Thursday, December 26, 2013

Workout Review: More Cardio Strength by Michelle Dozois

As mentioned in my previous post, it’s not too early to start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, if you enjoy making those goals every year.  After days or weeks of indulging in holiday treats, you may feel the need to get back on track for 2014.  Having a healthy eating plan is essential to your overall wellness, but so is a fitness routine.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some video-based workouts that could be just the thing to jumpstart your goal to exercise more this year.

First up is Michelle Dozois’ More Cardio Strength.  Michelle is a top fitness instructor who has come up with the very effective Peak system to maximize your results.  Like its companion More Cardio Interval Burn, this routine features five ten-minute blocks, with each block broken into two five-minute segments.  Countdown graphics are at the bottom of the screen, indicating how much time is left in each portion. Each segment pair is virtually identical, beginning at a Basecamp level, which is fairly easy and prepares you for the next level. She quickly moves into the Ascent portion of the workout, which is usually about two minutes in length.  Ascent segments are not incredibly difficult, but I find that there are usually one or two moves that surprise me in how they challenge me.  So the Ascent portion is not easy by any means.  It’s just a lower intensity than what comes later. This is the portion of the workout when the hand weights are used.

The next couple of minutes are spent in the Climb portion of the segment, which is mostly focused on cardio and does not use the weights.  While two minutes might not sound like a significant amount of time, Michelle really pushes her viewers.  The Climb is uncomfortable, and definitely gets your heart rate moving quite a bit.  The final 30 seconds or so of the segment are spent in Peak mode.  This portion is an all-out blast of energy, pushing your body to its limit.  It’s the kind of exertion that you probably could not sustain for more than a minute if you tried.  It always takes me to the limit of what my body can do. I welcome the following Basecamp segments, as they give us a chance to breathe and regroup.

After the five-minute segment is completed, she moves on to the next segment, beginning with Basecamp again. The choreography changes for each of the five blocks, so participants are challenged in different ways every 10 minutes. The workout concludes with a solid 5-minute cool down and stretch, which leaves you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

I love the moves that she’s chosen for each block. They’re challenging, fun and there’s almost always an easier modification for those of us who aren’t quite ready to do everything in the routine.  Because the steps are so innovative, I would highly recommend watching the 55-minute routine ahead of time. First-time viewers will find that the moves come on very fast when you’re not familiar with them.  In fact, it took me a number of run-throughs before I could follow along comfortably.

What makes More Cardio Strength different from More Cardio Interval Burn is the inclusion of weight training during the Ascent segments.  You will need a pair of light hand weights and a heavy pair.  The definition of “light” and “heavy” will vary from person to person.  The key is to find weights that challenge you and are difficult, but not so difficult that you can’t perform the moves.  When your body becomes stronger over the weeks of using the video, simply increase the weights.  Beginners may want to try 5 pounds and 8 pounds as they start out.  And of course, follow your doctor’s instructions before beginning any fitness regimen.

Studies have shown that we can achieve a better fitness level with the inclusion of weight training. It builds lean body mass, so that even sitting still, your body burns more calories. Our bones are strengthened by the work, and we’re better able to complete the daily tasks of life, such as picking up our children or hauling heavy boxes when we move into a new home.  When all of our core muscles are challenged during the workout, we reduce the possibility of lower back pain.  The benefits are many, and well worth the inclusion of strength training into our routines.

I’ve done cardio and strength combination training videos for years, and Michelle’s are definitely some of my favorites.  Her strong enthusiasm is very contagious, and he encourages you to give it your best throughout the entire class.  Her fellow cast members (who have also partnered with her for a long time in the Peak system) seem genuinely glad to be in the program and have a great rapport with each other.  The soundtrack music is amazing. Michelle’s choices for each segment are so incredibly motivational.  There have been many days when I have heard music from Peak workouts running in my head, and I actually begin to look forward to sweating buckets and giving it my all in challenging moves like burpees and sit-outs.

As with many of the videos in the Peak series, some these workouts are not for everyone.  A significant portion of the choreography is high impact, requiring strength, speed and endurance. I would estimate that intermediate exercisers would be safe to give it a try. Modifications are offered for the more difficult moves, which I appreciated during my first tries with this workout, but it’s still very challenging.  If you’re just starting out as a Peak exerciser, do your best and give it your all.  Use the modifications if needed. Don’t expect perfection; just push your body a little more each time and have fun!

Here's a listing of each of the Peaks performed during the workout:
  • Block 1 - No Peak required, as we're still getting warmed up.  But make no mistake, this block will jump start your body in short order.
  • Block 2 - 180° Squat Touch Downs - I don't have any problem performing these. The trick is, how fast can I move, how many can I crank out before the bell rings?
  • Block 3 - Side to Side Squat Down Jumps - These are fun, but tough.  Getting all the way down in a crouch, popping up to jump to the side takes alot of of me, quickly.  Again, it's a question of how many I can do of these in half a minute.  You can see a bit of this at time marker 1:53 on the YouTube video below.
  • Block 4 - Big Tuck Ski Jumps - The side-to-side motion of this Peak isn't too difficult; it's the tuck-jump portion of the move that is super-hard for me.  I've been working on my tuck jumps for years, so this is a work in progress.  Getting my knees up is a big challenge.
  • Block 5 - Knee Slappers - This tuck jump has the added difficulty of getting the knees separated wide and high enough to slap without bending over at the torso.  In my opinion, it's by far one of the most difficult Peaks in the series. This move is at 3:51 in the aforementioned YouTube video.
Block 5 Knee Slappers

If you’re ready to push your fitness to the next level and are new to Michelle’s Peak workouts, More Cardio Strength and More Cardio Interval Burn are a great pair of workouts to do this. While they are follow-ups to the 10-workout Peak Fit program, they can stand alone as separate routines as well. Be prepared to work hard, sweat profusely, have fun and feel great! You’ll love the sense of accomplishment, your body will love its greater health, and others will see a difference in you as you become stronger, leaner and fitter.  Before long, you can get in the best shape of your life and actually enjoy the hard work it took to get there.  Take the next step in 2014 and become a Peak Fit participant.  This is the year to make it happen!

