Monday, July 17, 2017

A Love Story

51ARRt5j1OL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (333×499)Title: A Love Story: How God Pursued Me and Found Me 

Author: Samantha Ryan Chandler

Publisher: Crossbooks, 2011

Genre: nonfiction, Christian, memoir

Pages: 130

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Samantha Ryan Chandler looks back at her life, thus far, and explores how God was present through both the good and bad times, guiding her along the way.

Thoughts: The author wrote this story to herself looking for God in her darkest moments, the most strenuous time being the process of her divorce from a rich and powerful man in which she lost just about everything including her children.  It is a short, quick read that could be a great inspiration or provider of hope to someone going through hard times, especially divorce, or someone struggling with their faith.  It also could act as encouragement to reflect on one's own life or simply provide food for thought.  The author's faith and courage shines throughout the book.

What I like most about this book is that the author writes about her difficult life in a light and, at times, humorous way, but still is able to show the hard times, pain, and suffering she went through.  Although the book is insightful, it is unorganized and jumps around quite a bit, especially at the end where I felt like the author found she wanted to add some things, so just stuck them at the end, rather than weave them into her story where they made sense.  She does state this book was not written in the traditional way, for someone to read, but rather, written to herself which explains how the book is arranged.  Nevertheless, it has been published for others to read and I believe it would be a much better read if it was more organized.





                                                                      



Company: French Creek Tea Company
P. O. Box 5021, Custer, SD 57730
605-673-5383

Tea: Emerald Dreams

Obtained: from owners






Emerald Dreams, a "blend of green teas flavored with vanilla and assorted fruits", is produced by the French Creek Tea Company in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The tea is packaged in a simple, yet sophisticated looking, good quality, resealable bag which keeps the leaves fresh.

When I opened the bag, there was a strong, sweet fruity scent. The long, green leaves were mixed with chunks of fruit.  I measured one teaspoon of leaves into my tea ball, placed it in my cup, and poured 6 ounces of water that had been boiled and then slightly cooled into the cup.  I let this steep for 2 minutes.

The pale yellow liquid had a slight sweet vanilla scent.  The delicate, sweet taste was a vanilla and fruit blend with a vanilla aftertaste.  This was a sweet treat and would be great when craving something sugary, but not wanting the calories.  I am not a vanilla lover but the flavor was light and not overpowering so I enjoyed this tea.  I believe fans of vanilla would really enjoy this tea since the vanilla flavor lingers.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Murder, She Wrote Trouble at High Tide

517NOgGxIuL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (310×499)Title: Murder, She Wrote: Trouble at High Tide (#37)

Author: Donald Bain

Publisher: Obsidian, 2012

Pages: 276

Genre: mystery

Obtained: gift






Summary: Jessica Fletcher has accepted an invitation from Judge Thomas Betterton to vacation in one of his cottages located on the same private beach as his family mansion in Bermuda.  After a dinner party at the mansion, Jessica finds the body of one of the guests on the beach.  Is this murder tied into the copycat Jack the Ripper killings that have been happening in Bermuda, or was this murder more personal?

Thoughts: I have always loved the Murder, She Wrote television series, especially the episodes set in Cabot Cove, Maine.  I have been hesitant to read the books because I was afraid that Jessica Fletcher, and the other characters that I love from Cabot Cove, would not be depicted in the same way as in the television series.  I got this book as a gift from my sister-in-law who knows how much I delight in the show.  The book did not disappoint.  It could have been one of the television episodes.  Jessica was depicted in the same way.  The mystery was more detailed than on television, but very similar.  Although the setting was Bermuda, and not Cabot Cove, and the Cabot Cove characters were not in Bermuda, it didn't matter.  I felt like I was on vacation with Jessica at the beach, one of my favorite places to be.
     The author did a great job with descriptions.  I could picture the places, people, and the action.  The many characters were distinctive.  I did not get them mixed up and could picture each one.  The writing style was organized and the author kept the story moving.  The mystery was a good one.  Although I guessed whodunit, it was just that- a guess.  I was not completely sure I was right until the culprit was caught in the end.  There were believable red herrings and twists thrown in throughout the book.  I really liked that Jessica did not know her host too well and did not know the other family members and friends of the family at all.  This way the reader learned about the characters right along with Jessica.
     This book would be a great read while on vacation or at the beach.  I read it on a camping trip myself.  It was a fun, entertaining read that was light and cozy- great for relaxing!  I will definitely read more Murder, She Wrote mysteries.


