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BLACK+DECKER TO2050S 6-Slice Toaster Oven, Silver
BLACK+DECKER TO2050S 6-Slice Toaster Oven, Silver
Price: $59.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Compact, Capable and Quirky, February 7, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In a side-by-side features-and-performance comparison of this Black & Decker toaster oven with an ancient DeLonghi that I’ve stored in a kitchen cabinet for years and rarely used, I noticed two things: 1) the new B&D is remarkably similar to the old DeLonghi in design, construction, size and features; and 2) there’s little to no discernable difference in their performance.

The B&D unit has one more setting than the DeLonghi—“Warm”—but I’ll probably never use it. The large cylindrical control dials and their settings are nearly the same. Both use mechanical wind-up-timer technology to control the cooking time.

I found that remarkable, considering that the B&D unit is brand-new and my DeLonghi is at least 20 years old. I’d have expected the newer unit to sport precision electronic timing with an LED display. But no, the B&D has clunky mechanical dials like an old oven timer. You have to turn it past the setting you want, and then back it off for optimum setting accuracy. In operation, there’s a strident clicking sound as the timer unwinds. That’s why I call it “quirky.” Geez, this is the 21st century—where are the electronics?

With that said, the appliance seems to be of relatively high quality. It’s put together well, and the moving parts operate with good heft and firm authority. The grate can go on either of two levels, providing a bit of cooking flexibility, and the removable crumb tray is a nice touch, albeit easy to dump when you pull it out. The outer case of the unit doesn’t get very hot when it’s running, at least on the toast function. The prudent user won’t put it close to anything else on the countertop when using it.

Performance-wise, there’s not much to say. Toasting performance for the new B&D and the old DeLonghi were the same, within the limits of my perception (I didn’t test the bake, broil or warm functions). The B&D did a good, but not spectacular, job of toasting naan bread. The result was evenly browned and uniformly crispy. Toasting is about my only use for a toaster oven, since we never use frozen pre-packaged foods. At that task, this unit performs fine.

My bottom line: if you already have a toaster oven that works well and meets your needs, I don’t think there’s any reason to upgrade to this Black & Decker unit. But if you’re just starting out on your own and don’t have a toaster oven, then this unit would be a good choice to get you in the game for a reasonable cost.


T3 PROi Professional Dryer
T3 PROi Professional Dryer
Price: $350.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dries Hair Okay, and Looks Good Doing It, February 2, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The first thing I thought when I unboxed this PROi T3 Professional Hair Dryer is, “This thing is HUGE.” But after I compared it side-by-side with the ancient 1,250-watt Conair that I’ve used for decades, I realized that it really isn’t that much bigger dimensionally. It’s somewhat bulkier, and the handle is longer, but it’s not as overwhelmingly large as I thought at first. It’s also fairly lightweight for its size, which makes it relatively easy to maneuver when using it.

The second thing I noticed is that the power cord is thick and LONG! I suppose that’s a boon for using it in places like hair-styling salons, but the cord can flop around like an amorous anaconda in a smaller venue such as a home bathroom. But that’s not a downcheck. I’d much rather have a cord that’s too long than one that’s not long enough, and it definitely bucks the current trend of shorter power cords. An added plus is that the cord has a built-in Ground Fault Interrupter, which makes you less likely to electrocute yourself if you’re careless with this unit around water.

With a sturdy matte-finish black body and a brilliantly shiny, iridescent black handle and trim, protected during shipping by peel-off stickers, this dryer would fit right into the typical décor of a hair salon. In a tiled bathroom, though, maybe not so much. Not that it’s an important criterion, but I think the unit is attractive and businesslike, with just the right touches of flash.

The two removable “platypus” concentrator nozzles give the unit a lot of versatility, and the air filter screen is a snap to remove and clean. The three-position heat setting, two-speed power and lock-in “Cool Shot” switches on the handle click into place with solid authority. This unit seems well-designed and engineered to last a long time.

