Transcript / LoLT: New Podcast Recommendations and Two New Books — 12 January 2024

Transcript / LoLT: New Podcast Recommendations and Two New Books — 12 January 2024

Friday, 12 January, 2024

This is a transcription of ‘New Podcast Recommendations and Two New Books — 12 January 2024’

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[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, a neo-gothic novel set in South Africa.

David: A cozy story about a barbarian warlord.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: I think we all know by now that I love a gothic novel set in a manor house. The stereotypical setting is a country estate in the UK or a castle somewhere in craggy European mountains. I don’t know what was going on with early gothic authors, but Ann Radcliff’s Mysteries of Udolpho and Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto are both set in isolated mountain castles in Italy.

Melissa: Obviously, I love all that. But one of my favorite reading experiences is also gothic novels set somewhere unexpected. I’ve talked about what I call sunny gothic before. Those are novels in places like Greece, Thailand, and Turkey. The sun is shining, but the houses are eerie, and the bright sunshine makes deeper shadows.

Melissa: I’ve got a new one at the top of my TBR. It’s ‘The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years’ by Shubnum Khan, and it’s set on the coast of South Africa. Early reviews describe it as a mashup of ghost story, love story, and mystery. The action centers around a dilapidated mansion by the sea. Which, by the way, is haunted by a djinn. Our heroine is a 15-year-old girl with a severe case of the curiosities. So, of course, she ventures into the abandoned and forbidding East Wing, where she finds faded photographs and the diary of a young woman named Mina from 1919. There’s a tragic love story and secrets, and, of course, don’t forget about the djinn.

Melissa: I’ve read the first few chapters and didn’t want to put it down. The writing is very lush and evocative. I want to read a bit from the first page because it has a glorious sense of place and dastardly gothic weather. Here we go:

‘No one in Durban remembers a Christmas as hot as this. The heat is a living breathing thing that climbs through the windows and creeps into kitchens. It follows people to work and at queues in the bank and on trains home. It crouches in bedrooms, growing restless until at night in fury it throttles those sleeping, leaving them gasping for breath. It sweeps through the streets and bursts open pipes, smashes open green guavas, and splits apart driveways. It burns off fingerprints and scorches hair and makes people forget what they are doing and where they are going.

Melissa: The setup for the protagonist Sana is also excellent. If you enjoy the beginning bits of ‘Jane Eyre,’ where poor Jane is put-upon and misunderstood, you’ll love this introduction to Sana and her circumstances. And then, at the end of chapter two, there’s a dramatic cliffhanger. In chapter two! Very exciting. I’m in. Maybe you are, too. It’s ‘The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years’ by Shubnum Khan, and it’s out now.

David: For my next book, I will take us into a part of the literary world that we don’t get into much here. I want to talk about high fantasy. This is not a literary fantasy. This is almost straight pulp. The characters in this book might be someone’s Dungeons and Dragons characters.

David: The book is called ‘Legends and Lattes’ by Travis Baldree. This is a story about a giant, badass warrior named Viv. Viv wants to retire from being an adventurer, from doing all that blood-soaked cleaving and killing. Viv wants to open a coffee shop.

David: And that’s the story. Viv retires to a little town with a made-up name and starts her coffee shop. She clears out an old building. She decorates. She makes friends with other outsiders. There’s a baker and descriptions of his creations. There may be a little romance. It’s just a charming, cozy story. I read it under a blanket during the first week of December, and it was kind of perfect for that.

David: But warning: The book’s first line is, ‘Viv buried her greatsword in the scalvert’s skull with a meaty crunch.’ If you can’t get past that, this isn’t your book.

David: But if you can, this is a sweet trip. It was nominated for a Nebula and a Hugo last year. And there’s another book in the series out now. That one is called ‘Bookshops and Bonedust.’ This one is ‘Legends and Lattes’ by Travis Baldree.

David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

Melissa: I alternate throughout the year between listening to audiobooks and listening to podcasts. I’m in a strong podcast phase right now, so I thought I’d share some of the new-to-me shows I like. These are my soundtrack while I cook dinner or take a walk.

