Saturday, January 25, 2014

Workout Review, Part I: The Zip Trainer by the FIRM

Recently I was given the opportunity to try out the new Zip Trainer by The FIRM.  I’ve been using products from The FIRM since approximately 2003, when going to a gym wasn’t feasible, both for my schedule and for my wallet.  I discovered FIRM workouts in the local public library’s video department and gave a few a try.  Before long I was hooked!  I loved the FIRM’s signature style of pairing cardio with weights, and the videos were excellent productions.  I loved the convenience of working out in my own home as well. It was so convenient, and I had no excuse not to work out!

Needless to say, I was excited to check out their latest production, the Zip Trainer. It features several components, including the Zip Trainer, a soft ball which zips open for multiple uses.  The 5-pound ball is about 15" in diameter, which is smaller than most stability balls but larger than a basketball.  It also comes with a 3-pound Core Ball that can be stowed within the zipped up Trainer, to increase the total weight to 8 pounds.

You can manipulate the Trainer in many ways:
  1. Balance on it
  2. Lift it
  3. Step on it
  4. Toss it
  5. Kneel on it
  6. Roll it
  7. Lean on it
  8. Stretch on it

Check out this short video, so you can see what I mean:

When you purchase the Zip Trainer, not only does it come with a Core Ball, but you also receive 7 all-new workouts on three DVDs. The routines are led by the FIRM’s talented master instructors, Emily Welsh, Kelsie Daniels, Allie Del Rio, Stephanie Huckabee, Alison Davis McLain and Annie Lee Coffey.  The kit also includes a Fitness Guide to help you understand the entire system behind the Zip Trainer, as well as provide a framework for using all of the components.  And to complete your program, the FIRM provides a Nutrition Guide to show you how to properly fuel your body, which is working so hard with the videos. In this and other upcoming posts, I will review the workouts and discuss the Nutrition Guide as well.  Today the focus will be upon the first disc in the collection and the beginning of the workout plan, Cycle 1: Rev!


The Rev cycle begins with Jump Start. It’s a bit different than the other ZIP Trainer workouts in that no equipment is used, not even the Zip Trainer.  Emily Welsh leads the viewer in choreography that is full of standard moves found in many workout videos. It’s a great way to get started in the program, to get used to moving your body within your space. This doesn’t mean that this 15-minute workout is easy.  By no means!  I was very grateful for the number of modifications that Emily offered, as I really needed them from time to time. I was particularly impressed with how she presented the burpee.  Many instructors only give one modification for this challenging callisthenic, but Emily has several modifications that build upon each other in difficulty.  It’s a great way to begin pushing yourself toward the ability to a full burpee.

A signature part of the ZIP Training system is the incorporation of Short Burst Training.  For 30 seconds, Emily performs a quick burst of aerobic moves, very reminiscent of the interval training found in The FIRM’s excellent Firm Express series. She offers modifications so that the 30 seconds can be done by the less experienced, while the seasoned viewer can perform the standard moves, which can really push you to the limit. Emily always emphasizes the recovery time after the short bursts, taking mini stretches and breathers after each one.

At only 15 minutes, this would also make a great extended warm up for just about any cardio-only or strength-only workout, as well as the other videos in the FIRM Zip Trainer series.  This has a little bit of everything, and it gets all parts of the body limbered up and the blood flowing.

In my next post, I will profile the additional workouts in the Rev cycle: Cardio I, Sculpt I and AMP Reps I.  For even more information about the Zip Trainer, view the 6-minute video below. And be sure to visit the FIRM’s website,



Zip Trainer kit provided for review purposes. No other compensation was given.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Movie Giveaway: Two Tickets to Gimme Shelter, Starring Vanessa Hudgens

About Gimme Shelter

Being a mother is the toughest job in the world... Period.

Now imagine... you are young, homeless, and without a family to lean on for support.

That’s exactly what happened to Agnes “Apple” Bailey.

