Tea and Books Tuesday – October 29th

I read Edge of Oblivion, the first book in Joshua Johnston’s Chronicles of Sarco series, shortly after it came out. I loved the world-building, and declared it reminiscent of Star Trek. The last two books in the trilogy languished in my ever-growing TBR pile until just recently. Part of me thinks, “I should have read them sooner!” but I must admit that part of me is glad that I waited until I could read books 2 and 3 back-to-back. When I reached the end of Into the Void, my kids were startled when I said rather loudly, “Why would you end it there, Joshua Johnston? Why would you do that to us?!” Thankfully, I had book 3 waiting on my Kindle app to be started immediately.

After the last-minute cliffhanger that changed everything at the end of the previous book, I didn’t have a clue what to expect from Through Chaos. The world-building, cultures, and history that I loved in the first book, was carried through to the end of the third book. Watching certain threads come together, and connections falling into place was satisfying, and one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading the series. The diversity among the characters in the book gives the reader a wonderful variety of points of view on what’s happening. The number of connections, and story threads that needed to come together by the end of the series could have made for a haphazard ending, but Joshua did a great job tying everything up smoothly and in a way that made sense and brought the series to a good close. (Not that I’d mind a spin-off series if that was ever in the works!)

While the storyline in Through Chaos certainly has plenty of action, it’s not action-packed at the expense of world-building and character development. The exploration of the different people and cultures is in-depth enough to make for a rich setting, but blends into the story in a way that is relevant and didn’t pull me out of the story while reading. It’s definitely an epic space opera!

Fans of space opera along the lines of Star Trek will not want to miss this series. It’s solidly Christian fiction, and a clean read. This is another book series that I don’t hesitate to let me tweens and teens read! There’s an e-book box set available now, and you’ll definitely want to get all three books so you don’t have to wait to start the next one in the trilogy. (Trust me, you will need to pick up book 3 as soon as you finish book 2!)

In my mug today is something other than tea! I grew up drinking coffee, and still like to have some now and then. Some mornings just call for the caffeine kick of coffee! One of my current favorites is Butter Pecan by New England Coffee. I can buy it at my local grocery store, but if yours doesn’t carry it, then you can order online. Greek yogurt has become my breakfast staple since I started regularly having breakfast a couple of years ago. (Mom tried for years to get me to quit skipping breakfast, and it turns out that she was right. No surprise there!) Berry blend was my go-to, but I was recently introduced to honey flavor Greek yogurt, which definitely tastes like cheesecake. Cheesecake for breakfast? That works for me!

What’s on your bookshelf and in your mug this week? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Tea and Books Tuesday – October 22nd

Note: I received an ARC copy of today’s book from the author. I was not required to write a review in exchange for the book, and all opinions expressed are my own.

I’m a big fan of sci fi, and grew up watching Star Trek re-runs with my dad. I may have mentioned this a time or two! I also grew up watching mysteries on PBS with my mom. Does anyone else remember Mystery! hosted by Diana Rigg? Mom and I were definitely fans! When Nikki Haverstock mentioned that she was publishing a cozy sci fi mystery, I knew that I’d be reading Space Murder!

Nikki started out the book in the middle of the action, which made the book hard to put down. I liked Captain Laika from the start, and quickly became invested in what would happen to her, and the rest of her crew. Space Murder has a fast-paced plot and my kids will tell you that I gasped aloud a couple of times while reading it. (Some of those twists!) When the mystery was solved, I found myself saying, “Why didn’t I notice that?” The ending made sense, and didn’t come across as contrived, so it’s a good mystery in my opinion!

Space Murder is a perfect read for fans of cozy mysteries, and my mom would have loved the book! Sci fi fans who enjoy a good mystery will not want to miss what I sure hope is the first book in a series. Captain Laika’s faith puts this in the Christian fiction category, and the book is a clean read. I’m completely comfortable letting my tweens and teens read it, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my teen daughter will be asking me when the next book in the series is due to release! With Christmas coming, this would make a wonderful gift for the mystery or sci fi fan on your list.

Of course, if you’re gifting a book, I recommend pairing it with some good tea. The Blueberry Black Tea from The Spice & Tea Exchange that is pictured in my cup today is one of my new favorites. If you’re lucky enough to have a shop somewhere nearby, you can smell all of the fabulous teas they offer and pick what appeals to you. If there’s no shop in your area, you can’t go wrong with the blueberry! The blueberry flavor is strong enough that it’s not overwhelmed by the black tea, but you can still taste the black tea. The two flavors blend nicely, and they have created just the right balance between the two. This is a great morning blend, and also a good pick-me-up in the afternoon on the days when you need a little boost.

