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Reviews Written by
L. Hartness "LHartness" RSS Feed (Greensboro, NC)

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Band of Brothers Season 1
Band of Brothers Season 1
Price: $44.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Series, June 15, 2016
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Loved this series. Gritty and realistic, it made me appreciate what kinds of sacrifices were made and what horrors were committed in WWII.

Dawn at Emberwilde (A Treasures of Surrey Novel)
Dawn at Emberwilde (A Treasures of Surrey Novel)
by Sarah E. Ladd
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.49
78 used & new from $4.68

3.0 out of 5 stars Less Enthusiastic for This Second Title in Series, June 4, 2016
Dawn at Emberwilde is second in the Treasures of Surrey series by Sarah E. Ladd. In preparation for this review, I quickly read the first title, The Curiosity Keeper. I will not do a full review here of that novel, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed it very much. I expected a similar experience with Dawn at Emberwilde. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Yes, it’s a sweet tale of a young girl who finds love in a way she never expected. Based on the family-friendliness of the content, I have no trouble recommending this clean romance to general audiences, but for some reason the story didn’t draw me in as the first one did.

I’m not sure why I didn’t find Dawn at Emberwilde as compelling as its sister novel. Set in 19th century England, it certainly falls into the genre of reading to which I’m usually drawn. As mentioned, the content is clean, with even a few moments of faith sprinkled here and there. Lead character Isabel Creston is an admirable young woman, as she manages to weather several types of trials, all while remaining the loving caretaker of her young half sister. The male leads of the story provide interesting focal points for her, as she begins to consider the possibility of romance after starting a new life with her long-lost relatives. There is a mysterious wooded area near her new home, and shady goings-on affect her life in various ways.

All of the elements of an enjoyable novel seem to be in place for Dawn at Emberwilde, but I just wasn’t overly fascinated throughout the story. It was a quick read, but I kept waiting for something to engage me in a way that would interest me more. In The Curiosity Keeper, there was a jewel that was worked into the story line in a very interesting way, and it makes sense that this previous title is a part of the Treasures of Surrey series. With Dawn at Emberwilde, I kept waiting for a similar plot device to show up in the narrative—perhaps a mysterious diamond or emerald with ties to the story that would be exciting or puzzling. To my disappointment, nothing like this really occurred.

While second in the series, Dawn at Emberwilde can very much stand on its own. There are a few crossover characters, but prior knowledge of them and their history is not essential to participation in the reading. Although my enthusiasm for this title isn’t overly exuberant, I wouldn’t say this review is a non-recommendation. Perhaps the novel just caught me on the wrong week to read it—who knows? Despite my tepid response, I do hope that Sarah Ladd continues the series, and I would definitely like to read another volume. In that sense, the jury is not out on my overall opinion of the collection.

The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale)
The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale)
by Melanie Dickerson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.31
86 used & new from $4.78

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Medieval Tale, May 23, 2016
For many, the search for one’s spouse can be a tricky endeavor, and this is no less true for the Reinhart Stolten, the Margrave of Thornbeck in Melanie Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender. In him we find a 14th century nobleman in search of a bride, similar to many a plot in classic fairy tales. His method of choosing a wife is managed much like we see in today’s television show, “The Bachelor”, in that he invites ten women from around his Germanic realm as candidates. At the end of their two week stay in his castle, he plans to ask one of them to marry him. Unbeknownst to Reinhart, one woman is an impostor, a mere servant girl named Avelina who is standing in for a lady who has run off with a knight. For reasons revealed in the book, she must obey the Earl of Plimmwald or face dire consequences for her family and her community. Not only must she attend this gathering of potential brides, but she must also remain inconspicuous and avoid being chosen. To be selected would bring negative political consequences to Plimmwald. Unfortunately, as time goes on, she and the Margrave find themselves drawn to each other. Complicating matters, Avelina stumbles upon a conspiracy that could not only threaten the balance of power, but her very life as well.

The Beautiful Pretender was a quick and light read which I enjoyed very much. Many of the story themes were familiar, but I relished the way that Melanie Dickerson drew out her narrative. There were several themes which I found interesting in particular. I liked the allusions to classic fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Pea. Like Princess and the Pea, Avelina’s nobility is questioned, as is her character. As the other bridal candidates were, she was put through tests to judge her character and worthiness to be Stolten’s wife. Despite her actual lack of noble-born blood, she is found to be one of the most upstanding of the women in the group.

