October 6, 2023
Autumnal greetings! It’s a big book season and there are soooo many new titles to consider. I narrowed down a lengthy list to the following six for a podcast chat with Amy Mair, host of Red Fern Book Review. If you’re familiar with our past posts and discussions, you’ll know the drill. If not, read here and hear there! Tune in to our conversation at redfernbookreview.com
Previous novels by Jean Kwok include Searching for Sylvie Lee and Girl in Translation. Each of these, along with this new novel, feature elements of the immigrant experience and are written with remarkable emotional depth. I guarantee you will remember scenes from her books for years to come. In a good way! The Leftover Woman, releasing on October 10, 2023, is a family drama featuring two mothers of an adopted daughter. The birth mother was forced to surrender her child due to China’s One Child policy while the adoptive mother has raised the child in her extraordinarily privileged New York City environment. When the birth mother bravely makes her way from China with little to no means of support, leaving a controlling husband behind, she is on a collision course with the adoptive mother who is enmired within crises of her own. Words like “atmospheric” and “profound” and “suspenseful” describe the mystery that unfolds. Jean Kwok moved to Brooklyn, NY as a young immigrant herself and went on to study at Harvard and Columbia universities.
Ken Dryden is a name familiar to most Canadians; he is in the history books both for his Stanley Cup successes in goal for the Montreal Canadiens and for his time in politics as an MP and Cabinet Minister. He has also written hockey history books: The Game, Home Game and four others. As a young student, he joined a cohort of 35 in a “Selected Class” who remained very closely together throughout their studies. It was the post-war era and a time considered to be of “boundless possibilities” There was little contact among the students following graduation and Dryden takes us along as he connects with his former classmates and discovers what those possibilities turned into. A great glimpse into a period of history and a reflection on the different opportunities and choices made by the individuals in the group. I’m really looking forward to this one.
T’is the season for a new novel from Terry Fallis! The Best Laid Plans launched his writing career and we’re all grateful he’s continued with a variety of warm and humorous tales. This particular story may have a bit more pathos within but I’m certain the funny bits will still be there too. It is the tale of a fellow, recently widowed, who has lost his emotional footing. He has a supportive gang of fellow ball hockey teammates and a loving son but it’s a bit of “gumption”, mystery, and serendipity in Paris that brings him back. “…sometimes, making a change in your life can save your life.”
So here we have a debut novel … but not a debut writer. Amy Chua is author of the wildly successful, iconic even, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which dominated headlines for months in 2011. But today we’re talking about her new novel which is gaining traction for its merit as an historical thriller. The scene is set at a spooky landmark setting (Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel) when a homicide detective is perchance on the scene while a Presidential Candidate is murdered upstairs on hotel premises. As our officer digs into this crime and the political enemies around the deceased, he discovers there is a history of unfortunate events at the hotel, with ties to a privileged local family. From the publisher: “Chua’s page-turning debut brings to life a historical era rife with turbulent social forces and groundbreaking forensic advances, when race and class defined the very essence of power, sex, and justice, and introduces a fascinating character in Detective Sullivan, a mixed race former Army officer who is still reckoning with his own history.”
I’ve posted before about the publishing phenomenon of synchronistic releases – two (or more) books on the same topic published very near to one another in the calendar. This latest example is focused on the topic of Road Ecology. A topic which may seem dry to some of you but fascinating when you delve a little way in. There are 40 million miles of roadways on our planet, reflecting growth and prosperity of communities. And yet, these paved ways have an enormous impact on our planet’s surface, waterways, plants, and the wildlife with whom we share it. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Tunnels of Love in Australia which allow animals to pass under the roads? Or the overpasses in the Rockies providing the same service? These explorations of an important global topic will appeal to the non-fiction readers among us but will also intrigue anyone wishing to understand more about Earth’s well-being and how we can become more mindful of development’s effect. Both of these books are rating extremely generously among reviewers.
