Saturday, January 20, 2018

Audiobook Review: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

This is an audiobook review.

I’ve never had the desire to visit Africa, but as soon as I finished listening, I wanted to hop the next flight to Botswana. This audiobook is a gem. There are no car chases, no gunfights, so martial arts smack downs just a smart woman working hard to realize her dream of being the first lady detective in Botswana. There’s a ton I liked. The heroine, Precious Ramotswe, is clever, observant, and has a kind heart, all excellent qualities for a lady detective. She is, as she says, “a fat African woman” and proud of it. The cozy mysteries at her detective agency are told with good humor and charm. The timeline of the story flicks from past to present, but is so well-written it’s easy to follow. The reader learns about Precious’ childhood and how she developed the knack for detective work. Along the way, family, friends, and fascinating characters galore appear. I enjoyed the asides. They brought more descriptive color to an already colorful tale.

The author has an exceptional eye for detail and writes with the completely believable voice of a black African woman. It’s not long before I felt I was sitting next to Precious in her little white van driving along the dusty back roads of Botswana, off on another case. I rather wish I was.

The narrator, Lisette Lecat, is outstanding. She can do female and male characters of different ages and tackles the soft lilt of African accents with ease. Her pronunciation of African words is smooth and erring. For this reason, I highly recommend the audiobook over electronic or print versions.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Shadow Fleet (Rimrider Adventures Book 4) is available for presale

Available for Presale on Amazon
Shadow Fleet, the latest adventures of Captain Jane Benedict and the crew of the Double Dare is now available for presale. Release date is January 24, 2018. 

As the war between Freetraders and UEC ramps up, training begins for the new Shadow Fleet, but it’s far from smooth sailing for Captain Jane Benedict and the crew of the Double Dare. Old resentments simmer beneath the surface threatening to drive a wedge between Freetrader forces. Meanwhile plans are made to reenter the boneyard and locate headquarters for the new Shadow Fleet, but scavenging a shifting debris field has its own set of challenges. Dangers from the past and new ones from the present threatened the safety of Jane and her friends leaving them with only one response…

Hit’m hard, hit’m fast, and never surrender. 

Buy Link

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Goofs, Blunders, and Big Time Boo-boos in Books.

On the cusp of a glorious New Year it’s time to reflect on all the dumb writing mistakes we’ve made in the past twelve months; dangling modifiers, an overabundance of commas, misspellings, wrong word usage. The lists go on for each of us, but fear not, we keep famous company.

A History of Boo-boos
Some of the most famous books, past and present have had their share of problems and not even having God as an editor helps. In 1631 Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers for Charles I, put out a new edition of the King James Bible with a teensy little error. Glory hallelujah, adultery was now not only legal, but required. The book soon became known as the Wicked Bible, Adulterous Bible, or Sinners’ Bible. All have a nice ring to them. Neither the king nor the Archbishop of Canterbury had a sense of humor and the publishers of the Wicked Bible were called to the Star Chamber and fined £300. Copies were destroyed, but a few escaped and are now highly sought after collector’s items.

You’d think having won a Nobel Prize in Literature for a dang book means a letter perfect copy, but not so. There have been multiple editions of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, but the first, second, and third are flawed. Page 100, line 17, describes a wall. “It stretched out long and grey and very high, and against the base the small mat sheds clung like flees to a dog's back.” Copies of the book that include the misspelling can go for as much as $9500.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn spoke in dialect. “Spos’n” in place of “supposing” isn’t a mistake, but hidden in the first edition is a genuine (or gen-you-wine) error. “I took the bag to where it used to stand, and ripped a hole in the bottom of it with the was.” I’m supos’n he meant the saw.

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser is one of the more well-known examples of poor copy editing. It’s rife with small typos such as “if” for “it” or “to” for “too”, but some really miss the mark. On page 340 he describes people “like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea.” My only question is Doritos or Lays?

