Every morning when I wake up I go through my morning rituals while sipping my first “cuppa” tea in bed. (You have to remember I’ve been married to an English lady for over 50 years.)
So! today! Wordle had a word to find that used only th eletter “Y” as vowel in the five letter word. Stretched my not quite awake brain a bit, but I got it in 4 tries. Whew!
Then I thought back to my Grade School Days and language learning things drilled into us in second and third grades while we were learning to read and spell. ( Oh! Remember Spelling Bee’s? Regina Cullen always came in first place! You don’t have to think very hard to know who generally when out first! Yep, yours truly, the guy who still tries to be a writer.) You know those rules: 1. “I” before “E” except after “C” or when sounded like “A” and in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh’ . (So how do you pronounce: Seize? Weird? Forfeit?…).
OK, enough of that one, but what about how about: “Let’s learn our vowels, children! They are: A, E, I , O, U, and sometimes Y and W.”
W? What words in English have a “W” as the vowel?
I only knew One Word – Cwm – (Pronounced- Koom) meaning a mountain area like a cirque.
So I looked it up! –
Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Tony Hillerman always has a good tale to tell in his modern western combination of murder mystery, and Navajo culture as Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee and Lt. Joe Leaphorn tunnel through evidence to find the cause of mysterious death on the reservation. This is the first book with the Cee/Leaphorn team working together so the two guys have to get to know each other and trust that they are both on the same side. In this tale, the capture of the killer seems to be straightforward until under questioning he confesses that he shot the guy he killed, rather than knifed him as the evidence shows. This takes out duo on a circuitous journey through the backwaters of the reservation to find out the sordid tale underlying the death and the long covered up reason. Chee takes flak from Leaphorn for mistakes, and four homicides are in danger of becoming five by the time the mystery is solved.
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It’s been over 5 years since I published my last book. And as a writer I am always interested in finding out what my readers have thought about what they have read. Reading honest feedback from reviewers or persons with whom you correspond always helps your learning curve with reference to: a. the story that caught them up and the visuals in the book that helped with understanding, b. the title that either dragged them in, or turned them off, and finally, c. the cover that piqued their interest to pick the book up and up and buy it.
Let’s start with the Cover in this Essay since that’s what book seekers see first!
So what is it about the cover of my African novel, The Ghosts of Ukuthula? What have I been able to sus out of reader’s comments?
Here’s the Cover:
Look at it – Anything here that would Draw you in or Turn you off? Here’s what I thought originally in the design of the cover:
Hmm! Maybe it’s too bitty? Maybe we don’t have to tell the whole story on the cover?
What About the actual title Words?
What feedback did I get? Unpronounceable! So what’s the meaning?
Wow! Not many people look closely at book covers so minute detail doesn’t really pull people in. Big and Bold is the Key! One Symbol/Torso/Flag/Skull … is Plenty!
Use a foreign word? —- Better have its English Synonym right there beside it!
These are things that I, with six years in Africa, never had cross my mind when planning the self-publishing of my book.
Next time around: That’s what I’ll be looking at – Simple Direct and to the Point!
Next time, let’s look at the story!
Biscuits and Gravy by William W. Johnstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A well written book in this series, showing how J. A. Johnstone has enhanced the characterizations by mentor William W. Johnstone. It’s the solid western genre going all the way back to “Shane” so many years ago of the drifter, the lady in distress and Dewey, the guy who can stand up for her rights and put the ruler of the town, Harcourt, and all his gunmen in their place. The cattle drive is well written up and has enough exciting moments both for Dewey and Becky, the girl he has fallen for, as they battle the elements, stampede and rustlers. I especially like some of the feminine twist to the river scene, the end of the trail scenes and the final showdown that make this a fast and friendly book that could very well be made into a cool movie.
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When you got posted to a detachment in Germany during the Cold War, the odds were that you were going to end up at a post that would have you playing constant war games in the snow or mud and rain off of one of the big bases near Frankfurt, Munich, Ulm or Stuttgart.
Occasionally, though, there were those assignments that came open at some little detachments scattered around the countryside there the duty was pretty much 8 – 5 for even the Infantry grunts and soldiers who were married and Sp.- 4 or higher in rank could live in the local villages in apartments on the German economy. The occasional alerts interrupted the calm routine as Americans and other NATO soldiers responded to the movements of Russian troops. Then we moved out in trucks with our personnel and cooking staff and made ready to hunker down in selected sites and prepared to launch the missles or coordinate battle movements depending on the mission of each unit.
