Authors: Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
I’ve read many of Hazel Gaynor’s books. She even gave me a footnote in The Girl From the Savoy! But that’s not the reason why I picked this one up. When I start reading an author, I liked to read everything in their cannon – even if I’m none too pleased with their latest attempt. That’s not the case with Gaynor’s Last Christmas in Paris. This is a coauthored book with Heather Webb, their second one together. It’s a book set during World War I and a love story. It’s only fitting that I read this one a few days before Christmas 2017.
A book with the word ‘Christmas’ in its title begs for a tea with hints of cinnamon, vanilla, marzipan, and sugarplum. I strayed from convention with this one when I sat down with a cup of white winterberry tea and a mincemeat tart. The teacup and saucer are from my mother’s collection that, I believe, came to her from her grandmother’s estate. The stage was set – including the blustery winter scene outside my house – for what looked to be an easy read with hopefully a successful love story at its conclusion. The white winterberry tea, as its name implies, is a white tea. It’s a very mellow white tea, contains caffeine, but evokes a pleasant winter’s night. With a mellow flavor, it pairs wonderfully well with any sweet treat and with any book!
The book is broken into parts based around each year of the war, and is written in the form of letters from Evie, the main character, to her brother, Will, and to Will’s friend, Tom. The correspondence takes place over four years, from the time both men enlist in the army, to Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Even though Evie is the main character in the book, Tom is the one rereading the letters sent between the three of them. A few other supporting characters, like Alice, Evie’s best friend, make appearances. I felt I could relate to Evie given the age of the character and the restless attitude she written with. Following Evie’s story through Tom and Will’s opinion’s of her choices felt like I was along for an adventure with a headstrong woman who wasn’t going to let anyone stand in her way. I read the first part, 1914, with the winterberry tea. The book didn’t start out strong, so this mild tea helped ease the way into the story and into Evie’s world.
When I started on the 1915 chapter I switched to Chocolate Mint Rooibos, a tea that reminds me of chocolate thin mints and hints at sweetness without the sugar content. I found this chapter to be longer than necessary, but it set the background relationship between Evie and Tom. I got lost in the storyline and forgot to reflect on the thoughts and sensations that the tea evoked – maybe that’s a good thing for Gaynor’s writing style? So it was with great dedication, and excitement, that I turned to the remaining half of the book with a deep red-tinged winter sangria tea! Oh my, how this tea brought home the feelings one experiences during winter, Christmas, and love. The tea itself is a mellow flavor – I seem partial to the mellow flavours at the moment – and was a great base when confronted with the complexities developing in the storyline. Not only does the tea give support to those relationships – it’s like a warm embrace from one you love when going through emotional upheavals – but it’s a great base for infusing into a mulled wine or other sangria. The romantic at heart that I am appreciated the milder tea choices because I didn’t want to get my hopes up that the love story wouldn’t end the way I wanted it to. Maybe that’s why I instinctively reached the flavours that I did while reading this book, especially during the ‘months-long’ lull that passes between Evie and Tom.
I finished reading the book without a cup of tea at hand. It was better that way when confronted with heartbreak because there is no possible way to apply a flavor to heartbreak. While Gaynor and Webb attempt to write the heartbreak both Evie and Tom experience, it’s very superficial because of the format the story takes in the form of written letters. Even more so in the early 1900’s when feelings where not expressed as vocally and passionately as they can be in the modern age. As I finished the book, I realized that the mellow teas were exactly what I needed for this book: anything stronger and the senses would have been overpowered by sheer taste leaving the story fumbling and lagging behind; anything weaker and I would have finished the book in record time without a tea or three to compliment the story. The great thing about this book is that it’s a mellow storyline that will pair well with any tea flavor you taste buds are craving. I look forwards to trying new tea combinations the next time I read this one.
Teas: White Winterberry, Chocolate Mint Rooibos, Winter Sangria (fruit) – all from Steeped Tea.