Review: Deep Sahara

This is my first review here in a few years. I hope to do much more of this, so see the end of this post for details about my new review policy.

Review summary: This is an impressive book, but not an easy read. If a reader is willing to make the effort to flow with this unusual story, I believe they will find themselves haunted by it, in the way only a fine novel can manage. I give it a 9/10. Details are below.

About this book: Klaus Werner travels to the Algerian Sahara to research a book on desert insects. He is billeted in a local monastery, but upon arrival he finds it empty of its inhabitants. He soon discovers that it is a recent crime scene.

About the author: Leslie Croxford is a British author and Senior Vice-President of the British University in Egypt. Born in Alexandria, he obtained a doctorate in History from Cambridge University. He has written one novel, Soloman’s Folly (Chatto & Windus), and is completing his third. He and his wife live in Cairo.

Giveaway: Leslie will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more, and register to win,

My full review: Leslie Croxford has written a book imbued with the feel of the desert and buoyed by his deep knowledge of the region. As I followed along on one man’s odyssey to find himself after the death of his wife, his personal mirages of the mind and heart competed in my head with those of the world’s most vast arid region.

What I liked best:

  1. I’m not generally big on description, but the contrast between the sparse, often brusque dialog and the vivid verbal painting of the Sahara made me feel like I was there, experiencing days of solitude punctuated by stark conversations with others who seldom spoke.
  2. The main character’s earnest search to understand his past and discover who he is are woven well into the action. The hero is perceptive and honest with himself, making him fine company for all 280 pages.
  3. Occasional clever observations about humanity add a much needed touch of subtle humor. A few of my favorites are at the end of this post.
  4. Bonus points have been given for the delicate yet effective handling of both the sex and violence.

What I liked least:

  1. One significant event in the narrative is never explained well enough for me, and the little explanation it does receive contradicts other parts of the plot. It’s a minor but irritating flaw.
  2. I’m definitely not a fan of the very end. I will not give anything away, but only say that there were several possible variations on it that would have fit the spirit of the story as well or better, in my opinion, and been more satisfying to and even respectful of the reader.

In spite of these two issues, the book is well worth reading for all those who yearn to experience other lives and stranger worlds inside the covers of the novels they choose.

Purchase this book: Available in paperback through Amazon, or at the Book Depository.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.

Read more reviews at:

January 25: Locks, Hooks and Books

February 1: Bookaholic

February 1: Journey of a Bookseller

February 8: Sharing Links and Wisdom

A few of my favorite quotes

  1. “… recounting the tale to myself, to that other beholding part of me standing in for the God in whom I no longer believe, but to whom I apparently continue to have things to say.”
  2. “Be that as it may, I kept no diary. What I had to say about myself today was the same as I would have said yesterday or what I shall say tomorrow …”
  3. “Wherever one is, Monsieur,” the officer said, looking directly at me, “one is actually in one’s own situation. That’s the case regardless of how alien one’s surroundings are.” He replaced his cap over his clear features and prepared to leave. “So one would do well to understand what that situation is. It might save one a lot of trouble in one’s new setting.”

A personal note: I come to this review with a bit of bias, as we all do. In my case, I, too have written a book (x0) about Africa (Nigeria) drawing on my professional background (as a geophysicist) so I wanted to like this novel. I was once employed by one of the major oil companies exploring for oil in Algeria (where Deep Sahara takes place). Although I never worked there, I heard plenty of stories and have an appreciation for the female geologist in this novel. (There aren’t that many of us.) I also received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

If you are interested in a review from me: I read speculative fiction of all sorts, have a fondness for metaphysical tales and particularly like stories with a strong female protagonist. I will consider novels of almost all types that relate to the general theme of world peace. I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review books about vampires or zombies. If you would like to be considered for a review please send all the usual information to Lola (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.


