Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: Tea Bliss

I read this book for my 999 Challenge, as I have a tea category. Tea isn't just my favorite beverage, it's become a passion. I love trying new blends and harvests, expanding my tea palette. Thus, I'm excited to read more about tea. I began my tea reading with Theresa Cheung's Tea Bliss: Infuse Your Life with Health, Wisdom and Contentment. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Possibly the most important thing to state for potential readers of this book is that this is not a book about tea. Rather, it's a self-help book that's masquerading as a tea book. There's precious little information about tea in here, but more on that later. The basic premise of the book is that ideas and principles of tea can be used to affect positive change in your life. Each of these principles comprises a chapter (or "nourishing blend" to use the author's lexicon) and is linked with a similar principle that one can apply to one's life. Some of them sort of work, for example, not all tea should be brewed with boiling water is paired with the idea that living in a constant state of stress is toxic. Other of the principles, however, seem to bear little resemblance to the tea principle in question. Make sure each cup you serve has the same taste and temperature doesn't seem to bear a strong resemblance to seeking balance in life. And that particular point leads to one of the larger issues in the book. There are a wealth of inaccuracies and misinformation concerning tea in these pages. In a number of cases the author states things that are wrong or unresearched. Making sure each cup of tea has the same flavor every time? Most frequent drinkers of green and white teas are well aware that these teas stand up to, and indeed are expected, to go through multiple steepings (particularly if brewing with a gaiwan), and the entire point of the multiple steepings is that the flavors change slightly with each. A number of other examples are found in the health benefits of tea chapter. The author refers to rooibos as "the only naturally caffeine-free black tea." Sorry, but no. Rooibos is an entirely different plant. It does not come from the Camiellia Sinesis plant; it is not black tea. Or what about "lemon tea," which the author describes as "mainly sugar with tea solids." Ummmmm, does she mean Nestea? Seriously? In a book about making and enjoying tea? She refers to it as energizing, in a chapter on tea and health no less. At this point I've started to wonder how much of the issue is bad writing, and how much is lack of knowledge. I suspect there's some of both. The author's bio indicates that she has written other self-help books, but there's not much I can praise on the self-help side either. Most of the suggestions are basic, standard, self-help filler (the challenges and disappointments give life texture, seek balance, etc. etc. etc.) In sum, the tea theme is never well-wedded to the self-help content of this book, making it seem contrived at best. The research, factual, and writing problems only add to the more fundamental problems. The one positive thing I can say about this book is that the pictures are beautiful, but beyond that, there is little to recommend here.

Theresa Cheung, Tea Bliss: Infuse Your Life with Health, Wisdom, and Contentment (Corgi, 2007) ISBN: 157324211X

Cross-posted to the 999 Challenge Blog

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Review: A Virtuous Woman

Gibbons's novel, a novella, really, is the story of a southern woman's relationships and the profound effect she has on those close to her. Born to a privileged family, Ruby Pitt enters first a disastrous, then a profoundly loving marriage. Though these relationships move her squarely into the working class, we see that love triumphs over class, status, and lineage. Told in alternating chapters by Ruby and her husband, Jack, at the time surrounding her early death from cancer, the book relates the history of Ruby and Jack's relationship. This is not a plot-driven, so much as an emotion-driven book. A beautiful, quick read, I couldn't help but feel deeply for Ruby, and especially for Jack.

I read this book as part of the 2008 2nds Challenge. I'd previously read Sights Unseen, which is still my favorite, but this was an enjoyable read too.

Kaye Gibbons, A Virtuous Woman (Vintage, 1997) ISBN: 0375703063

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Review: Hidden Carolinas

Here we have a new edition of Catherine O'Neal's Hidden Carolinas, one of Ulysses Press' Hidden travel series. Moving from western Carolina east, and then south, this book covers both North and South Carolina. This is a comprehensive travel guide, in that it covers lodging, attractions, restaurants, shopping, driving routes: a bit of everything that might concern the traveler. That said, the book focuses heavily on attractions. Indeed, this is a guide that is unapologetic about uneven coverage. There is more on North Carolina than South Carolina, and far more on the western portion of NC than the eastern. Unsurprisingly, I found the section on western NC to be the strongest. The guide also has a clear focus on outdoor activities, in keeping, on assumes, with the 'hidden' theme. The 'hidden' theme means coverage of essentially, what one might expect- hidden gems and attractions that don't draw huge crowds. These listings are included with more popular attractions. Clearly, this is a smart move, as most people are not looking to buy multiple travel guides for a particular region. Thus, coverage in this guide is good, though it clearly weighted towards certain things. The one thing that might keep me from buying this guide is the fact that it's printed on newsprint-like paper, in black, white, and green. There are approximately fifteen pages of photos at the beginning of the book, but in travel books I prefer photos throughout, in the chapters that describe the places in question. Overall, this is a solid travel guide. I'm not sure that much distinguishes it from other guides, but it gets the job done.

This book was received through Mini Book Expo for Bloggers. Thanks to Ulysses Press.

Catherine O'Neal, Hidden Carolinas (Ulysses, 2008) ISBN: 1569756384