Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Contests of the Week - December 30th

Happy New Year, all!  It's a busy giveaway time these days in the blogosphere.  Here are the latest giveaways that I've discovered!

  • Nely at All About {n} is hosting a 400 Follower Spectacular Giveaway, with a box of books for the winner!  Deadline is January 28th.

  • Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit is hosting a giveaway/interview for Abigail Reynolds'  Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy:  The Last Man in the World.  Deadline is January 11th. 

  • Natalie at Mindful Musings is celebrating her 400 followers milestone by offering all sorts of books, especially if she reaches 450 or 500 followers! Come follow her so we all can benefit, but she really does have a cool blog!  Deadline is January 20th.

  • The Bookologist is hosting a Mega 2010 Box Contest, with three boxes of books up for grabs! Deadline is January 31st.

  • Over at Bookworming in the 21st Century, Kristen is celebrating her 600 (soon to be 700) followers! She's got lots to offer, including credits at The Book Depository or Amazon! Deadline is January 15th.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In My Mailbox - December 27

As it's the Christmas season, I've got quite a report for In My Mailbox this week.  This weekly meme is sponsored by The Story Siren and The Printed Page ("In My Mailbox"/"Mailbox Monday").  Thanks to any fellow participants who stop by The Calico Critic!  I'll do my best to get around to as many of your sites as I can this week.  The cover art of each book will be forgone this week, due to the high number of titles.

Here are the books that have arrived since December 20th, not counting Christmas gifts:

Monday the 21st - Really Woolly Bedtime Prayers by Bonnie Rickner Jensen- Amazon Vine Reviewers program
Tuesday the 22nd - The Gospel According to Lost by Chris Seay - Sent over by Thomas Nelson, publisher
Wednesday the 23rd - Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy by Sara Angelini -  Waldenbooks going-out-of-business sale  :(
Thursday the 24th - Twilight - Goodreads Swap (Thanks, Linda!)
Friday the 25th - Jumper: Griffin's Story - Bought for myself to get the free shipping on an Amazon order

Other books given to me as Christmas gifts on Friday and earlier in the season:

Red Dragon by James A. Owen (Thanks, Mom!)
Peter and the Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson  (Thanks, Mother-in Law!)
The True Darcy Spirit and The Darcy Connection by Elizabeth Aston (Thanks, Secret Santa!)
A Match for Mary Bennet by Eucharista Ward (Thanks, Blogger Secret Santa!)
Angel Time by Anne Rice (Thanks Blogger Secret Santa!)
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice (Thanks, Blogger Secret Santa!)

It's been quite a week, and quite a season.  I really need to win the What Bri Reads contest for a new bookshelf!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and have a happy new year this next Friday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Contests of the Week - December 23

Every Wednesday I post the latest contests that I'm entering this week. Here are the newest giveaways that I've discovered.  Have fun!

  • Parajunkee is lending her talents and services to her blog graphics giveaway.  Get a new header, background and button!  Deadline is January 9th.

  • Tina at Tina's Book Reviews is celebrating her 150 followers (although I was #168!) by giving away $20 at The Book Depository.  Deadline is January 25th.

  • The Bibliophilic Book Blog is honoring our armed forces and giving away your choice of an E-reader or a $150 Gift Card to the bookstore of your choice. Deadline is March 1, 2010.  If you mention that I sent you (just say "@LHartness on Twitter referred me"), we both get an extra 5 entry points! Good luck!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - December 22 - The Maze Runner

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser:

"Thomas looked around one more time, the feel of the place completely different now that all the walls were solid with no way out.  He tried to imagine the purpose of such a thing, and he didn't know which guess was worse-- that they were being sealed in or that they were being protected from something out there."

p.29, The Maze Runner 

by James Dashner

Feel free to leave a comment here with any thoughts/questions about the book.  If you have a teaser to share, post it here or give us your link!  And while you're at it, share the link on MizB's site as well.  Happy reading!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In My Mailbox - December 20

This is my first week as a participant in Story Siren's and The Printed Page's weekly memes, "In My Mailbox"/"Mailbox Monday".  Thanks to any fellow participants who stop by The Calico Critic!  I'll do my best to get around to as many of your sites as I can this week.

As far as my mailbox...I'm getting very spoiled! All sorts of things arrived this week.  It won't be long before I'll need a new bookshelf!  Here are all the lovely things that have come in since December 13th:

  • Leviathan - Prize from the Book Love Affair blog's contest.  The artwork alone won me over on this one.  Very excited about disappearing into this world.
  • How to Teach Physics to Your Dog - Sent over by Scribner/Simon & Schuster.  I'm a bit of a science geek and an animal lover.  This one just looked fun and interesting!
  • Hester: A Novel - Sent over by St. Martin's Press.  I've been enjoying lots of Jane Austen sequels and I thought this (along with Deborah Noyes' Angel & Apostle) looked interesting.  A sequel to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.
  • The Bread of Angels - Sent over by Doubleday/Random House.  A true story about a woman who goes to Damascus to study the role of Jesus in Islam.  As Stephanie studies, she also falls in love with Frederic, a young French novice monk.  What will he choose: his monkhood or a romance with Stephanie?
  • Me & Mr. Darcy - I bought this in the Bargain Books section of the Vero Beach Book Center. Discovered a year ago (but not bought- over my limit!) in Winston-Salem's Ed McKay used book store, I was thrilled to be able to get my hands on it this year. Although it's used, it's in great condition!
  • Mr. Knightley's Diary - Also bought in the Bargain Books section at the Book Center. It looks brand new, aside from the "used" mark on the bottom of the book.
  • The Maze Runner - Prize from Alessandra of Out of the Blue.  I highly enjoyed The Hunger Games and Catching Fire this year.  The Maze Runner has received alot of buzz this year, and it's been touted as the type of book that Hunger Games fans would enjoy.  I've deliberately avoided reading too much about this story and want to remain as spoiler-free as possible until I read it.  I suspect that it will be devoured rather quickly!

