The summer is over and The Red Fern Book Review is back! In the first episode of Season 2, Amy explores two memoirs, both by feisty, young, creative women. The first memoir, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad , explores a woman's journey through illness, recovery and re-entry into everyday life. Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French follows a young chef as she battles through numerous obstacles to create one of the most sought after restaurants in the world. Also reviewed: HBO's The White Lotus and the historical comedy podcast Edith!
Books and Resources discussed:
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French
The White Lotus, HBO
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Hello, welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. I am your host, Amy Mair. And today, I wanted to welcome you to Season Two of my podcast. So I am recording this episode, it will be released in September. But through the magic of recording, it's actually mid August. And it took me a little while to get started, I have to admit, I'm a little bit rusty, I had to find my microphone. Remember how to use the editing software that I use. And this may not be the first time I had to record this episode, this is actually the third. So with that, though, I want to let you know that I'm really excited to be here. And I'm excited that you're listening. So let's get started. Okay, so the first thing I'm going to do is talk about a couple of things that I'm watching and listening to right now. And the first thing I want to talk about is The White Lotus on HBO. I really want to talk about this show. And at first I hesitated because I figure most of you probably already seen it yourself. But I just found out a new tidbit that I can share. So now I have an excuse to talk about it. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of seeing the show yet. It is about a Hawaiian vacation that goes horribly wrong. It's filled with an all-star cast including some character actors that you might not have known as well but have been around for a long time, including Jennifer Coolidge who you might know from the bend and snap fame in Legally Blonde,Jake Lacey who might be playing the worst person ever, as an entitled newlywed. Now he has, in his career always kind of played the wonderful boy next door and he has a great chance here to play a villain. But what I wanted to talk to you about is the intro. The intro to the show has a very distinctive soundtrack that the composer calls Hawaiian Hitchcock. It's got a very catchy theme, with discordant flutes and accelerating percussion. It's kind of jarring. And in the background, when you when you see the beginning of each episode, there's tropical wallpaper. And what I found out was it's just filled with symbolism. You may have picked up on that. But if you go back and look at it now it's filled with all kinds of Easter eggs and foreshadowing for what happens in this show, which is that it's essentially a mystery. It's a comedy and a mystery. It's a dark comedy is what I would say. I'll give you an example. There are twin papayas that are swollen and kind of rotting. And they appear right next to Steve Zhan's name, who also suffers early on from a medical condition that mirrors the fruit hanging next to his name. So there's lots of things from the lush foliage to the blooming hibiscus and lounging leopards. Go back and look at it and you're going to see a lot of things that you may have missed the first time. Okay, now, on to the next thing. I'm going to talk about a podcast that I really love. And I'm really excited about it because I'm pretty sure you haven't heard about it. It's called Edith! and that is Edith with an exclamation point. It stars Rosamund Pike and Clark Gregg. It is a satirical irreverent take on the story of First Lady Edith Wilson following President Woodrow Wilson stroke. The time period is 1918. There's a pandemic in full swing and Wilson is negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. He has a stroke. So what really happened and this is a true story, Edith Wilson steps in, and she takes over for the President. And historians have, in the past questioned what role she actually played. She has said she did the minimum and passed on notes on to him. But other people see her as much more than that. And some people call her the first female president. So with that in mind, the creators of this podcast came up with a sparkling, crisp script starring Rosamund Pike, as I mentioned. She revises a very similar character that she played in, I Care a Lot, which is streaming, I believe it's on Amazon, where she plays a crooked legal guardian. And also references a little bit, I would say, the kind of evil character she played in Gone Girl, where she starred as the murderous wife, Amy Dunne. They are calling it a historical comedy. It recalls the old fashion radio hours of, say, the 1940s. And most of us, I think, when we listen to podcasts, we're looking to get information and news and to be entertained. You're tuning in to listen to me to find out about books you might want to check out. But it also can just be a great form of art and a great place to hear stories. And this is one of these stories. It's a limited series. I think there's about eight episodes. So check that out. So now we're going to get to the books. And today, what we're going to talk about is a pair of memoirs. They're both written by young feisty, creative women who've overcome a lot of obstacles to get to the top of their respective fields. The first book I want to start with is called Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. And I chose this book, because it is my favorite book that I've read this year on reflection. The year is not over yet, but it's up there. This book had a lot of firsts. For me, this was when I decided to do this podcast. It was actually the first book that I read. And I listened to it via audio. And I had never fully listened to an audio book before I found it hard, I think I've mentioned before, retain information that way. But I listened to the author speak the words herself. And I loved it. And my memory is of listening to this book, in January, when it was a very scary, difficult time, poring over a puzzle. And sitting at my dining table, and listening to this woman speak. And I thought she did such such a great job. And it was really moved by the story. This story is about a young woman's journey with cancer, and it's about her recovery and coming back to the living. And it's also an odyssey at the the second half of the book. She takes a road trip. So I think this book really resonates with a lot of people. Souleika did not know about COVID. But it came out at the same time. She talks about a life interrupted, or something happening at a time you really didn't think it was going to happen. And that's what happened for us with COVID. We sort of were in denial for a while and then there was nothing we could do but give in to what we were going through. And that's what she had to do. And so I really found a lot of similarities to her story. Souleika herself has a very interesting background. She's born to a Tunisian father and a Swiss mother. She's an Ivy League grad. She went to Princeton. She's well traveled, involved in human and women's rights. She plays the double bass speaks French and Arabic. She's just moved to Paris to pursue a career as a foreign correspondent. She has a cute boyfriend and things are starting to happen for her and she gets sick. At first, the doctors and no one's really sure what's going on because she is so young. And I don't think at first they