Tea Time at Reverie: Lydia Had More Fun Rooibos Tea from Bingley’s Teas

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“‘You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing.’”
– Lydia Bennet, Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice

Ah, Lydia Bennet. The youngest daughter of Pride and Prejudice’s central family, she adores fine clothes, fancy parties, and men in uniform. It’s no surprise that she’s one of literature’s most famous debutantes – or that she runs off with that shifty Mr. Wickham. Now, if there was a perfect tea match for Lydia’s naivety and self-indulgence, what would it be? The answer comes courtesy of Bingley’s Teas and their extensive Jane Austen Tea Series. Decaf seekers and dessert-tisane lovers, meet Lydia Had More Fun Rooibos Tea.

The Basics

Lydia Had More Fun 1

Photo courtesy of Bingley’s Teas

Bingley’s Description: “Lydia Bennet: Flirtatious, flaky, and without the usual substance of common sense but would absolutely be entertaining at a party! This blend of rooibos tisane and flakes of coconut shreds and flavoring offers a decadent, dessert-like combination that is completely devoid of actual tea. This means it is caffeine free for those concerned about that.”

Ingredients: Red rooibos tea, coconut flakes, and coconut flavoring

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 teaspoon per brew. Heat water to boiling (210 degrees Fahrenheit / 98 degrees Celsius), and steep for 4 minutes.

Multiple Brews?: No

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf

Caffeine Level: None

The Experience

Lydia Had More Fun 2

Photo courtesy of Bingley’s Teas

Lydia Had More Fun tickles my sights with its contrast of robust reddish-brown rooibos and shreds of snow-white coconut. There’s more rooibos than coconut, maybe 75% of the former and 25% of the latter. Also, the coconut used here isn’t the hard or freeze-dried stuff. Instead, it’s the good kind of coconut: the fresh, softer shavings you’ll find in bags at your local grocery store or sprinkled on desserts and pastries. I’m curious to see how this affects the taste and texture of the brew.

First, I open the packet of Lydia Had More Fun and smell… DESSERT. The coconut aroma blooms through and mingles with the woody rooibos scent. It’s bold and creamy, with a decadent sweetness that reminds me of frosting – specifically carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I’m not joking! There’s a confectionary quality here that’s uncharacteristic of rooibos teas. Which makes me wonder: Will the tea taste too sweet for my liking? How will the coconut and rooibos flavors harmonize in the cup?

Only one way to find out. Following Bingley’s instructions, I steep 1 teaspoon of Lydia Had More Fun in boiling water for 4 minutes. The infusion looks like a typical cup of rooibos, a healthy and dark reddish-brown. The aroma is now a more subdued balance between rooibos and coconut, but maintains that unique confectionary sweetness.

Each sip of Lydia Had More Fun ushers an instant creaminess. The thick, velvety mouthfeel is definitely a result of the fresh coconut, which I can taste along with the well-rounded, complex rooibos flavors. In fact, I think the coconut strengthens the rooibos taste. I don’t find the tea particularly sweet, though – until the aftertaste arrives. It coats my tongue and lingers like frosting. I like it well enough, but I also need a glass of water or a cup of white or green tea to wash it down. Now I’m glad I waited until after dinner to brew More Fun. The tisane’s texture and finish make it too rich for any other time of the day.

Speaking of luxury, Bingley’s recommends adding cream to Lydia Had More Fun “if you’re feeling extra extravagant”. I don’t usually have cream at home, but for curiosity’s sake I added a splash of milk to one cup. Doing this accentuates the tisane’s satiny smoothness and tempers the heartiness of the rooibos. And if it were cream instead of milk – oh yes, it would enhance the brew’s flavor and body.

The Aftertaste

Once again, Bingley’s Teas serves up an accurate “tea reflection” of one of Jane Austen’s characters. Lydia Had More Fun flirts with its sweet coconut-rooibos perfume and entices with its full flavors and indulgent smoothness. And thanks to its mouth-wateringly sweet finish, it’s a true confection tisane. This would be a fun choice to spruce up your afternoon tea party, or to enjoy after dinner either alone or with a fruity dessert, pastries, or extra dark chocolate. I wouldn’t recommend More Fun for earlier in the day; it’s more of a luxury than most herbal teas. But this is a lovely change of pace, and the most “fun” you’ll have with rooibos without adding actual sugar to your cup.

Grade: 8 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like rooibos or dessert teas
  • Time of Day and Year: After dinner as a dessert substitute, or with select desserts or pastries
  • Possible Book Pairings: Pride And Prejudice, of course! I could also see it working for Sense and Sensibility, as well as book club reads like Lorna Landvik’s Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons or YA romance or contemporary fiction.

You can purchase Lydia Had More Fun directly from Bingley’s Teas here.

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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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Meditative Musical Musings-L. Hughes’ In-Depth Review of Nightwish’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”



   Click the banner above to learn more about the newest music-themed feature (including album reviews, interviews, and more) on A Bibliophile’s Reverie!