That may not look like alot to some of you more experienced bloggers, but I've never had anything like this!  So many good books to read.  My television must be beginning to think I don't love it any more!

Thanks to all the contest hosts and publishers who sent these things my way.  I'll be sure to let you know when reviews are up, and many will be passed on for others to enjoy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Book Review: A Not-So-Silent Night by Verlyn D. Verbrugge

Sent to me as a complimentary copy from, A Not-So-Silent Night piqued my interest, as it presented some very interesting ideas to ponder during this Advent season.  Dr. Verlyn D.Verbrugge has written a slim yet interesting treatise that urges his readers to take another look at the birth of Christ.

Traditionally, Christmas has been celebrated as a time of joy, peace and light.  Verbrugge takes a different viewpoint.  If you consider why Christ came into the world, His birth ushered in a new era of spiritual and physical conflict.  The heralding angels should really be seen as soldiers of a heavenly army, declaring their readiness to their Commander in Chief.  Essentially, "Christmas is the beginning of war." (p.74)

While I felt that Verbrugge was a bit heavy-handed with his depiction of Christ's birth as a death-scented occasion, there were a number of points made that have made me appreciate this holiday in a deeper way.  His portrayal of the trials that Mary and Joseph had to endure as social and familial outcasts was very compelling.  I will never look at their diversion to the animals' stable in the same way again.  I also found the comparisons made between Genesis' Tree of Knowledge and Christ's cross to be very interesting.

There are many angles to the Christmas story that I have never considered before, and this concise book clearly presents them in a scriptural, deliberate way.  It is certainly worth 98 pages of reading to enhance your appreciation for what God has done for us in the birth of Christ Jesus the Messiah.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Contests of the Week - December 16

Here's my weekly post detailing contests I've entered recently.  More contests are also listed in the left hand sidebar below.

  • Robbie at is currently holding a contest for a signed copy of Beautiful Creatures. Deadline is 12/31.

  • Jennifer at Extreme Reader is giving away the first two books in the Looking Glass Wars trilogy. Deadline is January 24th.
  • Misty at Book Rat is giving away 5 books of the winner's choosing from her selection of dozens of books! Contest runs through the end of the year.

  • Jenny at Jenny Loves to Read is giving away two copies of Searching for Pemberley. Contest ends December 28th.
  • Kim at The Book Butterfly is giving away FIVE copies of The Maze Runner.  End date is 1/10/2010.
  • Stormi at Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My! is giving away a copy of The Maze Runner, tooHer holiday contests are running till the end of the first week in January.

  • Lucy at Enchanted by Josephine is hosting a guest blogger, author Mary Lydon Simonsen.  They're also giving away two copies of Mary's book, Searching for Pemberley.  Winner announced 12/23.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - December 15

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser:

"I must warn you that illness & circumstances have taken their toll.  Do not expect the same fresh-faced, short-tempered lady to waltz through your front door."  

~p.164, The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Feel free to leave a comment here with any thoughts/questions about the book.  If you have a teaser to share, post it here or give us your link!  And while you're at it, share the link on MizB's site as well.  Happy reading!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Movie Review - A Christmas Carol

For our date night, my husband and I decided to go see Disney's A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey.  Now that we're in the full swing of the Christmas season, we thought it would be fitting to go see this cinema-worthy movie.  And yes, we went for the 3D option.

The film opens with a close-up of Jacob Marley's lifeless face, coins laid upon his lowered eyelids.  This slightly unnerving 3-dimensional shot established the tone for most of the film.  Despite the casting of the usually comic Jim Carrey as Ebenezer, this is not Scrooged a la Bill Murray.  There are few, if any humorous moments to be found.  In fact, most of the film is very dark, dreary, and sometimes frightening.

Having said all this, we highly enjoyed the film.  It was a serious look into the depressing, yet redeemable life of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Dickens' original material seemed to be more important to Disney than telling a sweet, fun Christmas story.  There were moments of whimsy as the ghosts ushered Scrooge around his past, present and future life, but these moments merely advanced the plot and weren't too much of a diversion from the seriousness of the tale.  Going through these moments gave a clear vision for how Scrooge became the crotchety old man that he was.  By the time he makes his ultimate transformation, it truly felt joyful and triumphant to see him in his reformed state.

Of course, this being a Disney/Robert Zemekis production, everything was top-notch.  While the characters were not direct sketches of the artists who voiced them, their essences were deftly captured in their digital faces.  The young Scrooge especially looked like Carrey, and it was a delight to see the likeness of my favorite Regency actor, Colin Firth, show up in the face of Scrooge's nephew Fred.

Other effects, such as Scrooge's "flights" with the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present were very well done and appropriately utilized the 3D technology.  And possibly my most favorite effect was the simple falling snow-- it seemed to be almost right in front of my very eyes.