Based on a true story, Ronald Krauss’ new film “Gimme Shelter,” stars Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) as 16-year-old Agnes “Apple” Baily, a teenager who sets out to find her biological father and is forced into the streets in a true journey of survival.

Vanessa Hudgens (Agnes "Apple" Bailey)
James Earl Jones (Frank McCarthy)
Rosario Dawson (June Bailey)
Brendan Fraser (Tom Fitzpatrick)

Gimme Shelter received 5 stars from the Dove Foundation, their highest rating!

“GIMME SHELTER” is a deeply moving and meaningful film that celebrates the dignity of life at all ages and stages. A great, gritty depiction of what it means to put your faith into action to help those society far too often marginalizes.”
--Kelly Rosati, VP, Community Outreach / FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

Check out and share the 6 animated gifs in the animated widget below to get an inside look at
the heart warming tale of Agnes “Apple” Baily before the film hits theaters Friday January 24th, 2014.

Each household is only eligible to win ONE (1) Pack of Two (2) AMC Movie Tickets via blog reviews and giveaways.
Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you will not be eligible to win it again.
Winner is subject to eligibility verification.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Workout Review: Peak 10 Cardio Interval Burn Remix by Michelle Dozois

Following the success of the Peak Fit System and its subsequent videos More Cardio Interval Burn and More Cardio Strength, Michelle Dozois now brings us Cardio Interval Burn Remix and Cardio Strength Remix (to be reviewed on an upcoming post).  Like their predecessors, these make great additions to the Peak 10 family of videos.  As mentioned in other reviews, Peak 10 workouts generally follow the following framework:
  • 5-Minute Warm Up
  • Five training blocks, 10 minutes each, broken down into two repeated 5-minute segments per block.  Each 5-minute segment follows this pattern:
    • Basecamp  (< minute) – A short recovery time, preparation for the next rise
    • Initial Ascent (~2 minutes) – Intensity begins to ramp up
    • Climb (~2 minutes) – Fast-paced, challenging, sometimes uncomfortable, yet still fun
    • Peak (< minute) – The body is pushed to the maximum effort. Not sustainable for a very long period of time.
  • 5-Minute Cool Down/Stretch
As any first time user should, I previewed the 60-minute video before performing it myself.  If you’re not at least somewhat familiar with the choreography, it’s going to come at you hard and fast. I would also recommend the Movement Review track on the DVD.  This is a convenient way to watch Michelle demonstrating some of the trickier moves in advance. Even after the preview, it took a handful of workouts before I had this one under my feet. Having said that, I am continually amazed and pleased with the movements this routine requires.  Some of the choreography is familiar (e.g., “grapevines”, “repeater knees” and “hamstring curls”), but it seems that with each new segment, Michelle has created step sequences that are utterly original, effective and fun.  She has a new low-stepping lunge that is appropriately called the “Groucho Marx Lunge” that always puts a smile on my face.  And there is a move that is a sort of Figure 8/Stand Up Paddle/Dig that I love so much, it is the highlight of the entire workout. I even think about this move before I hit “play” on the recording.

Aside from the great attitude displayed by Michelle and her six enthusiastic cast members, another huge motivating factor in Cardio Interval Burn Remix is the music.  Michelle spends untold hours selecting just the write tunes for her DVDs, and this effort is clearly evident in the soundtrack.  Like music you’d hear in a party club, these melodies are incredibly fun and easily get me motivated to get my body moving and leaping off the floor if necessary. There have even been several occasions when I’ve heard these songs in my head during the day, before I’ve chosen my workout. Like a magnet, this one draws me in, again and again. There is absolutely no “dread factor” involved, despite the fact that it’s more than sufficiently challenging. The body is worked intensely, but I’m having such fun doing it, I don’t mind at all.