To give yourself a taste of the new Nightwish album, check out the lead track, “Shudder Before the Beautiful Below”

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** Be sure to purchase Endless Forms Most Beautiful on the album’s US release date 3/31/15, or the applicable release date for areas of Europe (which is today). We neither condone nor support illegal downloading of music!**

Endless Forms Most Beautiful 

Nightwish

11 Tracks
Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Overall Score: 10/10


Review written by: L. Hughes

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – Charles Darwin

Writing a review of a Nightwish album is a bit daunting. Like an Epica album, Nightwish albums are rich in layered music and detailed lyrics. It often takes several listens to truly grasp what it is you are listening to, even if your first instinct is to love it.

But before I get into the detailed review, here is a bit of background on my personal history with Nightwish, to set-up why I feel how I do about this album. I discovered the band in 2006, around the same time that I became a fan of Within Temptation. At the time I discovered Nightwish, I was unaware of the open letter with Tarja, resulting in her firing from the band. For all I knew, she was still their singer. I only knew about their music that I was slowly discovering through the album Once. Eventually my interest led me to discover more of their albums, and eventually I learned a bit more about the band itself, including the fact that Tarja was no longer their vocalist. I read the open letter and it left me unsure how I wanted to handle their music. As is obvious, I still listened to them, despite my then opinion that Tarja was a diva and it was good they kicked her out (an opinion which has since changed). Then, in 2007 they announced their new singer Anette Olzon and then released the albumDark Passion Play. Anette’s vocals differed greatly from Tarja’s. Anette was not a classically trained singer, and her style was what many fans called “Pop.” Although that definition is wrong, the musical dynamic of Nightwish did change with the new vocals. While many fans threw-up their hands and abandoned the band, I followed along for the ride, because of songs like “The Poet and the Pendulum,” and “Master Passion Greed.” Anette was a breath of fresh air at the time, and it was easy to see that with how everyone got along.

The following year I finally saw Nightwish live, and despite my unsure opinions about how Anette handled the older songs live, I still enjoyed the show and was humbled by how nice the band was. The album itself had its moments with “The Poet and the Pendulum” and “Master Passion Greed” but certainly did not live-up to the grandeur that was Once. Come 2012, they released their best album with Anette, Imaginaerum. Anette really had a chance to show those who hated her that she could certainly sing well, and the album was Tuomas’ pet project, so it was a bit different, yet still a very good album. I saw Nightwish for the third time that year, but only 2 weeks after I had seen them, Anette was fired from the band (due to various reasons, many still unconfirmed). So the drama of Nightwish continued. They also announced Floor Jansen would replace her on tour so that they could finish it and then the new vocalist would be decided. I was shocked about Anette (sort of, she made a bad PR move on her blog a week before, so some of it was not a total shock), but then I couldn’t help but be thrilled that Floor was joining them on tour. I had discovered Floor in 2007 when I became a fan of After Forever. I was in awe of her incredible talent, and quickly bought-up the discography. When After Forever called it quits in 2009, I was devastated. But very soon after, she formed the band ReVamp and was able to continue where After Forever left off. I had always felt Floor would be a perfect front woman for Nightwish, long before it was even a thought that she would sing with them. So, this was a literal dream come true.

By 2013, being a Nightwish fan was quite exhausting. The drama within the community was intense, and so was the drama with the band. Anette vs. Nightwish became a real media thing, not just a fan drama. But, in2013, the band announced that Floor would be their official new singer (they also announced that Troy Donockley would be a permanent member). This leaves us with the release of her first album with Nightwish, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, which I will now review.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful opens with a bang. “Shudder Before the Beautiful” has a distinctive connection to “Storytime” at first listen, but that was overcome for me after several listens, and the grandeur of the lyrics and the heavy guitars concerned me more. A perfect way to open an album that will remind listeners of Nightwish’s previous work much more than the last album did. The follow-up song, “Weak Fantasy” takes a stab at religious extremism. In this sense I was quickly reminded of the many times Epica has approached the issue through music. I applaud how blunt Tuomas is about the issue, and the music itself is heavy and very “Nightwish.” Floor’s vocals are heavy and go between a nice calm voice and her more “rock” voice. A lot of emotion can be felt in this song from her.

“Élan” is the third song on the album, and the album’s first single. While it angered many Nightwish fans because it is not very heavy and is focused on Troy’s beautiful pipes, and most of all because Floor was not singing in her well known powerful voice, I find the song to be a beautiful and very “Nightwish” sounding song. It flows very well within the album, and although Floor doesn’t hit those powerful notes, she still shows her level of talent to be able to sing in so many different ways.

“Yours Is An Empty Hope” also opens with a guitar bang. For Nightwish fans that missed that, they will love this song. I was reminded of “Dark Chest of Wonders” with this song. The chorus can be repetitive, but Floor’s vocals are once again phenomenal, especially those splendid moments where she really screams into the song. A new element to Nightwish that I think will be appreciated.

