Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - August 25th

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!

  • After a bit of a hiatus, Pat of Peace Love & Reviews by Pat is back online and offering a huge "back online" giveaway!  Up for grabs is an iTunes gift card, a copy of Mockingjay and more!  Deadline to enter is September 31st.  Here's the link:

  • Amber at SidewaysGravity is giving away a Gallagher Girl Prize pack with books, tote bag and other swag!  Deadline to enter is Sept 11th.  Here's the link:

  • The folks over at Reading Teen are hosting a Back to School Giveaway Bash, with some really cool books up for prizes!  Deadine to enter is September 24th.  Here's the link:

Monday, August 23, 2010

DVD Review: Total Body Makeover - Total Body Time Crunch Express

CSN Stores graciously gave me a copy of Total Body Makeover by The Firm on DVD, which includes four complete workouts.  Today's review will focus on Total Body Time Crunch Express, the first workout on the DVD.

Total Body Time Crunch Express (2009), like the other workouts on the DVD is a shorter form of a previously-released workout by the Firm.  The original Total Body Time Crunch (2007) is about 45 minutes long.  This express version is 25 minutes from warm-up to cool down. It's also available on the original Total Body Time Crunch DVD as a separate track.

Leading the program is master instructor Rebekah Sturkie, with cast members Annie Lee, Kristin Jacobs, Stephanie Vitorino and Emily Welsh.  Rebekah has a cheerful personality without being too perky.  The workout itself is a combination of cardio as well as strength training, however the focus is not on the cardio.  The weights used in the workout are produced by The Firm, but you can easily incorporate your own hand weights at your own fitness level.  All of the moves are very reasonable for beginners, but using heavier weights will make the workout just as effective for advanced users.

Total Body Time Crunch Express is an enjoyable workout, perfect for those days when you don't want to commit alot of time but want to get your whole body taken care of.  It gets your blood moving in the modest cardio segments, and it covers all the major muscle groups during the weight training portions.  Like the full 45-minute version, it provides a fun, quality workout for users of all fitness levels.  Give it a try!

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

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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Book Review: Great Maria by Cecelia Holland

Great Maria
Set in eleventh-century Italy, Cecelia Holland’s Great Maria is the story of strong-willed Maria and her struggles from young bride to strong, influential woman. Maria is married to the ambitious and ill-tempered Richard d'Alene, who loves Maria passionately but frequently treats her poorly. The novel spans decades, following Maria’s journey through many triumphs and struggles as a mother, wife and devoted Christian.  Like her husband, she is also very ambitious and will go to great lengths to see her plans come to fruition.  The world in which she lives may be ruled by men, but she finds ways to hold her own power and conquer in her own ways.

I found Great Maria to be an interesting, yet ultimately unsatisfying novel. Holland’s story was epic in scope and felt very authentic, but I never came to the point of truly enjoying it.  At times the story seemed pointless and I struggled to understand where the plot was going.  The style of writing was very choppy, seemed to have huge gaps in continuity and just had an odd flow about it.

At over 500 pages, Great Maria is not completely devoid of compelling moments. The main characters of Maria, her husband Richard and his brother Roger provided scenes of passion, collusion, poignancy and triumph. Maria was forced to marry Richard by her robber baron father while she preferred the charming Roger. Richard loved Maria, but his ambition frequently came between them. Roger not only desired to have power with women but in society as well. Maria gave birth to several children and we see them grow and become leaders in their own right. There are tensions with religious issues, the conquered Saracens and in familial relationships. But ultimately this is a story about a woman who loved her family, was devoted to her faith and desired to rule as any ambitious man would during her time.

Great Maria was originally published in 1974 and certainly has its admirers. And while it could be compelling, I can’t say that I would recommend this title to those who share my taste in literature. I don’t always have to have characters who are appealing, but I at least need a narrative that I can enjoy enough to want to return to.  In this case, I’m glad to let Maria go.


Guidelines for entering to win my advanced copy of Great Maria:

  • Leave a comment below; this counts as your entry.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, September 4th
  • The winner must supply a US mailing address for prize shipment.
  • 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 5th.  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.
  • 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 this ARC 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 September 4th 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!

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


Monday, August 16, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - August 11th

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!

