Sunday, December 31, 2017

Peppermint Cocoa Crushes

51+ex15sxtL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (234×346)Title: Peppermint Cocoa Crushes (Swirl #2)

Author: Laney Nielson

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 242

Genre: middle school realistic fiction

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Sasha dreams of becoming a dancer and her big chance is here.  She'll be performing in a talent show with her best friends, Karly and Kevin.  The winner will receive a scholarship to the Summer Academy at the High School for Performing Arts.  When Karly makes quiz bowl her top priority, and Sasha decides Kevin is her crush, things start to fall apart.  Can Sasha pull them back together?

Thoughts: What is a crush?  What does it mean to "like" someone?  How do you know if they "like" you back?  How do you let someone know you "like" them?  What does it mean to be a good friend?These are all questions kids face as they get older and these are the questions, Sasha, the protagonist in this story is asking.  The novel looks at what happens when one of your best friends has a boyfriend, when your friend's priorities change, balancing school and extracurricular activities, and conflicts with parents.  It also touches on being gay.  The author has a wonderful understanding of the emotions and life of a middle school kid.  She writes in a light, fun way about realistic problems, and I love the way she added in some plot twists so the story was not predictable, especially to kids.

Like the first Swirl novel, Pumpkin Spice Secrets, this book has another high achieving main character that is compared to her older sister.  Other than that, the characters are fresh and new.  Both authors are  able to get into a 12 year old's mind and hit on some of the same issues that 11-14 year old's face, but the stories are unique.  This can definitely be a stand alone novel.  If a child you know liked the first Swirl novel, I am sure they'll like the second.   This book is recommended for ages 8-12, but I think 11-13 year old girls would be the most interested.


I love cocoa just as much as tea, maybe more. So, I just had to make some peppermint cocoa to go along with this book!  I make cocoa on low heat on top of the stove.  I whisk together: Hershey's Baking Cocoa (2 tablespoons), sugar (1 tablespoon- add more or less depending on how sweet you like it), a dash of salt, and a cup of milk.  I usually use skim milk because that's what's in my refrigerator, but you can use any type of milk, cream, or mixture of these.  If I have whole milk or cream in the house, I definitely use those instead of the skim for a creamier beverage.  When the cocoa is the right temperature for me, I usually add some vanilla extract (1/4 teaspoon) and cinnamon.  (Today, I added just the vanilla.)  You can add any type of  extract to create different flavors- peppermint, almond, orange, raspberry, etc...  I then add whipped cream (marshmallows are another option).  Today I sprinkled crushed candy cane on top of the whipped cream and added the rest of the candy cane to the cocoa to create peppermint cocoa.  Cinnamon sprinkled on top with a cinnamon stick is another option.  You can really get creative with hot cocoa!  Have fun and enjoy!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Secrets

Title: Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Swirl #1)

Author: Hillary Homzie

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 234

Genre: middle school, realistic fiction

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Twelve year old Maddie has her first crush and can't wait to tell her best friend, Jana.  It will have to wait until school starts, though, because Jana is away, and Maddie has no way of reaching her.  Before Maddie can tell, Jana announces that she has a new crush on Jacob, Maddie's crush.  Maddie does not want to hurt her friend, so decides that she cannot have a crush on Jacob, but the feelings don't go away.  What will Maddie do?

Thoughts: This book was so much more than I expected.  I don't know if it was the cover, the title, or the book's description, but I had in my mind that this was going to be a soap opera type book with lots of drama.  It wasn't.  It was a very realistic book about friendships, family, and crushes.  It also showed the problems that can arise from keeping secrets. 

The author is fantastic at looking at the world through a middle schooler's eyes.  She was right on with this all around- in dialogue, behaviors, dress, relationships, and the way kids think, act, and react.  The characters she created were likeable and believable.  I think most middle school girls could relate to the protagonist in one way or another.  I liked the way the author had Maddie learn and grow in this book.

It was a fun, light book, yet had real life problems and lessons in it including that there are always consequences for actions. There were parents with high expectations, forgetting homework, not studying enough, balancing activities and school, keeping secrets, losing friends, making friends, crushes, all different types of teachers and extracurricular activities- the world of an 11-14 year old.  The book held my interest until the end.  I really was routing for everything to work out for Maddie.

If you're wondering, I would say this is rated G in the romance department- not even a kiss.  I would recommend this for girls 10-13.  I think it would be hard for a 8 or 9 year old to relate to the older characters.  It would make a great holiday gift with pumpkin spice muffin mix for girls who like to bake or like sweet treats.

This is the first book in The Swirl series.  I've also received the second in the series, Peppermint Cocoa Crushes which I will be reading and reviewing soon.  The third is Cinnamon Bun Besties, and the fourth Salted Caramel Dreams.  Each book is written by a different author.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Masala Chai

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Chai Tea Sampler from Adagio Teas.  Masala tea was one of the four varieties included in the box.  It came in a resealable bag (pictured above).  I have found that some of this company's bags are very easy to open and close, and some are not.  This one was a difficult one, but did still seal to keep the tea fresh.

This chai tea was a blend of Ceylon black tea, cardamom, ginger root, cloves, natural cinnamon flavor, and cinnamon bark.  Adagio tea's website says this tea has a high caffeine content.  When opening the package, there was a wonderful scent of spices that reminded me of fall and winter holidays.  I could see long black tea leaves, whole cloves, round seeds and tiny twigs.

