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Shaker: A novel
Shaker: A novel
by Scott Frank
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.36
52 used & new from $12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal Tale of Professional Hitman's Life Gone Sideways, February 8, 2016
This review is from: Shaker: A novel (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
What a book! SHAKER tells a brutal story--generally without graphic torture scenes, but brutal nonetheless--about the making of a professional killer who is almost, but not quite, a stone killer. The prologue describing the Los Angeles earthquake damage was so over-the-top, I expected a snarkily humorous thriller. But no, this novel is darkly serious. It's the story of a well-executed professional hit, followed by a gang mugging that went wrong and then made everything that followed after go wrong, too.

At the end, I couldn't say that I LIKED this book--it's too dark for that. But it kept me riveted on hitman Roy's story, and to a lesser extent on damaged female detective Kelly's story, too. At the end, I felt terrible about the way things worked out (as they had to) for several of the more likeable characters, and even felt very sad for Roy.

In the novel, Roy Cooper flies to an earthquake-damaged Los Angeles to carry out a routine hit. The hit goes smoothly, but an aftershock hits and disorients Roy as he is leaving the victim's home. While searching for his rental car, Roy stumbles into a mugging, loses his gun to a gangbanger who uses it to execute the mugging victim, and is himself shot and seriously wounded. When Roy wakes up in a hospital, he sees the mugging on TV--someone filmed the whole thing with a cellphone. As if that weren't bad enough, the mugging victim was about to be elected mayor, so Roy is now part of a national news story. Everyone thinks Roy is a hero for trying to stop the mugging, but Roy knows that the TV exposure has already sent professional killers of the very worst kind after him.

Roy's backstory is told in flashback chapters alternating with the ongoing action. Usually I don't care for novels that incorporate extensive flashbacks, but in this novel Roy's past is every bit as intriguing as his present desperate situation. Also, the back and forth time changes are perfectly done--at no point was I tempted to skip ahead to the continuation of a flashback chapter on account of an end-of-chapter cliffhanger.

The ongoing action focuses on Roy's need to locate and kill the gangbanger who took his gun. The flashback action focuses on the things Roy did to survive a lengthy incarceration in a juvenile facility (caused by his own mother's betrayal), and on how Kelly came to be known (unjustly) as the most racist cop on the planet. SHAKER is a hard-to-describe but truly excellent, truly memorable literary thriller.

Off the Grid (A Joe Pickett Novel)
Off the Grid (A Joe Pickett Novel)
by C. J. Box
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joe, Nate Join Forces in Countering Terrorist Plot Against U.S. Surveillance Infrastructure, February 8, 2016
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OFF THE GRID is a beautifully written and paced, super-exciting, page-turner of a thriller. As I neared the end, I couldn't put the book down--and I ended up losing most of a night's sleep. This was my first "Joe Pickett" novel, but it worked fine as a standalone.

At first I was put off by the opening plot device of using Joe's friend Nate Romanowski's dream to foreshadow the coming action. However, once I learned that Nate has demonstrated paranormal abilities in past books, then the dream device was okay. For sure, C.J. Box is a consummate master of the dream technique, because the dream is interwoven with the plot in a believable fashion.

As the novel opens, Nate, a wanted federal felon, is living totally off the grid on a remote Wyoming ranch. But he is located by a secret group of federal agents (the Wolverines), and then coerced (because of his wanted status) into helping them with an anti-terrorism operation in Wyoming's Red Desert. The Wolverines have satellite, camera, and cellphone surveillance systems capable of tracking every individual in the entire U.S., and Nate doesn't trust them at all. But they insist that they need him to locate an Americanized Arab royal (Ibby), who is suspected of planning a major, crippling attack on the U.S. communications/military surveillance infrastructure. Nate's black ops survival skills are needed for the Red Desert itself, and Nate's master falconer skills are needed to give him an "in" with the royal, who is also a master falconer.

While Nate is being "recruited", it's business as usual for Joe, a Wyoming game warden. He learns that a grizzly bear (collared and tracked with a GPS signal) has apparently met up with--and possibly killed and eaten--an unsuspecting elk hunter in the Bighorn Mountains. But before Joe can track down the highly dangerous grizzly, he gets a call from the Wyoming governor (Rulon), who has heard about federal agents in his state, and wants to know what they're doing in Wyoming without notifying him or asking his permission. The grizzly bear was headed straight for the Red Desert before the batteries on his collar gave out, so Joe heads off to investigate the federal agents' activities, using the grizzly bear tracking as his cover. Naturally, Nate's mission and Joe's mission converge, and there is a truly exciting conclusion with very few men and women from either side left standing after all the dust clears.

