March 31, 2003

laurielikesbooks Blog for March 2003 — March 2003 — March 2003

Teresa Southwick and Elizabeth Lowell

Even though I'm still coughing enough to make my cracked rib hurt like hell, I figured it was time to start blogging again, particularly since sitting at my computer hurts no more (and no less!) than laying in bed. So I'll talk about three of the boo
Even though I'm still coughing enough to make my cracked rib hurt like hell, I figured it was time to start blogging again, particularly since sitting at my computer hurts no more (and no less!) than laying in bed. So I'll talk about three of the books I read while laid up in bed last month.

Teresa Southwick now writes only series titles, but she used to write American Historical/Western Romances that I enjoyed. I first read her in 1995 with Winter Bride, a mail-order bride story that earned a B from me. Given that I'm not much of a fan of the American Historical or Western, I kept her in mind during subsequent visits to the bookstore, but somehow missed her 1996 release - Blackstone's Bride, although I did find it used in 2000 and read it immediately. It was another good read and earned a B- from me. Certainly Southwick doesn't write Westerns on the level of, say, Lorraine Heath, but these were good enough that I vowed to continue looking for her books.

At roughly the same time as I read Blackstone's Bride, I noticed Southwick had a couple of series titles for sale. Never having read in the Silhouette Romances line before, I had no idea what to expect. It didn't take me long to realize the SR line was a "sweet" line, but by the end of reading the first of the two books - And Then He Kissed Me - I came to the conclusion that this was more of a Young Adult book than a romance written for an adult. I had the same reaction to the second story - With a Little T.L.C..

I wrote about this in the June 1st, 2000 ATBF, but am talking about it again because I find it fascinating to track this author's writing style over the years. Those two Westerns were both "warm," as opposed to the "kisses only" rating for the two SR's. What bothered me most about both books wasn't that they were kisses only, but that in at least one of the two (it's now been so long since I read them that I can't remember the order of events in both), the hero proposes marriage after kissing the heroine two times. And she accepts! How on earth two people could know they are compatible after sharing two kisses seems ludicrous to me, which is why I was very interested in Southwick's January 2003 release for Silhouette Special Editions - Midnight, Moonlight, and Miracles.

The SSE line is one I've read many times before - how would Southwick handle a book in this line after failing for me in the SR line? I'm happy to report that this more recent release was pretty good. My grade for it was a B- (Ellen Micheletti's grade for it at AAR was a straight B). In MM&M, the hero and heroine are linked together by tragedy. Simon has a seeming death wish, and ends up in the Megan's ER after a helmet-less motorcycle crash. He blames himself for the death of his son and ex-wife and has given up on life. His only tether to it at this point is through his mother-in-law, who knows the heroine through a "only in romance novel coincidence;" she's the one who okay'ed a cornea transplant after her grandson's death, and because of this generosity, the heroine's daughter, Bayleigh, now has the gift of sight.

The mother-in-law interferes enough so that Megan becomes Simon's private nurse, and though Megan would like to tell her Big Secret, the mother-in-law thinks it best to wait as she believes Megan can emotionally reawaken Simon. And so it goes.

As contrived and "Lifetime Movie of the Week" as this premise sounds, the author acquits herself well. There's a good deal of poignancy in the relationships that develop throughout the book, some great chemistry, and Simon's trip out of his semi-self-imposed darkness into the light, with the help of the three women, is quite effective.

Right after I finished MM&M, I went to the UBS to look for another Southwick, and found a 1994 release - Reckless River. It's hard to believe how much better Southwick's writing got in the one year between RR and Winter Bride! Reckless River pits a beautiful and feisty riverboat captain against the handsome and hardworking owner of a railroad company. She believes his railroad will put her out of business, and since her father remarried and her father's new wife's son is a lech, her riverboat business is all she has. As for the hero, he's frustrated by this capable young woman and beguiled as well, and soon realizes she's afraid of something, but what is it, and might it have to do with her "step-brother?" It's not hard to see where this one is going, and it goes there loudly, with every cliche in the book, and with every bit of manipulation the author can toss in there. At their first meeting the heroine shoots at the hero, later he rescues her from a being raped, they lust, they fight, they lust some can they reconcile her hatred and his plans, which eventually come to include her?

Oddly enough, even though I didn't much care for this book, when I realized there was a sequel, I actually spent some time looking for an on-line copy to buy. Just before I clicked the "buy" button, though, I came to my senses and realized that buying a sequel for a book I didn't really like was probably not a good idea.

