Pod Review July 27 – August 23

CaptureDuring my vacation, I listened to fewer podcasts, since I no longer had my daily routine and commute with regular alone time. But since I haven’t posted about it in 3 weeks, the list is still long!

The meh – only if you’re bored

  • Last Seen, episodes 3 and 4. I was enthusiastic about the beginning of the series, but I found the pace and my interest kind of fizzled out.
  • The Shrink Next Door. The first episode made me slightly roll my eyes (a bit like for Dirty John, I have difficulty with stories of people being manipulated into nightmarish, extreme situations), I gave it a second chance but it’s not for me.
  • Sorta Awesome episode 202 What you’re missing when you’re not outdoors

The good – tell me if you’ve tried some of those

  • Sinica Podcast July Update on Hong Kong events (07/18) – obviously still ongoing
  • Reading the End – Lord of the rings Bonus episode: the Appendices
  • This American Life #677 Seeing Yourself in the Wild
  • This American Life #680 The weight of words
  • The Longest Shortest Time #206 when YouTube is your birth coach – wild, but not for the faint-hearted.
  • This American Life #679 Save the girl – infuriating, but sadly not unexpected
  • Without Fail Podcast: Episode 03/25, the decades-long hunt for the Golden State killer
  • I’ll be Gone in the Dark Ep. 1 – I didn’t know this was a book tie-in. Weirdly enough, it is not consistent with what I’d learnt in the Without fail podcast episode.

The awesome – drop everything and add these episodes to your podcast queue!

  • Invisibilia The Remote Control Brain (03/29/2019 S5E4) – hard to listen but fascinating
  • Believed Episodes 4 to 9 – on Larry Nassar and his victims’ long quest to be heard.
  • Invisibilia The Fifth Vital Sign (2019/03/07 – S5E1) – so many thoughts on paying attention to pain (from not enough to too much maybe?), on raising snowflakes kids, etc.
  • Invisibilia Post, Shoot (2019/03/14 – S5E2) – on social media self vs. real life self, which one is to be believed?

The One with the Nicaraguan Rabbit Hole

R.J. Ellory, A Simple Act of Violence (2008)

This audiobook of more than 20 hours is the excuse reason why I didn’t listen to many podcasts back in July: it’s a heck of a long book, and I was hooked! And now a month later, my opinion is less enthusiastic.

The weirdest part is that although I couldn’t quit until I’d know “whodunnit”, I was also already slightly conflicted and annoyed. It wasn’t what I expected from the start, and it didn’t even end the way it started.

I had first approached Ellory through a graphic novel, a French adaptation of his e-book trilogy novella Three Days in Chicagoland, set in the 1950s. So I expected something like a psychological/social noir, a bit in the vain of Chandler, Hammett or Ellroy’s Black Dalhia. I was dead wrong: this book is set in the 1990s-2000s in Washington, and it’s a police procedural cum conspiracy thriller all in one. Yes, it’s noir-ish, and yes, there’s psychology, but it’s really about something else!

It starts with a rather classic serial killer investigation, where the victims seem random and only linked by the bizarre modus operandi of the monstrous assassin. The detective assigned to the case, Robert Miller, classically tries to find the link between the victims. The writer alternates the investigation with the inner monologue of a very dark character, who we suppose is the killer, so that the reader is always a few steps ahead of the police. Then the book takes a sharp turn.

[Spoilers ahead]

Turns out that the killer’s motivation is not some bizarre kinky tendency like in traditional serial killers books, but a denunciation of the CIA’s involvement in the Nicaragua conflict in the 1980s and in the drug traffic from Central America to the US. The victims’ common point is that they all have fake identities and are involved with the CIA. Uncovering this web of lies does challenge Miller’s values and certainties. He’s in over his head, and his boss and colleagues try to discourage him and close the case before everyone gets hurt.

The book is obviously very well researched about the Nicaragua war and the implication of CIA into these operations. I found it valuable, but not completely fresh and jaw-dropping. Already back in university in the 1990s I’d learnt about the US dirty wars and the CIA in the US southern backyard (“pré carré” was the dedicated expression in French). Also, sadly, we are now living in a world where fake news and lies to cover abuses of power are just the new normal. I may be blasé, but I was annoyed for Miller to disbelieve the dark side of the government agencies for so long.

By switching from a police procedural to a conspiracy noir novel Ellory allows genre conventions to clash against one another. The detective is sometimes very clever, sometimes incredibly dim, and the sort of happy end is hard to believe.

It’s quite long, but overall if you like dark conspiracies (some people are allergic to it, especially in the present times when they only seem too real), it will certainly sustain your interest.

Books on Rails 2019 #9

This is a Summer Series for Book Lovers.

I’ve decided to take notice and be grateful for the books that come out in public. I’m a commuter on the Paris A line every weekday, which is one of the busiest lines. How many books will I encounter?

Please excuse the bad picture quality, and for some you’ll have to trust me for the title / author, I only took a peak whenever the book was not too shy.

Orsenna

L’Avenir de l’Eau by Erik Orsenna (The Future of Water, essay on globalization)

Erik Orsenna is a well-known French writer of fiction and non-fiction, but I have never read it. This one seems like a door-stopper and the fact that it lulled my train neighbor to sleep is not a favorable point.

Books on Rails 2019 #8

This is a Summer Series for Book Lovers.

