Pod Review September 11-17

With slanted light and crisp leaves we are starting to enter fall territory here… and I am not ready for it! I normally enjoy fall for the fresh start / clean slate feeling it provides. I engage in new resolutions and try to get back on track for those habits I’ve left during summer or earlier. For example, I want to stop adding sugar to my coffee and I want to deep-clean or declutter at least 1 thing every weekend. All this remains quite low-key and not too ambitious. On the podcast front, I don’t want to change a single thing. I’m quite happy with my yearly endeavor to try new shows and I intend to continue!

  • Reply All #178 I am not a bot: Alex Goldman wants to understand why bots are invading his favorite game and basically destroying it. The short answer is: because they can. (Alright, I’m spoiling it for you guys, but the longer answer is interesting to listen to)
  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin #342: Here’s a hack to try: explain your problem to a rubber duckie and it will probably be helpful. I haven’t tried it but it’s really weird.
  • Sorta Awesome #339 The awesome apps we can’t live without. Lots of good ideas here, but it won’t help me stay away from my phone.
  • Science Vs.: The Delta Variant, how bad is it? Science facts are always better than “alternative facts”. Not everything in the show was scary, let’s put it that way.
  • 💙 99% Invisible #453 The book of tasty and healthy food. About a very popular cookbook in the UssR
  • This American Life #745 Getting out. Escape out of Afghanistan, out of a relationship, out of a room blocked by a mad woman…
  • Everything Happens with Kate Bowler: Living alongside fear with Ken Carter [new to me]
  • The First Draft Club: Can i write a whole novel draft on my phone? Well, there’s not one single recipe for success. I enjoyed the list of very weird writing habits that she presents.
  • NPR Short Wave: You mite want to shower after this. Eww… This episode has just the right balance between science, gross factor and randomness to fascinate my kids.
  • Under the influence with Jo Piazza: Ep. 6 The sharenthood / An Intermission / Ep. 7 Burning Cats. Deep dive into the mom influencers’ world, and how not everything is pink and nice there. Kids are getting damaged in the process, and lots more. Jo Piazza refers to some law in France that would stop parents from sharing pictures of their kids on social media. I don’t know where this rumor comes from, but this is not real. Check your facts!

The podcast Everything happens with Kate Bowler was highly recommended by Laila from Big Reading Life and it didn’t disappoint! This one episode about fearless people resonated with a Short Wave episode i’d listen to last week: Why a good scare is sometimes the right call, but the host and the guest seemed to have such a nice chemistry! I’ll definitely try other episodes.

My favorite episode this week is 99% invisible on the most famous Soviet cookbook: The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food. The history of food during the Soviet era, how Communists really weren’t foodies, how they wanted to abolish kitchen and how that room was a place of distrust in communal apartments, how new foods came to the Soviet diet as a result of the fascination for the American industrial food, how people needed to be educated about how to eat oranges and cook new things, how dishes that were clearly imported from overseas were modified and absorbed into the Russian culture… and how food was all the time scarce and hard to come by… Everything in this episode was really fascinating to me. I encourage you to listen, and also check out the images on the website, it’s priceless!

Claude Izner, The Montmartre Investigation (2003)

Original Title: Le Carrefour des écrasés

I’m sure there’s a saying like “doing the same mistake over and over is stupid”, but I can’t find it. I had read (or tried to read) a Claude Izner a (very) long time ago and I had not enjoyed it, to the point that I hadn’t finished it. (But as I almost never post about DNF on this blog, I couldn’t remember exactly). I came across this old yellowing paperback in a little free library booth of my neighborhood earlier this year, when the lock-down made me a little crazy about the risk of running out of books (as if? 🙄). Surely the name Claude Izner reminded me of something, but I didn’t know what, and a historical mystery set in Paris in 1891 was just so tempting…

I found it very cute to learn that Claude Izner is actually the pen name for two sisters who work together for this mystery series. And the period is also very appealing to me, all the more as I recently started watching a (very dark) series called “Paris Police 1900“, set less than 10 years after the Montmartre investigation. The Montmartre investigation takes place, well… in Montmartre, with the Moulin Rouge, the artists and dancers and prostitutes rubbing shoulders with aristocrats… I enjoyed the sense of place and time of the book, and it is obviously very good with history and research.

