#BookReview: That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf by Kimberly Lemming

#BookReview: That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf by Kimberly LemmingThat Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf (Mead Mishaps, 2) by Kimberly Lemming
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance, romantasy
Series: Mead Mishaps #2
Pages: 288
Published by Orbit on February 6, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Cheesemaker Brie has the world’s worst luck in love, which is how she ends up falling for a lactose intolerant werewolf, in this raunchy, laugh-out-loud rom-com fantasy by the genre’s freshest new voice, Kimberly Lemming.

Brie’s never been particularly coordinated…or lucky. Who else would accidentally throw a drink at someone’s head only to miss entirely and hit a stranger behind them? And who else would have that stranger fall madly in love with them because it turns out that the drink she threw was a love potion? Yeah, probably just Brie.…

Running her cheese business and dealing with a pirate ship full of demons that just moved into town was hard enough. Now on top of it, she has to convince a werewolf that she’s not really his fated mate. Though even she’s got to admit…having a gorgeous man show up and do all her chores while telling her she’s beautiful isn’t the worst thing to happen to a girl.

My Review:

Unlike Cin in the first book in the Mead Mishaps series, That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon, Brie wasn’t quite THAT drunk, and she wasn’t even aiming at the werewolf. She caught him anyway, and thereby, quite literally, hangs a tail.

The tail that Felix, the werewolf of the title, can’t stop himself from wagging whenever Brie is anywhere near him – at least when he’s furry. There are plenty of other things bobbing and weaving when she’s around when he’s NOT furry.

But is obviously still very, very happy to see her.

I just started in the middle, didn’t I? That’s actually kind of apropos, as That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf is the second or even more on point, the middle book in the Mead Mishaps series that began with That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon.

Back to Brie, drinking at the local watering hole in Boohail, fending off the smarmy, amorous and utterly clueless advances of one of the local get-rich-quick-scheme types who’s after her for her small plot of land and not for any of her other abundant assets.

A man who won’t take “no” for an answer in the most teeth-grinding and utterly self-absorbed way possible. (I thought at this point we had a possible ‘Gaston’ situation here, but he’s not quite that bad and certainly can’t convince nearly enough people to form a mob to come after anyone with torches and pitchforks – otherwise one of his get rich quick schemes would have worked and he might not be pursuing Brie.) He’s just the unfortunately all too common variety of male who is certain that if he hears a woman say ‘no’ in his general direction that he must have misunderstood – or that she must be misunderstanding herself.

Unfortunately, we ALL know the type.

So he goes out and buys a love potion – does his damndest to get Brie to take it and drink it – and she’s had enough. Up to HERE and over it, and yeets the disgustingly pink potion (think Pepto-Bismol pink because I certainly did) across the room, intending it to hit the asshole in the face.

He ducks, the love potion hits Pirate Werewolf Felix in the face, and we’re back to the hanging – and or wagging – of that tail again.

Because the love potion works, dammit. Felix falls instantly in love with Brie. Which is GREAT because he really is everything that other guy thinks he is. With a cherry on top. Felix is the fulfillment of every single one of Brie’s not so secret yearnings.

What he’s not, or not exactly, or Brie isn’t nearly so certain as Felix is about the whole thing, is consenting. He says he’s imprinted and that Brie is his true, fated, mate, while she says he’s under the influence of a potion and CAN’T really consent and can’t possibly be sure whether she’s his mate or not. He says he is but she doesn’t want to be abandoned again and they’re both trying to be oh-so-damned noble about the whole thing.

Which is when unattached females in Boohail start disappearing and Felix has to do his best and his damndest – and he’s certainly capable of both at the same time – to get Brie as attached to him as he is to her and as permanently as possible.

Of course it’s too late for that. All the way around.

Escape Rating B: I picked this up because DAMN the first book was so much fun that I couldn’t resist collecting the set. (Which means I’ll be reviewing the third book in the series, That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Human, sometime in March.)

On the one hand, it’s hard to worry about spoilers with this series, because the titles do generally give the first part of the game away. In that first book, Cin really does get blind drunk and accidentally save a demon.

It turns out that Cin didn’t just save one demon – she saved ALL the demons. And helped a bunch of those demons to take over a pirate ship. And kill a goddess who was really just a different kind of demon in disguise imprisoning ALL the demons and leeching magic from all the humans.

It was a GREAT gig until Cin and Company spoiled it for her. It’s also where this second entry in the series picks up and runs away with the story – and not in any of the directions that first seem obvious. Which, come to think of it, is EXACTLY the way things worked out the first time around!

And just like in the previous book, and just as much fun as that first time around, this second cozy fantasy with sexytimes combines (frequently and often but not nearly as frequently and often as either Felix or Brie REALLY want) two tastes that go really GREAT together. There’s a surprisingly sweet romance between a girl who wants to do the right thing even if kills her and a werewolf who is sure that what they are doing IS the right thing if only she’d stop worrying about the love potion – at least right up until the point he realizes that he really, Really, REALLY should have worried a bit more about the love potion. And on the other hand, the need to foil a terrible plot to fill the worldwide vacancy in the deity department with a new face slapped on the same old trickster.

Mead Mishaps is the kind of lighthearted cozy fantasy romance to read when you’re just looking for a good reading time and to finish the last page with a smile on your face because it’s just a whole lot of fun. That the fun conceals a more fully-fledged than expected fantasy behind the gauzy but transparent curtains of its romance and sexytimes is just icing on an already delicious cake. A cake that foodie Cin would bake with oodles of cinnamon – of course – while Brie might prefer a cheese wheel. But it’s the thought that counts, after all.

I’m looking forward to one more trip to Boohail next month with That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Human. Because so far this series has managed to tickle both my sweet tooth and my funny bone and I’m happy to be coming back for one more round!

#BookReview: That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon by Kimberly Lemming

#BookReview: That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon by Kimberly LemmingThat Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon (Mead Mishaps, #1) by Kimberly Lemming
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance, romantasy, cozy fantasy
Series: Mead Mishaps #1
Pages: 288
Published by Orbit on January 2, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Spice trader Cinnamon's quiet life is turned upside down when she ends up on a quest with a fiery demon in this irreverently quirky rom-com fantasy that is sweet, steamy, and funny as hell—perfect for fans of  Legends & Lattes  and  The Dragon's Bride. 
All she wanted to do was live her life in peace—maybe get a cat, expand the family spice farm. Really, anything that didn't involve going on an adventure where an orc might rip her face off. But they say the Goddess has favorite, and if so, Cin is clearly not one of them... 
After saving the demon Fallon in a wine-drunk stupor, all Fallon wants to do is kill an evil witch enslaving his people. And, who can blame him? But he's dragging Cinnamon along for the ride. On the bright side, at least he keeps burning off his shirt.

