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Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
by Stephen Kotkin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Believe The Hype, September 30, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This truly is a commendable work of scholarship. Kotkin dismisses the trend for psychological biographies to offer work of true historical perspective. Painstakingly assembling the forces that shape Stalin in his early years and allow him to follow his path to power, Kotkin offers the equivalent of a college course in Russian History. Through exhaustive notes he supports each assumption and conclusion with facts as close to original sources as he can provide. This is not a casual read, but a commitment to consideration of Kotkin's research and conclusions. (I found the smaller sections - such as the merging of newly forming Chinese communism and the Leninist mold - particularly interesting.) Kotkin is using Stalin as a lens to view a larger shift in the geopolitical landscape and it works well.

Kotkin brings Stalin out of the shadows of his crimes to illustrate a personable man who attracted others through his humor and political gifts. At the end of a speech so long his water jugs required refilling, Stalin offers the good news that he has finished - at once acknowledging the burden he has placed on the youth he is speaking to and inviting them to forgive him. These moments of self awareness mixed with driven narcissism create full picture of one of history's bogeymen. Kotkin has included alternate lines of thought and alternate outcomes to Russia's history, further underscoring where what seems inevitable often is not. Kotkin has produced a book I now consider essential.


Train: The Definitive Visual History (Dk Smithsonian)
Train: The Definitive Visual History (Dk Smithsonian)
by DK Publishing
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.41
27 used & new from $25.12

4.0 out of 5 stars Impressively heavy, September 30, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm not sure who the market is for this book. For myself, I wanted a reference book for reviewing. If an author says the characters traveled in a train at this year in this place, what would that train look like? For that use, this book is perfect. The eras of train are broken up into roughly 20 year spans with numerous pictures of interiors and exteriors accompanied by small snippets of text. Significant designers or changes in train technology or usage are covered in longer essays, none more than a few paragraphs or pages. The perfect book to pick up and leaf through, this is a true coffee table book in it's presentation.

For an enthusiast, the material may be too superficial. Lacking context of why this train was developed or by who is perfect for the casually interested, but the train obsessed might hunger for more than the snippets provided. This put me at four stars instead of five. For the hobbyist who wants to be accurate in their narrative descriptions or model train assembly, this is a great book. It offers far more than the DK children's visual encyclopedias while mimicking the layouts. Presentation is excellent and print quality was equally high. If you want a beautifully presented superficial history of trains, this is the book to get.


I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist
I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist
by Betty Halbreich
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.58
55 used & new from $14.44

5.0 out of 5 stars A Surprise Hit, September 30, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did. Halbreich has a wonderful way of illustrating how a woman's life has changed in the course of her career. She's wonderfully direct, fair minded and forthcoming. From her early days as a wife of a certain social class to her groundbreaking (for retailers) creation of personal shoppers to her current chapter as an emerging pop culture icon. Betty Halbreich is a woman who tries to know herself, and through that reflection she has helped others. As a former retailer myself, I related to many of Halbreich's professional experiences. I'll Drink To That isn't a book for name dropping (although some does occur) or scandalous stories (only her own). If you've looked at the women of Bergdorf's and wondered who shops there? What is that life like? I'll Drink To That is happy to answer. From the Mad Men age to the modern age, Halbreich is a wonderful tour guide to her social class and it's residents.

Betty Halbreich is a wise woman I'd love to spend an afternoon with. Willing to admit her failures as a mother and a person (as well as who failed her) she comes across as imperfect perfection. Her book is breezy, delightful fun.


Talon (The Talon Saga)
Talon (The Talon Saga)
by Julie Kagawa
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.66

4.0 out of 5 stars Dragons are the new vampires, September 30, 2014
This review is from: Talon (The Talon Saga) (Hardcover)
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I was interested to see how Kagawa's series would differ from Shana Abe's Sweetest Dark series. Kagawa has built a world different enough that I enjoyed Talon and look forward to the sequel. (Kagawa's work is less patriarchal than Abe's, but Abe wins for narrative style.) The lead girl, Ember, is relatable in her cross culture love story and personal challenges. Despite a slow start for world building (I agree with the young reviewer I drafted into a second opinion) it picked up quickly and held my interest to the end. Ember is placed in a position of exploration, learning why her society operates beside the human one and how to form her own choices drive this first book. Hopefully the next book will have more showing and less telling. I think Kagawa has a winning series here. I read this with my daughter and her friends cannot wait for it to come out so they can read it as well.

11 year old's review - "Talon by Julie Kagawa was a great book, and unlike any other dragon book I'd ever read. It showed the dragons trying to fit in with the human race, and they had a organization that had sent them there to do so. The beginning was a bit boring, and I though it would be one of those books that stretches on for every detail. But it turns out it just wanted to give you the scene for the rest of the book. It does have different chapters about different characters, but it has their name above it, so you can easily tell which character that chapter is about. I can say I loved it, even though some of the biggest character's actions weren't the smartest or what I would've like best. It wasn't too romantic of a book, and besides Ember's choices that I didn't really agree with, the book was so great!!"


Fire Shut Up in My Bones
Fire Shut Up in My Bones
by Charles M. Blow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.01
41 used & new from $16.43

3.0 out of 5 stars Honest but not essential, September 30, 2014
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I was having a terrible time with this review until another reviewer pointed out what the issue is - it's empathy. Fire Shut Up In My Bones is a compellingly written memoir of a difficult life. To truly enjoy it the reader must feel, as the narrator does, that he is somehow of higher value than those around him. When Blow is molested, it's a crime with life long consequences. When he hears an audio cassette of a young girl being gang raped it's a "sex tape." If he means to convey the horror of sexual abuse against all genders by including it he only partially succeeds. His answer to hearing this tape is to escape, to stop interacting with those who presented it to him. He does this not because of the tape, but because of witnessing an accidental death.

