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Sweetland: A Novel
Sweetland: A Novel
by Michael Crummey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.93
66 used & new from $7.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The last man standing, August 2, 2015
This review is from: Sweetland: A Novel (Hardcover)
It is rare that the trajectory of a novel can be surmised by a character’s name. But in Moses Sweetland, Mr. Crummey’s cantankerous and fiercely honest character, the author may well be signaling the key themes of his novel.

Moses, of course, is the Exodus hero of the Bible, a story that begins in Genesis. An important prophet, born n a time when his people were an enslaved minority, he demands release. And Sweetland speaks for itself. In this novel, Sweetland also represents a remote island off Newfoundland. Based partially on fact (after Newfoundland joined Canada, the government instituted a resettlement program, forcing thousands of citizens to relocate, abandoning their centuries-old lifestyles).

As the novel begins, the government is offering the residents of Sweetland a magnanimous resettlement program with one catch: every person must sign on. Many are glad to do so, but not Moses. Now in his early 70s and unmarried, his homeland is everything to him. Symbolism abounds: Moses worked as Sweetland’s lightkeeper (“let there be light”) until the lighthouse was automated. He is, in ways, the “priest” of the island: saving a boatland of fleeing Sri Lankans, paying tribute to the dead, and standing up to the pervasive lure of money in exchange for generations of history.

Ghosts haunt his memories: ghosts of the Sri Lankans, his now-gone sister who was forced into a loveless marriage with a decent man, his “almost” fiancée, his dead brother. Accompanied at different times by a young boy named Jesse who may be on the autistic spectrum and later, the dog of the other last hold-out to the deal (aptly named Loveless),Moses must primarily rely on his own survival instincts. As ghosta and memories crowd his brain, he begins to understand that life is nothing more than a made-up thing, with “bits and pieces of make-believe cobbled together to look halfways human.”

Make no mistake, though, Mr. Crummey does not subjugate his plot or his characters to his overriding themes. The characters are achingly real: Moses’ good friend Queenie Coffin (again, the symbolism of names) who is an agoraphobic who remains indoors feasting on badly-written romance novels; his one-time great friend Duke Fewer, who maintains the only barbershop without ever actually giving a haircut; Pilgrim, his blind brother-in-law; and perhaps most of all, Jesse, the quirky and dearly-loved boy who Moses befriends.

Sweetland made me sad…but it also made me think and it made me feel. If that’s not a 5 star, I don’t know what is.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 3, 2015 2:24 PM PDT

Trainer TH100/27 Sports Headphones designed with Usain Bolt, BLK
Trainer TH100/27 Sports Headphones designed with Usain Bolt, BLK
Price: $249.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sound performance + freedom = great headphones, July 28, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When it comes to headphones, it’s a “sound thing.” And when it comes to sound, these open-backed Bluetooth headphones are really awesome.

With a larger, airier soundstage, both music and words come out sounding clear and true when paired with my Mac Book Pro and iPhone. There’s no cavern effect and no mumbling; the bass rolls right off, resulting in non-distortion.

Since the headphones are lightweight and snug, they don’t wobble during my work-outs. I found them to be a comfortable fit without hardly any need for adjustment.Since the ear cushions are removable, they can be easily washed.

My biggest beef is in the lack of instructional documentation. All the controls are on the right earpiece and it was challenging for me to intuitively figure out which one was used for what. The manual didn’t help much and I had to resort to asking my husband and his friend to help me decipher some of the instructions. For those who have not owned many other BT headphones, this is definitely a detriment.

I should add that the packaging is…well, excessive. I absolutely understand and appreciate the company’s desire to protect the headphones while in shipment. But bear in mind that it may take you several minutes to release the headphones from its packaging.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2015 9:26 AM PDT

Louisa Meets Bear: A Novel
Louisa Meets Bear: A Novel
by Lisa Gornick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.43
59 used & new from $6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Any Human Heart, July 28, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Lisa Gornick has a great deal of insight into the human heart, no surprise since she’s a psychoanalyst by trade. Take this: “Your mother,” one character says, “lived like an egg sliding over a Teflon pan.” In just a few aptly chosen words, we get a blazing insight into the character.

The book could be described as a hybrid: not really an integrated novel, but also not a short story collection. Each of the stories is linked to the others, not unlike, say, Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists.

In the title story, a young woman named Louisa meets an aspirational student William (nicknamed Bear) at Princeton. That relationship is like the hub of a wheel: other characters who are tightly or loosely connected with them are explored in subsequent stories (and one previous one) until we meet Louisa and Bear once again after life has intervened.