The Beauty and the Beast allusion was a thought-provoking one, and for the first time I found myself questioning the values behind it. Reinhart Stolten is a wounded warrior, one who is grieving the loss of loved ones and is also earnestly looking for a mate. Like the “Beast”, he can be grumpy, has a bit of a temper, and has secrets within the west wing of his castle. As Avelina is drawn to him, part of her wants to get close to him so that she can help heal his broken heart.

“Avelina would be good for him. She could make him stop scowling, could make him believe in love and goodness. She could love him out of that dark thought pattern he seemed to be in, thinking about his lame ankle and about his poor dead brother and how he could not save him.” (p.162)

As I read this passage, I found my married self balking at this notion. After over twenty years of marriage, I’ve come to understand a few things about what makes a successful union. While I’m not a perfect wife, I’ve learned over the decades that we must not enter into a relationship with the idea that we are going to “fix” our loved one. This is especially true when looking for a spouse. We need to do as James Dobson suggests, to “Keep our eyes wide open before marriage and halfway closed thereafter.” Our spouses can be our better halves in the sense that we can encourage one another on to love and good deeds, but starting a relationship with the idea that we would “fix” them can be very risky. Yes, we should be very aware of our future mate’s flaws. But are they flaws that we are willing to live with for the rest of our lives? Through God’s influence they might change, but they might not. We need to love them regardless. Fortunately, I don’t see Avelina as a stringent fixer-type. She seems to care about Reinhart and just wants to love him in his pain. He also seems to open to her opinions, which she was more than willing to share, and were not always in line with what he expected in a woman. My guess is that given her temperament, she would be an encouragement to him, and not a pestering wife.

Another interesting theme dealt with the issue of self-respect. In this I could see shadows of Cinderella, in that Avelina is a servant girl who dons fine, tailored clothing and is one of several choices for a noble bride. And although she is a mere hireling, she learns along the way the value of respecting herself regardless of her position in life. Even a servant can command and deserve respect, given how they carry themselves and expect to be treated. This life lesson was something I saw growing in this character as she spent time in Thornbeck Castle, and I respected Melanie Dickerson for including it. Not all of us can be princesses or be noble-born, but we can all have dignity and treat ourselves accordingly. This is not about haughty pride. It’s about being a creation of God and worthy of care.

Given the main premise of the novel, Avelina’s true identity was sure to be revealed at some point. This is a bit of a spoiler, but any savvy reader would expect that the Margrave would discover the truth eventually. While I expected this plot point, I was surprised at how soon this revelation occurred in the story. It was approximately halfway through the book when the truth is revealed. I wondered how Dickerson would keep the story going, with about half of the title left to go. Fortunately, I was rewarded with an exciting tale of power struggles, chases, injuries, romance, and even a little bit of Christian faith thrown in. The second half was more riveting than the first, and the conclusion was delightful.

Melanie Dickerson is an author I have wanted to read for some time now, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read The Beautiful Pretender. In this novel I was entertained in a lighthearted and refreshing fashion. Dickerson’s writing is very accessible and family friendly, while still bringing some passion to the love scenes. It might not have fairies and magical creatures, but the storytelling was quite magical and a delight to enjoy. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Dickerson in the future.

ACEVOG Women's Cowl Neck Tunic Knit Top Plain Basic Tunic Top Sweater
ACEVOG Women's Cowl Neck Tunic Knit Top Plain Basic Tunic Top Sweater
Offered by ACEVOG
Price: $27.90 - $28.90

