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takingadayoff "takingadayoff" RSS Feed (Las Vegas, Nevada)
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Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them
Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them
by Nancy Marie Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.36

4.0 out of 5 stars These Chessmen Aren't Talking, July 28, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Lewis Chessmen are a collection of ninety-two carved ivory chess pieces that were discovered on an island off the coast of Scotland in the early 19th century. The island's name is Lewis. That's about all we know about the chess pieces. I had never heard of the Lewis Chessmen, so I came to the various theories about them with an open mind.

The chess pieces are fabulous to look at -- they are individually crafted and have slightly different facial expressions and postures. I wish there had been more photos in the book, but it's easy to find plenty of good photographs of the pieces online or in the many books written about them. In fact, they rated a segment on the excellent History of the World in 100 Objects.

The bad news is that insofar as the mysteries connected with the chess pieces are concerned, there are no clear answers. The subtitle of the book practically guarantees that a woman carved them, but we learn that the woman in question, Margret the Adroit of Iceland, was an expert carver of ivory at the time the chess pieces are believed to have been carved, but there's no evidence that she or any other artisan is responsible for the Lewis Chessmen.

Where the chessmen were carved, who carved them, how they got to the Island of Lewis, who they belonged to, all remain mysteries. Therefore, Ivory Vikings goes into the history of chess in the Viking world, the travels of the peoples in the North Sea at the beginning of the 13th century, the types of people the chessmen were modeled on -- kings, queens, bishops, knights, and instead of rooks, warriors known as berserkers.

It's all quite fascinating, even if there are no clear answers to the questions about those irresistible figurines.


Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire
Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire
by Shane White
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.51

3.0 out of 5 stars Prince of Scams, July 28, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A black man in the mid 19th century, an American by birth or possibly naturalized, born free of free parents, became a millionaire in New York, the first African American to do so, as far as we know. Why haven't you heard of him before? Why isn't he in the history books? The answer may not be the obvious one.

Jeremiah Hamilton's life is not documented in diaries or letters or biographies or memoirs. The records that Australian historian Shane White scoured were those of newspaper articles and court documents. Hamilton made his fortune in a variety of ways, including insurance fraud, stock scams, and real estate swindles. He was always in court, suing or being sued. He made money and lost money, and was eventually more successful than not.

We don't know much about Hamilton's parents or if he had siblings or an extended family. If he did, they seem not to have left anything mentioning him. Hamilton married and had ten children, but none of them wrote about their successful father. Hamilton left no journals or articles, and he didn't endow any universities or foundations, like some of the robber barons of the day. Since Hamilton's money did not come from providing some good or service, the only people who had occasion to remember Hamilton were those who had done business with him and most likely did not have anything kind to say about him.

Where Prince of Darkness succeeds is in the descriptions of antebellum New York, which had abolished slavery in 1827. White tells us what Wall Street was like, many of its brokers working on the sidewalks, trading securities (or worthless paper) in the open air. We learn that journalism valued facts and accuracy much less than it did sensationalism and increased circulation. One newspaper ran a series about a scientist who had a high powered telescope that allowed him to see what was going on on the moon. For weeks, readers learned about the strange wildlife on the moon and their antics, until someone realized it was a hoax.

White details every bit of Hamilton's life that he can find documents for. Unfortunately, the newspaper articles are as likely to be false as they are to be true, and the court documents tend to be tedious. However, this is the only book we have on America's first black millionaire, so read the bits that grab you, and leave the dry parts for scholars trying to complete this fragmented biography.


LG G4 Wallet Case, Mengo [Magna-Clasp Technology] Snake-Skin Material Credit Card Case with Wallet- Ruby - Retail Packaging
LG G4 Wallet Case, Mengo [Magna-Clasp Technology] Snake-Skin Material Credit Card Case with Wallet- Ruby - Retail Packaging
Offered by Mengo Products
Price: $9.99
2 used & new from $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Attractive Wallet Case for Traveling Light, July 26, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I've been through a lot of cases for my phones and devices over the years, and there are very few that don't have some major drawback that eventually makes me just remove the case and take my chances with a naked phone. I've had my LG G4 for a over a month and have finally found a case that I can see using for a long time. This Mengo Wallet Case is snake skin (I don't know if it's real, it looks real and feels nice, not plastic-y), lightweight, and fits perfectly. The red case is a bright coral red. There are slots for several credit cards and ID, a window slot for your driver's license or Starbucks card, and a large pocket behind the card slots for currency. When you put two or three cards in the case, it still closes flat and the magnetic tab shuts the case. It's not a secure case -- if you shake it or drop it, it will likely pop open, but it may provide enough protection from a short drop.

The cutouts leave all your ports and buttons accessible. The camera and power button on the back are accessible as well but recessed in the case so that you can lay it on a surface without worrying that the lens will get scratched. I was a little concerned about the closure flap -- these tend to get in the way while you are using the phone, but this one can easily be tucked in behind the phone when the case is open, so no problem. The case also comes with a screen protector.

