Book Review: “The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux”

The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux

Author: Samantha Vérant

Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Genre: Fiction; 352 pages

Synopsis

As a child, Sophie Valroux spent summers visiting her grandmother in southwestern France. Sophie credits “Grand-mère Odette” for instilling a love of food and cooking in her.

Today, 26-year-old Sophie is a chef living in New York City. She dreams of being part of the 1% of female chefs running a 3-star Michelin restaurant. At the restaurant where she is a chef de partie, Sophie is sabotaged by another chef, causing her to lose her job.

She is in the process of figuring out her next steps when she learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke. Sophie travels back to France to care for her and finds out that the home where she spent her childhood summers is now a château with two restaurants and a vineyard.  

My Thoughts

As a Francophile who also loves good food, I couldn’t wait to read this book. Usually, in this type of novel (or, at least, the ones I’m drawn to), the main character moves to France, specifically Paris. In this novel, the main character is actually French-born; Sophie and her mother, Céleste, moved to New York when Sophie was a baby.

In addition, this story is set in the Toulouse area in southwestern France, bringing a welcome change. Lively descriptions of the Place du Capitole and surrounding areas reminded me of my own visit to La Ville Rose, or the Pink City.

I also liked how Sophie is not obsessed with romance. She’s not coy or playing hard to get either. She merely has a pragmatic and take-it-slow attitude toward relationships.

However, Sophie is indecisive and she gets in her own way at times. Her pride doesn’t let her easily accept gifts that she didn’t work for (namely, the gift of running the château’s restaurants while her grandmother recovers).

Nevertheless, the one area that Sophie does not waver in is food. For example, she knows exactly what she wants when developing menus, which I noticed almost always includes a velouté (a velvety savory sauce) and daurade (sea bream fish)!

Apart from Grand-mère Odette, the other characters in the novel were well-developed. I got the sense that they’re more like family than staff working at the château. Rémi and Jane provide tension throughout the narrative, as they weren’t thrilled about Sophie’s arrival. Fortunately, Sophie has supportive friends in Walter, his boyfriend, Robert, and Phillipa, who happens to be Jane’s sister.

The loose ends are tied up rather quickly, but happily-ever-after isn’t what you’d expect it to be. It’s Sophie’s own indecisiveness that keeps her happy enough.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about good food, family secrets, and supportive friendships. (Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, depression, and suicide).

Not to miss: At the end of the book, Sophie shares a few recipes, including one for crème brûlée, which I’m inspired to make one of these days!

About the author

Samantha (Sam) Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, at home French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she’s married to a French rocket scientist she met in 1989 (but ignored for twenty years), a stepmom to two incredible kids, and the adoptive mother to a ridiculously adorable French cat. When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées or embracing her inner Julia Child, Sam is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. Visit her website or Amazon (this is not an affiliate link) to order the book.

Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for inviting me to read The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant. I received a digital advance review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: “Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop”

Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop 

  • Author: Roselle Lim
  • Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)
  • Publication Date: August 4, 2020
  • Genre: Multicultural Interest; Fiction, 320 pages

Synopsis

Vanessa Yu is a 27-year-old accountant from Palo Alto, California who possesses the gift of seeing people’s fortunes by reading tea leaves. After seeing someone’s misfortune at the bottom of a cup, Vanessa decides that she no longer wants this supernatural ability. Her enigmatic Aunt Evelyn, who also has the rare gift of clairvoyance, offers to help Vanessa get rid of her special skill. Aunt Evelyn invites Vanessa to stay with her for three weeks in Paris, where she is in the process of opening a tea shop. 

My Thoughts

Unlike similar novels set in the City of Light, Vanessa does not have an overly romanticized notion of Paris — I found her perspective refreshing! As a Francophile, I certainly appreciate that this novel was set in Paris, but the story could have taken place anywhere in the world.

In a way, the novel does take you around the world — through food! The book is filled with flavorful descriptions of various cuisines, including Chinese (char siu bao, or steamed BBQ buns), Filipino (sinigang, or tamarind-based stew), Vietnamese (gỏi cuốn, or spring rolls), and Italian (cacio e pepe, or cheese and pepper pasta). In Paris, Vanessa enjoys an assortment of iconic French treats, including buttery croissants, crispy tuiles aux amandes, and decadent mille-feuille.

So very sweet – much like how Vanessa is with her large family. They say “I love you” to each other so much though that it sometimes borders on saccharine. It was mind-boggling at times because Vanessa often seemed annoyed by her family, especially her meddling aunties.

But Aunt Evelyn is the exception. It’s clear that Vanessa has great respect for her. As the story progresses, Aunt Evelyn opens her heart, making her more likable.

I also liked how vivid descriptions of symbols, like red threads of fate, sudden gusts of wind, and Menelaus blue morpho butterflies give the novel a dream-like quality. Although the tropical blue butterfly specified is not likely to appear in Europe, you’ll believe it’s possible. That’s magical realism for you!

Overall, this breezy novel is a welcome escape from the pandemic lockdown doldrums. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys art, romance, cultural traditions, food, tea, and Paris, bien sûr!

About the author

Roselle Lim was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She found her love of writing by listening to her paternal Lola’s (grandmother) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels. She has a degree in humanities and history from York University in Toronto. 

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. Visit her website or Amazon (this is not an affiliate link) to order the book.

Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for inviting me to read Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim. I received a digital review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.