“Cinnamon and Gunpowder” by Eli Brown

I read some great books this year, and this was one of them. I’ve had this novel on my radar for some time now. I remember when it was published and how much readers gushed about it, but that’s not why I added it to my TBR. I placed it there because I love the cover.

The background color of the cover is one I love, and I like that the smoke from Mabbot’s gun forms the title and author’s name. I now know that the figures on the front are the impressive pirate Mabbot and the reluctant Owen Wedgewood, chef extraordinaire. But before reading, I wondered what I’d learn about them. It seemed an odd pairing, this sailor lady with a bound chef.

2021 is the year I finally decided to give in and read this book, and I’m glad I did. From the first page I knew it would be one I’d love; one I’d end up marking several passages in because I love the prose. As such, I had to get my own copy and went on a search to find the edition with this cover, since it’s no longer sold in stores. I was happy when I found one at a second-hand store online and now, since completing the story, am glad I have my own copy for when I want to visit the story again.


Genre

Historical Fiction

Series

n/a

Pubbed

2013

Goodreads summary

A gripping adventure, a seaborne romance, and a twist on the tale of Scheherazade—with the best food ever served aboard a pirate’s ship

The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail.

To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he’s making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.

But Mabbot—who exerts a curious draw on the chef—is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur hidden on her ship, she pushes her crew past exhaustion in her search for the notorious Brass Fox. As Wedgwood begins to sense a method to Mabbot’s madness, he must rely on the bizarre crewmembers he once feared: Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes the son Wedgwood never had.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a swashbuckling epicure’s adventure simmered over a surprisingly touching love story—with a dash of the strangest, most delightful cookbook never written. Eli Brown has crafted a uniquely entertaining novel full of adventure: the Scheherazade story turned on its head, at sea, with food. (Goodreads)


My thoughts

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is one of the best books I read this year, and one of the most surprising ones too because I didn’t expect it to be an adventure tale. (I obviously didn’t read the synopsis on Goodreads or the jacket flap.)

By the time I started the story, I’d forgotten all I’d learned about it through reviews I consumed shortly after it was published. I expected the passages about cooking and food that left my mouth watering, my stomach grumbling, and me wondering if I’d made a bad decision earlier in life when I decided to evade the kitchen and my aunties to avoid cooking.

“The ravioli slid voluptuously about the plate, attended by the firefly aromas of bay leaf and garlic. Their skins were tender between the teeth, yielding at the last moment to an eddy of smoked eel.”

Despite his circumstances and the meager supplies he has to work with, Wedgewood made cooking appealing to me (ME! who despises the kitchen until it’s time to eat). His passion for the art easily shines through in Brown’s prose.

But I didn’t expect this to be a high seas adventure as well. There are squalls that made me think the ship would be swept away with Wedgewood. There are battles at sea with cannons blasting and the pirates boarding another ship to take its goods and put its men to sea. Wedgewood, being the stubborn man that he is, is not a compliant prisoner and often seeks ways to escape Mabbot’s clutches. His attempts are daring and sometimes funny and often places him in more danger than if he’d stayed put. But it was entertaining to read of Wedgewood’s plight, despite his suffering.

Set in the 1800s, the story is Wedgewood’s chronicle of his adventures when he was kidnapped by Mad Hannah Mabbot, a notorious pirate who haunts the British Pendleton trading company upon the high seas while searching for the elusive Brass Fox. Mabbot stole Wedgewood after murdering his employer. She told him she will grant him his life if he cooks exquisite meals for her every Sunday. Wedgewood, being very stubborn, is at first reluctant and then flabbergasted when he realizes how poor the supplies and tools are that he has to work with. But as he fiddles with ideas and gets more desperate (and hungry), inspiration strikes and leads him to create culinary miracles aboard Mabbot’s Flying Rose.

The pace is slow, but I didn’t mind it as I took my time savoring Brown’s prose. I highlighted so many things that the copy I bought now bleeds yellow. But what also made this an enjoyable read is Wedgewood’s sarcasm about his situation, the crew of the Flying Rose, and Mabbot. He’s very bitter when he’s captured and rightly so. His employer, who he seemed to deeply care for, was killed in front of him by the woman who kidnapped him and is holding him hostage in what he would deem poor conditions.

Wedgewood undergoes much character development throughout the story as Mabbot works away at him to remove the film from his eyes that prevents him from seeing his employer and the Pendleton trading company for what they are. Because although Mabbot is a menace, she has a goal and is trying in her own way to put a stop to the trading company pumping opium into China to open up trade routes there and to disrupt its trade in slavery in Africa and other countries. Also, she’s in pursuit of the Brass Fox!

The change in Wedgewood occurs gradually until he’s much changed, physically as well, by the end of the novel that he seems damn near a pirate himself. He’s so much changed that neither the reader nor Wedgewood can see him returning to the life he yearned for at the beginning, when he was a newly kidnapped, blinkered chef angry at Mabbot and unable to see anything appealing about the crew, the captain, or life at sea.

