By Ariana Salvo
I am sitting at my writing desk on a pearly grey morning thinking about books. And tea. I’ve read a lot of very good books over the last few months, and likewise drunk many cups of my favourite varieties of Lady Baker’s Tea (Keemun and Golden Monkey in the morning; Lady’s Slipper in the afternoon; Moonlong in the evening ). Here on Prince Edward Island, we’ve entered a tentative spring. The trees and shrubs are covered in hopeful buds, but from a distance they still appear bare. The tips of the tulip leaves are just pushing up, but they are taking their good time. The only plant courageous enough to be in full bloom this early is the tiny but mighty crocus. Fence lines and garden beds are peppered with purple and yellow flowers, a sure sign that spring is on its way.
I’ve spent this past winter working on my own novel, but when I wasn’t writing, I was often curled up with my head buried deep in the pages of other people’s books. Reading is a constant source of inspiration for my own writing. There are few things that bring me greater joy than getting to spend a few hours with a good book, and other than having my cat curled up by my side purring contentedly, there is little that makes a book more enjoyable than sipping a cup of Lady Baker’s Tea while I read. For those looking for some tea and book pairings this spring, you’ve come to the right place! Here are my spring 2023 book and tea recommendations:
Go As A River tells the life story of Victoria Nash, a young woman growing up on a peach farm in the Gunnison River valley in Colorado. Having lost anyone she could have even remotely called a friend, we learn that Victoria feels a stronger sense of belonging with the river valley and the plants and animals she has grown up with than she does with her human family. Victoria lost her mother when she was still a child, and had to become the matriarch of her family, tending to the needs to the men, taking care of the animals and learning to nurture the fruit trees, all while feeling unappreciated and unseen by her father, brother, and uncle.
Victoria’s one desire is to be seen and loved for who she is—not just for her usefulness on the farm. A 'chance' encounter with Wil, an Indigenous man who is mistreated by most of the town, becomes the unlikely source of love and deep connection. Naïve and blinded by love, she and Wil make decisions that reshape and transform them, their extended family, the larger community, the animals and plants that they love, and ultimately the entire river valley within which their lives rest. This novel is about the interconnectedness of human beings and the natural world, and the ways that the internal spiritual landscape shapes and is in turn shaped by the external landscape. It is also about the complexity of love; how our perception is influenced by our limited understanding of reality; and the ways that time, loss, and hardship enlarge our capacity for connection and empathy.
By the end of the story, you will feel an intimacy with Iola and the Gunnison River valley that only those committed and resilient enough to remain living in one place over many generations ever experience. As Victoria navigates through the changing landscape of her family, her intimate relationships, her own body, the political and cultural environment around her, and the river valley itself, she gradually redefines her self-worth, claims her own power, re-writes her family's history, and charts an intentional and courageous course forward.
I would pair this book with Peach my Cheeks, a Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka tossed with dried papaya, peach and apricot, blackberry leaves, calendula, and sunflower petals. If you close your eyes and inhale while sipping this delectable tea, you could easily be reading beneath a canopy of peach trees in Victoria’s orchard. This tea is delicious hot, but I also enjoy it iced in the warmer months, with honey for added sweetness.
I’ve been looking for a new murder mystery series to sink my teeth into, so when I came across Richard Osman’s new series (of which The Thursday Murder Club is the first), I was intrigued. Set in a retirement community in Kent, the series follows the lives of a group of retirees who, as a means of entertaining themselves in what would otherwise be a rather sleepy community, decide to create a club in which they work together to solve unsolved murders.
In this first book, the group’s digging into cold cases is interrupted by a murder on their own doorstep. Led by Elizabeth, a woman who, it quickly becomes apparent, has a rather shadowy background, the group, who were all extremely accomplished in their chosen professional fields prior to retirement, get to work on finding the murderer. Tapping into their considerable network of contacts and finding ways to trick the police into sharing information, the Thursday Murder Club efficiently charms their way to solving the crime.
What is most delightful about this book is its characters and the quirky relationships that they have with each other. The wit is sharp, the humour dry, and the plot unpredictable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel (and the next two in the series!).
