#BookReview: Manipulating The Message by Cecil Rosner

This Review Is *NOT* A Paid Ad. Up front, because one of the large points Rosner makes is about just how much “influencer” peddling actually happens, let me be 100% perfectly clear: I had never heard of Rosner nor his publisher before picking up this book from NetGalley (yes, it is an advance reader copy). The title and description sounded like something that was interesting to me, so I picked it up. Period.

But that actually *does* get to the very points Rosner makes throughout this text, and he repeatedly uses real world examples both well known and very obscure to show his points. Basically, *everyone* is suspect – and you *should* do your own research. Yes, there are experts. Yes, objective truth exists. But are you actually hearing from them? Are you actually getting anything remotely close to the objective truth on the topic at hand? Rosner spends about 86% of his nearly 300 pages showing that… eh, you may not be, on either question. No matter where your “news” is coming from. At any level.

Truly a phenomenal expose on the topic, very well written and extremely informative. While Rosner is based in Canada and thus several of his examples are also based there, he also covers the situation in the US in particular quite well – and because of this, his points likely hold reasonably well at least through Western nations and *possibly* in every location on the globe (and beyond).

The star deduction is really two half stars – one half because at 14%, his bibliography is just shy of the range I normally expect to see in a book such as this based on my extensive experience reading these types of nonfiction ARCs, that range being closer to 20-30%. The other half star is due to the elitism that is so pervasive throughout the text. While actually decently balanced – while he spends an entire chapter *mostly* railing against Libertarian think tanks in Canada, he *does* also point out others of other political persuasions that are just as bad, and spends at least some actual time covering them and their faults as well, for example – even in the balance, the overall elitist disdain for so many of us just pours through his writing. And to be clear, I myself am a former political blogger – well before my book blogging days – that actually broke several local and even Statewide news items. And had more journalistic integrity than at least some of the “professionals” on those beats. (But those are ultimately stories for another time and place. 😉 ) My point here being that at least this reader is not simply some fly by night *very* minor “book influencer” (as some authors have called me *with pride* – rather than disdain), and Rosner realistically should have expected that many, perhaps even most, eventual readers of this book would have some level of journalistic experience. Which makes the elitism that much harder to swallow.

Still, ultimately this truly was a very good, well written expose on just how much media manipulation is in our every day lives, from the local to the national and throughout even social media as well.

Very much recommended.

This review of Manipulating The Message by Cecil Rosner was originally written on November 22, 2023.

#BookReview: Following Caesar by John Keahey

Not A Christmas Book. Admittedly, I saw “Caesar” and the release date and for some reason thought this had… anything at all to do with Christmas. To be clear, it does not. Just in case anyone else was somehow thinking it might. 😉

What we *do* get, however, is actually a rather intriguing tale in its own right, of the author’s adventures in a post-collapse world to try to find the last remaining vestiges of ancient Roman roads in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and surrounding areas. We get a decent amount of history, but to be clear – this is far more travel book (and almost travel log even) than history book. We get tales of espresso and kind strangers and parking woes, and we get tales of finding obscure patches of ancient Roman roadway or bridgeworks or some such often deep in farmer’s fields – and which the author only stumbled upon because he happened to stumble into a local who happened to know what he was looking for. We also get several tales of various “official” sites being closed, some of which the author was able to sneak into anyway either by outright sneaking or by some official or another looking the other way.

Indeed, this was, as I mentioned above, quite an intriguing tale for what it is – just *really* don’t go in here expecting some detailed treatise on the exact engineering of ancient Roman roadways and how at least certain sections of them have managed to last all these centuries. Go in expecting a 2020s era romp through the region at hand… and you’ll probably leave a lot more satisfied here.

The one star deduction comes from having next to no bibliography, despite having so many historical details and references. Instead, the bibliography is simply a “selected reading” and clocks in at less than 4% of the overall text – compared to closer to 20-30% being my expected norm based on reading hundreds of nonfiction advance review copies of books across nearly every discipline these last few years as a book blogger.

