#BookReview: Holding Together by John Shattuck, Sushma Raman, and Matthias Risse

Regurgitation Of Left-Of-Center Talking Points. I’ll sum this book up quickly: For any given problem it notes, it basically rehashes solidly leftist (though not extreme leftist) talking points before its policy recommendations come down to more National government spending and/ or action. Which perhaps is to be expected from a book dedicated to the memory of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The problem is that it routinely ignores critical details – such as when it claims that recent election reforms in Georgia “left seven Counties with only a single polling place open on Election Day”. Georgia has 159 Counties, ranging in size from Clarke County (128K people) (home of the University of Georgia) at 121 sq miles to Ware County (36K people) (largely home of the Okefenokee Swamp) at 903 sq miles and ranging in population from Talaiferro County (population 1,558, area 195 sq miles) to Fulton County (the City of Atlanta, basically) (population 1.065 million, area 529 sq miles). In making a claim such as the one these authors made, population, County size, and where the population clusters are within the County relative to where the singular polling place is are all crucial factors – that the authors blatantly ignore and don’t even seem to account for at all in their analysis. Similar issues can be seen on every topic they discuss, from the need for Civics education (where they support the 1619 project despite its blatant racism) to the environment and gun control and every other issue covered here.

Now, I will admit that this text is fairly well documented at roughly 30% – but this just shows just how much cherrypicking of data and sources these authors did to be so well documented yet skip over so many critical facts.

Overall, this is one where if you agree with the leftist slant of the authors you’ll likely enjoy much of what you find here, and if you disagree with it, you won’t find as much here. Still, there are a few interesting points here and there, it is simply overall truly lacking in adding anything to the cultural conversations – which is sad, because based on its title and written description, it had much more promise than it ultimately contained. Not recommended.

This review of Holding Together by John Shattuck, Sushma Raman, and Matthias Risse was originally written on June 3, 2022.

#TwelveDaysOfRomance #BlogTour: The Shoe Diaries by Darby Baham

For this entry in the Twelve Days Of Romance blog tour series, we’re looking at a tale that is, at its core, essentially a Black Sex And The City. For this blot tour, we’re looking at The Shoe Diaries by debut author Darby Baham.

Essentially A Black Sex And The City. This story is essentially Sex And The City, but replacing the mostly white cast with a mostly black one and replacing the “city” in question with DC. Same shoe fetish (though possibly amplified here?), used remarkably well as a plot device in this particular case. Same big oops moment with a former flame early on, only for the book to ultimately become a second chance romance later – with an interesting interlude in between. Minor discussions of the HBCU life and the central character wanting to be much more radical as a professional journalist than the “stodgy old white men” are allowing her to be, but at least here said “old white dudes” aren’t thinly veiled racist caricatures, as so many similar novels from less talented authors have done. (The desire to be more radical is more central than the HBCU mentions, to be clear.) Overall a strong tale that will clearly play well with a couple of demographics in particular, but may not be something that will play as well in a more general audience. Still, excellent book and very much recommended.

(Also, I should note that I’ve never watched a single full episode of anything in the Sex And The City franchise and only know the *general* plot from it being in the zeitgeist so much.)

After the jump, an excerpt followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#TwelveDaysOfRomance #BlogTour: The Shoe Diaries by Darby Baham”

#BookReview: Citizen Cash by Michael Stewart Foley

Detailed Examination Of Forgotten Elements Of A Legend. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and others of that generation via Country Gold Saturday Night on the radio in the late 80s and early 90s. My family would pile in the pickup truck, parents in the cab, myself and my two younger brothers in the back, and we would ride the backroads in the boonies of northwest Georgia between Atlanta and Chatanooga, listening to the radio and feeling the wind buffet our bodies. Honestly some of my most fond memories of the carefree era of my childhood, and Johnny Cash played a role there – a role he never knew about. And while I’ve known of him since then as a country music legend, I had never considered his politics or messages.

This book changes that.

