Friday, May 25, 2018

The Chemist

Title: The Chemist

Author: Stephanie Meyer

Narrator: Ellen Archer

Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2016

Format: 16 compact discs, approximately 17 hours

Genre: thriller

Obtained: library

Summary: "Alex" (the name she has today) has been running from the US government, her former employer, for too long.  Someone wants her dead.  She spends her life moving from place to place, changing her name, and finding ways to keep herself safe from attack through her specialty- chemicals.  Her job with the government was to make criminals talk by any means necessary.  Now she must use what she learned through her job, to get her life back. 

Thoughts: A plot that twists and turns.  Characters that are extreme, yet complex.  A basic story with lots of action.  Romance.  Blood.  Fights.  Flights.  Torture.  Dogs.  Love / hate relationships.  This got me through staining and painting yet another room- my bathroom. 

I really liked this narrator, who read at the perfect pace, drew me in, and kept me there.  She had distinct voices for each character and read with fantastic expression.  I also really liked the author's writing style in this book.  Many people know Stephanie Myers from The Twilight Series.  I enjoyed her detailed, organized writing style there, and here as well.  Although this book was an adult book, and a very different genre than her previous works,  she is able to carry her personal style over, but changing it just enough to better suit this genre.  She did this wonderfully in her science fiction book The Host, as well.  I really like that this author tries different types of writing.  I feel she has been successful with all three.  The other plus of this book was that, although it was a spy thriller, I liked the spy being a doctor / chemist of small stature.

In each of her books, Stephanie Myers has the most unlikely of romances happening.  To me they are just not believeable and in each book, I have had trouble accepting the romance, but eventually do.  Her books are entertaining and the details are what I enjoy the most in her storytelling.  It is the details that bring the story to life.

If you like thrillers with strong female characters, this is a good one.  If realistic romance is the most important thing to you, look elsewhere.  If you like audio books, I highly recommend this one.  It just works as an audio book, maybe because of its movie-like feel, or maybe I just really enjoyed this narrator. 


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Contemplative Blend Guayusa Tea

Obtained: sample with tea of the month club

I received a sample of Contemplative Blend Guayusa Tea with my tea of the month club through Plum Deluxe.  The ingredients were guayusa tea, green rooibos, orange peel, apricots, mango pieces, calendula, and lemon / orange essence.  Most of the leaves were flat and green and of all shapes and sizes.  Mixed in were long, thin, twig-like leaves of browns, and long white flower petals.  The scent of the leaves was lemon and orange.  I put one teaspoon of leaves in my tea ball and poured eight ounces of boiling water over it.  I let this brew for three minutes. The light yellow liquid had a grassy scent, but a delicate, fruity taste.  This cup of tea was refreshing, calming, and smooth.  It does contain caffeine, but the content did not seem high.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The City of Lost Fortunes

Title: The City of Lost Fortunes

Author: Bryan Camp

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

Pages: 367

Genre: fantasy

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Jude Dubuisson, a demi-god, who has the ability to find lost things, has been struggling since Katrina hit New Orleans.  There were so many things lost in the hurricane that Jude just could not cope, so disappeared from his old life.  After six years, the fortune god of New Orleans calls in a "favor" from Jude.  When the fortune god winds up murdered, Jude finds himself back in a world from which he tried to escape, with more depending on him than he could have imagined.

Thoughts:  This is not the type of book I would usually choose to read, but the book summary sounded like there was a complex plot which I have really been enjoying lately.  I was not disappointed.  Along with an intricately woven plot, the book had a dark atmosphere, bringing the post Katrina city of New Orleans to life to the point that the setting's presence was almost like a character.  It made me realize that towns and cities, in a way, have a soul, part of which is the architecture, buildings, landmarks, and history, but also the community. 

This was a clever, original book.  It reminded me of a slow roller coaster ride.  There were twists and turns but they were at a moderate pace, not fast.  The author brought mythology and religious figures from many cultures into the book, showing how they merged, sometimes being one and the same.  The book was deep, with devastation and loss always in the background, but also a glimmer of hope.  There were underlying themes, the most prominent to me being destiny versus luck.  The characters were unique and had differing personalities and I enjoyed the minor characters as much as the main ones. 

The only negative I came across was in the middle, a couple of times my mind wandered, and I thought the book was just too drawn out.  It felt too long at points, like some additional editing would have helped.  It was not repetitive, but just got too far away from the action, losing its drive. 

If you like dark, fantasy books, especially mythological, this is a great one to try.  If you are a New Orleans fan, definitely read it.

The author has an additional "Crescent City Novel" that he is working on which has the same setting, but takes place about a year and half after this book ends.  It will have a different main character this time- a woman who is a psychopomp (a guide that leads the dead into the afterlife). 


For Mother's Day my family gave me a membership to the Plum Deluxe Tea of the Month Club.  Both a one tea membership and a two tea membership are available.  Each membership comes with one ounce of a seasonal tea made especially for the club, and a small sample of a tea from their online shop, along with additional benefits.  The two tea membership comes with an additional one ounce of tea from their online shop.

I received my first tea the day before Mother's Day- perfect timing.  The specially blended tea for the club this month was English Berries and Cream Black Tea.  Sometimes berry tea is just too tart for me, but the tartness in this one was balanced with vanilla and cinnamon.  I particularly loved the cinnamon with the berries.  I bet this one is wonderful iced too.

