Review of “Love on Safari” on the Hallmark channel

loveonsafariThis is a great movie on Hallmark’s “Summer Nights” line up. It stars Jon Cor and Lacey Chabert. Lacey plays Kira, a character who is straight-laced and almost “boring” lives in Chicago.  She hears that her uncle passes away, leaving her with an African wildlife reserve as an inheritance.  She used to spend time at the reserve when she was a child, but as she grew older, she somehow lost her adventurous streak.  Returning to Africa, she falls in love with the staff at the wildlife reserve as well as the animals, especially the elephants.  She meets Tom, one of the head wildlife reserve conservationists, and they share their love for the reserve.  Despite having a boyfriend, Brad, from Chicago, the viewer can see the chemistry developing between Tom and Kira.  Kira does not want to end up selling the reserve to an entrepreneur who may not have the best interests of the reserve at heart.  Brad, on the other hand, can’t wait for Kira to leave Africa and go back to her humdrum life and actually betrays her trust by going behind her back to the entrepreneur to expedite the sale of the reserve.

This movie was a delight to the eyes!  I loved seeing all of the wildlife and the scenes filmed in the reserve.  The safari slant to the story was unique to Hallmark, and I enjoyed watching the different animal species in their natural habitat!  The storyline was also enjoyable, and the two actors played their roles naturally.  Highly recommend!

Click //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=storybooktree-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B01066T4UO&asins=B01066T4UO&linkId=2290c0364df514db2cfab2d8a1ceb9dc&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff to read something similar on your Kindle!

Review of Katie Fforde’s “A Perfect Proposal”

 

 

katiefforde/ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=storybooktree-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B008BU6Z6E&asins=B008BU6Z6E&linkId=827e25efa129776120eba489d0eea05b&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

For those readers who enjoy British chick lit, I think this book will be right up their alley.  It is well written in an easy-going manner, typical of most Katie Fforde fictional novels and is centered around a budding romance between an independent, loveable heroine and a stoic hero.  Katie Fforde develops her main feminine character, Sophie, in a very detailed manner but leaves a lot to be desired in the protagonist’s love interest, Luke.  I identified with Sophie’s trusting personality as well as her drive to be financially independent even when lacking the traditional academic skills.  However, I could never see why Sophie was so attracted to Luke.  Luke is described as good looking and wealthy but that is where the attributes seem to end.  His personality is as dull as dishwasher.  His grandmother, Matilda, is the reason that Sophie and Luke end up meeting, and she also is behind Sophie’s adventures in both New York City and in Cornwall.  Moira ends up being much more likeable than Luke, and it is interesting that the author delineates the lovely personalities of the side characters of grandmother Matilda, the B&B keeper Moira, Sophie’s uncle Eric, and even Sophie’s mother.  However, she keeps Luke one-dimensional.

Outside of this one flaw, the book is a nice, cozy read, perfect for a cold winter’s night by a fireplace.  It has the skill to transport the reader to the warmth of the English countryside and even to the glamourous side of New York City.  It is not a book of thought provoking conflicts, so it would not be the right choice for a book club.  However, it is perfect for a read after a long day at work and after putting the kids to bed.  Highly recommend to put a smile on your face!

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=storybooktree-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B008BU6Z6E&asins=B008BU6Z6E&linkId=3f79380e894d88ed0071297c64bd9b16&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

Suits–the new season 8 on USA

suits1

I don’t know how many of my readers watch the series, “Suits”, but I highly recommend it!  It’s probably what the new Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle (wife of Prince Harry) is best known for, and it’s a fantastically written series.  Outside of regular use of cuss words, the show is very well written and engages the viewer in complex law and corporate cases with the added bonus of soap opera-like drama and relationships.