What next, then? Well, how about trying one of Elizabeth Lowell's Westerns, perhaps Only His, a book which received DIK status at AAR some years ago? And that's precisely what I did.

I often have a very visceral reaction to Lowell's writing. While it's almost always purple, over-the-top, and melodramatic, and while most of her heroes are alpha-heels to their heroines (with an exception for the hero in Love Song for a Raven) , at times there's nothing like reading one of her books. Too Hot to Handle features all of those adjectives, and yet I love it. Chain Lighting is another Lowell I adore, even though it too is over-the-top. For some reason, though, what the heroines in both these books endured before meeting the heroes, who then mistreat them based on a lack of knowledge of who these women really are, becomes all the more touching when the heroes fall in love, for when they fall, they fall hard.

I'm very hot and cold about Lowell, though, and have written often that while some of her series titles worked for me, an equal number failed - and for the very same reasons! Outlaw worked...Fire and Rain and Warrior did not. And before I go off on a rant over her expanded, re-written single titles of originally shorter series romances, I'll stop here and talk about Only His, which is not destined to become a favorite Lowell for me. It's got the embittered sharp-shooting hero with a secret grudge against the heroine's "husband," the heroine with a secret - the "husband" is really her brother - desperate and with literally nothing left to lose after the Civil War, on a journey by horseback out West, followed by outlaws and Indians who want him dead, her body, and her horses.

All the same adjectives mentioned earlier apply here as well - in spades - and while the book isn't bad, it certainly isn't DIK-worthy. My grade for it was a C+. I know it's a favorite for many, though, and while I did appreciate that the heroine had more "spunk" than some other Lowell heroines, it just fell short of being a recommended read. When I think about it, the only full-length Lowell I do recommend is the first of her medieval series, and I wonder if I'd feel that way if I read it for the first time today? Something to think about.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books


I Don't Get 'Em

At times I feel like my tastes are different from everyone else's when it comes to romance novels, a feeling that came on strongly last month when two things happened - the vote came in for Best Series Romance of 2002 and I read What a Man's Gotta Do
At times I feel like my tastes are different from everyone else's when it comes to romance novels, a feeling that came on strongly last month when two things happened - the vote came in for Best Series Romance of 2002 and I read What a Man's Gotta Do by Karen Templeton.

There have been many, many times in the past when I've felt a disconnect from other readers because either I don't care for a very beloved author or will adore a lesser-loved book everyone else raved about while not caring for the book(s) by that same author most people think are her best. To put a nice face on it, I could say that occasionally my tastes are "esoteric."

I granted six 5-heart reviews when I was at The Romance Reader (all of which can be found at AAR, btw), and can remember that four of the six were pretty controversial. Nobody but me thought that Jane Ashford's The Bargain was all that special, certainly everyone knows by now how much disagreement there's been over Christina Dodd's A Well-Pleasured Lady, while Elizabeth Elliott made a tremendous number of fans with the few books she published, most thought her first - The Warlord - was terrific but far fewer were as enamored of Scoundrel as I was, and I can't recall anyone at all besides me who thought Jill Marie Landis' Day Dreamer was a great read.

Shortly after AAR began reviewing new books, a double-DIK review of Kathleen Creighton's One Christmas Knight came in - both reviewers couldn't have loved the book any more than they did. I read it and was so bored by it that my grade for it was a big fat F. I remember talking about it on one of our discussion lists, only to have somebody else respond and say, "Now you know how I felt after I read Day Dreamer based on your recommendation." Ouch!

After we posted Ellen Micheletti's rave review of The Older Woman, I bought it and read it. It didn't do a thing for me - I gave it a grade of C+ and traded it in, thinking that was the end of it. But then, while preparing to post Blythe Barnhill's Reviewer's Choice column, I noticed that Jennifer Keirans picked the Reavis book as her favorite for the year. And then, when it was voted as our readers' favorite series romance of 2002, I was astonished. What had they seen in this book that I had not?

In January we posted a B+ review of the Templeton book, and there was a great deal of discussion about it on AAR's internal discussion loop as well as on our Reviews Message Board. To a person, everyone thought this was a really good read. So last month when I was laid up in bed, I read it, and liked it even less than I had the Reavis. For a short book, it took me days to complete, I thought the royalty tie-in absurd, and frankly thought the love story between Eddie and Mala was boring. I can't recall anyone raving about the Leanne Banks series title -The Playboy and Plain Jane - that I mentioned about in an earlier blogging that was also a January release, but I found it (as a B-) a more enjoyable read than the Templeton.