“Our Decades In this Sun” is a ballad dedicated to parents. According to interviews I saw, Tuomas stated that there were tears during the recording of this song. It is indeed a beautiful song and Floor’s soft voice fits it wonderfully. I think of all of the songs, this one still has to grow on me the most, but I have no doubt that it will “click” here soon. The folky song “My Walden” is a chance for Troy to shine again on this album, and is a great song for fans of “The Islander” or “I Want My Tears Back.”

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is a fantastic and heavy song. The chorus can easily get stuck in your head, and the music is wonderfully heavy. It took some time to grow on me, but now I love it. It would be a fantastic live song. “Edema Ruh” was the original first single of the album, until Tuomas was convinced to release “Élan” as the first single. The tone of the song does have an old school Nightwish feel and will be a song fans can appreciate once it has really grown for you. “Alpenglow” is a song that Tuomas described as “classic Nightwish.” I didn’t hear that right away, but after several listens I do hear it now. For fans of the past albums, this song is for you. In fact, I have heard several fans already call it Nightwish’s best song. I don’t know if I would rank it that high, but it has grown high on my list for favorite songs of this album. A fantastic song and a great song to end this portion of the album with, because “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is an instrumental that is almost like a breather before the big storm.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” had me within the first key. It opens with a splendid and breathtaking piano piece combined with a violin. Those two minutes in itself is simply gorgeous, but then it opens with a bang into the heavier moments of the song. A lot of guitar, then flows back into the gorgeous piano. The moment of beauty continues into Floor’s beautiful classical vocals (the only time we hear those with this album).  Which is a wonderful lead into a song that is about 24 minutes long. Biologist Richard Dawkins speaks following the opening, and then the sing really takes off. Wonderful guitars, more of Troy’s pipes, and then there is Floor and Marco’s vocals. I could go on too long about this song at this point, so I’ll simply conclude that is the major highlight to this album and if you can’t take in how rich this song is on first listen, it is worth many more.

It should be noted that regular drummer Jukka does not appear on this album due to health issues, and drummer Kai Hahto plays the drums for this album. He certainly does a fantastic job.

As far as I feel about this album overall, it is simply fantastic. It harkens back to the Nightwish that I first discovered in 2006, mostly because Floor Jansen is capable of so much as a vocalist. She allows Tuomas to essentially write whatever he wants and she can sing to it. But the album also has a lot of experiments to it, which is much needed for Nightwish to evolve. The album focuses on evolution, and beauty in the natural world, but, I also think that it is meant to be about the evolution of Nightwish. They are on their third singer, and as a band, they have gone through a lot of changes. They continue to adapt and to survive, and I think that this album also represents that sort of evolution. As a science geek, I am also in love with the fact that the album is about evolutionary biology as well. It is time some beautiful music was created to acknowledge the beauty of the natural world.

Nightwish is a unique band. Setting off a trend in music that is being emulated by many fantastic bands today like Epica and Xandria. Tuomas has proven to be the Maestro of this era. The music he creates is often deep and meaningful either to him or to the world. Tarja and Anette both were important contributions to the band, and each of their respective eras should always be remembered as important parts of the band’s history. Floor Jansen welcomes in a new era of Nightwish. One that I think will prove to be the final evolution of the band. Her versatility as a singer, skills as a songwriter, and history as a musician which allows her to know all too well what it is to be a singer in the metal world means that she is more than capable of leading a band on the grand scale of Nightwish. I look forward to many more albums with Floor Jansen at the helm.

Favorite Songs: “The Greatest Show On Earth,” “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” “Alpenglow,” “Élan,” “Weak Fantasy,” “Shudder Before the Beautiful,” and “Yours Is An Empty Hope.”

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Review of The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger


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Review written by: Jessica C.

One of the most refreshing things to find in a YA novel is a character that the reader can relate to, and an author that writes characters near her age. It was a pleasant surprise after reading Kody Keplinger’s biography that she was a girl in her 20’s writing about high school students. While I cannot say that an author being close to the age of her characters helps the reader identify with the characters, it certainly helps.

The DUFF I found was a book that I could relate to. Bianca reminded me of myself to the point I found myself questioning if maybe I was indeed the DUFF of my group in high school. Bianca is a sarcastic, realistic, brutally honest girl surrounded by her bubbly, energetic, and of course beautiful friends. Bianca is of course oblivious to the fact she is the DUFF of her group until she gets to know Wesley, and he brings it to her attention. The term and realization by Bianca starts her interaction and eventually a unique relationship and interaction with Wesley, who she swears she cannot stand. Okay, I confess, she swears she hates him.

The reader knows this is so far from the truth… but hey… let’s let Bianca stay jaded.

The DUFF is dappled with characters that come to life on the pages. Bianca’s friends are those that a reader could easily identify as someone they used to know or someone they used to be friends with. Wesley is the typical heartthrob jerk that all the girls love and that Bianca loves to hate. However, the longer she gets to know Wesley the more she begins to realize that he isn’t all that he seems.

I loved the fact this book had so much snark and possessed a character that wasn’t your typical run of the mill heroine. The fact each character had a flaw a reader could relate to is something I appreciated. Divorce, break ups, the identity of self, and feeling needed and wanted were just a few of the things the characters confront in The Duff.