I put four teaspoons of leaves into my teapot and added sixteen ounces of water.  It's a cold winter day and I planned on keeping warm with tea this morning.  I let this steep for seven minutes.  The liquid was a cloudy, orange brown.  The scent was of what I think of as holiday spices- a blend of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom.  The taste was peppery and spicy with the cloves standing out a bit. It had no sweetness to it.  This tea just gave me an all over warm feeling which is just what I was looking for.  I tried the second cup with a bit of honey and milk, which toned down the spicy, peppery tastes and took away the all over warming feeling, making for a totally different beverage.  This tea was fantastic both ways.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Night Market

Title: The Night Market (advanced reading copy)

Author: Jonathan Moore

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to be released January 16, 2018

Pages: 288

Genre:  science fiction, thriller

Obtained: from publisher in return for an honest review

Summary: San Francisco Homicide Inspector, Ross Carver, and his partner, Jenner, are called to a crime scene where they find a body that looks like it is being eaten away by something.  FBI agents burst into the room and whisk Carver and Jenner away to decontaminate them.  Whatever the two were given to drink causes them to lose their memories of the past two days.  What is going on?  More importantly, who can they trust?

Thoughts: What a talent this author has for creating setting and atmosphere!  The story took place in San Francisco, California in the "near future".  The author created a dark, weird, somewhat creepy setting that made me feel like I was there.  The story itself was disturbing and parts were gruesome and a bit scary which added to the atmosphere of the book.  Also, throughout the book and right up until the end was the sense of suspicion- not knowing who to trust.  Wow!

The plot itself was clever, unique, and unpredictable.  The story involved conspiracy, mobsters, mystery, murder, memory loss, manipulation, corruption, nanotechnology, drones, and a bit of romance.  The characters were developed, but did not seem to have depth.  It took me a long time to figure out why, but I think it was the dialogue.  The characters spoke to one another, but did not seem to have distinct voices and their personalities were not shown through the dialogue.

I really liked the ending of the story, but not everyone will.  If you are one of those readers that need everything wrapped up at the end, you will not be satisfied with this ending.  Sometimes leaving pieces unanswered and not giving enough details just does not work, but it did here.

This is the third book in a trilogy.  I did not read the first two, The Dark Room or The Poison Artist, but this did not seem to matter as each book can be read as a stand alone and are only "loosely" tied together.

*Please note that I read an advanced reading copy of this book, so changes may be made before the final copy is released on January 16, 2018.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Aquarius

Obtained: free sample with purchase

I received a sample of Aquarius tea with my last Adagio Teas order.  This is part of their Zodiac collection.  Each customer received a small tin of their zodiac sign blend with their order.  The tin reminds me of a small Sucrets container, but the top slides off instead of latching.  At first I thought this would be great for traveling but the container slides apart very easily and would open in a bag.  Nonetheless the container is really cute and these would make great small gifts or stocking stuffers at Christmas time.

The long, thin, black tea leaves had blue and light gray flower petals, and small brown chunks mixed in.  It was a pretty blend.  The scent was nutty and slightly sweet from the vanilla flavoring. The ingredients listed on the website were Ceylon Sonata tea, Assam Melody tea, black tea, Oolong tea, natural hazelnut flavor, cocoa nibs, blue cornflower, and natural vanilla flavor.

I put two teaspoons of leaves in my teapot and poured sixteen ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for three minutes.  The liquid was an orange brown and had a sweet, nutty scent.  The taste was of a light, slightly sweet black tea with a nutty background flavor.  This was a nice blend for anytime of the day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Y is for Yesterday

Title: Y is for Yesterday

Author: Sue Grafton

Narrator: Judy Kaye

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing, 2017

Format: 14 compact discs, 17 hours

Genre: mystery

Obtained: library

Summary: Kinsey Millhone, a private investigator based in Santa Teresa, California is hired to find out who is blackmailing a family whose son has just been released from jail.  At the same time, Ned Lowe, a sociopath from Kinsey's past is back looking for "trophies" from the women he murdered.

Thoughts: I began to read the Kinsey Millhone series in the eighties.  A is For Alibi was published in 1982, but I started the series later than that.  I loved mysteries and this was my favorite series as a young adult.  Over the years I've read some of these books off and on, but decided I just had to read Y is for Yesterday (#25) in preparation for Z is for Zero which is set to come out in 2019.  It will be the final one.  This is so sad to me!  I feel like Kinsey Millhone has been part of my life.

I listened to this book while walking, folding laundry, and driving.  The narrator brought Kinsey to life, read the story at a good pace, was able to show emotion, and kept me engaged through the whole story.  It made me look forward to some mundane activities.  The tracks were also not way too long like in some books on compact disk, so I could find my place easily when moving the compact disc from device to device.

There was a lot to this book- the murder of a teen girl by her classmates, a rape filmed by some of the same group of teens, a psychopath from a previous case, blackmail, adultery, the privileged and the law.  The book bounces back and forth between the 70's (the murder and sex tape) and the 80's (the blackmail and psychopath).  The time jumps were clear and easy to follow and added suspense.  I'd be getting into the story of one time period, and it switch to the other.  This made me want to keep listening.

