Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review of "The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare" by Lilian Jackson Braun




In this 7th book in the series, Jim Qwilleran (Quill) - formerly a crime reporter in Chicago - is living in a town called Pickax in Moose County.....a region that's '400 miles north of everywhere.' Qwill moved to the nether regions because he's required to live in Pickax for five years to get his inheritance: the Klingenschoen fortune and the Klingenschoen mansion. One of Qwills notable characteristics is his luxuriant moustache, which twitches when something is 'off.'

Qwill isn't very interested in the trappings of wealth, so he uses the Klingenschoen billions to establish the philanthrophic 'K-Fund'.....and is converting the Klingenschoen mansion into a museum. To this end, Qwill hires Mrs. Iris Cobb to be his housekeeper/house manager. This works out well because Mrs. Cobb - an antiques expert - will catalogue the contents of the mansion. Moreover, Iris is a wonderful cook, and bakes delicious cookies and cakes.

Two other members of Qwill's entourage are his beloved Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum, who have their own 'apartment', eat gourmet food, and get lots of attention: Qwill talks to them, reads to them, brushes them, and so on.

Yum Yum is a normal kitty - who likes to swipe and hide shiny things, but Koko is very unsual: he's a sort of 'cat clairvoyant' who can sniff out evil; predict crimes; mount rescue operations; etc. Koko communicates via yowls, facial expressons, and unusual behavior. In this book, Koko continually knocks Shakespeare books off the shelf.....especially MacBeth.

Though 'the cat who' books are ostensibly cozy mysteries, the 'mystery' part of the stories is sometimes rather nebulous.That's certainly the case here. For the most part, Qwill keeps busy with normal everyday things such as: dating the head librarian, Polly Duncan; taping the remembrances of elderly Pickax residents; hobnobbing with acquaintances from 'down below' who've moved to town for employment; conferring with Junior Goodwinter - the editor of 'The Picayune' - about modernizing the newspaper; avidly following the weather reports to see when 'the big one' (a huge snowstorm) will hit; and doing other mundane things.

On the 'suspense' side, a few things do concern Qwill: several people, including Senior Goodwinter (Junior's father) are killed in car accidents; Qwill's old friend Hixie Rice - a restaurateur - is acting hinky; and Mrs. Cobb is dating a businesman named Herb Hackpole - an unpopular, bad-mannered lout who drinks a lot and is mean to the cats. (Boo! Hiss!)

By the end of the book a crime is uncovered and a tragedy has occurred....and it looks like Koko predicted it all.

SPOILER ALERT

I have to say, Lillian Jackson Braun is not shy about divesting Moose County of people and property in her books. LOL

END SPOILER ALERT


I've been a long-time fan of this series, and I enjoyed this book (which is a re-read for me). It would be preferable to start at the beginning of the series, but "The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare" can be read as a standalone without missing much.

Recommended to fans of cozy myteries.


Rating: 3 stars

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review of "All the Light We Cannot See: by Anthony Doerr



 
Just before the start of World War II Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a little girl living in Paris with her father, the keeper of keys at the Museum of Natural History. Marie is blinded by cataracts at age six, so her father - who's clever at building models and puzzle boxes - constructs a wooden model of the neighborhood to teach Marie to get around. Marie is an intelligent child and budding naturalist who enjoys hanging out with scientists at the museum. She also cherishes her braille book "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne.

As it happens, the Natural History Museum is rumored to house a large, beautiful diamond called the "Sea of Flame. Myths say that whoever possesses the diamond becomes immortal but his/her loved ones suffer terrible misfortunes. After the war starts - when the Germans are about to take over Paris - the museum packs up and sends off its treasures in an attempt to keep them safe. Many people also flee the city and Marie and her father make their way to the coast city of Saint-Malo. There they live with Marie's great uncle, an eccentric, kindly gentleman who, like Marie, has an interest in science.

Meanwhile, in a German town, teenager Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta live in an orphanage. Like all boys in the area, at the age of fifteen Werner will be forced to work in the local coal mines where his father was killed. Werner, however, has an almost genius talent with electronics, especially radios. When this comes to the attention of the Nazis, Werner is sent to a select school to hone his skills. Soon afterwards young Werner is conscripted into the German army, where he joins a unit that tracks down radios used by the resistance to broadcast seditious information. When found, the resistance members are killed and the radio equipment confiscated.

Meanwhile a terminally ill Nazi officer - who apparently believes the stories about the "Sea of Flame" - is obsessively searching all over France to get his hands on the stone.

