Strangers – Review

“Both of us are sure we’re right, but one of us is living in a world of make-believe right now.”

Strangers was the January book club read for the Instagram group BlackHeart Reads. If you’re on Instagram and are interested in joining their monthly reads, click the link and follow their page! It’s always a ton of fun!

The premise of this book was intriguing: a woman faces a stranger in her home claiming to be her fiancé. She has no memory of him, to her he is a complete stranger. A man comes home to a fiancé who claims to not know him. Every single item belonging to him is gone, his existence in their life erased.

One of them has to be lying, but both are convinced they are telling the truth.

As events continue to unfold around them, it becomes obvious that something is happening that neither of them understand. And if they are going to discover the truth and get out of this alive, they are going to need to trust their instincts. And each other.

After the beginning chapters of this novel, I was expecting some serious twist, a la Black Mirror. Everything about the plot felt like some sinister, devious, horrifying conspiracy was taking place.

Initially, the characters were fantastic. Joanna was appropriately freaked out, and believed that Erik was some crazed madman. Until her best friend confirmed their relationship. It would have been easy to leave all the doubt on Joanna, but the authors made sure to balance the doubt between both Jo and Erik. They did a fantastic job making not just the reader but the characters themselves wonder which of the two was crazy. Or what possible explanation could be at play.

“A hand, as cold as ice, reaches for my heart. And, for the first time, the thought crosses my mind that maybe the person who’s lost their mind here isn’t Joanna, but me.”

Unfortunately, the book lost steam for me towards the end. The book was action packed and held an intense pace throughout, but the entire plot hinged on the twist. And for me, it fell flat into cliche disappointment.

In all, the book was entertaining and kept me interested until the end. But I felt like the ending was too easy, a bit predictable, and didn’t really go far enough to feel satisfying based on what the authors built up. However, if you enjoy books full of action that keeps a fast pace, you may enjoy what Strangers has to offer.

I’m going to discuss a few things that felt problematic for me, which will include spoilers, so if you have not read this book, please be warned!!!

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The ending, as I mentioned was way too easy and fell into the eye-rolling territory very quickly. A bunch of Nazi’s plotting to cause chaos to purify the country of Germany just didn’t really add up or feel satisfying to what they had built up throughout the book. Beyond trying to make their terrorist attack look like Muslims were at fault, there really wasn’t anything to even support this weird Nazi plot line.

Beyond that, a brief hypnosis session while she was on vacation as the entire catalyst of her memory loss and violent urges? Talk about disappointing. I felt like there were so many other avenues that would have at least fallen into the realm of possibility, hypnosis felt too easy. And not at all believable.

If the ending was the only weird cliche pieces in the book, it may not have bothered me. But this book was full of them. Nadine, the ex-girlfriend was written as a sad, desperate woman who would do anything to get Erik back. Even going so far as to blatantly insult Joanna to her face in front of Erik. It came across as all the terrible stereotypes of women.

Joanna’s own father was a controlling rich man, willing to risk his daughters life if she didn’t follow his rules. Honestly, I was hoping he was behind the entire thing, it would have made his character feel more real than it did.

The gun wielding muscle sent to “collect” Joanna that suddenly jumps to the rescue. They are pretty standard and self-explanatory.

It felt like the side characters were presented as these stereotypes to offer plausible villains behind the memory loss and strange violent events following Jo and Erik. But since that wasn’t where the plot was headed, and the authors didn’t offer any redemption so they ended up feeling flat and one dimensional.

There was a lot of action and this book had some serious potential, so I was really disappointed at the end. This book read more like an action movie than a thriller. Lots of action not as much plot.

I did have a ton of fun reading this book for our group discussion, and loved hearing everyone’s thoughts on this book in our group!

The Power – Review

“The shape of power is always the same.”

The Power is such an amazing book! Anyone who enjoys reading about the complexity and reality of power, both perceived and enforced, implied and physical, will enjoy this novel. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and The Power shows us the harsh truth in those four words.

We open with a series of letters between two people. There is a work of fiction being presented for one to read of the others. When the letters stop, we don’t get dates, we simply get a countdown in years. We’re counting down to something, but we don’t yet know what.