Four-Minute Preview of More Cardio Strength

Connect with Michelle Dozois and Breakthru Fitness


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: Whispers of Hope Devotional by Beth Moore

Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing, but how in the world do we do that? In fact, how should we effectively pray to begin with?

Best-selling author Beth Moore addresses these practical and pervasive matters in
Whispers of Hope by walking readers through an easy to remember and apply method of prayer, coupled with seventy daily devotionals and followed by prompts to put this prayer method into practice.

Indeed, Whispers of Hope teaches the manifestation process of powerful Word-saturated prayer in response to a daily Bible reading. In turn, you will better understand how devotional reading and prayer are central to a stronger relationship with God

*          *          *

As 2013 is coming to a close, many are beginning to consider New Year’s resolutions for January 2014.  Common goals for the year include weight loss, quitting smoking, improved physical fitness and debt reduction.  For many Christians, there are resolutions to read the Bible through in a year, or commitments to daily devotional time with God. If the latter resolution is one that you are considering, author and speaker Beth Moore may have a tool that can provide a great platform for you.  Whispers of Hope is her latest title, now available from B&H Publishing Group.

Whispers of Hope is part devotional book, part journal.  It is designed to be used for 70 days, with detailed instructions that cover the main steps in using the devotional each day.  They include:

•    Reading a short passage of scripture
•    Noting the specific scripture verse for the day
•    A one-page devotional with thoughts from Beth Moore
•    Following the 7-step prayer guide, writing in the journaling section following each devotional
•    Recording answers to prayer in the Answer Log portion of the book

The format that Beth presents in Whispers of Hope is a practical way to approach a daily time with God.  The devotional and 7-step prayer guide provide a framework to use for guidance during this time of spiritual communication and refreshment.  At the same time, the open journaling sections allow for freedom of thought and personal inspiration.  The materials used for this edition are also quite attractive. The paper stock is soft and deckle-edged, and the cover has an extra flap which could be used as a bookmark.

Beth's one-page devotionals are her greatest contribution to Whispers of Hope. In these modest essays, her characteristic tone truly shines through.  She exudes the wisdom of a mature Christian woman,challenging us to pursue God's will in our lives and to not remain infant Christians.  At the same time, her down-home Texas charm and humor make her work accessible for all readers.

Sharing an episode from her past, Beth encourages her readers to not remain grow in their walk with Christ, to not be afraid to move to a deeper faith:
“To imagine why Christians remain infants isn’t too difficult.  When I was little, I hated promotion Sunday at church. I was comfortable in my class…Once a beloved teacher explained promotion…’I used to feel just like you. I never wanted to leave my teacher or my classroom. Then I thought how silly I would look one day all grown-up in one of these little bitty chairs.’ She was a beautifully round lady who…squatted down on one of the tiny chairs. The legs gave way as she toppled to the floor. It worked. They laughed and the fear dissipated.” (Day 52, pg. 160)
I only found one area that could be improved.  There are only two pages available in the Answer Log to document God’s responses to our prayers.  I found this surprising. Over 100 pages are reserved for our input, but there are only two set aside for His responses in our lives? Surely we would have more than two pages’ worth of content to record.  That is my hope for Whispers of Hope, in any case.

If God has seemed distant to you lately, one of the best ways to remedy that feeling of alienation is to dive into his Word and spend time in prayer.  James 4:8 tells us, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” There are many reading plans and tools that we can use to do that with scripture and prayer.  Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope is an excellent platform for this, one that I would recommend as many of us consider our goals for the New Year.  Improving our physical health is a worthy resolution for 2014, but growing in our walk with Christ is even better.

New Year's Giveaway!

If you'd like to start off 2014 with Beth Moore's devotional, enter to win a copy through the Rafflecopter widget below.  This one's going to be a short giveaway period, as the winner may want to get started with the devotional as soon as possible in January. Here are the contest guidelines:
  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on Friday, December 27th.
  • Giveaway open to those offering U.S. domestic mailing addresses.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Friday, the 27th. 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.
  • All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave an optional blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate that you commented through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the Rafflecopter form.
  • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Product Highlight: Jane Austen Christmas Cards

As we're only a week away from Christmas, I've got to tell my fellow Janeites about some really cute Jane Austen Christmas cards.My mother-in-law just found them in a store and has purchased them from me, and I can't wait until she sends the box to my home. They are also available on  I don't know if they would be delivered to you before Christmas, but it's worth a shot!  Regardless of whether you want to buy a set, I thought that those interested should have a look in this hastily put together blog post.

I hope all of you are having a lovely Christmas season.  Jane Austen Christmas cards are fun, but the One who brings us Jane, joy and merriment is the One who came down to be born in a stable.  I pray He is filling your lives with joy and peace every day.

With that in mind, enjoy the video below of my favorite singer Amy Grant as she reflects on how crazy life can get during the Christmas season, and how we really just want the peace that cannot be bought in a store. The song she sings is "I Need A Silent Night",and it's off of her 2008 album, Christmas Collection.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Preview & Award Announcement: Fitzwilliam Darcy:such I was by Carol Cromlin

I'm pleased to announce that the world of Austeneque fiction has a new member among the ranks.  Please welcome Carol Cromlin, author of Fitzwilliam Darcy: such I was.  This new title was released over the summer, and is garnering positive reviews from many corners.  It's very high on my TBR list right now, and I look forward to reading it soon.