My Review:

There’s a reason this series is titled Mead Mishaps, and when we first meet Cin at the Hero’s Call Festival in her home village of Boohail, we’re dropped right into the thick of it. Or perhaps that should be right into the bottom of a mug of mead, because Cin is literally drunk off her ass when her story begins.

Not that she’d have wanted to think of it that way. Because Cin has become allergic to adventure after losing her sister Cherry to some kind of river monster while they were out on a little adventure of their own. And the Hero’s Call Festival is all about that call to adventure – and Cin wants no part of it.

Although she, along with most of the village, are happy to celebrate the departure of the young woman who has been called to adventure by their goddess Myva to defend the gate to the demon wastelands.

That’s kind of how those stories go, at least without the local attitude about the newly appointed heroine, Priscilla. She’s a lot, and she’s been even more of herself since she was called to join the band of heroes this time around. The village will be happy to see the back of her – in more ways than one.

Everyone in Boohail thinks that the whole adventure/hero thing is settled for the next 15 years, when the gate will open again. Cin is glad it’s not her – or so she believes – and not in the last bit sad that her ex has been chosen as one of the other heroes – or so she tells herself.

But keeping herself convinced requires a LOT of mead. Which is why she’s still more than a bit hungover when she saves the life of an injured man. Who is considerably more than merely a man – also and very much in more ways than one.

He’s a very large, very scary, and surprisingly articulate demon. All of which is supposed to be impossible. Demons are supposed to be safely kept far, far away from Boohail, on the other side of that gate that the just-departed heroes have run off to defend. Demons are supposed to be growling, grunting, inhuman monsters.

Fallon, however, is a big man with a very large plan, a plan that is about to shake Cin’s world to its knees – as well as knocking her straight into an adventure the likes of which she never could have imagined.

Escape Rating B: Every single thing that Cin thinks about her world and herself, and that the reader thinks is happening in it and to her, gets upended pretty much in the first few chapters. Except for one very important thing. As soon as we spend even half a minute inside Cin’s already half drunk head, it’s pretty damn obvious that this book is going to be an absolute romp of an adventure from beginning to end.

The fantasy setup has been done before. It’s one of those stories where everything the protagonist thinks they know turns out to be wrong, wrong, wrong. There are plenty of such stories built on those revelations being revealed, and everyone coming unglued along with them, and angsting over every betrayal.

That’s where this series turns that upending on its own head. Not that what turns out to be a quest and a road trip doesn’t have its serious side, but overall the quest is played mostly for laughs. The villain is truly villainous, and she absolutely has a damn good scam going with some terrible consequences, but overall it seems like her ultimate defeat is inevitable from the first reveal and the fun of the thing is in the journey.

The hard part of that journey, in so many senses of the word, many of which are played for salacious titters to VERY good effect, is the progress of the romance between the demon Fallon and the Spice Girl (literally, Cin’s full name is Cinnamon, she grows cinnamon on her family’s spice farm). It’s clear to everyone except Cin that Fallon is all in on their relationship – if not yet into all of Cin’s private places – from the moment they meet. Cin’s the one who needs some convincing – not about whether she and Fallon set each other on fire – but whether his fire and her desire to never get burned again have a chance at a future.

But they sure do have a LOT of fun, sexy times finding out!

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon is a lighthearted romp of a cozy fantasy that never fades to black when the romance heats up and sets fire to the sheets. It’s an excellent reading time that will leave any romantasy reader with a smile on their face.

So it’s a good thing that this is the first of a trilogy, and that the next book in the series, That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf, will be coming (along with a whole new pirate ship load of sexy puns) next month!

A- #BookReview: Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson

A- #BookReview: Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby OlsonMiss Percy's Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (Miss Percy Guide, #1) by Quenby Olson
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, historical fantasy
Series: Miss Percy Guide #1
Pages: 397
on October 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.
Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…
Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.
The egg - as eggs are wont to do - decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.”
But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.

My Review:

At first, Miss Percy seems like a rather quiet and retiring sort of person, and her book seems like a rather quiet and cozy sort of book. Both of these things are true – and both of them are not.

Miss Percy is quiet because it has become the only way she can survive as a disregarded, disapproved of and constantly overseen and overworked spinster in the household her sister rules with an iron fist.

The meek, mild mouse of a woman is not the person Mildred Percy aspired to be when she was an adventurous child. It’s not even the person she planned to be when she chose to stay at home and nurse her ailing father.

It’s just what happened along the way of putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day as an unmarried gentlewoman of no independent means whatsoever. It was the safe and easy path.

At least until her Great-Uncle Forthright died and left her a trunk full of bits and bobs and papers and oddments, the detritus of a scientific mind and an adventurous life. A life that he has, wittingly or not, passed to the great-niece he remembered as a free-spirited girl three decades gone.

But surprisingly, and delightfully come again, while dragging the trunk of legacy secretly away from her sister’s overbearing presence and opinions, and straight into the brawny arms of the local vicar, Mr. Wiggan – an unmarried man of a certain age not too far at all from her own.

A man of God Mr. Wiggan may be, but he also possesses every bit of the same spirit of discovery and adventure that her late, great-uncle did, as well as a willingness to help her investigate that legacy.

Which turns out to include, not just books and papers, but also a well-wrapped, deeply hidden, curious looking rock. A rock which hatches into an equally curious dragon.

And thereby hangs a tale of adventure, discover, and even romance of Miss Mildred Percy’s own, as Mildred’s – and Mr. Wiggan’s – efforts to save and protect the little dragon burn away the shyness and diffidence that have held both of them back.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I saw it on a list of cozy fantasies, and it seemed like the perfect book for a chilly winter weekend. And it was calling my name rather loudly, with occasional puffs of smoke for emphasis.

While of course I fell in love with the little dragon – just as Mildred does – I stayed for Mildred, very much in the way that I got so thoroughly stuck into all of the protagonists in the Never Too Old to Save the World collection. Because Mildred had become convinced that her time was passed and that she had no choice but to cover under her sister’s thumb, raise her sister’s children, and take up as little space as possible in a household where she was forced to live on the tiniest amount of sufferance possible.

