Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies

51n5ZvZ2GtL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (344×499)Title: Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies

Author: Jonathan Rosen

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, August 2017

Pages: 268

Genre: fantasy, children (8-12)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review









Summary:  Devin and his cousin Tommy see unusual items being moved into the new neighbor's house.  When this neighbor, Herb, gives a cuddle bunny (the most popular new toy that can't be found anywhere) to Abby, Devin's sister, strange things start to happen. Could the cuddle bunnies be alive?

Thoughts:  My almost 10 year old son has a new favorite book!  He absolutely loved Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies.  I read this book to him.  It had been a long time since we both looked forward to reading together at night.  Tonight will be a let down since we got to the end of this book last night.

My son was engaged the entire time and always wanted to read more.  We talked about the book and his comprehension of it was excellent.  It is recommended for ages 8-12 and I think that is right on, except that there are a couple of places that insinuate that Santa is not real, and I know some kids in this age group still believe.  I was concerned that it might be too scary for my son who gets frightened easily, but the writing style is light and humorous and he was absolutely fine.  I would not consider this book to be scary to the recommended age group.

The book is action packed with many physical altercations between the main characters and the cuddle bunnies.  Usually it is hard for me to follow fights.  I'm just not interested in the fight itself, just who wins, but this author made these exchanges amusing.  It is a long book, but never has a long book feel.  The pace is steady and the writing style is engaging.  With warlocks, magic, evil stuffed bunnies that come to life, lots of humor and excitement, amusing family dynamics, entertaining characters, and a witty writing style, I can see Jonathan Rosen's debut novel becoming a best seller.  I rarely give a book 5 stars, but this book is worthy.



                                                                      



Company: Pickity Place

Tea: Winter Spice

Obtained: gift










I have not been to Pickity Place for a very long time. Even though they have a kids menu, I still feel like it is not a place for children.  Since my kids are always with me, I never make it there.  My mom went last weekend and told me it is just as wonderful as ever and they have expanded and have many more plants.  I really need to get there.

Pickity Place is located in Mason, New Hampshire.  The link above has some beautiful pictures of this delightful place.  They feature herbs- herb gardens, herbal gifts, and herbal dining.  I highly recommend it.  Please note that reservations for their luncheons are mandatory.

I received their Winter Spice tea as a gift.  It came in a resealable plastic bag.  I really would have liked if they included the tea ingredients and recommendations for steeping on the bag.  This herbal tea was a mixture of everything- leaves, seeds, and barks- in all shapes and sizes in greens and browns.  The tea had a subtle spice scent reminiscent of winter potpourri.

I poured twelve ounces of water over two teaspoons of tea and let this steep for five minutes.  The liquid was yellow with a delicate spice scent.  The taste was stronger than the scent and was of spices.  It was suggestive of fall and winter holiday feasts.  It also had somewhat of a peppery taste.  I just loved this soothing, calming, cozy tea.  It is definitely my favorite tea from Pickity place so far.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Dark Net

51XwOOSIbnL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)Title: The Dark Net

Author: Benjamin Percy

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

Pages: 272

Genre: horror

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review









Summary: In Portland, Oregon, twelve year old Hannah ( visually impaired but fitted with "the Mirage" to help her see), her Aunt Lela (a journalist), Mike (on the "spectrum" of mystical beings), Sarin (high on the "spectrum"), Derek (a hacker), Josh (a journalism intern) and Hemingway (a dog) come together to fight against evil gathering on the dark net.

Thoughts: After reading a book, I sometimes have to really think about it to make a decision if I liked it or not.  Maybe the plot was a bit lacking, but I just loved the characters.  Maybe the story was great, but I just hated the setting and feel to the book.  For me, after reading a horror story,  I can easily decide if I liked it or didn't like it.  It has to be creepy, scary, or terrifying.  (Having a mystery or mysterious feel is always a plus.)  It has to have creative characters.  It has to have some sort of plot to it that is entertaining.  And most importantly, it has to have a good ending.  Many times I feel cheated by the ending of horror stories.  The book just wraps up too nicely- good beats evil- the end.  It might also have some twist ending that makes no sense or is disappointing.

