Friday, February 16, 2018

State of Emergency

Title: State of Emergency

Author: Mary Hallburg

Publisher: independently published by author

Pages: 158

Genre: young adult, horror

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Can Dallas and her friends find shelter from zombies?

Thoughts: Just like modern day zombie movies, this book is the simple story of a teenager and her friends trying to get away from zombies before they are eaten or become zombies themselves.  The writing is simple and organized.  There is humor and gore.  The book is all about the escape, but also about the relationships between the group of teens.  The characters have distinct personalities, but I would have liked to have seen them developed a bit more to add some meat to the book.  The author lets the reader know how the zombies came about which I really liked, but other than that it is basically just the group trying to get someplace safe.  It is a short, quick, entertaining read (if you are into zombies).


Company: Art of Tea

Tea: Endurance

Obtained: gift

I received a tin of Endurance tea for Christmas.  This blend from Art of Tea includes herbs used to increase stamina.  The ingredients are organic cinnamon, organic pu-erh tea, organic eleuthero root, organic goji berries, organic schisandra berries, organic nettle leaf, organic oatstraw, organic ashwaganda powder, and natural flavor.  The tea has a medium caffeine content. 

The leaves came in a good quality artisan tin and there are supposed to be enough leaves to make about 50 cups of tea.  The tin was easy to open, close, and store.  The potpourri of leaves, berries, and other plant pieces was really pretty, as can be seen in the picture on the left.  The leaves had the scent of berries and cinnamon.

I put one tablespoon of leaves into my tea ball, which just fit.  It will be easy to measure next time- one full tea ball.  I poured eight ounces of water that had been boiled over the tea ball and let this steep for five minutes.  The liquid was a cloudy orange brown and had a scent of berries and cinnamon.  The taste was a very flavorful cinnamon and berry blend.  This was a smooth tea and was not delicate like many berry tea blends.  After drinking it I did have a bit of an energy boost, especially a mental one.  Having a cup of this tea would be a great way to start out the day.  It would also be a fantastic way to revitalize in the afternoon to get through work or anything that needs to get done.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Beginning Woods

Title: The Beginning Woods 

Author: Malcolm McNeill

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2018

Pages: 522

Genre: fantasy (ages 10+)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Max appeared in this world and at the same time people started to vanish.  He wants to discover where he came from and believes he can stop the vanishings if he finds this out.  He goes into the Beginning Woods in search of an answer.

Thoughts: Imagination.  This author has this wonderful gift.  In this book he creates an unusual world and characters in a modern, whimsical fairy tale. He really puts a fresh twist on the fairy tale, making the characters a bit nontraditional and the story complex, very dark in places, and sometimes quite deep.  I could liken it to stories such as Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, or A Wrinkle in Time, combined with Grimm's Fairy Tales, but it really is not a copy of any of these classics.  It comes straight from the author's imagination.

This is definitely not a quick read, but it also does not have a bogged down feel to it.  It is slow paced, enjoyable, and surprises you.  It keeps you guessing what's going to happen, but not in a suspenseful, I need to know what happens next way, more of in an interesting way that makes you think.  If you like stories that are very clear as to what is going on at the very beginning and also jump right into action, this is definitely not the book for you.  This author takes his time, letting the reader get to know the players in the story gradually, and prolongs understanding of what is actually happening almost by giving the reader pieces to a puzzle.  He is a detailed writer and even has stories in the story.  It all comes together in the end, but the reader needs to be willing to put in the time for this one.

The book is recommended for ages 10+.  I started reading this to my ten year old and he quickly lost interest.  After reading it myself, I thought of it more as a fairy tale for young adults and adults than for children.  It is intricate and has adult themes.  A mature middle school student would probably really enjoy it too.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Chocolate Chip

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Sweet Tooth Teas Sampler from Adagio Teas. The four samples, each yielding eight to ten cups of tea, were in resealable bags.  Each bag listed ingredients and brewing instructions for the tea.  The four bags were in a gift box which gave a description of each tea on the back.