Alas, the book did not work with me at all. First, this is the third book in the series, but there are way too many references to past volumes to be read as a standalone. I could not really get interested in Victor Legris and his friends. I was annoyed by the way he treated his girlfriend, and his shop assistant, and… basically everyone. I didn’t find him very clever and much of the progress in the investigation is just a matter of luck and circumstances. The plot itself seemed far-fetched and plain… weird. It was a lot more fun to learn about daily life in Paris in that period.

If you’re not afraid of very dark series, I’d recommend you skip the books and try the TV series instead. As for me, I will make an effort to remember not to try another Claude Izner. To make the same mistake thrice would be even worse.

Liu Xinwu, The Wedding Party (2021)

Original title: 钟鼓楼 Zhong Gu Lou (1985), translated by Jeremy Tiang

The cover of the book looks like it could be a children’s book or a comics. But that is totally misleading, this is a sprawling novel of 400 pages, full of humor, people, events and considerations on life and history. I don’t know if the title of Wedding Party has been chosen by the publisher or the translator, but it is an English choice. It is obviously the focus of the main action, as we follow a group of people who are gathering on that day for a wedding celebration. Yet, the Chinese original title refers to the location of the action: the Bell and Drum Towers in Beijing. These historical buildings are towering the action and acting as eternal landmarks compared to the agitation and constant changes of the humans that live in their shadows.

The book is set in the winter of 1982 in Beijing, which is a bit of a low-key period in Chinese history. The struggles and upheaval of Maoist era are over, people are coming back slowly from being sent away by the Cultural revolution. Yet, it is not the booming economy and wealth that we now know, or rather, it is the first moments of the dawn. People are just starting to have their basic needs covered and they can start to buy some things for pleasure, and even buy fancier wedding presents and wedding food. Some even have Japanese brand watches and install electric bells on their door, instead of letting people drop by unannounced. The Bell and Drum Towers are not a wealthy neighborhood, people live in hutong and siheyuan, which are courtyard houses split between lots of families. This make for rather… ahem… rambunctious relations, when people with various interests, wealth, status, culture and prospects are obliged to rub shoulders every day and share water taps and more.

A wedding is a stressful day for the bride and groom and their families, and it was as true in 1982 in Beijing as it is today. The mother of the groom is hosting, and her aim is to have all the guests fed with delicacies and properly impressed. The bride is a young materialistic saleswoman who basically measures her happiness to the amount of wedding gifts and especially a much awaited gold watch. The wedding will be all but serene and auspicious when dozens of neighbors and guests, including people who aren’t quite welcome (a drunkard and a thief) go through the courtyard and share this day of excitement.

The novel is full of humor and humanity. Liu Xinwu has so much empathy for his large cast of characters, and he takes the time to explain the origins of many misunderstandings and disputes that erupt on that day. Liu Xinwu is the author who is credited for inventing the scar literature, a literary form who presents the suffering of the victims of the Cultural Revolution. It is visible in this novel as more than one character alludes to their past and how they have endured the previous decade, but not in a tragic, heavy tone.

This book was awarded the Mao Dun prize at his publication in 1985, which is the equivalent of the Booker prize for China. It’s not meant to be a direct criticism of the regime, but it is quite direct in showing cases of injustice, cronyism, hypocrisy and incompetence. Liu Xinwu also shows how the parents and grandparents of those living in the siheyuan had a miserable life before 1949 as Communists came to power. Because we also see the younger generation more interested in achieving success for themselves than proclaiming any Communist ideal, we can only reflect how these havej grown up and probably turned into the wealthy generation of the 2000s.