The little dragon, with his puffs of smoky breath and occasionally sparky sneezes, lit a fire in Mildred that had been banked so thoroughly that the embers sputtered A LOT before they finally caught. And caught Mildred up in the radical idea that, at forty years of age, she still had plenty of time for adventures if only she could just bring her courage to the sticking point, defy her sister, and seize the days yet to come.

So, just as the little dragon hatches from his shell, we follow along with Mildred as she cracks open her own. She might not have been willing to step out of her comfort zone just for herself, because her whole life has taught her that’s not her place, but she will take on all comers to keep the dragon safe – no matter how much she shakes in her boots as she fights her battles on his behalf.

As much as I was enjoying Mildred’s hesitant steps towards adventure, the tone of this book teased me for multiple chapters as I settled in for this cozy winter read. Because it reads a bit like Pride and Prejudice – not in the plot, but in the setting, the characters and the writing style. Particularly as Mildred’s sister, Mrs. Diana Muncy, reads very, very much like a smarter, meaner version of Mrs. Bennet from Jane Austen’s classic romance and comedy of manners.

I got so deeply into the story that it took me halfway through before the dragon’s name dropped the clue-by-four on my head – just as the villains attempted to throw the creature from a second-story window. (The dragon has wings, so things did not go AT ALL according to their dastardly plan.) They named the dragon Fitz, after, of course, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Making the ‘pocket’ description of Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care & Feeding of British Dragons – you guessed it and I’m chagrined at how long it took me to – Pride and Prejudice and Dragons!

Which is not played for nearly as many over-the-top laughs and innuendos as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So, if you think Pride and Prejudice was a good story that just needed more dragons, this cozy fantasy is a delight from beginning to end.

Certainly this reader was utterly delighted by the whole saga, which means that I’m doubly pleased that Mildred’s, Fitz’ and Mr. Wiggan’s adventures are far from over. The next book in this charming cozy fantasy series, Miss Percy’s Travel Guide to Welsh Moors and Feral Dragons, is already out and rapidly clawing its way up my virtually towering TBR pile for the next time I’m in the mood for a cozy fantasy with more dragons!

Review: Evergreen Chase by Juneau Black + Giveaway

Review: Evergreen Chase by Juneau Black + GiveawayEvergreen Chase: A Shady Hollow Mystery Short Story by Juneau Black
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery, holiday fiction
Series: Shady Hollow #3.5
Pages: 32
Published by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard on November 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

It’s the winter solstice in Shady Hollow, that magical time of year when creatures of all shapes and sizes come together to honor the season and eat as much pie as possible. Reporter Vera Vixen is eager to experience her first holiday in town and is especially looking forward to the unveiling of the solstice tree. But then disaster strikes. The year’s tree—the tallest in the forest—has disappeared without a trace. Can Vera, her best friend, Lenore, and Deputy Orville Braun find the tree and save the season? Or will this year’s solstice be especially dark?

My Review:

Today is Black Friday in the U.S., that unofficial holiday after the official Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Traditionally, this was the day when holiday decorating ‘officially’ kicked off, and anyplace that had not already started playing Xmas carols started doing so with a vengeance. So, as this feels like the right day, at least to me, to start reviewing holiday books, I’m kicking off my holiday season with this Shady Hollow winter solstice story.

This is explicitly not a Christmas story, just as Phantom Pond was not explicitly a Halloween story. The historical and religious underpinnings of both of those holidays in our world don’t exist in the animal-centric world of Shady Hollow.

But that doesn’t mean that something like those holidays wouldn’t, doesn’t or hasn’t arisen in other cultures – and that particularly applies to the winter solstice. Many, many traditions have holidays around the solstice, and Shady Hollow wouldn’t be exceptional in marking the shortest day of the year – even if they might be a bit exceptional in just how they do that marking.

Along with the touch of mystery that makes the series so very much fun!

The tradition in Shady Hollow is to ‘walk’ the specially chosen Solstice tree from the surrounding woods to the center of town, where it will be decorated and feted and brightly lit to chase away the darkness of the longest night.

The trees are chosen decades in advance and tended lovingly by specially appointed treekeepers until their appointed day as the center of the whole town’s attention and celebration.

But someone has stolen this year’s tree – all FIFTY FEET of it – the night before its celebratory walk. The whole town is enraged, incensed, and practically in mourning over the loss of their tree.

It will take the efforts of every animal in town, from Police Bear Orville Braun to ace investigative reporter Vera Vixen to all the birds around town, led by night-owl Professor Heidegger and bookstore owner Lenore the Raven to find the tree in time.

The longest night comes early in Shady Hollow, and time is running out.

Escape Rating B: Shady Hollow may sound a bit twee, but it’s really a LOT more like Zootopia – at least if the movie had been set in Judy Hopp’s rural Bunnyburrow instead of Nick Wilde’s big city. A reflection that reporter Vera Vixen frequently makes herself, as she used to be a resident of one of those big cities but has found cozy Shady Hollow to be a lot more to her taste.

The Shady Hollow series as a whole, are lovely, charming, and very cozy mysteries – and Evergreen Chase is no exception. At the same time, the use of animals as people gives the author all sorts of opportunities to include comments about human behavior hiding in plain sight – or under the bare covering of a pawkerchief.

Like many of the stories in this series, there’s a mystery, but it’s a gentle one. No one is dead, no one is likely to end up dead, but the town’s collective anguish is still VERY real, as someone has literally stolen one of their beloved traditions right out from under them.

That the town pulls together to celebrate the solstice with or without the tree is all part of the series’ charm. That they have their own solstice miracle just adds to the sweetness of both the story and the holiday season – both theirs and ours.

So this feels like its a short story for the many fans of the series, of which I am mostly definitely one. And it turned out to be the perfect start for my holiday reading. (As much as I enjoyed The Wishing Bridge reading it last week made me want to give myself a ‘ten-yard penalty for rushing the season.’ Reading Evergreen Chase felt like a ‘proper’ start to the season.)

