Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Wild Dead

Title: The Wild Dead (The Bannerless Saga #2)

Author: Carrie Vaughn

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

Pages: 264

Genre: science fiction, mystery

Obtained: from the publisher in exchange for an honest review






Summary: The world has long ago collapsed and people have rebuilt their own separate communities, each group living differently.  Coast Road, made up of separate settlements, lives by strictly managing rations and resources.  When a house proves they are responsible, productive, and sustainable, they may be given a "banner" and one woman in the house may have her implant removed to have a child.

Enid, part of Coast Road, is an investigator called to mediate a dispute about a building in one of the far off settlements with her new partner, Teeg.  While investigating the dispute, a body of one of the "wild folk" women (an outsider) is found.  Did one of the Coast Road folks commit murder or was it someone from the outside?  Enid is determined to find the truth.

Thoughts:  This is the first mystery I have come across where the world has collapsed and the story takes place in a new civilization, so that in itself intrigued me- a who-dun-it with a twist.  This was the second book in the series, but the author did a good job showing what the world was like right from the beginning of the book.  I do still want to go back and read the first one, but more for that story rather than because I think I missed something. The way the author set up the world with different communities living in different ways, but having some groups united and others "wild" gave the characters and reader much to think about- moral issues, ethics, how to solve problems, how to get along, how to communicate amongst each other, respecting each others way of life, etc.  It also gave another level to the mystery itself.

I enjoyed the characters.  They were developed and interesting, but I didn't feel like I knew them personally.  Enid, the protagonist, definitely grows throughout the novel, but from looking at the reviews of the first book, Bannerless, it looks as if this is where the reader would really get to know Enid and her background.

The mystery was a good one.  Although there were not many people with motives, there were many people that could have committed the murder. At the beginning the reader is at a loss to why this woman was murdered, but it is clear toward the end who the murderer is, so the reveal is not a big one.  The writing style was a bit odd.  Every once in a while there would be a phrase written as a sentence.  Sometimes I understood what the author meant by these phrases and sometimes I'd have to read the phrase again.  For the most part the author wrote in a clear way.  The author was also able to establish atmosphere, so that I felt like I was in this world.  This was a quick read for me.

All in all this was a good book and I recommend it to anyone liking mystery and / or dystopian-type novels.


                                                   


Company: Verdant Tea

Tea: Spring Tieguanyin

Obtained: purchased



I purchased the 5 teas for $5 which is a fantastic way to not only try out this company, but sample some new teas without having to buy a large amount.  The company sends just enough tea for one cup, but the leaves can be steeped many times.

The envelopes holding the tea were excellent quality and definitely protected the tea's freshness.  Today I tried Spring Tieguanyin.  My sample was from 2017 and the company is now selling the 2018 tea, so it may differ slightly.  The leaves had a sweet, earthy scent.  They were dark green leaves that looked like they had been squished up and left to dry.  I put the 5g sample packet into my tea pot and poured about  eight ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for just ten seconds.  The liquid was a very pale yellow, almost clear.  It had a fresh, sweet, floral scent.  This was a light, savory tea with a depth of flavors.  There was a lot going on- a sweetness, florals, fruity, a bit grassy, and, finally, a slight peppery aftertaste.  This was a delicious, anytime tea, that reminded me of spring.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Apprentice Witch

Title: The Apprentice Witch

Author: James Nicol

Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden

Publisher: Scholastic Audio, 2017

Format: 7 compact disks, 7 hours and 34 minutes

Genre: children's fantasy (ages 8-12)

Obtained: library




Summary: Arianwyn did not pass her assessment to become a witch.  She must remain an apprentice, and is given the assignment of being the witch of Lull, a far off, supposedly quiet town.  When she gets there she discovers that things may not be as uneventful as she thought.

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book right from the beginning and all the way to the end.  This is exactly the type of book I looked for as an older child.  I am very excited that A Witch Alone (The Apprentice Witch #2) comes out on September 25, 2018.