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved It So Much, I Bought All Four!, February 11, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Love, love, love this sweater! The fabric is super-comfortable, warm without being too thick, and it goes down nicely over my hips. I liked this product so much, I bought all four colors. Note: For the green edition, the neck does not drape down as far as the one in the Amazon model photo. The necks are not super-loose, but they're not tight turtlenecks, either. I think the image of the burgundy one looks the most accurate for all colors' neck styles. They are very consistent. Note: There are no cleaning instructions or labels included on the inside of the garment, so you will have to guess which side is the "front", as the item is very symmetrical in design. Also, be sure to write down the laundry instructions that are mentioned in this Amazon listing, to save for the future in case it's dropped from the Amazon inventory. (I haven't laundered mine yet, so I don't know how they will actually perform in the wash. I love the smooth texture of the fabric, so I might just have them professionally dry cleaned.) Overall, I'm very pleased with my purchases! (Due to the angle of my attached photo, the purple sweater looks shorter than the other three. In actuality, it's the same length. The hanger on which it's resting is making it appear shorter.)
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RERIVER Cooking Thermometer,Instant Read, Digital Thermometer for Food, Grill BBQ and Candy ,Meat Thermometer-Black
RERIVER Cooking Thermometer,Instant Read, Digital Thermometer for Food, Grill BBQ and Candy ,Meat Thermometer-Black
Offered by reriver
Price: $7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not impressive, but does slowly work, January 2, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I'm reasonably happy with the Reriver cooking thermometer, although I'm not overly impressed. It doesn't have an instant-read temperature reading, although it does seem to be accurate. (In my attached photo you can see it's correctly reading the air as 68.7° F.) When placing into a hot or cold food product, it takes time for the thermometer to slowly climb or descend to the accurate temperature reading. The buttons' labels are very small and might be hard for someone to read, but work fine. The product comes with a carrying case to keep it protected (and not bent) while not in use. The user manual is a small piece of paper with text that seems to be written by someone with minimal knowledge of the English language. I'll definitely be keeping the item, but I'm just not overwhelmingly impressed by it.
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The Sparkle Box: A Gift with the Power to Change Christmas
The Sparkle Box: A Gift with the Power to Change Christmas
by Jill Hardie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.46
87 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sparkle Box: Gifts for Jesus, December 22, 2015
For the past couple of years we’ve made an effort to teach our boys about community service and giving to others. This began with “Blessing Bags”, giving out gallon Zip-loc bags full of supplies that would be useful or enjoyable for those in need. When we moved to Greensboro, NC about a year ago, we got involved with Families in Action, a local service group. Through FIA, we have prepared meals for the needy, baked cookies for local servicemen and women, worked on a landscape crew for an immigrant school and much more. There have been so many blessings as we have done these projects together as a family. Honestly, I think I enjoy them more than a group trip to Disneyworld, because in serving, the focus is off ourselves and onto those who could use some help and/or encouragement.

As we enjoy the Christmas season, sometimes it’s easy to get ensnared in all the material parts of this time of year—the gift giving, the food, the spectacle. And while all of those things are fine and good, the most important thing for us to remember is that we are celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s very common for Him to get lost in the shuffle of all of this. A new picture book has ventured to remind us of this fact in a very tangible way: What are some gifts that we would not buy for ourselves, but that we would instead give to Jesus? Obviously He has no need of material things. He mainly wants our hearts and our love. In The Sparkle Box by Jill Hardie and Christine Kornacki, a family uses a pretty box on the mantel to illustrate how our acts of kindness and charity can also be seen as gifts to Jesus, much like when he said in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Sparkle Box has lavish full-page illustrations at every turn, and while they are not the best artwork I’ve ever seen, Christine Kornacki's work still of high quality and heartfelt. The text by Jill Hardie is well-written and an appropriate length for the given audience. It’s long enough to craft the meaning of The Sparkle Box, but it’s short enough to keep the attention of little ones’ minds. And to top it off, at the back of the book is an envelope holding pieces which when assembled, make up a Sparkle Box that you can have for your very own. What a great way to directly apply the lessons taught in this lovely book.

As the main idea of The Sparkle Box is to fill an actual box (or another container) with scraps of paper, upon which are written “gifts” you have given Jesus, now would be a great time to introduce the box to your family. It could be kept out all year long, and at Christmas 2016 you would have the opportunity to relive your year and share all you have given to Jesus for His birthday. These acts of charity should not be done in order to pat ourselves on the back; they are to be gifts for our Savior, as we act as His hands and feet in a world in need.

Lady Maybe
Lady Maybe
by Julie Klassen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.17
94 used & new from $4.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life Turned Upside-Down for a Young Companion in This Regency Novel, September 9, 2015
This review is from: Lady Maybe (Paperback)
Julie Klassen’s latest novel, Lady Maybe begins with a dramatic crash, ending the journey of a luxurious equipage. However, for the characters of this Regency tale, their journey through a maze of mystery seems to be just beginning. Lady Marianna Mayfield’s traveling companion, the somewhat doleful Hannah Rogers finds her world quite literally turned upside-down when she manages to survive the horrific crash. Her mind is fuzzy, and things do not seem to be what they once were.