Throughout the novel there is a lot of bloodshed. The plot, which centers on overzealous government surveillance, is also memorable and scary because of the underlying truths about the vulnerability of the U.S. communications systems. The plot requires a lot of extraordinary coincidences, but the plot events are well-planned, so that they're believable when the reader encounters them. OFF THE GRID is a very fast read, a superbly written thriller that is a beautiful example of what a thriller novel ought to be.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2016 4:53 PM PST

The Revolving Door of Life (44 Scotland Street Series)
The Revolving Door of Life (44 Scotland Street Series)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.91
41 used & new from $7.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Humorous Showcasing of Foibles of Ordinary People, February 8, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
THE REVOLVING DOOR OF LIFE is my first "44 Scotland Street" novel, and the 10th novel in the series. It's enjoyable as a standalone, because of Alexander McCall Smith's amazing skill at showcasing the foibles of ordinary people in a lighthearted way.

How can a reader NOT laugh at a serious first-grade classroom discussion about whether one child's mother--who is "a cow" according to another child's father--got her "cowness" from the first child's maternal or paternal grandmother? Alexander McCall Smith possesses a truly unique way of looking at life that always makes me smile.

However, I found it hard to get into this novel, because of my unfamiliarity with the basic Scotland Street setting (Edinburgh's New Town) and the myriad characters (Matthew, Elspeth, Pat, Irene, Domenica, Angus, Bertie, Olive, etc.). Because I much prefer the author's "#1 Ladies Detective Agency" series, and was not inspired to go back and read the earlier "44 Scotland Street" novels, I rate THE REVOLVING DOOR OF LIFE at 4 stars ("I like it" on the official Amazon scale).

DII Home Essentials Ultra Plush Travel Throw Pillow Blanket, Small, 36 x 48" - Navy
DII Home Essentials Ultra Plush Travel Throw Pillow Blanket, Small, 36 x 48" - Navy
Price: $19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Pillow Throw That Rezips Without Refolding!, February 6, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This DII HOME ESSENTIALS ULTRA PLUSH TRAVEL THROW PILLOW is an absolute gem! The small pillow fits easily into a tote bag, but unzips into an ample lap robe. The fabric is a cushy plush that feels wonderful, and holds your body heat efficiently. The fabric is 100% polyester, so it's machine washable (cold water, wash separately).

The surprising thing about this travel pillow is that the unfolded lap robe rezips into pillow form without needing refolding. You locate the zipper, then zip carefully. When you reach the third side, you just tuck the rest of the lap robe in and finish zipping. Just like that, you have a travel pillow again!

Mine is the navy pillow, and I love the color. It's a dark blue navy that looks lighter blue when light hits it at an angle. The fabric is textured, with little plush bumps like the ones on my Laz-E-Boy recliner, so the pillow looks great with my chair.

Point of Control
Point of Control
by L. J. Sellers
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.85
31 used & new from $8.06

4.0 out of 5 stars Sociopathic FBI Agent Solves Cell Phone Industry Murders, February 3, 2016
This review is from: Point of Control (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
FBI Special Agent Audra Bailey, the main character in POINT OF CONTROL, is another damaged female investigator. She's a sociopath (defined by her inability to empathize with other people or to feel guilt about her own behavior). But she's a "good" sociopath, not a criminal, because on the continuum of sociopaths, she doesn't take pleasure in hurting others.

Bailey is in her ideal job, which she landed thanks to her superior IQ and analytical skills. Lying comes easily to her, but she has to work hard at concealing her inability to relate to people in order to keep her job. Often she must guess at what her superiors are actually ordering her to do. She's failed at romantic relationships in the past, and has given up hope that she'll ever find "the one". She's also topologically-challenged, possessed of a very poor sense of direction or location.

In the novel, Bailey is assigned to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearances, kidnappings, and murders of several scientific researchers who are experts in either metallurgy or digital encryption. Bailey quickly figures out that the thread connecting the crimes is probably the cell phone industry. There exists a severe shortage of cell phones, a shortage that is probably permanent because China has decided to stop exporting several rare earth metals that are essential to cell phone manufacturing.

