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.