When I reflect on the Creighton, Reavis, and Templeton books, all three were clearly doing something different than the norm, which may explain their appeal to others, and perhaps that's the very same reason none of these books worked for me. Next time - my abortive read of a 1995 romance that's been on my shelf tbr ever since - Island Flame by Linda Windsor.

It's good to be "back."

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books


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Behind the Scenes of our Annual Reader Poll

Some bitching from me now, and it relates to a matter under discussion on our ATBF MB as well as a new interview we posted earlier this week. There is always a group of readers who remain convinced that only huge, best-selling authors do well in our Annual Reader Poll because it is only a popularity contest. They also believe that if only more people read Book X or Books X,Y, and Z, these other books would surely have beat out the boffo blockbusters that do win. This is even an issue among our staff - feathers were ruffled last year when I publically shared a comment Robin Uncapher made to me regarding The Bronze Horseman and Out of Control. What had she said? That had more people read the former, it would no doubt have been their favorite book of the year, so phenomenal was the book.

Our annual poll is most assuredly not a popularity contest - while there are a good number of lead authors represented in the results, discussion among voters is that they take their vote very seriously. While for every Suzanne Brockmann there's also a Danielle Steel, whom I'm happy to report has never appeared as a winner/honorable mentionee in our annual poll. And yet, whose books take up more room on bookstore, superstore, and discount store shelves? Steel, of course. You're also more likely to find Connie Mason, Cassie Edwards, and other authors who sell well but whom are routinely derided by AAR readers, on the shelves than Adele Ashworth, Carla Kelly, and Susan Grant, and yet these are but a few of the lesser-selling authors who have done well over the years in our poll.

That's not to say, though, that many lead authors don't win or receive honorable mention in many categories, but there's a good reason for that. The reason why they both sell well and score well in the poll is that they are apparently writing books that readers - at least our readers - want to read.

Another wrinkle to this whole discussion about lead authors came into play for the second year in a row - and relates back to Paullina Simons' The Bronze Horseman. The year it was eligible for our poll - 2001 - it was released in hardcover. It was not released in paperback until 2002. The argument goes that books published in hardcover are penalized in our awards poll because not enough readers will buy them to read. And so, it is asked, why don't we add a category so these books don't "fall through the cracks?"

Hmmm... where to start w/that one? First of all, our annual reader poll is not exactly the Oscars. It may be blurbed about on an author's web site or included in the write-up of the author on the inside back cover, but the media is not exactly beating down our door waiting to report on the winners for wide distribution to the reading public. We have great turn-out, and I believe that every author who won or received honorable mention deserved their placement based on the votes cast. I don't understand the investment some people have in the results, nor do I understand why often the results are personalized. It sometimes comes across that if the results don't match a reader's ballot, they must somehow be "wrong."

Jen S, aka Jennifer Schendel, addressed the hardcover conundrum on the ATBF MB, and I thought it would be good to paste it here:

After all this talk about hard cover (or even trade paper) releases limiting an author or books chances to win I went back and looked at the results for the last 3 years and this is what I found:

Hardcover releases that won in 2002:

  • Faking It - Jennifer Crusie
  • No Place Like Home - Barbara Samuels
  • Hard Eight (dishonorable win) - Janet Evanovich

Hardcover releases that received Honorable Mentions in 2002:

  • A Summer to Remember - Mary Balogh
  • Chesapeake Blue - Nora Roberts
  • Daughter of the Game - Tracy Grant
  • Dying to Please - Linda Howard

Trade Paperbacks that won or received an Honorable mention in 2002:

  • Shannon McKenna won best new author for her tpb book "Behind Closed Doors"
  • Too Much Temptation - Lori Foster
  • The Seduction - Julia Ross

That's 10 books that won, despite something other than a mass market release.

In 2001 Winners or Honorable mentions went to the following hardcover books:

  • Fast Women - Jennifer Crusie
  • This Heart of Mine - SEP
  • The Bronze Horseman - Paulina Simmons
  • The Fiery Cross - Diana Gabaldon
  • Ritual of Proof - Dara Joy
  • Narcissus in Chains (dishonorable win) - LKH

In 2000 Winners or Honorable mentions went to the following hard cover books:

  • Welcome to Temptation - Jennifer Crusie
  • Mr. Perfect - Linda Howard

I know I've missed some books, and if I had more time I'd find the ratio between the winners and total books that win, but really I don't see it as a hinderance.

