Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: The Passionate Brood by Margaret Campbell Barnes

The Passionate Brood: A Novel of Richard the Lionheart and the Man Who Became Robin HoodWritten in the mid 1940's, The Passionate Brood by Margaret Campbell Barnes returns to publication by Sourcebooks Landmark.  The brood mentioned in the title is that of the Plantagenets of England, a group of royal family members who love each other, yet quarrel frequently and passionately.  Of the Plantagenets, King Richard, his sister Johanna and their foster-brother Robin are the main figures of the novel.  Robin isn’t a royal, but he is considered a part of the family and counsel to many in power.  He later goes on to become a man of lore, Robin Hood.

Ms. Barnes recounts many events during the 12th century, mostly during the reign of Richard I, also known as “Richard the Lionheart”.  Brood begins before Richard becomes king, and we see many of the main characters in their days of youth.  They’re fledgling royals, still fresh and unscarred by life and battle.

The novel carries us through decades of time, as Richard is crowned, politically advantageous weddings are arranged, romance leads to years of waiting, and many passionate outbursts lead to hasty decision-making.  Somehow a few tragic incidents are redeemed with brighter outcomes, with the “creation” of Robin Hood being a prime example.  His new persona is created after he takes on a new life after a quarrel with a close friend.

The Passionate Brood
concludes with the death of one of the Plantagenets.  Many other English die in battle and in other hazardous incidents.  Others endure to live another day, with many lessons learned about life.  They are harder individuals than we met in the beginning, but their life experience leads them to continue to build the country of England.

I have little knowledge of the Plantagenets, and the majority of my knowledge of Robin Hood’s character was gleaned from Disney’s and Kevin Costner’s cinematic portrayals, which I’m sure are far beyond what may have happened in that time.  So it was the Robin Hood angle that drew me in to read The Passionate Brood.

While I cannot say that I absolutely loved Ms. Barnes’ work, it was an enjoyable journey through that period and the passionate characters always kept the plot interesting.  I wish there had been more chapters with Robin present, as I really enjoyed his character.  He was wise, kind, intelligent, and attractive to many.  His ability to show restraint and at the same time present necessary dramatic force was quite admirable.

The female characters were strong, offering their opinions to the men with confidence.  They still kept their deferential places in society, however.  And while their desires, advice or demands were not always heeded, they still had a voice.  It seemed that all of the main women were greatly influenced by the desire to be with their favored romantic partner, but they also cared about the citizens around them.

Overall, The Passionate Brood was interesting, and I feel as if I got a bit of a history lesson as well.  Barnes’ writing was intelligent without being to elevated.  Chapters could not be rushed, as they required my full attention to be understood.  I would recommend this title to fans of historical fiction, yet I would not recommend it if you were looking for a fluffy book to read at the beach.  Given that Brood is being re-released during the fall, this would be an excellent choice for cozy reading on a crisp fall evening. This quality literature will be very enjoyable for those who are attracted to this genre. It is certainly quality historical fiction.

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


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - November 24th

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

  • Dee at Two of a Kind is giving away a EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Scale.  Great for measuring food for the perfect serving size or ingredient portion for a recipe.  Deadline to enter is at 11:59pm EST on December 6th.  Here's the link:

  • Dee at Two of a Kind is also giving away a $50 gift card for Hallmark.com.  Deadline to enter is at 11:59pm EST on November 29th.  Here's the link:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

DVD Review: What's in the Bible Volume 4

From VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer comes the fourth volume in the What's in the Bible? series of DVDs from Tyndale Kids, Battle for the Promised Land. Each volume presents different segments of the Bible, making the history and wisdom within God's word easier to understand for children and their families.

While Phil's VeggieTales (VT) relied primarily on animation to share their stories and lessons, What's in the Bible? uses several mediums in which to engage children.  There is some animation, but there are also live actors, and most prominently, hand puppets.  There is more of a variety show feel than one individualized story.  VT fans will recognize many of the voices and accents from years before, and they are once again very funny and entertaining.