Arianwyn Gribble is a lovable character.  She always tries to do what she thinks is right, but things don't always go as planned.  She never gives up and is strong.  She gives people second chances and still cares about them when they treat her badly.  The other characters in the book are interesting and have personalities, even the magical creatures.  The author brings them all to life.

The world that the author created is similar to reality, but with magic, less technology, and witches added in.  I loved the "Spellorium"  in which Arianwyn lives and the cozy (except for the evil creature that resides there) town of Lull.

The author writes in a clear, descriptive way, with added humor throughout.  He is able to bring creepiness in when needed and I felt all different emotions throughout the book.  The dialogue flowed well.  The pace of the book was good and there were no unnecessary spin offs.

The themes of the book were good and touched on problems all of us go through.  They were great themes for kids- don't give up, trust yourself, sometimes we fail and it's okay, growing up, friendship, being picked on, etc.

The narrator of the book on cd was excellent.  She set moods and helped to bring characters to life with her voice.  She spoke clearly and with emotion and read at a great pace.

If reading the book rather than listening to it, I would recommend this book for advanced young readers ages 8 to 10 or 11 and up to read on their own.  It is also a great book to read to or with 8-12 year olds.  The book on cd would be great for 8 and up.  There are some dark parts, but the setting is cozy so I wouldn't categorize it as scary.

                                                                



Company: Verdant Tea

Tea: Spring Laoshan Roasted Oolong (2017)

Obtained: purchased








I purchased the five teas for $5, available to new customers, from Verdant Tea.  The teas were packaged nicely and were in heavy duty packets that keeps this good quality tea fresh.  Today I tried the Spring Laoshan Roasted Oolong, which is the second tea I have sampled from this company.  I received just enough tea for one cup, but the leaves can be steeped multiple times.  My sample was from the 2017 batch, whereas the 2018 batch is the one available online for sale.

The leaves had a fresh earthy, somewhat malty scent.  They were large, dark gray leaves that looked as if they had been scrunched up and twisted when they were wet, and then dried.  I poured approximately eight ounces of water that had been boiled and then cooled slightly over the 5g of leaves.  I let this steep for 30 seconds.  The orange brown liquid had a roasted scent.  This savory tea had many flavors going on- roasted and earthy, fruity, a bit of spice, and even a touch of floral.  This was a high-quality, warm, comforting tea that reminded me of relaxing around a camp fire- delicious.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Better Ten Commandments

Title: A Better Ten Commandments

Author: James Miller

Publisher: self-published, 2017

Pages: 77

Genre: self help

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review






Summary: The author provides the reader with ten commandments to follow to live life with, and on purpose.

Thoughts: This book starts out with an introduction that really turned me off.  The author stated that his intent "is not to offend any person of faith", but offending people of faith is exactly what he does.  He states on page xv: "Last, and certainly not least, I'm not afraid to have an opinion on the matter, as I don't believe in imaginary friends (insert random god) meting out justice in the here and now or deciding my fate after the death of my brain."  The introduction is filled with statements like this one.  The author is obviously not a person who believes in a god, but I believe he could have shared his opinions more respectfully to those that do.  Once I got to chapter one, I found his words to become less insulting, but the damage of making me not want to be like him, or live a life following commandments that he does, had already been done.  I would suggest whether you are a person of faith or not, it is better to skip the introduction unless you are just looking for ideas to contemplate.  It is not helpful.  I don't think the path needs to be cleared to accept the author's commandments.

Starting in chapter one and in all of the following chapters, the author states a rule to live by, gives inspiring quotes and historical and scientific examples to back up his rule, and then explains how and why to follow this rule.  I loved the quotes and his rules to live by were good ones.  In my opinion, they even went along with the ten commandments, not against them, so I don't understand why the majority of his introduction is necessary.  This book could have been named something totally different and been helpful to people of all different beliefs.  So, his commandments, if called "alternate commandments" or "additional commandments" or something much more creative than I could ever come up with, could also help most people of faith.

