Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - June 30th

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On most Wednesdays I begin a new post, detailing contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere for that week.  Some of these might appeal to you as well.  Check them out!

  • Eliora over at Scholar Berry is hosting her first-ever giveaway of Heist Society.  Deadline is July 20th. Here's the link:

Book Review: A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware

From the back cover:

“A remote cottage on the wild coast of Cornwall sounded to Blythe Barton Stowe like the perfect escape from the pain and humiliation of recent events in her Hollywood life.   But soon she seems to be reliving a centuries-old tragedy, and the handsome owner of the shabby manor house on the hill appears vitally entwined in her destiny.  As they unearth one shocking family secret after another, Blythe is forced to conclude that her intriguing neighbor is more than just an impecunious British gentleman bent on saving his ancestral home.  And the impeccably honorable Lucas Teague begins to see Blythe as a lifeline in an otherwise bleak existence.

But is the unbridled attraction they’re experiencing a dangerous distraction, or could it be strong enough to transcend the insurmountable complexities of time and place?”

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In recent months I became aware of author Ciji Ware because of the recent reissue of her novel, Island of the Swans, which was garnering high praise from critics.  Given the opportunity to read her reissue of A Cottage by the Sea, I looked forward to becoming acquainted with this author’s work. 

I found A Cottage by the Sea to be well-suited for me as a reader.  I enjoy historical novels, particularly romantic ones set in Britain, wherein some of my heritage lies.  Sea also features some elements of time travel as well as the glamour of Hollywood, both of which are entertaining features.  Those interested in genealogy will also find Ware’s storylines to be interesting—she even offers a detailed family tree graphic within the opening pages.

The novel is somewhat divided between modern day and turn of the 18th century.  The main character Blythe Barton Stowe doesn’t experience time travel in the traditional sense, but her experience comes very close to it.  It seems that all the main characters are inextricably tied through family lineages, time and fate.  Some may define happenings in this novel as paranormal in nature, but I would describe these intriguing events to be more fantastical and not darkly paranormal in any way.

As a mother of a ten year-old boy, I could relate to the characters as they lived, loved and struggled with the children in their lives, most notably ten year-old Richard, son of main character Lucas Teague.  Richard’s desire for parental affection was very touching, reminding me of the importance of showing my own son my love for him as well. 

The narrative itself was very enjoyable.  There were very few slow moments in these chapters, with some cliffhangers as Ware shifted her storytelling from one era to another.  Her ability to entwine these two timelines pushed the story forward, leading to end results that were gratifying as well as realistic.

Conservative readers should know that there is a bit of sexual content within this romance.   While it doesn’t dominate the story, there are several scenes of lovemaking that go beyond a PG-rated level.  There’s also a bit of colorful language, but similarly it isn’t dominating.  I merely present these thoughts in order to allow readers to make a somewhat informed choice. 

While I found many chapters in A Cottage by the Sea to be captivating, I particularly enjoyed the ones near the conclusion. Many characters experienced redemption, forgiveness, healing and new beginnings.  The events of the past influenced the future in many restorative ways.  This allowed for a well-formed narrative and skillful character development.

A Cottage by the Sea was originally published in 1997.  Like Ciji Ware, I’m glad she had the opportunity to revisit this work, tweaking it a bit and offering it to the public once again.  Those of us who get the chance to enjoy the fruits of her labor are bestowed a lovely gift, to be enjoyed as the many flowers found alongside her cottage by the sea.

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

Paperback Paperback

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Contest Winner Announcement!

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Well, after dozens of entries came in, we have a winner in our CSN Stores fitness pack giveaway! 
After submitting only one entry, our winner is:

Maria from

Congratulations, Maria! 
You've won a Firm DVD fitness pack from CSN Stores

Maria's website is really great-- lots of good information, motivations and giveaways, all in the name of fitness and healthy living.  Her prize will certainly help her in that endeavor!

Thanks to all the entrants, and stay tuned for more giveaways in the future!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - June 23rd

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On most Wednesdays I begin a new post, detailing contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere for that week.  Some of these might appeal to you as well.  Check them out!

