Sunday, July 22, 2018

Shadow of a Spout

Title: Shadow of a Spout (#2 Teapot Collector Mystery)

Author: Amanda Cooper

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, 2015

Pages: 296

Genre: cozy mystery

Obtained: purchased






Summary: One of the members of the International Teapot Collectors Society is found dead in the inn where their annual convention is being held.  When the murder weapon seems to be Sophie's grandmother's teapot, Sophie rushes to the Stone and Scone Inn to clear her grandmother's name.

Thoughts: How could you not love the setting of this book- an International Teapot Collectors Society conference at the Stone and Scone Inn?  The author does a great job putting a picture of this setting in the reader's mind.  The characters from the first series return, along with many new ones.  The characters were all ages and both men and women, and boys and girls, which I liked.  I enjoyed Rose and Laverne- the main character, Sophie's, grandmother and best friend.  I also liked Thelma, the trouble maker of the group of older ladies.  Sophie herself still seemed inconsistent to me - sometimes well mannered, sometimes forward and rude.  I just couldn't seem to connect to her.

The writer's style was organized, but I felt that it was even more repetitive than in the first book.  The pace was slow, which was fine, but the repetition of information bogged it down.  I kept thinking, let's move along here.  This book could definitely be read as a stand alone.  The story was entertaining, and not a bad whodunit.  I will continue with the series.

If you think you might like this setting, and like cozy mysteries with a bit of humor, this is worth a try.  If realistic characters are important and repetition drives you crazy, this is not for you.




                                                                        



In the back of Shadow of a Spout, there is a recipe for these cherry blossom cookies.  They were easy to make and didn't need many special ingredients.  I mixed up the batter, put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and then just  rolled it into balls adding cherry pieces and almond slivers on the top before baking for 10 minutes.  My family thought they were "fancy", but they were easy and quick to make.  They tasted pretty good too- buttery with a hint of almond flavor.  There was also a couple of pages about different teas and how to steep them.





Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Dire King


Title: The Dire King (Jackaby #4)

Author: William Ritter

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: Recorded Books, 2017

Format: 7 compact discs, approximately 8 hours

Genre: YA Fantasy

Obtained: library




Summary: This is the conclusion to the Jackaby series in which Jackaby, supernatural private detective and his assistant Abigal Rook, along with their colleagues, must save not one world, but two, from a powerful, evil enemy.

Thoughts: I guess I wasn't paying attention when I picked up this book on compact discs from the library because I should have gotten Ghostly Echoes, the third book in the Jackaby series, first.  I wanted a story for a long car ride with my family and didn't have time to make an exchange, so listened to it anyway.  Luckily, I still enjoyed it, but will definitely go back and listen to Ghostly Echoes, especially for Jenny's story.

I love the narrator who does fantastic voices and really gets into the characters and story, showing emotions and reading at a wonderful pace.  The only thing that was annoying was that every once in a while it would sound like she took a sharp intake of breath and it was clearly not part of the story.  This was distracting.  I didn't notice this in the first two books.

The author created a magical world with fantastical characters.  The characters are my favorite part of the series.  They are developed and seem real even though most of them are not even human.  It takes a gift to make characters like this work.  In this fourth book, the author brings back the characters I loved in the previous books, but also adds some new ones.  He continues to use humor in his writing, along with having some great lines in his dialogue that I sometimes read twice because they were just perfect.  In The Dire King, the author has Jackaby talk about "people" referring to all the fantastical beings in the book, and how they are being discriminated against because they are being locked up since they are not human.  I loved this!   Also, the author showed how diversity is a wonderful thing that makes life full, interesting, and colorful.  So, for a light book it covers some heavy topics.  Everything is wrapped up at the end and this book definitely finishes with the biggest culmination of the series.  There were also some unexpected surprises.

William Ritter is a clever, entertaining author with a wonderful imagination.  If you like magical mysteries, the whole series is a must read.  I would definitely start from the beginning if you think you might read them all, but it is not really necessary.  Just a warning that this is a YA book. Even though it has really cool characters that young children would love, it has a couple of bad words in it and some violence- and this book has a bit more of both than at least the first two.  My ten year old listened along, which was a mistake.  I would say this is more appropriate for those aged 12 and older.


