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

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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?

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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.