What are you reading and sipping this week? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Tea and Books Tuesday – October 1st

Note: The Plum Deluxe links in the post are affiliate links. I was a contributor to the book anthology featured today.

So, I may have mentioned my short story, “The Librarian Who Would be King”. I may also have mentioned that it ended up in an anthology titled Heroes of the Realm with some of my very favorite speculative fiction writers, and published by Realm Makers Media. I may be just a little bit excited about that… OK, more like completely freaking out, but trying to be professional and play it cool.

I signed on with the Kickstarter campaign for this anthology well before I ever considered submitting. I was familiar with the writers who had already been brought on board and I knew that I wanted to read their stories. (Their stories did not disappoint, by the way!) When I found out that being a supporter of the campaign meant that I could submit a story for consideration, it took two people to convince me to submit something. My IT staff reminded me that doing the things that challenge us is what makes us grow and get better at our work. And my sister told me what Mom would have, that I was trying to talk myself out of submitting something, but if I wanted to I should just do it. I needed that push!

The first draft of my story was so awful that I don’t think you could even call it a first draft. (Don’t laugh! It really was terrible and I think I broke every rule of writing and grammar, and went a few thousand words over the max word count.) A sea of red ink later, I sent it to a couple of writer friends for advice. I got some great suggestions back and went back to the keyboard for a couple more drafts before sending it off. The night before Mother’s Day, I got an e-mail that it had been accepted for publication in Heroes of the Realm. Then it was on to more edits, including a fantastic suggestion from editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail that resulted in one of my favorite lines in the story!

The day I held a print copy of Heroes of the Realm in my hands was the most amazing feeling. I admit that I did flip to “The Librarian Who Would be King” and took a peek at that first, but who could blame me? After that, I started at the beginning and read through the stories in order. I love the variety of genres and writing styles featured in the anthology, and there’s a reason why I admire the other authors–they write great stories! You can order the anthology in either digital or paperback, and I think it would make a great Christmas gift for someone who enjoys speculative fiction and short stories. The theme for the anthology is heroes, so each story features some kind of hero. It was fun reading everyone’s interpretation on that theme!

The mug that’s made an appearance for the last three weeks is one of the Kickstarter perks, but you can order one for yourself at the Realm Makers website. The tea in the cup in my tea of the month from my Plum Deluxe subscription. It’s a wonderfully fall-ish tea, but the tea of the month is a subscriber exclusive. If you’re interested in learning more about their tea subscription you can check out the details here. At $10/month, it’s the most affordable tea subscription I’ve found, and their tea blends are delicious!

So, what have you been reading, or writing, or drinking this week? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Tea and Books Tuesday – September 24th

Note: The Plum Deluxe links in this post are affiliate links.

I started Nadine Brandes’ book Fawkes on, ironically, November 5th of last year while the power was out. I barely got through one chapter when the power came back on, and the book sort ended up getting shifted further down on my Kindle book list. (I can’t be the only one who has so many e-books that I forget to finish them sometimes, right?) I re-downloaded it to my tablet recently and wow, I wish I’d gotten back to it sooner!

I love learning about history, and was somewhat familiar with the history surrounding Guy Fawkes and the 5th of November. I absolutely love the speculative twist that Nadine put on the story though! At the end of Fawkes she includes info about what parts of the story are true, and what isn’t. I definitely appreciate it when a historical fiction writer includes that information.

Fawkes is technically a YA book, and while it’s appropriate for teens, I enjoyed reading it tremendously. I liked how Nadine re-framed the religious strife of the time period as opposing schools of thought on White Light, the source of color magic, and whether or not anyone should have direct interaction with White Light. The fact that she presented a balanced view of “both sides” showing that people on both sides of the ideology did terrible things is another thing I appreciated about Fawkes. A study of the actual religious conflict in that time period shows that to be very true. Some of the questions of prejudice that were raised were appropriate to the story and the time period. It was thought-provoking without being preachy.

If you aren’t familiar with the history of the time that Fawkes was set in, I hope this story will pique your interest enough to make you do some more reading on the real life history, because it is fascinating!