As the story unfolds, we follow Marie and Werner's experiences during the war. As Werner aids the Nazis in their destructive path around Europe Marie is drawn into a resistance movement. Towards the end of the war (and the end of the book), when the Allies are bombing Germany to smithereens, Werner's army unit arrives in Saint-Malo. At this point the various story lines come together and Werner and Marie become acquainted and form an unlikely friendship.

As expected in a book about war, there are many disturbing scenes. The Nazis are especially brutal, even to fellow Germans. At Werner's school, for example, 'weak students' are singled out and harassed. Werner's gentle friend Frederick, a dreamer who likes to bird-watch, becomes the focus of a particularly sadistic school official. Werner, in turn, suffers tremendous guilt for his inability to help his friend. Another unpleasant character is a French perfumer in Saint-Malo, who - wanting to gain favor with the Nazis - snitches (or make up lies) about his neighbors. This leads to fear, paranoia, and the arrest of Marie's father. In contrast, there are scenes of a vicious Nazi thinking about his beloved children, a reminder that (hard as it is to believe) Nazis had some human instincts.

The book has a strong, compelling plot and characters that are well-drawn and believable. And Anthony Doerr does a masterful job of interweaving the various story lines so that they all mesh at the book's climax.

This is a good book, worth reading.


Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review of "The Unbearable Lightness of Scones" by Alexander McCall Smith




This is the fifth book in the "44 Scotland Street" series.

In these affable, humorous books Alexander McCall Smith follows the lives of a group of people who reside in Edinburgh's "New Town" neighborhood. Many of the characters live in apartments at 44 Scotland Street - and others are their friends and acquaintances.
__________

Bertie is a sweet, bright 6-year-old boy whose mother, Irene, would win gold if 'helicoptering' was an Olympic sport. In addition to attending school, Bertie gets Italian lessons, goes to yoga, and regularly sees a psychotherapist named Dr. Fairbairn. Irene decorates Bertie's room in pink, dictates his playdates, and almost never lets him do anything fun. Poor Bertie wishes Irene would get a hobby.....but realizes HE'S her hobby.

With a little help from his dad, Bertie fulfills his dream of joining the Cub Scouts, along with his friend Tofu. Unfortunately, the Cub Scouts are now co-ed, so classmate Olive - a supercilious know-it-all who's declared herself Bertie's 'girlfriend' (over his strenuous objections) - joins as well. Gear up for friction in the Cubbies! I thought it was fun that Bertie and Tofu met Ian Rankin (the writer) during a Cub Scout map-reading activity.

Bertie repeatedly puzzles over the fact that his new little brother, Ulysses, looks just like Dr. Fairbairn. Uh Oh! Moreover, Dr. Fairbairn has been offered 'a chair' at a Scottish university, and is leaving town. (Bertie is bewildered....he thought the doctor already had a chair. Ha ha ha) In any case, a new psychotherapist is coming on board, which may be a good thing for Bertie.
__________

Angus is a portrait painter whose boon companion is his dog Cyril, who has a gold tooth. Cyril had 'an affair' in the last book, and Angus has been presented with six puppies. The pups cause a ruckus until a home is found for them....but the little guys might just be in peril. Concerned readers are worried ;(

Angus inadvertently becomes the custodian of a famous 'lost' (stolen) portrait that's come into the hands of Lard O'Conner - a local gangster. Lard and his cohorts know nothing about the painting's value.....so Angus hatches a plan to do right by the artwork.

Angus starts to think about marriage - and likes his friend Domenica.....but can these two independent spirits come together?
__________

Matthew, a sedate art gallery owner, marries schoolteacher Elspeth - and they go off to Australia for their honeymoon. While enjoying a romantic walk on the beach Matthew gets swept away by an undertow - and the subsequent misunderstandings almost land him in a mental hospital.

Matthew visits an uncle in Singapore who (accidently) imparts news that leaves Matthew poleaxed. Matthew has a lot to think about now.
__________

Domenica, an independent anthropologist, is irked because her neighbor Antonia 'stole' her blue Spode cup and is brazenly using it (the nerve!). So, when Domenica is asked to oversee a furniture delivery to Antonia's apartment, she sends Angus in to retrieve the cup.

This results in a 'cup crisis' AND reveals that Antonia is (apparently) a big drug dealer. Shocking.....but there may be an upside. If Antonia is arrested, Angus might be able to snag her apartment.....right next door to Domenica.

