The Countdown begins

The Countdown to Christmas has begun at my house. The tree is up. The presents have been acquired and are (mostly) wrapped. The planning for Christmas dinner has started.

The trick? I’m not sure what day is the unwrap and unveil the gifts day. I have split houses to deal with these days, and additional people to juggle things with so a date needs to be determined.  On the plus side, there are multiple houses to go to and fun people to spend the holidays with so deciding how to fit it all in is part of the planning that I love.

Wait. what just happened? After several years of Grinch-like behavior, could it be true? Has my heart grown two sizes? Am I  (gasp) enjoying Christmas?
Let’s not get too crazy this year. it could be indigestion.

Book Banter: Salem’s Cipher

Confession: I thought I’d posted this and then I found this completed draft sitting in my account. Better late than never! 

salemTitle: Salem’s Cipher

Author: Jess Lourey

Genre: mystery/thriller

Length: 460 pages

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Salem Wiley is a brilliant but agoraphobic code-breaker. Her best friend, Bel Odegaard is a rising star in Chicago PD. When Salem’s mom is kidnapped and the two friends are linked to a plot to assassinate a female presidential candidate, the two begin a cross-country code-breaking race to uncover codes hidden away by Emily Dickinson and bring down a shadowy para-governmental organization.

Banter Points: It you took “National Treasure” and mashed it with some “Thelma and Louise” and some “Rizzoli and Isles” you’d get “Salem’s Cipher.” It’s a fun caper of hidden codes and covert organizations and some Emily Dickinson thrown in, all headed up by two strong, female lead characters.

Bummer Points: As much as I liked this book, I really didn’t like the chapters from the bad guys’ POVs. For the first half of the book, it was feeling way too long and this was what felt like it was clogging up the story to me.

Word Nerd Recommendation: It’s definitely worth a read. Looks like it’s going to be a series, but this is a nice standalone too.

How many days?

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Based on the amount of email advertising I’ve been receiving, one would think that Christmas is next week.

Thank goodness it’s not.

Are you feeling prepared or out of control? Also, I, Bethany, am wondering just how I did this last year when I had a WEDDING happening in 12 days and then a honeymoon and then Christmas a whopping five days after we got back home without losing my mind.

Or maybe I did and I am still unaware that my brain is missing…

November (and October) Reading Challenge Report Card

We could have titled this the “Tale of Two DNFs” as each Word Nerd struggled with one of these months’ challenge.

October: Read a spooky book

Bethany: This was my DNF. I just wasn’t in the mood for a spooky book. We were doing one for book club and I needed the space in my life to not attend that meeting and thereby, not read that book.

8167001.jpgStacie:  I read my first zombie book this month, Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo.  I picked this one up at the urging of my significant other, figuring I needed to give his recommendation a chance AND it fit the reading challenge.  It was a really fun read (although the zombie descriptions are exactly why I usually don’t read this sort of book.)  The post-apocalyptic world of Mike and Tracy, and their band of survivors are a survivalist’s dream of preparation and understanding of how to cope with a crisis.  Mike is level headed and rational in this world filled with zombies.  He’s the sort of guy that I’d want on my side.  He is rather fond of dad-jokes and tangents that have little or nothing to do with the circumstances but it’s his charm that kept me going when the zombie grossness was too much.

November: Read a collection of short stories, either all by one author or an anthology from many.

Bethany: I picked the very excellent “In an Uncharted Country” by Clifford Garstang. Garstang won the 2015 Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award Emerging Author. I’d read his other collection, “What the Zhang Boys Knew” and thoroughly enjoyed it. Uncharted Country wove together several sets of characters in the same small town, moving them forward over years. In each, the new country was primarily new emotional territory for the characters to traverse. The stories were solid, pictures of life, with an impact that lingers beyond the reading.

Stacie: DNF.  Did not start really.  I just couldn’t find a collection that I wanted to read.

Book Banter: The Spellman Files

speallmanTitle: The Spellman Files

Author: Lisa Lutz

Genre: mystery

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Isabel Spellman has had it with the family business — they are all private investigators, but her family uses those skills to take “togetherness” to a whole new level. Isabel’s dates all end up with background checks and the whole family excels and violating each other’s privacy. When family conflict boils up, they work through it in the only ways they know how — car chases and stakeouts.

Banter Points: We heard Lisa speak at our first Murder and MAyhem and Stacie went right home and read the whole Spellman files series. She’s been on me ever since to get them on my TBR list. Finally, I was in search of a new audiobook and discovered the library had them. … except disc 2 was all scratched up so I had to get it in print, which was even better.

