Lurking: How a Person became a User by Joanne McNeil

The first two chapters of the book were harder for me to digest, and it wasn’t until the third chapter “Visibility” that I began to connect with the author

BOOK REVIEW BANNER LURKING BY JOANNE MCNEIL

This book can be found here on Goodreads and here on Amazon

The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest review

This book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social Media

Publisher’s release date: 25 February 2020

Check out my animated book cover art for this book here!

The distinction between a “user” and a person is both evident and understated. Joanne McNeil makes it apparent from the beginning that the reference to a person as a “user” has both positive and negative connotations. This book is partially a journey towards understanding how and why this word is used in online communities. It is also a window into viewing the impact the term “user” has had on those communities and the people that created and inhabited them – people like you and me.

“Everybody has a trace of an ache—some eternal disappointment, or longing, that is satisfied, at least for a minute each day, by a familiar group and by a place that will always be there.”

The author takes the time to visit the Internet in its infancy. Some of the websites mentioned won’t even register with anyone born after the 90s. But for those of us a little older, it’s like taking a trip down memory lane. I vaguely remember the days of AOL, Napster, mIRC, Netscape Navigator. Many of these communities were frequented by users just as much as online communities like 4-Chan and Reddit are today. It’s interesting to see her view on these communities and how they came and went and were inevitably replaced by others. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the more recent communities are better (and in some ways, they can be a lot worse), but it’s fun to think back to more carefree times when the possibility of getting “doxxed” was never a thing.

The first two chapters of the book were harder for me to digest, and it wasn’t until the third chapter “Visibility” that I began to connect with the author, mainly through the “Friendster” pages. While I barely remember “Friendster” as an online community, the real-life events and details Joanne discusses in this chapter resonated on a personal level. This quote, in particular, is a good example;

“Then again, people fulfilled with their lives generally do not waste time on social media”

The quote above got me thinking about the social media interactions I do have and whether or not this quote relates to my own experience or anyone else’s for that matter. I guess, in a way, we are all seeking fulfilment of one kind or another, and nowadays, there are just so many ways to obtain it. Back then, it seemed like choices were a lot more limited as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr weren’t invented yet. But the point Joanne makes here is quite crucial. Everyone needs something. Everyone is searching for a way to make their lives better. Everyone needs communication and a sense of community. Everyone wants to belong. This chapter is well written and relatable and made me feel validated in my decision to review this book. As a reader, I looked for a little bit of myself in these pages and was lucky enough to find it.

“Blogging was a departure from the sanctitude and solitude of writing”

Reading about someone talking about how the term “blogger” and “blogging” came into existence is funny to me. It’s funny because I consider myself a “blogger” of sorts; I’ve worked as a freelance writer and even continue to blog on several platforms, including this one today. And the quote above is every bit the reality. Why write for just yourself when you can share what you think and feel with the whole world? Well, some people probably continue using private diaries online and offline, and I used to do this too. There is a lot that can be said for keeping your thoughts entirely private. Putting thoughts and feelings on the internet is never private, even when you choose to post anonymously. Someone somewhere can see it, has access to it and can do just about anything with it. It is never entirely yours. That in itself is something to think about.

The way that the book is segregated is essential to the flow of the book. Joanne uses her own experiences as a method of explaining many of the fundamental uses the internet has had and continues to have. And there are questions I found extremely relevant not only then but now such as has the landscape of what we consider to be “cyberspace” changed? And if so, how? Have we changed with it? Reading some of Joanne’s paragraphs brings the “idea” of what the internet is to life. It becomes a living, breathing thing capable of both growth and stagnation, just as we are. We are as much a part of the digital world as we are separate from it. For some of us, this is almost a co-dependent relationship.

In the following chapters, namely “Sharing” and “Community,” I made even more connections with the author, particularly since I use many of the social media communities she refers to here. I distinctly remember the “Tumblr” ban where all adult content was banned in 2018. I was online and present for the aftermath, which didn’t have any impact on my personal experience at all other than receiving a warning for reblogging an image of Adam Driver with his shirt off. You may be interested to know that the people and creators I was particularly connected to are still there today, and I now have less of a reason to use Tumblr Savior as a result of the 2018 ban. I consider this a definite positive but not all Tumblr users would agree. And this was just one of many real-world examples I connected with on a personal level.