Because of the frequency of scary or intense moments, I would not recommend this film for very young children.  Possibly 12 and up would be a good age range, although I wouldn't say that this should have been rated PG-13, either.  Maybe a good litmus test would be a child's ability to read and comprehend Dickens' original novella.  This level of maturity would allow young ones to not only handle the dark moments, but appreciate the story for what it is.

Go see A Christmas Carol in theaters this Christmas season.  I'm sure the forthcoming DVD will be wonderful, but this one's worthy of your time and money to see on the big screen.  Bravo to Jim Carrey and the rest of the cast for their voice work, and to Disney for creating a realistic and entertaining iteration of this classic tale.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Contests of the Week - December 9

Here are some contests I'm entering this week.  You might want to as well!
  • Teddyree at The Eclectic Reader is having a really nice book giveaway that will include 2 winners! Deadline is 1/31/2010.

  • Kaye at Pudgy Penguin Perusals is giving away a copy of The Piano Teacher. Deadline is 12/20 at 5pm.

  • At Sharon Loves Books and Cats, Sharon is giving away 2 books and swag from the Strand bookstore. I almost hesitate to blog about this one, because I love the Strand and totally want to win!  Someday, when I'm rich and famous (haha), I'm going to live in New York and frequent this shop!  Deadline is January 2nd.

  • At Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My!, Stormi is having a number of nice giveaways!  They're running till the end of the first week in January.
Day 13: Book Depository giveaway. Win a book worth less than $10. 

    • At An Island Life, Kailani is giving away a copy of the CD Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas.  Deadline is 12/15.

    • At Austenesque Reviews, Meredith is giving away a copy of Searching for Pemberley. Deadline is 12/16.

    • At A Passion for Books, Casey is giving away a book off your wishlist!  Deadline is 12/31.

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Secret Santa: My Book Blogger Package Arrived!

    This was my first year participating in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I had such a good time buying the gifts and putting together the box for my Santee.  I hope I made good choices!  As far as my own Secret Santa, they did a great job with their gifts to me.  I was having a melancholy kind of day, and when I pulled into my driveway this afternoon, I saw a package on my front porch. I was delighted to see that it was from my Santa in Nebraska, whoever you are!  I kept my four year-old at bay by plopping him down with the Grinch and settled in to open my box.

    Santa, you did a great job with your choices!  All three books that you sent are ones that I want to read.  Actually, I already started Angel Time, but it's a library copy that I have to return soon.  Now I have a copy that I can keep indefinitely!  So happy.  And you can't go wrong with another recent Anne Rice novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.  That's another one on by TBR list.

    I was emailing with a publisher rep today and they made a comment: "I'm not sure that anyone would want to win an ARC."  Oh no, book bloggers love ARCs!  And in this box was a lovely one from Sourcebooks, A Match for Mary Bennet. Yum, yum!  Great choice!

    To keep my place in these books, there was also enclosed two cute bookmarks that this animal lover will enjoy.  And Santa kept their identity secret in their greeting card, too.

    Speaking of animals...the cat who inspired the name of my blog took a liking to my box & gifts. I'm not sure if it was the scent of the Nebraska air or if my Santa has pets at home...but Callie decided that she must rub her scent all over the books, box...everything!  She practically had a make-out session with it all.  So I guess that makes two of us who enjoyed today's treats.

    Santa, thank you so much for participating in the program this year.  You've really made my day!

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Book Review: Blackout by Jason Elam & Steve Yohn

    (Abridged version of this review here on Barnes & Noble)

    Jason Elam, a former Super Bowl champion and pilot, with Steve Yohn, a Christian writer and speaker have teamed up for another installment in their Riley Covington thriller series.  This third novel is Blackout, featuring the professional footballer Riley Covington and his adventures with (believe it or not) the U.S. Secret Service.

    While on vacation from the Professional Football League, Riley is whisked away from his Alaskan retreat due to an imminent threat to the security of the United States and the world.  En route to meet with the President, this former Air Force Special Ops member is briefed on the details by his friend and former Special Forces partner Scott Ross.  An Islamic terrorist group is working with North Korea to deliver two electromagnetic-pulse (EMP) bombs to the U.S.  Covington, Ross and other specialists are called on by the government to thwart these attacks.

    Before receiving the complimentary Advance Reader Copy of this novel from Tyndale House Publishers, I was unaware of the Riley Covington series.  The premise sounded interesting—a pro football player who’s a little bit of a James Bond on the side.  It certainly isn’t very believable, but that wasn’t the point of the book.  I believe the goal of the authors was to write an interesting, page-turning thriller that could appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike.

    For the most part, I believe that Elam and Yohn achieved their goal.  Blackout presents a troubling premise that could feasibly happen at some time in the future.  The date of September 11th plays a significant role in the plot, giving some of the incidents in the story a chilly realism. It’s really only by God’s grace that we have as much security in the world today as we do.  Things could be so much worse, and the events of this book clearly illustrate this.

    There were several times during the last third of the story when I had a hard time putting the book down.  The narrative was very interesting and seemed to be derived from a typical Hollywood thriller.  There were moments of heroism, plenty of technology and a nail-biting ending.  The authors have clearly seen an adventure movie or two in their time.  And while the book was heavy on the testosterone, this female reader appreciated the chaste romantic subplot that was included in the story. 

