Friday, November 24, 2017

Holiday Gift Guide

I have reactivated my Holiday Gift Guide on the sidebar. Many of the posts are from years past and the offers listed may not still be active, but the ideas are still relevant. I hope to add to the list of ideas over the coming month, so come back and check it out.

Holiday Gift Guide

Foster Imagination

Stimulate Creativity

Challenge their Problem Solving

Stretch their Minds

Gifts for Others

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ozobot Evo Party and Review #Tryazon #OzoSquad

As a participant in the Tryazon Ozobot Party, I received an Ozobot party pack which included a complimentary Ozobot Evo for my family and a guest. All opinions expressed are my own.

Growing up, I never thought anything about being interested in science and math. In fact, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an engineer, although honestly, I'm not sure I really knew what an engineer was. Coding was something that was still 'new' when I was growing up, at least non-punchcard coding, but I had several opportunities to experience it in fun ways through camps and classes. I can remember first learning on an Apple Desktop computer and on a TRS-80 in math class in junior high. I even had a chance to go to a three week long summer camp in high school where I learned to program to create drawings. That knowledge base has served me well in my career too.

As a mom, I look for ways to bring STEM concepts to my kids in a fun way, such that they don't always realize that they are actually learning. When I first learned about Ozobot, I was intrigued it looked like a fun interactive toy that would help my kids learn about the basics of coding. Then, in late summer, I was invited to participate in a Tryazon party to check out the new Ozobot Evo and share it with friends and family. I was very excited to get the chance to let my kids and their friends play with the Ozobot Evo.

I didn't mention it to the kids until the party pack arrived. My daughter was so excited, wanting to know when we could open them and play with the Ozobot.

I love the packaging that the Ozobot Evo came in. Once opened, there are cute little 'drawers' that hold the charger, the markers, and the skin. There is also a pocket that holds the play mat and the top allows you to store the Ozobot Evo easily.
We started with the Experience Pack (available free on their website for Ozobot Evo owners). It introduces the kids to Line Navigation, first with basic pre-drawn black lines and then engages the kids by having them draw black lines that the Ozobot can follow.
As they work through the Experience Pack, they are awarded with stars on the Ozobot app and learn about the color codes that can provide direction to the Ozobot Evo. These color sequences can tell the Ozobot to spin, to walk backwards, turn right and more. The experience pack includes a code reference sheet.
The set comes with markers, but we found that if you have good markers you can also use standard markers to make lines to navigate and color sequences to tell the Ozobot what action to take. This is very helpful when everyone wants to make their own set of lines for Ozobot and you only have one set of official markers.

The Ozobot Evo in action:

Everyone had fun playing and exploring with Ozobot. After tackling the Experience Pack, the kids explored using the app to control the action of the Ozobot Evo. Then, they moved onto OzoBlocky on the app which allows them to drag and drop coding and create loops of the activity. With five levels from novice to master, OzoBlocky allows your child to do progressively more challenging code concepts. Once the code is assembled, load it to the Ozobot Evo and they can see their code in action.
At this point, my kids have only touched the surface of the games and learning opportunities within the app. My daughter really wants to explore racing with two Ozobots and has found continuous lines (both loops and intersected loops) on YouTube that she is experimenting with and discovering new ways to play with the Ozobot Evo.

I think this is a great toy for kids to explore coding concepts through interactive play. One mom at the party talked about how this would be a great alternative for a child that is in to video games, as Ozobot Evo can provide learning and exposure to coding through interaction. Which is a great alternative to some of the video games that are out there.

You can learn more about Ozobot, the Evo and the Bit and explore the App and other available resources on their website. Ready to buy? Right now, for a limited time, you can save on the purchase of you own Ozobot Evo by heading to their website and using the coupon code OzobotParty1517 to save 15%.

As a participant in the Tryazon Ozobot Party, I received an Ozobot party pack which included a complimentary Ozobot Evo for my family and a guest. All opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Gift by Shelley Shepard Gray

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
Taking advantage of the drive on a last minute family fall vacation, I read several books in the last couple of weeks. One of them was The Gift by Shelley Shepard Gray. Set during the holidays, it opens with a bit of mystery as Susanna Schwartz finds herself in an overturned buggy accident as a result of shots that were being fired, seemingly at her and her horse. Fortunately, someone is there to help comfort and protect her until help can arrive. New to the community, she does not know her rescuer or the connection that they have. As the story unfolds, other accidents and incidents continue, leading them to wonder if her family is being targeted.