I must admit, when first exposed to this series, I was very skeptical about the use of hand puppets.  I just didn't think they could be as witty as VT.  But like the other volumes in this series, Battle for the Promised Land pulls it off.  While they're dealing with important spiritual lessons, they're still alot of fun and bring plenty of laughs.  There are several in-jokes that some may miss, but adults and VT fans will catch them. My personal favorite is a wall clock with a unique time zone location.

Phil Vischer
This particular DVD in the series deals with issues surrounding Israel's Promised Land.  We learn about the Old Testament books Joshua, Judges and Ruth.  It would be an impossible task to cover all of the material in these books within the confines of the DVD.  Phil Vischer (who makes frequent appearances on camera) and his team chose some important topics and characters to introduce to the viewer, allowing us to learn the general theme of the scriptures. Some of the material isn’t as riveting as a Larry Boy episode, but it covers Biblical events that children typically aren’t exposed to until later in life.  Questions such as “Why is there so much fighting in the Old Testament?” and “Did God want people to die?” are addressed. Vischer and his team make it understandable for their audience.

The disc also comes with some fun extras.  There’s a bonus animated short with Quacky the Duck that addresses loving others, especially our enemies.  This short will especially appeal to younger viewers.  The Show Outtakes track is hysterical, and there’s a “deleted scene” from the minivan-riding boy Michael that has a bit of Monty Python-esque humor.

I watched this DVD with my two boys, ages 10 and 5.  Both of them loved it, asking to repeat certain scenes because they enjoyed them so much.  I also did a quick interview with my elder son Matthew, who had long caught the giggles when I shot this video and was a little shy about looking into the camera:

So as you can see, this is not only an entertaining program, but it really would be a great series to watch as a whole family.  As an adult, I didn’t find the childish humor annoying—rather, I found myself laughing along with the kids.  And I personally learned a few things about God’s word, which of course was beneficial to me as well.  This is a wonderful series, and I look forward to the upcoming Volumes 5 - 13.


Tyndale would like one of my readers to have Battle for the Promised Land.  If you’d like to enter to win a copy of this fun DVD, here are the contest guidelines:

  • Leave a comment below; this counts as your only required entry.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, December 4th
  • US Addresses Only.
  • Prize will be awarded in the form of a Tyndale House Publishers Free Product Award Certificate, to be redeemed at your local Christian bookstore.
  • If there is no Christian bookstore in your area, you may order direct from Tyndale by filling out the form on the back of the coupon and mailing it to Tyndale at the address they provide.
  • In the local bookstore, winner may be required to pay sales taxes where applicable, per Tyndale's contest rules.
  • Per Tyndale's rules, none of my family members may participate.   (Sorry, Jennifer!)
  • 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 with your basic comment.
  • I will compile the entries and the winner will be chosen by Random.org, so even one basic entry can make you a winner!
  • Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday the 5th for your mailing information.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message! (CalicoCritic@gmail.com) 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 make sure I can tell what your follower name is).
  • Follow me (@LHartness) on Twitter and tell me your @UserName.
  • Tweet about this ARC giveaway on Twitter.com; 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 each tweet, please come back and post the direct URL link to that specific tweet, not just your @Username.

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

This title was provided to me by Tyndale House Publishers.
No obligation other than an honest review was required


Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

Welcome to the next stop on the TLC Book Tour for Brava Valentine!

