Friday, December 15, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Secrets

Title: Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Swirl #1)

Author: Hillary Homzie

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 234

Genre: middle school, realistic fiction

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Twelve year old Maddie has her first crush and can't wait to tell her best friend, Jana.  It will have to wait until school starts, though, because Jana is away, and Maddie has no way of reaching her.  Before Maddie can tell, Jana announces that she has a new crush on Jacob, Maddie's crush.  Maddie does not want to hurt her friend, so decides that she cannot have a crush on Jacob, but the feelings don't go away.  What will Maddie do?

Thoughts: This book was so much more than I expected.  I don't know if it was the cover, the title, or the book's description, but I had in my mind that this was going to be a soap opera type book with lots of drama.  It wasn't.  It was a very realistic book about friendships, family, and crushes.  It also showed the problems that can arise from keeping secrets. 

The author is fantastic at looking at the world through a middle schooler's eyes.  She was right on with this all around- in dialogue, behaviors, dress, relationships, and the way kids think, act, and react.  The characters she created were likeable and believable.  I think most middle school girls could relate to the protagonist in one way or another.  I liked the way the author had Maddie learn and grow in this book.

It was a fun, light book, yet had real life problems and lessons in it including that there are always consequences for actions. There were parents with high expectations, forgetting homework, not studying enough, balancing activities and school, keeping secrets, losing friends, making friends, crushes, all different types of teachers and extracurricular activities- the world of an 11-14 year old.  The book held my interest until the end.  I really was routing for everything to work out for Maddie.

If you're wondering, I would say this is rated G in the romance department- not even a kiss.  I would recommend this for girls 10-13.  I think it would be hard for a 8 or 9 year old to relate to the older characters.  It would make a great holiday gift with pumpkin spice muffin mix for girls who like to bake or like sweet treats.

This is the first book in The Swirl series.  I've also received the second in the series, Peppermint Cocoa Crushes which I will be reading and reviewing soon.  The third is Cinnamon Bun Besties, and the fourth Salted Caramel Dreams.  Each book is written by a different author.




                                                                   



Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Masala Chai

Obtained: purchased








I purchased the Chai Tea Sampler from Adagio Teas.  Masala tea was one of the four varieties included in the box.  It came in a resealable bag (pictured above).  I have found that some of this company's bags are very easy to open and close, and some are not.  This one was a difficult one, but did still seal to keep the tea fresh.

This chai tea was a blend of Ceylon black tea, cardamom, ginger root, cloves, natural cinnamon flavor, and cinnamon bark.  Adagio tea's website says this tea has a high caffeine content.  When opening the package, there was a wonderful scent of spices that reminded me of fall and winter holidays.  I could see long black tea leaves, whole cloves, round seeds and tiny twigs.

I put four teaspoons of leaves into my teapot and added sixteen ounces of water.  It's a cold winter day and I planned on keeping warm with tea this morning.  I let this steep for seven minutes.  The liquid was a cloudy, orange brown.  The scent was of what I think of as holiday spices- a blend of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom.  The taste was peppery and spicy with the cloves standing out a bit. It had no sweetness to it.  This tea just gave me an all over warm feeling which is just what I was looking for.  I tried the second cup with a bit of honey and milk, which toned down the spicy, peppery tastes and took away the all over warming feeling, making for a totally different beverage.  This tea was fantastic both ways.




Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Night Market

Title: The Night Market (advanced reading copy)

Author: Jonathan Moore

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to be released January 16, 2018

Pages: 288

Genre:  science fiction, thriller

Obtained: from publisher in return for an honest review





Summary: San Francisco Homicide Inspector, Ross Carver, and his partner, Jenner, are called to a crime scene where they find a body that looks like it is being eaten away by something.  FBI agents burst into the room and whisk Carver and Jenner away to decontaminate them.  Whatever the two were given to drink causes them to lose their memories of the past two days.  What is going on?  More importantly, who can they trust?

Thoughts: What a talent this author has for creating setting and atmosphere!  The story took place in San Francisco, California in the "near future".  The author created a dark, weird, somewhat creepy setting that made me feel like I was there.  The story itself was disturbing and parts were gruesome and a bit scary which added to the atmosphere of the book.  Also, throughout the book and right up until the end was the sense of suspicion- not knowing who to trust.  Wow!