From an air-moving standpoint, however, it falls a little short. Based on its size and design, I braced myself for a hurricane-like blast of scalding hot air when I first tested it. What I got was more anemic than I expected in both flow and temperature. Professional hair stylists, who know infinitely more about the subject than I do, may in fact prefer more languid, tepid airflows for better styling. But I’ve always felt I needed the most powerful, hottest airflow possible to dry my thick, unruly, straw-like hair, and this unit seems a bit weak in that department.

So overall my rating is four stars. I like this dryer a lot, and I expect to get years of use out of it, but it just seems a little skimpy on performance. If someone in the profession wants to comment and tell me that’s the way it should be, then I’ll be glad to reconsider my rating.


18k Yellow Gold Plated Sterling Silver 28mm Bead Tube Hoop Earrings
18k Yellow Gold Plated Sterling Silver 28mm Bead Tube Hoop Earrings
Price: $19.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Earrings for the Price, January 29, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
These earrings seem very well made. There are no burrs, scratches or sharp edges on them, and, while you can flex them a little if you try, they’re relatively sturdy considering that their form-factor is a torus with a segment missing.

The glossy gold finish is deep, smooth and uniform to the naked eye. The wire clasps are fairly heavy-gauge, and snap with firm authority into the mating jaws that hold them closed. The jaws may loosen up with time and usage, but if they do, it shouldn’t be a problem to bend them back into shape.

If you’re looking for simple yet elegant earrings that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, these should be on your shortlist. As an added bonus, the matte-black, hinged-lid box in which they’re packaged makes for an attractive gift presentation.


1byone Wireless Motion Sensor & Detector Alert System, Alerts You Anywhere Inside Your House
1byone Wireless Motion Sensor & Detector Alert System, Alerts You Anywhere Inside Your House
Offered by 1byone
Price: $42.99
2 used & new from $22.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Read This Review Before You Buy!!!, December 24, 2015
UPDATE:

I originally rated this alarm system with one star because the batteries got so hot when I tested it that they partially melted. My review (which follows this update) warned potential buyers away from it because I believed it could be a fire hazard.

To its credit, the manufacturer, 1byone (from whom I received the system free in return for an honest review), contacted me after I posted my review and asked me to send it back to them, at their expense, for evaluation.

Their initial tests didn’t show the problem. I got a call from their sales office suggesting that the batteries I used—three Energizer alkaline AA cells—were defective. I thought that was unlikely, because I had tested the same batteries in another device and they didn’t overheat. But I agreed to contact Energizer to find out if the batteries might be defective. The 1byone sales rep also told me that she would send the system back to China for detailed analysis.

The responses I got from 1byone and from Energizer were like night and day. Despite a phone call and three e-mails, I NEVER got a response of any kind from Energizer. I can only conclude that the company doesn’t care at all about possible problems with its products. 1byone, on the other hand, was extraordinarily responsive.

To bottom-line it, I finally got a detailed e-mail from 1byone reporting the results of the analysis of the system at the factory. It turns out that an oversized solder joint on the printed circuit board (PCB) created a short circuit when the battery compartment lid was closed, thus causing the batteries to overheat. The oversized solder joint was apparently a process problem with some but not all assembly workers, which explains why other units may not have the problem. 1byone also described their temporary fix (adding insulation between the PCB and the battery negative terminal) and their permanent fix (redesigning the PCB to separate it from the battery negative terminal by at least 2mm).

Now THAT is responsiveness! Unlike what I got from Energizer…

So I now feel that I must still caution buyers of this alarm system to test it very carefully before leaving it unattended, since, if you happen to have gotten one of the defective units, it may pose a fire hazard. And I obviously can’t post a review of how the system works for its intended use.

However, I can say that, based on this experience, 1byone really cares about its products and its customers, and is willing to listen to complaints and follow up on them even if at first they seem groundless. I like that attitude in a company, and I wish there were more like it around today.

