Dani Hoots’ Review of Faces in the Water by Tonya Macalino

Faces in the Water (The Shades of Venice, #1) by Tonya Macalino

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Amazon/Barnes&Noble

Published by: Crystal Mosaic Books

Review by: Dani Hoots

ho created that slide of silk across your skin as you reached for your cinematic lover?Who recorded the crushing weight of the grizzly as you fought for your life in the fictional wilderness? It is Lone Pine Pictures’ Alyse Kate Bryant who wraps your body in the story only your mind was privy to before.

A brilliant sensory immersion artist and a wild daredevil, Alyse will do almost anything for the perfect sensory file, but the violent death of her father has her teetering on the very edge of reckless sanity.

For just one night, Alyse seeks refuge in the arms of a beautiful stranger.

And her recklessness finally has consequences.

Now Alyse finds herself trapped in the flooded ruins of Venice, a quarantine camp for the carriers of Sleepers’ Syndrome. But it can never be that simple. Because the Sleepers’ Syndrome carriers who populate the camp are no longer as human as they seem.

The city of legend is bringing its legends back to life.

They come now, Alyse.

Run.

*Back Cover taken from Amazon*

Set in the future, this story’s world is very well developed and fascinating. Macalino did a great job establishing her world and let the reader get the information they needed to understand what’s going on. There were only a few areas where I was sort of confused, especially as to what exactly the main character was. It took a little bit to wrap my head around, but in the end I was able to understand the world.

The main character Alyse was pretty interesting, although I got confused as to what was going on with her near the end. There are a lot of questions not answered and I want to know what was going to happen to Alyse. She was pretty entertaining, although I was getting a little bored in the second half of the book as most of it was her trying to escape. I think it could have happened a little faster and given the character a little more depth.

The story itself was written really well and the world very well thought out. It wasn’t my sort of story, though, as it was sort of a medical, futuristic, paranormal thriller, and that isn’t quite my genre. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was still entertaining. If you like that genre, do check it out. You will not be disappointed.

I give this novel a 4/5, as there was a bit of a slow patch near the three-quarter mark, but it was really well developed. I could have had a bit more of an arc for the character, as I don’t feel she changed that much, but more just discovered something. If you like paranormal, medical thrillers, or futuristic stories, this is definitely a story to check out.

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Dani Hoots’ Review of Longbow Girl by Linda Davies

Longbow Girl by Linda Davies

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Release: February 23, 2016

Amazon/Barnes&Noble

Publisher: Chicken House

Reviewer: Dani Hoots

Set in the wilds of the Welsh mountains, the brave and beautiful longbow girl, Merry Owen, discovers a river that takes her back in time to the autocratic kingdom of King Henry VIII. While there she finds she must compete in an archery tournament to save her ancestors’ land from being seized by their aristocratic neighbors the de Courcys. Merry’s best friend James de Courcy (and heir to the de Courcy wealth) follows her back in time and the two get tangled up in their families’ ancient histories. There are forces working against them both in the past and the present. Will they be able to survive their pasts to save their futures?

*Back cover from Amazon

Davies does a great job at immersing the reader into the world of the Welsh. You feel as if you are standing there, watching it all take place. A while back I learned some Welsh and learned about the culture, which led me to really appreciated how much the reader can connect to the world and the culture behind the country.

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I found James to be a more rounded character than Merry, the Longbow Girl, as he must take on his family name or run off to follow his dreams. Merry, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to change throughout the story, leaving you wanting to read more about James than her. At first I didn’t think adding James’ point of view was interesting but as the story furthered I liked him more and more. He reminds me a bit of the prince in Ever After or Ella Enchanted.

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I also felt that the story started out a bit slow, but picked up halfway through the story, then ended quite quickly. I felt like Merry could have explained some more of it to her parents and all would have been well. I was also confused as to how a one-eyed girl could do long distance archery as people who only have sight in one eye have no peripheral vision. I don’t think this came up in the story and it was something that bothered me.