Since the tea of the month seasonal teas are not available for individual purchase, I won't write about them on the blog.  I will, however, review the samples since they are available for purchase.  Contemplative Blend Guayusa Tea will be reviewed in a future blog post, since this is the one I received for May.  I will also share my thoughts on the tea club teas on my Facebook Page.  Please follow me there if interested in hearing about my tea club experience.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Flight Attendant

Title: The Flight Attendant

Author: Chris Bohjalian

Narrators: Erin Spencer, Grace Experience, and Mark Deakins

Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2018

Format: 9 compact discs, approx.  11 1/2 hours

Genre: thriller, mystery

Obtained: library

Summary: Cassandra Bowden, a flight attendant, wakes up in a hotel in Dubai next to a dead man after a night of drinking and blacking out.  Did she kill him?  If someone else killed him, why was she left alive?

Thoughts:  I listened to this audio book while I painted the walls and stained the woodwork in my son's room.  This book made me look forward to this monotonous task each day until it was completed.  That is how much I enjoyed it.

Why did I appreciate it so much?  This book was original.  I didn't feel like I had read something like it before.  It was not predictable.  I was surprised at what happened at times, especially at the end.  The attention to detail, especially the life of a flight attendant, drew me into the book and kept me there.  This was an intricate story that was slow paced and character driven.  The characters were developed to the point that they seemed like real people, always doing things true to their personalities.  The narrators helped bring these characters to life, especially the main character, Cassandra Bowden.  Each narrator read at a good pace and spoke clearly. Their voices matched the character's personalities.

If you liked Midwives, the only other novel I have read by this authorthis is nothing like it.  I really enjoyed that one as well, but this is a different genre, and type of book.  If you are looking for a similar book to Midwives, you may be disappointed.  Also, this is a thriller, but very slow paced for a thriller, which I prefer.  Interesting characters, details, and intricate plot are what I look for most in a book.  If you like fast-paced thrillers this is not for you.


Company: David's Tea

Tea: Organic Cinnamon Rooibos Chai

Obtained: purchased

I read an article that I came across online about Teavana going out of business and David's Tea expanding and opening many new stores in the United States.  I was never a big Teavana fan, but decided to try David's Tea since this is the first time I became aware of this chain.  I ordered the David's Top Twelve gift set along with the Summer Time Favourites iced tea singles collection, and received three free samples with my order.  The order arrived the next day! 

The David's Top Twelve teas came in a very sturdy, cheery gift box.  Each of the twelve teas came in a twist top container and were set in the box with a corresponding description of the tea and brewing instructions on the lid, which reminded me of Russell Stovers candy.  The only thing I did not like about the presentation was that it said to use "1-2 perfect spoons" of tea per 16 ounces of water.  I had to go searching to find that David's "perfect spoon" is equal to 2.5 teaspoons.

The Organic Cinnamon Rooibos is the first tea I sampled from this collection.  The ingredients listed on the website were organic rooibos, apple, cinnamon, and natural cinnamon flavouring.  It is a caffeine free tea and certified organic, kosher, and fair trade.  The small, thin, brown rooibos leaves were mixed with brown and pink chunks.  The scent of the leaves was cinnamon.  I poured sixteen ounces of water, that had been boiled and set for a minute, over 2.5 teaspoons of leaves.  I let this steep for four minutes.  The liquid was dark orange and had a wonderful cinnamon scent.  The taste was of cinnamon with apple in the background.  I did not think of chai when I drank this tea because it did not have that peppery spiciness to it that I think of when I want chai.  I thought of cinnamon tea.  The tea did have an odd texture to it that is hard to describe- oily?, syrupy? thick? 

I enjoyed the scent and the cinnamon apple taste of this tea, but I didn't care for the texture.  If you love cinnamon and don't mind different textures, this is one to try.  It did have a delicious taste!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Constable's Tale

Author: Donald Smith

Publisher: Pegasus Books, 2015

Genre: historical fiction, mystery

Pages: 287

Obtained: library

Summary: It is 1759.  A family is found murdered at their home by a traveler.  Harry Woodyard, the volunteer constable of Craven County, North Carolina, sets out to clear the name of a Native American who is arrested for the murders.  Can he find the real murderer?

Thoughts:  The book's setting was before the American Revolution at the time of the French and Indian Wars.  This setting, combined with there being a mystery involved, is what made me pick up this book.  The author did a good job with the historical piece of the novel, making me feel like I was there, and bringing in different aspects of the setting- culture, different social classes, terrain, daily life, etc...  I am not very familiar with this time period and don't know if the historical details are accurate, but the going back in time feeling was there for me.  Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into the story itself, and the mystery was not a very good one.  There were not many suspects or clues and the motives of the suspects were weak.  I like a murder mystery where there are clues and lots of people who had a reason to commit the murder.  I love trying to figure out the identity of the murderer.  I couldn't do that here. 

The characters were just okay.  As I read I got to know them, but they just didn't seem real to me.  The book was not predictable and the ending was a surprise to me, although I can't say that I liked it.

The author's writing style was organized and clear, not exciting nor anything that really stood out.  At times there was an unconnected feel like the author wanted the story to go in a certain direction, but didn't know how to get it there, so just did it in a way that didn't mesh. Also, the same people would keep popping up in different places all along the eastern part of the United States- a huge area.  There were reasons given for this, but they just weren't believable.

If you're looking for a good mystery, skip this one.  If it's the time period you're interested in, you might enjoy it, but not if you're expecting a really good story.