                                                                   


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Raspberry Revitalizer Lemon Mate

Obtained: free sample with tea of the month club



Today I tried Raspberyy Revitalizer Lemon Mate from Plum Deluxe.  I received this as a free sample with my July tea of the month club tea.  The raspberries in my garden just started ripening, so I felt like this tea sample came at the perfect time.  This is an organic tea containing caffeine and is made up of green mate, lemongrass, lemon peel, rose hips, hibiscus, apple pieces, and raspberry essence.  The loose tea was very pretty with red and yellow chunks, light grassy leaves and small dark leaf pieces, and had a faint raspberry scent.  I poured eight ounces of boiling water over one teaspoon of leaves.  I let this steep for three minutes.  The liquid was a pale pink with a raspberry scent that was barely there.  The taste was a delicious, delicate raspberry lemon with a floral background- the perfect tea for summer and spring afternoons.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Fifth to Die

Title: The Fifth to Die (#2 4MK Thriller)

Author: J. D. Barker

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

Pages: 526

Genre: thriller, mystery

Obtained: advance reader copy from publisher










Summary: Young girls begin to go missing in Chicago, their bodies found soon after.  Can the killer or killers be caught?  At the same time, Porter continues his search for Anson Bishop, the Four Monkey Killer.  Could the Four Monkey Killer have something to do with the missing girls?

Thoughts: This second book in the 4MK series is due to be released on July 10, 2018.  There are a few days before it is available to start by reading the first in the series, The Fourth Monkey.  I highly encourage reading this series in order.  Although I did read this second book without reading the first, I now want to go back and start from the beginning.  It was not confusing and made sense, but I wanted the background information as I was reading and still wanted it after finishing the book.

This was a fast paced, gripping, thriller / mystery with similarities to the murder mysteries written by James Patterson and Thomas Harris, but not a copy of either.  The writing style was similar to some of James Patterson's in the way Barker moved the story and created suspense by telling his tale by jumping from character to character and showing it from different perspectives.  It was similar to Thomas Harris' writing in that the villains in this story were horrific, yet intelligent like Thomas Harris', and the writing was quite graphic.

This was a long book, over 500 pages, but a quick read.  It was one of those books where I couldn't wait to get back to reading to find out what was going to happen next.  The characters were somewhat developed.  Again, I probably would have felt I knew them better if I had started at the beginning of the series.  There was so much going on.  I mean a lot.  I love complicated stories and plots.  The descriptions did not weigh the story down, but were detailed enough that I could picture what was happening in my mind.  I felt the suspense and horror and found myself routing for the good guys.  There are twists and turns and the ending leaves the reader shocked and hanging on for the third in this series.

If you like serial killer murder mysteries that aren't cozy, but scary, chilling, horrific, and creepy, this book is a must read.  Just be aware that you will feel a need to read the third in the series, but will have to wait for it to be written!


                                               





Company: Davids Tea

Tea: Forever Nuts

Obtained: purchased



I purchased the Davids Top 12 sampler.  Today I tried Forever Nuts which is a caffeine free herbal blend.  The ingredients are apple, almond, cinnamon, beetroot and artificial flavouring.  The tea was made up of large chunks of fruit and nuts.  It had a sweet, nutty scent.  I poured sixteen ounces of water that was near boiling over two and a half teaspoons of leaves.  I let this steep for four minutes.  The liquid was a beautiful, bright pink which I loved.  The scent reminded me of oatmeal cookies.  The taste was of sweet almond and cinnamon with apple in the background.  It was very smooth and sweet, and tasted like a watered down oatmeal cookie.  This tea wasn't for me.  It just seemed to be missing something.  It was like liquid dessert more than tea.  It was almost identical to Almond Cookie Tea from Joy's Teaspoon.  If you are looking for a sweet dessert tea, and like cinnamon, almonds, and apple, this is for you!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Salted Caramel Dreams

Title: Salted Caramel Dreams (#4 Swirl)

Author: Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2018

Pages: 229

Genre: fiction (ages 8-12)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Jasmine and Kiara are best friends and spend most of their time together.  When Kiara joins the basketball team and starts hanging out with her teammates, Jasmine tries to be understanding and supportive, but is really hurt.  Then she overhears some of Kiara's new friends making fun of her designs, and Kiara goes right along with them.  Is this the end of their friendship?

Thoughts:  This is the fourth book in the Swirl Novels, a series for tweens with middle schoolers as the main characters.  Each is a stand alone book with the stories taking place in different places and no characters that are the same from book to book.  Each story is by a different author.  The similarities are that each has a sweet treat, a crush, and similar themes related to friendships and finding self.  I also found that of the three I have read, the authors have similar writing styles- simple and organized, yet do a great job of moving the story along and keeping the interest of the reader.  The characters evolve and grow in each story and all deal with a crush and a friendship difficulty.  There is a good plot with underlying themes in each book, giving the stories the perfect depth for tweens.

