Pod Review December 7-13

CaptureHere’s the pods of the week:

  • Best of both worlds podcast with Laura Vanderkam and Sarah Hart-unger #117 : Evenings Routines & Logistics with Sarah Powers. It was full of great ideas for kids of all ages.
  • Where Should we Begin with Esther Perel: Happily divorced; about unconventional marriage arrangements far from preconceptions and limitations.
  • Before breakfast podcast with Laura Vanderkam: A 2-minute ritual that can change your day (November 6, 2019)
  • Sinica podcast: China and the techno-authoritarian narrative (2019-11-22) – frankly fascinating, but it went well over my head. Perhaps I should re-listen to this talk, one day, because it’s so rich. Democracy, Western capitalism, technology…
  • Atlanta Monster: S1E4 Gemini. I was a bit bummed out because I couldn’t understand much of the Southern accent (as a non-native English speaker) and there was a lot of unfounded allegations, which I hope will be backed in the next episodes. I’m not quitting though (yet?)
  • Before breakfast podcast with Laura Vanderkam: When you make a mistake at work (October 29, 2019)
  • Heavyweight #29 Elyse: this one was a bit disappointing (as was the main protagonist)
  • American Girls podcast : Meet Felicity, Meet Us (2019-02-28), which I heard from this article in the NYT. It was interesting, but I found it a bit hard to follow for those who don’t remember exactly the story of the dolls, and the tone was a bit too snarky for me. (I so wanted to have a doll like that when I was a non-American kid. Go figure)
  • ♥ The Last Podcast on the Left #378 : Mormonism Part I – When You’re Here You’re Family, warmly recommended by Annie (here). It was the second time in a short while that I’d heard about this podcast (the first being on Sorta Awesome, which I wouldn’t have credited for something so… salty). I literally LOL alone in the street (creepy!) and France being on strike, I needed that so much in my crazy day. It’s not my usual fare but I really want to listen more, even though it’s long (1.5 hour!)

I love making new podcast discoveries! What great podcast episode would you recommend?

#UnreadShelf Project November Update & December Plans

49304967_411823712689749_2472884066192988807_nWow, only one month left to complete the yearly challenge! I used to say that I was not a book challenge person, but who knows? The best part is that it has been almost never really not not *that* difficult, once I set my mind on it.

The logic is simple: I have plenty of books at home, gathering dust and waiting patiently for the day when all the libraries will be closed, and Netgalley will run out of new ARCs… which is (hopefully) never going to happen. So either I stop buying books (mmh, who believes this?), or I choose my own books over the ones at the bookshop and the library that are calling me so seductively.

How did November plans fare? Very well, thank you: Agatha Christie’s Sittaford Mystery was a hoot, I loved, loved, loved These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy E. Turner, so much so that it made me stop another not-quite-as-enjoyable book.

I’d also added to my November list the 3 volumes of the manga The Ship of Theseus by Higashimoto Toshiya. They were great but I decided that I’m not going to invest into the complete 8 volumes series.

The Ship of Theseus has nothing to do with ships or Greek myths. It’s set in Hokkaido. Shin is a young man whose life has been wrecked by many tragedies. His wife just died in childbirth, and he lost the custody of their child after his in-laws decided that he was unfit to take care of the baby.

The reason behind it all is that Shin is the son of a policeman who has committed a horrific crime almost 30 years ago, even before Shin’s birth. His father’s crime, the fatal poisoning of teachers and students at the local primary school, has weighted heavily on the whole family, who had to change names and move from place to place to avoid public shaming and bullying. Shin’s father is languishing in prison ever since, claiming his innocence to no avail.

Shin decides to go to the now-abandoned village in Hokkaido, hoping to get a better understanding of what happened and if his father is really the sociopath monster everyone says. As he arrives there, he gets lost in the fog and when it lifts, Shin is suddenly in the village 6 months before the crime occurs. Armed with his knowledge of the future, he will try his best to stop the events from happening and discover the real killer.

