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Book Review: Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne

January 23, 2023 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A high level view of a room with a large fireplace and a wall of bookshelves. There are plants near the rafters. Two people sit in cozy chairs near the fireplace.

A sapphic (wlw) cozy fantasy where a woman commits treason by running away from her lifelong job as the Queen’s private guard to start a remote tea shop with her girlfriend.

Summary:
After an assassin takes Reyna hostage, she decides she’s thoroughly done risking her life for a self-centered queen. Her girlfriend Kianthe, the most important mage in all of the land, seizes the chance to flee responsibility. Together, they settle in Tawney, a town nestled in the icy tundra of dragon country, and open the shop of their dreams.

What follows is a cozy tale of mishaps, mysteries, and a murderous queen throwing the realm’s biggest temper tantrum. In a story brimming with hurt/comfort and quiet fireside conversations, these two women will discover just what they mean to each other… and the world.

Review:
This might be the first time I’ve ever impulse read a book on my kindle’s “recommended for you” list. I was precisely in the mood for something lighthearted and escapist, and none of my library books or currently owned ebooks fit that bill. When I saw this title, I laughed. Then I read the description and, delighted to see it was a cozy fantasy, decided to give it a whirl. (What exactly is cozy fantasy? It’s a newly defined genre, but I like the devoted Reddit subgroup’s definition. The Kenosha Public Library is a little more specific in their definition.)

I mostly expected a plot about opening a tea shop in a fantastical land with dragons. That was really one of three plots. The other two involve Reyna’s treason and Kianthe’s role as the most powerful mage. It was a little more high stakes than I was expecting. People’s lives are at stake at quite a few points. It didn’t particularly stress me out, but I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of – oh no we’re out of honey and can’t get anymore for a month because the dragons are blocking supply chains – sort of thing. That said, even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was still a relaxing, escapist read to me.

I like the main couple. They have a sweet dynamic with things to overcome. Mainly that Reyna was raised to a role of servitude to those born to power, and Kianthe was born to power. Reyna has to come to understand her worth, and Kianthe does amazingly supporting her through that. I also loved the dragons and griffons. There are two nonbinary secondary characters, both of whom use they/them pronouns. Although the word isn’t used, it’s strongly hinted at that a secondary character who is a woman married to a man is bisexual.

Kianthe is a woman of color, although I personally was left confused by what exactly her skin tone is. It is described as “the color of drying clay” (page 42). I checked on Writing With Color’s skin tone guide, and they do suggest clay as a reference. From the picture on their page, I think it’s supposed to denote reddish-brown. For me, though, when I was reading, I thought of gray clay. Writing With Color does state that creative descriptions can be confusing to the reader and suggests using additional descriptives to help. I don’t think drying brings much clarity to the sentence. Who’s really stood around watching clay dry? They also suggest to consider the associations that come up with a word. Clay is malleable, and I think Kianthe is anything but. Similarly, while Reyna’s hair is described many times as the typical shimmery blonde, I’m still not sure what Kianthe’s looked like due to a lack of description.

The tea shop itself ends up being a giant room full of plants that Kianthe keeps magically alive in the cold climate. I loved that aspect of it. The tea itself is largely inspired by our own world’s tea, and the goodies are essentially the same as here as well. The only exception being bagels with “creamed cheese.” The bagels are treated as kind of exotic and that confused me. Why are bagels exotic and not the scones? Why is cream cheese spelled differently and not bagels? One other thing that bugged me so much I ran an Instagram poll about it is that the tea shop owners make tea incorrectly. They add tea bags to cups of hot water. While this is totally fine in one’s own home when using a microwave and in a hurry, the proper way to make tea is by pouring the hot water over the leaves. Only one respondent in my entire poll said they do it the other way around, and they messaged me to tell me they do it that way because they have to microwave their water. This is a nice tea shop, and Reyna and Kianthe don’t make tea correctly! It hurt my escapism a bit. I wanted scenes of making various types of tea in the various different ways required. I wanted a matcha whisk and special timers for different steep times and different pots for black tea and green tea and herbal tisanes. I wanted Kianthe and Reyna to offer to make special mixes for customers based on something about them like this one tea shop in Portland, Maine did for me once. Essentially, I wanted less book time spent on the stakes and more on the tea. Bonus points if there was a fantastical tea with some wild steep requirements like, I don’t know, you have to add a molted scale from a dragon.

