In The Weeds: Book Review: No Place To Hide…

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As the #InfoSec noob that I am, I’ve been reading up on everything and anything that has to do with the digital world. I can’t recall who recommended the book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald, but I’m very glad that they did. This tome has renewed a sense of defense of our democracy I haven’t had in a long time.

I filled an entire notebook full with passages from this, posted such passages on Instagram, and digested this book in a way I haven’t digested a non-fiction book in a long time. It changed my world view even further than my time in the military, my time as a mother, or my time as a journalist.

If you’re working currently in the digital/info security realm and haven’t read this book, you need to. If you are just an average American and are confused about why Snowden was a big deal, or why the Patriot Act has created a beast in the NSA, you need to read this. If you think you have privacy, you need to read this.

When I was a Soldier with a clearance, I learned early on that there was no such thing as privacy. But, the post 9-11 world has taken the no privacy thing to a new level. It’s not just people who commit to an enlistment or a commission or other government service, it’s everyone. That includes you who are reading this.

Writer of No Place To Hide, Glenn Greenwald, who said “I have been to the darkest corners of government, and what they fear is light”

Greenwald takes us through from the very beginning of all the revelations from Snowden — from first contact to those amazing days in a Hong Kong hotel, and the implications for the current surveillance state we’re living in. For every one of my friends who is a conspiracy theorist, a book like this just makes some of their more fantastic claims that much more believable.

Greenwald’s writing is clean and understandable, even in the face of more of the technical aspects of digital surveillance and the laws surrounding what the U.S. government claims is their authorization for mass surveillance and downright spying on American Citizens.

As a mother of children who have grown up with computers and access to the world through ubiquitous handheld devices 24-7,  Greenwald’s assertion that the implications of our current government’s processes is frightful: “Especially for the younger generation, the Internet is not some stand-alone, separate domain where a few of life’s functions are carried out. It is not merely our post office and our telephone. Rather, it is the epicenter of our world, the place where virtually everything is done. It is where friends are made, where books and films are chosen, where political activism is organized, where the most private data is created and stored. It is where we develop and express our very personality and sense of self.”

Sense of self. Those words echoed in me during the days that I read and re-read this book. Is it hard not to understand with great prejudice that my own Government is stealing my sense of self under the auspices of deterring terrorism, for which, as Greenwald’s book points out has not happened. He makes a great point with much evidence that “In fact, mass surveillance has had quite the opposite effect:  it makes detecting and stopping terror more difficult.”

No Place to Hide makes clear that “while the government via surveillance knows more and more about what its citizens are doing, its citizens know less and less about what their government is doing, shielded as it was by a wall of secrecy.”

Given the current political climate, the media and Russian hacking on our election process, Greenwald’s book is a bastion of journalism principles. He even gets into corporate journalists and why they have eroded our democracy and allowed such mass surveillance to occur, including repeating histories on the government gaining mass surveillance grounds and then losing it following revelations. Technology today being what it is, fighting that via journalism is tougher.

What our citizens seem to have forgotten is that “Democracy requires accountability and consent of the governed, which is only possible if citizens know what is being done in their name.” The fourth estate — the press — helps make sure that things hidden are revealed. But, no one can make you read it. I hope that after you see my post here, you’ll pick this book up and read it. Our lives may depend upon it. Sorry to be so mel0dramatic, but as Snowden said to Greenwald, “The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs… If you’re not acting on  your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.”

Time to get real. Time to get smart. There’s No Place To Hide, so Time to Fight.

 

Note:  If you want to help, but aren’t sure where to start, consider supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They do good work towards our Internet and privacy freedoms. 

Book Review: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

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18077752ACCEPTANCE, Book 3 in THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY.  By Jeff VanderMeer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 2014

5/FIVE STARS.

*****

If you haven’t read the entire Southern Reach Triology, you need to get on it. Now.

This is a series, especially this last book, that will spawn fandoms, fan fiction, movies, youtube discussions, and I’m sure will start to pepper advanced lit class syllabuses every where. Make sure all your friends and family read because you will want to talk about this story repeatedly and indepth.

This book is horror. It is dystopian science fiction. It is creative environmental journalism. Mostly it’s epic weird as only VanderMeer can deliver.