We get the novel told in four alternating points of view. Each character, Allie, Roxy, Tunde, and Margot present us with a perspective on the world we find ourselves flung into. A world where suddenly, out of nowhere, women discover they have a physical power residing within them. In a new organ called a skein, attached to their collarbone, women can now create electricity and shoot it out through their hands. Young women can trigger this power in older women.

I really liked the symbolism of having the youth wake up the older women. There’s something powerful in the idea that youth leads the way for change, but also that they won’t leave the older women behind. That is one of the more positive symbols in the novel.

But with any good, there is also bad, and the fact that the more powerful will turn on the less powerful is a reality that couldn’t be ignored. In this case it extends to less powerful women as well, and I liked that Jos, Margot’s daughter was the representation of this dark side to this new world.

These alternating perspectives help us unfold this world in such a detailed way. Rather than being told one point of view, we see the scope of this power on a world perspective. Which is so necessary for the totality of this story. One voice wouldn’t have fully captured the huge perspective that this type of power shift would have.

“It is only that every day one grows a little, every day something is different, so that in the heaping up of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible.”

The writing is smart and edgy with just enough realism to make the horror slowly set in. You feel the shift in power happen slowly, but also all at once. As you read through each narrators experience of the world around them, combined with bright and sunshiny news reporters, the book reads like a surreal nightmare. Anyone who adores the eery and terrifying worlds that Margaret Atwood creates will quickly fall in love with The Power.

“When historians talk of this moment they talk about “tensions” and “global instability”. They posit the “resurgence of old structures” and the “inflexibility of existing belief patterns”. Power has her ways. She acts on people, and people act on her.”

Because I want to discuss some of the incredibly fascinating points, the rest of this review will contain some spoilers. So if you haven’t read this book, please STOP READING!!!

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The sheer brilliance of this novel happens at the end. This is where you really get the final sucker punch, and this twist is absolutely stunning in its brilliance. Where we finally see that this narration has been a fiction wrapped in fiction. An alternate history where the acts of the past are being pieced together by an author, hoping to read into the clues that history has left behind.

This mix of alternate history combined with dystopia creates an intoxicating blend of fiction that is breathtaking and impossible to put down. What’s genius about this, is how with a single twist, Aldermann was able to take our ideas about women and turn them upside down. It isn’t simply the entire novel we now see. It is a history where one gender has possibly taken control of the narrative and conditioned the other into certain behaviors and traits.

We often hear how women would be better leaders because violence isn’t in us the way it is men. And maybe that’s true. But maybe it isn’t. However, the allure of power is something that I think has been documented fairly extensively over time. I think that regardless of culture, regardless of how systematically oppressed women have been, if they woke up to having an actual power literally in their fingertips, enough of them would seize it and this change to society would happen.

I love good villains. Not for the evil they inflict, but because we do all carry the capacity for great acts of good and horrific acts of bad. It is a matter of how far we are pushed. Exploring ideas like this really makes you stop and face the reality that perhaps good people would do terrible things if pushed far enough. That perhaps good people would relish the power to suddenly control their own lives in a way they never could before. That perhaps might does make for right, and it is only the lesser that pleads for peace. Not everyone would succumb to that darkness, but how many would?

Throughout this whole novel, though, we don’t necessarily see villains. We see different characters coming to terms with this gigantic change. We see them witness great acts of kindness but we also see them behaving horrifically. And knowing the oppression that some of these women in some of these countries have faced, it is both understandable and horrifying.

Tunde is one of the most interesting characters, partly because he is the only male voice. I think it’s very real that even until the end, he held onto the belief that it wasn’t yet that bad. That his assumed and unspoken power of just being a man, an idea that he had grown up with and become used to, slowly slipped away. Again, we are empathetic to his plight but it’s also difficult to feel completely sorry for him as well.

The final piece that I found brilliant is Mother Eve and the voice she heard. Throughout the book I was reading this as a current unfolding of events, not aware of the twist that came at the end. So I was trying to figure out if this was actually going to be a significant piece of her character, or if she was just crazy. Knowing that the end has this as a fiction novel 5,000 years in the future, where what we thought is today turns out to be the past suddenly made her voice make sense.