Today I tried the Chocolate Chip tea which contains Ceylon black tea, natural chocolate flavor, dark chocolate chips, and cocoa nibs.  When I opened the bag, there was a strong chocolate scent.  The black leaves were all shapes and sizes and I could see miniature chocolate chips mixed throughout the tea. I put one teaspoon of leaves in my tea ball and poured twelve ounces of water that had been boiled over the tea.  I let this brew for three minutes.  The dark orange liquid had a faint sweet chocolate scent.  The smooth, rich taste was of light, warm cocoa. There was a slight astringency at the end which blended nicely with the chocolate.  I did not find this to be as sweet as the other teas in the Sweet Tooth Teas Sampler.  The leaves definitely smelled sweeter than the tea tasted.  Not liking my tea very sweet and chocolate being one of my favorites, I loved this tea- delicious!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Lying Game

Title: The Lying Game

Author: Ruth Ware

Narrator: Imogen Church

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017

Format: 11 compact discs, 13 hours and 39 minutes

Genre: mystery, thriller

Obtained: library

Summary: Isa, Kate, Fatima, and Thea, close friends from boarding school, have a secret.  The four have not been together for many years, but when Kate sends a text to her three friends saying "I need you", they drop everything and go to her.  What will happen when the secret and lies from the past make their way into the present?

Thoughts: My favorite aspect of this author's writing is the atmosphere she creates with her setting and characters.  She makes you feel not only through the complex characters, but through the settings.  She was able to change a beautiful and relaxing setting into a scary, menacing one depending on what was happening in the story.  The author brought the characters to life.   It felt like they were real people. Isa, the character that relates the story was so much more believable to me than Lo, in The Woman in Cabin 10 , also written by this author.

The story itself was a good one, but the author's way of telling it made it even better.  She has a way of giving the reader snippets of information and clues a little at a time adding to the suspense and mystery, and she doesn't stop until the end.  She also writes with detail, but not enough to weigh the story down- just enough so that the reader can easily picture it in his or her head.  The book switches back and forth from present to past, but it is easy to follow and not confusing in the least.

The narrator did a fantastic job portraying the characters, and their emotions with her voice.  She used clear, precise speech which was very easy to follow.  I did hate that this audio book had such long tracks, though.  This was a story I couldn't wait to listen to, even if I only had a couple of minutes.  Many time I'd have to move a disc to another device and would end up having to listen to half a track I had already listened to when I really wanted to hear what was going to happen next.

If you like books with interesting characters, secrets, mystery, suspense, mood and atmosphere you can feel, intriguing settings, and a book with some depth that is hard to put down- look no further.....


Company: The Whistling Kettle

Tea: East Frisian Blend

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Breakfast Tea Sampler from The Whistling Kettle.  The samples were in a good quality, colorful box.  Each was in a small resealable bag as pictured above.  Information about the teas was attached to the box and the bags which included brewing suggestions. Today I tried the East Frisian Blend, which is a blend of black teas from Assam, Java, and Sumatra.  The short, black and brown, crinkly leaves had a sweet, earthy scent.  I put 2 teaspoons of leaves into my tea pot and poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for 4 minutes.  The deep reddish brown liquid had a sweet, earthy scent like the leaves, but the taste was not sweet at all.  This tea had a strong, full, round, malty flavor.  It would make a great breakfast tea.  I made a piece of toast to go with mine, but I wished I had a scone to go with it.  If you like strong teas, this is one to try.  It only has a medium caffeine content.  It is not a wake-me- up type of tea.  It is more of a soothing tea even though it is strong. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Camino Island

Title: Camino Island

Author: John Grisham

Narrator: January LaVoy

Publisher: Random House Audio, 2017

Format: 9 hours, 7 compact discs

Genre: crime fiction

Obtained: library

Summary:  Five original manuscripts written by F. Scott Fitzgerald have been stolen from Princeton University.  Mercer, a writer, is contacted by a woman from a secret organization and is offered a huge sum of money to get close to Bruce Cable (owner of a bookstore on Camino Island) who is thought to be in possession of the manuscripts.  She is then to report back everything she observes to this organization.

Thoughts:  This book was a bit different from what I expect from John Grisham.  Yes, there was a crime and the law was involved in a way, but the majority of the story focused on the inner turmoil, sentimentality, and life of the main character rather than action.  It was also not as complex and had simpler ideas than past books by this author, maybe because it did not involve the courtroom.

There were more minor characters present than in most of Grisham's other novels.  I really liked most of the characters he created, but I just could not feel a connection to Mercer, the main character.  She was well developed, but it was hard to want her to succeed because she was just not likeable to me.