Modern Mistakes
Mistakes are not a thing of the past. Typos and
grammatical errors have become increasingly common. The explosion of self-publication gets a bad rap, but big-time publishers are equally guilty. The hot mess of the Twilight trilogy has so many mistakes that websites are devoted to them. George R. R. Martin’s Fire and Ice Series is rife with errors and plot inconsistencies. Even Harry Potter isn’t immune. A rare first edition with the word “philosopher” misspelled on the back cover recently sold for £43,750. The all-time Big Daddy of modern typos has to go to The Pasta Bible, published by Penguin Group Australian in 2010. The company recalled 7000 copies of the book when someone discovered a recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto told cooks to “add salt and freshly ground black people.”

Disregard, for a moment, any self-published books that have obviously never seen an editor’s hand. If it seems mistakes are on the rise, even in releases from major publishing houses, you’re not mistaken. Publishers used to exist for the purpose of distributing as near perfect copy as possible. Errors were met with chagrin. Not anymore. Before the recession and the onset of digital publishing, companies had armies of copy editors clutching their little red pens. Manuscripts went from editor to galley proof then revised proof and finally blue line. Each step in the process was another chance for review and correction of mistakes. To cut expenses, companies dumped droves of copy editors and then leaped on the bandwagon of digital publishing.  Ebook sales soared. Expenses for book production plummeted while overall profits shot skyward. Large publishing houses such as HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Hachette are rolling in dough, but no one’s rehiring the editing staff. No wonder mistakes slip by. The Pasta Bible gaffe was blamed on a spellcheck error. Someone should tell the CEO of the Penguin Group you can’t rely solely on a computer and still need a sharp pair of human eyes.   

Egad. My Book has a Boo-boo
So what does all this mean for today’s self-published writer? First, find yourself a good editor. There are plenty out there and they can use the work. Produce the cleanest manuscript you can and stop beating yourself over the head if a typo makes it into your final work. They will. They always do. Shrug it off and submit a corrected copy and be proud of your creation. If you find a typo in a book from a major publishing house, don’t bother to send them a message. They couldn’t care less.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Zombie 101

You Think You Know Zombies?
Ha, you say. Of course you do. A zombie is a reanimated corpse. You may even know the word zombie originated from the Kongo word nzambi which means spirit of a dead person. It was later altered to zonbi in Haitian Creole by descendants of African slaves, and eventually became zombie. How is a person zombified? Well, that’s easy. The innocent victim is infected by a pathogen. The origin can be natural or manmade, but begins with Patient Zero. The infection spreads with a bite and then the victim develops an insatiable appetite for human flesh, particularly tasty brains.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s only the short history of zombies and like many myths, this one has some basis in fact.

Early Zombie Lore 
Fear that the dead won’t stay buried is common in folklore. Many Stone Age burial sites in the Middle East had corpses interred beneath large stones. In an ancient site in Syria dating back 10,000 years, the dead were not just weighed down with heavy weights, but also decapitated—an early link to modern zombie lore.  Although piles of rocks discouraged animals from digging up remains, removing grandpa’s noggin also kept him from a moonlight stroll.

Ancient Greeks were equally careful with their corpses. Archeologists working in Sicily unearthed a Greek necropolis called Passo Marinaro dating from 800 BC. The entombed, children as well as adults, were found in a variety of positions; staked, tied, or again weighed down by stones. According to the Greeks, certain deceased were more prone to walk among the living. These included victims of murder, a plague, or a curse. Greeks also piled on the extra big rocks for those born on unlucky days. Bad enough being killed by a plague or curse, now you had to spend eternity with a boulder on your head.

eHarmony Head Zombie
Early hints at the development of modern zombie lore can be found in places other than the Middle East. Norse mythology contains tales of the draugr or “again walker” who like to munch on locals. They pass on their curse by biting a victim (sound familiar?), but can also have supernatural powers such as shape-shifting or entering a person’s dreams.  Romania has its own native zombies with strigoi, a combination zombie/vampire. They drink blood and rise from the dead to stalk the living, generally a relative.  To stop them the grave must be dug up and the head and heart removed. One way to turn into a strigoi is to die single, so some communities marry off the corpse as a preventive measure. Take that, eHarmony.