I was in Beijing in the early 2000s and the neighborhood of the Bell and Drum Towers was a favorite place with trendy, shabby cafés and run-down siheyuan. Many younger and wealthier families had long since moved to the high-rises in the suburbs or near the fifth ring road. Older and poorer people still lived there in the shadows of the towers, a glimpse at eternal Beijing. When we visited again in 2018, it felt like the towers had not changed much, however different the rest of the city was.

I enjoyed this novel a lot because it was linked to a lot of personal memories, but I believe it might appeal to Western readers who’d like a fun glimpse into old China daily life.

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

Ann Cleeves, Cold Earth (2016), White Nights (2008)

I’m woefully behind in posting about books (10!! I don’t think I’ve been that bad in a long, long time), so I’m going to lump these two up. I’ve recently read a Vera mystery by Ann Cleeves, and it proved just as good as the TV series, so that I decided to continue in the same vein for the Summer Book challenge. I’ve watched several seasons of Shetland on TV with Douglas Henshall as detective Jimmy Perez, but had never tried the books before. A lot of the appeal of these mysteries are the beautiful landscapes of the Shetland islands, but not only… (If you don’t want to be sitting in front of this blog post forever, don’t start me on Douglas Henshall… Some people have Brad Pitt or Bradley Cooper… 😊 To each their own…). So I came to the book with high expectations (and also a bit disappointment that I wouldn’t see… Douglas Henshall… but I digress)

Following my own rule of being totally unrully when it comes to series, I had #2 and #8 in the Shetland series (that’s Amazon special offers for you), and I started with… the late one. My reasoning was that the #2 might have had a TV adaptation which I’d seen. Which proved actually wrong (or I am becoming even more forgetful than usual). Jumping back from #8 to #2 was indeed a little spoilery, but having followed the TV series I’m pretty much all spoilt already 😏. But for the sake of clarity I’ll report on them in chronological order.

In White Nights, the action takes place in summer, when the Shetland islands have long days because the sun never sets on those Northern latitudes. People do all sorts of wild things during this period, we’re told, especially as they want to enjoy this period before storms, rains and darkness come back for the rest of the year. The book opens with tourists getting down the boat in Lerwick. An art opening is taking place at an upscale gallery on the beach, organized by famous painter Bella Sinclair, and also presenting some paintings by Fran Hunter, who happens to be… Jimmy Perez’ girlfriend. During the gathering a man with an English accent, whom nobody can really place, makes a bit of a scandal and Jimmy Perez escorts him outside. But the next day, the man is found dead, hanging from a rafter in a nearby shed. As it happens, it’s not suicide, but finding who this man is proves to be a challenge, as is the rest of this investigation. If nobody seems to know the victim, why would anyone want to kill him?

I really enjoyed the story and its quiet pace. Every character is well developed and full of his/her own faults and story, even people you hardly see for more than a few pages. For example, one woman on the island is a shopkeeper who reads novels and is very shy, I’m glad Cleeves took the time to develop her, although one feels that Perez never considers her a suspect. The person in England who knows the victim has her own backstory too. Shetland has small communities where everybody knows everything from their neighbors, and so you wouldn’t think it possible to have so many lies, treasons, bitterness and heavy feelings hidden from one another (and from the police) for years. My only reservation is that the resolution seemed to come out of the blue; although it made sense in terms of motive and opportunity, I still found it a bit unrealistic.

Cold Earth takes place years after White Nights, and let’s cut the chase to state that a lot has happened since then and Jimmy Perez’ girlfriend is no longer Fran Hunter. The opening scene is formidable: a burial on a rainy, winter day in Shetland triggers a landslide, which engulfs the road and a nearby house and kills a woman. A woman in a red silk dress in a cottage that everyone thought empty. Who was she? Perez is obsessed, especially as he learns that she was in fact killed before the landslide. The landslide’s scene struck me, especially as I have recently watched the Crown (season 3) covering the Aberfan disaster in 1966 (I had no idea of this historical event and it is presented in a very powerful way). Here the cemetery is literally pushed by the mountain and the rain into the North Sea, and the mental image is sure to leave a mark.