A step too late is a theme of Blow's book. He recognizes great wrongs not while they are occurring, but when they have passed him by. His moral stands are largely retroactive. It's to his credit that he acknowledges and owns this. James Baldwin (an obvious hero of Blow's) had a way of depicting horrific circumstances in a way that made you sympathetic to each person involved. You could place yourself in any pair of shoes. Blow asks the reader to sympathize only with himself, he sees himself as uniquely driven or positioned. He may be correct, but as a reader it's hard to always agree.

Blow's attitude toward women is confusing. He seems to resent them as much as he desires them. They are both proof of his worth and an obstacle to his sexual identity. In a passage about his future wife, he resents her for not remembering a brief encounter they had. He vows to hold a grudge. When she expresses interest in him he is reluctant to believe it, giving her negative motivations not in evidence. She has a boyfriend, why is she being friendly? He allows himself to be her side piece while simultaneously blaming her for wanting him to be one. He feels only women with "daddy-Issues" are attracted to him.

If you come from a different world than Blow this book will be a revelation, a window into a reality you haven't imagined. If you're a child of abuse, much will be familiar and universal. His writing is sparse and easy, comfortable to lead the reader to the intended destination. His depictions of rural southern life are accurate to my memories of a similar time period. His struggle to accept who he is, ethnically, sexually and socially, is told without disguising his emotions or his shortcomings. I hovered between three and four stars but in the end went with three because of the empathy issue. Blow feels the most for himself and I felt for everyone.


People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges
People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges
by Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat.com
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.12
48 used & new from $8.50

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suburban Angst, September 27, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As I'm a snarky judgmental curmudgeon who lives in suburbia I expected to adore this book but it was just ok. Jen Mann describes a specific group of people who live very similar lives across America and whom may seem very alien to those who don't. Blog memoirs are a tricky thing. Too much personal detail and the anecdote seems ax-grindingly self indulgent, too little and the reader wonders what the point was. Mann strikes a decent balance on that front yet People I Want To Punch In The Throat irritated me. Several stories were heavily embellished. One in particular cast a child as a calculating villain in a way that was supposed to amuse but really made me deeply sorry for them. Mann relates how this child harms herself and others while the adults are bought off by flattery or expensive gifts. There's a tiny grain of truth in that dynamic, but if Mann can see it she doesn't have to participate in it. It was difficult to respect the author for shrugging and following the crowd instead of pushing against it. As a result, Mann came across less like a humorist and more like that mom who doesn't like any of the teachers at the school and tells everyone about it constantly. I didn't want to spend more time with her than I had to. Fans of Stefanie Wilder Taylor would probably love to find Jen Mann. The voice is similar and so are the experiences.


Black and Decker EHC750BD 3-Cup Ergo Chopper, Black
Black and Decker EHC750BD 3-Cup Ergo Chopper, Black

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy, quick, simple to assemble., September 17, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I wish there was a lid beyond the top of the unit. You do just wipe it clean if anything splashes up onto it but I prefer to fully wash all food prep items. On the positive side, it's well sealed and easy to wipe off. The unit is four pieces - top with motor inside, bowl, drop in blade, base (doubles as storage lid). Extremely compact and very simple to use. I have dexterity issues but this chopper was no problem. 3 cups sounds like more than it is. I'd rate it more at a 1.75 cup capacity when you allow for items spinning, etc. it could certainly hold 3 cups chopped but i was happier splitting my soup vegetables into smaller groups. I hope this lasts as long as my Chopper Jr, which I bought in 1986 and am retiring in favor of this easier to use item! Great quick chopper for multiple uses.


The Lotus Palace
The Lotus Palace
by Jeannie Lin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
133 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Historical romance without ballgowns, September 17, 2014
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I read the sequel to The Lotus Palace first. While I ended up preferring The Jade Temptress - The Lotus Palace #2 (Hqn Books) I still enjoyed The Lotus Palace very much. The romance between Bai and Yue-Ying developed slowly, with the unfamiliar (for romance) setting adding to the experience. The issues of class between them felt real, rather than contrived. It's hard to find good historical romance that isn't set in (or concerned with) England. I hope there is a third book in this series.


OXO Good Grips Jar Spatula, White
OXO Good Grips Jar Spatula, White
Price: $6.99
11 used & new from $6.21

4.0 out of 5 stars Flexible but not flimsy, September 13, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
While I generally prefer single cast silicone items I do like Oxo products. This spatula is extremely handy, not just for jars but also condensed milk cans, etc. I like the slight curve in the spatula, not quite a spoon but not completely flat. It has a decent length. My other Oxo spatula broke down over about two years of use. Not so bad, considering,


For All Time: A Nantucket Brides Novel (Nantucket Brides Trilogy)
For All Time: A Nantucket Brides Novel (Nantucket Brides Trilogy)
by Jude Deveraux
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.91
92 used & new from $7.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Time Travel and Modern Princes, September 10, 2014
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While I did like For All Time more than some of Deveraux's recent works I'm not going to finish the trilogy. I'm tired of contemporaries that feature people I can't imagine meeting in real life. In a day and age where Prince Harry is in the tabloids partying in Vegas it's hard to take Graydon seriously. He's supposed to be royalty (he's got the overblown vocabulary to go with it), yet he has plenty of privacy and a belief in Fated Mates. Toby is one of those weirdly moody heroines who has decided to remain a virgin until she meets the right guy, but then decides who the right guy is pretty fast. Deveraux is stronger in her historicals. Unfortunately the time travel aspect of this book underscores that. We spend so much time skipping through past lives that it's hard to care about present ones. Not awful, but not one I'd reread.


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