Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour: Cranford (2007) – Movie Review


Welcome to the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour, sponsored by Laurel Ann at Austenprose.com.  I hope you have an educational and entertaining experience as you visit the various sites along the way!

Unlike most of the blog tour participants, I haven’t read a word of Mrs. Gaskell’s work.  Until recently, I’d never heard of her.  Then the miniseries Cranford and Return to Cranford came to PBS with much acclaim from critics and adoration from fans.  With all the excitement surrounding these broadcasts, I considered taking a look to see if they really were all they were cracked up to be.  But my cursory examination of the production falsely led me to believe that it was just another period piece with silly women in bonnets flitting about.

When Laurel Ann invited me to the tour, I decided to give the series a try.  This author seems to be so beloved by those who know her, and this tour confirms for me the important place that she holds in literature.  So off to the public library I went, where they had a 2-disc edition of the BBC’s production of Cranford.

I had some time on a Saturday and hoped I’d get at least one of the 60-minute episodes watched while my guys were out of the house for a bit and I could watch in peace.  To my utter astonishment, not only did I end up having 5 hours free time, but I watched the entire series that day!  Needless to say, I loved this program.  Here’s an overview of the episodes, and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen them:


Episode 1:  June 1842


Lovely introduction!  I felt like I was in a Jane Austen novel. What a quaint little English town Cranford is.  It’s calm and peaceful, not even requiring a police force to keep order. Possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of it all were the well-meaning but silly busybodies running about spreading rumors and getting their facts mixed up all the time.  I had previously thought that all these “chickens” would annoy me, but they were quite funny and entertaining.  This was especially true of the hysteria-prone Miss Octavia Pole, played by Imelda Staunton.  Her moment with the cat and the lace was just hysterical.

While there were many moments of laughter in this episode, dramatic scenes brought plenty of levity to the program.  We see the struggles of the poor in the community, one of the residents is shockingly injured, and a mother longs for her rarely-seen son.  One of the main characters suffers a devastating loss, and the manner in which she is supported and comforted was so amazingly touching.  The closing scene of Captain Brown bestowing a gift to one of his neighbors was so touching—at the end of this episode I was hooked. I knew I was in for the entire series.


Episode 2: August 1842

The episode begins with the young (and tardy) Dr. Harrison rushing off to church, eager to cross paths with a young girl with whom he’s taken an interest.  Other relationships are explored, and there’s much fussing about as the ladies of the community prepare for a very special garden party to be held at Lady Ludlow’s estate.  We get to know a poor family with a young boy yearning to get out of his situation and to get an education.  And a young female resident’s crush on the young doctor becomes apparent, setting up a series of misunderstandings that affect almost the entire community.  The news of the arrival of a railroad (and therefore much change in Cranford) leads to the death of a major character, which quite surprised me. This episode isn’t as light as the first, but an incident with a cow is quite amusing.


Episode 3: November 1842

This episode was touching and quite spellbinding in parts.  My heart ached in sadness as well as joy throughout the hour.  I dare not minimize its effect on me by a lot of words here.  I will say that when one character’s friend dies, I was more than teary-eyed.  I honestly wanted to sob.  My 10 year-old son was with me at that point, so I held it together in front of him.  Had he not been there, I probably would have been a mess.  It was an amazing, heartbreaking episode.


Episode 4: April 1843

If I could give this episode another title, it would probably be “Much Ado About Nothing”, at least in regard to the miscommunications that occur.  The machine of misunderstanding reaches a feverish point between many of the characters.  It’s clear that all of these well-meaning folk are just seeking out love and betrothals, but with the rumor mill being what it is, poor communication causes much confusion and dismay.  The episode has its light moments, but it feels more like a bridge episode, carrying us to the concluding hour as many characters begin to take on new paths in their lives.


Episode 5: May 1843

The final episode brings the series to its conclusion quite well.  Issues in relationships are resolved, and while tragedy strikes some, they rise above their challenging situations to triumph in their own way.  There’s a significant amount of tense, life-or-death drama here.  And with more than one main character dying during the previous episodes, I honestly didn’t know how everything would turn out.  Fortunately, the ending was lovely.  It wasn’t completely “happily ever after”, but a believable reality that left a fine aftertaste of joy.