Bailey's investigation proceeds in a fairly straight line, not as a page turner, but not exactly plodding either. There are enough characters and plot twists to keep the reader interested and entertained, and enough action scenes to satisfy the reader's expectations for a mystery/thriller novel. Naturally Bailey finds that elusive love interest, an attractive man who triggers unexpectedly deep feelings in her, a man who is near the center of her highly dangerous investigation. Most of the bad guys are identified fairly early, but there are still some surprises at the end of the story.

POINT OF CONTROL is well-written and well-plotted, with well-developed characters. However, because it didn't inspire me to want to read the next Audra Bailey novel, I rate it at 4 stars ("I like it" on the official Amazon scale).

Superfood Seagreens: A Guide to Cooking with Power-packed Seaweed (Superfoods for Life)
Superfood Seagreens: A Guide to Cooking with Power-packed Seaweed (Superfoods for Life)
by Barton Seaver
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.95
58 used & new from $3.81

5.0 out of 5 stars Everything You Need to Know About Harvesting, Purchasing, Preparing Seagreens, February 1, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
SUPERFOOD SEAGREENS is an interesting specialty cookbook that tells you everything you need to know about safely harvesting or purchasing and preparing seagreens (e.g., brown algae, kelp, wakame, Irish moss, sea lettuce). There is a lot of nutritional information about the vitamins and minerals found in seagreens, including a quick breakdown of where their calories come from.

About half the book is devoted to recipes for using seagreens in breakfast items (e.g., smoothies); snacks (e.g., seagreen guacamole); sauces (e.g., tangy spiced gravy); salads (e.g., fennel, carrot, and seagreens salad); soups (e.g., caldo verde); larger dishes (e.g., lasagna); and breads and muffins (e.g., zucchini-seagreen bread). Many of the recipes call for only small amounts of powdered or flaked seagreens, so that the seagreens are used like a spice.

The book includes quite a few attractive full-color photos of prepared dishes and ready-to-use seagreens. It is no mean feat to make kelp, nori sheets, and dried sea lettuce look like something you would want to eat!

This is a very good cookbook for anyone who is curious about seagreens and wants to try them, or who has already discovered seagreens and wants some nice new recipes.

Teach Yourself VISUALLY iPad: Covers iOS 9 and all models of iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad Pro (Teach Yourself VISUALLY (Tech))
Teach Yourself VISUALLY iPad: Covers iOS 9 and all models of iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad Pro (Teach Yourself VISUALLY (Tech))
by Guy Hart-Davis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.49
55 used & new from $17.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Choice for Brand-New iPad Users--Covers All Important Features (Through iOS 9), January 31, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Like all of the "Teach Yourself Visually" manuals, TEACH YOURSELF VISUALLY IPAD (4th Edition) is an excellent choice for brand-new iPad users. Exact iPad screenshots explain every button and every procedure--showing exactly what a user should be seeing on the screen while following the manual's simple, detailed, step-by-step written instructions. The screenshots are overlaid with lettered and numbered circles that help the user quickly shift back and forth between the written-out steps and the related buttons shown in the screenshots.

With this manual, the fastest way to learn how to do something is to skip the rather brief, inadequate Index, and instead check the Table of Contents for your general area of interest. The TOC lists the chapters by general subject and by detailed subchapters that explain the steps for each covered operation. For example, Chapter 5, Networking and Communicating, includes the following subchapters: Using Airplane Mode; Connect Bluetooth Devices to Your iPad; Control Cellular Data and Background Refresh: Connect Your iPad to a Different Carrier; Specify Your iPad's Cellular Access Point; Share Items via AirDrop; Share Your Cellular iPad's Internet Access; Connect to Wi-Fi Networks; Log In to Wi-Fi Hotspots; Connect to a Network via VPN; Send Instant Messages; Mute a Conversation or Share Your Location; Manage Your Instant Messages; Share Your Updates Using Twitter; Post Updates on Facebook; Chat Face-to-Face Using Facetime.

Experienced iPad users who have recently upgraded to iOS 9 may find some useful tips in this manual. However, it's a manual designed for new users, and focuses on managing the iPad's settings, using the main features, and navigating. Answers to unconventional questions (e.g., how do I set up a POP email account in iOS 9?) are NOT to be found here.

