Category Archives: Reading

Book & Tea Review: Heart of the Curiosity by H.L. Burke

A book with heart, and a hearty tea

I’ve been in a reading slump for a while now. I don’t know whether I’ve just been busy with my new fall releases, or if it’s the social/political/health climate, or what. But I finally finished a book!

I chose this one because H.L. Burke writes fun and snarky characters, and I figured it would keep my interest until the end. And it definitely did. So today I have a book & tea review for you; keep reading to see which tea I chose to go with it and why!

This post contains affiliate links.

📖 The book: Heart of the Curiosity by H.L. Burke

Key points:
🌇 Awesome world building
👥 Great characters
🎭 Theater
🪄 Magic
⚙️ Steampunk
🥐 Pastries
🐌 Snails

Having read this author before, I knew I was going to be in for a fun yet heartfelt tale. And it was set in a theater, with characters who can do magic? Sign me up.

Leo and Muse find a home in The Curiosity Theater, their respective “knacks” (little magics) giving them jobs as a dancer (Muse can levitate) and a professional audience member (Leo can influence other people’s emotions).

When the theater becomes in danger of closing after a tragedy, their livelihoods, their home, and their happiness are all threatened.

Leo is a great main character, her scruples about using her knack on other people an excellent point of character development. And her love of pastries… Comes close to her growing love for another certain someone at the theater.

There are so many interpretations of what the title could really mean as you read the book; there is so much heart in this story and these characters. I definitely found myself actually smiling the last two chapters.

Where do the snails come in? I’ll let you read it to find out!

“Yes, people need food and shelter and goods and services, even buttons, but they need art as well. They need to smile and laugh and cry and see ideas expressed in ways that make them think and feel. They need The Curiosity, or at least what it stands for.”

– (Paxton) H.L. Burke, The Heart of the Curiosoty

☕ The tea: Rooibos Lemon Cloud by Adagio Teas

Tea choice inspired by the somewhat magical pastry shop that Leo frequents, this tea has a bold rooibos flavor with the right amount of creamy lemon. Great hot in this cool weather!

I’m careful not to oversteep this tea, because as with most rooibos teas, the hearty rooibos will overpower any flavor if left too long. I also like to use my disposable tea bags, because, again, the rooibos flavor can get intense, and I’m far too lazy to clean my usual teamaking stuff with soap everytime I use it!

The only thing this tea could be wanting is maybe some lemon peels for added flavor and vibe. But it’s a great decaf tea for anyone who likes lemon, with a hearty rooibos base.

Book & Tea Review: The Cruel Prince and Dragonfruit Dream

Today I’m reviewing another book and tea pairing!

📚The book: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
🍵The tea: Dragon Fruit Dream by Adagio Teas

📚
The Cruel Prince is an exceptional story that draws you in just like getting tricked into a bargain to go into the land of Faerie! I could not put it down, and I have really been meaning to get the rest of the series.

I hadn’t read anything by Holly Black since reading Tithe as a teenager. I remember it being one of my favorite books.

I was fortunate enough to meet Ms. Black at a convention in February (one of the last public things I’ve gotten to go to! So glad I went) at Boskone in Boston.



The characters of The Cruel Prince are complex and I really enjoy that a lot of them are morally grey. The fae characters are very grey, and though they can be dark sometimes, I think it’s “realistic”, as realistic as writing fae can be.

I can’t wait to read the next one and see where all the scheming goes!

It pairs nicely with Dragonfruit Dream tea, an intoxicating fruit herbal tea from Adagio Teas.

I picked it because it has these cute little apple pieces which reminded me of the sweet fruit of the realm of faerie. It makes a great iced tea, and I used my Teavana Teamaker to steep it in.

Kirkland Green Tea & Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Today I decided to expand my Instagram books & tea feature to my blog!

🍵 The tea: green tea sachets (from Costco!)
📚 The book: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

It’s far too hot for hot tea. These green tea sachets are pretty much the only “teabag” tea I willingly drink. They’re sold by Costco, but the tea itself is actually from Ito En, a Japanese beverage company that specializes in tea, and produces some excellent green tea.