It is obvious that women rewrote history. The idea that men could be police officers, soldiers or aggressive was ridiculous to the women of the future. There was a feminine slant of religion. So I think using this fiction as understanding the source of this history and this religion was smart. We often use realistic fiction to understand history and read the signs left. To do the same in this context made so much sense to me.

Overall this book was stunning in execution. The exploration of all things power is chilling and eye opening. I loved the idea of turning gender norms on their head, on really facing the idea that power doesn’t care what gender embodies it, only that it is embraced. This is a book I can see gracing college campuses and being examined for it’s ideas for a long time. I am so glad I jumped into this buddy read on Instagram!

Instagram Algorithm – Shadowban

My last post on the algorithm talked about some of the basics. You can review all of that info HERE.

I’ve resolved to fully educate myself on this Dark Magic, so today, I want to talk about the one thing that does seem to guarantee low engagement and performance on your posts. The dreaded SHADOWBAN.

First, shadowban sounds like an awesome ninja name when you first read it. Doesn’t it? But, unfortunately, like with their entire platform, Instagram took something awesome and made it not so awesome. Harsh? Maybe. But, by all accounts their decision to move from chronological to this algorithm has only benefitted large accounts. But, I digress.

So what is a shadowban? Essentially this means that your post, and in some cases, your entire profile have been flagged unbeknownst to you. The difficulty in this is, how do you know you’ve been shadowbanned if you don’t know? Hopefully this post can help you with some tricks.

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Let’s start with the essential question: how do I know if my post is impacted?

The biggest trigger to indicate your posts are being flagged is low engagement. If your likes suddenly drop fairly dramatically, you’re only seeing likes and comments only from people who follow you, and your comments drop significantly, you could have been shadowbanned.

This is tricky though, because your post could simply be suffering from low performance for reasons other than a shadowban. (We’ll get into those in a future post.) So, to know for sure, you’re going to need an Instagram buddy. Or, at least a second account.

From an account that does not follow you, and this is key, make sure that the account you’re checking from DOES NOT FOLLOW YOU! Go to one of your hashtags and search for your post. If your post has been shadowbanned, you will not show up in the hashtag search.

This is important because it means that your posts will only show up to users that already follow you. No one knew. Which is the entire point of using hashtags. To become discoverable to new followers. So being aware of this is important if your goal is to grow your account.

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The next question is, how does a post become shadowbanned?

There are multiple answers to this. The primary reason is using banned or restricted hashtags.

Hashtags get flagged frequently. If enough users are offended at posts using a certain hashtag, they get flagged. I believe that there is a place on Instagram that tracks these, but I don’t know that for sure. However, I can show you a trick.

Let’s take the hashtag that got me. #books

I used to use that one fairly frequently because my account deals with books. Makes sense right? Turns out this hashtag is shadowbanned. Here’s how to tell.

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When you use the search function for any tag, you see a result screen like this. There’s the Top Nine at the top, and then below that will have Most Recent. As you can see from the screenshot above, #books goes on for longer than the Top Nine, whereas #bookstagram has a white space after the Top Nine. This isn’t cropped, it’s just white space.

If you scroll down for #books, you’ll come across this:

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Unless you make the Top Posts, which are more numerous than just the Top Nine, all recent posts are hidden.

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big deal. Just try and make the Top Posts right? NOPE!

For some reason, and I’m not quite sure the logic here, but if you use #books, every hashtag you use will also be hidden. So, by using one flagged hashtag, your entire post will be shadowbanned.

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If you check the hashtags you use, and you aren’t using any flagged one, YAY! One step eliminated. But you still need to figure out why you’ve been shadowbanned.

It could be that you have been flagged for using the same hashtags for a length of time. A lot of people have become used to saving their hashtag comments as a shortcut, rather than typing them out. If you use the same ones, this signals possible “bot” activity and flags your posts.

You can still use the shortcut trick. But you have to have several options saved. It is also a good idea to use hashtags relevant to your post. I will use hashtags for the book and author I’m posting for, along with any relevant publisher tags, and then use a few of my favorites. Whether you type them out each post, or use a shortcut trick, just make sure you’re changing them frequently to avoid being flagged.