In the meantime, I have been given word that Fitzwilliam Darcy: such I was has been included in this year's lineup of the Best Indie Books of 2013 by the esteemed Kirkus Reviews.  Here are Kirkus' thoughts on the novel, posted in June:

In this enjoyable work of historical fiction set in the Jane Austen universe, Cromlin imagines what makes the mysterious Fitzwilliam Darcy tick.

In her book Pride and Prejudice, Austen famously suggests, “a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” With these words, the scene is set for Fitzwilliam Darcy, one of the most beloved, well-known characters in Austen’s oeuvre. Cromlin, in her book set prior to Darcy’s debut in Pride and Prejudice, envisions Darcy’s formative years, beginning with Darcy’s birth and continuing through his childhood and young-adult years. She breathes life into his parents, illuminates the bond between Darcy and his sister, and delves with great detail into the history of the contentious relationship between Darcy and George Wickham. Readers are invited to celebrate holidays at Pemberley and travel the world with Darcy during his adventurous grand tour abroad. Perhaps of most interest, Cromlin seeks to explain how Austen’s Darcy, a gentleman of great wealth, good character and impeccable manners, becomes a man perceived as distant and unpleasant. The journey toward understanding this complex character is immensely enjoyable, and the supporting cast of familiar characters, such as Col. Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy, helps round out the satisfying story. Cromlin’s poetic descriptions paint a clear portrait of Darcy’s life of privilege in 18th-century England, tackling the many facets of Darcy’s personality with aplomb, often using his own thoughts to better explain his actions and defining characteristics. Ultimately, Cromlin’s tale arrives at the fateful moment when Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet first set eyes on each other, providing a seamless transition into Austen’s literature and Darcy’s future.

Austen devotees may enjoy this glimpse into Darcy’s background, and Austen newcomers might find themselves searching the shelves for her classic novels.


To celebrate this admirable honor, Carol Cromlin has generously offered to the readers of The Calico Critic an opportunity to win two Kindle editions of Fitzwilliam Darcy: such I was.  See below for contest rules and guidelines.  Please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below, and good luck!

In addition, Carol is also offering to the first 500 respondents Darcy calling cards and cover image bookmarks. To request your copies, visit  Go to the "Contact" page and fill out the form.  Provide your email address, full name and mailing address.  Please mention that you learned about the giveaway on The Calico Critic.

For another chance to win the novel, stop by Austenesque Reviews
before December 23rd, as they're hosting a giveaway as well!

  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on December 31, 2013.
  • Contest is open to those who are able to receive a Kindle edition of the title, sent from author Carol Cromlin, resident of the USA.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Tuesday, December 31st.  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.
  • All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave a blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate this through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the form.
  • The winner's delivery information will be sent to Carol Cromlin for prize administration.
  • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author

CAROL CROMLIN, who has a great appreciation for history, tradition and all things British, is someone who has always needed to know how and why; researching and writing this book drew naturally on those traits. Cromlin graduated from Hofstra University and has a graduate degree from Fordham University. She lives in the United States with her husband, son and dogs.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review - A Walk One Winter Night by Al Andrews

November 13, 2013:  The radio stations were already beginning to play Christmas music.  Normally I’d be excited about this, clapping my hands and saying gleefully, “Christmas is coming!  Christmas is coming!” as my husband would roll his eyes in bemusement.  Our holiday CD collection is large, and by hubby’s decree we aren’t allowed to break out those tunes until after Thanksgiving.  The same goes for the decorations.  But I usually have my own time of “sneaking” the yuletide tunes in private, so as to not annoy the man.  I understand his reticence in this area—we can’t keep backing up Christmas until it starts rolling in the early fall, can we?  Limits must be set!  So in that sense, I agree.  And yet, I always welcomed the arrival of the season, even if it was a wee bit early.

Holidays 2013 came especially early this year.  With fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, retailers are trying to make up for those lost hours of revenue generation.  I saw Christmas materials going up in the stores well before Halloween. So when the holiday tunes began to creep into radio programming, of course my husband had to comment, as he does almost every year.  And almost every year I joyfully welcome it, despite the early date.

Something was different a few weeks ago.  After my husband’s annual comment about the early arrival of Christmas, I looked to him, paused, and said, “I’m not ready.”

“You’re not ready?!?”

“No—shockingly enough.  I’m not ready.”

For the first time, a sense of dread and anxiety had filled my heart in regard to the season.  Somehow, this year’s festivities had become linked with stress, busy schedules and cranky, unfulfilled children.  To be honest, I wanted it to be over before it had even begun.  And this surprised me.  The Christmas season has always been such a magical time of the year for me. But somehow, this year it just…wasn’t. 

Not long after that, we’d had a stressful day in our household.  I went to bed feeling tired and defeated about a number of things.  Christmas?  I didn’t have the energy to even contemplate it. Cynicism had begun to creep in.  It honestly didn’t feel very real in my heart. And that made me sad. It really shouldn’t be that way.

I didn’t have much energy to read much that evening, but I did pick up the short book A Walk One Winter Night by Al Andrews.  I read it in just a few minutes, and in that brief time, Mr. Andrews helped to realign my thinking.  With simple full-page drawings and insightful prose, I was reminded of the wonder of the season.  The reality of it.  Going beyond just the dressings, posed nativity scenes and seemingly unrelatable  historical figures.  Andrews speaks in the first person, describing his cluttered mind and stress.  His irritation and annoyance with a lot of it echoed what I’d been feeling.