It did also remind me of another lovely holiday story that uses animals to tell an entirely different but equally charming human story. If Shady Hollow sounds charming but you’ve never watched Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, well, let this be the season to get the song, “There Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub” stuck in your head, just like it is in mine this time of year!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Black Friday is just a weird day. It’s not a holiday, but it still feels like part of a holiday. Unless one works in retail, because it’s most definitely, absolutely not a holiday under those conditions! Also weird, but along the U.S./Canadian border, even though there is no Thanksgiving Thursday in Canada (Canadian Thanksgiving is in mid-October), there is mostly definitely a Black Friday complete with Black Friday sales.

But it’s a day when not many people may be reading blogs – possibly because in the U.S. they are either still in a turkey coma or because they’re off trying to grab the best Black Friday deals. So, for those who are staying home, I have a bit of a giveaway for you.

It’ll just be a little something to put in someone’s holiday stocking, but it’s just a way to say ‘THANKS!’ to all of you who have spent a bit of time with me over the year at chez Reading Reality.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Twilight Falls by Juneau Black

Review: Twilight Falls by Juneau BlackTwilight Falls (Shady Hollow, #4) by Juneau Black
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery
Series: Shady Hollow #4
Pages: 259
Published by Vintage on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The fourth book in the Shady Hollow mystery series sees Vera embroiled in a case involving star-crossed lovers whose affair may have turned deadly.
It's spring in Shady Hollow, and romance is in the air. Even reporter Vera Vixen is caught up in the season as her relationship with new police chief Orville Braun blossoms. But true love is not always smooth sailing, as two of the hollow's young residents come to find. Jonah Atwater and Stasia von Beaverpelt find themselves battling their families in order to be together. And when Alan's father, Shelby, goes over the top of Twilight Falls, all signs point to Stasia being the murderer.
The evidence against Stasia appears overwhelming, and Orville arrests her. It looks like the case is closed, but Vera isn't so sure. There are almost too many clues indicating Stasia is the killer, leading her to suspect someone is setting Stasia up. Besides, what about the mysterious ghostly creature skulking around town at night? Maybe he or she was involved? As Vera investigates further, her sleuthing puts her in direct opposition to Orville, and soon she's stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble.

My Review:

Twilight Falls turned out to be a refreshing breath of spring, the perfect antidote to the wintry conditions descending upon us these days.

It was also a delightful twisty little mystery, as the Shady Hollow series oh-so-frequently turns out to be.

Our story begins as a celebration of all things spring. The days are getting longer and warmer, the flowers are poking their heads out of the ground, the cherry blossoms are having their all-too-brief season and the apple trees have put on their glorious display just in time for Shady Hollow’s annual Apple Blossom Walk Festival for the benefit of the local charities. It’s a celebration of everyone’s survival from the winter, while acknowledging that some creatures’ survival cut a little too close to the bone in one way or another. The funds raised at the Festival go to those in need, while everyone has a great time celebrating the season.

It’s just that kind of celebration – albeit a bit more impromptu one – where the crime that ties the whole town in knots occurs. Twilight Falls, so named because the water at its base always seems to be shrouded in the gloam of twilight, is just far enough out in the woods – or in this case up the river – to seem like a great place to get away for a day.

On this particular weekend day, a LOT of the townsfolk have taken the opportunity of the warmer weather to take the ferry up to Twilight Falls for a day of frolicking for the little ones and perhaps a bit of canoodling for the courting couples on the trip.

Those courting couples include investigative reporter Vera Vixen and her beau, Police Chief Orville Braun, along with a picnic basket and a rare opportunity to spend time together without either of their jobs getting in the way.

Unfortunately, one of the other courting couples consists of Stasia von Beaverpelt, spoiled daughter of the town’s biggest employer,  and her considerably less well-to-do boyfriend, working-class otter Jonah Atwater.

Unlike the cross-species relationship between Vera and Orville, both Stasia and Jonah still have parents around to object, most vigorously, about their romance. Jonah’s father has been objecting so strenuously, loudly and publicly that it’s more of a disappointment than a surprise that he tags along on the ferry to interfere yet again.

But it IS very much of a surprise when the senior Atwater is seen to have an altercation at the top of the falls with a mysterious adversary who draws a knife and pitches him over the Falls – presumably to his doom.

Or at least to the doom of Stasia and Jonah’s romance.

Escape Rating A-: Shady Hollow fits right into the cozy fantasy vibe that has become so popular, and it certainly is a comforting addition (or addiction) to the genre.

I was initially, back in the first book, Shady Hollow, expecting the setup to be more than a bit twee. Surprisingly, it’s not. Not even when taking word substitutions like ‘pawkerchief’ for ‘handkerchief’ into account.

The small town of Shady Hollow is every bit as cozy and twee as the setting of any small-town cozy mystery series, but not actually any more than that. Instead, the various creatures’ species turn out to be a way of highlighting character traits that in human-centric cozies has to be just a bit more explicitly revealed.

But the story proceeds the way that small-town cozies do. The police investigate the crime and come to the wrong conclusion. The romance between the police chief and the ace reporter snags on their strong differences of opinion about whodunnit. The red herrings get tastier and tastier as Orville’s investigation and Vera’s go their separate ways.

While both of them get lots of coffee and sympathy at the local coffee shop. That the shop is run by a moose doesn’t change that vibe AT ALL.

The family drama on both sides of the couple at the heart of the mystery, Stasia’s mother’s ambitions for her to marry well and wealthily, contrasted with Jonah’s dad’s stubborn determination that Jonah marry an otter, period, exclamation point, end of discussion, hit familiar beats in spite of the change in species. As do both adult children’s rejoinder that their parents are just being old-fashioned in their objections.

That their arguments seem to have found a violent resolution is just as typical for the cozy mystery genre as the rest of the story. And it’s all just a lovely and comforting read all the way around. Just like all cozy mystery series, if you’ve fallen for the regular ‘gang’ and the place they live – and I have – then it’s always wonderful to come back for a visit. And it certainly was this time around.

That the ending turns out to be even cozier than expected baked a delightful reading cake with just the tastiest icing imaginable.

I enjoyed reading this touch of spring mystery in the midst of a blustery fall, but I’m absolutely looking forward to the more seasonally-appropriate setting of Evergreen Chase, which I’m planning to read a bit later this holiday season.