Lots of amusing misunderstandings in this plotline.
__________

Bruce, an erstwhile surveyor, thinks his spectacular good looks are his ticket to success. Bruce has become engaged to a pretty heiress named Julia and now lives in her upscale apartment, has a car and job - courtesy of her father, and has plenty of spending money for clothes, men's cosmetics, expensive meals, and so on.

Bruce views Julia as rather empty-headed - and thinks he's got it made - but he's dead wrong. After a rude awakening Bruce rethinks his lifestyle.....and might just become an upstanding guy.
__________

Big Lou is an amiable gal who owns a coffee shop.....and always gets involved with wrong 'uns. Her current boyfriend doesn't cheat (at least) but he's involved in a bizarre Jacobite plot to bring the 'Pretender to the Throne of Scotland' back from France.....and restore him to his rightful place.

The 'Pretender' is installed Lou's apartment - where he expects to be waited on hand and foot - while the Jacobites make their plans. There's a funny scene where the 'king' and his associate - dressed in historical togs - are mistaken for transvestites.

The book's title refers to the fact that Angus and Matthew suggest that Big Lou 'lighten up' her dense scones......but Lou has no use for feathery baked goods.
__________

This is an enjoyable addition to the series, highly recommend to fans. Even if you aren't familiar with the series, you could probably enjoy this entertaining book.


Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review of "The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation" by Melissa Rivers




I'm a fan of Joan Rivers and enjoyed her comedy routines, early 90's daytime talk show, and Fashion Police program. I've also seen the documentary "A Piece of Work" and read Joan's book "I Hate Everyone....Starting With Me."

In this memoir Joan's daughter, Melissa Rivers, relates amusing stories about her mother. Unlike Joan, Melissa is not a natural comic and some of her quips feel forced...or as if they were cribbed from her mom's joke collection. Nevertheless I enjoyed many stories in the book, which made me smile (or occasionally laugh out loud).

Some amsuing yarns revolve around Melissa herself. For instance, as a youngster Melissa was part of a 'kids club' in Las Vegas, composed of children of celebrities who were performing in the casinos. At one point Melissa's friends helped her pull out a loose tooth so the 'tooth fairy' would provide enough cash for the 'kid's club' to enjoy a whole night of arcade games and snacks. Apparently Joan was a VERY generous tooth fairy!

Then one time, during a road trip with her mother and father (Edgar Rosenberg), Melissa got hungry. Edgar drove to the drive-thru of a hamburger joint...which was OUT OF HAMBURGERS. This was a good opportunity for Joan to squash over Edgar to get to the car window and deliver a series of snippy, sarcastic remarks. Then the family went to Waffle House.

Melissa relates how her parents - who had similar values and ambitions - married five days after they met and seemed to be happy. But Edgar (apparently suffering from depression) committed suicide when Melissa was a teen. Joan, who was never politically correct and considered absolutely everything fodder for a joke, soon worked the event into her comedy routine. Joan did the same thing shortly after 9/11...giving people permission to laugh after tragedy.

Joan also loved to shop at airports, especially in duty-free shops and on international duty-free flights. Melissa (kiddingly I hope) says her mom once spent thousands of dollars on a trip just to get a 6-dollar-break on Toblerone chocolate. Melissa also joshes about her mom's numerous plastic surgeries; love of clothes, jewelry, accessories, and tchotchkes; line of clothing and jewelry for QVC; and insistence that people use proper grammar. Joan once quipped that a certain studio receptionist spoke worse English than her latino gardener who'd arrived in the U.S. last Tuesday.

Melissa recalls the innovative (at the time) "Red Carpet Show" she hosted with her mother, where they interviewed celebrities arriving at award shows like the Emmys and the Oscars. The Joan and Melissa program introduced the expression 'Who are you wearing?' and spawned a million copycat red carpet shows. Melissa amusingly talks about actors/actresses who were hard to talk to because they were either self-conscious, snooty, or resentful of being B-list celebs. Apparently the most reluctant red carpet walker was Tommy Lee Jones, who gave interviewers PTSD....ha ha ha.

Joan was a wonderful loving mother to Melissa and a devoted grandmother to Melissa's son Cooper. When Joan worked in/visited California she generally stayed at Melissa's Beverly Hills home - once hitchhiking there when she misplaced her driver. In any case, Joan took advantage of the opportunity to hang out with Cooper, keep him up too late, and ply him with candy, toys, and cash....bribes to keep his mouth shut about this and that :)

In the book Melissa has some harsh words for people she feels mistreated her mother. Jay Leno, for instance, wouldn't allow Joan to be on "The Tonight Show," saying he was honoring the wishes of the previous host Johnny Carson (with whom Joan had a falling out). Then, after Joan's death, Jay avoided Melissa when they were at the same awards event...not saying hello or expressing condolences. Melissa also mentions Katie Couric, who - during an interview - harped on Joan's 'insult comedy' instead of promoting Joan and Melissa's Red Carpet Show like she was supposed to. These sections bring down the tone of the book...which is supposed to be funny.

