Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Abigail Stuart thought she was Jeremiah Calhoun's widow.
But Jeremiah Calhoun is very handsome, very alive, and very perplexed.


Most Inconvenient Indeed.


With few options of her own, nurse Abigail Stuart agrees to marry her patient, a gravely wounded soldier calling himself Jeremiah Calhoun. They arrange a quick ceremony before he dies, giving Abigail the rights to his Ozark farm and giving Jeremiah the peace of knowing someone will care for his ailing sister after he's gone--a practical solution for both of them.

After the war, Abigail fulfills her side of the bargain--until the real Jeremiah Calhoun shows up, injured but definitely alive, and wastes no time in challenging Abigail's story. Abigail is flummoxed. After months of claiming to be his widow, how can she explain that she's never seen this Jeremiah Calhoun before? How can she convince him that she isn't trying to steal his farm? And will she find a way to stay, even though this practical arrangement has turned into a most inconvenient marriage?

MY THOUGHTS:
I've read several of Regina's books, and I really enjoyed A Most Inconvenient Marriage. The twist of marrying the wrong man is not new, but having him die and the right man show up is!

Abigail was strong, but sweet...and Jeremiah was tough, but tender. Great leading characters. The supporting cast was likeable, too. A Most Inconvenient Marriage had all the right ingredients for a great story! If you enjoy mail-order bride type stories, you will want to pick up Regina's latest book!

Thank you to Regina and Bethany House through NetGalley for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Buttermilk Sky by Jan Watson



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Weary of the expectations imposed on her by her strict upbringing, eighteen-year-old Mazy Pelfrey prepares to leave her home in the Kentucky mountains for the genteel city of Lexington, where she'll attend secretarial school. She knows her life is about to change-and only for the better. Everything will be blue skies from now on.

But business school is harder than she thought it would be and the big city not as friendly, until she meets a charming young man from a wealthy family, Loyal Chambers. When Loyal sets his sights on her, Mazy begins to see that everything she'd ever wished to have is right before her eyes. The only hindrance to her budding romance is a former beau, Chanis Clay, the young sheriff she thought she'd left firmly behind.

MY THOUGHTS:
I decided to pick up Buttermilk Sky after a review in my latest Christianbook Fiction catalog. The editor mentioned the 'Anne of Green Gables' feel and I was immediately interested. I'm glad I chose to read it.
Buttermilk Sky easily read as a standalone, but it made me want to go back and read all of Jan's previous books! I wanted to get to know some of the past characters that are woven throughout the book, and I liked the feel of the Anne-ish time period.

I liked Mazy right away. She brought to mind a little bit of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. A young, unspoiled girl looking for something exciting...then coming to the realization that there's no place like home.

I also liked Mrs. Pearl and Cinnamon (who needs a story of her own!). I did feel like Mazy's story ended too abruptly – or at least, I really wanted the story to continue or have the characters fleshed out a bit more. Didn't think it was long enough. Like I said, Cinnamon needs a story of her own – and I want to know more about Clara! Perhaps we will see them in a future book...?

A sweet story set in simpler times – I liked it and would definitely read another by Jan!

Thank you to Jan and Tyndale House through NetGalley for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.

When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .

MY THOUGHTS:
I've said it before, but most of Julie's books make me think I'm reading a movie – watching a book? The Secret of Pembrooke Park gave me that same feeling. The descriptions put you right in the manor or grounds or post chaise, and within the first few sentences I was already captivated with the story of Abigail and her family.

The mysteries surrounding the Pembrooke family and estate definitely kept me guessing. Each character had me wondering about their background and/or motive – from Mac to Polly and Molly to Leah to Mrs. Hayes to Duncan to Mrs. Webb to Miles...yes, just about everyone had something I questioned. I had several different ideas that changed as the book progressed...and I was pleased at the final conclusion.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park will make you want to curl up under a blanket with a warm mug and keep turning the pages until you've discovered the secret(s) for yourself!

If you enjoy Regency romance with a little mystery, you will definitely enjoy The Secret of Pembrooke Park!

Thank you to Julie and Bethany House through NetGalley for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride by Judith Miller



The Brickmaker's Bride by Judith Miller

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Yearning for a fresh start, Ewan McKay travels with his aunt and uncle from northern Scotland to West Virginia, promising to trade his skills in the clay business for financial assistance from his uncle Hugh. Hugh purchases a brickmaking operation from a Civil War widow and her daughter, but it's Ewan who gets the business up and running again. Ewan seeks help from Laura, the former owner's daughter, and he feels a connection with her, but she's being courted by another man---a lawyer with far more social clout and money than Ewan. Besides, Ewan has resolved he'll focus on making the brickmaking operation enough of a success that he can become a partner in the business and be able to afford to bring his sisters over from Scotland.

But when Hugh signs a bad business deal, all Ewan's hard work may come to naught. As his plans begin to crumble, Laura reveals something surprising. She and her mother may have a way to save the brickworks, and in turn Ewan may have another shot at winning Laura's heart.

MY THOUGHTS:
The 'Gone With the Wind' feel was lovely, and though I enjoy fiction full of historical detail, I felt a bit lost on understanding the brickmaking process as it didn't flow smoothly into the story at times. You can tell Judith did extensive research on the subject, and I can imagine how difficult it must be to pick and choose what to share in a book without it becoming overwhelming. Kudos for the effort!