Still, I had a great time with this book and learned a lot about a subject the author is clearly passionate about. I felt I was right there with him through many of these adventures and woes, and really… what more do you actually want in a book of this type?

Very much recommended.

This review of Following Caesar by John Keahey was originally written on November 22, 2023.

#BookReview: For Roger by Laura Drake

If You Only Read One 2023 Release, Make It This One. Wow. Phenomenal. I’m writing this review roughly 12 hrs after finishing the book, and I am still in awe of what Drake was able to do here. When I first encountered her books, Drake was writing cowboy romances. She’s extended into women’s fiction more recently and done a great job with it, and this one I would assume would mostly classify within that space as well.

But let me be clear: This book has a LOT going on, a lot that places Drake writing about very serious issues and very different spaces. We get medical discussions and specifically discussions around terminal illness, suicide, assisted suicide, and related issues. We get a legal courtroom thriller that dives deep into questions of justice vs mercy vs the letter of the law and even into what are laws and why do we have them. We get open discussions of how to make different spaces better and more responsive, and in these areas Drake shows several practical ideas that could genuinely work – even though this is a fictional tale. Throughout all of this. Drake proves herself capable of at minimum holding her own with even the masters of these spaces who only write explicitly within them, such as John Grisham’s legal thrillers.

And then there are the more traditional women’s fiction aspects, the relationships that make this book truly sing throughout all the heaviness of the above discussions. The loving wife who is barely older than her stepdaughter, despite being in absolute love with her husband. The stepdaughter who resents the stepmother being so very close to her own age. The brilliant husband who dearly loves his wife *and* daughter. The best friend who happens to be the Governor of Texas, with all the behind the scenes politicking that entails. The mother who loves her daughter no matter what. The misunderstood older sister. And yes, in a nod to Drake’s real life (as anyone who follows her socials will know), a mischievous and nearly scene-stealing cat named Boomer.

In telling such a moving story, Drake truly masters bringing in such difficult discussions that *need* to be held at every level and in every corner of this great land.

Issues of how to handle terminal illness within a marriage – how far is each willing to go? What is the loving thing to do? Do the local statutes matter when it comes to trying to make the right decision? What *is* the right decision?

Issues of criminal justice as it relates to terminal illness, echoing at a societal level the same types of questions every relationship needs to answer within itself.

Issues of what we expect from our penal system – can people be rehabilitated, or should they be exclusively punished? Is there a difference between someone committing suicide, their spouse helping them, their doctor helping them, another person outside of a legally protected relationship helping them? Does the situation itself matter, and if it does, what do we condemn and what do we excuse?

All of this and so much more, Drake crafts into a moving and poignant tale of one particular family struggling to navigate these very complicated and delicate issues.

Read this book. Think about how *you* would handle these things. Think about how *we* should handle these things…

Or not. Maybe you jus need to cry, or even bawl your eyes out. Maybe these issues aren’t theoretical for you – maybe they’re as real for you as they are for the characters in this book. Maybe you’re just trying to find answers yourself.

Read this book too. And may you find comfort within its words even in the midst of your own storm.

But read this book, regardless. Very much recommended.

This review of For Roger by Laura Drake was originally written on November 20, 2023.

#BookReview: Hello Goodbye by Kay Bratt

Shocking Final Chapters Leave Readers Breathless. This book was one of the more interesting in this series both because the crime being investigated here is one of the more brutal Bratt has ever put into her fiction (at least in my now 5+ yrs of reading most of her work) *and* because Bratt’s style doesn’t normally lend itself to “oh my god I can’t stop reading I have to know what happens next NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” level pacing… and yet this one’s last several chapters read exactly that way. Thus, showing a truly deft hand with her storytelling along with strong growth as a storyteller. Indeed, perhaps one minor weakness here is that given the somewhat limited number of characters (wait, what? I know – but bear with me here), it isn’t really *possible* to show just how shocking this particular crime would be throughout an entire region of small Southern towns – though even here, Bratt works well within her style and within the world she has crafted through this series to relay that as best as possible. And yes, as others have noted, given everything that happens here… Book 8 *could* be the series finale… but I too agree I’d like to see it continue well beyond that point. Very much recommended.