The plot itself was clever, unique, and unpredictable.  The story involved conspiracy, mobsters, mystery, murder, memory loss, manipulation, corruption, nanotechnology, drones, and a bit of romance.  The characters were developed, but did not seem to have depth.  It took me a long time to figure out why, but I think it was the dialogue.  The characters spoke to one another, but did not seem to have distinct voices and their personalities were not shown through the dialogue.

I really liked the ending of the story, but not everyone will.  If you are one of those readers that need everything wrapped up at the end, you will not be satisfied with this ending.  Sometimes leaving pieces unanswered and not giving enough details just does not work, but it did here.

This is the third book in a trilogy.  I did not read the first two, The Dark Room or The Poison Artist, but this did not seem to matter as each book can be read as a stand alone and are only "loosely" tied together.

*Please note that I read an advanced reading copy of this book, so changes may be made before the final copy is released on January 16, 2018.


                                                






Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Aquarius

Obtained: free sample with purchase








I received a sample of Aquarius tea with my last Adagio Teas order.  This is part of their Zodiac collection.  Each customer received a small tin of their zodiac sign blend with their order.  The tin reminds me of a small Sucrets container, but the top slides off instead of latching.  At first I thought this would be great for traveling but the container slides apart very easily and would open in a bag.  Nonetheless the container is really cute and these would make great small gifts or stocking stuffers at Christmas time.

The long, thin, black tea leaves had blue and light gray flower petals, and small brown chunks mixed in.  It was a pretty blend.  The scent was nutty and slightly sweet from the vanilla flavoring. The ingredients listed on the website were Ceylon Sonata tea, Assam Melody tea, black tea, Oolong tea, natural hazelnut flavor, cocoa nibs, blue cornflower, and natural vanilla flavor.

I put two teaspoons of leaves in my teapot and poured sixteen ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for three minutes.  The liquid was an orange brown and had a sweet, nutty scent.  The taste was of a light, slightly sweet black tea with a nutty background flavor.  This was a nice blend for anytime of the day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Y is for Yesterday

Title: Y is for Yesterday

Author: Sue Grafton

Narrator: Judy Kaye

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing, 2017

Format: 14 compact discs, 17 hours

Genre: mystery

Obtained: library

Summary: Kinsey Millhone, a private investigator based in Santa Teresa, California is hired to find out who is blackmailing a family whose son has just been released from jail.  At the same time, Ned Lowe, a sociopath from Kinsey's past is back looking for "trophies" from the women he murdered.

Thoughts: I began to read the Kinsey Millhone series in the eighties.  A is For Alibi was published in 1982, but I started the series later than that.  I loved mysteries and this was my favorite series as a young adult.  Over the years I've read some of these books off and on, but decided I just had to read Y is for Yesterday (#25) in preparation for Z is for Zero which is set to come out in 2019.  It will be the final one.  This is so sad to me!  I feel like Kinsey Millhone has been part of my life.

I listened to this book while walking, folding laundry, and driving.  The narrator brought Kinsey to life, read the story at a good pace, was able to show emotion, and kept me engaged through the whole story.  It made me look forward to some mundane activities.  The tracks were also not way too long like in some books on compact disk, so I could find my place easily when moving the compact disc from device to device.

There was a lot to this book- the murder of a teen girl by her classmates, a rape filmed by some of the same group of teens, a psychopath from a previous case, blackmail, adultery, the privileged and the law.  The book bounces back and forth between the 70's (the murder and sex tape) and the 80's (the blackmail and psychopath).  The time jumps were clear and easy to follow and added suspense.  I'd be getting into the story of one time period, and it switch to the other.  This made me want to keep listening.

The characters in the book were very well developed.  None of the new characters in this book were likeable to me, but they were interesting and quirky.  This is a great strength of this author- bringing her characters to life.  She definitely shows and does not tell throughout the whole book.  I could picture myself right there watching the story unfold.  The plot and mystery were excellent and I love the way the author is able to leave "clues" through the characters behaviors, reactions, and emotions- not just physical clues.  The story is told at a good pace and information is given to the reader a little at a time.

What didn't seem to work in this book was that the author's style of writing is with wit and sarcasm (which is one of the things I love about her writing), but the topics were so dark- rape and teens killing teens.  This was just impossible to balance, so there was a bit of disconnect there.  I liked the lightness and humor in some parts of the story, but it just didn't work around the darker topics.  Also, at times there was too much repetition like the book could have used some more editing.  I felt myself getting annoyed, thinking you've already told me that twice.  This happened a few times.