                                                                  





Company: French Creek Tea Company
P. O. Box 5021, Custer, SD 57730
605-673-5383

Tea: Silverheels

Obtained: from owners







     Silverheels is a "blend of Mutan white and green teas flavored with pear".  Mutan white tea is made from the leaves of the da bai bush mixed with buds from the shui hsien tea plant.  When I opened the resealable, good quality bag, I immediately received a sweet fruity scent with a somewhat earthy scent in the background.  The leaves were a potpourri of brown, green, silver, and yellow leaves of all shapes and sizes mixed with brown fruit chunks.  I measured two teaspoons of leaves into my teapot and poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled and cooled slightly over the leaves.  I let this steep for two minutes.  The pale yellow liquid had a sweet fruity scent.  The light taste was smooth, yet crisp. It was sweet with no sourness or astringency.  It had a pleasant pear aftertaste.  This was a delectable tea!
 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Anne of Avonlea

51GR-vs2w5L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (260×216)Title: Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables #2)

Author: L. M. Montgomery

Narrator: Tara Ward

Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC, 2017 (originally published in 1909)

Format: 8 discs, 9 hours and 20 minutes

Genre: classic, young adult

                                                                                           Obtained: library

Summary: Anne Shirley is growing up.  She is now 16 and is about to start her job as the Avonlea school teacher.  This book tells of Anne's life over the 2 years that she teaches and at the end closes this chapter of her life, getting the reader ready for the next.

Thoughts: I joined the Anne Read Along hosted by Greenish Book Shelf and Death by Tsundoku because I had read Anne of Green Gables recently and really enjoyed it.  Since I haven't heard much about the other books in the Anne series, I figured they would not be even close to as good as the first in the series, but was curious.  Well, I enjoyed Anne of Avonlea just as much as Anne of Green Gables.

I listened to the book on cd's.  There was a different narrator for this second book, and it took me awhile to get used to this because the narrators interpreted the characters a bit differently, and of course their voices were different.  I can't say that one narrator was better than another.  Tara Ward read at a great pace, spoke clearly, and brought the characters to life just as Kate Burton did.

The same delightful characters from Anne of Green Gables were present in Anne of Avonlea, but more were added, each original.  Anne is growing up and L. M. Montgomery does an excellent job showing Anne mature, yet keeping her personality intact.  Her wild imagination is there, but toned down a bit.  She continues to get herself into mishaps, but they are age appropriate.  There is more romance and, I believe, more humor in this second book.

L. M. Montgomery's writing style is just beautiful, especially her descriptions.  I love the way she describes people and how she is able to weave descriptions in throughout the novel without stopping the actual story.  I also am amazed at how she writes about such simple everyday occurrences, but is able to make them so entertaining.  The pace is perfect.

The cozy setting of Prince Edward Island remains the same, although the author has the people of Avonlea and Avonlea itself changing over time, which really makes the reader feel like this story is real.  Reading this novel is such a great escape to a simpler time and place!

I really think these should be read in order.  Anne of the Island will be next!


                                                                     



Company: French Creek Tea Company
P.O. Box 5021, Custer, SD 57730
(605) 673-5383


Tea: Gilded Lily

Obtained: from owners



Today I sampled Gilded Lily, a blend of white teas flavored with orange, tangerine and marigold.  This tea came in a resealable bag that protected the tea and kept it fresh.  It was a good quality package and pleasing to the eye.  When I opened the bag, the scent was of oranges.  The leaves were long and green and all shapes and sizes.  There were little pieces that looked like small twigs and marigold petals dispersed throughout the leaves. I measured 2 teaspoons of leaves, put them in my teapot and poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled and then cooled slightly, over the leaves.  I let this steep for 2 minutes.  The liquid was a very pale yellow, almost clear.  There was a faint orange scent to the liquid. This delicate tea had a light, sweet orange taste.  There was no bitterness or sourness at all.  This was a refreshing, yet calming tea that would be great anytime of the day.  After my first cup I couldn't resist making another!