Spoiler Alert!   If you haven’t read Adriana Trigiani's Very Valentine, you may want to skip this review for now.  I discuss plot points that may spoil Very Valentine for some.  But scroll down below my review and check out the other offerings:

  •  Very Valentine giveaway contest -- you could win a trip to Italy!
  • The full TLC Book Tour listing for Brava, Valentine

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Brava, Valentine: A NovelFollowing the bestselling Very Valentine is Adriana Trigiani’s second volume in the Very Valentine trilogy, Brava, Valentine (also entitled Encore, Valentine in some editions). As in the first book, Brava’s opening scenes are at a family wedding, only this time it’s eighty-year-old Gram marrying her longtime secret love, Dominic.  Her granddaughter Valentine has returned with her family to Italy for the ceremony and has begun adjusting to her new life.  Gram will no longer be living with her in New York, the Angelini Shoe company is growing, and she is no longer dating Roman Falconi, the New York chef and restaurateur.

From the February, 2010 wedding to the following Christmas season, Valentine once again must address several important issues in her life.  What will her new life be without Gram? How is she going to run the Angelini Shoe Company? Will her brother Alfred ever be a true partner, or will he remain an adversary? Where is her romantic life going? Does she even want marriage, children and all the traditional things that her siblings have adopted? The time to grow up has come, and she searches to determine the path that is best for her.
Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani has again brought her talent to the table for Brava Valentine.  It reads like just another set of chapters following Book 1, carrying on the story line from where it left off, with most of the original characters in play.  There are relational obstacles, philosophical musings, and plenty of well-informed details of the shoe making business.  Marriage is in the spotlight, with all its struggles and sacrifices that couples must make over the years. A long-buried family secret is unearthed, and Valentine uses this to bring some healing to her family, and more progress for her business as well.

Again, the chapters are enjoyable to read, relaxing yet dynamic as well.  I loved to see Valentine’s growth as a woman.  I was particularly touched by brother Alfred’s journey and the level of reconciliation that was achieved within his family.  Of course romance has a significant part of the plot, with Trigiani keeping it truly romantic with relatively chaste details of adult situations and beautifully penned love letters that evoke a bygone era.

This is a minor point, but I really enjoyed reading this novel during the actual year in which the story was set.  If you’re reading this review in 2010, I highly recommend picking up Brava, Valentine before the year is out.  The time setting was just a fun addition to my reading experience.

Once again I’m pleased with Adriana Trigiani’s work. The fact that there is still one more book to go is comforting.  I enjoy spending time with these characters and am looking forward to seeing where their paths will lead in the upcoming Ciao, Valentine. I’m sure it will be a luscious and satisfying conclusion to this wonderful Italian story.

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 Win an Adriana Trigiani Tour for You and a Friend!

Winner and guest will fly to Italy on March 27th, with the tour going from March 28th - April 3rd, 2011.

  • Day 1: Arrival in Florence -
    Cocktail reception and walking tour
  • Day 2: Art and Monument Tour
  • Day 3: Arezzo
  • Day 4: Tuscan Wine Tour and
    Visit to Etruscan Town
  • Day 5: Cooking class and visit to Lucca
  • Day 6: Pisa
  • Day 7: Depart Tuscany

To enter, email your name and zip code to contests@harpercollins.com
Deadline to enter is December 1, 2010.
Click here for more details about the tour!
Click here for full sweepstakes rules.

Adriana Trigiani Online Locations

Adriana on Facebook
On Twitter: @AdrianaTrigiani
Adriana on Goodreads

Adriana Trigiani’s TLC Book Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 9th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, November 10th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, November 11th: Rundpinne
Monday, November 15th: The Calico Critic
Wednesday, November 17th: Write Meg
Thursday, November 18th: Dolce Bellezza
Monday, November 22nd: Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, November 23rd: Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, November 30th: Til We Read Again
Thursday, December 2nd: Jo-Jo Loves to Read!
Tuesday, December 7th: Hospitable Pursuits
Wednesday, December 8th: Book Reviews by Molly
Thursday, December 9th: Jenny Loves to Read
Wednesday, December 15th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, December 16th: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Monday, December 20th: Debbie’s Book Bag

This title was provided by TLC Book Tours.
No obligation other than an honest review was required

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - November 10th

Even though I'm posting this on Friday, here's the 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!