This book isn’t the typical ugly duckling gets the guy kind of book. Every day problems that a young adult deals with are peppered throughout the book, giving the reader the reassurance they are not alone. No matter how pretty or perfect everyone has a flaw. Everyone is a DUFF… and that is certainly not a bad thing.

The DUFF was a refreshing book to catch up with come the start of spring. It has depth without suffocating bleakness, and positive notes that don’t seem artificial. I am glad that I caught the preview for the movie because it made me all the more interested to check out the book. I’m glad I did. Hopefully I can say the same for the movie if I get the chance to see it. For those that enjoy The DUFF, Kody Keplinger has recently released a new book LOL (Lying Out Loud) which features Wesley’s sister Amy. I hope you enjoy this little step back in time to the high school years as much as I did. Till next time!

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Review of The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

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Review Written by: Jessica C.

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg is the story of George Sand’s life. For those not as familiar with George Sand here’s a brief biography on her. George Sand is but a pseudonym for Amantine-Lucille-Aurore Dupin. However, Aurore is better known by her pseudonym as much as she is near notorious for her love affairs with many artists, composers, and such. Most famously she is known for her affair with Frederic Chopin and Alfred du Musset.

Such a woman that brought such inspiration and admiration by later writers would be expected to have an amazing biography and beautiful portrayal. Sadly, I cannot say that the Dream Lover is such a biography. Truth be told, I try as much as I can to complete books even when I don’t “feel” them, and I try to stray even more so from negative reviews. After all I think as a reviewer it is best to try to find the best in any piece of work, even if it is flawed.

I found the Dream Lover far too slow paced. In some parts i even found it boring and yawn worthy. Eventually I resigned myself to giving up on the book all together. I have such a fondness for history and time pieces such as these that I had such a high hope that this would be a beautiful portrayal of that time. While Elizabeth Berg succeeds in her historical documentation of the numerous French Revolutions, I almost found George’s affairs near lackluster.

While George did confess her passion and her adoration, and often times even love for her partners, I find as a reader I just couldn’t feel George’s emotions. As a reader I think we so often strive to feel as the characters feel, to live as the characters live, and to experience all that they endure whether the positive or the negative. In fact with George I felt somewhat, detached where I was more the bystander looking in briefly and then walking on by. I had no attachment to this book or the character of George Sand, which I would hope for considering she was the main character.

I did find myself rather attached to her mother who possessed such a fire and passion in so many ways she comes out in color to me while the rest remain black and white. Nothing more then words on a page.

On a lighter note I can say that Berg is skilled with description when it comes to setting. Her description of houses and gardens, and Paris are so beautiful and written with such lovely prose the reader can almost overlook the fact that George Sand was not given the same attention. I truly hope that if another chance is taken to write George’s story the writer takes the time to paint the woman in color within prose, instead of leaving her in the shadows of her lovers.

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Review of Jeanne Gassman’s “Blood of a Stone”

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In my post-religion days, having been a very happy agnostic (haunted by healing from scrupulosity) now for four years and counting, the greatest, single blessing of my fourth year as an agnostic is that I can freely enjoy the best elements or features of the Jesus story with a peaceful, guilt-free mind. Just in my near past, the mention of Jesus would often sent me into bouts of extreme anxiety because the very mention of anything in relation to Christianity often made me extremely nervous. I’ve lived through many bewildering nights of some downright scary hell nightmares, probably fifteen years to be exact. Many people can do religion, and I have nothing but the deepest respect for many of this people in my life, but I have been silently convalescing from my self-inflicted phase of scary scrupulosity. It is really hard and tough to articulate this part of my life because just the mention of it is extremely controversial, and divisive to others. We live in a time that is very polarized, with how we view religion, and it has made serious works of religious-themed literature, or books dealing with interesting subjects from religion very hard to be published.

As an agnostic, I actually found healing from the more progressive, sane, and intellectual voices of Christianity, a religion that thankfully does have a lot of diversity in its beliefs. It was Madeleine L’Engle that helped me to forgive the past, and move onwards. It was her book Wrinkle in Time that made me feel ultimately safe for having free-roaming, inquisitive mind that has trouble conceptualizing anything as permanent beliefs. Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord book was the first book that helped aid me in getting over my Jesus phobia. I still have trouble going anywhere near most churches, but I have slowly healed to the point where I can go to certain churches,without fearing that there will be a sermon about hell that will usher me into a cloud of extreme sadness and excruciating anger. I go as an agnostic that enjoys the ritual, the quietude, the solace within the ritualized beauty. Those are the things that I have imbibed from Madeleine L’Engle’s books, or Anne Rice’s novels, and now I can safely add Jeanne Gassman’s phenomenal, emotionally-powerful book, Blood of a Stone to this growing library of writers that take themes of redemption, spiritual depth,  forgiveness, and love seriously enough to allow their works to powerfully evoke these themes.