I liked the Dark Net.  The author did a great job of combining the present day evil of the dark net and technological vices with traditional, ancient evil, such as demons. He took the fear of digital vulnerabilities and dependence and used this to bring in the scare factor the reader could relate to.  He also was able to bring the real world, mystical world, and cyber world together in this book.   The author's writing style is a great match for writing horror stories.  He has a way of describing with minimal words, easily bringing the reader into the dark. This kept the story moving.  Even though the book is only 272 pages, it has tiny writing.  It is not a quick read.  One of my favorite parts was the characters who were all odd.  I didn't feel like I got to know them on a deep level or anything like that.  It was just that they added some humor and / or had clever lines that got me thinking.  The author jumps from character to character having them tell the story from their perspective.  This was never confusing, and kept me engaged.

Entertaining.  Creepy and dark.  Action packed and fast moving.  A great book for the Halloween season!


                                                                    




One of my favorite activities to do in the fall is to make grape jelly.  My husband and I pick wild grapes that grow at the edge of one of our fields.  They are usually ready to pick around Labor Day.  We can tell the grapes are ready by the wonderful scent, even before we have checked to see if they have turned purple.  This year must have been great weather for this fruit.  Usually we have just enough grapes for one batch of jelly.  This year there was probably four times the amount.  After making jelly, I had some left over juice.  I usually use the left over juice in a marinade or add it to smoothies, but today I decided on grape juice.

Yesterday I boiled the grapes in water and then let the juice run through cheese cloth for a few hours.  I stored the juice in the refrigerator overnight and made jelly today.  I took the juice that was left after making jelly, added sugar to it and heated it on the stove until the sugar melted.  I had to add quite a lot of sugar since the grape juice was very sour.  We picked the grapes before a frost and when they were just ripe.  I think if they had ripened some more, I would not have had to add so much sugar.  I let the juice cool and refrigerated it for a couple of hours.  When I sat down to read, I added ice and had a delicious grape beverage.  It still had a somewhat sour aftertaste, but the grape flavor was so much stronger than the grape juice bought in stores.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Treasurer Hunters Danger Down the Nile

61VoXF49XwL._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (342×499)Title: Treasure Hunters: Danger Down the Nile (#2 in the Treasure Hunters series)

Authors: James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Narrator: Bryan Kennedy

Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2014

Format: 6 hours on 5 compact discs, 1 pdf disc

Genre: adventure, children

Obtained: library




Summary: Bick, Beck, Storm, and Tommy (the Kidd kids) set out on another adventure.  This time, they have formulated a rescue plan- to find a treasure to trade for the real treasure, their mom, who has been kidnapped.   Their adventures bring them down the Nile river.

Thoughts: I was very happy that the same narrator that read the first Treasure Hunter's book, also read the second.  Not only do I get used to the voices a narrator creates for each character and want them to be the same, but this narrator really has energy that keeps my whole family engaged.  Bryan Kennedy brings this book to life for kids.  It may be too much for some adults, but I enjoyed his portrayal of these characters.

This was another crazy, humorous adventure that included treasure, spies, the jungle, Egyptian pyramids, hippos, pirates, ships, and guns.  It was fast- paced with twists and turns.  The feel of the book is an amusement park ride.  It has likeable, funny characters (even the bad guys).  The Kidds travel all over the world giving young readers a sense of geography and culture (although just a small sense).  Along with all the action, this traveling from place to place seemed to grab the attention of my kids.  The themes of family, teamwork, and determination continued into this book from the first in the series.

The written version of this book may be something to check out.  Listening to this book on compact disc, my family did miss out on the illustrations which, my now 15 year old, who read the written format when he was younger, said was the best part.  Also, I know other parents who said this book really got their boys, who didn't like to read, to want to read, and read a lot. The chapters are short and encourage the reader to read "just one more chapter".  I do recommend the audio version.


