Red Fern Book Review

Spring Book Preview!

March 24, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 9
Red Fern Book Review
Spring Book Preview!
Show Notes Transcript

Spring is here and with it a new season of books! Longtime book blogger Susan Matheson unpacks her top picks of the season. The much anticipated follow up novel by Imbole Mbue, a literary thriller by historical novelist Paula McLain and a memoir from 1980s Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy are topics of discussion. The rich period drama The Luminaries on Amazon Prime and Sibling Revelry, Kate and Oliver Hudson's fun podcast about family, are also discussed.

Top Spring Book Picks:

Dusk, Night, Dawn by Anne Lamott
When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Brat: An '80s Story by Andrew McCarthy
The Secret Keeper of Jaipur: A Novel by Alka Joshi
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh

Other books/resources discussed:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
419: A Novel by Will Ferguson

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Amy Mair 0:

19 Hello, welcome back to the Red Fern book review. I'm your host, Amy Mair. And today I'm joined by book blogger Susan Matheson with Bedside Table Books. And she has put together a list of her favorite books for spring. And I have to say, this may be my favorite episode that I've done so far. Susan was so entertaining and informative, and I really enjoyed hearing what she had to say. So before we get to Susan, I want to talk with you about what I'm watching and listening to right now. The first thing I wanted to recommend is a period piece on Amazon Prime called The Luminaries. And it is based on a 19th-century-style novel by New Zealand author Eleanor Catton. It starts with a young woman who's alone on a ship heading towards the New Zealand Gold Rush in the 1860s. And she's coming from London. And she meets up with this man on a boat and they just have this really strange connection almost seems like some type of mystical connection. But there's a lot of things that as the viewer, we don't know. And so then they arrive, both of them, New Zealand, and they on the west coast of New Zealand, and they agreed to meet up later that night. But a bunch of things are at play, people don't want them to meet up. And so what starts to unfold is a it's a mystery. It becomes a murder mystery. There are fortune tellers, brothels, fights. What I really liked about it is it's a rich stage set, beautiful costumes like brocade and green velvet and pocket watches and tail coats. There's like steam coming up from the the grates in the street. It's a bit gritty and beautiful. And lots of dark corners. I read some reviews online. And apparently the book is really long and involved. And I'm curious, I'd love to hear from people who have read the book. It's over 800 pages. And this is also very involved, but it's a bit lighter. And so it's meant to really be a pure escape show. And it's a it's a takes you away, it seems like everything we're watching right now, which actually referred to in the episode is set in World War Two. So this is a different time period. So for those of you who like period pieces, I would really recommend checking this out. The second thing I wanted to recommend is a podcast called Sibling Revelry. It stars Oliver and Kate Hudson, who are a pair of real life siblings, and they talk with other siblings. And what I really like about this podcast is it's that sweet spot of really what to me a podcast is about, which is it just seems like they're hanging out. You feel like you're with them in their kitchen or their living room. And they're very real, they're very imperfect. You can see the connection that they have. They have different personalities. And then they interview siblings, and half of what they're doing is just entertaining. And then the other thing that's really quite interesting is we talk all the time about our parents and the influence that our parents have had on us and what they've done or not done. But really, a lot of research shows that siblings, in fact can have as a profound impact or more. And so it's really interesting. They do try to look deeply about why we are the way we are and how our how our siblings impact us and a lot of the people they interview. It's often one sibling that is famous and the other isn't. So you get to see a totally different dynamic. So that's what I'm recommending. And now let's move over and talk with Susan. Hello, Susan, thank you so much for joining me today.

Susan Matheson 4:

52 Hi Amy. I'm delighted to join you.

Amy Mair 4:

55 So I just want to comment that Susan is joining us with a super pro setup here. She's in an official podcast or recording studio. Can you tell us a little bit about the setup you have going on here?

Susan Matheson 5:

08 Well, I have a little pit crew in my family. This is at my husband's office, and they have a podcast as well. So they got set up all during COVID here. So it's quite fun to come to the source of their podcasts.

Amy Mair 5:

22 And you've got your son in the background, I saw him come in, it looks official.

Susan Matheson 5:

27 I've been calling him my pit crew. He's lovely. He loves us to be able to help mom who's useless at this stuff.

Amy Mair 5:

33 So I'm really happy to have Susan here today. And she has a long-term book blog. It's called bedside table books. And we were talking, I talked to her about what I'm doing. And she was talking about what she's doing. And we came up with the idea to do a little spring preview. So I've asked Susan to put together several books that are debuting this spring. And she's going to give a little mini review, we're going to talk about the books. And we're going to talk about six books on this podcast. And then for kind of a more in depth look at these books plus four more you can head over to her blog. And I'll provide the link to the blog so you can see it. Susan, you've been blogging for a long time when blogging was kind of like podcasting kind of early. Tell us about what why you started this blog and what it's about.