The characters in the book were very well developed.  None of the new characters in this book were likeable to me, but they were interesting and quirky.  This is a great strength of this author- bringing her characters to life.  She definitely shows and does not tell throughout the whole book.  I could picture myself right there watching the story unfold.  The plot and mystery were excellent and I love the way the author is able to leave "clues" through the characters behaviors, reactions, and emotions- not just physical clues.  The story is told at a good pace and information is given to the reader a little at a time.

What didn't seem to work in this book was that the author's style of writing is with wit and sarcasm (which is one of the things I love about her writing), but the topics were so dark- rape and teens killing teens.  This was just impossible to balance, so there was a bit of disconnect there.  I liked the lightness and humor in some parts of the story, but it just didn't work around the darker topics.  Also, at times there was too much repetition like the book could have used some more editing.  I felt myself getting annoyed, thinking you've already told me that twice.  This happened a few times.

All in all, Sue Grafton is one of my favorite mystery writers of all times.



Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Tiger Eye

Obtained: purchased

I ordered the Sweet Tooth Sampler from Adagio Teas.  It arrived quickly with no problems and with some free samples, which is always a nice bonus.  The four samples came in a gift box (pictured above), and each sample was in a resealable bag.  The website states that each sample makes 8-10 cups of tea.

Today I tried Tiger Eye which is a black, flavored tea with high caffeine content.  The package was easy to open and I immediately caught a strong scent of chocolate and caramel. The leaves were dark black and crinkly.  I put two teaspoons of leaves in my teapot and poured sixteen ounces of water over the tea.  I let this steep for three minutes.  The dark red liquid had the scent of black tea and chocolate.  The taste was of rich, bold tea with a subtle chocolate and caramel background.  It had a slight sweetness to it.  The combined flavors resulted in a nice balance.  I really enjoyed this tea because it was dessert-like, but not sickly sweet.  I could enjoy this robust tea anytime of the day! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift

Title: The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift

Author: Jeri Anne Agee

Illustrator: Bryan Langdo

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, January 2, 2018

Pages: 110

Genre: children (age 7 to 10), southern fiction

Obtained: advanced reading copy from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Birdie May Hayes has been feeling like something is going to happen. When she starts seeing future events in her mind, she wonders if this is a "gift" she can give back, or maybe she could use it to help people.

Thoughts: This was a really cute book about friendship, family, bullies, helping others, and just plain being nice to everyone. It showed that everybody has bad days.  It was a feel good book set in Alabama, and I just loved the southern flair.  Birdie May Hayes is lovable.  She is brought to life by the author.  The writer balances humor with life lessons and knows how to write for kids.  The illustrations were expressive and comical and added to the story.

I read this book to my 10 year old son.  It took him a couple of chapters to get into it.  He would say it had a slow start, but I wondered if girls might get into it right away since the focus at the beginning is on relationships, feelings, and thoughts, rather than action.  As soon as he found out Birdie May had "a gift", he was hooked.  He loved the book and was very happy to hear this will be a series.  He can't wait for the next one, Henry the Cat which is set to be released on February 20, 2018.

As I read the book, I did find that some of the sentences were very long and thought it may be difficult for some struggling readers or children reading above their level to grasp meaning and / or keep up their stamina in some spots.  This was only in a few spots, and the pictures being in there may help with both these issues when kids stop to look at them.

This was an advanced reading copy, so there may be differences to the finished, published version.  The release date for The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift is January 2, 2018.  It would have been fantastic if it had been released in September because it is a great book for autumn and Halloween, something to keep in mind for next fall.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Chocolate Chai

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Chai Tea Sampler from Adagio Teas.  It arrived quickly with no problems and with some free samples which is always fun!  The sampler consisted of 4 different chai teas, each making about 5 cups for 20 cups of tea.  The samples were in resealable bags with ingredients and directions on each bag.

I opened the package of chocolate chai easily.  The tea was made up of long, thin black tea leaves mixed with small chucks of light and medium brown spices.  Ingredients listed on the package were black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, cocoa nibs, natural cinnamon flavor, and natural chocolate flavor.  I put 2 heaping teaspoons of tea into my teapot and poured 12 ounces of water that had been boiled over the leaves.  I let this steep for 3 minutes.  The liquid was a medium orange brown that was a bit cloudy.  The scent reminded me of warm brownie with cinnamon.  The taste was a blend of light, subtle chocolate and spices.  It was delicious!  Again, the chocolate flavor is just subtle, so if you are looking for a deep chocolate flavored tea or want the chocolate flavor to be strong and prominent, this is not the one for you.

I thought this would be the perfect fall tea, but after drinking it, to me, it is the perfect winter tea.  It is a warming tea that I would want to drink on a cold, snowy day.  It gave me a relaxing, cozy feel.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rising Tide

Title: Rising Tide

Author: Lynn Steigleder

Publisher: Soul Fire Press, 2015

Pages: 224

Genre: fantasy, dystopia

Obtained: from the author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Ben finds himself alone at sea and in life threatening danger. Strange things start to happen as supernatural forces begin to guide Ben toward his destiny.

Thoughts: This book started out really good.  After reading the first couple of chapters I thought the story was unique and it really held my interest.  After that my interest started to fade.  Although the book was easy to follow, I could not picture what was going on.  I understood, but could not see it in my mind's eye.  The characters seemed dry and I didn't care what happened to them.  By the third quarter of the book I felt like the characters were just going from place to place eating, drinking, and bathing.  I made myself read the book to the end and it was a good ending.  It seemed like this author had a beginning and ending but didn't know how to get from the start to the finish.  For me, reading is all about the journey and this voyage was dull.


