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BBC: ‘Are You Sleeping?’

Greetings! It’s so cold in Austin right now – I’m writing this from the comfort of my couch after eating a hot bowl of homemade tomato soup with a grilled cheese (both vegan)! I’m also watching reruns of “The Hills”, and all I can really say is, thank YOU, MTV.

But anyway, I’ve got a ton on my mind, but I’ve also got a giant to-do list and lots of things ahead. I’ll just have to report back later. For now, let’s talk about the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club, “Are You Sleeping?” by Kathleen Barber. Here’s the official description from Amazon:

Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.

I saw this title on a book list (probably from Pinterest) and as a fan of “Serial” (Okay, more like obsessed), I knew I had to read it. And there’s definitely a taste of “Serial” in this book – it was almost too close for comfort, but the plot kept me interested, and toward the end, it was very suspenseful.

I don’t usually do this, but I took a look at the reviews on Amazon, and just at a glance, it seems people really loved this book and thought Barber creatively ripped a story from the headlines. I’d have to agree – she started with something from pop culture – “Serial” – and added a twist to it, along with a personal side.

I should also add that I’m a pretty big scaredy cat, and this one didn’t bother me at all, so don’t be deterred if you don’t like scary stories. I’m recommending this book to all the fans from “Serial”, along with crime fiction fans.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will read is “The Dinner” by Herman Koch. I’ve had this one on my list forever!

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BBC: ‘Adnan’s Story’.

I am so excited to share the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club with you all! I’ll preface this by saying that the month of October was SO, so busy that sometimes reading felt like a chore to me, and that is a feeling I hate.

But, after this weekend, my schedule is clearing up more, and I’m looking forward to more leisurely reading time like I was used to during the summer months. I went to the library last weekend and spent a few minutes wandering through the stacks, instead of just running to the shelf of reserves and running back out – and I saw so many NEW, good-looking books that I immediately added to my list of bookmarks on my account. Having a full reading list makes me so happy; it’s unexplainable.

Anyway, the latest read is for all of my “Serial” podcast lovers – it’s “Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial” by Rabia Chaudry. If you recognize Chaudry’s name, it’s because she’s the co-host on the “Undisclosed” podcast, which started shortly after “Serial” and also shared details surrounding Anan Syed’s case during its first season.

Chaudry is a close, family friend to the Syeds, and much like the rest of the community, was shocked when Anan was arrested and charged for murder. As an attorney (though not Adnan’s), Chaudry has always worked to seek Adnan’s justice and finally see him live a free life. Here’s the book’s description from Amazon:

In early 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted and sentenced to life plus thirty years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore, Maryland. Syed has maintained his innocence, and Rabia Chaudry, a family friend, has always believed him. By 2013, after almost all appeals had been exhausted, Rabia contacted Sarah Koenig, a producer at This American Life, in hopes of finding a journalist who could shed light on Adnan’s story. In 2014, Koenig’s investigation turned into Serial, a Peabody Award-winning podcast with more than 500 million international listeners

But Serial did not tell the whole story. In this compelling narrative, Rabia Chaudry presents new key evidence that she maintains dismantles the State’s case: a potential new suspect, forensics indicating Hae was killed and kept somewhere for almost half a day, and documentation withheld by the State that destroys the cell phone evidence — among many other points — and she shows how fans of Serialjoined a crowd-sourced investigation into a case riddled with errors and strange twists. Adnan’s Story also shares Adnan’s life in prison, and weaves in his personal reflections, including never-before-seen letters. Chaudry, who is committed to exonerating Adnan, makes it clear that justice is yet to be achieved in this much examined case.

I don’t want to give anything away, but if you listened to “Serial”, this book presents that evidence and much, much more. In fact, the evidence in this case is compelling, and really makes me feel like this is a man that should not be behind bars.

And I’ll also say that I’m not someone who thinks everyone should be exonerated. Amanda Knox, Steven Avery? I’m not so much on their sides. But this case, Adnan’s case – it’s incredible the very small amount of evidence that was used against him, which was debunked from every angle.

This book also shows handwritten letters, scanned files, and the infamous cell phone records. All for you to see with your own eyes. Even though I knew how the story ended this time, I was hooked.

Currently, Adnan has served 16 years in prison, and is awaiting his retrial, which was granted in June of this year – big thanks to “Serial”. You can read the update here.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Regulars” by Georgia Clark. Want to read it with us? Contact me on social media @OrangeJulius7 and chat it up! There really are no rules in our tiny, non-committal bookclub.

As always, I hope you all have a great weekend planned. I’m performing in two shows on Sunday, so I’ll be practicing and weaving in hair extensions on Saturday, hosting a ladies’ night for my fellow stiletto performers, and rehearsing all day on Sunday prior to curtain call.

I took Monday off work to recover and give my brain a much-needed break. But don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging – you know I’d miss it too much not to. See y’all on Monday!

Podcasts: Serial.