Posted by on February 8, 2018 in Africa, oil industry, other authors


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This Is Not a Garden: Thoughts on Ecology and Immigration

I’m taking a series of gardening classes and this first one is about ecology. My brain is out of practice at paying attention to an instructor for three hours, and it’s already decided this first session is not what I came for. I’m consumed with figuring out how to grow more than three tomatoes a year and I can’t see how learning about ecosystems is going to help. My mind tries to wander off into some other odd territory.

To stay focused, I dutifully draw my own version of this triangle the instructor is discussing, explaining what kinds of plants will thrive in what sort of situation. As I finish, something clicks. Not about plants, but about humans.

Yes, I get how the adaptable plants win in a harsh environment. Witness the dessert cactus, the marshy sea grass and the northern lichens.

In places of havoc and tragedy, where death is frequent and unpredictable, I can see how plants that put most of their energy into procreation survive as a species. Ferns, ground covers like clover, and the common dandelion persist amid fires and flood.

I’ve labeled the top of my triangle “lucky plants” but these are not the instructor’s words. The top triangle is a well kept garden, given plenty of water, sunshine and fertile soil. The instructor says if you remove human care, the plants will not all stay in their neat rows in the proportions the humans have selected. Some will thrive and some will dwindle, and which does what is determined by how aggressive the plant is. Yes, in a place where life is easy, over time the more aggressive plants win.

I think humans have some sense of this and, to our detriment, some of us have taken to applying this philosophy to our politics. Allow me to explain with a diagram.

True, we have our own societies which have adapted to harsher climates around the world. The dessert, the far north and the Australian Outback all present challenges. When the situation is extreme enough, human populations face little competition for their niche.

Yes, historically, populations at the mercy of ongoing wars, and of natural disasters like frequent floods, wide-spread disease or famine, have tended to have more offspring, in hopes of having some survive.

It’s at the top of the triangle where I think we run into trouble.

First, I don’t think we begin to understand how the plant kingdom is interconnected and really works. So, this particular view of ecology may not be fair or accurate as far as plants are concerned. But even if it was ….

…. we’re not plants. We lack the gift of the plant kingdom, to obtain all we need from the sun and the soil. In return for having to devour other life to stay alive, we get mobility. With that comes the chance to rapidly alter our locations and to shape our environment.

We’ve got these terrific brains that get us in all sorts of trouble, but also allow us to improve our landscape and increase our resources. We can think our way into trouble, but we can also think our way out of it.

We have hearts. I don’t mean in the literal sense, though those are great, too. We have empathy and compassion and somewhere deep inside a sense of the way we are all interconnected. In our souls, we don’t want a life of ease at the expense of having others suffer. We aren’t oak trees crowding out the pines or killing off the grass. We can pretend otherwise, but a healthy human feels sadness at another’s loss.

We need to understand that we don’t live in a garden and we don’t have to beat others off with a stick lest they try crowd us out of it. We need to build our policies based on the philosophy of being entirely capable of working with others to make the our environment better and safer for all. With the sense and compassion that are our birthright as a species, we could have a planet in which we all thrive. So put those sticks away.

Class is ending and I gather up my notes and doodles. No, nothing in today’s class is going to help me grow more tomatoes. However, I think I might have a great idea for my blog.


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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in being better, oneness, peace


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Look up for a minute

There is no question that writing is a solitary activity. I write best surrounded by quiet, when given unlimited time with my own thoughts and as little outside stimulation as possible. It’s a fine way to create characters, a story and even a whole world from nothing. But, it’s not a great way to live.

I’ve finally finished book six of six in the 46. Ascending collection, and I’m looking up from my computer screen to see what I’ve missed. Besides disturbing current events, a good deal of housecleaning and minor ups and downs in the lives of people I’m close to, I’ve also had little contact with the thing that made we want to write in the first place — books.

The problem is, I don’t read fiction when I’m writing, and not much of it while I’m editing, so I’ve missed some great new novels and authors over the last six years. I’m also more out of date than I would like on current trends and styles in the genres I enjoy.

