Thursday, May 25, 2017

Call Me Sunflower

51kxlzp0vJL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (333×499)Title: Call Me Sunflower
Author: Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 259

Genre: children's fiction

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Sunny Beringer has just moved with her mom and sister Autumn from New Jersey to North Carolina, leaving her dad, cat, and all her friends behind.  She will now have to attend middle school for sixth grade instead of continuing at her elementary school.  She needs to come up with a "Super-Stupendous Plan" to get her mom and dad back together so that everything can return to normal.  While carrying out her plan she comes across a photograph that changes everything.

Thoughts:  What a bright, cheery cover!  I couldn't wait to open this book to see what was inside after seeing this cover!
     This book dealt with being true to yourself, not just taking the easy way out, what it means to be a friend, respecting differences, seeing different sides, all families are different, how secrets can hurt, parents separating, and how hard it can be to move and / or start at a new school.  The story is narrated by Sunny, the main character.  So, the reader learns all her thoughts and feelings first hand.  She is a very well developed character that learns important life lessons throughout the story.  The author seemed to be spot on with what would be going through the mind of a middle schooler.
     The author's writing style is simple and direct.  She has written a well-paced and engaging book.  The characters and setting are brought to life through her writing.  What stood out for me the most was the author's talent for writing so that the reader feels the emotions (both good and bad) that the protagonist is experiencing.  Also, she does a fantastic job writing from the viewpoint of a sixth grader.
     The publisher has recommended this book for ages 8 to 12.  I would recommend it more for ages 10 to 14, but even adults and teens may enjoy it as I did.  As I read this, I felt like younger kids would just not relate to what Sunny was going through, especially the transition to middle school.  Also, one of the topics is cruelty to animals in relation to the production of fur coats.  I know this would be disturbing to my 9 year old.


Company: Pickity Place

Tea: Fruit and Flower

Obtained: gift

     Pickity Place is a beautiful place to go for lunch, walk through their herb gardens, and shop at their greenhouse and gift shop.  For Christmas I received some herbal tea blends created at Pickity Place.  Today I tried the Fruit and Flower blend.  Their teas are packaged in resealable bags that keep the dried herbs fresh.  This blend looked to be a mix of flower petals and dried fruit, but the scent was of licorice.  I put one tablespoon of leaves in my tea ball and poured 10 ounces of water over the leaves. I let this brew for 5 minutes.  The color was an exquisite red and the scent was of fruit.  The taste of the liquid was of tart berries with a slight peppery after taste.  This was a light, calming tea.  As I was drinking it, I was thinking that in the summer it would be delicious iced with fresh berries from the garden added to the mix.  Pickity Place does not have their herbal teas available to order online, but if you are an herb lover and are near Mason, NH, I highly suggest you stop in to Pickity Place for a visit.  Reservations are required for lunch.  So, definitely plan ahead.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Quantum Ghost

51Tkcf+ZT6L._SY400_.jpg (265×400)Title: The Quantum Ghost

Author: Jonathan Ballagh

Publisher: 2017 by Jonathan Ballagh (self-published)

Genre: science fiction, fantasy, young adult

Pages: 200

Obtained: from author in return for an honest review

Summary: Remi Cobb sees a glowing dome floating in the pond in her backyard.  A robotic hand reaches up and pulls the dome underwater.  This discovery is the beginning of a technological adventure that brings Remi into alternate realities.

Thoughts:  I read The Quantum Door by Jonathan Ballagh in November and really enjoyed it.  The Quantum Ghost is the next book in the Quantum Series and it is just as good, if not better, than the first.  The author uses the same straight forward, organized writing style.  The pace and flow are excellent.  Even though the book involves science and technology, the writer makes it easy to understand.
     This is a story that feels fresh.  I have not read anything quite like it in the past.  The author brings the unique worlds he has created to life and the reader can picture the settings, technology, and races easily.  Although the focus is on the adventure and mission, and moves along steadily, the characters are developed and likeable (except of course the evil ones).  My favorite part is the strong ending, which provides closure to the story, but lets the reader know the adventures will continue.
     The books in this series do not have to be read in order.  The Quantum Ghost can definitely be read as a stand alone.  Some of the characters are the same, but each book is a separate story with different protagonists.
     I did not mention this in my review of The Quantum Door, but the illustrations by Ben J. Adams in both stories were awesome and really added to the book.  Just look at the fantastic covers!
    I recommend this book to anyone 12 and over.  My son had such a hard time finding books he wanted to read when he was in 5th-8th grade.  These would have been perfect.