All in all I give this story a 3.75/5 stars as it didn’t have that much of an arc for the character, but the world was very entertaining. If you love anything with Welsh heritage, British heritage, or time travel, this is definitely a book to pick up!

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Review of the Widow by Fiona Barton

The-Widow-by-Fiona-Barton

 

 

For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, an electrifying thriller that will take you into the dark spaces that exist between a husband and a wife.

When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…

But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.

There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.

Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.

The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

 

When you put in the catch phrases like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train a book is going to immediately capture my attention. Of course this is what the publishers plan and want to happen. Tricky Tricky. So of course I just had to put in a request for The Widow.  The book begins after the death of Jean’s husband and takes off with the focus on Jean, the reporter, and the detective investigating the murder of little Bella with Jean’s husband being the main suspect.

For so many years Jean has stood beside her husband, protecting and supporting their shared secret. Jean herself is something of a suspicious character with her own strange reasons for how she acts and what she does. To me, Jean was something of a weak character even when she supposedly came into her own. This is where the whole comparison to Gone Girl falls flat. The characters in Gone Girl were potent and manipulating, where Jean and her lies and story weaving just fall a bit flat.

The story itself did hold my attention and left me guessing on what secrets Jean was holding on to when it came to her husband and his involvement with Bella’s death. I was hoping to have more detail granted to the side characters of the reporter, the detective, and some of the other suspects in Bella’s murder. To me those characters seemed far more promising for questionable manners and motives. That’s just me though.

All in all it wasn’t a bad read. Barton has a talent for writing but the meat of the story was hard to consistently sink your teeth into and want to hold on to. I wanted to know what happened but also I found myself in some parts not really caring at all. The ending was a good tie of loose ends but I still felt it was missing some answers to all the other questions I had about other characters in the story. Oh well. If anything it’s an interesting story when it comes to just what a wife will do for her husband, what a mother may or may not do for her child, and what the media will do to get a story. Until next time, happy reading folks!

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Review of Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

Ashley Bell

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BYBOOKPAGE • The must-read thriller of the year, for readers of dark psychological suspense and modern classics of mystery and adventure

The girl who said no to death.

Bibi Blair is a fierce, funny, dauntless young woman—whose doctor says she has one year to live.

She replies, “We’ll see.”

Her sudden recovery astonishes medical science.

An enigmatic woman convinces Bibi that she escaped death so that she can save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell.

But save her from what, from whom? And who is Ashley Bell? Where is she?

Bibi’s obsession with finding Ashley sends her on the run from threats both mystical and worldly, including a rich and charismatic cult leader with terrifying ambitions.

Here is an eloquent, riveting, brilliantly paced story with an exhilarating heroine and a twisting, ingenious plot filled with staggering surprises. Ashley Bell is a new milestone in literary suspense from the long-acclaimed master.

I’ve always been a fan of Dean Koontz, so when I was approved for reading his next book I jumped on the chance. Koontz has never failed to leave his readers with twists and surprises in his writing. He is one of the more unique writers out there when it comes to his ideas of what really is going on. So many of his characters are vivid and engaging and memorable. Of course there will be those out there that are sickened by the constants in his writing… one being golden retrievers, and yes readers Ashley Bell includes a golden retriever. To each their own is what I say. Each writer has their own little imprint and the goldens are his. Let it be.

Anyways. On to Ashley Bell. At the start you would expect Ashley Bell to be only a story about a woman (not named Ashley Bell or remotely related to an Ashley Bell) who finds she is dying when she is only twenty-two. As a somewhat successful writer, Bibi is determined to prove the doctors wrong and this is where the journey begins.

Without giving anything away I can tell the reader that this is a paranormal adventure. If you’re not looking for that, move on. Koontz has not failed in his storytelling and he has woven quite the tale in Ashley Bell. Bibi takes the reader on an adventure beyond any expected. It is magical, it is tragic, it is beautiful, and it is dark.

