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takingadayoff "takingadayoff" RSS Feed (Las Vegas, Nevada)
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Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
by Jill Leovy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.52

4.0 out of 5 stars The War Zone South of the I-10, December 12, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Ghettoside is like a book-length newspaper series on crime in a neighborhood in South Los Angeles. Reporter Jill Leovy has written a clear and gripping account of the criminal activity that many people in the neighborhood (and across America) live with every day. She uses murder statistics to show that the level of violence is as bad as a war zone.

The L.A. cops have limited success solving crimes in such neighborhoods, although a few detectives, such as John Skaggs, have better success rates than most. Skaggs, nearing retirement in this account, is unusually persistent and spent a lot of time building relationships and trust in the neighborhood. Rather than the "few bad apples" we hear about in places like Ferguson, in South L.A. there are a few good apples among the overworked and cynical police force.

The story really takes off when the nineteen year old son of another cop is shot and killed in the neighborhood. When it's one of their own, the police force spares no effort. When they couldn't solve the case after a few months, they got Skaggs on the job (he'd been tranferred to another part of the city) and he found the minor who pulled the trigger and the gang member who'd given him the gun and told him who to shoot. Both were convicted and sent to prison for life.

But that was one case, and there's no reason to expect the cops to treat other cases with the same fervor. Leovy gives us reason to be cautiously optimistic though. Crime has been dropping in South L.A. as it has been all over. She outlines some of the reasons for the drop and how the situation can continue to improve. And she acknowledges that the situation could just as easily get worse and we can't leave it to chance.


An Innocent Abroad: Life-Changing Trips from 35 Great Writers (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
An Innocent Abroad: Life-Changing Trips from 35 Great Writers (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
by John Berendt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.91
27 used & new from $7.33

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Trip of a Lifetime, December 9, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I love anthologies in general, and travel anthologies are my favorites. That's not to say there aren't some real stinkers out there, anthologies thrown together with no editing and no theme and sometimes, little talent. But Lonely Planet is usually dependable and editor Don George is an old pro at this sort of thing. An Innocent Abroad is a winner.

The assignment for these writers, mostly travel writers, with a few novelists as well, was to write about a trip that involved a new experience of some kind. Most of the essayists here ran with it and came up with some memorable firsts (Sloane Crosley's cliff dive dare, Jeff Greenberg's trip to Burning Man), others ignored the assignment and wrote about their latest vacation. I enjoyed reading favorite authors in a new context (Ann Patchett, Jan Morris, Tony Wheeler) and reading others for the first time (Alexander McCall Smith, Cheryl Strayed).

There were several tales of jungle or mountain adventures and a pretty harrowing tale of arctic danger by Simon Winchester, but the pieces that told of more traditional destinations were just as exciting and rewarding. As usual in these collections, it's the writing that makes the difference. A good writer can make as trip to the back yard worth reading about.

Five stars! Recommended.


Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die
Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die
by Amy Fusselman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.11

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life is a Risky Business, November 29, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Savage Park is, as its subtitle tells us, a meditation. I've never read a meditation before, and it turns out to be like an essay, but even more loosely structured than that. Savage Park has elements of blog entry, poetry, and conversation. The book is short, only 140 pages or so, and although you can read it quickly, there's a lot to chew on.

The Savage Park of the title is a playground in Japan that consists of an unlandscaped area with discarded lumber, old tires, retired boats for the children to play with. Although there's supervision, it seems like a lot of sharp edges to Amy Fusselman, whose own preschool children use city-approved parks with little of the inherent danger she sees in Savage Park.

From this experience, Fusselman contemplates the seemingly contradictory duties of parenting -- keeping your children safe while allowing them enough exposure to danger to allow them to learn to deal with it. She recognizes that this is not only a problem for parents, it's something we all deal with as human beings -- how to balance taking risks and living our lives while trying not to die in the process.

A class she takes with Philippe Petit, the famous high-wire artist, helps her to get a different perspective on the subject.

There's a lot to think about, but I have to confess, the most surprising aspect for me was how it shook up my apparently stereotypical notions of Japan as precisely manicured and orderly. Savage Park, the book and the playground, have made me look at Japan in a whole new way.


Olay Total Effects Pore Minimizing Cc Cream Light To Medium, 1.7 Fl Oz
Olay Total Effects Pore Minimizing Cc Cream Light To Medium, 1.7 Fl Oz
Price: $14.82
9 used & new from $5.90

5.0 out of 5 stars Moisturizer/Sunscreen/Foundation -- Great Combo, November 29, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I don't wear a lot of makeup, in fact, I rarely wear any makeup at all. I hate the way it feels and when I put it on I can't wait to wash it off. I was actually looking for a simple moisturizer since the winter air is making my skin feel almost crackly. I opted for this (Olay Total Effects Pore Minimizing Cream Light to Medium) since it claims to moisturize as well as even out the complexion and minimize pores. I've had good experiences with Oil of Olay products.