Back when I first published x0, I made an effort to interact online with other new authors and learned quite a bit from them. We sometimes exchanged guest posts on our blogs, and read and even reviewed each others books. It had its tricky aspects, but on the whole it was worthwhile. The best part of it was how we saw ourselves not as competitors, but as people sharing a common passion, who were helping each other succeed.

Now that I’m taking a little break from writing while my new hero and her upcoming adventures develop in my head, I’m making an effort to reach out and reacquaint myself with that concept of interaction. I’m starting off by committing to review a book a month. That’s not a lot, but I hope it will be enough to keep that outward focus alive.

Opportunities to review books are endless, so it is hard to know where to start. I  turned to Goddess Fish Promotions, the PR site that has done a fine job of handling the blog tour for my own book’s release. I picked the first book that intrigued me and signed up to do a review. The blurb says:

Klaus Werner travels to the Algerian Sahara to research a book on desert insects. He is billeted in a local monastery, but upon arrival he finds it empty of its inhabitants. He soon discovers that it is a recent crime scene.

I do love crime novels, and have a weakness for distant and remote settings. I’m sure I’ll find much to like about this book and I look forward to reading it.  Watch for my review here on February 8th.

If you are interesting in a review from me please contact me at Lola (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com. I enjoy most speculative fiction, have a fondness for metaphysical tales and particularly like stories with a strong female protagonist. I will consider novels of almost all types that relate to this blog’s general theme of world peace.

I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, children’s books, romance novels, horror, or stories which promote any particular religion. Please do not ask me to review books about BDSM, vampires or zombies.


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Posted by on December 17, 2017 in Africa, other authors, writing


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Designing your own book cover, part 1

I have been told that the two things you have no control over with a traditional publisher are the title of your book and the cover. It’s one of the many reasons that I knew before I began to write x0 that it would be a self-published book. In fact, I doubt that I’d ever have written a novel if the world of self-publishing didn’t exist. The whole 46. Ascending collection was kind of an art and philosophy project for me as well as a story I was compelled to tell, and I cared more about doing it my way than I cared about striving for that traditional debut as an author.

But wanting to do something and knowing how to do it well are two different things, as you can tell by looking at my first version of the cover to the right.  I knew my book needed to be red, and because much of the story takes place in Nigeria, I wanted Africa to figure prominently in the final result. I had been directed to Shutterstock, an affordable online service for leasing the right to use images, and I was delighted with the world map I found.

But I didn’t have clue of where to go from there. I wanted to use the rest of the space to convey something about empathy and telepathy, and to me shoes were a symbol for this. You know “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and all that. Red shoe images turned out to mostly be women’s heels, which seemed fine. But when I sent my proud new cover off to family and friends, I didn’t get the expected response. The most typical was “What’s with the ‘have sex with me’ shoes on the cover?” Oh. Back to the drawing board.

My next idea was to find an image of Lola, my main character, and put her on the cover. I wasn’t pleased with the choices I found, but finally settled on this one. She sort of looked to me like she was having a telepathic experience. That’s when my son called.

“You cover has only one purpose, mom. It is to make people want to read your book.” I hadn’t viewed it quite that way, but I had to admit he had a point and the lady on the cover didn’t particularly make me want to read the book either.

Then I found the lotus lady and she was perfect. She was so perfect that I tried using her twice, to symbolize the strong psychic connection between two different women who were highly alike on the inside. Not only did I feel good about this improvement, but my informal focus group gave it a big thumbs up.

I decided that I needed a better font for my unusual title. After experimenting with every font that came with Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and after playing around with the positioning, I ended up with the cover below and was quite pleased. It was a huge improvement over where I had started. I released x0 for kindle with this cover in February of 2012.

Over the next couple of months I began to lurk in chat rooms and on websites frequented by other self-published authors and I learned quite a bit. One thing was that I could make my electronic novel available on sites other than Amazon by submitting it to That sounded good. Another was that I could actually produce a paperback version at no extra cost using Amazon’s Create Space. Even better.