Company: David's Tea

Tea: Midsummer Night's Dream

Obtained: free sample with purchase

I received a sample for one cup of Midsummer Night's Dream tea with a purchase from David's Tea.  It was an herbal tea which was caffeine free.  The ingredients were apple (apple, citric acid), gooseberries, spearmint, marigold blossoms, safflower petals, rose petals, and artificial flavoring. 

I tore open the packet easily.  The tea consisted of big yellow, brown, and red fruit chunks with long yellow and red flower petals, and very small, broken green leaves.  I put the contents of the envelope in my teapot and poured 16 ounces of water that had been boiled over them.  I let this steep for 4 minutes.  The bright yellow liquid had a citrus scent that was sweet.  The taste was a sweet citrus / vanilla blend with a hint of florals.  There was a tart berry and subdued mint flavor in the background.  This was a flavorful, refreshing, enjoyable tea that relaxed me.  I think it would be great iced. This is definitely a tea for citrus lovers.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Simplicity Teas

Simplicity Teas sent me a one time subscription box in exchange for an honest review.  When I opened the box, which was definitely packaged with care, the picture to the left is what I saw.  On the back of the card was written a bit about the company and some tips on steeping.  The mission of Simplicity Teas is "to educate and get others excited about the wonderful healing properties of tea".

Simplicity Teas has two options for their  monthly health and wellness tea subscription boxes.  The mini version contains three or four .5 oz vials of tea, which will make 15-20 cups of tea and is $9.99 per month.  The deluxe version (which is what I received) contains larger vials and bags of tea, which will make 30-40 cups of tea, and comes with a "new surprise each month".  It is $14.99 per month.  Both mini and deluxe versions contain a reusable tea infuser in the first box.

When I picked up the card, I saw a bag of "Casablanca" tea and a super cute infuser that looked like a strawberry.  Under that there were three additional vials of tea- "Tuck Me In", "Irish Breakfast", and "Sweet Nothings", and a "Lemon Black Tea" dark chocolate bar from Trader Joes (the surprise of the month).  The ingredients were listed on the chocolate bar and on each of the teas.  It was printed right on the vials if the tea was caffeine free or contained caffeine.  The brewing instructions were there, but I would have liked them to be a little clearer.  For example, the instructions for the "Casablanca" tea were "1 tsp. 2 min @180".  My question was- how much water do I use?  Some people think of a cup of tea as 6 ounces of water and some as 8 ounces.  I went with the 8 ounces since I am quite literal.

The first thing I tried was brewing the "Casablanca" tea using the Strawberry Silicone Infuser.  The infuser opened easily and I added 1 teaspoon of "Casablanca" tea leaves to it.  I closed it up and put it in my cup.  The infuser had a long "stem" that hung easily over the cup.  The holes in the infuser did let some of the tea leaves through, but not too many.  When I was done with the infuser, I just rinsed it out, but the company's website does say it is dishwasher safe and also microwave safe.  It is BPA free and it did not affect my tea in any way- no strange taste at all.  I would have liked the information about the infuser to be included in the package itself, but at least it is on their website.

Now back to the tea!  The "Casablanca" tea was in a resealable bag.  The ingredients were darjeeling sungma summer tea and peppermint leaves.  There was a brief description of the tea and there was a clear panel in the back of the bag so that the leaves could be seen.  The leaves had the scent of mint and were browns and greens of all shapes and sizes.  I followed the brewing instructions pouring 8 ounces of water that had been boiled and cooled a bit over 1 teaspoon of leaves.  I let this brew for 2 minutes. The yellow liquid had a minty scent.  The taste was cool, smooth, and refreshing.  This was one of the best peppermint tea blends I've ever had!

The Trader Joe's Lemon Black Chocolate Tea bar,  contained dark chocolate (unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla extract), black tea, and lemon oil.  It was delicious!  I love almost any chocolate, especially dark chocolate.  It was only slightly sweet and was basically a dark chocolate bar with a lemon tea background taste.  A wonderful treat!

I spent the next couple of days sampling the vials of tea.  The Tuck Me In tea stated it was intended to help get quality sleep.  The ingredients were valerian root, honeybush tea, chamomile, spearmint, passion flowers, lemon balm, lavender, dried cherries, and cornflower.  It was a potpourri of flower parts of all different colors, shapes, and sizes and had the scent of mint and chamomile.  It was caffeine free.  After brewing, the yellowish liquid had the scent of mint, lemon, and something peppery.   It was a tasty, smooth, herbal blend.  I could taste chamomile, lemon, and mint if I really tried, but it was just blended so well that nothing really stood out.  It was a relaxing and calming tea, and I did get a good night's sleep.

The Irish Breakfast tea contained ceylon sonata tea and assam melody tea.  The long, thin, dark black leaves had a sweet, earthy scent.  The result from steeping was an orange brown liquid with a sweet, earthy scent.  The taste was not as bold as some English Breakfast teas, but I could definitely feel the caffeine pick me up.  This was a fantastic wake up tea and what I liked most about it was that sometimes when I want a pick me up I am not looking for extremely bold and robust.  I did not feel like I needed to add milk to tame this one down.  It was delicious with nothing added.

Finally, the Sweet Nothings tea contained white tea, marigold flowers, lavender flowers, peach flavor, and apricots.  It was caffeine free and high in antioxidants.  It was a very pretty tea consisting of green and brown leaves with yellow flower petals mixed in.  The leaves had a peach scent.  The liquid was a light yellow with a peach scent.  The taste was of sweet peaches, but not overpowering.  It was a light, refreshing tea that I though of as an enjoyable treat.

