Interview with Denise K. Rago: Author of “Blood Tears”


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As you are already well aware by now, I am a huge fan of the vampire genre of fiction, and I was more than happy to review independant writer Denise K. Rago’s sequel Blood Tears, after having reviewed her novel Immortal Obsession a few years ago. I know I tend to be more critical with the vampire genre, but that is because it is a genre I feel strongly well-read in; therefore, I am much more discerning, and probably deservingly picky, when it comes to reading vampire fiction. My favorite writer of the genre, Anne Rice, has set a high mark for well-written, philosophically deep vampire fiction that it makes it even harder for new, fresh voices to emerge in a heavily saturated genre, like vampire fiction.

For those that read my critical review yesterday, you should know that it is not the only voice out there about this book, and I still strongly urge you to read the first book of Denise K. Rago’s series, Immortal Obsession, right along with the second book in her series, which was recently released, Blood Tears.

And perhaps after reading the below interview I conducted with author Denise K. Rago, you’ll have an even stronger interest in checking out both of her works. I really want to start dividing my review features into two parts, in order to focus on reinforcing the important virtue that is critical to your enjoyment of A Bibliophile’s Reverie, which is the importance of your freedom to read whatever you feel like reading most.

I hope hearing from the author herself will give you the chance to hear from the writer about the book, a much different approach to reading more about something you’re thinking of reading.


Interview with Denise K. Rago

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Reference Key for Initials- BR-Bibliophile’s Reverie, and DR-Denise K. Rago

DR:Justin ~ I am honored to be interviewed here at A Bibliophile’s Reverie and to have my second novel, Blood Tears reviewed by you.  In your review of my first novel, Immortal Obsession you wrote ‘At parts, you can discern that there are elements of Richelle Meade and Anne Rice bundled in there along with Denise K. Rago’s own unique interpretation of the vampire genre.’  I am honored that you spoke of my own unique interpretation of this genre coupled with the mention of Anne Rice, my favorite author.  I hope your readers enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed answering all of your questions.

When Immortal Obsession begins, Christian lives in Paris in the late 1770’s during a time of decadence and talk of revolution. Christian and Michael are two young men who are best friends. One winter night they are seduced by the vampire Gabrielle, and for a brief time they enjoy love, passion and a life together. But Christian meets Josette Delacore, a young and flawlessly beautiful woman, bound in an arranged and loveless marriage, and falls hopelessly in love with her. Josette is a powerful psychic whose blood beckons vampires to her, and Christian is not her first vampire lover nor her last. Soon she is also having an affair with Michael and while circumstances dictate that the threesome cannot continue, Christian and Michael flee to England leaving Josette behind to face the terrors of the Revolution.

When Blood Tears begins, it is now the present day and Christian finds himself in love with Amanda, a descendant of Josette. He lives in Manhattan with his friend Michel.  He has spent centuries watching and guarding the descendants of his lost love, Josette Delacore and like Josette, Amanda has psychic powers and powerful blood. Christian is dedicated to her but a secret comes to light that draws him back to Paris; a mystery that fuels his never-ending obsession with Josette. As events of the past resonate through time, secrets come to light and mysteries unravel and Christian finds that his obsession and love for Josette is only one small piece of a much larger puzzle that jeopardizes his existence and that of those he holds dear.

BR: What originally sparked the idea for the series as a whole?

DR: I have always been intrigued by vampires and I have kept journals since my childhood.  One of my childhood dreams was to write and publish books.  One night ten years ago my husband and I went into Manhattan to attend a rock concert.  While dining at a local diner before the show a tall, blond haired man pass by our booth and sat down behind us.  Even by New York standards he stood out; dressed entirely in black with a long, flowing black coat, blond hair that fell to his waist and pale skin.

Impulsively, I turned around and get a better look at him and the room shifted, time stopped and I fell into a pair of penetrating, dark eyes. He said hello in a voice that made me blush.  I said hi and quickly turned back around.  I felt a sense of recognition as though we knew one another. I scrambled to come up with where I might I have met him.  As my husband paid the check I found him staring at me.  It sounds very dramatic I know but that is how it happened.

In rehashing that night I discovered that my husband and I saw two very men in the diner; for when I described him, my husband thought I was crazy.  He saw someone completely different. That weekend I began writing Immortal Obsession and a year later I learned that the spirit world was “showing” me my vampire. His name is Christian Du Mauré, born in 1737 in the town of Meudon France, turned vampire on a March evening in 1757.   Though the title came much later, his personality came to me effortlessly; his hopes and dreams, sorrows and regrets.  He came alive on the page – a character based on a being I was destined to meet and whose beauty and presence compelled me.  He is my muse and he continues to inspire my writing as I tell his story of lost love, betrayal and regret.


BR: Was the sequel, Blood Tears already something you had in mind, before starting work on the first novel?

DR:As I was finishing up Immortal Obsession, I knew the story had to continue and so I began writing Blood Tears one year after Immortal Obsession was published.  I have a lot of written material and some of it contained the seeds of Blood Tears.  I knew there were plot points I needed to expound upon and now I am faced with the task again as I move towards book three, Eternal Hunger and unsure whether this will be the last book in this series or if I will continue to write more about some of the characters in this series. I writer very intuitively and so my characters will let me know which way the story should go and though I try to create outlines I generally don’t stick to them.  Each novel has been professionally edited by a different editor so each novel has a different feel. As I finish the draft for Eternal Hunger I will again be searching once again for an editor.  It’s exciting.

BR: What about the vampire mythos do you feel makes it so endlessly fascinating for so many people?

