what’s the 1 thing you don’t do when your house floods?

Recently, I told you about our first house in Nairobi, a cottage full of ‘character’. But lack of electricity wasn’t our only problem.

About a week before giving birth to our eldest child, I was sitting in our cottage, contented, nested and all the other sentiments that are associated with a woman about to give birth any day. I was admiring the beautiful view when I felt a fat drop of water plunk down on my head.

It was most peculiar, really. It wasn’t the rainy season. In fact, we were in a drought. So why was the ceiling leaking? Within a few seconds of this confused observation, and before I could haul my whale-like body up from the grip of the sofa and gravity, the leak turned into a rainstorm.

Stunned, I stared at the water gushing down from ceiling and did the one thing you don’t do in a flood: I freaked out. All warm, fuzzy feelings of nesting and finally being settled vaporized in an emotional panic. I stumbled down the stairs and outside, shouting for help. Neighbors ran to my assistance, by which time the living room was engulfed in a monsoon event. Buckets were strategically placed, mops were employed and some quick-witted person shut off the fuse box.

“The pump,” someone said, as if that was sufficient explanation for the storm that had appeared in my house. It turned out that there was an issue with the pump: instead of switching off once the storage tank above our living room was full, it just kept on pumping.

Now for another sort of deluge, one that involves stories rather than saturated furniture. I’d like to invite you to dinner with Satan. A friend of mine is participating in Planet Comicon Kansas City. What’s that, you ask? Comicon is the largest comic book and pop culture convention in the Kansas City area. Basically, it’s a great excuse to dress up and have fun.

Anyways… my friend’s organizing some awesome events around the theme of his book, Dinners with Satan, including a giveaway plus free books. You know the drill. Interested? Check out the awesome line-up of books and the giveaway by clicking HERE. It’s open until 30 April.

Who loves puppies? I do, and that’s why I couldn’t resist joining this giveaway! Also running 24-30 April, the Cozy Mystery Puppy Luv is looking for a winner for a new Kindle plus 10 cozy mystery books. One runner up will win the 10 books. Here’s the link to all that luv.



Posted in African stories

Old Land, New Story

If I tell you I’m an African, what comes to mind? Poverty? War? Genocide? Lions and elephants? Black people living in primitive grass huts?

We think in stereotypes, but reality is so much more complex and therefore more beautiful. The Africa I know is not one of grief and limitations. It is a land of creativity, entrepreneurial endeavors, opportunity, cutting-edge cell phone apps, and streets full of cars and energy. It is multi-racial and multicultural.

My description might surprise some people. Perhaps it’s a story they don’t want to hear. After all, stereotypes are more comfortable. They reassure us that the world is as it has always been; it’s predictable; we know and understand it.

I’m not denying that there is some truth in the stereotypes; there definitely is. But there are also false assumptions and outdated notions. They crumble at the edges as a new generation of Africans create an alternative reality for themselves, a reality that is becoming more modern, more urban and more connected to the emerging global culture. Kenya, my home, epitomizes this new narrative.

Urban centers are developing at mind-boggling rates; new roads and tall buildings pop up against the backdrop of rising incomes. Music festivals are becoming annual events, and showcase local bands playing jazz, hip-hop and soulful ballads. Plugged into their phones, Kenyan youth in the rural villages, the urban slums and the high-income residential suburbs listen to the same music their counterparts all over the world enjoy.

A section of Nairobi is referred to as Silicon Savannah and is a hub for all things digital and IT: business incubators, start-ups, collaborative centers of research and development. It’s populated by a cadre of smart, sophisticated Kenyans who aren’t waiting for the world to hand them charity or solve their problems. Using the latest smartphones and laptops, they are creating their own solutions and defining a future on their own terms.

Against this new story are the contradictions that linger in our midst. The country that developed the first pay-by-cellphone system in the world has a challenge supplying basic services to its people. There are slums with open sewers and growing piles of garbage covered in a spaghetti network of thin, leaking pipes that are illegally connected to City Council water. However, these same slums are home to educated, well-dressed, career-minded residents carrying top-of-the-line cellphones as they saunter past hair salons, butcher shops, Internet cafes and a forest of TV antennas.

The newest models of BMWs roar past women bent double with a load of firewood. Anything can be fixed unless you’re at a government office trying to get through the bureaucracy without paying a fixing fee. Imagination creates outstanding arts, crafts and innovations; it also produces scams and crime of shocking dimensions.

There are times (too numerous to name) when I shake my head, roll my eyes, grit my teeth or sigh in exasperation. Many moments more have been spent pondering why we’re still here and what were we thinking, and wouldn’t it just be easy to call it a day and head back to South Africa or Canada where the roads are smooth, water runs and high-speed Internet really is high speed? And yes, it would be easy, in so many ways.