Cranford was a delightful surprise.  I relished every moment, and those 5 hours on my Saturday flew by.  Having that block so much free time was rare, and I’m grateful for it.  I absolutely loved this miniseries, and I can’t wait to see the next production, Return to Cranford.
 

Of course as a book lover and member of this tour, I had to investigate Mrs. Gaskell’s work.  She’s written quite a few things, and I look forward to reading Cranford, Mr. Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow, the three books upon which this series was based.  I’ve already downloaded a copy of Cranford to my computer.  It’s available for free from Amazon.com’s Kindle store.  I don’t own a Kindle, but the software to read it on a PC (or an iPhone) is available for free.

I thank Laurel Ann for including me on the tour, for without it I would still be in the dark about Mrs. Gaskell.  Had they lived in the same era, I’m sure Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen would have enjoyed each others’ work.  This Janeite certainly did.





Now that you’ve stopped by The Calico Critic, follow this link to the next stop on the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour by Regency Romantic.  Joanna is going to offer her review of the Gaskell novel Ruth from 1853 on Austenprose.com


***GIVEAWAY CONTEST NOW CLOSED***



North and South (Complete Classics)As you visit each stop on the tour, be sure to leave a comment at each posting.  One commenter from these tour sites will win a copy of an unabridged audio book edition of North and South by Naxos AudioBooks read by Clare Willie.  The deadline for leaving comments on the participating sites is midnight Pacific time on October 7th.  One name will be drawn by Random.org from The Calico Critic and sent to Laurel Ann at Austenprose.com, where she will draw from all the names sent in from the participating sites to determine the final winner.


**Winner Announced:  Annette made a comment over on Stiletto Storytime and was chosen to win.**



Biography
•    1.) Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life and Times: Vic – Jane Austen’s World

Novels/Biography
•    2.) Mary Barton (1848) Book: Kelly – Jane Austen Sequel Examiner
•    3.) Cranford (2007) Movie: Laura – The Calico Critic
•    4.) Ruth (1853) Book: Joanna (RegencyRomantic) -- Austenprose
•    5.) North and South (1854–5) Audio Book: Laurel Ann – Austenprose
•    6.) North and South (2004) Movie: Maria – Fly High
•    7.) Sylvia’s Lovers (1863) Book: Courtney – Stiletto Storytime
•    8.) Wives and Daughters (1865) Book: Katherine – November’s Autumn
•    9.) Wives and Daughters (1999) Movie: Elaine – Random Jottings
•    10.) The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857) Book & (1973) Movie, The Brontes of Haworth: JaneGS – Reading, Writing, Working, Playing

Novellas
•    11. Mr. Harrison’s Confessions (1851) Book: Alexandra – The Sleepless Reader
•    12. My Lady Ludlow (1859) Book: Alexandra – The Sleepless Reader
•    13. Cousin Phillis (1864) Book: Alexandra – The Sleepless Reader

Resources
•    14.) Your Gaskell Library – Links to MP3′s, ebooks, audio books, other downloads and reading resources available online: Janite Deb - Jane Austen in Vermont
•    15) Plymouth Grove - A Visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Manchester: Tony Grant – London Calling













Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: Mr. Darcy's Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson


Mr. Darcy's Little Sister (Pride & Prejudice Continues)In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, main character Mr. Darcy has a younger sister, Georgiana. While she’s a secondary character in Pride and Prejudice, I’ve always found her intriguing. Thankfully, in Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister C. Allyn Pierson has taken on the challenge of expanding the story to focus more on Georgiana as she grows into a young woman.

Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister begins in September of 1813, about a month before Pierson has placed the Darcy/Bingley wedding on October 19th.  Georgiana is eagerly anticipating her brother’s marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, as she has grown very fond of her future sister-in-law.  At age 17 Miss Darcy is not only young in years, but in manner as well.  She is very shy, timid and unsure of herself, frequently at a loss for words with others and easily embarrassed.