DR:Vampires were once living, breathing people who perhaps had spouses, siblings or children and led regular lives until circumstances brought them face to face with a supernatural being who took their life and transformed them into something no longer human.  In some cases, they look like monsters and in others, they maintain their beauty.  Anne Rice’s vampires, Lestat and Louis are perfect examples of the beautiful monster, while the vampires in the film 30 Days of Night are ugly creatures.  However, who has not pondered the possibility of remaining frozen in a youthful body, never to face the ravages of old age and death? Yes, the trade-off is the necessity of taking blood and in many cases, human lives to survive, yet the call to becoming immortal is tempting to say the least.

Vampires walk among us, pass us on a dark city street, brush up against us in a nightclub or at a concert.  The possibilities are endless and I am forever fascinated by the intersection between a mortal and a vampire; the meeting up of the mundane with the paranormal.  In my novels, Amanda Perretti lives and works in Manhattan. She has a dream job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she is able to combine her knowledge of art while surrounding herself with antiquities. Suddenly she thrust into a world she never imaged was real.  A world of beautiful yet warring vampires with roots in Revolution-era Paris, a war that has spilled over into modern day Manhattan.  Amanda has no idea of her heritage nor why she is so coveted, until she witnesses a murder in Central Park and her destiny is no longer in her control.

How many of us would welcome the chance to meet a supernatural being and perhaps learn more about the world them and the lifestyle that they left behind? The idea that the vampire was once human and therefore remembers the plight of us mortals.  We have a shared past and through this we can connect to a being who has witnessed history and can share the past with us.  Vampires are seductive and elegant, at least mine are.  Christian lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, among antiques and books.  He relishes his privacy and the world he has created in New York.

BR For the Anne Rice fans that are devoted readers of this blog, how would you describe your first impressions of an Anne Rice novel, and what book of hers if your favorite?

DR:Whenever I pick up one of her novels I feel that I have stepped through a door into a seductive world that I never want to leave and her vampires are magnificent beings full of strife, love, hate and desires. Each of them is fascinating in their own right, but Lestat is the most charismatic of them all. I never tire of reading about him.

My favorite Anne Rice novel?  Hands down, Interview with the Vampire. You have to understand I began reading horror novels as a teenager.  At nineteen years old I was given this book by my best girlfriend who knew I loved vampires even then.  I began reading it and realized that my world would be changed forever.  Her vampires are beautiful, yet flawed, angry, jealous and lost, just like the rest of us.  I fell in love with her writing and the world she created.  She made me see vampires differently and though she did not know it then, she changed the genre forever. How ironic is it that after telling his story to a mortal reporter, all the reporter wants is immortality, while Louis wants desperately for someone to listen, to understand all his pain and suffering.  Isn’t that something we all want in life?  Someone to listen to our life without judgement and to understand us?

I love all of Anne Rice’s novels but I definitely feel that Interview with the Vampire is my all-time favorite.

BR: Why did you choose to self-publish both books, and what are the strengths, if there are any in your opinion, to this form of publishing?

DR:I began to look for an agent and a publisher back in 2008 unbeknownst to me at that time, the publishing world was drastically changing, never to be the same again.  For many reasons, agents and publishers were not taking chances on unknown authors and so believe it or not, I e-mailed Anne Rice.  I explained my situation and asked her what she thought about the idea of self- publishing. She was honest and very encouraging, explaining that if she could not have found a publisher she would have sold her books herself.   She also mentioned the company Createspace as an option to consider and being the down to earth, nice and polite person that she is, she wished me the best of luck.

The stigma surrounding self-publishing has diminished over the past several years as more and more writers look to have their works published.  I had both novels professionally edited and chose both book covers.  In fact, the cover of Immortal Obsession is a photo I took of the angel atop Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Createspace altered it a bit. Ten years later I have hired a great firm to help with my marketing on social media. Although all aspects of marketing and publishing are my responsibility I feel a sense of control over my work and complete ownership.  I also have the freedom to write at my own pace and since I work full-time I do not feel pressure to publish under a deadline.

BR: What is your favorite vampire film, and why?

DR:

I have four favorites which ironically span four decades.  I won’t give too much away in case any readers have not seen these films.

The Night Stalker [1972] is a made for television movie about a newspaper reporter investigating a series of murders in Las Vegas.  He slowly comes to believe the killings are being committed by a vampire.  I love this film because we watch the reporters’ disbelief turn to a true understanding of what he is dealing with while set against the darker world of Las Vegas.

The Hunger [1983] tells the story of a beautiful, female vampire with roots in ancient Egypt, play by the French actress Catherine Deneuve.  She presently lives in a gorgeous townhouse in Manhattan.  We experience her long life through all the art works she has collected.  She collects lovers too, including Susan Sarandon and David Bowie.

Interview with the Vampire [1994] is a story told through the eyes of vampire Louis de Ponte du Lac to a young reports in San Francisco.  We are introduced to the famous vampire Lestat and follow both vampires through their lives in New Orleans and Paris. Lestat and Louis are beautiful vampires with a complex relationship filled with much betrayal and sadness.

In the film, Let the Right One In [2008], a young boy named Oskar is bullied in school and then befriended by a very unusual girl who moves into his housing project.  Meanwhile a series of gristly murders rock a working class suburb of Stockholm Sweden. I love this film as it depicts the century’s old vampire as a creature truly outside the mortal world yet trying to survive in it. The film was also made for American audiences too and I enjoyed both.

BR: Do you have a message for the readers of A Bibliophile’s Reverie, and can you supply any details, if any, of your next big writing project?