Company: Whistling Kettle

Tea: Mokalbari East Assam

Obtained: purchased

I purchased the Breakfast Tea Sampler from the Whistling Kettle.  It came in a colorful, pleasing box with six resealable bags enclosed. Thus far I have found this company has given me an all around wonderful experience.  Their website was easy to negotiate.  I received my order quickly.  It was packaged with care.  The packaging and tea were high quality.  There was plenty of information about the tea on the packaging.

Today I tried their Mokalbari East Assam tea.  The whole dark brown leaves were long, thin, and twisted.  They had a sweet, somewhat woodsy aroma.  I put two teaspoons of leaves in my tea kettle and poured twelve ounces of water over the leaves.  I let this steep for five minutes.  The liquid was a dark reddish brown and had a fruity, honey scent.  The taste was strong and flavorful, but not sweet at all.  It was rich, bright, and had malty notes, with a slight astringency.  The website stated that there is a medium caffeine content to this superb tea.  It would be great for breakfast!

After drinking about half the cup, I decided to try it with a little honey and milk.  It really did not need it because it was so flavorful, but I was craving something sweet after enjoying the honey aroma of the liquid.  It was just as good with these additives and they somehow brought out a more fruity flavor.

Monday, November 6, 2017

5 - Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories from the Extreme Hills

9781510723702-frontcover.jpg (1800×2700)
Title: 5 - Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories from the Extreme Hills

Author: Greyson Mann

Illustrator: Grace Sanford

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, September, 2017

Pages: 112

Genre: fantasy, children (ages 7 - 12)

Obtained: advanced reading copy from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Zach, Sophia, and Anthony go treasuring hunting in different areas of the Extreme Hills.  Each chapter is a different adventure with new dangers they must face.

Thoughts:  This book consists of eight short adventures in which the same three characters hunt for treasure.  Each story takes place in a different section of the Extreme Hills and there is a different danger in each story.  Some of the things encountered in the stories are caves, spiders, lava, zombies, bats, rotten flesh, dungeons, silverfish, and skeletons.  This is definitely a book for Minecraft lovers.  Readers will come across words such as mobs, spawner, creeper, Enderman, and griefer.

I liked that this book was geared toward young readers.  There seem to be many books based on Minecraft for older kids, but it is harder to find Minecraft based books for the younger ones.  I liked this book because it had large print and was repetitive.  It had some advanced words, but just enough so that a younger child could comprehend what was going on even if they didn't know the meaning of these words.  A child may learn the meaning of new words such as "spire" or "tread".  Also, there were a couple of good themes throughout the book, such as be prepared and always be there for your friends.

Although it was very hard for me to not zone out when my son was reading this book to me, he loved it and it held his interest.  He was able to learn some new vocabulary and got practice reading some words that he doesn't come across often, along with some more common words.  This is a great book for young Minecraft lovers to read with someone and for older children to have some short stories to read on their own.  It is recommended for ages 7 to 12, but I believe advanced readers in this age group would be bored with these stories.

* Please note this was an advanced reading copy.  The names in the book were not the same as on the book cover.  Therefore, the names in my summary may not be the same as in a book you purchase or check out at the library.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Cream

Obtained: purchased

I always have dessert after dinner, but sometimes a sweet cup of tea is enough dessert for me.  That is why I ordered the Sweet Tooth Teas sampler from Adagio Teas.  Included in the sample were Cream, Tiger Eye, Chocolate Chip, and Caramel.  The cost for the sampler was $9 and each sample is supposed to make 10 cups of tea- that's 40 cups for $9!

I decided to have a cup of Cream tea while my son read to me. This is a Ceylon tea with cream flavoring.  It has a high caffeine content.  I cut open the resealable bag.  The thin, black leaves had the scent of warm cream.  I put two teaspoons of leaves into my tea ball and poured sixteen ounces of  boiling water over this.  I let it steep for three minutes.  The liquid was dark orange and the scent was of cream pie.  The taste was rich, smooth, and brisk with a sweet cream background.  To me it was an elegant tea.  It is a nice dessert tea.  It would also be great to have when craving something sweet.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lucy's Lab: Solids, Liquids, Guess Who's Got Gas

517t0Xvb7GL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)Title: Lucy's Lab: Solids, Liquids, Guess Who's Got Gas

Author: Michelle Houts

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zechel

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 112

Genre: children's fiction (chapter book ages 7-9)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: The Harvest Festival is coming up and Lucy does not have a costume idea until she starts to learn about the states of matter- solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

Thoughts: This is the second book in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) based chapter book series geared toward 7 to 9 year old children.  My 10 year old has really enjoyed this series and I think others this age would also be interested and entertained by it.  The books are a combination of science (nonfiction) and a realistic fiction story that has science dispersed throughout it.  The science is presented simply and not with an over abundance of detail, so it holds kid's attention.  The fictional story has lovable, well developed characters and the story takes place all over a small town which keeps children engaged through the action and movement.

The focus of this second book is on the states of matter- solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.  I liked that the states of matter worksheet Lucy did in the story was in the book, so my son could do it.  This way I could see if he understood the science concepts.  The material is presented with fun and humor which makes it memorable.  I can see a child recalling the information easily.

