Saturday, June 27, 2009

Book Review: Abraham Lincoln for Kids – His Life and Times

Abraham Lincoln for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities (For Kids series)

By Janis Herbert

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (July 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1556526563
Rating (1 to 5 stars): *****

Book Review:

Everyone knows that Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States, but how much do we know about his life before that? Abraham Lincoln for Kids follows him from his early days with his settler family, through his first jobs, challenges to educate himself, and finally through his struggles with the Civil War.

Children always learn better when the learning process is fun. Janis Herbert, author of Abraham Lincoln for Kids – His Life and Times, obviously knows that, and as a result she created a book that is not only highly informative for readers of all ages, but it is written in an engaging manner kids can relate to. As an added bonus, the crafts and activities give children some fun, hands-on learning to go with what they read, promoting good old-fashioned play.

Some of the activities in Abraham Lincoln for Kids – His Life and Times include making a stovepipe hat or miniature log cabin and learning how to deliver a speech or participate in a debate. Throughout the book, headlines from Lincoln’s time clue the reader in to other important events happening during Lincoln’s life.

Abraham Lincoln for Kids – His Life and Times is an excellent learning tool for kids, but parents who read it with them are likely to find that they learn something as well. In helping their child with the activities and reading the stories, they will find many lessons and subjects of educational discussion—not only about an important historical figure, but about living a successful life.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Feature! Coffee Reviews from Guest Blogger Greg Walker

My esteemed colleague and husband, Greg Walker, said to me the other day, "Since the name of your blog is 'A Cup of Coffee and a Good Book', you should have coffee reviews in addition to book reviews."

"Great idea," I said. "Unfortunately, my taste in coffee is so pedestrian that I'll drink Starbucks without batting an eyelash, so I don't know that I'm the best choice for a coffee reviewer." (Note: my taste is NOT so low as to drink Folgers and the like. *shudder*)

He mulled it over for a bit and agreed to take up the job. Being a coffee snob who's willing to compromise (i.e., he'll drink Starbucks, but he'll insist on lecturing you as to why it's inferior to various other coffees) and who is also something of a know-it-all, blow-hard and a great writer, I decided he was perfect for the job. Thus, here is his first guest blog here on A Cup of Coffee and a Good Book.

Coffee Review: Peet's Coffee & Tea Major Dickason's Blend

by Guest Blogger Greg Walker

You cannot have A Cup of Coffee and a Good Book without a cup of coffee! And I cannot imagine a better cup of coffee than a well-brewed cup of Major Dickason’s Blend from Peet’s Coffee and Tea. I first discovered Peet’s twenty years ago whilst living in beautiful Mill Valley, California. The café in the town square of Mill Valley back then was Peet’s, but it was long before they became a true chain. In fact, it was still when Peet’s was a respected café on the Berkeley scene, and before Starbuck’s had fired their initial salvo in their bid for world conquest.

So Peet’s had a huge variety of locally roasted coffees, but the one that they were best known for, their signature blend, was Major Dickason’s Blend. As a reviewer of coffee, I am hard-pressed to do justice to Major Dickason’s Blend – it is like describing why Robin Ford is a blues genius or why Monet’s Haystacks can stir one to tears. Breaking it down to its ingredients and individual characteristics makes it less that what it is, but when performing an analysis, that is what we have to do.

Dickason’s is the creation of Alfred Peet and his friend, and a regular customer of the old Berkeley store, Key Dickason, U.S. Army, retired. The two of them brooded and brewed over every combination of beans and roasts until they came to what is now their flagship blend. It is very robust. Handled carefully, it produces the most robust, strongest cup that I have ever sampled, yet it has no bitterness to it. The caffeine will hit you in the knees and the lower intestine, and, if you overdo it, you will be a shaky mess, but you will enjoy the trip. The acidity is modest – Peet’s calls it a medium acidity, though it is effectively somewhat lower. It is a moderately bright cup of jo, despite that overwhelming power.

Brewing Major Dickason’s Blend must be handled carefully and with respect. My preferred method is with my Bodum siphon fitted with a glass Chemex filter, so the brew touches nothing but glass throughout the process. I also like to use a good quality spring water or a well filtered tap water, free of impurities and odd chemical flavors. If you are not going to outfit yourself with a coffee siphon for the purpose of brewing your Dickason’s, I understand, though I cannot help but look down my nose at you a bit. A second choice in brewing would be a good quality Chemex coffee maker or a French Press such as those readily available from Bodum and numerous other manufacturers. Be aware of your water temperature when brewing – it should be between 195°F and 202°F – any hotter will cause excessive extraction and will result in unwanted bitterness.

When handled with care and respect, Major Dickason’s Blend produces and exceptional cup of coffee. Exceptional, in this context, means it is sufficient to gather a cult following unto itself. I know many who will drink nothing else, and I can sympathize with their prejudice! It truly is an excellent cup.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: Chemical Cowboys, by Lisa Sweetingham

Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin
by Lisa Sweetingham

Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (February 24, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0345499956
Rating (1 to 5 *): *****


When the drug Ecstasy first came on the scene, it was considered “kiddie dope” by Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents. They considered it to be a low priority, when they had more important worries in the war on drugs: cocaine and heroine. However, after learning of pushers selling the drug in New York nightclubs and of kids dying as a result of the drug, age Bob Gagne decided to take it on in his own personal war, taking his partner Matthew Germanowski along for the ride. It was a battle that would dominate Gagne’s life for the next nine years.

The true-life tale Chemical Cowboys takes the reader into the depths of the underground—New York clubs with open drug dealing, organized crime and vast conspiracies to move drugs from Europe into America—using everyone from young religious boys to old couples to strippers as “mules” to do the carrying.

It is a story of people who are lured into the criminal life by the trappings that come with money: fancy cars, trips and plenty of drugs and sex. Young people who soon find that the life is not all it seems to be…people who are arrested and quickly turn on their bosses in an attempt to save themselves. But mostly, it is a story of the men who would see the end to the ruined lives that come from the Ecstasy trade.

In Chemical Cowboys, Lisa Sweetingham does not so much tell a story as weave a tapestry, creating a rich picture of a world most people would never dream of. Through the course of the tale, the reader is transported back and forth through time until they have gained a nearly overwhelming level of detail into each character, details that give great understanding of who they are and what motivates them. The reader is taken from the very beginning, when the drug was first introduced, through its introduction in the clubs, its peak of popularity around the turn of the 21st century and finally its dramatic decline due to the DEA’s efforts in cooperation with other countries.

Lisa Sweetingham, a senior staff writer at, shows her incredible level of knowledge and many hours of painstaking research in the writing of this book. Every I is dotted, every T is crossed, and no stone is unturned. Chemical Cowboys is both an entertaining read and a valuable history. It is the ultimate in crime drama, because it is at once fantastic and true.

Father’s Day just around the corner, and Lisa Sweetingham’s Chemical Cowboys would make a great gift for the CSI-loving Dad in your family!