DR:When I began my first novel I was deterred by those who reminded me that the vampire genre had been overdone and that there was nothing new under the sun.  I tend to disagree.  I mean look at Let the Right One In?  I found this to be an incredible novel which adds to the genre in such a positive way.  As a writer, look for the best fit for you and your works.  If you feel self-publishing is the way to go, I am happy to answer any questions you might have about the process, plus there are a lot of great books out there on the subject.  My best to you if you query publishers or agents because one never knows what type of story may attract an agent or a publisher.  Take the risk.

My next novel, titled Eternal Hunger is the third in my Enchanted Bloodline Series. The saga of vampire Christian Du Mauré continues as he grabbles with his lineage and his fate, surrounded by vampires who have a very different future in mind for him. He longs for his mortal lover, Amanda, who he abandoned in New York on a whim, rashly leaving her behind to return to Paris. In this excerpt he finds himself far from New York, his lover and his best friend, Michel, being held captive.

            It was the smell that woke me, dampness, mold, abandonment; long forgotten places.  I inhaled in jagged breaths forcing myself to remain calm.  I rolled over on the rotted mattress supported by a rusted bed frame noticing for the first time the chunks of pale blue plaster that littered the floor.  I felt light-headed as I sat up and surveyed the room more carefully. If I were mortal I would have vomited but there was nothing inside of me to dispel. There had not been for centuries.

Where was I?

The cavernous room and high ceiling dwarfed the bed, which sat like an island among concrete, mold and debris.  I was wearing blue jeans, boots and a sweater, nothing that I owned, yet all in good taste.  My hair was clean, free of all the dried blood. I felt awake and strangely calm, wondering who had taken the time to clean me up and dress me.

I tried to piece together the events leading up to this moment.  Falling snow; a handsome face gazing up at me through torchlight, feeling warm despite the darkness, Josette, Amanda, Michel. Who was this creature who met me in the woods

  Ghislain. Yes that was his name.

I drank his blood and saw the images of monoliths and angels as the truth came rushing back to me, chilling me like icy water over jagged rocks.  I forced myself to get up and stagger over to the grimy French windows.  Peering outside there was not much to see only just enough sunlight to notice the painted panels on all the walls.

Monkeys and sunlight.

Yes, sunlight. 

 

Once again, Justin, thank you for reviewing Blood Tears and giving me the honor of an interview.

Please visit me at www.denisekrago.com to download a free chapter of either novel, read my blog or visit my virtual bookshelf.

Thank you so much Denise K. Rago for taking the time to participate in this interview!! :)

**If you haven’t already, be sure to start the series, by reading the first novel first! 

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Review of “Blood Tears,” by Denise K. Rago

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   ***I received a complimentary copy of this novel, in exchange for an honest, fair, critical review of the book. Please look into reading this book, if you’re interested in this genre of fiction, and do not allow my review to monopolize your own interest in the story. This is only one subjective perspective of the story among many different perspectives and reactions other readers will have***

Written with finely detailed, mostly competent prose, the sequel to Immortal Obsession, Blood Tears, serves as a continuation of this theme of exploring the mysterious relationship vampires can share with certain types of human beings.  The main romantic relationship in this novel that is mostly focused upon is the strange romantic relationship the vampire Christian shares with mortal Amanda, who from the first novel we learn has a very special type of blood, offering a rare immunity to a certain detested affliction of theirs (sorry, no spoilers permitted in this review). The story picks up right away, with the repercussions to what occurred in the first novel’s action-packed, dramatic conclusion. Pacing-wise, the story moves along fairly quickly, and it is definitely a very engrossing tale, with a few interesting reflections on the strange enigma of human and vampire relationships. In novels like Twilight, this dynamic became hackneyed, and just a disposable Harlequin plot device. In Blood Tears, the relationship these vampires have with certain types of mortals, endowed with psychic abilities of some kind, offers a more feasible reason, as to why vampires like Christian or Michel, and many others, may find themselves letting certain humans into their world of sorts.

Sadly, all the intriguing insights that this novel presents is the one redeeming factor of a story that otherwise falters with both its fairly vapid female characters and mostly formulaic, trope-recycled plot line. Many of the male characters are enigmatic, captivating, even if the main vampire character Christian sometimes does come across, increasingly, throughout the pages of your typical vampire, fixated on their morose ruminations about their life, and the way they recklessly feel love for a mortal being. Christian also has the same predictable hangups about this neurotic need to protect Amanda at  all costs. In the first novel, these things were fine, as these elements felt more like they were a natural part of a beginning of a difficult relationship between a vampire and a human being. Yet Amanda comes across as rather petulant, whiny, as she incessantly harps on wanting to get into danger, and Christian just obstinately refuses to put her in the line of danger. For any veteran to the vampire genre, this far-too-common plot contrivance is overused these days in vampire stories, from Joss Whedon’s television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books, to even Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of Witches. 

In defense of Deborah Harkness, she uses this trope as a way to expertly strengthen the main character’s relationships, providing a means to create very dynamic characters, who begin as traditional archetypes, only to grow beyond them in the last novel. Both Diane (a witch)  and Matthew (a vampire) actually have to examine these behavior types, while in the midst of several well-developed arguments between both of them, as an important element of any romantic relationship is using disagreements in the relationship as a plot device to hopefully allow the characters to progressively grow beyond their initial archetypal roles. Also, their clashing personalities, which could have been kept to their archetypal molds, allow their relationship to further deepen and become truly alchemical, in the way they forge trust and deep love/admiration for one another.