Now I know many are wondering how the last two paragraphs of this review hold any relevance whatsoever to what I’m writing, but the journey of the main character of this story Demetrios was really illustrative of my own experience with scrupulosity. It was hard and sometimes terribly difficult to read at points. At one point in the story, the story’s dynamic hero has horrifying, surreal nightmares, indicating to him things to which he must commit that go against his own inherent morals. This is of course, relating to the way that Demetrios feels tempted, by a misconstruction of different fragmented messages from the Pagan Gods that he worships, that they are insisting that he be the one to kill Jesus, for Jesus has discovered the secret of the fact that this character was the one chiefly responsible for killing his imperious, drunken, cruel Roman slavemaster, who was a rich patrician, living in the territory where Israel was at that time (I may be mistake with this, as I sometimes have trouble remembering specific places when reading novels, as much as I forget specific character names).

I’m getting a bit distracted from my main point, but the single greatest thing I gleaned from this ultimately powerful, enrapturing story was the sorrowful ghosts of vengeance, grave neuroticism that our minds can wreak, in a psyche devoid entirely of the chance and opportunity of redemption and forgiveness. For me, that was a pathological Christianity that was obsessed with a punitive God, a hell concept, a God that was a power-hungry, meta-Hitler of sorts. For Demetrios, his own unresolved guilt over the murder of his roman slavemaster, and the incessant paranoia that haunts him throughout the tale was emblematic of my own 25 year and counting struggle with scrupulosity.

When religion is done poorly and is leeched of any real, fulfilling messages of forgiveness,  it can be psychologically destructive, as Demetrios’s Pagan faith became characterized by his own internal turmoil, and those psychologically predisposed to an obsessive pathology, as in the case of OCD, can find themselves using any religion as a literal opiate, no different from alcohol. Our spirituality can become deranged or poisoned by the moral focus, or lack thereof. The negligence of many strains of Christianity about the Golden Rule, about the empowering message of forgiveness, and more of a pestilent focus on the invisible sins of others, or the inherited/inborn sins has done quite a devastating not just to many following that poor form of religion, but also does a grave disservice to the Jesus story.

The Jesus story, as illustrated by Jeanne Gassman’s book, about a Pagan main character, directly experiencing the latter events of the Jesus story, while dealing with the chaos of his own internalized psychological world. The ensuing chaos that factors in both the external events of the story, and internal events of Demetrios’ mind helps paints this story with sharp emotional realism and resonance. Rather than focus on any moral polemic or didactic dogma, Blood of a Stone is more of true subtly told story, woven expertly through the art of emotionally-empowering, deep writing that probes the human psyche, and really addresses some very serious moral issues, without ever devolving into a cheap diatribe or sermon of any kind.

Incorporating the enigma of Jesus into your story can easily be something that becomes derailed by a loss of focus, or a propagandic agenda, that tends to skimp on the allegorical and numinous power of the Jesus story. This is a story that holds great value for many people because it a story that speaks to our greatest fears that life intrinsically has neither value nor chances of redemption. It’s quite easy to lose track of just how the Jesus story affects people, in that it’s the emotional power of the tale and what it says about the human experience, in allegorical terms, that really enthralls us. Most people could care less about the dry theology, or the empirical proof behind his existence, because the very reality of the story itself and the dramatic effect that is has had on the souls and mind of people is a much more tangible, interesting facet of it.

Yesterday, author Anne Rice left a comment on her status, echoing my own feelings about the Jesus story, in a world obsessed with theological correctness. The artists, or those with a proclivity to go into the wilderness and be alone to ponder their own spiritual beliefs probably relate to Anne a lot, in a world that can be extremely exhausting for the artist or mystic. We feel a much different type of emotional frisson from the Jesus story, than those just fretting over its empirical value or theological correctness.

“I think at this point I don’t care. I’ve researched the topic for most of my life, and when it comes down to whether Jesus existed or not, for me that’s beside the point. I know that sounds strange perhaps, but I don’t much care. The concept is what has always intrigued me and drawn me — of God incarnating amongst us. Whether it actually happened? I honestly don’t know. But I believe in God and God Incarnate. Just don’t have a lengthy theology to explain it at this point. There are times when theology doesn’t seem to matter.”
(Taken from Anne Rice’s recent Facebook Status)

It’s become very tough to have sincere discussions about spirituality, especially for the creative, inquisitive person, or even the introvert, the wanderer. Demetrios in this story is all these things, he is a very introspective character, given over to lucid dreams that reenact his subconscious fears ,and his interest in the way these dreams that sometimes carry omens about terrible/apocalyptic possibilities  can easily lead him astray, much like my own Scrupulosity made me lose focus on what is important. If your spirituality or religion lacks emotional catharsis, room for mystery, paradox, love, and forgiveness, if you are allowing the emotional blackmail tactics of a darker, more sinister form of religious extremism to darken the skies of your spiritual outlook, and make it more neurotic, you have entirely lost focus on what is important. You have forgotten how to love and empathize with others around you; you have cloistered yourself to the self-created demons of deep-rooted fear and paranoia, caused by an unwillingness for forgiving yourself, and accepting your own limitations. Demetrios has to undertake this journey of self-acceptance and forgiveness, before he can leave, once more, to open his hearts to others.

