Red Fern Book Review

Summer Reads!

June 03, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 16
Red Fern Book Review
Summer Reads!
Show Notes Transcript

Book blogger Susan Matheson is back with a curated list of summer reads just for Red Fern listeners. The books are all transportive but also imbued with social commentary that is fitting for our time. Find out which of us is willing to abandon a book without finishing and find out about a docuseries perfect for family trips.  Be sure to check out Susan's companion blog for even more titles!

Books and resources discussed:

Wind of Change, podcast, Cooked Media
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Silas Marner by George Eliot
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Slumdog Millionaire, movie
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
Dijnn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anaparra
Finding Freedom by Erin French
The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine: A Cookbook by Erin French
From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke
Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley
The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin
Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux
The Mosquito Coast, limited series, Amazon Prime

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Amy Mair:

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. And she's come back for repeat performance. And today, she's going to talk to us about her favorite summer reads. But before we get to Susan, I wanted to mention a podcast that I'm really excited about, and I think would be just the thing for summer road trips that hopefully you'll be taking the summer now that things are opening up. The podcast is called Winds of Change. And it's by Patrick Radden Keefe and what it is it explores a rumor that the CIA, in fact, created a song and enlisted German hairband from the 80s called Scorpions, which you will remember if you think back, and to create a pro democratic song and propaganda to get people behind the fall of the Berlin Wall, and get young people behind the idea of democracy. This eight part docuseries combines music history, spy aircraft politics, and my favorite part, just great good old fashioned reporting. And what I really like about it, it's the closest thing that I've been able to find, to Season one of the podcast Serial. The only thing you might not like is you do hear this song Wind of change, which is the title of the podcast on a loop. And it is cheesy It is, yeah, it will, it will play on your in your head. So you may not like that part. But you might recognize Patrick's name. He's just published a book called Empire of Pain. And it's about the Sackler family and their responsibility with the manufacturing of OxyContin. But if this sounds like it might be up your alley, give it a try. And I was just super impressed by the access that Patrick had, he was able to talk to a number of old CIA agents, and musicians and all kinds of people have basically come out under rocks to talk about this theory. There is a precedent for the CIA using the arts as a form of propaganda. You may recall recently, it's come to light that Dr. Zhivago was, in fact, used as a piece of pro war propaganda by the CIA. And they're also discussed in this podcast. There, they talk about a special music festival in Russia, that was also put together by the CIA. So give it a whirl. And now let's move over and talk with Susan. Susan, welcome back to the podcast.

Susan Matheson:

Hi, Amy. Delighted to be here. So I'm really excited that you've agreed to come back. Susan, spent a lot of time, we've had some back and forth, just so you know. She is going to talk about six books today. And she's put a lot of thought into these books. And but before we get to them, I just had some general questions. Because I started contemplating summer reading. I'm sort of thinking about mapping out what I want to do. And I was just kind of wondering about your general approach. And I was trying to think what mine is. And I know one thing that I like to do each summer is I like to pick up a classic that I never got to. And I have like a couple of rules for myself, which is I have to actually want to read it. And I abandoned it quickly if I don't like it. I try to explore things that I haven't tried. I'm not in school. So I was just wondering, do you have anything like that? What do you look for when summer comes? You and I have talked already about how many lists there are out there right now for summer reading. And this is the trend that's just grown year by year by year and I think after COVID it's even a greater number of these summer reading lists. So what's different about a summer reading list as opposed to a fall reading list? I think for me, I like a variety of books and I'm probably going to be five to six books over the summer. Are they going to be like that big classic like I always think of The Shell Seekers and The Thorn Birds like those great big yummy, novels. I love that first summer book. But then, do I try something like Silas Marner. l've never read it and I've always wanted to, but then there's all the distractions of summer, you know, you're sitting there and I was just laughing about where we are recording and the lawnmower is going on So you know, there is that where maybe you want something lighter. So then you get into that whole realm of beach reads. And so it's really hard. I think it's very much a personal thing. I like taking trips. When I read a book. I like the journey to someplace new to new worlds. You'll see in this list today, there's some kind of stretching, we're going from Maine to Oregon to India, you know, it's really, I think that's fine. When you're lying on a beach chair, which I hope you are, you're able to kind of go off to different worlds. I think that would be my priority overall. But you said leaving a book, I have a real problem abandoning ship in a book. I am too type A!