Within Buffy, Joss Whedon and the team of talented writers for that show were always conscious of the way that a plot, involving a romantic relationship of some kind between a vampire and human, can quickly become very silly and cloying, if the writers don’t inject some needed humor or witticism at the right moments. In Anne Rice’s novels, the relationship between vampires and humans, as a whole, are hindered by the fact that vampires often are unconsciously drawing the human victims to them, in order to make them into their next blood kin. Most of the time though, Anne’s vampires want to imbibe that person’s energy, feed on that person’s memories, to allow for the transient experience of feeling human.

The problem with this trope, though, as with the case of Blood Tears, it can quickly become fairly uninteresting in the course of the story. This same problem plagued another vampire novel, entitled The Raven by: Sylvain Reynard, where the same overused tropes were used for the main characters, who were romantically involved  with each other. Of course, my larger problem is that many of the female characters in this story have fairly stereotypical personalities. For example, Amanda comes across sometimes as stiff, petty, vapid, even though she supposedly is a well-educated woman, who happens to have a very good career at an art museum. Same thing goes for Gabrielle, who is meant to be seen as a rather beguiling, imposing personality, who you’d think could be a fascinating female character with power and potential, but she comes across as not just petty, but predictably spiteful and vindictive. If you are a good woman in this story, you are just mildly petulant and stubborn, but if you have a past of being a bit more morally complex, or a woman with some definable strength of some kind, or position of power, you are spiteful and vindictive.  In sequels, you’d expect just a bit more character growth, and many of these character traits felt at least more like flaws in the first novel, but the fact that these traits remain for the female characters without any sign of growth beyond them, at any point in the sequel,  felt very disappointing.

Also, the novel had potential, with its focus on the art of the French Revolution and even the history of the events preceding it , and a story-line involving an ancient class of vampire royals (cloaked in mystery and secrecy) to really offer something fresh,interesting to this genre of storytelling. I really hate being critical in reviews, but I feel that you cannot just write purely effusive reviews, when deep down that is definitely not what you’re feeling, as you read the book.

In order to make sure, I remain slightly more positive by the end of this review, I wanted to thank Denise K. Rago for again permitting me the opportunity to both read and review this story.  The prose is very competent for the most part, and the story is both very readable and engaging. I think many readers, who have not read the wide array of vampire stories I’ve read in the last decade may be much more forgiving of the glaring flaws I saw in terms of a plot and set of characters who feel disappointingly flat and stale. Many of these elements are really very easily recognizable tropes, and I do feel that the special quirk of Blood Tears and its first novel was the interesting dynamics of the mortal/vampire characters, which did sometimes have some interesting deviations from what is normally seen in many other vampire stories. The humanity of all the characters of the story, for that reason was a refreshing change from the typical overly stiff, regal, or flagrantly impulsive vampire character, or the timid/carefree/ largely stupid human character.

Nonetheless, I still recommend this book for readers, who are newcomers to this genre of fiction. You may find something more riveting or fascinating than I was able to, as a veteran to this genre of fiction, who has read far too many vampire stories to be able to read without feeling circumspect, and just generally picky about the story. I was expecting something more philosophical, cerebral, experimental, progressive than this. Perhaps, I have been spoiled by authors like Deborah Harkness and Anne Rice, who have been able to use tropes, as a means to deepen the development of their characters, and not as a means to easily find a workable plot for a vampire story.

   Due to the length of the above review, I will be posting my interview with author Denise K. Rago tomorrow evening, as a separate post, along with important information about the next Lestat Book Coven chat.

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Review of I Don’t Have a Happy Place by Kim Korson

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Review Written by: Jessica C.

It seems like all good things arise out of unusual circumstances and situations. In Kim Korson’s life this moment comes when her therapists asks her why she can’t be happy. Kim’s explanation comes in the hilarious format of an entire novel titled I Don’t Have a Happy Place. In the book Korson tells us all about her life, her experiences, and her opinions about practically everything. From her mother indulging in the feminist movement to becoming engaged, Korson gives the reader her opinion on it all. Her mood and personality is not quite Grumpy Cat and certainly far from sunshine and rainbows, but it is one that makes her seem real.

In I Don’t Have a Happy Place the brutally honest and witty view point of Korson is refreshing. Her personality is one that I can relate too, even if I do use some of the choice words that in her novel she admits to despising. Oh well. Sorry for that.

We first meet Korson as a child when she is envious of her friend’s doll collection and her mother has joined the working woman league. We learn from Korson what it is to be a latchkey kid (something I also went through as a child) and how to get through life as best one can as a little girl growing up. Korson then brings the reader on her life journey of all of the different jobs she was a part of, including being part of the Hollywood scene.

To be honest, while all of I Don’t Have a Happy Place is amusing I have to say my favorite chapters were the end. Korson focuses on all the important and significant passages of life: growing up, getting a job, engagements, marriage, children, moving from all that you are used to, religion, and of course Disney. The evaluation and view of the Magic Kingdom and its visitors is one that you might expect to see in a dry, bitter travel guide. However, it is the end of the chapter Good Grief that proves that even the most depressed can have a little bit of light spill into their darkness. It doesn’t mean that an event will cause life changes or dramatic adjustments of personality, but it is nice to see that Korson can be bitter and still enjoy herself in Disney… even if she is loathe to confess.

From the hysterical Christmas Jew confession to the realistic opinion of the world in general, I Don’t Have a Happy Place is a book that will leave you chuckling over situations that anyone could experience. The fact that Korson voices what so many of us think and yet are afraid to say is a blessing in disguise. It is good to see I’m not alone in a world that sometimes needs to be told everything exactly as it is without apology. Until next time… happy reading!