The one thing that I had to appreciate about this book is the fact Koontz gives a nod of acknowledgement to writers. The power of imagination is the mantra of this story and as a reader as much as a writer, it was good to see that Koontz paints the world just as a writer sees it in their mind. If you are a fan of Koontz, if you love a good story, and if you’re a writer then this a book for you. It’s not just about a woman that faces Death and the path between Life and Death, but it is a written acknowledgement that believing in yourself is the most magical power of all. Until next time, happy reading!

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Tea Time at Reverie: Inspired By Jane’s Donwell Abbey Black Tea

Inspired By Jane logo

“It was a sweet view—sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.”
– Jane Austen, “Emma”

I confess that Emma is one of the few Jane Austen novels I haven’t read. But when Inspired By Jane asked which tea samples I’d like to try, I was immediately intrigued by Donwell Abbey. Named after the the estate owned by Emma’s neighbor (and future love interest) George Knightley, this black tea boasts a unusual yet appealing combination of cinnamon and marsala wine flavors.

Hmmmmm. I do like the sweet, tangy taste of marsala wine sauces in chicken marsala and chicken saltimbocca. So, how will it blend with cinnamon and black tea? Let’s brew some and find out, shall we?

The Basics

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Inspired By Jane’s Description: “Almost a ‘gentleman’s tea,’ but everyone will love this rich, full-bodied black tea flavored with cinnamon and infused with marsala wine flavoring.

Donwell Abbey is the home of Mr. Knightley, who, to Emma, embodies all the characteristics of honesty, warmth and generosity that define a true gentleman.”

Ingredients: Black tea, cinnamon bark, and marsala wine flavoring

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 teabag per 8 oz of water. Heat water to boiling (212 degrees Fahrenheit / 100 degrees Celsius) and steep for 3 minutes.

Multiple Brews?: Yes, about 2 times

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Bagged

Caffeine Level: High

The Experience

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Photo courtesy of Sara Letourneau

Inspired By Jane exceeded my “packaging” expectations last time with Pemberley. With Donwell Abbey, it’s no different. The vintage artwork style is lovely, and its warm brown tones offer a fitting visual accompaniment to the tea inside. And I can’t help but adore the silken, pyramid-shaped sachets. They’re so fine and light – I almost don’t want to brew the tea because it means “ruining” these bags!

As for the tea inside these sachets? Donwell Abbey features delicate brown twists for tea leaves, with a few golden tips and small bits of cinnamon bark. One inhale, and ohhhhhh do I smell the marsala! Even though the leaves are dry, the aroma is rich and sweet. The cinnamon adds a mouthwatering kick, and its marriage with the marsala also brings clove and cardamom to mind.

Following Inspired By Jane’s instructions, I brew a cup of Donwell Abbey for 3 minutes. The dark brown liquid’s fragrance instantly transports me to the kitchen, reminding me of the deepening aroma of marsala wine as it reduces on the stove. The difference here is the cinnamon tinge. As I sip the tea, though, both ingredients strike a wonderful balance with the black tea. The result is heady and piquant, with a pleasant astringency and a spicy sweetness with lots of depth. Yummy!

I tried a couple more cups of Donwell Abbey with additives: one with milk, and one with agave nectar. The “milky” cup turned out better than I’d hoped, as I was afraid of diluting the marsala and cinnamon too much. However, just a splash adds enough creaminess and tones down the black tea taste without hindering the other flavors. Agave nectar, on the other hand, made the tea too sweet for my liking. Maybe Donwell Abbey doesn’t need additional sweeteners – but if you wanted to sweeten it further, I’d recommend regular or dark brown sugar.

One word of caution: Be careful not to oversteep Donwell Abbey. If it steeps for more than 3 minutes, the black tea’s tannins overtake the marsala and cinnamon flavors, and the cup tastes more like straight black tea. Definitely stick with the shorter brew times so you can relish this tea’s true profile.

