Sunday, September 9, 2018

What's Val Reading? (August 2018)

Happy September! It's beginning to feel like fall, and I am here. for. it.

Let the record show that Val sent this to me on August that fact that it's being published on September 9 is no one's fault but my own! Here's what she read last month.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (Goodreads)

This is the second mystery in Penny’s Armand Gamache series, and it features a murder that brings Gamache back to the quaint Canadian village of Three Pines.

CC de Pointers was a middle-aged woman who was new to Three Pines and was almost universally hated.  When she is found murdered, Inspector Gamache has his work cut out for him, as the list of suspects includes most of the town.  First Gamache must solve the mystery of who CC really was in order to determine the identity of her killer.

There were two murders in this book; CC’s and another that is more of a sub-plot.  I had one of the two murders figured out basically immediately – it was glaringly obvious, especially since I’m not one to typically have the murderer figured out before the author reveals who did it. However, I did not have the second murder figured out at all, so that kept things interesting.

They say you don’t have to read this series in order, but I think it’s best, as some of the main characters do make return appearances. These books are interesting but also more thoughtful than your typical murder mystery.  I’ll continue working my way through the series. 4 stars.

Content: Some language; no sex. The murders aren’t grisly or graphic.

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch (Goodreads)

This is the follow-up novel to Welch’s Love & Gelato, which I read (and gave 4 stars to) in July. You wouldn’t have to read Love & Gelato first, but I would highly recommend it, as the main character and a couple of the supporting characters are introduced in that book.

In Love & Luck, soon-to-be high school junior Addie is in Ireland with her family to attend her aunt’s destination wedding.  The plan is for Addie and Ian, her older brother (by one year), to fly to Italy to visit Lina, Addie’s best friend (and the protagonist of Love & Gelato), while the rest of the family (her mother and two college-aged brothers) take a tour of Ireland.  However, all bets are off when Ian has other ideas – namely, road-tripping through Ireland visiting landmarks important to Titletrack, Ian’s favorite band.   Ian and Addie are joined on their journey by Rowan, Ian’s Irish friend. Ian and Addie must mend the recent rift in their relationship if they are to pull off Ian’s plan without their mom finding out. 4 stars.

I liked this sweet YA novel.  This is much more of a sibling story than a love story (though there is a secondary storyline involving romance), which is kind of a nice change of pace for a YA novel.  This book was light, fun, and kept my interest.

Content: No language (that I can recall); no sex.  One character gets into trouble after sending nude photos.

Sons of Blackbird Mountain by Joanne Bischof (Goodreads)

Becky gave me this book to read, and I basically turned up my nose at it because it’s Christian Fiction, and I tend to stay completely away from that genre.  I am a Christian, and I love fiction, but in my experience*, Christian fiction can mean cheesy love stories, clunky writing, and obligatory references to God/Christianity that feel forced or out of place. So I didn’t really intend to read it…but then I found myself on a 3-hour flight with this book as my only option thanks to my kindle running low on battery.

That said, this is one of the best Christian fiction books I’ve read in a very, very long time.  So much so that I forgot it was Christian fiction (this is basically the highest praise possible coming from me!).

The story is set in Virginia in the 1890’s on the Norgaard farm, where brothers Jorgen, Thor, and Haakon grow apples to turn into Thor’s famous hard cider.  Aven, the 21-year-old widow of their cousin Benn, comes to live on the farm at the request of Dorothe, their aunt.  Conflicts arise between the brothers, as two of them develop feelings for Aven.  Conflicts with neighbors also threaten the safety of everyone on the farm.

I liked this book because it wasn’t too heavy on the romance – there were other prominent plotlines happening.  I found the descriptions of the orchards and the workings of the cidery to be fascinating.  Thor, the middle brother, is deaf, so sign language features heavily into the story, and I loved the way the brothers communicated.

However, late in the story something occurs that I felt was neither true to the characters nor necessary to move the plot along.  This event felt like a plot device that could have been accomplished in another way.  (Keeping it vague for the sake of spoilers, but I was really mad.) For that reason, I’m giving the book 3.5 stars instead of 4.

*Let the record show that Val stopped reading Christian fiction in approximately 2001, so her perception of the genre is horribly outdated. Yes, the stories featuring "cheesy love stories, clunky writing, and obligatory references to God/Christianity that feel forced or out of place" still do exist, but the vast majority of books published today are not like that at all. Once upon a time, I compiled a list of Christian fiction I thought Val would enjoy. To my knowledge, she hasn't read any of these books yet, but if you're skeptical of inspy fiction, I'd start here.

See my review of Sons of Blackbird Mountain here.

Content: None.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (Goodreads)

From the flap copy: Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine.  Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie initially feels like a fish out of water – until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends.  Then Delicious! Is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.

To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery.  In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard.  Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to come to terms with her fears, her big sister, and her ability to open her heart to love.

It took a couple of chapters for me to get into this book, but once I got into it, I enjoyed it very much.  The characters are unique and well fleshed-out, the concept is fascinating, and Reichl’s descriptions of food are interesting but not over-the-top (I would imagine that might be a difficult balance to strike, since Reichl has such experience as a food writer).  There were times when I was annoyed with Billie (despite being the protagonist, she was probably my least favorite character), but the good far outweighed the bad in terms of the plot and the story. 4 stars.

Content: No language that I recall; two off-the-page sex scenes occur.

Thanks for sharing, Val! Of these books, I've only read Sons of Blackbird Mountain; I linked my review above. If you've read any of them, we'd love to know what you think!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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