The book isn't screamingly hilarious but it's entertaining and moving...and Melissa's deep love and regard for her mother come through loud and clear. I'd recommend the book to fans of Joan Rivers and readers who enjoy celebrity memoirs.


Rating: 3.5 stars

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review of "The Marsh King's Daughter" by Karen Dionne



When Helena Pelletier hears that Jacob Holbrook has escaped from prison after killing two guards, she freaks out. Jacob, also known as "The Marsh King", is Helena's father.

Jacob kidnapped Helena's mother when she was 14-years-old and held the girl captive in the marshes of Michigan's Upper Peninsula for many years. During that time, Helena was born - and raised in isolation for 12 years.....until she ran away. Afterwards, Jacob was captured, convicted, and sent to prison.

As a child, Helena adored her father, an Ojibwa Indian who taught her to identify the local flora, gather edible plants, trap rabbits, catch fish, hunt deer, track animals, chop wood, and so on - everything one needs to know to live off the land. Although Jacob was cruel at times, Helena was content and - as far as she knew - had a good life.

Then, at the age of eleven, Helena happened to glimpse a happy family with two playful children - and a seed of dissatisfaction was planted in her mind. Helena 'named' the children she'd seen 'Cousteau' and 'Calypso' and they became her imaginary friends/muses. A year later a terrible incident led Helena to escape.

Since then Helena has (more or less) acclimated to a 'normal' life. She learned to socialize with other people, got married, had two little girls, and established a business making homemade jellies and preserves.

Now that Jacob's on the loose, Helena fears for herself and her family. Though the cops are searching for the escaped convict, Helena believes she's the only person who can track Jacob down and capture him - and she sets out to do exactly that.

Helena's hunt for Jacob is interspersed with flashbacks to her childhood. From scenes in the past we learn that: Helena's family lived in a primitive cabin with no electricity or modern conveniences; winters were horribly cold and summers brought hordes of mosquitoes and biting flies; the family rarely bathed or washed their clothes; Helena had a stash of old 'National Geographic' magazines that provided a peek at the outside world; Jacob was a sadist who exerted total control over his 'wife' and daughter - inflicting severe punishment for any disobedience; and Helena's mom was a downtrodden 'housewife' who cooked, sewed, slept with Jacob, and tried to provide little treats for her daughter.....though she didn't show much outward affection toward the girl.

In the present, Helena searches for her father, but running him down is a tough call. Jacob knows the local geography inside and out, and plays a skillful 'cat and mouse' game with his daughter. For her part, Helena has formidable tracking skills - and knows how to use a knife and gun. So it's a pretty fair contest between father and daughter.

As Helena traipses through the marshes and reflects on her life, she seems to retain a spark of love for her dad. However, any affection is hard to maintain in the face of his behavior. And Jacob's feelings for Helena seem to be ambivalent as well.

To add another element to the book, excerpts from Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale, 'The Marsh's King Daughter', are interwoven with Helena's story. The fable - about a princess who's a wild, selfish girl by day and a quiet frog by night - didn't add much to the book for me.

Many readers gave this book glowing reviews, and some consider it one of the best books of the year. It's true that the book is well-written, and the story is compelling. Nevertheless, for me the book is just okay. The problem is, I don't like any of the characters.....and Helena doesn't (completely) ring true to me.

Jacob is a criminal and sociopath, so he's an unsympathetic character (which is okay).
Helena's mother is a victim - and garners sympathy - but has no traits that make her likeable. I felt like I should have cared about her more.
As for Helena.....what I have to say requires a spoiler alert.

SPOILER ALERT

As a child, Helena's attitude toward her mother is unnatural. For example: When Helena's mother asks for help with some chores, Helena disdainfully walks away.....figuring her mom can't do anything about it. Helena pulls a knife and threatens her mother. Helena finds her mother's treasured hidden magazine and refuses to return it. When Helena's mother makes a doll for her fifth birthday, Helena uses it for target practice. Helena seems to care nothing for her mother's suffering. Moreover, in spite of Helena's disrespect for her mother, she obtains animal skins and expects her mom to make them into mittens and hats - very labor intensive endeavors.