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Tea Time at Reverie: Tea From Taiwan’s Wu Ling Oolong Tea

Tea From Taiwan logo

I was already a fan of oolong teas when we launched Tea Time last June. Since then, I’ve developed an even greater appreciation for this flavorful medium between black and green teas. Today we have another oolong for you, courtesy of Tea From Taiwan. Wu Ling Oolong (also known as Wu-Long) is grown and harvested in the mountains of Taiwan’s Taichung county. What’s fascinating about this particular tea is that, according to Tea From Taiwan, it was grown on land that was once home to a fruit orchard. And as you’ll find out, those soil conditions have contributed to Wu Ling’s light, distinctly flavored brews.

The Basics

Tea From Taiwan Wu Ling

Photo courtesy of Tea From Taiwan

Tea From Taiwan’s Description: “Wu Ling oolong tea (wu-long tea) is our best tea in our regular collection. Wu Ling is a mountain area in Taichung County, and its high altitude (more than 1800 meters) contributes to the ideal growing conditions for wu-long tea.

Another reason why Wu Ling wu-long tea is of such fine quality is the soil of the Wu Ling area. Wu Ling was a fruit producing region for many years until economic conditions favored imported fruit over home-grown apples and pears. Former orchards in the Wu Ling area were converted into oolong tea plantations, and Wu Ling wu-long tea is renowned for its fruity quality.”

Ingredients: Wu Ling oolong tea leaves

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 teaspoon per 8 oz of water. Heat water to just below boiling (195 degrees Fahrenheit / 90 degrees Celsius) and steep for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add 30 seconds for each subsequent brew.

Multiple Brews?: Yes, about 5 to 8 times

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf

Caffeine Level: Medium

The Experience

Appearance-wise, Wu Ling Oolong has that typical oolong look: dark green leaves rolled into misshapen pellets of varying sizes, with streaks of black and lighter green. And like the Hua Gang Oolong we reviewed in January, it carries a faint scent compared to other oolongs. I detect grass and orchid if I breathe in deeply enough. I’m not overly concerned, though. Hua Gang behaved the same way in its dry form, and it completely won me over once brewed. Let’s see if Wu Ling has a similar trick up its, er, sleeve.

Using the instructions listed above, I steep my first cup of Wu Ling Oolong for about 1 minute. (I was shooting for 30 seconds but forgot to set my timer – oops!) Out comes a pale green infusion that’s almost lime in color, but not a bright lime. The fragrance is still a subtle mix of floral and grass. The taste is also mild, but more complex than I’d expected: orchid, a little bit of grass, and fruit. Yes, Wu Ling is a lightly fruity oolong, as Tea From Taiwan’s description suggested. There’s the fresh, crisp flavor of orchard apples in September, a pear-like sweetness, and even a hint of lemon. This gives Wu Ling an invigorating quality without overpowering the senses. Very nice!

Like other oolongs, Wu Ling evolves with each brew. The liquid takes on a greenish-gold color with Steep #2 (90 seconds) and then a golden, straw yellow with Steep #3 (2 minutes). A grassy, vegetal flavor develops by then, but it doesn’t overtake the fruity nuances until Steep #4 (2 minutes 30 seconds). If I hadn’t over-brewed the first cup, the apple and pear notes would probably still be the more prominent flavors. Regardless, this last steep is pleasant in a green tea-like way; and despite the shifts in flavor, this tea is never astringent, tart, or overly sweet.

One more interesting characteristic of Wu Ling Oolong is its texture. It’s smooth, but not creamy or indulgent like most oolongs are. Instead, it’s a tad thinner and reminds me of broth (without any crumbs or other bits of food floating around, of course!). I’m not sure how else to describe it… But it matches Wu Ling’s refined and refreshing personality quite well.

Finally, it’s worth reiterating that Wu Ling Oolong was grown on land that was once an apple and pear orchard – and its taste is evidence of this. It’s amazing how soil conditions really do have an effect on the tea plants growing there.

The Aftertaste

Tea From Taiwan’s Wu Ling Oolong is as delightful as biting into a freshly picked apple. Its light body complements its delicate and unique flavor profile of fruit, orchid, and grass. Maybe that’s why it’s one of the most refreshing new oolongs (or rather, new to me) I’ve had in a while. I do miss the floral overtones and buttery texture I’m used to with oolong teas, but Wu Ling is a wonderful change of pace and something I may have to stock up on in my personal stash. If you haven’t tried oolong tea before, this is a good starting point.

Grade: 8.5 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like oolong teas, or for “newbies” to oolong tea
  • Time of Day and Year: Afternoon and evenings in the spring and summer
  • Possible Book Pairings: Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief would be a lovely pairing with Wu Ling Oolong. Its profile and texture complement the novel’s kind-hearted, book-loving heroine Liesel Meminger. Plus, Liesel visits apple orchards during the story. ;)

You can purchase Wu Ling Oolong directly from Tea From Taiwan as part of the Chong Pei Sample Pack or in larger quantities by itself.

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In addition to being a tea enthusiast, Sara Letourneau is an avid reader and a writer who… well, enjoys writing! Currently she’s working on a novel, and she writes book reviews and articles on the craft of writing. She’s also a published poet with works available in various print and online publications. Visit Sara at her personal blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

If you’re a tea seller and would like to have one of your products reviewed here, please visit the Contributors page for contact information.