I admit that, with every season, some of the dialogue gets a bit redundant as the writers struggle to keep the characters fresh, but , all in all, the show hits the mark every time.  I was worried when Patrick J. Adams (Mike, one of the main characters) and Meghan Markle (Rachel, Mike’s love interest) left the show at the end of last season.

suits2

I wasn’t sure that the characters of Donna, Harvey and Louis could carry the show on their shoulders.  The chemistry between Mike and Harvey seemed to be the main foundation of the show.  Boy, have I been proven wrong this season.

In enters Katherine Heigl.

suits3

Katherine plays the character, Stephanie Wheeler, a no-nonsense aggressive attorney who seems to be a “Super Donna” like character.  She seems to match Harvey’s wit and assertiveness but still has an air of mystery that hints at more to come.

The past two episodes of this season have introduced new characters and expanded on previous minor characters who are now playing more meatier roles in this season.  I am looking forward to more of Stephanie Wheeler as well as more of the new managing partner , Robert Zane (who plays Rachel’s father).

If you haven’t gotten hooked on Suits yet, now is the time!  Highly recommend! Click //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=storybooktree-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B07F5YHQLQ&asins=B07F5YHQLQ&linkId=d83406aab0583801ad5a9ee94b687e0c&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff to catch up on the first seasons.

Review of the book “Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant”

richdad

I will admit it—-I am a finance junkie, albeit a complete novice.  I have started to take an avid interest in the stock market (especially investing in index funds–see my review of John Bogle’s book next!), crowdfunding real estate opportunities, real estate syndication, and ultimately the goal of financial independence.  I follow several finance blogs, and one such blog recommended this book as part of their reading list for finance newbies like myself.

I was excited to read it, since I had heard so much about “Rich Dad”.  His earlier book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” seemed a bit basic for me, so one of the blogs I followed recommended this one as the next step in my reading library.

I started reading the book from page 1, looking forward to finding out exactly how Robert Kiyosaki made his millions. Ultimately, I was disappointed.  The book does offer great advice, but it offers it repeatedly. It seems that every chapter of the book concentrates on the Cash Flow Quadrant ,and which part of the quadrant the reader should belong to in order to attain financial independence, over and over again , albeit in different forms.

After reading the first chapter, if you understand the gist, there is no point in reading the entire book.  If I were the reader, I would move on to the next advanced book in your financial reading library such as what index funds to invest in and how to invest in real estate rather than this book on finance philosophy.

If you do want to give the book a try, please click on the link //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=storybooktree-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=1612680054&asins=1612680054&linkId=668cb39b2d551dfe138d88f4c828844f&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066C0&bg_color=FFFFFF

Review of “Perfect Bride 2: Wedding Bells”

perfectbride2

June 2018 was “Wedding Month” on the Hallmark Channel.  One of the most anticipated movies was the sequel to the original “Perfect Bride”, starring Pascale Hutton (character Molly) and Kavan Smith (character Nick).  I really enjoyed “Perfect Bride” and how it made the viewer think about how real relationships are not perfect but are instead full of flaws.  This sequel shows the viewer that even the relationship from the “happily ever after” ending in the first movie has its share of bumps along the way.  Nick, a photographer, and Molly, a fitness instructor, are happily dating but are going through stressful career changes.  Molly wants to purchase a gym, but needs the equity from a loan in order to make the purchase go through.  Nick is swamped with working on his first art showing.  In the middle of their career stresses, Nick proposes to Molly.  They are planning to have their wedding later on in the year, when things settle down, but due to a mishap, their ideal wedding venue is only available in a few weeks.  They now have to plan their wedding at the same time as dealing with their jobs!  What adds another bump on their road is that Molly ends up taking a loan to purchase her gym from none other than her ex-fiance.  Her ex and Molly end up spending a lot of time together, and even though Nick is understanding, the viewer can tell that the reappearance of the old boyfriend is causing relationship tension.

Despite all the conflicts, Nick and Molly do end up up with their “happily ever after”.  I actually enjoyed this movie since it was a bit different than the other typically saccharin-sweet Hallmark movies by showing real conflicts and feelings such as jealousy and insecurity in relationships.  This is another Hallmark “feel-good” movie but with great acting and a good story line.