I think, thus far, this was my favorite of the Swirl Novels.  I wanted to see what would happen in the story and cared about the characters, who I could relate to and believe most tweens and teens would also find  relateable.  The pace was just right.  This book was about going to middle school where kids most often get involved with new activities and groups of friends and then have to navigate and try to find a balance with the new and old, sometimes having to make difficult choices.  What do you do when friends have different interests? Can you forgive a best friend that betrays you?  How do you go about fitting in?  This is a light book about heavy topics- being yourself, finding yourself, trust, betrayal, following dreams, fitting in, crushes, friendship, and taking chances.

This book is recommended for 8 - 12 year olds, but to me, the themes seem more toward the older end of this age group.  I believe 11 - 13 year olds would enjoy this book the most, although I found it entertaining as an adult.





                                                                     




I just couldn't have tea with this book.  It definitely called for something sweeter.  I didn't create the salted caramel steamer as described in the book, but instead opted for a caramel chocolate hot cocoa.  I happened to have Cobbelstone Caramel Chocolate Hot Cocoa mix on hand.  I mixed 3 tablespoons of this with 6 ounces of warmed milk.  I then added whipped cream and caramel sauce to the top.  It was a great treat!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Alternate Side

Title: Alternate Side

Author: Anna Quindlen

Narrator: Ellen Archer

Publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2018

Format: 6 disks, 7 hours and 42 minutes

Genre: fiction

Obtained: library



Summary: Nora Nolan lives with her husband, Charlie, in New York City.  They both have good jobs, have successfully raised two kids, and have even managed to get a much sought after parking space on their dead end block. When an awful incident occurs in their neighborhood, it is an eye opener for Nora.

Thoughts:  I read Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen not too long ago and have wanted to read another book by this author since then.  I just loved her writing style and the way her story made me think.  It was very deep.  Also, I listened to a book read by Ellen Archer a few weeks ago and just loved this narrator, so when I saw this audio book I could not resist.

Alternate Side was similar to Miller's Valley in that it was deep and thought provoking and had the same non-dramatic writing style.  This author brings her characters to life and gives the feel of a nonfiction story.  The differences between this book and Miller's Valley was that the story in this one was just not as interesting to me, and there was a sadness and feeling of hopelessness throughout the whole book.  It still made me think and was very realistic, which made it even more depressing.

Ellen Archer did a fabulous job of narrating this novel.  She speaks clearly and at a wonderful pace.  She helped to bring the characters to life.

This was a wonderfully written book about life in New York City which focused on the upper class traditional family and neighborhood.  If you like stories about everyday people and aren't looking for a feel good book, this is one to try.  I highly recommend the audio version.



                                                                       


Company: Verdant Tea

Tea: Cai Cong Anxi Oolong

Obtained: purchased


I purchased the 5 Teas for $5 from Verdant Tea.  This is a company that gets its teas from sustainable small family farms.  Both on their website and in my order I could read about the good things these families do for their communities.  I also received a hand written note from Verdant Tea thanking me for supporting them- a very nice touch.  I got my order quickly and with no problems.  It was packaged well.

Today I tried Cai Cong Anxi Oolong, which was grown in Anxi, Fujian, on the southeast coast of the mainland of China.  I received five grams of leaves, which was just enough for a cup of tea.  The leaves were a dark green and looked as if they were large and had been rolled when they were wet.  They had a fresh grassy scent.  I poured eight ounces of near boiling water over the leaves and let this steep for thirty seconds.  The liquid was a pale yellow and had a sweet, fruity scent.  The taste was of grapes blended with florals.  It made me think of mountain meadows.  It was savory, creamy, and fresh- absolutely delicious.  This was a unique, excellent quality oolong.  I was so happy the leaves could be steeped over and over again because one cup was just not enough!



Friday, June 15, 2018

Eden's Wake

Title: Eden's Wake (#2 Rising Tide)

Author: Lynn Steigleder

Publisher: Soul Fire Press, 2015

Pages: 230

Genre: fantasy

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Ben, Eve, and Eleazor go through a doorway from their dying world into one that is being reborn.  They soon find that they will have major roles to play as the world goes through this transformation.  Will they succeed in helping this world to survive?

Thoughts: This is the second book in The Rising Tide Series.  I did not like the first one, Rising Tide,  very much, but this one was much better.  It had flow and more action.  It also had some cool creatures.  It definitely is a unique story and I liked how it was tied to the bible.  I enjoyed looking for the connections and I'm sure I missed some of them.