    As a Christian, I also enjoyed the interjection of the faiths of many of the characters.  The Christians were portrayed as earnest, yet imperfect in their faith.  They weren’t overly preachy, but they occasionally shared how Christianity and scripture mattered in their crazy lives.  It was also interesting to see the Islamic terrorists’ side of the story, occasionally profiled in several chapters.  As author Jason Elam is a student of Christian apologetics and takes an interest in Middle East affairs, I believed the portrayal of these types of characters. 

    The only major qualm I have with the book is the distracted nature of some of the writing.  Elam and Yohn write well when they’re focused on the suspenseful portions of the story.  However, they frequently get caught up in trying to offer too much comic relief.  I enjoy a chuckle to break the tension in a pulse-pounding story.  This is why I like the sidebar humor in the movie National Treasure.  It shows that we can take the calamity with a grain of salt and just enjoy the ride.  In the case of Blackout, I felt the comedy came too often and in inappropriate times.  If half of it had been cut, there would have been a perfect combination of tension and humor.

    While there are moments that women will enjoy, this certainly seems geared toward the manly set.  And due to some of the inherent violence in the events of the story, parents might want to save this one for elder teen boys.  However, the writers do keep it clean with no direct quoting of cursing and the limitation of certain graphic details.  Football fans will also be entertained, getting plenty of behind the scenes moments, drawn from Elam’s 17 years of NFL experience.

    Overall, this novel was a fun ride.  It’s easy to envision it on the big screen and it would be great if Jason and Steve got that opportunity.  I anticipate reading the next book in the series and would like to read their previous editions as well.  This Christian, football-watching, adventurous pilot’s wife is looking forward to more Riley Covington adventures!


    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Secret Santa: My VF Santa's Package Arrived!

    In addition to participating in the Book Bloggers Holiday Swap, I also participated in a Secret Santa gift swap with, also known as VF. This website is one of the best places to go to interact with other "vidiots", as we call ourselves.

    Surprisingly, my secret Santa is also from South Florida! She was so sweet and sent me two Jane Austen-themed novels and a workout video that had been on my wish list. And she also enclosed a cute little angel bear ornament too! I'm keeping the note/tag on the bear to remind me of my VF Santa in the years to come. Here they are above, her generous items perched on my fitness video shelf.

    If you'd like to participate in the VF Secret Santa program for 2010, create a free account on Keep an eye out in the General Discussion area of the Member Forum to sign up in the fall. I missed it last year, so I was very excited to make the deadline this year and have fun shopping for my VF Santee as well!

    Thanks again, Secret Santa!

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Giveaways & Hello Technorati

    I just discovered the Queen of Happy Endings blog.  So pretty and right up my alley!  Not only that, Alaine is having a great giveaway.  Go take a look and enjoy all the color on this blog!

    And here's another giveaway over on on Book Crazy - get yourself a treat for Christmas!

    On a side note, I just joined Technorati, so they'll be looking for this code: ZFAUF59TNSEM  

    I hope everyone survived Thanksgiving with all the trimmings, travel and treasured time with family!

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Movie Review - Christmas Story (Joulutarina)

    From Finland comes the somber, touching and memorable origin story of Saint Nicholas.  We know Santa to be a character of great generosity and love, but we generally don't think about his possible childhood.  Christmas Story or Joulutarina does a masterful job in spinning this tale. 

    Hundreds of years ago, Nicholas is orphaned and cared for by many in his northern village. He changes homes once a year on Christmas Day.  Eventually he begins sending homemade toys to the children of the families who have cared for him over the years.  At age 13 he's taken in by a grumpy outsider named Isaac, who seems to have no love or compassion in his heart for children.

    Under Isaac's care Nicholas becomes quite the carpenter, and they eventually become as close as kin. He continues giving gifts to children around the village, all the while doing it anonymously.  Then the year comes when he begins sharing toys with children from outside his village. He has a desire to bless children not only in his village, but far beyond.

    There are other touching plot details that give this story depth and meaning never seen before in the Santa mythology.  I've omitted these details so that you may enjoy them as I did.

    In addition to the excellent writing, the film features beautiful cinematography and an excellent soundtrack.  Although filmed in a Scandinavian language, the voices have been dubbed over in English. Some of the English-language voice actors are John Turturro (Transformers), Michael Badalucco (The Practice) and Noah Emmerich (Cellular).  If you’re like me and you also enjoy captions, none are available on the DVD.  However, I was able to engage the Closed Captioning feature on my TV.

    Parents:  This film has been approved by The Coalition for Quality Children’s Media and The Dove Foundation for quality family entertainment.  The content does not include any sex, nudity, gore or profanity.  There’s not really any violence, although the Isaac character does shove young Nicholas’ head down onto a dusty table in one scene.  He also names him “Brat” at the beginning of their relationship. Those initial scenes with Isaac might be a bit disturbing for very young children, as he’s a bit harsh with Nicholas. The element of dishonesty when it comes to Santa’s identity is also a minor issue.  Pairing these and a few other intense (but not terrible) thematic elements with very few incidents of smoking, and the movie has earned a ‘PG’ rating. 

    The running time of the film is about 70 minutes, and there is a 20 minute featurette in the Special Feature section.  This piece is not overdubbed and you’ll need to read the subtitles.

    While there aren’t many moments of levity in this film, I would not characterize it as depressing.  It’s a rich tale, one that should have been told years ago.  The power of love, compassion and sharing is evident, transforming the lives of those in Nicholas’ life.  Hopefully many will emulate Nicholas, loving the unlovable and even sharing blessings with those who haven’t been a blessing.  Truly, the message of unconditional, grace-filled love is at the very core of the true meaning of Christmas.


