Friday, October 29, 2010

Pre-Holiday Giveaway - CSN Storage Shelves for Your Holiday Goodies!

Running out of storage space in your home or on your shelves?  Will upcoming holiday goodies need somewhere to go when Santa leaves them under the tree?  Or perhaps you have a friend or loved one who could use some lovely Espresso Storage Shelves from!  Here are the details:

With its classic, sturdy design, this elegant shelving unit fulfills both style and functional requirements. Its two sections hold the Espresso Small Storage Basket perfectly (baskets not included). Mix and match with the other Espresso Storage Shelves.

  • Two sections plus the top display shelf
  • Smooth, sleek design
  • Dimensions:
    29.25" H x 13.5" W x 11.25" D

Sound good?  If you'd like to enter to win, here are the contest details:

  • I normally like to keep my contests simple, but for this one you're going to have to work a little bit!
  • Fill out the contest entry form HERE.
  • Contest entries will be accepted until 11:59pm EST on Saturday, December 4, 2010.
  • The winner must supply a US mailing address for prize shipment.
  • Prize will be shipped out directly from
  • I will compile the entries and the winner will be chosen by, so even one entry can make you a winner.  However, bonus entries will increase your chances of winning!
  • 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.
  • While your comments don't count toward the contest, we'd love to hear from you in the comments section below!  What kind of plans do you have for the shelves?  Got a special corner in your house where you'd like to put them?  Have a friend who would love to receive these as a gift from you?  Give us your thoughts!

Bonus Entries
(also to be reported in your contest entry form)

  • Follow The Calico Critic by clicking on the Google "Follow" button on my sidebar (old or new followers both get the bonus entry)
  • Follow me on Twitter (@LHartness) and tell me your Twitter name in the contest entry form.
  • Tweet about the contest 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 December 4th at 11:59pm EST.  For your first tweet, please report it in the MAIN CONTEST ENTRY FORM.   If you do any subsequent tweeting, please report those later entries in the LATER ENTRIES FORM.
  • Any other announcements about the contest?  Enter the direct URL(s) to your mention(s) on Goodreads/Shelfari/Giveaway Website/Blog Sidebar/Blog Posting/Whatever.  If you want to work on some of these later and report them after your initial contest entry, you may also submit them in the LATER ENTRIES FORM before the end of the contest period.

Fill this one out first!!

Only fill out for bonus tweets, blog sidebars, etc. done later!!

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

Book Review: A Darcy Christmas - A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen

A Darcy ChristmasSourcebooks Landmark presents A Darcy Christmas, a collection of three Christmas-themed short stories set in the world of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  The contributing authors are the talented Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart.

Story 3 – A Darcy Christmas by Sharon Lathan

While Sharon Lathan’s novella is the concluding story of the book, I decided to read her A Darcy Christmas first.  I recently finished her full-length novel, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, so I still had her voice in my head, so to speak.  I was delighted to find that this short story felt almost like a sequel to her third book in The Darcy Saga, although I’m sure that wasn’t necessarily the intent.

A Darcy Christmas is a window into many holiday seasons over the life of the Darcy family.  It begins the Christmas before Darcy weds Elizabeth and ends many years later when they have been married for 23 years.  Each chapter shares moments from a particular Advent season, revisiting the characters introduced to us by Jane Austen and meeting new friends and family members as well.

This novella was sweet, innocent and enjoyable, and I loved seeing how the Darcy family grew and matured over the years.  Not every year was full of mirth, and I was particularly moved in one chapter when Elizabeth is mourning the loss of a loved one.  I may re-read that very chapter someday if I have the misfortune to mourn as she did.  It was very touching and could bring comfort in that type of sorrow.

As is true for the other two novellas in this collection, Sharon Lathan’s A Darcy Christmas is an enjoyable composition.  It matches the sentiments of the other two authors and brings a warm glow to the heart.