I loved the setting and that the story was all about literature, writing, and authors.  The narrator was clear and read at a good pace, but I did notice that Mercer's southern accent was heavy at times and almost not present at others.  I did not lose interest at all, even though this was not the suspenseful thriller Grisham usually writes.

All in all this was a light, entertaining, quick read.  If you're looking for a nail-biting fast paced thriller, as most of Grisham's books are, you might be disappointed. Nevertheless, Grisham is a very talented writer, and this book shows us a different side to his writing.  This would make a fantastic beach read or entertainment while traveling or waiting for an appointment.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Green Rooibus Key West

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Green Rooibus Sampler from Adagio Teas which contains four different green rooibus samples, each making 8 -10 cups of tea.  Green rooibus is not oxidized like red rooibus tea which results in a different flavor.  The samples came in a gift box and each sample was in a resealable bag.  Today I tried the Green Rooibus Key West tea.  When I opened the bag, I found long, light brown leaves mixed with marigold leaves.  There was a fruity scent to the leaves. I put one teaspoon of leaves into my tea ball and poured eight ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves. I let this steep for five minutes.  The liquid was a light yellow and had a very faint fruity scent.  The taste was smooth and delicate with mango and apricot flavors in the background.  This tea had a hint of sweetness to it.  This is a delicious caffeine free beverage for those that like a fruit / tea blend- especially mangoes and apricots. I will be trying this one iced in the warmer months.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Travel as Transformation

Title: Travel as Transformation

Author: Gregory V. Diehl

Publisher: Identity Publications, 2016

Genre: nonfiction

Pages: 142

Obtained: from author in return for an honest review

Summary: The author explains the process of stepping away from your culture and routines of daily life, and putting your world view, personal history, and beliefs aside, to find your true self through travel.

Thoughts:  What made this book so interesting to me was that the author and I have such different lifestyles.  The author is someone who lives a nomadic life, experiencing many different cultures and people.  I am a mom that has lived in the same small town for 18 years among the same people only experiencing this one culture.  The author has been on a journey, not only physically traveling the world, but an intentional journey to find his true self by continuously immersing himself into new cultures.  Each time he travels to a new place, he puts aside the barriers of cultures and people that he has experienced in the past and experiences a new self.  In this way he can see what makes him who he really is- what is really inside him, not what the outside world is making him.

This book really gave me food for thought.  The author's ideas were new to me and it really made me think.  Also, I have been contemplating the author's lifestyle and the courage it must have taken him to begin this journey.  To me, the idea of immersing myself into a new culture is terrifying, but I can see how it would force someone to grow.

Although the author was describing  new ideas to me, it was easy to understand because of his clear writing style.  He explained a complex idea and process step by step, giving personal examples along the way.  Also, the book was not long and drawn out.  It was just enough to get his point across.

This would be a terrific book for anyone on an intentional journey to find their true selves, someone that likes to travel, or anyone interested in some new ideas related to self.  It would also be a fantastic book for a book discussion.  I can see some heated debates about the ideas in this book.  It is not for someone looking for a detailed travel book or memoir.


Company: Art of Tea

Tea: Bright Eyed

Obtained: gift

I received a 4 ounce bag of Bright Eyed tea for Christmas.  It was handcrafted by Art of Tea, which is an organic tea importer and wholesaler based in Los Angeles, California.  The tea is a blend of organic cinnamon, organic ginger, turmeric, sarsaparilla, and organic black peppercorn.  The package states that it "draws from Ayurvedic principles to energize and awaken your mind and body, all without caffeine".

The tea came in a good quality resealable bag (seen in the picture).  It was a pretty blend of spices in oranges, yellows, and browns. It had a wonderful strong, spicy scent.  I put two teaspoons of tea into my teapot and poured sixteen ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this brew for five minutes.  The bright yellow liquid had a spicy, peppery taste with a sarsaparilla aftertaste that stuck around for a long time.