  • Are you dying to get your hands on an ARC of The Scorch Trials?  This is quite the rare item! The Lateiner Gang is giving one away.  Deadline is August 24th at 11:59pm EST.  Here's the link:

  • Rebecca at Breathless Books is hosting a 50 Followers Giveaway.  The winner will get their choice of book from her To Be Read list, which is quite long.  Deadline is September 15th.  Here's the link:

  • Reading with Tequila is having a super-huge 1000 follower giveaway. Winners will get to choose from a long list of books. The top winner gets to choose 3 books!  Deadline is Sept 30.  Here's the link:

  • Scoot at See Scoot Read is celebrating all her new followers and is giving away a copy of Linger. Deadline is September 3rd.  Here's the link:

  • Did You See That? is giving away a copy of My Friends Tigger and Pooh: Bedtime with Pooh on DVD.  Deadline is August 24.  Here's the link:

DVD Review: New York Street Games

New York Street Games DVD & Street Games Rule Book [Home Use]Before cellphones, Blackberries, and Facebook…
Before a neighbor’s doorstep required an invitation…
Before “playdates” there was play.

New York Street Games, a documentary from director Matt Levy expounds on the almost forgotten pastime of street play.  In days gone by, children would not find their entertainment in front of a glowing screen, but outside on the streets with their friends.  Much has changed over the decades, and several reminiscing, now-grown children share their stories with the viewer, opening a window into their beloved past.

The first to offer his recollections is none other than Regis Philbin.  Like the others in the film, he remembers those days with great fondness.  “The things that we remember the best about our childhood were those games out on the street.”  Other celebrities follow, and they all seem to share the same affection for those days and the camaraderie that those activities held.

Among many benefits, street games allowed the many immigrant kids of New York to learn how to play with others of different ethnic groups and countries.  Language was no barrier if you knew how to play together.  Actor Hector Elizondo stated that although they were from different cultures, the games were something they had in common.

Communities and children were trusted to allow the free play, with little to no supervision. More often than not, it was the elder kids, neighborhood matrons, retirees and family members who would keep watch over all the children, not just their own.  This built a strong sense of community, as they were densely packed in some areas.  Entrepreneur Bert Brodsky estimated that as many as 50,000 people could have been living within the 5 acres of his neighborhood.  One might wonder if camaraderie and peace would have been less prevalent without the cohesion brought by the positive street culture!

Levy’s film also examines some groups who are still keeping games alive, including the Stoopball League of America in Clinton, Wisconsin.  This small but growing association enjoys a game that few remember, and they enjoy sharing it with a new generation. During their annual Stoopball event, they proudly declare, “You won’t see a TV all week.”  This echoes a similar sentiment from actor Ray Romano, who recalled the predominance of playtime during his childhood.  He states, “That was it—you were your own Nintendo.”

New York Street Games also examines other components of this world.  The predominant ball used in the games was a reddish-pink rubber ball called a “Spaldine”, produced by the Spalding Company and was ubiquitous in New York street play games.  They were highly prized, and children would go to great lengths to recover ones temporarily lost.

Other aspects of street play are profiled, giving the viewer a great view into a world that has somewhat died out, but in some corners lives on.  I found New York Street games to not only be educational, but entertaining as well.  The stories shared in the film brought a smile to my face, somehow transmitting to me the joy of those days.   There’s much humor here, as well as warm, but not syrupy nostalgia.

This program would be excellent to share with a very divergent audience.  Adults will enjoy reminiscing about our past childhoods.  Young people can see that there’s more to entertainment than sitting in front of a screen (as I ironically do so now).  Street play wasn’t just “Nintendo unplugged,” it was vitality itself.

As the end of the film mentions, there’s a reason that childhood obesity has become so prominent today.  Our kids just aren’t moving enough.  Some of this is due to unfortunate changes in our culture. This mother of two would never allow the latitudes given to me 30 years ago as I freely roamed my neighborhood. There are safety issues to consider.  However, many scenes in Street Games show opportunities for these same games to be played in parks and other areas where proper modern supervision could be given. Viewers can also purchase an actual rulebook for the most common street games, produced in association with this documentary.

The childhood that those like Regis Philbin enjoyed may never return, given the world we live in. However, New York Street Games allows those days to live on in this film, in an enjoyable and educational way.  Hopefully it will inspire some to take a step out of their doors to see what a little Spaldine can do.