Company: Teema Tea

Tea: Lemongrass Black

Obtained: purchased

     Lemongrass Black was the last tea for me to sample in the Discovery Gift Pack from Teema Teas.  I cut the pre-measured bag (for 12 ounces of water) open and put the leaves in my teapot.  The leaves were a beautiful mix of all shapes and sizes of black tea leaves and light brown, almost yellow curls.  The leaves had a lemon scent.  I poured  12 ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves and let this brew for 4 minutes.  The liquid was a yellowish- brown color and had a lemon scent mixed with another scent that I discovered in another Teema Tea blend Ginger- Lemongrass. The only way I can describe the scent is corn oil.  Since lemongrass was in both of these teas, I am assuming it comes from the lemongrass, although I have had lemongrass teas from other companies and the leaves did not have this scent or taste.  The tea had a nice lemon taste- not too strong, not too weak, but the texture was a bit thicker than water and I could perceive that corn oil taste in the background which I did not like.  This tea was not for me.
     I cannot recommend the Discovery Gift Pack by Teema Teas.  Although the Moringa Green was really good, and the Jasmine Green was good, I did not care for either the Immortality nor the Lemongrass Black.  Also, four samples for $14 was a bit much, especially since all four teas were not absolutely delicious. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cheesus Was Here

41E9OJbQlrL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (333×499)Title: Cheesus Was Here

Author: J. C. Davis

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages:  242

Genre: young adult, realistic fiction

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Delaney Delgada has not believed in miracles since her family fell apart after the loss of her younger sister.  When religious signs begin to appear in the small town where she lives, Del is determined to prove the "miracles" are a hoax.

Thoughts:  This was an excellent book!  What stood out the most to me was the author's ability to present such deep, emotional subjects and tragedies lightly.  J. C. Davis just had the perfect balance in her writing so that the reader felt all the sadness and anger, but countered these subjects with her witty writing style to achieve an emotional equilibrium. Even though some terrible things happened, it was not a depressing book. It was a deep complex book with tragedy and grief, but was told in an easy to read way.
The author's writing brought the reader right into the story- into the setting and into the characters minds and hearts. The memorable characters, both teens and adults, had layers that were peeled away as the story unfolded to reveal secrets and hidden pain. This was a book about friends, family, love, loss, change, tragedy, grief, right and wrong, healing, and miracles. Although the book is about seeing religious images and struggle with faith, I would not call it a religious book. It does not take a position on God or miracles being real. This is left for the reader to decide.
This isn't a book for just young adults. It is a book for any adult. The book is recommended for ages 12 and up, but I would recommend it for ages 14 and up due to the mature topics. This is the author's debut novel. I sure hope she continues to write!


Company: Tea Forte

Tea: Black Cherry

Obtained: gift

     Today I sampled the last tea from the Noir Single Steeps Sampler that I received as a Christmas gift.  Although Tea Forte is not one of my favorite tea companies, I have to say I have enjoyed this robust collection of teas.  Every time I needed a pick-me- up, these teas did not let me down.  There was also a nice variety of teas in the collection, my favorite being the Caramel Nougat.  The teas came in a pretty gift package and included 5 blends of pan-roasted black teas with 3 pre-measured packages (for 12 ounces of water) of each.  The pouches were easy to open, kept the tea fresh, and had beautiful pictures on them (as seen above).
     The Black Cherry tea was a blend of organic black tea, organic licorice root, natural vanilla flavor, natural berry flavor, natural cherry flavor, organic strawberry pieces, organic raspberry pieces, and organic vanilla pieces.  I opened the pouch of tea and and put the leaves into my tea infuser.  The leaves were thin and black with small chunks of red fruit mixed in.  The scent of the leaves reminded me of Robitusson Cough Syrup.  I poured 12 ounces of water over the leaves and let this brew for 3 minutes.  The liquid was an amber color and had the scent of warm, sweet fruit.  The taste was of robust black tea with a subtle cherry flavor.  The aftertaste was of sweet vanilla with a slight astringency.  I could not taste the strawberry, raspberry or licorice flavors.  It did not taste like cough syrup, and I did like it.
     Although I have not found Tea Forte's teas to be special, I do believe this collection makes a nice gift for someone that enjoys bold, full-bodied black teas.  Their teas are not the kind where I will sit down and savor every sip as I relax, but this collection was good to sip while I worked or to help get me going in the morning.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Fifth Petal

