The Assistant

What happens when you put a young principled person in a shady job? Tension, lots of it. This is what Jessica Warne constantly encounters in The Assistant, an Emerald City Spies novel by Cheri Baker. And this is my 99.9% spoiler-free review.

Rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Before I jump into the story itself, here’s some background. Spy novels are not my typical genre. But I have read all of Cheri Baker’s other books, which are Cozy Mysteries. One thing they all have in common: they’re short and easy to read, great for escaping reality or taking a break from binging Netflix. But I liked a key difference: The Assistant’s lack of coziness.

The Story

The setting is Seattle, a city driven by capitalism. And the protagonist, Jessica Warne, is a driven young woman, independent almost to a fault. Ambition plays a big part throughout the story. And at the outset, you read the catalyst – unemployment – that thrusts Jessica into the main plot line. She must get a job!

This premise is instantly relatable, but the job Jessica ends up with is far more interesting than your typical nine-to-five! It’s mysterious and shady. Throughout the book, it’s obvious something is up, many ‘somethings’ actually, and you keep wondering what it all leads to.

What is the true nature of Jessica’s employment? And how far is she willing to go to find out? What is moral, ethical, or legal?

As Jessica is put to the test over and over, her character remains consistent to the end. At first, I thought this apparent lack of progress was a problem. Her story-arc seems flat rather than showing growth. Her strengths remain largely the same, as do her weaknesses, which she kind of learns to squelch.

But then I realized that instead of evolving, she avoids devolving. Her progress is measured in a lack of regress. When challenged by the external conflict of the job, the internal conflict Jessica goes through forces her to make many decisions with high stakes. Above all, she never backs down but perseveres.

Nevertheless, Jessica does exhibit some growth. Early on she is literally outfitted for the job; she looks confident but feels inadequate. Yet by the end of the narrative, Jessica gains confidence in her abilities in more ways than one. She not only shows that she can do the job, she also can do the right thing. Success for Jessica is not selling her soul to the devil for an obscene salary.

The overarching sense of the book is tension! A story can’t exist without conflict. The Assistant provides lots of both the external and internal variety.

The Writing

As I’ve found in Baker’s other books, scenes and settings are described clearly, most characters are fleshed out well, and you often sense everything because Baker doesn’t tell you what’s happening, she shows you. You are drawn more into the story because you feel it, you’re in the action with the hero.

The Assistant is written in 3rd person rather than 1st; I found it engaging. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a story is character driven or plot driven; this one seemed to be more plot driven.

The pacing was mostly good, but the 3rd quarter felt monotonous as Jessica and one other character, Cody, seemed to dominate the main plot with training, gadgets, and more on-the-job-training.

Likes And Dislikes

There is, to me, a downside of this book. The main plot is clung to so closely that other teased side plots are neglected or abandoned. There were interesting minor plot points that I thought would go further. But it seems they only served to help develop the main plot or Jessica’s character. Fair enough, I suppose.

One example is the relationship, or lack thereof, between Andy and Taylor. Nothing happened! Early on in chapter 3, it’s obvious that Taylor, Jessica’s friend, is more than a little interested in Andy, Jessica’s boyfriend. Later in chapter 18, there’s a situation where you think this could go further, but it doesn’t. Also, Jessica and Andy’s relationship, while challenged, does not develop as much as I’d hoped.

Another example involves Taylor’s Dad. I thought his poor relationship to Taylor and Jessica would play into the story more, but it didn’t really. It explained the background of the two girls’ living situation to amplify their predicament and thus increase tension in the story.

Then there’s Cody. When you first meet him, you find out he’s got emotional baggage related to some heavy stuff. So you suspect this will be at least a minor plot point later on, but it turned out underutilized if you ask me.

In the latter half of the story, when you finally see the big shady thing Jessica must do, the actual task is relatively easy. There’s a quandary, Jessica has minor scruples, and that’s about it. Based on her strong character and ambitious desire to climb the ranks and make the big bucks, I am a bit surprised she didn’t hesitate less.

Shortly thereafter, you discover some truth…but by this point it was not much of a surprise. And when even more info is revealed, you realize things are pretty convoluted. The ending unfolds with revelation but omits good closure. This was disappointing.