But then there are those other moments: when a bus driver lets me into the line-up of vehicles simply because I smile at him. Or a police officer greets me with a cheerful face or the driver in the next lane waves at my daughter who is waving at everyone in sight. When the waiters in the restaurant create a crib out of chairs, without me even asking, just because I have a sleeping child in my arms, and they see I need help.

When I catch a stranger’s eye, and we both smile. Not small, tight, shy or suspicious smiles; these are welcoming smiles as big, wide and open as the savannah stretching away from the city. Even coming through immigration at the airport, those smiles are there, greeting me, embracing me.

Or when the early morning sun cuts through at just the right angle, to cast a glowing haze that shimmers over dew-kissed leaves until the garden looks as if it’s been Photoshopped with gold, a kind of light that I’ve never seen elsewhere.

Or the weather of Nairobi. Ah, the weather. As close to heavenly as you can find. The sun shines almost every day in a perfect blue sky, not too hot, never really cold. But us thin-skinned Nairobians complain bitterly if the temperature falls below 15C.

Even in the built-up urban areas, appreciation of natural forces still has a hold on our hearts, and the needs of our farmers are never far from our thoughts. We greet the arrival of the rainy seasons with appreciation for their blessings. After the hot, dry, dusty winds of February and March, the sweet-scented April rains arrive; the land and all its people sigh with relief. As the heavy drops pummel solidly against the dusty plants and rooftops, deafening us in its thunder, the air is perfumed with the rich fragrance of fresh life and warm, red soil. Gardens and crops spring up overnight.

It’s a mixed blessing though, especially in Nairobi which has become a victim of its own success. The congested roads flood, traffic builds up, and the city retreats before nature’s onslaught.

I’m sure those of a more poetic bend could create a haiku out of this. My son certainly had a go at poetry at the age of five. One day, when it was raining large, heavy drops, he gazed at the sight, and commented, “It’s like little petals from a flower, falling down on the ground, bursting into flames, and the ground is fire.”

After the April rains finish, we endure several months of dry air before the rains begin again. October and November are especially beautiful in Nairobi. The trees all burst into flowers: yellow, orange and red flowers fill the trees; the Jacaranda bloom and drop their flowers everywhere, decorating the ground with a delicate sprinkle of purple petals. The bougainvillea add magenta and pink into the colorful mix. It is common to see two types of flowers intermingled as bougainvillea love to climb up other trees. Out in our garden, the hibiscus provides a cloud of pink against the stormy sky, while our richly scented Angel Trumpets buzz with bees.

Often at night, when it rains the most (because our rain is normally too polite to disturb us during the day), the termites launch their squadrons. Swarms of flying ants swirl around the outside lights, or bat against our windows if there is a light in the room. In the morning, their wings can be seen everywhere like bits of lace scattered amongst the fallen, purple Jacaranda flowers.

Then there’s that first moment, stepping out of the plane after a trip abroad, when I take my first breath outside. The air is heavy with its uniquely Nairobian scent of fresh hay, warm soil and diesel. At that moment, I know, I know this: I am home.

Posted in African stories

electricity is overrated

Have you ever heard someone describe a house as having “lots of character”? You do know what that really means, right? Well, we didn’t when we rented our first home in Nairobi. But boy, did we find out the hard way.

The place was situated along a narrow road that had the rather lengthy and lofty name of Roslyn Lone Tree Estate Road. It was a two-bedroom, colonial era cottage. Surrounded by large trees, the cottage was small, cozy, cheap and with a LOT of character. Delighted, we signed the contract, moved in and unpacked our bags, blissfully unaware of what awaited us.

It started with the electrical outlets.

First the outlets on one wall stopped working. The electrician, or someone who claimed to be one, fixed them. The next day, another set failed on the opposite wall. Our new best friend arrived to fix those outlets, and no sooner had he left then the first set failed.

This went on for a while. Having only recently landed in Kenya, I still had the rather naïve expectation that everything should work as per design. If there’s an outlet in the wall, it should work. Right? I mean, is it so strange to expect that a tap should have water in it? Or that an outlet should have electricity flowing through it?

I have long since abandoned that unrealistic expectation and am thrilled if there’s enough water for a quick shower and a cup of tea. Electricity is way overrated. It’s amazing how long you can manage without it. And if only half the outlets work, that’s still more outlets than any human being really needs anyways.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the Character Cottage. In the meantime, if you want to keep laughing, I’ve got something lined up for you. You know that laughter is an awesome medicine, so who’s ready for a prescription?! Win up to 17 humor-filled eBooks. Click or copy this link: https://AuthorsXP.com/giveaway

For fans of Mystery and Crime, there’s a fantastic two-day 99c sale that starts on 9th April. Just hop on over to davidnethbooks.com/promo and click on the icon of your favorite retailer. No sign ups required – just browse through the page and discover your next great read. At a dollar a book, it would be criminal to miss this.