Susan Matheson 6:

33 The blog is called Bedside Table Books, which just came to me one day, probably when I woke up and looked at the tower on my bedside table and learned that was kind of a common sight for a lot of people waking up. And I was finding that I had so many great friends in Book Club asking what to read next what to read next? And I was sending out all these personalized emails that went on for pages. I'm sure it's more than they wanted. But I enjoyed doing it so much. I am just a certifiable book geek from the get go. So the blog at the time was new. This is 11 years ago and was new and kind of a fun thing to try. So, I set it up. And it's been rolling along sporadically at times with apologies, but I have a great readership. And we do these lists. Quite often I do a good Christmas list I had going what to buy for people. I had a New Year's book and now an always have had a summer reading list. But a spring one, especially in this year after COVID people have been so prolific with writing. So it's been fun to work with you and find a like minded pal to go ahead with this kind of a list. It's good fun.

Amy Mair 7:

38 Okay, so let's let's get started. what's what's the first book you have on your list?

Susan Matheson 7:

42 Well, I have long been an immense fan of Anne Lamott. And anyone who does anything creatively, whether it's writing or art, or anything, may well know of Anne Lamott's first book called Bird by Bird. And that was written in 1994. So I've actually had it longer in my household than my husband. It's just such a great book. And it just holds the test of time. I've read it so many times. So I was particularly excited to see once again, she has another book coming out March 9, which actually came out yesterday called Dusk, Night and Dawn. And this is a part of a series. It is part of a box set actually coming out in June. She calls it her comfort and joy collection. So this particular one Dusk, Night, Dawn is about restoring hope and joy after a tough time. So I guess the best way to describe her writing, and she's just a delight, she hits so many really tough topics. And her agent actually said she hits all the capital letter topics like alcoholism and motherhood. It all sounds so, you know, kind of grim in a way, not motherhood, perhaps others is that she goes into intense topics. But with a lightness like you wouldn't believe it's just so lovely. And I have yet to, whether you hear on our podcast or read a book, I have yet to not write something monumental down in a notebook. It's just she's just the queen of creating that little segment. So she's a delight. I absolutely recommend this and not having read it yet. But know that it will be one that people will carry around with them.

Amy Mair 9:

27 I wanted to add that Operating Instructions is a book that she's written and I don't really know anyone having babies right now but when everyone I knew was having babies. I gave it to everybody. And it's about her first year with her child. She's a single parent. I believe she was a single parent. It's about her first year with her son and it is so raw and and hilarious.

Susan Matheson 9:

57 She has this wonderful blend of just gripping honesty, like you're just compelled and, you know, gut shots, and then she just hits you with the funniest wit and self deprecating and she's just lovely. You have to Google her photo because she's a Rastafarian sporting Grandma. She's just a hoot. And, and just a really genuine person. It's, um, you know, she's a philosopher of our times. And, as I say to you, if you get a chance to hear recordings of her or hear her on a podcast, you'll fall in love with her. Okay, what's our second book? Our second one is Paula McLain, who's another grand favorite. I love that all these people are coming out with books again. Paul McLain was well known probably for her Hemingway series. The first one was called the Paris Wife. And the follow up to that was Love and Ruin. And those were sort of Ernest Hemingway, his love stories with his first wife and his second wife, who is Martha Gellhorn. And in those books, book clubs, love them, you could travel deep and and go into this wonderful historical fiction. You and I have chatted a little bit about Circling the Sun, which was my favorite of hers. And that was really, if you remember the Out of Africa movie, the character Felicity, who is kind of that zany, tomboy character that was actually based on Beryl Markham. And so this is historical fiction on Beryl Markham character, who was a pilot who did this solo across the Atlantic. All of this is just like great gripping stuff. Her new one is called When the Stars Go Dark. And I think this is very personal for Paula, because she actually grew up having been abandoned by her parents. So she grew up in orphanages from the time she was tiny. This book, When the Stars Go Dark, is about a missing persons detective, who has some sort of personal upheaval, decides to get away from all of this really dark work that she does, goes back to the hometown that she grew up in, and ends up drawn in to two more missing persons cases with these young girls. And she gets very caught up in it. And it's very personal.

Amy Mair 12:

26 Is it set in the present day?

Susan Matheson 12:


I believe it is? Yes. So a real departure from your previous work. But she's a beautiful writer, and I've encouraged people to go to her website and read some of her personal essays. I know, she has written for Real Simple and think the National Post about her childhood, because I think some of the traumas she faced in her early days will surface in the the topic material of this book. So I'm really looking forward to this because she has written a memoir about her experience. It's called, Like Family:

Growing Up in Other People's Houses. That was way back in 2013. But this one, I think, is it's described as a thriller. But emotional, I think it's going to be a real doozy in a good way.

