Review: Blue Coffee Box #gifted

An unusual one from me today. Ordinarily, I review books but I feel like in this very strange year, it’s worth taking a look at things that go perfectly alongside your usual read and – crucially – can be brought right to your door.

I’m a big fan of subscription boxes in general – there are some great ones out there at the moment, with everything from books to toothbrushes – so why not tea and coffee?

Blue Coffee Box offers customizable coffee bag or box subscriptions, delivered on a schedule to suit you or your giftee. With a wide range of choices including your preferred roast and your specific type of coffee maker, you will then receive either one or two bags of coffee, ethically sourced at better than Fairtrade prices.

I was initially impressed with the sustainability model of this company (and their sister subscription, Blue Tea Box), and their ethical credentials – I think during the pandemic a lot more of us have developed an appreciation for companies that help the little guy!

The box I was sent appealed to my Green self, as the packaging itself is plastic-free – no packing peanuts here – and fit through the letter box. I’m not sure whether the bags containing the coffee are recyclable but all the other items in the box, and the outer box, are so.

It was beautifully presented, with information cards on both the Colombian Cajibio coffee and the El Salvadorean Tapantogusto RFA coffee with tasting notes and details of where the coffee was sourced.

I’m generally not especially discerning when it comes to coffee (I’m a slave to a High Street Chain), but you could really taste the difference with these blends – I guess you don’t know quality until you have it and it was a genuine surprise to have coffee that tasted as good as it smelled.

If you’re tempted to grab a bag or a box to go alongside your winter reading, Blue Coffee Box have given me a code for you all to get £3 off your first order – Simply go to www.bluecoffeebox.com and enter the code TW3 to redeem.

So a ringing endorsement from me – with probably 20 cups of coffee in each bag, this will last me well into winter!

Please note: I was sent this item for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Overly Honest Teacher by Meredith Essalat M.Ed

The Overly Honest Teacher is narrative non-fiction written from the perspective of an educator, speaking to the modern-day parent community.  Its premise is quite simple―tools and tips, anecdotes and advice, from one side of the desk to the other.  Providing a means for teachers and parents to establish a healthy working relationship, the book goes on to define a way for these parents to extend successful classroom techniques for molding and shaping students of character into the at-home environment, allowing for a cohesive educational experience each day, all day.

What I Thought:

You don’t have to be a parent to spot quite what a minefield being a parent can be – turning our little bundles of joy into rounded, adjusted human adults is not for the faint of heart and, luckily for us, there are plenty of books to help guide us on our parenting journey.

The Overly Honest Teacher by Meredith Essalat comes to us from the US where many, many things in the education system differ from the UK, but where the core goals of parenting and teaching remain the same – nurturing children in a way that will help them grow.

As an educator of many years’ experience, Meredith Essalat has had a lot of kids come through her classroom and most of these kids come with one or two big drawbacks – the parents! When your child starts school, you really have to decide what kind of parent you want to be – the pushy one, the laid back one, the confrontational one etc. Meredith has seen them all, knows which ones will help their children prosper or not, and spells out strategies to support children through their education without coming into conflict with them, or their teachers.

Meredith’s advice is written in a clear way and with a conciliatory tone. She is able to give good advice, and point out the pitfalls of being a parent in a school environment without judgement and the examples she gives from her own teaching career bring home the adage that ‘it takes a village’ to raise children and send them out into the world.

Although, as I said, this book focuses on the US education system so there may be some elements that don’t especially fit in with the the UK way of doing things, but it is an excellent overview of surviving the education system from the inside. As the book title says – it’s honest, even if that honesty is sometimes a little uncomfortable to hear. It is, though, always so valuable to hear about some of these things from an educator’s point of view.

The Overly Honest Teacher is published by The Collective Book Studio.

To find out more about Meredith Essalat and her books, you can check out her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Overly Honest Teacher. For more reviews and exclusive content, why not check out some of the other blogs taking part?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

What I Thought:

If there is one thing I cannot abide it is chuntering. I say this only because there has been A LOT of chuntering in the book community about Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. ‘Oh, another celebrity book!’ has been the general murmur, to which I am happy to reply ‘And?’.

Richard Osman is, yes, ok, a celebrity but he is also an incredibly intelligent man who has written an absolute gem of a book which is able to laugh at itself and deliver a corking murder mystery plot to boot.

There seems a growing trend of making older characters the focus of a book, which is something I very much appreciate now I am getting past the age of the main characters in many books I read. The book acknowledges that older people still have plenty to contribute while never shying away from the realities of growing older, losing loved ones and succumbing to the illnesses of old age. I hope this doesn’t make it seem too grim and maudlin because it really isn’t!

On reading the book I could hear the narration and sly asides in Richard Osman’s voice, while at the same time hearing Joyce’s voice very clearly – I tried to explain it to a friend of mine (very poorly), the fact that his voice was so clear, but never spoiled my enjoyment of the story.

At the same time as being a quite affectionate story about these elderly residents of a retirement village, The Thursday Murder Club is also a solid mystery book. I have read a lot of crime novels and the murder plot here stands alongside any one of the better ones.

So celebrity book or no, you can’t argue with an intelligent mystery thriller that more than pulls its weight in the genre.

The Thursday Murder Club is published by Viking.

