Pod Review June 8 – 14

This week I alternated between rather shallow topics (drugstore beauty products, anyone?) and very deep ones.

  • Ten things to tell you by Laura Tremaine #18 10 thoughts on anxiety – I wasn’t really convinced
  • Sorta Awesome #197 Awesome birthday parties, #198 The best parenting advice with Karen McVey (I loved her tips on dealing with big kids!), #199 Drugstore Beauty Challenge
  • Multilinguish by Babbel The Sexiest Accents – I expected more
  • Change Ma Vie by Clotilde Dusoulier #102 The Confirmation Bias; #103 How to change your Beliefs?; #104 the Imposter Syndrome
  • Radiolab # Bitflip – this one flew way above my head
  • This American Life #676 Here’s Looking at You Kid; a bit uneven episode: I didn’t care much for the depressed football player (yeah, I’m heartless like that), but there’s a jaw-dropping interview of a scientist who did (imo) stalk a person for a paper and published it despite the obvious refusal of consent.
  • Sinica by Kaiser Kuo : Howard French On How China’s Past Shapes Its Present Ambitions (May 9 episode)
  • ♥ Caliphate #3 The Arrival; #4 Us vs. Them; #5 The Heart; #6 The Paper Trail; #7 Mosul; this New York Times podcast is really breathtaking, even though it’s not for the faint of heart. You have to listen in order.
  • Before Breakfast with Laura Vanderkam: Use bits of time for bits of joy (June 7th)

The One with the Type-A Nightmare

Ira Levin, The Stepford Wives (1972)

I seem to remember that a post by Danielle from A Work in Progress made me download The Stepford Wives into my Kindle more than one year ago (quick fact-check… OMG October 2017! I can’t believe it, where did time go??), but I didn’t start it right away.

Of course, I knew the basics about the story, even though I haven’t seen the movie. After all, a Stepford wife has become a common name. So I’m not going to sum it up, but only to say how much I rooted for the main-character Joanna, who is independent-minded, creative, slightly messy and ambivalent about full-time motherhood.

I was surprised how short the novel was (144 pages!) and how effective it was. Even though I knew where it was going it kept me up at night! I won’t spoil much by saying that I was really impressed how the revelation is handled, both real and unreal, and I doubt that it could achieve this level of ambiguity on screen. If you only read the words, nothing horrific is really described, but the implications… it still gives me goosebumps.

I remember how much I’d loved the book Rosemary’s Baby, and now I want to read another Levin. Any recommendation for me?

#UnreadShelf Project June

49304967_411823712689749_2472884066192988807_nI’m not cheating, I swear! But if I announce my selection at one third of a given month, you can imagine that I have already had more than one peak into the selected books, and I have already formed an impression of them.

This month, Whitney Connard announced on her Instagram page:

Your goal this month is to pick a book off your unread shelf and do some armchair travel this month! Pick any book that features a place you’d love to visit or a travel-themed story. Finish it or get rid of it by the end of June!

I chose to interpret it as choosing a destination I have never visited yet. So, forget about all those lingering books set in China, Japan or America! I decided to go for two obscure places I’m not quite sure I’d like to visit one day, but that I’ve never been to:

> The deep forests of India, as in Aranyak: Of the Forest by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (I don’t even attempt to pronounce it); it’s a classic, and its readers have given raving reviews, but… I’m totally intimidated by the book and if it wasn’t for the challenge, I would be happy for it to gather even more dust at the back of my shelves.

> The north of Norway, as in Love, by Hanne Ørstavik – this is the one book I was alluding when I spoke about impression. My first impression (at about 40 pages in, on a total of 180 pages) is very, very cold. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s not really a pleasant experience for now.

Both books were selected by the Asymptote book club, and both would have totally escaped me if I had been by myself in a bookstore. So I’m glad to try, and give them a fair chance, even if at the end, I decide not to finish them.

The One with the Unexpected Civil War Romance

Alyssa Cole, A Hope Divided (The Loyal League #2; 2017)

This time, I know exactly where I first heard of this book: Kazen from Always Doing blogged about it and praised it in… December 2017. At that time, I was intrigued but the Amazon Kindle copy available here was over 10$. Ouch! Since I don’t read that many romances, I didn’t want to fork out that much for something I wasn’t sure to love. I have been known to indulge in sugary, clean Amish romances from time to time (downloaded for free on Netgalley, I confess), but an interracial romance set during the Civil War with some (mild-to-me, but still) bedroom action? I had never tried it before. (When I was a student, I had access to a bookcase full of romance novels, so I’m not quite that innocent about the genre, but those were typically badly written and full of Prince-Charming-awaiting silly princesses)

I can’t tell if this book is very typical of Regency romances, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. The book centers on Marlie, a free black woman who has led a sheltered life as a relative in the Lynch family estate, uses her time to provide sick people with herbal medicines of her own devise regardless of the color of their skin and of their uniform. She also helps the cause by carrying coded messages, but no further. When she crosses the path of an escaped prisoner, Ewan McCall, and when a cruel Confederate general decides to settle down in the Lynch family home, life becomes more complicated, dangerous… and interesting.