For me, my greatest reflection on my own spiritual journey, which continues, is just to stop trying to seek or become obsessed with absolutist claims and answers for things of which you know nothing about. Certainty is overrated, and can be destructive for the artistic thinker. Learning to embrace the daily mysteries of our lives, and above all, seeking forgiveness for our own flaws and grave errors, and thus moving forward is the greatest lesson for Demetrios.

In a world obsessed with absolutism and impossible, dogmatic certainty, it is hard to lose focus on what truly makes the Jesus story riveting to not just Christians, but to people of all faith persuasions and ideologies. As an agnostic, I can safely say that I can once again find the beauty in the Jesus story, without all the self-loathing of my fundamentalist past. For others, it is about making peace with where we are on our spiritual sojourn, and focusing on what can be controlled, like our willingness to love and forgive our transgressions, and even the transgressions of others.

As Easter approaches, I highly recommend this story to the spiritual sojourner like myself, anyone that does not know where they fit in the overstimulated world of religion. It can tiring, exhausting, disillusioning. All that inane chattering about what to believe, in order to safeguard one’s own individual salvation. But sometimes it takes s story that focuses on deeper magic, something far more powerful, and impacting than abstruse dogma, something that makes us not lose focus on who we are, the people in our lives, and the important faculty we have at all times to keep us spiritual afloat, which is our ability to empathize deeply and dangerously with others around us.

There are a cast of many stabilizing forces for Demetrios, and it is these characters or personalities that exude a certain degree of unconditional love and acceptance, from whom anyone in a torpor state of neuroticism/self-loathing, can seek out to anchor them. Early on, Elazar, the Jewish slave, becomes that stabilizing force for Demetrios, showing him the beauty found in his religious rituals, but it is really Rufus, who does not have a clear religious status, who truly shows the simple truth of enduring love, compassion, forbearance that the human soul at peace with one’s own self can find. Rufus is the character you cannot help but empathize with because he is that one person we cannot imagine life without because they are living reminders that living out a life of compassion,self-acceptance, and forbearance brings healing to not only yourself, but others around you. It is a peace that can be found in the here and now, within our own lives, if we decide that it’s time to just let it go, as a certain character in Disney’s Frozen famously sings.

Much like the scrupulosity-sufferers of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s psychological short stories learn to forgive, and rejoin their families and communities, Karen Armstrong (one of my absolute favorite religious scholars) reminds us all of the true focus/mission of good religion and spirituality. This is something that Demetrios, at the end of the story, is left with, after being so enamored and obsessed with a darker approach to religion. He recognizes the admirable personality of someone that has found self-acceptance of who they are, and is able then to have a mind that can tap thus into the deeper magic of empathy and moral clarity.

“If all religious life is reduced to getting into heaven, and all your good deeds are about getting up there, as it was for me as a child, this is no more religious than paying into a retirement annuity. Heaven is supposed to be about the loss of ego, not about preoccupation with its eternal survival in optimum conditions.Also, if we do not experience a bit of the eternal now by hard, dedicated practice, it’s no good thinking we’ll get anything like that after we die.

(Karen Armstrong)

With only one life, the true unforgivable sin is letting it be wasted away by nihilism, neuroticism, or just general insularized dogma obsessions. If you never learn to heal from your vengeance, your anger, your grief over something, you have effectively forgotten how to live entirely, and Jesus’ one forgotten mission by many is reminding people to ultimately remember how to enhance life around you. This is a message for everyone, and it is the reason I think anyone that enjoys powerful storytelling that will move you, and reduce you to tears at times should really read my favorite read thus far of 2015: Blood of a Stone. Jeanne Gassman follows in Madeleine L’Engle’s footsteps, in creating an edifying religious/spiritual themed tale that works alchemical magic on the reader!

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Review of “Shadow Study” by Maria V. Snyder: Maria V. Snyder Wednesday

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 As promised to fans of Maria V. Snyder’s books (who also happen to be devoted readers of this blog), here is my review of the highly anticipated start of a new series in the worlds of both Ixia and its neighboring country of magic Sitia. But this time around, Maria V. Snyder experiments much more with different challenges that her characters face, including Yelena’s unforeseen loss of her magic. In more precise terms, her magic is blocked by some indiscernible cause, though she thinks it may be some kind of poison from a dart that is shot by a shadowy assassin, lurking in the woods near the borders of both Ixia and Sitia. It is symbolic that both Yelena and her heartmate Valek, the cunning, adept assassin both reside in a cottage hidden away in the woods, right on the fringes of the Sitian/Ixian border. Both of them are deeply enmeshed in the power struggle between these countries, and we have seen this conflict between a more utilitarian, , practical, semi-socialistic state like Ixia, which bans any use of magic within its borders, and a country whose economy and very well-being thrives on magic, like that of Sitia. The conflict between these countries has always been a palpable, though slightly subliminal subplot in both of the first three Study books, focused on Yelena’s growth into a fully-realized Soulseeker, and Opal’s own character growth into coming into her own as a mature, intelligent woman, faced with all sorts of difficult life choices. Both these female characters are powerful, interesting, standing at odds with the crop of forced, contrived female characters in other fantasy books. Maria V. Snyder has a knack for making them strong, while also making them insanely interesting and real at the same time.