I’m a sucker for writing that pushes my understanding of story and language. VanderMeer does both in his deconstruction of what is Area X in this volume of the series. His change of point of view for character self-examination is brilliant. In this book especially, the terror (and terrior) is always just bubbling to the surface and you can’t help but shudder as you read. That bar scene, the scene with Whitby in the attic, the phone call with Control and The Voice, and the spooky owl that seemingly has human intelligence.

On page 314 of ACCEPTANCE, I swear VanderMeer knows what it is to be in the midst of a PTSD-trigger fest.  I will never look at a darkness in the water again without wondering if its a leviathan, or descend in a cave and wonder if I’ll meet the moaning creature.

I’ve read each in the series twice and will likely start over again.

Now who wants to talk about this book with me?

Book Review & Giveaway: SUGAR SKULLS

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25789738Hey, fellow Bibliophiles! I wanted to share with you an audiobook (CD type) I thoroughly devoured during the holidays:  SUGAR SKULLS. Reading time is precious for many of us, especially with work, kids, home, and community responsibilities. SUGAR SKULLS takes you all away from that and into this fantastical world and into the life of Vee and Micah — young adults brought to the city of Cyrene, where energy is currency and music is the lifeblood of its young energy producers. The story is a great ride. Honestly, this book surprised me because it is not a genre I read much of, but found myself unable to break away from it. I loved the way the authors played with language and created a fresh, futuristically believable, and fascinating world, all the while maintaining a strong emotional, human connection with the relationship between the two main characters. The love scenes were sexy without being raunchy and moved the story forward, a little hot flash for your personal thrum collectors and then back into the action. The voice actors did a fabulous job. I especially enjoyed the performance of the “Micah” character. I’d love to see more from this authorial collaboration of Lisa Mantchev and Glenn Dallas. Five stars of fun.

Because this book was gifted to me, I’d love to pass it along, as well. Only catch is you have to comment here with another recently released book you’d recommend to me that I haven’t read. So your only cost is a little time to share the bibliophile love. You can check out my Goodreads (although every book I’ve read is not on there, but it gives you a good idea) if you’re wondering if I’ve already read the book you recommend. Then I’ll randomly pick a winner and mail you the audio book, SUGAR SKULLS. Sorry, out of country friends and readers, I can only do U.S. delivery of this fun giveaway. Please comment here — not on social media. Commenting here is your entry to the giveaway.

Please share this post so we can get some good recommendations and picking a winner is as wild a ride as SUGAR SKULLS.

Happy reading and/or listening!

Note:  The audio book was dispatched to an anxious reader back in February 2016. 

Book Review: SHOTGUN GRAVY by Chuck Wendig

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Like a blast of pellet in the face, SHOTGUN GRAVY explodes right from the get go and you want to follow around Atlanta Burns as if she’s the Bonnie to your Clyde. This book is a 4-star thriller on my virtual shelf.

This novella has been out for a long time (since 2011, to be exact), and I’ve read it twice now – my first foray into the ebook world. So, I blame that for making me take so dang long (my slow reading pace aside), as my reading time normally involves a hard-copy book. I’m not a luddite, I just prefer it the old-fashioned way. Regardless, once I did read SHOTGUN GRAVY, I sped through it; turning pages faster than Ms. Burns shotgun of justice.

There’s something darkly satisfying in this story – your inner dorky teen exalts the protagonist for doing the things you sometimes wish you could have done when you were a teen. If you’ve somehow forgotten your teen years, read this so you understand that it’s hard to tell a teenager “It Gets Better” when they are in the midst of a bad bully culture. If you’re the parent of a teen, reading this may well help you understand well why your kid is so frustrated with the hierarchy of high school culture and the ignorant parents that allow it to endure.

Don’t be scared that SHOTGUN GRAVY is all doom and gloom, though. Wendig has a great way with words (if you don’t follow his blog TerribleMinds this might be news to you), so there’s humor and a true-to-reality glimmer of hope. I would say that teachers of teens, parents of teens, as well as every teen and adult around should read this book.

Without giving it away, the ending leaves you not only wanting more, but knowing that blasting back at bullies is just as hard as taking it. You decide if Atlanta and her cohorts pick the right path. Regardless, this is a YA as YA books should be – dealing with real issues and not sugar-coating it or downplaying just how bad it can be to be an outcast in the realm of teenage-hood.

As I said, the ending leaves you wanting more. Not to leave you dissatisfied, Wendig followed up with Bait Dog, a full-length novel for the return of Atlanta Burns. I’m warming up my Nook now. He made reading on the e-reader enjoyable, so I’m betting Wendig’s Burns in Bait Dog will do it again. You would be wise to do the same.