Story 2 – Christmas Present by Amanda Grange

Second in my reading was Christmas Present by Amanda Grange. Although she has written over a dozen books, many of which are on my “To Be Read” list, I’ve never actually gotten around to reading her work.  So this short story is my hors d’oeuvre into her banquet of literary offerings.

Christmas Present’s opening line pays homage to Jane Austen’s opening line of Pride and Prejudice, which I found very amusing.  The events of her story occur in the months after the marriages of Elizabeth and Jane, both of whom are becoming mothers for the first time.  As we share the Christmas season with Grange’s characters, we have an opportunity to visit with many of the individuals from the original novel, even bringing them all into one home for a time.

Christmas Present is very quiet and understated, but it’s an enjoyable time with Austen’s characters.  Her tone is very evocative of Jane Austen’s style, and the holiday traditions presented hold true to the era and were a bit of an education for me. Grange introduces a new character who provides a bit of intrigue, and I hope she utilizes this character and their romantic possibilities in the future.

Of course, a delightful gift is bestowed at the conclusion of the tale.  Ms. Grange’s work is also a gift, a small stocking-stuffer to enjoy before I open the larger gifts of her full-length novels.

Story 1 – Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol by Carolyn Eberhart

Third in my reading was Carolyn Eberhart’s Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol.  I saved this for the end due to my love of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and I hoped the best had been saved for last.  I was not in the least bit disappointed.  In fact, Eberhart’s novella exceeded my expectations.  She truly was successful in merging the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’ Carol.  Like Dickens’ work, this Carol brings with it bitterness and regret, as well as enlightenment and reformation.  There are cameos that were a delight, giving an even bigger nod to Dickens.

I hesitate to give more details, as I don’t want to spoil any of the delicious moments for you.  Suffice it to say, all those who call themselves fans of Jane Austen and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol should read this story. 

This small anthology A Darcy Christmas as a whole would be an excellent choice of reading for your holiday season.  If I had the opportunity, I would read it on a snowy weekend, curled up in my favorite chair with a mug of hot chocolate.  Like that soothing drink, the three tales of A Darcy Christmas are short, sweet and warm the heart.  I hope they do the same for yours as well.

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


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review: In the Arms of Mr. Darcy by Sharon Lathan

In the Arms of Mr. Darcy (Pride & Prejudice Continues)
For months, I have looked forward to diving into Sharon Lathan’s series, The Darcy Saga.  I managed to obtain Books 1-3, and signed up to review Book 4 for this month.  My goal was to work through the series from the beginning and then continue to Book 4, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, now available from Sourcebooks Landmark.  Alas, my schedule—both my personal and my reading schedule have been inundated with activity and I have had to begin my experience with The Darcy Saga without reading the first three books in the series.

Fortunately, Sharon has presented a Darcy tale that can stand on its own—all that is required is a rudimentary knowledge of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice.  While I wish I could have begun the series from the top, I don’t believe my experience was diminished by this fact at all. I became easily immersed into this Austenian world and had a complete grasp of the events and relationships within.

A listing of the “Cast of Characters”, a brief description of the main characters, including some birth dates and wedding anniversaries, precedes Lathan’s tale.  This was quite a useful tool for me at the outset, as it kept me from disorientation with all of the individuals within the story. I especially liked the inclusion of dates, as I was able to understand the context of events in Lathan’s timeline.

In the Arms of Mr. Darcy is quiet and yet recurrently passionate, primarily focusing on Fitzwilliam Darcy, his wife Elizabeth and their newborn son Alexander.  Surrounding them are their close friends and family, most of who were introduced in the original Pride and Prejudice.  The book is essentially a series of anecdotal tales, revealing the everyday life events of these characters and the occasional moments of drama in their lives.

For Darcy and Elizabeth, most of their drama comes within the bedroom.  Darcy does have a couple of side adventures of his own and plays rescuer to Elizabeth in one harrowing incident, but most of the action comes from their marital relationship’s intimacies.  While I’m pleased that sex is portrayed as a wonderful gift of married life, readers should be aware that their love scenes are fairly steamy and occur regularly within the novel.