Review: Phantom Pond by Juneau Black

Review: Phantom Pond by Juneau BlackPhantom Pond: A Shady Hollow Halloween Short Story by Juneau Black
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery
Series: Shady Hollow #4.5
Pages: 32
Published by Vintage on September 26, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the woodlands around Shady Hollow, there’s a legend about a mysterious creature known as Creeping Juniper. According to local lore, she’s a sort of witch who dwells deep in the woods, casting spells on the shore of Phantom Pond. It’s a harmless old tale, until a prank goes wrong. When a young creature goes missing, all the clues point to Creeping Juniper. But to solve the mystery and rescue an innocent victim, Vera Vixen and her friends need to find a place that doesn’t appear on any maps. Can they discover the location of Phantom Pond before it’s too late?

My Review:

Every society seems to invent a holiday where its denizens can let their hair down, or at least loose the stays on the stricter rules of society, for a day or two – even if they don’t turn those rules completely topsy-turvy.

That’s what Halloween with its trick-or-treating and fake-scary haunted houses – along with the occasional TP’ing of selected houses – has come to be today. However seriously it might have started.

After all, ghost stories are fun as long as no one takes them TOO seriously!

Which leads to Phantom Pond overlooking Shady Hollow, that very cozy little mystery town where all the citizens are anthropomorphized animals. It’s very charming, and so are they. But they are very definitely people, no matter their species, and they are capable of and subject to all the foibles and peccadillos that we are.

Phantom Pond is set on Mischief Night – a VERY accurate re-naming of Halloween – which begins just like one would expect, with decorations and trick-or-treaters and activities for the children as the adults look on indulgently while sipping adult beverages.

Just as our Halloween has its folktales both new and old, and presents a fine opportunity for telling the creepiest stories in the potentially scariest circumstances, Shady Hollow has its own such tales, the most popular and prevalent of which is the story of the witch ‘Creeping Juniper’ who has been stealing adventurous and/or misbehaving children for a century or more.

When one of the little Mischief Night revelers doesn’t turn up the following morning, not at home, not at her best friend’s house, not anywhere – and a vaguely threatening missive from Creeping Juniper is found in her place – everyone fears the worst.

Especially ace reporter Vera Vixen, off on a not so mad quest to comb through ALL the legends of Creeping Juniper to figure out just where the witch’s lair might be hidden.

Only to discover that this year’s Mischief Night has played one last trick on the unsuspecting residents of Shady Hollow.

Escape Rating A-: The premise of the entire Shady Hollow series might seem like a bit of a Mischief Night prank, but it’s honestly adorable, and sits right at the intersection between cozy small town mysteries and cozy fantasies like Legends & Lattes. If Zootopia had taken place in rural Bunnyburrow instead of the metropolis it might look a bit like Shady Hollow.

And if that all sounds like as terrific of a reading time to you as it did to me, start with the first book in the series, Shady Hollow. You won’t be disappointed.

What makes Phantom Pond in particular both so cute, so cozy and such a wonderful Halloween story is the way that it manages to showcase the close-knit coziness of the town and lampshade the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and all together ooky vibe of the best scary stories. Once Mischief Night is over, the story shifts seamlessly but oh-so-realistically scarily into a bit of a thriller, as the whole town searches for a missing little girl and it seems like time is running out.

Then it turns the whole scenario on its head, one more time, into the best kind of cathartic happy ending about mysterious misunderstandings until all their, and our, fears are laid peacefully to rest but no character is left under a ‘Rest in Peace’ marker.

If you’re looking for a Halloween story with just the right amount of scares but not too much, Phantom Road is perfect. If you love small town mysteries with just a touch of magic, Shady Hollow might be your jam, and very tasty jam it is indeed.

I’ve visited Shady Hollow every time there’s a new mystery, and I’ve loved the place each and every time. Which means I have plenty of treats in store this holiday season. The next full-length mystery in Shady Hollow is coming early next month at Twilight Falls, and I have a winter solstice story to catch up with this season at Evergreen Chase.

Happy Holidays!

Review: Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree

Review: Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis BaldreeBookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes, #0) by Travis Baldree
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, fantasy
Series: Legends & Lattes #0
Pages: 352
Published by Tor Books on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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When an injury throws a young, battle-hungry orc off her chosen path, she may find that what we need isn't always what we seek.
In Bookshops & Bonedust, a prequel to Legends & Lattes, New York Times bestselling author Travis Baldree takes us on a journey of high fantasy, first loves, and second-hand books.
Viv's career with the notorious mercenary company Rackam's Ravens isn't going as planned.
Wounded during the hunt for a powerful necromancer, she's packed off against her will to recuperate in the sleepy beach town of Murk—so far from the action that she worries she'll never be able to return to it.
What's a thwarted soldier of fortune to do?
Spending her hours at a beleaguered bookshop in the company of its foul-mouthed proprietor is the last thing Viv would have predicted, but it may be both exactly what she needs and the seed of changes she couldn't possibly imagine.
Still, adventure isn't all that far away. A suspicious traveler in gray, a gnome with a chip on her shoulder, a summer fling, and an improbable number of skeletons prove Murk to be more eventful than Viv could have ever expected.

My Review:

Legends & Lattes was all about Viv fulfilling a dream that she’s had for a very long time, to retire from the mercenary life and open a coffee shop, a place where she can hang up her sword (literally) and dispense peace and life-giving liquid in equal measure – instead of dealing death to people who generally deserved it.

The story in Bookshops & Bonedust is the story of way back when Viv was considerably younger and a whole lot dumber (as we often are) and first caught the inkling of that dream. Not in bustling Thune but in tiny, tacky, tawdry Murk, a seaside town that has certainly seen better days.

But it’s the most convenient place for Rackham’s Raiders, the mercenary company that young Viv is signed up with, to deposit her after she gets herself ahead of her team in a fight and gets skewered in the leg for her trouble. Or her hubris. Or just her belief that as a young orc in her first big skirmish she’s both immortal and indestructible.

Of course she’s neither, and has the bleeding holes in her leg to prove it. So she’ll be rusticating and recovering in Murk while Rackham’s Raiders are off to bring down Varine the Necromancer and her horde of skeletal warriors.

Viv is scared that Rackham won’t come back for her. She’s worried she won’t heal properly. But more than anything else, she’s frightened half to death that she’ll go out of her mind with boredom while she’s stuck, literally on her ass, in Murk.