I am surprised at how much I like this product. It goes on smoothly and it's exactly the color of my skin. It feels light, not at all heavy, and once it's on, I wasn't aware of it at all. It has no scent. It smoothed out my complexion on both face and neck and I love that it also has sunscreen since, as you can imagine, if I don't like the feel of oily makeup on my face, I really don't like the feel of sunscreen on it. As for the pores, I think I can see some improvement there, but it's hard to say for sure. I'm happy with the moisturizer/sunscreen/foundation combination. Five stars!


I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel
I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel
by David Shields
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.23

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars RosenPowell and GuildenShields, November 25, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
David Shields, a novelist and professor, and Caleb Powell, stay-at-home father and aspiring novelist, get together for a long weekend in order to talk. The result is I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel.

The two make no secret about wanting to create something like the movies My Dinner With Andre, Sideways, and The Trip. Those were all very dialogue-heavy films that depicted two men having wide-ranging conversations. They are good movies and very entertaining. Of course, they were scripted conversations with actors pretending to verbally spar with one another. Shields and Powell have an idea of the things they want to talk about and they brought a digital voice recorder.

The sheer arrogance of the exercise makes you wonder right off the bat if it's some kind of joke, if they're playing roles or it's some kind of elaborate egghead performance art. Let's assume it isn't, otherwise you can dismiss the whole thing immediately.

The conversation is awkwardly self-conscious, with the two men trying to one-up each other with literary allusions, quotations, experiences. Although they are both married men with families, they repeatedly fall back into their student-teacher relationship of twenty years ago. Powell, unable to elicit more than the merest praise and encouragement from Shields, resorts to boasting about his life experiences and criticizing Shields' life decisions. Shields slips into the professor mode often, even when they're listening to sports on the radio. "I love how he brings incredibly rococo analysis to bear upon the simplest plays."

Sometimes the banter is amusing, often it's too much information, especially when it's about their wives or children. At one point, Powell walks out of the room to use the bathroom, and Shields continues his soliloquy to the microphone.

My recommendation -- watch Sideways [HD] or The Trip [HD].


Special K Variety  Bars Case, 0.77-0.88 Ounce Bars (Pack of 42)
Special K Variety Bars Case, 0.77-0.88 Ounce Bars (Pack of 42)
Price: $21.18
2 used & new from $21.18

4.0 out of 5 stars Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth Without Pigging Out, November 24, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Special K Variety Bars Case includes four different kinds of bars. Two are cereal bars (red berries and chocolately pretzel) and two are pastry crisps (strawberry and blueberry).

All the bars are small and light, less than an ounce apiece, and clock in at 90 calories apiece. They all taste pretty good, and come individually wrapped, so they're very convenient for lunch bags, purses, briefcases, coat pockets.

Let's not kid ourselves -- these bars are not protein bars or breakfast substitutes or anything other than empty calories. There's no fiber to speak of and no protein.

But, if you want a quick snack, these do little harm. Mainly since they are so small, they don't contain very much sugar or salt or fat. And if you do have them as a snack, the fact that they're small and individually wrapped is a plus -- less risky than raiding the cookie jar or the bag of chips.

My favorite is the blueberry pastry crisp -- it's like a toaster pastry, but smaller and not as doughy, the icing is subtle, and the filling isn't outrageously sweet. There are two pastry crisps per pack, so you can even divide your 90 calorie snack into two servings.

I'm getting these snacks again, especially the pastry crisps.


Discontent and its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
Discontent and its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
by Mohsin Hamid
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dreams of Interpretation, November 22, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Mohsin Hamid is a novelist, and he also writes a lot of nonfiction in the form of essays and articles for a wide range of publications such as The New York Times, the Guardian, literary journals, and Pakistani magazines. The essays in Discontent and its Civilizations (a clever play on the title of a classic by Freud) are from the years 2000-2014 and cover Hamid's time as a resident of New York, London, and Lahore, Pakistan.

It's a compact volume of pieces, only about 200 pages, and the essays themselves are each only a few pages long. In general they are concise and elegant, a pleasure to read. I enjoyed the articles about family and everyday life, and found those about writing and reading thoughtful. In the last third of the book, the essays became weighted with Pakistani politics and discussions of religion.