(Thanks to Mengo for a sample wallet case provided free of charge for reviewing purposes.)


Dell Energy 15.6-Inch 2.0 Backpack (F5W83)
Dell Energy 15.6-Inch 2.0 Backpack (F5W83)
Price: $52.46
5 used & new from $42.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Sturdy Versatile Pack for Work or School, July 25, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is my first laptop backpack, so I don't have any experience with toting computers around. I am very impressed with the Dell Backpack -- it has plenty of room for a 15.6 inch laptop in the padded compartment and also room and a pocket for a tablet. It seemed like there was still pretty roomy so I tried a 17.3 inch laptop and it fit too. (Although not with the 15.6 inch laptop at the same time.)

The padding seems adequate but I would still probably add some extra protection if I were taking the bag on a trip rather than just hauling the laptop to work, school, Starbucks. There are many pockets in this bag, some with zipper closures, others are open. I think I would lose track of some of my items if I were to actually use all the pockets.It seems to be a bag intended specifically for work or school rather than being adaptable for travel -- it would be difficult to fit clothes and other overnight gear in the bag. The shoulder straps are padded and comfortable and there are several sturdy straps with buckles to secure the main compartments.

Great pack for carrying laptops and other electronics, books, etc.


The Zig Zag Girl
The Zig Zag Girl
by Elly Griffiths
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from $8.85

4.0 out of 5 stars "That trick never works." -- Rocky J. Squirrel, July 21, 2015
This review is from: The Zig Zag Girl (Paperback)
Elly Griffiths has published seven books in her Ruth Galloway mystery series. The Zig Zag Girl is a stand-alone mystery that takes place in 1950 London and Brighton with professional magicians as major characters.

I suspect that I would not have read this book if I had not already been a fan of the Ruth Galloway series. I love it when writers who have a successful series break out to do something different now and then. It doesn't always work out as well as you'd hope (Donna Leon's The Jewels of Paradise), but sometimes it does (J.K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike mysteries).

The Zig Zag Girl is a police procedural in which the main detective is a veteran of a fictional RAF unit that was known as The Magic Men, who specialized in deceiving the Germans during the War. The U.S. really did have a unit known as The Ghost Army that did something similar and they had been inspired by a real British unit.

A string of murders brings the old unit back together although they all suspect each other so it's not exactly a reunion of best buddies. In addition to the ins and outs of the murder investigation, we are treated to a fair amount of variety show trivia and inside information on how the magic acts are performed.

The story works if you are not overly concerned about accuracy and details. For instance, it's unlikely that a teacher in the 1930s would criticize a student for not being a "team player," and the new play appearing on the Brighton Pier in 1950, Mousetrap, is not known in real life to have been staged in public before 1952. But that's just being picky.

I enjoyed the book, and will be looking forward to any more one-offs Griffiths writes, as well as the next Ruth Galloway mystery, which is due in October 2015 and another in March 2016. (Impressive!)

(Thanks to Edelweiss and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for a digital review copy.)


Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series i5558-8571SLV 15.6-Inch Laptop
Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series i5558-8571SLV 15.6-Inch Laptop
Price: $897.57
7 used & new from $843.97

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast, Quiet Computing All Day Long, July 20, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Our household is not terribly demanding when it comes to a new computer -- it has to surf the web, do a little bit of word processing, stream a few TV shows or other videos, download the occasional document, photo, or short video. No video games, Skyping, MOOCs, remote monitoring, etc. On the other hand, the computer is in use pretty much all day and online for virtually all of that time.

The Dell Inspiron is more than enough computer for us. Compared to our old laptop, a four year old Acer Aspire, the Dell is fast and quiet. I love the lighted keyboard. It has roughly ten times the memory we will probably ever use, it has features we will only use in order to test them for this review such as the microphone, camera, and the touch screen. The DVD drive works on first use without having to set up the software. It plays DVDs from all regions. Even though we have been using a 17-inch screen, the shift to a 15-inch screen has been painless.

The only thing I don't like about the Dell is Windows 8.1 and it won't be long until it's replaced with Windows 10. Set-up out of the box took about 20 minutes, more to install security software if you want to add to the McAfee 30-day included security.


Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books
Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books
by Michael Dirda
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.43

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His Bookish Life, July 18, 2015
For one year (2012), literary journalist and critic Michael Dirda wrote a weekly column for the website of The American Scholar, the quarterly magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Despite the potentially snooty surroundings, Dirda's columns, collected here in full, are relaxed and casual. Most of the columns are about books or reading or people in the book business. Some of the columns start out being about one thing and end up being about something else. Dirda suggests reading these collected columns a few at a time rather than in big chunks. That worked well for me.

