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Customer Reviews: 393
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L. F. Smith RSS Feed (E. Wenatchee, WA)
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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
by Sarah Vowell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.92

5.0 out of 5 stars I love Sarah Vowell's writing, August 26, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I love Sarah Vowell's writing. She's always quirky without ever being cutsie, and that's a VERY fine line to walk.

Her books are essentially history books, but definitely not the kind you might remember from high school. This one examines the role that Lafayette played in the American Revolution. She suggests that this unlikely kid may have been the key person in the success of the Revolution, even though he was never an American. The book makes that point with a combination of solid research, travelogue information about many of the places where important events occurred, and irreverent humor. It's all tied together is very stylish prose.

All of Vowell's books are insightful and entertaining, and this one is no exception. I was genuinely sorry to reach the last page, because it was so much fun to read. I recommend it most highly.


TP-LINK TL-PA8010P KIT AV1200 Gigabit with Power Outlet Pass-through Powerline Adapter, Up to 1200Mbps
TP-LINK TL-PA8010P KIT AV1200 Gigabit with Power Outlet Pass-through Powerline Adapter, Up to 1200Mbps
Price: $79.95
34 used & new from $79.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Great product at a great price, August 19, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This kit solves a common and aggravating problem: How can you place computers and other connected devices that are not wireless in rooms that don't have ethernet wiring? And it solves it simply, with no complicated messing around.

I doubt that the installation process could be any easier. The instructions are very complete and extremely easy to follow. If you read and follow them, it's nearly certain that you'll have your device up and running online in just minutes. It truly is plug and play.

The one and only issue I have with it is its size. The adapter that plugs into the wall outlet covers both plug in ports. There is a passthrough on the adapter, but the bottom line is that you will only be able to plug one cord into the outlet with the adapter installed. However, I'm willing to trade that inconvenience for the huge benefit of being able to use any device anywhere in the house.

This is an excellent product at a great price, and I recommend it most highly.


Kaplan AP U.S. History 2016: Book + DVD (Kaplan Test Prep)
Kaplan AP U.S. History 2016: Book + DVD (Kaplan Test Prep)
by Krista Dornbush
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.88
41 used & new from $10.47

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent study guide, August 19, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
No study guide can produce a good score on an AP exam by itself. The keys to that are a dedicated, knowledgeable teacher and willing, hardworking students. However, a study guide can be an excellent aid to test preparation, and Kaplan guides are among the best..

The guide contains an an overview of types of questions on the exam, how it's scored, and so on. There's even a discussion of what to bring-- and not to bring-- into the exam room. It then discusses exam strategies and techniques for managing stress and time. Finally, there is a diagnostic test. This is extremely useful, because it establishes a baseline for one's test preparation.

This is helpful because you can determine what areas you need to work on.

There is a review of US history. This is quite compressed, and it's definitely no substitute for good classroom preparation. Of course, something beats nothing at all, and this is something.

Last, there are four complete practice exams and well-written explanations of what would constitute a good, high-scoring answer. There is also a study guide and a DVD of various tutorial materials.

Is this guide worth the money? Yes, assuming that you realize that it is a supplement to effective test preparation. It makes no claim to being a substitute for a good classroom background and months of hard work. But it is a worthwhile guide. I recommend it highly.


The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?
The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?
by Dale Russakoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.89

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sad, cautionary story, August 18, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a sad cautionary tale about what happens when a billionaire, two ambitious and powerful politicians, a gaggle of consultants, and a self-serving teachers union decide to "fix" a large public school system. In turns out that a lot happens, but none of it is good for the kids.

In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to give $100 million to the Newark, NJ, schools. He did so at the behest of then-mayor, now US senator Cory Booker and governor Chris Christie. During the announcement on the Oprah show, they explained that they intended to completely reform Newark's failing schools and in the process create a reform model that could be employed nationwide. As they say, the devil is in the details, and the details were kept secret from everyone else, including the teachers and parents, until the last possible moment. The most important detail was that they intended Newark to become the primary showcase for charter schools in the nation, and that would happen at the expense of the neighborhood public schools.