My son and I liked the second book in the series even more than the first.  The science and story were woven together more seamlessly and my son did not have the feeling the story was not finished which he did after reading the first.  I also liked that science vocabulary that was presented in the first book was repeated in this one which helps my son to remember new words, especially long ones.  New vocabulary such as properties, hypothesis, and atmosphere were introduced in this book. 

This book taught that science is all around us, there are different ways to test a hypothesis, and that there is more than one way to solve a problem.  It taught manners, safety, the importance of family, the value of studying and the usefulness of the library.  I thought it was a wonderful book for autumn, not only because it was about a harvest festival, but because the students went to an apple farm and learned all about picking apples and making cider.

I recommend this book for anyone who has a child interested in science.  This book and series is a fantastic way to introduce children to science.  It is a terrific story for homeschoolers to read along with their states of matter lesson.  Also, Lucy, the main character in the story, has her very own Pinterest page that has the science activities Lucy did in the book (and more), so children can do the same experiments as Lucy.

The third book in the series, The Colossal Fossil Fiasco comes out in February 2018 and is on my son's Amazon wish list already.  He is studying fossils in school now and it will be a nice review for him when we read the third book.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Spiced Apple Chai

Obtained: purchased

I love fall, especially the harvest and all the cooking (especially baking) that goes along with it.  I delight in the spices- cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, ginger, cloves, and orange peel- in pumpkin and apple pie, eggnog, apple cider, butternut squash, and even blueberry, pear, and peach desserts.  During the autumn season I enjoy drinking teas with some of these spices and I often make chai in the traditional way- warming tea leaves, honey, milk, and these spices on top of the stove.

Recently, I placed an order with Adagio Teas for some samplers and decided to include the Chai Teas Sampler for the fall season which contains four different chai blends.  The order arrived quickly.  The chai samples came in resealable bags in a gift box.  I found that the bags really need to be cut open and some are more difficult to reseal than others, but they eventually catch.

The Spiced Apple Chai is a beautiful potpourri of whole cloves, chunks of apple and spices, orange peels, and tea leaves.  It has a strong scent of spices and apple.  The ingredients (which are listed on the package) are: black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, cardamon, orange peels, cloves, apple pieces, natural apple flavor, and natural cinnamon flavor.  The website states that this tea has a high caffeine content.  I put two heaping teaspoons of leaves into my teapot (one with a fine sieve because there are some really small pieces in this blend) and poured eight ounces of boiling water over the leaves.  I let this sit for five minutes.  The cloudy orange liquid had a delectable scent of sweet apple and spices that definitely smelled like fall.  The taste of the tea was of spices and sweet apple.  It was flavorful, but not as strong as I expected a chai tea to be. I did not want to add milk or honey.  The apple added sweetness to the tea and I felt like if I added milk it would take away too much of the spiciness.

I really enjoyed this tea.  One cup was just not enough!   I made another one.  I don't know what it was with this tea (it could be just me) but it didn't really quench my thirst. I still enjoyed it though.

I recommend that chai lovers or someone looking for a cup of fall try this blend.  I would not call it "refreshing" like the website does, but it sure does taste delicious!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Interview with Glen Ebisch

Glen Ebisch has been a professor of philosophy for over thirty years. Recently he retired from full-time teaching at a small university in western Massachusetts.  For many of those thirty years he has also written mysteries, starting with books for young adults and moving on to writing for adults.  All are cozy in nature and suitable for any reader.  

Glen lives in western Massachusetts with his wife. His hobbies include reading (of course) and going to the gym. He and his wife also look forward to traveling to Maine and Cape May, New Jersey for their needed dose of the beach.

I recently read and reviewed The Accident, a simple, entertaining mystery written by Glen.  I like to learn about authors after I read their books and link this information to my reviews.  When I looked at Glen’s website, I was surprised to see all the books he has published, and I have to say the illustrations on the covers and titles of the books were calling to me to read.  I was very happy that Glen agreed to do an author interview with me because I really wanted to know more after checking out his website.

51vrl+vOAkL._SY445_QL70_.jpg (279×445)ME: How many books have you published?  Which is your favorite? Why?

GLEN: I have had twenty-eight books published.  I have another one coming out this November and a second in the spring of 2018.  My favorite is always the one that hasn’t come out yet because I hope to continually improve.  The one coming out in the spring is also a departure for me because it is a young adult historical novel about Abigail Taylor, a seventeen-year-old who in 1841 goes to work as a servant in the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson and develops an infatuation with Henry David Thoreau.  Although Abigail is a fictional character, the other characters in the story are real, as are many of the events described.  Combining history with storytelling was an interesting experience, and I look forward to hearing how readers respond to it.

ME: As I was looking on your website at the books you have written, the titles and covers of your books intrigued me. Do you come up with your titles and book covers on your own?

GLEN: I'd say about 75% of the titles are my own and the remaining were suggested by the editor.  Many times I have a good idea of the title before I begin.  Once in awhile I reach the end of the story with a working title that I don’t like, then I struggle to come up with a better one.  I’m glad you like them. I’m not always so sure that they are very good.

All of my covers were designed by the publisher.  I don’t self-publish, so I depend on the publisher to come up with a good cover, although I usually have some say over which cover is chosen.  My hardcover presses, Avalon and Five Star, always did a fine job.  The smaller indies vary in the quality of the covers they devise.  But again, I’m glad you like them all.

ME: You studied political science/ government and philosophy in school.  Where did you learn to write mysteries?