Maria V. Snyder’s Shadow Study, begins dramatically with  the exciting, fast-paced beginning scene where Yelena faces the assassin attack and resulting block of her magic, grapples with what type of tangible strength remains in the aftermath of this distressing situation. Characters, in Maria. V. Snyder’s books, are always faced with real challenges, and sometimes there are no easy solutions to these problems. The book becomes not another way for the writer to tout the strength of the main character with her magic, but allows Yelena’s internal reserve of temerity and endurance (and strong back bone in general) to come to the surface, through a loss of magic. This thread of narrative of dealing with a female character, losing magic powers and relying on another type of strength much like in the Glass Trilogy, continues to be a deeply enthralling focus for the story. Many female character  in inferior fantasy stories are lazily given magical powers to give them a vapid, almost “weak” notion of strength, whereas Maria V. Snyder, a smart writer to boot, allows her women characters to really show their strength in all sorts of compromising, challenging positions.

Shadow Study  alternates between three perspectives: Yelena, Valek (a welcome surprise), and Janco.  My only complaint with this story lies with the way these perspectives sometimes do not intersect/connect well to one another. One part of the story focuses on something stronger, like Yelena’s continuing search for how to get rid of the block on her magic, and to discover the politician that may have financed the assassin to kill her. Yet Janco’s story sometimes feels,oddly, uninteresting at first, as it doesn’t involve anything that feels at first like it connects back to the main plot, involving Yelena. Valek, on the other hand, just feels, at least at the beginning, like his story, involving reminiscing on his past being educated at the night school feels initially irrelevant to the whole scheme of things in the story Alluded to in earlier novels, it is something that has always been of interesting to me, the story which tells of how Valek progressive learns the skills to assassinate the king, thus avenging the death of his family. Taken in isolation from the rest of the story, it very is satisfying, deeply interesting, but again does have the strange feeling of not connecting well with the main plot in question. This starts to taper away once you get further into the novel, and everything miraculously clicks. I really liked Valek’s perspective, demonstrating some of Maria V. Snyder’s best writing in the whole novel, in that the fluid action scenes are fused so well with language that clearly evokes the wry humor of Valek, and his clear, sometimes sly/evasive personality. His character is as interesting and fascinating as both Opal and Yelena, further bearing evidence Maria V. Snyder can write interesting, strong characters of either gender (Does it really matter in an entirely egalitarian world, like Maria V. Snyder’s books? I think not).

,Again,the criticism above is extremely minor, in that these subplots cohere well with one another, and make much more sense, as you get further in the story.  And the writing in all three sections is balanced very well, and the writing is very, very strong in this book. It has so many layers and dimensions to it, while not relying on so many words or verbiage that can slow the pace of the story tremendously. That is the talent of Maria V. Snyder’s writing, in that she can have a story of depth and rich intrigue, with so many different facets, like a mystery novel, political intrigue novel, and slight romance story, and more all tied together in a fine-tuned, interesting, dangerously engrossing novel.

All the characters are distinctive, interesting, and memorable. The humor, in particular, is very sharp in this one, especially the banter between Janco and the newly introduced assassin rival, who wants to have Valek’s job and challenges him for it earlier on in the novel. Towards the end, there is a huge surprise that will totally make fans of Maria V. Snyder’s fans gasp aloud. Before that, there is a resonating, edifying reflection on finding inner-strength within ourselves, which really illuminates a real stronger, underlying story that has been unraveling from Poison Study all the way up till now in Shadow Study. This story grabbed me, especially with the way it related with Valek’s own parallel journey towards finding himself as well. I won’t lie, I was crying just a bit during this scene, as it is the dramatic crescendo for the development of the relationship between Valek and Yelena, and Maria V. Snyder does such a good job, reminding us of their slow journey of individual character growth, and their continuing journey that they’ve had together. With two more novels that act as sequels to this new story planned  in this wonderful world that Maria V. Snyder has created, I am deeply excited to see how Maria V. Snyder’s continuing evolving skill as a great writer continues to be put to the test with the next two entries in this all-new, exciting series. I am so, so happy, to be reunited with the colorful, quirky, relatable cast of the Study and Glass trilogies!  Early 2016 cannot come soon enough, and I await the release of the sequel to Shadow Study with bated breath!

LITERARY CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE RECIPE!

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If you’re an inveterate drinker of hot beverages while reading books, you will want to pay extra attention to the above recipe. It is a hot beverage, like that you’d find in the Illias jungles, where members of the Zaltana Clan, who have close ties with the Sandseed clan, grow a special, highly addictive type of cocoa nut that carries all the antioxidants that milk chocolate often doesn’t have. High quality bars of Organic Dark Chocolate often contain Cacao, which has tons of very great health benefits (besides tasting really damn good, and adding an extra bold “kick” to your coffee drink.