Despite her timidity, Georgiana still must go through a rite of passage for many girls her age.  She is to be formally presented to society and begin her search for a suitable husband during the London Season.  This is quite a challenge for her, and not just because she’s a bit of a milquetoast.  As Georgiana Darcy, she comes from a family of privilege and vast monetary worth.  Countless men and their families would relish the chance to become part of the Darcy family line.  Her deepest desire is to have a marriage like her brother’s – one of true love and affection, not one of convenience and financial gain.  Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister chronicles Georgiana’s journey through society and hopefully to true love.

*          *          *

C. Allyn Pierson has done a wonderful job in expanding upon Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Her prose is enjoyable to read and holds the tone of Regency England.  Austen’s characters are well represented, staying true to the personalities and manners found in the original story.  All romantic interludes are chaste and not tawdry in any way, which was greatly appreciated.

Although the plot primarily revolves around Georgiana’s search for a loving spouse, there are subplots that give the novel moments of excitement and international intrigue.  One event in particular is very dramatic, and it profoundly changes Georgiana. This timid girl becomes a young woman, displaying the fortitude to stand up for herself and speak her mind.  I was relieved when she came into her own this way.  Her constant blushing and apologetic demeanor was unattractive and became wearisome during the initial chapters of the book.

Georgiana’s life-altering event aside,  I wouldn’t call this book a standard  page-turner.  However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t very enjoyable.  I always savored returning to Pierson’s book during the days that I read it.  This novel is to books what a well-orchestrated, multi-coursed meal is to dining.  It is to be savored and enjoyed, not inhaled and consumed quickly. 

C. Allyn Pierson is clearly well educated in all things Austen, as well as Shakespeare and other writers, whose quotes pop up from time to time in the story and as chapter headings.  With her depth of knowledge, she takes us back to the world of Pride and Prejudice in a way that is not only believable but enjoyable as well.  As the book was drawing to a close, I was very satisfied yet still would have enjoyed more.  It was so nice to get to spend more time with Miss Georgiana Darcy.  I recommend that readers do the same.













This title was provided by Sourcebooks Landmark.
No obligation other than an honest review was required
.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - September 23rd


Here's my weekly spotlight on contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere these days. Some of these might appeal to you as well. Check them out!

  • A Fanatic's Book Blog is having a super 4 Month Anniversary/You Choose giveaway!  Depending on how many followers there are at the end of the contest, several kinds of Amazon gift cards will be awarded.  Deadline is September 30th.  Here's the link:


  • Grace at Clandestine Sanctuary is celebrating all her followers by giving away $30 worth of books from The Book Depository.  Deadline is October 1st.  Here's the link:


    Behemoth (Leviathan)
  • Lisa at Book Blab is giving away a copy of Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth, the second book in the Leviathan trilogy.  Deadline to enter is October 5th.  Here's the link:





  • Guta and Maeva of Murphy's Library are holding a giveaway to get their followers up to 300.  When they hit that number, the winner chosen will receive $10 to The Book Depository.  Here's the link:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Review: Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw


Hawk of May (Down the Long Way 1)First published in 1980 and now re-released by Sourcebooks Landmark, Gillian Bradshaw’s Hawk of May begins the tale of Gwalchmai ap Lot.  Nephew of the legendary King Arthur, his mother is the evil sorceress Morgawse.  As his father Lot and brother Agravain are warriors for the family’s kingdom, it is quite expected that Gwalchmai would also become a conqueror and defender himself.  Yet, he doesn’t have the inclination to follow in his elders’ footsteps.  Feeling that he has no talent for battle, he turns instead to the sorcery of his nefarious mother.  As he travels down her path into Darkness, he is forced to choose between the Darkness and the Light, both of which seem to be calling him.

Hawk of May is the first book in the Down the Long Wind trilogy.  Kingdom of Summer and In Winter’s Shadow are the following volumes.  This title refers to Gwalchmai, whose name is translated “Hawk of May”, the name of a warrior. This first book in the trilogy follows Gwalchmai from age 11 through young adulthood.

Hawk of May was enjoyable.  I liked the main character, who struggled with his need to please his family, follow his own desires and yet make honorable choices. During this portion of his life, he takes some amazing journeys and grows in ways that many cannot understand.  The story is filled with magical themes, but it also touches on motifs that Christians can relate to.  Those who enjoyed Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings would enjoy this, although it’s not quite as epic in scope.