Talking at Night by Claire Daverley
And now for romance. A debut UK author receiving great acclaim, Claire Daverley’s writing has been described as evocative of Sally Rooney’s. High praise for Sally fans. I’ve just begun the story and have to say there is a quiet tender tone to the writing that easily draws the reader in and creates space to absorb and appreciate the dialogue and characters as they reveal their stories. Will and Rosie are utter opposites in the high school pecking order and yet establish an unexpectedly deep interest and bond with one another. Tragic circumstances prevent them from being together and, as the decades pass, they come close to reuniting, again and again. However, missed opportunities abound. It’s an emotional see-saw, poignant and hopeful. “It’s the story of the many loves we have in a lifetime.” and “It’s about the people we meet who change us irrevocably and who we always carry with us.”
As always, dig in and let us know what you enjoy most. Happy reading!
October 6, 2023
This long-awaited post is now named Summer Nostalgia rather than Summer Reading as our weather hints (pretty strongly) that the warm season has officially drifted off now. These choices seem to fit the mood, nevertheless. Hopefully you can enjoy with a dose of fresh sea air.
An Autumn Edit is hot on the heels of this post (feast or famine my loyal followers!) so prepare to be overwhelmed with cozy season choices.
Newly in paperback, this seems like a quintessential summer mood read. Or … a cozy up in front of the fire read, while reflecting on summers past. It’s a bit heftier than most but the beautifully written pages will take you off to Coastal Maine to explore themes of friendship and legacy and love and literature. A 79 year old renowned writer of children’s books, Agnes Lee, is suffering from writer’s block at the same time that she is attempting to plan her estate by preserving a land holding at Fellowship Point where she’s spent most of the summers of her life. Her dear friend, and Fellowship Point neighbour, Polly, needs to approve of the plans but is under the influence of her adult children who have less sentimental ideas. Conflict arises between the old friends and their privileged summer community. If that wasn’t enough, Agnes has been convinced to write her memoir and the ghosts and secrets that emerge complicate matters further. This is an epic multi-generational trip with the layered stories unfolding in a majestic landscape. Extremely well-reviewed as Alice Elliott Dark is a widely respected and talented writer.
While one family must heart-wrenchingly part ways with their 11 year old daughter in order to protect her from the German bombings on London, another family welcomes her a world away, to Boston. Young Bea will forever be influenced by her time with the Gregory family and their sons with whom she bonded over her years spent savouring idyllic summer retreats and the easy American lifestyle they enjoy. Bea returns to London and her family but carries her time with the Gregory’s deep within. “As we follow Bea over time, navigating between her two worlds, Beyond That, the Sea emerges as a beautifully written, absorbing novel, full of grace and heartache, forgiveness and understanding, loss and love.”
Here’s another story where the location is a a character unto itself. Set on a small isolated island off the rugged Newfoundland coast in the 1990s, a young boy is mourning the loss of his fisherman father. Another tragedy, this time the disappearance of a teen girl, also preoccupies his thoughts as he and his friends become insistent seekers of the truth behind the mystery. The fierce weather and landscape along with the characters seeking to make their way in a changing culture amid the failing fishing industry all play key roles in the unfolding of the tale. “Part coming-of-age story, part literary mystery, and part suspense thriller, Closer by Sea is a page-turning, poignant, and powerful novel about family, friendship, and community set at a pivotal time in modern Newfoundland history. It is an homage to a people and a place, and above all it captures that delicate and tender moment when the wonder of childhood innocence gives way to the harsh awakening of adult experience.”
If you have read The Lost Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry, this would be a good follow up or vice versa. A story of the children of WWII who were sent off for safer shores and yet, encountered tragedy and challenges despite best efforts to provide security. After their ship is torpedoed, a young teacher is alone with a group of frightened and desperate evacuee children adrift at sea, fighting for their survival. On shore, a desperate mother will do her best to aid in the rescue. The women’s lives will be forever intertwined. Also a bit reminiscent of Beyond That the Sea listed above, but a quite different take. Choose one or immerse yourself in the genre with all of them! Hazel Gaynor is renowned for her skill in bringing historical events and characters vibrantly to life with memorable and entertaining stories.