I loved this subscription box!  Everything in it was good quality, and I thought, a great value .  The teas were all organic.  Everything was packaged well.  I really liked the variety of tea and that the teas were geared toward different things- sleeping, a pick-me up, a treat high in anti-oxidants, and a refreshing, relaxing brew.  The only thing that surprised me was that there wasn't more detailed information about the health benefits of each tea since the company's mission statement is to educate people about this.  The brief mentions did make me happy I was drinking something good for me, though, and I guess if you got information over and over each month it would get monotonous.  I will be letting my husband know what a wonderful gift these subscription boxes would make for my next birthday.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella

Title: Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella (book 1 in the Harper series)

Author: Cerrie Burnell

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 122

Genre: children's fantasy (ages 7-9)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: All of the cats in Cloud City are missing, including Harper's beloved pet, Midnight.  Can Harper and her friends find the missing cats?

Thoughts:  This series is one that really needs to be read in order.  My son and I read the third book first, and we kept looking back to see if we missed something.  Well, we did- in the first two books!  The first book flowed much better and we didn't have to look back once.

The author has created a magical, musical world with whimsical characters, and the illustrator has added to it with her black and white artwork.  Pets are an important part of this world, along with friendship and family. 

The print in this story is large and most chapters are 6 to 8 pages long with pictures mixed in.  The recommended age group for this book is 7 to 9, but I think children 5 to 10 years old would enjoy it.  It is probably a second to third grade reading level if a child is reading it themselves.


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Gratitude Blend

Obtained: from company in exchange for an honest review

Today I tried the Gratitude Blend from Plum Deluxe.  The tea came in a see through, resealable plastic bag that can be seen in the picture above.  The tea ingredients and steeping instructions were right on the bag, which just seems to make life easier.  This tea contains black tea, orange peels, blue cornflowers, strawberries, raspberry leaves, bergamot oil, and strawberry essence.  All ingredients are organic.

The tea leaves were thin and black and had purple and yellow flower petals mixed in.  The leaves had a strong strawberry scent.  I put 1 1/2 teaspoons of leaves in my tea maker and poured sixteen ounces of boiling water over the leaves.  I let this steep for 3 minutes.  The liquid was a dark reddish brown with a scent of strawberries.  The taste was a blend of black tea, bergamot, and strawberries with an aftertaste of vanilla combined with a slight bitterness.  The vanilla taste does the perfect job of balancing out the bitterness.  Even though I am not a big vanilla fan, this really works here.  This tasted like an earl grey made for springtime.  It is a wonderful variation to the classic earl grey.  I found it uplifting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Woman in the Window

Title: The Woman in the Window

Author: A. J. Finn

Narrator: Ann Marie Lee

Publisher: Harper Audio, 2018

Format: 12 compact discs, 13.75 hours

Genre: psychological thriller, mystery

Obtained: library

Summary: Anna Fox has agoraphobia and has been in her house for over a year.  To amuse herself, she watches her neighbors out her windows.  One day she hears a scream and sees one of her neighbors get stabbed, or does she?

Thoughts: I love books with atmosphere and this one has it.  I could feel fear, panic, a claustrophobic sensation, the safety of home, sadness, relief- all sorts of feelings throughout the novel.  This is what made the book.  The story was a good one.  It was complex with lots going on.  It was easy to follow and I would say slow moving for a thriller, yet engaging.  It was suspenseful, but not in an intense way.  I felt like I knew the main character, Anna Fox.  The other characters were developed as much as they could be to keep the mystery aspect to the book.  All the characters had layers and were complicated.  The only thing I didn't like about it was that the parts that were supposed to be surprises were predictable to me.  Clues could have been hidden better.

The narrator was wonderful.  She read at the perfect pace and really brought the characters to life- all of them.  She read with emotion and had a distinct voice for each character.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it was predictable at times.  The writing style, story itself, and characters were all fantastic.  This was a debut novel by the author and there is supposed to be a movie in the works, which I would really like to see.  I can't wait for this author's next book!


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Self Care Blend

Obtained: from the company in exchange for an honest review

Plum Deluxe is a tea company located in Portland, Oregon.  They use organic ingredients and believe in fair trade.  Thery sell all types of teas and have a wide variety of blends.  The company is all about self-care, being in the moment, and enjoying each day.  These are the reasons I started my blog, to slow down and enjoy.  So, I was very happy to discover this website.  They even have a fantastic blog with lots of recipes, and tea and book articles!

I asked the company if they would provide me with some tea leaves in exchange for an honest review, and they agreed.  Today I tried their Self Care Blend.  The ingredients are honey bush tea, elderberries, apricots, apple pieces, marigold, and apricot essence.  Since this is an herbal tea, it is caffeine free.

The leaves came in a resealable see-through plastic bag.  The ingredients and brewing instructions were listed on the bag.  The leaves were small and were medium and dark shades of brown.  They almost looked like squares or rectangles.  Mixed in were yellowish flower petals and chunks of fruit.  The leaves had a fruity scent. I put 1 1/2 teaspoons of leaves into my tea maker and poured sixteen ounces of boiling water over the leaves.  I let this sit for three minutes.  The liquid was a dark orange brown and had a peppery scent with fruit in the background.  The fruity taste was slightly sweet and slightly tart, which blended marvelously. This was a soothing tea, the perfect accompaniment to a good book.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Gods of Guilt

Title: The Gods of Guilt (Mickey Haller, Book 5)

Author: Michael Connelly

Narrator: Peter Giles

Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2013

Format: 10 compact discs, 11 hours and 49 minutes

Genre: crime, mystery

Obtained: gift

Summary: Andre LaCosse is accused of the murder of Gloria Dayton.  He hires Mickey Haller to defend him in court.  Can Mickey find out who really killed Gloria and set his client free?