+++CAUTION: this manual covers the newer iPad models (iPad Air, iPad Mini, iPad Pro). Some iOS 9 features that are discussed in detail (e.g., Siri) are not available on older iPads (e.g., iPad 2). However, this manual can be used with any iPad that is running iOS 9.

+++CAUTION: because Apple frequently updates the iPad's operating system, the manual's screen shots may be slightly different from what you see on your particular iPad's screen. However, the basic procedures for using an iPad stay pretty much the same. If a feature you see in the manual's screenshot is NOT in the same position on your iPad display, the feature will probably still be around on a nearby screen. If you can't find the feature, you can usually locate it on your particular iPad model by Googling. This manual covers the iPad iOS through iOS 9 (the version released on September 26, 2015).

Rain Dogs: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel
Rain Dogs: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel
by Adrian McKinty
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.44

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Police Procedural Sets Out Excellent "Locked Castle" Puzzle, January 30, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
RAIN DOGS is an excellent locked-castle mystery--the solution is rational, and it's fair to the reader (even though I couldn't figure it out!). Set in the 1980's, in the midst of the Irish Troubles, it's a darkly humorous police procedural, written in the sparest prose. A bonus, for any lover of historical mysteries, is the real-life setting (Carrickfergus Castle in Northern Ireland) and the concluding historical notes regarding (1) the late Jimmy Savile; (2) the extreme dangers facing police in the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary, now reorganized and renamed); and (3) the beginnings of Northern Ireland's computer and mobile phone manufacturing industry.

In this novel, the broken body of a young female journalist is discovered inside the Carrickfergus Castle keep. She seems to have committed suicide by jumping off a 60-foot-high castle wall. But there's something hinky, because Duffy notices that her shoe is on the wrong foot.

When autopsy results suggest the journalist was murdered, the only viable suspect is the castle's resident caretaker. The castle was locked up securely--with a huge portcullis--after the last tourists departed on the day before the body was discovered, and the entry gate was monitored by a police constable from the moment the portcullis was raised the next morning. Thus the murderer couldn't have left the castle, and closed circuit camera footage shows no one leaving the castle by the gate or by scaling the castle walls. Yet no one, Duffy especially, really believes that the caretaker is guilty.

In solving the puzzle, Duffy investigates all the members of a Finnish delegation that is looking at empty local factory buildings as a possible location for their cellphone-manufacturing business. Duffy also deals with personal girl-friend problems, loses a respected senior officer to a car bomb, and has his own close brushes with death. Both Duffy and the reader get an interesting math education regarding Bayes' Theorem, which describes the probability that Duffy, or any policeman, could be involved in two locked-room mysteries in the course of one career.

RAIN DOGS isn't particularly fast-moving, but it's an enjoyable novel filled with rich local color and other detail. The plot is interesting and has a lot of unexpected twists. I liked Sean Duffy a lot, so I'm happy to know there are at least four other Duffy novels available (starting with The Cold Cold Ground). This was my first Sean Duffy, and it works very, very well as a standalone.

TP-LINK HS110 Smart Plug w/ Energy Monitoring, Wi-Fi Enabled, Turn On/Off Your Electronics from Anywhere, Remote Control for your Lamp, Humidifier, Space Heater and more
TP-LINK HS110 Smart Plug w/ Energy Monitoring, Wi-Fi Enabled, Turn On/Off Your Electronics from Anywhere, Remote Control for your Lamp, Humidifier, Space Heater and more
Price: $39.90
41 used & new from $25.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TP-Link Smart Plug Setup Is Easier Than WeMo Setup, January 29, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The setup for this TP-LINK HS110 SMART PLUG was smooth as silk. Once set up, the Kasa app effortlessly turned the Smart Plug switch on and off. This was true whether I used iOS (an iPad Air2), Android (a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone), or the Amazon Echo (Alexa app with Kasa skill enabled, and Kasa app linked to Amazon account).

The contrast to setting up my WeMo switches (e.g., WeMo Insight Switch, Wi-Fi Enabled) was striking. I have four WeMo switches, used for controlling hard-to-reach light switches via the Amazon Echo, and all were fiddly to set up. The WeMo app itself is mildly confusing, and I hate having to use it if the switches need resetting after a power outage or after being unplugged. Also, it seems that every time I go into the WeMo app, it tells me that the firmware in the switches requires an update, and this takes several minutes.