    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Update on Giveaways - Win Some Great Books!

    Same entry from a few days ago, but with new info!

    There are lots of great giveaways going on in the blogosphere these days, and I thought I'd take some time to remind you of a few in particular:

    •  TJ at Book Love Affair is giving away a copy of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. Contest ends 12/4.
    Here's the link:

    • Jessica at A Booklover's Diary is hosting a big giveaway, with lots of books to choose from and an gift card!  Contest ends 11/30.
    Here's the link:

    • Jessica at Book Bound is celebrating her 100 followers (I was #102!) by hosting a contest to give away free books from The Book Depository.  Contest ends 12/18.
    Here's the link:

    • The Bookologist is hosting a Putnam Palooza, giving away three books to one winner! Contest ends 12/17.
    Here's the link:

    • Robby at Running for Fiction is hosting a contest for the YA book of your choice.  Contest ends 12/1.
    Here's the link:

    • Tanya at Starry Eyed Surprise has a giveaway for Decoding the Lost Symbol.  The contest ends 12/1.
    Here's the link:

    • Alessandra at Out of the Blue has a giveaway for the Book Depository book of your choice, up to €12 ($17.77) in value.  Contest ends 12/6.
    Here's the link:

    • Life After Jane has a collection of books up for adoption.  Enter to give these books a good home: 
      Here's the link:

      Don't forget to check out my sidebar giveaway section as well.  It's down the page on the left.  Others are ending soon, so enter while you can.

      Good luck!

      Wednesday, November 18, 2009

      Book Review: Winter's Child by Cameron Dokey

       From the back cover:

      Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai's grandmother and sharing in each other's secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push Kai -- and their friendship -- away.

      Dejected Kai dreams of a dazzling Snow Queen, who entices him to leave home and wander to faraway lands. When Grace discovers Kai is gone, she learns how much she has lost and sets out on a mystical journey to find Kai...and discover herself. 

      Although I'm familiar with many of Hans Christian Andersen's stories, I've never been acquainted with "The Snow Queen".  I've loved many of his fairy tales, from "The Little Mermaid" to "The Emperor's New Clothes." Unfortunately, Cameron Dokey doesn't give me much motivation to pursue the Snow Queen story in her retelling, "Winter's Child".

      Using many, but not all of Andersen's original elements, Dokey didn't draw me into this fictional world very well.  Never once did I find myself getting lost in the story.  It was difficult to get immersed in the world of the Winter Child, especially when the story kept shifting it's perspective between the three main characters. This may have been a writing device that Andersen used, but it doesn't work well here. Cameron's writing is quite weak and forgettable. If I needed to put the book down, upon returning to it I frequently forgot where I was in the story.

      I understand this is a YA book, designed for 9-12 year olds, but this 38 year-old has read many YA's in recent years that are of much higher quality than this one. It's a small paperback, printed on cheap paper that hearkens back to fluffy romance novels, without all the tawdry romance. The story is harmless and sweet, but if you have other quality novels on hand, don't waste your time with this one.

      This book was provided by the Vine reviewers program.  You can also find my review on their website.

      Find this and other review links on:     CymLowell

      Sunday, November 15, 2009

      Winners! Prizes coming your way!

      And now, here are the winners of my first two giveaways on The Calico Critic, chosen by

      The winner of the Hunger Games T-shirt and commemorative Mockingjay pin is:

      Heidi of The Black Cell!

      The winner of The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview is:

      CelticLady of Blog O' The Irish!

      Ladies, I'll email you and will look for your mailing information soon.  Congratulations!

      Thanks to everyone who entered the contests.  This was my first time doing these, and it was really enjoyable.  I look forward to doing more reviews in the future.  Coming up soon:  A $10 gift card giveaway-- don't forget to vote for your favorite in the sidebar!

      Friday, November 6, 2009

      Kreativ Blogger Award!

      I'm so excited! The Calico Critic has received its first award, presented to me by Katy Freeland of A Few More Pages, who has been enjoying the blog.  And according to her blog post, I'm to list 7 of my favorite things and also pass this award on to seven deserving bloggers.  So here are seven of my favorite things (not people), keeping in mind that they're in no particular order and I haven't listed ALL of my favorite things in life (including THE favorite thing, which will remain unpublished).

      1.  The sound of my 4 year-old's laugh
      2. Chocolate chip cookies
      3. A really good book that's hard to put down!
      4. The book-blogging community
      5. My local public library - it's wonderful!
      6. Sunday afternoon naps
      7. Music that carries me away

      And here are some of the bloggers that I've been enjoying lately (among others!):

      Laurel Ann @ Austenprose
      Bridget @ Readaholic

      Katy, thanks so much for giving this award to me-- you made my day!

      Wednesday, November 4, 2009

      Book Review and Giveaway: The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview

      Okay, I have to admit it.  I'll read just about any novel that's Jane Austen themed. But this one had me particularly intrigued, because I love the Darcy character and in addition to that, I loved the cover art. If only all good books could be determined by the quality of the cover art-- it would make things so much easier!

