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.