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you can get cans of green tea (hot, right out of the vending machine), and they’re from Ito En. So it’s a nice throwback to our trips there.

The tea sachets can be brewed either hot or cold. For hot, I steep for under a minute. (Steeping long is how you get bitter tea!) For cold, you can just put a tea sachet in some cold water. I brewed mine for about half an hour to get this nice green hue. Cold water won’t make your tea bitter. Then throw some ice cubes in, and you’re good!

I don’t generally sweeten green tea. It’s such a mild flavor to begin with, I feel like any sweetener would overpower it. But you could always throw in just a smidge of your favorite sweetener–I like stevia the best.

I thought it would pair nicely with one of my All Time Favorite Books: WICKED.

I remember writing a book report on this book in high school, I’ve loved it that long. Getting inside Elphaba’s head and exploring Oz though a whole new lens was fascinating. In fact, I think it’s about time for a re-read of this particular book. Though I have to say, I didn’t quite enjoy the rest of the books in the Wicked Times Series, but I did read them to find out what happened.

Wicked the book is very different from the musical. I’ll admit I’ve never seen it, but I did go to college for theatre, and so have listened to the soundtrack once or twice. The book is dark. It has some very dark themes and adult situations that might be inappropriate for younger readers, so be warned. It’s not all defying gravity.

But the political, social and human elements fascinated me even as a highschooler. And the most fascinating aspect: How did the witch become wicked?

So in honor of miss green herself, let’s sip a glass of some green tea and think wicked thoughts.
😉🍵

Coming May 1st~ Reformed Blog Tour by H.L. Burke

The new book from one of my favorite indie authors, H.L. Burke, is a departure from her usual fantasy and steampunk genres, but promises to be just as awesome. The first in a superhero series, Reformed is coming out May 1st, and is currently available for preorder for only 99 cents!

And check out that cool cover art!

Once a villain, always a villain?

Optimistic and idealistic superhero Prism is determined to redeem her father’s legacy by rebooting his super villain rehabilitation program. To do so, she sets her sights on Fade, the relapsed super villain who was the reason the government canceled the original program in the first place. However, when she petitions for Fade to be released into her custody, she finds out things might not be as simple as she thought.

Convicted of an unforgivable crime, Fade received a choice: surrender to trial and possible execution or endure a memory erasure so he could start fresh. Now with no recollection of his time before incarceration, Fade doubts he has the ability to be anything but the villain the public believe him to be.

A series of attacks by a mysterious power-swapping villain points back to Fade’s past and the crime that cost him his freedom and memory. With her father’s legacy and her own reputation on the line, even Prism has to wonder: can a villain truly be reformed?

About H.L. Burke

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

She is the author of a four part fantasy/romance series entitled “The Dragon and the Scholar,” the Award Winning (2016 Realm Award for Young Adult Fiction) Nyssa Glass Steampunk series, and MG/Fantasy “Cora and the Nurse Dragon,” among others .

Sign up for her monthly newsletter at www.hlburkeauthor.com

Preorder Reformed here

Follow H.L. Burke on:

Twitter * Instagram * Facebook * Website

Review: A Song in the Rain by Lydia Deyes

This book is charming middle-grade fantasy novel about a young sparrow named Sheer. Sheer reminds us that even when there is no hope, and all is dark, there is still light to be found, still something good in the world.

“Everything was desolate empty, hollow.

Except for one tree. One strong, persevering tree. Just ahead I could see it through the mist. It had a few leaves, still green despite the fact that it was mid-winter. How had it survived?”

-Lydia Deyes, A Song in the Rain

The book starts off with Sheer waking up in a terrible fire, with no idea where he is, and his hearing gone. Deaf and confused, he seeks help, but a dark force follows him and ruins every place he tries to call home, until he meets the animals of the thirteenth floor.