ORIGINAL REVIEW FOLLOWS:

I received this 1byone Wireless Alert System free from the manufacturer in return for an honest review. Under other circumstances, I would have first contacted 1byone about the problem I had trying to set up the system and given them the opportunity to correct it before posting my review. However, the problem I had was so serious that I felt I had to post this review immediately to warn others who might purchase the unit.

Simply stated, I feel lucky that this system did not set my house on fire!

Following the enclosed instructions (as best I could—more about that later), I inserted three AA batteries into the main unit and three AAA batteries into the motion detector transmitter. Then I tried to “set the pair the main Alarm with the PIR sensor,” as the instructions say, by pushing the CODE button on the side of the unit.

Nothing seemed to happen.

But within less than a minute after I installed the batteries, while holding the main unit in my hand, I realized that it felt a little warm around the rear battery compartment. Within maybe 15 or 20 more seconds, the unit got so hot that I could no longer hold it. I dropped it to the floor and immediately removed the battery compartment cover. The batteries were literally so hot—I am NOT exaggerating here—that I got a burn on one fingertip just from touching them. I grabbed a screwdriver and pried them out of the battery compartment. They had gotten so hot that the thin plastic cladding around each of them had discolored and melted into the groove around the base. They also gave off an ozone-like smell. All this happened within about two minutes.

I’m amazed that 4.5 volts could create so much heat. I don’t know what kind of short circuit or fault in the unit caused it, but clearly this system has a very dangerous failure mode that could have disastrous consequences. Imagine if this unit were unattended in a home and developed whatever fault caused mine to heat up so dramatically. Depending on where and how it is mounted, I think there’s a real possibility that it could start a fire. The batteries were THAT hot!

Regarding the instructions, here’s a quote: “When the parts have studied go to learn other way, it will automatically jump back to the way first studied, its alarm sounds and flashing lights at the same time.”

My bottom line, obviously, is to avoid this system at all costs. Sorry, 1byone, but your product is dangerous and potential buyers need to know that.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2015 9:50 PM PST


Sterling Silver Sky Blue Topaz Open Heart Pendant Necklace, 18"
Sterling Silver Sky Blue Topaz Open Heart Pendant Necklace, 18"
Price: $20.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice for the Price, December 17, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Upon opening the tight-fitting lid of the sturdy, attractive matte-black box in which it arrived, this Open-Heart Pendant Necklace presents itself nicely laid out on a black backing card with a velvet-like surface and with a little blue pull-tab on one end. The 18-inch chain passes through two slots on the backing card, and a short piece of tape on the back secures the excess chain. For future storage, a tiny envelope on the back of the card provides a place to insert the chain so it doesn’t rattle around.

The necklace seems very well made. There are no burrs, scratches or sharp edges on the front or back of the heart, and the points that hold the six jewels in place are smooth and tight. Speaking of jewels, they are very, very pale blue—so pale that they really look colorless. If you’re looking for deep blue stones, you won’t find them here.

A sturdy teardrop-shaped loop attaches the pendant to the chain in a way that makes it unlikely that the pendant will turn outside-in when worn. The chain is thin and delicate, but it seems to be adequate for the job. The clasp is a traditional spring ring with a segment that retracts via a tiny lever to insert the matching loop on the other end of the chain. It works well and seems secure. I doubt it’ll open up unless you want it to, and even then it takes a little concentration and nimble fingers to work it.

If you’re looking for a simple yet striking necklace that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and if you don't mind the paleness of the stones, this one should be on your shortlist.


The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy
The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy
by Steve Kronenberg
Edition: Library Binding
Price: $69.17
40 used & new from $54.69

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surely THE Definitive Creature Book, December 15, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Tom Weaver is an acknowledged expert on “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and its sequels “Revenge of the Creature” and “The Creature Walks Among Us,” and has written extensively about the Creature and other science fiction film icons of the period.

I’m at a disadvantage in reviewing “The Creature Chronicles” because I haven’t read any of his other works. The only other “Creature” book in my library is the very rare “Features from the Black Lagoon,” which the publisher withdrew almost immediately after it hit the market because its author allegedly plagiarized so much from Tom Weaver’s work.