The author writes in a simple, easy to follow way and is well organized.  He puts a bit of humor in, although some of it may not be humorous to everyone.  His examples are relevant to his commandments, but sometimes, he tries to over explain specific exceptions.  If anyone has ever tried to make a list of rules, they know that there are always exceptions to them.  The book was thought provoking, but I did find myself wanting to point out to the author that at times his statements were going against his own commandments.  This was distracting.

All in all, if you are interested in thought provoking books, this is one.  If you can ignore the religious bashing, underneath are some very helpful rules to live by.





                                                            


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Pineapple Pop Herbal Tea

Obtained: free sample with tea of the month club subscription







I obtained this sample of Pineapple Pop Herbal Tea with my June tea of the month club delivery from Plum Deluxe.  This tea contains no caffeine.  The ingredients are green rooibos, pineapple bits, apple bits, mango bits, apricot bits, rosehips, lemongrass, orange peel, calendula, cornflowers, and pineapple essence.

I love pineapples, but I wasn't sure how I would like pineapple in tea.  The leaves were long and rectangular in all sizes and in colors of greens, browns, and off white.  Chunks of fruits were mixed in.  The leaves had a sweet pineapple scent.  I put one teaspoon of leaves into my teapot and poured eight ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for three minutes.  The liquid was a light yellow with a slight fruity scent.  The taste was also very light and fruity with a hint of floral.  The pineapple did not stand out for me.  I tasted more of a fruit blend.  This was a delicious, calming, relaxing tea with the feel of chamomile tea, but with a slight fruity taste instead.  This would be perfect at night to wind down at the end of a hard day.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Shadow of a Spout

Title: Shadow of a Spout (#2 Teapot Collector Mystery)

Author: Amanda Cooper

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, 2015

Pages: 296

Genre: cozy mystery

Obtained: purchased






Summary: One of the members of the International Teapot Collectors Society is found dead in the inn where their annual convention is being held.  When the murder weapon seems to be Sophie's grandmother's teapot, Sophie rushes to the Stone and Scone Inn to clear her grandmother's name.

Thoughts: How could you not love the setting of this book- an International Teapot Collectors Society conference at the Stone and Scone Inn?  The author does a great job putting a picture of this setting in the reader's mind.  The characters from the first series return, along with many new ones.  The characters were all ages and both men and women, and boys and girls, which I liked.  I enjoyed Rose and Laverne- the main character, Sophie's, grandmother and best friend.  I also liked Thelma, the trouble maker of the group of older ladies.  Sophie herself still seemed inconsistent to me - sometimes well mannered, sometimes forward and rude.  I just couldn't seem to connect to her.

The writer's style was organized, but I felt that it was even more repetitive than in the first book.  The pace was slow, which was fine, but the repetition of information bogged it down.  I kept thinking, let's move along here.  This book could definitely be read as a stand alone.  The story was entertaining, and not a bad whodunit.  I will continue with the series.

If you think you might like this setting, and like cozy mysteries with a bit of humor, this is worth a try.  If realistic characters are important and repetition drives you crazy, this is not for you.




                                                                        



In the back of Shadow of a Spout, there is a recipe for these cherry blossom cookies.  They were easy to make and didn't need many special ingredients.  I mixed up the batter, put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and then just  rolled it into balls adding cherry pieces and almond slivers on the top before baking for 10 minutes.  My family thought they were "fancy", but they were easy and quick to make.  They tasted pretty good too- buttery with a hint of almond flavor.  There was also a couple of pages about different teas and how to steep them.





Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Dire King


Title: The Dire King (Jackaby #4)

Author: William Ritter

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: Recorded Books, 2017

Format: 7 compact discs, approximately 8 hours

Genre: YA Fantasy

Obtained: library




Summary: This is the conclusion to the Jackaby series in which Jackaby, supernatural private detective and his assistant Abigal Rook, along with their colleagues, must save not one world, but two, from a powerful, evil enemy.