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The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory

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Stacy Wakefield

Akashic Books

To be released: May 5, 2015

Review by: Kristie M. Hendricks

Stacy Wakefield serves us a tough heroine in Sid; a young woman seeking a squat to call home in NYC starting in the summer of 1995. Her journey of growing into herself is one of testing limits. Sid goes to the cliff of punk themed anarchism and the pirate-reminiscent squatting scene solo seeking a dwelling without adhering to a system that doesn’t allow for reasonable rent. This novel, though targeting young adult audiences, may also offer insight for any aged reader interested in a basic understanding of mid-nineties squatting in New York as the author writes from experience and describes actual locations from memory.

The focus of the novel is the personal growth of Sid, who, in the beginning of the story, believes her ticket to successful squatting is her newly acquired Black Flag tattoo. Once she finds the squats in Manhattan to be over-crowded, she decides to partner with Lorenzo and head to a different part of the city. Sid needs to prove her resourcefulness to house members both for political standing and survival within her squat located in the thinly populated frontier of the dilapidated mid-nineties Brooklyn. The portrayal of Sid’s toughness through her work and choices is one of the strongest features of Wakefield’s writing. Over time, Sid harnesses her angst to serve her better. To illustrate this growth, Wakefield uses two male characters, the aforementioned Lorenzo and Mitch, to measure Sid.

Lorenzo, along with some other supporting characters is in the scene primarily for art.  Art is a minor theme in the work we see the depths of the characters via their art: Lorenzo’s music, Skip’s poetry, Raven’s photo project, Sid’s Mural. Lorenzo is unreliable and irresponsible but is initially Sid’s main interest other than squatting. His second focus is raising a choice finger to authority and anyone who challenges him. Together, Sid and Lorenzo venture, somewhat aimlessly, into Brooklyn and find Mitch.

Mitch is a seasoned squatter. He knows the regulations and aims to have a clean and safe place to live. Sid is initially intimidated by Mitch and his roughness, his odd way of living in the squatting scene, often described as more meathead jock than punk, but remains objective and notices how much she can identify with Mitch’s values. Sid appreciates his knowledge in all things practical, like getting electricity, maintaining a job, knowing codes for buildings, staying clean, and being organized. She learns from him and applies this information practically in his absence.

Although she has a crush on Lorenzo and then dates Mitch, men are not her focus. Sid works hard, hones self-love and is mostly alone throughout the novel. To highlight this independence, Wakefield includes a side character, Abby, who is probably too dependent on the wrong guys. However, in the spirit of strong women, we also get Raven. Raven is also a strong character who attends a court hearing to defend the side of Rot-Squat in what she viewed as an unlawful demolition/eviction. However, the supporting characters are overall underdeveloped. Lee and Stumps are given much needed background around page 190 which seems almost a whole book too late. The dialogue, even if geared toward young adults, is too diluted when set against the complex setting of squats Wakefield took care to illustrate.

One relationship that is well developed in this novel is between Sid and her father. He isn’t a constant character but we get to know so much about Sid from his support and love. Somehow he is not fearful for his young daughter in one of the roughest neighborhoods around yet we know he cares for her. This artistic avenue travelled to illustrate Sid’s strength is so well done: if her father is neglectful, she succeeds anyway and is a stronger person for being alone; if he cares for her well-being, she has already somehow proven she can handle the streets of New York. We don’t really have to choose one or the other, it’s a little bit of both, and Sid can handle it. Wakefield’s Sid is a wise risk-taker. She loaded tasks on her back until she literally fell over. She gave everything she had and when it crumbled like the bread in the old factory once did, she stands up and walks out with Mitch to start it all again.

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Review of AngelFall by Susan EE

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Review written by: Jessica C.

It has only been six weeks since the angels of the apocalypse fell to earth to destroy the world. A world that once taken over by the angels is now a world where fear and superstition co-exist. Families are divided and ripped apart, left to the whim of the angels or creatures far worse. It is in this new world that Penryn will go to any measure to save her sister. Penryn becomes so desparate to find her sister that she makes the ultimate sacrifice, making a deal with an angel.

Penryn runs into the angel, Raffe, and agrees to help him restore the wings savagely cut from him, if he agrees to take her to the aerie to save her sister. With the shared, albeit cautious, agreement the pair set off across Northern California to rescue Penryn’s sister, Paige. During their journey they find their way through multiple hazardous situations including soldier encampments, hotels where humans are nothing more then mere playthings for the angels, and a labratory where angels are experimenting on angels and humans. Experiments that make angels as much as humans into monsters, or worse, abominations.

Angelfall was fast-paced and engrossing, with appealing characters. Even as Raffe was the presumed enemy the reader cannot help but feel fond of him. The relationship he shares with Penryn is tormented and tortured, even while both seem to believe they are only focused on their ultimate goals… saving Penryn’s sister and restoring Raffe’s wings. Each goal brings the main characters to a crescendo of a storyline that leaves the reader shocked and amazed. The bond of Raffe and Penryn grows as much on the reader as it does between the pair, to the point where both of their goals no longer seem as significant as their own survival.

Penryn and Raffe’s story is one that is hypnotic and tormented while leaving the reader wanting more. The combination of the End of Days storyline with that of angels was so refreshing in a society so fond of combining zombies with the apocalypse. Not to say that I don’t love a zombie apocalypse story, but having the angels back in their rightful domain was a nice break.

Angelfall proves that no matter how difficult the struggle, and how much one has to sacrifice in order to survive, within the darkness there is a way to find the light. I eagerly look forward to seeing what happens next with Penryn and Raffe’s. Stay tuned as I promise my readers that I will share my review on the next chapter of their story. Until next time!