The book details what went wrong, and it's a long list. Most importantly, Christie and Booker were on the make; they were much more interested in their political futures than they were in the well being of the school kids. In addition, Zuckerberg assumed that having lots of money somehow gave him expertise in a field he knew absolutely nothing about. Finally, everyone involved in the project, most especially the teachers' union and a horde of educational consultants began thrashing around, desperate to get their hands on the prize referred to in the book's title, the $1 billion Newark school budget and the $100 million grant.

In the end, the project failed. Booker and Christie moved on to bigger and better things, Zuckerberg's grant was consumed mostly by grasping opportunists, the parents were left frustrated and angered, and the schools didn't improve. At no point did anyone consult the actual classroom teachers-- the people in closest contact with the kids and with the most direct knowledge of what they needed-- about how the money might be spent. Indeed, the teachers were pressured into taking de facto pay cuts, while the consultants were being paid $1,000 a day.

It was a fiasco, one that left the situation worse than it was when the original announcement of the grant was made. This book tells the whole sad, sordid story. It does so in a fast, you-are-there way that makes it a genuine page-turner. Given the subject, that might seem improbable, but Russakoff pulls it off.

I highly recommend this book. The reform of public education is a major national issue. However, it has to be done right. In the case of Newark, that didn't happen. There are lessons here for everyone thinking about educational reform.


Five Star Binder, 1.5-Inch Capacity, 11.75 x 11.25 x 1.75 Inches, Blue Stripes (73223)
Five Star Binder, 1.5-Inch Capacity, 11.75 x 11.25 x 1.75 Inches, Blue Stripes (73223)
Price: $17.47
2 used & new from $16.95

2.0 out of 5 stars Not a good value, July 24, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a 3-ring binder with the features and attributes you would expect to see-- with one exception: the price.

First, the good news. It is a nice looking binder. It has a flexible plastic cover that seems pretty durable. The rings are 1 ½ inch diameter and circular, not D-shaped. The included divider is a plastic pocket. It's a basic plastic binder, just like the ones you see in nearly any office supply store or supermarket.

Now the bad news. This average plastic binder currently costs about $13 here on Amazon. Yikes! My guess is that I could find an equivalent around here for maybe three or four bucks, maximum.

My bottom line: It's a nice average binder that absolutely is not worth the price being charged.


Cafejo  K-Cups, Signature Blend, 24 Count
Cafejo K-Cups, Signature Blend, 24 Count
Price: $16.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Very good coffee, July 20, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Coffee preferences are very much individual tastes. One person's great brew is another person's swill. With that in mind, here's my review:

I enjoyed this Cafejo Signature Blend K-cup coffee a lot. I usually prefer a dark roast, but this medium roast seemed very full-bodied to me. It was also very mellow, without any bitterness at all. It tastes good black or with cream and sweetener.

The one and only downside is the price. It's up toward the higher end of the K-cup range. Is it worth it? Well, again, coffee preferences are very individualized. I personally think the quality justifies the price.

My bottom line: This is a very good coffee, the kind you sit on the patio and linger over. I recommend it very highly.


Adonit Jot Script 2 - Evernote Edition Fine Point Stylus for iPad, iPad Air, iPad Mini and iPhone
Adonit Jot Script 2 - Evernote Edition Fine Point Stylus for iPad, iPad Air, iPad Mini and iPhone
Price: $74.99
8 used & new from $63.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great concept that just doesn't work well, July 13, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I really wanted to like this "smart" stylus-- in fact, I wanted to love it. But, honestly, I don't. It's a great concept, but it has some serious workability flaws.

First, the good news: The stylus is beautiful and very well made. It's all metal, and it has the substantial feel of a fine pen. It's about the same diameter and weight of a good fountain pen, so it's easy to hold and use. There is no clip, so it will roll on a slanted surface if you're not attentive. However, the general impression is that this is a VERY high-quality device.

It connects simply, quickly, and reliably to your tablet via Bluetooth. It's powered by a rechargeable battery, and the charger is unique. It's a very small unit that plugs into a USB port. The stylus attaches to it magnetically. It works great. Adonis says the stylus will operate up to twenty hours on a charge. That seems accurate to me.

The packaging includes a free six-month Evernote Premium subscription. That's worth around $50, so it's not a small thing. Evernote is a great application, and the Premium version is well worth the price.