Thoughts: I guess I wasn't paying attention when I picked up this book on compact discs from the library because I should have gotten Ghostly Echoes, the third book in the Jackaby series, first.  I wanted a story for a long car ride with my family and didn't have time to make an exchange, so listened to it anyway.  Luckily, I still enjoyed it, but will definitely go back and listen to Ghostly Echoes, especially for Jenny's story.

I love the narrator who does fantastic voices and really gets into the characters and story, showing emotions and reading at a wonderful pace.  The only thing that was annoying was that every once in a while it would sound like she took a sharp intake of breath and it was clearly not part of the story.  This was distracting.  I didn't notice this in the first two books.

The author created a magical world with fantastical characters.  The characters are my favorite part of the series.  They are developed and seem real even though most of them are not even human.  It takes a gift to make characters like this work.  In this fourth book, the author brings back the characters I loved in the previous books, but also adds some new ones.  He continues to use humor in his writing, along with having some great lines in his dialogue that I sometimes read twice because they were just perfect.  In The Dire King, the author has Jackaby talk about "people" referring to all the fantastical beings in the book, and how they are being discriminated against because they are being locked up since they are not human.  I loved this!   Also, the author showed how diversity is a wonderful thing that makes life full, interesting, and colorful.  So, for a light book it covers some heavy topics.  Everything is wrapped up at the end and this book definitely finishes with the biggest culmination of the series.  There were also some unexpected surprises.

William Ritter is a clever, entertaining author with a wonderful imagination.  If you like magical mysteries, the whole series is a must read.  I would definitely start from the beginning if you think you might read them all, but it is not really necessary.  Just a warning that this is a YA book. Even though it has really cool characters that young children would love, it has a couple of bad words in it and some violence- and this book has a bit more of both than at least the first two.  My ten year old listened along, which was a mistake.  I would say this is more appropriate for those aged 12 and older.


                                                                   


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Raspberry Revitalizer Lemon Mate

Obtained: free sample with tea of the month club



Today I tried Raspberyy Revitalizer Lemon Mate from Plum Deluxe.  I received this as a free sample with my July tea of the month club tea.  The raspberries in my garden just started ripening, so I felt like this tea sample came at the perfect time.  This is an organic tea containing caffeine and is made up of green mate, lemongrass, lemon peel, rose hips, hibiscus, apple pieces, and raspberry essence.  The loose tea was very pretty with red and yellow chunks, light grassy leaves and small dark leaf pieces, and had a faint raspberry scent.  I poured eight ounces of boiling water over one teaspoon of leaves.  I let this steep for three minutes.  The liquid was a pale pink with a raspberry scent that was barely there.  The taste was a delicious, delicate raspberry lemon with a floral background- the perfect tea for summer and spring afternoons.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Fifth to Die

Title: The Fifth to Die (#2 4MK Thriller)

Author: J. D. Barker

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

Pages: 526

Genre: thriller, mystery

Obtained: advance reader copy from publisher










Summary: Young girls begin to go missing in Chicago, their bodies found soon after.  Can the killer or killers be caught?  At the same time, Porter continues his search for Anson Bishop, the Four Monkey Killer.  Could the Four Monkey Killer have something to do with the missing girls?

Thoughts: This second book in the 4MK series is due to be released on July 10, 2018.  There are a few days before it is available to start by reading the first in the series, The Fourth Monkey.  I highly encourage reading this series in order.  Although I did read this second book without reading the first, I now want to go back and start from the beginning.  It was not confusing and made sense, but I wanted the background information as I was reading and still wanted it after finishing the book.

This was a fast paced, gripping, thriller / mystery with similarities to the murder mysteries written by James Patterson and Thomas Harris, but not a copy of either.  The writing style was similar to some of James Patterson's in the way Barker moved the story and created suspense by telling his tale by jumping from character to character and showing it from different perspectives.  It was similar to Thomas Harris' writing in that the villains in this story were horrific, yet intelligent like Thomas Harris', and the writing was quite graphic.