The French Creek Tea Company, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, blends black, white, and green teas.  They also blend tea specifically for iced tea.  There contact information is above.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mashed

51LG5sr-8yL._SY346_.jpg (234×346)Title: Mashed: The Culinary Delights of Twisted Erotic Horror

Authors: short story anthology with 17 different authors

Publisher: Grivante Press, April 2017

Pages: 275

Genre: horror, erotica

Obtained:  from publisher in exchange for an honest review








Summary: This is a short story anthology of 17 stories each containing the elements of food, horror, humor, and sex.

Thoughts: The best aspect of this anthology was the creativity involved.  No two stories were even close to being alike, and most were unusual.  Almost all were entertaining but in different ways.  Each author's story was well organized.  The amount of description in each varied. None of the characters in any of the stories really stood out.

There was food present in each story.  There was sex present in each story, although  I would not call it "erotica" in most.  There was good humor in some, but many were just plain silly.  The horror was mostly out of disgust, violence, and gore.  There were only a couple of stories that had a creepy feel and I never felt scared or frightened while reading this.  A few of the stories were quite clever and stuck with me.

This is a book for those over 18 years old.  This book wasn't for me, but if you're looking for something different, here it is!  If you like silly, gross horror mixed with sex- you'll love it!



                                                                    






Company: French Creek Tea Company
P.O.Box 5021, Custer, SD 57730
(605) 673-5383

Tea: Amber Ice

Obtained: from owners






    The French Creek Tea Company, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of my favorite tea companies.  They have excellent black, green, and white tea blends that are of high quality.  This time around I sampled their iced tea.  Amber Ice is black tea blended specifically for making iced tea.  It is packaged like all their blends in a high quality resealable bag.

Owner, Royia Hrncir, advised me to use the "cold brew" method with these leaves.  I had never tried this before, usually using my iced tea maker or brewing in hot water, then adding ice and/ or cold water. The results of the cold brew method were fantastic!  I put four tablespoons of the black leaves in a half gallon of room temperature water.  I let this steep for about five hours, ran a little through a sieve, and tasted it.  It was good, but I thought if I added ice to it, the flavor would be too weak.  So, I left it to brew overnight- a total of about fifteen hours, before filtering it.  I added ice.  The result was a simple, delicious, refreshing, smooth, amber colored iced tea- no cloudiness or bitterness.  Although it really didn't need it, a slice of fresh lemon would have been a nice added touch.  This is the perfect drink for a hot summer day.





   
         

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Interview with Marianna Heusler

Marianna Heusler is an Edgar nominated author of ten novels and hundreds of published short stories.
Her cozy series, taking place at St. Polycarp School, in which two amateur teachers solve murder mysteries, was originally published by Hilliard & Harris. The first three novels were chosen by Harlequin as part of their Worldwide Book Club. The fourth book in the series, Trouble Purse Sued, was just released.
A former elementary school teacher, Marianna lives in New York City with her husband, her son, and her little dog, Dolce.

I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Marianna’s third book in the St. Polycarp School mystery series, No End to Trouble.  I felt that she really knew how to write a “whodunit” mystery.  I was very excited when she agreed to an interview!

ME: How did you decide on the St. Polycarp School as the setting for your mystery series?

MARIANNA: I taught for twelve years in a Catholic school on the lower east side of Manhattan. I had a wonderful time there and met my best friend, Amy Bowllan, who was also a teacher. We had a lot of fun. When she left to take a job in a private all girls’ school, I actually went with her.

I told a fellow writer that when I was teaching at St. Brigid’s, my little second grade girls would rush into the classroom, to see what color shoes I would be wearing that day. He said, “You know there’s a novel in that.” And so I wrote it.