While A Walk One Winter Night is a simple book, the kind you’d see on a coffee table or in the gift area of a bookstore, it brings quality in its small packaging.  Andrews describes how his heart is touched and re-centered on the true meaning of the season.  Did he truly forget it?  Had I truly forgotten it?  No, not really.  But there are times when life’s stresses try to eclipse what is true and real, turning our eyes away from the very One who was sent here to save us. 

As I write this, the season has just begun.  The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree will be lit tonight. The decorations are going up in my home.  I’m preparing to perform Christmas carols in our church’s orchestra this weekend.  Will I get tired and frustrated again within the next few weeks?  Probably.  But will I allow the cynicism to creep in again?  I surely hope not.  And if it does begin to weasel its way into my heart once more, I’m going to remind myself of the thoughts within A Walk One Winter Night, concepts that are consistent with God’s word to us in Colossians:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Colossians 1:15-17 NIV

I wish you all a blessed Christmas season.  May it be as real to you as it ever has been, because it truly is—the ultimate truth, the ultimate reality.

Nichole Nordeman's "Real", inspired by A Walk One Winter Night: A Christmas Story

WINNING ARTIST’S NEW CHRISTMAS SONG Two Christian music veterans unite to bring audiences a “real Christmas story” 

NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 23rd, 2013— Prominent counselor to many artists and acclaimed inspirational speaker Al Andrews recently signed on with The Worthy Publishing Group to publish his latest title, A Walk One Winter Night: A Christmas Story (Freeman Smith, September 2013) based on a poignant holiday experience. Burnt out on the hustle, bustle, and expectations the holidays can bring, Andrews took a late night stroll and wound up rediscovering his real passion and the true meaning behind the Christmas season. This simple message has spoken to the heart of audiences, and will help readers rediscover the joy of wonder and what is real in the season.

Al sent his initial draft to a few trusted friends in the music business in order to get early feedback. As the written word so often does, the book struck a major chord with Dove-award winning recording artist and GMA female vocalist of the year, Nichole Nordeman. "Every once in awhile you come across a story that helps you tell your own,” said Nordeman,“From the very first page of A Walk One Winter Night, I recognized that the characters around the manger had become distant and no longer dear. Icons, not the fragile and weary souls they were. In this beautiful story, I saw them differently, maybe for the first time ever. And they jumped off the page and right into the music of my heart. ‘Real’ is a song that's deeply personal for me. I hope it captures the same wonder of the beautiful book that inspired it."

Nordeman will be performing “Real” throughout the fall tour of The Story, alongside artists Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Natalie Grant, Matthew West, Selah, and Rawsrvnt. Tour dates and ticket information can be found at “Real” will also be featured on Capitol Christian Music Group’s album WOW Christmas, available nationwide in October.


Al Andrews is a counselor, author, and speaker. He is the director of Porter’s Call, a non-profit offering counsel, support, and encouragement to recording artists and their families. He is founder of Improbable Philanthropy, a charity that aids children in crisis through the sale of his children’s book, The Boy, the Kite, and the Wind. To learn more about Al Andrew’s visit; follow his daily journey on Twitter @itsalandrews.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Welcome to the next stop in the Litfuse publicity tour for Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay!

About the book:

Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others-namely her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story-by giving that story to a complete stranger.

Growing up orphaned and alone, Sam found her best friends in the works of Austen, Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. The problem is that she now relates to others more comfortably as Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre than as herself.

Sometimes we lose ourselves in the things we care about most.
But life for this twenty-three-year-old is about to get stranger than fiction, when an anonymous benefactor (calling himself "Mr. Knightley") offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam's program and peers force her to confront her past, she finds safety in her increasingly personal letters to Mr. Knightley. And when Sam meets eligible, best-selling novelist Alex Powell, those letters unfold a story of love and literature that feels as if it's pulled from her favorite books. But when secrets come to light, Sam is --- once again --- made painfully aware of how easily trust can be broken.

Reay's debut novel follows one young woman's journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.

As the years go by, do you find yourself becoming more emotionally available to people?  Or do you find life’s difficulties helping you to build a wall to shut others out? In Dear Mr. Knightley, we find journalism student Samantha Moore, who is of that latter persuasion.  She has been through many trials in her 23 years and as a defense mechanism, she keeps others at bay.  Physical contact is kept to a minimum. Interpersonal relationships are kept distant by her hiding her personality behind characters from classic works of fiction, such as Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre. In short, she is a bit of a neurotic, literary mess. Through a process of letter writing to an anonymous benefactor, unexpected new friendships and a considerable amount of soul-searching, Samantha tries to make sense of her past and works to have a better future, both personally and professionally.

Dear Mr. Knightly has some characteristics that I’ve found several times in other recently-published novels. The main character is a bit of an insecure, romantic “Austen Addict”, and references to Austen’s work are sprinkled throughout the narrative and dialogue. As a Janeite I do enjoy these literary cameos, but I hope that those who have never read Austen, Dickens or Dumas will still be able to enjoy the general story overall.  
This title is published by Thomas Nelson, a noted Christian imprint.  While God, Jesus and other spiritual ideas are presented, they are extremely light-handed, and for the most part emerge near the end of the story. The novel might end up in the “Inspirational Fiction” section of the local bookstore, but it could easily stand in general fiction as well.  It doesn’t have the innocent tone of many Christian novels, addressing some fairly difficult, gritty issues surrounding abused children and the foster care system.  Cursing is mentioned, but the most colorful word that I can recall was the repeated use of the exclamation, “crap”.  By today’s standards, that’s pretty tame. 