      Monica Fairview's The Other Mr. Darcy is a Pride and Prejudice sequel, speculating on the days following the marriage of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.  As we recall in the first story, Charles Bingley's sister Caroline had eyes for the dashing and well-bred Darcy.  Despite her flattery and hopes, the man of her dreams chooses to wed Elizabeth, a woman for whom she has held no high esteem.

      Enter Mr. Robert Darcy, Fitzwilliam's American cousin.  In town to attend the wedding, he accidentally witnesses the presumed private meltdown of Caroline, distraught over her shattered dreams to wed Darcy.  Embarrassed that he witnessed her in such a vulnerable moment, she quickly comes to resent him.  It's very reminiscent of a moment between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.  And so begins the dance that is their relationship, culminating in an ending that Caroline herself never would have thought possible.

      The Other Mr. Darcy was very enjoyable to read.  Monica's style of writing is elegant and true to the culture of the times.  I gained some new vocabulary words in the reading of this novel! Yet at the same time, it was unstilted and entertaining.  There's humor, suspense and of course, romance.  While some of the plot choices made some of the outcomes obvious, it was still a fun ride, seeing where Ms. Fairview would take the characters.

      It did take me some time to accept this particular incarnation of the Caroline character, though.  She was so haughty in Pride and Prejudice, and there were times in this story when I found some of her amiability to be a bit unbelievable.  But the benefit of this comes in the redemption of the character, for whom most Prejudice fans have held contempt.  In anycase, Her sister Louisa does a great job of handling the haughty attitude for her.

      I highly enjoyed the character of Robert, for he had all the traits of a Darcy without the stiffness of Fitzwilliam.  With his dark, wavy hair and blue eyes, I imagined Patrick Dempsey as an actor who could portray him.  He was earnest and dashing, while still retaining the airs of a proper Bostonian gentleman. 

      And on a philosophical note, a line near the end of the book really touched my heart. To paraphrase it without giving anything away, Robert says, "We cannot know where the eye of God lies, but if we stood where He stands, things that seem to be lop-sided to us would be absolutely perfect."  An excellent message to take away after reading a highly enjoyable book.  Thank you, Monica.

      Thanks also to Sourcebooks and Grace at Books Like Breathing for hosting the initial giveaway for this book.  I enjoyed it very much, but now I'm going to pass it on to another lucky reader!  Don't worry, I've handled it with care and it's in good condition.

      Giveaway Rules

      • One winner only
      • US addresses only, will be shipped Media Mail
      • Become a follower of the blog (or remind me of your current follwer status)
      • Leave a comment below, including your email where I can contact you should you win.
      • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, November 14th
      • I will email the winner, and if I haven't heard from you in 48 hours, I will pick another winner.

      For bonus entries now that you're a follower... be sure to mention the ones you've completed in your comment:
      • Tweet about the giveaway, and be sure to give me your @Name where you posted the Tweet
      • Follow me on Twitter:  @LHartness
      • Post or sidebar about the giveaway on your blog
      • Follow the blog on Networked Blogs

      Good Luck!

      Monday, November 2, 2009

      Movie Review - Every Little Step

      When I was a young schoolgirl in the 70s, I attended a touring performance of A Chorus Line in Atlanta. I marveled at the glitz, glamour and choreography of the show.  Thankfully, most of the adult issues flew right over my head. Not too long ago I watched the movie A Chorus Line with Michael Douglas, so the story was once again fresh in my mind.  Tonight I watched the documentary Every Little Step, which chronicles the history of A Chorus Line and it's revival to the Broadway stage a few years ago.

      For the first part of the film, the focus alternates between a retrospective of the show's creation and the current audition process for the new live performance.  We learn about the drafting of the script from tapes of an actual meeting of Broadway performers.  We meet some of the new candidates and learn a bit of their backgrounds. The tedious and sometimes agonizing process that the casting directors go through to make their choices is revealed. Original cast mates share their stories of struggle and joy.

      As the film goes on, more of the focus is trained upon the current actors and their stressful audition process.  Every one of these performers is incredibly talented; it's hard to see some of them get cut.  And sometimes it's surprising to see who's finally chosen for certain parts. It all finally culminates with the finale, with the ultimate cast choices on stage in their golden glory.  The film is A Chorus Line brought to life.  The original was drawn from experiences now almost 40 years in the past, and this new documentary shows that the story still holds.  Very enjoyable.


      On a side note, for parents:  This documentary was rated PG-13 because of the content and language.  The F-bomb is dropped several times, more than is usually allowed in a PG-13 movie.  These moments are mostly due to the Chorus Line script that the candidates are quoting. And of course there's the T&A song Dance: Ten; Looks: Three with some colorful content.  I think if my parents had known about this content when I was a kid, they never would have let me go.  But somehow I came out unscathed!  Still, it's worth waiting until your child is ready to show this one.

      But certainly for all you Broadway and A Chorus Line fans, this is a must-see.  It would also make for educational viewing for those who are even considering a run at the Great White Way.   It's all worth it if you've got the chops, can do the work and make the cut!

      Friday, October 30, 2009

      Giveaway - Catching Fire T-Shirt and Mockingjay Pin

      Thanks to the folks at, I won a nice Catching Fire prize pack (read my review here), including a commemorative T-shirt and pin.  In an effort to get the word out about my blog, I'm offering up the shirt and pin as a giveaway on November 15th!  The shirt is a medium youth size, not a standard medium.

      Here are the contest rules:
      • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, November 14th
      • Open to U.S. addresses only
      • Make sure your posted comment includes your email address so that I can contact you on Sunday the 15th.  Should you win, you'll have 48 hours to respond before I pick another winner.