For those Cozy Mystery lovers, find a great list of free first-in-series over here: http://donnajoyusher.com/free-cozy-mystery-books/

Love to buy your books somewhere besides Amazon? This is the giveaway for you! Choose one book or all of them, click the link, then choose your preferred vendor to buy. When you’ve finished stocking up on reading material, join the giveaway, too! This sale begins 9 April. Click here for details: ‎http://lovekissedcozies.com/reader-giveaways/april-go-wide-sale-giveaway/



Posted in Gifts & Treats

foolish roads & foolish book promos

As some of you may know, I have a ‘day’ job (sigh). I work with the Transport Unit of the United Nations Environment Programme. My tasks include providing advise to governments on fuel and vehicle standards, in between writing stories about Victorian Nairobi and paranormal investigators.

My commute to work just got interesting. And by ‘interesting’, I mean hair raising, nerve racking and bordering on precarious. You see, the rainy season has begun.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful the rains have finally arrived in time to save my drought-stressed garden. But the route I use when driving to work includes a long stretch of narrow, bumpy dirt road that has now been transformed into a narrow, slippery mud road (and the bumps are still there). I suppose the only upside is that I’m even more inspired to find a possessed horse who can fly me over the mess.

While that might be a fool’s mission, you’d be foolish to miss out on all the promos I’ve got lined up for you. And no, this isn’t a trick, despite being April Fool’s Day (Nairobi time).

From 2nd to 6th April, we have the Cozy Mystery Free For All. Every book is free for a limited time. Even better, be in the draw to win a $25 Amazon gift card just for subscribing to our newsletters or following us on social media. Head on over to check out the books: http://lovekissedcozies.com/reader-giveaways/april-free-for-all/

3rd to 10th April is a mega-crazy giveaway: I’ve teamed up with more than 55 mystery authors to give away a huge collection of novels to 2 lucky winners, PLUS a Kindle Fire to the Grand Prize winner! Please remember this link only goes ‘live’ on 3 April: https://booksweeps.com/enter-win-55-cozy-mysteries-apr-17.



Posted in Gifts & Treats

Horsing around

One of my favorite characters in the Society for Paranormals series is Nelly. While she doesn’t say much (horses generally don’t), Nelly still makes her presence known. Beatrice Knight was given the flatulent horse as a gift, and we all know the dangers of looking a gift horse in the mouth, especially one that belches as much as Nelly does.

Little known fact: Nelly is a combination of two real horses. When I was 5 months pregnant with child #1, my husband and I went to the Mount Kenya region for a few days. The lodge offered horse riding safaris, and how could we resist? After all, the two (and a half) of us, accompanied by a guide, would be riding among the herds of zebra, antelope, giraffe and other creatures while on horseback. The wildlife are far more tolerant of horses than they are of humans, so we would be able to get quite close.

Now, in my defense, I did request a gentle, docile horse as I pointed out my obvious condition. The guide was quick to affirm his perfect understanding of the situation, and shortly thereafter, we departed for our horsey stroll across the savannah.

It quickly became clear that something had been lost in translation.

My husband’s horse could barely keep awake. Every few minutes, it dozed off, and only a lot of heel kicking, arm flapping and loud encouragement could convince the sleepy nag to stumble onward.

On the other hand, the horse given to the obviously pregnant lady was bright eyed and bushy tailed. By that, I mean someone must have poured a few pots of extra-strength coffee down its throat. My mount ran circles around the other two, skipping in a caffeine-induced merriment that was wholly unbecoming of a safari horse. It was all I could do to maintain my balance and observe the giraffe gracefully gliding by.

I swear the wildlife were laughing at me.

Fortunately, that’s all in the past. Speaking of history, check out the Mad March Historical Fiction Giveaway. Pick up some great free books and special offers until 24th March. Just click this link: http://www.authorstoreaders.com/historical-fiction.html. This event is so cool it even has its own hashtag: #authorstoreaders

Sticking with the history theme, why not head on over to 18th century China? Lady Qing has spent the past seven years languishing inside the high red walls of the Forbidden City. But when a new concubine arrives, Qing’s world is turned upside down. Pick up a free copy of The Consorts over here: http://www.melissaaddey.com/free.

For you mystery, suspense and thriller fans, how about some 99c deals? Over 50 books will be on sale 18 and 19 March. See all the deals by clicking over here: http://www.reneepawlish.com/promo.

Have fun, and watch out for flying horses.


Posted in Gifts & Treats