The tea in my mug this week is another Plum Deluxe blend–Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert Tea. Seriously, it’s the next best thing to a spoonful of Nutella! And since it’s an herbal tea, I can drink it before bed and not worry about caffeine keeping me awake. It’s the perfect blend to go with a good book after a long day.

What books have you been reading, and what tea have you been drinking this week? Let me know what you recommend in the comments or on social media!

Tea and Books Tuesday – September 17, 2019

Note: The Plum Deluxe links in this post are affiliate links.

When Audible suggested the book Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski, it caught my eye because I recognized him as the creator of the TV show Babylon 5. Being a fan of the show, and wanting to hear how Joe Straczynski became a writer in the first place made this an audiobook that I couldn’t pass up.

Becoming Superman started out with Joe’s childhood, and some of the truly horrible abuse he grew up with. It was not exactly what I’d expected, but I had to find out how he got from there, to being a successful sci fi writer. It was hard listening at times, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live through. Every time something positive happened with Joe’s writing, I couldn’t help but smile because no matter what, he just didn’t give up.

That was one of my biggest takeaways from Becoming Superman, the importance of just not giving up. I know it sounds trite, but in practice, it’s harder than it sounds. I have to admire Joe’s willingness to stick to his principles, even if it appears to be a bad move career-wise. Whether or not I completely agree with every stand he took, it sure took a lot of courage to stand by something that you think is important, knowing that it can cost you dearly.

I also appreciated the part in the book near the end where he encouraged people dealing with mental health issues, addictions, or abusive situations to get help. There’s still an awful lot of stigma around those things, and parts of Becoming Superman highlight the cost of not seeking help because of that.

Becoming Superman gave me a lot to think about, and some of it was even related to writing! One big aha moment was when Joe talked about when he finally understood what a writer’s voice is. I’m still rolling that idea around in my head, but something really clicked and I had to re-listen to that part a couple of times. The advice he received from Rod Serling about not letting anyone stop you from writing the stories you want to is going to stick with me for a long time too. That, and of course, the not giving up part!

Sci fi writers, and fans of J. Michael Straczynski’s work would likely enjoy his memoir. There is some amount of profanity, and there are some things that are hard to listen to, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to listen to (or read) it for yourself.

The tea in my mug is a Plum Deluxe blend that is a particular favorite of mine. I love black teas with a butterscotch flavor and Sweet Spot Butterscotch Black tea is one of the best I’ve tried. It reminds me of the buttered rum Lifesavers that my great-aunt used to favor!

So, what’s on your reading list or in your mug this week? Let me know what books and teas are topping your favorites list in the comments or on social media!

Book Review: Placemaker

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own, and I was not paid to give a favorable review.

If you asked me to classify which book genre Placemaker fits into, I don’t think I could pick just one. A bit like a memoir, with tidbits about gardening and home projects, all interwoven with lessons about life, family, friends, and faith. The tagline on the front cover intrigued me: Cultivating places of comfort, beauty, and peace. I had no idea what to expect from this book, and it’s one of the more unique ones I’ve read this year.

I enjoyed reading about Christie’s memories on the various places she’d lived and how different they all were. Just as mesmerizing were the people she met along the way that she wrote about. I kept wanting to read just a bit more because it was a fascinating book. Placemaker seemed like a book that was randomly jumping around at first, but then I realized it was like a slow ambling down memory lane. Something about that appealed to me, and seemed refreshing. The lessons learned throughout the book gave me something to think about and ponder in between reading sessions.

I’ve always been particularly attached to this piece of dirt that I grew up on and now call home. Placemaker came at a time when being so attached to this small corner of the world was difficult. The reminders of what home really means, and how we can make our home anywhere that we find ourselves were things that I needed desperately to hear.

I still can’t quite classify what kind of book Christie Purifoy’s Placemaker is, but it’s been a lovely read that I fully intend to read through again! I think people who enjoy memoirs or personal stories will enjoy it as much as I did. Considering how close we are to Mother’s Day, it may be exactly the kind of book your mom would like to read! Include a bookmark and a bit of good tea or coffee and you’d have a lovely little gift set.

Book Review: 30 Days to Understanding the Bible

Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

30 Days to Understanding the Bible by Max Anders caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, I liked the idea of brushing up some of the basics that I’ve learned over the years in a way that put the bits and pieces together into a well-ordered overview. Second, I thought this could be a great resource to use with some of my older kids in their studies.