Review of Mission Impossible — Fallout

mission-impossible-fallout-review-banner

Ethan Hunt is at it again, along with his IMF team in a super fast-paced movie full of action and thrilling stunts.  The sixth part of the Mission Impossible franchise is the best one yet.  Tom Cruise is simply ageless as he pounds through the streets of Paris on, not one, but two separate, high speed motorcycle chases and performs an unimaginable helicopter climax scene.  Reports have stated that Tom Cruise even broke an ankle  jumping from rooftop to roomtop during an on-foot chase scene.

The backdrops of Europe and Kashmir were gorgeous, and I felt that I was transported out of the US into a world wide espionage tour. Tom Cruise outshone the younger Henry Cavill in every scene, but Cavill, nonetheless, did a great job in acting out the CIA agent, Walker.  Angela Bassette played a solid role as well as the CIA head, and Alex Baldwin was flawless as he usually is in this particular role.

This movie focused on the importance of relationships and humanity.  In this film, the viewer can truly appreciate Ethan Hunt’s loyalty towards his team of Benji (played by Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames); this loyalty actually gets the team in a situation that threatens the lives of Ethan’s two lady loves (a love triangle!), Ilsa (played by Rebecca Ferguson) and Julia (played by Michelle Monaghan).

The one chapter of this movie that could have been left out would be the interaction between Ethan Hunt and the “White Widow” (played by the beautiful Vanessa Kirby), a terrorist associated broker.  Although entertaining, I felt that the entire interaction made the love triangle even more confusing, and the chapter could have been expanded upon in a future Mission Impossible film.

All in all, I rate this movie highly.  For the younger generation, there is some blood-stained violence and intermittent use of bad language (although used sparingly, but the “F-word” is present once).  I recommend this film for teens and adults.

 

mission

Tom Cruise during a motorcycle chase

mission-impossible-6-fallout-henry-cavill-angela-bassett

Cavill and Basset in Paris

mission-impossible-6-fallout-slice-600x200

The IMF team

Review of “Food Network Star: Making a Pilot” aired on July 29, 2018

foodnetworkstar

I am a huge fan of the “Food Network Star” series, recently airing on Sunday nights on the Food Network. This season is coming to an end with just one episode, the finale, left to air on August 4, 2018.

I saw the last episode last night, and I was surprised at the winner of “Star Salvation” and the contestant that ended up going home! SPOILER ALERT! ****

So far, I am a huge fan of the finalists from this season. It is hard for me to pick a favorite, since I think Manny is adorable and a great cook, Christian is funny and flawless, and Amy is down-to-earth and relatable.  What came as a shocker was the reintroduction of contestant, Jess Tom, into the mix.  She won Star Salvation this season (a show on Foodnetwork.com) that was airing in the past few weeks.  To me, Jess came across as snobby and arrogant during the initial episodes of Food Network Star, and, despite her obvious cooking chops and knowledge, ended up going home towards the latter half of the season.  I was not surprised, since she seemed as far from relatable as can be.  However, during Star Salvation, she seemed to realize that she needed an attitude adjustment (thankfully!).  During last night’s episode, Jess came off looking polished and “real”.  Giada and Bobby , the two judges, were so impressed at the change that they gave Jess the pilot opportunity instead of Amy.  Amy, who I had loved up until the most recent episodes, began coming across as nervous and lacking confidence.  It seemed that she may have had some personal issues contributing to her recent changes and lack of improvement; therefore, she was sent home.

It will be interesting to see who will win the official Finale.  My money is on either Manny or Christian–both of whom I absolutely adore!  However, Christian seems the more experienced and polished of the two , and I feel that he would come up with a better show.  The Food Network current repertoire of shows are coming down to competitions or hosted tours of various restaurants/drive ins/dives instead of true cooking shows. I think that Christian will change that, and be able to come up with an entertaining and enjoyable Italian cooking show.  Food Network really needs a good Italian show for us home cooks with families.  The only current Italian host is Giada, the host of the Food Network show.  She is , in one word, boring. Giada’s current line up of shows have been boring and superficial; her dishes never seem easy for the home cook (nor are they appealing), and the camera on her Italian shows seem too focused on her cleavage than on her actual dishes!

