Month: December 2013

2013 in review

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,400 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Review of ‘Highway Queen’

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Highway Queen is Zimbabwean author Virginia Phiri’s third novel, and although it’s fiction, it reads as if it was ripped from the headlines during Ziombabwe’s torturous era of hyperinflation and political madness – it has the resounding ring of truth that will reverberate in your mind long after you stop reading.

Phiri plunges the reader into the life of Sophie Mumba after her husband Steven is retrenched (a euphemism for all the workers who were permanently laid off when the country’s economy went into an uncontrolled free fall), succumbs to depression, and takes to drink. Sophie, like millions of African women before and since, is left to support her two children and ailing mother-in-law.

In unadorned prose, replete with richly textured descriptions of the people and environment during a time of madness, it chronicles Sophie’s own fall from grace, as she finds herself forced into prostitution in her desperate attempt to keep her family together. She faces violence, indifference, and the specter of HIV/AIDS with a sense of futility leavened by an innate sense of dignity and responsibility not shared by many of the men in her life.

Highway Queen is a continuation of her previous works, Desperate and Destiny, and is dedicated to ‘the women who have sacrificed their lives, health and happiness in order to fend for their families and at times communities.’

To most Westerners, and not a few Africans, the scenes in this book will be disturbing. They paint a picture of the continent that is often overlooked. But, for those who want a better understanding of the travails of a continent that has more than its share of the world’s problems, and a look at how some cope with those travails, this is recommended reading.


My First Book Promotion for 2014 – ‘Buffalo Soldier: Yosemite

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Get number seven in the Buffalo Soldier series, Buffalo Soldier: Yosemite, free for your Kindle for a limited time only – January 5 – 7.

Ben Carter is ordered to escort a survey party from Fort Union in New Mexico to Yosemite Valley in central California. The mission of the survey is to encourage the U.S. Congress to expand the national parks system. What should be a routine duty for the men of the Ninth Cavalry’s Buffalo Soldiers is complicated beyond Ben’s imaginings.
In the first place, one of his men is seriously injured coming back from a scouting mission and faces a long period of convalescence. He is replaced by a new trooper who comes with a checkered background and the taint of cowardice under fire. Ben worries about the man’s reliability on a mission that is being watched not just by the regimental commander, but the President of the United States.
Ben learns a lot about the new man, and the people he is assigned to protect, during the long journey to California, and that his routine mission is anything but, as he discovers that the natural beauty of Yosemite covers greed and danger that rival anything he has had to face before.


My Three Words for 2014

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I’m about as much into making New Year’s resolutions as I am in celebrating Christmas – which is to say, I’m not much into it. When I came across Chris Brogan’s My Three Words List on one of Nick Kellet’s lists, though, I decided, ‘what the hey!’

Brogan uses his three word lists – a practice he started in 2011, I think – to establish motivational markers for himself, and since they didn’t seem like your traditional resolutions I was intrigued.

After deciding to participate in this little exercise, my next task was to think of three appropriate words. Actually only took about five minutes. I know what I’d like to achieve in 2014 – what every writer wants – more readers. I mean, on a crass, commercial level, that means selling more books, but I want to take the high ground here. I’m not just about selling more books (I won’t be disappointed at that, you understand, it’s just not my primary concern), but about getting my message out to more and more people. So, that means, in addition to increasing book sales, I’d also like to expand my blog readership. And, there you have it: my three words for 2014 –


Weekly Photo Challenge – One

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It’s always a good idea to have a single point of focus in a photograph to draw the viewer’s eye to where you want it to be. the creamy white color and shape of the butterfly, in contrast with the surroundings, draws the eye toward the center of this photo, but not the exact center, for that would be boring.



Why don’t you share your photo showing the power of ONE:

Happy Writers

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Review of ‘Desperate’ by Virginia Phiri

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Virginia Phiri is a noted Zimbabwean author who is little known on this side of the Atlantic. She writes often about the problems faced by marginalized people in her native Zimbabwe. In Desperate, she takes on the issue of prostitution, and how and why women end up selling their bodies to strangers.

In a series of fictional narratives, Phiri paints evocative, and dark pictures of women such as Chido and Nhamo, who share one condition – desperation – that drives them to the fateful decision.

Phiri tells us in her preface to the book that while operating as a freedom fighter during Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence, her life was saved by a group of prostitutes who she never had the chance to thank. Desperate is her tribute to them and a plea to the world to think about how it treats women and how this treatment can push them down this desperate path.