To find out more about Richard Osman and his work, you can often find him being amusing on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Thursday Murder Club – why not check out some of the other reviewers below for their thoughts (and very little chuntering…)?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan

A dark, feminist retelling of The Children of Lir told in Sullivan’s hypnotic prose. A retelling of the favourite Irish fairytale The Children of Lir. Aife marries Lir, a king with four children by his previous wife. Jealous of his affection for his children, the witch Aife turns them into swans for 900 years.

Retold through the voice of Aife, Savage Her Reply is unsettling and dark, feminist and fierce, yet nuanced in its exploration of the guilt of a complex character. Voiced in Sullivan’s trademark rich, lyrical prose as developed in Tangleweed and Brine – the multiple award-winner which established Sullivan as the queen of witchy YA.

What I Thought:

I am very much at home for the work of Deirdre Sullivan – quite frankly she could write a shopping list and I would absorb it – so it is a privilege to read Savage Her Reply, a book that was two years in the making.

This retelling of The Children of Lir is told from Aife’s point of view – traditionally she has been the villain of the piece – and reframes it as the story of a young woman in pain. Not being very familiar with The Children of Lir, I read a summary of the tale after reading this book and what struck me was the utter lack of sympathy for Aife running through the traditional tale. She is shown as a conniver – ‘she feigned illness and went to bed for a year’ – and then she disappears from the story once the children are discovered.

The impression that Deirdre Sullivan gives of her is much more nuanced and, rather than writing her out of the story altogether, she shows Aife as a constant in the children’s lives over 900 years, whether she is wanted or not.

So much of the language Deirdre Sullivan uses is like poetry, especially the passages that bookend the rest of the text, and there is a real haunting beauty in it which is a pleasure to read and re-read.

I was lucky enough to take part in a virtual group chat with Deirdre Sullivan, and I wanted to ask more about the process of illustrating the book, as Karen Vaughan’s illustrations add so much to this book and to Tangleweed and Brine.

Deirdre was effusive in her praise of Karen Vaughan’s illustrations (I completely agree) and I was amazed to learn that Karen’s illustrations are done in pen and ink, with any amendments and corrections done on these original sketches. Deirdre gave the example of the illustration of Aife (below), and Karen making a change to her expression to better show her as more than just the antagonist of the story, to show her as that young woman in pain.

Aife from Savage Her Reply, illustration by Karen Vaughan

Savage Her Reply is a beautiful book in all ways – it will adorn your shelf as a piece of art quite happily, but there are also those illustrations that you will want to take out and frame and the text that you can re-read as a whole, but also dip in and out of.

It’s clear that this book was written with love and care, not just for the book itself, but for Aife and her sisters. It truly reshapes Aife from a witch into an intelligent, articulate young woman – as we know all witches really were and are. If you are familiar with The Children of Lir it will help you see Aife as as much a victim as the children and, if you’re new to the story as I was, you’ll feel heartbroken for a girl who only really wanted to be loved.

Savage Her Reply is published by Little Island Books.

To find out more about Deirdre Sullivan you can connect with her on Instagram or Twitter. For more on Karen Vaughan, you can check out her website, where you can also buy prints of her work, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Many thanks to Deirdre Sullivan and Nina Douglas for taking the time out for our web chat, and thanks to my fellow bloggers (below) who asked such insightful questions and have some wonderful write ups that you should all go and read as part of the tour…

Please note: I was sent a copy of the book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Love Songs for Sceptics by Christina Pishiris

When she was a teenager, Zoë Frixos fell in love with Simon Baxter, her best friend and the boy next door. But his family moved to America before she could tell him how she felt and, like a scratched record, she’s never quite moved on. Now, almost twenty years later, Simon is heading back to London, newly single and as charming as ever…

But as obstacles continue to get in her way – Simon’s perfect ex-girlfriend, her brother’s big(ish) fat(ish) Greek wedding, and an obnoxious publicist determined to ruin her career – Zoë begins to wonder whether, after all these years, she and Simon just aren’t meant to be.

What if, despite what all the songs and movies say, your first love isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be? What if, instead Zoë and Simon are forever destined to shuffle around their feelings for each other, never quite getting the steps right…

What I Thought:

Oh how welcome is it, as we move into rainy, autumn days to have a romantic, heartwarming romance novel to fall back on?

With Love Songs for Sceptics, Christina Pishiris has hit upon a perfect formula for me – an unlucky-in-love but plucky lead character with a brace of handsome swains vying for her affections, all topped off with what would be a killer Spotify playlist!

I just loved this book – the idea of first love coming to fruition instantly appeals, but the whole thing is written in such a compelling way with lots of mishaps and misunderstandings, making the journey tremendous fun.

Zoë is a great character, trying to keep Re:Sound, her music magazine afloat, despite threats from the parent company to close it all down, working hard to keep her staff in a job and pinning all her hopes on an interview with a reclusive former rock legend – and Zoë’s personal idol.

She reacts to the stress of her home and work situations in the same way that I’m sure we all would, but is always easy to root for as she tries not to compromise her professional integrity just to get the story.

The combination of the romance of this novel, the humour and the music that is embedded throughout – even each chapter name is a song – make this very easy to recommend and, as a debut in the genre, I was very impressed.

Love Songs for Sceptics is published by Simon & Schuster.

To find out more about Christina Pishiris and her work, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Love Songs for Sceptics. Why not check out some of the participating blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content?

Please note: I was sent this book to enable participation in the blog tour. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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