Arguably the best story/chapter, Louisa Meets Bear is also the most personal: Louisa addresses Bear in the second tense, directly speaking to him. As a result, the reader is meant to feel a complicit part of what is happening between them. And what IS happening is a young man determined to escape the dull grind of his lower-middle-class background, pursuing Louisa as if she were an exquisite prize. Put another way, it’s an exploration of an unhealthy love.

We meet Louisa’s cousin’s adopted daughter, Brianna, who travels to Italy with her adopted parents; her father Richard is forced to confront his uncomfortable sexual urges while at dinner with his Peter Pan-like college chum. We get introduced to a significant ex-lover of Louisa – named Andrew – who scares his newly-pregnant wife with an off-hand tale of a horror he experienced as a recent NYU law graduate trying to “do good” in Guatemala. And we meet someone significant in Bear’s future life, a psychoanalyst, who finds a love-obsessed former client decomposing on her office floor.

From time to time, the symbolism gets a little heavy-handed: for example, when Bear’s sister Charlotte gains an epiphany-of-sorts while viewing dinosaurs in a museum, where she accompanies an accomplished blind woman. But for the most part, these interlocking tales are spot-on. At the end of the day, this book – which plays out like a symphony unfolding – is about how we inadvertently disappoint each other and ourselves and yet soldier on, shaping ourselves to endure.

George Foreman GFO201R Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill, Red
George Foreman GFO201R Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill, Red
Price: $79.99
5 used & new from $67.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good outdoor grill, but will it replace my charcoal one? Probably not., July 27, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I ordered the George Foreman Outdoor Electric Grill because I love the original George Foreman Classic Plate Grill, the kind that cooks both at the top and the bottom, and drains grease away. The original model, introduced in the 1990s, changed the way people cooked, myself included. But I don't think this new model is going to change my life as much. So far, I have used the device for cooking the normal summer fare: bratwurst, salmon, and unshucked ears of corn. Here are some observations:

* The grill has the same nonstick surface as the original model and is removable for cleaning. That's a GOOD thing.

* There's a lot of room for grilling – 240 square inches of cooking space altogether. But it doesn’t cook on both sides like the classic model. You'll have to turn the meat over.

* It has a high lid that retains the heat and makes it possible to slow roast a whole chicken, although there's probably not enough space for a turkey. The device has heat settings so that you can cook at a lower heat without burning your food.

* It can't flavor the meat like other outdoor grills that use charcoal. But because it doesn’t let off noxious fumes that charcoal has, it can be used indoors.

* Fast and easy assembly involves putting together the stand. The stand wobbles slightly but is still strong and won't fall over. Also, you can take the grill off the stand and place it on a table to cook.

Right now it's a novelty, but I wonder how it will fare over the long run. It's no substitute for our large outdoor grill and that wonderful charcoal flavor AND it's a little large to store comfortably atop or within a shelf when summer ends and we take it indoors. The best use for us is when we want to grill fresh fish or meat quickly, without muss or fuss.

Tempus TC62127B Contemporary Wall Clock with Frame Face Raised Contrasting Numerals and Silent Sweep Quiet Movement, 13", Black/White
Tempus TC62127B Contemporary Wall Clock with Frame Face Raised Contrasting Numerals and Silent Sweep Quiet Movement, 13", Black/White
Price: $24.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A simple clock that simply does its job well, July 24, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Sometimes, less IS more. And so it is with this contemporary wall clock. The design is simple and minimalistic: just an easy-to-read black clock, about 13 inches in diameter, with raised white numbers that make it easy to view, even from way across the room. One of the best features is that the clock is quiet -- one of the most silent wall clocks I've seen. It's replacing a clock I currently have in my home office that somewhat loudly clicks the passing of the minutes (not the best feature when I'm under deadline!) Because of its easy viewability and its silence, I'm thinking of getting another one for my elderly mother.

The clock need an AA battery, which is not included. I should add that my first experience with this clock was similar to other reviewers; it arrived in top shape but with the second hand broken off. I received another one when I emailed about the problem, but Tempus may want to check out the problem with that second hand.

The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories
The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories
by Joy Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.85

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must for Short Story Lovers, July 23, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Joy Williams may well be one of the most accomplished short story writers I never heard of. The comparisons to giants such as Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Alice Munroe and Tobias Wolff really peaked my interest and I was not disappointed.

There are many stories here – about four dozen– and I am savoring them. These little gems are not meant to be devoured one after the other, but I’ve read at least half of them and will continue to read consistently over the weeks ahead.