This was an unexpected and fun twist. Samuel, the lynx leading the animals who call the thirteenth floor of a building in the human city home, grants Sheer protection with special magic. And he isn’t the only one with magic. Sheer has begun to realize he has a certain magic too, one that he doesn’t understand. Samuel helps Sheer learn how to cope with his newfound deafness, while also helping him to come to understand that he is the catalyst in a prophecy–one that concerns the dark force that Sheer encountered.

Sheer must confront several creatures who have been taken in by the dark force. These animals are featured on the gorgeous cover: Nyoka the snake, Finsternis the wolf, and Spike the crow.

Sheer finds himself uniting the animals of the forest and the thirteenth floor, to prepare them–so they can save themselves from the coming darkness, helped to spread by the snake, the wolf, and the crow. Sheer is thrust into leadership, and suffers many losses and even betrayal, but most interestingly, he wages a war with himself.

The inner turmoil Sheer experiences is what is special about this book. He experiences greed and then guilt, desire for power coupled with self doubt, loyalty and loneliness. The feelings of this little sparrow are big.
It’s sectioned into four parts, each part having a particular challenge Sheer faces. Overall a great middle-grade read.

The only question I was left wondering, was how the thirteenth floor came to be. Samuel and the other animals have been there for a while, and they have an established and lively community that Sheer comes to join. Maybe a short story or a prequel is in the author’s head somewhere?

Romance Book Review: Mae’s Cafe

What a small world this is! I got a chance to review an advanced copy of author Elsa Kurt’s new book, Mae’s Cafe. Why is it a small world? Let’s see. I first met Elsa at a writer’s group here in Connecticut about a year and a half ago. So we’re both from Connecticut!

Mae’s Cafe is set in fictional Chance, Connecticut. But it’s not fictional, or at least, it doesn’t read fictional. The small town life Elsa writes is spot on. It’s like you grew up in Chance yourself, reading all about the different histories between the characters; the drama, the connections.

I’ve never read any of Elsa’s books before, but I slipped into this book really easily. It’s a fast read. I also only just started reading romance, and I’ll blame Outlander for that ;) I enjoyed the romance and the tension and build and everything with Mae and William. William thought he was just “passing through” but he is very quickly sucked in to the cafe and Chance–Mae, the small town drama, Mae, and–what else?–Mae, draw him in.

I also really liked the “cafe” itself, it’s like its own character. It has a lot of history and detail that speaking of Outlander, is reminiscent of Diana Gabaldon’s incredibly detailed writing.

Grab a copy on Amazon!

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2MoNknU
Amazon CA: https://amzn.to/2W8k4kT
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/314WzwQ
Amazon AU: https://amzn.to/2wACxfq

And also give Elsa Kurt a follow to watch for the rest of the Welcome to Chance series on BookBub * Facebook * GoodreadsTwitter * Website

H.L. Burke’s Cover Reveal for Heart of the Curiosity

I am excited to take part in the cover reveal for one of my favorite indie/hybrid authors, H.L. Burke! Her new steampunk fantasy, Heart of the Curiosity will be released on June 27, 2019.

First, about H.L. Burke

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic. 

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture. 

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

Now, onto the cover reveal!

Wow! I can’t wait to read this in June! What a great cover. I also hear there are snails involved in this book….

The secret lies with the Heart.

Born with a magical knack for manipulating emotions, Leodora’s only dream is to ensure her talented little sister dances on the biggest, brightest stage in the Republic: The Curiosity, a grand old theater of tradition and innovation. After escaping a cruel carnival, Leo secures her sister a place in the Curiosity’s chorus line, and herself a job as a professional audience member, swaying the crowd’s mood with her magic. The girls have a home for the first time in their lives.

Then a tragic accident darkens the theater. A greedy businessman begins blackmailing Leo, and financial woes threaten to close the show forever. The Curiosity’s sole hope lies in a mythical power source hidden beneath the maze-like passages and trapdoors of the theater—the Heart. And Leo’s only friend Paxton, nephew of the theater’s stagemistress, is the key to finding it.