All in all, Sue Grafton is one of my favorite mystery writers of all times.

 


                                                                 




Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Tiger Eye

Obtained: purchased








I ordered the Sweet Tooth Sampler from Adagio Teas.  It arrived quickly with no problems and with some free samples, which is always a nice bonus.  The four samples came in a gift box (pictured above), and each sample was in a resealable bag.  The website states that each sample makes 8-10 cups of tea.

Today I tried Tiger Eye which is a black, flavored tea with high caffeine content.  The package was easy to open and I immediately caught a strong scent of chocolate and caramel. The leaves were dark black and crinkly.  I put two teaspoons of leaves in my teapot and poured sixteen ounces of water over the tea.  I let this steep for three minutes.  The dark red liquid had the scent of black tea and chocolate.  The taste was of rich, bold tea with a subtle chocolate and caramel background.  It had a slight sweetness to it.  The combined flavors resulted in a nice balance.  I really enjoyed this tea because it was dessert-like, but not sickly sweet.  I could enjoy this robust tea anytime of the day! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift

Title: The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift

Author: Jeri Anne Agee

Illustrator: Bryan Langdo

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, January 2, 2018

Pages: 110

Genre: children (age 7 to 10), southern fiction

Obtained: advanced reading copy from publisher in exchange for an honest review



Summary: Birdie May Hayes has been feeling like something is going to happen. When she starts seeing future events in her mind, she wonders if this is a "gift" she can give back, or maybe she could use it to help people.

Thoughts: This was a really cute book about friendship, family, bullies, helping others, and just plain being nice to everyone. It showed that everybody has bad days.  It was a feel good book set in Alabama, and I just loved the southern flair.  Birdie May Hayes is lovable.  She is brought to life by the author.  The writer balances humor with life lessons and knows how to write for kids.  The illustrations were expressive and comical and added to the story.

I read this book to my 10 year old son.  It took him a couple of chapters to get into it.  He would say it had a slow start, but I wondered if girls might get into it right away since the focus at the beginning is on relationships, feelings, and thoughts, rather than action.  As soon as he found out Birdie May had "a gift", he was hooked.  He loved the book and was very happy to hear this will be a series.  He can't wait for the next one, Henry the Cat which is set to be released on February 20, 2018.

As I read the book, I did find that some of the sentences were very long and thought it may be difficult for some struggling readers or children reading above their level to grasp meaning and / or keep up their stamina in some spots.  This was only in a few spots, and the pictures being in there may help with both these issues when kids stop to look at them.

This was an advanced reading copy, so there may be differences to the finished, published version.  The release date for The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift is January 2, 2018.  It would have been fantastic if it had been released in September because it is a great book for autumn and Halloween, something to keep in mind for next fall.




                                                                     




Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Chocolate Chai

Obtained: purchased








I purchased the Chai Tea Sampler from Adagio Teas.  It arrived quickly with no problems and with some free samples which is always fun!  The sampler consisted of 4 different chai teas, each making about 5 cups for 20 cups of tea.  The samples were in resealable bags with ingredients and directions on each bag.

I opened the package of chocolate chai easily.  The tea was made up of long, thin black tea leaves mixed with small chucks of light and medium brown spices.  Ingredients listed on the package were black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, cocoa nibs, natural cinnamon flavor, and natural chocolate flavor.  I put 2 heaping teaspoons of tea into my teapot and poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for 3 minutes.  The liquid was a medium orange brown that was a bit cloudy.  The scent reminded me of warm brownie with cinnamon.  The taste was a blend of light, subtle chocolate and spices.  It was delicious!  Again, the chocolate flavor is just subtle, so if you are looking for a deep chocolate flavored tea or want the chocolate flavor to be strong and prominent, this is not the one for you.

I thought this would be the perfect fall tea, but after drinking it, to me, it is the perfect winter tea.  It is a warming tea that I would want to drink on a cold, snowy day.  It gave me a relaxing, cozy feel.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rising Tide

Title: Rising Tide

Author: Lynn Steigleder

Publisher: Soul Fire Press, 2015

Pages: 224

Genre: fantasy, dystopia

Obtained: from the author in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Ben finds himself alone at sea and in life threatening danger. Strange things start to happen as supernatural forces begin to guide Ben toward his destiny.