This book, with its chapters focusing on specific elements of Cash’s political beliefs and how they developed, is less biography and more analysis of how the given message came to be espoused by this particular man and why. It shows that at his heart, Johnny Cash was a man who empathized with the low and down trodden. How his own childhood on a Depression era sharecropper farm came to shape much of how he saw the world, and how even his service in the US Air Force in Germany during the Korean War era would come to shape his views of the Vietnam War a decade later. The text does not shy away from Cash’s well known (and well documented) struggles with drugs and alcohol, even showing where Cash himself was hypocritical on the issues at times – ordering his wife never to touch alcohol, even in some letters where it is quite clear he himself is drunk while writing them. At the same time, it doesn’t spend much time on these particular facets or even his wives, the controversy surrounding how he eventually got together with June Carter, his various kids, or any other aspect an actual biography would. Instead, this text uses biography more as background and scaffolding to show how Cash came to the political positions he did and how he came to espouse them.

Truly an interesting take on a genuine legend, and very much recommended.

This review of Citizen Cash by Michael Stewart Foley was originally written on October 28, 2021.

#BookReview: From Parchment To Dust by Louis Michael Seidman

Progressive/ Liberal Polemic That Moves The Conversation Yet Doesn’t Go Through To The Logical Conclusion. Lysander Spooner once said, during the early Reconstruction period, that “Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize” (Spooner; No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, Appendix; 1870), and this is the same essential point that Seidman makes in proclaiming what he terms “Constitutional Skepticism”. Argued from a progressive/ leftist perspective of current American politics, Seidman’s text here uses at least one hyperbolic source (the oft-cited and yet demonstrably inaccurate and misleading GunViolenceArchive), stretches certain terms to implausible yet popular within his political allies lengths (claiming the events of Jan 6, 2020 in Washington DC to be an “insurrection”), and generally parrots progressive/ leftist talking points about at least two Supreme Court justices, the “problem of gun violence”, etc. All of this noted, within this particular sphere, Seidman actually makes his case reasonably well that the Constitution of the United States of America is, as Spooner proclaims, “of no authority”. And *to that point* and from the given perspective, Siedman is truly solid. Where he needs to expand his thinking a bit further is that he ultimately concludes that a more current Constitution, written by and binding on the “current generation” (which he fails to define, and fails to acknowledge that in any average human’s lifetime are three separate generations alive at any one time nor determine which of those generations should be allowed to bind the others according to his thinking) would be actually better than the one written so long ago and claiming to be binding forevermore. No, this is where he would actually do well to examine the writings of Spooner and other *anarchic* Constitutional Skeptics of American history and discuss his thoughts on their ideas as well. For, as Spooner then concluded his discussion quoted above, “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or bas been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist” – taking his own Constitutional Skepticism to its actual logical conclusion, which Seidman refuses to do. Still, this is very much a book that could actually help the overall political discussion both in the US and elsewhere, and it is one that many indeed need to read. Very much recommended.

This review of From Parchment To Dust by Louis Michael Seidman was originally written on October 1, 2021.

#BookReview: Tech Panic by Robby Soave

Solid Examination Of The Issues. I’ve read some of the author’s work over the last year in particular on his primary employer’s website (Reason.com), and that is actually how I found out about this book. So I knew roughly what to expect here, and that is pretty well what I got: a fairly solid look at the issues surrounding tech, elections, privacy, free speech, and other related issues from a moderate libertarian (small “L”, to be clear, since these things matter in circles that will likely be most open to reading this book) perspective that is mostly well-reasoned from that particular mindset. As more of an avowed Anarchist (and former Libertarian Party official and candidate, though I myself was more moderate in that era) and software development professional, eh, Soave allows government a bit too much intervention into tech companies than I’m personally comfortable with. Even here, however, most who are more aligned with the left/ right divide in the US are going to be hit fairly equally and largely find various arguments here that they will (and sometimes do) champion and others that they will (and often do) despise. Which in the age of hyperpartisanship and barely-there “reasoning”, is generally a sign of someone who *has* actually seriously and critically thought about the issues he is speaking of. An excellent work that really should be read by anyone trying to urge government action regarding technology companies, and thus one that quite a few should consider as we begin the march into the mid-term elections of 2022 in just a few more months. Very much recommended.

PS: The reason for the star deduction? Light bibliography, at least potentially corrected in a non-Advance Reader Copy version of the book. The ARC, however, had a bibliography that clocked in at just 9% of the text, vs a “more normal” range of 25-33% in my experience across almost 650 books since Jan 1, 2019 alone.