Perez works on this case with a Scottish police chief detective named Willow, and there’s definitely a spark (and more) between them. That’s the thing about reading books out of order. Now I have to tell you that Fran Hunter is, in fact, dead, and Jimmy Perez is still grieving, and also taking care of Fran’s little girl (in the TV series, the daughter is a lot older, so I was confused for awhile). Will he be able to get over his grief to allow himself all the feelings for Willow? Don’t worry, Ann Cleeves steers clear of the romance territory, we’re still very much in the cozy mystery/ thriller genre and the pace is rather more gripping than in the White Nights. Once again, I have a tiny bit of reservation with the resolution, but I’m totally ok to follow along whatever Douglas Henshall… erh, Ann Cleeves has in store for me.

I enjoyed this one even more than White Nights, and I might get back to read the books in-between, if during the colder months I’m in urgent need of rainy, windswept landscapes, Scottish accent, and Douglas Henshall.

Pod Review September 4-10

As I checked in to write this weekly post, WordPress congratulated me for having a sudden spike of traffic on this blog. Whaaaat? Are books so trendy now? Are people suddenly realizing my secret literary genius? Am I turning into a micro-influencer? Nope. All these fans are from Indonesia… and in fact, it’s only one IP address. Sigh… Going deeper into my traffic stats, I realized that a particular Indonesian user has been trying to spam my blog for his own benefits since July. They write comments full of links to Indonesian sites (legit or not, I certainly won’t click on to verify…). In short, I’ve fallen prey to a click farm. Indeed, all those comments have been blocked by WordPress so far, so I haven’t been pestered by it too much, but I believe that the fact that these links exist (even blocked) might help grow these dubious Twitter accounts, websites and IG accounts’ stats. I remember there’s a Reply All episode about this sort of scam, but I can’t put my finger on it. And so instead of reading books, I have spent some time clicking on the “delete” button. Isn’t it ironic that these guys (well, maybe girls, but I doubt it) have turned me into a clicking machine too?

  • 💙 Under the Influence: Episode 3: A shoppable life / Episode 4: An Authentic Woman / Episode 5: If you build it, they will come. What goes on behind the mom influencers’ perfect accounts on Instagram is really fascinating.
  • Edit Your Life #243 Fall Check-In. After “Under the influence”, the kind conversation between Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest felt like a breath of fresh air and a cup of empathy.
  • Radiolab: Breath. Speaking of breath, lots of smaller stories on that theme, some interesting and others less so. I liked the one about the attempt of block one’s breath.
  • NPR On Our Watch: under Color of Law. This is the final episode of the series, a long overdue listen. It was so sad and depressing.
  • This American Life #743 Don’t you be my neighbor. Mmh, everyone has issues with their neighbor at some point, right? I didn’t really care, I have my own.
  • The Mom Hour #328 House rules for easier mornings. Lots of good ideas. Never sign a school paper on the morning again!
  • NPR Short Wave: Why a good scare is sometimes the right call. I’m definitely a scaredy-cat, but the show also points out why we need people who enjoy a good scare too.
  • 99% Invisible: #449 Mine!
  • Un(re)solved (Front Line PBS) Episode 2: The Letters. Unsolved civil rights killings were due for a new investigation, but it sort of petered out. I’m sorry but I can’t really continue to listen to this series, because it is too depressing. Yes, the investigation was botched during the 1960s, and then it wasn’t done right either the second time.

Although Under the Influence has way too many ad breaks to my taste (I’m talking to you, “I heart Radio”), the show is both fascinating and terrifying. Of course I know that these picture-perfect IG accounts are not the real life, but I had no clue how much effort, competition, how many businesses, coaches, agents, photographs are actually behind the scenes. The show also explores how it turns these women’s personal life into a commodity, also their kids and husbands, and what impact it has on them. (Episode 5 has Jo Piazza try to increase her IG posts’ marketability, and she says it made her feel dirty and inauthentic, while she was told to sell authenticity to her audience). After that show, you’d probably unsubscribe from a lot of IG accounts.