Yes it'd be nice if everyone's favorite book could win and that more mid-list, cult, or debut authors could win, but since this is a numbers game that's just not possible without doing something unfair to handicap more popular/bestselling authors.

Instead I think people should focus on the postive. When authors like Tracy Grant and Paulina Simmons, who were relatively unknown at AAR before their breakout books amongst readers here, place despite being in hardcover. That means word of mouth is working, at least at AAR.

Also, I can understand Laurie not wanting to add more categories, because if you have too many new categories after awhile the ones that exist have no relevance.

But that's just my opinion.


AAR is so much more, obviously than its annual reader poll. Indeed, the ATBF column that precedes the awards column is devoted to staff favorites. The books chosen by our staff vary in terms of how well-known their authors are. Harper Allen is not well known at all, and while Cheryl Reavis and Sharon Sala are more widely read series authors, none of these three authors are the biggest selling series authors out there. One staffer chose Stef Ann Holm's first contemporary; given that this author wrote in the less-read Americana sub-genre before, one can hardly call her a major name. Teresa Hill, who writes series titles under the name Sally Tyler Hayes, was also chosen as having written a favorite by one of our staff. Hill is relatively new to single titles, and this book in particular was quite controversial among those who actually read it. Tracy Grant and Emilie Richards also wrote books chosen by our staff - again, neither are boffo blockbuster authors. And then there's Carla Kelly, a goddess to most of AAR's staff and much of AAR's readership, and yet to most romance readers, a relative unknown.

Then there's our annual "look back at the year/buried treasure" column that Robin puts together. It offers our staff the chance to talk about their year in reading, and also, since it kicks off the poll itself, reminds readers of lesser-read gems they may want to check out before voting. This is in addition, of course, to the actual reviews we post, which leads me to believe we do a good job of bringing lesser-known books and authors to the attention of readers.

Finally, I'll add my own little wrinkle in to muck things up even more - and it's something that I believe proves my point. Earlier this year we posted an interview of Tracy Grant, and earlier this week we posted an interview with Roberta Gellis. For all the discussion among readers who say they are interested in more intelligent, well-crafted, and accurate romances, I've found that some of this is really lip service. The Grant interview has been online for more than 2 months now and roughly 500 people have read it in all that time. So far the Gellis interview has attracted fewer than 250 readers. And yet, when we post an interview with a Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, etc, 500 people will have read the interview within a day or so.

What this shows, I believe, is that while many online romance readers may decry the fact that Gellis has had to change the focus of her writing from medieval fiction to medieval mysteries and the re-telling of myths, this happened because fewer and fewer readers were buying her books. Tracy Grant has made it into hardcover because her publisher believes she writes with enough cross-over appeal to attract non-romance readers, but does this make either of them a "better" writer than Nora Roberts or Linda Howard?

I think the proof is in the pudding - people will read what they like, and the reason why more readers gravitate toward a Roberts or Howard than a Gellis or a Grant is because more people like their books. It's as simple as that, which takes us full circle and back to the beginning. Roger Ebert may have fallen over himself extolling the virtues of Almost Famous, but in the end too few people wanted to watch a semi-autobiographical movie about Cameron Crowe's life on the bus as a 15-year-old reporter for Rolling Stone. It doesn't matter how good the movie is, in a poll where people are choosing their favorites, a movie (or book) cannot win unless it is watched (read) by a great many people. This does not make it a popularity contest; instead it makes it a popular movie/book.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

The Ick Factor?

For the past week or so I've been unable to actually read a book. Oh, I've picked up several from the shelf and started them, but for some reason none has held my interest and they've ended up put back, unread. And then last night I picked up a book
For the past week or so I've been unable to actually read a book. Oh, I've picked up several from the shelf and started them, but for some reason none has held my interest and they've ended up put back, unread. And then last night I picked up a book from an author who I glommed at the UBS a couple of years ago after reading and enjoying one of her books - Peggy Webb. The book I started last night cost a grand total of $0.25, as did the others I had glommed - good thing too since most of her other books have ranged from average to dreadful - and for some reason I've yet to determine, I'm reading it.

It's an old Loveswept called A Prince for Jenny, and it's worth mentioning only in that the heroine is "special" - I don't know if it's genetic, a result of a delivery gone awry, or an accident, and at this point I don't even know if the book will have an "only in a romance" (or soap opera) turn of events leading to a recovery. I've never read a book with a lead character who was mentally challenged before, and don't know that I ever will again. Reading this book is less an entertainment experience than it is like watching the news to see if and when the war with Iraq will start. I want to see what will happen next because it's incredibly foreign to me.