As Bradshaw had two more volumes in which to tell her tale, she took her time in developing Gwalchmai’s character.  By the same token, her development isn’t laborious and filled with an overabundance of details.  I could have done without some of the war histories that were intermittently presented, but that’s a minor quibble. And given the amount of battles that occurred along the way, there could have been many pages of blood and violence.  Bradshaw thankfully kept these details of war at bay, when other authors might have used those moments as an excuse to go on and on about the carnage.

While I wouldn’t label this story a Christian tale, as a believer I enjoyed the struggle between good and evil, Light and Darkness.  Gwalchmai’s inner conflicts, insecurities, doubt and faith are things that resonated with me.  As the tale moves on to Kingdom of Summer, I look forward to Gwalchmai’s continued journey and his changing relationship with the iconic King Arthur.  This fantastical legend is a rich one, and I’m enjoying Gillian Bradshaw’s presentation of it.







This title was provided by Sourcebooks Landmark.
No obligation other than an honest review was required
.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - September 15th

Here's my weekly spotlight on contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere these days. Some of these might appeal to you as well. Check them out!


  • Looksie Lovitz is giving away an ARC of James Dashner's The Scorch Trials.  Deadline to enter is September 25th.  Here's the link:





Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review - Toy Story 3: Best Friends Magnetic Storybook

Toy Story 3 Best Friends Book and Magnetic BuddyMillions have flocked to enjoy Disney/Pixar’s latest film, Toy Story 3.  Many may be looking to buy a Toy Story 3-themed book for their children.  This is a great way to relive the moments of the movie, spend time reading with your child, and instill in them a love for books.

Reader’s Digest Children’s Books now presents their Toy Story 3: Best Friends Magnetic Storybook.  This hardback book could be enjoyed by children of many ages, from preschool up to elementary-aged children.

Within the front cover is a windowed compartment.  Inside is a small pillow-like doll of the main character, Woody.  He is to be enjoyed along with the book itself.  To get Woody out of his compartment, a perforated cardboard door must be opened on the back side of the cover.  While it is perforated, it is not easy to open without doing serious damage to the door, which really needs to stay intact.  I would recommend getting an exacto-knife and use it to gently cut through the perforations to release the door.  Once the door is opened, your child now has their Woody doll to enjoy. 

Before reading the book, turn to the very last page.  It folds out of the book and is very stiff.  This page is magnetized for use with the Woody toy as you read.  Keep that last page opened out, and then close the regular pages until you see the pages with the garbage bags and the minivan.  Now fold the magnetized page down, so it’s lying on top of the minivan page. Next turn the garbage bag page to be on top of the magnetized page.  You should now see the first two pages of the story and you’re ready to begin.

As you read the first page of text to your child, have your child place their Woody doll on the page featuring Jessie the cowgirl and Buzz Lightyear.  The magnetized page underneath will grab Woody’s hands if the illustrated page is placed flat against it. 

When you have finished your first page of reading, turn the Jessie/Buzz page.  Then re-open the magnetized page. Then turn the minivan page. Then close the magnetized page on top of the Lotso Bear page.  Then turn the left-hand illustrated page back to be on top of the magnetized page.  You should now be open to the garbage bag and minivan pages.  Have your child place Woody on the minivan page as you read from the garbage bag page.  Continue this sequence throughout the book.  When you are finished, place Woody in the front compartment again and firmly close the back door.  If you didn’t damage the door when you initially opened it, it should close well enough to hold Woody inside for next time.

Toy Story 3: Best Friends is a nice storybook.  The narrative is simple and easy for young children to understand.  The illustrations are just beautiful.  The writers and artists did a fabulous job.  However, I found the concept of the magnetic page and toy Woody doll to be distracting and ineffective in storytelling.  Getting Woody out of his compartment was challenging.  Getting the magnetic page arranged each time we turned to the next page of the story was annoying.  And my 5 year-old child didn’t really see the point of sticking Woody to the book.  He loved the doll though, and enjoyed playing with it by itself.  In fact, when we went to see the movie Toy Story 3 for the first time, stuffed Woody doll came along!

