Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Pharaoh's Cat

Publisher: 2015 by Maria Luisa Lang (self-published)

Pages: 180

Genre: fantasy

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Wrappa-Hamen, a stray cat in ancient Egypt, acquires the abilities of talking and walking upright like humans.  He knows there is a purpose for these gifts, but what is the purpose and how did he get these abilities?

Thoughts: This was a fun, unique book written in a simple, straight forward style that was easy to follow and well organized.  The author weaves in ancient Egyptian culture and customs throughout the story.  There are also wonderful descriptions of the landscapes and different settings. It is clear that the author did her research on ancient Egypt. The story moves from ancient Egypt to present day New York City and then back to ancient Egypt.  Again, the author does a great job with the transitions in settings so it is clear to the reader where the story is taking place at all times.
     The charming main character, Wrappa-Hamen, a cat with human characteristics, narrates his adventures.  The author does an amazing job with this character.  As I was reading, I never forgot he was a cat even though he sometimes acted like a human.  His adventures and reactions to situations are light and humorous.  Although the other characters in the story are interesting, I felt there could have been more to them.  Wrappa-Hamen was so well developed and such a wonderful character, the others seemed to lack something.
     This was an entertaining, short, light read that had a great pace.  Although it wasn't a very deep book, the theme of friendship was woven throughout.  This book would make a great gift to cheer up a friend, especially if that friend is a cat lover.
     The author has provided me with a copy of her second book, The Eye of Nefertiti, which I am looking forward to reading and reviewing soon.  Wrappa-Hamen's adventures continue in this book.


Company: French Creek Tea Company
325 Mt. Rushmore Road, Custer, SD 57730
Phone: 605-673-5383, Anniesemp@gmail.com

Tea: HintaMint

Obtained: sample provided by French Creek Tea Company

     My mother and father-in-law took a cross country trip and brought back some tea for me from the French Creek Tea Company.  After doing a review on Annie's Blend, the owners, Royia and Duane Hrncir, sent me many more samples.
     HintaMint is a blend of black tea and peppermint.  The leaves are an assortment of sizes and colors- blacks, browns, greens, and white.  The scent of the leaves is delightful, strong peppermint.  I poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over 2 teaspoons of leaves and let this brew for 4 minutes.  The liquid was an orange brown and had a slight peppermint scent.   Even though I used a fine sieve, some of the leaves got through, but quickly sank to the bottom.  The taste was a light, delicious blend of peppermint and black tea.  The peppermint flavor lingered.
      This is one of the best mint blends I've ever had.  I loved that the peppermint flavor was just right- not too strong, as in some blends.
     I also like the packaging this company uses.  It is a lined, resealable bag.  They simply put sticker labels on the bag, but it has a sophisticated look.
     I have put the contact information for the French Creek Tea Company above since they do not have a site for online ordering.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Brutal Telling

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Author: Louise Penny

Narrator: Ralph Cosham

Published: Blackstone Audio, 2009

Format: 11 compac discs, 13.5 hours

Genre: mystery

Obtained: passed along to me

Summary:  A stranger's body is found in the local bistro / antiques store in the close knit community of Three Pines in Canada.  Chief Inspector Gamache and his colleagues are called to investigate.  Who was this person?  Where did he come from?  Why was he murdered? Who committed the murder?

Thoughts:  This was a book on compac discs that my mom passed on to me after she was done with it.  It is the fifth book in the Three Pines mystery series.  I had never read any of the books in this series before.  I will definitely have to go back and start from the beginning.
     I really enjoyed this book on cd.  The narrator was wonderful and just seemed to have the perfect voice for this story.  He read at a good pace, and with good expression.  Even though he had somewhat of a soothing voice, I still remained engaged throughout the book.
     This was a slow moving, intricately plotted mystery that had depths and layers.  Not only was the mystery a good one, but the well developed, colorful characters had their own problems that needed to be sorted out.  As I read I wondered which of these issues were somehow related to the murder.  The author has a wonderful way of expressing character's emotions and showing what motivates characters to do what they do.  She also has a terrific way of showing relationships between the characters.  There were many suspects. The Chief Inspector hit dead ends and had to back up or look at things in different ways.  With all these things, and more going on, the author was able to bring everything together smoothly.
     There were just so many positives to this book.  I just loved the setting, especially since small town mysteries are my favorite.  Also, the author weaved food, antiques, music, art, and literature into the story, really involving all the readers senses.  The protagonist, Chief Inspector Gamache, is an easy to like character and all the characters seemed like real, everyday people. Although this book was not a "cozy" mystery, it was not extremely violent.  The setting and author's style of writing gave it that cozy feel.  There was also bits of humor added throughout the book.
     This book could be read as a stand alone, but I really got the feeling throughout that I was missing out by not reading the four previous books in the series.  If you are looking for a series that is not a "cozy" mystery, but that is not all blood and violence, this is a good one.  If you are looking for more to a mystery novel than just the mystery, I'd recommend this book.  This is not a quick read, but it did hold my attention throughout.