I honestly can't imagine falling in love with someone who isn't smart. Even where friendships are concerned, I can count on one hand the number of friends I had growing up who weren't smart, but the chemistry was there and they weren't stupid - just not "book smart." Now, if my husband suffered a brain injury a la Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry (or the real life Phineas Gage), would I stop loving him? No, but would I have fallen in love with him to begin with?

He and I talked about this last night and I was surprised that he didn't have a definitive answer. He hates stupid, but was unable to say whether or not he could have fallen in love with a mentally challenged woman. I, on the other hand, know I could not because a good deal of our relationship is founded on mutual brain power. This is not to say we walk around discussing Plato, quantum physics and hang out at Mensa mixers, but it takes a certain amount of intellect to "keep up" with people who are well-educated and fairly intelligent.

We've got a DIK review of Pamela Morsi's Simple Jess online at AAR, and for those of you unfamiliar, the hero in this book is "slow." I was lucky enough to meet the author during the 1996 national RWA convention and asked her about the creation of this hero. She told me that her mentally challenged daughter was the inspiration for Jess, and that he was originally a secondary character in Marrying Stone. She didn't know whether her publisher would greenlight a book starring Jess, but they did, and she was equally surprised and gratified at the reading public's response to it.

And yet I can't help but be bothered by the premise of the Webb book - for some reason the allure of a grown man falling in love with a mentally challenged woman escapes me. Were the positions reversed, would my reaction be any different, I wonder? Probably not, given my own needs, but I don't know that I would be as bothered by it as I am where it is the woman who is "special."

If you think this is worth exploring in an ATBF segment, let me know via post here or via email. Thanks.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

A Prince for Jenny and The Fortune Teller's Daughter

I'm definitely going through a bad phase as far as reading romance is concerned right now. I read like a maniac the first two months of the year, and actually did pretty well from last summer until the start of this month. I can't tell you how many
I'm definitely going through a bad phase as far as reading romance is concerned right now. I read like a maniac the first two months of the year, and actually did pretty well from last summer until the start of this month. I can't tell you how many books I've started this month, only to put them down again, although they include the Peggy Webb Loveswept I mentioned in my last blogging. I'll tell you where it bogged down for me. The heroine is believed to be retarded and at one point she is labeled as having Down's Syndrome in a newspaper headline. This misnomer just screams "mistake;" even the author, at an earlier point in the book, lets the reader know (along w/the hero), that people w/Down's Syndrome look different. Some of you may in fact be old enough to remember what they used to call people w/DS - Mongoloids, in reference to the size of their heads and some distortions in the face. Anyone who looks at Jenny can immediately recognize that she does not have DS.

No, it bogged down for me when the hero went to talk w/the heroine's doctor to find out precisely what was wrong w/Jenny. Apparently she can understand everything but through a series of wiring issues, she suffers from large motor skill deficits (but not small motor skills, because she's an accomplished artist) as well as writing and reading disabilities. The doctor doesn't explain it like this - all he says is that she can understand everything and is not retarded - and gives no name to her syndrome. Had I not been intimately familiar with certain motor skill and learning disabilities, I'd have been even more lost in trying to determine what's wrong w/Jenny. As it is, it makes little sense that many of her small motor skills are fine and her large ones aren't; if you asked me to put a name to her amalgam of disabilities, I'd say it was some form of cerebral palsy... and yet, it's apparently genetic as the hero later goes to the doctor for a consult on - I think - a vasactomy.

I didn't finish this book, but I did skim much of it. The love scenes are excellent, and since the hero knows the heroine isn't really slow, it removes some of the ick factor. So the real reason I couldn't finish the book is because I think the author took a cop-out by giving Jenny this amorphous set of symptoms and by bringing the hero's ex-wife back in a sub-plot you can see coming a mile away. Subtle it's not.

One of the books I did manage to finish recently was Susan Wilson's The Fortune Teller's Daughter. I've now read three of Wilson's books - Hawke's Cove, which I reviewed and found a reasonably good read (my grade was a B_), and Cameo Lake, which I didn't find as original. It was good enough when I read it, but in two weeks, I'd forgotten the storyline and the characters (my grade was a C+).