With that said, it’s hard for me to imagine that “The Creature Chronicles” is not the definitive book about the Creature films.

I’m astounded at the breadth and depth of its coverage, its excellent quality and high production values, its impressive collection of black-&-white photographs and its sheer readability. Mr. Weaver’s encyclopedic knowledge and expertise on Creature minutia shine through on every page, even as his breezy, engaging writing style draws the reader into the worlds of the Creature with effortless ease. Well-organized and exceptionally comprehensive, and with tasteful red accents that set off headings, photos and footnotes from the main text, this book is clearly a labor of love. I’m sure it will serve as the go-to source for Creature information for many years, if not forever.

If you’re just casually acquainted with the Creature, the amount of information that Mr. Weaver presents in “The Creature Chronicles” may overwhelm you. My own level of interest lies between casual and obsessive. I’m not by any means a fanboy, but I enjoyed the Creature films and still watch my DVDs of them from time to time. If you have more than a passing interest in the Gill Man, and if you want to learn everything you can imagine about what went into the making of these three classic Universal Studios monster films from the mid-1950s, you can’t do better than to pick up a copy of “The Creature Chronicles.”


Avoidable Contact: A Kate Reilly Mystery (Kate Reilly Mysteries)
Avoidable Contact: A Kate Reilly Mystery (Kate Reilly Mysteries)
by Tammy Kaehler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.26
53 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder and Mayhem at the 24 Hours of Daytona, December 14, 2015
I admit right up front that I binge-read all three of author Tammy Kaehler’s auto racing mysteries featuring driver Kate Reilly in about two weeks. I reviewed the first two (“Dead Man’s Switch” and “Braking Points”) separately. So how does “Avoidable Contact,” the third and last (so far) in the series, stack up?

Well, I’d notch it right in between the first two. I really enjoyed “Dead Man’s Switch,” and gave it a five-star rating, but I thought “Braking Points” was a bit weak, so I rated it four stars. If I could, I’d rate “Avoidable Contact” with four-and-a-half stars. Since I can’t, I’ll bump it up to five.

“Avoidable Contact” relates the further adventures, on-track and off, of the plucky heroine as she deals with intrigue, mayhem and murder during the 24 Hours of Daytona auto race. In between her stints at the wheel of Sandham Swift Corvette C7.R #28, she struggles to resolve some major personal issues that threaten to affect her racing focus. Her boyfriend is hospitalized in a coma after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. A fellow driver dies in an on-track collision that may not have been accidental. Several long-lost family members enter the scene, adding to the long list of people who may have had motives for murder and attempted murder.

The characters in “Avoidable Contact” are generally well developed, but there are just too many of them to keep track of. I finally got so confused by all of Kate’s fellow drivers, sponsors, team reps, media people, friends, acquaintances, family members and so on that I gave up trying to remember who was who and just went along for the ride. A list of characters would have helped identify the people who constantly pop in and out to supply false leads and red herrings that aim to confuse the reader about who is the real villain of the piece. Ms. Kaehler succeeds admirably in keeping the plot boiling, and the identity of the perp secret, until the last few pages.

The racing scenes were of the most interest to me, as a lifelong sports car owner and inveterate manual transmission enthusiast, and Ms. Kaehler gets them right. I was impressed by the skill and accuracy with which she describes the finer points of competitive driving at the limits of both the car and the driver, and how she makes clear for the reader the importance of such things as tires, pit stop strategies, racing lines, turn apexes, passing areas and all the other minutia that make the difference between winning and losing races.

“Avoidable Contact” is a well-written, fast paced and authentically staged story that combines a traditional murder mystery with lots of exciting racetrack action. You should read them in order if you decide to tackle the series: first “Dead Man’s Switch,” then “Braking Points” and then “Avoidable Contact.” Otherwise, you may find yourself as lost as if you’d wandered onto a road-racing course going the wrong way.