The hardest part of the TP-Link installation was scanning the bar code to get the app from the App Store (iOS) and from Google Play (Android). After downloading the app, you must create a Kasa/TP-Link account (or log into your TP-Link account if you already have one). Then you can access the app and follow the simple instructions for connecting the Smart Plug switch to your home Wi-Fi network. (Like the WeMo, the TP-Link Smart Plug broadcasts a network signal that your device must connect to, through the device's Wi-Fi settings, before you can connect the switch to your home network).

The Kasa app worked beautifully with my Smart Plug switch. It turned the switch (and a lamp plugged into the switch) on and off, whether I used my home Wi-Fi connection or my Verizon network connection. The Kasa app also worked smoothly with the Amazon Echo, when I used the command, "Alexa, ask Kasa to turn on My Smart Plug". (The WeMo app works differently with the Amazon Echo--Alexa "discovers" the WeMo switches and remembers them, and afterwards you say "Alexa, turn on my [named] switch". There is a slight delay while Alexa looks for the named WeMo switch.) The Kasa app will NOT work with the Amazon Echo until you open the Alexa app and link your Kasa account with your Amazon account, which is very easy to do.

The Kasa app (like the WeMo app) allows you to change the name of the Smart Plug to reflect the type of device it controls. I left my switch at the default "My Smart Plug" for now, because I want to move the switch from outlet to outlet until I decide where it will be most useful in controlling an as-yet-to-be-chosen device. Not only was my Wi-Fi network (and Alexa) able to locate the Smart Plug easily after it was unplugged and plugged in again in a different outlet, the Smart Plug worked fine when plugged into a single-outlet surge protector.

My one disappointment was that Kasa cannot completely control my Hoover air purifier. The Smart Plug will turn the air purifier OFF, but can't turn it ON, because the air purifier requires someone to hit the power button to turn it on. It's not the Smart Plug's fault, but the air purifier's fault. (The air purifier is programmable, and can be set to turn off after 2, 4, or 8 hours, or to run continuously. No doubt it would work with the Smart Plug if it had a simple on/off switch.)

I haven't had the TP-Link Smart Plug for long enough to say anything about its longevity, but I trust TP-Link products because I've had good experience with them in the past. As my WeMo switches wear out, I will be replacing them with these easy-to-use TP-Link Smart Plug switches.

OtterBox PROFILE SERIES Slim iPad Air 2 Case - Frustration Free Packaging - MIDNIGHT MERLOT (GUNMETAL GREY/MERLOT)
OtterBox PROFILE SERIES Slim iPad Air 2 Case - Frustration Free Packaging - MIDNIGHT MERLOT (GUNMETAL GREY/MERLOT)
Price: $43.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Good Looking Case Provides Excellent Protection Without Adding Substantial Bulk or Weight, January 28, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This OTTERBOX PROFILE SERIES SLIM iPAD AIR2 CASE, in gunmetal gray and merlot (dark wine) colors, is a handsome, understated, elegant tablet case. Note that the warranty only covers manufacturing defects to the case itself--the warranty does NOT cover damage to a dropped tablet placed inside the case. The advertised "certified drop protection" refers to the extensive series of tests performed by OtterBox engineers when designing and developing OtterBox cases, and NOT to a "drop protection" warranty.

That said, this OtterBox case seems to provide very good protection for the iPad Air2, if it should be dropped for short distances or jolted inside a backpack or tote bag. The case holds the tablet inside a hard plastic shell, and the edge of that shell is cushioned by a thick, rubbery border all around. When the case is closed, the tablet screen is completely protected by a firm, snug-fitting cover that latches tightly closed. (The cover is actually a bit difficult to latch and unlatch, but that means it won't come open inside a bag.)

I like this case a lot, because it offers a lot of protection while adding very little bulk or weight to the iPad Air2. What's the point of paying for an extra-slim tablet, if you're going to plonk it into thick, heavy protective case?

Another very good protective iPad Air2 case is the Logitech BLOK Protective Shell for iPad Air 2, but it's kind of ugly (because of the square corners), and it doesn't protect the tablet screen. This Otterbox case is my hands-down choice between the two cases, because it strikes an excellent balance between protection and good looks.

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