Thoughts: This book started out really good.  After reading the first couple of chapters I thought the story was unique and it really held my interest.  After that my interest started to fade.  Although the book was easy to follow, I could not picture what was going on.  I understood, but could not see it in my mind's eye.  The characters seemed dry and I didn't care what happened to them.  By the third quarter of the book I felt like the characters were just going from place to place eating, drinking, and bathing.  I made myself read the book to the end and it was a good ending.  It seemed like this author had a beginning and ending but didn't know how to get from the start to the finish.  For me, reading is all about the journey and this voyage was dull.



                                                                 




Company: Whistling Kettle

Tea: Mokalbari East Assam

Obtained: purchased








I purchased the Breakfast Tea Sampler from the Whistling Kettle.  It came in a colorful, pleasing box with six resealable bags enclosed. Thus far I have found this company has given me an all around wonderful experience.  Their website was easy to negotiate.  I received my order quickly.  It was packaged with care.  The packaging and tea were high quality.  There was plenty of information about the tea on the packaging.

Today I tried their Mokalbari East Assam tea.  The whole dark brown leaves were long, thin, and twisted.  They had a sweet, somewhat woodsy aroma.  I put two teaspoons of leaves in my tea kettle and poured twelve ounces of water over the leaves.  I let this steep for five minutes.  The liquid was a dark reddish brown and had a fruity, honey scent.  The taste was strong and flavorful, but not sweet at all.  It was rich, bright, and had malty notes, with a slight astringency.  The website stated that there is a medium caffeine content to this superb tea.  It would be great for breakfast!

After drinking about half the cup, I decided to try it with a little honey and milk.  It really did not need it because it was so flavorful, but I was craving something sweet after enjoying the honey aroma of the liquid.  It was just as good with these additives and they somehow brought out a more fruity flavor.

Monday, November 6, 2017

5 - Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories from the Extreme Hills


9781510723702-frontcover.jpg (1800×2700)
Title: 5 - Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories from the Extreme Hills

Author: Greyson Mann

Illustrator: Grace Sanford

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, September, 2017

Pages: 112

Genre: fantasy, children (ages 7 - 12)

Obtained: advanced reading copy from publisher in exchange for an honest review





Summary: Zach, Sophia, and Anthony go treasuring hunting in different areas of the Extreme Hills.  Each chapter is a different adventure with new dangers they must face.

Thoughts:  This book consists of eight short adventures in which the same three characters hunt for treasure.  Each story takes place in a different section of the Extreme Hills and there is a different danger in each story.  Some of the things encountered in the stories are caves, spiders, lava, zombies, bats, rotten flesh, dungeons, silverfish, and skeletons.  This is definitely a book for Minecraft lovers.  Readers will come across words such as mobs, spawner, creeper, Enderman, and griefer.

I liked that this book was geared toward young readers.  There seem to be many books based on Minecraft for older kids, but it is harder to find Minecraft based books for the younger ones.  I liked this book because it had large print and was repetitive.  It had some advanced words, but just enough so that a younger child could comprehend what was going on even if they didn't know the meaning of these words.  A child may learn the meaning of new words such as "spire" or "tread".  Also, there were a couple of good themes throughout the book, such as be prepared and always be there for your friends.

Although it was very hard for me to not zone out when my son was reading this book to me, he loved it and it held his interest.  He was able to learn some new vocabulary and got practice reading some words that he doesn't come across often, along with some more common words.  This is a great book for young Minecraft lovers to read with someone and for older children to have some short stories to read on their own.  It is recommended for ages 7 to 12, but I believe advanced readers in this age group would be bored with these stories.

* Please note this was an advanced reading copy.  The names in the book were not the same as on the book cover.  Therefore, the names in my summary may not be the same as in a book you purchase or check out at the library.



                                                                    





Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Cream

Obtained: purchased








I always have dessert after dinner, but sometimes a sweet cup of tea is enough dessert for me.  That is why I ordered the Sweet Tooth Teas sampler from Adagio Teas.  Included in the sample were Cream, Tiger Eye, Chocolate Chip, and Caramel.  The cost for the sampler was $9 and each sample is supposed to make 10 cups of tea- that's 40 cups for $9!

