Two Reviews: The Cookbook Club and Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop

I recently read advanced review copies of two novels that helped me kick my book blockage. Neither is out just yet, so you’ll have to make sure you add them to your TBR list for later. 

The Cookbook Club by Beth Harbison is about three women who come together through a cookbook club. Margo has just been dumped by her husband–he’s moving to San Francisco without her. She’s really annoyed because she’s been unhappy for a long time, but felt like she couldn’t rock the boat and leave the marriage. And then her husband dumps her! Aja is in a relationship with an older, wealthy businessman who doesn’t treat her very well. And, she’s got a secret she won’t be able to hid much longer. Finally, there’s Trista, who left her lawyer job and bought a bar. She’s got a lot of work to do to make the bar a success and may be in over her head. 

A trio of unlikely friends, yet their monthly cookbook club has all three women indulging in their love of food and developing a strong friendship. The food in this novel is mouthwatering, and features a lot of familiar cookbooks. This novel was a short, quick read that put a smile on my face. Loved it. 

It’s not out in the U.S. until October! Ugh. Something to look forward to for cool nights later this year. I give it a 4/6 for a fun novel with likable characters. It has inspired me to try new dishes this summer. 

42190175 - Two Reviews: The Cookbook Club and Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop

Roselle Lim’s second novel was just as much fun as her first novel, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. Vanessa Yu has a big family in Palo Alto, California. She’s an accountant who works for the family tea business. It’s an okay job, but not what she really wants to do. Vanessa is also one of two people in her big family that has the gift of prophecy. Yes, she’s a fortune teller, and it’s something Vanessa has tried to avoid her whole life. They come out of the blue, and she can’t help but spit them out, whether they are good or bad fortunes. Her Aunt Evelyn is also a fortune teller, and has managed her gift so well it’s effortless. A few terrible fortunes for two family members force Vanessa to realize she needs to embrace her gift and learn to control it. Off to Paris she goes with Aunt Evelyn, who is opening a special tea shop in a quaint neighborhood. 

In Paris, Vanessa’s love of food and art sends her out and about, and bumping into a potential love interest-even though she knows it will never last. And she suspects there’s something Aunt Evelyn is keeping secret; the reason she’s moved to Paris and left her whole family behind. How will Vanessa learn to control her gift and be able to find her true calling? 

This was such a fun book to read. Again, another book with so much delicious food that you’ll find it hard not to drool. Add in some delicious tea blends and a bit of magic, and you’ll love this perfect summer read. 

This novel will be out in early August, 2020 in the U.S. A perfect end of summer read. 
Rating: 4/6 for a magical novel about love, family loyalty, art, happiness, and taking chances. And the food! Yum! 

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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