In Undercaffeinated and Overexposed: The Tale of a Coffee Shop Princess, we meet Beauty—the princess from every fairy tale—who is currently living in Washington DC and working at a coffee shop. It turns out that the characters of fairy tales and myths are eternal. They relive variations on their stories, never truly changing, and are occasionally caught in film cameras to serve as muses for frustrated authors. Beauty has recently escaped from one such stint as a muse, and she returns home to learn that there is conflict among the nine fairy queens—there’s no way that’s going to end well.
All of the major fairy queens from story are sisters—Titania, Maeve, Baba Yaga, Morgana, etc. But of course they’re jealous and competitive with each other. Titania runs the coffee shop where Beauty works with Chuck (also known as Charming) who is her ex-husband several times over, Lancelot, young Sandy, and Maeve. Beauty, however, is different from the others—she’s not as restricted by her nature. She changes over time, unlike most fairy tale Folk.
The combination of modern day with characters from all the old stories is a lot of fun. Arthur and Guinevere are touring with a Renaissance Faire. Merlin is married to Morgana, but still carries a torch for Nineve, (i.e., Maeve). The staff of the coffee shop fields a softball team that plays against other coffee shops. Beauty and Chuck have been married and divorced multiple times because stories keep bringing them back together, but the happily ever after never lives up to its billing.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Older Tweens and Up
Beauty is actually hundreds of years old, but she looks and acts like she’s in her early 20s. Imagine how an immortal in her early 20s in Washington DC might live—her lifestyle and the issues she’s dealing with aren’t exactly something most tweens will identify with. It’s definitely too grown up for my kid. However, for kids who love Gossip Girl or reruns of Friends, this is a suitable and fun read.
There’s a good bit of drinking, often to some excess. There’s a drinking game where everyone gets pretty smashed, and the stakes are the life of young Sandy. All of this drinking isn’t without consequences—Beauty has some pretty monstrous hangovers and she ends up puking at least once. She also has an evening that gets a bit fuzzy, which leads to…
…Beauty wakes up in bed next to Mordred. There’s no question how they spent the evening, and she doesn’t regret it. Chuck gets pretty jealous when he walks in on them, but he knows he doesn’t have a claim on her right now.
It’s made clear that Beauty can’t get pregnant (she tried hard during some of her marriages to Chuck) and since they’re immortal, disease doesn’t seem to be an issue either. Unlike mortals, sex can be without consequence, as long as all the people involved agree that’s how it will be. She and Mordred aren’t in a relationship, nor does sleeping together mean they should be.
Beauty pursues a mortal. Chuck has never even dated anyone but Beauty—he pretty much waits for stories to bring them back together. He sort of tries to ask a mortal out, but he sabotages himself and then makes sure his date and Beauty’s date get together instead.
Beauty changes her clothes in front of Chuck. They’ve been married several times—it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.
Sandy is in a perpetual state of puberty. Beauty keeps trying to teach him how to pick up girls. He definitely notices things like cleavage.
As a very attractive woman who works in a coffee shop, Beauty is used to a certain amount of leering and casual groping. She certainly doesn’t welcome it—it’s just a fact of life—but she also knows how to use her attractiveness to her advantage when necessary.
Several of the Folk smoke—they’re immortal, so lung cancer and other diseases aren’t an issue. When Beauty realizes that she’s different from the other Folk in that she can change her nature, she also worries that smoking might affect her. She stops smoking cold turkey, although she occasionally misses it.
Death and Violence
Baba Yaga wants Sandy so she can sacrifice him for a ritual. Several characters note that there are other ways to get the same result, but she’s pretty set on bloodshed.
Folk are essentially immortal, but they can die violent deaths. They can sometimes be brought back if their stories are told again.
Beauty gets run through with Lancelot’s sword. This would kill her, but Maeve takes her injury, which puts Maeve into an enchanted sleep. She will die unless they can find a way to wake her up again.
There are several somewhat violent fights, but not terribly graphic.
Beauty dies at the end, consumed by the Dark (a kind of evil limbo) but they manage to bring her back through a story.
Authors try to capture Folk in film cameras, forcing them to live out the stories they’re writing—that’s how you get bestsellers. This gives the Folk a lot of interesting experiences and characters they’ve been, but it’s also totally against their will—and sometimes they have to play parts in really terrible and unsalvageable stories. On the other hand, the stories are what keeps them alive. It’s a strange interdependent relationship.
Fairy queens have a tendency to turn annoying people into toads, then keep them in terrariums. Beauty starts feeling guilty about one of those people when she realizes his sister misses him.
It’s an interesting world and a fun story. The novel is suitable for older tweens (probably 13 and up) who are watching shows about 20 somethings. Sex and drinking are part of Beauty’s lifestyle, but the sex is offscreen and the drinking isn’t glorified as a good idea. Nor is Beauty a “bad girl” because she drinks and has consensual sex. She’s tired of being rescued, tired of fulfilling the same role, and starting to take more initiative. In fact, with her ability to change, she’s one of the few Folk who can really change the way things go. For readers who enjoy stories about 20 somethings, she’s an interesting and complex character.
Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Undercaffeinated and Overexposed: The Tale of a Coffee Shop Princess by Andrew G. Schneider
Published in 2014 by Andrew G. Schneider
Read on my Kindle