The bot trigger is the third way. Some apps have become popular because you can create content and schedule a post. This is a lifesaver for people who work, or have busy schedules, and you’ve discovered that per the rules of the Universe, those are the times when you get the most engagement. The problem is, these apps use the same IP address for all posts; OR, the IP address is constantly changing locations. Depending on how popular they are, this can cause the address to be flagged which will make your post spam.

And speaking of bots, if you use a bot service to gain followers, the activity from both the follow activity and potential IP address issue will cause your account to be flagged.

This last point is tricky as well, because if you are spending time on a slow Sunday afternoon catching up on likes and following accounts, you may get flagged. So, I would caution heading to multiple accounts and liking all their photos in a short period of time. Ditto for following or unfollowing a ton of accounts in a short amount of time. These can appear as bot activity.

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I know. It’s a lot. And all of this can feel very overwhelming very fast. That’s why again, I will say, know the goal for your account. It may not matter if no one outside of your follower base sees your posts. But, if you want to grow your account for whatever reason, these are things to be aware of. Find the level of awareness that fits you.

Generally speaking, taking a one to two day break from posting will reset any shadowbans, or problems with algorithms. If you used hidden hashtags, once you stop using them, you should see your posts begin to bounce back. If you’ve been blocked from liking or following, it’s usually temporary and if you are aware of your activity, you should be fine.

Some people have stated that simply stopping the hashtag, or changing up your hashtags will boost your posts since it lifts the ban. I find that taking at least a day break works better and my account always recovers faster. You’ll have to find what works for you.

I don’t have any words of wisdom for using a posting app, as I don’t use one, and never had. There are some that allow you to plan a post but you post your photo yourself, which solves the IP address problem. Just be aware of what app you are using and how they work.

The algorithm can be a difficult thing to wrap your hands around. Hopefully this helps just a little!

 

Exploring the Instagram Algorithm

Anyone who has been on Instagram for the last year knows the dark magic that is known as “The Algorithm”. And this is Dark Magic indeed. No one knows exactly what makes it tick, what works, what doesn’t. Though, like with any sorcery, there are many, many theories running amuck.

The argument for the algorithm is that Instagram is attempting to find the best audience for your posts. It can be argued that they are giving preference to large accounts. I can’t disagree with that, but neither can I prove it. Even if it is, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for smaller accounts. You just have to have a targeted approach to your account.

I don’t have the answers. But I have done a little bit of research, and in doing my good deed for the Internet world, I thought I would share my findings. Please remember, these are simply my own experiences and observations.

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First, in order to beat the algorithm you must calculate the hidden mass of your…… HA! Just kidding!

First, consistency. Instagram is a stickler for consistency. There are a lot of articles telling you that you have to post the same day and time or else you’ll get thrown into Internet jail or worse: LOW PERFORMANCE!!! There’s some truth to this, although it isn’t quite so dramatic as some lead you to believe. Yes, consistency matters. If you post at different times every day, you may struggle to get the performance your post deserves. But, if you post normally around 9am daily, and you don’t post until 10am one day, you probably won’t see too much of a difference.

I have learned that if you want to ‘reset’ your algorithm, not posting for a day or two will usually work. I’ve done that when I couldn’t get my posts over a certain threshold. I waited a day between posts, and the next time I posted, it immediately performed better. In the meantime, I posted on my stories (we’ll get to those later) and still liked, commented and interacted with people on Instagram. This all matters.

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If you really want to get nerdy about it, there are actual performance data on business accounts that tell you when your followers are most active. This is true, business accounts do provide more insight than personal accounts. These algorithm articles will urge you to change to a business account so that you get this data. But is this necessary?

I have one personal account where I post the majority of my content, along with two business accounts; one for my dogs (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous but also awesome and we love it) with 200 followers and one for my Etsy shop with around 250 followers. It’s difficult to say which performs better. My two business accounts get anywhere from 50-100 likes per photo. I don’t post consistently to them. But one is dogs with books, mostly in pajamas and costumes, so I feel like that’s a winner on it’s own. And one is mainly tagging Harry Potter hashtags and dragon lovers. Again, fairly popular tags.