I decided to have a cup of Cream tea while my son read to me. This is a Ceylon tea with cream flavoring.  It has a high caffeine content.  I cut open the resealable bag.  The thin, black leaves had the scent of warm cream.  I put two teaspoons of leaves into my tea ball and poured sixteen ounces of  boiling water over this.  I let it steep for three minutes.  The liquid was dark orange and the scent was of cream pie.  The taste was rich, smooth, and brisk with a sweet cream background.  To me it was an elegant tea.  It is a nice dessert tea.  It would also be great to have when craving something sweet.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lucy's Lab: Solids, Liquids, Guess Who's Got Gas

517t0Xvb7GL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)Title: Lucy's Lab: Solids, Liquids, Guess Who's Got Gas

Author: Michelle Houts

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zechel

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 112

Genre: children's fiction (chapter book ages 7-9)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review




Summary: The Harvest Festival is coming up and Lucy does not have a costume idea until she starts to learn about the states of matter- solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

Thoughts: This is the second book in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) based chapter book series geared toward 7 to 9 year old children.  My 10 year old has really enjoyed this series and I think others this age would also be interested and entertained by it.  The books are a combination of science (nonfiction) and a realistic fiction story that has science dispersed throughout it.  The science is presented simply and not with an over abundance of detail, so it holds kid's attention.  The fictional story has lovable, well developed characters and the story takes place all over a small town which keeps children engaged through the action and movement.

The focus of this second book is on the states of matter- solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.  I liked that the states of matter worksheet Lucy did in the story was in the book, so my son could do it.  This way I could see if he understood the science concepts.  The material is presented with fun and humor which makes it memorable.  I can see a child recalling the information easily.

My son and I liked the second book in the series even more than the first.  The science and story were woven together more seamlessly and my son did not have the feeling the story was not finished which he did after reading the first.  I also liked that science vocabulary that was presented in the first book was repeated in this one which helps my son to remember new words, especially long ones.  New vocabulary such as properties, hypothesis, and atmosphere were introduced in this book. 

This book taught that science is all around us, there are different ways to test a hypothesis, and that there is more than one way to solve a problem.  It taught manners, safety, the importance of family, the value of studying and the usefulness of the library.  I thought it was a wonderful book for autumn, not only because it was about a harvest festival, but because the students went to an apple farm and learned all about picking apples and making cider.

I recommend this book for anyone who has a child interested in science.  This book and series is a fantastic way to introduce children to science.  It is a terrific story for homeschoolers to read along with their states of matter lesson.  Also, Lucy, the main character in the story, has her very own Pinterest page that has the science activities Lucy did in the book (and more), so children can do the same experiments as Lucy.

The third book in the series, The Colossal Fossil Fiasco comes out in February 2018 and is on my son's Amazon wish list already.  He is studying fossils in school now and it will be a nice review for him when we read the third book.



                                                 




Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Spiced Apple Chai

Obtained: purchased








I love fall, especially the harvest and all the cooking (especially baking) that goes along with it.  I delight in the spices- cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, ginger, cloves, and orange peel- in pumpkin and apple pie, eggnog, apple cider, butternut squash, and even blueberry, pear, and peach desserts.  During the autumn season I enjoy drinking teas with some of these spices and I often make chai in the traditional way- warming tea leaves, honey, milk, and these spices on top of the stove.

Recently, I placed an order with Adagio Teas for some samplers and decided to include the Chai Teas Sampler for the fall season which contains four different chai blends.  The order arrived quickly.  The chai samples came in resealable bags in a gift box.  I found that the bags really need to be cut open and some are more difficult to reseal than others, but they eventually catch.

The Spiced Apple Chai is a beautiful potpourri of whole cloves, chunks of apple and spices, orange peels, and tea leaves.  It has a strong scent of spices and apple.  The ingredients (which are listed on the package) are: black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, cardamon, orange peels, cloves, apple pieces, natural apple flavor, and natural cinnamon flavor.  The website states that this tea has a high caffeine content.  I put two heaping teaspoons of leaves into my teapot (one with a fine sieve because there are some really small pieces in this blend) and poured eight ounces of boiling water over the leaves.  I let this sit for five minutes.  The cloudy orange liquid had a delectable scent of sweet apple and spices that definitely smelled like fall.  The taste of the tea was of spices and sweet apple.  It was flavorful, but not as strong as I expected a chai tea to be. I did not want to add milk or honey.  The apple added sweetness to the tea and I felt like if I added milk it would take away too much of the spiciness.

I really enjoyed this tea.  One cup was just not enough!   I made another one.  I don't know what it was with this tea (it could be just me) but it didn't really quench my thirst. I still enjoyed it though.

I recommend that chai lovers or someone looking for a cup of fall try this blend.  I would not call it "refreshing" like the website does, but it sure does taste delicious!