  • JL at An Avid Reader's Musings is having a Matched and swag giveaway in honor of her birthday! July 3rd is the last day to enter.  Here's the link:

  • Leilani at Leilani Loves Books is having a super Birthday/100 Followers giveaway!  She's offering lots of books and book-related prizes!  The prizes change each week through August 13th, her birthday. Here's the link:

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Book Review: A Woman of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins

    A Woman of Influence: The acclaimed Pride and Prejudice sequel series (The Acclaimed Pride and Prejudice Sequel Series: the Pemberley Chronicles)The Pemberley Chronicles: A Companion Volume to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: Book 1The Women of Pemberley: A Companion Volume to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (The Pemberley Chronicles)Netherfield Park Revisited: The acclaimed Pride and Prejudice sequel series (The Pemberley Chronicles)The Ladies of Longbourn: The acclaimed Pride and Prejudice sequel series (The Pemberley Chronicles)My Cousin Caroline: The acclaimed Pride and Prejudice sequel series The Pemberley Chronicles Book 6Postscript from Pemberley
    In the spring of 2008 Rebecca Ann Collins began authoring a 10-part series of novels, sequels to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

    Clearly, Ms. Collins’ pen is quite prolific.  I marvel at her ability to frequently bring these stories to her readers, and I wish I’d been aware of the series at its inception two years ago.  As it is, I begin my experiences with The Pemberley Chronicles in the ninth installment, A Woman of Influence.

    The title character is Becky Collins Tate, daughter of the ostentatious Reverend Collins of Pride and Prejudice.  In her 40’s, Becky is now a widow, striking out into the world on her own, liberated from an unpleasant marriage. She’s had her share of tragedy and personal missteps, but she’s ready to begin a new life in her newly purchased home, Edgewater, in the county of Kent.

    Set in the mid-1800’s, A Woman of Influence is only somewhat distanced from the events in Austen’s original novel.  Many of her characters are in attendance, but they rarely take center stage in this narrative.  However, their presence was very helpful.  They provided the bridge needed to connect the reader to the next generation of characters, the children and grandchildren of the Darcys, the Bingleys and the like.

    There are two main story lines in Collins’ novel.  One involves Becky’s involvement with a young woman who has been unjustly separated from her husband, charged with a crime he didn’t commit.  Mrs. Tate uses her compassion, intelligence and influence to come to the aid of this victimized family.  While the truth might be on their side, politics and covetousness have the upper hand, making Becky’s task a difficult one.

    Another plot line concerns the heart of Becky herself.  After years in a dispassionate marriage, Becky is not only pleased with her new life of freedom, but she also feels disinclined to ever open her heart and become someone’s wife ever again.

    Although I came to The Pemberley Chronicles near the conclusion of the series, I did enjoy A Woman of Influence as a standalone title.  There were times when unfamiliar plot points from previous books both helped me and hindered me in understanding the history of the characters.  Ultimately it was my knowledge of Pride and Prejudice that was the most helpful factor in grasping the story.

    Collins is clearly a well-educated lover of Austen’s work.  Her manner of writing is very similar to Austen’s, although slightly updated.  Her character development is deliberate, allowing each individual to be well understood.  While there were two main story lines, they were well balanced within the entire narrative, weaving around each other.  And while it certainly wouldn’t be characterized as a thrilling page-turner, Woman of Influence was consistently enjoyable and pleasant to return to at each reading.  I look forward to her concluding volume, The Legacy of Pemberley.  The only question remaining in my mind is,
    “Do I read books 1-8 before or after Legacy?

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


    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Book Review: TSI - The Influenza Bomb by Paul McCusker & Walt Larimore, MD

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    The Influenza Bomb: A Novel (Tsi: Time Scene Investigators)For two years between March 1918 and June 1920, the Spanish Flu spread around the world and took between 50-100 million lives. Some have speculated that it had an impact on the result of World War I.  Some have further speculated that the Nazis began experimenting for biological warfare in the 30’s and 40’s, using influenza as one of their test viruses.

    In Paul McCusker and Dr. Walt Larimore’s novel The Influenza Bomb, this issue is revisited in our present day.  An eco-terrorist group called Return to Earth has resurrected and enhanced the Spanish Flu, making it even more lethal than the original. Their plan is to virally wipe out all human life on Earth, as we have (in their eyes) made ourselves illegitimate caretakers of the planet through our poor stewardship of the world.