The-Fifth-Petal-2899342.jpg (250×250)Title: The Fifth Petal

Author: Brunonia Barry

Narrator: Ann Marie Lee

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio, 2017

Format: 14 compact discs, 18 hours

Genre: mystery

Obtained: library

Summary: In 1989, three beautiful young women, known as "The Goddesses" were murdered in Salem, Massachusetts.  In 2016, a teen aged boy dies under mysterious circumstances.  Rose Whelen, a now homeless woman, was present at both these incidents.  Could the murders be related and was Rose the killer?

Thoughts:  I loved this book!  It was a complex, detailed, slow paced novel that I didn't want to end.   The author obviously did a tremendous amount of research in many areas for this book, and it is amazing how she brings everything together.
     The story bounced from the 1600's to the 1980's to present day, but was written in a way that was not confusing at all and connected the three time periods together.  Salem was the perfect setting for this story and I felt like I was there.  It helped that I grew up near Salem and have been there many times, but I believe she really captured the ambience of Salem in all three time periods.  There is an undercurrent of mysticism throughout the book which keeps the reader wondering if the killer is real or supernatural.
     This was a powerful and entertaining murder mystery and story, showing what a present day witch hunt might be like.  The author veers off the main thread of the novel relaying character's back and personal stories which I thought were fascinating and added to the character development.  I felt like I knew all the characters and could easily picture them in my mind.  The author also weaves the history of Salem, mythology (especially Celtic), Wicca practises, religions, and New Age healing techniques (mostly singing bowls) into the story.  All of these topics were of interest to me and kept me engaged.
     At first I did not like the narrator's voice, but I did get used to it.  The narrator did read at a good pace and spoke clearly.  There was just something about the voice she did of Callie, the main character, that annoyed me at times.  It seemed over dramatized.
     The only thing I did not like about this novel was that sometimes the author would repeat things numerous times.  Maybe some readers need this in a complex story, but I did not believe that it was necessary.  I wanted to edit the repetitions out.  This was a minor issue and probably would not bother most readers.
     The writer definitely takes her time telling the main story, giving out information about the major plot slowly.  This is not a book for someone that likes a quick, suspenseful read.  Also, if the reader is not interested in New Age, Wicca practises, mythology, religions, or the Salem witch trials, he or she may get frustrated reading this book because the writer weaves all these things into her story.


Company: Tigerlily Tea Company

Tea: Organic Cherry Rose Green

Obtained: purchased

     Last weekend I went to the Mystic Aquarium with my family.  After enjoying the aquarium, we walked across the street to Old Mistick Village  to some shops to get some beverages for the long trip home.  I was very happy to discover many places to get tea.  I picked the Tigerlily Tea Company to get my beverage.
     Since my family was really ready to hit the road, I quickly explored the small tea shop.  It was wonderful.  For a small shop they had a surprising variety of teas.  The store was set up with a jar of each tea available so that shoppers could walk around, see the leaves, and experience the scent of each.  The prepackaged teas were right behind each jar so they could be picked up and carried around the shop while exploring.  There was a nice variety of tea ware for purchase as well.  I loved that both the owners (husband and wife) were there to answer any questions customers had about tea and their products, but they were not pushy at all, and let people browse.  Just hearing little snippets of conversations I could tell the friendly owners had a wealth of information about tea drinking and were happy to share their knowledge and experiences with customers.  The owners were very passionate about Chinese tea, health, and the environment. They  have direct relationships with the growers and tea masters from which they get their teas and are dedicated to promoting Chinese tea culture.  
     It was very hard to pick out just a couple of bags to purchase, but I chose Orange Black, Cinnamon Black, and Organic Cherry Rose Green.  I also got my cup of tea to go- Lemon Mango- which was a delicious caffeine free blend that lemon lovers would greatly enjoy.  The lemon flavor was prominent, but the mango was in there too.  Tigerlily Tea Company has "to-go" cups in which leaves are put right into the cup.  The lid has a filter built right in.  I was concerned that, after a little bit, the tea would get bitter because it would be constantly steeping on my ride home, but that was not the case- it was "good to the last drop" and I even used the leaves again to brew another cup when I arrived home.  It was just as good as the first one.  The owner even suggested washing out the cup and reusing it.  For $3.50  for a cup of tea to go, customers really get their money's worth.
     The first tea I sampled at home was the Organic Cherry Rose Green tea.  The tea was packaged in a good quality, resealable, foil-lined bag.  The leaves alone were beautiful.  The long green tea leaves had large pink rose petals mixed in.  The excellent quality of the tea was apparent just by looking at the leaves.  The scent was strong- first of sweet cherries, then of rose.  I poured 12 ounces of water which had been boiled over 1 1/2 heaping teaspoons of leaves and let this brew for 4 minutes.  The liquid was yellow and the scent was of sweet cherries.  The taste was light, delicate, and refreshing.  There was a very pleasing sweetness to this tea.  There was no bitterness or sourness present.  This was a delicious blend of rose, cherry, and green tea. I used the same leaves to brew another cup, and again, the second cup was just as good as the first. 
     I highly recommend visiting this tea shop.  There were teas available in the shop that are not available online and it is wonderful to be able to see and experience the scent of the teas before purchasing them.  Also, anyone interested in tea would love to meet the owners and have the opportunity to learn from them.  I know I will be back.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Interview with Jonathan Ballagh