Sandy Coleman's grade for The Fortune Teller's Daughter was a B-; this matches my grade as well. Wilson's books, while not romances, are Women's Fiction with strong romantic sub-plots and eventual happily-ever-afters, although Hawke's Cove was far less conventional than either of the two that followed. In TFTD, heroine Sabine Heartwood settles into a small town she visited as a child because she longs for roots - before doing so she lived a nomadic life with her mother, an itinerant fortune teller. Craving what she missed growing up, she settles in Moose River Junction, Massachusetts, where she meets the town's prodigal son, Danford Smith, who is on a forced hiatus as promising film director because his grandmother's death has left a couple of major "loose ends" that are not easily tied up. One is his mentally challenged Uncle Nagy, whom he promised his grandmother on her deathbed he would not institutionalize, and the other is the family's movie theatre, which is an albatross around his neck because Uncle Nagy caretakes the losing venture and would be lost without it.

As much as Sabine wants to put down roots in Moose River Junction, Dan wants to escape. His actress girlfriend reminds him that he's liable to lose the momentum of his career, and he feels guilty about a Big Secret he's been living with most of his life. While it's a Big Secret for him - it's no secret at all for the reader even though one senses it was meant to be. This is likely the biggest flaw in the story, and I spent too much time wondering when everything would be revealed to Dan and Sabine.

The sub-plot that actually brings the two together aside from chemistry and destiny comes from Sabine's extra-sensory gifts, gifts that she's denied because of her difficult relationship with her mother, who has always encouraged those gifts. Author Wilson melds this sub-plot together with the backstory of Sabine and her mother's relationship, and why Sabine doesn't know who her father is. Although there's a sense already knowing at least in part what her mother's Big Secret is, there's still a poignancy to it that I appreciated.

Wilson is an author I will continue to read even though her books are less than completely satisfying. She draws me in with her characterizations so that even when I know something I'm not supposed to know, I can't wait to see how it all will turn out.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

(Mostly) a Rant Against AOL

I just deleted a post to one of our message boards trying to lead people to a site promoting the romance and emotive passion involved in corporal punishment. I guess there's really no limit to the amount and degree of perversion in the world. I only
I just deleted a post to one of our message boards trying to lead people to a site promoting the romance and emotive passion involved in corporal punishment. I guess there's really no limit to the amount and degree of perversion in the world. I only hope they don't hit all our message boards; just deleting that one post made me feel as though I need a shower! Although spanking between consenting adults may be something I don't understand, it's just fine with me if it does the trick for other people. But I'm going to assume "corporal punishment" refers to the underaged, which I find outrageous. If I misunderstood and the site is simply a B&D/S&M site, well, never mind my outrage.

I've been quite busy over the last several days in several ways. The first, of course, is catching up on reviews posting, and I'm now within a reasonable number of days behind, so some of that pressure is off. The second is the late archiving of reviews from our page of new reviews - I'm now almost half-way through that process, which is also nice. This is a quite tedious monthly process, which leads me into my third reason for being busy - working with the company working on our reviews database/site redesign. Once that reviews database is up and running, I won't have to do things such as archive reviews. And then there's the fourth reason for my being busy - AOL.

Early last month I sent my monthly list of books to buy to Dolores at Books 'N' Stuff, the new/used romance-friendly bookstore I frequent. When I went in the next day to pick up my books, I learned that she never received the list via email, and I had to call my husband to pull the titles out of my "sent mail" box. I didn't think much of it until later in February when I tried to email those authors who had done well in our annual reader poll. I communicate with many of these authors fairly frequently, and even those I do not, I've found over the course of several years, respond within a day or so when informed of their wins/honorable mentions.

Because Shelley Dodge, AAR's pollster (and an AAR Reviewer as well), was injured and ill the week after the poll closed, the results to me were delayed, leaving very little time to contact these authors and prepare the ATBF column that announces the results. So when I hadn't heard back from a majority of authors - including the biggest winners - in a couple of days, I emailed them again, and a day later, when they still hadn't responded, I went into a panic.

So I put together a list of those authors who had responded and those who had not - I hadn't heard from any author on AOL while I had heard from most on other ISP's.

My next step was to hop up to Yahoo and resend to those AOL authors. I followed one of those emails up with a phone call to one of these authors to verify what I thought the problem was, and sure enough, she'd never received the emails but had received the Yahoo mail. Extremely frustrated because by this time there were only a couple of days left before the column and awards page were to go online, I was pleased to finally see email trickle in from most of the winners - only Nora Roberts and Maggie Osborne ended up not responding. Given that Roberts and I are in fairly frequent communication, I tried one last effort for her, contacting her publicist, who promised to forward my email to Ms Roberts. Unfortunately, it must have been too late as I never did hear back from her, which left me surprised and frustrated.