ME: When reading No End to Trouble, I was impressed by the way you had plenty of suspects with good motives to commit murder. Also, you were able to throw red herrings in and twists that made sense in the story. Many mystery writers try to do this and it just does not work. Is this a talent? How did you learn to do this?

MARIANNA: I’m reading a fascinating book right now – Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Colvin attempts to explain why some people who seem to possess extraordinary talent never become successful and others, with just a smidgen, go on to change the world. He talks about the necessity of practicing, not just a little, but a whole lot. Only it’s not just practicing, it’s “deliberate practice.” Colvin goes on to say that most people, when practicing, just keep doing the same thing over and over, and as a result never really progress, because they don’t recognize what they’re doing wrong and no one is there to take them to the next level. He discusses the importance of a mentor, who can give you a clear, unbiased view and help you to choose the best practice activity, something we are incapable of doing by ourselves. He writes that we just don’t have the extensive knowledge nor the best methods for developing in our chosen field.

I was very fortunate to have a great teacher, Alice Orr. I took three mystery writing courses with her and she taught me how to write a mystery.

But I’m also very lucky, because my sister-in- law, Jamie Ramondetta, and her four children are all mystery readers. Before I submit a book to my publisher, Jamie and my nieces and nephew all give it a careful read. They tell me if the solution is too obvious, because maybe I need more suspects, or that there are too many suspects and the plot is getting convoluted. If the motive doesn’t work for them, they tell me, or perhaps a character isn’t fully developed. I take their criticisms very seriously and almost always make the changes they suggest.

I also read quite a bit and I’ll analyze a book to learn why something works or, if I end up putting down the book, what I could have done differently.

I may have some natural talent, but truly I suspect that there are a lot people who have a lot more talent than I do, but who will never get published, because they don’t want to put in the time or the effort.

ME: What was the biggest challenge thus far that you’ve faced writing the St. Polycarp School Mystery series?

MARIANNA: When I was teaching I asked my third graders what they thought was the hardest part of being an author. They had various answers- thinking of a plot, naming the characters, choosing the cover. Then one little, quiet girl, who sat in the back of the classroom and hardly ever said a peep, raised her hand and stated quite boldly, “No one is even going to know that your book exists.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

According to AARP in the year 2015, 700,000 books were self-published. That doesn’t include books published by small presses or bigger houses. The challenge is always – how do you get a reader to pay attention to your story when there is so much competition out there?

My publisher, Hilliard & Harris is fairly aggressive promoting, but still, unless you have a huge budget and lots of contacts, it’s an uphill battle. Everyone wants to be heard.

51TDOl48vFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (333×499)ME: In your next St. Polycarp mystery, Trouble Purse Sued, looking at the cover, it looks like there is a very stylish purse involved. I know you have a fashion blog. Will we see more about fashion in this book?

Marianna: Absolutely. My friend, Hedy Cavanaugh, recently gave me a great compliment. She said that I inspire people just by the way I dress. Everyone likes to see someone who is wearing something pretty. It just makes them feel happy. I used to tell my students that I dress up everyday, and I take great pains to look nice, because they are so important to me that I’m willing to make the extra effort. My main character in the Polycarp Series is Mrs. Hopwood, who, like myself, loves clothing and shoes and all sorts of accessories.

In Trouble Purse Sued, she inherits some vintage clothing and accessories from a dead aunt and decides to use them in a fashion show to raise money for the school. But, of course, buried in one of the accessories is the key to a long ago murder mystery.

ME: Besides the St. Polycarp School Mystery series, what other books have you written? Would you tell us a bit about them?

MARIANNA: Trouble Purse Sued is my tenth published book and I’ve written several young adult novels as well.

My first young adult novel The Night the Penningtons Vanished was nominated for an Edgar. It’s about three girls in a small New England town, who solve a murder mystery. The Day the Fortune Teller Died is the sequel.