Amy Mair 13:

11 I'm wanting to add that Circling the Sun is my favorite historical fiction novel of all time. Okay, so the next book, I'm excited about this one.

Susan Matheson 13:


Yes. Any of us who surfaced in the 80s will look forward to this one, I think. But I kind of came in to this story in a backwards way. So what we're talking about is Andrew McCarthy. And you'll remember him from St. Elmo's Fire, and he was sort of the puppy dog guy, and Pretty in Pink I think was the other one. Yeah. Well, he was in in a number of movies. Lots of sort of the John Hughes genre in the 80s. And so we can all picture the hair and the, you know, puppy dog eyes and all of that. But there's so much more to Andrew McCarthy. And I rediscovered him through his travel writing, and he's a beautiful writer. In fact, I was so enjoying this piece. I was I don't know what I was reading in National Geographic traveler or afar, or one of these travel magazines. And I was so enthralled with the writer that actually went up to see the byline and it was Andrew McCarthy. I found that quite fascinating. And then started looking into his writing and he has written a book, what was it called here? The Longest Way Home:

One Man's Courage to Settle Down. So this was prompted because he was in a four- year-long engagement. He was getting some pressure to maybe make a move into the wedding zone, and he went off on a trip and so that book is based on that. He's also written an award-winning young adult novel.

His new book is coming out on May 11. It is called Brat:

An '80s story. And this is very much focused on his time in what was called the Brat Pack with that group of fellow actors in the movies we were talking about earlier. I read one review that said, Oh, I hate that it's called brat because Andrew McCarthy is anything but so that'll be an interesting way of kind of seeing if that is the truth when you read the book, but he's a great writer.

Amy Mair 15:

40 I'm sure that he thought or the publishers thought about Rob Lowe's memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends, which I know some people have read. It's surprisingly good. And I know it did really well.

Susan Matheson 15:

57 You know, I'm surprised. And we do learn a lot when we read these about the people behind what we see. So that's always titillating, too.

Amy Mair 16:

06 So tell us about the next book.

Unknown Speaker 16:

07 The next book, and this time, I won't keep it till the end, I'll just tell you who it is. And what it's about. This is Alka Joshi. And the book is called The Secret Keeper of Jaipur. if you enjoyed The Henna Artist, which I think I mean, almost every one of us unanimously enjoyed that. This is actually the sequel. So at first, I thought it was a stand alone trip back into that world. But no, this is actually 12 years later. And if you remember, in The Henna Artist, there is the lovely little imp, I will call him, who liked to help out Lakshmi, who was the original character, the main character. So you'll have all of these characters, they come back 12 years later, and they are entrenched, and another amazing story. So she's really now following the little boy, and he's now an adult, and he's working in the palace. And as he's working there. He starts to sense some funny business going down. And so he digs a little deeper, and then things get tricky. And so at the same time, it's a love story. And all those characters we so loved and had been so beautifully painted by Alka Joshi before, they're all back. So that's going to kind of bring us I think, some comfort for the ones that and it's kind of a treat, we don't often get these books so quickly back to back, so you'll have no trouble finding The Henna Artist, if you haven't read it yet. So I've heard you can read these as stand alone books, but The Henna Artist is so evocative. If I said, you know, what do you think of The Henna Artist, if you've read it, you're right there in the streets. It's just so beautifully done. So I'm really excited about this and fun to go back and visit Malik, I think his name was the precocious little helper. Now he's the star of the story. So highly recommend that one.

Amy Mair 18:

11 I have not read The Henna Artists. So would you recommend that if I want to read this new book that I read the Henna Artist first.

Susan Matheson 18:

19 They say it can be a stand alone, but I so enjoyed the henna artist, and I think that will provide a wonderful platform if it has the same characters, how great to go back and see the main character in this next the new book, to enjoy getting to know him as a little boy, because he was a wonderful character. And then for him to now appear as this main focus of the next one, I think you'll you'll enjoy that.

Amy Mair 18:

43 Okay. And then what's our next book?

Susan Matheson 18:

46 The next books is Imbole Mbue's How Beautiful We Were. Now this one has a gorgeous cover. I know we never buy our books based on the cover, of course I always do. But this one is really beautiful. Again, this writer will be known by her previous book called Behold the Dreamers. Now this, I'm sad to say is still on my waiting to read list. And but it was it was very well received. And I have to get on it because I've heard that it's become an opera and a stage play. And it's about to become a mini series. So with all of that success around her first book, this one has very high expectations. I think a lot of people are expecting this to be a really strong read. It's quite different. Behold The Dreamers was an immigrant story based in the US around the financial collapse in 2007/2008. This one is it actually reminds me, from what I've read about it, of 419 which was a Will Ferguson book that was set in Nigeria. This one is set In a fictional African location, and again, it's sort of the big business. This one is the big oil companies have come in, and they've really done damage to a village and its people and its culture, and the politics is all part of it. So this is a really big read. And I think it'll be very good. It says there's lots of main characters, but one in particular stands out. And she's a young woman who really takes up the cause. And she does become educated outside of the village and returns. So it's one of those big cause books. She's a beautiful writer, and this will be another another one to follow on her success of her earlier book.