Gunzburg, Germany (technically, Gunzburg ab de Donau) was one of those special places where both EM and Officers wished for longer tours of duty in Germany as the levies for Vietnam came down routinely through our personnel offices. The pictures here, sent to me by Lupe Ybarra who was also stationed here and in Pfullendorf, show a bit of what it was like.
The center of Gunzburg with shops and gasthauses where some of us had our apartments.
Sp – 4 Ybarra walking through Gunzburg on a day off. Hard to tell the Americans from the locals!
Entrance to Prinz Eugen Kaserne which was a German Basic Training Unit with big barracks of trainees and with the few Americans in another part of the base.
Inside of the American EM bar and game room.
If memory serves me right, this is the Traubenkeller which had a dance floor and was great for EM parties and getting to know the local folks on weekend time off the base.
In most cases our alerts were called off within hours and we all returned to base camp and our regular jobs held by all the members within HHD 512th Artillery Group and the 510th Artillery Company. We and the other small units of several hundred men scattered throughout Germany, awaiting the next nervous twitch of the sleeping Bear only a few hundred miles away behind the Iron Curtain.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to Lupe Ybarra for his pictures and remembrances of 50 years in the past.
I Rate this a 5 Star!
Here is a book that tells the complete story of genetic editing from the biochemistry laboratory of Rosalind Franklin, in the 50’s to Jennifer Doudna’s 2020 lab and the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Franklin’s groundbreaking X-ray diffraction photography in the early 1950’s gave Watson and Crick the key to the structure of the DNA molecule which sets up the life story of Jennifer Doudna’s research.
The book chases both the quest for the sequencing of full genetic codes and what they do in humans and other organisms. The real story begins in the 1980’s in Japan where PhD microbiology graduate student Yoshizumi Ishino noted five homologous sequences of 29 nucleotides arranged in repeating sequence in the genome of the bacterium E. coli. In the 1990’s, a Spanish microbiology PhD graduate student, Francisco Mojica, figured out the function of these repeating sequences by first noting that they were palindromes, readable the same way in both directions and named them Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats from which the acronym CRISPR was devised.
At the same time, the book is following the early life, professional career and thinking development of the key player in this whole book, Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who in 2020 was awarded the Nobel Prize, in Chemistry along with her good friend and colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier for their discovery and description of how Mojica’s CRISPR mechanism worked to fight off viral infections in bacteria and how the process could be harnessed to edit the genome of nucleated cells.
Alongside of this fascinating scientific story are the human-interest stories of numerous highly ambitious individuals and groups of scientists who cooperate and compete for being the first publishers of groundbreaking knowledge about the workings of CRISPR. In the life story of the main protagonist, Dr. Jennifer Doudna, we see the development of her passion for discovery and organization as she follows a dream, born from the discoveries of the 1950’s to the present and is able to organize teams of graduate students and other scientists to work on the whole discovery process of making CRISPR work outside of cells in a test tube, and then work in nucleated mammalian cells. We read the life stories of many of these other equally passionate scientists, whose experiments and collaboration in sharing worldwide scientific knowledge over a period of seventy years made it possible to develop a process of gene editing that could only have been possible in the imaginations of sci-fi writers half a century earlier.
Withing the entire process of discovery, author Walter Isaacson makes us aware of the doubts, ambitions and behind-the-scenes petty gamesmanship that can develop in a world in which the simple date of publication of a document may mean the difference between a multi-million-dollar patent, or a spin-off company, or a Nobel Prize for persons who make the next key breakthrough in biochemical or biological knowledge.
The story and interviews also remind us of how the spiral of human knowledge and innovation cannot occur without the possibility of that knowledge being misused by persons who are willing to break rules which have been set up to protect us from malicious tampering with the human genome in certain ways.
The author brings to light, with his massive number of interviews, the doubts, fears, transgressions, penalties and the need for rules to govern our new genetic tools. The moral and ethical dilemmas we may face in these new waters of genetic engineering will certainly be equal to some of the quandaries faced by the developers of the first atomic bombs.
