Monday, July 31, 2017

Shenanigans in Silicon Valley

An increasingly big part of being alive today is staying “connected”, with options ranging from a boatload of all-encompassing social media platforms, to the narrower job and industry-specific networking sites.  Unless you’re a troglodyte or are just doing your damnedest to stay “off the grid”, though, it’s almost impossible to avoid being lured in by at least some of them.

But, being virtually connected goes a lot deeper than the expected social sites; unless certain precautions are taken, most websites you visit (news, info, shopping, porn, whatever) will try to entice you to share your contact info—by joining an email list, a members-only program, etc.—and nearly all of them will begin tracking—unbeknownst to you, usually—your visits to their sites. 

It seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? If Site A notices that you repeatedly visit to look at sneakers, you’re likely to receive notifications about new models of sneakers, and when something you’ve looked at previously goes on sale or comes back in stock. Such things can benefit you, sort of like having your own personal shopper (for free!), in this instance.

But what about the downside of someone being able to track your online activity? And, even scarier, what about when that ability is taken a huge step further… so that even the contents of your computer become visible to an outside party? Joe Klingler shows how that might look in Mash Up.

Salmon-out-of-water cop Qigiq has been trying to make the best of his sabbatical, which has him on temporary loan from the tiny, remote Alaskan village he calls home to the vast San Francisco police department, with the goal of becoming more computer savvy during his sojourn.

His stay in the city by the bay has multiple purposes: to get him away from some bad memories (a recent case gone bad, mostly because Qugiq wasn’t fluent in computerese), learning about computer/online crime, and to offer any unique perspectives he, himself might have to his new partner, Detective Kandy Dreeson. (Not that Kandy—whip-smart, capable, and a ballbuster in her own right—probably needs his insight, but one never knows.)

Qigiq’s learning is going about as well as can be expected—in other words, at near-glacial speed—when a new case drops into their laps to provide a little distraction. A violin student at an area college has just received an Amazon package that—mysteriously, horrifically—yields only a thumb inside…which, going by the shade of nail polish, looks suspiciously like that of the girl’s roommate, a cellist (who has yet to return from a date with a new mystery man... and who will surely, sorely, miss that thumb).

But, as difficult as it proves to be, trying to track down a missing girl (missing a digit), the case manages to get even more complicated, as it leads the detectives down a twisting path of internet shenanigans—with violent YouTube videos depicting torture (and worse?), a rash of iPod scams, including the curious disappearance of thousands of pirated music files on users' devices (and threats of similar disappearances on a global scale), and news of a crazy-bad virus spreading like wildfire through the ‘net. It also puts Qigiq and Kandy directly in the sites of a madman. (Cue crazy car and motorcycle chases, clandestine meetings with folks of questionable repute, cross-country hijinks, and threats of blowing up pieces of Silicon Valley.)

I’ll be honest; a couple of chapters into Mash Up had me feeling antsy. Half of the story—the on-loan-from-Alaska detective and his worldly San Francisco counterpart—was immediately intriguing, but the other half--following a small programming team and the members of a board at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley--was tedious. Once the two story lines began intermingling, though, the whole became more cohesive, and eventually turned into a compelling, "ripped-from-the-headlines (tomorrow, if not today)” sort of story. 

So, my take on Joe Klingler’s Mash Up? Well worth reading, and if you can stick out the uneven beginning, you'll wind up with an entertaining techno-thriller read. :)


Monday, July 17, 2017

A Change of Ocean... If Not of Murderously-Maladapted Mindset

Most of us, I suspect, find it a generally-acceptable bit of fun to be obsessed with something (or, oftentimes, with someone). 

With things, it’s easy to get sucked into, say, the quest for the primo Pinot Noir (for what, after all, is an oenophile, if not one who is obsessed with all things wine). Or, maybe it’s the search for the holy grail eyeliner (the one capable of creating that sexy cateye, but which never fades, smudges, or runs), or the precisely-fitting pair of jeans that make your backside look flat-out HOT (and price, by the way, be damned). The most badass motorcycle (complete with exhaust upgrades, custom paint job, and chrome accessories) that money can buy. Or finding a righteous Les Paul—preferably previously-owned by someone who reeks of cool—that feels like it’s just been waiting for you to come along and hold it in your arms.  

When it’s someone, it seems perfectly natural if the person you’re fascinated by is in the public eye—especially when it’s the sort of celebrity that the consensus of print, online, and televised gossip-mongers push on us non-stop. (The Kardashians, en masse [for reasons I will never, ever understand]. The British Royals [whom we, stateside, view as quite exotic and novel]. The latest barely-legal [or not even, in many instances] rail-thin fashion model, whose every sartorial choice must be dissected and treated with slavish regard. Etc.)