And there was at least one event (Lance’s date with a woman) that left me with unanswered questions. Also, the ending was basically a cliff-hanger, raising new questions without another page to turn to, for now.

I felt like some of the drama was anticlimactic. The built-up tension felt gently eased off instead of suddenly released.

Conclusion

Despite some downsides to the story, which I gave a 3-star rating on goodreads, I liked it enough to look forward to the next book in the series, Power Play.

The overall tension is the highlight of The Assistant. It kept me turning the pages. The world-building met my expectations. Carma is a character I hope returns. I want to see how far Jessica goes in her career and in her personal relationships, and I hope they somehow get entangled in her work! Now that would raise the stakes even more.

Seattle, the Emerald City, is a tough nut to crack. Jessica Warne did it, she got into a lucrative job. But will she crack? Or will she persevere and discover more about her employer and its clients? I will read on to find out. 


What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

We Elected Big Tech

A thought provoking article on One Zero about Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, as the unelected monarch of billions of people. It asserts that leaders of Big Tech, who have great power and influence, were not voted into their offices.

But they were. You and I voted them into power with our time and money, our attention and our dollars. When we choose their products and services, we choose them.

There are counter arguments to this. What’s your take? Comments open below.

Pay More With Surface Duo

Are two screens better than one? Microsoft thinks so. You can now pre-order Microsoft’s new device called Surface Duo. It’s a phone. And a mini split-screen tablet. And it’s quite possibly the coolest new gadget this year. Unfortunately, it will cost all your dollars.

The Duo is an Android phone with dual-screens and an overt friendliness to Microsoft apps. What makes it special is how apps utilize the screens both separately and together in various ways. I’m super intrigued by it. My wallet, though, is laughing at me. Nope, not buyin’ it.


Do More. And Pay More.

Microsoft is pushing the idea of, “Do more with Duo.” Or, “Do to the power of two.” See and do more with wide screens and multiple modes. You really must watch the demos of the device to understand its versatility. The Duo is marketed as a new productivity device. I’m guessing this includes creativity as well.

Half-joking, one reaction I have to the “do more” push is my push-back, “Do I really need to do more?” Don’t I do enough already? My Android phablet and my Chromebook let me do a lot! And I’ve been working professionally for the last 17 years using Windows PCs with Microsoft Office, among other programs. What more do I need to do?

Maybe I could be more productive and less busy – efficiency! But production must be balanced with recreation. For you know, all work and no play…not cool!

Half-joking aside, the Duo does appear to enable more, or at least better, ways to do-all-the-things in a device that fits in your pocket. Again, it’s very intriguing. I’m looking forward to upcoming reviews after people get real-world hands-on daily usage of it.

But no matter how cool or productive the Surface Duo is, that $1399 price tag is an anvil around its neck! For that amount of currency you could instead buy:

  • iPhone SE $399
  • AirPods $159
  • iPad $329
  • Smart Keyboard $159
  • Apple Pencil $99

This totals just $1145, so you’d still have $254 left over! Could you be as productive with an iPhone and iPad as you could with just a Surface Duo? How much more could you really do with the Duo?

Or how about this set-up?

  • MacBook Air $999
  • iPhone SE $399

This is equivalent to the price of the Surface Duo by itself at $1399. Is a Duo more productive than a combo of iPhone and MacBook? I doubt it.

Microsoft has a hard sell here. Despite that, the Duo seems compelling to me. It’s likely my tech-nerd bias though.

I like productivity and gadgetry. But I also like frugality. And I know firsthand how well “budget” devices work and how much you can do with them. My current set-up is a fair-enough example:

  • Moto G Power Android smartphone $249
  • HP 14” Chromebook $299 (I actually got it on sale for $179!)

I can do plenty with 2 portable devices that set me back a mere $428! But if you’d like to step up your Google device game, you could buy:

  • Google Pixel 4a $349
  • Google Pixelbook Go $649

That totals $998, still $401 less than the Surface Duo! And all the combo options I’ve listed, even the iPad, include a physical keyboard to type on for basic productivity, unlike Duo.

The point of all this is to say no matter how swank the Duo gleams, whether you’re all-in with Apple tech or Google swag, you can buy productive gear for less money than the Surface Duo.