    The National Institutes of Health dispatches a special team of scientists, doctors, techno-geeks and investigators to fight this terrorist plot.  They’re from the Historical Research and Data Development department, also known as “TSI” (a wink to a popular television program).  Using the history of past medical incidents, they’re able to investigate their way to the solution of their current problem.  In this case, they need to stop Return to Earth and their influenza virus before the destruction of the human race.

    Authors Paul McCusker and Walt Larimore, MD bring to their work a wonderful blend of Hollywood-style action, with realistic science to back up the plot.  Many of the historical scenarios they present truly happened, which make the fictional crimes of Return to Earth seem all the more urgent.  Given the proper circumstances and conditions, a catastrophe like this could break out in our contemporary world.  With our almost effortless ability to transport people (possible virus carriers) around the globe within a day or two, it’s a blessing that our world is as healthy as it is today.

    I enjoyed The Influenza Bomb.  It took me back to the mid-90’s when I read the book The Hot Zone by Richard Preston and saw the movie Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo.  McCusker’s scriptwriting talent came through, giving the story an excitement that always kept the pages turning.  Dr. Larimore’s medical knowledge gave the details of the epidemic veracity as the characters strove to combat their visible and invisible foes.

    I also enjoyed the writing device of frequent flashbacks to previous decades, showing the background of the current conflict within the context of world history.  Characters and present-day events could be traced back almost 100 years.  Artifacts from decades gone by provided keys necessary for TSI to continue their investigations.  Choices made in the 1940’s had direct consequences in the present day.

    McCusker & Larimore’s characters were interesting, although I didn’t find myself caring about them as much as I would have liked.  It seemed as if each character was just a chess piece, moving about alone and in concert with other characters to a decisive end.  While this novel is certainly not a relationship piece, a bit more character development would have helped with this.  However, there are so many roles in this story (a few too many, in my opinion), I don’t know how more character development could have been accomplished without weighing down or impeding the story.

    As the authors are Christians, they did infuse a bit of their faith into the story line.  It wasn’t terribly overt, but the theme of forgiveness was presented in the lives of some of their characters.  This lesson applies to those of many faiths, so non-Christians may not be too disturbed by this content.  It’s certainly a concept that all of us need to apply to our lives.

    The Gabon Virus: A Novel (Tsi: Time Scene Investigators)On a side note: The Influenza Bomb follows the TSI novel The Gabon Virus.  Although I haven’t read Gabon, this issue wasn’t alienating.  There were several mentions of individuals and events from the previous book, but they weren’t very consequential.  If anything, those moments made me want to pick up The Gabon Virus sometime.

    If you’re looking for an entertaining and thought-provoking thriller, The Influenza Bomb makes for an amusing summer read. 

    This title was provided to me by Glass Road PR.  No obligation other than an honest review was required.

    Glass Road Public Relations


    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Wednesday Contest Report - June 16th

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    On most Wednesdays I begin a new post, detailing contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere for that week.  Some of these might appeal to you as well.  Check them out!

    • Michael at The Subtle Chronicler is hosting his first giveaway - Book of your choice!  This runs through the end of July.  Here's the link:

    • Chase at The Bibliophile's Lounge is hosting a nice giveaway!  $15 to spend at The Book Depository.  Deadline to enter is July 8th.  Here's the link:

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    DVD Review and Giveaway: Cardio Party by The Firm

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    As you'll see in previous posts and in future ones, some of my favorite workout videos are produced by The Firm.  And in recent years, Cardio Party has been a go-to choice for me on many occasions. Effective and fun, this workout is great to do on one of those days when I'm feeling down or unmotivated.

    The workout is about 39 minutes, including a short warm-up and cool-down.  There are 5 cast members, and each gets their time to lead the program.  It begins with Alison Davis, using some steps from her other video Cardio Overdrive. She's fun without being too perky, and her segment provides a great warm up and cardio build-up.

    The next segment is led by Emily Welsh, a veteran Firm instructor.  Fans of her Complete Aerobics & Weight Training (CAWT) workout from 2003 will notice a few moves that she's gleaned from that routine.  I really love CAWT and was delightfully surprised to see those steps included in.  I literally laughed with delight.  Along with that, Emily's section is also fun and effective.  Her standing abdominal segments are a great alternative to doing crunches on the floor.  And she's serious without being too much so.

