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DII 100% Cotton, Soft, Machine Washable, Everday Kitchen Basic Waffle Terry Towel Set of 4, Spice
DII 100% Cotton, Soft, Machine Washable, Everday Kitchen Basic Waffle Terry Towel Set of 4, Spice
Price: $14.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A bit thin, but absorbent, October 23, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I laugh when i see the line in the product description about how these go with any decor. They're a sort of burnt-orange shade, and it's not the 1970s anymore. However, since we have young children in the house, we strive to have a variety of brightly-colored hand- and dish-towels in the house. (For reasons unclear, being asked to help dry dishes is less tyrannical if it involves using a brightly-colored towel instead of a plain white one.)

These towels are a bit thin, way out of line with the ultra-plush fashion for bath- and hand-towels. They're not coarse, though, and are probably more absorbent than the plush towels. We use them interchangeably as dish-towels and hand-towels, wherever duty calls.


Miracle-Gro AeroGarden 7-Pod LED Indoor Garden with Gourmet Herb Seed Kit
Miracle-Gro AeroGarden 7-Pod LED Indoor Garden with Gourmet Herb Seed Kit
Price: $199.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Part 1: Installation and set-up, October 23, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It took me, in total, 32 minutes and 6 seconds to assemble my aerogarden. With a little better packaging and labeling, that could have been under 10 minutes easily.

Unboxing is easy enough. However, i quickly figured out that i had more parts than i was supposed to. A good ten minutes of my set-up/install time was searching online for what these parts were, and ultimately doing a live-chat with a support person who had no idea what i was talking about and told me the wrong thing to do. Ultimately, i (think i) figured out the right thing to do. I'll find out in a week or two.

The the product overall feels fairly sturdy, but the lid into which the plant pods are set is flexible and doesn't rest easily on the bowl. There's a simple latch in the front, but mine won't click. I hope this is not a problem.

This kit comes with seven seed pods, but since i hate cilantro and parsley, i spent a few dollars to buy a 'grow anything' add-on kit, and will attempt to grow some cherry bomb peppers in addition to the herbs i kept. Setting that up added more time as well.

In the end, i have... a humming glowing UFO-like thing in my kitchen. Ideally, i'll start seeing some germination in the next week or two, and i will update then.
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Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing
Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing
by Erin Beresini
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.63
54 used & new from $4.91

4.0 out of 5 stars The history of OCR, and one racer's path to the Ultra Beast, October 23, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is basically two very short, very related books, interleaved.

The first is the story of the author, how she discovered OCR, and how she prepared to participate in the Ultra Beast, a marathon-length timed race with dozens of obstacles, tasks, and distractions mixed in. She's funny and a little self-deprecating and entertaining. She seems like the kind of person who'd be fun to hang out with, except her idea of 'hanging out' probably involves running several miles and perhaps climbing cargo nets or sliding down oiled walls.

The second is the story of OCR, how it started, how it came to the US, some of the major players, and so on. As much fun as OCR sounds like, especially compared to just plain old running, i must say that it sounds like nearly every person who played a pivotal role in OCR's establishment as a major US recreational sport is either a complete jerk or mentally ill. Possibly both. The participants who are profiled seem like much nicer people, and the chapter near the end about EMT work at the races was fascinating. If you thought OCR just 'happened', well, you're wrong.

Much like a long race, this book starts with a bang, lags in the middle, and then picks up at the end. I knew nothing about OCR before i read this book, and had no intention of ever participating. I know a lot more about it now, and i still have no intention of participating. But it was a fun read.


Captive (The Blackcoat Rebellion)
Captive (The Blackcoat Rebellion)
by Aimée Carter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.21

3.0 out of 5 stars Fiarly generic second-in-the-trilogy volume, October 21, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I nearly threw this book in the trash after about 50 pages. It was nothing but Kitty telling Knox to stop treating her like a child, and Knox telling Kitty to stop acting like a child. Really, it was nauseating.

Then came the betrayals, the crosses, the counter-betrayals, the double-crosses, the senseless deaths, the even more senseless murders, and so on.

None of it makes any sense, of course. This is the intrigue-before-reason model that the first book in the series championed. It's all about keeping the tension generated in the last ten pages, no matter what happened 20 pages ago. But if you pour yourself a glass of wine and send your brain out to pasture, it'll be an entertaining read.

As for book 3, well, i haven't decided yet. I'm not sure if i care enough about the blackcoats to give them any more of my eyeball-time.


Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon (A Branches Book)
Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon (A Branches Book)
by Tracey West
Edition: Paperback
Price: $3.61
55 used & new from $2.24

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read more like it was written by children than for children, October 20, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This story is the standard wish-fulfillment tale: a poor farmboy is selected by the king to be a Dragon Master, and he gets as much food as he wants and a dragon.

The story actually does a pretty good job of layering in plot elements that i'm sure will pay off in future books in the series without turning this introductory book into a complicated muddle. However, i found the writing awkward and clunky. (I'm reading my share of books targeted to this age group this days, so it's not just my adult reading bias in play.) The sentences are constructed oddly, like an early grade school student who sometimes forgets by the end of a sentence how it had started.


