Family Vacation, September 2015

Well, we’ve been home from vacation for far too long (boo!). But when we first got back I had to jump straight into my insane time at work. Then I came down with a cold (which I’m still nursing….this thing will never end) and I didn’t feel like getting on the computer much. But now it’s time to sit down and “document” our vacation.

It had been over a year since we had a vacation and 3 years since our last “big” vacation (Hawaii in 2012). And it was our first big family vacation for Garrett. He had been to Florida once to spend a few days at my grandmother’s condo down there, but this was on a whole different scale for him. We were a little more than nervous because this was also the first time that Nathan and I had taken Garrett on vacation by ourselves. We usually had other family members accompany us to help us. And we were leaving the country with him – we figured we were either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid! Ha! But really, things turned out pretty well so it wasn’t that bad. Poor Katelyn had to stay home with the grandparents, she was not old enough to go on the cruise with us and we didn’t really want to wait for her to be old enough, we needed the break ASAP. It was also the first time I had been away from her overnight, it was a little difficult but it all worked out :)

Now, on to the trip. We flew out of St.Louis down to Ft. Lauderdale the night before our cruise was to leave. We were booked for an 8 night cruise on the Carnival Conquest visiting St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Antigua and Nassau.

IMG_0126Carnival is not usually our first go-to cruise line, but I really fell in love with the itinerary, plus the price was good. That being said, we were actually pretty happy with our experience on Carnival this time around. The Conquest is a nice ship, but it is showing its age in a few spots and could definitely use a little bit of a refresher in the near future. But the crew really made this cruise exceptional, I was extremely pleased with the service we received throughout the trip.

First sea daysWe started our cruise with two full days at sea. When I was a kid I used to love days at sea because it meant I could spend most of my time with the other kids in the kids club. Garrett wasn’t too impressed with the kids club. He went 4 nights for about 2 hours each, so we did get some free time to ourselves, but not as much as we had hoped for. I hope by the time we go on our next cruise he will enjoy the kids club much more. So the first two days at sea were spent with some time at the pool and a really cool Cat in the Hat parade/story time! Garrett loved seeing the Cat in the Hat!!

Butterfly FarmOur first stop was St. Maarten. We chose to do an excursion to the Butterfly Farm. We obviously had to choose kid-friendly excursions, and while this would not have been something we would have chosen if we were cruising child-less, we really enjoyed our time at the Butterfly Farm. Garrett was a little leery at first, but he soon warmed up to the place and really enjoyed seeing the different colors on the butterflies. Overall, St. Maarten was just an okay place in my opinion, they never really recovered from the terrible hurricane 20 years ago, and the French side is having some issues with really high property taxes, so St. Maarten was not exactly as nice as I had come to imagine it (my parents went shortly before the hurricane hit and have raved about the island all these years – so I had really high hopes). But we did enjoy being there for a day trip.

AntiguaNext up was Antigua. We just planned a simple beach day. The last time Garrett had been to the beach he was about 18 months old. He was not impressed at that point, so we really didn’t know how he would respond. He’s quite particular about his hands being clean, so I didn’t figure he would be all that interested in digging around in the sand (he gets that little “quirk” from me – and I hate sand, the darned stuff gets everywhere.) But he ended up really loving it. Him and Nathan had to build the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse sand castle, ha! Nathan was mad at me that I didn’t pack his shovel and pail for the beach, but we just didn’t have the room!

St ThomasSt. Thomas was our third stop. Once again we chose a simple beach day. But this beach was absolutely gorgeous! We were at Magen’s Bay. Just such a beautiful place!! The trip there was a little crazy, quite hilly and such, but the views were stunning. I would highly recommend everyone to check this beach out if you’re ever in St. Thomas. Also, St. Thomas is definitely an island that Nathan and I would love to go back and stay like a week at sometime in the future – we enjoyed it that much!

Green Eggs and HamThen we had one last day at sea. This was the day Garrett loved the most. We got to do the Cat in the Hat breakfast! He was in heaven! This was also where my camera died (I had a second battery … back in the cabin!) so I only got a few shots here. I couldn’t believe it, but he even ate the Green Eggs and Ham. He’s a pretty picky eater, so I didn’t really know how he would take to the eggs being green, but he didn’t even notice! He was just too enthralled with everything going on around him to even notice, probably! It was a really cute thing the ship put together for the passengers. Nathan and I even enjoyed it!

NassauOur final port was Nassau. Nathan and I had been to Nassau once before on a cruise, and we had a lot of trouble deciding which excursion to choose. We wanted to head out to the Atlantis Hotel, but we figured it probably wouldn’t be ideal for Garrett (he hasn’t had swim lessons yet), so instead we decided to do a city tour with a stop at the Ardastra Gardens. We figured we really couldn’t go wrong with a zoo stop for our animal-obsessed son!