No extra equipment is required for Cardio Interval Burn Remix.  Simply clear space in which you can move, and put on comfortable clothes and shoes.  Have a towel and plenty of water standing by.  I promise you, they will come in handy.  I also lower the temperature in the room, as the perceived temperature is going to go up quite a few degrees after you’re fully engaged in the workout. That’s one of the things I love about home exercise, as opposed to a gym.  I can control the elements—room temp is great, and I don’t have to worry about rainy days. My biggest challenge as an exercising mother is keeping my little rug rats occupied elsewhere so that I can have the hour to myself.

For you veteran “Peakers” who are curious about the term “Remix” in the title: You can rest assured that this is not an indication of recycled video footage from previous workouts.  Every second is new, with the aforementioned new music, set and choreography.  You may recognize a few movements that Michelle has done in other workout videos, but most of them are the kind you’d find in many routines. Jumping jacks, mountain climbers, etc. may not be “new”, but she works them into the brand-new moves in a fun, fresh way.  This DVD has absolutely no recycled feeling to it at all.  The patterns of Basecamp/Ascent/Climb/Peak continue the Peak 10 trend, but that’s merely the framework underneath all the innovation.

Cardio Interval Burn Remix once again shows why Michelle Dozois videos are among my favorite workouts.  Her presentation is very motivational, the music and choreography are fun, and my body is pushed to its maximum potential every time I give 100% on my end.  The endorphins produced in my body elevate my mood, even on stressful, frustrating days.  That not only helps my well-being, but it makes me a better wife and mother for my family.  This hour spent on physical training is worth the time and effort, and filling it with Cardio Interval Burn Remix is a great way to do it.

Connect with Michelle and Breakthru Fitness


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

Welcome to the next stop on Litfuse's blog tour for Julie Klassen's The Dancing Master!  Be sure to check out the other stops in the tour, as well as enter to win a Kindle HDX.  More information and links are below the review.

Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.

Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch's daughter. Though he's initially wary of Julia Midwinter's reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul--and hidden sorrows of her own.

Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master--a man her mother would never approve of--but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec's help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village...and to her mother's tattered heart?

Filled with mystery and romance, The Dancing Master brings to life the intriguing profession of those who taught essential social graces for ladies and gentlemen hoping to make a "good match" in Regency England. 

In recent months I’ve previewed and recommended novels set in the Regency period, and I reviewed a title with a devotee of the period as the main character, but it’s been a while since I’ve actually had a chance to read a book set in this era myself. And as 2014 gets under way, it’s so great to be back! Only this time the story is not centered within Jane Austen’s England, but within the 19th century England that author Julie Klassen has envisioned.

As mentioned in the book summary above, The Dancing Master is centered on the dance and classical fencing instructor Alec Valcourt, as well as the lovely heiress Julia Midwinter. Much like Catherine De Bourgh in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Julia’s wealthy mother Amelia wields much power in their town of Beaworthy, and exerts that power in such a way that the townspeople are no longer permitted to dance or contradict Amelia’s moral values in any way. This proves to be problematic for the young Mr. Valcourt, as he is new to town, and in dire need of employment to support his mother and sister. Both Alec’s and Amelia’s pasts are sometimes shrouded in mystery, and more than one character goes through significant reforms over the course of the story. In several respects, The Dancing Master is much like a mixture of Austen, Dickens, with a bit of the movie Footloose thrown in.

Julie Klassen is known for her work in Christian Historical Romance. Following her years working in publishing, she has gone on to become a full time writer, winning multiple awards for works such as The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall. I don’t find this surprising, as Klassen’s writing is quite accessible, with a bit of Christian faith thrown in as well. I didn’t find her style to be overly revolutionary, but it was enjoyable, and even sometimes quite educational. She had me digging into my dictionary for the definitions of such words as “caper” and “tattoo”. Who knew the latter term doesn’t always involve indelible ink?! Her understanding of the time period was quite evident in the era-specific language she used, as well as the descriptions of the local customs and traditions.