Romance is one of the main themes of Dear Mr. Knightley, but it doesn’t drip with gooey sentimentality or steamy sex scenes. The characters do feel passionately, but the text is kept very chaste, thankfully.  Other authors feel the need to insert sexual situations to spice up their writing, and I was grateful that Ms. Reay was confident enough in her talent to not go in that direction in her work.

Overall I would judge Dear Mr. Knightley as a pleasant book that addresses important social, interpersonal and spiritual issues while sharing a sweet, romantic tale.  Reay’s writing is smooth and enjoyable, and her love for literature is quite evident.  Unlike other Austenesque writers who quote from classic literature, she branches out to other authors’ works. The Count of Monte Cristo is mentioned frequently, and I was particularly delighted at the appearance of C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Sometimes I felt that her use of these literary cameos became a bit too frequent, but as a lover of these books, I couldn’t help but enjoy encountering them.

So while I would not term Dear Mr. Knightley as the best Austenesque fiction, it was a light, pleasant read. The narrative takes a few twists and turns that I did not expect, and I appreciated Reay’s choice to keep the content clean.  Her main characters were very appealing and multi-dimensional throughout the novel.  And while the book might be categorized as Christian Fiction, it could easily be read by secular audiences as well. Lovers of fiction and classic authors in particular will also have many moments of amusement with the literary cameos.  Katherine Reay has presented a pleasant debut novel, one that is certainly praiseworthy and hopefully just the beginning of this author’s fictional writing career.

Take a look at the other stops on the Litfuse tour!

Lena | A Christian Writer's World
Andi | Radiant Light
Carla | Working Mommy Journal
Joan | Book Reviews from an Avid Reader
Heather | The Sunset Won't
Revka | Our Family Porch
Kathleen | Jersey Girl Book Reviews
Melanie | The Ramblings of Two Readers
Nicole | Gidget Goes Home

Ruth | My Devotional Thoughts
Vida | Sunflower Faith
Carol | Books Music and Life
Celena | The Traveling Sisterhood
Brittanie | A Book Lover
Tressa | Tressa's Wishful Endings

Amanda | The Talbert Report
Amanda | Books by Amanda
Amber | snidbits
Jalynn | A Simple Life,really?!
Beckie | By The Book
Becky | Christian Chick's Thoughts
Beth | for the love of books

Billy | Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer
Amanda | The Best Books Ever
Lenora | Crazed Mind
Ramona | Create with Joy
Jessica | Crossroad reviews
Dawn | A Passion for Pages
Victoria | deal sharing aunt
Tiffany | Single Mommy Warrior
Katherine | Story Matters

Diane | That's What I'm Here For....
Evangeline | Audacious Reader
Tina | GivingNSharing
Faith | Found a Christian by His Grace
Joy | Splashes of Joy
Brooke | i blog 4 books
Kari | From the TBR Pile
Jennifer | Adventures in Unsell Land
Corinne | Everyday Gyaan

Jill | I am believing God
Heather | Mrs. Southern Bride
JoyAnne | Deco My Heart
JoJo | JoJo's Corner
Kari | Slow it down
Charity | Giveaway Lady
Kristie | Moments
Jamie | Christian Teen Fiction Devourer
Kim | Window To My World

Lisa | A Casual Reader's Blog
Kathleen | Lane Hill House
Laura | Harvest Lane Cottage
Bethany | The Literary Maidens
Melanie | Christian Bookshelf Reviews

Victoria | Decked Out in Ruffles
Kelli | The Zen of Motherhood
Melissa | Mel's World with Melissa Mashburn
Deborah | Book Reviews by Deb
Maria | Middle Places
Michelle | I hope you dance
Lois | The Minister's Wife Stamps and Saves

Mary | Mary's Cup of Tea
Heidi | Buzz4Mommies
Julie | More Of Him
Debra | 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!
Sara | Sara Ella
Crystal | Serving Joyfully
Jillian | Covers and Ink

Veronica | Veronica's 'Views
Gina | The Hedonistic Minimalist
Nathania | Sophie and Momma
Marjorie | Manifest Blog
Crystal | Tidbits of Experience
Katie | Too Read or Not Too Read

Ashley | Wandering the Pages
Kristin | Whole Lotta Mama
Brianna | abookandalattee
Nicole | bless their hearts mom
Elise | Organizing for Everyone
Wanda | A Book Lover's Retreat
Leila | All Meant To Shine
Elle | Organic Shoes
Dianna | Savings in Seconds

Jen | Happy Little Homemaker
Jamie | Books and Beverages
A | Kerrffic
Laura | Lighthouse Academy
Laura | Crafty Booksheeps
Sharon | Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews
Tiffany | The Crafty Home
Rosie | Writings of Rosie
Amy | the ramblings of miss aimymichelle

Lisa | Seeking with all yur heart
Dana | Little Lovely Books
Margaret | The World As I See It
Megan | When life gets you a book
Abbi | Christian Novels
Alison | NOVA Frugal Family
Laura | The Calico Critic

Erin | ReviewsByErin
Jenny | Book Reviews By Jenny
Kellie | Nothing Less
Lori | Morning Glories and Moonflowers
Monica | For the Love of Books
Nancy | sunny island breezes

Natalia | Elan
Pamela | Daysong Reflections
Pamela | Lavish Bookshelf
Patricia | Live and Dream a little dream
Shea | Novel Reviews
Suzanne | Clicking Her Heels
Tammi | Our Homeschooling Pilgrimage
Taylor | Taylor Reid Reads and Breathes
Krista | Welcome to Married Life

Meet the author: 

Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. After earning degrees in history and marketing from Northwestern University, she worked as a marketer for Proctor & Gamble and Sears before returning to school to earn her MTS. Her works have been published in "Focus on the Family" and The Upper Room. Katherine currently lives with her husband and three children in Seattle. Dear Mr. Knightley is her first novel. Learn more about Katherine at:

A review copy of Dear Mr. Knightley was provided for critiquing purposes only.