  • Dad of Divas is giving away a new product called a "Mickey Mote", which is a small remote control device for young children to interact with select Disney DVDs for a fun educational experience.  Contest end date is November 19, 2010.  Here's the link:

  • Theresa at The Creative Well is celebrating 150 followers, but now she's up over 200! Enter her contest and you could win as much as $30!  Contest ends 11/30.  Here's the link:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2010

Well it's that time of year again!  In case you haven't heard, this is the week to sign up for the Book Blogger Holiday Swap, where you can play "Secret Santa" to another book blogger friend!  Head on over to the main site, Holiday Swap to get the information and sign up!  Deadline to sign up is Sunday, November14th, 2010.  Questions? They have a great FAQ section to fill you in on the details.

Last year was my first experience with the program, and I had such a good time, not only in receiving some nice treats, but in putting together a fun care package for my Secret Santa.  It's fun, simple, and doesn't have to cost alot of money. It's just a fun way to spread holiday cheer!

So go check it out, and have fun!

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And come back to The Calico Critic in December, where I'll be participating in a fun giveaway!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

Very Valentine: A NovelI was attracted to Very Valentine for a very shallow reason.  I loved the cover art, and was very intrigued with the young woman on the cover.  The colors just popped and seemed to call my name.  I wondered who the woman was and where she was going in that dress of hers. I somehow never took the time to investigate further, but it has always stayed in the back of my mind as a title that I would look into someday.

TLC Book Tours has given me the opportunity to review Brava, Valentine, the follow-up to Very Valentine.  Unlike some other occasions recently, this time I couldn’t bear to start a series on Book 2. The principal title had to be read first.  But with my schedule as busy as it is, I didn’t have a lot of time to read an “extra” book that wasn’t officially one of my review obligations.  I hoped Adriana’s book would read quickly.

Not only did Very Valentine read well, but it was such a treat!  I went into it knowing very little about the story—I purposefully didn’t read plot summaries or other reviews.  As such, it felt like I was opening a surprise gift from out of nowhere. Adriana’s writing is sumptuous as the food she describes, as lovely as the fashions and locations she depicts.  One minute she was profound enough for me to post quotes of her work on Goodreads and another minute she was making me laugh.  I was impressed with her discretion as she left out the sexual details that are so common in novels today, even in some of the Jane Austen-inspired titles that I enjoy.

I loved these characters, especially the titular character Valentine.  According to the dates in the book, I’m about 4 years older than she is, so I’m close enough in age to be able to relate to her.  Maybe not so much in her struggles between work and love life, but certainly in some of her mindsets as a woman.  Her journey as daughter, sister, girlfriend and working woman provided plenty of interesting material.

I gobbled up Very Valentine as if it was one of the many delicious Italian meals she describes in the book.  It was invigorating, making me feel like I’d been on vacation and had a sumptuous meal, but without the cost to my wallet or waistline!  I'm glad I took the time to read it, and now I'm ready to see where she’s headed in the second book of the trilogy, Brava Valentine. Onward!


 Win an Adriana Trigiani Tour for You and a Friend!

Winner and guest will fly to Italy on March 27th, with the tour going from March 28th - April 3rd, 2011.

Day 1: Arrival in Florence - Cocktail reception and walking tour
Day 2: Art and Monument Tour
Day 3: Arezzo
Day 4: Tuscan Wine Tour and Visit to Etruscan Town
Day 5: Cooking class and visit to Lucca
Day 6: Pisa
Day 7: Depart Tuscany 

To enter, email your name and zip code to

Click here for more details about the tour!
Click here for full sweepstakes rules.



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wednesday Contest Report - November 3

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!

  • Kate at Read This Book is having a Humongous Giveaway, with books and swag being given away.  Deadline to enter is November 20th.  Here's the link:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review: The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick

The Forever QueenWelcome to the participants of the Sourcebooks Fall Reading Club!  This season we're reading The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick.  Following my review below are more details about the the Club and and upcoming chat with Helen herself!