Overall, this is a different fantasy read featuring a w/w couple at the lead. It’s a fun universe to visit and was escapist for me. Recommended to readers looking for a quick, light read who don’t mind some stakes in their cozy.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 339 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Kindle Unlimited

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 23, 2012 5 comments

Woman holding parasol in front of city skyline.Summary:
Alexia Tarabotti isn’t just suffering from being half-Italian in Victorian England, she also is soulless.  Unlike vampires, werewolves, and other supernaturals who successfully changed thanks to an excess of soul, or even having just enough soul like day dwellers, she simply has none. Plus as a preternatural she turns the supernaturals human when she touches them.  Obviously they aren’t a fan of that.  Except for one particularly persnickety werewolf, Lord Maccon, who is Scottish to boot.  And to top it all off a mysterious wax-faced man suddenly seems very interested in kidnapping her.  None of this seems particularly civilized.

Review:
The Parasol Protectorate series was all the rage when this book made it onto my tbr pile back in 2010.  That was kind of the beginning of the steampunk craze, before you could find gears on everything in the costume shop.  I can see why this series is popular, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

The world building is wonderful and is what kept me reading.  A good steampunk blends history, science, and fashion to make for a semi-familiar but deliciously unique world that’s delightful for history and science geeks alike to play around in.  Carriger pulls this off beautifully.  The fashion is Victorian with a steampunk edge.  The politics are recognizable but with the supernatural and steampowered sciences taking a role.  A great example of how well this world works is that in England the supernatural came out and became part of society, whereas America was the result of the Puritans condemning the acceptance of the supernatural who they believe sold their souls to the devil.  This is a great blend of reality and alternate history.

The plot wasn’t a huge mystery, which is kind of sad given the complexity of the world building.  What really bothered me though was the romantic plot, which suffered badly from a case of instalove.  Although we hear of delightful prior encounters between Alexia and Lord Maccon, we didn’t see them.  We mostly see him going from hating her to loving her and demanding her hand in marriage. It just felt lazy compared to the other elements of the book.  I get it that Carriger could be poking fun at Victorian era romances, but I think that would have worked better if it didn’t have such a Victorian ending.  Plus, I didn’t pick up this book to read a romance. I wanted a steampunk mystery with a strong female lead.  I didn’t like how quickly the romance took over the whole plot.

Potential readers should take a glance at the first chapter and see if Carriger’s humor works for them.  I can see how if I was laughing through the whole book I’d have enjoyed it more, but the…decidedly British humor just did not work for me.  It didn’t bother me; I just didn’t find it funny.  I mostly sat there going, “Oh, she thinks she’s being funny…..”  Humor is highly personal, so I’m not saying it’s bad. It just isn’t my style. It might be yours.

Overall this is a creatively complex steampunk world with an unfortunately average plot overtaken by instaromance and seeped in dry, British humor.  It is recommended to steampunk fans who find that style of humor amusing and don’t mind some instalove all up in their story.  That does not describe this reader, so I won’t be continuing on with the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Buy It

Friday Fun! (Welcome, Fall!)

October 5, 2012 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  It is finally fall in lovely New England. If I was forced to pick, I’d choose fall as my favorite season, although winter would come in a very close second.  I might not feel this way in other areas of the US where there is no leaf changing or crisp autumnal weather or orchard season.  But here all of these awesome things exist, so yayyyy!

Things I love about Fall, in no particular order:

  • Cooler weather, which means I don’t immediately look like I ran a 5k when I step out my door
  • Fall fashion, particularly knee high socks! And denim jackets! And getting to wear my hair down periodically!
  • Also my hair no longer looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket.
  • Pumpkins!
  • Pumpkin. Spice. Latte. (with soy)
  • Pie
  • Fall leaves
  • Kicking fall leaves
  • Hiking in the woods
  • Hot chocolate
  • Spiked hot chocolate
  • Giant pots of tea
  • The perfect weather for snorgling
  • Gourds
  • Pie
  • Did I mention pie?
  • Squash dishes
  • Slow cooker season!
  • Long hot baths
  • Halloween!
  • Related: horror everywhere. Oh how I love horror.
  • Cinnamon and nutmeg in everything
  • CIDER for the love of fsm, I almost forgot cider.

I had a long weekend this weekend, which was partially a reward to myself for making it through what I have been told are the toughest two months in medical academic libraries’ calendar year and also partially to spend some time with my bf who just got back from a two week trip abroad.  🙂  Many things on this list were covered, including pumpkin spice latte and pie.  We made an apple pie together with apples we got from the orchard ourselves, and it was amazingly delicious.  Special thanks to my daddy for sharing his pie crust secrets.

As for the blog, you may have noticed that my most recent read was actually four books in one, and you really should check it out particularly if you are a scifi or 1950s American culture fan.  That slowed the reviews down a bit, but I have this new rule where I won’t kick myself over my book numbers being lower because I read a long book (or two. or three!).  Big books shouldn’t be left on the sidelines purely for being big. 😉

Happy weekends and happy fall, all!