Review of “The Real Michael Swann”

realmichaelswann

I checked out this book from my local library upon recommendation from one of my Facebook reading groups.  I enjoy mysteries and thrillers, and this one was right up my alley!

It is a page-turner, and Bryan Reardon, the author, intertwines tales of the main characters’ past and events leading up to their current marital state with the present crisis.  It is definitely a current novel with the main event being something that is both horrific yet frighteningly probable in our lives.

SPOILER ALERT:

The novel focuses on the question of whether or not we can truly know someone. The main character, Julie Swann, feels like she knows her husband and her unwavering trust in him is admirable, especially in light of his involvement in a recent terrorist attack.  The novel leads the reader to question the innocence of Michael Swann and how he may have been led into terrorism.  However, towards the end of the novel, the reader even begins to question the innocence of Julie Swann, whom the reader had utmost faith in from the beginning.  This explains the roller coaster ride of “The Real Michael Swann”.  It’s writing style is simplistic, and the ending is disappointing (at least to me).  I would to love to hear about any of my blog readers’ opinions on this novel!

Click on this link to read it for yourself!  //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=storybooktree-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=1524742325&asins=1524742325&linkId=6d7899bcd138165dca7ff45a825f627e&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

Review of Woodloch Pines, A Family Resort in the Poconos

woodlochWoodloch Pines is definitely a unique vacation experience and one I highly recommend for families.  It reminds me of an upscale family summer camp.  Once you arrive at Woodloch, you are immediately greeted by warm, friendly staff members at check in.  They provide you with a schedule of activities during the day as well as inform you of the all-day access to the beach by the lake, water sports, swimming pool and indoor water slides.  In addition, Woodloch also has all-day access to go carts, a climbing wall, batting cage (for fee), and provides opportunities for zip lining and paint ball (also for an additional fee).

The lake is simply gorgeous!  Sitting beside it or even kayaking on it is very peaceful.  The kids have a blast swimming in it and diving off the platforms into the diving hole.  There are a variety of water activities that are included in the price such as paddle boarding, kayaking and even sailing.  For teens and adults, daily water skiing is offered as well.  My son tried water skiing for the first time and had a ball!  It is definitely a hard skill to learn, but he grasped the concept quickly and laughed during his many falls!  woodloch4

 

Depending on what you order before check-in, you are either on a two-meal plan or a three-meal plan. Our family opted for the two-meal plan , mainly because we usually eat a light lunch and could grab a sandwich at the beach by the lake easily.  The breakfast is served during the morning and is a sit-down meal.  There are usually 3 entrees served (eggs, pancakes, breakfast meats) along with a baked item (such as coffee cake or muffins), a variety of fresh fruits, cereals and bagels/breads.  Coffee and tea along with milk and juice and limitless.  Each family is assigned to the same table during their stay, and they usually have the same waiter as well.  This makes it easier on the family since they know exactly where to sit, and the waiter is also familiar with their meal preferences. Dinner is served in a similar manner as well, and the entrees are preceded by a salad and soup course and followed by a hot dessert course.  There is always a vegetarian option at breakfast and dinner (very thoughtful) along with gluten free options.  A variety of ice creams and puddings are also offered in addition to the hot dessert.  Warm drinks such as hot chocolate, teas, etc. are also offered to cap off the dinner.  Alcoholic beverages and specialty coffee drinks are an additional fee.  The resort also has an on-site coffee shop that resembles a Starbucks but the food/drinks are an additional fee. There is also an outdoor barbeque with an outdoor street carnival at lunchtime at least once a week that is part of the Woodloch social calendar.