I’ve decided to take notice and be grateful for the books that come out in public. I’m a commuter on the Paris A line every weekday, which is one of the busiest lines. How many books will I encounter?

Please excuse the bad picture quality, and for some you’ll have to trust me for the title / author, I only took a peak whenever the book was not too shy.

McDermott

The Tomb of Hercules by Andy McDermott

When I got a glimpse of the title, I convinced myself that the book was SF or fantasy, but it is apparently an action thriller. Doesn’t look like my cup of tea, but apparently engrossing enough to make the wait for your evening train shorter! More information here if you’re tempted.

Books on Rails 2019 #7

This is a Summer Series for Book Lovers.

I’ve decided to take notice and be grateful for the books that come out in public. I’m a commuter on the Paris A line every weekday, which is one of the busiest lines. How many books will I encounter?

Please excuse the bad picture quality, and for some you’ll have to trust me for the title / author, I only took a peak whenever the book was not too shy.

Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Isn’t this flowery summer dress perfect for a Jane Austen reader? It’s always fun to meet classics on the train!

Books on Rails 2019 #6

This is a Summer Series for Book Lovers.

I’ve decided to take notice and be grateful for the books that come out in public. I’m a commuter on the Paris A line every weekday, which is one of the busiest lines. How many books will I encounter?

Please excuse the bad picture quality, and for some you’ll have to trust me for the title / author, I only took a peak whenever the book was not too shy.

BernardMinier

Le Cercle (The Circle) by Bernard Minier

Bernard Minier is a bestselling thriller writer. I have never read his books but I might try one day, if I’m in the mood for a twisted serial killer. Get more information here if you’re curious.

Books on Rails 2019 #5

This is a Summer Series for Book Lovers.

I’ve decided to take notice and be grateful for the books that come out in public. I’m a commuter on the Paris A line every weekday, which is one of the busiest lines. How many books will I encounter?

Please excuse the bad picture quality, and for some you’ll have to trust me for the title / author, I only took a peak whenever the book was not too shy.

TaharbenJelloun

Unidentified novel by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The train was too crowded to note down the book’s title, and Ben Jelloun is such a prolific writer.

Books on Rails 2019 #4

This is a Summer Series for Book Lovers.

I’ve decided to take notice and be grateful for the books that come out in public. I’m a commuter on the Paris A line every weekday, which is one of the busiest lines. How many books will I encounter?

Please excuse the bad picture quality, and for some you’ll have to trust me for the title / author, I only took a peak whenever the book was not too shy.

Homere

The Odyssey by Homer (-725?)

I still have to read this one, as I only read excerpts (I read the Illiad instead). That day I did wonder if the guy was just showing off or intended to read it for real.

Books on Rails 2019 #3

This is a Summer Series for Book Lovers.

I’ve decided to take notice and be grateful for the books that come out in public. I’m a commuter on the Paris A line every weekday, which is one of the busiest lines. How many books will I encounter?

Please excuse the bad picture quality, and for some you’ll have to trust me for the title / author, I only took a peak whenever the book was not too shy.

HughLaurie

Hugh Laurie, The Gun Seller (1996) – French title “Tout est sous contrôle”.

I’ve not read it but it’s not the first time that I spot this book on a train. Here’s more if you’re curious.

#UnreadShelf Project July Update & August Plans

49304967_411823712689749_2472884066192988807_nI will post proper book reviews in due course, but let’s be extend some grace and say that I achieve pretty much what I wanted to do in July, as far as “reading in a series” goes. The trick is to *not* look closely.

So, yes, I did read an Agatha Christie mystery and I liked it well enough, although it was clearly not her best. I would perhaps have done better with a Maigret.

And, yes, I did read some of Mollie Panter-Downes’ London War Notes (part of my personal ever-growing Persephone collection), but I got as far as 1941, which is still far away from the victory. It’s not the kind of book that reads in one gulp, and I knew it. But I wanted to be serious about making a dent into it, so that I got a good feel of it. And I did! The War notes go from the mundane to the political. I like it best when it goes into nitty gritty details, instead of waxing patriotic about the wonderful stiff upper lip of the British.

The format works better than I expected because it manages to balance the immediacy of the events with a didactic approach. She writes those notes as events are rolling in, not with perfect hindsight or distance, and I had to remind myself that she wasn’t sure the British would win the war, and that the Americans would even join it. But it’s not a diary because she knows that her American audience doesn’t have the same experience as she has.

The third book for July was a manga, Isabella Bird, which I liked OK, and have given to my son, but I bought 3 others! I have to remind myself that the target is not to clear my shelves but to read from them (ahem).

For August, I will completely drop the challenge’s monthly theme.  I’m supposed to read a book voted for me to read by Bookstagram, but I’m not a Bookstagram girl and I am a bit short of time. So I choose instead to concentrate on all my Kindle books and ARCs, that are gathering virtual dust on their virtual shelves. I may or may not have downloaded a few additional ARCs for the purpose (ahem). What I have in mind:

  • The Lady From Zagreb (Bernie Gunther Thriller 10) by Philip Kerr
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (I bought it in 2016!)
  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (ARC)
  • The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (ARC)

Four books are a bit over-ambitious, but hey, it’s the holidays after all! (And if I don’t fancy them, my Kindle is choke-full with other options)