This is not a big spoil, this is what happens in about 1/3 of the first volume. I really, really love the premise of this manga. I’m a late adopter for time-travel novels, but I love the mind games that this genre entails, especially as people meet their parents when they were different, or as people change things from the past with consequences for the future. I won’t say much more, but my main problem with this manga is that the pace was so slow. There were many repetitions and flashbacks. So I quickly finished the 3 volumes, and I’ve dropped it at my workplace library as a donation. If they choose to buy the remaining volumes I’ll probably give it another shot.

As for December, Whitney Conard has given the easiest challenge of all!

In December, your challenge is to read the SHORTEST book on your unread shelf by the end of the month – or put it in someone else’s Christmas stocking. 🎄.
This is a great time to tackle that tiny book you always think you’ll be able to read in a few days, but you never actually get to. (And for the type-As out there – don’t go all crazy counting all the pages in your books. Just find the one that looks the shortest and go with it! Don’t overthink it 😉).

I love this! I have just 3 thin books that I want to tackle:

  • Chinese flash fiction: All this will change by Lao Ma (in French, untranslated to English as far as I can see) – 128 pages
  • Something a lot of people recommended: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill – 179 pages
  • A book that Mr. Smithereens gave me: Lady into Fox by David Garnett – 96 pages

I’m not even going to apologize for counting the pages. Wish me luck!



Pod Review Nov. 30 – Dec. 6

CaptureHere’s what played in my earbuds this week:

  • Sorta Awesome #221 Thanksgiving then and now
  • Atlanta Monster Ep.1 Boogeyman
  • Atlanta Monster Ep.2 Manhunt
  • Atlanta Monster Ep.3 Atlanta Monster Seized
  • Les couilles sur la table #38 Parler comme un homme. Very interesting gender studies, but way too academic and serious for me right now.
  • Laura Tremaine’s 10 Things to Tell you #42 Have you lost your style?
  • Sorta Awesome #222 Awesome Holiday Gift Guide (haven’t quite finished it, it’s 1 hour long!)
  • Longest Shortest Time #216 We Made You A Mix Tape

As you can see, I have latched on the Atlanta Monster series, but I take it slowly, it’s not love at first sight like Serial or Bear Brooke. And this week’s favorite isn’t even from this series, it’s from Laura Tremaine’s 10 Things to tell you. I have looked into this show as it started and I didn’t feel attracted to it at first. And even this show’s topic didn’t really attract me, I was looking for something light and funny. It seemed sort of shallow from the outside, but it’s a girlfriend-to-girlfriend open heart discussion about turning 40ish, changing and accepting change, or not, and all the states in between. It’s about clothes and makeup and hair but also about body, personalities, showing outside what’s inside. It’s really not shallow at all, and I love that they challenge each other to come up with some update in 3 months’ time. I’ll be there checking on it for sure.

The One with the Forensically Inclined Lady

Bruce Goldfarb, 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics (2020) 

Let me tell you a story before I write anything about the book itself. I was nearing the end of November and I had not finished These Is My Words, a Frontier novel that I chose for the Unreadshelf challenge. I thought I wouldn’t finish it in time, but there’s no way I was going to sacrifice this book I enjoyed so much to the tough rule of the challenge…

And so instead, I chose to sacrifice this one. I was 55% in, but I was far from enthusiastic, so I decided to DNF it at that point.

Let’s rewind a little. I’d heard of this book through the Criminal broads podcast (episode #34, as per Danielle’s recommendation) when I stumbled upon this very title on Netgalley. I’m all for science criminal TV shows, and so I was really enthusiastic. The 18 tiny deaths of the title refer to miniature doll houses representing realist and existing crime scenes, complete with victim, blood and tiny clues, that were designed to train policemen into investigating crimes and pay attention to forensic clues.

At least, that’s what I understood from the podcast, because at 55% into the book it hadn’t even started speaking about them. The title of the book is highly misleading. The real content of the book is the subtitle. It’s really about Frances Glessner Lee, an American heiress who as an empty nester developed a consuming passion for forensic science. She met by chance Boston’s first medical examiner and this encounter really changed her life. She became her (platonic) friend and benefactor, and she wanted to develop forensic science, as opposed to the prevalent coroner system, inherited from the British tradition, and that had turned into corruption and incompetency. At the beginning of the century she had been unable to go and study at Harvard when her brother and male friends had gone, and so she endeavored to throw money at Harvard so that there would be a forensic science lab and library and top-notch facilities.