Jonathan Ballagh is the author of the middle grade Sci-Fi series, The Quantum Worlds. He has been writing software since he was five, created his first online game at fourteen, and has a deep love of all things A.I. (artificial intelligence) and robotics. He currently lives in Virginia with his wife and three kids.

In November I did a review on The Quantum Door, the first book in his series.  I enjoyed this book very much.  What stood out to me was that I could not predict what was going to happen, the universe he created was awesome, and he was able to write about technology in a way that I could understand.  I am excited that The Quantum Ghost, the second book in the series, has just been released.  Jonathan assures me that the book will be on the way to me by the end of the week.  I will be reviewing it in May or June.  In the meantime, I have asked Jonathan to do an author interview.

Me: What inspired you to write young adult books?

Jonathan: I started writing about five years ago, mostly disjointed fragments of stories here and there, just dipping a toe in the water. I had a good time hammering out ideas on a keyboard, so I set a more ambitious goal of completing a novel. At the time, this felt overwhelming. I thought I’d write one book and that would be it. Forever. And if I could somehow convince at least one person (outside of my family) to read it—well, that meant success.

I knew that if I had any hope of finishing a book, it would have to be about something I love, something fun. I’ve always been passionate about robotics and A.I. (no doubt the result of watching too many sci-fi films in the 80s). Robots quickly became the nucleus of the idea. Also—I have three young children. I wanted to write something they would enjoy reading. So, I wrote for a middle-grade/YA audience, hoping to impress them. But cool father is an oxymoron, isn’t it?

Me: The Quantum Door was a fantastic adventure.  How do you think The Quantum Ghost compares?

51rdo7d0CjL._SY346_.jpg (230×346)Jonathan: I’m glad you enjoyed The Quantum Door. I had a lot of fun writing it, but I really wanted to shake things up in the sequel and not adhere to the continuum.  The Quantum Ghost is darker and leaner, with a bit less science and tech, and a lot more fantastical elements—even a new protagonist. It’s told from limited 3rd-person perspective, which is a switch from the omniscient point of view I used for the first novel.

Even though The Quantum Ghost is the second volume of the Quantum Worlds series, I tried to write a novel that could be enjoyed as a standalone. The story is set in the same universe, and there’s some overlap between the characters, but that’s where the similarity ends.

In many ways, I think The Quantum Ghost is the stronger of the two. I’m proud of them both, though—they’re very different reads. I just hope readers have fun with all of the reality hopping!

Me: What was the greatest challenge you faced writing The Quantum Ghost?

Jonathan: I’m fascinated by puzzle-box stories, and wanted to write one with The Quantum Ghost. This proved a lot harder than I thought, even though the base mystery isn’t particularly complicated. My past outlines, if I used them at all, were very rough. Getting things right forced me to plot at a very fine granularity, with constant revisions and re-writes for story cohesiveness.

In The Quantum Ghost, clues are dripped out slowly, often out of chronological order. I really struggled with keeping track of everything, trying to distill the ideas and story flow down into something that younger readers could track. Honestly—I’m not sure the pieces fit together perfectly, but I’m at least happy with where it ended up.

Me: Have you learned anything during the process of writing either The Quantum Door or The Quantum Ghost?