Company: Tea Forte

Tea: Caramel Nouget

Obtained: gift

          This Caramel Nouget tea is included in the Noir Single Steeps Sampler, a collection of robust black teas.  I love robust black teas.  So, I am really enjoying this collection.  The pouches that the pre-measured tea come in are high quality and easy to open.  I also really like that they are pre-measured for 12 ounces of water rather than 8 ounces, which is just not enough for me.
     Caramel Nouget tea is composed of organic black tea, organic orange peel, natural caramel flavor, organic marigold flowers, and natural hazelnut flavor.  The thin black tea leaves have long yellowish leaves mixed in along with chunks that look like orange peel.  The scent of the leaves is sweet caramel.  I poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over the tea leaves and let this steep for 3 minutes.  The liquid was a striking reddish orange and smelled delicious- a blend of black tea and sweet caramel.  I do want to note that there were many small tea leaves in the liquid even though I used a fine sieve.
     The taste of the tea was of strong black tea with a slight sweet caramel flavor.  There was a slight astringency to the aftertaste.  Although I would definitely describe this tea as robust it gave me a comforting, cozy feeling.  Also, the tea leaves that were in the liquid sank to the bottom of the cup and I did not notice them again until I got to my last sip.  This would of course make a wonderful dessert tea, but I believe it could be enjoyed anytime.  I recommend sipping it while enjoying a good book.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Helper

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Title: The Helper 

Author: M. N. SNow

Publisher: 2016 by M. N. SNow

Pages: 293

Genre: fiction

Obtained: from the author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: John Sloan, Dusty Hakalla, and Deena Morrison, although from very different backgrounds, all have something in common.  They are all "Helpers".  They have the power to emotionally help people by being a channel for a healing light.  What happens when John finds he has lost his power and needs some of this "help" himself?

Thoughts:  I enjoyed this story because it was different and I remained interested throughout the whole book.  It was a group of short realistic fiction stories, each about people hitting the point of no return or rock bottom, brought together by the main story which was a magical, or some may think, a spiritual one.  I really enjoyed this author's writing style.  He took a group of basic stories and through his story telling connected them together into one in a seamless way.  His writing is organized and his characters are not only well developed, but are believable and interesting.  The story takes place in Michigan, Wisconson, Florida, Parris Island, and the war zones of Kuwait and Afghanistan.  Although the story jumps around from person to person and place to place, it is told in such a way that it is easy to follow.
     After completing this novel, I did find myself thinking about it.  Although it is not a really deep book, this is one of those books that you can get what you want out of it.  For me, I got the message that there is always hope.  I also found myself thinking that there are choices in life, but they are not always mine to make.  There were so many more spiritual and life ideas throughout the book, but I believe each reader would pick out different meanings and focuses.   Some may just see it as a simple story.
     Please note, there was A LOT of profanity in this book, so if that bothers you, this is one you should skip.