The story is quite funny and having all the sections more clearly delineated in print just added to it. Lutz has captured a unique brand of storytelling and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Bummer Points: If you’re looking for a hard-boiled mystery, this isn’t it. The actual crimes take a backseat to the family antics.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like mysteries that are heavy on funny and light on gruesome cases, Spellman Files is for you.

Thankful for Books

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We’re thankful for many things, but books take special places in our hearts.

Counting Down to Thanksgiving

I’m on holiday from books and coloring lately because of the class I’m taking. this week, I’m pausing that too and focusing on Thanksgiving.

I am really excited to host Thanksgiving dinner for the first time ever.  I’ve got everything planned and ready to start.  as I pulled everything together, I wanted to include things that are musts for Thanksgiving for my guests.  Turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, are somewhat of a given for me.  a few other things like stuffing, Apple crisp and gravy were added to the list too.

Outside of the food side of Thanksgiving, I love the planning aspect. The journey to the day is added some meaningful to me as the day itself. The anticipation of annual traditions along with spending time away from the day to day routines that we all get caught up in is what makes this holiday my favorite.

Here’s to a great Thanksgiving.

Holiday PSA

The holiday season has started. I noticed it last week when I was doing some casual shopping at Target (because toothbrushes are important.) the store was crowded. Way too crowded.

So remember to have an escape option when the holiday spirit gets to be too much:

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology: Implant Communicators

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Cindy Koepp

The Word Nerds are excited to welcome Cindy Koepp to the blog today to talk about communications and her books, “Remnant in the Stars” and “The Loudest Action.” 

Science fictions is full of interesting ways for characters to communicate with each other across distances. Some, like the 1960s Star Trek communicators, look a little like flip-phones. Others, like the more recent Star Trek series, were little badges the character just had to tap to activate. Some were a lot more complex, like Star Wars’ holographic transmissions.

In Remnant in the Stars and The Loudest Actions, the human characters – most of them anyway – have a communicator implanted in their heads. The communicator shows as a green or red LED under their hair. Tapping the light can turn the communicator on or off, but the default mode is on.

These are not “electronic telepathy.” It’s not as simple as just thinking something and having it transferred to your friend in the next room. The user has to speak out loud. A microphone picks up the sound, translates to radio waves, and transmits to another person’s implant. There, the information is translated back into sounds, which are communicated to the auditory nerves.

The range of these communicators is limited. Kirsten couldn’t talk to Derek on another planet, for example. The next room, or from one end of the ship to the other, maybe even a few miles away? No problem.

Aolanians – and some humans – don’t use the implant comms. They don’t do wetware, so they rely on a small box-like communicator on their belts. It serves the same function, but without the surgical implant.

What about technology today? Do we have anything like implant communicators?

Well, sort of. I got the idea for an implant communicator from cochlear implants (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/cochlear-implants). These are implanted devices that help a deaf person recognize sounds and make use of them by skipping damaged parts of the ear and sending the sound directly to the auditory nerves.

A cochlear implant has two parts. One inside the skull and one outside. The device has a microphone to pick up sound in the environment. Sound is then processed into useful bits. Then a transmitter and receiver communicate with each other. Finally, the device sends the information to the auditory nerve, which takes the impulse to the brain to process.

Another device is called Interscatter (http://www.medgadget.com/2016/08/interscatter-new-technology-implanted-device-communication.html). This is a combination of a contact lens, smart phone, and smart watch that does things like monitor someone’s blood sugar and send an alert when it drops too low. Not exactly an implant, but the communication thing is getting worked out.

Biotelemetry devices have also been able to communicate information from within the body to a doctor or researcher (This gets a little dense, but here’s some info: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4156009/). These telemetry devices gather data like EKG, blood pressure, or blood sugar and send it to a computer outside the body. Unfortunately, these devices aren’t foolproof. They suffer mechanical breakdowns and transmission problems.

For the moment, implant communicators are still the thing of science fiction, but I don’t doubt that someday, cell phones will be small enough and stable enough to implant in the skull.

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NaNoWriMo Check-in

It’s been several years since I’ve attempted a NaNoWriMo Challenge. I do wish I had thought of a sign like that one when I was mid-month and my word count was at risk.

Day 15 and the goal post is the half-way mark: 25,000 words at an average pace of 1,667 words per day.

I probably write that many words a day, between work email, IM messages and texting with people. The lack of coherent story line reduces the pressure. Maybe there should be a work version of NaNoWriMo.

Keep it up and good luck to those participating. And remember, penguins can attack anywhere.