I really liked Laura. She was very knowledgeable in her family's business, but she wasn't disrespectful or pushy. I liked Ewan, too. He was a hard worker, and you couldn't help but sympathize with him over his relationship with his Uncle. Oh, and Uncle Hugh... there's always a character like him, in real life or not! Someone who feels entitled to greatness – but expects everyone else to get him there. Although, I think Judith's conclusion of Uncle Hugh was very satisfying! The Lord changes us when we let Him!

The story did drag at times for me (mostly the detailed brick descriptions), but overall, another historical by Judith Miller that I enjoyed reading!

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other reviewers are saying!

Thank you to Judith and Bethany House through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer



ABOUT THE BOOK:
When Chet, a local coach, agrees to help Lula with her new teaching responsibilities, she'll learn more than she ever expected about life and love.

MY THOUGHTS:
I really enjoy books set in the late 1800's, early 1900's. I can picture in my mind the scenes and fashions of 'Meet Me in St. Louis,' and Anne writes this time period well.

The early history of basketball, though not something I'm particularly interested in, was still very interesting! Definitely a fresh and unique subject, that's for sure! Anne is also very good at portraying people's emotions, and Playing By Heart had many heart-tugging moments.

Playing by Heart is written in a style that I rarely enjoy and usually only tolerate: two main characters, both in the first person, alternating point of view every other chapter. After the first few chapters, I was able to focus and get in 'the groove' of the style. The two main characters are male and female, so that helped in keeping them straight as well. I did find that the story seemed a bit choppy, though. It may have been that the kindle version I read wasn't formatted quite properly, but some of the transitions seemed awkward – big gaps of time or changes in places from paragraph to paragraph.

Overall, I liked the story of Lula and Chet. Their struggles of family responsibility and duty versus personal ambitions and desires were easy to relate to and evoked a few sniffles from me.

Another good historical by Anne – though I think her very first is her best (well, it's the one I've enjoyed the most!): Wings of a Dream (only 4.99 for your Kindle)!

Thank you to Anne and Bethany House through NetGalley for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Safe Haven by Anna Schmidt



Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read and review book 3 in Anna's Peacemaker series: Safe Haven.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
When journalist Suzanne Randolph hears about FDR’s plan to bring a boatload of displaced WWII refugees to America, she knows it may be her last chance to redeem her flagging career. Suzanne follows the story to Oswego, New York, where she meets Theo Bridgewater, a Quaker dairy farmer from Wisconsin who has come to reunite with his uncle and aunt and cousin. Theo’s fight to spare his relatives the return to Germany becomes Suzanne’s fight as she does everything that the “power of the pen” can muster to help win public sympathy for the cause.

MY THOUGHTS:
I love discovering new things I hadn't known about during WWII! Safe Haven was an interesting read about a (true) camp in Oswego, NY for a small group of invited 'guests' (refugees) near the end of the war. I wasn't sure how Safe Haven was tied into the other two books of Anna's Peacemaker series, as I didn't recognize names on the back cover blurb.

But as I began to read, I recognized several of the characters! Theo's aunt and uncle, who have come to live at the camp, are Franz and Ilse Schneider – Beth's aunt and uncle from book 1 (that means: Beth is Theo's sister)! And, Gisele, the French actress from book 2 who helped Josef, Beth, and Anya escape, is also residing with the other refugees.

Even though the focus is mostly on Theo and Suzanne's story (new characters), I wouldn't read Safe Haven as a standalone. You should really know the history of the other characters – especially the mysterious POW outside the camp walls.

I loved learning about the camp – especially that the US was never planning to let the refugees stay, but had them sign documents promising to return to their home countries when the war was over). I even had to do a little research online on my own! As for the rest of the story, I felt the romance of Theo and Suzanne fell a bit flat and that disappointed me (although their ending was sweet, and I applauded Suzanne's decision). I enjoyed Anya and Peter's story from Simple Faith much more (it -and All God's Children- also had more of the action and intrigue that I prefer in my WWII settings)!

I'm not sure if this is Anna's final book for these characters – but, I hope not! The ending didn't leave me hanging, but I do wonder about Gisele...and Marta...and especially the next chapter for Herr Buch and his wife?

Also, a note to some of my readers: the main characters in each of these books are Quakers. The theology and practice of the Friends are written throughout the books, mainly their belief that 'the Light,' as they call it, resides in everyone...it's just up to each person to acknowledge it; and the practice of their 'worship,' which is sitting in silence, palms upward, waiting for 'the Light.'

In most books, I skim over these references, because I know that, according to the Bible, these beliefs are not correct. However, I've given up the Amish genre because I got tired of reading that 'being good' is the way to heaven. So, if this is something that bothers you, please be aware that although the stories are good and the characters are religious, their beliefs are not biblical.

Thank you to Anna and Barbour Publishing/Shiloh Run Press through NetGalley for sending me a digital copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Friday, May 23, 2014

Daisies are Forever by Liz Tolsma



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Gisela must hold on to hope and love despite all odds in the midst of a war-torn country.

Gisela Cramer is an American living in eastern Germany with her cousin Ella Reinhardt. When the Red Army invades, they must leave their home to escape to safety in Berlin.

However, Ella is a nurse and refuses to leave, sending her young daughters with Gisela. During their journey, Gisela meets Mitch Edwards, an escaped British POW. She pretends she is his wife in order to preserve his safety among other Germans, especially one wounded German soldier, Kurt, who has suspicions about Mitch's identity. Kurt also has feelings for Gisela and tries to uncover the truth about her "marriage."