Despite the detailed research of the writer, I couldn’t quite comprehend why Lee got so passionate about forensic science. It seemed so random and out-of-the-blue to me. The explanation the book gives didn’t quite convince me. So from that moment on, the book kind of annoyed me, all the more as I was waiting for the 18 tiny crime scenes to appear and they didn’t.

The last straw for me was a passing remark that during WW2, government officials didn’t take the time to meet with Lee and listen to all her improvement plans for the judiciary institution. Insert major eye roll here. Yes, I get it, it would have been so much better if coroners had been abolished earlier. But, duh, maybe there was a war on, you know, and maybe they were busy with other topics.

Maybe the remaining 45% are great and I’m missing out. I am on the fence because despite my annoyance Lee is clearly a woman who pushed her ideas forward into a men’s world and knew how to convince and influence (money helped quite a lot). But my TBR list is too long, and this book is not for me.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley, for review consideration.

Pod Review Nov. 23-29

CaptureHere’s what I got to listen to this week:

  • Les couilles sur la table #32 contre la rhétorique masculiniste. Podcasts are on the rise in France, but they are very close to what you hear in the French national radio, especially when it comes to interviews with experts or influencers. We don’t seem close to getting a French-made This American Life or Serial anytime soon. Sigh. I tried this one podcast, boldly called “the nuts on the table”. The topic is interesting, and the content too, but that was not really what I was looking for in terms of storytelling. But I’ll surely return to check on its back catalogue because of the feminist topic.
  • Best of Both worlds: #180 dealing with stress, low moods and bad days
  • Simple #221 on Marriage
  • Edit your Life podcast #182 Holiday food hacks
  • Longest Shortest time #214 The, like, show, wavy edition
  • NPR Invisibilia 09/20/2019 The Profile
  • NPR Invisibilia 10/25/2019 Back When I Was Older
  • ♥ What Should I Read Next? #211 Good reads from the Great North, with Anne Bogel interviewing Sarah Bessey. Even as a non-Christian, non-American, I really enjoyed this conversation, and there are lots of books that sound great!
  • Longest Shortest time #210 Sperm series: I ask a friend
  • Change ma vie by Clotilde Dusoulier #126 La vie ne nous doit rien. On entitlement.
  • Longest Shortest time #219 John Hodgman On Being A Villain Without Really Trying

I don’t follow every single episode of What Should I Read Next, but this week’s episode was very sweet, and then later at my workplace library I got to play Anne Bogel and recommend books based on favorite reads!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers!

The One with the Seance Deep in Snow

Agatha Christie, The Sittaford Mystery (1931)

Today, instead of reviewing a novel, I am professing my admiration for Miss Emily Trefusis. Really, I love this girl!

“What I want to propose,” said Emily Trefusis, “is a kind of partnership. There would, I think, be advantages on both sides. There are certain things I want to investigate – to find out about. There you in your character of journalist can help me. I want -”

Emily paused. What she really wanted was to engage Mr. Enderby as a kind of private sleuth of her own. To go where she told him, to ask the questions she wanted asked, and in general to be a kind of bond slave. But she was aware of the necessity of couching these proposals in terms at once flattering and agreeable. The whole point was that she was to be the boss, but the matter needed managing tactfully.

“I want,” said Emily, “to feel that I can depend upon you.”

She had a lovely voice, liquid and alluring. As she uttered the last sentence a feeling rose in Mr. Enderby’s bosom that this lovely helpless girl could depend upon him to the last ditch.

I can almost hear Agatha’s sarcastic laugh. In fact, there were many pages where I had to laugh out loud, much to Mr. Smithereens’ dismay.

I chose this classic British mystery for my #Unreadshelf November challenge, as one of my favorite genres. I might very well have read it years ago, but I didn’t remember it, so it was a great choice.