We just had such a wonderful time. I can’t wait until Katelyn is older and we can go as a family of 4 – what a wonderful time we will have!!

Misc Vacay

August & September 2015 Wrap Up

Well somewhere along the line I skipped the August wrap-up. Oops. So I figured I’d just go ahead and wrap August and September up together. I’ve had some strange reading habits lately. I went on vacation in early September and read up a storm. But I haven’t even picked up a book in over a week now. So I don’t know what’s going on with that. I’ll get back to it eventually :)

August: 4 books (YTD: 29)

Flesh and BloodIn Search of the Rose NotesBlonde Hair, Blue EyesCoercion

  1. Flesh and Blood by Patricia Cornwell – REVIEW
  2. In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault – REVIEW
  3. Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter – REVIEW
  4. Coercion by Tim Tigner – REVIEW

September: 3 books (YTD: 32)

Everything She ForgotBlackberry WinterThe Girl on the Train

  1. Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne – REVIEW
  2. Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio – REVIEW
  3. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – REVIEW

Pages Read: 2,245 (YTD: 10,399)

Books Received: 9 (See list here)

  • Hard Copy Review Book: 4
  • Purchased new: 3
  • Traded for: 1
  • Paperbackswap: 1

Hopefully I can get out of this reading slump funk I’m in soon and have some great reading ahead of me. It’s not like I don’t have enough books to choose from… ha! I also hope to be getting a post written up documenting our vacation pretty soon. I just don’t seem to have the time (or effort) to want to sit down and draft anything up right now. Happy reading everyone!!


2015.32 REVIEW – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins

Copyright: 2015
Pages: 316
Rating: 5/5
Read: Sept. 13-20, 2015
Challenge: No Challenge
Yearly count: 32
Format: Print
Source: Cruise Ship Library
Series: N/A

The Girl on the Train Blurb: Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.

She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses, “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see: she’s much more than just the girl on the train…


Review: When this one first came out it had so much buzz surrounding it. But I was intrigued. I wanted to read it so badly. But I usually end up hating buzz books. So I chose to hold off and let the buzz die off a little bit. When I went on my cruise recently, I finished the only two books I took with me. On the last night of the cruise, I decided I’d pop into the cruise ship’s library and see what they had. And I saw this book. I got so excited I nearly knocked my husband down to get to it. So I made a little trade with one of the books I had finished for this one.

I started reading this one on my plane ride home. I read 100 pages. Actually, I should say I flew through 100 pages, because that’s more accurate. What I really found about this book was that it was an addictive read.

Another thing that I found was that the characters are horrible. Actually, they’re probably a bit beyond horrible, they’re that bad.

I wanted to slap Rachel upside her head on more than one occasion. I could hardly tolerate her near the end – either make the change in life you need to or stop whining about it and deal with what you’ve gotten yourself into. I had very little sympathy for her. Anna irritated me to no end. She was too proud of herself for breaking up a marriage – not something that’s really brag-worthy in my opinion. Then you had Megan, Scott and Tom. They were all screwed up too. Every single person in this book was screwed up to the max, to be completely honest. It was just a little over the top in places, and I hated every single one of them. But yet, I kept reading. I had to know what really happened. It really was an addictive read.

I don’t know why I loved this one so much. It was irritating to me in so many places. I hated the characters. Yet I loved it. It’s such a strange thing to try to describe. But definitely a book I’d recommend.

2015.31 REVIEW – Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Blackberry Winter
by Sarah Jio

Copyright: 2012
Pages: 286
Rating: 4/5
Read: Sept. 7-10, 2015
Challenge: No Challenge
Yearly count: 31
Format: Print
Source: Purchased New
Series: N/A

Blackberry WinterBlurb: Seattle, 1933. Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, good night and reluctantly leaves for work. She hates the night shift, but it’s the only way she can earn enough to keep destitution at bay. In the morning – even though it’s the second of May – a heavy snow is falling. Vera rushes to wake Daniel, but his bed is empty. His teddy bear lies outside in the snow.

Seattle, present day. One the second of May, Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge awakens to another late-season snow-storm. Assigned to cover this “blackberry winter” and its predecessor decades earlier, Claire learns of Daniel’s unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth – only to discover that she and Vera are linked in unexpected ways.


Review: I purchased this one new a few years ago and let it linger on my shelves for far too long. I picked it up to take on my vacation because it was a little shorter than most of the books I read. I am thoroughly glad that I did get to read this one, because I ended up loving it!