~I never thought about it before, but I’m proud to be human. We’re ever so flawed. We’re frail, confused, violent, and we struggle with so many issues. But all in all, I’m proud to be a Daughter of Man.~

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Review of “The Witch of Painted Sorrow,” by MJ Rose, Featuring Downton Abbey Literary Tea Recommendation


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This is my first foray into the decadent, luscious, powerfully enigmatic world of a MJ Rose novel, and the historical ghost drama, The Witch of Painted Sorrows,  lives up to the high expectations I had about her novels. This is based on the many people I know personally that have recommended her novels, and the fact I also had the opportunity to hear her speak in-depth about the craft of her writing at the yearly Thrillerfest convention in New York City. Her contributions to a panel on the supernatural elements of thriller fiction were fascinating, and MJ Rose elaborated on how her own research into the esoteric metaphysics that exist on the fringes of our natural world inspire her to write stories in a bygone era, where this supposed nonsense had much more traction in the popular media. Of course, there is still a certain allure to this sort of stuff, especially on New Age-themed television programs, but we don’t really attach too much serious thought or consideration of the invisible world of the nonsensical, fringe new-age spirituality.

As such, having The Witch of Painted Sorrows, a book that is enmeshed in this form of metaphysics, including alchemy, magick, in a world becoming more rational in its scope, provides an interesting structural device for the story’s setting. Basically, this fading metaphysical interest works in opposition to the sturdy, rigid frame of the world of modern architecture, evolving scientific knowledge, and the stirrings of psychology by the last few vanishing years of the nineteenth century. All these things are avidly featured in many areas of this novel, since it is set in late nineteenth century France, where again the metaphysical knowledge of the world is becoming more esoteric, even with its fleeting popularity among some people at this time.

And the story centers on a woman named Sandrine Salome, escaping from crumbling marriage, who has decided to return back to Paris,France, to live with her grandmother, who works as a courtesan in France, a more esteemed form of “prostitution” (that really is more professional, respected in France at this time). In this early portion of the story,  the novel mentions that she is deeply shaken by the recent death of her father, and the involvement that her traitorous husband had in the demise of her father. To Salome,these tragic parts of her immediate past lends to a certain vulnerability and openness to the influences of the bustling metaphysical world around her in Paris.

Naturally,some may find the early portions of the novel, describing Sandrine’s adjustment to the energetic, thriving world of late nineteenth century Paris to be interminable, but MJ Rose’s elegant, subtly-expressive prose consumed my attention from the get-go. Also, the ease with which MJ Rose alternates between the introspective look at Sandrine’s many thoughts, during the early scenes of the novel, along with the emerging supernatural mystery at the heart of the novel,  allows for the reader to really sympathize with the main character greater in the midst of scenes where the supernatural mystery is palpable. This type of balance is very hard to strike, being able to smooth the precision between being sure to provide introspective development on the main character, the accompanying side character. All the while, you also have to  be sure to construct the building drama/literal action of the narrative. MJ Rose excels in balancing all of this with a certain degree of narrative balance, while also providing rich descriptions of the various houses and structures featured in the story’s enchanting Parisian setting.

My biggest problem with the story, though, was that Sandrine and her grandmother’s were developed very well, but the love interest  Julien Duplessi who comes onto the scene eventually in the novel feels comparatively hackneyed. Oddly enough, it almost feels like his  less interesting personality and backstory emphasize just how well-developed Sandrine’s character is. Julien is a mediocre, slightly interesting character at best, but he does come across slightly as a bit of boring, pretty-face, sensitive architecture, who often does not seem to have a very established, individualized sense of his own character, besides how he has nothing but consummate love and adoration for Sandrine. Of course, his adoration is tempered by a later affection for a rich French opera singer, who he wishes to be wed to, and this creates some forced level of depth to his character, except the opera singer feels like a throwaway, forgettable, vapid caricature, rather than an interesting foil, perhaps, for Sandrine.

Sometimes, I felt like the way that Sandrine quickly develops artistic abilities, due to some supernatural intervention in the form of a beautiful, though slightly mysterious ruby necklace (that cannot easily come off) felt also like it could become dry or dull over time. Initially,the way she quickly adjusts and enters into the art school, as the first female student, initially, also comes off as feeling contrived, but her growing artistic skills, coupled with her burgeoning lust and love for Julian do provide a riveting sense of mystery, as to just how much influence the ancient spirit La Lune of her grandmother’s house has over her drastic transformation into a demurring, respectable nineteenth century  model of feminine purity, and a woman that recognizes her sexual proclivities as a refining gift of her life, as well as the growing awareness of the rapture that comes with delighting in creating artistic creations.

It is this powerful feminist thread of the story, which is deeply psychoanalytic at its core, that really allowed me to overlook the shortcomings of the novel, mentioned above, and greatly appreciate the trenchant observations MJ Rose makes on the internal conflict that women of this time had to fend with within themselves. Their society provides them certain established, though diametrically opposed roles, and this is clearly presented at the beginning of the novel, with how the grandmother can liberally enjoy a lascivious lifestyle as a courtesan, yet still be a respected member of the elite part of society. Of course, the irony is that her money still comes solely from male admirers, as such she is still metaphorically subservient and economically dependent on men in some way. Both Sandrine, and the ghost that has haunted the female family members ever since the time in history where La Lune, the jealous lover, but skilled artist lived. She is the vengeful spirit of the grandmother’s home,  who couldn’t function in the end without impetuously garnering energy and power through all that she did, in a way to fight the system that has long suppressed her and made her use her power in accordance with the dictates of the masculine power structure.