Other than Mabbot, I liked the crew of the Flying Rose because they seem a lively bunch. They put on plays, and I got the impression that they sing lots of bawdy songs, which greatly annoyed Wedgewood. Wedgewood is of the Christian faith and entrenched in the British view of things, so at first he judges everything and everyone through those lenses. But the more he experiences and meets and gets to know new people and their way of life, the more he questions aspects of his religion and beliefs. But anyway, the crew — Mr. Apples, Mabbot’s first lieutenant and commander, quickly stood out to me because of his name and… his description for things:

“Opium, Captain! Perfume on it like a lily stuffed up Satan’s arse.”

I also love that Mr. Apples knits caps and scarves for himself and the crew and raises scorpions. Joshua, I liked as well. He’s a deaf cabin boy who Wedgewood thought he needed to care for at first to protect him from the heathens and savages aboard the ship. Wedgewood teaches Joshua how to read and write, and I enjoyed seeing how their relationship develops as it also challenges Wedgewood to take a look at his beliefs and assumptions:

“The boy came to me to learn reading and writing but, after all, what are his signs if not a writing on the air? — and more eloquent for the dramatic facility of the face, which can deliver meaning better than any punctuation.”

Another thing this story touches on that surprised me is the art of creating, of being an artist, and for that I’d recommend this book to creatives as well. There is so much passion when Wedgewood talks about food and cooking that I wondered if Eli Brown is a cook or a foodie or a food critic (lol). It’s obvious that Wedgewood loves his profession, but it was inspiring when he spoke of food and the art of cooking and seeking substitutes for the ingredients and tools he lacked. I think many artists will be able to relate to Wedgewood’s reflections on the drafting and the process and the presentation of his work, and how he sees his creations as an extension of himself.

Overall: ★★★★★

There’s lots more I’d like to say, but I feel as if I’m talking in circles discussing the book without fully getting across why and how much I loved it. It is a really good read and it is well written and I had a wonderful time with it. It’s a favorite, and I know I will read it again some day to sample more of Brown’s prose and Wedgewood’s cooking.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

And, of course, I recommend the hardcover edition (one of few times I’ll ever recommend a hardcover) because this cover looks way better than the paperback one.

Quotes from the book

“As with Don Juan, reputation stirs desire. But even the best chef must entice interest, use aroma to flirt, caress and kiss with silken soups, reassure and coddle with a dulcet pudding.”

“It began Monday night, as many terrible stories do, with a false smile.”

“Men who long for the past are already dead. Look to the future, Owen.”

“I’ve had this pain. To tell you it will go away would be a lie. It will never go away. But, if you live long enough, it will cease to torture and will instead flavor you. As we rely on the bitterness of strong tea to wake us, this too will become something you can use.”

“I had been cooking my entire life and had never understood the sanctity of my duties. For all of my kitchen philosophies were nothing compared to the truth that now opened me to the bone: that I was, myself, food.”


IF YOU LIKE THIS, YOU MIGHT LIKE…

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson

Also set in the 1800s, it is about a Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave in New Orleans who unintentionally stows away on a slave ship bound for Africa to pick up members of a mysterious tribe called the Allmuseri. This, too, is about a sarcastic character who reluctantly embarks on a high seas adventure upon a ship that seems to be falling apart. However, unlike Cinnamon and Gunpowder, it has some mystical moments when the Allmuseri board the ship. I HIGHLY recommend it. Great storytelling and great writing too.

“Before the Devil Breaks You” by Libba Bray

I really enjoy this series. I’ve even started to consider it a favorite. I own none of the books, but believe me, I will get myself the boxed set, if there’s one, soon.

I also want to read more books by Libba Bray. Does she only write YA novels? I’m not big on YA, but I’ll read whatever she has written because the Diviners books are SO good and I need more.

I have one more book to go in this series, which I’ve been buddy-reading with Rachel at Life of a Female Bibliophile and which we’ve both been enjoying and having loads of great discussions about. Things have built up to such a height in this book that I wonder how we’ll get down from it. How will things be resolved? I’m a little anxious that I won’t like the last book, but… I’m trusting Bray on this. Trying to stay positive here, and I NEED to get my own copy of these books!!


Genre

Historical Fiction; Paranormal

Series

Diviners, book 3

Pubbed

2017

Quick summary

The sleeping sickness has stopped, but all is not back to rights. Ghosts are roaming the city, some of them malicious, and the Diviner crew is even more curious about their abilities, how they got them and to what extent can they use them.

Continue reading ““Before the Devil Breaks You” by Libba Bray”

“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendix

This one was very popular last year, when it was published. I remember seeing it chatted about on many blogs and many of my trusted blogs for book recommendations enjoyed it as well. All that got me curious and made me place it on my TBR.

Then, because the title says it’s a story about a book club, my book club selected it as one of our reads, which I was grateful for because as much as I’d like to read the books on my TBR and shelves soon after placing them there, they most often just remain in those places unread for years. So I read it for book club, and it made for great discussions since we disagreed on a variety of things about the book. In the end, I think I ended up enjoying it a bit more than my fellow book clubbers did.