Amy Mair:

I know. That's a whole that's a whole topic. I could see that too. With a classic, I find it easier to do it. It makes me think of school. Like I've already done that. But I know what you mean.

Susan Matheson:

Our book club once went on a trip together. It was just fantastic. We were all new moms. This was our first trip away from babies. And we took Brothers Karamaysov. Well, we agreed to abandon ship on that one.

Amy Mair:

Okay, so getting to the list. One thing speaking of lists, which Susan I talked about, there are a lot of lists. And you can go online and find different things. And I think Susan and I both kind of thought, how can we add value? or How can Susan add value because you can go on the big box stores or Amazon and find really cool books. But hopefully this is kind of a curated look. Maybe some I actually had had not heard of any of the books except for one. And when I have a little connection to so let's get started.

Susan Matheson:

Sure. Yeah, to that point. I was just finding, you know, in the 50,000 summer reading lists out there, there probably 20 books that keep getting mentioned over and over. And I love the digging deep and finding the stories behind. So that's what I tried to do today. So let's start off with a very aptly titled book called The reading list. And it's by Sarah Nisha Adams. And Sarah Nisha Adams is a whopping 26 years old. The manuscript prompted a huge feeding frenzy. So this will hit the shelves June 8. It is partly inspired by her own relationship with her own grandfather. So the story is of a widower who lives a suburb of London with a lot of immigrants in the area. And he's just goes to temple and he's widowed and, you know, just lives this very calm, peaceful life, life, but he has a granddaughter who's a bookworm, and he really wants to connect with her. So he finds himself in the library asking the teenager working there to help him make that connection. And it turns out that they form a friendship. And there is a list, the reading list that was discovered crumpled up in the back of a copy of a classic book. And together they start working their way through the novels that are listed on the reading list. So it's all about kind of multi generational friendship and, and the connection, and over and over there. Everyone has five stars on this one everywhere. But the common thread is they say, this makes you fall in love with reading all over again. So we're all there. Ready for that now?

Amy Mair:

It's always fun to discover a new author. And I do think there is an appeal. I mean, we saw that with The Midnight Library. People love the idea of a book within a book.

Susan Matheson:

Yeah, exactly. And if you feel like you're part of the club. And I love supporting a young writer like that. That's just fabulous that she's you know, off and running at 26. The second one is called the Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. Again, I really should look up how to pronounce Djinn. I think it is pronounced gin. I had never heard before, and looked it up. And a gin is a little fairy or a sprite. And it's sort of ranked in mythology just below an angel. So that's probably a factor into the, into the story, but the actual story and it's written by Deepa Anaparra. It kind of has the feeling of Slumdog Millionaire, it said in an unnamed giant slum in a giant Indian city. And the narrator is a young boy who's nine years old. And their family's only possession is this television. And he just is a huge fan of all of these police procedural reality shows. He loves getting into solving all these mysteries. But something starts happening in the slum, and he decides he's going to play the role of detective and go and solve some of these mysteries that are appearing. But it does not sound like it's Harriet the Spy. This gets dark and deep and a lot of social commentary. And I should circle back to the fact that Deepa Anaparra was a journalist for many, many years in India and Mumbai and Delhi. And her focus was poverty and the impact of poverty. So that plays into this. And often we find that with writers. they write about their obsessions. So this is something that's really connected to her. So she's wanting to draw attention to the issue through this story with this little boy. And one of the, you know, the descriptions have been unpredictable, cheeky and moving. And another one said, endearing and engaging. So these, it just seems like a really nice blend of a really significant topic, but done with the charms of this young boy. So I think there may be twist in this one. I'm not sure. There's lots of spoiler alerts. So this could be a fun read. That's a little bit different. But, you know, I know we all were watching on the news with COVID and, and hitting India and just as helpless as like, Wow, what a world is just amazing. And over and over. People say this book is so atmospheric that she captures that you the feeling the smells, the sounds, everything of this world, this little boy lives and so it is agreat book for getting you there. And, and I'm really excited about this one. It has a terrible cover. I have to say.