Sandrine’s journey becomes frightening, thrilling, but ultimately destructive, in that the insatiability she feels is much too overweening, too extreme in its wanton caprice. She wants to be eminently skilled in the arts, but she also wants to completely dominate the relationship, in a sense, that she has with Julien. Perhaps, his slightly diminished personality, which I wrote off earlier in this review as being subdued, is supposed to be a purposeful counterpoint to Sandrine’s powerful personality. If we see his character as being developed in that way, I can definitely gain some appreciation to the way that this story is meticulously shaped into a nuanced, beautiful, though intense metaphor on the intense need and desire women, suppressed too long by a patriarchal structure that sees any healthy expression of power  and strength as “insane”, felt throughout history, and how it finally cracked in many ways for some, especially as society progressed. And we see, through Julien, just how much this can suppress relationships for both genders, in that there is no equal distribution of power between both lovers, as both are dealing with the baggage of a patriarchal society.

We are not supposed to see Sandrine’s torment as something entirely positive, but complicated, and that once again shows the skill of MJ Rose as a writer. Any discussion that was prompted by the events of the narrative in The Witch of Painted Sorrow are uniquely my own thoughts because this story forces us to uncomfortably debate the psychological depth of power, feelings of jealousy, betrayal, vengeance, and how being too active and confident, in a rebellious, overweening sense (a power overdrive, so-to-say) can be extremely toxic and damaging to both you and the people around you.  This paradox of creation and destruction, two mutually exclusive forces within and without ourselves, manifests clearly in the way that the artist feels a destructive flood of feelings, which they must fight to siphon into a controlled, though vivacious, powerfully emotive/absorbing piece of artwork. And Sandrine’s art animates those forces within herself, the caprice of the spirit of La Lune, mixed with her own growing sense and need for defiance, after a past where she has suppressed her ardent love and need to create art, and find herself, in the name of conforming to the patriarchal structure of her society.

While ostensibly being a historical ghost drama of sorts that is very haunting and riveting at times, MJ Rose’s The Witch of Painted Sorrows, from Atria Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster, who publish a wealth of excellent novels) is a book that any fan of books with psychological suspense, depth, and intrigue, with a rich historical fiction setting, will greatly enjoy!
LITERARY TEA RECOMMENDATION:

DOWNTON ABBEY TEAS, FROM THE REPUBLIC OF TEA.


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While these teas might not be perfectly matched to the tensions and high emotions/drama of this particular novel, I strongly felt that these teas are still wonderful, flavorful blends that are great accompaniments to this particular novel. They are both part of The Republic of Tea’s special Downton Abbey Tea Collection, and I originally saw them at a tea store late last year. Being a big fan of the BBC costume drama, I always felt a strong tug towards wanting to try them for myself.

Sadly, the two books I wanted to pair these with didn’t quite work out. They happened to be Cavendon Hall  and the recently-released Cavendon Women by: Barbara Taylor Bradford. I have the one novel, which I will be reviewing at a future date, but I never received the copy of Cavendon Women I had originally planned to have read/reviewed by this point.

The important thing is that I can still proudly feature both the Grantham Breakfast Blend and Lady Cora’s Evening Tea as literary tea recommendations to be matched with this book. In many ways, the late nineteenth century European setting of MJ Rose’s The Witch of Painted Sorrows may appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, though there is a stronger, atmospheric Gothic element to this story that isn’t the bucolic, English countryside setting of the series Downton Abbey. Nonetheless, I really like the opposing dimensions of both these teas, which seem to match the personalities of Lord Grantham and Lady Cora very well. Oddly enough, when comparing both these teas-one being a robust black tea blend and the other being a sleep-inducing, refreshing herbal blend- I noticed that both teas describe the spectrum of the growth and evolution of Sandrine Salome’s personality in The Witch of Painted Sorrows.

For instance, Lady Cora’s Evening Blend very much matches the pedestrian, slow, almost deceptively calm/sedated mood of the beginning of the novel, where we feel that the book itself, along with the character of Sandrine Salome, will be traditional, European drama tropes in a story that will be very absorbing, but also be purposely drawn-out as a story. This tea combines a bevy of different notes of very different herbs, including skullcap, valerian root, lemon balm, chamomile. All these things suffuse your senses with the same initial comforting chills  of familiarity Sandrine feels when she first walks near the house that her grandmother owned, and she wistfully recalls the first tragic love affair she had as a young girl. In the same way, this relaxing tea made me feel like memories I had of the past were dredged up, and unfolded, slowly, in a peaceful, dreamlike way.

Grantham Breakfast Blend is a robust, strong, impressionable Organic Assam Black Tea blend that has a very distinctive flavor that is neither tart, but it has its own slightly sweet taste, semi- spicy Ginger root flavor that is neither harsh in its strength, but nonetheless has the ability to linger in your mind long after you taken your first sip. When Sandrine first places the necklace, found in her Grandmother’s well-decorated, opulent house, she feels a strongly course of soaring strength overtake her. When I was drinking this tea, I felt that same strength and flash of energy hit me with a very good feeling of attentiveness to what exact changes were being effected onto the character of Sandrine, and also the very alluring, haunting, dangerous world of the metaphysics/magicks that come onto the scene of the story.

For any intense character/costume/historical fiction drama, stricken with relentless energy and absorbing character study, both these teas, inspired by the most popular BBC drama in contemporary times, would be a great match, if you decide to settle down to reading either this book or something along the same lines of it!

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