Liquid Zombie
Modern Zombies
Present day zombie lore has two types (three if you count the mixed drink made with rum and fruit juices.) The first is the “not quite dead” created by voodoo magic. This one has a practical social application. A family or community decides a certain individual is an annoying pain in the rear.  They hire a bokur, a voodoo priest specializing in black magic. The bokur uses spells, incantations and a liberal dose of coup padre, a powder made from the poison tetrodoxin. It slows heart rate, respiration, and drops body temperature. Thinking the victim perished, the body is buried and then later removed by the bokur. The new zombie is in an addled state with memory erased and transformed into a mindless drone. All in all, an efficient method for removing undesirables from society and a win-win for both the community and the bokur. An annoying pain in the rear is gone and the bokur receives a docile servant. This type of zombie doesn’t consume flesh and is relatively harmless. He might even be happier. Leave him be.

The second type of zombie is a strictly Hollywood creation from screenwriters in La La Land. Patient Zero is infected by either a natural or manmade entity. Death is the result, but the corpse is reanimated by a mysterious biological process and develops an insatiable craving for human flesh. One bite from a zombie spreads the infection and chaos reigns. Although fictional, some folks take the threat of the zombie apocalypse seriously, like the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. The CDC is tasked with investigating dangerous pathogens and their scientists are apparently endowed with a cheeky sense of humor. People don’t like to think ahead and prepare for emergencies. The CDC realized the steps to slow the spread of a dangerous viral outbreak would be the same as needed to combat a zombie apocalypse, and people might pay more attention to the latter. Official zombie apocalypse guidelines are now posted on the CDC website. They include such things as items to keep in an emergency kit and how to make a disaster plan. The site went over like gangbusters and crashed the day it went live.
Check it out at can even join the CDC Zombie Task Force. Proceeds go to disaster relief efforts and health programs. Now, prepare your own kit, and keep your mitts off my tasty brains.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Comic Book Story of Video Games by Jonathan Hennessey

Comic books and video games are fun examples of the visual arts especially when author Jonathan Hennessey combines them in an entertaining and educational book certain to appeal to fans of both genres. Even though information comes in comic panels, this isn’t a quick and glossy overview, but rather a thoughtful and in depth exploration of the history of video games; how they got here, the state of the art, and where they’re going.

Hennessey starts off with the surprising statement that computers are not a must have to make or play video games, nor are all electronic games video games. To back that up he takes readers on a tour of game development history starting with experiments with electricity in the 1800s. That leads to pre- and post-World War II and the cathode ray tube. He touches on early contributors to computer technology such as Alan Turing and how the Cold War contributed not only to computer development, but also gaming tropes.

Hacking began a lot earlier than you’d think (the 1950s.)  Early hackers’ desire to understand the ins and out of computers went hand in hand with their yen to improve them and stretch the boundaries of what technology could do. Hennessey comes to the amusing conclusion that video games are themselves a hack since computers were only intended for military, government, scientific and industry use. The book is rife with stories of early pioneers such as Nolan Bushnell and Steve Wozniak along with many you never heard of such as Jerry Lawson, an early builder of arcade games. The author ends with the Xbox and Wii Minecraft and how home consoles changed the industry.    

This is a fast, fun book with nicely drawn graphics. It’s as up to date as can be expected, but considering how quickly technology changes, the last entries in the book are sure to be old news soon.  I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for a review.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Go to Hell. Don't Mind if I Do

All Soul’s Day is fast upon us when the veil between dimensions stretches thin. Before you pop over to the other side for a cold brewski, you might want to consider which hell is the right one for you. Depictions of an afterlife, particularly one for naughty folk, have been part of religious beliefs from the beginning. After this word ends, any person who says the right prayers and acts according to the dictates of those in charge gets a fast-pass to the next. A common belief is the journey; good go up to the light, bad go down to a darker realm. No surprise there. Night was scary for our ancestors. With no understandings of modern science, demons in the dark were blamed for every bad thing that happened when the sun went down. Best stay indoors and huddle around the fire.  