Like her writing, Klassen’s characters are well formed, clearly drawn and not overly difficult to understand. Several go through radical transformations, and occasionally there are unexpected revelations and mysteries revealed in their lives. Many seemed to be stereotypical characters that we would see in other Christian novels or family-friendly movies, so I found them to be a bit predictable, but they were entertaining nonetheless. Their temperaments, as varied as they could be, were realistic, giving The Dancing Master a cast of characters who were understandable and relatable.

As The Dancing Master may be categorized as Christian Fiction, the language and subject matter are kept very clean. There are no four-letter words, details of violence are kept to a minimum, and sexual matters are not gratuitous in any way. The characters are flawed, with some dealing with some pretty serious sins and errors in their lives, but Klassen handles those issues in a very family-friendly manner. I was able to relax and just enjoy the story, unconcerned that the narrative would descend into material that I would feel inclined to evade as I read.

The Dancing Master is a pleasant tale, going beyond a simple boy-meets-girl story. It is filled with messages relating to honesty, moral values, prodigal family members, forgiveness and reconciliation. The nature of the art of dance in the life of the Body of Christ is of course clearly addressed, much as it was in Footloose. The Christian faith of several of the characters is certainly an important part of their lives, but that aspect does not dominate every page. Fans of the Regency period would enjoy the novel, but it would also make a good fit for those who enjoy clean, thoughtful romances mixed with a bit of family mystery. Julie Klassen has done fine work here, and while the story doesn’t necessarily conclude with the suggestion of a sequel, I could easily see her delving into the world of Beaworthy, England again. Should that happen, I look forward to reading that follow-up as well. The Dancing Master is a delightful story, and one that I can easily recommend.

Best-selling author Julie Klassen will be hosting a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway and a live webcast event (1/23) to celebrate the release of her latest novel, The Dancing Master. Enter and RSVP today!

One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on January 23rd.
Winner will be announced at the "All Things Jane (from Austen to Eyre)" Live Webcast Event on January 23rd. Connect with Julie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Julie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, Jane Austen DVDs, fun "Jane" merchandise, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of The Dancing Master and join Julie and friends on the evening of January 23rd 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 signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 23rd!


For more information about The Dancing Master and the full blog tour listing, visit Litfuse today!

A copy of The Dancing Master was provided by Litfuse for review purposes only.

Kindle Edition
More by Klassen

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Announcement and Giveaway - The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

Fans of Susanna Kearsley will be glad to hear that her modern gothic novel from the mid-90s, The Splendour Falls is being re-released by Sourcebooks Landmark. Along with this new edition, Susanna will be participating in a book tour with some of her friends.  Take a look at the promotional below to determine if she's coming to a city near you:

As a part of this special launch, Sourcebooks Landmark has offered to give away one copy of Susanna's 2013 novel, The Firebird to one of our U.S. or Canadian readers. Be sure to check out the Rafflecopter widget below and enter to win! And while you're here, enjoy the opportunity to read the first chapter of The Splendour Falls from Susanna's website here:

Connect with Susanna


Be sure to read the guidelines below, enter via the Rafflecopter widget, and good luck! 
  • The contest period ends at 12:00am EST on January 12, 2013. 
  • Contest is open to U.S. and Canadian entrants only. 
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday, January 12th. 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 this through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the rafflecopter form. 
  • The award will be administered by Sourcebooks Landmark.
  • Entries will be verified. If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: The Anvil of God by J. Boyce Gleason

 It is 741. After subduing the pagan religions in the east, halting the march of Islam in the west, and conquering the continent for the Merovingian kings, mayor of the palace Charles the Hammer has one final ambition-the throne. Only one thing stands in his way-he is dying.