More historical fiction, this time focused on The Red Cross and its “Donut Dollies” – the women charged with driving the Clubmobile military vehicles along the front lines in Europe during World War II. The special sisterhood of friendships forged, along with heroic endeavours, and the highs and lows of love are shared with beautiful writing by Luis Alberto Urrea who was inspired by his own Mother’s stories of her experiences as a wartime volunteer.
The author of Deacon King Kong once again immerses his reader in a vivid neighbourhood community. The mostly Jewish immigrants and African Americans resident of Chicken Hill are enmeshed in a web of secrets, long held, behind the discovery of a skeleton during an excavation by developers. “As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.”
May 26, 2023
(Art by: Peder Severin Krøyer, Roses, 1893, Skagens Museum, Skagen, Denmark)
The days are getting longer and so, too, are the lists of enticing books to enjoy on our travels or in our gardens. It’s a season that celebrates reading! I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share a few of the titles that are catching my eye and to join Amy Mair at Red Fern Book Review for our annual Summer Reads chat. Tune in to the Red Fern Book Review podcast episode here to listen to our conversation around the top six summer choices listed below. Looking forward to your thoughts too. Let us know what you’re choosing to read from this list, and beyond!
“Set in late 16th-century Africa, India, Portugal, and Japan, The African Samurai is a powerful historical novel based on the true story of Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born samurai and the only samurai of African descent—for readers of Esi Edugyan and Lawrence Hill.”
The boy begins life in a small African village but is taken and sold into slavery. Over time he becomes a skilled soldier who is later promoted to the role of personal protector to an Italian Priest and Missionary bound for Japan. When in Japan, he is caught up in a riot amid the Japanese civil war and ends up being “gifted” to the Warlord Nobunaga. The two men forge a bond and the young soldier and protector from Africa is controversially honoured by Nobunaga with the Samurai title and Japanese name, Yasuke. The fact that this enthralling tale actually took place will make this novel all the more entertaining to read. Author Craig Shreve is a likeable Canadian writer who is personally committed to researching and honouring Yasuke’s story in his novel. Really looking forward to this one!
Do hope you find something that interests you here and that you tune into Red Fern Book Review to hear more about these choices. I will be offering a few more titles to explore this Summer in a second instalment of Summer Reading ’23. Stay tuned!
October 21, 2022
When I last posted, I was remarking just how many great books were being released this Fall and shared a “shortlist” of nine well-known writers launching new works. Amy Mair of Red Fern Book Review podcast and I met recently to discuss another list of books showing up on the book shop shelves this season. Among the five books we discuss on air, you’ll find character-forward novels, a literary psychological mystery, and an intriguing non-fiction work too. Be sure to tune in for our fun rambling chat about the books described below and a few other related (or unrelated) recommendations and topics.
Carter Bays was a writer on the very entertaining and popular show, “How I Met Your Mother”. His first novel, The Mutual Friend, sports an equally contemporary, youthful, and wide ranging cast of characters, all digitally connected through their devices. The story focuses on a 28 year old woman who is navigating the challenges of moving forward in her life while under the distracting influence of “screen time” – a modern and very real scenario. While she works as a nanny, dreaming of writing her MCAT and going to medical school, she is caught up in the chaos between life through her phone and her real live life. Described as “a comedy of manners in an era of buzzing gadgets” and “a modern epic brimming with charm”, this promises to be a thought provoking story as well. Reviews indicate it’s a refreshing exploration of new territory but one should be prepared to commit to keeping the many intertwined characters straight and to sticking with a longer read. Fine by me if we can just put down our phones and carve out the time for a great story!
Mike Gayle is a prolific and popular writer based in the UK. I’ve long been meaning to read his work and I’m so pleased this most recent novel is available for us to enjoy here in Canada. While the title may evoke the melancholy tones of a Beatles song (Eleanor Rigby) this story brings the humour while also acknowledging difficult times. Reminiscent of “A Man Called Ove”, the main character, Hubert, is eighty-four years old, and settled into his reclusive ways after a lifetime of hurt and struggle as a Jamaican “Windrush” immigrant, raising a family in a bi-racial marriage in an often unwelcoming environment. On their weekly calls, Hubert convinces his daughter who is living abroad in Australia, that he is thriving and busily engaged in a social and happy life. He makes up wonderfully fun stories to keep her entertained and worry-free. However, when his daughter plans a visit to see him, Hubert realizes he’s going to be caught out unless he quickly creates the life he has fibbed about. Let the games begin! Looking forward to this one.
