Saturday, April 21, 2018

Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella

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

Author: Cerrie Burnell

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 122

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

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

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

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

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

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


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Gratitude Blend

Obtained: from company in exchange for an honest review

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

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Woman in the Window

Title: The Woman in the Window

Author: A. J. Finn

Narrator: Ann Marie Lee

Publisher: Harper Audio, 2018

Format: 12 compact discs, 13.75 hours

Genre: psychological thriller, mystery

Obtained: library

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

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

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

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


Company: Plum Deluxe

Tea: Self Care Blend

Obtained: from the company in exchange for an honest review

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

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

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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Gods of Guilt

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

Author: Michael Connelly

Narrator: Peter Giles

Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2013

Format: 10 compact discs, 11 hours and 49 minutes

Genre: crime, mystery

Obtained: gift

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

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

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

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

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


Company: The Whistling Kettle

Tea: Irish Breakfast

Obtained: purchased

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

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Title: POTUS: Transformed (Volume 3)

Authors: Suzanne Falter & Jack Harvey

Publisher: New Heights Publishing, 2017

Pages: 280

Genre: fiction, humor

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

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

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

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

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


Company: Adagio Teas   

Tea: Green Rooibos Bonita

Obtained: purchased

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Harper and the Night Forest

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

Author: Cerrie Burnell

Illustrator: Laura Ellen Anderson

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2018

Pages: 181

Genre: children's fantasy, ages 7-9

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

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

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

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

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

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


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Thai Chai

Obtained: purchased

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

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

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Last Runaway

Title: The Last Runaway

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Narrator: Kate Reading

Publisher: Penguin Audio, 2013

Format: 8 compact discs, 9 hours and 51 minutes

Genre: historical fiction

Obtained: library

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

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

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

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

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

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


Company: Pickity Place

Tea: Herbal Garden Harvest

Obtained: gift

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Project Bodi

Title: Project Bodi

Author: Hosein Kouros-Mehr

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

Pages: 215

Genre: science fiction, self-help

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

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

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

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

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

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

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


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Green Rooibos

Obtained: purchased

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

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