While Leo and Paxton hunt for the Heart, the blackmailer’s threats loom larger. Mysterious figures, cryptic clues, and deadly traps hinder the search at every turn. If the friends cannot recover the Heart in time, Leo and her sister will be cast out of the only home they’ve ever known, and the final curtain will fall on The Curiosity.

Enter a world reminiscent of The Greatest Showman, with a puzzle worthy of Sherlock Holmes and National Treasure, in this new Steampunk Fantasy from H. L. Burke.

You can pre-order Heart of the Curiosity from Uncommon Universes Press here:

Amazon * B&N * Apple * Kobo * Uncommon Universes Press

Or follow H.L. Burke online for more of her writing:

Facebook * FB Reader Group * Twitter * Instagram * Website

Currently Reading: Whispers from the Depths by C.W. Briar

Happy Monday all, it’s wet and snow-covered here in New England, but my current read is a thrillingly dark adventure and today’s stop on the Whispers from the Depths blog tour!

Joyful and blessed are Voice-bearers, for the Heavens have set them apart.

As Whisperers gifted with the Voice, Betka and her people are enslaved. Only they can control the dangerous spirits that haunt the waters, but they are forced to serve under cruel taskmasters. Betka has little hope of freedom from her service or her own bitterness.

They toil for the goodness of others. 

A powerful water spirit terrorizes the castle where Betka’s sister is serving. Betka is assigned to the crew sailing to face the foe, and she fears for the only family she has left.

Rage is found nowhere in them.

In the beleaguered, flooded castle, a new threat awaits—a magic more powerful and horrifying than anything they have ever seen. Loyalties will be tested, and enemies will become desperate allies.

Betka is their only hope of escape—if she can subdue the wrath that endangers them all.

She who wields the waters for revenge drowns herself tenfold.

Check it out on:

Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Apple * Kobo * Goodreads * Publisher Uncommon Universes Press

Who is CW Briar?

C.W. Briar writes fantasy that’s dark but hopeful, filled with wonder and humor along with the suspense and creepiness. His favorite stories are the ones that make him both smile and perch on the edge of his seat. By day, he works as a systems engineer, testing or even riding on trains, airplanes, and helicopters. At night, when not writing, he prepares fancy dinners and shows off his awesome corgis. He’s a graduate of Binghamton University and lives in Upstate NY with his wife, three kids, and secret stashes of chocolate.

Sign up for newsletter exclusives through his website: http://www.cwbriar.com

Or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Let CW tell you more about Whispers from the Depths and his process in this interview we did for his blog tour!

How did you come up with the idea for Whispers From The Depths?

I wanted a story where water is a sentient threat that invades a castle. I paired that with the exploration of how love can overcome evil, and the story grew from there.

Which books or authors have influenced you the most?

Beowulf was a huge influence on this story. Anyone familiar with that poem will see it in the conflict, the warrior culture, and the gritty tone. Beyond that, I drew inspirations from Michael Crichton and a variety of horror authors in portraying the suspense and action. I don’t know if I can say Brandon Sanderson is an inspiration for the magic, but his portrayal of magic is something I consider a benchmark to measure up to.

What is your writing process like?

(slower than I like)

I’m not a 100% plotter, but I do have to know the themes and major moments in the story before I write. Once that’s settled, I write toward whatever major moment is ahead of me. I have to squeeze in writing time around other demands in life, so my time is heavily broken up.

Part of the reason I’m slow is that I’m a sculptor rather than a painter. I can’t slap words on a page, see what comes up, and overhaul it later. I prefer to explore and plan away from the computer, then make real progress once writing. That’s why I don’t make a lot of major story changes once a first draft done (but I do polish the prose quite a bit).

What gave you the most difficulty when writing Whispers From The Depths?

The story grew after initial edits came in. I expanded a few scenes and character arcs. That required me to reassess everything to make sure it flowed smoothly. That was probably the biggest headache.

What is your favorite writing fuel?

Physically, coffee, even though I’m not a big fan of it. I drink caffeine, including tea and energy drinks, but mostly coffee.

Mentally, I’m fueled by topics that make me think. Articles, sermons, heavy discussions: those things inspire the themes.