                                                                







Company: Sweets 'n Java  

Tea: Rooibos Rote Grutze

Obtained: gift








I received this tea, Rooibos Rote Grutze as a gift.  It was purchased at Sweets 'n Java in Holden, Massachusetts.  The tea came in a 4 ounce mason jar.  When I opened the jar, I got a whiff of berries.  The leaves were all different shades of brown. Dried berries were mixed in.  I put one teaspoon of leaves in my teapot and poured 8 ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this brew for 4 minutes.  The liquid was a dark yellow and the scent was of berries.  The taste was of sweet berries, but there seemed to be flavoring added to the tea because the taste reminded me of the candy Smarties.  There was no bitterness to this tea.  Rote Grutze is a German berry dessert and this tea definitely tasted like a dessert.  Since it is a rooibos tea, it is caffeine free.  If you like very sweet, berry tea, you will love this!  I enjoyed it myself and even made a second pot.

Monday, August 28, 2017

League of American Traitors

41IItHF2FdL._SY346_.jpg (229×346)Title: League of American Traitors

Author: Matthew Landis

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, August 2017

Pages: 256

Genre:  young adult (14 and up)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review








Summary: Seventeen year old Jasper Mansfield, the only living descendent of Benedict Arnold, loses his father.  Shortly after the funeral, he learns, that whether he wants to be or not, he is part of a group of descendents of American Revolutionary traitors that continue to duel to the death with a group of descendents of American Revolutionary heroes.  The duels begin at age eighteen and he must accept one challenge to duel or the opposing group will hunt him down.  His father had been trying to find a way out of this.  Can Jasper complete his father's work before he is challenged to a duel?

Thoughts: This is a great book for high school students, especially boys!  Sometimes it can be hard to find books for this age group.  It was fast paced, action packed, and one wild story.  There were traitors, duels, mysteries, chases, gunfights, and secret societies.  It was one of those books that I looked forward to reading because I really wanted to know what was going to happen.  It was not predictable.

Although the main character was well developed, I would have liked it if the author put a bit more into the minor characters. They had quirks and personalities, but their history was missing, so the reader did not seem to get to know the whole characters.  I can see how this would have slowed the pace, though.  Also, since the book was really plot driven, I could easily picture the action, but sometimes when the action slowed it wasn't as easy to picture the settings.

I expected more of a historical fiction book from reading the summary and knowing that the author was a history teacher.  I would not consider this historical fiction.  It was more of an action story with some history in it.  I actually would have loved more history about the American traitors and heroes, but I can, again, see how that would have slowed the pace.

I really liked the themes and some of the thought provoking ideas in this book.  I think they are great, especially for teens.  For example, one of the questions the main character had was if it was better to kill someone or be killed.  My favorite theme was that people are not all good or all bad.  I liked the question of why we remember traitors just for the bad things they did. What about the good things?

I recommend this book for any age, but especially for teens.  This was Matthew Landis' debut novel and he has more coming.  I am looking forward to see what else he creates!



                                                                          




Shrub is a soft drink or cocktail.  It is made by mixing fruit juice,vinegar, and either sugar or honey and letting it sit at least over night. It is then mixed with spirits, water, or soda water.  American colonists drank shrub as a refreshing beverage in the fields, at taverns, and even used it medicinally for such things as reducing fever and preventing scurvy.

This beverage made a comeback around 2012.  I came across a recipe for blackberry shrub in the August 2017, Family Circle magazine.  Having blackberries in my yard, it was the perfect one to try, although I didn't completely follow the directions.  I mashed blackberries (about 1 cup) and sugar (about 1/3 of a cup) together and added white vinegar (about 1/3 of a cup).  I let this sit overnight, then pressed it through a sieve.  I mixed about 2 ounces of this concoction with 5 ounces of seltzer and added ice.  The drink was a striking red color that smelled of vinegar.  It tasted like blackberry soda mixed with vinegar.  It had a sweetness and sourness at the same time, sort of like lemonade with berry flavor instead of citrus, but the vinegar just didn't seem right.  At first, I couldn't decide if I liked it or not.  It was a hot day, and when I was done with the cup I had made, I realized how refreshed I felt and had some more.  So, I guess I liked it!