I was immediately taken with Vera and Claire. Their stories were so intriguing from the beginning that I wanted to know what happened with both of them. The pain that Vera went through losing Daniel just absolutely broke my heart. And then learning of Claire’s own loss was even more painful. As a mother to two healthy, vibrant children, I can’t even imagine the loss of one.

Overall, this is a book that I really enjoyed and am glad that I finally read. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Jio in the future. Highly recommended to anyone who loves a good story. This one has a bit of romance, mystery, and history. It is well written and I found it to be a joy to read. I couldn’t wait to get to the end just so I could find out what happened to little Daniel. And when it was finally revealed it was a shock as to how it all came full circle for Claire. Just a lovely book that I thoroughly enjoyed!

2015.30 REVIEW – Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

Everything She Forgot
by Lisa Ballantyne

Copyright: 2015
Pages: 409
Rating: 4/5
Read: Sept. 2-7, 2015
Challenge: No Challenge
Yearly count: 30
Format: Print
Source: PICT Book Tour
Series: N/A



Driving home, Margaret Holloway is rear-ended and trapped in the wreckage of her car. Just as she begins to panic, a stranger pulls her free and disappears. Though she escapes with minor injuries, Margaret feels that something’s wrong. Flashbacks to the crash are dredging up lost associations from her childhood. And somehow, Margaret knows that it’s got something to do with the man who saved her life. As Margaret uncovers a mystery with chilling implications for her family and her very identity, Everything She Forgot winds through a riveting dual narrative and asks the question: How far would you go to hide the truth-from yourself?


I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review as part of a Partners in Crime Book Tour. The thoughts below are my own.

Once, her mother had taken her hand and smoothed it, saying, ‘Some things are best forgotten,’ and so she had forgotten almost everything. (p. 115)

That quote that I included above, “Some things are best forgotten,” is really the heart and soul of this book. As I was reading and watching everything unfold in front of my eyes, it really got me thinking about just how impressive the human mind truly is. What our minds can do with memories is shockingly unreal to be honest.

This was my first time reading a book by Ms. Ballantyne; but it certainly won’t be my last. I took this one on my recent vacation and I loved every page of it. It was easy to read in bits and pieces without getting lost. It kept my interest – in fact, at one point I wanted to just sit in the room and finish the book … not enjoy vacation! Oops!!

This isn’t a fast-paced thriller. Instead it’s a very intricate tale where the story is laid bare little by little. I loved getting to know Maggie, Big George, and even Angus (who was not my favorite character … I had a lot of issues with him after what he let happen to his poor cow). And as I said earlier, it really is interesting to see what the human mind is capable of.

This was a really enjoyable read, I loved watching Maggie’s memories come back to her bit by bit. And the way it all came full circle at the end was nice. Overall, a book that I would definitely recommend!


Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Number of Pages: 432
ISBN: 0062391488 (13: 978-0062391483)
Purchase Links: Amazon Barnes & Noble Goodreads

Critical Praise:

“Ballantyne’s effortless prose took me across the Atlantic and didn’t let me return until its surprising and satisfying conclusion. A tight story that comes full circle and keeps you reading.” — Bryan Reardon, author of Finding Jake

Author Bio:

authorLisa Ballantyne was born in Armadale, West Lothian, Scotland and studied English Literature at University of St Andrews.

She lived and worked in China for many years and started writing seriously while she was there. Before being published, Lisa was short-listed for the Dundee International Book Prize.

Her debut novel, The Guilty One was translated into over 25 languages, long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and short-listed for an Edgar Allan Poe Award. The Guilty One was also the Autumn 2012 Richard and Judy Book-club Winner. She lives in Glasgow.

Catch Up:
author's website author's twitter author's facebook

As always, I hope you take the time to visit the other stops on the tour:

09/14/2015 Showcase w/excerpt @ Books Chatter
09/15/2015 review @ A Fold in the Spine
09/16/2015 review @ Wall-to-wall books
09/17/2015 Review @ Deal Sharing Aunt
09/18/2015 review @ 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too!
09/19/2015 review @ The Book Divas Reads
09/21/2015 review @ Tales of a Book Addict
09/22/2015 review @ JulzReads
09/24/2015 review @ VicsMedia Room
09/25/2015 review @ Deco My Heart
09/28/2015 review @ Kritters Ramblings
09/30/2015 review @ Booked on a Feeling
10/01/2015 review @ From the TBR Pile
10/03/2015 review @ Marys Cup of Tea
10/04/2015 shawcase @ Writers and Authors
10/07/2015 review @ Books Direct
0/08/2015 review @ Lazy Day Books
10/09/2015 review @ Book Babble
10/10/2015 review @ Rockin Book Reviews
10/11/2015 review @ Bookalicious Traveladdict
10/12/2015 review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
10/14/2015 review @ Book Club Librarian
10/15/2015 review @ Curling up by the Fire
10/16/2015 review @ b00k r3vi3ws

Mailbox Monday, Sept. 20, 2015

Mailbox Mondays

Two books this past week. The first one I’m currently reading, I snagged it out of the cruise ship’s library (I was just glad I had a book to leave in its place….)!! You bet I picked it up the moment I saw it!!

