This is a transcription of ‘Playing with Connections and Two New Books — 29 September 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a deliciously creepy novel about cursed apples.
David: A mystery with washed-up British secret service agents.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
David: Today, we’ve got a guest coming in to share his distraction of the week. If you like word puzzles, I think you’re going to enjoy it. His name is Craig, and he’s the co-host of the book podcast Overdue.
Melissa: You might recall that we had his cohort Andrew as our guest a few weeks ago.
David: And we recently appeared on THEIR show to talk about ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ by Hunter S. Thompson.
Melissa: I’m going to admit right here, right now that ‘Fear and Loathing’ was not a good fit for me. BUT! I loved our conversation with Andrew and Craig. They made me appreciate the book, even if I know in the dark corners of my heart that I will never LIKE it.
David: Yeah, my experience has been in this and other places that you don’t need a book that everyone loves to have a good book club.
Melissa: I mean, it’s probably better if everyone doesn’t love it, right? Then there’s something to talk about.
David: So if you’re curious about what Mel sounds like when she doesn’t like a book.
Melissa: I was trying to be polite, so I didn’t say I hated it.
David: Yeah, but you can head over to that podcast and give a listen and you are going to hear from Craig a little bit later in this episode. But first we’re going to talk about two new titles. Now what have you got?
Melissa: Chuck Wendig —
David: I love Chuck Wendig.
Melissa: Chuck Wendig is an American author who lives in Pennsylvania and often sets his books there. I learned about him through his blog Terribleminds. He’s intelligent and very funny with a big heart. His blog makes me laugh while also cutting to the core of meaningful issues like artificial intelligence, the writing life, the perils of social media, and COVID-19. He’s a smarty-pants and seems to be a genuinely good soul.
David: He is very good about helping new writers.
Melissa: He is very generous.
David: If you are curious about the work involved in writing a novel, his site will will point to many, many resources.
Melissa: For such a nice person, he writes some very dark books, like his well-received apocalyptic novel ‘Wanderers’ and his supernatural family drama ‘The Book of Accidents.’ Like Stephen King, he creates characters you care about and then really messes with them. HARD. In addition to his horror novels, he’s also written comics, games, and fantasy novels, and he wrote ‘Star Wars: Aftermath’ which was a New York Times bestseller.
Melissa: His latest is ‘Black River Orchard.’ It’s a book only he could have written because this dude is obsessed with apples. He explains in his author’s note that he previously did not like apples. Which… fair. If you only get, like, Red Delicious apples at the grocery store… blech. But then he discovered heirloom apples from small orchards. And that kicked off this story and his love affair with tasty apples. This book is about apples that are so irresistibly delicious they ruin everyone’s lives.
Melissa: We meet the residents of a small town in Pennsylvania, and even before the whole apple situation, each of them is haunted by something in their history. It’s a compelling ensemble cast anchored by a feisty teenage girl and her father. There’s also a modern-day Johnny Appleseed with a Past, capital P, a lesbian couple from the city trying to make a fresh start, and a free-spirited woman named Joanie who has the town clutching at its proverbial pearls.
Melissa: The deadly Ruby Slipper apples are at the dark heart of the story, but it’s also about family secrets and the snobbiness you can find in small towns. There’s a demon, a cult, and an apple orchard that feels like it’s sentient. For all its creepiness and weirdness, this story is ultimately about love and family. I DEVOURED it —
David: I see what you did there.
Melissa: And I loved it. It’s gleefully sinister, delightfully disturbing, and so moving I got teary-eyed at a few parts. And not for nothing, it made me very hungry for apple cake and applesauce. It’s Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig.
Melissa: He’s doing a book tour around the US, and there will be apples from local orchards. I’ll put a link in the show notes so you can meet Chuck in person.
David: Mick Herron is a British author of mysteries and thrillers. You might know him from the Slough House series. That was adapted into a series called ‘Slow Horses.’
David: The books and the series are about a group of disgraced and demoted British intelligence officers. They are still MI5 officers, but they’ve been tossed out of the main office, and exiled to a broken-down building called Slough House. You might wind up in Slough House if you’re good at your job, but unlikeable, or if you’ve made a mistake that isn’t quite career-ending. As a team, they are a very imperfect family tasked with some genuinely awful hand-me-down missions.
David: We watched two seasons of the series starring Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas this summer. The series is great. If you enjoy spy stories with a British twist, give it a chance.
Melissa: I really enjoyed the found family aspects, even though most of the time they all act like they don’t like each other.
David: Oh, strongly. Yeah. Yeah. The dialogue in particular is really fun to listen to. It is sharp and it’s funny. Gary Oldman’s character is somehow horrible and lovable at the same time.
Melissa: He is working some voodoo there.
David: The author has a new book out. It’s called ‘The Secret Hours.’ This is not a Slow Horses book. It’s a stand-alone novel set mainly in Cold War Berlin. The primary thread is about a 1994 mission that went horribly wrong. The timeline switches back and forth between then and now, as two agents try to save their careers by figuring out what happened almost thirty years ago. There is said to be dark humor and a smart plot, which is not hard to imagine.
David: The opening chapter has one of the best chase scenes I remember reading.
Melissa: He’s really good at writing openings. I read the first chapter of the first Slow Horses book and it sucked me right in.
David: Yeah, same. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of this one. It came out about two weeks ago. It’s the Secret Hours by Mick Herron.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: We’re here with Andrew and Craig from the overdue podcast. Craig, I understand you’ve got a great distraction of the week for us.
Craig: I think I do. It is the one of the new games from the New York Times Games section called Connections. As we are recording it, recording this right now, it has been running for 80 or so puzzles and it is structured similar to Wordle, which kind of took the world by storm, I guess, over a year maybe. Was it quite two years ago? And then that was, you know, an independent project that was picked up by the Times. And so they’ve created a new game. That is, it has that daily puzzle thing that you like from a crossword or from maybe the Spelling Bee or something like that. I was drawn to it because it feels like a single player version of Codenames, which is a board game that’s been very popular for the last few years. That involves —
David: Yeah, I love codenames.
Craig: Yeah. It’s like, you know, kind of team-based Password. But you’re also guessing multiple words at a time with, you know, the words you’re using to link things together. So what it is, I’ll just zoom out here. It is a 16-block grid where each block has a word on it and you are tasked with making four groups of four, based on categories that you don’t know about. It is a mix of wordplay, literal grouping. It might be like word blank, and so you have to find the shared blank between, you know, the four words, but you don’t know that at any given time. And so you have four guesses that you can get wrong. And whenever you get a category right, it tells you what the category was and then you’re left with the remaining 12, 8, or 4 selections.
Melissa: That sounds pretty fun.
Craig: Yeah, it’s neat. It’s got the same sharing, not a mechanic. It’s not part of the game, but it’s part of the social aspect of it where you can create a little emoji grid of the colored squares for each category that you can then text to somebody. You can put it in whatever group chat or Discord server you’re in. I’m in two different servers right now that each have like a daily check-in where people just you just see somebody’s blocks. And what’s neat is each category has its own color. So if you know what the puzzle is, you can then see, Oh wow, they got the automatic transmission settings category first and then they got the different types of chairs category last. But maybe you did it in reverse or something like that. So yeah, it’s a fun — I don’t always have time to sit down and like do a full crossword or have the brain energy at the end of the day to do it. And this kind of gets some of that, you know, in a Wordle way, right? Where it’s like, I want to do that part of that thing with my brain, but I don’t want to do all of that thing. And yeah, it’s really fun and it’s easy to do on like multiple devices and all that kind of stuff.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more info about the Overdue Podcast, the word game Connections, and all the books we discussed today.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
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