Their journey to Gisela's mother in Berlin is riddled with tragedy and hardship, but they strive to keep Ella's daughters safe so they can reunite with their mother. During the journey Gisela and Mitch begin to develop feelings for one another beyond friendship. They reach Berlin, but their struggles are far from over. Gisela and Mitch must learn to live for the day and find hope in the darkest of circumstances.

In this moving, historically accurate portrayal of WWII Germany, the characters learn that, even with destruction all around them, some things last forever.

MY THOUGHTS:
I'm afraid I didn't like Daisies are Forever as well as Snow on the Tulips. I wasn't able to connect very well with the characters (too many at once to get to know anyone...and I never could figure out exactly why Kurt and Audra continued to hang with the group, even before their ulterior motives were revealed, nor why Mitch seemed to move so effortlessly through Germany without a disguise...and didn't work harder to get back to his unit).

I also felt like some of the story wasn't edited well. For example: Gisela and Mitch enter a house and two blondes hug Gisela's legs (the little girls she is taking care of), but in the next paragraph or so, Mitch asks Audra (who watched the couple come into the house) where the girls are. She replies that they are napping, and Gisela says she will go lie down with them and sleep.

Another: during a confrontation with Mitch and a German soldier, Mitch looks over to see that Kurt is just standing by with his arms crossed. I apologize if I'm being insensitive, but I thought Kurt was missing an arm? Even if just a figure of speech, it didn't make sense.

Strange misses like this caused me to often shake my head or flip back a few pages to see if I'd missed something...or double check to see who was supposed to be speaking.

I was really impressed with Snow on the Tulips, so my reaction to book 2 (which is a complete standalone) surprised me. The writing style seemed totally different and the story more far-fetched (although Liz's note at the end says the inspiration was combined from the actual stories of two different ladies).

Eh, sometimes that happens with a book. Unfortunately, Daises are Forever just wasn't much of a page-turner for me. If you want to read an exciting, couldn't-put-down book of Liz's, pick up Snow on the Tulips.

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other reviewers are saying!

Thank you to Liz and Thomas Nelson through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Simple Faith by Anna Schmidt



ABOUT THE BOOK:
After losing her beloved husband and daughter and surviving Hitler’s Sobibor death camp, Quaker widow Anja Steinberg dedicates her life to helping others and keeping her son safe. As a member of the resistance, she helps displaced Allied airmen get back to their units in England. The journey is rigorous and filled with danger and there is no time for romance. Then American Peter Trent parachutes into her life. She must face facts—her heart did not die with her late husband and true love could be hers again. But will a romance hurt Peter’s chance of escape from the Nazis—and endanger her life as well?

MY THOUGHTS:
I did have to refresh my memory a bit, as I read book one, All God's Children, quite awhile ago. Although Simple Faith is not a true continuation of Josef and Beth's story from book one (they play a large role, but aren't the main characters any longer), and Simple Faith could be read as a standalone, I would suggest reading All God's Children first. It is helpful in knowing the characters of Josef and Beth, along with Anja and her history.

Trying to get downed fliers back to their units was exciting, and I especially loved the addition of LeClerq, the master of disguises! Peter was a likeable character, and I enjoyed the 'Sound of Music' feel of the nuns and the priest at the funeral (remember when the nuns pull out the missing car parts from under their robes...haha)! I've always enjoyed characters who performed 'innocent' sabotage whenever possible!

Ultimately, I enjoyed the story in this second book of Anna's 'Peacemakers' series!

Thank you to Anna and Barbour Books through NetGalley for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Monday, April 21, 2014

Crayola Experience - Easton, PA - {A Review}


*I don't usually post reviews on my blog other than books, recipes, and the occasional product, but we recently took a trip to the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA. Our experience was not at all what I expected, and I thought it was worth mentioning to my readers who may someday be thinking about visiting this colorful place!*

Let me preface my review by saying we went to the Crayola Experience on Good Friday (April 18, 2014). Although we'd never been, I was fully aware that a holiday day would likely make a place like this busier than normal.

Whoa. It was beyond busy. It was absolute chaos.

Upon arriving, we realized we would have to park in the adjacent (not free) parking garage... Around and around we drove, noticing how full the garage was at 10:15 am (only a few minutes after their 10:00 am holiday opening hours)! We parked at the very top, hoping for a picture of the building – as the art and architecture is very cool - a big box of crayons spilling out over the edge and cartoon crayons 'painting' the building.

As we made our way to the entrance, we saw Clifford and Bob the Builder 'greeting' visitors. I say 'greeting,' because neither seemed even a smidge enthusiastic. It wasn't hot, so as to excuse them of being overheated in their costumes. In fact, it was a mite breezy and cool (so they should have been comfortably warm inside their apparel). Anyway, my children (ages 6 and 7) wanted their picture taken with these 2 characters that they are very familiar with. I know these 'actors' can't speak, but c'mon! Nod at the kids or something! Point at the Crayola building and clap...! Anything to pantomime excitement to the visitors! And, don't they see a mom with her camera? I never got a posed-type picture with the kids and Bob. I ended up with a picture of Bob just standing there swaying, while I also captured the back of my kids' heads, as they weren't sure what to do.

Ok, onward!