Braking Points: A Kate Reilly Mystery (Kate Reilly Mysteries)
Braking Points: A Kate Reilly Mystery (Kate Reilly Mysteries)
by Tammy Kaehler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.46
46 used & new from $2.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Auto Racing, Mayhem and Murder!, December 8, 2015
I admit up front that I’m binge-reading all three of Tammy Kaehler’s mystery novels featuring racecar driver Kate Reilly, based on a review that appeared in my local newspaper.

“Braking Points,” the second book in the series, relates the further adventures on-track and off of the plucky heroine as she struggles to retain her position with the Sandham Swift Corvette team while becoming embroiled in clashes with fans and fellow drivers, sabotage, intrigue and murder. It takes place mostly at Road Atlanta in Georgia during the last seasonal race of the American Le Mans Series.

As a lifelong sports car enthusiast who once owned a Triumph TR-4, MGB and Toyota MR-2, and who now owns a classic Datsun 280Z and a Honda S2000, my watchwords are, “I’ll give up my manual transmission when they pry the shift lever from my cold, dead hands!” I’ve spent a little time on racetracks and taken some high-performance driving classes, so I was primed from the start to enjoy these racing-themed murder mystery novels.

“Dead Man’s Switch,” the first book in this series, set a very high standard that, in my opinion, “Braking Points” does not meet. The characters are still reasonably well developed, but there are just too many of them to keep track of. I eventually got so confused with all of Kate’s fellow drivers, sponsors, team reps, media people, friends, acquaintances, family members and so on that, for about the last third of the book, I gave up trying to remember who was who and just went with the flow, so to speak. This is a problem with virtually every mystery novel I’ve ever read. I don’t understand why most authors don’t include “dramatis personae,” especially in murder mysteries where characters pop in and out as false leads and red herrings to confuse the reader as to who is the real villain of the piece. In “Braking Points,” Ms. Kaehler succeeds admirably in keeping the plot boiling and the reader confused until the last few pages.

The racing scenes, which I wish there’d been more of, interested me far more than the ones about cosmetic sponsorships and dysfunctional family relationships, and Ms. Kaehler gets them right. I was impressed by her skill and accuracy in describing the finer points of competitive driving at the limits of both the car and the driver, and how she makes clear for the reader the importance of such things as tires, pit stop strategies, racing lines, apexes, weight transfer under braking and all the other minutia that make the difference between winning and losing races.

“Braking Points” is a well-written, fast paced and authentically staged story that combines a traditional murder mystery with a fair amount of exciting racetrack action. If you’re interested in the series, you should probably read them in order—“Dead Man’s Switch,” “Braking Points” and then “Avoidable Contact.” Otherwise, you may find yourself as lost as if you’d wandered onto a road-racing course going the wrong way.


Pizza, A Slice of American History
Pizza, A Slice of American History
by Liz Barrett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.32
55 used & new from $8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Book for the Pizza Lover, December 7, 2015
As an avid food enthusiast who never met a pizza I didn’t like, I’m interested in learning as much as I can about the history, heritage, styles, purveyors and people behind one of America’s most popular foods.

With “Pizza: A Slice of American History,” a copy of which I received free from the author in return for an honest review, I came to the right place to satisfy my craving for pizza minutia. In this stunning, well-designed, high-quality volume, Pizza Journalist (is that a great job title, or what?) Liz Barrett tells the comprehensive cultural and culinary history of how pizza, a simple, rustic, inexpensive food with roots dating back to the sixth century BCE, became an American culinary icon.

The first 11 chapters of the book explore different styles of pizza, from Neapolitan/New York Style in Chapter 1 to California Style in Chapter 11. Each chapter has tips on how to recognize the pizza style and where to find it, the style’s history, short biographies of key people associated with the style and its variations, and a recipe. Some chapters include sidebars with definitions of terms, chef profiles and pizza factoids. For road-trippers and those who don’t live near the cities that originated the styles and don’t mind traveling to get some, each chapter also has a “Found Outside Its Natural Habitat” sidebar that lists other places in America to find a region’s signature pizza styles. I’ll be using this information a lot.

