Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop
Brimming with family, food and fun, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop is a sweet story that celebrates Paris, paintings, pastries and the joy of discovering your own unique path through life.
Vanessa Yu sees dead people. Well, not really but she can foresee death, adultery, proposals, arguments, new jobs, job loss and a host of other things. Since she gazed into the bottom of her first tea cup at three years old, she has been cursed with the ability to tell fortunes. Worse, the prophecies verbally burst out of her, with no effort on her part being sufficient to prevent it. And to top it all, it happens with any drink – gazing into someone’s cappuccino mug, taro slushes, a thermos full of coffee – you name it, she can read your future in your beverage.
Fortunately, Vanessa has been able to limit the number of people exposed to her gift. She works in the family accounting business and spends her free time with relatives who, even though they consider her weird have at least become accustomed to her eccentricity. And it’s not as though they are unfamiliar with her plight. Her Aunt Evelyn has also been blessed with the sight since birth and has maneuvered the gift with grace and skill. Unfortunately, Vanessa was such an unwilling pupil her aunt stopped trying to teach her and left her to apply the ability on her own.
When Vanessa starts to have more frequent visions and to get painful headaches after every one, she decides she needs to do something to get this aspect of her life under control. Fortunately, Aunt Evelyn knows she needs help before Vanessa can even ask, and shows up on Vanessa’s doorstep, ready to whisk her off to Paris. The following morning, they head to France, where her aunt is opening a new tea shop. They can work on Vanessa’s precognition talents as they set up the store.
The expensive Shanghai matchmaker her parents hired warned Vanessa she would never find love, but on her first day in Paris she meets the delectable Marc Santos. The two quickly bond over their mutual interest in architecture, food and sketching. Vanessa has (sorta) accepted she isn’t meant for passion, that any relationship she manages to forge with Marc is doomed to failure. But as she gets caught up in the charm of the City of Love and Lights she can’t help but dream of romance.
I was initially concerned that Vanessa would make a difficult heroine. She was whiny about having this ‘gift’ thrust upon her and was equally morose over the matchmaker telling her she would never find true love, and her relationship with Evelyn is combative. The enchantment of Paris quickly works its magic on her though, and after she meets Marc and spends several days enjoying delicious cuisine, breathtaking sights and wonderful companionship, the real Vanessa – a loving young woman who is fiercely loyal to her family, adores art in all its forms, is a complete foodie, and has an amiable yet assertive personality – starts to shine. Vanessa can’t live with her gift as it is but she is determined she will not simply comply with the rules in order to control it but will seize her own destiny and develop her own path.
Evelyn, too, comes across as a gorgeous, graceful, sophisticated but cold and negative person. She has structured her life around a mysterious and archaic set of rules that govern fortune telling and has added to that the burden of family obligations, both of which have seriously hampered her ability to be happy. I hasten to add that Vanessa and Evelyn have an absolutely wonderful extended family, it’s just that Evelyn doesn’t want the same enmeshed lifestyle which all of them share. Once in Paris and working on her dream of owning a tea shop, her loving, artistic and generous side is made manifest. I loved how Vanessa’s challenging the rules that govern their ability had Evelyn very slowly realizing that she, too, could move beyond them.
Cultural heritage, community and family are all important elements of the novel. Although she is fourth-generation Californian and very American in most respects, the legacy and customs of Vanessa’s ancestors remain a strong influence in her life, especially the magical elements, such as a matchmaker who can see the red emotional chords that bind lovers and use that to find your soulmate, and of course her own talent for seeing the future. Vanessa’s family all work together and play together, and she is very aware that when making decisions she must consider what her family will think of them. She also recognizes how much support she receives from them, not just financial but emotional and spiritual support as well. The way they care for each other – by helping resolve issues through direct interference – is an inherent part of her nature as well. As she explains to Evelyn, this is an important expression of their love and one meant to make whoever they are helping feel seen, valued and supported.
Much of the story is taken up by both Evelyn and Vanessa exploring what they want from life and working out how to get it. There is romance here, but it plays a secondary role to the journey of self-discovery both ladies are on. Marc and Vanessa’s relationship is cute and charming when they are together but there was a darker component that developed around the midpoint of the book which gave me some concerns. The author shows the issue as resolved by the end of the tale but I couldn’t help but wonder if this wouldn’t be a dimming factor in the otherwise bright HEA going forward. In keeping with that, Evelyn’s love interest does something that I found hard to forgive and that I thought showed an underlying cruelty that I wouldn’t want in my own significant other. These discordant notes kept me from thoroughly enjoying the love stories.
Fortunately, I loved everything else about Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop. The fantasy/magical surrealist component of the tale is completely charming, deftly handled and utilized with precision and skill. It wove perfectly into the narrative and was compellingly believable. The characters’ journeys were wonderful and the prose lyrical and elegant. Despite the glitches in the romances, I would recommend it to any fan of women’s fiction.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
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