Into the building we went...and were blasted by the other extreme: utter chaos! We weren't sure where to go. All we saw were people...and more people. There were no workers to greet us or give us directions. I finally found a blue-shirted Crayola person, and made my way to him. I indicated that we had tickets (I had purchased online and printed prior to our visit), and he motioned me 'that'away.' Ok... wasn't really sure where 'that' was, but I grabbed our daughter's hand and my husband took our son's (for if we didn't, we'd lose them!), and we tried to get past the full queues at the ticket counter to where we thought we were supposed to go.

Three overwhelmed-looking Crayola ladies were scanning tickets and handing out clear bags. I knew from reading previous reviews that each visitor receives a bag to put all of his Crayola creations in as he works his way through the stations. The girl began scanning my 4 tickets and handed me two bags. She slipped tokens in the bags and mumbled something about what they were for (however the noise level was so great, that I just nodded...even though I didn't quite catch it all; I assumed we'd figure it out as we went along). The girl's actions and attitudes weren't unfriendly, but she was definitely in a hurry, and I could tell we were dismissed to 'experience' the place on our own.

As soon as I passed the ticket area, I turned to my husband and said, 'Where are our bags?! I thought parents got them, too? I want to create, too!!' Ok, I'll admit I felt a little whiny about it, as I'd been looking forward to making some of the fun creations along with my children (and, I paid for an admission ticket, too!)...but, I began to assume that maybe the workers saw how busy it was and were just handing bags to the kids that day. I'm sure if I'd gone back and asked for one, I would have gotten one...but, if you'd seen the crowd and heard the noise, I'm sure you would have just shrugged your shoulders, too.

Again, there were no workers around to give us directions or recommendations. We just started making our way up the stairs, wondering what we were supposed to do – feeling very overwhelmed by the loud humming noise of too much humanity in one small space.

I just want to say: both my husband and I are first-born children. We are independent, preferring to do and figure out things by ourselves. We don't need 'direction;' we had the Crayola map; we knew 'what' to do. But the prevailing aura of disorganization and chaos in the building had us wishing for a little direction...or something.

We got to the 2nd floor and as my husband would say, there wasn't room to swing a dead cat. All of the crayon wrapping stations had lines out to 'here' (me stretching both arms out all the way) on both sides...and the noise from the adjacent room was overwhelming (there is some kind of game – looked a little like 'plinko,' and the clunking noise combined with the 'normal' crowd noise of that many adults trying to wrangle their brood and excited kids was about to drive anyone insane).

Husband saw a flat screen monitor above a door that indicated the crayon factory demonstration started every half hour. Ahh, we only had about 10 minutes to wait for the next one! We decided that might be our best option so we could perhaps get our bearings and form a plan for the rest of the day. So, we got in line.

People began lining up behind us. About 5 minutes later, a crayonologist appeared and told us, 'I'm sorry! The screen is wrong for the first showings. The next one doesn't actually start until --.' Which was another 40 minutes away.

Really?

Ugh.

So much for getting our bearings and forming a plan. We huddled near a wall in the hallway, while people, people, and more people streamed past, looking at our map, trying to figure out what to start with. We thought we had a bright idea! Let's go up to the 4th floor and work our way down! Maybe other people are starting their way up, and it will be less crowded if we go backwards!

Oy. We were wrong. The mass of humanity was just as thick on the 4th floor as it was on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors.

Really, we had no choice but to pick a line and do SOMETHING. Our poor kids! So, we got in line to do the Drip Art. The children choose 2 crayons, place them in a machine that melts and 'drips' them onto spinning paper. The visitor's design will vary, as he controls the spinning speed of the paper with a little lever. It was a neat project, but again, it is very hard to feel 'creative' when you are feeling rushed to finish and move on, because the line just grows longer and longer behind you.

By the time we waited and finished dripping, it was just about time for the Crayon Factory demonstration to start. So, we headed back down to the 2nd floor...and got in line.

 
I would have to say that this is the best part of the Crayola Experience. My kids were already somewhat familiar with the crayon making process (we've got Mr. Roger's classic 'crayon factory' episode on DVD), but it was still pretty neat to see the machines in action in person. The multimedia presentation with animated crayons 'Turk' and 'Scarlet' and live Crayola Crayonologist was entertaining, and believing that you're getting a red crayon that you just saw being made was pretty thrilling for the kids (the Crayonologist hands you a !free! crayon on your way out of the show)!

As we left the demonstration room, we decided to get in line at the Wrap it Up! crayon wrapping kiosks. This is when I realized what the tokens were for. Visitors only get so many tokens...and will have to use them wisely. You can't just 'load up' your bag with souvenirs...unless you've got a token to get it! To wrap a crayon, you must first insert a token. Then, on a touch screen, you get to design your own label, with an image and then you can choose your own crayon name! Once finished, the sticker label prints and a crayon drops down, like a vending machine. You remove both...and wrap the label around your crayon!

Neat-o!

Until the machine doesn't work!

Unbelievable, eh?

Truth!

The father and child, two in front of my son and I never got his crayon. He just walked off, shoulders slumped. The lady in front of me looked at me with confusion... and said, 'the people on the other side didn't get one either?!' Then, she and her son began making their label...and got no crayon. So, she left her child at the kiosk and tried to find a Crayola employee. One finally came, unlocked the machine, and handed the child a crayon.