Writing a weekly column is quite a bit different from writing book reviews, which is what Dirda does at the Washington Post. Without the focus of writing about a very specific topic, Dirda sometimes seemed a little untethered, and many of the pieces ended up being a list of some kind (his favorite bookstores, the books on his nightstand, his favorite reference books). Another recurring topic was classic adventure novels from around 1860-1930. He also likes classic science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s. Although I am not a fan of those genres and know little about them, I still enjoyed reading his thoughts about them.

A couple of the pieces had nothing at all to do with books -- for instance, he and his wife went to Colorado for some hiking and spent the day in traffic jams caused by construction. It was really just a rant, but he managed to make even that fun to read.

My favorite columns were about the many people he knows from a long career in the book business -- booksellers, authors, critics, editors. For people who work alone much of the time and who might be expected to be introverts, it's a friendly and opinionated bunch. And I became just a tiny bit smitten with Dirda when he confessed that one of his dreams is to travel around North America in a van visiting secondhand bookstores.

(Thanks to Edelweiss and W.W. Norton for a digital review copy.)


Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
by Harper Lee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.07
144 used & new from $11.85

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Book That Killed The Mockingbird, July 17, 2015
Isn't this great? How often does a really juicy literary controversy come along to distract everyone? It's been a long time since my single reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, or even of my single viewing of the movie. But if I want to join the conversation, I have to read the book, don't I? (Not really -- see Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.)

Go Set a Watchman is a short book, so it didn't take long to whip through it. A few thoughts:

Jean Louise Finch (Scout) is devastated to learn that her father Atticus is a racist. Her reaction though, seems overwrought. She becomes physically ill, can barely function for several days. Disappointment seems an understandable reaction, but becoming violently ill strains belief.

While Jean Louise comes to accept that her father is not the man on the pedestal she thought he was, she seems to have replaced him on that pedestal with Jem, her brother.

Jean Louise seems impossibly naive at times. When she visits Calpurnia, her former mother figure holds her at arm's length, and she can't see that while Calpurnia could afford to love the children, she holds all the adults responsible for the unfair treatment black townspeople receive -- including the now adult Jean Louise.

Wile Jean Louise gives full credit to both Calpurnia and Atticus for her fine upbringing, it seems to not occur to her that Calpurnia had children of her own that she had to leave to someone else to look after while she saw to the Finch family. When those children grew up to be less admirable than the Finches, no one mentions the obvious reason.

Jean Louise actually refers to herself as color blind, in the sense that she doesn't see black and white. Really. Her uncle also notes her color blindness. This isn't the character being naive, it's the author.

Short book, not a bad read, possibly ahead of its time sixty years ago, hopelessly dated and naive now.


Belkin Sleeve for Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Navy (F7P306ttC03)
Belkin Sleeve for Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Navy (F7P306ttC03)
Offered by LANBRI Shops
Price: $19.98
9 used & new from $19.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Moderate Protection for Your Tablet, July 16, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Belkin has a good reputation for electronics accessories -- we've used many of their tablet and phone covers and jackets and have been very pleased. This neoprene sleeve for the Microsoft Surface tablet fits the device well (the Surface has a 12 inch screen). It's a simple sleeve with no decoration, no inner pockets, just a tiny inner cloth loop to store the stylus. I've been using this for our iPad and it's plenty big enough for that, with room for a keyboard and a magazine too. I'm slightly disappointed because I thought this sleeve would provide more protection for a tablet, but while the sides are padded, it would not keep the device safe from any but the shortest of falls. A handle would be nice as well, but now I'm getting unreasonable. Nice navy color, simple styling, moderate protection.


Five Star Advance Spiral Notebook, 1 Subject, 100 College-Ruled sheets, 11 x 8.5 Inch Sheet Size, Black (72162)
Five Star Advance Spiral Notebook, 1 Subject, 100 College-Ruled sheets, 11 x 8.5 Inch Sheet Size, Black (72162)
Price: $9.77
2 used & new from $9.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Classy Notebook With Smart Features, July 15, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When I saw the price for this notebook, I thought it was ridiculously high. Now that I have the notebook in my hand, I can see it's worth it. As much as I like a bargain, there are times when you can really use the extra features of a pricier model. Although this is billed as a one-subject notebook, it has a plastic divider (with a pocket on each side) that can be moved to anywhere in the notebook, effectively turning it into a two-subject notebook. In addition to the handy divider and pockets, it has a cloth cover over the wire spiral binding to keep it from catching on everything in your briefcase or on your clothes. Nice! There's also a cloth pen loop sewn to the front so if you are traveling light, you can just grab your notebook and go. The cover is a durable plastic that won't tear or curl and it sticks out a quarter inch beyond the paper inside so that everything is well protected. If you need a stack of cheap notebooks, the back to school sales are on in all the usual places and I saw some at six for a buck yesterday. But if you need one notebook that has to last all year and maybe longer, this is absolutely worth it.


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