Galaxy's Most Wanted
Galaxy's Most Wanted
by John Kloepfer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $8.74
60 used & new from $0.26

3.0 out of 5 stars Not awful, not great, October 19, 2014
This review is from: Galaxy's Most Wanted (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This story was... ok. I mean, i like that it values brains over brawn (though brains are often used to just make the cooler weapons). I like that they shoe-horned a girl into the cabal, and that she was a contributing member of the team, but she was pretty much the only girl mentioned in the entire book so it felt a bit, well, shoehorned.

I wasn't a big fan of the alien body fluids, but i guess they're de rigueur for fiction aimed at young boys.

Really, it's not that there's anything deeply wrong with this book, but i just felt that there was nothing really right with it. It didn't entertain me.

I have no problem leaving this on the shelf for my kids to find when they're ready to read it, but i doubt i'll ever recommend it if they ask for specific suggestions.


The Eye of Zoltar (The Chronicles of Kazam)
The Eye of Zoltar (The Chronicles of Kazam)
by Jasper Fforde
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.27
60 used & new from $8.33

2.0 out of 5 stars Contrived, October 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I had the same problem with this book as i have with Fforde's books for adults: it just feels forced. It's the difference between a zany person and a person trying to be zany, a naturally funny person and someone who learned a script written by a comic.

This may out me as a bit of a geek, but it reminds me of Data's poetry on Star Trek TNG: technically perfect, but missing what matters.

Thus, rather than giggling to myself at the multiple jokes and puns on every page, each just earned just a sigh or an eye-roll, and eventually i got bored and put the book aside. I guess Fforde and i just aren't meant to be.


Manhattan Toy Learning Play Microscope
Manhattan Toy Learning Play Microscope
Offered by Kaplan Early Learning Company
Price: $28.23
8 used & new from $18.66

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, October 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I wish there was a meaningful magnifying lens in this kit. As it is, my kids (one at each end of the ostensible range) played with this for a few minutes and never touched it again. The entirely of that play was seeing how the colored lens changed what the 'petri dishes' (wooden discs with images on both sides) looked like. They had no interest in the kaleidoscope lens, and the magnifying lens didn't magnify enough for them to notice. It would have been awesome if there were a more powerful lens and some tiny things 'hidden' on the plates.

There's a little storage slot for the 'petri dishes', but you're on your own to keep track of the lenses.

The knob on the side does nothing at all, i wish it wasn't there at all.

I'm usually a big fan of Manhattan Toy products, and while this one is wooden and sturdy-feeling (i see others arrived broken, but ours is intact), but this one's a dud. It's not going to teach kids anything.


Balance Keepers #1: The Fires of Calderon
Balance Keepers #1: The Fires of Calderon
by Lindsay Cummings
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.76
59 used & new from $4.77

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars After a slow start, it's a very engaging read, October 18, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
At about 40 pages in, i was ready to pitch this book in the bin. But i looked at other reviews, and upon seeing the glowing reviews, decided to give it another try.

When people compare this book to the first in the Harry Potter series, i can see several similarities: a young boy ignorant of his magical potential until some random point, a magical world hidden from the muggles, a group of three friends, a set of bullies who somehow never face consequences for their public flagrant bullying, etc. But as a reader, the most salient parallel was that the first few pages of the first Harry Potter book were quite dull as well. It took me several tries to start the first HP book. It wasn't until i was trapped on an airplane that i made it past the dull intro to the riveting content within. And it was only because of the other glowing reviews that i pushed past the soporific beginning of this book.

Do i recommend this book? Yes.

Am i eagerly awaiting the next book in the series? Yes.

Are the first 40-odd pages a disappointment? Yep. So it goes.


The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty
The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty
by (Historian) Alexander Lee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.47
66 used & new from $14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The dryness of a textbook, the structure of a pop-history book, October 17, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book was hard to read, twice over.

First, the writing was just dull. Textbook-dull. (I've actually read a few quite entertaining textbooks in my day, but one must admit that most of them sacrifice liveliness for the sake of getting facts on the page.)

Second, it was structured like a light-weight pop-history book. Each chapter is framed on an item or event - say, Chapter 1: Michaelangelo's Nose. The chapter starts with the breaking of his nose in a petty fight with a fellow student, then branches out to discuss the meaning of the Renaissance, as they saw it then and as we saw it now. However, it manages to refer to the broken nose, either directly or as a forced metaphor, every few paragraphs.

(It's funny, but i hadn't realized that was one of the key architectures of pop-nonfic until i saw it done so badly here. When done well, it's a wonderful way to ground an esoteric subject.)

Either way, i gave up on this book after a few chapters. I'm neither a Renaissance fangirl nor completely ignorant of the era. While this book was certainly full of details i didn't know, the overall thesis that there was nastiness in the Renaissance is presented without the slightest bit of vibrancy and ends up just being something obvious that we all learned in a high school history class.


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