Now it was our turn, and I didn't expect much. Hallelujah! My son got his label AND (electric lime) crayon which he named 'froggy green.' :-)

Son and I were happy and walked to a bench to find confused daddy and disappointed daughter – her machine didn't give her the purple crayon. Grr. I volunteered to track down a Crayola person. When I found one, she was trying to unlock another color's kiosk...and finally led me to locked cabinets apart from the kiosks to retrieve a purple crayon (apparently many people were not receiving their crayons that day...)

Really, husband and I were ready to head to the hotel by now, but we so wanted our kids to have more memories than 1 red crayon, 1 wrapped crayon, and 1 drip art paper! The thing they really wanted to do was play on the Color Playground. We decided to visit the 3rd floor and check it out.

Oh! The humanity!!

Husband took one look...and said, 'No way!' There was no way we could allow our kids into the jungle. I just can't even describe the mass of children and adults in that one small area. It actually became more of a safety issue than anything else.

Disappointment...and even a little disgust was really beginning to set in! We couldn't do anything! The tables where you could glue, cut, create, color were so full...there was no place to sit even if you wanted to make something.

We finally made our way to the Marker Maker (tokens required). Again, the potential for an amazing time is here...! It was very fun to see a marker being made! But, the lines were so long that it squelches creativity! You know if you want a marker (or any thing at any station), you've got to choose a line...or never get it. It is no fun feeling rushed to choose a color, or just choose a color that you don't want because the line is shortest...wait in line...and then when it's your turn, get it over quickly, because a line of people are waiting behind you. It's hard to enjoy the process of the marker making or any of the projects in that kind of situation.

I knew my daughter would LOVE the Crayon Clinic (tokens needed) – where you melt crayons into new things – shaped crayons, rings, etc. Again, when we ventured to the 4th floor to attempt it, the line was so long, we couldn't even find the end! It just wasn't worth waiting for. Same thing with the Water Works. Both kids really wanted to do that...couldn't see the end of the line.

The only other station we were able to complete was the Be a Star activity. With the aid of a green screen, your face gets superimposed onto a coloring sheet with a background of your choosing (cartoon crayons in different scenes). Our kids each created one – I was sure because of the printer being used, that we would have to give up a token – but the Be a Star feature was tokenless! Again, though, we felt rushed and tried to hurry through because the line behind us was...um, dare I say: loooong?!

Husband finally herded us to the gift shop and told me they could each pick out anything, and we'd get it! Normally, we avoid gift shops – as the prices are so much, and we've already spent an arm and a leg for the activity or park itself. But, since this 'experience' was so awful, husband wanted the kids to have something fun from the trip! They each picked out a plush stuffed crayon at $26.99 a pop. Ouch. Mama was cringing...tickets, parking...oy! OH! I forgot to mention the $3 the vending machine ate when son wanted a drink!! And, do you think we could find anyone nearby to let them know that we lost $3...and were still thirsty?!

To say that the Crayola Experience was a disappointment would be an understatement. We planned our entire weekend away around a trip to the 'factory.' I'm not sure, but there needs to be some kind of organization – perhaps only so many people allowed on a floor or at an activity at once. Husband said that even the lines wouldn't bother him too much if it felt like we were making progress and moving from one area to the next. 

Like a restaurant!

Some people sit for hours, savoring their dinner. But during the same long time they spend at their meal, 2 more tables empty. Sure, there's a line and a wait at the door, but you don't mind, knowing some table will finish their food eventually. Rotated in and out. For every 'x' amount of people/family out, 'x' amount of people go in. I think something like that should be considered...

One child may spend an hour at a station, while another will not be interested and want to move on...opening space for the next in line.

After reading other reviews, it seems that mismanagement of progress through the activities is a common theme. I don't know how you could pick a 'non busy' day. If you lived in the area, you might be able to call ahead. But, for us, it's a 2-1/2 hour drive. It has to be a planned thing. We'd have no idea until we got there!

Despite the amazing potential for fun, I'm not willing to plunk down money for a 'maybe today'll be slow' day!

As we left the building, they were holding back more people from entering. And the line wrapped around the building! I wanted to tell them all: 'Forget it!!' But, perhaps someone among them enjoys chaos and had a wonderful time.

Unfortunately, we did not...and I'm sorry to say that I would caution any of my friends considering a trip to Easton in hopes of having some Crayola fun. You are likely to leave with a lot of disappointment, a headache caused by over stimulation...and an empty wallet.

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on TripAdvisor.

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**DISCLOSURE: No compensation was given for this post. I just thought the information would be helpful to my readers. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Monday, March 24, 2014

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin



ABOUT THE BOOK:
In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric's secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz.

Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric's compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy.

Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp's prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?

MY THOUGHTS:
Wow. This was an exciting page-turner. I loved Kate's inspiration of the biblical story of Esther – a Jewess in an unexpected place with the seemingly impossible chance to save her people.

Without giving too much of the story away, I couldn't wait to read the author's note to see if the fantastic escape she penned ever happened from Theresienstadt, a ghetto established by the German SS during WWII as a transfer station to other camps. Although the biblical Esther is real, and the inhumane treatment depicted in the book is accurate, For Such a Time is definite fiction.

Still, from beginning to end, I found the read unique and exciting, hoping the journey were true...and knowing if it weren't, that there are true cases of escape and revolt of some Jews during that horrific time.

