#BookReview: The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle

Meganets And Pre-Networks. Ok, I know what you’re thinking – what does computer networking and the Internet have to do with this book? Well, on some level, it is somewhat obvious – one of our main characters is a social media “influencer” with a million followers. But on another level… Belle actually manages here to show the pitfalls and advantages of two different eras of human history, perhaps without even being cognizant of doing this, just seeking timelines that worked for the story she was telling and making the other details work around that. Yet speaking of details, there are some wrong ones here, particularly around guns – which anyone who follows Belle’s own social media knows that the anti-gun paranoia expressed by one main character is at least somewhat close to Belle’s own real life feelings (though, to be clear, I am not saying the character’s specific motivations for these feelings are anywhere near Belle’s, as I have never seen any public comments from her anywhere near those specific actions). Specifically, guns are not “registered” anywhere in Georgia, not even in Fulton County (home of Atlanta and generally heavily left-of-center of American politics, much less non-Atlanta Georgia politics). Still, going back to the main thrust of this review, Belle truly does do a remarkable job of showing just how easily today’s meganets can be used for harm… while also showing that the pre-meganet era was still pretty dang bad itself. All told this is a remarkable tale that manages to bring elements to the general setup not often seen anywhere else – and never seen before in my own reading within the genre – and thus this alone is quite commendable. Very much recommended.

This review of The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle was originally written on October 30, 2022.

#BookReview: Meganets by David Auerbach

A Needed Conversation. As someone also in tech at a megacorporation (though to be clear, not the same ones Auerbach has worked for) that openly seeks to employ several of the technologies discussed in this book, and as someone who finished this book right as Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter was being completed and Facebook announced that it was open to colluding with Twitter regarding content moderation… this was an absolutely fascinating look at my field and where at least one part of it currently is. But it is also written in a very approachable manner, one such that anyone who so much as uses any social media even casually or who interacts with their government virtually at all (if you see what I did there ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) will be able to follow along with reasonably well. Fear not! No Discrete Modeling, Statistics, Calculus, or any other high level collegiate mathematics Computer Science majors are forced to endure will be required here. ๐Ÿ™‚

And yet, this is also a book that everyone *needs* to read and understand. Auerbach manages to boil his primary thesis of what meganets are and how they operate into three very simple yet utterly complex words: Volume. Velocity. Virality. And he repeats these words so *very* often that you *will* remember them long after you’ve read this text. (Though I note this writing this review just 24 hrs after finishing my read of it, and knowing I’ll read at least 30 more books before 2022 is done. So check back with me on that after this book actually publishes in about 4.5 months. :D)

Indeed, really the only problem here – potentially corrected before publication – is that at least in the copy I read, the bibliography only accounted for about 15% of the text, which is fairly light for a nonfiction book in my experience, where 20-30% is more normal and 50% is particularly well documented. Thus, the single star deduction.

Still, this truly is a book everyone, from casual readers uninterested in anything computer yet who are forced to use computers in modern life to the uber-techs actually working in and leading the fields in question to the politicians and activists seeking to understand and control these technologies, needs to read. Very much recommended.

This review of Meganets by David Auerbach was originally written on October 29, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Free Speech by Jacob Mchangama

This week we’re looking at a particularly timely – though not *quite* complete – look at the history of one of the most important human rights – up there with the rights of property and of defending said property. This week we’re looking at Free Speech by Jacob Mchangama.

One Of The Most Thorough Histories Of The Field I’ve Come Across. This is exactly what the title here says – easily one of the most thorough histories of the concepts of free speech I’ve ever seen, from their earliest incarnations into where the two competing versions came into their own in Athens – more unlimited, though not without certain hypocrisies – and Rome – more elite controlled and even, as the title notes, into the realm of social media, Donald Trump, and even (with a few scant sentences) COVID-19. Timed a bit interestingly (and without any way to know beforehand) so close to the Neil Young / Joe Rogan spat over Spotify, this is truly a strong history for anyone who claims to promote the ideal, one that shows that pretty well everyone who does or ever has has been a hypocrite to some degree or another regarding the topic. Indeed, if any real critique can be had here, it is that Mchangama, even while noting the cenorious actions of social media giants of late, fails to note that corporations can have a chilling effect on the free speech of their employees and those they do business with (hello, Spotify and too many businesses to list here). Though he does at least touch on the idea as it relates to modern academia and yes, cancel culture. There are also a few throwaway lines late re: “fact checkers” and COVID “misinformation” that are more YMMV level on, but which in the end aren’t substantial enough to warrant a star deduction over. This is, again, absolutely a book that anyone who claims to love free speech should absolutely read. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: The Country Cottage by Elizabeth Bromke

Dark Side Of The Reno. This is a modern day romance with old school flair, featuring concepts of social media “influencer” (God how I hate that term, particularly when applied to myself), DIY craze (and the multitudes of shows and networks that capitalize on it), cryptocurrency… and an old bed and breakfast that suddenly gets handed down to an unsuspecting nephew. As with Emily Bleeker’s What It Seems, this does a really good job of showing the darker/ more realistic side of certain aspects of social media and television… but it *is* still a romance, and a shortish one to boot. So there is quite a bit of story in these 130 or so pages. And Bromke does it all so very well. And then, because this *is* a series starter… there is a “dun dun dun!” moment in the closing words that will have you waiting with bated breath for Book 2! Very much recommended.