The Girl on the Train

The second book is one that I ordered off of Paperbackswap:

His ExcellencyTo this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.

Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. And here is the general who lost more battles than he won, and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.

2015.29 REVIEW – Coercion by Tim Tigner

by Tim Tigner

Copyright: 2013, 2015
Pages: 304
Rating: 4/5
Read: Aug. 24-31, 2015
Challenge: No Challenge
Yearly count: 29
Format: Print
Source: TLC Book Tour
Series: N/A

After the Iron Curtain’s collapse, Russia appears to be finished as a superpower. But KGB general Vasily Karpov is working behind the scenes to restore Russia’s status by forcing Americans into traitorous acts of espionage and sabotage, with the aid of a new secret weapon. Meanwhile, his biggest target is within Russia, where Karpov is plotting to capture the Kremlin for himself.

Former US soldier and spy Alex Ferris becomes the first to fathom Karpov’s grand plans. Racing from San Francisco to Siberia, Alex must elude ambushes, assassins, and death from exposure as he wages a one-man war against a growing global threat and the resurgence of the Soviets.

Review: I received a copy of this book for free as part of a TLC Book Tour in exchange for an honest review. All opinions below are my own.

When I was originally pitched this book something about it really caught my eye. I’ve been trying to stay away from taking on too many review commitments because my reading has been severely limited since welcoming our second child in May. But this was one that I couldn’t seem to pass up on.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I found it to be fast paced and interesting. It held my attention throughout the whole book (something I struggle with these days). I came to really like Alex’s character – even if I did have a hard time believing that he was able to survive so much.

I’m always a little nervous when there’s a “Cast of Characters” list at the beginning of the book. It usually means I will have a hard time keeping up with things. However, once I got through the few first chapters, I had no trouble at all keeping things straight and didn’t even need to refer back to the list.

If I had to make a complaint, it was that I felt the ending was a little flat. There was no real big “show down” which I was hoping for. Endings are a very difficult thing – you can’t please everyone. But it didn’t affect my overall opinion of this book, so it obviously didn’t bother me too much. I am excited that there is a door open for Mr. Tigner to bring Alex back in a future book …. and I hope he does! I’d love to read more!

If you want a book that is fast-paced, interesting and a lot of fun, I would definitely recommend this one. The characters are extremely well-developed. The storyline is interesting. The whole idea of the Peitho implants is scarily realistic in this technological age, which kept things relevant in my opinion.

This one will attract a lot of political thriller fans, mystery fans, and historical fiction fans alike. Highly recommended.

About the Author:

unnamed-3Tim began his career in Soviet Counterintelligence with the US Army Special forces, the Green Berets. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tim switched from espionage to arbitrage. Armed with a Wharton MA rather than a Colt M16, he moved to Moscow in the midst of Perestroika. There he lead prominent multinational medical companies, worked with cosmonauts on the MIR Space Station (from Earth, alas), chaired the Association of International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, and helped write Russia’s first law on healthcare.

Moving to Brussels during the formation of the EU, Tim ran Europe, Middle East, and Africa for a Johnson & Johnson company and traveled like a character in a Robert Ludlum book. He eventually landed in Silicon Valley, where like minds with wild ideas come to congregate around the creation of (nightmares and) dreams. Now he launches new medical technologies as a startup CEO, and devises devious devices for fictional characters who aim to change the world.

Tim grew up in the Midwest and Europe, earning a BA from Hanover College and then a MBA in Finance and a MA in International Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He now lives with his wife Elena and their two daughters in Northern California.


Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

As always, I hope you will visit the other stops on the tour:

Monday, August 31st: BookBub Blog – author guest post – “Eleven Thrillers We’d Kill to See on the Silver Screen”
Wednesday, September 2ndIt’s a Mad Mad World
Thursday, September 3rdMallory Heart Reviews
Tuesday, September 8thBuilding Bookshelves
Wednesday, September 9thBooksChatter – author Q&A
Thursday, September 10thPatricia’s Wisdom
Friday, September 11thMockingbird Hill Cottage
Monday, September 14thTales of a Book Addict
Tuesday, September 15thFictionophile
Thursday, September 17thLife is Story
Friday, September 18thThe World As I See It
Monday, September 21stSJ2B House of Books Blog
Thursday, September 24thLazy Day Books
Friday, September 25thBooksChatter
Monday, September 28thA Book Geek
Monday, September 28th5 Minutes for Books