I enjoy WWII fiction, and to me, these stories never get old. So many courageous men and women with tales to be told, whether courageously saving lives...or simply and desperately surviving their own. If you enjoy the same, you'll want to pick up your own copy of For Such a Time!

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book HERE.

Thank you to Kate and Bethany House Blogger Program for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Monday, March 3, 2014

Growing Up Duggar by Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger Duggar



I had the opportunity to check out this new book from Howard Books!

MY THOUGHTS:
The four oldest Duggar girls (from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting) have recently released their own book, Growing Up Duggar: It's All About Relationships.

If you're looking to see if Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger will reveal shocking secrets from the mega household (they do mention their mom Michelle's battle with an eating disorder in high school which was something I didn't know), you'll be disappointed. No, I've never met them nor do I think they are perfect (as they themselves readily admit), but I believe the life you see the Duggars live on tv is pretty close to their real life. Just like their camera appearances, the girls share in their book honestly, yet humbly, the biblical convictions on the standards they have come to hold.

In this case, they've focused their book on relationships – from the Lord first and foremost, which then effects all other relationships: from yourself to parents to siblings to culture to guys.

Although written primarily to teenage girls, with personal stories from each girl of their own struggles and victories, I was challenged as a mom in my own attitudes and habits, as well as areas my husband and I can do better in the raising of our own young children.

Trying to remember my teenage days (wow, that was a long time ago!), I realize most girls will want to see what the Duggar girls have to say about guys and dating. Not everyone will hold to their idea of 'courtship,' but having safeguards for accountability for that 'dating' time of life is very important. Godliness and purity starts in your heart and mind long before a guy ever comes around...

Dad has asked us girls, “What kind of girl do you think a godly guy will be attracted to?”

The answer is, a godly girl. That's what he and Mom are continually encouraging each of us girls to become. We know that a godly girl is not someone who has lived a “perfect" life but is someone who has received God's forgiveness and is seeking to put the past behind her and choosing to live every day for Him (page 115).

It's also crucial for Christian gals to understand that we cannot conform our patterns to a thoughtless lifestyle and still expect to somehow marry a godly prince. We need to always keep in mind that if we desire to marry a godly man, then we must strive to become the kind of godly girl a godly man will be attracted to. God desires to see us grow in character and live by His principles, and for us to have a strong relationship with Him – which is the best foundation and preparation any of us can make for a future marriage relationship (page 140).
I especially liked their reasons for 'dates' at home. Never gave much thought to watching a guy react to your little sibling spilling milk in his lap or your rambunctious brother being loud and noisy... anyone can be on their best behavior during a dinner out on the town, but character is often revealed during the chaotic 'everyday' moments!

I expected Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger's book to be a rehash of their parents' previous two books, just told from the kids' perspective, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although these girls' convictions may not match yours, their humility is evident and their challenge is clear: Jesus first, others second, you last.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book HERE.

Thank you to the Duggar girls and Chris from Howard's Blogger Review Program for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Friday, February 21, 2014

I Pinned, I Made: the BEST Sweet and Sour Chicken...with fried rice!



I really do love Pinterest. It is full of great inspiration, from amazing recipes to beautiful crochet patterns to free photography tutorials to lovely wedding ideas.

When I saw this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe from Holly over at Life in the Lofthouse, I decided to make it almost immediately.



I was not disappointed.

I have never tried making Chinese at home, aside from an occasional stir-fry, and this was absolutely fabulous! Tasted just like our favorite Chinese restaurant!

My young children called it 'China Chicken' and were cheering when we still had leftovers for a third meal!! And the leftovers tasted just as good as the first time.

My husband devoured it! He kept saying, 'Man! This is good! This is so good!' ...(and I won't embarrass anyone by saying I saw someone licking their plate after one meal... ;-)

I barely remembered to take a picture, we were so busy eating and mmm'ing. The hubs said to just take pictures of our empty plates.

The recipe takes a bit more time than I usually spend preparing a meal -- not terribly so, but you have to dredge, dip, and brown the chicken before finishing it off in the oven. I had doubled the recipe, so it took me awhile, having to pan fry in several batches.

But...it was definitely worth it, and I'd spend the time to make this again! And again...

The fam is already asking when that will be...!

So, head over to Holly's blog to find the recipe!


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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Echoes of Mercy by Kim Vogel Sawyer



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Sometimes a secret must be kept for the truth to be revealed.

When a suspicious accident occurs at the famous Dinsmore Chocolate Factory in Sinclair, Kansas, Caroline Lang goes undercover as a factory worker to investigate the circumstances surrounding the event and how the factory treats its youngest employees—the child workers. Caroline’s fervent faith, her difficult childhood, and compassionate heart drove her to her job as an investigator for the Labor Commission and she is compelled to see children freed from such heavy adult responsibilities, to allow them to pursue an education.

Oliver Dinsmore, heir to the Dinsmore candy dynasty, has his own investigation to conduct. Posing as a common worker known as “Ollie Moore,” he aims to find out all he can about the family business before he takes over for his father. Caroline and Oliver become fast friends, but tension mounts when the two find themselves at odds about the roles of child workers. Hiding their identities becomes even more difficult when fate brings them together over three children in desperate need. When all is revealed, will the truth destroy the love starting to grow between them?

MY THOUGHTS:
It's another Kim Vogel Sawyer book! Kim's books have become some of my favorites in recent years. I love the 'good friend' type of books she writes. If you're a reader, you know what I mean. Those books that are warm, comfortable, cozy up under a blanket, read-again kind of stories.