This is one of Phiri’s first ventures in to e-Book publishing, so there are some formatting issues with the Kindle version. This does not, though, take anything away from her strong writing, as she gives voice to the voiceless. While Desperate does not quite rise to the level of her premier work, Highway Queen, it is nonetheless a book worth reading if you want to have a better understanding of life in a culture that is as alien as the dark side of the moon and to be introduced to an author who I predict will make as much impact in America as she already does in Zimbabwe.

Formatting issues aside, I give this book a solid four stars.


Review of ‘The Ten Commandments for the Thriving Writer’

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Oh my God, I thought, as I clicked open page one of The Ten Commandments for The Thriving Writer, which I received free in exchange for an unbiased review, another book exposing all the secrets to becoming a millionaire as a freelance writer! I started reading, expecting to be underwhelmed – and received a pleasant surprise. Karen Banes, a freelance writer, blogger, and editor, actually offered up some practical advice for anyone who is into, as her subtitle says, “enjoying and embracing the freelance writing life.”

Okay, I’ll be honest, Banes’ book isn’t rocket science, and it’s not the Genie’s Lamp that if you rub will grant your wish for instant fame and riches. It is, though, a fairly well-written book by someone who has had a measure of success at freelancing, outlining some fairly basic principles on how to do it and be fairly successful yourself.

I’m always a but put off by the disclaimers put in books – I have them in two of my own that were put out by a publisher who I suppose worries about potential litigation. The Ten Commandments has a rather lengthy disclaimer up front, one section which I found intriguing – ‘ . . . views not to be taken as expert instructions or commands.’ I’m being a bit of a nitpicker here, but the book does contain instructions, and the title says they are ‘commandments.’ So, that part of the disclaimer at least should probably have been left out. There’s nothing wrong with someone who has mastered a craft listing instructions on doing it, as long as they let you know this is how they did it, and it might not work for you. Okay, okay, like I said – I can pick nits.

If this is the only problem with the book; and, it’s the only one I could find; it still leaves a pretty good read for the beginner who’d like even a sketchy roadmap into the terra incognito of the world of freelancing.

Review of ‘The Audacity of You’

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The Audacity of You is a disconnected series of essays by Dominique Wilkins that share only one common thread – the audacity of human interactions. With Bible verses interspersed, one assumes to illustrate the religious grounding of the stories, they introduce us briefly to such diverse characters as Juan Deau (aka John Doe) Conners, who prefers to be called J.D. or Baby Boy, Nesha’ Chanel, who started out in life as Ernesha Owen, and a host of other characters that are all ‘smaller than life.’ We’re treated to their views on the audaciousness of others – while at the same time, they show their own bald-faced boldness without apparently even being aware of it.

I received a free copy of Audacity for review, and from the opening lines I thought I would follow the life of the three-year-old narrator as he came to grips with the unusual moniker his unthinking parents had bestowed upon him. Alas, other than his griping, I was to be disappointed, and left wondering how he finally coped. The same could be said of the other characters who parade briefly across the pages of the book. Their situations pique your interest, but somehow, there doesn’t seem to be adequate closure – if I may be excused the audacity of using a current buzz word.

Despite the somewhat tortured grammar, and the lack of closure, it wasn’t an uninteresting book. I only wish Wilkins had taken what to me seems a necessary step of going just a bit deeper into each character and closing the loop.

Instead, I’m left wondering if what the author really intended to do was set the reader up for the sequel – or sequels – to some interest-provoking situations. This has the potential to be a really good book, but just misses for me, so I give it two and a half stars, rounded up to three.

Review of ‘1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2’

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Every writer or blogger has at some point faced the dreadful situation of sitting down at the keyboard and coming up dry on what to write about. Your muse slept late, or just decided to take a much needed vacation and your mind is as empty as the cookie jar the day after a holiday.

Well, thanks to Bryan Cohen and Jeremiah Jones, you don’t have to face that keyboard completely empty handed anymore. Their 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is the muse that never takes a vacation.

This is a follow-on to Cohen’s first volume of prompts that grew out of his search for a way to make money online. I received a free copy for review of the current volume, and am now searching for number one. After all, who wouldn’t like to have 2,000 little mind-nudges for those times when the idea well seems dry?

Organized into categories, such as Time and Place and People and Creatures, these little memory jogs are sure to help you think of something to write about. That they are subjective is to be expected – we write what we know, and these two are no exception – but, they don’t have to be taken literally. Let your mind roam free as you read, and I think you’ll see the value of this little book. They’ve even kindly indexed the book for those who have a vague idea of what they’d like to write about, and want to look up specifics.

