Friday, January 21, 2022

Short Book Reviews: The Dark World of Mexican Vampires

 Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Tor)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues to knock my socks off, literarily speaking. Her Gods of Jade and Shadow was nothing short of breath-taking. Now she turns her wild and dark imagination to a vampire tale set in Mexico City. In this world, there are not one but many kinds of vampires, each with its own history, weaknesses, and predilection for bloodshed. Certain Dark Things tells the story of the perilous friendship between street-kid Domingo and Atl of the Aztec line of vampires whose family has been wiped out by the viciously violent narco-vampire clan. Atl is young and inexperienced in vampire terms and has led a carefree life, never having to make hard choices. Now she’s on the run for her immortal life. She’s the most beautiful woman Domingo has ever seen, and he can hardly believe his luck when she accepts his help. Atl’s only hope for a way to safety lies in fleeing Mexico, but to do that she needs documents available only through a secret and highly elusive vampire underground. Unfortunately, she soon attracts the attention of both crime bosses and a cop dedicated to exterminating her kind.

I’d classify this book as dark urban fantasy rather than horror, but it should appeal to readers of both genres. If you’ve never read Moreno-Garcia, you’re in for a treat.

Monday, January 17, 2022

I Survived a Nigerian Scam Part III: Disaster Mode


As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

Part II: Raising the Stakes


Donations to the GoFundMe I had set up for C’s sister came in as I promoted it on social media and directly to friends and family. C ramped up his emotional manipulation and shifted to urgent/disaster mode.

C: Dec 3, 2021, 10:57 am. The doctor called today and  i went to see him. He said he's going to help talk to the financial department to allow us pay part payment so they can schedule S's surgery but he said the surgery will likely be January because of the Xmas break and that there are many patient awaiting sugary who has completed all payments. So he asked me how much we have to make deposit and i told him and he said the financial department will only accept a part payment of $7000 and we should make available the balance before the surgery will be carried out

C: The reason why he gave the suggestion is because he said if we make available the full payment Sarah must have to wait because other patients have already been scheduled for surgery and it might take a little bit long. He said it is better we have a date fix for the surgery why will raise funds instead of raising the full payment and still wait for the hospital to fix a date for the surgery

Commentary: C sent a phone photo of a one-page statement with a flat fee for dialysis and surgery. That struck me as odd, given the itemization by American hospitals. The other dubious thing was that the statement was signed by the nephrologist. Do Nigerian doctors handle hospital financial arrangements? And what hospital closes for the Christmas break? I wasn’t yet suspicious enough to try to verify details with an internet search. When I did that, I was unable to find the hospital (the name was a for-profit chain, but I didn’t see this specific location or specialty). The nephrologist was a real doctor who practiced in India. I found no mention of S in the entering classes of her medical school.

 What happened next was indeed fortunate. In the midst of C’s increasingly frequent and importunate pleas, Western Union declined to process the transfer twice. I went through two phone interviews, since apparently they flag all transfers to Nigeria, and as I answered, I could see the warnings go up, one after another. C began urging me to send the money through another, cash-based service, but I had to wait for Western Union to refund the money to my account. Then, almost by happenstance, I spoke with the manager and one of the tellers at my local bank. I do mean, “local.” We’re a close-knit community, and I’m on a first-name basis with the manager. The teller, upon hearing the situation, got very emotional about it being a scam. It turned out that a relative of hers had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to a romance scam. I wasn’t thrilled with her warnings, but her words caused me to step back and ask myself, “What if this really is a scam?”

Once I started questioning, the red flags went up everywhere. Most of them are mentioned above in my comments. What clinched it was this email from C:

Friday, January 14, 2022

Short Book Reviews: A Zimbabwean Ghost-Talker in Scotland

The Library of the Dead
, by T. L. Huchu (Tor)

This book is just marvelous. It’s got a near-future dystopic setting, with all the creative and dysfunctional ways people adapt to crumbling civilization and a devastated ecology. A world in which ghosts hang around, pleading to speak with their loved ones and a secret academy trains wizards in the depths of Edinburgh. Best of all, though, is teen narrator, Ropa, a “ghost talker” who blends her Zimbabwean heritage with snappy Scottish slang, a gift for compassion, and intellectual curiosity.

Life is hard enough for Ropa. Along with her grandmother and smart-talking younger sister, she lives in a decaying RV and is always behind on paying rent for their spot. She’s had to drop out of school, her ghost-talking work is unpredictable, and the future doesn’t offer much. To make matters worse, children have been disappearing…and when they’re found, they suffer from extreme premature aging. In a seemingly unrelated incident, an old school friend from a posh family sneaks her into an underground library of the occult where she’s threatened with immediate execution for trespass until she’s given a student pass. Now, armed with a new classmate, she’s off to discover who’s taking the missing children and what’s happened to them.

