I read several great books over the last two months, and since I skipped a September update, this list includes some September favorites as well. Let me know if you try any of the books below!
Fall of Giants series by Ken Follett
Description from Goodreads: It is 1911. The Coronation Day of King George V. The Williams, a Welsh coal-mining family, is linked by romance and enmity to the Fitzherberts, aristocratic coal-mine owners. Lady Maud Fitzherbert falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German Embassy in London. Their destiny is entangled with that of an ambitious young aide to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and to two orphaned Russian brothers, whose plans to emigrate to America fall foul of war, conscription and revolution. In a plot of unfolding drama and intriguing complexity, “Fall Of Giants” moves seamlessly from Washington to St Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty.
My thoughts: I LOVED this trilogy – I learned a lot about historical events through the lens of the characters, and because the trilogy follows the same 5 families throughout, my investment in the characters and relationships grew more and more over time.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Description from Goodreads: For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother’s unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town’s constraints. Using her grandmother’s mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business — and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life — upon the family’s peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire’s routine existence upside down. With Sydney’s homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire’s own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways.
My thoughts: This was a recommendation from sister J, and at first, I thought it was a light, fluffy read with little drama – somewhat similar to other Southern novels I’ve read. But the book takes a different turn when Sydney enters Claire’s life to escape her dark past. It becomes a delightful mix of a little magic and realistic relationship drama, and I loved seeing the process of how the two sisters grew closer together.
Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen
From Goodreads: Carl Mørck used to be one of Copenhagen’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of Copenhagen’s coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn’t dead … yet.
My thoughts: While I love mysteries, I’ve struggled with those written by Scandinavian authors in the past because the books are often so gloomy. But this Danish series is an exception! While the main character, Carl Mørck, is a fairly typical detective – brilliant at his work, terrible home life, poor relationship with bosses – his assistants Rose and Assad are anything but. They add the unexpected comedic element but also prove to be insightful and valuable additions to Department Q. The cases also aren’t as dark and twisted as others I’ve read, but intriguing in their own way.
I am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
From Goodreads: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
My thoughts: I didn’t expect to love this book – I thought it would be difficult and sad to read about the circumstances that surrounded Malala’s shooting. But the book really doesn’t focus on that one event, but rather on Malala’s life in the Swat valley and her efforts to speak out against the oppression of her people. Yes, she talks about the turbulent history of Pakistan and current events that have brought violence to Pakistan, but she also talks about the beauty of the valley and the strength in her family that made her who she is. It was so wonderful to read about how much Malala’s dad loved her and was proud of her academic efforts as an example of a Pakistani man that doesn’t believe that women should be hidden away and made to stay in the home.
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
From Goodreads: It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister—all battling tuberculosis—walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.
My thoughts: Mike and I watch Food Network every once in a while, but I didn’t know much about Marcus Samuelsson before reading this book. I was fascinated to find out that he is an Ethiopian by birth but was adopted into a Swedish family, and that both have heavily influenced his cooking style. It was really interesting to read about all the kitchens he’s trained in, the obstacles he has encountered and overcome as a black chef, and how he has grown and matured along the way.