Another author with past success, Matthew Quick will be familiar to readers of Silver Linings Playbook; those of us who saw the movie may be more familiar with its stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. While Quick poignantly dealt with family, friendship and mental illness struggles in Silver Linings, he takes us into the realm of grief and a broken community in We Are the Light. The story that “reminds us that life is full of guardian angels” is epistolary, told in letters to a former Jungian Analyst and features the special relationship between widower Lucas and a grief-stricken eighteen year old, named Eli as they bond together to heal their community and themselves. Hope and Empathy are the two words that appear most often in reviews and while grief may seem a difficult topic for some readers, the message is uplifting and heartwarming. One reviewer wrote that reading Quick’s books was like going to your favourite restaurant, you always know it’s going to be good!
There are loads of readers who crave a good mystery out there. I may be a bit of a wimp when it comes to the thriller genre but I, too, do enjoy a good twisty whodunnit; this compelling mystery is waiting on my bedside table for me now. I was hooked as soon as I saw the Boston Public Library was the setting for the intrigue but the story and its author’s background further convinced me to get aboard the bandwagon. First, picture a table of strangers in the Reading Room, near where a crime occurs, being held by Security as the investigation gets under way. During the long wait, they begin to befriend one another and personal stories are shared. One of them, however, will prove to be the culprit. Described as a psychological mystery within a mystery, The Woman In the Library is a “literary thrill and page turner”. Author Sulari Gentill first studied Astrophysics and then went on to become a corporate lawyer. She started writing historical crime novels in her free time and her intelligent approach to the stories garnered her several awards. She is now a productive full time writer, living on a farm in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.
This newest book by Susan Cain is on its way to launching an entire movement just like her Quiet book did. In 2012, the world became fascinated by her revelations about introversion and its impact on individuals, workplaces, and families. Her TED talk on the topic became one of the most popular ever produced. Now Susan is using research, storytelling, and memoir to explore the concept of Bittersweet and its impact on creativity, compassion and connection. She considers this state of mind “a superpower” – that there is a hidden power generated in sad songs and rainy days. Beyond the book itself, there is an online quiz, a Ted Talk and a Spotify playlist to help immerse us in the concept of Bittersweet. I, for one, am very curious to know more and really look forward to reading this.
If you do wish to hear more about these book choices along with several other recommendations and to listen to a bit more back story and general bookish chat, tune in to Red Fern Book Review’s, Season 2 episode # 4 here.
Happy Reading! And Listening!
September 5, 2022
Summer is winding down and I hope everyone has been enjoying a good read or two. Or twelve for the lucky ones! Many of us were struggling with getting in the page turns so twelve might be a stretch … too many distractions. I have to say when I forced myself to turn off, tune out, and sit with a book, there were great reads to be had this summer. And, if finding a book that “speaks to you” was the challenge, you no longer have that excuse. I think this Fall may have more intriguing releases than any other I recall. Get a load of this list – strictly confined to new releases by tried and true writers. If you’re not familiar with the earlier book, you get two to consider. I imagine most of you have read the old and might be keen to try the new. I know what the good writers were doing those last two weird Covid summers … writing!
Release dates range from recent to November – pre-order those ones so you get a surprise in the mail!
July 21, 2022
THE AMBUSH OF A GOOD BOOK
A good novel is an invasion;
it marches in and you try
to resist, to put it down
but eventually you surrender,
and it burrows every word
into the thickest parts of you,
in an ambush of emotion
so that years later,
you think of them
not as characters at all,
but your own memories
of a life you got tricked
was your own.