And indeed, much has changed in Miss Rogers’ life. Without giving away specific details, Hannah finds herself in a new social station, and she must determine a way to maneuver within this new labyrinth of fuzzy memories, secrets, lies, love and loyalty. Although she has a good heart and her motivations are pure, her past mistakes leave her frequently confounded as to how to rectify her situation in order to cause the least harm to all. Complicating the matter are the romantic feelings that she ultimately holds for more than one man, so even in that arena she must make a difficult decision. Her life and position are more than a bit complicated, but she does her best to navigate through it all with as much charm and grace as she can muster.

I’ve read a number of Julie Klassen’s novels, and while Lady Maybe does not hold the position of Most Favorite in her repertoire (that would go to The Secret of Pembrooke Park), I found this to be an enjoyable one. Like other titles I reviewed this summer, I splurged and purchased the audio book to supplement my reading, especially during a particularly long road trip out of state that I took on my own. Lady Maybe’s twists and turns held my interest on those long drives, despite the fact that there were numerous plot choices that I found to be very predictable. Julie Klassen’s writing is comfortable and charming, so although I could see where things were headed from time to time, I enjoyed the process, enjoyed the words she chose to lead her readers down the literary path. I can say that there was a plot twist that I did not see coming at all, a relationship that I found very surprising. Looking back on the story it seems evident, but hindsight lends itself to that type of vision. Klassen’s characters are engaging and amusing, even the more despicable ones, and I particularly relished the amiableness that Hannah shared with a local doctor, who becomes somewhat of a father figure to her.

Julie Klassen is a Christian writer, but I would not term this a “Christian novel”. It’s produced by a secular publisher, Berkley Publishing, and as such is written with general audiences in mind. The romance content is fairly chaste, although there is a love scene that is a bit spicy, but it would probably be considered PG in its intensity. As a conservative reader I to not appreciate gratuitous sex scenes in my reading, and I was more than comfortable Lady Maybe’s content. There are adult themes of course, but it’s handled in a manner that is more than appropriate for general adult audiences, conservative or no.

Again, I would not term Lady Maybe to be overly Christian, but I could not avoid noticing the undeniable presence of God’s grace in Hannah’s life. This beleaguered young woman is likeable and sweet, but she has made her fare share of mistakes, ones that could have easily left her destitute or worse for the majority of her life. Yet circumstances begin to work in ways that seemingly go against all logic. Opportunities arise that are partially due to her own persistence, but are also due to forces that she could not have foreseen or controlled. In my mind, God takes her mess of a life, scrambles it up even further, and still manages to make something out of it. Consequences still must be faced and scars will be borne for life, but the level of redemption we see in Hannah’s life is quite remarkable. It speaks to those of us who sometimes find our lives turned upside-down due to our own poor choices or unforeseen events. It can give us a new vision. While our “new normal” might feel as if we are at the beginning of an intricate, impossible maze, the reality is, we were in that maze well before events opened our eyes to it, and He has been leading us through it all along.

Lamborghini 1/18 Gallardo Superleggera Radio Remote Control Car
Lamborghini 1/18 Gallardo Superleggera Radio Remote Control Car
Offered by TPA STORE
Price: $22.79
4 used & new from $16.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Noisy But a Good Toy, August 29, 2015
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My son saved up his money for a remote control car, and this was his choice. You may want to note on the product description that the car will be either yellow or orange. Ours was closer to the orange color. He's very happy with his toy. It runs well and has a good speed, and as a 10 year-old he's able to manipulate the controls just fine. Because he's been playing with it inside, on hardwood floors, it zooms around well, but it's also a bit loud. If it was driven on carpet, I imagine it would be quieter and slower. I've seen video of this toy being used outside on pavement, and I'll encourage him to try that, but I think he's afraid of getting it dirty! Overall we're happy with our purchase.