Thoughts: The best part about this book was that it had an elaborate, in-depth plot.  I have been reading many books lately where the plot is just too simple.  The main character was complex, flawed, and somewhat sleazy, yet I enjoyed reading this story from his point of view.  The other characters were interesting, but the reader did not get to know them as much as Mickey Haller.  The book not only involved the investigation of the crime and the courtroom trial, but had personal problems and relationships mixed in, making for a multifarious read.

I believe this is the first book I've read that was written by Michael Connelly.  This was actually the 5th book in one of his series, but was fine as a stand-alone.  I liked his writing style- intricate, yet clear.  The story was fast- paced for the most part, but did get a little bogged down in the courtroom scenes.  Also, at times it was a bit repetitive.  The story was movie-like, believable for a story, but definitely not realistic.     

The narrator was clear and precise.  He read at a good pace.  He had a different voice for each character, which assisted in making the story easy to follow.

If you like books about courtroom trials with even more to the story, you might like this one.  If you like it more simple, this is not for you.


Company: The Whistling Kettle

Tea: Irish Breakfast

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Breakfast Tea Sampler from the Whistling Kettle.  Each tea in the sampler was an excellent quality, bold, full-bodied tea, but with different flavor notes.  The six samples came in eye-pleasing, resealable bags.  Directions for brewing were on the back of each bag.  The samples came in a nice gift box and had a card describing each tea in the box.  According to the website, the sample brews 18- 36 cups of tea.  I found that it was closer to the 36 cups.  At $16.99 + shipping, this would make a wonderful gift!

I have done reviews on the English Breakfast, East Frisian Blend, Scottish Breakfast, Ancient Forest, and Molkarbari East Assam.  Today I tried the Irish Breakfast, which is a blend of Kenyan and Assam teas.  The leaves were curled up so that they looked like tiny black balls.  They had the scent of fresh hay.  I put two teaspoons of leaves into my teapot and poured twelve ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this brew for four minutes.  The liquid was a dark, reddish-brown and had a nutty scent.  The taste was strong, bold, full-bodied and nutty.  It was malty and had an astringency to it.  On the website it states this tea has a medium caffeine content, but I felt the caffeine right away, maybe because I drank it on an empty stomach, but I would have guessed it to have a high caffeine content.  This was a delicious wake-me-up tea!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Title: POTUS: Transformed (Volume 3)

Authors: Suzanne Falter & Jack Harvey

Publisher: New Heights Publishing, 2017

Pages: 280

Genre: fiction, humor

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: The President of the United States loses the "biscuit" of nuclear codes. Charley, a spy from the CIA, who was supposed to be making sure this did not happen, needs to find out who has the codes.

Thoughts:  This was a silly quirky novel.  There were many unconventional characters that made the book.  The writer wrote from different perspectives, which can sometimes be confusing, but it was not at all confusing here.  The writing was organized, clear, and easy to follow.  The pace was good.

This was the third book in this series and could definitely be read as a stand alone book, but I kept wondering if the plot was better in the first two books.  I just felt like the plot was weak in this one.  I am not a romance fan and before reading this book, thought the romance would turn me off, but it did not at all.  It is there, but it does not weigh the story nor the characters down.  There is a balance.

All in all, if you like quirky, funny characters, this is an entertaining book.  If you are all about the plot, skip it.


Company: Adagio Teas   

Tea: Green Rooibos Bonita

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Green Rooibos Tea Sampler from Adagio Teas.   Green rooibos tea comes from the same plant as the better known red rooibos or African bush tea, but the leaves are treated to prevent the oxidation process from happening so that the leaves are more in their natural state.  I find it extremely different from red rooibos.  Today I tried the Green Rooibos Bonita tea.  The tea sample came in a resealable bag which kept the tea fresh.  When I opened the bag there was a very strong peach scent.  The long, thin tea leaves were brown and there were off-white flower petals and orange peel mixed in with the leaves.  I put two teaspoons of leaves into my tea maker and poured sixteen ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this brew for five minutes.  The yellowish liquid had a faint fruity scent.  The taste was a blend of fruit and floral with peach flavor standing out.  It was a light-bodied, refreshing tea with no bitterness at all.  It was sweet and reminded me of summer.  It is caffeine free.  If you like fruit tea, especially peach, try this one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Harper and the Night Forest

Title: Harper and the Night Forest (book 3 in the Harper series)

Author: Cerrie Burnell

Illustrator: Laura Ellen Anderson

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2018

Pages: 181

Genre: children's fantasy, ages 7-9

Obtained: advanced reading copy from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Harper and her friends travel to the Night Forest in search of the Ice Raven who is said to be able to "tame the fiercest heart" with its song. 

Thoughts: I read this book with my ten year old son.  We both kept thinking that we missed something and would have to go back in the story to see if we did.  It was written as if we should already be familiar with the characters and places in the story.  The many characters were introduced all at once and the story started by throwing the reader into a strange apartment building.  This was the third book in the series.  I began to think that this is one of those series where you have to start with the first book and read the series in order and that is why we kept getting confused.

