themes, and I noticed that the two themes don’t mix well. Is sustainable living always synonym with slow living? Is productivity condemned to be a proponent of unsustainable solutions? I hope that I (we) can find a way to be both… If you have heard a podcast (or an internet resource) about this, I’m interested to learn more.

I didn’t try any new podcast this week, but I concluded my 2 episodes trial of Pekingology. And the result is… yes! For people interested in contemporary China, this podcast by CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.) is academic but not obscure, detailed but not indigestible… I will definitely check out their episodes catalogue. It is less fun than Sinica, but still well worth my time.

François Médéline, La Sacrifiée du Vercors (2021)

This mystery was on the Librarians’ choice shelf a few weeks ago, and it was the first book I finished in 2022. From the cover I understood that the book got a (local?)literary prize, and from the afterword I gather that some characters in the book are inspired by real people, some of them close to the writer’s family… And so I wish that I’d enjoyed it more. In truth, it was just so-so.

It was a disappointment because the setting, both in history and geography, was very promising. It is set over the course of one day, in September 1944, when Nazis have been defeated in most of France but are still fighting further East in Germany. Americans have moved on to more pressing battlegrounds and people are left with the aftermaths. Not only of the battle itself but of years of Nazi occupation and the compromissions that people (some? many? most?) have done to survive, to endure or some to thrive under this regime. The Vercors takes a very singular place in the war. It is a beautiful region in the Alps and a lot of young people who didn’t want to be sent to Germany joined the Resistance groups there and hid high up in the mountains.

When the Resistance heard of the American arrival they led an uprising against the Nazis in the Vercors, but the Americans didn’t arrive until too late, when lots of resistance fighters and lots of civilians had been killed before the Nazis retreated. Because of those particular events, bitterness and anger were particularly ripe in the area and Epuration (the campaign to get rid of collaborators) often degenerated into personal vendetta and unlawful violence.

The book centers on the murder of one young woman who is found raped and killed in the mountains. Her hair has been shaved off, which is a tell-tale sign of a political attack. Women who were suspected of having had sex with the enemy were often condemned to this shameful sign by the population (police and justice, also suspected of collaboration, were in complete disarray at this period and only came later to turn Epuration into a legal, organized process – with its own flaws).

I clearly expected too much from the book. The writing is dry and quick like the Ellroy’s translations we have here (which is not exactly the real deal). The plot itself is no real mystery and there are way too many digressions. The atmosphere of hatred and bitterness is well painted, but it is spread too thin and some characters are only cardboard pictures. For a more punchy take on this very dark period, the memory of Romain Slocombe’s thriller is still very vivid in my memory (as in: I should probably not read another one too soon).

Pod Review January 8-14

Another week of working full time from home due to record Omicron cases. I slightly lose the notion of what day it is… There was a strike in schools yesterday because teachers don’t feel safe with current Covid measures and are confused and angry by the ever-changing rules. Boy do I understand them! On a positive note, I tried 3 new-to-me podcasts this week, things are getting back into gear! I will not report on Pekingology yet since I only tried one episode (my own version of the 2-strikes rule), but I liked what I heard for the first try (I’m aware it’s my own niche, but in case you’re interested into better understanding China, don’t hesitate to comment).

  • David Tennant Does A Podcast – Olivia Colman [new-to-me]
  • Sorta Awesome #368 What we learned in 2021 and our favorites too! It was fun and heart warming
  • Short Wave How to talk about the Covid19 vaccine with people who are hesitant. I’m not sold on that one. I came for practical strategies, and I think my mistake was not to pay attention about the word “hesitant”
  • ICYMI Is Martha Stewart an Instagram scammer? Implicit advertisement by the guru of perfect housekeeping, how would that be even possible?
  • Pekingology (On Chinese politics – by CSIS) [new-to-me] Who not what; a fascinating discussion on what Chinese authorities are censoring on social media and their evolving strategy… I even took some notes !
  • Learn Do Become #126 What to look at everyday so we can reach our goals [new-to-me]
  • NYT The Argument Can a new university really fix Academia’s free speech problem. I had heard of this particular event, but I was more interested by free speech problem than by the particular case of this new University of Austin.
  • Learn Do Become #105 10 Things you can do in 2 minutes or less
  • Where do we begin with Esther Perel: I can be strong and be taken care of. I didn’t connect to the couple in this particular session, but I was interested in the dynamic between them.
  • David Tennant Does A Podcast – Ian McKellen
  • 💙 Radiolab Worst.Year.Ever

