Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“Please keep an eye on them. I’m going down to the beach for more water.”
“What if they try to escape?”
He handed her his stick.
“Bash their little heads, Miss Farnham. They’ll behave.”
She looked at him skeptically, but took the stick. Pompom sniffed all around the valise, then flopped down next to her, eyeing the pot with his head on his paws.
Alex returned and added water to the pot, careful not to let it fall below a boil. Eventually, after some whining (the dog) and grumbling (Miss Farnham), he pronounced the crabs ready for consumption. He extracted the crabs by using his stick to flip them into the air.
“Catch them, Daphne! Quick, before the dog grabs them!”
Holding the valise open, Miss Farnham dashed about, catching the manna as it fell from the heavens. The dog barked, and she laughed, and Alexander felt almost lighthearted.
He put it down to hunger.

--Castaway Dreams

I've always felt it's important to count your blessings as often as possible, but Thanksgiving gives us a special focus on being grateful for the little things--food, shelter, puppies, and people who love us.

I'm especially grateful for each and every one of my readers. When you take time to drop me a note saying you enjoyed my stories, it recharges my batteries and gets me back to the keyboard. Thank you. I couldn't do this without you.

As you celebrate today, remember those who do not have the blessings we all too often take for granted. Donate a book to a program for children living in a "literacy desert" (there are more than you suspect), volunteer to read to a youngster or an invalid, help your local public library when it has fundraising efforts. You're reading this because you love books (I only have the finest fans
!), so share that with those who do not have the blessings we enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Goodbye, CompuServe

It's the end of an era, and for some of us, a very personal loss. CompuServe is closing.

Yes, I know, you're probably scratching your head and saying, "Didn't they shut down years ago? My granny used CompuServe!"

Your granny wasn't the only one. Back in 1992 friends in science fiction fandom started asking me, "What's your email?" I looked at them blankly, and a kind soul explained to me how it worked.

"You mean I can send a message to anyone, anywhere?"
"Sure, as long as they have an email address."

I needed email for my responsibilities as event coordinator for the first night of ConFrancisco, the 1993 World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco. When I asked which service was best, I was told GEnie, Prodigy and CompuServe were all good choices, but many preferred CompuServe because of its civility--moderators kept forums from erupting into flame wars. This appealed to me, so I became 71702,3077 at I also had a couple other accounts at free sites and I immediately saw the difference. I described it as "...the difference between a toll road and the Interstate. I'll pay a little extra for clean rest stops."

My two forums were the SF forum and the LitForum, but I soon gravitated almost exclusively to LitForum. They were talking about books! Authors hung out there! One day I tried my hand at a writing exercise and after I posted it, people asked "What happens next?"

That was how my writing career began, and about that time I was invited to be on the Litforum staff. While I was working on my first novel CompuServe evolved. I remember its heyday when it branched off into the Romance Forum (where I was librarian in Erotic Writing) and that helped lead to the founding of RWAOnline, still my "local" chapter. We would staff the forum on Christmas day to help newbies navigate their way onto their new computers (some of which were preloaded with CompuServe accounts) and we encouraged writing and discussion and shared stories of our children, our jobs, and our losses.

Around 1997 AOL bought CompuServe and I recall turning to a friend and saying, "It's like an honors fraternity being taken over by Animal House." Things began to change, and not for the better. We pulled back from our expansions, cut back on some forums, began to see massive changes as the world moved from dial up to free wifi where you could access anything.

And yet, CompuServe endured. Now our forum was Books and Writers Community and I was still on staff, as Section Leader for Erotic Writing. Over the last 10 years I would tell people I was at CompuServe and they'd look at me strangely and say, "They're still around?" But for those of us who hung in there, it was a valuable site to talk, to share what was new in our lives, to discuss books and writing.

It seems odd to say that CompuServe's closing is like the loss of a friend, but that's how it feels. The staff is working to move all of us who want to stay in the Books and Writers Community to a new site, but it will be different.

So thank you, to all those who made CompuServe a site for civil discussion for all those years. I will miss the clean restrooms.

Review: Someone to Wed

Someone to Wed Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two of my favorite tropes--Beauty and the Beast and Marriage of Convenience are combined in a moving, warm story that's "adult" in the best meaning of the word. Best of all, this is a reverse B&tB--the heroine, Wren, has a massive port wine birthmark covering her face. Her perceived disfigurement is so severe that the very few times she goes out in public, she goes out heavily veiled.

She has no friends. Now that her aunt and uncle are dead, she has no family. She has no social contacts at all, but Wren is a successful businesswoman, so she decides to fill at least one void in her life--she's going to buy a husband.