After we were done with the book, I felt like there was a story, a good one, but it got lost in the jumble of characters.  More than half way through the book, when the characters came back together after having been separated, the story was more present and clear.  I wanted the book to either have some characters edited out to make it less confusing for younger children, or more character development and flow added for older children.

The illustrations were engaging.  My son and I enjoyed examining the pictures, which did help us to keep the characters straight. We just marveled at the way the illustrator drew the Wild Conductor.  We also loved the cover of the book, especially the colors.

This book was fairy-tale like and fanciful - what children love in a story.  The author brought in magic, music, and beloved pets, making it even more attractive to children.  The author seemed to have so much to tell, but knew the book would be too long for the targeted age group.  This would have been a much better cartoon series than a book for seven to nine year old kids.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Thai Chai

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Chai Sampler from Adagio Teas.  Each sample was packaged in a resealable bag.  The bags were easy to open and kept the tea fresh.  Today I tried Thai Chai.  This tea was a mixture of black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, dried coconut, lemon grass, and natural coconut flavor.  This made for an appealing looking tea with a wonderful scent.  There were short, thin, black tea leaves, pieces of lemon grass that were about half an inch each, and chunks of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I put  four teaspoons of leaves into my tea maker and added sixteen ounces of water.  I let this brew for five minutes. The aroma of the cloudy, brown liquid was of cinnamon and ginger, but was not very strong like most chai teas.  The taste was stronger, but again not as strong as some chai teas.  It had a lemon and coconut taste mixed with spices.  The lemon and coconut flavors were prominent at the beginning and the usual chai taste at the end.  Although I just love the traditional chai tea, this was a pleasing tea.  It was like chai gone to the tropics.  If you like chai, lemon, and coconut, this is a must try.  It sounds like an odd combination, but it works.  This tea does have a high caffeine content.

I would recommend the Chai Sampler from Adagio Teas to someone that likes chai tea, or as a gift to a chai lover.  I really enjoyed each one- Thai Chai, Masala Chai, Chocolate Chai, and Spiced Apple Chai.  The Masala Chai was my favorite because it was moat like traditional chai,  but variety is the spice of life and I really appreciated having the different options to choose from since I get bored having the same tea all the time.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Last Runaway

Title: The Last Runaway

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Narrator: Kate Reading

Publisher: Penguin Audio, 2013

Format: 8 compact discs, 9 hours and 51 minutes

Genre: historical fiction

Obtained: library

Summary: It is 1850.  Honor Bright, an English Quaker travels to America to escape her past.  On the journey to Ohio, a tragedy strikes, resulting in a whole different situation for Honor than was planned. What will become of Honor as she finds herself alone in a strange place?  What happens when she becomes involved with the underground railroad? 

Thoughts:  I love historical fiction set in the United States.  This book caught my attention because it not only had to do with the underground railroad, which has always intrigued me, but it is told from the perspective of a woman who is a Quaker.  This is a religion that I have always wanted to know more about. 

I was not disappointed with this book.  The main character and most of the minor characters really came alive.  Not only did I feel like I knew them, but I felt like I was right there with them.  The author obviously did much research because she was able to add little details that really made me feel like I was in Ohio in 1850.  Not only that, but I felt like I was in each house and shop, and on each street, and that I was seeing a railroad for the first time.  I learned many differences about English culture versus American culture during this time period.  I learned about bonnets and hats and more about quilts than I already knew.

It is hard to describe the author's writing style, but if I tried to tell this story it would come out far-fetched and ridiculous.  Tracy Chevelier makes this story absolutely believable, transporting the reader right to this time and place.  It is told in a calm, quiet way which is exactly how Honor Bright would have told it.  In places there are many details, but it does not seem weighed down because it is so interesting.  I did not expect the ending at all, which is another plus to me.

The narrator was able to give each character a distinct voice which I always appreciate.  She read at a good pace and spoke clearly.

This is a great book for anyone interested in this time period.  Be aware that although the underground railroad plays a part in the story, the focus of the book is Honor Bright's personal story of finding where she belongs and learning that it is much easier to know what you believe than to act on your beliefs. 


Company: Pickity Place

Tea: Herbal Garden Harvest

Obtained: gift

Today I tried Herbal Garden Harvest Tea from Pickity Place, an herbal gift shop, greenhouse, and restaurant, located in Mason, New Hampshire.  Pickity Place's tea is not available online, but you can purchase it in their gift shop.  Their tea comes in resealable bags.  There are no ingredients nor steeping instructions listed on the packages of tea.  When I opened the bag, there was a faint scent of sweet apples and spices.  The tea consisted of whole black cloves and light brown and white chunks.  I put two teaspoons of tea in my tea maker and poured about sixteen ounces of water over the tea.  I let this steep for five minutes.  The orange brown liquid had a faint scent of apples and spice.  The taste was light and of tart apples and spice.  Although the taste was pleasant, clean and fresh, it almost seemed like it was missing something as it had a watered down flavor. If you like weak tea and apples this is perfect for you.  Otherwise, you may want to skip this one.  I did try brewing longer, but this did not increase the flavor.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Project Bodi

Title: Project Bodi

Author: Hosein Kouros-Mehr

Publisher: Hosein Kouros-Mehr (self-published), 2017

Pages: 215

Genre: science fiction, self-help

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: It's 2029 and a team at Google is working on Project Bodi, an assignment to develop smart glasses with a new technology. The team has a strict deadline and are stuck.  How can they release their minds' full potential to move forward?