And let’s not forget that all the devices I listed above can run Microsoft Office mobile apps or web apps. Do they work as well on said devices as on the Duo? And if not, do the Duo versions of Office apps justify the high price tag? Time will tell.

Maybe by its 3rd generation, the Duo will lower in price and increase in value with even better features. But until such a time, I think the Duo will remain a niche gadget.

Do you think you could do more with Duo?


What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

Hatching Twitter Reviewed

Ah, Twitter. A cultural centerpiece for controversial “conversation.” Or a minuscule micro-blog masquerading as major social-media. Whichever. Don’t “@” me. #justsayin

But really, Twitter is something. You weigh its intrinsic pros and cons, you evaluate how it affects you personally, you see its impact on society, and you decide to use it or you don’t.

After reading The Social Media Upheaval, I felt like deleting Twitter! Then I read the book on how it started, Hatching Twitter, and felt like joining the conversation! #feelings #lovehate

No matter how I feel or think about Twitter, I can tell you that I loved reading its origin story! #goodread

Rating

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you’re intrigued by how something so big started off so small, discovering behind-the-scene details, then you’ll no doubt enjoy Hatching Twitter, written by Nick Bilton. Simply put, it’s the nitty gritty of the circumstances that gave birth and growth to the online grapevine where anyone can say what kind of donut they’re eating or share breaking news of global importance. #whatever

While Twitter is borne of nerdy internet wizardry, this book is less about technology and much more about people and their relationships. And the resulting drama in Twitter’s formative years is like some grand Shakespearean legend. #gripping

You’ll read about humanity’s greatest traits: use, abuse, trust, betrayal, back-stabbing, coveting, greed, manipulation, generosity, talent, creativity, loneliness, friendship, ambition, serendipity, hustle, careers, unemployment, stress, and also stress, and then some more stress. #life

The writing is straight-forward, the pacing is fast, and the facts are eye-opening.


Okay, so this book was easy for me to get into because it begins with one of the founders of Twitter, Ev Williams. It starts when he helped create a popular web service before social networking was even a thing, Blogger. And I happen to really like blogging, so, you know… #blogging

One thing that stands out about Ev Williams is his idealism (e.g. #freespeech), which inspires his noble ventures. The problem is that ideals are corrupted by competing realities. This is…less than ideal…but it sure does make for some good drama!

Another noteworthy item about Hatching Twitter is the classic truth that success in life is often based not just on what you know but who you know. It’s one thing to be a coder; that will get you into Silicon Valley. But to get into one of the tech companies, especially a start-up, it helps to rub elbows with the elite tech-savvy.

Social-networking online, after all, begins with networking offline.

But what makes the creation of Twitter so dramatic is the fact that the nerds are more than professional co-workers, they’re friends. Much more is on the line.

The historical narrative account in Hatching Twitter overflows with tech details and little stories that are surprising and remarkable, like when Snoop Dogg got Twitter employees to smoke weed during work hours in the office. #forreal

Despite the chaotic nature of Twitter’s story, Nick Bilton laid out all the parts neatly and then wrapped up the book with nice closure of all the founders’ lives along with some life lessons learned.

The attraction of this story is a feeling of connection to the people as you are swept up in their drama, turmoil, resolve, success, and failures. You share all the same feelings, but theirs are amplified because of their elevated status in the public sphere. So you are drawn into a book that’s hard to put down. #unputdownable

I highly recommend this book and gave it a 5-star rating on goodreads!


What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

The Google Spoon Feed

In my Zero Feeds Experiment, I extolled the efficacy of the Googe Feed. Surprisingly accurate and relevant in its ability to frequently show me articles to my tastes, I was fondly attached to swiping through its finite list. So after ignoring it for 30 days and finding web stuff in other ways, I turned it back on to once again enjoy it.

But things changed. First, my habit of checking it broke. And now trying to resume it, I’m noticing that while on my 30 day Feed-Free spree, mixed signals to the algorithm must have tarnished my personalized Google Feed. It is no longer as accurate or relevant!

I do not want to re-train it or tweak it. And I also have come to realize that, although impressive and handy, I don’t need Google to spoon-feed me content. I’m a big boy now and can find stuff I like on the web just fine.

So for the foreseeable future, I have the Google Feed turned off again.