BEST. PODCAST. EVER.

BEST. PODCAST. EVER.

So, around a month ago I realized two things: 1. I am not really cut out for an “open office” environment. I get really, really distracted, and the sound of other people typing ignites a rage inside my blood that I cannot explain or deal with.

And 2., In order to block out all the noise (I’m the Grinch: the noise, noise noise!), I decided to stuff earbuds into my head from the moment I get to work until the moment I leave. This means I need 9 hours of things to listen to each day – 45 hours of listening content each week.

I looked into an Audible account, but it was ridiculously expensive. So, I asked YOU guys for cool podcasts I could listen to. And you delivered! Currently, here’s my list:

  • Johnjay & Rich
  • The Jillian Michael’s Show
  • What Should I Read Next?
  • Modern Love
  • Mystery Show (finished)
  • Breakdown
  • The Blog Millionaire (finished)
  • The Agents of Change
  • The Daily Boost
  • Content Warfare
  • On The Page: Screenwriting
  • Curious About Screenwriting
  • Oh Boy!
  • Monocycle
  • Serial (finished)

Obsessed much? I’ll talk more about some of these other podcasts one day, but I really wanted to talk about Serial, because I finished listening to both seasons last week, and my days are pretty empty without it.

So what the heck is Serial? From the website: Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story—a true story—over the course of a season. Each season, we follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. We won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us. Each week we bring you the next chapter in the story, so it’s important to listen to the episodes in order.

Currently, there are two seasons. Don’t worry, I’ll warn you if I drop any spoilers.

Season One: The Case Against Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed

Here’s what Serial’s website says about season one:

A high-school senior named Hae Min Lee disappeared one day after school in 1999, in Baltimore County, Maryland. A month later, her body was found in a city park. She’d been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was sentenced to life in prison. The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae’s body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth. Many others don’t.

Sarah Koenig sorted through thousands of documents, listened to trial testimony and police interrogations, and talked to everyone she could find who remembered what happened between Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. She discovered that the trial covered up a far more complicated story than the jury – or the public – ever got to hear. The high school scene, the shifting statements to police, the prejudices, the sketchy alibis, the scant forensic evidence — all of it leads back to the most basic questions: How can you know a person’s character? How can you tell what they’re capable of? In Season One of Serial, she looks for answers.

This case is interesting for several reasons, but for me, one of them is the length of time that’s passed. I cannot remember shit, so if I were being asked now about what happened in high school on one certain day, there’s no way I’d be able to recall.

Also, the “evidence” in the case is super shady. Three words here: Cell Phone Data. It was 1999. You do the math. Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say. If you’ve listened to season one already and are hungry for an update, I found one here.

Season Two: The Case Against Bowe Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl

This is my first time really seeing what Bergdahl looks like. He’s cute, no? If you pay attention to war news, the chances are likely you’ve heard of Prisoner of War, US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. It was very high-profile, even pre-Serial. Here’s what the Serial website says about season two:

In May 2014, a U.S. Special Operations team in a Black Hawk helicopter landed in the hills of Afghanistan. Waiting for them were more than a dozen Taliban fighters and a tall American, who looked pale and out of sorts: Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier, had been a prisoner of the Taliban for nearly five years, and now he was going home.

President Obama announced Bergdahl’s return in the Rose Garden, with the soldier’s parents at his side. Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, planned a big celebration to welcome him back. But then, within days—within hours of his rescue, in fact—public reaction to his return flipped. People started saying Bergdahl shouldn’t be celebrated. Some of the soldiers from his unit called him a deserter, a traitor. They said he had deliberately walked off their small outpost in eastern Afghanistan and into hostile territory. 

Hailey canceled its celebration. The army launched an investigation. Finally, in March, the military charged Bergdahl with two crimes, one of which carries the possibility of a life sentence. Through all of this, Bergdahl has been quiet. He hasn’t spoken to the press or done any interviews on TV. He’s been like a ghost at the center of a raucous fight.

Now, in Season Two, we get to hear what he has to say.

For this season, Sarah Koenig teams up with filmmaker Mark Boal and Page 1 to find out why one idiosyncratic guy decided to walk away, into Afghanistan, and how the consequences of that decision have spun out wider and wider. It’s a story that has played out in unexpected ways from the start. And it’s a story that’s still going on.

Nightly News Update from March 2015 (no spoilers here):

Lots of people found season two to be boring, but I found it FASCINATING, to say the least. I will admit, because of my politics, I do not listen to as much war-related news as I did years ago. But, hearing a lot of this information firsthand was very, very eye-opening.

I found a recent update on Bowe’s case from January 2016, if you’re game.

So, will there be a season 3 of Serial? YES. Recently, season 3 was announced and is set to drop this spring. Details? Serial’s host, Sarah, has revealed the season 3 topic here.

And that’s a wrap, y’all! It’s Friday, and I hope you have a fantastical weekend that goes by nice and slow. I’ll see you right back here, on Monday!