Which is what leads her, albeit very indirectly and with a whole lot of excruciating steps, to Maylee’s bakery and Fern’s bookshop. The bakery because damn it smells good and the dwarf baker looks every bit as yummy as her freshly baked wares. The bookshop because there’s nothing to while away a whole lot of quiet time quite like a good book. Or a whole series of them.

And that bookshop, Thistleburr Booksellers, looks like it has lots and bunches of books, all sort of moldering away in a place that reeks of mold and moist and uncleaned rug and unwashed gryphlet. It smells ‘yellow’ to Viv, and any pet owner knows EXACTLY what that means.

But that doesn’t stop Viv from stepping in to while away a few minutes as she certainly has plenty to spare. The bookshop owner, desperate for both companionship and custom, induces Viv to take a book that she is certain will suck the orc right into its pages for a few hours.

And she’s right – of course she’s right – and it’s the beginning of the kind of friendship that will save them both, the store, and eventually and surprisingly the entire town of Murk.

Because Rackham’s Raiders are chasing that necromancer. A necromancer who is already on her deadly and deathly way to Murk – where Viv and Fern are waiting to beat her. Not with swords – but with just the type of cleverness that eventually will make Viv and her coffee shop such a success in Thune.

All it will take is a bit of ingenuity and a whole lot of help from Viv’s newly found friends.

Escape Rating A+: Anyone who sunk straight into the cozy fantasy vibe of Legends & Lattes is going to sink into Bookshops & Bonedust and not emerge for much of anything until they fall out the other side with a huge smile, a taste for Maylee’s lassy (molasses) buns and a hankering for more stories just like this one – especially for more set in this marvelous world.

What makes this world, and this cozy fantasy style, just so much of a comfort read is that, although bad things do happen to good people, that is most emphatically NOT what the story is about. It’s not about big wars and bigger politics and gigantic battles between good and evil resulting in stupendously high butcher’s bills.

Not that there isn’t danger, and not that there isn’t a confrontation. Because there is most certainly both along with plenty of tension, both dramatic and romantic, to push the whole thing along.

But the way that things get solved and resolved is through less bloodthirsty means – and just as occurred in Legends & Lattes, quite often problems, from small to world-shattering, get solved with a whole lot of ingenuity and more than a bit of help from the friends – and even the frenemies – that Viv has made along the way.

So it’s all cozy in the best way, where the reader slips under a warm blanket of story and gets told a marvelous tale that displays more of the best in people than it does the worst.

Even better, Bookshops & Bonedust, while it has all the charm of Legends & Lattes, is a prequel and not a sequel. Meaning that if you somehow missed the sensation that is Legends & Lattes, you can start here. The story, after all, does start here. If this is where you start, you’ll be thrilled and charmed and ready to start Legends the minute you finish.

But if you started with Legends, reading Bookshops & Bonedust will almost certainly inspire you to pick up Legends again the moment you finish, so you can discover how all the little clues about Viv’s later adventures fit into her first one. I know it certainly inspired me! Which is a good thing because, both fortunately and unfortunately at the same time, the author has three more cozy fantasies lined up, but the first won’t be published until 2025. Plenty of time to reread – or maybe listen this time around – to both Legends and Bookshops (and maybe my other cozy favorite, Can’t Spell Treason without Tea) before my next visit with Viv!

Review: A Pirate’s Life for Tea by Rebecca Thorne

Review: A Pirate’s Life for Tea by Rebecca ThorneA Pirate's Life for Tea by Rebecca Thorne
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: cozy fantasy, fantasy
Series: Tomes and Tea #2
Pages: 454
Published by Rebecca Thorne on February 23, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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While searching for stolen dragon eggs, newly engaged couple Kianthe and Reyna find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a swashbuckling love story.
On one side is Serina, a failed farmer turned river pirate. Her booty? Wheat, grains, and the occasional jar of imported tea leaves. It's quite the embarrassment to Diarn Arlon, the powerful lord of the Nacean River, and he'll conscript anyone to bring her to justice. Especially Kianthe, the elemental mage who just crashed his party, and her somewhat-scary fiancée.
Begrudgingly, the couple joins forces with Bobbie, one of Arlon's constables--who happens to be Serina's childhood friend. Bobbie is determined to capture the pirate before anyone else, but it would be a lot easier if Serina didn't absolutely loathe her now.
As Kianthe and Reyna watch this relation-shipwreck from afar, it quickly becomes apparent that these disaster lesbians need all the help they can get. Luckily, matchmaking is Reyna's favorite past time. The dragon eggs may have to wait.

My Review:

Just as with the first book in the Tomes & Tea series, Can’t Spell Treason without Tea, where I picked it up just because I discovered it existed while looking for information and readalikes for the lovely, wonderfully awesome Legends & Lattes, learned it was in the same cozy fantasy vein and was looking for more of THAT, please and with bells on, I picked up A Pirate’s Life for Tea because I was looking for more books with the same cozy fantasy vibe as Bookshops & Bonedust, the second book in the Legends series, and learned that the second Tomes & Tea book already existed.

Bookshops & Bonedust won’t be out until November, but A Pirate’s Life for Tea is out now and has been since June and I can’t believe I didn’t spot it when it first came out but I’m so damn glad it’s here now. Because it’s exactly what I was looking for and it’s even better than Can’t Spell Treason without Tea.

So YAY!

In many ways, A Pirate’s Life for Tea is the opposite of Treason. Treason was all about Reyna and Kianthe settling down together and figuring out how to make a life AND run a business together in the same place after years of clandestine meetings in out of the way places to keep Reyna’s psychopathic queen and Kianthe’s meddling bureaucrats from learning about their relationship and breaking it up – one way or another – before they decided what to be to each other.

At the point in their story where we get to catch up with them in A Pirate’s Life for Tea, they’ve been living in the quiet little border town of Tawney for over a year and happily running their combined bookshop and teahouse together. Life is good, but life is also a bit less adrenaline-inducing than former Queensguard Reyna is used to.

Which is when the excitement from the previous story rears its ugly head (literally as it turns out) and sends them to the domain of Diarn (read as Lord) Arlon in search of a shipment of stolen dragon eggs that seems to have passed through his lands – if not his actual hands – early in his rule.

The dragons want their eggs back and expect Kianthe and Reyna to find them – or their peaceful little town gets set on fire. Again. And Again.

But when Kianthe and Reyna get to Arlon, they find themselves caught up in the little pirate problem he seems to be having. They negotiate a trade, Kianthe and Reyna’s help with the pirate problem in return for Arlon’s shipping and taxing records from the time period they need to investigate.