34808945.jpg (317×475)Jonathan: The Quantum Door was my first long form fiction project. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was fortunate enough that reviewers were gracious enough to give the novel a chance. Their feedback was very constructive. I took it all to heart—especially while writing The Quantum Ghost.

Me: Something that I loved about The Quantum Door was that you wrote it in a way that a “non-tech” person (like me) could understand.  Was this difficult for you to do?

Jonathan: I’m relieved the technology and science presented made sense. I was worried it wouldn’t, that the dialogue would come off as incoherent. My background is in engineering, and my natural inclination is to speak technically—to a fault! I tried to tone it down even more this time around.

Me: Will there be a third book in the series?  

Jonathan: I think so. I’d like to take a break first, though, to work on a new serial that I hope to get out there soon. And then, maybe I’ll come back to it—if I can think of an original idea that keeps the series fresh.  The Quantum Ghost took me almost two years to write, and during that time I filled up few pages with new ideas.

The story of Brady and Felix isn’t finished yet.....

The Quantum Ghost can be purchased on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


You can follow Jonathan on twitter @JonathanBallagh or visit his website

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive

41L7R6-xK-L._SY346_.jpg (230×346)Title: How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive (A Max Brown Novel)
Author: Michael Bernhart

Publisher: Hough Publishing, 2016

Pages: 254

Genre: adventure

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Max Brown, his wife, and nine year old twin daughters embark on a treasure hunt. What was supposed to be a family adventure for Max, turns into a dangerous quest to find his missing girls and wife's uncle who have been taken by the Ku Klux Klan to the abandoned gold mines of northern Georgia.

Thoughts: Don't judge a book by its cover is advice that is sometimes very hard to follow.  When I see a book cover that has a really cool illustration on the front and a catchy title, I definitely want to read it.  When I see a cover that is not too exciting and has a title like How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive, I quickly put it back on the shelf.  Fortunately, the author personally sent me a book review request and he stated: "It's not as steamy as the title suggests- three PG-13 encounters between husband and wife."  So, I gave it a chance.
     Inside the cover was an action packed, fast-paced adventure.  The writing style was light and humorous even though there were some serious issues intertwined throughout the story- racism, kidnapping, shooting, killing, etc... The book was written in the first person and was an easy read.  It kept me engaged to the last page.  The feel, to me, was of a television sitcom.  It was definitely an escape from reality.  Steamy?  Not at all.  Also, the Civil War gold that was being sought is a real life lost treasure.  The twins wrote a "Guide to Treasure" that describes real long lost treasures. These pages are put between chapters.  I found these tidbits interesting- a nice bonus to the book.
     Although the focus was on the action (lots of shooting, explosions, and chases), I also enjoyed the characters who had unique personalities and who were all dealing with their own personal issues.  The setting was northern Georgia.  I've never been there, but the writer definitely gave the place a feel, although I cannot say if it was accurate or not.
     This was the third book in a series of four.  There were some references to things that I am sure were in the previous books, but it was fine to read this without reading the first two.  I really did not feel like I was missing anything.
     I would recommend this book to anyone that likes action / adventure books, but does not get offended when people make light of very serious issues.


Company: French Creek Tea Company
325 Mt. Rushmore Road, Custer, SD 57730
phone: 695-637-5383

Tea: Miners' Mix

Obtained: sample from company

     The French Creek Tea Company is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  They have a nice variety of teas which I have been sampling and reviewing. This is a project I am enjoying very much since I have not found a tea from this company that I have not delighted in.  On this rainy morning, I decided to try the Miners' Mix, which not only went perfectly with the book I was reading, but gave me the pick-me-up I needed.
     The package, which can be seen in the picture above, is a foil-lined resealable bag which is very convenient, makes for easy storage, and keeps the leaves fresh.  I opened the bag and immediately detected an earthy tea scent.  The leaves were mostly long, thin, and black, but there were leaves of other shapes and sizes dispersed throughout the mix of black teas.
     I poured 12 ounces of water over 2 teaspoons of leaves and let this brew for 4 minutes.  The liquid was an orange brown color and the scent was earthy.  The taste was brisk, robust, and full-bodied.  It was earthy, with a hint of something I would describe as a cedar taste.   This would make a wonderful breakfast tea or a pick me up anytime of the day.
     The French Creek Tea Company does not have online ordering at this time, but their contact information is above along with links that tell about the company, teas, and where they can be purchased.