The book has it’s nice features, but it would have been just wonderful without the magnetic page device.  I doubt I’ll be using that accessory when I read the book to my child in the future.












This book was provided by Amazon.com as a part of their Vine reviewers program.
No other compensation for this review was given.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: Darcy's Voyage by Kara Louise

From the back cover:

Darcy's Voyage: A tale of uncharted love on the open seas (Pride & Prejudice Continues)A Tale of
Uncharted Love
On the Open Seas

In this enchanting and highly original retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet sets out for the new world aboard the grand ship Pemberley's Promise.  She's prepared for an uneventful voyage until a chance encounter with the handsome, taciturn Mr. Darcy turns her world upside down.

When Elizabeth falls ill, Darcy throws convention overboard in a plan that will bind them to each other more deeply than he ever could have imagined.

But the perils of their ocean voyage pale in comparison to the harsh reality of society's rules that threaten their chance at happiness.  When they return to the lavish halls of England, will their love survive?

*          *          *
Over the past 15 years, the market for Jane Austen-themed novels has just exploded.  Aside from the truly strange ones (e.g., ones with vampires and the like), I'm game to read just about any of this genre that comes across my path.  And while I don't consider myself an expert in this area, I've read enough to discern the well-written and what I prefer to read.

Kara Louise's Darcy's Voyage took me a bit by surprise.  The idea of relocating the setting of Pride and Prejudice on a sailing vessel was unique, and I looked forward to see how this concept would play out.  What surprised me was the level at which I began to enjoy this story.  Many of us know the P&P story inside and out, so what could possibly be new about these characters to make the story compelling once again? 

Darcy’s Voyage accomplished this and more.  I would have enjoyed this tale if it had been about two characters completely unrelated to P&P.  The dance that is their relationship at sea was tantalizing, with the perfect romantic tension being held at all times.  Occasionally some of the tension would be released, providing satisfaction for the reader, but immediately another moment of tension would arrive, propelling the narrative forward.

I don’t believe it would be “spoiler material” to say that Darcy & Elizabeth return to England and find themselves in many scenes that are found in the source material.  The events on the ship have changed things a bit, but the characters continue in the same manner Miss Austen wrote them.  Again, Ms. Louise has the perfect balance of tension and payoff, keeping the now very-familiar story lines fresh and compelling. 

Like the quote states on the cover of this edition, I couldn’t put it down.  I read it whenever I could, asking my husband to drive my Mommy Minivan so that I could have time to read.  I read it while standing in line at the Post Office.  I told friends about the book.   Every chapter was wonderful, and I didn’t want it to end.

As I came to the final two chapters, I saved them to read in the evening, after the children were in bed and my husband was away at work.  It had been a rough day for a number of reasons, and I looked forward to finishing it on a lovely note.  I got in a stress-reducing workout, put the kids to bed, grabbed a scoop of ice cream (low fat, of course) and settled in for my last moments with the Nautical Darcy.  I hoped the ending would be as the rest of the book (and my ice cream), scrumptious and satisfying.

It was my pleasure to find the conclusion of the story to be absolutely perfect!  I can’t tell you how many books I’ve enjoyed up until the end….and they fall flat, leaving a bad taste in my literary mouth.  Darcy’s Voyage was the rare case wherein each page down to the closing one was enchanting.  I didn’t want it to end, but as it must, I’m glad the conclusion was crafted in the way that it was.

In addition to enjoying Ms. Louise’s storytelling, I also appreciated her choice to keep any romantic interludes decidedly PG-rated.   Lately I’ve become weary of novelists (Austen-related or otherwise) who devalue sex by offering an overabundance of details, and placing these intimate moments outside the safe harbor of a marital relationship.  Louise’s romance was delectable, being neither puritanical nor salacious.

Originally published as Pemberley’s Promise, Darcy’s Voyage was a journey well worth the crossing.  It was surprising, refreshing and filled my heart with joy.  Kara Louise has given us a wonderful gift, and I look forward to sharing this delightful diversion with others.













This title was provided to me by Sourcebooks Landmark. No obligation other than an honest review was required.