One of my favorite books is One Stone Left Unturned. It’s also young adult but very different from my other novels. It’s about the Russian Revolution seen through the eyes of Tatiana Romanov, the daughter of the Tsar.

I spent over a year researching just to make sure I got all the details right. Part mystery, part history, part fantasy, it traces her path from the palace to Siberia and eventually to her execution.

The book also follows the life of a teenage girl in this day and time, whose life in many ways parallels Tatiana and eventually the two stories tie together. This keeps the book from being too dark and makes it an easier read for young adults.

It was published originally by a small press. Wildwood Publishing, as a kindle book. About six months ago, I received a notice that they were closing their doors and all rights would revert to me.

I was very disappointed, because I really love the book. However, a few weeks ago a publisher from Croatia contacted me and asked if they could translate the book and make it available to all the libraries in Croatia. They will be publishing it in hardback with a brand new cover. Of course, I said yes, and I am thrilled and honored that the novel is going to be read by young adults thousands of miles away. And I’m grateful that this book has been given a second chance.

ME: Of all the characters you created, which one is your favorite and why?

MARIANNA: Of course, I love Mrs. Hopwood, because she’s light and bright and funny, and she’s able to wear pretty clothes and influence her students. And she gets to solve murder mysteries with her best friend.

But I also have a soft spot in my heart for Tatiana Romanov. She was a real person, who lived a life of splendor and then, through no fault of her own, had it yanked away, was forced to live in deplorable conditions, and was subsequently murdered. I hope my book does justice to her memory.


                   


To find out more about Marianna’s books, click here.  To go to Marianna’s fashion blog, click here.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

No End to Trouble


51rJmPVEPVL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (333×499)

Title: No End to Trouble (A St. Polycarp School Mystery)

Author: Marianna Heusler

Publisher: Hillard and Harris, 2015

Pages: 272

Genre: cozy mystery

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review






Summary: There is a new principal at the St. Polycarp school and Mrs. Hopwood and Mrs. Johnson are not happy about this.  They already miss Father Felix, the prior principal.  To make matters worse Bertha Butterworth, one of the cafeteria ladies is found dead after the Parent's Night, and it looks as if it could be murder.  Can Mrs. Hopwood and Mrs. Johnson figure out whodunit?

Thoughts:  I enjoyed this cozy, sometimes humorous, whodunit mystery.  The author wrote in an organized way and I really liked how she paced the story- slow to begin, and then picked up speed to the climax with a quick wrap-up at the end.  The story was a good one and kept me engaged as I tried to pick up clues and figure out whodunit myself.  She also had other things going on with the characters in the story which rounded the story out.  The book could have benefited from more editing.  There are many typos, words left out, wrong words used, etc. which becomes distracting.  No End to Trouble will be released again by World Wide Mystery, a division of Harlequin Enterprises, Inc. soon.  I am assuming these problems will be resolved which will make this read even better!
     The author did a great job at making her characters distinctive.  Sometimes with whodunits it is easy to get the characters confused because the names are too similar or the characters are not unique enough.  This did not happen here, although I would have liked it if the characters had more depth.  Also, the author put just enough characters into the story.  I hate when there are not enough suspects!  There were plenty here.
     I liked the school as a setting for the story.  Although the physical description would have benefited from more detail, the author described the background action (what students were doing, school noises, teacher's conversations, etc.) very well.  I could picture the physical setting in my head at times, but could picture the action throughout.
     This is the third St. Polycarp book.  The other two are referred to in this book, but it is not necessary to have read the other two to get into this story.  This would make a good beach read!  Would I like to read the other Saint Polycarp Mysteries? Absolutely!  The forth book in the series Trouble Purse Sued will be published soon!