Amy Mair 20:

45 That's great. And what about our last book, this was this is an unusual book was piqued my interest

Susan Matheson 20:

53 Well, this is fascinating to me, too. I, you know, I think all of us like to we were talking about Circling the Sun. When we read we want to go places. And I think you mentioned this the your last or one of your recent podcasts. But Stanley Tucci, especially in these years, yeah, this year, we're really craving this urge to go somewhere else in our reading or our TV viewing or any of those things. I've always loved that in a book when you feel you've gone someplace. So Belfast, as always, I have Irish heritage down in my past, and I would love to know more about it. And this is based. So I'll tell you the name of the book. It's called Elephant of Belfast. And an interesting thing was it's actually called the Zookeeper of Belfast, in the UK additions. The elephant and the zookeeper have equal footing in this story. It's both of their stories equally. And it's based on a true story. And it was 1940 Belfast. And so it would have been during the war and Belfast suffered an incredible Blitz of bombing. And this young zookeeper she was only 20 when she was given charge of this giant elephant. And they were both sort of going through like they're both orphaned in a way. And really, she needed to look after the elephant. And I think I'm getting the sense that the elephant kind of needed to take care of her. So it's, it's very well somebody wrote here, a novel of deep affection and knife-edge suspense. The story is based on is actually a young woman who would look after an elephant in the zoo. And every night she would take it home to her backyard and look after the elephant at home. And in order to protect the animals. There were lots of creative ways of hiding them away, because if they were deemed a threat they were they could be killed or so that they wouldn't you know, if a lion escaped from the zoo, for instance, he would be deemed a threat. So she was afraid her elephant might be deemed a threat and she needed to look after it all the way along. So anyway, it's just a really interesting story. And it I looked deeper into it. Michael Morpurgo, who is the Warhorse fame and so many other great books, he writes, mostly for children. He actually wrote a children's book called An Elephant in the Garden based on this same true story. And anyway, I think it's I don't think it's a child's story. When you read it written by S. Kirk Walsh, I think it's definitely deals with adult themes. But how lovely to have an elephant in it.

Amy Mair 23:

37 I wanted to ask you, why do you think that World War II specifically historical fiction is so popular right now? I'm actually reading two other historical novels set during World War Two. And it seems again and again that that is currently what a lot of people are gravitating toward. What do you think that is?

Susan Matheson 23:

59 Yeah, it's a trend I've noticed as well. You know, Kate Quinn is out again with another great book. So many of them, I mean, their entire tables at bookstores that are related to this genre and World War II specifically. I was I think it was Pete McMartin, my friend, Karen forwarded me his most recent article in the Vancouver Sun, and he was talking about the reality that, you know, we're going through difficult times here with COVID, and dealing with a global pandemic. But when you think about it in the context of world wars, like for years, and, you know, then the years after to recover from utter disaster, and you know, sending young men off into the unknown for four years, incredible, heart wrenching experiences, and I think people are drawn to that, in a way to show that, you know, we might be at home behind zoom in our pajamas isn't really quite the same, yet. It certainly has immense impact on lots of families not to under estimate its impact at all. But I do think people want to see in a way how others have come through trying times, and those were definitely trying times.

Amy Mair 25:

14 That's a good, that's a good, good way to conclude, I wanted to thank you so much for stopping by and coming with a pro crew and set up. And that was great. You can come back anytime.

Susan Matheson 25:

28 I'd love to. And I will talk books anytime.

Amy Mair 25:

32 In fact, we could go on a lot longer, but and I'm going to refer in the show notes. You can she's going to go more at length on some of these books, plus several more in her latest blog post of bedside table books. So thank you so much.

Susan Matheson 25:

52 Well, thank you, Amy. It was always a pleasure.

Amy Mair 25:

55 Well, I certainly now have all my spring readings sorted. What about you? Thanks so much to Susan Matheson for joining me today. And for more information on the books we discussed today. As well as a couple of other books that she's recommending, you can go to her website at And I want to invite you to come back next week, when I delve into the world of fine art. I'm going to look at a documentary on a possible missing piece of art for a very famous artist. And then I'm going to look at a number of novels that I've enjoyed with fine art as their focus. Thank you so much. See you next week.

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