      Ways to earn entries:
      • Leave a comment with your email (1 point)
      • Follow the blog by clicking on the Google "Follow" button on my sidebar (2 points)
      • Follow the blog on Networked Blogs (1 point)
      • Follow me (@LHartness) on Twitter (1 point)
      • Tweet about this giveaway on Twitter; be sure to use @LHartness and the website URL in your post (You may use this shorter URL: ). You may do this once a day between now and November 14 (2 points per day, notify me each day that you tweet)
      • Blog about the giveaway, and be sure to give me your URL (2 points)
      And just as a reminder, this giveaway is for the shirt and pin only.  I do not have a copy of the book to give away at this time.  However, if I receive one I will certainly host a giveaway for that as well!

      Good luck!

      Monday, October 26, 2009

      Giveaways - Ending this week, enter soon!

      You've only got a few more days left, but if you'd like to enter to win a free copy of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, head on over to The Book Resort!  Here's the link:

      You have until midnight on October 31 to enter. 

      Next, Booking Mama is offering a copy of Sara Angelini's The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy.  Julie wants to know what your favorite Jane Austen novel is, and the deadline for this giveaway is Friday, October 30th at 11:59 p.m.

      Here's the link:

      Good luck to all!

      Massive Giveaway!

      Head on over to  to enter their massive, multi-winner giveaway!  You get your choice of books from their stash and can even make suggestions for other books as well!

      Sunday, October 25, 2009

      New Discovery: Find book sales in your area!

      Are you looking for the latest book sale in your area?  There's a new website devoted to listing book sales from around the country.  Listings are free for Friends of the Library organizations and other non-profit groups, and those are the best sales to attend!

      Pass the word, and check out the site!

      Saturday, October 24, 2009

      Book Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

      Not too long ago I saw a movie trailer for the upcoming Lightning Thief, coming to theaters in February 2010. Knowing it was based on a YA book, I thought I'd check it out.  Unfortunately, while I'm looking forward to the movie, I wasn't as enamored with the book as I thought I'd be.

      The Lightning Thief is written in the first person, from the vantage point of Percy Jackson, young 6th grader in New York.  Over the course of the story he discovers that he's actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon.  His mortal mother has always kept this fact from him and has taken great measures to keep him safe from Poseidon's enemies.  Percy is eventually drawn into a fantastic, mythological-yet-real world of Classic gods and monsters, taking on a quest to prevent a massive war amongst the gods.

      While many fantasy tales take on familiar themes that have been told time and again throughout the course of history, I found this one to be a little too derivative.  The similarities to the Harry Potter books were so many I eventually quit counting them all.  I almost felt like this author was simply telling his own Potter story and just changing a few of the basic tenants around.  Like Harry, Percy was informed several years into his life that he was special.  The notion of half-blood people (one parent "normal", the other wizard/god) is an important point in both novels.  Harry and Percy have been living with one or more guardians who despise them. Both boys go off to a special school/camp for kids like themselves. There they train and learn the lessons of being who they are.  There are separate houses dividing up the students into separate types of groups.  Harry's got a magic wand, Percy has a magic sword.  Both boys fight beings that would normally be too overwhelming for their abilities and they overcome.  I could go on , but the point is made.

      However, unlike Potter, this story wasn't able to get me to suspend disbelief in the reality of the tale.  I can believe there's a Hogwarts School of Wizardry.  I can believe there's a magical land of Oz and that Superman can fly.  These stories have a way of getting me to believe their realities within the confines of their stories.  But for some reason, I frequently was drawn out of the story in Thief and just couldn't accept its premises. Monsters in the St. Louis Arch? The entrance to Olympus in New York and the entrance to the underworld in California?  Riordan gives reasons for these locations, but I still couldn't buy it as a reader.

      Having said all that, I still enjoyed the story enough to finish the novel.  There were many chapters that ended with cliffhangers that compelled me to keep reading.  While I couldn't buy the premise of the story, I still wanted to know what happened.  Ultimately, I was entertained and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie as well.

      Whether I'm going to read the other books in Riordan's series is a question I haven't answered yet.  I might give Book 2, The Sea of Monsters a shot, if for no other reason that I know it'll be a somewhat fun (if unbelievable) read.


      Tuesday, October 20, 2009

      Pendragon's Banner - More Chances to Win!

      Here's some more giveaways for Pendragon's Banner.  Check 'em out!

      Enchanted by Josephine Blog:

      Found Not Lost Blog:

      He Followed Me Home...Can I Keep Him?


      Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

      A while back I became intrigued with Suzanne Collins' new books based on a Time magazine article.  I ran right out to my local public library and scooped up the hardback and the audio book of The Hunger Games to use in the car while driving (I spend many hours a week in my taxi/mininan).  It took me a few chapters to fully get my head into Collins' post-apocalyptic world, but once I did, I was hooked.  As you may or may not know, The Hunger Games ends with quite the cliffhanger.  Having forgotten that it was Book 1 of a trilogy, the last page left me almost in pain, wanting more.

      I immediately went on to as many blogger websites as I could to enter to win a free copy (ARC, new, used, I didn't care!) of Book 2 in the series, Catching Fire.  After entering about 3 dozen sites, I managed to actually win a copy off of in their giveaway.  Thanks Joe!