This was a long book, over 500 pages, but a quick read.  It was one of those books where I couldn't wait to get back to reading to find out what was going to happen next.  The characters were somewhat developed.  Again, I probably would have felt I knew them better if I had started at the beginning of the series.  There was so much going on.  I mean a lot.  I love complicated stories and plots.  The descriptions did not weigh the story down, but were detailed enough that I could picture what was happening in my mind.  I felt the suspense and horror and found myself routing for the good guys.  There are twists and turns and the ending leaves the reader shocked and hanging on for the third in this series.

If you like serial killer murder mysteries that aren't cozy, but scary, chilling, horrific, and creepy, this book is a must read.  Just be aware that you will feel a need to read the third in the series, but will have to wait for it to be written!


                                               





Company: Davids Tea

Tea: Forever Nuts

Obtained: purchased



I purchased the Davids Top 12 sampler.  Today I tried Forever Nuts which is a caffeine free herbal blend.  The ingredients are apple, almond, cinnamon, beetroot and artificial flavouring.  The tea was made up of large chunks of fruit and nuts.  It had a sweet, nutty scent.  I poured sixteen ounces of water that was near boiling over two and a half teaspoons of leaves.  I let this steep for four minutes.  The liquid was a beautiful, bright pink which I loved.  The scent reminded me of oatmeal cookies.  The taste was of sweet almond and cinnamon with apple in the background.  It was very smooth and sweet, and tasted like a watered down oatmeal cookie.  This tea wasn't for me.  It just seemed to be missing something.  It was like liquid dessert more than tea.  It was almost identical to Almond Cookie Tea from Joy's Teaspoon.  If you are looking for a sweet dessert tea, and like cinnamon, almonds, and apple, this is for you!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Salted Caramel Dreams

Title: Salted Caramel Dreams (#4 Swirl)

Author: Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2018

Pages: 229

Genre: fiction (ages 8-12)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Jasmine and Kiara are best friends and spend most of their time together.  When Kiara joins the basketball team and starts hanging out with her teammates, Jasmine tries to be understanding and supportive, but is really hurt.  Then she overhears some of Kiara's new friends making fun of her designs, and Kiara goes right along with them.  Is this the end of their friendship?

Thoughts:  This is the fourth book in the Swirl Novels, a series for tweens with middle schoolers as the main characters.  Each is a stand alone book with the stories taking place in different places and no characters that are the same from book to book.  Each story is by a different author.  The similarities are that each has a sweet treat, a crush, and similar themes related to friendships and finding self.  I also found that of the three I have read, the authors have similar writing styles- simple and organized, yet do a great job of moving the story along and keeping the interest of the reader.  The characters evolve and grow in each story and all deal with a crush and a friendship difficulty.  There is a good plot with underlying themes in each book, giving the stories the perfect depth for tweens.

I think, thus far, this was my favorite of the Swirl Novels.  I wanted to see what would happen in the story and cared about the characters, who I could relate to and believe most tweens and teens would also find  relateable.  The pace was just right.  This book was about going to middle school where kids most often get involved with new activities and groups of friends and then have to navigate and try to find a balance with the new and old, sometimes having to make difficult choices.  What do you do when friends have different interests? Can you forgive a best friend that betrays you?  How do you go about fitting in?  This is a light book about heavy topics- being yourself, finding yourself, trust, betrayal, following dreams, fitting in, crushes, friendship, and taking chances.

This book is recommended for 8 - 12 year olds, but to me, the themes seem more toward the older end of this age group.  I believe 11 - 13 year olds would enjoy this book the most, although I found it entertaining as an adult.