Rarely does the quest to find/obtain the perfect thing get us into any real trouble… short of going deeply into debt, taking up too much of our time, or—perish the thought—some sort of theft. 

Obsessions with people, on the other hand, can go all sorts of wrong… particularly when the someone in question is not famous by anyone’s definition, but is, instead, just a regular Jane/Joe. 

Such is the case in Caroline Kepnes’ You (briefly reviewed here), which follows a-not-really-“regular”-at-all Joe’s increasingly-crazed pursuit of his fantasy girl, Beck, to some very, very dark places. (Like, the darkest.) So, if you haven’t yet read You, that’ll be your first order of business, because Hidden Bodies is a continuation of that story… 


When fate provides bookstore employee Joe Goldberg the opportunity to leave all his bad memories of New York City (and the Northeastern seaboard) far behind and start anew by relocating to sunny Los Angeles, he wastes no time in taking fate up on her proposition.

After all… it’s not like any of his relationships in the Big Apple have ever really panned out (an understatement of epic proportions which you’ll get, if you recall what happened in You), or as though he has any other ties binding him. His most-recent girlfriend-cum-obsession, Amy, recently moved out to L.A.—after ditching him in a reaaaaaally unacceptable way (not that Joe’s the sort of chap to be down with rejection, anyway)—which makes giving up four seasons for palm trees that much more appealing. And, not to put too fine a point on it, Joe has become a very jittery guy, always looking over his shoulder for the (ehemliteral) bodies (yes, plural) hidden in his past. So yeah, a fresh start definitely seems like a stellar idea.

Of course, that’s pretty much what everyone who makes the move from wherever to LaLaLand starts out thinking…

Things do progress about as well as can be expected… when moving to a huge new place without knowing a soul or having any prospects. Joe finds a crappy (but semi-convenient) dive apartment in Hollywood, so at least there’s a roof over his head. He gets a job in a bookstore (no, the marching tide of electronic media still hasn’t completely wiped out brick-&-mortar purveyors of books on either coast… yet). He makes a few friends (well, okay… acquaintances would be more appropriate; this is L.A., you know, where true friendships are rare and not at all quick to blossom). He even happens upon his ex, Amy, not too long after arriving, which seems fortuitous, as they have--erm--unfinished business.

More importantly, though, Joe falls in love… in a way he’s never done before. Sure, his usual m.o. of obsession is there, but this time? There seems to be something more, which is a totally-new experience for him. And, miracle of miracles, it seems like Love (the given name of his affections, I kid you not—L.A., remember??) is pretty darn enamored of him, as well. 

He also manages—through his new lady love (erm, Love)—to get himself set on a potential new career path: screenwriting, with her crude, garrulous brother, Forty, as his writing partner.

Of course, this is Joe we’re talking about here, and a leopard can’t really change his spots (at least, not that easily)… meaning things are bound to go sideways FAST.


The fun in Hidden Bodies, as in the earlier You, is that Joe is such an unusual character. He’s the guy who—at least in literary (as opposed to in-the-flesh, all up-in-your-business) form—is impossible (for me, anyway) not to like and root for… all while feeling vaguely horrified at myself for succumbing to his appeal. He’s an anti-hero, to be sure… but one who feels and believes things so strongly, that I can’t help but kinda-sorta want him to come out on top …regardless of, you know… All. Those. Bodies. (however well-hidden).

For me, Hidden Bodies was even better than You (which I thoroughly enjoyed, so that’s truly saying something). The first book deftly laid the groundwork for Joe’s character—giving us glimpses into his past as well as providing plenty of new examples of how his unapologetically-psychotic mind works—and left me wanting to see what would happen next. 

Hidden Bodies obviously fulfills that craving, but it also doles out a lot of insightful observations on Life in L.A.—from the crazypants entertainment industry, to the woo-woo culture of rich artsy-fartsy types, to the bleakness of actually living in Hollywood (which is a world apart from those buzzing-with-paparazzi events and imagined glamour of any sort, really), to the sort of desperation so prevalent in a place utterly caught up in the quest for fame, to… well, the list goes on. (Suffice it to say that only someone who lives or has spent a fair amount of time—and not as a tourist clad in rose-colored sunglasses, mind you—in the City of Angels can make such observations.)

So, Hidden Bodies scores big on multiple levels with me, and, bottom line? Caroline Kepnes is now on my "must-list". :) 

~GlamKitty (who, yes, lives in L.A.)