On another tone, 99% Invisible episode was lots of fun, exploring the notion of ownership. Do you think ownership is something clear cut and almost scientific? Think again. Listen to that episode and you won’t look at your seat on an airplane the same way anymore, plus a very valid tip about how to deal with the eternal struggle around the reclining seat. Well, if I step into an airplane again…

Alain Berenboom, Perils en ce Royaume (2008)

Now that I’ve complained that great books were hard to write about, what do you think about a post on a book I didn’t care much? Really, I’m typing this post so much faster than my previous one, and one could perhaps infer a mathematical formula where the time I need to finish a blog post and my typing speed would be inversely proportional to the number of stars I give to a book in Goodreads. (I haven’t studied maths, to be honest)

This mystery should check all the right boxes for me. It’s a historical mystery, set in Belgium in the immediate post-WW2. I’m very fond with Belgium because my hometown is quite close to the Belgian borders and we went weekly there while I was growing up. The narrator is Michel van Loo, a young man from Brussels who quit his civil servant job and launched into a new venture as a private detective. One of his first cases is about a young man who has disappeared from his wealthy Brussels home. Michel is a bit of a loser and the book is filled with jokes, witty banter and slapstick situation. Michel has a clever girlfriend, Anne, who works as a hair dresser at a salon managed by Federico, an ex-Communist gay Italian, or Italian gay ex-Communist, or whatever. Other quirky friends join the band and help Michel in his investigation.

Clearly, I enjoyed the banter and the jokes, although some were a bit repetitive. I also enjoyed all the historical and political insight about the situation of Belgium in 1947. The situation in Belgium was complicated during the war and the start of peace was messy as well. The Belgian royals remained in the country after the Nazis had taken power, contrary to other countries like Netherlands. The King said that they did so to suffer alongside their country people but it was also implied that the Royals had some sympathy for the Nazis. A part of the population was convinced that the Nazis were there to stay, and made all sorts of accommodation with the occupying forces, making some good money on the black market and even joining forces with the German nazi troops on the Soviet campaign (as is explained in a whole other genre in another novel I read this year: Paradise is what we all want by Els Beerten). As a result, some Belgians wanted to get rid of their royals at the end of the war. Communists were also fighting for the power and the population was deeply divided. That part of the book was definitely well done, and it’s an added bonus that this context was explained on a light tone (Els Beerten’s book was definitely a tragedy and very heavy).

But a mystery novel must have a mystery… and I was really disappointed by the plot and the characters. Most of them felt like cardboard people, and the story was implausible and unnecessarily convoluted. Some events seemed to me like pretexts to introduce some historical facts and after a string of more and more implausible twists, I couldn’t really suspend my disbelief to the degree the author expected from me. I’m interested to read more books by Belgian authors, but I’m afraid I won’t follow this series.

Pod Review Aug. 28 – Sept. 3

And the summer holidays are officially… over ! School in France started yesterday, and work is getting busier by the minute (including work in the… office… well, we’re supposed to be back on site for 3 days a week now, starting Sept. 1, and this is hard!). I’ve found lots of new podcasts, which is good because on the book front I’m in a bit of a reading slump.

  • Sorta Awsome #334 What I wish I’d bought sooner! – I’m going to check out that earbuds/hairband thingy and report.
  • ICYMI: How #BamaRush took over Tiktok [new-to-me] I’d never heard of Rush or University of Alabama until 2 weeks ago. This episode was really interesting!
  • Maintenance Phase: The Body Mass Index [new-to-me] lots of information
  • Under the Influence: Episode 1 A more perfect mother [new-to-me]
  • The Mom Hour: Late Summer Check-in and managing seasonal transitions (from August 2018)
  • Under the Influence: Episode 2 Women’s Work
  • ICYMI: There’s no easy way to log off
  • Radiolab: The Queen of Dying: about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the woman behind the famous stages of grief (it’s a lot more complicated)
  • Reading the End #152 with Whisky Jenny and Gin Jenny. New titles and the Three Musketeers! It’s been way too long since I listened to this podcast.