Genre

Horror

Series

n/a

Pubbed

2020

From Goodreads

Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Continue reading ““The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendix”

“The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie

I buddy-read this with Emily at Embuhleeliest back in June. We were trying it out to see if it’ll serve as a nice chunky series for us to jump in and get hooked on like we did with Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings. And, so far I’d say Abercrombie’s series has potential.


Genre

Fantasy

Series

First Law, book 1

Pubbed

2006

From Goodreads

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian — leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Continue reading ““The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie”

Three Illustrated Books by Akiko Miyakoshi

After reading the three books by Miyakoshi below, I now consider myself a fan of her work. I love her illustrations. They have a coziness to them that greatly appeals to me. I also like her stories. The ones here are charming, relatable, and fantastic. They do a great job depicting a child’s voice, and I had a wonderful time reading them, although I’m not a fan of the endings. They tend to fall a little short for me. Anyway, here are more details on what I read.


The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi (illus.), transl. from the Japanese by Kids Can Press

Genre

Children Fantasy

Series

n/a

Pubbed

2010

(Goodreads)


My thoughts

I began my introduction to Miyakoshi’s work by reading The Tea Party in the Woods, a charming story about a girl who befriends animals she met at a tea party in the woods.

Because it had snowed all night, Kikko’s father decides to visit grandma’s house, which is on the other side of the woods, to clear the walk for her. But he forgot the pie for grandma. Believing she can quickly catch up to her father, Kikko decides to follow his footsteps in the snow to take the pie to grandma. But on the way through the woods, Kikko arrives at a tea party with a bunch of animals in attendance.

Continue reading “Three Illustrated Books by Akiko Miyakoshi”

“Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers

I read this back in May for a book club I have going with some friends. A mutual friend who read and loved the series highly recommended it to us, so we went in with high hopes expecting an exhilarating story about assassin nuns. But unfortunately, this one didn’t work out and was a total bore for us.


Genre

YA Historical; Fantasy

Series

His Fair Assassin, book 1

Pubbed

2012

From Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Continue reading ““Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers”

Two Illustrated Books on the Ramayana

So a couple months ago, I read two children’s books that retell the classic Hindu tale, the Ramayana. My knowledge of Hinduism is VERY limited — I only know the names of a few of the gods — so when I picked up Ramayana: Divine Loophole (which I read first), I did so assuming the it was a children’s fantasy book. It wasn’t until I started reading that I learned it’s an essential part of Hindu mythology.


Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel (illus.)

Genre

MG Classic; Mythology

Series

n/a

Pubbed

2010

From Goodreads

Artist and veteran Pixar animator Sanjay Patel lends a lush, whimsical illustration style and lighthearted voice to one of Hindu mythology’s best-loved and most enduring tales. Teeming with powerful deities, love-struck monsters, flying monkey gods, magic weapons, demon armies, and divine love, Ramayana tells the story of Rama, a god-turned-prince, and his quest to rescue his wife Sita after she is kidnapped by a demon king.

Continue reading “Two Illustrated Books on the Ramayana”

“Lords and Ladies” by Terry Pratchett

Here’s another one I read a while back and have waited too long to chat about.

It’s the fourteenth novel in the Discworld fantasy series, which takes place on a flat world that lies atop the backs of four elephants that stand on the shell of large turtle floating through space.


Genre

Fantasy

Series

Discworld, book 14
Witches, book 4

Pubbed

1992

From Goodreads

It’s Midsummer Night – no time for dreaming. Because sometimes, when there’s more than one reality at play, too much dreaming can make the walls between them come tumbling down.

Unfortunately, there’s usually a damned good reason for there being walls between them in the first place – to keep things out. Things who want to make mischief and play havoc with the natural order.

Continue reading ““Lords and Ladies” by Terry Pratchett”

“Paladin of Souls” by Lois McMaster Bujold

I unfortunately waited too long since reading this book to review it. Certain details have faded from memory due to time or have been crowded out by the many other things I’ve read since then. As such, this review will be shorter and less detailed than I’d like, which will probably appeal to some, but I love being able to reread my review years later and remember nearly everything I thought of the book.


Genre

Fantasy

Series

World of the Five Gods, book 2

Pubbed

2003

From Goodreads

In a land threatened by treacherous war and beset by demons, royal dowager Ista, released from the curse of madness and manipulated by an untrustworthy god, is plunged into a desperate struggle to preserve the endangered souls of a realm. (Goodreads)

Continue reading ““Paladin of Souls” by Lois McMaster Bujold”

Illustrated Books: “Oona” & “The Widow’s Broom”

I love picture books and can’t get enough of them. Here are two I read back in May for Wyrd & Wonder, a celebration of all things fantasy. One is about a little mermaid searching for treasure and the other is about a widow who acquired a witch’s broom.


Oona by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Raissa Figueroa

Genre

Children’s Fantasy

Series

n/a

Pubbed

2021

From Goodreads

Meet Oona. The big sea’s littlest mischief maker.

She and her best friend, Otto, love to search for treasure . . . but often find trouble instead.

Messy trouble.

Tricky trouble.

Continue reading “Illustrated Books: “Oona” & “The Widow’s Broom””