                                                                     




I just couldn't have tea with this book.  It definitely called for something sweeter.  I didn't create the salted caramel steamer as described in the book, but instead opted for a caramel chocolate hot cocoa.  I happened to have Cobbelstone Caramel Chocolate Hot Cocoa mix on hand.  I mixed 3 tablespoons of this with 6 ounces of warmed milk.  I then added whipped cream and caramel sauce to the top.  It was a great treat!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Alternate Side

Title: Alternate Side

Author: Anna Quindlen

Narrator: Ellen Archer

Publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2018

Format: 6 disks, 7 hours and 42 minutes

Genre: fiction

Obtained: library



Summary: Nora Nolan lives with her husband, Charlie, in New York City.  They both have good jobs, have successfully raised two kids, and have even managed to get a much sought after parking space on their dead end block. When an awful incident occurs in their neighborhood, it is an eye opener for Nora.

Thoughts:  I read Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen not too long ago and have wanted to read another book by this author since then.  I just loved her writing style and the way her story made me think.  It was very deep.  Also, I listened to a book read by Ellen Archer a few weeks ago and just loved this narrator, so when I saw this audio book I could not resist.

Alternate Side was similar to Miller's Valley in that it was deep and thought provoking and had the same non-dramatic writing style.  This author brings her characters to life and gives the feel of a nonfiction story.  The differences between this book and Miller's Valley was that the story in this one was just not as interesting to me, and there was a sadness and feeling of hopelessness throughout the whole book.  It still made me think and was very realistic, which made it even more depressing.

Ellen Archer did a fabulous job of narrating this novel.  She speaks clearly and at a wonderful pace.  She helped to bring the characters to life.

This was a wonderfully written book about life in New York City which focused on the upper class traditional family and neighborhood.  If you like stories about everyday people and aren't looking for a feel good book, this is one to try.  I highly recommend the audio version.



                                                                       


Company: Verdant Tea

Tea: Cai Cong Anxi Oolong

Obtained: purchased


I purchased the 5 Teas for $5 from Verdant Tea.  This is a company that gets its teas from sustainable small family farms.  Both on their website and in my order I could read about the good things these families do for their communities.  I also received a hand written note from Verdant Tea thanking me for supporting them- a very nice touch.  I got my order quickly and with no problems.  It was packaged well.

Today I tried Cai Cong Anxi Oolong, which was grown in Anxi, Fujian, on the southeast coast of the mainland of China.  I received five grams of leaves, which was just enough for a cup of tea.  The leaves were a dark green and looked as if they were large and had been rolled when they were wet.  They had a fresh grassy scent.  I poured eight ounces of near boiling water over the leaves and let this steep for thirty seconds.  The liquid was a pale yellow and had a sweet, fruity scent.  The taste was of grapes blended with florals.  It made me think of mountain meadows.  It was savory, creamy, and fresh- absolutely delicious.  This was a unique, excellent quality oolong.  I was so happy the leaves could be steeped over and over again because one cup was just not enough!



Friday, June 15, 2018

Eden's Wake

Title: Eden's Wake (#2 Rising Tide)

Author: Lynn Steigleder

Publisher: Soul Fire Press, 2015

Pages: 230

Genre: fantasy

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review






Summary: Ben, Eve, and Eleazor go through a doorway from their dying world into one that is being reborn.  They soon find that they will have major roles to play as the world goes through this transformation.  Will they succeed in helping this world to survive?

Thoughts: This is the second book in The Rising Tide Series.  I did not like the first one, Rising Tide,  very much, but this one was much better.  It had flow and more action.  It also had some cool creatures.  It definitely is a unique story and I liked how it was tied to the bible.  I enjoyed looking for the connections and I'm sure I missed some of them.

Unfortunately, the dialogue is dry and the characters aren't very interesting.  Although the characters don't walk around, bathe, and eat as much as in Rising Tide, I really wanted to edit out some of the parts when they were eating.

This book is really not a stand alone and Rising Tide should be read first.