I tried no less than 3 new podcasts this week! “Under the influence” was recommended on Sorta Awesome, about the history and evolution of mom influencers. It is interesting, but the show itself is cut by so many long ad breaks that it really got on my nerves (I skip, but how tedious). I still want to continue this series.

The best show I tried is ICYMI. It reminds me a little of Reply all (for the internet analysis) but on broader subjects, less geeky and masculine. I enjoyed the episode on #bamarushtok, and the second one I tried was good too, although I had no idea who the YouTube celebrities they talked about were. Which makes a nice correlation with the episodes on Under the Influence that explained how the fall of magazines and reorientation of advertising budgets created a whole new pool of minor celebrities, managed by agents, who suddenly could make money out of the internet.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, English Climate: Wartime Short Stories (2020)

I don’t know about fellow book bloggers, but in my experience it’s so much easier to write about a book one dislike than a beloved book, and to add another layer of complexity, it’s way easier to write about novels than short story collections. All this to say that I’m sorry to write only now about this collection I read and enjoyed in early July (!). If I delayed writing this post many times, it’s because the book is really good and I don’t want to mess it up!

This collection presents 22 stories written between 1940 and 1946, many of them published in the NewYorker for American readers. Of course, as this collection is published by beloved Persephone, it begets questions and comparisons with other women-centric short stories of the same period, such as Goodnight Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes (which I loved). Both collections focus on women’s daily experience on the home front (more often than not the quintessential British village or the upperclass mansion – think Midsommer Murders) and what goes in their hearts and minds beyond the official “Keep Calm and Carry On”: hopes and fears, tragedies, disappointments and tiny intimate upheavals. But Mollie Panter-Downes’ stories are a bit more emotional and kind, while these stories often have a darker undertone, although often tinged with enough humor to make it more palatable.

Even though I read them two months ago now, I still have fresh memories of these vivid scenes. Evacuee children from London to the countryside don’t react to their new surroundings like the adults expect them to. Tobacconists have few cigarettes left: which customers will they favor with their treasure? Wealthy homemakers contemplate the potentially liberating destruction of the home they’ve been restricted to. Women learn to use weapons in the perspective of a potential Nazi invasion, but perhaps they shouldn’t be trusted to have such powerful tools. Burrial ceremonies – and the ensuing family reunions – get disturbed by the impromptu falling of a bomb. Women in the absence of men make unconventional lodging arrangements. And so many other stories… We get to see a bit of everything, from wealthy to poor people, from Londoners to country people, and every time Sylvia Townsend Warner takes an unusual perspective.

I don’t know why Sylvia Townsend Warner is so little known and so little read. She’s been already a favorite writer of mine since Lolly Willowes, but I have neglected her for too long. This collection convinced me to try and find more books by her, either stories or novels. I’m writing this up for the winter!

Pod Review August 21-27

There’s a French expression for this time of year, that says that when you have difficulty to remember your pre-vacation work details and your passwords, it’s proof that summer holidays were very good. Now is it universal? It’s for you to tell me. At any case, I’ve returned to work (very partially on-site, with mask, but the rest of the week in my living room) and I can hardly believe that French school will start next week! (on-site, with masks). But still, back-to-school podcasts episodes about new plans, fresh starts, fall and productivity are showing up like mushrooms.