    After Emily is Rebekah, leading us with some material we've seen from her before.  I find her to be pleasant and her moves attainable. As is the case in other areas of the workout, the small number moves that involve impact can easily be adapted to low-impact versions. In my case, I substitute "heel digs" for the calf pumps that are sometimes too challenging for me. And long-time Firm fans will enjoy the new take on the "Tri-star", which is the "Quad-star" with Rebekah.

    Following Rebekah is Annie Lee.  She seems the least comfortable of the instructors.  Her muscle definition and fitness are apparent, but it's clear she hasn't had as much experience leading on camera as the other ladies.  Her short segment isn't too difficult and I'm usually glad when it's over.

    Concluding Cardio Party is another Firm veteran, Allie Del Rio Pointer.  She includes steps from her Cardio Dance Slimdown DVD.  While that workout does has its fun moments, I've found it to be less challenging.  This may be of benefit to the user, however.  One of the few quibbles I have with the Cardio Party is that the cool-down/stretch time leaves a bit to be desired.  By doing Allie's segment last, you do get a bit of a cool-down, and she does work on relaxing the shoulders and inner thighs. But we aren't given much time to stretch our hamstrings, glutes, calves, hip flexors or quads-- all of which were used quite a bit in the routine. Of course, we can do this on our own, but it would've been nice to have it on the DVD.

    Overall I really enjoy Cardio Party.  It's great to have so many favorite leaders take turns during the program, and with each segment being less than 10 minutes, you never have a chance to get bored.  The enthusiasm of the ladies is infectious without being cheesy.  And while the routine doesn't include the usual Firm weight-training segments, your muscles are getting some work in, especially with the calf pumps, lunges and squats .  Save this workout for a day when you're sore from a previous weight-training session and just need some fun cardio to keep you fit and limber.  It would be also be great to take on the road, as there's no equipment required-- just some floor space in which to move around. And knowing some of the moves from other Firm workouts made this routine easier to pick up the first time. If you enjoyed the other videos in the Firm: TransFirmation series, you'll like this one as well. I look forward to doing it again soon!

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    Giveaway Contest Time!
    Sponsored by CSN Stores

    Does Cardio Party sound like something you'd like to try?  Remember that New Years resolution you made about 6 months ago?  How about a Firm fitness pack to get you motivated?  Thanks to the folks at CSN Stores, we have the following items to give away to one lucky winner.  CSN has everything from lights to sofas to fitness DVDs and much much more.

    Here's what our winner will receive:

    Ergodyne Chill-Its® Cooling Towel

    Black Netpack Carry-On Duffel Bag

    Doesn't that look great? A fun workout, a towel to cool you off during and after you exercise, and a duffel in which you can keep all your gear. All of these items with shipping are almost a $40 value! So if you'd like to enter to win, here are the details:

    • Leave a comment below; this counts as your entry.
    • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, June 26th
    • Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses only.
    • Make sure at least one posted comment includes your email address. If you'd rather not have your email posted here, you may contact me directly to give me that information after you've entered here.
    • I will compile the entries and the winner will be chosen by, so even one entry can make you a winner!
    • Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday the 27th for your mailing information.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message! ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
    • After receiving your information, I will pass your email and mailing address on to my contact at CSN Stores.  They will then be responsible for awarding your prize.
    • More information on the giveaway policies can be found on the Contact / Policies page.

    Bonus Entries

    Please make note of all your bonus entries in your comment(s).  You may post separate comments or a single large comment.  Here are your bonus entry options:

    • Follow The Calico Critic by clicking on the Google "Follow" button on my sidebar (old or new followers both get the bonus entry, just please let me know that you're following).
    • Follow me (@LHartness) on Twitter and tell me your @UserName.
    • Tweet about the giveaway on; be sure to use an URL linking back to this blog posting in your tweet. You may do this as frequently as every 8 hours between now and June 26th at 11:59pm EST.  For each tweet, please come back and post the direct URL link to that specific tweet, not just your @Username.

    That's it!  Thanks for stopping by, and good luck to all the entrants!


    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Wednesday Contest Report - June 9th

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    On most Wednesdays I begin a new post, detailing contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere for that week.  Some of these might appeal to you as well.  Check them out!