                                                          



Company: Davids Tea

Tea: Superfood Splash

Obtained: purchased

Today I tried Superfood Splash iced tea.  This is an herbal infusion with low caffeine.  The ingredients were pineapple (pineapple, sugar cane, citric acid, sulfur dioxide), cinnamon, hibiscus, coffee leaf, coconut, mango, banana, stevia extract, and natural flavouring.  I had a pre-measured packet which I put into my tea pot.  The tea was made up of chunks of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  The scent was of sweet fruit and cinnamon. I poured ten ounces of near boiling water over the leaves and let this steep for four minutes.  I then poured the beautiful red liquid over ice.  It had a fruity, cinnamon scent.  The taste was of fruit (with pineapple as the standout), coconut and cinnamon in the background.  This was a sweet iced tea, which I usually don't like.  However, the cinnamon mixed with the tropical fruit won me over and I found this refreshing.  I would drink this as a substitute for punch.

If you like tropical tasting sweet iced tea and cinnamon- try this!

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Dry

Title: The Dry

Author: Jane Harper

Narrator: Steve Shanahan

Publisher: Macmillan Audio, 2017

Format: 8 compact discs, approximately 10 hours

Genre: mystery

Obtained: library



Summary: Aaron Falk, a federal agent with a specialty in financial crimes, returns to the town where he grew up for the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke.  Most believe that Luke murdered his family and then killed himself, but there are some unanswered questions.  Luke's parents talk Aaron into investigating what happened even though violent crimes are not his line of work.

Thoughts: This is the first whodunit mystery that I have read that was set in Australia.  I have to say, I just loved the setting.  I would not want to go there, as it was hot and dry to the point of extremely serious drought, but it was the perfect setting for a story like this.  The characters had depth and were realistic to me.  They were not over the top or overly dramatic- just everyday people, in a bad situation- drought in a farming community.  The writing style was detailed.  It was the perfect pace for a whodunit, not fast, but never boring or weighed down.  The writer put many clues into the story which I loved.  There were red herrings that were believable.  There were not many suspects, but enough with good motives to keep the story interesting.  I liked that there were two mysteries- one from Aaron's past and the current one.  I kept asking myself- Are these murders related?  Will they both be solved?

It did take me awhile to get used to the narrator of the book.  At first I felt like he was reading too fast, but after awhile of listening, I wondered if it was harder for me to follow because of the Australian accent.  I did get used to the narrator, and would definitely listen to more books read by him now that I am familiar with his reading style.

I love mysteries, especially when the setting and characters come to life and the crime is not cut and dry.  I love when writers bring in secrets and the past.  I got all this here.  Jane Harper is now on my list of favorite mystery authors.  She has a second novel out, Force of Nature, which has the same main character as The Dry.  The Lost Man, a stand alone mystery, is due out in February of 2019.         



                                                                  



Company: Davids Tea

Tea: Just Peachy

Obtained: purchased








I purchased the Summer Favourites Iced Tea Singles from Davids Tea.  The set included three single portion packets of five different iced teas for a total of 15 sixteen ounce glasses.  All you have to do is put the leaves in your tea maker or infuser, pour 16 ounces of near boiling water over the tea, let it brew, and add ice.  The first packet I tried was Just Peachy.  This was a caffeine free blend.  The ingredients listed were apple, apple pomace (apple pomace, citric acid), sweet blackberry leaves, peach (peach, sugar), natural and artificial flavouring.    The packet was easy to open.  The tea was a blend of chunks and leaves of all different shapes, sizes, and colors, which had a strong peach scent.  I put the leaves in my tea pot, poured sixteen ounces of almost boiling water over the leaves and let this brew for four minutes.  I then put ice in a glass and poured the tea over ice.  The liquid was a yellowish brown and had a peachy scent.  The tea had a strong, sweet peach flavor with a hint of berry in the background.  The good thing about this tea was that after the ice melted, the tea did not taste watered down.  What I personally didn't like was the strong sweetness of the tea.  It tasted like alot of sugar had been added.  This tea was not for me, but if you are someone that likes sweet peach tea or likes to add sugar to their iced tea, you would probably enjoy this one.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Free Your Tea

Free Your Tea has a unique way to purchase loose leaf tea- through personalized subscription boxes.  How this service works is that you start by filling out a short questionnaire about your tea preferences.  The company then uses that information to select 6 different teas for your first box.  There are three monthly plans to pick from- 30 cups for $20, 60 cups for $30, or 90 cups for $40.  If you do the 6 month plan, you get one month free.  The tea is delivered the first week of each month and shipping is free.