I really liked this tea.  I love that it was a blend containing turmeric.  I have tried adding turmeric to drinks for the health benefits and, every time, all I could think about was pickles.  It was not so with this blend.  It didn't remind of pickles at all.  In a way, it was reminiscent of chai tea, which I love, but with a different spice combination.  It definitely has that very strong spicy, peppery taste.  If you are looking for health benefits and like spicy, this is a must try. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Audio Book Challenge

2018 Audiobook Challenge

I have joined the 2018 Audio Book Challenge hosted by Hot Listens and Caffeinated Reviewer.  My goal is to listen to at least 10 audio books this year to reach the Stenographer level.  I love listening to audio books on long drives and while doing household chores, especially folding laundry.  I will list the books I listen to for this challenge here. Click on the title to see my review of the book.  If you would like more information about this challenge, or would like to join, please click here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Woman in White

Title: The Woman in White

Author: Wilkie Collns

Narrator: Ian Holme

Publisher: AudioGo, 2007, first published in 1860

Format: 20 compac discs, 24 hours 37 minutes

Genre: classic

Obtained: library

Summary: Walter Hartright, an art teacher, is preparing to travel to Limmeridge House in Cumberland where he has been hired to teach two young women, Laura Fairlie and Marian Holcombe.  Before he leaves, he encounters a woman, dressed all in white, who is lost.  He assists her, and later finds out that she has escaped from an asylum.  He is somewhat haunted by this woman who is connected to Limmeridge house.  She spent the best years of her life there as a child and remembers it fondly.  What happens when the woman in white reappears in Cumberland?

Thoughts: I LOVED this book.  It just seemed to have everything- amazing characters, intriguing setting, engaging plot, romance, humor, mystery, power struggles, secrets, lies, and surprising twists.  The story was told by multiple narrators, so that the reader got pertinent parts of the story directly from the eyewitnesses, similar to a court hearing.  This was an interesting way to present the story, but it also enabled the author to show the reader extensive details of the characters personalities. The characters were, well, weird.  The villain in the story was a master of manipulation and lies. He was intelligent and charming, showy and conceited, yet creepy and menacing- pure evil.  There was a hypochondriac uncle that was annoying, yet funny.  Marian was an intelligent, masculine, ugly female.  Laura was beautiful, feminine, and unintelligent.  These are just a few examples.  All the characters were odd and quirky.

The setting was mid-19th century, England - perfect for a mystery.  Some of the story took place at Limmeridge House, a beautiful Victorian mansion, while most of the darker part of the story enfolded at Blackwater Park which was more Gothic.  The reader traveled all over, including both the country and the city.

The plot itself encompassed so much.  The story was detailed and started off by having the reader get to know the players in the story.  The story did not bog down, but kept moving forward with the pace picking up a bit in the middle and at the end.  The main themes that stood out for me were the trouble that money can cause, how the justice system does not always help people, and how unfair the law was to women at the time this story took place.

The author's style of writing is hard to describe. He writes with a different style for each narrator which goes along with their personality.  The constants are that all the writing is detailed and easy to follow.  Also, the author gets to emotions, and keeps the reader engaged.  Some of the writing is flowery and romantic.  Other parts of the writing are harsh and simple.  The feel of the complete work was similar to that of Tara Road by Maeve Binchy (one of my favorite books) in that it felt full and complete.  I felt like I got everything and when I got to the end, I didn't want to leave the characters.

The narrator of this particular audio book was incredible.  He portrayed the characters by slightly changing his voice for each, but somehow bringing them to life.  He added to the feelings in the book- romantic, creepy, joyous, haunting, etc...  He read at a perfect pace and spoke clearly no matter the dialogue.

This is a great book for when you have time to fully enjoy it, not for when you want a quick read.  It is a book you immerse yourself into.  It would be a great book for a book club because there are so many things to discuss about this elaborate book, but make sure there is plenty of time to complete it.


Company: The Whistling Kettle

Tea: Scottish Breakfast

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Breakfast Sampler from The Whistling Kettle.  It came in a colorful gift box (seen in the picture).  There were 6 resealable bags with different tea samples of "robust, full-bodied" teas in the box.  Today I tried the Scottish Breakfast tea.  This, according to the bag, is a "blend of black tea from India, Kenya, and China".  I put 2 1/2 teaspoons of the long black leaves in my teapot.  The leaves had a sweet, woodsy scent.  I poured water that had been boiled over the leaves and let this steep for 4 minutes.  The liquid was a dark reddish brown and had a light sweet, woodsy scent.  The taste was malty with a bit of sweetness to it.  It was full-bodied.  The website states this tea has a medium caffeine content.  This is a great tea to have with a hearty breakfast.