Outside of Darcy and Elizabeth, other anecdotal moments in the lives of their loved ones are shared.  Most of these incidents are short and sometimes seem inconsequential to the rest of the story, but they are enjoyable nonetheless.  The storyline that probably has the longest reach across the novel is that of Colonel Fitzwilliam as he grows from an ambitious soldier to a man who desires a steady home life and family of his own.  His storyline had quite a few twists and turns, and I highly enjoyed his journey as an individual.

While I didn’t enjoy In the Arms of Mr. Darcy as much as I had hoped, it was still a pleasant, ambling stroll with the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Again, I could have done without the amount of sexual detail with Darcy & Lizzie, but at least that aspect was kept within a married relationship.  Little Alexander Darcy was simply adorable, and the way his parents doted on him almost made me fancy another little one myself!  Books 1-3 are still on my shelf, and I do plan to read them as well.  This Janeite cannot get enough of these characters, and I’m pleased that Sharon Lathan has given them another enjoyable way of being in this reader’s life.

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


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review: Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds

Mr. Darcy’s Obsession is my third foray into Abigail Reynolds’ novels.  To be honest, when I picked it up to read this month I was unsure about it.  The previous two novels I’d read had left me frustrated at the amount of graphic sexual content that was used.  As I began reading Obsession, I said, “C’mon, Abigail!  Tell us a good story! You don’t need that extra stuff!  I know you’ve got it in you. Please….”

As I began reading, I found the story to be enjoyable, and I just kept waiting for the inevitable R-rated scene that would tarnish it for me.  But chapters came and went, and all I had was… a really delightful story!!  Sure, there was sexual tension there, but it was held in perfect balance and was far more interesting than the graphic material from the Reynolds books that have come before.

Reynolds once again takes Pride & Prejudice on a different path, playing out the events that may have occurred if Mr. Bennet had met his demise and Jane Bennet had chosen to marry for convenience rather than for love.  Elizabeth goes to live with extended family and now holds an even lower station than she had before, thereby making her an even more unsuitable match for Mr. Darcy. 

But Fitzwilliam has not forgotten Lizzie and still feels an attraction to her that he simply cannot ignore.  He determines to pursue Miss Bennet, but at times his motivations seem unclear—he desires her greatly, but is he willing to forsake much in the area of family reputation to be with her?  Or will he settle for something less honorable with her instead?

Much to my delight, I greatly enjoyed Mr. Darcy’s Obsession.  I loved the characters, both the traditional Austenians and new characters introduced by Reynolds.  The main plot as well as the sub-plots were delicious and very satisfying.  As mentioned, the romantic/sexual tension is just perfect—fairly chaste while being captivating as well.  When I was about 2/3 of the way through the book, I literally could not read fast enough—I needed a digital download directly into my brain at that point! 

While I would not term the conclusion of Ms. Reynolds’ novel as open-ended, there is certainly room to allow for an upcoming sequel, which I hear she is crafting.  I chuckle to myself as I say that I will be the first in line to read the next chapter in these iterations of her Pride & Prejudice world.  I few months ago I might not have believed that myself.  But I am here now to heartily recommend Mr. Darcy’s Obsession.

I was hoping for a good story, and Abigail Reynolds brought it.

In spades.

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - October 20th

Here's my semi-regular Wednesday Contest Report, where I spotlight contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere these days. Some of these might appeal to you as well. Check them out!