Knowing I had to deal w/this issue had to take a back seat to a more pressing problem - the disappearance of AARList archives and messages, which was/is my last issue with which to contend. Despite Anne Marble and I practically fire-bombing yahoogroups' with "need help" forms, they list remained down after nearly a week, and there is no human being with whom you can speak at Yahoo for yahoogroups; they provide no real customer service for their free services. Anne investigated moving the group elsewhere while I sought help from some other yahoogroups set up to help group owners. We eventually decided to create AARList2, a stop-gap measure while we continued to try and get AARList restored. Unfortunately, yahoogroups only allows us to add 100 email addresses a day, and only 500 in all. AARList has nearly 1,000 members, which means we could add only half the original list and "invite" the remainder to join.

We worked on the wording of the message we would send to those we were adding and those we would invite, and now, after three days, we've got a third of the old list on the new list. We're both pretty sure that as soon as all this work is done, the old list will be restored, but what choice do we have? Anne has been remarkable throughout this process, calm, collected, and methodical. Given my emotional nature, this has been quite helpful to me.

Since we had that plan under-way by Thursday evening, I devoted part of yesterday to the issue, particularly since there are at least two AAR staff on AOL who had not been receiving my messages, causing major problems on individual projects they were working on. My first call was to SBC (aka SWBell). SBC told me to get in touch with AOL because they knew of no problems. After writing AOL and assuring them that it wasn't individual AOL members simply blocking my messages because I'm a pest, I received an email in return with a phone number, and so made the first of three calls to AOL, finally to hook up with someone in their mail operations department who indeed confirmed that mail from is being blocked. AOL and are both aware of the problem, I was told, and I was given another phone number, this time back at SBC, in their mail operations department, to call.

After that call, and a call to another phone number, I was given an email address at SBC and told all I could do was to write that email address. How the tech and his supervisor could tell me with a straight face that they had no ability to send an email of their own in order to escalate the issue is beyond me, and my eventual email to the address given was blistering. I informed them that I was most displeased that:

1) There is no human being to whom I can speak who can actually DO something about this problem.

2) NEVER informed me there was a problem; had not a particular issue come up I might never have known my emails were not being delivered and two projects may have fallen apart.

3) The problem has persisted now for far too long without resolution.

4) When I called swbell for the final time and was given this email address, I asked whether they could also forward my complaint to the appropriate department and was told this was impossible because the tech department is not connected to the mail department. This is simply absurd and bureaucratic gobbledegook at the highest level of insanity and inanity.

5) Why is it that an aol person finally confirmed that there IS a problem while swbell tech support said they knew of no problems? In other words, why is a company to whom I am paying nothing more helpful than the company to whom I'm paying $40 or $50 a month for service?

I provided my phone number and will hope to hear from them early next week. If not, I'll simply resend that same message hourly during working hours until they do.

Well, I wanted to talk about some books I've read, but I think this is enough for now.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books


'Laurie Gold' left this comment on 26 Mar 04
No; the problem has never been resolved. When I email aol users, I cannot send the email formatted for html and cannot send to more than one person at a time.


'A visitor' left this comment on 18 Feb 04
L, Did this problem get fixed...? I have the same problem and am getting no where fast...Ed

Ed []

A War Slump?

I can't tell whether it's now the war or a quick stomach virus that hit me over the weekend (and now plagues my daughter) that's making it next to impossible for me to read, or whether I'm truly in my seemingly-annual romance reading slump. After beg
I can't tell whether it's now the war or a quick stomach virus that hit me over the weekend (and now plagues my daughter) that's making it next to impossible for me to read, or whether I'm truly in my seemingly-annual romance reading slump. After beginning several books and putting them back after a chapter or two, I finally settled into Gina Wilkins' The Family Plan, first in a trilogy with the second and third titles to be released in April and May. I haven't read a ton of Wilkins, but did enjoy Seductively Yours and Secretly Yours well enough to read her more often. The Family Plan didn't click with me even though I'm often a sucker for both single men raising children and heroes who pursue their heroines.

Given my lack of success with the Wilkins book - my grade for it is a C - I'm not sure whether I should really be trying to read The Selkie by Melanie Jackson or not. I adore the selkie myth and don't want to ruin the reading of what may be a perfectly wonderful book because my slump may not be reading-related but instead caused by the war in Iraq. Perhaps it's better to focus on the news on TV, in newspapers, and in newsmagazines than to read books for now. Is this affecting any of you?