GLEN: I have always enjoyed reading mysteries, so like most writers, I learned the craft by reading good books.  I also took a number of workshops both on the craft and business of writing in which I learned a great deal from those who had gone before me.

ME: I always find it interesting when a writer chooses to have a protagonist of the opposite sex of themselves.  You seem to do this in many of your books.  What made you choose to do this?

51RVXy1GkTL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (334×499)
GLEN: I don’t know that this was ever a conscious choice.  I often start a new book with an idea in my mind of an interesting character and develop the story from there.  Frequently, that character happens to be a young woman facing a lot of life decisions who suddenly has the added burden of being confronted with a crime.  I also think that for a long time I wanted to avoid having a main character that was too much like myself because I thought it would not be enough of a stretch to be interesting.  My book coming out in November, however, is about a retired professor who finds himself involved in a murder, so I am giving a protagonist who is more like myself a try.

ME: Where do you get your story ideas?

GLEN: I don’t know where the initial idea comes from.  As I mentioned, I start with the main character, and that is often someone who comes out of nowhere and speaks to me.  Once I have that, I rather meticulously outline a plot that will create a satisfying mystery.

ME: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

GLEN: Like many writers, I tend to be a bit introverted and private, so marketing my books has been the hardest part for me.  I force myself to use social media and promote my books, but I always find it a challenge. It is very hard to get your books known in a very crowded marketplace.

ME: Are you working on another book?  Would you like to tell us about it?

GLEN: I am working on a sequel to A Body in My Office coming out in November. In it,  Charles Bentley, semi-retired professor of English at a college in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, gets involved in solving a murder when he finds the body of a murdered radical survivalist who was going to speak on campus.  It is tentatively called, Death of A Survivalist.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my writing.  I look forward to answering readers comments on my website contact page at


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lucy's Lab: Nuts About Science

51q+NlpCb0L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)                
Title: Lucy's Lab: Nuts About Science

Author: Michelle Houts

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zechel

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Pages: 112

Genre: children's fiction (chapter book ages 7-9)

Obtained: from publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary: When Lucy arrives at school for her first day of second grade, she immediately notices that the beautiful oak tree that housed the squirrels she enjoyed watching from her first grade classroom is gone!  What happened to it?  Where will the squirrels live now?

Thoughts: This year my son, who is in the fourth grade, started a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program at school and loves it.  I was very excited to discover the Lucy's Lab series which are STEM based chapter books for ages 7 to 9.  The books are a nice combination of realistic fiction and science.  The series teaches that science is all around us and is really cool, but simultaneously tells a story about Lucy.

This first book in the series focuses on habitats.  It uses classroom lessons to explain habitats while concurrently has the main character exploring the question of what happens to an animal when their habitat disappears?.  This is a wonderful approach to get kids that prefer fiction to nonfiction to read about science.  I found the STEM content to be very basic and believe it would be easy for kids in the suggested age range to understand.  The author does not delve deep into the topic, but gives the reader enough information to have an understanding of what a habitat is, along with some examples.  This is not a book for hard core science kids.

I found the realistic fiction piece of the book to be geared toward the average third or fourth grader, even though the protagonist is a second grader.  Therefore, I would bump the age of interest range up to 10.  This was largely due to the reading level, not the topic.  If a child is being read to, I believe it would hold a first or second grader's attention, but as a read alone book, I would say it would work for third grade and above.  The characters in the story were quirky and interesting and very well developed.  There was humor in the book and the author writes in an organized manner. The characters move all around town which helps to keep the reader engaged.  The chapter lengths vary from about 4 to 9 pages each.

I read this book with my fourth grader who is 10, but at a third grade reading level.  He really enjoyed the book and looked forward to reading it each night.  At the end of the book he believed there were some unanswered questions.  He wanted to know what happened to the squirrels that had been in the tree.  He felt like that was the point of the story and he never found out where the squirrels went.  We discussed how they must have found another tree, possibly in the park, but he was still not happy with this.  He also wanted to know if Lucy got in trouble for making lab coats out of her father's shirts.  It was implied at the end that she probably did.  He also wanted to know more about Lucy's teacher going into space.  I am assuming the author will go into this further along in the series.  Even though he was a little disappointed with the wrap up, believing it was "unfinished" we have started the second book in the series and will let you know what we think when we finish it.

I love when fiction books teach a variety of things and this one really did.  It taught about habitats with lots of other science topics and vocabulary thrown in throughout the book.  It taught about the importance of observation, research, facts, and safety.  It taught vocabulary that might be new to a child such as "specimen", "laboratory", or "arctic".  It taught kids that if you want to convince someone to do something- research, gather facts, and put into an organized presentation why this is a positive idea.  It taught that kids can make their voices heard in different ways and that it is constructive to take action when you believe in something.

I recommend this book for any kid, whether they're interested in STEM topics or not.  If you're an adult looking to get a child interested in STEM, this is a great series to start with.  Also, check out Lucy's very own Pinterest page where you can find more information about the science lessons Lucy had in school along with more STEM ideas.  This series and Pinterest page is a great resource for homeschoolers.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: Almond Oolong

Obtained: free sample with purchase

I recently purchased some samplers from Adagio Teas and was able to choose a free sample to go along with my order.  I chose almond oolong because I love almond flavoring.  I expected a little sample, but it was the same size sample as the ones sold on their website.