Enter Today | 11/14 - 12/3!
Dear Mr. Knightley Katherine Reay

Friday, November 29, 2013

Movie Review: Disney's Frozen

After some delicious Thanksgiving noshing, I thought I'd take my eight year-old son Colson to see the new Disney movie, Frozen.  I did my usual vetting via the review on, a great resource for parents in all things media.  They gave it an overall positive review, and I saw a few other positive critiques elsewhere as well.  So after lunch today, we headed out for our post-Thanksgiving treat.

Before the main feature, the usual short Disney film is shown.  "Get a Horse" begins with what looks to be a very old Disney cartoon, featuring Mickey Mouse in the days before he wore his signature white gloves, a la "Steamboat Willie". My son was concerned at first, as he wasn't interested in watching such an "old fashioned" cartoon.  I had a feeling that some Disney magic was afoot, and I was right.  Just tell your kids to hold on-- the piece leaps forward into the 21st century before you know it.  Those of you who see it in 3D will probably enjoy it even more than I did in our 2D screening.

Frozen is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen story The Snow Queen.  Although I read the derivative, weak novel Winter's Child a few years ago,  I'm not overly familiar with the mythology of Andersen's fairy tale. So if the connection between Disney's script and Andersen's work is tenuous at best, I wasn't aware of it.  The story definitely received the "Disney treatment", but in this case I think that was a good thing.

While the two main characters are royal females, I wouldn't characterize this as a typical "princess movie".  Yes, there are pretty dresses, magic, a handsome prince and anthropomorphic characters, but there's much more than that.  The story of Frozen is very enjoyable, adventurous and wondrous.  Even with all the skirts running about, my normally girl-adverse son really enjoyed himself.  Of course he covered his eyes during any of the very low-key romantic parts, but that was not the main focus of the story. A fellow third grade friend of his joined us in our row, and both boys really had a great time with it.

Disney and/or Pixar is famous for humorous sidekicks, and there are a couple in this feature.  Olaf is a magical snowman who oddly dreams of experiencing summer.  I enjoyed his comic relief, unlike some other sidekicks in recent years, some of which I found to be quite distasteful. The Princess and the Frog, Brave and Treasure Planet come to mind.  Another buddy character is Sven the reindeer, cohort to Kristoff, a local ice peddler.  He acts more like a canine than a reindeer at times, and there were moments when he reminded me of Maximus the horse in the 2010 movie Tangled.  Like Maximus, he didn't have the magical gift of speech, but his body language and facial expressions more than took care of that.  I didn't enjoy him as much as I did Maximus two years ago, but he was fun.

As far as the PG nature of the film-- I suppose it received that rating because of some tense, exciting moments in the movie.  There's one chase scene involving glowing-eyed wolves, but it's very short and far less foreboding than the evil bear scenes in last year's Brave. Exciting, climactic moments happen more than once along the way, but they aren't overdone in my opinion.  Lives are certainly in jeopardy, but it's handled in a very family-friendly manner.

The romantic elements of the story are very chaste.  My son didn't care for those moments, much like the grandson in The Princess Bride.  I'm sure he was thinking, "Can we skip this part?!?"  But truly, romance is not the main theme of the movie. For the most part the language was pretty clean.  There are a few "What the...?!?" moments, and Olaf references his "butt" more times than I'd prefer.  My son got several laughs out of the butt references, though. And I could have done without one particular nose-picking joke,
but it was quick and we moved on.

There are several musical sequences, most of which were well done and in the usual Broadway-like style.  However, they really could have skipped the number involving the rock trolls.  It seemed unnecessary, and I found it annoying. But overall I enjoyed the soundtrack and performances. "The First Time in Forever" was particularly nice.

While this isn't my favorite animated film of all time, I certainly can give it my endorsement.  Even though it garnered a PG rating, I'd feel comfortable taking grade-school children to see this.  It was an enjoyable way to spend part of my Thanksgiving weekend.  It had a fine script, compelling music and incredible animation.  In recent years I never thought I'd say it, but I think Disney Studios may be catching up to its partner/competitor Pixar.  This one certainly trumps the last four films that Pixar has produced.  They were able to create an animated feature that I actually enjoyed, as opposed to the mere toleration I've felt with Pixar lately.

So if you head out to the movies on this holiday weekend, consider Frozen for you and your family. And let me know what you thought-- was it a rollicking good time, or did the experience just leave you cold?  That certainly was not the case for me.  The only ice to be found was on the screen, and certainly not on my row of the theater.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley Preview and Kindle Giveaway Announcement

I'll be posting my review of Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay very soon.  In the meantime, here's a preview of what's to come:

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters. 

I also wanted to make Calico Critic readers aware of a contest that is already in progress!  Here's the information from the blog tour host, LitFuse:

 Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
Favorite Austen Moments KINDLE HDX Giveaway,
Pinterest Contest and Facebook Party!

Debut author Katherine Reay is celebrating the release of her delightful novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, with a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway, a fun Favorite Austen Moments Pinterest contest, and an Austen-themed Facebook Party.


  One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
  • Handmade Austen-themed items (scarf, mug, bracelet, and necklace) 
Two ways to win! Enter today by clicking one of the icons below or participating in the Pinterest contest (see banner below)—or BOTH! 

But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 3rd. Winner will be announced at the "Dear Mr. Knightley" Austen-themed Facebook Author Chat Party on the 3rd. Join Katherine (and Austen fans) for an evening of book chat, prizes, and an exclusive look at Katherine's next book.