My first impression of this book was that it was full of facts and information about digital super-companies that I already knew of and was not interested in pursuing as a topic. But that was naive of me. As I progressed through the book, I felt as though I was looking into a mirror. Reading a very personal account of how the internet has changed us as human beings while also experiencing Joanne’s journey through the years was enlightening. I think this is a significant book to read, particularly in the digital age. You may not connect with everything the author chooses to explore. However, if you’re a user of the internet (as most people are), particularly of social media, you will find this book is an open and honest view of life online and everything that entails including its historic beginnings. I will also add that if you are not someone who uses social media daily or someone who isn’t interested in how life online has progressed through the last 10 – 20 years, you may find this book a little outside of your scope of interest.

BOOK REVIEW RATING BANNER LURKING BY JOANNE MCNEIL

 

 

Meeting Boudicca by C. A. Powell

“Cartimandua was coming for the traitors of the Brigante, and she was bringing death with her”…

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This book can be found here on Goodreads and here on Amazon

The book was provided for review from the author via Booktasters for an honest review

This book features the following topics/genres – Historical / Fiction / War /

Publisher’s release date: November 17, 2013

Check out my animated book cover art for this book here!

“The Iceni Highness Boudicca roars from eternity,”

I heard about Queen Boudicca some time ago, and I’ve always been intrigued by her as a historical figure. This is not the first historical fiction book I’ve read, but it is the first time I’ve ventured into Britain during the Roman occupation with not one but two Celtic Queens at the forefront. This book is based on real people but not on actual events which is OK. Fiction is about possibilities. What could have happened if these two powerful women had actually met? I was extremely intrigued by the answer to this question.

The first part of the book is a little slow going as the author establishes the background behind why these two famous (or in the case of Boudicca, infamous) leaders would even consider meeting each other. It is an introduction of sorts to the narrator of this story, Queen Cartimandua, who was Queen of the Brigantes people, loyalists to Rome. As Queen Boudicca was an enemy of Rome, this unfortunate situation places these women at opposite sides of a bloody and brutal war of which there can be only one victor.

And so the story proper begins.

The first few chapters quickly touch on the Druids who were supporting the Iceni Queen, Boudicca and it’s quite an exciting part of the book because it gives you insight into the relationship between the Druids and warriors loyal to both Cartimandua and Boudicca. What unfolds during their first meeting allows the reader to better understand the politics of war and how two women as mighty as Boudicca and Cartimandua could become pawns in a game, not of their making.

We are then taken to Cartimandua’s stronghold, where she becomes quickly aware of the game that others are playing with her and Queen Boudicca. The story begins to pick up the pace from here on in, and it was rather exciting to think of these two great women finally meeting. What would they have to say to each other? Would they even get far enough to talk to each other without war-mongering men on either side of the divide screaming for retaliation?

“Cartimandua was coming for the traitors of the Brigante, and she was bringing death with her”…

 

The author has taken his time to create and build the immediate surroundings of the two Queens. We can gather a sense of where these women are and who the most influential men are that surround them. We are also able to see beyond pleasantries and royalty and to the brutality of war. I appreciate how the author has carefully sculpted these women in such a way that respects their historical lineage. It also compliments them both as women of action and war and capable of just as much brutality as their male counterparts. It’s not often you read books about female warrior Queens slaying men where they stand without hesitation and with a smile upon their lips. I loved this aspect of the book immensely, it was a real treat to read, but it may not be for everyone. Some of the scenes depicted are quite graphic.

I also sensed that the author favoured Queen Cartimandua considerably more than Queen Boudicca and we are reminded of this on many occasions, perhaps too many. The story flips back and forth between Queen Cartimandua’s story-telling session on an old jetty and the events as she remembered them. While I do not think this was a problem for the flow of the story, it is noticeable that the author decided to do this rather than using traditional story-telling from a first-person perspective throughout the book.

The event of the meeting itself is brief and reading through the book, it did feel a bit like everything else that had occurred up to this point was surplus to the encounter of the two queens. It was a masterful way to gain the reader’s interest and excitement. The anticipation of their meeting did build steadily over the course of the book, and I found myself wanting to get to that chapter even more as the book progressed.

I did enjoy this book and I felt the author was careful with his depiction of the queens and their very brief interaction. But I did find some of the chapters, particularly those on the jetty, a little superfluous to the rest of the story.