The ingredients (oolong tea and natural almond flavoring) and steeping directions were listed on the resealable bag that the tea came in.  I cut open the package to find leaves of all shapes and sizes in dark browns. The leaves had a sweet almond scent.

I put one heaping teaspoon of leaves into my tea ball and poured 6 ounces of boiling water over it.  I let this steep for 3 minutes.  The dark orange liquid had the scent of warm sweet almonds and tea.  The taste was of full body oolong blended with sweet fruity almond.  It had almost a cherry taste to it.  The almond taste was more like almond extract than the nut.

I just loved this tea!  The full body oolong and the almond flavoring was a fantastic blend with neither overpowering the other.  It is a bold tea, but not too strong.  If you like almond flavoring, this is a must try.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Accident

51vrl+vOAkL._SY346_.jpg (217×346)Title: The Accident

Author: Glen Ebisch

Publisher: Williams & Whiting, 2017

Pages: 274

Genre: mystery

Obtained: from author in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Karen Walker, an ex-homicide detective who has been recovering from an automobile accident, is asked to investigate the disappearance of her old friend's sister, Justine, from the family's summer home on the coast of Maine.

Thoughts: This book was a simple mystery, nothing deep or thought provoking, but definitely entertaining.  I didn't see it as a classic "whodunit" mystery because I was asking myself what happened rather than who did it since it was not clear if Justine disappeared on her own or foul play was involved.  I liked this change of thinking from the usual mystery books.

The writer tells the story in a clear, organized, easy to follow way.  He writes at a steady pace.  I looked forward to reading this book each day, but could easily put it down between chapters.  The characters were developed and the protagonist was likeable.  I loved the setting which was described in enough detail to picture.

This is a great beach book or vacation read.  It is one of those enjoyable mysteries where not much else is happening but the mystery.  Would I read another mystery by this author?  Absolutely.


Company: Adagio Teas

Tea: green rooibos blueberry

Obtained: purchased

I came across Adagio Teas while surfing the web.  I was immediately sucked in by their wide variety of tea samplers and teas along with their reasonable prices.  They definitely have something for everyone!  I ordered three samplers.  My order arrived quickly with no problems and I even got some extra samples to try, which made me happy.

The first box I opened was the Green Rooibos Sampler.  I was excited about this because I had never tried green rooibus tea, only red.  Both green and red rooibos come from the same plant.  The difference is that green rooibos is specially treated to prevent oxidation, while red rooibos is oxidized.  Both are caffeine free.  The sample contained four teas (green rooibos, green rooibos bonita, green rooibos blueberry, and green rooibos key west) which is said to make about 40 cups of tea.  The samples came in resealable bags which were in a nice box. The bags were labeled with ingredients and steeping instructions.

I probably should have tried the green rooibos with nothing else added first, but I went with green rooibos blueberry because I was reading a book set in Maine.  The ingredients listed were green roobos tea, blueberries, natural berry flavor, raspberry leaves, rose hips, hibiscus flowers, cranberries, and blue cornflowers.  I cut open the bag to find a pretty tea consisting of needle-like leaves of brown hues with bright blue flower petals and dark brown berries mixed in.  The scent was of berries.  The bag was not easy to reseal, but I did manage to get it sealed on the third attempt.

I put 2 teaspoons of leaves in my tea ball, poured 12 ounces of boiling water over it and let it steep for 5 minutes.  The dark yellow liquid had a slight warm berry scent that reminded me of blueberry pie.  The taste was of sweet berries and flowers with the blueberries standing out.  The aftertaste was of blueberries too.   The taste was light and smooth, not rich like blueberry pie, but the taste was reminiscent of it.  I recommend this one to those that love sweet blueberries.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Guest Post by author Andrew Joyce

61wdR34A1JL._SY346_.jpg (217×346)What you are about to read is a true story. It’s from my book, Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups, a collection of short stories that are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. My hitching adventures are true. The Danny narratives are also true, but written from a perspective different from mine. The fiction stories are a jumble of genres.

There are a whole lotta stories in the book—700 pages worth. Enough to keep you reading for the foreseeable future.

Here’s one of my hitching adventures. By the way, in the hitching tales, I use my real name, Billy Doyle—Andrew Joyce being my pen name.

John, Kris, and Me

It was 1968; I was eighteen-years- old, and I was hitchhiking from Miami to New York. I had gotten off the beaten track, so to speak. I should have stayed on US 301 (this was before the Interstate Highway System), but instead found myself just south of Memphis, hoping to catch a ride into Nashville by noon and then catch a long haul out of that city.

It was early morning. The traffic was light, and I wasn’t having much luck when, suddenly, a black Mustang screeched to a halt, and the guy driving leaned over and said through the open passenger-side window, “I’m headin’ to Nashville, that do you any good?”

Of course I said, “Yes,” and jumped in.

As he’s accelerating, he’s looking straight ahead, not saying anything, which is kinda strange but not unusual when you’re hitching. So I said nothing and stared out the windshield at the fast approaching skyline of Memphis. Then it hit me. I know this guy; I should have tumbled from the voice.

At that time in my life, I was not into different types of music; I liked rock n’ roll. Since then my taste in music has matured to encompass all types. But even though this guy wasn’t a rocker, I knew him and his music. A couple of his songs had crossed over and were played on the top forty stations.

