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My Progress:

12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
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- California (3)
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- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (10)
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- Ireland (4)
- Italy (1)
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My Progress:

27 / 51 states. 53% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

22 / 50 books. 44% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

48 / 50 books. 96% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

39 / 52 books. 75% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

26 / 40 books. 65% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

10 / 25 books. 40% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

12 / 26.2 miles. 46% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

25 / 100 books. 25% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

63 / 104 books. 61% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

43 / 52 books. 83% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

68 / 165 books. 41% done!
Monday, December 28, 2015

Mormon Mentions: Louise Penny

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.


A word of warning:  This Mormon Mention may be a bit spoiler-y, so beware.

In The Cruelest Month, the third installment of Louise Penny's popular Armand Gamache series, the great chief inspector is trying to solve the case of a woman who died seemingly of fright.  While discussing lab reports, he says:

"'Ma Huang.  An old Chinese herb.  Also known as Mormon's tea.  And ephedra" (282).

- I'd never heard of Mormon's Tea (also called Brigham's Tea in reference to Brigham Young) and apparently, there's a lot of conflicting information about it.  As far as I can glean from some quick Internet research, Mormon's Tea is made from a shrub common in the American Southwest that is related to the Chinese herb to which Gamache refers.  Its stems are chopped up, then boiled and steeped into a concoction which is said to help with common ailments like colds, coughs, joint pain, constipation, etc.  It's also supposed to cure sexually-transmitted diseases.  The brew can also be drunk as an alternative to regular tea.  According to this article (from which I got most of my information), however, no mention of Mormon's Tea can be found in pioneer diaries until after the death of Brigham Young in 1877.  So, who knows? 

If you know anything about Mormons, you probably know that we live by a health code called The Word of Wisdom, which was revealed to Church members in 1833.  The edict cautions against the use of "strong drink" as well as "hot drinks."  Early Church leaders interpreted the latter to mean coffee and tea.  Modern leaders continue to urge us to avoid any substance that is addictive in nature, thus active LDS people generally abstain from drinking coffee and caffeinated tea.  We're also told to avoid alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and anything else that can be harmful to the body.  Anyone whose life has been touched by addiction should be able to see the wisdom in such advice, no?

Because of the damage addiction can have on individuals, families, and society in general, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers a fantastic, free recovery program that has helped many, many people overcome addictions to not only alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, but also pornography, gambling, infidelity, overeating, etc.

Mystery Series Continues to Entertain, Even if Third Book Isn't Quite as Dazzling as Its Predecessors

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Cruelest Month, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Armand Gamache mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

As Spring brings the little village of Three Pines back to life, its residents are deciding how to celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday.  When a psychic from Montreal shows up in town, a group of villagers hatch a brilliant idea—wouldn't it be amusing to hold a real, live séance in the creepy old Hadley house?  Indeed, it turns out to be a deliciously unnerving event.  Then, bright, spirited Madeleine Favreau drops dead.  Presumably, the 44-year-old died of fright.  The death of a woman as likable as Madeleine can only have been of natural causes, right?

The mysterious death lures Armand Gamache, the Sûcreté du Quebec's renowned chief inspector, back to Three Pines.  Along with his team, the gentlemanly Gamache sets out to discover what really happened to Madeleine.  His verdict?  Murder.  But how?  And by whose hand?  

In addition to solving the puzzling case, Gamache is dealing with internal strife from his mismatched team.  Because of an accusation against his superior, the chief inspector believes he may have a mole among his crew.  While trying to flush out the spy, Gamache must do his best to convince his team to work together.  He needs all hands on deck to solve the murder at hand.  Can he do it?  Or will a traitor in his midst ruin everything?  

Although The Cruelest Month—the third installment in Louise Penny's popular Armand Gamache series—isn't my favorite, it still kept me thoroughly entertained.  I'm always drawn in by the author's signature warmth and humor, which brings her setting and characters to such vivid life.  She also creates complex plots that keep me guessing.  While the murderer in The Cruelest Month felt more obvious than usual, I still wasn't quite sure about the killer's identity until the very end of the book.  Penny does give this installment more depth by using intertwining story lines to explore intriguing themes like jealousy, the inability to celebrate someone else's happiness, resentment, etc.  Then, there's our indefatigable hero.  No matter how unique or mundane the situation, I always love Armand Gamache.  He's a complex, well-rounded character who never fails to entertain and intrigue me.  So, while The Cruelest Month didn't dazzle me as much as its predecessors, I still adore this series.  Something interesting is always happening in Three Pines and I, for one, don't want to miss a word of it!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Armand Gamache series, including Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Brutal Telling; Bury Your Dead; The Hangman; A Trick of the Light; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; and The Nature of the Beast)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Orphan #8 A Fascinating, Based-on-a-True-Story Historical Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When a heated argument between her parents takes a violent turn, 4-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz loses everything she's ever known—her guardians, her older brother, and her home.  Taken from her Lower Eastside tenement, the frightened child is thrust into the Hebrew Infant Home, a New York City orphanage that runs on the donations of wealthy Jews.  There, she becomes a guinea pig for Dr. Mildred Solomon, a radiologist who uses the home's residents for her science experiments.  It's a bleak, terrifying existence for a frightened, lonely girl, the emotional and physical effects of which will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Fast forward 35 years.  It's 1954 and Rachel is a hospice nurse working at the Old Hebrew Home in New York.  She is shocked when she receives a new patient, whose name she recognizes instantly—Dr. Mildred Solomon.  Dying from bone cancer, the woman is as cold and vain as ever.  She doesn't recognize Rachel (once known as Orphan #8), which makes the nurse even more angry with her old nemesis.  Buoyed by thoughts of revenge, Rachel goes through the motions of caring for the elderly woman, all the while entertaining murderous thoughts.  But when it comes to actually ending Dr. Solomon's life, can Rachel do it?  Faced with the ultimate choice—exact revenge or exercise mercy—what will she choose?

Like the heroine of her first novel, Kim van Alkemade has ties to a famous New York City orphanage.  Her grandfather and his two brothers grew up in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York (on which the fictional Hebrew Infant Home and Orphaned Hebrews Home are based).  It was while doing genealogical research on these men that van Alkemade came across the astonishing story of Dr. Elsie Fox, a graduate of Cornell Medical School who performed science experiments on children at the orphanage.  Using this intriguing historical tidbit as a springboard, van Alkemade uses a made-up character to tell the stories of real children (like her grandfather and great uncles) who grew up inside institutions like the Hebrew Orphan Asylum.  The result is an engrossing historical novel that's taut, vivid, and thought-provoking.  As you can imagine, it's also downright depressing.  Even though I empathized with Rachel, I didn't find myself connecting much with her.  So, although the premise of Orphan #8 fascinated me, the story itself disappointed a bit.  All in all, I found the book interesting and memorable, but not knock-my-socks-off amazing.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a finished copy of Orphan #8 with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
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