Melissa: I want to preface this by saying I’m super picky about podcasts and audiobook narrators. I almost always listen with headphones, and it’s intimate, having someone talk right into your ear that way. So thank you to everyone listening to our show for trusting your ears to us — and for playing along with our podcast shenanigans.

Melissa: My first recommendation is The Well. It’s a celebrity interview show focused specifically on creativity. I’m out of patience with celebrity interviews where the actor just promotes their latest project. But I’m inspired by hearing actors talk about their craft. How they delve into the story and dig into their characters to do their work. Hearing competent people talk about how they do things is one of my favorite things — which is why I like The Well so much. It’s hosted by filmmaker Branan Edgens and the actor Anson Mount. Anson Mount plays Captain Pike on Star Trek Strange New Worlds.

Melissa: They have lengthy conversations with actors about their craft. I can only assume that the two hosts are genuinely kind and welcoming in real life — because their guests are usually very candid and introspective about their work. I have two recommendations on where to start with the show.

Melissa: They did a 3-part interview with Doug Jones. He’s a very tall, very thin actor, contortionist, and mime [PAUSE] who usually plays creatures in movies. He works a lot with Guillermo del Toro. He was the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth and Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, and the amphibious creature in The Shape of Water. His stories are fantastic.

Melissa: I also enjoyed a 2-parter with Ethan Peck. He’s the grandson of actor Gregory Peck and plays Spock on Star Trek Strange New Worlds. His stories about getting and playing that iconic role are charming.

Melissa: My second recommendation is a live show on BBC radio that’s turned into a podcast. It’s called In Our Time, and more than 1000 episodes are available. The host, Melvyn Bragg, is joined by three experts, and they discuss topics in history, science, art, and literature. There are three reasons I love this show:

  1. Melvyn Bragg has an arid sense of humor, and he’s quite prickly. It’s not unusual for him to tell a guest to hurry and get to the point. It’s very refreshing.

  2. The experts sometimes talk over each other and get a little heated.

  3. They enthusiastically get into the weeds of complex topics.

Melissa: There are a bunch of literary episodes that go deep into classics like The Great Gatsby, the greatest hits of the Brontës — Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and the Tenant of Wildfell Hall — Persuasion and Emma by Jane Austen, Hamlet, Moby Dick. It’s awesome to spend 45 minutes focused on one work. There are also episodes about Greek history, the astronomer Tycho Brahe, Beethoven. You can’t go wrong by just pulling up the list of episodes and tapping on one, but I’ll also put links in the show notes to their favorite episodes.

Melissa: A sort of related show is CrowdScience. Also from the BBC. The episodes are under 30 minutes and tackle quirky topics like why spices are delicious, where our fat goes when we exercise, and — relevant to our interests — the difference between reading and listening to books. The hosts talk to experts like In Our Time, but the vibe is more intentionally playful.

Melissa: My final recommendation combines creative profiles and short stories. It’s called Michael Sheen: Margins to Mainstream. In 2021, while everyone was challenged by the lockdowns, the Welsh actor Michael Sheen helped start an organization called A Writing Chance. The idea was to give financial support and a platform to marginalized writers — chronically ill people, LGBTQ+ people — writers who have a hard time getting traction for their work.

Melissa: The episodes are hosted by Michael Sheen. And I gotta say, I wish everything was hosted and narrated by Michael Sheen. What a voice! He does a little setup about the writer, and we hear the writer’s voice to share the background for their work. Then the story is performed by an actor — sometimes it’s Michael, and sometimes others. It’s the perfect combination of behind-the-scenes info and a short story you probably wouldn’t find otherwise. Each episode clocks in at right around half an hour. I won’t tell you where to start because they’re all great.

Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the books we talked about today and lots of links to the podcasts and episodes I recommended.

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.

[cheerful music]

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Top image courtesy of Melanie Pongratz/Unsplash.

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