  • Shannon at Book Dreaming is having a Party Time Contest! Three lucky winners will get to choose any pre-order title to be shipped when released. Enter by Friday, 10/22. Here's the link:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

Lady of Hay: Two Women, Eight Hundred Years, and the Destiny They ShareFrom the back cover:

“With a story as mesmerizing as it is chilling, Lady of Hay explores how Jo, a journalist investigating hypnotic regression, plunges into the life of Matilda, Lady of Hay—who lived eight hundred years earlier.  As she learns of Matilda’s unhappy marriage, her troubled love for Richard de Clare, and the brutal treatment she received from King John, it seems that Jo’s past and present are hopelessly entwined.  Centuries later, a story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to begin again—and she has no choice but to brave both lives if she wants to shake the iron grip of history.”

*          *           *

Lady of Hay was an interesting dive into the world of hypnosis and some would say, time travel.  The story uses the theory of hypnotic regression as well as the concept of reincarnation to support the plot.  I myself am not a believer in either of these psychological/spiritual ideas, so my approach to this novel was that of a time-travel fan.  I saw our main characters not as reincarnated, but as people whose minds seemed to be alternating from 1985 to the turn of the 12th Century.  I’m sure this wasn’t the author’s intent, but it enabled me to enjoy the story.

Joanna is a feisty young writer, researching the topic of hypnotic regression for an article that she’s putting together for an English publication.  Through her research, she finds that she seems to be inexplicably tied to Matilda de St. Valerie, born in 1160 AD and wed to William de Braose in 1174.  Other friends and associates in her life also seem to be linked to citizens of ancient England.  Through hypnosis, the past and the present begin to intermingle, leading to life-or-death situations for some of the main characters.

Originally released in 1986, Lady of Hay went on to sell over 3 million copies.  This is not surprising to me, as Erskine weaves an interesting and compelling tale.  I enjoyed the frequent alternations between past and present, as well as the various struggles that characters went through in the different time periods.  There was suspense, romance, mystery, and a dynamic plot that pressed on with consistent energy until the conclusion.

As a non-believer of reincarnation, I wish the story could have been told in another way.  I think one motivation of using reincarnation is to give characters a chance to “begin again” and try to improve upon what has happened in a past life, even attempt to atone for mistakes they’ve made, especially with loved ones.  This is a central and driving need for all of us—the desire to be loved and to achieve a state of reconciliation or atonement.  As such, the reader can relate to the desires felt by the modern characters of Jo, Sam, Nick and Tim.  Despite all the hardships they endured and/or perpetrated, in their souls they sought love and resolution.

Because of my religious faith and some of the graphic and adult nature of some of this novel, I can’t say that I would heartily recommend it to those who share my beliefs.  However, if you can look past the spiritual overtones and see it as a time-traveling adventure and a realistic depiction of how people lived & were treated 800 years ago, then you should enjoy Lady of Hay.  Not all of it wraps up with a perfectly tied bow at the end, but the main conclusion is satisfying and the tale as a whole was an interesting experience.  If nothing else, it made me grateful for the beliefs I hold to be true (and not fiction) and for the husband I heartily enjoy in this singular life. 

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


Friday, October 15, 2010

DVD Review: Total Body Makeover - Cardio Party Express

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

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

Like Hardcore Fusion Express, Cardio Party Express is derived from a previous Firm workout.  The original Cardio Party DVD is 40 minutes. This express version of the workout, which is not available on the original Cardio Party DVD, is 32 minutes.  

Cardio Party Express is unique in that it's not led by a singular Firm Master Instructor.  In this case, four of the five cast members take turns leading.  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.

Missing from Cardio Party Express is the segment that was led by Annie Lee in the original Cardio Party.  This had been my least favorite of all the segments, so I was actually pleased to see it omitted from this express version. 

Concluding Cardio Party Express is another Firm veteran, Allie Del Rio Pointer.  She includes steps from her Cardio Dance Slimdown DVD.  While that workout does have 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 Express 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 Express.  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!

Coming Soon:  Reviews of more Firm Workouts from CSN!