After drinking your tea, you rate each one either on their website, or by filling out the questionnaire on the back of the tea envelope and emailing a picture of it to them.  They use this information to select the teas for your next shipment.  What a great way to discover new teas, especially if you are someone that has strong likes or dislikes!  My favorite part of this subscription box is that one of the options is to receive a tea that you like again, or even choose to receive it each month.  I hate when you love a tea and then can't get it again.  That doesn't seem to be a problem here.

Free Your Tea sent me a subscription box in exchange for an honest review.  I won't be able to tell you how well the personalization works. This is a first box for me and I made it really hard for them.  I like all teas, so they really had no information to help them.  When I opened the box, there was a thank you card on the top, which conveniently had the website where to rate the teas right on it.  Underneath were the envelopes of tea.  I loved that I got a variety of teas, two of which were created specifically for cold brew iced tea.  Each tea was packaged in a resealable envelope that was easy to open. There was a description of each tea, brewing directions, origin of the tea, ingredients, and recommendations on what to add to the tea on each envelope.  I love when all the information you need is right at your fingertips!

The company believes that tea should be kept in its loose leaf state, not "crammed in bags" which helps the leaves to hold their chemical compounds longer, causing the tea to remain fresh.  Each tea was definitely good quality and fresh.  Tea bags  were sent along with the tea which I thought was great, especially because this is a fantastic service for new tea drinkers who may not have tea makers, tea balls, etc...

I tried Classic Assam #1 first.   This was a brisk tea, perfect for breakfast.  I tried it with nothing added and also with a bit of honey and milk.  It was wonderful both ways- a good quality assam.  Next I brewed Mango Mint Spice Iced Tea.  I used the cold brew method.  The ingredients for this unique tea were tea, raw mango, spearmint, black pepper, citric acid, cumin, and ginger.  This is not a tea I would have chosen simply because it sounds like an iced chai and I prefer my chai hot.  I am so glad I got to experience this blend.  There was a slight tartness mixed with a sweetness.  The ginger was the standout, but the fruity background just made this tea so different and refreshing.  It was a delicious
combination.  I drank it all and wanted more!  The second iced tea, Pomegranate Hibiscus Iced Tea,  contained tea, pomegranate, strawberry, orange peel, and hibiscus.  The brewing resulted in a beautiful pinkish orange liquid which had a light fruity taste with a hint of floral in there.  This was also very refreshing.  Chamomile Black, which was a simple blend of small black balls of tea from Nilgiri and chamomile,  was a slightly sweet black tea with just a hint of chamomile in the background.  The Moroccan Mint Tea was a green tea blended with spearmint and peppermint.  The green tea could be tasted, but it did not have a strong vegetal flavor and the mint was also not strong, so it blended very well, resulting in a light, fresh blend.  To me, it did not taste like I was drinking green tea. Chamomile Green was the final tea in the box.  This was a blend of green tea, chamomile, and marigold.  This had more of the vegetal, almost swampy qualities usually associated with green tea.  The chamomile in the background minimized the green tea just a bit resulting in a nice balance that green tea lovers would probably enjoy for a change rather than straight green tea.  I have to say I really enjoyed each of these teas, especially the iced teas.

This company really seems to focus on the tea.  When there was something added, for example, an herb or fruit, that taste was not the stand out.  I always could taste the tea in the forefront.  Also, the tea was definitely fresh and good quality, just as their website claims.  I recommend this subscription box for those that are new to tea or are looking to branch out in their tea drinking.  It is also great for those that find a tea that they stick with and like to have it delivered fresh it month.



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.