    • Alaine over at Queen of Happy Endings is having a June giveaway.  Available to win are The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C W Gortner, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer, and The Lies We Told by Dian Chamberlain.  Choose the book you'd like to win when you enter.  Deadline is June 30th.  Here's the link--- click to enter:


      Tuesday, June 8, 2010

      Book Review: Glaen by Fred R. Lybrand

      From the back cover:

      Glaen: A Novel Message on Romance, Love and Relating“Annie is a college grad-student who is stumped about love.  Her mom and dad are in the throes of a divorce, her teenage sister is obsessed with how her boyfriend makes her look, and her closest friend Jennah is on a continual ride of running off every guy she dates.

      Friendships, dating, romance, and marriage—it’s all confusing to Anne until the day a white-haired stranger appears in her life.  Glaen is an unusual professor with an unusual name.  Her white-haired unconventional mentor guides Annie on a path of discovery that unlocks the secrets of real relationships in a world gone phony.  By abandoning herself to learn, Annie discovers the mystifying affect of how learning to tell the truth changes everything in friendship, family, and love.”  

      Fred Lybrand’s Glaen is a new take on the thousands of relationship books that have been written over the decades.  He wisely notes that readers tend to be more interested in concepts if they’re presented in the form of a narrative, rather than in the usual instructional style of most self-help books.  As such, Lybrand takes concepts that could easily be presented in non-fiction form and fleshes them out amongst the characters within Glaen (rhymes with “rain”).

      I agree with Mr. Lybrand—it’s easy to lose interest in a book about relationships and never complete it out of sheer disinterest.  And while his fictional tale isn’t one for the ages, it presents some important and eternal concepts in a memorable and intriguing way.   The reading level is straightforward, giving the impression of an “after school special” from years gone by.  However, this style is perfect, as the target audience is most likely those in their late teens and 20’s, those who are beginning their more serious romantic experiences. As for this reader, a 39 year-old wife of 15+ years, I felt that seasoned spouses like me can learn from Annie’s discoveries with her mysterious mentor Glaen.

      Be prepared to have the way you think about relationships to shift a bit.  Lybrand questions the effectiveness of the dating scene, but he also sets his sights on the conservative tradition of courting.  He finds significant flaws in both methods of finding a spouse, as well as flaws in how we relate to each other romantically after marriage. He offers up alternatives that may not seem new, but somehow they feel revolutionary.  They’re applicable in romantic as well as platonic relationships as well.

      Glaen was an interesting read. There are definitely some principles within that I need to apply in my own relationships.  This modest book, which is under 200 pages, would be perfect for a senior high youth group to study, or even a small group of engaged couples.  Many excerpts are worth underlining, highlighting, and reading again.  In fact, I wish this fable/instructional text had been available 20 years ago for my generation.  Lybrand is to be commended for his discernment and for the creative manner in which he presents these important principles. Glaen will be an answer to prayer and a gift from above for many.

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      : Peace In Relationships

      Watch the trailer:

      This title was provided for me to review by The B&B Media Group, with no other compensation or obligation implied.


      Sunday, June 6, 2010

      Contest Winners Announcement and a New Collaboration!

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      While The Calico Critic has featured mostly book reviews and giveaways in recent months, I also want to get back to an original aspiration of reviewing films and DVDs.  This will also include giveaways of  fitness videos and related products.  I've recently formed a partnership with a company called CSN Stores.  CSN has everything from lights to sofas to fitness DVDs and much much more.

      In an upcoming giveaway I'll be offering a number of items from one of CSN's 200+ websites.  Come back soon and enter to win some items that would be perfect for your fitness routine!

      The Firm: Cardio Party DVD

      Ergodyne Chill-Its® Cooling Towel

      Black Netpack Carry-On Duffel Bag

      Again, the giveaway contest for these items isn't "live" just yet.  Return soon when I'll have my review of Cardio Party and will then have the details on the fitness pack giveaway!

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      Previous Contest:  Life, In Spite of Me
      Winners Announcement!

      Congratulations to our readers Nancye and Angie!  They both won a copy of the inspirational Life, In Spite of Me by Kristen Jane Anderson.  I hope Kristen's story touches your heart as it did mine.


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