This review of Tech Panic by Robby Soave was originally written on September 14, 2021.

#BookReview: The Generation Myth by Bobby Duffy

Interesting And Well Documented Read. In this book, Duffy shows that what the media so often (and so lazily) proclaims to be “generational” divides… usually aren’t really. Yes, there is a generational component to at least some things, but time period (specifically for that “coming of age” period but also more generally throughout the individual’s life) and life progression play equally critical roles, and in many cases *more* critical roles, in showing how a particular group of people generally feel about a given issue. One of the things that makes the book a bit interesting is that even while presenting this much more balanced view of this particular field, Duffy exposes himself as a “climate” alarmist/ extremist, either not knowing about or outright denying similar work to his own in that particular field. (Ie, work showing that even though media lazily points to one thing, there are actually several different things at play and in some cases far more critical to the issue at hand. One work here on that topic similar to Duffy’s on this one is Unsettled by Stephen Koonin, released just 6 months or so prior to this book’s publication).

Still, this book is truly a remarkable work in its field (at least to someone who is *not* a fellow academic or in that field at all) and seems to be fairly comprehensive in its focus, even as its primary and secondary national emphases are the UK and the US, respectively. It looks at many, many issues from the social to the political and even to the personal, from housing to gender identity and sexual activity to political leanings and many, many more. This is also a fairly well documented text, with its bibliography clocking in at about 32% of the overall text – while not the *highest* I’ve noted in my work with advanced review copies, easily among the higher echelons there. Very much recommended.

This review of The Generation Myth by Bobby Duffy was originally written on September 14, 2021.

#BlogTour: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a book that further shows how an often stigmatized neurodivergence can actually be used for good rather than its stereotypical evil. For this blog tour we’re looking at Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian.

Complex Story With Interesting (But Unnecessary) Commentary In Finale. This is a particular idea that I didn’t really know I was drawn to until reading Victoria Helen Stone’s Jane Doe books, about a slightly more mature psychopath than these college students here. So when I saw the premise here, I pretty well *had* to check it out. The overall story works well and will keep you guessing – and you’re most likely not going to guess right until the final reveal. The various aspects of psychopathy shown work well, and work well to show that *everyone* can lead a fairly normal life – thus helping (a bit) to destigmatize the condition. Including the romance that at least a few other reviewers panned – I enjoyed it for showing that even true psychopaths are capable of it, though admittedly this isn’t a romance book and thus that element is never a core focus of the tale. The switching from character to character was usually abrupt and could have used a bit better editing, perhaps naming the character at the top of the chapter and even breaking into a new chapter (with character name) when a perspective jumps mid chapter. But that is perhaps something that could be seen at the beta/ ARC level (and this book is still almost two months from publication as I write this review) and *perhaps* corrected. So if you’re reading this review years after publication, know that this particular issue may or may not exist any longer.

The commentary in the finale, about the doc and his perspectives, wasn’t really necessary but did provide an interesting, rarely seen wrinkle. One I happened to know about outside of this book and largely agree with, so it was refreshing to see it both discussed and discussed in such a positive light here. But again, it was ultimately unnecessary for the tale and thus a bit of a momentum killer in the final stretch. (Though fortunately it *is* fairly brief, so there is that at least.)

Overall a truly enjoyable read with a fairly rare and possibly unique premise. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the usual publisher details – book description, author bio, social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian”

#BookReview: Haven Point by Virginia Hume

Excellent Debut. First off, I have to thank a very particular PR person at St Martin’s – they know who they are, I’m not going to publicly name them in this review. I had requested this book on NetGalley around the time I first saw it there, and after several weeks languishing in my “Pending Requests” queue there, I finally contacted a contact at SMP I’ve worked with on various other ARCs and Blog Tours in the past, and that person was able to approve my request for this book, and viola. I’m reading it. ๐Ÿ˜€ So while I normally don’t even mention this level of activity in reviews, this effort was unusual and therefore it deserves this unusual step of thanking the person involved directly in the review.