I would pair this book with Golden Monkey, because there is a lot of monkey business going on beneath the surface! Nothing is as it appears. Every character has secrets, and it is the details about characters that are hidden from us that become the reasons why the group is so successful at solving murders. Golden Monkey is grown in the high altitude of China's Wuyi mountains. Full-bodied, sweet, and smooth, it has an exotic flavour that makes it the perfect tea to enjoy on special occasions—like, for example, when attempting to solve a murder!
I came across this novel by chance at the bookstore. The story is set at Windsor Castle, where Queen Elizabeth II wakes the morning after a dinner party to discover that one of her guests has been murdered in his room. Horrified that such a crime could have been committed in her own castle, and not happy with the direction that the official police investigation is taking, the Queen takes matters into her own hands and begins her own (secret) investigation with the help of her Anglo-Nigerian secretary, Rozie. The premise of this book is that Queen Elizabeth has been leading a double life since her coronation. She may be a skilled monarch, but she is an equally brilliant sleuth. Wildly improbable, I know but the plot is so well-handled, the characters so witty and the humour so wry that I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief. I’m glad I did. S.J. Bennett writes crisp prose that moves at a swift pace, I was intrigued by the ways that she humanized the Monarch, and I thought that the Queen and Rozie made the perfect crime-solving duo. If you enjoy British humour, and are looking for a light read that will make you chuckle, I would recommend picking up a copy of this one.
I would pair this book with a bright, coppery cup of Earl Grey tea—the Queen’s favourite, and a tea made fashionable by the British Prime Minister, the Earl Charles Grey, in the 1830s. Infused with oil of bergamot, this tea is an excellent biscuit-dipper!
Beyond That, The Sea is a relationship-driven story that highlights the powerful ways that the land and seascapes we grow up interacting with shape who we are and how we perceive the world. It is also a story about the transformational force of physical and emotional closeness and distance (those forced upon us, and those we choose to put between ourselves and those we love). I loved the pace and rich tapestry of flawed and profoundly tender human relationships developed over the first two-thirds or so of the novel. The repetition of certain images, such as the one in which one of the main characters rows out to an island later in the book, which mirrors a similar journey taken by another character earlier in the story, created a strong sense of the importance of traditions and values passed down from one generation to the next, and how war and geographic separation can impede this from happening.
This is a book about intergenerational courage and loss, choices and secrets. It is also a story about the ultimate power of love to heal past decisions and wounds, and entertain the possibility of a different kind of future. This story, which moves back and forth between the Northeastern US and in the UK, will be particularly resonant for those whose lives have been shaped by more than one home.
I would pair this novel with Lady Baker’s London Fog because the main character moves from London to the US to escape the London Blitz, and her life on the other side of the ocean from her family is constantly experienced through the filter of displacement and the disorientation of never really knowing what her parents lived through. This tea is a blend of Cream Earl Grey, Vanilla Almond Rooibos and Lady Baker TLC. Every sip will leave the creamy sweetness of vanilla on your tongue.
I have to be honest: I first picked this novel up because of its’ cover. It’s gorgeous (click the link to see for yourselves). That said, I was drawn to read it when I noticed that the story is about three strong women with a deep connection to the natural world attempting to forge their own paths in communities in which empowered women are not well tolerated. The three stories are that of Altha, who lives in the 1600s and is accused of witchcraft when a local farmer is stampeded to death by his cattle; Violet, who is living in her family’s estate during world war II where her family devotes much of their energy to making sure that she does not turn out like her mother, the family mystery that nobody wants to talk about; and Kate, who, after inheriting a cottage from an aunt she barely remembers, flees her abusive marriage in the hope of a fresh start. As the story unfolds, the mystery of the women’s shared connection is slowly revealed, and Kate begins to realize that her best chance at building the new life she so desperately wants may require that she claim as her own the very mysterious powers that her predecessors had to deny to survive.
I would pair this with Willow’s Dream, a Lady Baker’s signature blend of cream earl grey and lavender. Not only does it taste like a dream, but, speckled with dry cornflower petals and lavender, it looks like a brew that Altha and her mother might have enjoyed on a chilly winter’s night back in 1619. Lavender is also medicinal. This tea will calm your nerves and wash away your worries as you sip!
If you do try out any of my recommended pairings, let me know what you think in the comments section! Happy tea-sipping and book-reading, friends!