~ Samantha Reynolds
Long time readers will know I’ve long been an enormous fan of bentlily, the daily poetry project by Samantha Reynolds. My first post featuring bentlily was on May 12, 2013 and I’m so pleased to report that all this time later, she’s still going strong with daily inspiration, laughs and, well, heart-sprongs, for lack of the right word. Poet I’m not. There is a rumour a book will soon appear. You can bet I’ll be back to report on that. In the meantime, couldn’t resist sharing this gem with you, fellow readers. I know you’ll get it!
Been ambushed by anything special lately?
June 17, 2022
Amy Mair of Red Fern Books Podcast and I recently sat down (in person this time) for our second annual Summer Reads tie-in. Read the highlights below and then listen to more in our conversation over here.
If Amy managed to execute some editing wizardry, you will miss out on an epic coughing fit as this guest-of-the-week almost combusted. Mic-off is a safer bet for (hack, hack) this gal. Otherwise, we had a really fun chat!
These six books are chosen with an eye to variety across eras and themes. My hope is that we’ll all get a fresh glimpse into new worlds through these pages and be inspired and entertained along the way. Now just add some sunny weather, a cool drink, and uninterrupted time to read!
By the time this blogpost/podcast hits the airwaves I have no doubt you’ll be very familiar with this choice. Lessons in Chemistry has spent all of its young life on the bestseller and recommended lists, far and wide, unanimously celebrated. Bonnie Garmus is a debut author (at 65 years old) whose story was picked up for publication in 35 countries – impressive! If you liked Eleanor and Bernadette of Eleanor Oliphant or Where’d You Go Bernadette? you’ll most certainly enjoy Elizabeth Zott of Lessons in Chemistry. Despite her quirky outspokenness and her identity as an advanced scientific researcher, Elizabeth becomes a reluctant TV cooking show personality of the early 1960s. You’ll delight in plenty of chuckles but there’s surprising poignancy and social commentary and personal growth in the story as well. Elizabeth has a charming supporting cast of characters including a very special dog. This is a great summer read – any time of the year!
I’m sure you may wonder at times how I narrow down my book choices, especially when the selection may be a little bit off the radar as this one appears to be. In this case, it was simple, I encountered the paragraph below and was had. I don’t think I can really improve upon it so I’m sharing!
“It was Rachel Signer’s dream to be that girl: the one smoking hand-rolled cigarettes out the windows of her 19th-century Parisian studio apartment, wearing second-hand Isabel Marant jeans and sipping a glass of Beaujolais redolent of crushed roses with a touch of horse mane. Instead she was an under-appreciated freelance journalist and waitress in New York City, frustrated at always being broke and completely miserable in love. When she tastes her first pétillant-naturel (pét-nat for short), a type of natural wine made with no additives or chemicals, it sets her on a journey of self-discovery, both deeply personal and professional, that leads her to Paris, Italy, Spain, Georgia, and finally deep into the wilds of South Australia and which forces her, in the face of her “Wildman,” to ask herself the hard question: can she really handle the unconventional life she claims she wants?” (Hachette) Cheers!
If you’re a regular reader of Bedside Table Books, you’ll know that I’ve been singing the praises of essay collections as a way to re-boot one’s reading or to embrace variety. I recently stumbled upon two terrific pieces of writing, independent of one another, and discovered that by chance they were both selections in this Letters to a Stranger collection. I knew instantly that the connecting themes of brief encounters/missed connections/moments of shared humanity would be perfect for deep Summer sighing and if these two examples were any indication, the reading would all be excellent. 65 great writers have shared their experiences with strangers – you’ll encounter names like Maggie Shipstead, Lauren Groff, Pico Iyer … Can’t wait to savour this collection!
Another debut receiving a lot of positive attention, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies is a multi-generational saga which begins in Chinese occupied Tibet of the late 1950s and follows a family’s refugee experience through to modern-day Toronto. Family connections impacted by displacement, threatened cultural identity, and the haunting of harsh experiences are the basis of this compelling story. While author Tsering Yangzom Lama was born and raised in Nepal, she has strong ties to Vancouver and a BA in Creative Writing & International Relations from UBC. She followed that up with an MFA (Columbia) These descriptives taken from a wide array of blurbs are pretty convincing that this is some very fine writing: “achingly beautiful” “symphonic” “transcendent” “a marvel” and “magnificently textured”. Wow. I’m really looking forward to this one.