There was a note at the bottom of the recipe in Family Circle that if you let the shrub sit in the refrigerator it becomes more mellow.  This was definitely true, and I liked it even better the second day.  I still have not gotten used to the initial vinegar scent that tells me not to drink it.

There are recipes for shrub all over the Internet.  Looking at them, most recommend using apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar.  If I make shrub again, I will try that.  Shrub is something that people can really experiment with trying different combinations and ingredient amounts to suit their tastes.  It is definitely something to try, especially if you like vinegar.  It is not for everyone!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over

417506ONxWL._SY346_.jpg (227×346)Title: Getting Through What You Can't Get Over

Author: Anita Agers-Brooks

Publisher: Shiloh Run Press, 2015

Pages: 235

Genre: self-help, nonfiction, Christian

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review








Summary: The author uses personal stories of real people as examples of events that someone may never get over, tells about the person's experience and how it affected his or her life, and describes how that person has coped and healed to get through it.  She then gives the reader practical ideas and examples of things to do to move forward in similar situations.  Lastly, she provides inspiration and comfort by providing the reader with bible verses and reminders of God's words.

Thoughts: I really liked this self-help book.  It was organized and an easy read.  I like that the cover tells the reader exactly what is in the book - "stories, tips, and inspiration to help you move past your pain into lasting freedom".  The author starts every chapter (except the last, which is a wrap up) by providing a story of someone that has gone through something that they will never get over.  This helps the reader to see that he or she is not alone.  The author then describes how the event has affected that person's life, and tells how he or she is getting through it.  This alone is good bibliotherapy.  Some of the topics the author focuses on are death of a child, financial problems, marital affairs, not knowing who your biological parents are, family feuds, medical issues, and homelessness.  The author keeps the reader's attention by telling interesting stories.

The author then gives some practical advice, geared toward the particular trauma in that chapter, on things to do to help with healing and getting through rough times- songs to listen to, bible verses to read, and exercises to promote feeling better.  This book does not overwhelm the reader with information and self-help ideas.  The author provides the reader with simple, doable ideas that are not complicated- exercises that someone going through a traumatic experience could actually do.  Spiritual inspiration and a prayer are presented at the end of each chapter.

Sometimes self- help books are too involved and try to get the reader to do things that are just too much to do alone, without professional guidance.  This is a book that is not too much. Also, sometimes with self help books, the author makes it sound like his or her self- help book is an easy fix.  This author does not.  There are no promises that anything in the book is going to work. There are just ideas to try and inspirational messages that might comfort.

The only problem I had with this book was that the reader could very easily think they have a mental illness after reading it.  The author describes symptoms, particularly of post traumatic stress disorder, and I don't think it is made clear enough that someone can have symptoms of PTSD, but not necessarily have the disorder.  The author does state that she is not a licensed professional counselor, but she does use the term PTSD freely throughout the book.  Many people have symptoms of PTSD and my concern is that after reading the book readers may think they have it.

If you have been through a trauma, and are looking for inspiration and practical self-help ideas this book is a great choice.



                                                                       



Company: Pickity Place

Tea: Pickity Blend Tea

Obtained: gift








I just love Pickity Place in Mason, New Hampshire.  If you delight in herbs, this is a wonderful place to explore.  There are beautiful herb gardens, herb gift shops, and a delicious herbal luncheon.  Please note that reservations are mandatory for the luncheon.  One of the highlights are their beverages, which are their own creations.  Some of these mixes can be purchased right online.