I keep mentioning themes because they really are the bones on which I build story. I have something I want to explore and discuss, and I weave a narrative that represents it. When someone says something that makes me think, by brain starts recreating it in story form.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from this book?

I like to write stories with subtext, but it’s not critical to pick up on it. It’s okay if someone reads the book at a surface level and simply has a fun time. I hope I leave them breathless. Beyond that, I hope the story makes them think. I hope they reconsider how they interact with other people, especially those they don’t get along with.

What’s your next project?

I have two short stories coming out in anthologies this year and a couple more out for consideration. As for novels, I have two underway. One is a gothic horror/comedy/mystery. The other is a very different kind of project, but I’m keeping it under wraps for now.


Whispers from the Depths just released on February 19th; check out Briar’s tale for yourself, and look for my review coming soon!

Book Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Two words: Magical. Heist.

It’s 1889 in an alternate Paris, where those who have the ability to “forge” can manipulate matter or minds just like magic–except it’s really about science and art–with infinite possibilities. It’s almost like Alice in Wonderland–especially when you can pass through a mirror to another place. The secret society of the Order of Babel regulates forging, controlled by the high Houses. Plants can be forged for beauty and function, statues can be forged for security, clothes can be forged to give you as many tricks up your sleeve as you can imagine.

This lush backdrop is where Séverin lost his inheritance. Spurned by the Order, he teams up with Enrique, the historian looking for a voice and power with his own community; Laila, the dancer with a life altering secret; Zofia, the engineer who is excellent at math yet awful with anything social; Tristan, a brother to him; and finally Hypnos, the entitled yet clever patriarch of one of the Houses. I have to say, Hypnos was my favorite! He was funny without being too over the top. Enrique was also funny, especially when paired with Séverin:

“You’re doing it again,” said Enrique.
“What?”
“That whole nefarious-whilst-looking-into-the-distance-thing. What are you hiding, Séverin?”
“Nothing.”
“You and your secrets.”
“Secrets keep my hair lustrous,” said Séverin, running his hand through his curls. “Shall we?”

This big cast of characters wend their way through a fantastical mystery at the heart of the Order of Babel. I did wonder sometimes whether the big cast was a bit too much–their voices sometimes blended together, when you jumped from one to another in the chapters. Sometimes their personalities were a bit too similar, except Zofia who was quite unique. They each do have clear motives, but it was really their voices (internal & external) that were a little too similar.

A simple heist leads them deeper into the mysteries of the Order than any of them ever dreamed. They must use their wits and their tricks to not only prevent total chaos–but to survive.

All in all, I really enjoyed the fantastic magic, the storytelling, and the suspense. Oh, and there was just enough romance–I’m not a big fan of over the top romance (unless I’m reading Outlander, of course), and Chokshi did a great job with some light romantic touches: it all felt very real and unforced.

I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the rest of this series!

The book is available for pre-order, and releases January 15, 2019.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

Book Review: Jack Be Quick by Benjamin Thomas

Occasionally I try to reach outside my normal reading genres and try something different. My comfort genres are of course Fantasy, Sci-Fi and YA. My favorite local bookstore recommended this book, Jack be Quick, by fellow Connecticut author Benjamin Thomas. I will be completely honest, I think it is the first thriller I have ever read, and I really enjoyed it! Now if it just had some vampires or something, it’d be perfect…just kidding!

Thomas writes a fast-paced thriller that just keeps you hooked from the beginning. I couldn’t stop reading it. The main character Noah is fascinating. A paramedic trudging through his own pain and addiction; meanwhile trying to decipher and stop the murderous Jack-the-Ripper style killings happening around him. It all starts with a message scrawled in blood when Noah responds to a paramedic call. And while Noah tries to figure out the pattern of the killings, the murderer also seems to stalk Noah.

The murders follow the pattern the original Jack-the-Ripper held, in Noah’s small Connecticut town. Noah knows finding the killer will prevent more murders, but he needs to battle through his own mental and physical wounds to stop the killings.

It’s a great read, it goes by very fast!