Charles cobbles together a plan to divide the kingdom among his three sons, betroth his daughter to a Lombard prince to secure his southern border, and keep the Church unified behind them through his friend Bishop Boniface. Despite his best efforts, the only thing to reign after Charles's death is chaos. His daughter has no intention of marrying anyone, let alone a Lombard prince. His two eldest sons question the rights of their younger pagan stepbrother, and the Church demands a steep price for their support. Son battles son, Christianity battles paganism, and Charles's daughter flees his court for an enemy's love.

Based on a true story, Anvil of God is a whirlwind of love, honor, sacrifice, and betrayal that follows a bereaved family's relentless quest for power and destiny.

*          *          *

Literary expectations can be tricky.  I thought I would like this one—I really did. Being that it is the first book in a series, I even hoped to continue on to the anticipated sequel.  The above teaser promised quite an exciting journey, with Christianity (which is my own faith) striving against paganism. There would be a bit of romance and a plot that would keep my attention for over 400 pages. Then there was the added bonus of the tale being based on a true story. This is no fairy tale-- there is much historical truth to it.

In many respects, author J. Boyce Gleason delivers in all of these areas.  There is plenty of action, political jousting and some romantic story lines. Christians do indeed battle against the pagans on many fronts.  It is no surprise to know that Gleason earned an A.B. in history from the esteemed Dartmouth College.  His knowledge of this time period, down to the minutest detail is quite impressive.  The prose is well written, easily transporting the reader to the 800th century. At times I could almost smell the scented air in each scene, whether the bouquet was the incense from religious ritual or the stench from the foul effects of battle. 

Surprisingly, these elements did not come together to create an enjoyable novel for me.  I read every page, every word, always hoping for a “turn” that might come, when I would find myself enjoying the tale.  The storyline of Charles’ betrothed daughter Trudi came very close to this, as I found her journey and love story to be interesting at times.  However more often than not, I was repulsed by the events in her life, whether it was her participation in religious ceremonies or her great ability to defend herself in battle.  Her skills were lethal, and she used them well. I admired her spirit, but too much of her life was too gritty for my taste.

Much of the novel centered around the political wrangling that occurred after Charles the Hammer’s death.  Even with a character family tree and chart, I had a difficult time keeping up with each role in the plot.  Large amounts of time were spent either discussing how battle would be done, or describing in graphic detail the challenges of war. Some of the Christians’ beliefs and behaviors were given the spotlight, but paganism was focused on quite a bit.  Most of the Christians were not those I would admire. Indeed, they predominantly seemed to be power-hungry or warped in some way.  Pagans were not necessarily deemed to be superior to the Christians in their quest for land and political strength, but the favorable emphasis seemed to be with them.

I understand that most of what Gleason was writing about is based on truth.  His meticulous study of the period is quite clear, as evidenced by his notes and character descriptions at the conclusion of the book.  War is a dirty, horrific business with carnage and violence everywhere. My hope as I began the book was that there would be less detail than was given for these brutal scenes. In addition, this Christian found the Pagans’ rituals perplexing and filled with sexual elements that while realistic, were still disturbing.  Truly, this is not your standard history book by any means, and would not be appropriate for younger readers, the few who might take interest in such an adult genre.

As a second title is planned, not all of the novel’s storylines are tied up neatly at the conclusion.  The last pages seemed more like the end of a chapter than a whole volume. I was glad to see that certain characters triumphed in some of their struggles, but the final words were merely preparation for the books to come.  As I’ve looked around at other reviews of Anvil of God, I notice many positive opinions and affirming critiques.  These assessments are not necessarily off-base, they are simply written by those who make a good audience for this material.  As Gleason’s work is well written and thoroughly researched, I can understand the glowing reviews.  However in my case, we weren’t such a good match.

About the Author

With an AB in history from Dartmouth College, J. Boyce Gleason brings a strong understanding of what events shaped history. He says he writes historical-fiction to discover why. Gleason lives in Virginia with his wife Mary Margaret. They have three sons.

Connect with J. Boyce Gleason

(Belated Posting. Thanks to HFVBT for the reviewing opportunity.)



Related Posts with Thumbnails