Of course Helena is following Jacob's lead, but a child has a biological imperative to attach to (love?) her mother.....so this nasty behavior made me dislike Helena.

As an adult, Helena doesn't tell her husband about her past. This doesn't ring true to me. Helena periodically goes off alone - for weeks at a time - to hunt bears, go fishing, shoot deer, camp out in the woods, etc. And one time, Helena does this right after having a child. I can't fathom how her husband would think this was normal without a really good explanation. (I mean hunting for bears? Really??)


END SPOILER ALERT

Though I have criticisms, I think the book is well worth reading and would recommend it to fans of thrillers and literary fiction.


Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review of "The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes" by Lyndsay Faye




If you're a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories penned by Arthur Conan Doyle you'll enjoy this book. This collection of Sherlock Holmes tales written by Lyndsay Faye captures Conan Doyle's style, characterizations, old-timey language, flowery descriptions, quirky mysteries, sly humor.....everything that defines the original chronicles.

In these narratives Holmes artfully deals with a variety of intriguing cases such as: the haunting of Colonel Warburton, a former soldier in the Texas Army who has terrifying nightly visions of murderous Tejanos; an injured beggar dressed to the nines and a toff dressed in rags; the inexplicable poisoning of an entire family; a heinous country clinic for disturbed patients; a mysteriously missing twin brother; a corpse in the bath - with no wounds - drained of blood; a spiritualist with newfangled photochemical methods; an opera singer who's repeatedly kidnapped and released; and more.

In one very amusing story Lord Templeton, an effete dandy, invites Holmes and his 'doctor friend' (Weston? Wilson?) to a secret meeting of the Diadem Club. It seems the wealthy club members - ministers, baronets, and so on - are tasked with finding 'clever and famous people to bring into the fold'. (This strongly reminds of the Steve Carell movie "Dinner for Schmucks." LOL). Holmes, of course, is appalled by the idea, but goes at the urging of his brother Mycroft.

As in the original stories Holmes often disdains food and sleep, razzes on Scotland Yard detectives, makes lightning quick assessments of strangers, exchanges humorous banter with Watson, meets colorful ruthless miscreants, and collaborates with Inspector Lestrade. For his part, Watson sadly grieves after the death of his wife and happily rejoices when Holmes (whose 'death' devastated him) returns. On this note, a scene where Lestrade upbraids Holmes about the heartache caused by his phony demise at the Reichenbach Falls is very fitting.

Lyndsay Faye does a wonderful job continuing the Sherlock Holmes saga with these excellent stories. I'd highly recommend this book to mystery readers, particularly Sherlock Holmes fans. Keep on writing Ms. Faye!

Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a copy of this book.


Rating: 5 stars

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review of "The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld" by Jamie Bartlett




If you want to read a book that reveals all the hidden, mysterious secrets of the 'Dark Net', this isn't it. Jamie Bartlett does talk about the 'underground network' - and provides details about the the 'Silk Road' website that sells illegal drugs - but most of the sites discussed aren't especially cryptic. Neverthless, the author provides an interesting overview of non-mainstream goings on in the cyberworld. In Bartlett's view, the dark net is a place where "users say and do what they like, often uncensored, unregulated, and outside of society's norms."

Bartlett begins by decribing the evolution of the internet, starting with the Arpanet in the 1960s, a system of linked computers that helped academics communicate with each other. This led to Usenet and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) in the late 1970s, which added computer enthusiasts to the mix. Finally, in the 1990s, the World Wide Web made the internet easily accessible to the general public....and there was no stopping it after that.

From the beginning, some Usenet and BBS subscribers used the internet for trolling, which can be described as bizarre, creative, offensive, and illegal behavior (or - as the urban dictionary defines it - 'being a prick on the internet.') Trolling spans a wide gamut of activity, including: bullying, hacking, pornography, threats, and so on. It started when large numbers of computers were linked, and has increased exponentially since then.

Bartlett provides a disturbing example of recent trolling: a naive young teen posted sexually explicit photos on a 'random board' designated /b/ on the image-sharing website 4chan. Goaded by subscribers, the girl posed with a bottle of prescription medication. Some viewers used the information they gleaned to trace the teen's identity and 'dox' her: they found the victim's Facebook and Twitter accounts, and sent the nude photos to all her friends and relatives - essentially devastating her young life. The entire procedure took under an hour.....and then the trolls carelessly moved on.