And that’s where the fun comes in. Because Arlon is clearly not on the up and up. After all, it is only ONE pirate. Just one. That he can’t seem to catch even though it appears that half the population of his domain are on his payroll as constables. And because he’s just slippery and slimy in the way that all politicians are – if not a bit more.

However, Kianthe and Reyna involve themselves in the pirate problem mostly because Kianthe can’t resist meddling, either in the much bigger problem that the pirate represents – or in the romantic tangle that she senses between the constable assigned to bring in the pirate and the pirate she’s assigned to bring in.

Kianthe could be wrong – but not about this. She’s more than a bit wrong about how much even Reyna likes her truly execrable puns – but she’s not wrong about what’s not going on between the constable and the pirate. If only she can get them to see it for themselves.

Escape Rating A-: A Pirate’s Life for Tea was even more cozy fantasy fun than Can’t Spell Treason without Tea with a bit less of the villain fail that plagued Treason. I fell straight into this heady brew of fantasy and froth and didn’t fall out until I closed the book with a grateful sigh for another lovely visit with Kianthe and Reyna.

Made even that much more charming because we don’t often get to see what happens in a romance after the Happy Ever After, and this definitely does that while showing that there is still plenty of heat and romance after it seems like at least most of the dust has settled.

The thing about A Pirate’s Life for Tea and the whole Tomes & Tea series so far is that it’s a bit closer to its epic fantasy roots while still rocking that cozy fantasy vibe that everyone loved in Legends & Lattes.

So along with the surprisingly cozy pirate life and the strongly hinted at steamy pirate-themed romantic fantasies there’s also an epic political fantasy story being told about kingdom-equivalents becoming oppressive and king-wannabes turning tyrant and dirty deeds done dirt cheap being investigated by righteous outside forces in the forms of Mage of Ages Kianthe and her sword-wielding fiancee Reyna.

It’s just that in this cozy fantasy, evildoers don’t end up with their heads on pikes but do get their comeuppances. Results seldom result in death but rather in justice, and it makes for a glorious and dare I say comforting read that still has all the fantasy thrills that fantasy readers crave.

(If you’re wondering how this missed being a full A grade, in spite of how much I loved it while I was reading it, Diarn Alorn fell flat as a villain. He didn’t go full-on bwahaha the way the Queen did in Treason, but he’s just lacking in motive and pretty much everything else. Possibly he’s overcompensating for something (an idea which fits in with many of Reyna’s puns and the pirate romantic fantasy themes) but we don’t get to know what.)

So if you’ve heard about the new cozy fantasy thing, if you’re on tenterhooks waiting for Bookshops & Bonedust, or if you just fell hard for Kianthe and Reyna and their world in Can’t Spell Treason without Tea, A Pirate’s Life for Tea is a joy and a delight, that holds the promise of more in its epilog and I’m so there for it. Soon would be lovely.

And if the title of this one is driving you bananas, as it did me, because it sounds familiar but not quite, “A Pirate’s Life for Me” has been the theme song of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride at Disney since 1967, and has been part of the soundtrack of all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Savvy?

Review: The Only Purple House in Town by Ann Aguirre

Review: The Only Purple House in Town by Ann AguirreThe Only Purple House in Town by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, paranormal, paranormal romance
Series: Fix-It Witches #4
Pages: 368
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on July 11, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
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Iris Collins is the messy one in her family. The "chaos bunny." Her sisters are all wildly successful, while she can't balance her budget for a single month. It's no wonder she's in debt to her roommates. When she unexpectedly inherits a house from her great aunt, her plan to turn it into a B&B fails—as most of her plans do. She winds up renting rooms like a Victorian spinster, collecting other lost souls...and not all of them are "human."
Eli Reese grew up as the nerdy outcast in school, but he got rich designing apps. Now he's successful by any standards. But he's never had the same luck in finding a real community or people who understand him. Over the years, he's never forgotten his first crush, so when he spots her at a café, he takes it as a sign. Except then he gets sucked into the Iris-verse and somehow ends up renting one of her B&B rooms. As the days pass, Eli grows enchanted by the misfit boarders staying in the house...and even more so by Iris. Could Eli have finally found a person and a place to call "home"?

My Review:

Iris Collins is at the end of her rope – and the knot she’s tied in that rope seems to be slipping through her fingers. And just at the point where all of her choices seem to range from bad to worse the universe throws her a lifeline. Ironic that, as the lifeline is the direct result of a death in her family. Her Great-Aunt Gertie has died and left her a charming but slightly dilapidated house in witch-friendly St. Claire, Illinois. All Iris has to do is get herself there, sign some papers, and she’ll have a rent-free place to live and a fresh start in a life that could seriously use one.

That it will get her away from her family’s drama is icing on a very purple cake. Because her mother and sisters are literally sucking the life out of her whenever she’s near them – and not just because they are ALL psychic vampires. Literally. Really, truly. Delphine, Lily and Rose would be toxic if they were garden-variety humans – but they aren’t. And they never let Iris forget that she’s the family ‘dud’ because she is. Or so it seems.

But Iris can’t support herself and the purple house without solving her cash flow problems, which is where the whole story starts to shine.

Her solution is to take in boarders, people like herself who need a place to live. But her first new roommate doesn’t really fit that description – not that Eli Reese is going to let Iris know that. Once upon a time, back when both Iris and Eli were briefly attending Middle School in St. Claire, Iris saved Eli from a gang of bullies. She doesn’t remember him or the incident, but he’s never forgotten her.

His motives for a bit of deception at their (re)meeting aren’t exactly pure. He IS hoping to pay her back for that timely rescue way back when. But he also just wants to get close to her. That he wants to get as close as possible in ways that would never have occurred to him back in Middle School is a secret he’s even keeping from himself. At least at first.

Of course, by the time he figures it out, his lies start to unravel and so does the cozy little dream that every person who has gravitated to The Only Purple House in Town has dreamed.

Because there’s a wicked witch (even if she isn’t REALLY a witch) trying to run them out of town with an attack of flying monkeys (in the person of government bureaucracy and officialdom) who doesn’t want paranormal creatures in her perfectly normal little town.

We’ll see who wins, and if the course of true love can possibly run true after all, in The Only Purple House in Town.