I tried David Tennant Does a Podcast, a clear departure from my usual taste. I love watching David Tennant in movies and series, but I’m not a fan of interview podcasts. I thought one would compensate for the other. His chats with Olivia Colman, and then with Ian McKellen were perfectly pleasant and the guests I picked are people who seem genuinely nice and friendly, but it is confirmed that it’s just not my thing. Sorry about that.

The second podcast I tried was normally more my cup of tea. I learnt about Learn Do Become through the Lazy Genius Facebook group. The topic is getting organized, productivity, goal-setting etc. Their mission is:

We help people who are overwhelmed by the details of life to create simple systems so they can do what matters most.

After listening earnestly to 2 episodes, I’m not quite the target audience for this podcast. Mainly because I don’t often find myself overwhelmed by practical things. I might be overwhelmed by a lot of things, like job stress, anxiety, Covid and such (am I the only one?), but I’m a rather organized person and I didn’t learn much from the solutions host April presented because I mostly have them already. But to each their own, and I think this podcast is probably be useful to other people.

My favorite podcast this week was by Radiolab: Worst.Year.Ever. You think 2020 and 2021 were crappy years? Think again! How about you compare it to 536, where the winter was 1,5 year long, with no sun even at midday, failure of crops, famine, illness and plagues all around the globe. With this perspective, Covid19 seems almost like a tiny headache after all. The episode is fun and dark at the same time, I really recommend it. And after that, tell me how it made you feel. Better or worse? I can’t decide for myself.

Stacey Halls, The Familiars (2019)

Once again, I fell for a good blurb and a pretty cover. This blurb by Jessie Burton of The Miniaturist’s fame, speaking of witchcraft, promised female-centered, even feminist historical fiction. Although I have been many times disappointed by boisterous blurbs, this time it just delivered the goods! It was a total random pick among Amazon Kindle’s deals, and I’m lucky to have discovered a great new historical fiction writer.

The novel centers on a young noblewoman, Fleetwood Shuttleworth, who is once again pregnant after several lost pregnancies. She stumbles upon a note written by her doctor to her husband, stating that she will probably not survive the pregnancy. A note that her dear husband never alluded to. Shocked, Fleetwood goes on to search for the best midwife she can trust to deliver a living heir… and keep her alive too. She puts her trust in no other than a very strange maid that she meets in the woods, Alice Gray. Fleetwoods cannot deny that Alice has some skills with herbal remedies, but villagers suspect that she has far more dangerous powers: Alice is accused of witchcraft by association with other poor, marginalized women, and witches trials in that period often end in death.

The action was quite suspenseful and moving, and I really enjoyed how Fleetwood’s character develops from a sheltered, naive young mistress to a more balanced, aware woman who will not flinch in front of difficulties and other people’s opinions.

The Familiars is set in the early 17th century, and loosely based on historical facts, the Pendle witches trials in Lancashire. Now, I have rather vague notions in British history and geography (Lancashire, so up there in the North?), and I had little previous knowledge of campaigns against witches at the time, so I was really impressed by the story and the research. Witch hunts at the time seem a lot worse than the Salem trial which I know more about! The familiars of the title don’t play a big role in the story, because Stacey Halls is careful to stay on the thin line between rational facts and supernatural explanations, even until the end. I really appreciated that, and I would gladly read another book by this author.