As a man born in Pakistan, who spent his childhood in California, his teens in Pakistan, and his young adulthood in New York and London, Hamid has a pretty interesting outlook on world affairs. As I read his essay about re-entering the United States and having to go through rigorous extra questioning yet again, I did a double take when I got to the end and found it had been written in the year 2000.

Despite appreciating Hamid's persuasive writing on other topics, I still could not quite fathom how he decided, when his wife told him that she was pregnant, that they should now move from their cozy home in London to Pakistan. He went on to describe daily power outages, undrinkable tap water, increasing civil unrest near his upper middle class home in Lahore. On the other hand his young daughter was now close to grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles.

A nice collection of essays on topics close to home and quite distant.


Funny Girl: A Novel
Funny Girl: A Novel
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel of the Golden Age of British Television Comedy, November 20, 2014
This review is from: Funny Girl: A Novel (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I can't remember when I enjoyed reading a book as much as I did Funny Girl. It takes place in a 1960s London that is changing faster than most can keep up with. The center of the action is behind the scenes at a BBC sitcom that becomes wildly popular and then fades over the course of a few years. The "funny girl" is a young woman from Blackpool who comes to the big city to find success. Her heroine is Lucille Ball and she knows she also has a knack for making people laugh, even though she seems to get more attention for her hourglass figure.

I don't know if you have to be a fan of British television to appreciate the story, but I didn't grow up with Britcoms and only discovered them when they started appearing on American TV in the 1970s. So if you read a sample and don't like it right away, it might not be for you. I find that Hornby's novels start strong and sometimes fade toward the middle and never recover. This one stayed strong to about three quarters through and ended with a bit of a sputter.

I might be missing a huge inner story in Funny Girl, but it seemed somewhat superficial in a few respects -- the heroine with a heart of gold is knock out gorgeous as well and has no real flaws. The evil wife has no redeeming qualities, she's just a horrid witch.

But the pluses outweigh all that. The transition from austerity Britain to Swinging Sixties seems authentic, the format of the story as a sitcom series is clever, and it was just fun to read the back and forth of these clever and witty characters.


Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel
Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel
by Patricia Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.42
133 used & new from $11.51

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Taking Kay Scarpetta Out For a Spin, November 16, 2014
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Flesh and Blood is Patricia Cornwell's twenty-second Kay Scarpetta thriller and my first. Not having read previous episodes in the series probably affected my enjoyment of this novel, and I imagine it's a challenge to keep loyal readers happy while still trying to attract new readers who want to start with the latest installment rather than start at the beginning.

In some ways, Flesh and Blood seemed more like a fantasy than a thriller, with all those fabulously wealthy law enforcement people -- Scarpetta, a medical examiner, her husband Benton, an FBI profiler, her daughter Lucy, a freelance computer expert -- all drive $100,000 cars, Lucy just traded in her old helicopter for a new model, they cancel and re-book commercial flights with no regard to penalties.

They are all steely-jawed and the more dicey things get, the calmer and more stoic they become. Scarpetta co-pilots the helicopter, scuba dives, drives a racing car -- why, she's almost a superhero. Lucy is a weapons expert and marksman, as well as being able to hack into any computer system in the world. This is incredibly convenient, since it would be a real drag to have to find out information the old fashioned way, by which I mean legally.

Still, the story moves right along and was well-written enough to keep me wanting to know how it all comes out. Unfortunately for me, the drama of the ending was diminished by my not having read some of the earlier books, but it all still hangs together and has an exciting finish.

I can't say that I will be back for more of Cornwell's thrillers, though. None of the characters really clicked with me and I prefer a mystery that I can try to solve as I read. At least now I can understand why Cornwell's book are popular and why she has a devoted following.


Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion
Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion
by Mark Leibovich
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.31
65 used & new from $11.79

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Collection of Political Profiles, November 13, 2014
If you enjoyed Mark Leibovich's previous book, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral--Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!--in America's Gilded Capital, you will be tempted to read this new book by him. This Town was a gossipy and irreverent look at the personalities around the nation's capital, and their convoluted ways of getting things done. Citizens of the Green Room is a collection of stand-alone profiles and articles that Leibovich has written over the years for The New York Times and other publications.

Leibovich's expertise in the workings of Washington is evident, and so is his humor. The articles are informative and fun to read. Even when the profiles are a few years old, they may still prove to be relevant, such as a 2003 piece on Jeb Bush, or articles about Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, I was less interested in reading articles about former White House chief of staff Andrew Card and press secretary Scott McClellan.

Entertaining reading for political junkies.


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