As has been the case with the other books in the Hart County Series, this book was captivating, suspenseful and had me hooked from the beginning. It was good that I was reading it on the car ride, because there were only the few questions from the backseat and the occasional stop to interrupt my reading - so different than reading a few minutes before bed each night. The twists and turns kept me guessing on who could be targeting the family and in the end, I was convinced it was different than was ultimately discovered. The story shared of one family's loss and another family's opportunity, of pride and jealousy, of the strength that can be found in family and the importance of hope and forgiveness. I enjoyed following the story as Susanna and Neil became unlikely friends and even found their feelings for one other developing deeper.

I look forward to reading more from Shelly Shepard Gray especially the suspenseful novels she is writing as part of her The Amish of Hart County series.
About the book:

A special Christmas story about love and blessings in the next book in the Amish of Hart County series
The Schwartz family is happy to be spending Christmas on their new farm in Hart County. But when Susanna Schwartz hears gunshots that causes her buggy to overturn, and then her little sister falls through a wooden bridge into the icy creek, it becomes clear from these dangerous "accidents" that someone wants them gone.

Neil Vance has been heartbroken ever since his parents lost their family farm. He knows it's not the Schwartz family's fault, but he can't help but be resentful. Until he meets Susanna. She is kind-hearted and bold, and Neil can't stop thinking about her pretty green eyes.

Neil thinks the accidents are just that, but Susanna's father is convinced the Vance family is responsible. Susanna refuses to believe Neil would do anything to harm her. She's fallen in love with him and knows he is a good man. But her family is ready to pack up and move, and time is running out to uncover the truth before someone gets hurt . . . or worse.

Learn more and purchase a copy.

About the author:
Shelley Shepard Gray is a "New York Times" and "USA Today" bestselling author, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers prestigious Carol Award, and a two-time HOLT Medallion winner. She lives in southern Ohio, where she writes full-time, bakes too much, and can often be found walking her dachshunds on her town's bike trail.
Find out more about Shelley at

Learn more about the book and check out other reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Hope Toler Dougherty's 'Rescued Hearts' Blog Tour and Kindle Giveaway

Her personal safety isn't the only thing in jeopardy-so is her heart. In Hope Toler Dougherty's new novel, Rescued Hearts, children's clothing designer Mary Wade Kimball's soft spot for animals leads to a hostage situation when she spots a briar-entangled kitten in front of an abandoned house. Discovering the kidnapped woman ratchets the complications for undercover agent Brett Davis. Brett forsakes his three-month mission and helps her escape, the bent-on-revenge brutes following behind . . . and then Mary Wade's safety is threatened once more.

Cozy up this fall with Hope's new book and enter to win a Kindle Fire!

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A copy of Rescued Hearts
  • A Kindle Fire 7
Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on November 13. The winner will be announced November 14 on the Litfuse blog.

Rescued Hearts by Hope Toler Dougherty

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
After reading several historical fiction works, it was fun to return to modern day and read a contemporary fiction. Rescued Hearts is the second book that I have read by Hope Toler Dougherty.
As much as I enjoyed the first book that I read, I liked this one even more. Much like Mars...with Venus Rising (see my review here), Rescued Hearts has some quirky, lovable characters, but with the new addition of suspense. With the crafty blending of crime and romance and the utilization of characters that are like people you might have in your life, Hope created a story that was very enjoyable. The story pulled me in and had me wanting to read any free minute, so as to see what happened next. Unfortunately, as Mary Wade found her spaces invaded and questions about their safety arose, I was home alone with the kids while my husband was traveling. Not an ideal time to read such a suspenseful tale; proof positive that the story was realistic. It had me wondering how many people have inadvertently found themselves in danger as a result of a self-less act of trying to rescue an animal (or a person). Fortunately, Mary Wade discovered an inner-strength and was able to draw on her faith to find the hope necessary to help get her through.