think it's cancer, she learns that she has a form of leukemia, and has about a 35 per cent chance of survival. So the first part of this book goes into great detail about her treatment. It is essentially a diary of her treatment. And I would say, as Hemingway says, that which is most personal is most universal. At first, you think, why do I want to read all this information about, you know, the amount of drugs going into our system about what her day consists of, but through that you really get her pain and what she's going through. And she's a journalist and writes in a tone that I really appreciated. While she's going through this treatment, she's has to return to New York, where she's from. She gets a column in the New York Times where she writes about her journey through cancer. And through this column, she connects with people all over. She connects with criminals, other cancer patients, Cowboys, all kinds of people, and what ends up happening in the second half of our book she has to learn how to live. Just like with COVID, we've had to learn how to come back into the light. And that's what she has to do. She reaches out to the people that she most connected with through this column, and invites herself to go visit them. She packs up a school bus yellow camper van, grabs her dog, and without a lot of money goes on this road trip. And she goes all over the place. She's super connected with these people, but in some way, she doesn't know them at all. So, who would do that and be that bold? Through this process of going and meeting all these people and listening to their stories and sharing her own, she starts to heal herself emotionally. I can't recommend this book enough. Oh, and the other little thing - It's also a love story. She has a wonderfully supportive boyfriend. And then there's another man enters her life. And she has to kind of figure out what's going to happen there. And if she can make it work with someone who helped and so supportive with her during her treatment. So check out that book. And I'd love to know what you think. On to the next book. Because we were going to talk about Two Kingdoms, I thought, well, let's talk about another great memoir, also by a young woman who went through a difficult journey. And this book is called Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story, Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French. This book was recommended to me by Bedside Table Books blogger Susan Matheson. And you may recall when she came on earlier this year, and talked about summer books. This was one of the books and I knew when she told me about it, this is definitely the first book I was going to pick up. When you get the book, you'll see it has a very striking cover with Erin on the cover. And she's wearing a linen apron. She's engulfed in a wild bouquet of brilliant puppies. They're orange and red and you can't see your face. It's just like these wild poppies and, and then there's a black background. This book is the tale of a young woman who faced all kinds of obstacles and has ended up creating one of the most sought after restaurants in the world and one of the most desirable tables anywhere in the world. And today, if you want to go to her restaurant, you have to write her postcard explaining why you want to go and she gets over 20,000 submissions a year and selects just 1 per cent of the people. People come from all around the world to go to her restaurant. She's a darling of Martha Stewart, and she's the subject of a series on the Magnolia network created by Chip and Joanna Gaines. So what this is about, she grew up in a town called Freedom, Maine, and a very simple background. She had a hard driving father, who owned a diner where he worked 24 seven, and she ended up spending lots of time at the diner. It was her daycare, it was where she did her homework. And at a very young age, she was back in the kitchen slinging hash, setting tables, just doing whatever it took. And through that process, she learned her timing and her instinct for cooking. The food was simple, but the diner was the place to go in town. And that's where she cut her teeth. Fast forward, she goes off to university, but she has an unplanned pregnancy. She ends up in a brutal marriage. She has divorce, she becomes addicted to drugs. And you just can't imagine how she's going to get out of all this. But the story talks about how she does and how she creates the fairy tale restaurant that she has. And she builds a restaurant in a beautiful historic flour mill, that you have to go over a gravel path and across a waterfall to get to. And so with that, I wanted to conclude by, in her own words, reading a little bit about this restaurant. So I'm going to pull this up for you. And this is this is kind of towards the end of the book where she's talking about the experience that she's created. "Find your way to Freedom for dinner. And my only hope is that I can give you a meal in a moment that will leave a memory to last a very long time. Because like my mother told me, that's all life is made of memories. Make your way over the gravel path embedded in the woods and follow the soft light guiding you to the footbridge that extends over Freedom Falls emerge from the woods and the mill will come into view. Nestled into its great granite bedrock perched above the rushing water. Wind your way around the side of the building minding the path that leads you to the doorway of our wine cellar. descend the stone steps and be engulfed by the tiny cavern. carved into the foundation. Lined floor to ceiling with wines from obscure and tiny vineyards with their own stories to tell each handpicked by my mother. She'll greet you with a warm smile and conversation, hand you the evenings menus and help you find the perfect bottles to sip on through the night. Before tucking them into hand woven baskets to be carried to the dining room above. Upstairs, Ashley will be waiting patiently for you. Like the rest of us. She'll be in our favorite black dress the apron around her waist hand stitched by my mother. She'll lead you through the barn board-lined dining room to the table that has been set just for you. handstitched linen napkins, vintage blue Willow bread plates mismatched, estate silverware, French water glasses, a milk jug fill with chilled water, a single candle and vase filled with flowers that Ashley grew herself on her farm. Take your seats in the Windsor like chairs that my mother and I painted a slate like charcoal, uncork your wine, as Alex grace's the table with stemware to suit." And with that, I'm going to conclude the first episode of the second season of the Red Fern Book Review. And I just wanted to thank you so much for joining. It means so much that you're here. And I want to give you a little preview about some of the things we're going to be talking about this season. Next week I'm going to have on Eileen Garvin, who wrote the best selling novel, The Music of Bees, which was a Good Morning America Book of the Month. Then I'm going to have Susan Matheson back on she's going to give us a fall book preview. I've got a number of other authors coming. I've got Jen Sookfong Lee. She's a poet and novelist coming on later this fall. I've got thriller writer Robyn Harding, to talk about her book called The Perfect Family. Which is, as you can guess, about a family that is anything but perfect. And I've been reading all summer long and so I have a whole bunch of books that that's I can't wait to talk with you about. And Geoff is wrapping up two books that he's been reading over the summer, and believe it or not one of them does not have to do with music. Thank you so much.