      The book came a few weeks later and I began reading it as soon as I could.  This time I didn't require a few chapters to get immersed in Collins' world.  It was full speed ahead, picking up the story from where it left off in Hunger Games.  While I finished this novel quicker than I finished most, it wasn't quite as intoxicating as Book 1.  I'm sure this is normal for the "middle child" of trilogies, so it was to be expected.  Still, I enjoyed the character development, plot and the new challenges faced by Katniss, Peeta and others.  There are some interesting reveals near the end of the book, but the cliffhanger isn't quite as torturous as the one in Hunger Games.  I'm definitely looking forward to Book 3, but I'm not squirming in my seat as I was last time.

      If you enjoy Young Adult novels like Harry Potter and movies like Star Wars, this series might be for you.  While it is designed for the YA audience, I'm not sure when I'd let my boys (now age 4 and 9) get into it.  While there's no sex, there is an implication that a character has become pregnant by another competitor, and there's certainly a bit of violence.  This is the nature of the topic, as it's an arena competition wherein there can be only one (or two!) living victors.  While my elder son has the capacity to read at this level (and it's recommended for Grade 7 and up), I'll definitely wait until he's well into his teens before mentioning the series to him.  This is no Harry Potter.

      Overall, an enjoyable read, and I eagerly await Book 3 in the series.  You'll certainly find me trolling the blogs, entering as many times as I can in hopes of winning that one, too.  Or at least putting it on my Wish List in hopes that it'll be a Birthday/Mom's Day/Christmas/Arbor Day gift!


      Friday, October 16, 2009

      Giveaway - Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick

      Head on over to Passages to the Past to enter to win a free copy of Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick.  Here's Amy's post, just copied over.  In order to enter, go to:


       Giveaway: Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick

      When it rains, it pours!!!  I have yet another giveaway, this time from my favorite publisher, Sourcebooks.  They are offering 1 copy of Pendragon's Banner (Book 2 of The Pendragon Banner trilogy) by Helen Hollick.

      SYNOPSIS: Pendragon's Banner is the second book in Helen Hollick's exciting King Arthur trilogy, covering 459-465 A.D. This is not a fairy tale or fantasy. There is no Merlin, no sword in the stone, and no Lancelot. This is the most accurate Arthurian legend ever written, based on historical evidence and meticulous research.

      At age twenty-four, King Arthur has the kingdom he fought so hard for and a new young family. But keeping the throne of Britain—and keeping his wife and three sons safe—proves far from easy. Two enemies in particular threaten everything that is dear to him: Winifred, Arthur's vindictive first wife, and Morgause, priestess of the Mother and malevolent Queen of the North. Both have royal ambitions of their own.

      In this story of harsh battles, secret treasonous plots, and the life-threatening politics of early Britain's dark ages, author Helen Hollick boldly reintroduces King Arthur as you've never seen him before.

      Read my review of The Kingmaking (Book 1)

      Read my interview with Helen Hollick

      Giveaway 411:

      * Giveaway ends on October 28th. Winner will be announced on October 29th.

      * Open to US / Canada entries ONLY.

      * For 5 additional entries sign up as a follower; if you already are a follower you will automatically get this.

      * For another additional one entry: post, sidebar, facebook or twitter about this giveaway.

      GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!   Remember-- to enter to win, go to:


      And here's ANOTHER giveaway!  Check it out at Historially Obsessed

      Wednesday, October 14, 2009

      Workout Review - 10 Minute Solution with Michelle Dozois

      Once again faced with a busy schedule, I chose 10 Minute Solution: Carb & Calorie Burner as my workout DVD choice on Wednesday. Michelle Dozois presents, featuring 5 separate mini-workouts, all about 10 minutes in length. You have the option of doing as few or as many segments as you like.  There's even a programming feature wherein you can select which tracks you'd like to do in any particular order. Michelle is a fun and motivating instructor, prepping you for each move in a systematic way. None of the moves are overly technical, but it's also fun and challenging. I'm glad there's plenty of strength training mixed in with the cardio, so I don't have to do a separate weight training routine.

      Here's the breakdown of the tracks:
      1. Slow & Steady Burn (9:51) - This one is great to do first, warming you up and then getting your heart rate up to training level.  The moves are fun and comfortable.
      2. Carb Killer (9:46) - If you enjoy the punching and kicking of kickboxing, this one's for you. A couple of moves were a bit challenging for me, but overall it was very doable and fun.
      3. Power Blast (9:47) - If you're ready to pump it up and really get your heart rate going, this is it. There's lots of plyometric moves, jumping and movement. It's fun, but a couple of times I had to modify the moves to keep up.
      4. Interval Burn (9:51) - This track is Bootcamp-inspired, which is not usually my thing.  But it was manageable.  One move (the Mountainclimber) is really tough for me, so I had to cheat a bit and get my tush in the air.  This one's good, but I'll have to work on it.
      5. Metabolism Booster (9:49) - Strength training is the main theme of this track.  Michelle uses moderate weights (I used 6lbs.) to build lean body mass to burn calories all day long. It's great to do at the end, as there's less full-body movement.
      Be sure and do a little stretching after you're done, as there's not alot of time to fit that into each track.  There is some, but I needed a little more when I was done.

      Because of time constraints, I did tracks 1, 2 & 4 on Wednesday and then 1, 3 & 5 on Thursday. These weren't long workouts, but I definitely broke a sweat and did my body some good. And it was fun!


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