Thursday, 24 May 2012

Book Review: My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

About the Book: Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure. When her grandmother asks her to accompany her to Redbud, Pennsylvania, to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance.

Upon her arrival in Redbud, Kate meets Matt Jarreau, the man hired to renovate the house. Kate can't help being attracted to him, drawn by both his good looks and something else she can't quite put her finger on. He's clearly wounded--hiding from people, from God, and from his past. Yet Kate sets her stubborn heart on bringing him out of the dark and back into the light...whether he likes it or not.

When the stilted, uncomfortable interactions between Kate and Matt slowly shift into something more, is God finally answering the longing of her heart? Or will Kate be required to give up more than she ever dreamed?

My Thoughts:  I thoroughly enjoyed this book!  I was entertained from start to finish.  I was enthralled by all the characters, and it didn't hurt that Matt was an ex-NHL player as we are huge NHL fans in this house!

One of the hardest things in our walk with God is finding that line between waiting for the next step to revealed in faith, vs barging ahead assuming we know what God wants for us or on the other extreme, doing nothing without a hand writing on the wall what our next step is.  This book explored that in a very realistic way.  We also see that sometimes a choice can be wrong only because it's the wrong timing.  But God's timing is always perfect and trusting in that timing is a difficult choice, but something every Christian must do if they want to live their life to the fullest that God has planned for them.

Fantastic book, I highly recommend it!

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Book Review: Forever Hilltop by Judy Baer

About the Book: The charming and often hilarious Forever Hilltop series follows the experiences of former city dweller Alex Armstrong as he settles into his new role as pastor of a Scandinavian community in rural North Dakota. Alex is sometimes baffled by his parishioners and their colorful ways, but he comes to appreciate their simple wisdom. One thing's for sure -- life in Hilltop Township is never dull! This new two-in-one format features An Unlikely Blessing along with its sequel, Surprising Grace.

In An Unlikely Blessing, Alex Armstrong is a former city dweller who has just accepted his first parish assignment to a small community in the wilds of North Dakota. In Hilltop Township, Pastor Alex becomes familiar with the residents and their odd traditions, from julebukking to King Oscar's fish balls. And then there's the excitement the single pastor creates among the unmarried women in the community! Alex soon discovers that his new church home has as much to teach him as he has to teach them.

In Surprising Grace, Alex Armstrong is settling into his new role as pastor of Hilltop Church, and he's even starting to understand the strange ways of the people who populate this barren stretch of North Dakota prairie. But he also finds that his flock needs help and counsel like he never imagined. In this cozy and entertaining read, Alex must choose between the woman he once loved -- and the home he's come to love.

My Thoughts:  I have to admit that this book did not fully capture my attention.  It definitely took me awhile to get into it at all, I think because there were so many characters to keep track of.  I also sometimes found Alex's thought process to be somewhat off for some reason, I'm not even sure exactly what it was.

And yet, on the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the rural countryside and small town lifestyle - both of which I'm very familiar with.  There were definitely some quirky and endearing characters and by the second book I was definitely more drawn into the storyline.  I just didn't like the fact that it took that long for me to get into it.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Disney Trip 2012 - Days 1-3

Saturday, April 21 - flying day
We decided that we would meet Shaun & Linsay at Mom & Dad's house at 8:30am Saturday morning.  Dad came with us in our van, while Mom went in Shaun &Linsay's vehicle and off we went to the airport.  After dropping us off, Shaun drove our van home for us and Linsay drove their vehicle.  Saved us a bundle on leaving our vehicles at the airport for 2 weeks!

We left on a Delta flight at 11:35am.  Our flight left on time and arrived in Minneapolis shortly before 1pm.  We were supposed to take a connecting flight to Detroit, leaving at 3:30pm and arriving at 6:16pm with a quick layover before our final flight at 7:35pm set to arrive in Orlando at 10:13pm.  We decided that we'd check if there happened to be a direct flight from Minneapolis to Orlando that we could switch to instead.