So grab your copy of  Dear Mr. Knightley and join Katherine on the evening of December 3rd for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)


Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK, TWITTER, or PINTEREST. Hope to see you on the 3rd!



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: Jane Odiwe of Project Darcy

I am pleased to welcome back to The Calico Critic one of my favorite authors, Jane Odiwe.  In September of last year, Jane offered a lovely guest post with a generous giveaway, and she has returned once again to offer us the same.   Last February I enjoyed her novel Searching for Captain Wentworth, and I'm eagerly looking forward to her next work, Project Darcy. This latest title is another "time slip" story, a genre I find very enjoyable.  Last year's volume had many winks to Jane Austen's Persuasion, and it seems with Project Darcy, we will find more of an emphasis on the beloved Pride and Prejudice.  Here is a taste of what we can expect from Jane's latest.  Then her thoughts and giveaway offer follow:

It is high summer when Ellie Bentley joins an archaeological dig at Jane Austen’s childhood home. She’s always had a talent for ‘seeing’ into the past and is not easily disturbed by her encounters with ‘Mr Darcy’s ghost’ at the house where she’s staying.

When Ellie travels into the past she discovers exactly what happened whilst Jane danced her way through the snowy winter of 1796 with her dashing Irish friend. As Steventon Rectory and all its characters come to life, Ellie discovers the true love story lost in
Pride and Prejudice – a tale which has its own consequences for her future destiny, changing her life beyond imagination.

*          *          *

Thank you so much, Laura, for hosting me on your blog today! I’m so thrilled to be here to tell you about my new book, Project Darcy. I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time - I love weaving several stories together, and in this book there is one set in modern day with my heroine Ellie and her four friends, and another in the past with Jane Austen falling in love and writing the book that was to become Pride and Prejudice.

Years ago, I painted a little picture of how I imagined Jane and her father would look when she was about five years old. I thought about this painting when I was writing a little scene when Ellie goes back into the past and becomes Jane Austen, and tied it in with what seem to be Jane’s own recollections that she wrote about in Northanger Abbey. Although she is writing about Catherine Morland when she says her heroine was ‘noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house’, I have a feeling she was referring to a memory of doing that herself. If you’ve ever been to Steventon to see the site where the rectory stood, the back of the garden has a pronounced slope! Here’s how I imagine Jane and her beloved brother Henry playing at the back of the rectory. I hope you enjoy this little excerpt from Project Darcy.

*          *          *

The moment she stepped through the hedges and trees that screened the fields, Ellie knew something was different – her world was changed in more ways than she could ever have imagined. Like the little girl in Alice in Wonderland, she’d grown smaller and everything around her had doubled in size. Trees were so tall she could not see the top of them and the grass that tickled her bare legs nearly came up to her knees. Ellie looked back towards the way she had come but she knew it was fruitless. There was only one way to go, and that was to follow the sound that beckoned her. It was as if she saw everything through mist, layers of white vapour that rose to reveal a reality that became sharper with every passing minute. She was no longer Ellie Bentley; that she knew. She was a child, perhaps no more than five years old, and her thoughts intruded until Ellie had none left of her own. Her world was larger, more defined, sounds and smells were fresher, brighter and vivid. More than that, she felt different. Ellie saw life through the eyes of someone else, and when she heard the boy’s voice calling her name she knew him to be her brother.

‘Come on, Jane, let us go again!’

Henry pulled me up the slope to the top of the field where the elm trees stood like sentinels and whispered over our heads in their hushing, leaf language. The day was hot like the one I’d left behind, and my legs struggled to keep up with him in the heat. He sensed that my small legs were tiring and he turned to wait, looking at me with a grin. Light flickered in his hazel eyes, those that I knew grown-ups said were so like mine, but his were almost golden on this day, like Baltic amber. The grass up at the top of the terrace was so long; it prickled the back of my legs. Beads of dew, like fairy necklaces strung along green blades, felt cold under my feet. When we reached the top, he showed me how to lie down in line with the trees, my toes pointing one way and my arms stretched over my head.

‘Jane, wait until I count to three,’ I heard him say.

Lying in the sweetly fragrant meadow, I felt so excited I started to giggle, and my body fidgeted in response. And before he’d managed to shout out the number three, I’d started going, rolling down the hill, and gathering momentum until the world was spinning. There was a blur of blue sky; then green fields, and then over I went again like a flyer on Nanny Littleworth’s spinning wheel. I could see Henry overtake me, going faster than ever. He got to the bottom before me but I came to a standstill at last, my heart beating with pure pleasure as I lay in the grass chuckling and laughing. There were grass stains on my dress and daisies in my hair, which Henry picked out, one by one.

Sitting up, I could see a house that I knew was my home and I had a sudden longing to see my father.

‘Are you not coming up again, little Jenny?’ Henry asked, calling me by the pet name my family used when they wanted to appeal to my better nature. He had his hands in the pockets of his breeches. His shirt was crumpled and stained like my gown. Brown curls flopped over his eyes, which looked into mine so tenderly that I almost changed my mind. I ran to hug him, stood on my tiptoes and planted a kiss on his cheek. Henry was my protector, and my beloved playmate. I longed to be just like him but my mother scolded me when I behaved too much like a tomboy. I knew I should not run or jump or shout, as my brothers did, but nothing she said would deter me, so when Henry begged me to play with him I did not usually need to be asked twice. But, as much as I wanted to be with him, home was calling.

I shook my head and muttered, ‘I’m going to see Papa.’