Having told (vaguely) the story of how I obtained this ARC, let me now note what I actually thought about the book, shall I? ๐Ÿ˜€

As I said in the title, this really was an excellent debut. There are a lot of various plot threads weaving themselves in and out of focus over the course of 60 or so years, and anyone of a few particular generations, particularly those from small towns, will be able to identify readily with many of these threads. In 2008, we get a grandmother waiting to reveal some secrets to her twentysomething/ thirtysomething grand daughter – this actually opens the book. Then we get both the grandmother’s life story – up to a particular pivotal summer – interspersed with the granddaughter’s life story – mostly focused on two summers in particular, but with some updates in between. The jumps in time are sequential, but not always evenly spaced, so for example we start the grandmother’s tale during WWII when she is serving as a nurse and is courted – in the rushed manner of the era – by a charming doctor. When we come back to her tale after spending some time in the granddaughter’s life, we may be days later or we may be years later, depending on how deep in the story we are at this point. Similarly, when we leave the granddaughter in 1994, we may come back to later that summer or we may come back to 1999. (Or even, more commonly for the granddaughter’s tale, back to 2008.) 2008 serves as “now”, and the histories of the two women remain sequential throughout the tale. The editing, at the beginning of the chapter, always makes clear where we are in the timeline, and yet this style of storytelling *can* be jarring for some. So just be aware of this going in.

But as a tale of generational ideas, aspirations, and difficulties… this tale completely works on so very many levels. Perhaps because I find myself of a similar age as the granddaughter, and thus much of what she lives, I’ve also lived – particularly as it relates to a small town home town and its divisions.

And, for me, Hume actually has a line near the end of the tale (beyond the 90% mark) that truly struck a chord: “Haven Point has its flaws, of course it does. But while it might not be the magic that some pretend, there was never really the rot she claimed either.” Perhaps the same could be said of my own “small town” (it now has a population north of 100K) home town.

Ultimately, this was a phenomenal work that many will identify with but some may struggle with. I will dare compare it to The Great Gatsby in that regard and in this one: keep with the struggle. It is worth it. Very much recommended.

This review of Haven Point by Virginia Hume was originally written on June 5, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden

This week we’re looking at an in-depth look at how and why we lie to each other via scams from history through modern times. This week we’re looking at The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden.

Thought Provoking, But Could Have Used More Documentation. This is a very thought provoking book that looks at lies and how we deceive both ourselves and others, using scams from prehistory all the way through the 2010s. In its examinations of how we deceive both ourselves and each other, it seems to this reader to be very well reasoned, very well thought out, and very well written. Lots of education, a fair degree of humor, and (warning to those “sensitive” to it), a few F-bombs to boot. Indeed, the one main weakness here is the dearth of its bibliography – coming it at just 6% ish of the text rather than the more common 25-30% of well-documented nonfiction texts. Also, the cover – I don’t believe Washington and the (very likely apocryphal, and thus… a lie) story of his childhood cherry tree is ever mentioned in the text. So the cover lies… which may be the point. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Overall a superb book, but the bibliography issue knocks it down a star. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Unsettled by Steven E Koonin

If You Want To Talk About Climate, You Need To Read This Book First. Seriously, it is *that* important and *that* illuminating. Here, Koonin lays bare what the science actually says – and what “the science” that so many claim is “settled” want to make you think. Chapter 4 alone, where Koonin – who helped *create* some of the first computer based climate models and literally wrote a textbook on the subject – discusses climate models and how reliable – or not – they are is worth the price of the book.

Ultimately this is a book that no partisan will be happy with. Koonin eviscerates positions on both the left and the right of American politics with equal aplomb, sticking to the facts of the matter at hand as the science itself dictates them and refraining from veering into political recommendations. Thus, where the science genuinely is clear that humans are having some impact or another, Koonin points this out in precise detail – precise enough for the purposes of this text anyway, while citing the studies that show the more scientific level precision. Where the science is more muddled, Koonin points this out too – and explains where we know what we don’t know and even some of where we don’t know what we don’t know.

This book, per its very cover, sets out to uncover what we know, what we don’t know, and why the distinction matters – and it does exactly this truly remarkably well. Very much recommended.

This review of Unsettled by Steven E Koonin was originally written on February 7, 2021.