We found some very friendly gate agents who checked and found room on a direct flight that was set to leave at 5:35pm with arrival in Orlando at 9:45pm.  It would only save us 30 mins, but it would also save us the hassle of another connecting flight - especially with 4 kids!  The only snag was that only 6 of the needed 8 tickets were in coach, 2 of them were in first class.  The gate agent was training a new agent and was willing to change the coach tickets for free, waiving the usual $50 fee for training purposes, but would have to charge $100 per ticket for the first class tickets.  We decided it was worth it.  We figured if we had known ahead of time that we would have an option for a one stop connection with these times, for $25/ticket more, we would've done it.  So we went ahead and made the switch.  Then we headed to Chili's for lunch.  After that we wandered the airport a bit, let the kids play at a play place, picked up some ice cream, looked at a bookstore and then headed to our gate.  The original, friendly gate agent had said that when they assigned the seats, they may upgrade us all to first class for free - so we were really hoping for that!  But when we got to our departure gate, that agent wasn't quite as friendly so we weren't overly hopeful.  Sure enough, they left us in coach and originally we were seated in 3 different rows, 2 seats in each row with 1 stranger beside us.  But when we boarded I asked 2 of the strangers if they would mind switching so we could sit with our kids and they more than happily agreed - I think they were together so it actually worked out better for them too!  The flight ended up being delayed by almost an hour and we left Minneapolis at 6:25pm and arrived in Orlando around 10:30pm.  We had to pick up our luggage at our original flight carousel but it all worked out!

We had found a great deal on a van rental for $429 (for 2 weeks!) with Alamo.  That was only guaranteed to seat 7 of the 8 of us, but previously they had always let us pick virtually any vehicle (including SUV's) so we were hoping it would work out like that again this time, if not we'd either pay for an upgrade to a larger vehicle or Nathan's parents would rent their own vehicle.  When we got there, they let us know they had an 8 seater van that we could use which was actually perfect - less gas than an SUV and smaller for parking.  we squeezed all our luggage in and headed to our house rental at 7708 Comrow Street, Kissimmee, FL with Romancing the Mouse, the same rental company we used on our previous 2 trips, and the exact same 5 bedroom/5 bathroom house we stayed at the first time.  After a late lunch at the Minneapolis airport, we had only eaten snacks on the plane (except for Nathan's parents who had meals offered to them in first class!), we were a bit hungry.  Thankfully the home owners had left muffins and juice for us so we all had a quick snack and unpacked.  It was almost 1:30am (12:30 our time) by the time we got to bed!

Sunday, April 22nd
Today we slept in a bit (around 8:45) and went for breakfast at IHOP.  Then we all walked to the castle playground in our Windsor Hills community to let the kids play a bit - we ended up taking the scenic route on the way there as we couldn't quite remember where it was (we went 4 yrs ago, but not 2yr ago so it had been awhile!), and it rained just a little on our walk back.  Then the kids, Mom and I went swimming while Nathan and Dad went to the grocery store and, after dropping off some groceries for our lunch, to Target to pick up stuff to stock the house.  We had a light lunch of sandwiches and fruit followed by more swimming.  Emma & Sophia's flip flops were bothering both of them so we decided we needed to get them better sandals before heading to the Disney parks the next day.  So, we headed to Prime Outlets (Sophia, Olivia and Jacob all fell asleep on the way) and found Emma a pair of sandals at UnderArmour.  We went to Red Brick Pizza Oven for supper at the outlets (it's kind of a cross between fast food and a restaurant.  It's a large restaurant, but it's counter order and then they deliver it to you when it's done.  They made a mistake on our order (1 large pepperoni, 1 large half meat lovers, half hawaiian, but they forgot the pineapple on the hawaiian) so they brought us an extra medium size hawaiian pizza - good thing cause it wouldn't have been enough otherwise!  We found Sophia some sporty and very comfortable flip flops at New Balance and got Emma some new dressy sandals.  Nathan and Dad had taken Jacob and Olivia with them (Olivia got a sucker as a "consolation gift" for not getting to go with the ladies), while Mom and I took Emma and Sophia.  As soon as we found all our shoe purchases we headed back to the house so the kids could get a decent night's sleep before our first Disney day tomorrow.

Monday, April 23rd
Today Mom and Dad stayed back at the house while we went to Epcot, chosen based on the crowd level predictions from Touring Plans (highly recommended resource!).  We had a bit of a slower start in the morning then planned, but we managed to arrive at Epcot just after the 9am opening time.  We first stopped in a gift shop to pick up their autograph books and headed over to the Epcot Character Spot for the character meet n greets.  Nathan left to ge fast passes for Soarin' and made it back just as we made it to the front of the line.  We saw Mickey, Pluto, Minnie, Donald Duck and Goofy at the Character Spot.