Greeks even had a special word katabasis, meaning descent or downward to describe a journey to Hades. For the Greeks, it wasn’t always a one-way trip; sometimes the road to Hell resembled a superhighway. Although a place of fiery desolation, Odysseus managed to drop in for a nice chat with his mom, Hercules went there to rescue Theseus, Theseus was only trapped there because the dope muffed an attempt to spring Persephone. For the Greeks, the trip to Hades could have an upside. There was always the chance of snagging some mystical device, or at the very least, coming back wiser and more insightful. A quest to Hell was often a part of the hero’s journey.

The version of Hell in Judaism can be summed up in one word: meh. Little mention is made in Judaic texts other than references to a place called Sheol that is dark and deep (naturally.)  In general, there are no fixed notions of particular judgments or punishments. Another place in Judaic texts is Gehinnom, but again the views are mixed. Some scholars view it as a place of punishment and retribution, others more of a section of the afterlife set aside for introspection to review mistakes committed in life and then repent them. Don’t repent enough? Something bad is bound to happen, but details are murky. 

In Christian mythos, heaven and hell are ethereal planes that can’t be reached or seen by the common folk until after death.  They are always characterized as “up” or “down” in no uncertain terms as if AAA designed a TripTik. The route never detours; heaven is up, hell is down, and it’s definitely one-way. Christians had no doubts about punishment. They adopted earlier pagan beliefs that Hell was a place of burning and eternal punishment reserved for the wicked. The term ‘wicked’ has relaxed over the years. Many notions of Hell can be trace to the 14th century and Dante Alighieri’s epic poem. In the section of The Divine Comedy called The Inferno, Dante described nine circles of Hell; limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. Today, being consigned to hell because you snagged the last piece of double fudge chocolate cake seems unduly harsh, but gluttony meant more to folks in the Renaissance. Scarfing down all the gruel first meant the rest of the household starved to death.

While not all religions have an actual Hell, the up/down movement of the soul after death is often present. In the case of Hinduism, it is an ascending/descending judgment. After death the best of the best rise up and are led by divine beings to the highest, immortal heaven of Brahman. Those who led virtuous lives, but haven’t quite reached the top tier can be reincarnated according to previous actions. You can come back (down) as a person and try to live a more virtuous life. Those that reveled in sinful ways don’t end up in Hell, but do descend to a lower life form, often one that lives underground such as an insect. Tibetan Buddhism has a similar outlook. After 49 days in a limbo-type place called Bardo the soul either ascends to enlightenment or, if the soul doesn’t make the cut, it’s back down to a rebirth on Earth to try again.

The Rules for Lying
In my new fantasy Big Easy Shaman series, I incorporate a mix of beliefs. Very bad people end up in the Lower Worlds. Yes, there are more than one, but keeping with tradition, they’re all fairly miserable places inhabited by demons, evil spirits, and all sorts of general nastiness. Terrible places to visit and you definitely don’t want to live in any of them. So the next time someone tells you to go to hell smile broadly, thank them for the fine suggestion, and politely ask which one. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Book Review: A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings by Matt Sewell

Sometimes an ordinary word just won’t do when describing clusters of animals in nature. That’s when you take the poetic approach. This little book by Matt Sewell illustrates different groups and their poetical nomenclature; a plague of rats, a crash of hippos, a murder of crows and so forth. The author is an artist and each group of animals is accompanied by a painting and a brief description on the opposing page. The descriptions are only a paragraph or two and not much to read. The real charm is the paintings. I’d hang any one of them on my wall. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.