Thoughts:  This book is a unique combination of a science fiction story and self-help book.  The story shows that as society gets more and more into technology, we are less present in our minds and bodies. It does not portray technology as evil, but shows how it helps us.  It does show how some aspects of technology and addictions can be distracting and how we can use mindfulness and meditation to focus.  Members of the team practice mindfulness and have insights for innovation from this method.  Other themes are compassion, devotion, ethics, and putting aside the ego to help the world. 

Throughout the book mindfulness is explained very well.  The author demonstrates how there are ideas and solutions to problems in the subconscious which can be brought into the conscious.  He uses simple, clear language and diagrams to explain the process.  He also has three characters in the story use these techniques to have insights.

The author was able to weave the story and what he wanted to teach wonderfully.  The book was organized and flowed well.  It was straightforward and not overwhelming.  Although the characters and setting were not the main point to this book, they were believable.  I felt like this could be a realistic future and these characters could be actual people.

To me, this book was enlightening.  I have done mindfulness meditation to help with relaxation and focus.  By seeing the experiences of these characters, the author showed me how I could bring this to another level to help in different aspects of my life.  To be even more helpful, the author lists six brief exercises in the back of the book that characters used in the story so that the reader can try them out.

I recommend this book to any high school student or older.  Be aware that this is not a hard core sci-fi novel, or you will be disappointed.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Green Rooibos

Obtained: purchased

Green Rooibos tea is an herbal tea grown in South Africa.  It comes from the same plant as the more popular Red Rooibos tea, also known as Red Bush tea.  Green Rooibos is not oxidized like Red Rooibos.  This gives it a totally differnt color, aroma, and taste.  Since this is an herbal tea, it has no caffeine.

I purchased the Green Rooibos Teas Sampler from Adagio teas.   Today I tried the Green Rooibos tea.  The thin leaves were a mixture of brown hues.  The leaves had the scent of fresh, sweet hay.  I put two teaspoons of leaves into my tea maker, added sixteen ounces of water that had been boiled, and let this brew for five minutes.  The aroma of the yellow brown liquid reminded me of popcorn.  The taste was earthy, woody, and somewhat nutty.  It had a slight sweetness to it.  It was a smooth taste like red rooibos, but lighter.  It was similar to a regular green tea, but not as grassy.  I enjoyed this very different tea.  Green rooibos is said to have many health benefits.  It is high in anti-oxidants, may help to stabilize blood sugar level, may prevent cancer, and may be good for your heart.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lucy's Lab: The Colossal Fossil Fiasco

Title: Lucy's Lab: The Colossal Fossil Fiasco (Book #3)

Author: Michelle Houts

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zechel

Publisher: Sky Horse Publishing, February 2018

Pages: 103

Genre: children's fiction (ages 7-9)

Obtained: purchased

Summary: Lucy's family is thinking about getting a new pet.  Lucy not only does research on finding the perfect pet at the library, but collects data through surveys.  At the same time, Lucy's class is studying fossils.  When Lucy finds a fossil, someone else in the class claims he is the one who found it.  What will she do?

Thoughts:  This is the third book in this STEM based series.  My ten year old son and I have read each one together.  We love them.  Although the series is recommended up to age 9, I believe older kids will enjoy these books too. There is so much going on throughout the book, I believe 10 year olds would remain engaged as my own son did.

In this book, there are really two plots- getting a new pet, and making a significant find that someone else tries to take the credit for- topics that young children may be dealing with in their own lives.  The author shows how important it is to research before making a big decision or purchase, the value of family and friends, how useful libraries can be, how people have different interests and we have to respect this, and that sometimes it's good to give others a second chance.

The author throws in STEM topics, such as how to conduct research using books and surveys, and how they pop up in everyday life. She also uses science vocabulary such as fossil, specimens, data, clavicle, and fractured and explains the meanings with examples that are easily remembered.  I love how the author is able to teach vocabulary and simple science topics while telling a story.  She is able to weave this learning into the story and shows that science is fun.  There is plenty to discuss with your child as you move through this book.

The characters are cute and children can relate to them.  There is humor in the book and even though there are teachings going on, the author keeps the story moving.  The characters travel from setting to setting- home, school, public library, riverbed, park, etc..., which keeps children engaged.  The chapters are different lengths, but all under ten pages.  There are cute illustrations that break up the text.  The font is a good size for early readers.  There are some difficult vocabulary words.  Therefore, this is a good book for a child to read with an adult.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Project Droid: Give a 'Bot a Bone

Title: Project Droid: Give a 'Bot a Bone (Book #5)

Authors: Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser

Illustrator: Mike Moran

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, March 2018

Pages: 103

Genre: children's fiction, ages 7-9

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Logan is in his Mom's lab with his cousin Java who is actually a robot.  The lab is supposed to be off limits.  They accidentally break her hair cutting machine.  Can they replace the machine before she finds out it is broken?

Thoughts:  This story has a common, much used plot, but adds humor and a robot into the mix to spice it up.  I read this book to my 10 year old son who loves robots and dogs.  There were some funny scenes that had us both entertained.  My son was enthralled by how Java took everything that was said literally, and now uses this word because he really got to understand what it means from reading this book.  The illustrations added to the humor and we found ourselves really looking at them.  Sometimes we will get so into a story that we just kind of notice the pictures, but not here.  These illustrations were quite amusing.

This book had simple vocabulary, large font, and kept moving through dialogue and action.  The chapter lengths were manageable for early readers.  There were directions to make the dog treats that Logan and Java made in the back of the book.  I love doing projects along with books and it makes it so easy when a project is right there.  Even though we don't have a dog, my son wants to make the treats.