The driver was intent on what he was doing, but I think he caught me looking at him out of the corner of his eye. I noticed he had a firm grip on the steering wheel, his knuckles were white. After a few minutes, he turned to me, saying, “Howdy, my name’s John.” At the same time, he raised his right hand from the wheel and stuck it out in my direction.

We shook hands, and I said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cash. My name is Billy.”

Once John and I shook hands, he became more talkative. Hell, he became downright verbose. He told me about his hitchhiking adventures and asked me about mine. We were three hours out of Nashville and I don’t think there was another quiet moment for the whole three hours. We talked about life, women, and we even got into a metaphysical discussion. He told me about his army days and the time he was arrested in Texas. Just to keep even, I told him stuff that had happened to me while on the road. We didn’t talk about his music or anything like that. I’d been around enough to know that coming off as a gushing fan would have been a major turn-off for him. And besides, at the time, I was not a fan, gushing or otherwise. But by the time we hit Nashville, I was becoming a fan … of the man if not his music.

As we neared Nashville, he told me he’d just gotten married a few months back and was dying to see his wife. “I’ve been gone two days and it feels like two years,” he informed me. Then he said, “It’s about dinner time; why not stop in and get something to eat and then hit the road. June’s a great cook.”

Dinner is what country folk call lunch.

I accepted his kind offer, and we got off the highway and headed for his home, which was only a few blocks away. When we got to his house and as we were pulling into the driveway, he said, “Looks like June is out somewhere, but don’t worry, we’ll rustle somethin’ up.”

I told him not to bother, that I could cadge a meal down the line. He looked at me, shook his head, and in that deep voice, he asked me if I had any money. Of course, I didn’t and I told him so. He told me that he’d been on the road and hungry, and that if I didn’t get my butt in the house pronto, he’d drag me inside.

So in we went, and we walked right back to the kitchen. John told me to sit at the table as he opened the refrigerator and looked around for a moment before saying, “Ah ha! It’s still here.” And he pulled out a platter with a ham on it. I mean a real ham, bone and all! He also came up with a jar of mustard and a hunk of cheese. As he started to slice the ham, he told me where the bread and plates were kept and asked me to get them.

When the sandwiches were made—two of them—he asked me if I’d like a beer.

“Yes, please.”

So there I am, sitting in the kitchen of a man I’d met only a few hours before, and I’ve got two thick ham and cheese sandwiches and a can of beer in front of me. Not a bad score and the day was still young!

I asked him if he was going to eat, and he said beer would do him fine.

We’re sittin’ at the kitchen table, shooting the shit, when the doorbell rings. John gets up, but before he leaves, he takes a long swig of beer. “Be right back,” he says. A few minutes later, he comes back into the kitchen with this guy.

“Billy, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This here is Kris.”

I had my mouth filled with ham sandwich, so I mumbled a hello. He waved and smiled, “Glad to meet ya, Billy.”

John asked Kris, “How about a sandwich and a beer?”

“Just a beer, please. It’s my lunch hour, and I’ve got to get back to work. But I have a new song I’d like you to hear and see what you think of it.”

By now, I’d eaten my two sandwiches, and I had nothing to add to the conversation, so I figured I’d just finish my beer and get the hell out of there. But before I could say my thanks and hit the road, John leaves the room and returns a moment later with a guitar.

Prior to my going any further, I’ve got to lay the scene out for you. We’re sitting at a round kitchen table. To my left is John and directly opposite me is this guy, Kris Kristofferson (before he was famous). John and I were hitting our beers and watching Kris tune the guitar. Then he picked at the strings and started to sing. I don’t remember what the song was. I wasn’t really paying attention. In my mind, I was rehearsing my good-bye speech to John.

When Kris was done, we all three sat there looking at one another. I didn’t say anything because it wasn’t my opinion Kris sought. Kris didn’t say anything because he was waiting for John to say something, which he finally did.

“It’s not bad. But I don’t know if it’s for me.”

I’ve got to hand it to Kris; he smiled broadly and said, “That’s okay. I just wanted you to hear it and get your thoughts.” Then he lifted his beer and said, “Prosit.” That was my cue to leave. I stood and told John I had to hit the road. He said he’d drive me back to the highway, but I told him not to bother, he had company, and besides, it was only a few blocks away. Kris said if I could wait a few minutes, he’d drop me off at the highway on his way back to work. I declined his offer. I didn’t want to wait around. I had a full stomach and New York City was calling to me. I said my good-byes and walked out the front door, retrieved my case from the Mustang and headed off for further adventures.

Just one last thing: When I got to New York and opened my case, there was Benjamin Franklin staring up at me from on top of my clothes. John must have put the C-note in there when he went to let Kris in.

61UYtgjxb0L._UX250_.jpg (250×188)Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn't return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors' Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen's Book Reviews.

Joyce now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, Mahoney: An American Story.


Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups is a jumble of genres—seven hundred pages of fiction and nonfiction … some stories included against the author’s better judgment. If he had known that one day they’d be published, he might not have been as honest when describing his past. Here is a tome of true stories about the author’s criminal and misspent youth, historical accounts of the United States when She was young, and tales of imagination encompassing every conceivable variety—all presented as though the author is sitting next to you at a bar and you’re buying the drinks as long as he keeps coming up with captivating stories to hold your interest.
Comprised of 218,000 words, you’ll have plenty to read for the foreseeable future. This is a book to have on your night table, to sample a story each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep.
Mr. Joyce sincerely hopes that you will enjoy his stories because, as he has stated, “It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.”