A  helpful little volume indeed.

Maid in Manhattan Case: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Man Who Makes Embassy Row Tremble

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Maid in Manhattan Case: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Man Who Makes Embassy Row Tremble. Interesting that the Indians have their knickers in a knot and have spread all kinds of vicious rumors and untruths about this case, but nothing is said about whether or not the consular official (who did not have full immunity, but shouldn’t have been breaking the law in the first place) did or didn’t do what she was accused of doing – only that her position and class entitled her to ‘special’ treatment. Hooray for Preet Bharara!

Review of ‘Steel City Investigations’

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I love a good mystery story. I also love humor. When the two are combined, I’m in hog heaven. When I got a free copy of Donald Algeo’s Steel City Investigations, I began reading – it started off a bit slow, but by the middle of chapter two I was hooked like a big mouth bass at a fishing tournament.

Eddie and Nicky Carlyle are two very rich brothers, who, if their father can resist spending their inheritance on his next lost cause, stand to be even richer when he finally shuffles off his mortal coil – something he seems determined not to do until all the money is gone. Divorced from their mother, Daddy Carlyle changes his will for the umpteenth time; this time declaring that when he goes whatever is left goes to his grandchildren rather than his sons. Not a good situation for les deux frères Carlyle.

Eddie and Nicky decide to go into a new business. They form Steel City Investigations, and as their first case go after the Belmont Killer, a ruthless murderer who loves inflicting pain – on anyone.

Algeo does a masterful job of switching back and forth from Eddie to Nicky’s point of view in this rollicking romp through the mean streets and dens of iniquity that their quarry inhabits. Changing points of view can be unsettling because of the need to make clear the differences of characters – and Eddie and Nicky are about as alike as a garbanzo bean and a stalk of celery – but somehow, Algeo pulls it off. The dialogue is edgy and the descriptions are evocative. He sucks you into the story like a kid at a malt shop pulling on a straw to get the last of his strawberry shake from the bottom of the glass. At the end, you’re left breathless – from the suspense and the laughter.

This is a must read for that time when you want a literary change of pace.

Review of ‘Time on Target’

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Former 5th SF Group commando, now Homeland Security special agent Dan Brandt is living on borrowed time. Severely injured in Afghanistan, his body, as finely tuned as it is, is slowly shutting down, and he knows it. He tries to keep this from his fiancée Marina, but when he is sent on one last mission, his secret becomes hard to keep. Sent to locate and identify Diego Sandoval, a Mexican drug lord who is using Latino-American teens in his operation, Brandt encounters a face from his past, Carlos Gomez, Jr., the son of a former comrade, forcing both him and Carlos to have to fight for their lives.

Time on Target by Don Marnock is a taut thriller that will keep your adrenalin pumping and your pulse racing from page one. Gritty dialogue and authentic background puts Marnock’s work in a class by itself. The characters are fully-fleshed with warts and all, and the action is described in blunt, no-nonsense terms. It has everything, from the evil doings of vicious drug dealers to the behind the scenes maneuvering and betrayal of ambitious bureaucrats. Not a story for the faint of heart or sensitive soul, but I guarantee you that when you start reading, you will not be able to put it down until you’ve reached the final page.

U.N. group hails Texas diplomat for rights fight

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<h3 “”=”” id=”yui_3_13_0_ym1_1_1387195290756_2760″>UNA Award for my work in Argentina.. Thanks to Stewart Powell’s fine writing..cheers Tex


Para Tex Harris
Dic 15 a las 4:26 PM
Moi et les trois chats joyeux =*&gt;:) devil=  =*&gt;:) devil=  =*&gt;:) devil=

From: Tex Harris <>
To: Tex Harris Watch <>
Sent: Saturday, 14 December 2013, 14:36
Subject: Great Houston Chronicle story on the UNA Award for my work in Argentina.. Thanks to Stewart Powell’s fine writing..cheers Tex


U.N. group hails Texas diplomat for rights fight

By Stewart M. Powell  HOUSTON CHRONICLE    December 14, 2013
WASHINGTON — Towering Texan F. Allen “Tex” Harris says he repeatedly tried to right wrongs during a tumultuous 35-year foreign service career.
The straight-talking, 6-foot-7 former all-state high school basketball star tracked the “disappeared” during Argentina’s “dirty war,” battled transmission of the HIV virus in South Africa and spoke out on behalf of…

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