My personal account has gone up and down with performance. Lately, I find that I do get around 100 likes per post. I post daily, fairly consistently. So it would seem that while my business accounts are smaller, they get nearly the same activity. Of course, if I posted on my personal account with the same tags, it could be that they would do better. Difficult to say.

One thing I can say, is that the insights are interesting if you enjoy interpreting data. But it is very basic data. Most followers are active between 9am – 7pm daily. It goes up and down according to the day on which hour, but if you follow the consistency rule, the variation between activity per hour shouldn’t impact your post too dramatically. The rest of the data such as gender and location are interesting, but unless you’re an actual business with targeted demographic needs for your product line, I don’t find them that useful to the overall realm of social media.

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Frankly, who knows?! I mean, if you are into data and analytics. By all means, upgrade to business and enjoy the analysis. But, if not, my advice is simply this: test posting at various times. Try the morning for a week and see how they do. Then post in the afternoon or evening. Whenever you change, do it for a week to allow Instagram to adjust to your new times. Find your happy place. The most important thing with posting, is that you reply to comments.

So here we get to the good stuff.

Posting times and business accounts aside. Account interaction is key. So, find a time to post, that performs well, where you can comment and reply to people on your post.

I’ve read that if your post get comments and likes of a certain amount (who knows the sorcery behind this? NO ONE!) Instagram will release your post or boost it to more followers. I have no idea if this is true. What I can tell you, is that since I joined not just one, but two algorithm groups, my performance per post is improving.

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If you join a group with the sole intention of just boosting your posts and your algorithm, I think you’ll end up frustrated, disgusted, and overall unhappy. These groups help, yes. But, they are also a commitment of time and energy. Make sure the group you are in jives with you. If you have to comment on sultry romance posts and you’re a solid dystopian girl, you may find yourself struggling to comment on every post, every day, sometimes multiple times a day. So make sure you find your people!

The one thing I have found, is that commenting and interacting with accounts, even outside my groups is helping. Because you form friendships with people. The more you message with people, comment, watch their stories, mystery of all magic their posts show up on my feed more, and vice versa.

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Okay, so this isn’t sorcery as much as common sense. But it’s important. Like life, social media is what you make it. And you get what you put into it.

If you want to grow your account, and you don’t want to buy followers or use bots, you need to form genuine connections. Yes, these take time. But they also make it worth the experience. You’ll find accounts and people behind them who are interested in you, and you in them. This will lead to others, and so momentum is built.

The more genuine you are with your account, your captions, your comments and replies, the more your account will grow. That much I have seen not just through my accounts, but others as well.

Post to your stories. I know, I know. When they first came out everyone complained. It’s too much! But your stories are a way to show a different side to you versus your beautifully themed feed. Let them see your sense of humor, your quirkiness. This is where you can be a bit messy. It disappears in a day! Find a way to let your personality shine through and you’ll find people respond.

I use ridiculous Snapchat filters. It makes me happy. And it makes me even happier when people message me that my dancing reindeer post made them laugh, or that my dancing pickle video brightened their day. It’s silly. But it’s fun. Sometimes I do unboxings. Sometimes I talk about serious stuff. Sometimes it’s dancing pickles.

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Beyond letting people get to know you through your stories, they carry, say it with me now: ALGORITHM INFLUENCE!!! I don’t know if they have their own algorithm, or they influence your feeds algorithm, or if it’s a combination. Seriously, who has time to track all this? But, the more people see your bright shiny username and profile pic at the top of their screens, the more they’re likely to watch and go to your feed.

Some thoughts on stories. Be aware of your audience. If you use Instagram for friends, that’s one thing. If you’re attempting to be an Influencer, or are using this platform to promote products, even while being yourself: be professional. There’s a balance there. Find it.

That’s a lot, and probably nothing you haven’t already read before. I don’t have any tricks other than simply being sincere, find your happy place, make genuine connections and be consistent. The rest will come.

I will talk more about shadow banning, hashtags and more in another post, so stay tuned!