There is a particular delight in the discovery of a story that has been hiding away in the archives just waiting to be celebrated. Thanks to Kianna Alexander’s writerly curiosity, we are now able to enjoy a story inspired by one remarkable Josephine N. Leary. Leary was a freed black woman, born into slavery on a Southern Plantation in the 1800s. As a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, she overcame an incredible number of challenges but used her savvy financial management and investment skills to build an impressive real estate empire. A feat at anytime but particularly in the early 1900s. Kianna Alexander researched deeply into her fellow North Carolina native’s story and the result is this exciting new novel, based on Leary’s life.
I really don’t need to say much more than “Geraldine Brooks” to flag this one. Brooks has several hugely successful and popular reads under her belt and each one is a unique and fascinating tale based on extraordinary research. Think: Year of Wonders (worth re-visiting with present day pandemic context), Caleb’s Crossing, March, and People of the Book among others. Horse, released June 14th, 2022, grows out of more impeccable research, and links three stories through different eras all tied to the famous race horse “Lexington”. “A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history.” (Goodreads) As she has in previous novels, the author has provided a fascinating Afterword. Don’t skip those pages!
June 10, 2022
So I heard a phrase the other day and it gave me pause. “Palate cleanser” but used with regard to reading. As in a palate cleanser between books. A way to refresh your reading mind. While in the world of fine dining this may manifest as a cool and citrusy taste distraction between heavier courses, in the book world, perhaps it is something more light and less demanding of one’s brain. Or simply a diversion from a particular course.
I read a few books (all good) back to back that each just happened to feature a quirky but charming older gentleman. It was time for something entirely different so I broke the chain with something lighter and featuring a quite different cast of characters, themes and mood. I’ve chatted with a few of you seeking respite from World War II themes, thriller mania, and celebrity memoirs. For others, those may be the “sorbet”! Have you fallen into a pattern? Do you find yourself reaching for a common theme? Maybe it’s time to cleanse and challenge yourself with something new!
A book that really stood on its own as almost uncategorizable and was hugely enjoyable for me was Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce. It was also one of my 2020 Holiday Book recommendations. Great palate cleanser potential! Any other highly palatable palate cleansers you’ve found?
June 5, 2022
This little blog seems to come in waves; I land on the shore when I have good goodies I can’t resist sharing. “Oh Reader magazine – For the Love of Reading“ is one such goodie. I’m here to encourage you to take a peek into its pages – you won’t be disappointed!
The magazine’s editors probably best describe its mission: “Oh Reader is not so much about books themselves (although we do love them with almost indecent fervor); it’s more about the lives of those who read them. Because the books we read shape who we are as people.
Oh Reader is a magazine about reading, for and by readers. It looks deep into the art of reading—why we do it, how it affects us, who we are when we read, and how we’re all connected through words.
Expect insightful stories, hilarious observations, fascinating interviews and a lot of word-nerdery. We publish four times a year, in print and online, so you can read any time.”
A great gift for the book lover in your life but be sure to treat yourself too. Each edition is entirely unexpected. Some recent features I enjoyed include: love stories established on a shared love of reading and traveling, odes to the likes of Nancy Drew, Roald Dahl, and Judy Blume, grateful tributes to the words that got one through a tough time, photo essays featuring reading chairs and books and beverages, and always a shout-out to new releases for the ever expanding list.
The magazine is printed on beautiful paper with lovely illustrations and photos throughout so a real life copy is my preference but digital options are available as well. Hope you can find a copy for your bedside table. (Locally, I have had success finding issues at Save-On Foods of all places! Well done, Save-On!) Happy to become an old-fashioned subscriber to this one though.
June 4, 2022
n. a feeling of euphoria when catching up with someone whom you haven’t seen in a long time
Such a fitting word following a little hiatus! Featured by one of my favourite Instagram gems … @soulfulmusing
Beautiful imagery (meets my love for photography) along with fascinating words and their origins (meets my word geekery)
Go take a look and share any favourite finds!