Amy Mair:

That matters, right less now than it used to.

Susan Matheson:

It's one that we might just zoom right past on the bookshelf. It's just come out in paperback. I think it was released in April or so. So you'll see it I saw it yesterday on a bookshelf but disappointing cover, in my opinion.

Amy Mair:

I like the idea of social commentary through fiction.

Susan Matheson:

I think that's especially with summer, do we really want to go deep and dark in social commentary? Not necessarily, because it does sort of have a trend towards lighter books in the summer. But I think this one, it's a great way to get there because I think it's really an important important issue.

Amy Mair:

The next book, I will say has a wonderful cover. It's a black cover with these beautiful flowers. Yeah, and the author's enveloped in these flowers.

Susan Matheson:

Yes, they are orange and yellow and red poppies. It's absolutely beautiful. Yeah, it's like you know, Rembrandt. It is a beautiful cover. So for the cover for the win is Finding Freedom. So it's called Finding

Freedom:

A Cook's Story. And I have to say it is not Finding Freedom Harry, and Megan's tell all.

Amy Mair:

You would think they would have changed the name. When did this come out? Do we know? This just came out in April?

Susan Matheson:

That's just unfortunate. You know, Google Alert there. You're searching, finding freedom, make sure you include the the author's name. It's called Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story, Remaking a Life from Scratch. And it's written by Erin French. So it is a memoir. It's very much one of my favorite reads in the last few years was by Tembi Locke called From Scratch. I think it was a Reese Witherspoon pick. It was a really well written novel. Or memoir, and is becoming a movie and I loved it. And that was all set in Sicily. And then of course, you've talked as well about Jackie Kai Ellis' The Measure of My Powers, which is her memoir in the world of food and, and Paris and so forth. So this rings a bell, if you loved those, you'll love this, I think. So this one is set in a little tiny town, like what 700 people called Freedom, Maine. And there, Aaron French has a tiny, tiny little restaurant in an old flour mill. The Lost kitchen is the name of her restaurant and she has a cookbook called The Lost Kitchen. He's has something coming out on the Magnolia Network. So she's hooked in with Chip and Joanna Gaines. And she's also beloved by Martha Stewart. So she's got the big leagues on her side. As far as media goes, and there are tons of articles written about her restauran. But because you can, it became so overwhelming for her to take reservations that she now people have to write in postcards, and she chooses who comes to the restaurant based on the postcards that are sent. And so it's like a lottery, but you have to really shine up your submission. So anyway, great story unto itself. But her own story, she started off and her dad had a diner and they lived on a farm and very rural kind of living. She grew up playing in and working in her dad's diner and loved food, but decided to go to medical school. Once there she became pregnant unexpectedly and had a little boy, but returned home kind of giving up on med school and knew that wasn't going to be her path at that point, then ended up in a really unfortunate marriage that did not go very well. And all along she cooked and had these wonderful dinners. And it really found who she was in the kitchen. But the rest of her life went very awry. And she ended up with prescription drug addiction issues and a number of different things. But food has been her main state. So it's just a compelling story. And, you know, it all looks like a fairy tale now, and she kind of lifts the curtain on on what her real story was. And she also kind of like Jackie Kai Ellis did turns the messaging into, you know, you can find the passion and your courage in yourself to go forward with these big dreams. And when things are really bad, they will get better. So it's a I think quite an uplifting story. But you can dive deep with this and all the other areas of learning about a restaurant and then learning about her as well.

Amy Mair:

I'm definitely picking that one up. Okay, and so the next one is Hot Stew.