Echoes of Mercy was a little different than Kim's norm. Oh, it was still a book that made me feel satisfied and comfortable at the end – but, she wrote a little more suspense into this one. I liked that! And, the chocolate factory setting was just fun and unique!

I haven't watched the show, but Kim had a little 'undercover boss' going on, which I find a fascinating concept (although I was surprised that Gordon wouldn't know the owner's son?)!

Kim's characters are always easy to relate to and love – or not! Kesia was great – loved her! I always enjoy when her type of character is added to a book! The wise, speaks-her-mind-can't-help-but love person! And then there was Mr. Dinsmore. I wanted to like him – well, I did, as he seemed a wonderful father and even a kind man; I guess I was disappointed that he didn't apologize at the end, or at least we weren't told of any change of heart after all that happens.

Still, despite the unsatisfactory conclusion with the senior Dinsmore, Echoes of Mercy was another winner by Kim.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:

EXCERPT
Late September 1904—Lincoln, Nebraska

Caroline

Caroline Lang slapped the thick packet of meticulously handwritten notes onto the center of Noble’s leather desk blotter and then flopped into the nearest chair. The spindled legs slid on the glossy oak floor, raising a high-pitched complaint. Instead of apologizing for the scratches her carelessness had surely created—Noble was the most persnickety perfectionist she’d ever known—she said, “There you are. A completed report on accommodations for the sugar beet harvesters. I earned my week’s leave with that one.” She grimaced at her purple-stained fingertips. “If I never see another beet, it will be too soon.”

Noble had the gall to chuckle. “Oh, now, Caroline, you didn’t like beets before I sent you to Omaha. You’ve always said they stink when they’re cooking.”

“They do.” She nodded emphatically, causing several escaping tendrils from her simple bun to bounce on her shoulders. “And they don’t have to be cooked to stink. You ought to smell them when they’re just sitting in a bin in the sun.” Wearily she pushed to her feet. “I intend to spend my week of leave sleeping. You know where to find me if you have any questions about the report, but I’m sure you’ll find it concise. I was trained by the best, after all.” She aimed a fond grin at her friend and mentor.

Noble set the leather-bound packet aside without peeking in it. “You know I trust you, Caroline.”

His simple comment warmed her, and she gave him another smile as she turned toward the door.

“And since I trust you…”

Something in his tone stilled her hand, which hovered midway to the polished brass doorknob. She glanced over her shoulder and caught him stroking his beard, his familiar sign of worry. She returned to the chair, seating herself carefully this time. “What is it?” Fear struck, making her mouth go dry. “Has something happened to Annamarie?” She prayed Noble’s sweet, frail wife hadn’t met with harm while she’d been away on an assignment. She loved Annamarie almost as much as Noble did.“Annamarie is fine.”Relief slumped Caroline’s shoulders. “Oh, thank heaven…”“But, unfortunately, I lost an investigator.” Noble’s face pinched into creases of sorrow. “A fine man—Harmon Bratcher. He leaves behind a wife and two sons.”

“Oh no…” As an investigator for the Labor Commission, Caroline knew they could meet danger. Sometimes entering workplaces to openly explore, other times posing as workers to observe the business practices on the sly, their presence was rarely welcomed and occasionally threatened. Even the required travel held various hazards. Each time she set out, Noble prayed over her for her safety. She depended on him and Annamarie praying her through the investigations. So far she’d always come back unscathed. Tired, yes, but unscathed.

Her heart ached for poor Mr. Bratcher, for his family, and for Noble, who felt accountable for his agents.

Caroline rounded the desk and bent down to wrap her arms around Noble’s shoulders and press her cheek to his. His thick white beard tickled her jaw, but she didn’t pull away. He needed the comfort, and she needed to offer it. He patted her wrists in a silent thank-you. “It has been difficult, I confess. I considered him a good friend.”

Although Caroline couldn’t claim Bratcher as a friend, she’d met him and admired his strong stance on changing the laws concerning the age of workers in the United States. The coalition to end child labor had lost a strong proponentcwith his untimely passing. She shifted to perch on the edge of Noble’s desk, leaving one hand on his broad shoulder in a gesture of comfort. “What happened?”

“According to the ruling from law enforcement officials, he broke his neck when he fell into an elevator shaft.”

Such a horrific way to end one’s life. But mixed with the horror, she experienced a niggle of wariness. “You don’t believe the ruling, do you?”

Noble pinned her with a steady look. “I suppose it could be true. Accidents happen, especially in factories. But the week before he fell, I received a telegram from Harmon saying he intended to sneak into the factory on Sunday—the only day no workers were on duty—to retrieve questionable bookkeeping records he’d glimpsed the week before. But he died before he could submit any other information. There were no documents on his body. So I can only surmise he fell into the shaft before he laid claim to the records, or—”

“Or someone took them from him,” she finished.

Noble nodded somberly. He caught her hand. “Caroline, I know you just returned from an investigation. You’re tired and have rightfully earned your week of rest. But there’s an opening at the factory where Harmon died.”

Caroline stiffened, anticipating his next request.

“The opening is for a toter, a job generally given to women.” His fingers tightened on her hand. “You’re my only female agent. Would you go to Sinclair, apply for the position, and use it to look into Harmon’s death? I’d need to send you out on this evening’s train.”