The tea I tasted today, Pickity Blend Tea, was in a resealable, see-through bag.  The bag was easy to open and close.  The ingredients were listed on the bag: licorice root, anise, poppy seeds, fennel, lemon peel, cloves, and ginger root.  When I opened the bag, not surprisingly, there was a very strong licorice scent.  The tea was made up of light brown to medium brown chunks, seeds, and small green leaf pieces.  It was a rocky looking tea.  I put 2 teaspoons of the tea into my teapot and poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over the tea.  I let this brew for 5 minutes.  The light yellow liquid had a somewhat oily texture and the scent was a fusion of licorice, anise, and fennel.  The taste was peppery with a somewhat sweet aftertaste.  I thought this would be a very strong licorice flavored tea, but the flavors combined to make a unique taste.  Unfortunately, Pickity Place's teas are not available online, but it is worth a trip there if herbs are enjoyable to you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reenactment of a Killer and Serial Rapist: Cold-Eyed Mark Shirley

51AToaK3ibL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (333×499)Title: Reenactment of a Killer and Serial Rapist: Cold-Eyed Mark Shirley

Author: Helen Stockford

Published: AuthorHouse, 2016

Pages: 219

Genre: nonfiction, true crime

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Helen Stockford tells the true story of how Mark Shirley, a serial killer and rapist, attacked her in 2009 and her experience with the United Kingdom's justice system.

Thoughts: This book was difficult to read for two reasons.  The first was the subject matter and the frankness with which the author describes her experience.  She is open and honest about both her physical and mental experience throughout her attack and fight with the justice system. It is not a bad thing that the author was forthcoming, it was just a horrific experience.  The author did a great job expressing her feelings along with the facts of her story.  The second was the editing.  This was a problem.  The spelling, grammar, and sentence structure were the worst I've ever seen!  I don't know if the publisher was trying to show that this book was written by a victim, not a writer, but this was not just typos.  Luckily the content is organized and the writer's thoughts are clear, so the book is readable.  There is repetition consistently throughout the book which slows down the flow at times.  A good editing job would greatly improve the reader's experience with this book.

Even though this was not an easy read, it is a story that I am glad this brave, strong woman could tell.  The author states she wrote the book as "a tool to spark changes in our laws, culture and services for victims of sexual assault".  I hope that the spark becomes a blazing fire, but we all know that change is usually slow even if the spark catches.

For me, this book was an eye opener as to how a victim's whole family is affected by an attack on one member.  I never really thought past the individual victim.  I am also glad that I read this book because it showed me what a victim goes through after an attack and that this person could really use compassion and support, not just around the stress of what has happened to them, but around the battle through the justice system.  A victim has to keep reliving their horrible experience throughout the trial and cannot even begin to move on until the criminal is in prison.  He or she is also battling a system to try to get justice.  It was quite interesting learning about the justice system of another country.  It sounds to me like the United Kingdom's justice system has some very similar problems as that of the United States. Maybe we could learn from each other to work toward making sure victims know their rights and where to get the help they need.  Also, in both countries, many times, criminals are released only to commit another crime.

I recommend reading this book if you can cope with bad spelling, grammar and sentence structure.  Even though the subject matter is hard, we can all learn something from this courageous woman's story.


                                                                



Chamomile tea is said to relieve anxiety and menstrual cramps, boost the immune system, fight insomnia, help relieve migraines, fight depression, reduce the risk of cancer, reduce blood sugar levels, and sooth an upset stomach.  Scientific studies seem to have mixed findings.  Personally, I have found it to be a soothing and relaxing tea that I enjoy drinking, especially at night.

For the past couple of years, I have been growing chamomile to make my own tea.  It is better than any chamomile tea I have purchased.  I bought Bodegold seeds (a German chamomile that blooms early and has larger flowers than some other types of chamomile) the first year.  The past two years the plants have reseeded themselves and I just wait for the flowers to bloom.  The plants are in a mostly sunny, well- drained location.  I pull weeds out from around the plants, but don't give them any other special care.