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Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei, Jeremy Tiang (Translated by)

Putting together the identity of the “bad guy” was like putting together a puzzle, some pieces fit perfectly while others lead nowhere…

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This book can be found here on Goodreads and here on Amazon

This ARC was provided for review from the publisher via Edelweiss for an honest review

This book features the following topics/genres – Fiction / Cyberbullying / Hacking / Suicide

Publisher’s release date: 18 February 2020

“Are you brave enough to die?” – Siu Man’s killer

The premise for this book follows the oldest daughter in a family of two, Nga-Yee, who loses her younger sister to suicide. The problem is Nga-Yee doesn’t believe her sister would do such a thing and as the story progresses, she begins her own investigation into the darkness behind her sister’s death and to the possibility that someone had purposefully targeted her sister. Bigger questions arise, such as why was her sister being targetted and bullied in the first place? Had she done something wrong? Was her sister’s innocence all a facade? Did she really know her sister at all?

The character of Nga-Yee could literally be any older sister doing what’s best for her sibling. The backdrop to the story is the city of Hong Kong in 2015, and at this point in time, the thought of a young person being cyberbullied isn’t all that uncommon. It is the landscape with which most young people are expected to traverse in the digital age. It is something that shouldn’t be a normal occurrence but happens more often than people would like to admit. Nga-Yee is definitely way out of her league with this unfortunate circumstance she now finds herself in, and there’s no way she’s going to be able to uncover the truth without help from outside sources. And that is when the story really starts to fly!

Nga-Yee as a character is mostly well-written. She is a very loyal and dutiful daughter on the surface, but she doesn’t really strike me as the very “sisterly” type. As the story continues, we begin to unravel not only Siu Man’s past but also the skeletons in other people’s closets, including Nga-Yee. The author provides us with a microscopic look at the relationships that Siu Man had, and how each one impacted her life, whether that was for the better or for the worst. This is definitely one of the finer aspects of the book and a credit to the author. I was happy to experience a story that covered all the bases and didn’t leave anything out forcing me to fill in the gaps. It allows you, as the reader, to get a much better understanding of the world in which these characters inhabit and the consequences of their actions both on themselves and each other. It’s very powerful writing.

Which brings me to the character only known as “N”. Right from the beginning, N is a complex character and an important one. He is the only reason why Nga-Yee is able to discover the truth behind her sister’s death. N is the life-line for Nga-Yee, even if she chooses to ignore that fact. Their relationship is very hot and cold, funny and annoying all at once. Nga-Yee’s incessant badgering of N does get a little tiresome (as it happens in almost every interaction between them) and this is the least likeable trait of Nga-Yee’s character.

The identity of Siu Man’s killer is obviously the main driver behind the plot. I liked how the author doesn’t make it easy for you to discover who was responsible for Siu Man’s death. It’s not at all obvious. Putting together the identity of the “bad guy” was like putting together a puzzle, some pieces fit perfectly while others lead nowhere, much like Nga-Yee’s investigation. I found myself asking questions throughout – will the killer be discovered and if so, how? The questions alone are enough to keep your eyes glued to the pages.

The use of technology is also a huge driver behind the story progression. I found this aspect of the book extremely interesting, and it kept me invested right until the very end. Not every book you read can do this, in fact, quite a lot of books don’t. To have something as interesting as this to sink my teeth into helped to make the experience all the better (as I am a huge fan of anything tech-related). The use of mobile phones as a catalyst in this story is great and sets up the “stage” for N to begin doing his thing and slowly unravelling the clues to finding out the killer’s identity. There are a lot of hacking references throughout the book which the author does a fine job of breaking down for you, just in case you’re not a tech-head. Understanding how N is able to obtain the information he acquires is quite a crucial part of understanding the nature of the world that Siu Man lived in and how alienated Nga Yee felt about it all. Once N was able to provide solid leads for Nga-Yee, it soon becomes clear how out of her depth she really was and how much she relied on N to close the gaping wound in her life caused by her sister’s untimely demise.

The information that is eventually uncovered leads back to almost everyone Siu Man was involved with, including friends, acquaintances, teachers and others who didn’t seem to have any connection at all to Siu Man. Or did they? The most interesting aspect of this is just how many people Siu Man connected with. No stone is left unturned. This is the very heart of the story, where everything really does become quite twisted and even more thrilling! If you’re interested in reading about how much of an influence technology can have on our everyday lives mixed up with a twisted, modern-day thriller, this book will not disappoint. Definitely, one of my favourite books to read this year.

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