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Two Conflicting Thoughts = Intelligence

I've heard it said that the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts in your head is a sign of intelligence. If that's true, I must be a frigging genius.
I just finished watching Donald Rumsfeld give a press conference - it seems the Syrians have
I've heard it said that the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts in your head is a sign of intelligence. If that's true, I must be a frigging genius.

I just finished watching Donald Rumsfeld give a press conference - it seems the Syrians have decided to join the fun and help the Iraqis. Ever since the war began last week, I've tried to put my misgivings about it aside and focus on the task at hand - supporting the troops so that they can do their job quickly, get out, and get on with the rebuilding of Iraq. My misgivings were and are so numerous that recounting them in my mind is like watching a ping-pong match - for each reason on one "side," there's an equally compelling reason on the other. Genius indeed.

Here's a bit of that ping-pong match that's been playing in my head, first shared with AAR staff a week or so before the war began in response to some postings about why so many Americans are angry at the French:

The French government became the Vichy government in WWII in a way many other European nations did not. And, although it hasn't been highly publicized, the French are the only members of NATO not on the defense planning committee.

I think it's very easy to forget that appeasement was the European policy before WWII - for England and for France. The US was isolationist, but then Hitler wasn't knocking on our back door. We know that policy was a failure.

I know it's dangerous to share opinions on this stuff in a "mixed" group such as we are, but I'm personally so conflicted about the whole thing that I don't have any clear answers. William Safire wrote a brilliant OP-ED piece in the NYT last week about French companies selling Iraq contraband items, and this is supposedly behind their refusal to even consider a war resolution, but I read Safire w/a skeptical eye (can't help it - I'm a liberal!).

On the one hand I think Saddam's gotta go, on the other hand why now when North Korea is so dangerous, and would it have been had Bush not called NK/Iraq/Iran the Axis of Evil? On the other hand, so much of the opposition from the rest of the world is because countries like France and Germany are afraid of being neutralized in terms of power and are therefore flexing their muscle (isn't this why Spain is gung-ho, because they want to gain some power?). Then again, Afghanistan is a total mess and we've done very little to help the elected Karzai coalesce his power base. Then again, I do think that some countries purposely like to thumb their nose at the US. Then again, Israel needs to stop building settlements and leave many of the ones they built and kick out Sharon, who's always been little more than a thug.

Then again, ... well, this could go on forever.

My biggest frustration boils down to this: while there's all this focus on how many civilians may have been killed so far, which plays right into the Arab street, there's no "on the other hand" from the Arab street - no count of how many Iraqis Hussein has killed and tortured over the years or even since breakfast. And we seem to live in an age when the anti-war movement isn't against an "unjust" war like Vietnam, the anti-war movement is against any war at all. It would be great if we could all live in peace and harmony, but Saddam and his gang are violent and virulent, and proof of that comes from people who have lived to tell the tale. The rest of their fighting dirty is despicable and yet should have been expected (and some of it was), but executing POW's goes beyond the pale for me. I only hope that his behavior begins to turn off some of those states tacitly supporting him, like the French and the Russians, the latter of whom are selling weapons not only to the Iraqis, but to the Syrians, who now are forwarding that equipment to Iraq.

One of the scarier things I've read is that the rest of the world is more fearful of an unchecked US than they were when the US and the USSR were locked in a cold war. I would have thought the dangers to Europe when the Soviet bloc was nestled up to western Europe would have been far more scary. What's scary to me is that there are countries out there who would rather bury their heads in the sand than try to come up with real, workable solutions to problems. I'm not sure what those solutions are, but I know what they aren't.

Make sure to read everything Fareed Zakaria writes for Newsweek; he understands the region, and though he was for the war, he's a voice that understands where we're making our mistakes. We need to know this and not get caught up in biased reporting on the left or the right that makes it sound as though we're doomed or that it'll be a cake-walk. I disagree strongly with those on the right who would have us believe that we're all being brainwashed by the liberal media into believing we've gotten ourselves into a disaster; I'm smart enough to discern the truth from the variety out there in print and television and I know you are too. It's neither a disaster nor a cakewalk, but it would be a mistake to believe making democracy out of the Middle East is going to suddenly emerge from the war, which is what I think the "biased" liberal media is trying to remind us through their reporting.

War is war - innocent women and children will die as surely as they have died in every modern war, and yet the US is trying extremely hard to prevent civilian casualities. On the one hand, this is the right thing to do, but on the other, well, I won't go there.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books