30 Days to Understanding the Bible is part book, and part workbook. I’m not typically one who writes in books very often, but this is one book where you really should do the exercises and the self test at the end of each chapter. Because of this, if you’re using the book as part of a group study or homeschool class, you’ll ideally need a separate book for every participant. (I preferred FriXion pens for the exercises because they are erasable and didn’t bleed through the pages.)

The chapters are short, and you really can go through them in about 15 minutes on your own. If you’re going through the chapter as part of a group though, there’s easily enough material to discuss in a chapter to make a longer session though! In addition to the 30 chapters, there is a section with extra information, teaching helps, and several bonus chapters. (The one comparing the four gospels is interesting!)

Starting out with a list of the books of the Bible and what genres they can be grouped into, 30 Days to Understanding the Bible truly does start with basics and build from there. Even though I’d memorized the books of the Bible and knew the key events and people of the different time periods, I appreciated seeing those things brought together in this manner. I’m also glad that he included geography as part of the book. It’s never been my strongest suit, and going through it in this book finally gave me a better grasp of exactly where things happened.

Whether you’re completely unfamiliar with the basics of the Bible, or you’ve been in Sunday School all of your life, 30 Days to Understanding the Bible is worth going through. I definitely plan to add it to our curriculum plan for homeschooling!

Beloved Book Review

Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

Today’s book review is a collaboration with my favorite blogger – my 13 year old daughter! Munchkin writes over at The Gerbil Keeper, and she’s brand new to blogging this year. Since the devotional book I’m reviewing, Beloved by Lindsay Franklin, is targeted towards young women, I thought I’d get an expert opinion:

Are you a teenage girl who needs a Scripture-based daily devotional that encourages you to be your best? Then Beloved by Lindsay A. Franklin is the book for you! Every day begins with a Bible verse and then discusses it on page that only takes 5 minutes at the most to read. The page ends with a few lines of journal space. It even has a ribbon bookmark!

I love the flowery theme and pink colors. I’m also glad it includes an extra day in case of a leap year. I like seeing how far along I am and the numbered days do just that. The ribbon bookmark is a nice touch, and so is the journal space. It’s cool how every day begins with a verse. The patterned page edges add a touch of elegance.

I wish the ribbon was pink instead of red; it would have matched better. I also think more journal space would have been helpful. Other than that, I love it!

If you’re a teenage girl who’s confused about who you’re supposed to be and how to act, and also loves Jesus, you’ll love this!”

Books are always a great stocking stuffer in my opinion, and if you have a teen or even tween girl on your list this year, then Beloved is worth a look!

The hardcover binding makes it durable enough to hold up to being tossed in a backpack, and the compact size won’t take up too much room in her bag. Each day contains a scripture, short devotional reading, and four lines for journaling. The color theme of the book design is definitely pink, but it’s the floral print along each page is pretty and fits the target age range well.

Being a girl today can be hard and confusing, and being a Christian girl even more so! Even as an adult, I still struggle to figure out my place in the world and what it means to be not just a woman, but a woman of faith. Lindsay uses the stories of women in the Bible to delve into this topic in Beloved. 365 numbered devotionals will carry your teen girl through a whole year of quiet time, and since the entries are numbered rather than dated, she can start any time of year, and not just on January 1st.

If you do pick up a copy of Beloved for your daughter, you may just want to take a peek at some of the devotionals yourself. There’s some good stuff in there for girls and women of any age!

Book Review: Ellie Claire Art Journals

Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

One of my favorite things to give (or receive!) is a great journal. Ellie Claire has released three unique journals that might be perfect for someone on your Christmas list!

The Faith and Lettering journal is the one that caught my daughter’s eye right away. The hardcover is beautifully embossed with foil accents. The journal includes step by step instructions for artistic lettering, with plenty of room to practice, and room to journal too. The paper is heavy enough quality to hold up to most pens and some markers. The journal includes a pen loop on the spine and a ribbon bookmark, and my daughter appreciated these little details. The interior includes ruled pages, graph pages, and dot grid pages, so there are plenty of options for both journaling, and practicing your creative lettering techniques. The heavyweight paper has a smooth finish that would work well with most pens. There are plenty of beautiful full-color art lettering examples for inspiration, as well as “pro tips” scattered throughout the journal. This would be ideal for someone who is interested in art journaling in their Bible, or their journal.