Then we headed to The Land where we rode Living with the Land (it's an educational boat ride describing innovative faming techniques.  It seems a bit boring and something kids wouldn't like, but for some reasons our kids really liked it - Olivia rode is last time and it was one of her favourites).  Then we saw The Circle of Life - it's a combination of the Disney cartoon characters Simba, Timone and Pumba and a documentary about taking care of the environment - yup, Epcot is educational!  Then we waited about 10 minutes for our Soarin' fast pass return time to arrive and road that.  Jacob was a little bit scared on this one - but it's definitely one of the favourites for the girls.

It was about 11:15pm by this time and we decided to start heading around the worlds looking for princesses.  Canada is the first land (going counter-clockwise) and we walked around there a bit.  Next we hit the United Kingdom and took pictures at a red phone booth.  We happened upon Marie (the cat from Aristocats) and just missed Belle (in her street clothes) in France as she went on her break.  The girls wanted to wait for her so we walked around France a bit, and then let the kids play at a playground nearby.  We then spotted Aladdin in Morocco so went to meet him, then back to meet Belle and then back to United Kingdom to meet Sleeping Beauty.

We decided to head back and ride Spaceship Earth on our way out of the park.  Spaceship Earth is a slow moving ride that takes you through a history of the world and our advancements in technology and includes an interactive portion where you input where you're from and answer a few questions which personalizes the ending of the screenshow on your individual car.

After leaving the park we picked up from Chick Fil A and then swam in the afternoon.  Our van key was missing a key fob with keyless entry so Nathan tried phoning Alamo to see if we could get one.  They said we'd have to trade vans but we could do that at a location nearby.  So Nathan, Dad and Jacob went to trade it in at a nearby Alamo.  When they got there they said they had nothing left but that the one at Disney World always had lots and to go there.  When Nathan got there he asked if they had the Sienna vans and they said they did.  But they insisted that he fill up gas first even though we had prepaid that originally.  So he went to a gas station and went through the rigamarole of going in to prepay, filling up and returning to the car rental agency.  At which point they said they didn't have any Siennas.  Even though they had just said they did.  Ugh, so frustrating.  An hour's waste of time.

So, they came back and joined us for more afternoon swim and sun.  Then we all got ready to go out but before we left we surprised the girls with American Girl dolls!  We had originally assumed we'd be driving to Minneapolis and flying from there (like our previous 2 trips), but flight prices changed and we flew from Winnipeg instead.  We had originally planned to go to the American Girl store in the Mall of America and let the girls pick out a doll, but obviously, that would no longer work.  The girls were disappointed but I got them to show me which dolls they would order if we just ordered them from home sometime, and then I ordered them, delivered to the house in Florida for a surprise.  They were thrilled!

We went to Carrabbas for dinner, at the suggestion of Lorne and Arla from church and it was fabulous!  Then we did some shopping at Target and came home to get to bed before our day at Magic Kingdom tomorrow.

Stay tuned for "the rest of the story".

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Book Review: Baroness by Susan May Warren

About the Book: Lily and Rose, daughters of an empire coming of age in the roaring twenties, can have anything they want ... except freedom.

Expected to marry well and to take the reins of the empire, they have their lives planned out for them. But, Lily, Esme's daughter longs to return home to Montana, to adventure outside the confines of New York City. And Jinx's daughter Rosie dreams of the bright lights of the newly emerging silver screen. But following their dreams - from avant garde France, to Broadway, to the skies in the world of barnstormers and wing-walkers will take all their courage.

And if they find love, will they choose freedom or happily ever after?

My Thoughts:  After reviewing Heiress last fall, I was thrilled to have the chance to review this second book in the Daughters of Fortune Series by one of my favourite authors.

This was another dramatic work of historical fiction - a whirlwind story of two very different girls and their life journeys.  I like that the book took place over a large time span to really give you an idea of their unfolding stories and what brought them to each turning point in their lives, how their past affected their choices and how their present choices affected their future in ways they couldn't imagine.  A great reminder to us that even seemingly insignificant choices can have huge consequences.

As always, Warren is a fantastic storyteller and you are truly swept into the drama of all the characters in the story as you're transported back in time to the roaring twenties. 

Definitely looking forward to the third book in this series and sure hope I have a chance to review that one as well!  

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy. 


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