#BookReview: Everyone Is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf

Solid Mystery Lacks Real World Punch Of Other Similar Works. At this point, we’ve all read some variant of some mystery set in and around the world of reality television, right? This is truly a solid tale of its type, so far as it goes, so even if you haven’t read one, this is a good one to start with there.

I’m not sure if a certain aspect of the tale was *meant* to be picked up on early or if I (and apparently a few other reviewers) just *did*, but to me if that particular aspect was supposed to be a “twist”, it was about as curvy as say the bend in the US coastline from roughly Charleston to roughly Jacksonville – ie, easily seen from orbit without much effort at all.

The thing blatantly missing – or perhaps it was so subtle that even I simply missed it within this text, as other reviewers have said they loved its presence – was the lack of any actual social commentary baked in to the tale of “reality television”, as most in this space tend to have to some degree or another. While I’m glad there was no heavy handed preaching on the subject – no matter the view the author was trying to convey – I do wish that there had been *some*, or perhaps, again, at least some that was more obvious and memorable.

Outside of those two aspects though, this really was a fun and solid mystery of its type, maybe not quite as hard hitting as some of Gudenkauf’s previous works, but that is also ok – sometimes both the writer and the reader need a chance to simply enjoy a tale without having to think too hard or without having emotional strings pulled too heart or without too much strain on the heart re: pulse and blood pressure. Not to say that this tale is bland, it absolutely is not. It just isn’t *as* intensive as Gudenkauf’s prior books – akin to an “easy” 5K at half of your normal running pace while training for a half marathon. You’re still getting a good workout, it simply isn’t anywhere near the intensity that could hurt you. ๐Ÿ˜€

Overall an enjoyable work and a solid one given its premise. Very much recommended.

This review of Everyone Is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf was originally written on March 15, 2024.

#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. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) 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.

#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: Outrage Machine by Tobias Rose-Stockwell

Strong Claims Need Strong Documentation. Ultimately, the greatest weakness of this book comes down to the title of the review – and the reason for both star deductions here. The text is barely documented at all, coming in at just 10% or so of the overall text – well below the 20-30% which is more typical in my extensive experience reading advance reviewer copies of nonfiction texts. Though as I’ve begun noting of late, I may need to revise that expectation down a touch – to 15%, not 10%. The other star deduction comes from the other part of the title – while the overall premise about the titular Outrage Machine seems sound and the explanations directly on it seem fairly spot-on, Rose-Stockwell uses the sciences, history, and even semi-current events in a way that actually brings to mind the practice rampant in the Christian nonfiction space known as “prooftexting”, wherein Bible verses are cited outside of their context, and often even contrary to their original context, in “proof” of some point or another. Here, Rose-Stockwell does this with the sciences and history, both near and far. Yes, many of the examples he cites seem at least somewhat relevant, but even in the most relevant of them (such as his discussion of COVID), he ignores and even denigrates needed context which deviates from his intention. At other times, he simply gets the needed context quite wrong, which was particularly noticeable in his treatment of some of the issues surrounding the Founding of the United States and which other, far more well documented, texts have explored in much more and more even depth.

All of this noted, to be crystal clear, this really is an important book that when focusing on its central premise of the Outrage Machine and how it works both now and throughout history, is actually quite good. I was simply hoping for a better argued, perhaps slightly more academically rigorous, explanation of the topic at hand – and this is almost more of a memoir form of discussing how Rose-Stockwell realized the idea himself and came to explain it to himself, if that makes any sense. But again, truly an important work that can legitimately add to the overall discussion, and thus recommended.

This review of Outrage Machine by Tobias Rose-Stockwell was originally written on May 2, 2023.

#BookReview: Swamp Story by Dave Barry

WTF – Welcome To Florida. This is one of those sprawling South Florida/ Everglades “Florida Man” stories that are so extremely entertaining even in the real life versions, and here comedic story master Dave Barry pulls no punches. Similar in tone and style to Jimmy Buffet’s A Salty Piece Of Land, there *is* some social/ societal commentary here – but it is buried in a tale that is so “unrealistically real” (as another reviewer noted) that it is one of those “jokes with a point” that are freaking hilarious – yet also perhaps a touch too real. Specifically, much of the commentary in this particular tale revolves around social media and “fame”/ “celebrity”, and Barry’s observations here – baked into the overall narrative of the tale – are quite biting. And yet… the over the top insanity humor is never far away, and is ultimately the driving force of the tale. If you’ve been experiencing too much seriousness in your “real” life or in your reading and you need a break from all the death, drama, and destruction… this is the perfect getaway, no matter where you may physically be or what time of year it may be where you are. Very much recommended.

This review of Swamp Story by Dave Barry was originally written on December 31, 2022.

#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”