The entire journey home she’d anticipated a lengthy soak in a hot bath followed by days of lying on her comfortable feather mattress in a state of languor. The thought of departing that evening without even a few hours of rest made her want to groan. But how could she deny Noble when he’d done so much for her? Noble went on. “Of course, we can’t make investigating Harmon’s death your official reason for being there. We’d be overstepping our bounds with the local authorities. So, as far as the commission is concerned, you’d be there to finish Harmon’s report on the factory’s safety features…or the lack thereof. Harmon sent several messages about his findings. He was especially concerned about the number of underage workers at the factory, but he died before submitting a full report.”

Caroline gave a start, her pulse speeding into a gallop. “Underage workers?”

Noble’s lips formed a grim line. “According to Harmon, this factory seems to have a disproportionate number of child workers.”

Her tiredness melted in light of this new information. The opportunity to further her personal battle to end child labor and to put Noble’s worries to rest concerning Bratcher’s death proved too tempting to resist. “I’ll go.”

The relief in Noble’s face compensated for the loss of her hot bath and days of lazy recuperation. “Bless you, Caroline. There’s no one else I would trust with this mission.”His confidence in her both touched and terrified her. After all, one investigator had already died in the factory. Go with me, dear Lord. She drew in a deep breath and vowed, “I won’t let you down, Noble. I promise.” - See more at: http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/catalog.php?work=221540#sthash.o0MxMOLX.dpuf

Thank you to Kim and Waterbrook Multnomah through Blogging for Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shadowed by Grace by Cara C. Putman



Welcome to the Litfuse blog tour for Shadowed by Grace by Cara C. Putman!

ABOUT THE BOOK:
She found peace in a time of war.

Desperate to save her dying mother, an American woman accepts her newspaper's assignment to travel to Italy where she takes photographs dangerously close to the front lines during World War II. But Rachel's real motive in this journey is to find the father she never knew, an artist she hopes can offer the comfort and support both she and her mother need to survive at such a desperate time.

In her quest, Rachel becomes involved with what will become the Monuments Men effort to save great monuments and works of art from the Third Reich. Soon enough she will find more than she ever imagined---in war, in love, and in God.

MY THOUGHTS:
I think I've read almost every Christian fiction book that has been set WWII. I really love the intrigue, emotion, and history of that era. However, the story of priceless art that disappeared during Hitler's reign is fairly new to me after reading Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey's book a few years ago, Chasing Mona Lisa (I guess I did see a Hogan's Heroes rerun that involved some stolen art...but, um, although enjoyable, I haven't based much of my WWII history on that sitcom).

Anyway, I was excited to read Shadowed by Grace, which dealt with the 'Monuments Men,' men who were given the task of recovering and protecting Europe's invaluable art.

Yes, there was excitement and intrigue...but, not enough to keep me glued to the pages. I had a hard time liking Rachel from the start – her mom seemed too sick to leave, no matter the good intentions of getting help that seemed absolutely impossible in such a time and place as war-torn Italy! Sure, it's fiction, but still...running off to battlefields in Europe hoping to find a no-name man... Well, it made me question Rachel's sanity.

And the romance wasn't really there for me, either. Yes, long courtships aren't realistic during wartime, but I just didn't feel much of a spark between Rachel and Scott.

And Tyler was just unexpectedly crazy!

Ok, honestly, the story wasn't that bad! If you are enthusiastic for WWII fiction, you'll likely enjoy the tidbits of history and style in Shadowed by Grace. For me, though, it was a 3-star kind of book: a good 'one-time' read, but not one I'd stay up until midnight to finish or keep on my shelf to read again.

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other reviewers are saying!

Thank you to Cara and B&H Publishing through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Carolina Gold by Dorothy Love



ABOUT THE BOOK:
The war is over, but her struggle is just beginning.

Charlotte Fraser returns to her late father's once-flourishing rice plantation on the Waccamaw River, determined to continue growing the special kind of rice known as Carolina Gold. But Fairhaven Plantation is in ruins, the bondsmen are free, and money is scarce.

To make ends meet, Charlotte reluctantly accepts a position as tutor to the young daughters of Nicholas Betancourt, heir to the neighboring Willowood Plantation. Then Nick's quest to prove his ownership of Willowood sends Charlotte on a dangerous journey that reveals an old family mystery---and threatens all that she holds dear.

Inspired by the life of a 19th century woman rice planter, Carolina Gold continues Dorothy Love's winning tradition of weaving together mystery, romance, and rich historical detail, bringing to life the story of one young woman's struggle to restore her ruined world.

To keep up with Dorothy Love, visit www.dorothylovebooks.com, become a fan on Facebook (Dorothy Love Books) or follow her on Twitter (@writerDorothy).

MY THOUGHTS:
I really liked the Southern Lowcountry style of this book. Although not all of Charlotte's circumstances were pleasant, the descriptive writing of the post-war South and plantation restoration was smooth and warm, bringing to my mind scenes from the movie Gone with the Wind.

Charlotte's solo trip to New Orleans, with such little evidence, seemed a little far-fetched for a genteel 19th-century woman, but my imagination liked that she cared so much about others to do what she thought was right. And Josie! My, what a spoiled Southern girl she seemed to be!

I especially love when authors are inspired by the life of a real person and I enjoyed this fictionalized story of Mrs. Pringle, a long ago rice farmer.

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other reviewers are saying!

Thank you to Dorothy and Thomas Nelson through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**
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