About the Book:
Rescued Hearts | Hope Toler Dougherty

Children's clothing designer Mary Wade Kimball's soft spot for animals leads to a hostage situation when she spots a briar- entangled kitten in front of an abandoned house. Beaten, bound, and gagged by the two thugs inside, Mary Wade loses hope for escape when a third villain returns with supplies.

Discovering the kidnapped woman ratchets the complications for undercover agent Brett Davis. Weighing the difference of ruining his three months' investigation against the woman's safety, Brett forsakes his mission and helps her escape, the bent-on-revenge brutes following behind.

When Mary Wade's safety is threatened once more, Brett rescues her again. This time, her personal safety isn't the only thing in jeopardy. Her heart is endangered as well.

Meet the Author:

Hope Toler Dougherty holds a Master's degree in English and taught at East Carolina University as well as York Technical College. A member of ACFW, RWA and SinC, she writes for Almost an Author. Before writing novels, she published non-fiction articles on topics ranging from gardening with children to writing apprehension. She follows the Pittsburgh Steelers, ACC basketball, and Army West Point Football. Hope and her husband, Kevin, live in North Carolina and chat with their two daughters and twin sons through ooVoo. Her debut novel, Irish Encounter, is partially set in Ireland. Her second one, Mars . . . With Venus Rising, is published with Pelican Book Group.

Learn more at

You can learn more about the book and read additional reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
The weather here has been unseasonably warm lately, with temperatures hitting the 90s last weekend, but fortunately, the weather has returned to more fall like weather. I love fall weather, it is the perfect time of year to sit on the porch or curled up on the sofa reading a book. Of course, yesterday, with only 100 pages to go in An Inconvenient Beauty, I found myself sitting at the table and reading while I enjoyed a nice hot cup of pumpkin spice coffee and getting up only to make another cup of coffee.
I thoroughly enjoyed An Inconvenient Beauty and couldn't put it down. In fact, when I did put it down after reading all 379 pages, my daughter commented 'didn't you just start that book' I closed the book and exclaimed 'I can't believe that was the last one in the series, I want it to go on!' It really was a great story, that was well written and had great scene and character development. Having met Griffith and the rest of the family in an Uncommon Courtship, which was the third in the four book series, I was glad to get to know him better. His family is the type of family that anyone would be happy to be part of, a group that is there for support and guidance, a group that knows how to play and have fun together, and a family that loves to pick on one another but would not fail to support one another.

Isabella and her cousin Frederica were well developed characters and both had to overcome adversity. Isabella not only had her challenges at home, problems she was hoping to solve with her time in London, but the added complexity of the role her uncle expected her to play and the threats he held over her. Freddie had only her father to deal with, but she clearly had a strong character having survived the loss of her mother and brother, but also as evidenced in the way she carried herself and the role she played in helping the right things happen.

Reading a story from an era with very different societal norms and expectations is always interesting to me. Despite recognizing how different of a time it was for women, there is still something so intriguing to me. On one hand, I think it would be so fun to get dressed up and go out to events, but I think that by the end of a season I would be well beyond interested in dressing up and putting on my 'social face'. I think that the idea of having a chaperone with you at all times as you court seems a bit extreme (and how boring for the chaperone!), but love how innocent courting was - filled with visits to see art and walks in the park.

An Inconvenient Beauty is a great reminder that sometimes the best way to find love is to not look for it. In fact, even when you are avoiding it (or someone), a love that is meant to be will find a way (and likely make you appreciate it more).

About the Book:

Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, so he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. While he's certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, she is strangely elusive, and he can't seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge.

Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, she has no choice but to agree to a bargain that puts her at odds with all her romantic hopes--as well as her conscience. And the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she regrets the unpleasant obligation that prevents her from any dream of a future with him.

As all Griffith's and Isabella's long-held expectations are shaken to the core, can they set aside their pride and fear long enough to claim a happily-ever-after?

About the Author:

Kristi Ann Hunter graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in computer science but always knew she wanted to write. Kristi is the author of the Hawthorne House series and a 2016 RITA Award winner and Christy Award finalist. She lives with her husband and three children in Georgia. Find her online at

I have only read the last two books in the series, but I would highly recommend reading the Hawthorne House series by Kristi Ann Hunter. I intend to pick up the first two books myself, so that I can read them.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.