This review of Hello Goodbye by Kay Bratt was originally written on November 17, 2023.

#BookReview: The Innocent Angels by Alison Belsham

Another (Mostly) Solid Entry In Series. This was a solid entry in the series for the most part, though perhaps it did have a touch of pacing issues. And yet I’ve struggled for nearly a week now to come up with words to put “on paper” about my experience with the book. Perhaps that is more on me though, as I really do think I’m reaching the limits of my own “hyper reading” abilities as new/ more pressing interests and needs come to bear in my life.

The book itself was intriguing in so many ways. The manner of murder, the placement, the investigation… and the personal, for the team. Specifically, I actually particularly enjoyed how an injury Lexi suffers at the beginning of the tale is worked throughout this story and isn’t just some random detail to make her “more relatable” – although it certainly does, to anyone who has ever trained for and ran a half marathon themselves. (Though to be clear, I managed to run 2 of them – separated by several months – completely injury free, back in my own running days. But getting injured during training or racing is actually a very common thing that I simply managed to be lucky enough to avoid.)

There were enough callbacks to the earlier books here to link it in series without being a spoilerfest for those books, so readers new to the series actually *could* enter it here – but I still recommend going back to Book 1 and entering the series there. On the other end, there wasn’t any real sense of continuation *needed* by the reader, so while I hope this series continues, it also wouldn’t feel incomplete if it ended as a trilogy. Still, here’s hoping we get many more books here, as I really do like the writing style and characterizations.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Innocent Angels by Alison Belsham was originally written on November 15, 2023.

#BookReview: The Rural Voter by Daniel M. Shea and Nicholas F. Jacobs

Intriguing Investigation Marred by Academic Elitism. A disclosure up front: as I get into the meat of this review momentarily, know that I am literally a man with “R == R” tattooed on his arm, which reads “Real is Real” for those less familiar with mathematics and C-family programming, and -for those less familiar with the work in question- it is the actual subheading for Part III of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Now, as to the actual text at hand for this review: It really was quite remarkable. Don’t let the three star rating fool you: this is a book that you *need* to read if you hope to have any remotely accurate understanding of politics in the United States, as it is the singular best book I’ve found to date on just what makes its titular subject a truly distinct class. In likely north of 90% of the time, I can tell you straight up that no matter what you *think* the rural voter is or how you *think* they vote or what you *think* they value… you’re more than likely wrong. Read this book to set your facts straight, and proceed from there as you will.

Now, as to the star deductions: The first is fairly standard for me, though some readers may have less of a problem with it. Quite simply, I expect any nonfiction book to be well documented, and by that I mean at least approaching the 20-30% mark (which is the typical average in my experience, though as some other reviews this year have noted, I’m slowly getting less stringent on that as long as the book in question is at least close to that number). However, this book had barely half of the bottom edge of the range, clocking in at just around 11% of the text. So there’s the first star deduction, one I knew of before I ever read a word of this text.

The second star deduction is likely given away by the “Marred By Academic Elitism” part of the title of this review. Indeed, while the authors both note that they actively live in rural America and work at a small college, their active partisanship is rather blatant and even openly embraced – and of the typical sort most would expect from Academia. Indeed, one reason I didn’t deduct *two* stars here – yes, some would say the elitism and partisanship are *that* heavy handed, certainly at times – was because even as the authors wanted *Democrats* to become more active with rural voters (and yes, they specifically noted exactly that multiple times, particularly later in the text), they also openly noted that more people *generally* need to get more active with rural voters and allow those voters the active choice in candidates and policies to support or oppose, rather than simply allowing national politics to take the fore unopposed. As a two time rural/ suburban small town City Council candidate myself… that was actually *the* message I centered both of my campaigns around – that the People would have a direct choice. (For those who care, if any, I lost both races roughly 75%-25%, though the second race was a Special Election and yet had higher turnout than the first, a General Election. So I consider that fact alone a moral win. :D)