Although I haven’t written about it yet, I read this book after finishing  Kindred, by Octavia Butler, and I was glad to have read this in order because the topic of race (and interracial relations) in the South before or during the Civil war is rather new to me. Since racism, slavery and war are heavy topics to say the least, I was glad that this book was firmly within romance territory, and that I was guaranteed a happy end of sorts.

Compared to the clichés and implausibilities that I remember of my old romance days, I was glad that the historical setting seemed well-researched and that the female character was intelligent, resourceful and independent. I am totally sold to this new-to-me author, Alyssa Cole, and I will certainly check out if there are any Kindle bargains on #1 and #3 of the series!

Podcast Review June 1-7

This week, I alternated extra-heavy episodes with light ones:

  • The Big One #6 The Buildings / #7 The Plan / #8 The Lessons / #9 The Perfect World
  • Spilled Milk #385 The Dishwasher – it’s been ages since I listened to this show and I needed something definitely light after The Big One.
  • This American Life #675 I’m on TV?
  • Reply All by Gimlet Media #142 We didn’t start the fire; I can’t exactly say why the banter between Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt always puts me in a good mood, even when I have absolutely no clue what they’re speaking about.
  • Caliphate – prologue The Mission, Chapter one: the Reporter, Chapter two: Recruitment
  • ♥ The Simple Show by Tsh Oxenreider #195 Friendships and Habits
  • Ask a Clean Person the podcast #136 Laundry School, the “Yup, that can be washed” episode – I learnt that… I’m a pretty clean person myself already
  • Change Ma Vie, by Clotilde Dusoulier #101 En Creux ou en Volume, because as she says French people are very prone to understatement, to criticism, to sarcasm and antiphrasis rather than saying things directly.
  • Radiolab, “The Good Samaritan”, on opioids

Caliphate and The Big One were all very, very good, but The Simple Show made me want to call my best friends and schedule some self-care in this busy end-of-school-year season, so it wins the prize this time!

The Last One in the Lewis Island

Peter May, The Chessmen (Lewis Trilogy #3; 2012)

This book is the last volume of the Lewis trilogy. I had loved the first and second volumes back in 2017, and I said at the time that I wanted to read the third one in 2018, but in truth, I was in no hurry to finish. On the contrary, I kept it voluntarily aside, waiting for a moment when I would be looking for a bit of Northern crime and comfort, and for the pleasure to return to characters and settings that I’d loved previously.

In this book, we return to the weather-beaten island and its hot-blooded men of few words. The book picks up a few months after the end of the second book, and it was a bit tough for me to remember the details (this is obviously one of those books you have to read in order).

Fin McLeod, who has turned his back to his police career has found a job as security on a wealthy private estate, but he discovers that it means stopping a local poacher who is a very old friend of his, Whistler Macaskill, a gruff hermit who saved Fin’s life more than once when they were teenagers. As they meet again, they stumble upon a sinister discovery and a long-kept secret between them. The book returns to the teenage years of Fin McLeod, between the time he finished school and before he started working in Edinburgh. It was a dark and troubled time for him, when he worked as a roadie for a Gaelic folk music band, and relations were complicated by a sexy female vocalist, strong jealousies and lots of alcohol.

In this story, the murder itself moved further away from Fin and introduced new characters and new friends that Fin had never mentioned before. While this was a bit unsettling, it sure adds yet another layer to the character and completes his life trajectory from childhood to adulthood. Even if  I had more difficulty to relate to the music band’s shenanigans, this book brings a kind of closure to the trilogy (without tying all the bows too nicely) and I enjoyed it a lot.

#UnreadShelfProject May Update

In May, I was not very inspired by the theme given by our #UnreadShelf Challenge guru Whitney Connard. And unsurprisingly, I was not enthralled by the book I chose, and eventually skimmed through most of the book.

I mean, Amy Poehler seems like a very nice person. She’s relatable, and she doesn’t beat around the bushes. She does write good jokes. But I haven’t watched any of the shows she speaks about, so it just fell flat for me. I wasn’t particularly in awe of all the people she mentions because I don’t know them. So it’s really a case of “It’s not you, it’s me”. More to the point, it’s a case of “No Thank You”, rather than “Yes Please”.