Alexander Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has responsibilities he never wanted and not enough money to make things right on his inherited estates. To Wren's dismay, he may be cash-strapped, but he's also drop-dead gorgeous. Westcott knows his looks contribute to his being an asset on the marriage mart, just as it makes a difference for young debutantes. I love the role-reversal here!

Best of all, in finest Balogh fashion, Alexander and Wren act like grown-ups in their decision making, in their conversations, in their interaction with others. Their choices make sense and are made with a real feel for how they affect others in their sphere--family, friends, employees.

All of Balogh's books are an autobuy for me, and she's an author I always recommend to budding Regency romance writers as someone to study. Her writing is masterful and evocative, and this latest installment in the Westcott series is sure to please her legion of fans.

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Review: Secrets in Death

Secrets in Death Secrets in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a talented author who keeps me reading a series where we're now up to book #45. Yes, it featured many of our favorite characters, but part of the fun is seeing the interaction of all of them--much like a family reunion.

The question wasn't who had a motive to murder Larinda Mars but rather, who didn't? The gossip show hostess had a sideline as a blackmailer and her files contained intel on nearly all the rich-and-famous in NYC, including Nadine, Mavis, and, of course, Roarke and Eve Dallas.

While I had suspicions about the murderer, the "whodunnit?" part was well crafted and kept me turning pages in satisfaction up until the very end. I'd never recommend someone dive into the "In Death" series with book #45, but for fans it will be a must-read.

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Review: Mischief

Mischief Mischief by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun Halloween treat for fans of Reisz' Original Sinners series, as Nora offers her lover Nico a traditional American Halloween celebration. Naturally, in addition to bobbing for apples there's bobbing for other treats involving a friendly waitress who's up for a threesome.

There's a great twist at the end, and I enjoyed this little seasonal offering very much.

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Review: The Duchess Deal

The Duchess Deal The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun romance, the kind where the snappy dialogue makes you grin out loud. This Beauty-and-the-Beast variation was just what I needed this week, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a pick-me-up with their romance reading.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Raising up the next crop of readers

I'm still tutoring young readers through the United Way's Reading Pals initiative. This year I again have a 3rd grade girl, and I suspect that will be my "default setting" as long as I'm in the program. As much as I love working with younger readers just discovering books, there's a sense of urgency with the 3rd graders. Some have already been held back. All will be expected to read and comprehend chapter books by the time they're in 4th grade. In addition, reading as a skill isn't taught past 3rd grade so I want to do my best to help them learn how books work; what it means to read an unknown word and figure it out from context, how to get a feel for the author's structure of the writing, and, perhaps most importantly, how to enjoy reading.

My pupil this year is Camille (not her real name), and she's been an intriguing student. I've been coaxing her along,  trying to figure out what piques her interest and so far, it seems to be Disney princesses.

I'm OK with that. As I always tell the kids, "I don't care what you're reading, as long as you read. Read a cereal box. Read a comic book. Read anything that interests you. Like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you become at it."

So last week we read a classic telling of Puss in Boots and discussed how it compares to Shrek--what's the same, what's different. We read Rapunzel and compared it to Tangled. This week I have a book about brave princesses and, of course, we'll compare it to Brave.

As a romance reader and writer I understand the value of storytelling with plucky heroines who save the day, or at least don't wait around waiting for their prince to come. Most importantly, I hope to convey the idea that reading for fun is a huge part of my life, and the same is true for many other people. By the end of the year I hope to have Camille bop into our sessions excited to tell me about something enjoyable (maybe with princesses) she read over the past week. We're not quite there yet, but we're making progress.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Review: Color Me Gray

Color Me Gray Color Me Gray by Rose Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We met Mags in Cutting to the Chase, the best friend who's socially awkward and naive, hiding her personal pain under a cheerful facade. A humiliating practical joke in high school only reinforces Mags' lack of self-esteem, so when a cute, older boy at a party pays attention to her, she thinks her life may be turning around.

Instead, it's a step toward personal disaster. Color Me Gray covers many of the issues that make up the tough life of young adulthood--sexuality, body image, domestic violence and career choices. But it also shows how friendship (sometimes in the most unexpected places) and family can lead to new beginnings and offer hope when all seems hopeless.

This is the second Rose Phillips YA I've enjoyed, and I'm hooked. Sometimes it's hard from the distance of years to appreciate how difficult life can be for those just stepping out into the world. Phillips brings teens and their issues to life, and does so in a way that's satisfying for readers of all ages.

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