The book begins with researchers studying the three-billion-year battle between invasive viruses and bacteria with their CRISPR defenses. It ends with the viruses still waging their invasive warfare against true nucleated mammalian and other cells, but with the hope that humanity can somehow repurpose ancient bacterial tricks to counterattack viruses and certain genetic diseases in order to better the lives of all persons in the future.
Enjoy the read!
Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I first began reading this wonderful Eric Ambler, Spy novel, I immediately thought of Camus and the two books I read by him years ago, “The Stranger”, and “The Fall”. The detailed descriptions as you look through Joseph Vadassy’s eyes at his surroundings in southern France and hear what the police, his new acquaintances and his own thoughts are telling him, will keep you moving through this very clever story as our protagonist falls prey to his own desires to solve a mystery rather than following those of his control, the shadowy Beghin.
In some respects, author Ambler also reminds one of Agatha Christi in that, if you are attentive to minute detail, keep notes on the characters, and don’t jump to hasty conclusions, you may actually be able to decipher the identity of the actual spy, prior to the final summation of the evidence.
Eric Ambler is one of those very early spy novelists who set the stage for more modern espionage works written by Le Carre, Deighton, and Ludlum, thus leading modern readers into a new world of intrigue and misdirection.
My advice is to read each chapter slowly, digest the wording and actions of each guest staying with Vadassy at the Hotel de la Reserve in St. Gatien, as well as the behaviors of the police and the hotel manager, Monsieur Koche. There are parallel stories intermingled within the author’s main tale, and it is within those that you will find clues to the lives of the French, Italian, Hungarian, British and German guests who make up the daily sessions of reparte’ in the dining room, the lounge and out on the lawns.
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Proof by Dick Francis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love an author who can write well about horses, horseracing and wines. This book has an unlikely hero in Tony, the small wineshop owner, ner-do-well son of a horse tradition family, who has the proper training to be a wine taster and shipper in a tale that leads us through a tangled world of murder and intrigue surrounding wine and whisky thievery and all the pecadillos of upper crust British heritage and horseracing.
When an Arab sheik and other afficianados of horse racing are killed by a runaway horse trailer during one of Tony’s annual catering jobs for the horse crowd, a search for any motive behind the mishap leads to a gang of swindlers substituting poor wine and whiskey for the real McCoy across the whole of Britain. Tony’s French trained nose and tastebuds are commandeered by the police to get to the bottom of the scam while gruesome murders of suspects take place whenever a lead pops up through Tony’s investigative pub crawls.
Readers will enjoy the tidbits of wine information that author Dick Francis brings to light, including the original reason and methodology for determining “Proof” is alcoholic beverages. As always, the author takes you to the final pages to reveal the full details of the crimes and the apprehension of those responsible.
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The phone rings! Politics or Scammers All they want is my hard earned $$
It’s another day of Christmas/Political and Car Warranty Scammers for us. Once you retire, they’s got your number and the Phone Company can’t stop them. So what’s on my list today? How are they going to try to get my attention?
Ring #1: Car Warranty is Expired? Oh! No! You mean after 6 years and 90,000 miles? Gee Whizz. What to do?
HANG UP! “Click”
Ring #2: Donald Trump Recording: Thanking me for What? You want What? Why call a Democrat?
THANK YOU, BUT NO! I DON”T GIVE ANY BILLIONAIRE POLITICIAN A RED CENT! “Click”
Ring # 3: A deep base voice saying: “This is Chuck Schumer, Congressman calling!”
SERIOUSLY MISTER, HAVE YOU EVER HEARD CHUCK SCHUMER SPEAK? HA! “Click”
Ring # 4: The e-mail dings and tells me that Amazon or Paypal is debiting me for $673.00. Just Click here to dispute it!
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM! – NOW – CLOSE BROWSER – LOG ON A-NEW – CHECK ACCOUNTS? – IT’S ALL OK!
Ring # 5: I’m Getting Tired Folks! Another call— The Medical Center? — What? Redo my Stool Specimen?
OH! HAPPY DAY! A REAL PHONE CALL! YES NURSE, THANKS, I’LL BE RIGHT OVER TO COLLECT MY KIT!
IF ONLY SCAMMERS KNEW HOW TO GET THE FULL ATTENTION OF RETIREES!
IT WOULD BE THE SHITS!
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