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Reviewer’s Note:  I don’t write a review unless I’ve read the book at least twice. I may give some stars to a once-read book, but an in-depth review means I’ve read it at least twice.

I use the system of 1 to 5 stars. Here’s how that plays out in my scale:

Five Stars: this is a work that will grace my bibliophile shelves, for which I will likely read other books by the author, and for which I’ll read again, and will likely become part of my “comfort reads.” These are books that have wrecked, changed, inspired, or otherwise rewarded me doubly for spending time with them.

Four Stars:  means I’ll likely read it again, as well as recommend it to others.

Three Stars: is a book I’d recommend people read.

Two Stars: means that I found pleasure in reading it to the end, but I likely wouldn’t recommend it to someone else – and I likely list what that reason is.

One Star: are typically books I can’t finish. But, they get one star because every reader is an individual. What I can’t finish, you may love. Also, the author put the story out there and that is brave and incredible and I give them props for that. Typically I will denote why I believe I can’t finish the story.

Book Review: ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

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Jeff VanderMeer reads from ANNIHILATION at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle. Febuary 2014. (Photo by C.Brewster)

ANNIHILATION (Book 1 of The Southern Reach Triology) by Jeff VanderMeer (4 STARS in the Fiction Farm nomenclature)

Reviewer’s Note:  I don’t write a review unless I’ve read the book at least twice. I may give some stars to a once-read book, but an in-depth review means I’ve read it at least twice. I use the system of 1 to 5 stars. Here’s how that plays out in my scale:

Five Stars: this is a work that will grace my bibliophile shelves, for which I will likely read other books by the author, and for which I’ll read again, and will likely become part of my “comfort reads.” These are books that have wrecked, changed, inspired, or otherwise rewarded me doubly for spending time with them.

Four Stars:  means I’ll likely read it again, as well as recommend it to others.

Three Stars: is a book I’d recommend people read.

Two Stars: means that I found pleasure in reading it to the end, but I likely wouldn’t recommend it to someone else – and I likely list what that reason is.

One Star: are typically books I can’t finish. But, they get one star because every reader is an individual. What I can’t finish, you may love. Also, the author put the story out there and that is brave and incredible and I give those props for that. Typically I will denote why I believe I can’t finish the story.

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My first read through this book took about 48 hours – the same amount of time before the narrator of the story finds she is nearly alone in Area X, a place that terrifies the world outside. For those of you who know me, getting a book read in that short amount of time is unheard of in my busy life. Regardless, I immediately began to read it again. In 20 days time, I had read it through a second time. Obviously, this factoid means you’ll likely find it a fast read, too.

 

ANNIHILATION is the first book in the Southern Reach series, where the reader joins the 12th expedition into Area X, which has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades. Nature has reclaimed the area and multiple expeditions into the area have been met with mysterious tragedy. The 12th expedition is made up of four women:  an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the government-appointed leader; and the narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

 

VanderMeer’s reputation for writing the weird does an ouroboros on itself in ANNIHILATION. He circles the reader back and forth so that you can sense that nature is not only devouring humanity, but itself throughout the book, and doing so in an unknown, yet spooky way. In science fiction, the theme of man creating something unnatural is prevalent; VanderMeer turns that theme on its ear when it’s perhaps nature doing that to humanity.

 

VanderMeer proves himself a writer’s writer in this latest work – dumping psychology, horror, science fiction, and mystery all into this first book. The language, descriptions, interiority of the narrator (the biologist) are all at once dominating, unsettling, and thrust the reader out of their comfort zone – much like Area X in the story.

 

Underlying all the weird in the story is an undercurrent of a sad love story between the biologist and her husband, a member of the ill-fated 11th expedition, who did return, only to be taken from her.

 

Some of the quotes from the book that I had to stop and write down have more to do with the inner journey this book makes you take. Those lines include:

 

“Some things I will never be good at.” ~The Biologist, ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

 

“Some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough.” ~The Biologist, ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

 

As noted above, this book pushes genre borders, for which I find as another positive for reading this book. Mish-mash genres and give me a little of all the things I adore. ANNIHILATION does that.

 

I can’t wait for May for the second in the series, AUTHORITY. The last in the trilogy, ACCEPTANCE, is forthcoming in September. Talk about having good-reads for the year…