This title was provided by Falco Ink.  No obligation other than an honest review was required. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book Review: Healer by Linda Windsor

Healer: A Novel (The Brides of Alba Series)Healer, by Linda Windsor, author of the Fires of Gleannmara trilogy is the first volume in Windsor’s next series, The Brides of Alba.  Set in sixth-century Arthurian Scotland, Healer tells of the mysterious, beautiful and healing Brenna of Gowrys.  Orphaned as an infant, she was brought up in exile, as the enemy who murdered her parents surely wished to see her destroyed as well.  Cared for by a dear family nurse, a local hermit-like minister and a beloved pet wolf named Faol, she grew to be a woman of beauty, intelligence and of a strong Christian faith.  While still a fugitive in the woods, learning and practicing natural, God-given healing arts, she takes in a mortally wounded man and nurses him back to health.  His temporary secret identity is significant, and his presence in Brenna’s life begins a series of God-directed events that will change their lives as well as the lives of those within two contentious people groups.

*          *          *

I found Healer to be many things. It begins with adventure, continues with romance, grapples with family conflict, all the while infusing Christian spirituality through the entire tale.  My initial reaction to the predominance of Brenna’s faith was slightly ambivalent, as it was to be expected from this Christian publication.  But as the story continued, God’s presence became a more and more integral part of the plot.  It actually increased my interest, as the characters struggle with some of the very things that have been part of my Christian walk at various times.

Yes, this was a romance.  Yes, this was an adventurous Arthurian tale.  There was murder, conspiracy and betrayal.  But ultimately Healer was about spiritual warfare, forgiveness, and the healing qualities of having faith in Christ. 

While only 350 pages long, the book read like a long yet satisfying movie, with multiple arcs before the riveting concluding pages.  The romance, while passionate, was described in very chaste terms, not shying away from sexuality but respecting the private nature of intimate details.  The moments of action were exciting, but the descriptions of bloodshed were kept at a reasonable level.  The character development in particular was significant, as several characters’ natures changed dramatically over the course of the story.

Windsor's depth of research into the period was evident.  There is much mythology and legend surrounding the character of King Arthur, and Ms. Windsor has clearly done her homework to portray the most accurate depictions of this renowned icon.  She also includes Merlin, Guinevere and other Arthurian characters.  I've always been intrigued by the legend of Arthur, so I found the presence of these characters to be entertaining, but I also felt that I was receiving a new education regarding their Christian faiths. Linda even provides 20 pages of helpful notes in the back of the book, which include a glossary, an Arthurian character study, scripture reference guide and more.  This portion proved to be quite helpful and enriching for the reading experience.  I wish all authors of historical fiction would take the time and effort she has here.

I enjoyed Healer quite a bit, and I’m excited that it’s the first of three books in the Brides of Alba series.  The next title, Thief, will be published in the summer of 2011.  If it’s anything like its predecessor, it will be an enjoyable and edifying read.  Brenna’s relationship with God is captivating, and I was brought to thoughtful consideration of faith issues during the weekend that I read Healer.  While not a perfect person, Brenna is a Christian character whose life and Godly example are to be admired and learned from.  I look forward to spending more time with her in the future.

This title was provided by the B&B Media Group, Inc.  No obligation other than an honest review was required. 


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Contest Winner Announcement - To Conquer Mr. Darcy

*          *          *

We have a winner!  Congratulations to Cathie-- she won my ARC of To Conquer Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds.  The winning entry was her tweet on August 7th.  Thanks to Sourcebooks for the copy and thanks to everyone who entered.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - August 4th

*          *          *
Sometimes on Wednesdays I like to put a spotlight on contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere for that week.  Some of these might appeal to you as well.  Check them out!

    • Under the Fairy Dust is having a big end-of-summer giveaway!  Lots of books, including the Goose Girl series and Mockingjay.  Deadline to enter is August 10th.  Here's the link:

    • Glenna Walsh at The Blue Lipstick Samurai is hosting a giveaway of books, stationery and candy! The winner will be selected when she reaches 65 followers.  I was follower #47.  Here's the link:

    • Steph at Reviewer X is giving away a $25 gift card to Amazon.  Deadline is August 11th.  Here's the link:

    • Sarah at Book Reviews from Inside an Igloo is celebrating her birthday and her return from Italy by offering her followers a book ($20 limit) from The Book Depository.  Deadline is August 14.  Here's the link:

    • Angela at Reading Angel is hosting a giveaway where each of the two winners will receive an August, September, or October 2010 release book from the book depository up to $15 in value. Deadline is August 27th.  Here's the link:

    • Choco at In Which a Girl Reads is celebrating her blogoversary with a super giveaway! Lots of books are being offered, and it's an international contest!  Deadline to enter is September 19th. Here's the link:


    Related Posts with Thumbnails