Pod Review January 1-7

This is the first year of 2022, but someone must have clicked on “Fast-forward”, because I sure don’t know what happened between Monday and… right now. Anything worth mentioning? I prefer ignoring the news if possible. My sons’ classes are still opened (knock on wood), and although I’m back to work since Monday I haven’t ventured into the office or the commuter train yet. Same old unprecedented times… I prefer focusing on the good things every day for now, including good books (Stephen King is on my nightstand!) and old favorite podcasts.

  • American Vigilante Episode 9 (Rainy Nights)
  • Radiolab Mixtape Cassetternet. Back when software creators were exchanging ideas with computer nerds turned pirats on the other side of the Iron curtain.
  • Throughline History is over. About some 2000-2001 Radiohead albums. Can’t say that I’m a fan enough…
  • The Lab Happiness: How to adopt a growth mindset. Perhaps I should listen to that one several times, because French people are really, really into fixed mindsets…
  • Radiolab Flop off. I didn’t know the expression “belly flops”, and I was really surprised that a sports team would show up at the White house wearing flip-flops… Podcasts sometimes put me in a strange culture shock.
  • The Lazy Genius podcast #242 What I learned in my 40th birthday
  • Maintenance phase The Master cleanse. Well, that one is timely, isn’t it? I have never tried a January cleanse or diet, nor would I want to try now that the Maintenance phase hosts have told me what it entails.
  • Heavyweight (on Spotify) #43 Maura. At the end of her 20s, Maura wants to face her fears of driving after losing her beloved cousin in a car accident just when she was supposed to get her license at 17.
  • American Vigilante Episode 10 The Country store. At this point, my position is that K.C. is saying some true stories but embellishing them quite a lot. Don’t make me go into the Reddit rabbit hole to discuss this…
  • 💙 NYT The Argument: If cannabis is legalized, should all drugs be? There were so many interesting points in this discussion. The most important one being the difference between legalization and de-decriminalization… I hadn’t thought about so many implications (addiction, marketing, international traffics…).

I didn’t try any new podcast this week, not that I have nothing new in my queue, but I kept putting it off until it was already Friday! The best show this week is The Argument, an old episode from October about drug legalization. I’m always delighted at the balanced and nuanced positions of the people interviewed in this show… so much so that I end up not knowing what to think about the issue!

Clare O’Dea, Voting Day (2021)

I was confused when I picked this book on Netgalley: a novel set in Switzerland in the 1950s, written by an author whose name is so obviously Irish? Well, this is Europe after all (albeit not the European Union, because Swiss people are very particular about maintaining their independence and particular culture), and I was intrigued by the story. Most of the book happens over the course of one particular day in 1959, when men are called to vote and decide if their womenfolk will have the right to vote. Will they say yes? Will they say no? We don’t follow them cast their ballots and count the results, we see the day through the eyes of four different women, who live very different lives but cross path on that day, however briefly.

The first woman we meet is Vreni, a farmer’s wife who comes to town for an operation at the hospital. Women’s troubles, she doesn’t want to say more. As she gets ready for the trip and the two weeks stay, we see how much she does in domestic work at home and in the farm. Of course her husband doesn’t pick up what she won’t do, she had to ask another woman to come and cook, clean, wash etc. She even slightly looks forward to the hospital stay as a sort of vacation. We also meet Vreni’s daughter, who has finished school (an exception in the village) and settled down as an office girl in the city. We also see Esther, who works as a cleaner at the hospital and recognizes Vreni from afar, and Beatrice, who is something of a manager at the hospital and very much into activism for the women’s vote.

I really enjoyed the back stories of each of the women and how they also misjudge, ignore or misunderstand one another. There’s a lot of hardship and abuse in the book, but it is still hopeful and positive in the end.

Let’s cut the chase: Swiss women did not get the right to vote that day. In fact, it was only in 1971 that they actually could vote, a shockingly late reversal, and something that tells a lot of the weight of patriarchy and conservatism in that period. The book was a wonderful discovery and I’d love to read Clare O’Dea’s next novel.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. I received a free copy of this book for review consideration.