My middle son has been learning about illuminated manuscripts from medieval times, so when the Illuminate Your Story Journal came out of the box, he was quick to claim it! This one also has an embossed hardcover with foil accents. There’s a pen loop on the spine, a ribbon bookmark, and an elastic to hold the journal closed when not in use. There’s a heavyweight paper pocket in the back for storing small keepsakes. The introduction in the journal gives a nice overview of the history of illuminated letters, which we found interesting! The instruction pages do a great job of breaking the intricate letters into easy steps, with room for practicing. These pages have a dot grid background on both the examples and the practice spaces which is very helpful! Interspaced with the instructional pages are ruled pages with inspirational quotes at the top of the page. My son has had a wonderful time replicating some of the illuminated letters, and has decided to use the journal for his daily copywork assignments. He’s used both pens and colored pencils in the journal, and both have worked beautifully on the smooth paper. This would be a wonderful gift for artists, or anyone with an interest in medieval history and art!

The Illustrated Word Journal is the one that I kept for my own use! The hardcover is embossed with foil accents like the other two journals, but this one does not include a pen loop or ribbon bookmark. The ruled pages are accented with real examples of illuminated medieval art and every few pages is a line drawing replica of the featured artwork that may be colored. I tried a couple of different pens, two kinds of markers, and watercolors on the line drawing to test out the various mediums. Only one kind of marker had much bleed-through, but this brand is one that I’ve had bleed through cardstock, so I was not surprised that it did bleed through the pages a bit. The watercolor didn’t bleed through at all, nor did the page wrinkle from the wet paint. There’s a bit of texture to the pages that works well with the watercolors, and that was my favorite medium to use in this journal. Colored pencils would also work nicely with the paper’s texture. It was a little too textured for my fountain pen, but I didn’t have any ink bleed-through, so the paper is a good weight for most inks. I enjoyed seeing the small full-color photos of medieval artwork throughout the journal, and there’s a good balance of art, coloring pages, and ruled pages for writing. Anyone who enjoys intricate coloring designs would likely appreciate this journal!

All three journals are excellent quality, and I’m very picky about my journals! The price point they are offered at makes them a great value. Because of that, they aren’t just the kind of journal that you’d give to an adult or older teen, but is affordable enough that they would be a thoughtful gift for an older child or tween who enjoys journaling and art. Put any one of these in a gift bag with an assortment of pens or pencils and maybe some tea or hot cocoa and you’ve got a lovely gift basket!

Just click on the title of any of the journals to find them on Amazon. Thanks to Ellie Claire for sending me the journals for review!

Book Review: In the Middle of the Mess

Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

How could I not pick up a book with a title like In the Middle of the Mess? Though it was the title that initially caught my eye, there’s a lot more than a catchy title going for Shelia Walsh’s newest book.

9781400204915Shelia talks very openly and honestly about her mental health history in In the Middle of the Mess, and it’s refreshing to see this topic being discussed more in Christian circles. It’s a times shocking to read a believer admitting to deep struggles with mental illness, but it’s also encouraging to anyone else who’s been there in the past, or is in the middle of it now. It’s not just a book about Sheila’s struggles though, she shares certain concrete strategies that help her weather the hard times in life, and will help you too. While this would be a wonderful resource for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, or grief, there’s something to be learned for everyone. All of us go through difficult times, and the advice shared in this book may be applied to anyone’s life to help us weather the storms and grow closer to God. It’s not a book of neat, easy answers, but it is a book of encouragement and helpful suggestions.

My biggest take-away from the first reading of In the Middle of the Mess was the idea of being honest in my prayers. I had never felt like I could really open up to God when praying. It seems silly given that God already knows the depths of my heart, but I always had this idea that I needed to present a “good front” to God when I prayed. I never told God that I struggled, or that I was disappointed, or that I didn’t know what to do. That just wasn’t the type of thing that good Christians are supposed to pray. Shelia’s book radically challenged my thinking in this area! I often journal my prayers, and since reading this book, I’ve noticed a much more open and honest kind of prayer written in my journal. There is something incredibly freeing about admitting that things are not the way that I’d hoped, and that I’m angry I have to deal with that. Even more than that, in the admitting, I can start to let go and let God work on my heart. I’m planning to read through this book again after the holidays because it was truly that helpful!

The church hasn’t always supported people with mental illnesses or people suffering through truly hard things, and I think it’s in part because we don’t always know how to help. In the Middle of the Mess is a must-read for anyone dealing with mental illness, and for those who walk through it with them. It’s honestly a book that’s good for anyone who has to walk through the hard things though. In addition to the book, there’s also a study guide and DVD video study. Those resources would be wonderful for a support group!