Transfirm Your Trouble Zones DVD & 5lb Kettlebell Kit
Slim and Trim DVD & 4lb Power Ball Kit
Slim Without the Gym DVD & Cardio-to-Go Kit
Boot Camp 101 DVD & Workout Kit

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

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Wednesday Contest Report - October 6th

    Here's my semi-regular Wednesday Contest Report, where I spotlight contests that I'm entering around the blogosphere these days. Some of these might appeal to you as well. Check them out!

    • Chèli at Chèli's Shelves is giving away a copy of the sequel to Charles Brokaw's novel, The Atlantis Code.  Entries to win The Lucifer Code will be accepted through the end of October.  Click HERE to go to the contest.
    • Flippin' Fabulous is having her first official 100 Follower Giveaway, with a possible total of 3 winners and 6 Books up for grabs.  Deadline to enter is October 25th.  Here's the link:

    • Claire at YA Bookie Monster is also having a 100 Follower Giveaway, with as many as 8 books going to one winner!  Deadline to enter is November 10th.  Here's the link:

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Book Review: What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen (A Jack the Ripper Mystery)

    What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the RipperLondon, 1888:  A series of gruesome murders were attributed to the mysterious “Jack the Ripper”, but the identity of the serial killer or killers was never conclusively determined.  Today there are scores of theories postulating a solution to this now infamous mystery.  As a result, many works of fiction have grown out of these speculations.

    In Paula Marantz Cohen’s novel What Alice Knew, the real-life yet fictionalized versions of Henry, William and Alice James are brought in to investigate the murders.  Henry has a novelist’s point of view as he ponders the killer’s choices.  He even sees some similarities in the passion of the murderer with his own passion for writing.  His elder brother William is a respected psychologist and philosopher who works to get into the mind of the killer in order to apprehend him.  Although Sister Alice is mostly confined to her bed, she assists in the investigation by offering her opinions and observations as details are brought to her.  Together they work to solve an urgent mystery, sometimes putting their very lives in danger to do so.

    *          *          *

    Generally, murder mysteries aren’t usually my genre of choice, but with What Alice Knew, the draw of the 19th Century period drew me in again.  Not only did I feel drawn in, but also truly transported back to those dark days in London.  Cohen is an excellent writer who not only weaves a good mystery, but brings other attributes to her work as well.

    While the Ripper killings hold the central theme of the novel, there were times when the thoughts of some of the characters almost made the book part mystery, part philosophical and psychological speculation.  I enjoyed these moments, as they gave the story depth that went beyond just crime solving.

    Due to the nature of the killings, I found myself skipping over the details of the crime scenes. After reading about the first victim, I didn’t need to take in any more of “Jack’s” gruesome displays.  There was plenty of non-gory, contextual detail found in the sentences around those scenes.  So if gore is not your thing, I would either skip this title or at least just skip over the crime scenes as I did.

    Having said that, I did enjoy What Alice Knew on a number of levels.  I received a bit of historical education regarding the real persons of William, Henry and Alice, although I know this story is mostly a work of fiction.  There were plenty of factual details that truly were a part of the James’s lives and in the history of 1888 London.

    The psychological and philosophical discussions that occurred along the way were a nice diversion from the mostly dark subject matter.  And while I didn’t agree with all the philosophies spouted by these characters, I still found it an interesting read.

    The mystery aspect of the novel of course took center stage, and Ms. Cohen was methodical and interesting as she unfolded her narrative.  I found her ultimate conclusion to be very intriguing, which caused me to really enjoy the final chapter of the book. I would like to say more about this, but I would hate to spoil the ending for anyone.

    My overall impression is a positive one.  The story was alluring, well-written and kept me guessing all the way to the end.  I could have done without the gore, but that aspect would be nearly impossible to exclude with the nature of  “Jack’s” crimes. In any case, this was not a dominating feature. I enjoyed the character studies of the James family, their method of crime solving and their occasional spouting of psychology and philosophy.  While this isn’t one of my favorite books of all time, I enjoyed my days with What Alice Knew and believe fans of the mystery genre will as well.

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



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