Where There's Smoke

Vermont Valentine
by Kristin Hardy
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1739, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0373-24739-7
“Holiday Hearts” is a series about the Trask brothers in Vermont. Having read the first one, I was looking forward to this third installment highlighting the loner brother, Jacob. It did not disappoint and makes me want to find the second one.

Jacob Trask is maintaining the family legacy and heritage by running the maple syrup operation in Vermont. He doesn’t mind it; in fact, he feels like this is what he was born to do. But this is the first year he is on his own, his father having died of a heart attack at the end of the last season. His mother is dependent on the income and his two brothers have an interest in the large operation. But there is a threat in the form of a beetle that is destroying maple trees, and if found on the trees, could cause the destruction of acres of trees to keep it from spreading.

Celie Favreau, originally from Montreal and a family of booksellers, is the best-known expert on the red horned maple borer. She’s the lady the Feds have put in charge. Her goal is to inspect every tree, and if she finds signs of the borer, then a 150 yard perimeter around each tree must be cleared. She and a partner have developed an insecticide that might save the trees, but it has not yet gone through all the red tape to get it approved. Celie is not well received by the growers when she comes to Vermont but Jacob decides to give her a chance. The fact that she is pretty, young and resonates with him is only part of the reason. By the time she finds three of his trees infested, she has grown fond of Jacob and he with her. Their romance builds slowly as they learn about the other and try to teach the other about their differences. Jacob is homebound and feels the need to have and keep his roots. Celie is a wanderer, having felt hemmed in by her father’s store and the need to always be at home. She just doesn’t see the value in home until she gets to know Jacob.

Celie is fascinated by the complexity of the man. She is attracted to his appearance, but more so to his calm nature, his ability to see the beauty of and to feel a connection to his land and his house; a house that his great grandfather built for the love of his life. Celie takes a risk for Jacob with the insecticide and keeps it from him. She doesn’t want him to know how much risk there is so that she can protect him. Her nemesis is the State Agriculture Director, a man who is jealous of her and would be thrilled to see her fail.

The story moves along on the strength of the storytelling about the maple growing process and the work that Celie does. Jacob and she are the characters but the real hero is the maple tree. This was an engaging look at the natural process and the hard work of these men and women. The love story was warm and appealing, but was almost playing second fiddle at times. Surprisingly that did not detract from the tale. Seeing Jacob perform his labor of love with the trees gave insight into his character that tumbled over into his relationship with Celie. The work Celie did and risks she took to save a few trees gave her a depth that would have been hard to duplicate if her job was anything but a researcher.

Since this is part of a series, Gabe and Nick, the brothers, also make an appearance and help Jacob. Their mother also plays a role, but this story definitely stands on its own. Vermont Valentine has roots that run deep and a story that is worth reading.

-- Shirley Lyons

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