If I was going to take this self-publishing thing all the way to making a real book, it seemed worth revisiting whether I had the best cover I could have. I had assumed from the beginning that any professional touch was well out of my budget, but I was learning otherwise. Graphic artists out there were willing to take an author’s best attempt and make it more professional, for a relatively modest fee. I contacted a few that came well recommended by others.

One was called Mother Spider, and the first thing they came back to me with was perfect. It was exactly the cover I had wanted all along. The title jumped off the page, the map blended, the lotus ladies glowed and new little bulbs of telepathic thoughts shone. I tried putting my glitzy new cover on one of those websites that critiques book covers and got high praise for it. My informal focus group of cover critics was equally pleased.

I’m now working on the cover for book six. In every case I’ve started the process myself, struggling to gather together my own vision for the face I want my book to present to the world. Time and experience have taught me a lot. I’m back at Shutterstock sorting through images for a book that I know will be purple and sparkly and once again about telepathy. I’ve decided that the basic background will likely be forged from the Shutterstock image below. Other than that, I’m open to most anything, although I’m pretty sure there won’t be any shoes on this cover either.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 2  and Designing your own book cover, part three)



Posted by on November 11, 2017 in writing, x0


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A better word than peace?

Writing books makes you aware of the many things for which we don’t have word, or even a particularly good phrase. My online thesaurus gives me twelve pretty useful synonyms for “worry” but it struggles to provide a single adequate one for peace.

One problem is that we stick this poor five letter word with so many meanings. There is lack of armed conflict (armistice). There is quiet (silence), there is inner peace (enlightenment), there is lack of argument (agreement) and there is actually getting along (harmony). Do we all want peace. Of course we do. What kind?

When I first crafted the 46. Ascending collection in my head, I knew that the first book was going to be about peace, and I knew just what sort of peace I had in mind. I was building something, a concept of the pull and tug of life that tied to colors in my head. (I think in color a lot, sometimes to the point where I suspect I have some sort of mental disorder associated with it.) It looked like this picture below, but without the Microsoft Office Chart feel to it.Yes, my first book was red, the color of war, and it was going to be about peace. It made perfect sense to me because red is the color of blood, the color of heart, and the starting color. You know, red for Aries, the first sign of the zodiac and red for the base chakra and all that.

I knew that the sort of peace I had in mind was tied to empathy, that wonderful quality of being able to put oneself in the shoes of another and feel their fears and pains. Microsoft Office also struggles with words for empathy, suggesting compassion, sympathy and identification, none of which quite do the job.

The word I needed meant this.

A lack of armed conflict or even argument due to the kind of deep understanding that we all would have if we could see into the hearts and minds of others.

Needles to say, I could not find a word or a succinct phrase that came close to capturing the concept.

I’d gotten to this odd place because I was determined to write a book about telepathy, which to me is just empathy on steroids, an actual ability to wear the shoes of another. I was, and still am, fascinated by questions such as: could you harm another person if you were a telepath? Hate them? Kill them? Remember, you’re not just hearing their thoughts; you are feeling their feelings.

There are, of course, some quandaries. What about those doing things so heinous that they must be stopped, no matter what the internal rational? Do real humans do such awful things? Yes, we know that they do, though not nearly as often as entertainment, the news and feuding politicians would have you believe. But yes, I do know that there is a time to fight.

That would become the subject of another book, on the other side of the color wheel. For me, green would become the color of courage, another word which is harder to define than one would think.

(For more thought on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than hope?, A better word than joy? and A better word than courage?)



Posted by on October 15, 2017 in empathy, peace, telepathy, writing, x0


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Happy Peace Day, Safari Guides Leonard and Marcos

I just missed seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World a couple of weeks ago, and at the time I didn’t even want to be there. I guess that is how wonders sometimes go.

I and my traveling companions had a rough long drive on bad dirt roads to get to Masai Mara, a large Kenyan game reserve contiguous with the Serengeti. We were off on the adventure of a life time. But, our van broke down on the way, so we also had a couple of hours standing by the side of the road while similar vans and jeeps bounced by us and the zebra watched from a distance as we stood in the dust. Adventures don’t always go as planned. Finally, our unflappable guide Leonard flagged down another van.