Susan Matheson:

Again, this is a book with a not so great cover, but oh. This is written by Fiona Mozley who had another book out that was a Booker shortlist, so she's a good writer. She's young as well. But this one, I would never guess but it's a real estate book. And Vancouverites would love a good real estate story. So it's actually set in old Soho in London. And it's kind of in the greasy, grimy area. And a woman comes along who heads up a big development company. And I guess they kind of lampoon her a little bit she tends to be she's quite a funny character. But the issue is quite serious. She is coming to clear out these buildings in order to create condos. So that's something we can all relate to. And one of the tenants in her targeted zone, happens to be a group of sex trade workers. And I've heard this is quite, maybe a little steamy in some way.

Amy Mair:

Okay,

Susan Matheson:

Somebody used the word ribald. But anyway, the community of these people who were sort of, you know, sex workers, drug addicts, alcoholics, they're all this is their home, and they fight hard. So there's this big battle that ensues, but you get a real glimpse into who these people are, and, you know, and how important they are, even though they're sort of, you know, what's the word I'm looking for? They're kind of not seen by the rest of society. So it's another trip but in a different way. It's into this element of society. The funny thing about it so it's all sounds really dramatic and kind of you know tough but the reality is it comes the all these reviews keep saying oh it's you know funny and it's has all this depth of feeling and everything but it's done in a light hearted way so it seems like another one that has that has struck that perfect balance of being entertaining and lighter great for summer but hits into the the hot topics so I think this one will be be really interesting. I'm looking forward to it. Another quote someone said it reads like a great night out in a city that never sleeps. So we get to see some of the dark underbelly.

Amy Mair:

I was wondering I just by the cover. It's reading contemporary fiction and like all caps to me. I'm wondering with the urban London setting you could compare it a little bit to Zadie Smith.

Susan Matheson:

I'm curious. Yeah, absolutely. In fact, on my notes here that I didn't read it well, or was it it's very Dickensian. I think of Dickens with characters like the greedy characters that that aren't necessarily the leading members of society. It's the people that are down making the cogs turn. So yeah, she there's definitely both of those cases there's connection.

Amy Mair:

Okay, and then the next book tell us about the next book.

Susan Matheson:

Okay, gosh, we're zipping along here. So the music of bees by Eileen Garvin, and I think this is the one that you have a personal connection with. So The Music of Bees again, lovely cover, this one definitely looks like a summer read cover. I'd be curious to know if Eileen is happy with the cover or not. Because it's like a light blue and it has these almost cartoon like bees buzzing on the cover. But it's It is beautiful. And, and the story is, and we should point out that Eileen is actually a beekeeper who lives in Oregon. And this is the world in which this story is set. It's a woman who's had a kind of a tough time she's in her middle age, she's in her 40s. And she has a little farm and she encounters and forms friendships with two young men, which is sort of an interesting dynamic. We don't see that very often. They're all struggling with their own dramas, I guess I could say. One is a paraplegic. And the other one has other anxiety issues. But they all come together the three of them, and the bees are there joining force, their common love is the beekeeping. And so that's kind of fun. Like beekeeping is certainly hot right now. I have a friend who has beehive on her deck. It's very urban, actually. So I think it's really timely and I'd love to learn more about the bees. So what happens is that they together end up having to take a stand these three characters, they formed a friendship, but now they actually have a threat. And there's this pesticide company that's arrived in town. And there's the potential for it to have an impact on the bees. So there's this mutual love of the bees, this common threat and this unique friendship and it just sounds like a really enjoyable book but again, one where you're in a totally different world learning new things. And again, comments about it being you know, really moving story really warm and, and and yet uplifting as well.

Amy Mair:

So this book, it was chosen as Good Morning America's Book of the Month like last month or for spring. And my friend Teresa grew up with this author. Teresa's in my book club. And she said, Oh, we should look at this book. And so I reached out to her and I'm so excited. I asked if she would come on the podcast, and she's like, Sure. So I'm excited. And I'm excited to learn more. I think this is her first novel, she did write another book, a nonfiction book, and so get kind of to tap into her excitement and her debut and learn about I know, she was talking about waiting to hear if she was going to be chosen. She knew that she was going to get chosen. She was in the running for this Good Morning America selection. But then when she found out Yeah, so that will be exciting to have her on.