Pod Review December 25-31 & Favorites

Last day of the year, last post of 2021… and a whole lot of podcasts! I hope you all were able to have a more rested week, whether you were working or not, … and I hope you might have had time for books and podcasts? I sure did, especially as I had a stupid cold (not Covid, just the regular ol’ annoying sort) that made me want to stay on the couch with my box of Kleenex and do nothing. I listened to a lot of yearly recaps and future goals while thinking of my own. I didn’t try any new podcasts this week, but hang on, I will recap this 2021 endeavor just below. Here are the podcasts of the week:

  • Best of Both Worlds: 2021 in Review part 1: Favorites
  • Radiolab: Mixtape: The Wandering Soul. Did you know that the US Army try to undermine Vietnamese soldiers’ morale by broadcasting eery, creepy sounds in the jungle, to let them think these were the cries of wandering souls of dead soldiers?
  • Maintenance Phase: Dr. Oz. I can’t believe I used to read the articles of this guy on Oprah magazine and sort of took them seriously!
  • Where Should we begin with Esther Perel: What are they now – a romantic revival
  • Best of Both Worlds: 2022 Goals, an annual tradition
  • Maintenance Phase: The Sleep Loss Epidemic
  • ICYMI: The toothpaste mystery taking over Tiktok
  • Short Wave: Want to start reading Sci-fi and Fantasy? Here’s a beginner’s guide
  • Short Wave: Using Math to Rethink Gender (encore); I learnt about congressive vs. ingressive people (learn more here)
  • Sinica: Psychologist George Hu on Mental Health in China
  • NPR Throughline: The Monster of We; I’d never heard of Ayn Rand, but I was really fascinated by her life and theories in defense of capitalism.
  • 10 Things to Tell you by Laura Tremaine #149 10 takeaways from 2021; Spoiler Alert, she’s (too!) stopping the podcast!
  • Radiolab Mixtape: Help?
  • Where should we begin with Esther Perel. Friendship, my reliable gift
  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin #357 We reveal the yearly challenge
  • Best of both worlds: Personal highlights, hits & misses
  • Sorta Awesome #367 Debriefing Christmas. Just for the once, Meg and her husband’s banter was just the idle fun I needed
  • American Vigilante: Episodes 7 and 8
  • Radiolab: Vanishing Words
  • The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman #206 what worked in 2021

Over the course of 2021, I tried 86 new podcasts!! This is far more than I’d ever expected… and I’m glad I got so intentional about it. I tried so many shows that were recommended here and there and really everywhere, spanning from true crime to mom podcasts, from money to bizarre Tiktok trends… and of course there were big fat fails as well as huge successes. I can’t just pick one favorite, but here are the top ones:

  • Floodlines by The Atlantic. A 8-part investigative analysis and retelling of hurricane Katrina
  • The Lazarus Heist. A 10-part series about North-Korean cyber-attacks. If you think it doesn’t have anything to do with you, think again. You’re reading this on a computer or a phone, and that’s all what they need.
  • NPR Short Wave. Daily short science tidbits, often something fun to talk about with the kids
  • Maintenance Phase. Debunking all the myths around body image, nutrition, diet, and more, is what Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon are set to do. It’s eye-opening… and if you try it starting a new diet won’t probably be among your Jan. 1st resolutions.

I want to keep trying new shows in 2022, but perhaps not at such a crazy pace, as I explore more of the back catalogue of the shows I already discovered (I confess some show titles I wrote down don’t evoke anything to me anymore… oops!). I’m aiming for 50 new shows, and so, bring your recommendations!

Now, I’ll be back to my kitchen to prepare for our NYE celebrations… I traditionally do a tall pile of waffles for the whole family 🧇🧇🧇, with my earbuds in of course! Happy new year to you all and see you next year!