  • NPR Life Kit: 4 Tips for cleaning up your social media diet
  • Founder’s Journal: How to build meaningful relationships [new-to-me]; inspired by Morning Brew newsletter (I understand that the host is the boss)
  • Sorta Awesome #325 Ideal Me vs. Reality Me – exactly the right topic for this period of year, as I’ll probably make up tons of new resolutions and plans for Ideal Me…
  • 💙 This American Life #744: Essential; a deep dive into what it meant to be an essential worker in the US during the first pandemic lockdown, and the long-term consequences (people reevaluating their self-worth, people quitting, or being angry…). I didn’t know that in the US every State defined essential workers as they wanted.
  • Founder’s Journal: How to get your shit together: about life goals and breaking it down to 90 days action plans.
  • Sharon Says So with Sharon McMahon: 14. How setting boundaries can create peace with Nedra Tawwab [new-to-me]

I tried 2 new podcasts this week. The podcast world right now is really an embarrassment of riches. So I gave myself some rules to continue my exploration without losing myself down the rabbit hole. It’s arbitrary, but I rarely ever choose podcasts that run over 1 hour (well, 63 minutes is ok…). I don’t have that much free time, and most times it means that the episodes are not well edited. I also decided that to give a fair assessment (apart from obvious mistakes like the show is really not for me and I DNF), I would listen to 2 episodes. One episode is not enough, sometimes there’s a random bad one in a stellar season, or on the contrary a random pearl in an otherwise so-so show.

With this in mind, I tried Founder’s Journal and it was ok. It’s not the kind of podcasts I listen to, it’s definitely a male voice with a rather go-getter approach, but there was definitely something to learn from his “how to get your shit together” episode. I’m not so sure about his approach to relationships though, I feel that most people I know would not respond to him, either because too introverted / European / soft-spoken… I’m going to continue checking on his back-catalogue, but otherwise I’ll move on. There are so many other great shows out there!

Speaking of which, I’ve seen great recs in Vulture and I can’t wait to start new shows… very far from the usual productivity theme!

Summer Challenge Update

We’re just one week to the end of the challenge, and I had totally forgotten to write any update on the challenge. (That is to say, before leaving for our family trip, I’d prepared the posts setup for books I knew I’d finish while away and wanted to be able to review, and I’m just typing the text of the posts on my phone without any modification of the layout and parameters). But rest assured, I’m quite confident about meeting the 20 books mark before the deadline! (Were you worried? I was, for the first few weeks of July)

Before leaving, I’d started 2 hardbacks I couldn’t bring with me: The Door by Magda Szabo, and a Belgian mystery set in the immediate post-WW2: Dangers in This Kingdom by Alain Berenboom. I decided I would finish them when I’d be coming back. Now will I really? I’m not really enthusiastic about either of them (yet?) but I want to give them a fair try.

During our family trip, I’d only brought my Kindle and one physical book: a Georges Simenon omnibus borrowed from the library. Unfortunately, I discovered that I’d already read 2 novels from this particular collection, and others were part of his “tough novels” (“les romans durs”, those stories without Maigret or a traditional police procedural). Besides, the book had a rather musty smell (or worse? I don’t want to investigate). So I chose 2 from the book:

  • Maigret loses his temper
  • The street with the three baby chicks (my own translation); a short story collection

Then on my Kindle, I had lots of mysteries and the review copy for a big Chinese novel by Liu Xinwu, whom I had read from in the past. It is 400 pages and it took some time to getting to used to, but I really enjoyed it! In parallel I was on a roll with mysteries by authors I’m loving more and more:

  • The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths
  • Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves from the Shetland Island series (which I’d only watch in TV version, but not that particular story)
  • White Nights from the same series, set way before the other one

I’d hesitated for a long time which Shetland mystery I’d read, and then I didn’t have to choose anymore! I would have run the risk to have nothing to read anymore at the end of my trip (is that even possible?). So at the last minute, which means last week really), I changed my 20 Books list once again! I dropped the Door (which I certainly won’t finish anytime soon, it’s a very slow read) and added the second Ann Cleeves.

I’m so glad I joined this particular challenge! If I do it again, I’ll certainly limit the number of big books, and add a large proportion of fun books / mysteries / romances rather than challenging reads, given that summer holidays (especially when I’m not at home) make me want to grab something easy. Will I turn to beach reads next year? Well, if they smell of sunscreen rather than old rank paper, maybe…

How did your summer reading go? Do you have a preferred season for challenging books? Do you care how your library books smell?