                                                                 








Company: French Creek Tea Company,
P.O. Box 5021, Custer, SD 57730
(605) 673-5383

Tea: Tid Bit

Obtained: sample from owners






     The French Creek Tea Company, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, has wonderful tea blends that I have been sampling.  At this time, their tea is not available to order online.  Their contact information is above and there is a list of their teas and where they are available here.
     Today I tried Tid Bit, a "blend of green and black teas flavored with vanilla and almond".  The tea was packaged in a good quality resealable bag.  The green and black leaves were all shapes and sizes. The scent of the leaves was of sweet almond.  I poured six ounces of water that had been boiled over one teaspoon of leaves and let this brew for three minutes.  The liquid was a dark yellow and had a slight almond scent.  The taste was a sweet vanilla almond blend.
     This would make a delicious dessert tea or a treat when craving something sweet, but trying to avoid the calories.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

61V7dYqWnOL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (260×306)Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Author: Lisa See

Narrators: Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017

Format: 12 discs, 14 hours and 9 minutes

Genre:  fiction, historical fiction

Obtained: library




Summary: Li-yan belongs to a hill tribe in the Yunan Province of China and is Akha, one of China's  55 ethnic groups .  When she becomes pregnant before getting married, she gives birth to her baby secretly, and makes sure it gets to the orphanage in the nearest town.  She does this because her tribe's law is that she must kill the child for the good of the tribe.

Thoughts: I always write summaries as simply and concisely as possible because when I am looking for a book to read I always feel as if the summary just tells me too much.  When writing this summary, it was very difficult to decide what exactly to include.  This novel encompasses so much!  It is the story of Li-Yan, told in first person narrative, from age 7 years through her late 30's.  Li-Yan struggles with balancing her heritage with the modern world.  Through Li-Yan's story the reader learns all about the Akha- their customs, rituals, beliefs, day to day lives, and how their ways have changed over the last 30 years.  The reader also learns about what was going on in the cities of China during this span of time as Li-Yan moves outside her village.  Li-Yan's story is both disturbing and heart-breaking at times, but the author writes in such a respectful, non-judgemental way that the story becomes emotionally powerful rather than upsetting.  There is also the story of Haley, Li-Yan's daughter who was adopted by a married white couple from southern California when she was a baby.  Haley's story is told in many different ways and by different people including Haley herself.  Through Haley's story we learn about what it is like to be a Chinese girl adopted by a white family in the United States. Many of these girls are grateful to have been adopted, but angry that their birth parents did not want them.  They also struggle with the question of who they are because they look different than their adoptive family members.  Tea, in particular pu-er tea, brings everything together.  The reader learns all  about the history of tea, tea culture, the growing and production of tea, and the tea economy today.  Tea is a part of both Li-Yan and Haley's lives.
     The author's strong characters seem so real and she writes so that the reader feels he or she knows the characters intimately.  Even the secondary characters are very well developed and have depth. The author's writing style is beautiful- places are brought to life and the descriptive details she adds easily bring the reader into the story.  The research the author did to create this novel was obviously extensive and she shares the knowledge she gained with the reader adding so much to this book.  If the reader is not interested in details about tea, this may weigh them down and it may feel as if the story does not move along quickly enough.  I was very interested in learning all about tea, the Akha, and China.  Throughout the book is the theme of mother / daughter relationships.  The story is told slowly, a little at a time, and ends with the climax.  It was refreshing to read a book that doesn't follow a morecommon pattern of story telling.  I just loved the ending.  It was not drawn out, yet everything came together.
     The narrators were excellent and there were other actors performing the parts of the secondary characters.  All spoke clearly and at a good pace and brought the characters to life.  The only thing I did not like about the audio book was that some of the tracks were over 20 minutes long and it was hard to find my place if I popped the CD out of the player.
     This was a powerful book that stays with you.  I finished it a week ago and still find myself thinking about it.  It would be an excellent book for a book club. The author has great book club questions and ideas to enhance your meeting on this book here.  I highly recommend this compelling book.

                                                                  

 I have done some reviews on pu-er tea in the past and have been drinking it over the past couple of weeks, but don't have any others to review.  Here are the links to the pu-er tea reviews I have done.  They are at the bottom of each post:



Art of Tea - Tea Party


Naked Pu-erh from Art of Tea

Golden Pu-erh from Art of Tea

Immortal Nectar from Art of Tea

Coconut Cacao Pu-erh from Art of Tea