J.cotton Women's Hollow Style Rayon Modal Solid Flared Candy Color Maxi Long Skirt (Rice)
J.cotton Women's Hollow Style Rayon Modal Solid Flared Candy Color Maxi Long Skirt (Rice)
Offered by J.cotton Design
Price: $15.99
2 used & new from $14.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Has a few issues, but I love the skirt, August 20, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I needed a Khaki skirt that was comfortable and offered good coverage, so I ordered a Khaki colored version of this skirt. The brown in my opinion is too dark to be considered "Khaki". It's not a deep brown, but just much darker than the photo shows. Later I also ordered a "Rice" colored skirt, hoping the skirt would also be darker than what was shown, making it closer to a true Khaki. In actuality, the color of the Rice skirt is very close to the sample photo. It's not white, but it's not khaki either. Maybe a darker cream color? Hue issues aside, I did like this skirt enough to order the second one. The fabric is so comfortable and flowy, perfect for the outdoor summer musical performances I was wearing it for. I really liked the fact that there is a built-in extra layer, so I don't have to wear a slip. The extra layer is made from the same fabric, but it just comes down to just above my knees. The rayon is very comfortable, but it wrinkles very easily. I have to iron it before each wearing. Also, it's highly susceptible to getting "pulls" in the weave. So beware objects that can easily catch on it. In my case, it was one of my cat's claws. Same could be said for a prickly hedge or any pointy object that might catch on the skirt. Despite its flaws, I do like the skirt and might even buy another color.

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787
Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787
by Winston Graham
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.51
102 used & new from $3.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding novel-- Sure to be a lifelong favorite!, July 23, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
In recent years I’d heard voices in the Austenesque community raving about how much they loved the old Poldark television series, originally broadcast from 1975-1977. Discussions of the program became more frequent when news of the latest visual version was released. As my local public library had DVD copies of the two seasons of the old show, I decided to bring them home and give them a try. At first I was surprised at the low production values, and the somewhat soap-ish style of acting from some of the performers, but the more I watched, the more I was pulled into the series. The 18th-century story of Captain Ross Poldark, Demelza Carne and the myriad characters created by author Winston Graham was simply a delight. I practically binge-watched all 29 episodes, and lamented the series’ conclusion. To know that a new version was in production was exciting, and I hoped that the material would be handled just as well, if not better than it had been in the 70’s. As of now I’ve only viewed one episode of the new Poldark starring Aidan Turner, and while it has a much different feel this time around, I’m enjoying it.

Like many movie fans, I enjoy reading the source material for many of the films that I watch. Not long after I started watching the old Poldark, I added the Winston Graham novels to my vast TBR list. I honestly didn’t know when I’d get around to reading these titles, and were it not for today’s book tour, it might have been years before I would have accomplished that. So I’m grateful for this opportunity to not only review Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, but to also get around to one of the many titles waiting to be devoured on my list.

As with many novels taken to the big screen, the original text is far more rich and developed than any two-hour movie or multi-episode miniseries. Such is the case with Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark, the first in a 12-volume collection. Within this riveting narrative, we are introduced to Graham’s Cornwall in the late 18th century. Captain Ross Poldark is returning from the war in America to find that much of what he left behind has changed. He must learn to adjust to these changes, as well as survive on his own as a landowner and employer. Thrust into his life is a streetwise imp named Demelza Carne, who escapes domestic abuse to become Ross’ kitchen maid. His decision to take her in will alter his life’s quality forever.

I cannot express how much I enjoyed Ross Poldark. Winston Graham’s writing was exquisite, the perfect balance of scene-setting (without too much detail), character development and diverting plot. Moments of humor are sprinkled throughout the story, popping up when they aren’t expected, somehow becoming more humorous due to their placement. Graham frequently captures the local dialects and accents within his often-phonetic writing, sometimes making the language a bit tricky to understand, but this illustrates his ability to write as people truly speak. He also includes inner dialogue, revealing the thoughts of his characters in a very unique way. The manner in which he sets his scenes is also quite delightful, as he artistically paints a picture of the environment and social atmosphere in a way that was compelling, but never crossing over into the realm of purple prose.

The character development seen in Ross Poldark was particularly interesting. Virtually all of his characters go through some sort of transformation: From his titular character, to the kitchen maid, to secondary characters, right down to even the family dog. Some go through physical changes, but most mature and grow in ways that are quite remarkable. There were multiple scenes that nearly brought me to tears, they were so poignant in their revelation. Several of the characters must navigate the maze that includes social convention, family tradition, old relationships, financial issues, religion, old wounds and rivalries. To see the manner in which these issues are deftly (and not so deftly) handled was fascinating.

As Ross Poldark is the first in the series, the novel does have a conclusion, but it also leaves several loose ends that will easily carry the story on to the next set of episodes. I have the next novel, Demelza standing ready to take in, and I am thoroughly looking forward to continuing my exploration of the world that Winston Graham has created. The original television series was lovely and I enjoyed it very much, but I simply loved the novel even more, and plan to keep it in my library for many years to come.

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