Susan Matheson:

It was always fun to hear from the author's perspective that you know, I was saying earlier often these novels come from a place of passion or yeah, something and she is a beekeeper And she's been freelancing for years from what I learned. And so I think she's an accomplished writer too. So that's great. I'll be tuning in for sure.

Amy Mair:

Okay. And then our last book is from a very experienced writer. So who's tell us about this?

Susan Matheson:

Yeah. So that experienced writer is Paul Theroux. He is, well, you will know him from The Mosquito Coast. That's one of his really big ones, which is we were talking earlier, it is hitting all the airwaves right now. Harrison Ford was in an old version of it, right. And so when a new one is coming out, and so this book is called Under the Wave at Waimea. And it's set in Hawaii. And Paul has lived in Hawaii for 30 years. This apparently is, again, really evocative, as far as atmosphere, he's really captured the essence of Hawaii, but not the way that you know, we might find sitting on the beach in Hawaii or something, you know, it's it, he's he really captures the whole the world that's in Hawaii, outside of the tourism, right? This features again, it features a male protagonist who's an aging surfer, and we really get a look into the surf culture. And it's a big part of who this follow is, and he's getting older, and he's grappling with the age and and, you know, you have to be pretty fit to be riding around on those waves. And then one night, there's, he's had a few cocktails, and there's an accident that happens. And that connects him with the homeless community in Hawaii. And so he then, and he has this partner, this young woman who's a nurse. And together, there's sort of this obsession about learning more about the person who was in the accident. And they say, it's about a man who's come undone, and a strong woman who thinks she can reassemble him. It's one of his best novels yet. This one. You know, there's a lot of, I'm not sure I'm going to dive into this one as easily as with some of the others, it almost feels like it's, it's a demanding novel. And I think and I always love and I try really hard I'm not so good at it. But with my blog, I do try to include books that my men friends will like.

Amy Mair:

That's what I was thinking. I was thinking that maybe Geoff can read this one.

Susan Matheson:

It strikes me as being a very much a man book like it's, it's something that men will relate to, not to say that it's not good for everybody, it but apparently it's really immersive you really get into this dark world where this fellow is questioning his aging, self, his manhood his you know, there's just so many things, but it does connect as well into this other sub culture, the homelessness in Hawaii, there's this surfing culture, which he's now sort of finding himself on the periphery of, and, and then this woman who's a nurse, but his wife or girlfriend, she she takes them down these paths, and I think it's gonna be really good. And I, it's on the summer list, because it takes us somewhere cool. It's more for the reader who's looking for something demanding, I

Amy Mair:

Paul wrote the book, Mosquito Coast. And as you mentioned it is a remake that is currently on Amazon Prime, and it's starring his nephew, Justin Theroux. So that's kind of a neat connection. But well, I think that's a really you've put together a unique list. When I first opened up the list that you sent, I didn't know any of the books on there, except for the one book The Music of Bees. And so I'm hoping that our listeners feel the same that today they've discovered some new title.s

Susan Matheson:

There are so many books out there. it's just overwhelming. I can't believe I didn't do any writing and all these people have written furiously. I started my summer reading list at 53 books. And so when we said let's six I was in full flight panic. How do you choose your favorite child? It's good to narrow them down. But yeah, no one's gonna go without fresh books this year. And I already have lists started for autumn release. Those are just amazing. big name writers are all all releasing Great book. So it's a good good news scenario for us.

Amy Mair:

Well, thank you so much. And I hope you will come back in the fall with another ist. We'll talk over the sum er. And so I also want listene s to know that today they, Susan has also released a, like companion blog. So it will e all these books that we've iscussed plus, there's going to e I think four more correct. Tha k you so much. Thanks so much to Susan Matheson for joining us today. And what I really liked about her pics, they're not the usual suspects. So I hope that you find a bit of a gem there. And I wanted to invite you back to our final podcast of the season. Next week, I'm joined by best selling author, Daniel Kalla. And we're going to talk about his brand new medical thriller called Lost Immunity. It just came out a few weeks ago and in its first w ek it debuted at number four n the Globe and Mail bests ller list. So I'll see you then, or I'll tune in then and I'll alk to you later. Thanks a lot. ye.