This review of The Country Cottage by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on February 2, 2022.

#BlogTour: Fan Club by Erin Mayer

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a book that starts a bit generically before diving into a surreal fever dream with the kind of abrupt ending that works here but that some have problems with. For this blog tour we’re looking at Fan Club by Erin Mayer.

Twenty Something Angst Turned Fever Dream. This is a book that you can largely pluck the *exact* details out and have a version of pretty well every single angsty twentysomething “My life sucks and this pointless job is draining my very soul” tale out there. At least through the first third ish. Then our lead character allows herself to be drawn into an obsessive and honestly creepy “fan club” of a singer (consisting of exactly four other members). Around the 50% mark, some feature of the narration or possibly just a lack of editing turns the tale into more of a fever dream, where all of a sudden we’re sporadically getting the perspective of the very singer the narrator is now obsessed with. At this stage, the book becomes much harder to follow in any logical form, and the reader just has to adapt to diving into the crazy and holding on to whatever shred of sanity ties you into the “real” (ie, the reader’s own) world, because with the combination of knocks to her head, illicit drugs, and other factors… it becomes truly less clear for a bit what is real and what isn’t, in-story. But then we come out of that for the ending, which is one of those abrupt ambiguous types that many other readers have problems with and I personally rarely do. (Nor do I here.) Ultimately I’m chalking up the weirdness of the back half to a lack of editing rather than a functional error in storytelling, which preserves the five stars for the overall book. Recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book, followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, social/ web links, and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Fan Club by Erin Mayer”

#BookReview: Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger

Interesting Use Of Second Person Perspective. This book uses second person perspective for most of the narrative, which is interesting enough in its scarcity that the review needs to be based around that simple fact. And I gotta admit, it was the only real issue I had with this book – yet it was fairly significant. To the tune that I could easily see others reducing stars over this issue alone.

Still, as a story, this one was compelling. You had all the right elements for a solid missing person thriller, including a tragic backstory for our primary narrator. You had the major reveals spaced well and a plotline that never felt overly lagging. For fans of this type of story, this one was perfectly within the usual wheelhouse there, and you’re likely going to enjoy this one.

If you can get beyond the second perspective storytelling, which was so jarring that I truly feel the need to bookend the review with noting its presence. Very much recommended.

This review of Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger was originally written on August 29, 2021.

#BookReview: The Happy Accidents by Jamie Beck

Awesome Yet Also Problematic. This story is Beck’s usual excellence as far as storytelling itself goes. Beck sucks you in with the aftermath of almost a Hangover (movie) type night (though to be clear, not *that* wild) where three women – two sisters and their friend – have made life-changing decisions… and now have to handle the repercussions. We open the story the morning after, and only ever get the high level details of what happened that night – the story is about life *after*. And for two of the three women, Beck does *amazing* work showing that even in screw-ups, good things can happen. The other lady’s story is the more problematic one, and it comes from Beck’s own unfamiliarity with the growing subculture of the childfree. Seeming without meaning to, Beck confronts this particular issue as much of society at large does… and unwittingly causes many eyes to roll. Having been a part of this community for several years (I’m a 38yo DINK – Dual Income No Kids and happily childfree), know that if you’re a part of this community and in particular a woman in it, this storyline is going to make you want to throw this book off the nearest dam or into the nearest bonfire. But don’t, because the other two subplots are truly excellent, and even this one is dealt with *some* degree of realism. Overall an excellent book, and let’s face it – even with its growing popularity, the life of the childfree isn’t exactly dominant yet. Meaning most readers will enjoy all three subplots very much. Very much recommended.

This review of The Happy Accidents by Jamie Beck was originally written on August 16, 2021.

#BlogTour: Second Chance Love Song by Jessica Lemmon

For this penultimate stop on our Slide Into Summer Romance Blog Tour Series, we’re looking at a solid second chance Harlequin romance. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Second Chance Love Song by Jessica Lemmon.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Solid Harlequin Romance. This is a Harlequin romance of the classic type, though they’re trying to get away from the somewhat infamous cover set apparently. ๐Ÿ˜€

For those that love that style – and there is a very clear business reason why the publisher puts out so many books of exactly the same style – know that you’re getting exactly what you’re after here. Solid romance, a couple of sex scenes, a Hallmarkie type plot and conflict resolution (with a fair amount of angst to boot), etc. This book is perfectly within your comfort zone, and it is a solid, fun, and short-ish book to boot. So go ahead and hand over the money you know you’re going to anyway, and have fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

For those that are more hesitant, perhaps *because* of the infamy, know that if you’re open to the romance genre at all, this one is going to be pretty well exactly what you expect (see above). It is truly enjoyable, but also very much within the conventional bounds of the genre. Some heartstrings pulled, and a fun (if foreseeable due to genre rules, but still interesting in exact manner) resolution that plays on a bit of a darker moment from earlier in the book.

There really isn’t much more to say here. Again, if you’re open to the genre at all, you’re going to have fun with this book. If you’re not, you probably aren’t even reading this review. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt and the publisher details. ๐Ÿ™‚
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Second Chance Love Song by Jessica Lemmon”