An equally amenable guide named Marcos, and his two tourists, took us into their fold and got us to our camp. The next day, Leonard, who would not be deterred from seeing that we got what we came for, drove us deep into the game reserve in our newly repaired vehical. We saw lions and elephants, rhinos, water buffalo and even the elusive leopard before our van broke down again.

Now, Leonard is a man who spends most of his days driving people as close to lions in the wild as he can. He puts up with their complaints and inane requests while he figures out where to best park his van so it won’t get trampled by the elephants. He troubleshoots his vehicle as easily as he scans the bushes for cheetah before he directs his squirming passengers to quick run behind the vehicle and pee as fast as they are able.

I should note that he maintained a straight face every time our party of four women dissolved into giggles as we did this. He pretty well defines calm.

But, we could tell that even he was a tad concerned by this second, more remote breakdown. Soon, he was on the radio calling for a tow truck, and somebody to help with us.

After awhile, a van came by and, of course, it was Marcos. He, and his two less-than-thrilled clients, had not been far away when they heard the distress call. “Don’t worry about it,” he assured us. “We help each other out here. Next time, Leonard rescues my people, right?” His people responded to that with nervous little smiles.

“We just want to go back to camp,” we told him. “We’ve seen everything today.” Continual car trouble is exhausting business. But Marcos had a dilemma. His people, a young couple from Mexico, both grad students in the U.S., had come to Kenya wanting to see one thing more than anything else. And it happened this time of day, on the far edges of the reserve along the Mara River near where we were. We had to go along.

“It’s one of seven wonders of the world,” Marcos whispered to us. “They want to see it very badly.”

What could we say. A wonder of the world? We were lucky to have a ride back to camp at all, so off we went to watch the wildebeests cross the Mara River.

Now, Marcos hadn’t been exactly accurate. In November 2006 the USA Today and the television show Good Morning America created a list of New Seven Wonders chosen by six judges and the Great Migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara was picked as one of them. This migration included this thing our new travel companions wanted to see, which was the wildebeests swimming across the river.

Turns out wildebeests are timid creatures. Deep in their instinctual hearts they know they must cross the river to get to greener grazing. They also know that while they are safest as a large group, no matter how large the group is, crocodiles will eat some of them as they cross and rhinos will attack others. Not all will not survive the crossing.

Zebras have far more crotchety personalities, and wildebeests need a few zebras to lead them. Even then, they gather together, approach the waters edge, then back off in fear. Wildebeest friends who’ve already made the crossing call to them to come, and after awhile they gather their courage again and approach the waters edge.

This process goes on for hours, as we found out sitting in our rescue van waiting. Windows had to be kept closed due to dust, engines shut off, voices hushed. There must have been twenty or thirty vans and jeeps like ours, quietly waiting and watching while the wildebeests collectively weighed starvation of the many against death by crocodile for a few. I could appreciate that it was a tough choice.

Marcos did his best to sooth us, his unwilling passengers, as fatigue set in and claustrophobia grew while his two paying customers took endless photos of the timid wildebeests. Finally he declared “This is it. They are about to do it.” Even I felt the excitement.

But he wasn’t the only guide paying attention. One of the fancier jeeps revved up its engine and took of in a noisy cloud of dust for a better view. The shocked wildebeests jumped at the sound,  starred at our vehicles like they had just noticed them, and then ran away from the river as one. There would be no crossing that day.

Marcos’s calm frayed at bit. “Stupid,” he muttered. “Now they don’t get to cross, and we don’t get to see anything.”

Like I said, I almost saw one of the seven wonders of the world, and it probably would have been amazing. As we drove back to camp we passed Leonard being towed out of the game reserve and he gave us a friendly wave.