The snow, the moor, a seance where a ghost announces an ominous death… I won’t spoil the story but it was all great fun. Even more fun after I’d listened to the Sheddunit podcast episode where the book is mentioned (Ep. 22, Knock-knock), which highlighted how prevalent table-turning was in the 1920s and 1930s (both as a serious activity and entertainment). Just as I checked the website to give you a working link, I see that today’s episode she just put online (Nov. 27, Ep. 27 Competent women) mentions Emily Trefusis too! I have to listen to it right away!

I didn’t quite know where Dartmoor is (it’s between Plymouth and Exeter in the South West, don’t thank me for it), but now I know that going there in the middle of winter makes you very suspicious indeed, especially when you’re from South Africa. Well, that sent me down a rabbit hole of very nice and cosy properties that are available for rent in Dartmoor for the winter. And providing that the plumbing and heating are not from 1931 at all (and that there is no dead body in the library), I wouldn’t mind spending some vacation time in Dartmoor. Am I very suspicious now?

The photo is from exclusivelydartmoor.co.uk, and go there only if you have time on your hands… I can almost see Lady Agatha coming out of these sleepy cottages…


Pod Review November 16-22

CaptureHere’s what played in my ears this week:

  • The Longest Shortest Time #184 (01/23/19) Weird Parenting Wins FTW
  • This American Life #687 Small Things Considered
  • Sorta Awesome #220 How to be awesome with holiday giving
  • The Longest shortest Time #205 (08/13/19) Oh, The Places You Shouldn’t Go!
  • The Longest Shortest Time #202 (07/23/19) Give The Ellises a Sitcom Already
  • ♥ Sorta Awesome #219 Invisible Labor, let’s talk about it – I waited until I had some mental space to listen to this episode, but this one is really a keeper, because it’s really balanced and full of grace and not resentment and bitterness like sometimes this topic raises.
  • Where should we begin with Esther Perel S2E5 Mom and Monique
  • Dr. Death Episode 1: I wanted to try something new in the true crime genre, but this one didn’t really click with me. Same about the Cold series trailer. Call me callous, but life’s too short… I’ve heard some good about Atlanta Monster, I’ll probably try the trailer too.
  • NPR Life Kit: Dealing With Holidays At Work: Forced Cheer And Awkward Parties
    Life Kit (11/19/19) because ’tis the season again.

What have you enjoyed listening recently?

The One with the Andalusian Wizard

G. Willow Wilson, The Bird King (2019)

To say that I am not used to this kind of book is a major understatement. I’m just not quite sure what this kind of book is: is it magical realism? I’d rather say realist magic. Is it historical fiction with a huge flight of fancy? Of course not, but the reader would probably benefit from a bit of knowledge about the historical context of 1491, when the book is set. It’s only because of the glowy recommendation of Annie from A Bookish Type that I downloaded this ARC from Netgalley. I’m so thankful of this opportunity to expand my reading horizon!

I’d never thought that I would read about the concubine of the last Muslim Sultan of Granada before the catholic armies of the Spanish Inquisition would reconquer the whole of Spain. Especially when the said mistress’ best friend is a gay cartographer who can draw new doors in a room and open corridors in places where there were none before. Which is totally useful when a palace head been under siege for a long time. And even more useful when our heroes need to make a speedy exit to save their lives.

The book mixes very dark and real preoccupations (the end of a kingdom in violent attacks, the forced marriage of a girl to the Sultan, the crushing weight of extreme religion, …) with elements of fairy tales. Some would say it is a bit too much and muddled, but I went along enthusiastically. The result is really enchanting, although I wouldn’t put the book in very young hands.

There was a lot of good surprises all along this adventure, and whenever I thought I’d got “it”, whatever “it” is, the author threw another twist and turn for me to ride along. I enjoyed the complexity of the characters and the relationships between them all. The only point of comparison would be with Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff, another YA fantasy with lots of strong female characters embarking on a dangerous journey, but this one really shines in comparison.

The best thing I discovered while writing this post is that the poetry book about birds that Fatima loves reading actually exists! It’s a true medieval Sufi poem: “The Conference of the Birds” by Farid ud-Din Attar.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley, for review consideration.