So here is the recipe for making your own Zaltana Coffee Drink:

Ingredients:
1 tsp. of Nescafe French Roast Instant Coffee
1 tsp. of Organic Cacao Powder
1 tsp. of Chicory Root Powder
1 tsp. of Raw Cane Sugar
Splash of Milk (any type is perfectly fine, whether it be soy, almond, or coconut)


The procedure for preparing this, a beverage that Yelena secretly indulges in off-the-page, is to basically combine all the drink ingredients in your favorite mug, heat some water up using any preferred method (microwave, electric tea kettle, kettle on stove), and then add the hot water to the mug w/ the dry ingredients. Stir the mixture for about 20 seconds, then add a splash of milk, and you have yourself a mug of Yelena’s Favorite type of tantalizing coffee drink, all ready to drink slowly, and indulgently, while flying through the exciting pages of Maria V. Snyder’s Shadow Study. 

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Tea Time at Reverie: Teasenz’s Fujian Silver Needle White Tea

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Few white teas are as well-known as China’s Silver Needle. Consisting almost exclusively of silky, unopened buds, Silver Needle leaves are plucked by hand during a few select days in the spring harvest. This tea is so prized in China that locals often save their reserves for weddings, the New Year, and other special occasions. Teasenz graciously sent us a sample of their Fujian Silver Needle White Tea for review, and I’m happy to tell you more about this light-as-a-butterfly infusion today.

The Basics

Teasenz Silver Needle loose

Photo courtesy of Teasenz

 

Teasenz’s Description: Enjoyed exclusively by the imperial family in China for centuries, the Silky Silver Needle is a top-grade white tea with a soft, smooth, and silky-sweet taste experience. An ethereal cup with a lingering fragrance and refreshing aftertaste. Pure and refreshing.”

Ingredients: Silver Needle white tea leaves

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 tsp of tea for every 3 oz of water. Heat water to under boiling (175 degrees Fahrenheit / 80 degrees Celsius), and steep for 3 to 5 minutes.

Additional Brews?: N/A

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf

Caffeine Level: Low

The Experience

Silver Needle differs from the Bai Mu Dan White Tea we reviewed in November, starting with the dry leaves. While Bai Mu Dan features both leaves and tips, Silver Needle (whose Chinese name is Bai Hao Yin Zhen) contains mostly tips and few (if any) leaves. The buds themselves are also more greyish-green in color, but they’re lined with a similar downy softness on the underside that you feel compelled to touch. Who knew experiencing tea could go well beyond smelling and tasting? ;)

Silver Needle has a subtle fragrance compared to most teas, including its white tea cousins. I don’t smell anything until I dip my nose closer to the open package. When I do, I find a hay-like scent with grass undertones. A little unusual, but not off-putting. It smells fresh and natural, just as a straight green or white tea should.

I tend not to brew white teas for too long because the leaves are so delicate. So, for my first brew of Teasenz’s Silver Needle, I steep ½ teaspoon of leaves in under-boiling water for 2 minutes. The liquid comes out hay-colored, a deep ivory that borders on yellow. The hay scent dissipates into faintly sweet floral notes. As for the taste… well, it doesn’t remind me of anything specific, but I can still describe it. Crisp, clean, and airy, with a silky smoothness that enhances the weightless mouthfeel. It’s like sipping a fresh breeze or cotton-puffs of clouds, and makes me feel lighter and purified.

Although Teasenz’s instructions don’t call for multiple brews, I thought it would be worth a try with Silver Needle. I ended up getting an additional three steeps after the first one, all of which I liked. With the second brew (3 minutes), the tea turns a pale golden-yellow color and develops a slight hay flavor that matches the aroma. It also maintains its refreshing, chiffon-like profile without a hint of astringency. That distinctive lightness is still afloat in the fourth and final steep (5 minutes), though the tea’s flavors have weakened considerably.

One word of caution: Be very careful about water temperature when brewing Silver Needle. I accidentally let the kettle heat up to boiling one time, and the resulting brew had an uncharacteristic sharpness to it. Not bad, but clearly not how this tea is meant to be enjoyed.

The Aftertaste

Teasenz’s Fujian Silver Needle White Tea is like liquid gossamer: dainty, fresh, and delicate, with a lingering silk texture that heightens the cup’s ethereality. It’s a wonderfully soothing choice for meditation, journaling, or relaxing after a long day at work. Some tea drinkers may not care for Silver Needle’s nuanced flavors, which are more subtle than most white teas. However, the emphasis with this famed (and fairly expensive) luxury from China is atmosphere, not full-fledged flavor – and it achieves that lofty purpose.

Grade: 8 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like white tea or teas with low amounts of caffeine
  • Time of Day and Year: Evenings year-round, spring and summer afternoons, and anytime for meditation
  • Possible Book Pairings: I’ve had a few cups of Silver Needle while reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion The tea’s ethereal quality suits the sprawling classic’s focus on Middle-Earth’s creators and Elves. Also try Silver Needle with Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and other reads featuring whimsical or otherworldly creatures.

You can purchase Fujian Silver Needle White Tea directly from Teasenz here.

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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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