Some people use the internet to spread progaganda and hate. White power groups use their websites to bash minorities, terrorist organizations use it to attack infidels, and so on. All these ideologues use their forums to attract like-minded supporters.....and perhaps plan nefarious activities.

At the heart of dark net activity is the desire for privacy and security: users want to be able to operate without regulations or interference, especially from the government. Thus technically adept individuals called 'cypherpunks' developed powerful cryptography and other technologies that make internet activity essentially untraceable.

Web secrecy requires software called 'Tor' - which is available for free - that helps users navigate the Dark Net. 'Tor' hides a user's identity and activity by 'onion routing' - a technique that incorporates messages in many layers of encryption: essentially, the message is routed from one relay to another to another (and so on) until it reaches its destination.....by which time the original sender can't be identified. Bartlett describes onion-routing in some detail, if you're interested. Or you can look it up on Wikipedia.

Online secrecy is also assisted by the use of internet money, called bitcoins, which were developed in 2009. Bitcoin transactions are secure, fast, free, and unidentifiable - making this currency convenient for online drug buys and porn purchases. The book describes bitcoins in detail, if you want to know more. Or again, you can look it up on Wikipedia.

Cypherpunks believe that internet confidentiality guards civil liberties. To these libertarians, the fact that criminals and terrorists also use these 'anonymising' techniques is unfortunate, but 'a cost worth paying for the freedom it provides.' Many law enforcement organizations (naturally) disagree.

One of the more unsavory aspects of the underground net is child pornography, which is widely available with a few clicks of the mouse. Most people who look at child porn purposely seek it out, but others get drawn in - step by step - from legal porn sites. Bartlett relates the story of Michael, who claims: "I moved from viewing photographs and videos of teenagers, to images that...were clearly of children...in tiny increments. I made excuses in my head as to why it was okay. For a while I told myself [that it] wasn't even illegal." Law enforcement officials have shut down many child porn sites, but new ones spring up immediately.....making the child porn industry impossible to annihilate.

As I mentioned before, Bartlett talks about buying drugs on the internet, and - in an informative chapter - explains exactly how he went about obtaining marijuana from an online drug supermarket (it was easy as pie).

In another section, the author addresses 'do-it-yourself' porn stars, who often garner big tips (in bitcoins). The range of performers include young women; middle age couples; threesomes; and more. Bartlett was a guest at one of the 'shows' and became quite friendly with the participants.

Some extroverts use a board called /soc/ on the 4chan website, which is "ground zero for exhibitionism." It's a space for cam-models (people who 'perform' on the internet); special interest meet-up groups; and 'rate-me threads' such as "Rate my dick, please" (which strikes me as hilarious). One fellow's pecker garnered comments like: thick, long - 8/10; very slightly weird color - 5/10; fucking huge - 10/10; and "I'm not even gay and I'd suck it." (Ha ha ha)

One positive aspect of the internet is the plethora of support groups for people who are troubled or having difficulties. Sites dedicated to subjects like anorexia, bulimia, self-cutting, suicide, etc. can illustrate the dangers of these behaviors, help people recover, or advise them to seek help. Unfortunately, some forums - called 'alternative' (alt) sites are 'pro self-harm.' There are websites, for instance, that tout anorexia and bulimia as lifestyle choices, and others that actually encourage cutting and suicide. These forums can do a great deal of harm.

The last thing Bartlett discusses are transhumanists - people who want to live forever. These individuals, who would push technology to the limit, want to upload their brains to a computer server or chip. Then - at some future time - their brain could be inserted into an android or robot, and they would essentially become immortal. At the other end of the spectrum are anarcho-primitivists (like the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski), who want to do away with all technology. These folks dream of returning to a primiitive way of life, similar to that of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. To me, neither of these scenarios seems very likely - or particularly desirable.

During Bartlett's research for this book he interviewed many people who run or use (what many would consider) dubious websites. In almost every case, the individual's real life persona was much more congenial than his/her online presence, including white supremacists and political extremists. It appears that the dark net's anonymity gives these people license to be contentious or outrageous online. Bartlett himself maintains a neutral attitude about controversial websites. As a journalist, he 'just presents the facts'- which (I suppose) is appropriate for his profession.

All in all the book provides a wide, but shallow, overview of non-traditional internet activity. I was hoping to learn about some really weird, underground websites - maybe involving outerspace aliens - but either they don't exist or Bartlett didn't find them. LOL

This is an interesting book that I'd recommend to non-experts who want to know more about the dark net.


Rating:  3 stars