Pod Review November 9-15

CaptureHere’s what I listened to this week:

  • ♥ Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel: The Other Woman – I was just blown away by the layers that this story peels away, from a seemingly rather simple situation to entangling all the underlying issues of a husband and wife.
  • Edit Your Life podcast #180: Mental + Physical Load Management [with guest host Jonathan Baxter]
  • Radiolab Oct. 30: Songs that Cross Borders
  • Before Breakfast: what would you do with an extra hour (to which my short answer is, I would probably listen to more podcasts, or read more productivity articles!)
  • Heavyweight #28 Dr. Muller – I didn’t quite connect with this story
  • Change ma vie by Clotilde Dusoulier #121 What You put in your brain
  • Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel: Romantic Revival
  • The Longest Shortest Time #212 How Raina Tegelmeier Got Guts
  • Shedunnit #19 Back to School
  • Shedunnit #22 Knock knock
  • Spilled Milk #406: Kimchi – quite appetizing!
  • Radiolab Nov. 8: Dolly Parton’s America – Neon Moss

Shedunnit is a new-to-me podcast about classic British murder mysteries from the 1920s-30s. It took me a while to get used to, because it’s a straightforward narration by a British young woman and I’m used to more edited pieces, but I enjoyed it quite a lot, especially when I was more familiar with the books she spoke about. It’s a perfect companion to an old Agatha Christie reread and a cup of tea.

Graphic Novels Recap

I went on a graphic novel reading spree, because it had been much too long, and I will talk a little about them all here in one post, at the risk that you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the Internet!

I started with La Fille dans l’Ecran (The Girl inside the Screen), a graphic novel where two young women meet online and develop a long distance relationships, first as acquaintances, then as friends, and later as… more? (It’s no big spoiler, they kiss on the cover!) Coline is a lonely 22yo, whose panic attacks have forced to drop out of university and to live with her grandparents in the country. She wants to write and draw a children book but she’s too shy to actually complete the project and hit “submit”. Marley is a bit older, she works as a barista in Montreal, but her passion was photography, until her boyfriend convinced her to prioritize serious stuff and earning money. Both women, who meet online entirely by chance, encourage each other through emails, texts and chats to flourish, express their true selves through their art and not to hide anymore.

The special thing about this graphic novel is that it is written and drawn by two young women, who are friends (and nothing more, apparently!). The left page of the book is the view from Coline, drawn by Manon Devault in black and grey nuances, and the right page is for Marley, drawn by Lou Lubie in colors. I feared that it would be a bit artificial and stilted, but it works amazingly!

The second graphic novel is Formose, by Li-Chin Lin. It deals with Taiwan identity and I read its 250 pages all in one setting at the library of the Quai Branly museum. The author tries to explain how Taiwanese local identity has been suppressed in favor of a nationalistic, anti Communist propaganda for 50 years, and how she discovered the truth and the courage to speak a different language and a different world view. Taiwan holds a special place in my heart so I was naturally drawn to this graphic memoir, but I don’t think it would work as a primer, although the author takes care to give information about the geopolitical situation and the history. The book is drawn with a pencil and quite free, evocative of a naive manga style. The most interesting part is how kids internalized the propaganda and lived amidst different cultures seamlessly, but not without inner contradictions and struggles (the grandparents having lived the Japanese occupation, the mother speaking in Hakka / Hokkien, the teachers allowing only Mandarin Chinese…).

The third graphic novel I tried to wolf down is Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds, her very own interpretation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Now, since I’m not British I have just a perfunctory knowledge of Dickens version (my fault, I know), so I didn’t really appreciate the parallels, which must have robbed me of much of the fun. After all, Posy Simmonds is all about adapting classics to modern British ways. Perhaps because of this, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Gemma Bovery or Tamara Drewe. Cassandra is a grumpy and unlikable Scrooge of modern times, and her evolution is quite subtle and witty. This book is not one you can read in a single sitting like the previous I mentioned, because there’s a lot of texts and lots of tiny details in the delicate drawings.

Three graphic novels by women, and all very different in style and story. Which one would tempt you?