Thursday, September 21, is the 2017 International Day of Peace. I always write about it on this blog, and I try to wish happiness to someone I’ve met in the past year from far away. This year, times being what they are, I’m giving those greetings early and often. So …

“Happy Peace Day, world class safari guides Leonard and Marcos. I wish your calm patience, and spirit of cooperation were as common in my world as they appear to be on the plains of Kenya.”

Actually, I more than wish it. I think we need to get these guys involved in solving some world problems. Seems to me that we could apply what they bring to the table to at least five or six different international crises that come to mind.

So let me rephrase my wish.

“Happy Peace Day, Leonard and Marcos. May your year be filled with few engine problems and grateful customers. By the way, any chance you could find the time lend a hand to rest of us here, as we bumble around trying to figure out how to get along? We really could use the help.”


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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Africa, peace, travel


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Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59

I traveled 8000 miles to see Mount Kilimanjaro, and I almost missed it. It’s true that I also came to see lions, elephants and zebra in the wild, and to have an adventure with my relatives, but Kilimanjaro was near the top of my list of reasons for making a daunting journey that took three plane flights, eighteen hours in the air, four vaccinations and sixteen days on malaria meds.

Unfortunately, the 19,341 foot former volcano that rises 15,000 feet up off  the plains of Tanzania tends to be covered in clouds in August, which is something I didn’t know ahead of time. On the drive to our camp, we got to see the very top of the peak poking out above the clouds, impossibly high in the sky. At the very end of our stay, we would get to see much of the base of the mountain glowing in the sunrise. But my one chance for the best, the fullest view, happened when I was busy reading a guidebook to Kenya. I know, it’s ironic. And I should have read that book before I left home.

My amateur photo

Earlier, I’d noticed the clearing skies overhead, and gone for a walk trying to get a better vantage point and figure out exactly where on the haze-covered horizon the mountain would appear in our camp. I couldn’t find Kilimanjaro on my walk, but I did find another tourist who appeared to be Chinese and who was doing what I was. Only he was equipped with a much better camera, and he had a compass.

He spoke a few words of English, and I speak no Chinese, so our exchange was pretty simple. He held his compass out to me, trying to remember the words for the four directions, then gave up. It was annotated in Chinese characters, but had Arabic numbers, and because I’ve worked with compasses it meant something to me. I found 180, and suggested south, he agreed happily and showed me the exact setting where I could expect to see the mountain if it ever appeared. I thanked him, we both pointed to the thick, low clouds and shrugged.

About half an hour later I was sitting on the porch to my tent, engrossed in reading, when he came running by. “Mountain! Now!”

I hope his photo looks like this

I jumped up and followed him. Three tents down he’d left his son waiting, and as I ran to a better vantage point, the two of them hurried off with his camera, exchanging animated exclamations. I realized that he’d probably traveled as far as I had to see this, and it likely meant as much to him as it did to me. Maybe more. Yet, he’d given up a few precious minutes of his viewing time to alert me, a total stranger who would never have known about it if he had not bothered.


Maybe he recognized a kindred spirit, a lover of mountains and photography, or of compasses and secrets of nature that seldom reveal themselves. Or maybe he is just one heck of a nice guy. I’ll never know. I do hope he got some great pictures.

Thursday, September 21, is the 2017 International Day of Peace. I always write about it on this blog, and I try to wish happiness to someone I’ve met in the past year from far away. This year, times being what they are, I’m starting my greetings a little early.

My photo from the next day

I don’t really know anyone from China. I’ve never been there. I don’t hear great things about it. But now I do know one man from there who bothered to tell me that Kilimanjaro was visible.

So, happy International Day of Peace, random Chinese man in tent 59. I don’t know what either of our governments are up to these days, but you demonstrated how alliances are forged. May your life be filled with many sudden bursts of kindness like the one you shared with me, at the foot of a mountain in Africa.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Like Eating Crab, Still a Sunrise?, Replacing me with … and Smiling my way across Kenya)


Posted by on August 27, 2017 in being better, peace


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