For those who like their short stories tied up in a little red bow, this is not a collection for you. There is little in way of plotting or likeable characters. Joy Williams excels in ambiguity and her endings are open-ended. In the sobering and heartbreaking story Honored Death, for example, a woman on the cusp of her own life stands by helplessly as her narcissistic mother gradually fades into nothingness. The title alludes to an ancient Japanese ritual: a bear cub is captured and treated like royalty, until he is dragged out and killed.

In the title story, a woman who appears devoid of meaning befriends an old woman in a mental hospital while visiting a friend. She is asked to look after the poor old soul’s dog, actually, a gray barking machine. In a few well-crafted sentences, Joy Williams sums up this woman’s life: “But it sounded so real, so remarkably real, and the disorder she felt was so remarkably real as well that she hesitated. She could not go forward. Then, she couldn’t go back.”

Another favorite is Fortune, a short story about a self-involved group of 20-somethings who feign concern in an unnamed country, presumably in Central America. Their parents descend on them like swarms, with their skewered values and shattered lives. “They felt that their lives were now beginning. At the same time, they felt it was possible that their actual lives were still waiting for them, and that they involved different people. This was something they found themselves thinking about more and more, usually with unhappiness, as the parents kept coming.”

Over and over in these stories, there is a search for what’s true and what’s real, the randomness of life, the effects of dislocation and discontent. All of it is done almost as if by sleight of hand, vignettes that make you feel and make you think. For the short story reader, this collection is a must.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2015 5:34 PM PDT

K'NEX Mighty Makers Home Designer Building Set
K'NEX Mighty Makers Home Designer Building Set
Offered by Toys.Online
Price: $71.41
4 used & new from $71.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great concept but not for every child, July 19, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I really love the concept behind this K’Nex Mighty Makers Designer Building Set. From what I learned beforehand, it was designed by an all-female design team to help little girls become more comfortable with STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The problem is, it’s not something that a 7 year old (unless they’re an ADVANCED 7 year old) will be readily comfortable with. There are 433 pieces including instructions for three architectural designs, flowers, chairs, table, lamps, graphic panels and much more. Even as an adult, I felt overwhelmed upon first opening the package. But granted, I’ve always joked that I have an overdeveloped left brain and an atrophied right brain! (And maybe that’s the point; I never DID get to develop STEM skills in my childhood).

The instructions – included – help make sense of all the items that come tumbling from the box. There are vivid, colorful photos that show how these pieces go together and the rods, connectors and panels give a child a feeling of accomplishment in actually building something.

Bottom line: this toy takes time and concentration and at least initially, will need a parent or teen’s involvement. It may not be for every 7-10 year old (and as another reviewer suggested, even pre-teens might enjoy it). If your child is detail-oriented, creative and achievement-oriented, this is absolutely an excellent choice. On the other hand, if your child has a short attention span, this might not be ideal. K’Nex seems committed to delivering a quality learning experience and who knows: this might be the first step in developing a budding architectural career.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 31, 2015 5:50 AM PDT

Barbie Saddle 'N Ride Horse and Teresa Doll
Barbie Saddle 'N Ride Horse and Teresa Doll
Price: $44.99
12 used & new from $34.00

4.0 out of 5 stars No NEIGH-sayers in this household!, July 16, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
For any budding equestrian, this Barbie Saddle ‘N Ride Horse with Teresa doll is quite a treat! All I can say is, Barbie toys have come a long, long way from the one I remember as a child.

My little niece squealed with delight the first time we played with it. It’s simple: clip Teresa’s purple glove onto the horse’s mane. Push the button on the top of the horse’s brow. And voila, watch the magic begin. For several seconds, the horse gallops forward (note: it doesn’t work well on carpeted areas. Harwood or tile floors are best). Suddenly, Teresa is swept aloft until she’s seated comfortably atop the horse. My niece cried out, “Again! Again!” and I must admit, I was every bit as entranced as she was.

The fun part is when the horse begins trotting forward. And when the fun is over? Just push the button on the horse’s pink ribbon. That’s all it takes to bring Barbie back to the ground.

Like any self-respecting fashionista, this one is dressed to the nines with her denim jacket, purple riding pants, high boots and matching purple helmet. You’ll need a 4-pack of triple A batteries to get started. One thing to keep in mind: Teresa-and-the-horse are a package deal. Since her riding pants are non-removable and her one arm is stiff, she’s meant to be played with the horse and not as a standalone doll.

It’s a great gift for that little girl in your life. Pardon my pun, but once you try it, there will be no NEIGH-sayers in the house!

Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web
Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web
by Joseph Michael Reagle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.08
48 used & new from $8.53

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Good, big and cheap -- pick two.", July 7, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Let me say this straight out: it takes guts to write a book about the likers, haters and manipulators at the bottom of the web and offer it up to Amazon Vine reviewers for their critique. And it also takes guts to review such a book, knowing full well that the author is likely reading every single review; after all, the subject is his passion.

I expected a rather breezy presentation of entertaining and maddening online reviews; my key interest was to read the author’s thoughts on our own Vine community. What I found instead was a well-researched and insightful look at what our obsession with ratings and online comments says about us as a society.

There are only a dozen scattered pages directly relating to Vine and Joseph Reagle’s conclusions are not unexpected. There are many of us who do it for self-expression and enjoyment. Yet there are those who, understanding the currency of online reviews, obsessively rate and rank everything, leading to a certain loss of innocence. Reagle postulates that payment or punishment “often lessens people’s internal motives rating to feelings such as autonomy, mastery, usefulness, and self-esteem.”

More important is Joseph Reagle’s commentary on where we are heading. A few years back, a survey reported that 58% had gone online to research products and services. It’s obvious that reviews are more and more essential for a company – or an individual -- to compete. In one compelling graphic, the cost to buy an ad on every story on a major news site every day until election costs $1,500,000. The cost to pay five college students $20/hour to camp the site 24/7 and post the first few comments the moment a story gives up is a mere $200,000. A similar philosophy holds true for companies/hotels reviewed on TripAdvisor, Yelp and other social media sites. A first mover advantage can be powerful…and is increasingly dishonest.

Is there anything very new here? No, hence the 4 stars. The subtitle of the book is far more instructive about its contents than its title, Reading the Comments. I found the title to be a tad bit misleading as to what to expect from the book. Still, I found it to be a fascinating read – straightforward, a little academic in spots, yet easy to follow.

My takeaway was this: “comment systems can be good, big, cheap – pick two.” It seems that most companies want to have it all. As we enter an age where inflammatory comments, false reviews, trolls, and fakery are increasingly taking center stage, how do we keep the haters and manipulators from pirating and even leading the conversation? The answer, Reagle suggests, is not easy…and that tells us much about who we are and how we’re evolving as a society.

ADDENDUM: The day after finishing Reagle's book, I went to my wishlist to purchase a literary book I had had my eye on. It was published only yesterday and -- to my delight! -- there were nine very laudatory reviews already posted. But in reading these short reviews, it immediately became evident that they were all posted from "friends of the authors" who only reviewed HER book and no one else's. I immediately deleted the book from my wish list. So the good news is, the more people understand that these "stuff the ballot box" manipulative approaches can backfire, the more there's hope that honest reviews will prevail.
Comment Comments (31) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 27, 2015 5:42 PM PDT

The Animals: A Novel
The Animals: A Novel
by Christian Kiefer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.23
65 used & new from $12.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thinking Person's Thriller, July 5, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Animals: A Novel (Hardcover)
In the devastating first pages of The Animals, we meet the quintessential likable character – Bill Reed, a sensitive loner who devotes his life to caring for gravely injured animals in the isolated Idaho backlands. He’s everyone’s idea of a hero: saving animal lives, keeping company with the local veterinarian and acting as dad to her young son, and living a principled life on his own terms.

But through a series of flashbacks, we discover that Bill is not all he seems. He appears to be reinventing himself from a troubled past; he and his best friend, Rick, seemed to be headed towards unredeemed lives. During one fatal encounter, Rick took the rap and ended up in prison; Bill fled and recreated himself in Idaho. The questions at this novel's core are: what price survival? What moral laws govern our lives?

For awhile, it's easy to get lulled into a sense of complacency that this will not surpass a run-of-the-mill thriller with pat lines. (One example is Bill’s musings about the animals: “They had saved him and he would do the same for them.” But establishing the human-animal connection is important. Bill never feels more affirmed than when he is tending to the animals, the blind and tame grizzly bear Majer, the wild injured wolf Zeke and others. We've seen this type of dynamic before and we think we know where this story is heading.

Or do we? Christian Kiefer raises issues that, days later, I am still mulling over. Mr. Kiefer writes, “The universe held its workings in secret and a man could claim nothing from that void and instead would need to design in that obscure and private place that is his heart the laws that would govern his life." Suddenly, morality becomes ambiguous and murky: is someone a "good person" when he “cares for his people” or when he does his best to shed an ugly past and move on? Is it better to be alive and caged or enjoy total freewill with the probability that death is around the corner?

I recognize some of the minor flaws in this book. But still, I found it heartbreaking and shattering. This is a thriller but it’s also a thinking person’s book that is hard to put down…and twice as hard to forget.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2015 7:10 AM PDT

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