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In the year 1002 A.D., Emma, the young daughter of the Duke of Normandy was wed to King AEthelred of England.  At ages 34 and 13, neither Aethelred nor Emma had any romantic feelings towards the other.  This was purely a political transaction between two strangers, with England hoping to secure a better relationship with Normandy through this union.

So begins The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick.  Spanning 40 years of Queen Emma’s life, Hollick’s readers are given epic exposure to people and events that truly occurred in world history, as well as plenty of literary license to create an exciting and rich novel.

The Forever Queen has many admirable qualities.  Helen Hollick has clearly done her historical homework, not only making these events educational for me, but entertaining as well.  She doesn’t give an overabundance of details, yet I felt transported back to that time period.  There were moments when I could almost smell some of the aromas (both foul and lovely) wafting about the story.

Unlike some royals in historical fiction, I found Emma to be a likeable person.  We meet her at such a tender age, completely na├»ve and inexperienced in every way as a Queen.  Her years with Aethelred are difficult, yet she consistently maintains her sense of personal pride, even when she feels that it’s the only thing she has left to cling to.  As the years pass, we see her mature as a woman and as a leader of her people.  She devotes her heart and soul to England, not just to retain her crown during times of tumultuous change, but also for the betterment of the people.

While the novel frequently seemed like a continuous and repetitive chess match of characters vying for power, there were also moments that stood apart with significance and dramatic tension.  Emma loses some special and rare friends, with one death in particular being horribly tragic and traumatizing for her.  Later in life she goes through another agonizing trial at the beach that literally had me sitting on the edge of my seat.  Death, political game play, relational troubles and triumphs are everywhere.  Although the novel’s pages number at over 600, the plot never really slows down.

Probably my biggest challenge in the book was the massive cast of characters with their 11th Century names.  It was very difficult to keep everyone straight, as the strangely foreign names were both prolific and similar in spelling.  Although there is a family tree and pronunciation guide at the front of the book, I still felt the need to construct a spreadsheet to keep track of the characters and some of the details of their lives!  However, Ms. Hollick was telling a story based largely on historical facts, so it wasn’t as if she was being overly enthusiastic in her cast list.

The Forever Queen was an enjoyable read, but I cannot say that it’s my favorite historical novel.  The repetitive nature of the political plot became tedious at times, and moments of mirth weren’t exactly liberally sprinkled throughout.  However, with this story being somewhat based in reality, it’s not as if the story’s tone can be altered significantly and still retain its authenticity.  The time period stands for itself—it was not an easy era in which to live.  There was no Geneva Convention to hold back wartime atrocities, and women had little to no power in their governments and marriages.  Emma herself spent much of her time trying to overcome her social & political limitations as a female. 

If you enjoy epic historical novels, The Forever Queen might be a good match for you.  As mentioned, the plot never slows down, yet it’s not hectic in pacing either.  Emma is an admirable character and I frequently found myself rooting for her.   However, if you’re looking for a tale that has more than a small handful of uplifting moments, you might need to look elsewhere.  I did enjoy Helen Hollick’s writing, as it was captivating and unpretentious.  I still have her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy on my shelf, waiting to be read.  And although my experience with The Forever Queen wasn’t perfect, I’m still very impressed with this author and look forward to diving into her Arthurian trilogy in the near future.

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The Sourcebooks Fall Reading Club Tour
Stop by and see what other readers are saying about The Forever Queen!

November 1, 2010

November 2

November 3

November 4

November 5

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 11

November 12

November 15

November 16

November 17

November 18

November 19

Also, the Book Club Chat will be on The Bibliophilic’s Book Blog on Monday, November 22, from 7-9pm EST. Please join us whenever you can. Helen will also be chiming in from the UK!!

Thanks for stopping by The Calico Critic!

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



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