*          *          *

I have vivid memories of rolling down the slope in the park at the back of my childhood home with my brother and sister, which was a thing we all loved to do. We were recovering from German Measles, and the grass made our rashes flare up again, all very prickly and itchy - but we were all so glad to be outside again. Most of my childhood seemed to be spent outdoors playing, or indoors drawing and writing, which were my favourite hobbies - I’d love to know what pastimes you enjoyed as a child!

Connect with Jane Odiwe

Jane Odiwe - Austen Effusions:

Jane Odiwe is the author of five Austen-inspired novels, Project Darcy,Searching for Captain Wentworth,Mr Darcy's Secret,Willoughby's Return, and Lydia Bennet's Story , and is a contributor to Laurel Ann Nattress’s anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, with a short story, Waiting. Jane is a member of the Jane Austen Society; she holds an arts degree, and initially started her working life teaching Art and History. When she’s not writing, she enjoys painting and trying to capture the spirit of Jane Austen’s world. Her illustrations have been published in a picture book, Effusions Of Fancy, and are featured in a biographical film of Jane Austen’s life in Sony’s DVD edition of The Jane Austen Book Club.


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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book Review: The Blooding of Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of reading C.C. Humphries novel, Jack Absolute. In this first volume of a trilogy, the titular character is introduced as a roguish, nearly fearless warrior who could charm the ladies and outfox his opponents in battle as well. I fancied him an 18th century James Bond, although his personality is a bit more mischievous than Ian Fleming’s modern spy. Jack Absolute was great fun, and I eagerly welcomed the arrival of The Blooding of Jack Absolute.  This review will make the assumption that the reader is familiar with volume one, and I will discuss particular plot points from volume two.  To avoid spoiler material, you may want to skip down to the portion below the dividing asterisks.

The second volume is a prequel, going back to years well before Jack became a soldier. Even as a child, he is precocious and must endure hardship within his familial relationships. Seeing how he was treated as a boy, it’s no wonder that he grew into the young man that he did.  The bulk of the first half of the novel covers his early adulthood, around the ages of 18-20.  Even at such a young age, Jack shows much maturity and ingenuity in his life.  He also displays the recklessness of youth, getting in over his head with adversaries and seducing more than one woman at a time.  As was seen in Jack Absolute, he often finds himself in perilous situations, some of which are of his own making, circumstances from which he must escape with ingenious and sometimes treacherous tactics.

The first half of the novel centers on the formative years before his military service, characterizing who he is as a person, and introducing us to a truly despicable villain, his cousin Caster Absolute. The contentious relationship between Caster and Jack builds, and at the same time another enemy of Jack’s is made in an influential Lord.  By the conclusion of the eleventh chapter, Jack is very motivated to skip town, and he finds his passage out of the country by joining the military.

The second half focuses on Jack’s first tour in North America, specifically in Canada.  Once again C.C. Humpries presents historically accurate battle scenes, although in The Blooding of Jack Absolute, there seemed to be fewer chapters devoted to this venue, which I appreciated.  I enjoy plot development off the battlefield, although I can appreciate the importance of these warring moments within this particular story.  Jack must make his first kill, or “blooding” as a young soldier, and this moment is critical in his life and is referenced more than once later in the novel.  The kills on the battlefield are not taken lightly, and Jack never forgets that first, difficult time when he must take the life of another human being.

In addition to becoming an initiated soldier, Jack is forced to learn the ways of the Iroquois Indian, as he becomes a captive with the Iroquois man we come to know as Até.  This amazing warrior is presented as Jack’s right hand in the first novel, and I loved seeing how these two future partners met and became friends.  Até is a serious, strong individual, prone to unintentional humorous lines.  On more than one occasion, I found myself laughing aloud to some of his statements.  The development of this relationship between Jack and Até was probably the most enjoyable portion of Blooding. I have purposefully kept my eyes away from plot points of the third novel, Absolute Honour, and I truly hope that we see more of Até spending time with his blood-brother Jack.

Once again, C.C. Humphries has done his homework with historical details, and some of the more enjoyable facts that were shared had more to do with the wilderness survival techniques that Até used while stranded in the woods throughout an entire winter.  I learned so much about how the native North Americans utilized the resources around them, giving themselves nourishment, shelter and personal protection. Até not only mentored Jack in the ways of the Iroquois, but he taught me as well.  If found it entertaining as well as educational.

*          *          *

As much as I enjoyed Jack Absolute, I think I may have enjoyed its prequel even more.  There seems to be fewer battle scenes and more character development.  Jack works his way out of all manner of predicaments, using his knowledge, cunning and sometimes sheer luck to survive.  He is a loveable scoundrel, and I thoroughly enjoyed the prologue to what came later in his life. His relationship with Até is compelling and full of excitement.

I highly recommend The Blooding of Jack Absolute, but I must inform my conservative readers that the content of the novel is decidedly PG-13. Jack enjoys a robust love life, so there is a bit of adult material as he pursues his women.  The men have understandably salty language, as we are spending significant portions of the story on the battlefield. Author C.C. Humphries easily could have made things more colorful and retained a sense of realism, so I appreciate the relative low level of coarse language throughout the book.  As there are many conflicts and battles, including those with the native Indians, there are moments that detail exactly what is happening to these men. However, I found this amount of material to be less than the first book, and Humphries could have gone much farther with his detail without being gratuitous.

The Blooding of Jack Absolute was a wonderful follow-up (or preview, as the case may be) to Jack Absolute. The entire cast of characters are colorful and interesting, from Jack to the miscreants we encounter along the way.  The heroes are strong and admirable, and the villains are corrupt to the core.  This makes for highly enjoyable storytelling. I was so pleased to learn of Jack’s history, and I thoroughly look forward to the concluding novel of the trilogy, Absolute Honour.



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