There is not much to this story, but it is a good one for younger children just learning to read.  It is light reading and easy to comprehend.


Company: Pickity Place

Tea: Pomegranate Green

Obtained: gift

Pickity Place is a quaint spot hidden away in southern New Hampshire for people that love food and gardening.  They have an herbal themed luncheon (reservations are required), gift shop, and beautiful gardens.  Herbal plants are for sale during the warmer seasons. 

Today I tried their pomegranate green tea.  It is not available on their website, only in their gift shop.  I received this tea as a gift.  The tea came in a resealable bag.  The green leaves were all shapes and sizes and there were pink flower petals mixed in.  The leaves had a sweet pomegranate scent.   I put two teaspoons of leaves in my tea maker.  I poured two cups of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for two minutes.  The clear yellow liquid had a sweet pomegranate scent.  The delicate, light taste was a blend of floral and fruit with a slight sweetness.  This was a wonderful tea for anytime, but it reminded me of a spring garden.  I could picture this tea being enjoyed at an outdoor tea.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Flower Moon

Title: Flower Moon

Author: Gina Linko

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, January 2018

Genre: children's magical realism (ages 8-12)

Pages: 242

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Tally Jo and Tempest, inseparable twins, will soon turn 13.  They find themselves drifting apart, or are they being pushed apart by some strange force?

Thoughts:  Although this book contained magic, it touched on some real coming of age issues that all older children face- holding on and letting go, change, growing apart and growing closer, trust in oneself and others, finding self, and accepting growth and change in the ones we love.  This book is recommended by the publishers for ages 8- 12, but I believe the themes in the book make it appropriate for young teens as well.  As an adult, I enjoyed it.

Although the book was slow moving, the pace was steady and it was hard for me to put down, not because it was suspenseful, but because I was enjoying it.  I liked the quirky characters and wanted to know more about them.  I appreciated the author's writing style.  Her entertaining dialogue conveyed not only the personalities of the characters, but their many emotions.  She had some beautiful descriptions thrown in, but really kept the book moving with the dialogue.  The carnival setting added to the magic of the story, but science was there too. For example, how magnets work and moon phases were constant topics, which made for an engaging way to learn some science concepts.

This was a touching story about family and friendships that would be great for summer reading, especially for fifth and sixth graders.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Rooibus Vanilla Chai

Obtained: free sample with order

I received a free sample of Rooibos Vanilla Chai with an order I placed with Adagio Teas.  The sample was in a resealable bag.  The tea was composed of all sorts of plant pieces of many shapes and sizes and had a wonderful aroma of pumpkin pie spice.  The ingredients are rooibus tea, ginger root, cinnamon bark, cloves, cardamom, orange peel, and natural vanilla flavor.  I put two teaspoons of the tea into my tea maker and poured approximately twelve ounces of water over the leaves.  I let this steep for seven minutes.  The dark orange brown liquid was a bit cloudy.  The scent was still of pumpkin pie spices, but not quite as strong.  The taste was a balance of spice and rooibus tea with a vanilla aftertaste that made it sweet.  I am not a vanilla fan, but I really enjoyed this blend of spice, sweet, and woody flavors.  If you are a vanilla lover, this may not have enough vanilla flavoring for you.  If you like chai and want something a bit different, this is definitely worth a try.  It is caffeine free.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pearls of Daily Life

Title: Pearls of Daily Life

Author: Antonia Loschner

Publisher: independently published by author, 2016

Pages: 117

Genre: short stories, poetry

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: A collection of short stories and poems as a reminder of the importance of self.

Thoughts: I just loved this little gem.  When it arrived, my first thought on seeing the cover, was what a wonderful gift this would make.  I am not someone that usually gets into poetry, but the simple poetry in this book had meaning to me.  The short stories each had something to do with self... rediscovery, self-care, being present, passion, etc..  The stories were independent with various characters on their own life journeys.  More than one of these stories encouraged and inspired me in my personal life.  The stories were not what I expected.  They were not your usual inspirational stories. They got me thinking.  I believe there really is something for everyone in this little book.

The book is translated from German to English. In a couple of places the writing seems a bit awkward, but the meaning is very clear.  I would use the book by reading a story or poem each morning to have something to reflect on throughout the day.  It might also be a good book to carry with you, reading a story on your lunch break or while waiting for someone.  This is a book that can be read over and over.  The stories may have distinct meanings at different points in life.

This book would make a meaningful Mother's Day gift, birthday gift, Christmas gift, or thinking of you gift.  It would also be a wonderful present to give to yourself.


For Christmas this year I received the Glass Teavana Perfectea Maker.  This plastic tea maker works by pressing a button to open the lid.  Put in the leaves.  Pour in the hot water. Close the cover.  Let it steep.  Put the maker on top of a cup.  The pressure to the bottom releases the tea into the cup. When the cup is full, lift the tea maker.

There are a couple of cons to this maker. It is not dish washer safe.  It does not work with wide rimmed tea cups. You can't see if your cup is full if you don't use a glass one.

I really liked that this maker held 16 ounces of water.  This is just enough tea for me. It is very simple to use and easy to rinse out.  It would be great for small blooming teas. 

Today I made jasmine pearls from Art of Tea, one of my favorites. I enjoyed watching the leaves unfurl.  This added a sense of peace as I prepared my tea.  I will be using this tea maker often.