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!