Company: Tea Forte

Tea: Peach Brulee

Obtained: gift

     This Peach Brulee tea is from Tea Forte.  It is from the Noir Single Steeps Sampler which is a collection of robust black teas.  This sampler would make a wonderful gift.  It comes in a beautiful package, and you get 3 single steep pouches of 5 different teas for a total of 15 cups of tea.  The good quality pouches each contain tea leaves that are measured for 12 ounces of water. They are easy to open, and are perfect for those with a busy lifestyle who enjoy loose leaf tea.
     This tea is a mix of organic black tea leaves, organic mango pieces, organic coconut pieces, natural peach flavor, organic marigold flowers, natural vanilla flavor, and natural cream flavor.  The leaves of the Peach Brulee were mostly thin and black, but there were yellow leaves and chunks of all different sizes mixed in.  The scent of the leaves was of tropical fruit.  I poured 12 ounces of water over the leaves and let this brew for 3 minutes.  The liquid was a cloudy orange brown and there were some very small pieces of tea leaves in the liquid.  The scent was of black tea and warm, sweet fruit.  The taste was of slightly sour fruit and strong black tea.  After swallowing, I could also discern a creamy vanilla flavor.  The tea leaves settled to the bottom and I did not notice them again until I got to the bottom of the cup.
     This tea was just okay to me.  It did not seem to blend well.  Also, the peach flavor just did not stand out for me.  So because of it's name, I was expecting something that tasted less tropical and more like peaches.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Interview with D.J.Williams

D.J. Williams was born and raised in Hong Kong.  He has traveled around the world, experiencing many cultures including the slums of the Far East, the bush of Africa, and the jungles of the Amazon.  He has worked in both the entertainment industry and the nonprofit sector.  He has used this wide range of experience in his writing.  His stories encompass the whole globe, and it is clear that he has immersed himself in different cultures and social classes and uses this understanding to tell his stories.  His experience with producing and directing have given him artistry which he has used in his writing so that his books read like a movie.  Waking Lazarus (which I have read), the second book of the Guardian Novels is a page turning action packed adventure that has the reader traveling the world.  I am assuming The Disillusioned, the first book of the Guardian Novels, is the same.  What really got my attention and made me want to explore the Guardian Novels was that D. J. Williams worked with a composer, Jene Nicole Johnson, to develop a soundtrack that goes along with Waking Lazarus.  Music arouses our emotions in a very powerful way, even more so than language can.  It makes us feel a movie or television program even more intensely than the images or words in the production.  What could this do to the reading experience?  D.J. Williams describes his writing as "cause driven".  It is his hope that his books will make the reader aware of the human trafficing problem and encourage them to make a difference in the world.  On his website, each month, he features a different organization that is reaching the world.  Part of the proceeds from each of his books sold go to this organization.  I am excited to have D.J. Williams tell us a little about his innovative projects.                                                          

Me: What inspired you to write these novels?

D.J. Williams: From an early age, I've been captured by stories that left me turning the page. The first book I remember reading cover to cover was Treasure Island. At eight years old, those few days I spent in my room lost in a world of adventure, suspense, and mystery left me with the dream of one day becoming a storyteller. At the time I wasn't sure how that would become a reality.

After a decade in the music business, and the rise of iTunes, I found myself transitioning in a new career as I stood on the set of a new TV series as an Executive Producer and Director. I produced hundreds of TV episodes, still searching and dreaming of the perfect story to write.

After a year of writing late at night I sent a draft of my first novel to a friend in the TV industry with the disclaimer, "If it's not any good, the only two people who'll know about it is you and me." Within a few days she called with a thumbs up and that began the search for an agent and a publisher. When The Disillusioned was released it captured what I've now defined as a "cause-driven" novel. Throughout the pages of the story the adventure takes the main characters into the heart of Africa and the trafficking trade. I was fortunate enough to do a 15-city book tour with Barnes and Noble, and realized I was hooked. I needed to write the next story.

In my second novel, Waking Lazarus, I raised the stakes. I couldn't simply follow the template I'd created in The Disillusioned. So, I returned to my roots, to a story I heard from an early age about a controversial evangelist from the 1920's. I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with a family friend who was in his nineties as he shared with me how her life shaped the history of Los Angeles. I didn't want to write a biography, so I created a character based off of this real life celebrity figure.

As the story unfolds, readers will find themselves following two mysteries, one from the 1920's and one present day that are on a collision course. What was exciting about the writing process was that I could live in two worlds, and create a storyline that spanned nearly a century. And, for those who read The Disillusioned, they'll find themselves in a parallel timeline between both books but with all different characters and a standalone story. My plan in the third book of the Guardian Novels is for those characters and storylines from the first two books to crossover. I guess you could say it's part of my master plan!

Me: What drives your writing?

D.J.: When I stood on the shores of the Zambezi River a spark for a story pierced my soul. After three weeks of traveling across the country, witnessing the reality of those forgotten by the world, and facing a major change in my career, I knew that one day I'd write about this place. Little did I know that it would be years before I found the courage, but those days on the Zambezi defined my passion as a storyteller.

