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.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Treasure Hunters

61aaYKVEHbL._SL300_.jpg (300×300)Title: Treasure Hunters (Book 1)

Authors: James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Narrator: Bryan Kennedy

Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2013

Format: 5 compact discs, approximately 6 hours

Genre: children (ages 9-12), adventure

Obtained: library



Summary: Bick, Beck, Tommy, and Storm are the children of world-famous treasure hunters.  When their parents disappear, what else can they do but continue with the family's treasure hunting business and, of course, try to locate their parents along the way?


Thoughts: While looking for some audio books for our family to listen to on a long car ride, my 15 year old son recommended this one.  It was one of his favorite books from 5th or 6th grade.  He does not like to read, so this told me it must be good.  At the beginning of the first cd, the narrator lets the listener know that there is a pdf on one of the cd's which includes the illustrations from the book.  I am guessing that most readers listening to an audio book would not bother with a pdf.  Individuals I know that listen to audio books do so when doing tasks, riding in a vehicle, while lying in bed at night with the lights out, or because they have a visual disability.  It's great the pictures are there, but my family was unable to look at them in the car.  My son said at the end that he had forgotten that the pictures were really one of the best parts of the book!  Nevertheless, we all enjoyed the book without the illustrations.

The narrator told the story with energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.  He really got into the story.  He was a great narrator for children's books.  I believe his energy would hold kid's interest.  He also had distinct voices for each character, making the story easy to follow.

The story itself was a crazy, fast paced adventure.  Most of the story took place on (and in) the ocean, but the children did go to different ports, meeting many interesting characters.  Not only were the main characters unique and quirky, but so were the minor characters.  The story is told in first person by one of the children, Bick, and his twin sister, Beck, told her version through the illustrations.  The children's adventures involved pirates, sharks, kidnapping, martial arts, surfer dudes, secret agents, mysteries, scuba diving, treasures, guns, helicopters, food, and much more.  Some themes in the book are working together, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, valuing others for who they are, don't give up, have hope, look outside the box.  The plot is not deep and is far from realistic.  This is a humorous, entertaining book.

Although this is a children's book, it did entertain our whole family for our car ride. We'll be listening to the second book in the series on our next car trip.  Also, readers may want to check out the print version to experience the illustrations.



                                                                   


Company: French Creek Tea Company
P.O. Box 5021, Custer, SD 57730
Phone: (605) 6735383

Tea: Toodles

Obtained: from owners





Toodles is a "blend of black teas flavored with coconut, mango, vanilla, and lemon".  It came in a high quality, resealable black bag.  The bag was labeled with the name of the company, the name and a description of the tea, and brewing instructions.  The bag was easy to open.  The long, black tea leaves had a few chunks of light brown fruit mixed in.  The strong scent of the leaves was of tropical fruit.

I put two teaspoons of leaves into my teapot and poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this brew for four minutes.  The dark, orange brown liquid had a black tea scent combined with sweet, tropical fruit.  The taste of the tea was of black tea with a subtle tropical fruit and sweet vanilla background.  The coconut did not stand out as it does when added to many tea combinations.  This is a smooth, sweet tea.  I was expecting this tea to be light, but it was not.  It had some body to it which was different from many tropical teas I have tried.  This tea would be great for anyone that likes black tea and fruit blends.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tempest in a Teapot

51Vo0mK8H8L._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (310×499)Title: Tempest in a Teapot

Author: Amanda Cooper

Publisher: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2014

Pages: 294

Genre: mystery

Obtained: purchased










Summary: After her upscale New York City restaurant closes, Sophie Taylor returns to a small town in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York to her Nana's tea house.  When her old friend Cissy Peterson's future mother- in-law is murdered by poisoning at Cissy's grandmother's tea house, Sophie is determined to find out who committed this heinous crime.

Thoughts: This was the first of three books in the Teapot Collector Mystery series.  I just loved the cover which definitely portrayed a cozy mystery with lots of tea, food, teapots, and cats, which is exactly what was inside.  I loved the setting- the beautiful Victorian tea house of a teapot collector.

There were many characters, some developed much better than others.  The back stories of the characters were interesting and helped with character development, but those that didn't have a back story could have been developed more.  I liked how the author had Sophie, the protagonist, returning to the town that she hadn't lived in for years because the reader found out information about the suspects along with Sophie.  I did not like that Sophie's character didn't always seem consistent.  At the beginning she seemed well mannered, but then when she really got into her investigation, she became pushy and rude.  Since the story took place in a small town, in which the residents had been around for many years, there were plenty of motives to murder.

The writing style of the author was organized and clear, although repetitive in giving particulars to the point that it became a bit annoying at times.  I lost count of how many times the author reminded the reader that there was just one cupcake on the plate that was not red velvet.  The writing was descriptive, but I didn't feel like I was there.  I could picture the characters as I read, though.  The pace was slow, but I did not feel that it dragged.

I really enjoyed this book, mostly because of the setting and tea theme, but it was a good whodunit as well.




                                                              




At the end of this book was a recipe for these delicious Cranberry Pecan Yogurt Scones.  I already had all of the ingredients, except for the pecans.  The directions were easy to follow.    The ingredients were easy to mix, especially with the pastry blender that I received as a Christmas gift.









The pre-baked scones were easy to cut- no sticking.  The process went smoothly and the final product was a huge success.  The scones were not extremely dry, like some.  They were about as moist as I would like a scone to be.  The cranberries and pecans made a scrumptious blend.  The recipe made eight good sized scones.  Although I had them for breakfast, they would be wonderful with tea anytime of the day.  What a great added bonus to this book!







                                               




I purchased Tempest in a Teapot from Mystery on Main Street, a small, independent bookstore in Brattleboro, Vermont.  This is a wonderful bookstore for mystery lovers.  It is quiet and neat and had all types of mystery books imaginable, along with other mystery themed items.  Even though it is not a huge bookstore, there is plenty of room to browse comfortably and there is a pleasant sitting area.  The proprietor is friendly, not pushy at all, and is willing to help customers find any book even if it is not in the store or a mystery book.  If you're in southern Vermont I highly recommend this store!

                                 

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.