CymLowell

Thursday, September 9, 2010

DVD Review: Total Body Makeover - Hardcore Fusion Express

I have been partnering with CSN Stores in recent months, offering product reviews of some of the many items that are available on their website.  In addition to the fitness equipment that I prefer, CSN also sells many products for the home, such as rocking chairs, bookshelves, small appliances and more!

CSN graciously sent me a copy of Total Body Makeover by The Firm on DVD, which includes four complete workouts.  Recently I reviewed the second workout, Sculpt-ilates Express.  Today's review will focus on Hardcore Fusion Express, the third routine on the DVD.

Like Sculpt-ilates Express, Hardcore Fusion Express is derived from a previous Firm workout.  The original Hardcore Fusion DVD is 56 minutes. The express version of the workout, which is available on the original Hardcore Fusion DVD and Total Body Makeover, is 35 minutes.  

Hardcore Fusion Express is led by Master Instructor Allie Del Rio Pointer, with cast members Rebekah Sturkie, Ania Zalewski, Jenny Anania and Alison Davis-McLain.  Allie is an experienced Firm instructor, participating in their videos for over 20 years.  She comes across as a tough, yet fun person, challenging her students while having a good time as well.

Hardcore Fusion Express begins with a fast-paced workout, with marching steps and moves that warm up and stretch the areas of the body that you're about to work.  As is the case with most of the workout, Allie's cueing is very good, but the moves are coming at you pretty fast if you've never done the workout before.  I would advise new users to watch the video all the way through the first time, so they know what to expect from Allie.  The moves don't require tons of coordination or anything, you just have to be ready to move on to the next step.

After a good warm up, Allie starts the first weight training segment of the workout.  On this DVD she utilizes the Firm's "Cardio Weights", but you can use whatever weights you have available at home.  Having a light set (about 3 pounds) and a medium set (about 5 pounds) would be great to start with.  Strength training gets alot of the spotlight during these 35 minutes, with the weights sometimes used, and other times just resisting gravity provides adequate resistance.

After a few minutes focusing on just strength training, Allie moves back to just keeping the heart rate high, with simple, fun moves.  There are a few high-impact moments, but Alison always provides a lower-key option for beginners.  Moments of strength and balance training are worked into the cardio segments, always challenging multiple areas of the body. Some of the moves found in the cardio segments are lunges, a hop-scotch/jump rope type of move, a touch of kick-boxing, standing ab work and cross-country ski hops.

After the cardio, we move back to just weight training, focusing on our back, arms, legs, glutes and abs. Most of these moves are fairly easy to do-- the intensity is changed by the amount of resistance you want in your choice of free weights.

There's one more strong cardio segment that's exciting and alot of fun.  The music is really motivating!  Kick boxing moves come into play, but this boxing novice had no problem with what we had to do.

The last moments are spent in some light balance training, working the core and arms.  Some work is done standing, but the latter moves are done on the floor.  If you're not working on carpet, a padded mat would be helpful to protect your back.

Allie then leads us through stretching our whole body and cooling down. She does a little bit of plank work during this segment, but it's mostly stretching and releasing those tense muscles that were just worked.

At 35 minutes, I found this "express" workout to be a really effective use of time.  The strength training was the main focus, but even during those segments, we were moving fast enough that my heart rate remained high after cardio segments.  Plenty of sweat droplets made their way to my carpet tonight!

I popped this video in when I knew that I had less than 45 minutes to get this day's workout done, and I really needed it.  My afternoon had been really stressful and I hadn't met my fitness goals for the day.  By the time I was done, I was well worked-out and relaxed within my time limit.  Hardcore Fusion Express is a great addition to the Total Body Makeover collection!





Coming Soon:  My review of the last workout on this DVD, plus a unique kettlebell workout!



CSNStores.com


These materials were provided to me by CSN Stores. No obligation other than an honest review was required.



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - September 8th

Here's my weekly spotlight on contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere these days. Some of these might appeal to you as well. Check them out!


  • Author Cindy Pon is giving away three books:  Entwined, Everlasting and Wildwing. Deadline is Sept. 20th.  Here's the link:



Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review: Equilibrium by Imogen Rose

Equilibrium: Portal Chronicles Book TwoFrom the back cover of Equilibrium:

It's not every day you see a naked body slumped by the side of the road...