But truly, even if you don’t agree with the authors’ heavy handed elitist partisanship – read this book anyway. They really do show quite a bit of solid research that you need to understand if you expect to play well in rural America generally, and even if you grew up in the town/ region you’re hoping to win an election it… this research may show even you things about the rural voter more generally that likely apply to even your specific rural voters. It will certainly be worth your effort to read and decide for yourself.

Which brings me to another class of reader, as someone who was *also* a former Party Leader (having served as both the local affiliate Chair of my local Libertarian Party as well as on the Libertarian Party of Georgia’s State Executive Committee as both a member and an appointee): Party Leadership, and particularly those in *any* US Political Party (to be clear, any organization that considers itself such, regardless of State election laws) who are responsible for candidate training and education, or even overall Party outreach or strategy. In any of those cases and in any of those Parties, you need to read this book. (And for those unaware, there actually are literally upwards of 100 such organizations with ballot access in at least one State across the United States, though only the Green Party and Libertarian Party have threatened – or achieved – enough ballot access to *theoretically* win the Presidency this Millennium.)

Overall a solid, if flawed, text, and very much recommended.

This review of The Rural Voter by Daniel M. Shea and Nicholas F. Jacobs was originally written on November 14, 2023.

#BlogTour: Plot Twist by Erin La Rosa

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a solid series continuation that still isn’t afraid to touch issues many in its genre will never get near. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Plot Twist by Erin La Rosa.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Solid Series Continuation, Maybe Slightly More For the Zoomer Set. As is my custom, I went in and read a lot of reviews of this book *after* I read the book myself. In a bit of an unusual move, I *also* actually went back and read my own review of Book 1 of this series – which I read roughly 200+ book ago. Here, La Rosa continues a lot of the things that made the first book so good – she isn’t afraid to shy away from far deeper issues, but also tries to make sure that they don’t overly weigh down the book (and for the most part, succeeds quite well there). She also uses various social media platforms – in this particular case, primarily current “darling” TikTok – to further the overall story, both in the actual plot and in the comments and DMs related to the various videos. Yes, that means that at some point this book will be quite dated – but it also means that it will serve as a bit of a time capsule for what this particular era really was like. So again, it actually works quite a bit better than its detractors in other reviews claim.

Now, about the Zoomer bit – our female lead is openly bisexual, her former partner is a lesbian, and there are a fairly good mix of sexualities, genders, and most other demographics present in this book. La Rosa actually used them quite well within the world she created here, though yes, depending on where you, the reader of my review lives and the life you lead… maybe this isn’t as expressive of the world you’ve created for yourself. Further, I know nothing of La Rosa beyond her pen name and her general writing style. So while others may want to critique her on not being “real” or not being “own voices” or “authentic” or some other bullshit… I truly don’t give a flying fuck about an author’s demographics, and the story La Rosa has crafted here is genuinely *good*. So complaining about those things, to me, speaks more about your own issues than La Rosa’s storytelling abilities.

Finally, the substance abuse angle. Yes, it is prominent. And yes, it likely doesn’t follow the path of real-world recommendations, particularly in the last chapters of the book when it comes to a head. There again, the dominant real-world recommendations aren’t the only ones, and there are many who have real-world problems with the real-world dominant recommendations. So the fact that La Rosa chose to craft a *fictional romance tale* the way she did… doesn’t bother me as much. And to be clear, I say this as the grandson of an alcoholic and the cousin of more than a few drug abusers, in addition to all the other areas of my life I’ve worked with those affected by these choices. But there again, if this is a topic that is going to be particularly sensitive to you, it says more about you and your issues than it does about La Rosa’s storytelling when you complain about these things in your review. So if you, the reader of my review, thinks this issue will be a problem for you… maybe spare yourself the hurt and La Rosa the 1* and just skip this book? No harm, no foul, and I wish you the best in your own struggles.