The Aftertaste

I’ve never had a flavored black tea quite like this one before! Inspired By Jane’s Donwell Abbey is full-bodied, savory, and aromatic, with just a hint of dryness. And thanks to its profile of cinnamon and marsala wine, it’s undeniably unique and fitting of its description as a “gentlemanly” tea. That said, Donwell Abbey’s sweetness and distinct flavors prevent it from being a versatile black tea. I wouldn’t recommend it with breakfast – but after dinner or with dessert? Absolutely!

Grade: 8.5 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like black or “sweet and spicy” teas
  • Time of Day and Year: Alone after dinner or with non-chocolate desserts such as shortbread or sugar cookies, plain pastries, or New York-style cheesecake
  • Possible Book Pairings: The warmth, depth, and sweetness of Donwell Abbey reminds me of aristocratic society, as well as some of the gentlemen I’ve met through “literature.” Try a cup of this with Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Elizabeth May’s The Falconer, or Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

You can purchase Donwell Abbey Black Tea directly from Inspired By Jane 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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Dani Hoots’ Review of Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

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Amazon/Barnes & Noble

Published by: Razorbill

Review by: Dani Hoots

St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . .

Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.

*Backcover taken from Amazon*

Full of action, adventure, blossoming romance, and teen drama, this book is one of the best teen vampire books I have read so far. Set in Montana, St. Vladimir’s Academy teaches both Moroi, vampire-like creatures, and Dhampir, super human bodyguards for the Moroi, teens who are to be trained to go out into the world and be protected from the Strigoi, evil moroi who only want to kill. It is quite an interesting take on vampires and was refreshing to say the least.

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The story follows Rose, as she is a Dhampir guarding Lissa, a royal Moroi whose family line depends on her. They had run away from the academy two years before and were just caught and taken back to the academy where they are told that they need to be schooled and trained more. After seeing how much her training had slacked, she tries her best to become the bodyguard she needs to be to protect Lissa, as they have a special bond. That is until someone starts tormenting Lissa by putting dead animals in her dorm room and leaves scary notes. Now they must figure out who is doing this and what they want.

Rose is a strong female lead who has her own troubles but knows how to fight them. I like her attitude and how well she compliments Lissa. She definitely has an interesting arc and I can’t wait to read more of the series to see what else is in store for her. I also like her budding romance, along with Lissa’s romance, and think that Mead does a great job putting characters in love.

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The plot itself was very structured and I could follow along quite easily. I read this book after watching the movie and although I thought it was a good teen-flick, it definitely didn’t do the book justice. The book is much better and if you haven’t read it, please do!

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I give this book a 5/5 and can’t wait to read the rest in the series. I hope that the movie didn’t turn you away from this lovely book as it definitely left out a lot and made some parts confusing.

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Dani Hoots’ Review of The Pirate Princess by Tawn Krakowski

The Pirate Princess by Tawn Krakowski

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Amazon/Barnes & Noble
Published by BigWorldNetwork.com, LLC
Review by Dani Hoots

As the ninth daughter in the ninth generation of the Puffinstuff line, Princess Penny is a very special little girl. With a destiny to save her family that only an elaborate scheme of fake pirates and adventure can possibly achieve, Penny might discover more than just pirate treasure along the way.

*Back cover taken from Amazon

In this Middle Grade fantasy by Tawn Krakowski, we are taken on adventure as Penny, a princess of Puffinstuff, is destined to complete a prophecy from years before. Now this twelve year old must sail the high seas and find whatever the map that was given to her guides her to. But little does she know is that there is something wicked waiting for her.

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Penny is a strong young girl that is a great female lead. I enjoyed her point of view and liked how she wasn’t just a typical spoiled princess. If you are looking for something for your child or teen to read, or want to read a cute princess pirate story, do check this series out!

The plot itself was entertaining and I really enjoyed the story. Although some parts I saw coming, the story itself was original and was easy to follow. The only problem I had was that the resolution happened too quickly for me.

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All in all I give this story a 4.5/5, loving the story and wanting more, but wishing the conclusion was a little more flushed out and didn’t happen so fast. I recommend it for 10 and up and any adult who loves princess or pirate stories.

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