Escape Rating A-: The Only Purple House in Town was the best book in the entire Fix-It Witches series. Even better, it’s more of a set in the same universe story than it is a direct follow-up to the earlier books, meaning that it is more than possible to skip to the good stuff – meaning this book – without reading the rest unless you really, really want to.

And I’m saying this even though the resolution of the drama is well and truly straight out of deus ex machina territory and none of the characters in this story who put the “B” in “witch” get nearly the comeuppance they deserve – as is true for the previous books in the series.

That’s because the residents of the Violet Gables are just so damn charming together, their found family is so full of both love and humor, and Iris and Eli were delightful from their very first meet-cute. (Their first actual meeting wasn’t nearly so cute and that’s part of the story’s charm.)

What makes this story work so damn well is the way that this found family finds itself and pulls itself together. They are a mixed bag in so many ways, from Iris, the only seemingly mundane person in a family of psychic vampires to Eli the hawk-shifter and Mina the witch. But the mundanes in the family are just as fascinating, and just as much a necessary part of that family, as the supernatural folks. Everyone has had a different journey to bring them to this marvelous place and it is delightful to see them all blend into a whole that is not always harmonious but is always filled with love and care.

And I did love that the found family aspect of the story was a bigger and more important part of everything than the romance. Not that the romance wasn’t sweet, but it was icing on the tasty cake rather than the whole cake in a way that was just right.

The story has a lot of the same cozy fantasy vibes – just with a paranormal twist – as Travis Baldree’s marvelous Legends & Lattes. So if you’ve heard about how wonderful THAT story is but the fantasy setting isn’t quite your jam, The Only Purple House in Town has a lot of that same cozy feel while populated by somewhat more familiar species.

My journey to St. Claire to explore this marvelous little town where the paranormal is normal, has bumped through more than a few potholes along the road, but my stay in The Only Purple House in Town was absolutely delightful from the first page to the last. If there are more stories like this one in town, I’d love to go back!

Review: The Nameless Restaurant by Tao Wong

Review: The Nameless Restaurant by Tao WongThe Nameless Restaurant (Hidden Dishes: Book #1) by Tao Wong
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Dishes #1
Pages: 168
Length: 3 hours and 10 minutes
Published by Dreamscape Media, Starlit Publishing on June 1, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

There is a restaurant in Toronto. Its entrance is announced only by a simple, unadorned wooden door, varnished to a beautiful shine but without paint, hidden beside dumpsters and a fire escape. There is no sign, no indication of what lies behind the door.
If you do manage to find the restaurant, the décor is dated and worn. Homey, if one were to be generous. The service is atrocious, the proprietor a grouch. The regulars are worse: silent, brooding, and unfriendly to newcomers. There is no set menu, alternating with the whim and whimsy of the owner. The selection of wine and beer is sparse or non-existent at times, and the prices for everything outrageous.There is a restaurant in Toronto that is magically hidden, whose service is horrible, and whose food is divine.This is the story of the Nameless Restaurant.

My Review:

“Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger,” or so the t-shirt goes. There’s a wizard’s corollary to this that goes, “Wizards should not meddle in the affairs of jinn, for they are not subtle at all and very capable of schooling foolish wizards who overstep while they are spooning up dessert along with the wizards’ deflated egos.”

But that dessert occurs at the end of this tasty meal of a book. There are plenty of delicious courses before you get there.

The story in The Nameless Restaurant is also the story of a day in the life of this nameless restaurant, a tiny, hole in the wall place hidden in downtown Toronto where the magic of delicious meals happens at the hands of the restaurant’s magically adept owner-chef.

That chef-owner’s day usually begins with prep for the evening meals for his usual, but mostly supernatural, customers. On this day, Mo Meng, has to alter his routine due to an interruption by a spoiled brat of a jinn demanding that he serve her and her wizard companion a meal, right that minute with whatever he might have on hand.

Mo Meng grumps about both the interruption to his routine and the overbearing willfulness of his “guest” but still complies with her request-couched-entirely-as-an-order. She doesn’t even bother to pay for her meal when she’s finished the best meal she’s ever had.

But the destruction she might leave in her wake if he calls her on it simply is not worth the trouble.

Not that trouble doesn’t follow her back to the restaurant that evening. And that’s where things get truly fascinating, as we hear not just the details of the mouth-watering dishes that Mo Meng prepares, but we also get a ringside seat for an epic confrontation between a jinn who has, in fact and really truly, seen it all and done it all for millenia, and a gaggle of human magic users who think they’re all that when they really, really aren’t. A fact which Lily is more than happy to school them ALL in while she savors her dessert.

Escape Rating A-: Anyone who loved Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes is going to eat The Nameless Restaurant up with the very same spoon. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until Bookshops & Bonedust comes out, The Nameless Restaurant is definitely it!

The format of this little chef’s kiss of a story is “a day in the life”, but what a day and what a life! At first, the fantasy aspects are pretty minimal. It’s clear from Mo Meng’s musings and grumblings that he is a magic-user of some kind, but the details are covered in the sauce of his meticulous descriptions of food preparation.

It’s only when the pot of the story is fully on the boil, when the irregular regular denizens of the restaurant gather for what sounds like a spectacular meal (as all meals in that restaurant seem to be) that the reader gets some real hints about the nature of both the place and community it serves and why Mo Meng serves it.

Which is where both the fun and the tension come in. While everyone in the place is magical in one way or another except for Kelly the waitress, the Nameless Restaurant is warded to be a place where most of that magic gets left outside – except for Mo Meng’s cooking skills, of course.

So the tension in the story ratchets up slowly as the reader gets hints – and picks sides! – in the upcoming conflict. Which, when it comes, is explosive – but not in the way that the urban fantasy setting might lead one to believe.

This is, after all, a cozy fantasy. So what is brewing in that little place isn’t a battle – but it most definitely is going to be a takedown. With dessert. And leaves the diners eagerly anticipating another night at the Nameless Restaurant, while the reader is left salivating for the next installment in this delicious series!

One final word of caution. You are probably familiar with the warning about not going to the grocery store hungry, out of the very reasonable fear that you will attempt to buy the entire store because in your hunger it ALL looks good? This book takes that one step further, as it should be issued with a caution not to drive to the grocery store while listening, as not only will you be tempted to eat the entire store, but you’ll end up disappointed because nothing you consume will measure up to the temptations described in the story.