Overall, truly a solid sequel, and I’m truly looking forward to seeing how this series progresses. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Plot Twist by Erin La Rosa”

#BookReview: The Ezekiel Code by John Sneeden

Solid Adventure W/ The Promised Christian Apocalyptic Themes. Going into this review, I was going to call out the heavy use of a particular version of Christian eschatological (end times) thinking, one that the reader of both this review and this book may or may not agree with/ have issues with (but you should absolutely read this book even if you do, as it *does* work within-world). But then I noticed the description of the book, and a careful reading there actually points the reader to knowing that these themes will be there. So hey, you’ve now been warned both in the description and in this review. Still, again, even if you are die-hard 100% adamantly opposed to believing anything remotely similar to this strain of thought… read this tale anyway. It is more action/ adventure/ spy thriller than anything overly Christian, and even when it gets into its (several) eschatological discussions, it isn’t preachy about it. Instead, the tale lays out the in-world reasons for thinking this way, and as this is admittedly a fiction tale, it never actually makes “real”-world claims about the authenticity of any of them. Yes, prayer and conversion are also discussed here, but again, always in world and never overly preachy, and those familiar with American conservative evangelicalism will likely be familiar with most of the speech patterns used here. (Even if you’re not familiar with that particular version of Christianity, it will be close enough and explained well enough in-world to follow along.)

No matter what else, this is absolutely a fun adventure with tinges of the scifi, and absolutely worth the read no matter your thoughts on any “real”-world issue. Very much recommended.

This review of The Ezekiel Code by John Sneeden was originally written on November 7, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a solid Hallmarkie Christmas tale, perhaps with a not-as-typical feature. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Solid Hallmarkie Christmas Movie. The main way you’re at least somewhat positive Viola Shipman wrote this particular one is that it is set in her (his) beloved Michigan. Beyond that, this is a fairly standard and typical Hallmarkie type Christmas tale of the young girl who loves the magic of Christmas growing up into a successful business tycoon before coming back to her small hometown for Christmas. Indeed, probably the one thing that makes this one at least a *touch* different is that our heroine is *also* (theoretically) the villain…

Filled with the wonders of Christmas as portrayed in the US 1970s ish, complete with department stores sending out toy catalogs at Christmas and the ubiquitous Boris Karloff How The Grinch Stole Christmas, this is yet another tale that so many fans of Hallmark Christmas movies will absolutely love – and those who despise those types of tales will most likely not like much at all. And yes, there is a loveable and old dog.

Overall a solid tale of its type, if not a particularly standout “Viola Shipman” novel. Still, very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book excerpt, book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman”

#BlogTour: The Shelter by G.N. Smith

For this blog tour, we’re looking at yet another Scottish isolated environment mystery where at least the MC and author acknowledge the sheer improbability. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Shelter by G.N. Smith.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Not Again. HOW? At Least The MC And Author Acknowledge It. Third book in the series – and the third murder within a few weeks that our MC, police officer Macleish, finds herself locked in an enclosed environment with the bodies piling up and a murderer prowling about – but at least there is a quick line early where the MC (and thus, the author) acknowledge that this just doesn’t happen to people normally. Which then allows the reader to settle in and just enjoy the book. For the established formula, this one again works well – though perhaps with even more pure speculation and even less actual evidence throughout this particular tale, due to the exact nature of this particular “locked room” isolated environment. (Here, a blizzard in the Scottish Highlands, vs the first book’s flood-blocked valley and the second book’s storm-blocked island.) Solid overall character work again with the MC though, bringing in the best friend for this particular event and then having some solid progression on the overall mythos of the series in the finale. Which leads to lingering questions of if this series will continue and if it will continue with the existing formula…

Overall a solid book of its type, and one that is well worth the read. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Shelter by G.N. Smith”