The last several chapters cover ovens, some unusual modern pizza styles (briefly described and with no recipes), the rise of pizza chains, pairing pizza with beverages and other foods, and how pizza fares in today’s “diet revolution.”

And the photos—they drive me crazy! I shouldn’t have even looked at them until I had a pizza baking in the oven. But I did, there wasn’t, and I’m still salivating! Few foods look as good in pictures as a fully loaded, cheese-oozing, perfectly browned pizza, and this book has plenty of them—as well as historical images of important people and events in pizza history. I encourage you to use the “Look Inside” feature to check ‘em out.

Note that this book is a cultural history of pizza with some recipes, NOT a cookbook with a little pizza cultural history thrown in. It’s about the history and culture of pizza, NOT how to make it at home. If a pizza cookbook is what you want, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

To bottom-line it, I love “Pizza: A Slice of American History” almost as much as I love pizza, nature’s perfect food. A unique, visually striking and exceptionally interesting book that now occupies a place of honor in my 400+ volume cookbook library, it pushes all my buttons in the best possible way. If you enjoy pizza, pick up a copy to savor.

P.S. Everyone has a favorite pizza place that they grew up with. Mine is Vincent’s Pizza Park on Ardmore Boulevard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Google it if you’re ever in the area. Cheers!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 23, 2015 5:04 PM PST


3Cworld Multitool Plier-11 in 1 Multifunctional Portable Pocket Size Multi Tool-Best Compact Outdoor/Indoor Multipurpose Knife With Pliers-Pocket Folding Camping Tool w/ Saw-Belt Pouch/Sheath (Camo)
3Cworld Multitool Plier-11 in 1 Multifunctional Portable Pocket Size Multi Tool-Best Compact Outdoor/Indoor Multipurpose Knife With Pliers-Pocket Folding Camping Tool w/ Saw-Belt Pouch/Sheath (Camo)
Offered by 3CworldDirect
Price: $10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Clever and Useful Tool, December 5, 2015
Right up front, I’ll admit that I may be the only guy in the Western Hemisphere who has never owned a Leatherman (GASP!).

Thus I have no standard of comparison for this 3Cworld Multitool Plier-11 in 1 Multifunctional Portable Pocket Size Multi Tool (whew!), which I received free from the manufacturer in return for an honest review. So I review this tool based on its own merits, not on how it compares to similar tools from brand leader Leatherman or others.

The quality of this tool impressed me as soon as I removed it from its thin black Velcro-flapped pouch with handy belt loop, which will accommodate belts up to about 1.6 inches wide. The matte-finished camouflage print on the handles is attractive, seems durable and provides a firm gripping surface. The tools that tuck securely into recesses in each handle deploy smoothly but with enough resistance to hold them in place at any angle. I found no burrs or unfinished edges on any of the tools, and the parts all fit together with great precision.

This item doesn’t come with any instructions, but fortunately a photo on this Product Description page identifies all the tools. If not for that photo, the fish scaler and hook remover would have been complete mysteries to me. By the way, the photo errs in identifying one of the tools as a “nail file and big screwdriver.” The nail file is actually on one side of the fish scaler, which also features a convenient, if short, ruler.

My only gripe about this tool, which I’m sure I would also have for all other similar ones, is that functionality seems to suffer in some respects from a design that packs so many things into such a compact configuration. For example, when I tested the screwdrivers, I found that the mass and inertia of the heavy handles and the off-center rotational axis made it hard to control. It’s fine for emergency use, but you definitely wouldn’t want to use this tool to assemble your next purchase from IKEA.

Thus my four-star rating; I can’t honestly say “I love it,” but I think this clever, well-made tool is a useful thing to carry around with you for when the unexpected happens. Just don’t try to take it through security the next time you fly.


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