What I discovered throughout the writing process was that using my experiences traveling to the poorest places in the world fueled my drive to create the Guardian Novels, a series filled with mystery, suspense, and adventure. All of those were aspects of the story, but from the first novel the reality of the fight against human trafficking was an underlying thread throughout. It's one reason why I've defined this series as cause-driven novels. My hope is that readers will be entertained, but will also be inspired to make a difference in the world when they flip that last page.

Writing the second novel, Waking Lazarus, was challenging to continue in the cause-driven storytelling style. To capture this story in a unique way, the novel spans nearly a century as readers are taken back to the 1920's and then return to present day on a global adventure. It also pushes readers further into the worlds of child slavery, poverty, and the darkness of secrets. I'm humbled that the Guardian Novels, and the cause-driven storytelling style, have garnered the attention of Hollywood's elite.

I'm writing my third novel, The Auctioneer, and experimenting with ways to continue in telling stories that raise awareness for causes and issues around the world. It's like writing layers, where the story that draws readers in leads to a deeper place that travels a road between fiction and reality. My hope is that others who are passionate about storytelling will embrace this same approach and will write books that not only entertain, but also challenge readers beyond the last page.

Me: What has been the greatest challenge youve faced in writing the Guardian Novels?

D.J.: When I first began writing the series there was one story, and one set of characters, that were in the world. But as I've continued into the second book, and now into the third, the world has expanded with new characters, plot points, and underlying secrets that are yet to be revealed. Keeping track of who everyone is, where they are in the world, and when or how to unlock the secrets has been challenging.

While there are those authors who outline every chapter, my writing style is more fluid. I know where the book begins and where it ends. However, what happens in between is what I discover during the writing process. Believe me, I'm as surprised by some of the twists and turns as my readers are when they turn the page. I feel that it makes the writing more exciting, energizing, and helps me avoid being locked down to an outline that will most likely change significantly. But that does make writing the series more challenging. There are times when I stare at a blank page with fear that the words won't find their way out of my imagination. Still, I believe the end result is worth the effort!

Me: In Waking Lazarus, the second of the Guardian Novels, the story takes place from the 1920s to the present, and takes readers on an adventure around the world.  What made you decide to encompass so much, rather than to have a small focus?

D.J.: When I first started there was a question of whether or not I could pull it off, but I accepted the challenge. The more the story unfolded, the more I realized that the world my characters were in had to be global and span nearly a century for a deeper, more intense, plot. The stakes had to be continually raised with each chapter. Every choice was a life-changer, not only for the characters but for the eras and cultures those characters were from. And, I knew there were more books in the series that would push the world even further so I needed to establish a global influence from the beginning.

Me: Where did you get the idea to record a soundtrack to accompany Waking Lazarus?

D.J.: When I began writing Waking Lazarus I searched for musical inspiration as the story spanned nearly a century. I scrolled through my iTunes playlists and picked out a sequence of soundtracks to help set the tone and mood to help capture each scene as it played out on the page like a film. Working in the entertainment industry as an Executive Producer and Director, I understand how important a piece music can be to enhance the story you're trying to tell.

As the months passed, Waking Lazarus came alive on the page and I had a thought...what if we created a soundtrack to go with the book. It was something I hadn't seen done before. A soundtrack customized for the story, and done in a way that readers of all kinds could use it without being lost.

I reached out to a young composer, Jené Nicole Johnson, and shared with her the vision I had for a soundtrack to enhance the reading experience for Waking Lazarus. Under a tight deadline, she accepted the challenge and broke the code on how best to put the soundtrack together. She created layers of music that not only captured the 1920's era through present day, but also the mystery and suspense as the story travels from the Southland to the Orient. All of the music tied together with specific chapters so it was easy for readers to follow. I found myself writing to the soundtrack as I worked on the final draft. It was an energizing, creative, experience, one I believe I'll do again in the next Guardian Novel.

Me: What can you tell us about the third Guardian Novel?

D.J.: Right now, I'm working on the third novel, which will bring the characters and storylines from the first two books together. I'm not sure I can say much more!

Me: Do you have any other projects planned that youd like to share with us?

D.J.: I'm also writing a standalone novel, The Auctioneer, which I'm hoping to finish later this year.