The voice of narrator Ropa is the best part of the book, vivid and compelling and smart. She’s so engaging that I kept turning pages even when it seemed the mystery and other story elements were never going to come together (they do!) It felt like a braided novel, but I was more than happy to go along with Ropa as the linking thread. It’s impossible to overstate how powerful the narrative voice was.


Monday, January 10, 2022

I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part II: Raising the Stakes


As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

 The first part: Setting the Hook is here.

In April, 2021, C, the Nigerian, was back with another tragic tale.

C: i was called earlier today that my Dad was not feeling fine and his in the hospital.  Will be traveling tomorrow to P-- to see how's doing.

C: My heart is so heavy and i weep. Today life has brought me the greatest shock of my life and has left a wound in my heart. Why is life so unfair to me, why will i keep losing the once i love the most even in the face of untold hardship. I arrived P-- after 4 hours trip and gotten to the hospital i found out that the only thing that ever made sense and mean the world to me was no more and the reality of my present has left me with a broken heart and broken spirit. I lost my Dad today Deborah

C: Please i know am only your friend on fb and in a matter of fact i am not related to you in any way but you have been so kind to me irrespective of me being a stranger. Please help me talk to your family or probably your husband that i need you people assistant. People i never thought would assist me did that during my Dad's funeral and and i borrowed little money to add up with the one i have to make the burial successful as the first son. Please am begging you with what you hold secret. I need you help now than ever and i don't have who to run to. I need a loan of $300 so i can put things in other and pay few debts and take my younger once along with me. They can manage them self even if my house is not that big enough. I feel so ashamed of myself asking for help from you but i don't have a choice because if things were moving fine for me i won't have ask for any help from you.

 Commentary: By now I was firmly hooked, so I lent him $300. Notice that he asked to speak with my husband, figuring he might be an easier mark. I didn’t mention this to my husband, which left me feeling uneasy and dishonest. C and I spent a couple of months talking about how he could repay it. In the end, I forgave the loan. During July, he tried to get me to help set up an account at Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a crowdsourcing marketplace. Since I already had an Amazon account linked to my email address, it wasn’t possible. This was actually a trial run to see how far I would go using dubious means to promote his interests. I’m relieved it didn’t work, although even unsuccessful attempts served to further cement the relationship.

Direct gifts of money aren’t the only payoff for scammers. Setting up fraudulent accounts and campaigns like GoFundMe with the scammer as beneficiary are equally lucrative and, as in my case, don’t trip alarms as readily.

 C’s requests were coming at about monthly intervals. No sooner had I forgiven the loan (July 2021) than this arrived:

C: Aug 1, 2021.  Things has been so difficult for us this period. S (his sister) is about to sit for her exam next week and she said she will not be allowed to sit for the exam if she does not pay her school fee. S school fee for the whole academic session is $200. She's studying medicine.

C: If there's anyway you can help Sarah please do. She has refused to eat anything since morning and i feel for her. She said her friends in school will laugh at her for not being able to pay this session school feel. I just hope she won't do anything stupid to get her fee

 Commentary: The laudable cause of a young woman struggling through medical school was now irresistible. C’s last statement implied that unless I sent money, harm would come to her through desperation. I caved and sent the money.

 Here’s what happened next.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Sinners and Saints by Jennifer Roberson

In my review of Life and Limb, I wrote: “A new Jennifer Roberson novel is always a treat, but a new Jennifer Roberson series is a cause for celebration.” Sinners and Saints, which continues the story of Gabe and Remi, an ex-con biker and a Texas cowboy, is even better! The two unlikely brothers-in-spirit share part-angelic ancestry and all-too-human limitations. Now, abandoned by their heavenly guide and thrown on their own resources, they’re about to face an unexpected menace: the spirit of Jack the Ripper (yes, that Jack the Ripper) who is bent on savagely murdering women who share the names of his historical victims. As if that weren’t enough of a challenge, Lucifer’s own shock troops are out to destroy the two.

Sinners and Saints succeeds on so many levels: fascinating world-building that draws from diverse folklore, myths, and legends, plot twists and superbly handled tension to keep the pages turning, and a mystery worthy of a volume of its own. The best part for me, though, is the hallmark of Roberson’s work: the depth and intricacy of her characters. Gabe and Remi are not only heroes to fall in love with over and over, but reminders that even fallible humans are capable of tremendous courage, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. No matter what the odds and reversals, no matter how many times they stumble, they never give up. The world is a better, more hopeful place with them in it.