When the flowers bloom, I pick them off - just the flowers with no stems. They are ready to pick when they are completely open as in the above picture.  When the petals begin to bend down or fall off, they have gone by.  The plants are annuals and only last a few months.  I then lay the flowers on a paper towel to dry inside my house for 2 weeks.  Finally, I store them in a mason jar so that I will have chamomile tea all winter.  If a creative label is added to the jar, along with a tea ball, this would make a great gift!


 To make tea with the leaves, I put 2 teaspoons of dried leaves into my teapot and pour 12 ounces of water that has been boiled over the leaves.  I let the boiled water sit for a few minutes before pouring it over the leaves.  I usually let this steep for 10 minutes because I have read letting it steep this long results in more medicinal benefits, but if I am short on time, it tastes just as good if it only stands for about 5 minutes.  Many books and online articles say to use 1 tablespoon of leaves per cup of water when brewing chamomile tea, but I have found this to be excessive.

After the tea has steeped, I pour the pale yellow liquid into my cup to enjoy.  The scent of the liquid is reminiscent of sweet apples.  It has a unique taste.  It is sweet and tastes almost like apples, but with a slight earthy and flowery background.  It is a light, calming tea.






                                                         

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Anne of the Island

51-ztPXnauL._SX376_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (378×499)Title: Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3)

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Narrator: Renee Raudman

Publisher: Tantor, 2008 (originally published in 1915)

Format: 7 compact discs, 9 hours

Genre: classic

Obtained: library




Summary: Anne Shirley is off to Redmond College in Kingsport, Nova Scotia.  This third book of the series tells of Anne's life from ages 18 to 22.

Thoughts: Though most of this story takes place away from Green Gables and Avonlea, I was very happy that Anne continues to return home so that the reader finds out what is happening while Anne is away.  After reading this book, I realized that one of the reasons I love this series is because of Avonlea and all the folks there.  I did not enjoy the book as much when Anne was at Redmond, even though new, interesting characters are introduced and become a part of Anne's world.  I kept looking forward to Anne's return to Avonlea.

Since Anne is a young woman off on her own, this book focuses on becoming an adult, romance, and time with friends which is somewhat different than the first two books in the series.  L. C. Montgomery does such a wonderful job keeping Anne's traits consistent, while showing how she changes as she matures.  She did this with each character.  I also was impressed how she shows Avonlea slowly changing as any town does, making everything seem real.

L. C. Montgomery's writing is as beautiful as ever and the reader can picture everything in great detail.  Her characters are entertaining and very well developed.  She definitely brings her characters and settings to life.  I love the way she takes everyday occurrences and makes them entertaining, exciting, or gripping.  I love the humor that is weaved in throughout this series.

The narrator read clearly and at a good pace.  It was easy to tell when each character was speaking since the narrator gave each a distinct voice.  Again, it was hard for me to get used to this narrator because I listened to two different narrators for the first two books.  Each narrator has a slightly different way of portraying the characters.

I thought by the third book I would have had enough of Anne and her world, but no, I could keep going.  I love returning to Avonlea and following not only Anne's life, but all the other characters in this series.



                                                                   




Company: French Creek Tea Company
P.O. Box 5021, Custer, SD 57730
(603) 673-5383

Tea: Afternoon Delight

Obtained: from owners






Afternoon Delight is "a smooth blend of Ceylon black teas flavored with wild cherry, amaretto, and rose petals".  The leaves were long and black with a few light brown rose petals mixed in.  The scent of the leaves was sweet cherry.  I poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over 2 teaspoons of leaves and let this brew for 4 minutes.  The scent of the dark orange brown liquid reminded me of cherry pie.  The taste was a delicious blend of black tea and cherries.  This tea was mildly sweet with with no sourness or bitterness.  Though it reminded me of fall, I believe this tea would be wonderful in any season, maybe even iced.

I am very disappointed to learn that the French Creek Tea Company has closed.  The owners have moved and are selling their business.  If interested in buying the business, contact information is on Facebook.