Unfortunately, the dialogue is dry and the characters aren't very interesting.  Although the characters don't walk around, bathe, and eat as much as in Rising Tide, I really wanted to edit out some of the parts when they were eating.

This book is really not a stand alone and Rising Tide should be read first.





                                                          



Company: Davids Tea

Tea: Superfood Splash

Obtained: purchased

Today I tried Superfood Splash iced tea.  This is an herbal infusion with low caffeine.  The ingredients were pineapple (pineapple, sugar cane, citric acid, sulfur dioxide), cinnamon, hibiscus, coffee leaf, coconut, mango, banana, stevia extract, and natural flavouring.  I had a pre-measured packet which I put into my tea pot.  The tea was made up of chunks of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  The scent was of sweet fruit and cinnamon. I poured ten ounces of near boiling water over the leaves and let this steep for four minutes.  I then poured the beautiful red liquid over ice.  It had a fruity, cinnamon scent.  The taste was of fruit (with pineapple as the standout), coconut and cinnamon in the background.  This was a sweet iced tea, which I usually don't like.  However, the cinnamon mixed with the tropical fruit won me over and I found this refreshing.  I would drink this as a substitute for punch.

If you like tropical tasting sweet iced tea and cinnamon- try this!

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Dry

Title: The Dry

Author: Jane Harper

Narrator: Steve Shanahan

Publisher: Macmillan Audio, 2017

Format: 8 compact discs, approximately 10 hours

Genre: mystery

Obtained: library



Summary: Aaron Falk, a federal agent with a specialty in financial crimes, returns to the town where he grew up for the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke.  Most believe that Luke murdered his family and then killed himself, but there are some unanswered questions.  Luke's parents talk Aaron into investigating what happened even though violent crimes are not his line of work.

Thoughts: This is the first whodunit mystery that I have read that was set in Australia.  I have to say, I just loved the setting.  I would not want to go there, as it was hot and dry to the point of extremely serious drought, but it was the perfect setting for a story like this.  The characters had depth and were realistic to me.  They were not over the top or overly dramatic- just everyday people, in a bad situation- drought in a farming community.  The writing style was detailed.  It was the perfect pace for a whodunit, not fast, but never boring or weighed down.  The writer put many clues into the story which I loved.  There were red herrings that were believable.  There were not many suspects, but enough with good motives to keep the story interesting.  I liked that there were two mysteries- one from Aaron's past and the current one.  I kept asking myself- Are these murders related?  Will they both be solved?

It did take me awhile to get used to the narrator of the book.  At first I felt like he was reading too fast, but after awhile of listening, I wondered if it was harder for me to follow because of the Australian accent.  I did get used to the narrator, and would definitely listen to more books read by him now that I am familiar with his reading style.

I love mysteries, especially when the setting and characters come to life and the crime is not cut and dry.  I love when writers bring in secrets and the past.  I got all this here.  Jane Harper is now on my list of favorite mystery authors.  She has a second novel out, Force of Nature, which has the same main character as The Dry.  The Lost Man, a stand alone mystery, is due out in February of 2019.         



                                                                  



Company: Davids Tea

Tea: Just Peachy

Obtained: purchased








I purchased the Summer Favourites Iced Tea Singles from Davids Tea.  The set included three single portion packets of five different iced teas for a total of 15 sixteen ounce glasses.  All you have to do is put the leaves in your tea maker or infuser, pour 16 ounces of near boiling water over the tea, let it brew, and add ice.  The first packet I tried was Just Peachy.  This was a caffeine free blend.  The ingredients listed were apple, apple pomace (apple pomace, citric acid), sweet blackberry leaves, peach (peach, sugar), natural and artificial flavouring.    The packet was easy to open.  The tea was a blend of chunks and leaves of all different shapes, sizes, and colors, which had a strong peach scent.  I put the leaves in my tea pot, poured sixteen ounces of almost boiling water over the leaves and let this brew for four minutes.  I then put ice in a glass and poured the tea over ice.  The liquid was a yellowish brown and had a peachy scent.  The tea had a strong, sweet peach flavor with a hint of berry in the background.  The good thing about this tea was that after the ice melted, the tea did not taste watered down.  What I personally didn't like was the strong sweetness of the tea.  It tasted like alot of sugar had been added.  This tea was not for me, but if you are someone that likes sweet peach tea or likes to add sugar to their iced tea, you would probably enjoy this one.