THIS OMINOUS SIGHT IS JUST THE BEGINNING OF A MYSTERY THAT WILL SPAN TWO DIMENSIONS


When California teen Arizona Darley and her siblings go missing, their mother, Dr. Olivia Darley discovers that the time-travel portal she invented has been hijacked.


Is the hijacker responsible for the disappearance of her children?  Have the children been transported to another dimension? If so, the police and FBI will never be able to find them, and Olivia must find a way to rescue her children on her own.


How will she do this without access to the portal?


*          *          *

Book 2 in the Portal Chronicles, Equilibrium continues to follow the multi-dimensional tale of Arizona Stevens-Darley, her family, friends and one special little dog named Gertrude.  Imogen Rose's time-traveling novel is not a stand-alone volume.  To understand the plot (and this review), you will need to step back and read its delightful predecessor, Portal.  Furthermore, if you would like to avoid any spoiler material, please continue reading after the next set of red stars below.
 
Equilibrium picks up shortly after Portal's cliffhanger conclusion, jumping right back into Arizona's struggles to deal with the consequences of her mother's decisions.  Olivia Darley has uprooted daughter Arizona from her life, taking her and others to a new time and dimension.  Here Arizona finds a better home life and a wonderful boyfriend, yet she still longs to return to what she sees as her "real" life and her real (albeit loser) father.

As seen in the closing pages of Portal, Arizona was given the opportunity to return to her old life, but in that moment she chose to stay in her new dimension.  The window of time in which she had to make this decision was a small one, and her feelings for boyfriend Kellan enabled her to agree to stay – for now.

Staying in her new dimension doesn’t last long, however.  Within a short amount of time, Arizona, Kellan and others are mysteriously kidnapped.  This begins a roller-coaster ride for the characters of Equilibrium as enemy forces contend with them to meet their dimensional-travel goals, with little to no regard for the welfare of others.

Although hinted at in Portal, the group of people called the Wanderers takes a larger role in Equilibrium.  Wanderers are able to travel as if using a portal, only they can do it on their own with no apparatus required.  They’re concerned about the care and safety of Olivia, her family and friends, and are willing to use their special abilities to help them in their struggle against their enemies.  Without them, Olivia & company could lose control over not just the portal, but the trajectory of their lives.


*           *           *

After Portal’s delectable cliffhanger, I eagerly dove into Equilibrium and read it within a short period of time.  Once again Imogen Rose has brought us entertaining and interesting writing, with characters we care about and new twists to the story begun in the previous novel.  As mentioned in my Portal review, I’m fascinated with time travel and Rose’s addition of dimensional travel makes her story even more inviting.

Unlike the first book, I thankfully didn’t have a sense of disorientation as I read.  I understood the world(s) in which the characters were living and the roles they were playing.  That being said, I still enjoyed Portal more than Equilibrium.  This might just be a case of Act II limbo, wherein first and last acts provide more satisfaction due to the introduction and conclusion they provide.   I felt that much of this portion of the series was spent going back and forth to different locations, as characters were frequently lost and found during their struggles.  While there wasn’t a dull moment to be found, all the running about wasn’t as captivating as I would have liked.

Equilibrium also has its own tasty cliffhanger, though.  Of course it whet my appetite in anticipation of the next title Quantum, which should be available before the end of 2010.  I’m looking forward to seeing what transpires in the lives of these characters.  What will happen with the portal?  Where are Olivia & company going to end up next?  Good may prevail in the end, but what trials will they go through? What terrible sacrifices must be made to get there? And what role does Gertrude the dog play in all of this?!?


*          *          *


Review Update: 
Author Imogen Rose has informed me that The Portal Chronicles is not a trilogy!  I'm not sure why I ever thought otherwise.  In any case, I'm looking forward to as many Portal Chronicles titles as Imogen will share with us!










CymLowell

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Great Maria Giveaway Results


By using Random.org, I've chosen the winner to my Great Maria ARC giveaway. Congratulations to Aik Chien of Friends and Family.  I believe she's all the way over in Malaysia, but she provided a US mailing address for me. 