I had additional goals for the month of May, and I did better on those. I managed to rein in my awful tendency to download lots of Netgalley books for the whole month – but as soon as I reached June 2nd, I did pick one, just to celebrate the end of this self-imposed restriction. I also managed to write reviews slightly quicker than I do finish books. It’s not in control yet, but I’m glad I managed to find some pockets of time to write (on the commuting train, or just after dinner, mostly).

As for my June selection, that will come in a separate post, because Whitney’s challenge is a lot more inspiring this time!

The One with Dickens and Mates

J.C. Briggs, The Quickening and The Dead (2019)

I chose this book on Netgalley because I was curious of a Victorian mystery where Charles Dickens would be the investigator. I knew it wasn’t the first in the series but I didn’t know it was #4. I would probably have reconsidered, because I found that I was missing out on some of the back stories in the novel. Many characters have met before and I felt like a late-comer at a party.

I have read a few Dickens novels but I am in no way very knowledgeable of all of his novels or of his life, and I didn’t get many of the allusions. The good point is that we get a good feeling about Charles Dickens’ personality and back story, but the bad point is, I have no clue if it’s true or rather romanticized. In the novel, Dickens is little short of a saint, he helps out every one and understands all the social issues of his time.

That said, the mystery itself was entertaining and the world on Victorian London in 1850 is perfectly drawn in all its misery. You can really feel the damp streets barely visible in a thick fog and smell the open sewers. It’s a dangerous maze where even street urchins can lose their way and disappear to dangerous thugs. The book is more worthwhile for the large cast of characters and the atmosphere, rather than for the plot itself. On the same period and nearly the same subject, I would rather recommend The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry. That said, this book made me want to read another Dickens (which is the point, I guess), but not exactly to catch up on this series.

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

Pod Review May 25-31

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Here’s what played in my earbuds this week:

  • I Hate it but I love it #88 Good Will Hunting – oh my word, these ladies are making me laugh in the train and opening my eyes on some issues and it’s like Critical Thinking 101. It’s a bit on the long side but great (I did quit after the 1 hour mark)
  • This American Life #674 Get a Spine; worthwhile for the unique and effective apology from a man who had harassed a female subordinate in his team. The kind of story that makes you hopeful that people can actually change and see their own faults.
  • Radiolab Americanish
  • ♥ The Big One #1 The Earthquake / #2 The Walk / #3 The Science / #4 The Choice / #5 The Economy; this one was recommended by Kelly Gordon from Sorta Awesome in a recent episode and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. Scary but not to the point of horror; science and tips and impeccable radio editing. Although I admit it is still a weird choice for someone who lives in a non-seismic area and has never set foot in California.
  • Slow Burn Season 2 #7 Bed Fellows # extra episode secret tracks #8 Move On; the end of the second season was good, but not great. Leon Neyfakh’s show is best when it unveils the behind-the-scenes of political maneuvers. The subject of Monica Lewinsky and the quandary it posed to liberal feminists needed to be addressed, but I felt that he wasn’t going deep enough (maybe because it would have led him too far from his core subject).

The One with the Grotesque Writer

Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm (2014 – Cormoran Strike #2)

I listened to The Silkworm on audio-book in French, and it was over 17 hours long. I can’t deny that the plot was good, because I would have given up halfway through otherwise. The only thing is, I don’t think I can give an unbiased opinion, as I was heavily influenced by 1- the translator, 2- the professional reader. The book seems overwritten, full of adjectives and with some weird choices of turn of sentences, but it might be the translator. As for the reader, who is a French professional actor, he really grated on my nerves as soon as he read female characters’ lines, because they took all a whiny, ridiculous voice. Was all this intended? I cannot say.

I won’t go into any plot details because there are literally 15,000 reviews of this book on Goodreads. The short version is that The Silkworm is the second Cormoran mystery by J.K. Rowling, and I found it better than the first. It deals with writers and agents and publishers, a thing Rowling knows one thing or two, and I liked this tongue-in-cheek approach. The duo of Cormoran and Robin has already been introduced and doesn’t need as much backstory as in the first book. Galbraith is very good at weaving a lot of stories together and at planting clues here and there, so that the whodunnit works for me, although my credibility was stretched like after an intense yoga session.

Now, it does not mean that this book will join my favorite mystery books shortlist of all times. Many of her characters are caricatures to me, and I really can’t warm up to Cormoran. I want more of Robin, but this misogynist, tough guy with a heart of gold? Mmh, not so much. I skipped all the bits about his ex-boyfriend and her ridiculous fiancé, because it made my eyes roll too much. But to be honest, I’ll probably go for the next book despite these flaws, because you can’t deny how entertaining it is.