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Tea and Books: Summer reads on rainy days

By: Ariana Salvo

In the summer one of my favourite activities is sipping a glass of one of my favourite Lady Baker's iced teas and a reading a good book on the beach while listening to the waves gentle lap against the shore. Today is June 24th. Elsewhere it is officially summer, but here on Prince Edward Island the season is reluctant to begin, so I find myself inside on a grey, rainy day sipping hot tea. Since I'm stuck inside I started reflecting on some of the books I've really enjoyed recently, and thought this would be the perfect time to share some of them with you. That way at least someone will be sipping iced tea and reading a good book on a beach! 

Those of you who have read my tea and books posts before will know that I think that certain books accentuate specific teas and particular teas complement and enrich the experience of reading certain books. Below are three suggestions for good summer reads and the teas that I recommend sipping while you read them: 

1. The Water Rat of Wanchai & The Dragon Head of Hong Kong by Ian Hamilton and Matcha Green tea.  

I discovered Ian Hamilton's Ava Lee series this past fall when someone recommended The Water Rat of Wanchai and its prequel The Dragon Head of Hong Kong. By the end of the first novel I was officially hooked, and I went on to read the remaining 7 books in the series, and am now anxiously awaiting the publication of the next book, due out in January 2019. Ian Hamilton is a Canadian writer, and his main character is Ava Lee, a young 20 something Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant from Toronto. Not cut out for corporate work, Ava has created her own forensic accounting firm, and one of her first clients is a fellow Chinese immigrant who has been swindled out of an enormous sum of money. He hires Ava to try to track it down and get it back for him. Thus begins an adventure that takes Ava to China where she crosses paths with 'Uncle,' a well-respected former mob boss who is running a debt collecting business. Ava and Uncle work together to locate and restore the money to its rightful owner, and in the process establish a strong professional relationship that serves as the springboard for the next books in the series. Hamilton has done a terrific job of developing a strong, empowered and intelligent female character in Ava, and I find her personality quirks and interests make her both very relatable and at the same time inspiring. The plot is unpredictable and gripping. This is one of those books that you will want to stay up all night reading to find out what happens, and when you do, you will be heading out to your local bookstore to purchase the next few books in the series so that nothing interrupts your flow. 

I would froth some milk and sip an iced Matcha Green tea while reading this novel. Matcha has an underlying earthy grassiness to it, and is a slow-release caffeine so it keeps you energized over longer periods of time, much like the main character in the Ava Lee series. The leaves are shaded 3 weeks before plucking in order for the plants to produce higher than normal chlorophyll levels. After plucking, the leaves are steamed, dried and stripped of all stems and veins, resulting in a pure leaf that is stone-ground into a fine powder enabling the leaf to be consumed in its entirety and providing more nutrients. I recommend sweetening the milk slightly to round off the flavour of the tea.

2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and Cucumber Melon Green tea.

This is the first in a series of books also, coincidentally, by a Canadian author. The mystery, set in the English countryside in the 1950s, stars 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce. Flavia is a self-proclaimed chemist (with her own lab and all), an expert investigator, and the youngest of three sisters who live in what seems like it is generally a relatively quiet village in the English countryside until people start getting murdered, quite to Flavia's delight. It has been a long time since I have read a book with a protagonist who gives me as much pleasure as Flavia does. She is brilliant far beyond her years, but just when you begin to forget her age she does something that only a precocious 11-year-old would do. I have not laughed out loud this much when reading a book in a very long time. The plot is tight, there are surprises at every turn, and any reservations I had about having a child as the main character in a murder mystery were quickly dispelled. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and was very happy to hear that there are already nine more in the series. I have read the next two thus far and am happy to report that I will be spending a lot more time with Flavia this summer.

Lady Baker's Cucumber Melon Green tea would be the perfect tea to enjoy while reading this novel for a number of reasons. The first is that the combination of dried cucumber and the blend of green teas from China and Japan makes a super refreshing drink on hot summer days. The second is that Flavia discovers the murder victim's body in the cucumber patch. I recommend adding a thin slice of fresh summer cucumber and a splash of homemade lemonade to your cup.  

3. The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish and Organic Awesome Assam

The Weight of Ink is a truly epic novel reminiscent of People of the Book, another favourite of mine. It tells the story of a female Jewish scribe living in London in the 1600s who went against all cultural and religious expectations to pursue her passion for religious scholarship at a time when women were not considered capable of comprehending religious texts. The story jumps back and forth from modern day England where a couple who are attempting to renovate their home instead discover a pile of Portuguese and Hebrew correspondence that dates back to the 1600s. They bring in professor Helen Watt, a historian with a love of Jewish history and an American graduate student Aaron Levy to try to identify who wrote these documents and what historical significance they hold. The details are exquisite, and the reality of the Scribe, Ester Velasquez and that of Helen and Aaron's academic quest to uncover the truth of the story surrounding the papers come alive and leap off the pages. This is an excellent work of historical fiction and also a gripping and engaging story that is difficult to put down. It is also is 600 pages long -- and I am a great lover of long, well-written novels! 

This novel warrants a full-bodied classic tea, so I would pair it with our Organic Awesome Assam bright, coppery-coloured organic tea from Northern India, with a hint of malt. Delicious either cold or hot, a splash of milk subtly enhances the flavour, which pairs beautifully with biscuits of any kind.

I hope you have enjoyed this month's tea and novel recommendations! If you read any of these please come back and leave me a comment below this post. I would love to know what you think!  

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