Thanks to all of you who entered-- more giveaways are coming in the future!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

DVD Review: Total Body Makeover - Sculpt-ilates Express

I have been partnering with CSN Stores in recent months, offering product reviews of some of the many items that are available on their website.  In addition to the fitness equipment that I prefer, CSN also sells many products for the home, such as dutch ovens, bookshelves, small appliances and more!

CSN graciously sent me a copy of Total Body Makeover by The Firm on DVD, which includes four complete workouts.  Recently I reviewed the first workout, Total Body Time Crunch Express. Today's review will focus on Sculpt-ilates Express, the second routine on the DVD.

Like Total Body Time Crunch Express, Sculpt-ilates Express is derived from a previous Firm workout.  The original Sculpt-ilates DVD is 50 minutes. The express version of the workout is only available on Total Body Makeover, and it is 31 minutes.  In both DVD cases the Firm provides the sculpting band required for the workout. If you happen to buy the DVD as a used product and the sculpting band has been misplaced, a standard strength training stretchy band will work just fine.

Sculpt-ilates Express is led by Master Instructor Robyn Johnson with cast members Kelsie Daniels and Alison Davis-McLain.  To my knowledge, this is the only Firm video that has featured Robyn as lead instructor.  However, given the way she cues the workout, it feels like she's been involved with or a fan of the program for a long time.  Die-hard Firm fans will recognize terms like "lateral flexion" and "peak hold", which are used in Firm videos going back many years.


Sculpt-ilates Express is primarily a strength and flexibility training workout.  During the short introduction, Robyn refers to it as "Pilates Sculpt", which may have been the program's working title at some point.  This is a good description of the routine, as it has many elements of Pilates within it. While I consider myself a fitness video "vidiot", my forte does not come in the yoga/pilates workouts that I do.  This program was very reasonable for me.  Robyn offers moves that are challenging, but not beyond my intermediate abilities. 


She begins with a very relaxing warm-up, getting your entire body limber and stretched out.  This leads into the main workout, which includes balance training, more flexibility moves and of course moderate strength training.  All of the major body parts are covered-- arms, legs and core. While I didn't break a huge sweat during the workout, it did get my blood flowing.  There is absolutely no high-impact activity, and the ladies in the video don't even wear shoes.  And if you find some of the moves to be difficult (as I did in some of the floorwork moments), cast member Kelsie offers beginner options for the moves.


This workout would be great to do while out of town, after a long stressful day of work.  Only a small amount of floor space is required, and the stretchy band fits right into the DVD case itself.  Assuming your room is carpeted, no other equipment is required.  If you're doing the workout on a hard floor, you'll need a mat for padding during the floorwork.


While I don't find Robyn's demeanor to be my favorite of all the Firm instructors, she does a fine job leading the class.  She has a pleasant, calm personality, and it's evident that she's comfortable in what she's doing. 

My only quibble I have with the program is in some of the camera work.  Every once in a while Robyn introduces a new move, and the camera is focused only on Kelsie.  In moments like this, we should be able to see the main instructor and the beginner-option cast member at the same time.  If I can't see Robyn during a new move, I have to wait until the camera shifts to adopt her version of it.  



Overall I found this workout to be pleasant, challenging (at my personal level) and invigorating. The following day I was just a bit sore in my core, but it was a "good kinda hurt".  I could tell that I'd challenged my body the day before without overdoing it.  The 31 minute time period is great for those days when you don't have the 50 minutes or the strength required for the original version.  It's a great addition to Total Body Makeover and rounds out the entire DVD very well.



Coming Soon:  My reviews of two other workouts on this DVD, plus a unique kettlebell workout!


CSNStores.com


These materials were provided to me by CSN Stores. No obligation other than an honest review was required.



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - September 1st

Here's my weekly spotlight on contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere these days. Some of these might appeal to you as well. Check them out!

  • Alaine at Queen of Happy Endings is hosting a September giveaway, and her prizes are Beautiful Darkness, The Distant Hours, Fall of Giants or a $20 Amazon.com voucher Deadline to enter is September 30th.  Here's the link:



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