Now the bad news: The tip that contacts the surface of the tablet is small and easy to maneuver, but it has a slight spring-loading to it. This creates the most serious usability issue for me. When I write or draw, there's a short delay, a sort of latency period, before the mark appears. If you're writing rapidly-- which you probably will be if you're taking notes-- it's nearly impossible to avoid having parts of lines and letters skipped over. In addition, that spring-loading makes the stylus constantly click as you move from letter to letter. Both of those problems can be avoided by writing slowly and deliberately, but that's not how I'd use it most of the time.

After several days, I had to give up. The time it took me to correct the dropouts in my notes overwhelmed the benefits of having the "smart" stylus. If they can correct the usability issues in future upgrades, they'll have a great product. Right now, they do not. As I said at the beginning, I really wanted to like this product a lot, but I can't.

Finally, it raises another issue: Does anyone really need a "smart" stylus? I have a "dumb" one, a Kensington Virtuoso pen/stylus, which I pulled out after I decided to end my frustration with the Jot Script. I discovered that it does nearly everything the "smart" stylus can do, without any of the frustration, and all for about $15 here on Amazon.

My bottom line: The Jot Script 2 is a beautifully made high-tech device which, unfortunately, just doesn't live up to its promise. I'll stick with my "dumb" stylus for now.


SOG Specialty Knives & Tools SWP1001-CP SwitchPlier Multi-tool 2.0 with 12 Tools, Silver/Black
SOG Specialty Knives & Tools SWP1001-CP SwitchPlier Multi-tool 2.0 with 12 Tools, Silver/Black
Price: $50.92
3 used & new from $49.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great..., July 13, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a good tool, but not a great one.

It seems to be well designed and constructed, with one possible exception. The pliers head swings down so it stores within the tool. That's a good thing, but it's spring loaded. To open the tool, you press a button and it springs open, switchblade-style. That springing mechanism is an obvious weak point. It works great right now, but how long will it continue to do so? Also, it takes some force and dexterity to swing the head down and press it into the catch without pinching your fingers.

Another consideration is that adding just a few dollars can buy you a Leatherman Wave or Skeletool. Both of these are designed so that the pliers head stores inside of the tool, but they're not spring-loaded. Further, each of them has many more tools than the SOG has, though they're each about the same size and weight.

Bottom line: This is a very good tool, but the durability of the spring-loaded mechanism is a concern, and it's possible to buy better tools for just a bit more money. Good, but not great.


Critical Thinking Skills For Dummies
Critical Thinking Skills For Dummies
by Martin Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.70
52 used & new from $7.94

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book isn't like that at all, July 6, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The "...for Dummies" books have a reputation for being shallow introductions to sometimes complicated subjects, and there are Dummies books that are exactly that. Not this one.

This is a very well organized, well written guide to the essential skills involved in critical thinking and to the pitfalls that need to be avoided when engaged in it. It's probably intended for college students and adults, but I think high school kids could handle it, too.

The author, is a British academic philosopher who has written two well-known introductory texts, "101 Philosophy Problems" and "101 Ethical Dilemmas." In this book, he illustrates critical thinking skills in part by the way he organizes it. He offers a definition of critical thinking and then explains each component of his definition. The end result is a well structured argument that explains the "rules" for arguing one's own point and for refuting the arguments of others.

Philosophy books have a well deserved reputation for being dense. One often has the feeling of swimming in oatmeal; it takes tremendous effort, but it doesn't seem to produce any noticeable progress. This book isn't like that at all. It's not light, but it's very clear and readable. As is the case with all of the "...for Dummies" books, the material is presented in short, easy to digest bites. But nothing is dumbed down.

I recommend the book most highly. I just wish more people-- especially those posting political and religious rants online-- would read it...


Belkin Apple MFi Certified Lightning to USB ChargeSync Cable for iPhone 5 / 5S / 5c, iPad 4th Gen, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2 and iPad mini, 6 Inches (White)
Belkin Apple MFi Certified Lightning to USB ChargeSync Cable for iPhone 5 / 5S / 5c, iPad 4th Gen, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2 and iPad mini, 6 Inches (White)
Price: Click here to see our price

5.0 out of 5 stars A very good value, June 16, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As you can see, there's a wide range of reviews for these Belkin cables. It appears that some of the sellers here are marketing knockoffs, and they don't perform well. Buyer beware, I guess.

I have the 6-inch model of the cable, and it works fine. I've plugged it into several different chargers and iOS8 devices, and it worked on all of them. I see it as a very good value for the money.


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