woodloch3

Outside of the indoor and outdoor pools, indoor water slide, lake and its activities, what makes Woodloch truly stand out are the scheduled family activities.  They range from simple Bingo games to Double Dare (outdoor messy obstacles that resemble the TV game show from Nickelodean).  We participated in several family games during the day, and looked forward to checking out the daily schedule every morning at breakfast.  Family olympics and Double dare were the main two that stood out for us, since they were fun, outdoor, team building activities!  Team trivia on TV shows, music, etc. and Family feud were other types of activities that were indoors in case the weather was either too hot or rainy for a family.  These activities are awesome and so fun!  In this day and age of technology and phone addiction, Woodloch provides a refreshing change of pace!  I highly recommend this resort for all families.

woodloch2

Review of Beaches Turks and Caicos

Ahhh–the first day of summer after a long school year!  My kids were super excited about a trip to the Caribbean right after school got out for the summer. I was also looking forward to a week of R&R.  After going to various Caribbean resorts in the past, I was thrilled at the thought of splurging on a Beaches resort vacation!  After extensive research as well as word of mouth, I purchased our stay at the Turks and Caicos Beaches resort.

Let me describe our vacation in one word….amazing!  Other than the flight, which was a bit of a headache due to the lack of availability of non-stop flights from DC to Turks and Caicos, the transition from the airport to the resort and from then on was seamless.  There was a Beaches representative at the airport to take our luggage, confirm our room and provide us with bottles of water.  We were then transported in an air conditioned van to the resort (less than a 20 minute ride) where we were greeted with cool towels, fresh fruit and cookies as well as ice cold beverages.  The check in process went smoothly as well, and our rooms were ready upon our arrival (not a guarantee, however).

All in all , the resort caters to just about every age group and every need.  There are tennis courts with tennis pros who provide group classes (included in the rate) and even private lessons (an additional fee), spa services (also an additional fee), over 20 different restaurants (all included), multiple, huge swimming pools, swim-up bars, a gym, coffee shop, beach access, and group fitness schedules (all included).  The beach access does provide a dive shop.  Snorkeling and glass bottom boat excursions are included, but the scuba diving and snuba are an additional fee.

If you walk down the beach towards the end of the resort, you will reach an area called the Coral Gardens (about a 10 minute walk).  Here there is a gorgeous reef where you can snorkel off of the beach without going on a boat.  Just don’t forget to check out snorkeling gear from the dive shop!

We ended up going on a snorkeling excursion through the resort on a daily basis in the mid-mornings.  It was a great way to get our exercise in, and we really enjoyed the staff.  On two of our excursions, one of the boat “captains” even snorkeled with us to point out different species of fish and even a lobster!  In addition, the Coral Gardens snorkeling experience was also amazing, and it was nice to be able to snorkel whenever we wanted to without being constrained by a boat departure time!

Outside of snorkeling, my husband enjoyed the group tennis clinics.  It was his way of working off all of the delicious food. He would wake up before the rest of us and head on down to the tennis courts for his 8 AM clinic!  The kids and I preferred to sleep in a little later and enjoy a lazy breakfast before we headed to the beach for snorkeling .

Our afternoons consisted of relaxing at the pool and enjoying the amazing water park!  My boys ended up making friends, and they always met up in the afternoons at the waterslides.  I enjoyed the three high slides as well as the lazy river.  I had never been to a beach resort with a full size water park before, and it definitely provided another fun option for our afternoons!

After a full day in the ocean and at the pools, we fought our way to the first in line for the showers and then got cleaned up for dinner and the evening entertainment.

Dinners were varied depending on which restaurant we chose.  There were options of Indian cuisine, Japanase steakhouse fare, Italian, Mediterranean, and , of course, Caribbean. I usually topped off my dinner with a latte at the coffee house before settling down with one of my summer novels.  My kids preferred to see the live evening shows most nights.

Overall, despite the price tag, Beaches is definitely worth the splurge for those families looking for true vacation.  Everything is taken care of for you during the trip, and kids clubs (even teen clubs) are included if that is something you are looking for.

Highly, highly recommend!