Changing (TV) Seasons

It’s the end of August and summer is coming to an end. Well, perhaps not weatherwise; summer in Texas might well run into October, along with the hurricane season. But looking at the TV listings, I can see that we’ve fallen into the gap between the end of the summer shows and the return of the network regulars. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Last night I watched the series finale of Falling Skies, after five seasons of alien invasion mayhem. I’ve seen reviews on line, written by people who take TV shows far more seriously than I do, tearing it apart, but I was happy with it. Fine with me that all the members of the Mason family survived (even those who had died and come back to life, thanks to one of the alien allies). I was happy to see the show end on an optimistic note. I really don’t care how all the men found suits and ties to wear (after five years of pretty much wearing the same bedraggled jeans and jackets) or where the women got their hair done. They had defeated the invincible aliens (with perhaps a nod to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds solution) and that wrapped it up for me.

Friday night’s episode of Defiance was billed as the season finale, but the show must be on the bubble, and the production team gave us an episode which could just as well serve as the series finale, if the show isn’t picked up for a fourth season. By the end of the episode, Nolan (unquestionably the protagonist for the past three seasons) was piloting the Omec ship into the galactic depths rather than blow it up and destroy the thousands of beings on board in suspended animation, with Doc Yewll plugged into the ship’s computer. A few weeks later we see the people of Defiance, humans and all the various aliens alike, peacefully going about their business. Irisa is now the Lawkeeper, Amanda is recovering from her injuries, and Datak and Stahma Tarr, the ever-scheming aliens we love to hate, are together again. How they might carry on with a fourth season without Nolan and Yewll (or how they might bring them back), I don’t know, but I’ll watch if they do.

The SyFy channel had two new shows on the Friday night schedule this summer, Killjoys and Dark Matter, and both of those ended their first seasons with cliffhangers. Killjoys is about a trio of “reclamation agents,” working for an agency that retrieves anything, human or artifact, for a price, definitely the more space opera of the two. Dark Matter is a bit more serious and dark, with six people waking up on a ship with their memories wiped, dodging various dangers while attempting to recover their identities, aided by the rather endearing female android who runs the ship. I watched both without investing much in them; I’ll watch if they come back next year and forget them if they don’t. If it were up to me to pick one to return, it would be Killjoys.

Saturday evening I watched the “mid-season finale” of Hell On Wheels. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until next summer for the second half of the season (which I suspect has already been filmed, at least in part). Most of this summer’s seven episodes were set in Truckee, California, as Bohannon worked to drive the Central Pacific Railroad east through the Rocky Mountains. There we met the Chinese who built the railroad, including a boy named Fong who turned out to be a girl named Mei, and assorted other new characters, while Gunderson (the Swede) plotted to replace Brigham Young with one of Young’s sons. Back in Laramie, we caught up with Eva, Durant, and their associates. In Saturday night’s episode, “False Prohpets,” Bohannon joined Durant, Huntington, Brigham Young, and President Grant in Salt Lake City, arguing over the route of the railroad. By the end of the episode, they had set up the race to join the two railroads (north of the Great Salt Lake, much to Young’s disgust), Gunderson’s plot to control the Mormons had gone badly awry, and Bohannon and Gunderson were in their own race to reach Bohannon’s wife and son. Considering Hell On Wheels’ willingness to kill major characters and Bohannon’s disastrous record in the area of personal relationships, I’ll be worried about Naomi and little William until the show comes back next summer for its final seven episodes.

What did you watch this summer, and what are you looking forward to watching this fall?

Chet & Brigit: Dog Detectives

I don’t have a dog of my own these days, but I’ve been keeping up with the adventures of two favorite canine detectives, Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Diane Kelly’s Brigit.

Besides their work as investigators, Chet and Brigit have a few thing in common. Both are large dogs (one hundred pounds or so) of mixed heritage. Both survived stretches with thoroughly irresponsible early owners, did time in the pound, and were rescued as recruits for K9 service.

Chet washed out of his K9 course on the very last day. He’s not quite sure what happened, but he thinks a cat may have been involved. That failure was a stroke of luck in disguise, because it led to his adoption by Bernie Little, a private investigator and, in Chet’s opinion, the best human in the world.

Brigit, on the other hand, charged through K9 training like the alpha dog she is. She spent her first couple of years in the Forth Worth Police Department with an experienced male partner, but when he left the job, she was reassigned to a quick-tempered rookie officer, Megan Luz, who had recently tasered her male partner (The Big Dick) in a most sensitive location. Brigit thinks Megan is very green but trainable. Megan’s closet full of chewable shoes is a plus, as is her friendship with a fire department explosives expert and his bomb-sniffing dog, Blast, just the sort of beta male Brigit enjoys.

Chet is the narrator of Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mysteries, the latest of which (number eight) is Scents and Sensibility. The story starts with the mysterious appearance of an illegal saguaro cactus in Scents and Sensibilitythe neighbors’ front yard but quickly escalates to include murder and the missing ransom from a fifteen-year-old kidnapping. Chet’s best furry friend, Iggy, comes to visit and proves to be a less than satisfactory house guest, while Chet finds himself puzzling over a puppy named Shooter, whose scent and appearance are strangely familiar.

Here’s a little sample of Chet’s narrative style, picking up after he has lost track of Bernie’s conversation with a police detective in the parking lot of Donut Heaven: I looked up from what I was doing. Case closed? Had we even started yet? Cases at the Little Detective Agency almost always ended with me grabbing the perp by the pant leg. The only pants wearers in the picture at the moment were Bernie and Captain Stine. This can be a tricky job. I went back to the bear claw.

Brigit’s latest adventure, number three in Kelly’s K9 series, is Laying Down the Paw, in which Megan and Brigit survive a wild ride through a tornado, face down a band of looters, and search for a killer. Megan tells her story in first person, a boy named Dub tells his in third person, and Kelly Laying Down the Pawgives us a glimpse of Brigit’s reactions after each of Megan’s chapters.

Here’s Brigit, after meeting a pampered dachshund in the line of duty: She thanked her lucky stars she hadn’t been born a wiener dog. They were the laughingstocks of the canine world, what with their disproportionately long ears and stretched-out bodies and too-short legs. They looked as if they’d been assembled with spare parts. Yes, shepherds were a far superior breed. Stealthier, too. That’s how Brigit had gotten away with that poor little schmuck’s raccoon toy.

Megan took the stuffed raccoon away and returned it to the dachshund’s porch, but she also stopped at the pet store and bought Brigit a stuffed mallard, which Megan calls Duckie. Yeah, Brigit had Megan wrapped around her paw.

If you love dogs, humor, and mystery, you’ll love Chet and Bernie and Megan and Luz.

Changes in Book Buying

As I drift (slowly) toward independent publishing, I’ve been following several discussion loops and reading articles about the rapid changes in the publishing industry. I haven’t given as much thought to the changes in book selling in the last few years, although I did muse about the rapid decline in the number of local bookshops in my area (Where Have All the Bookstores Gone?)—over three years ago (January 28, 2012—goodness, I’ve been sounding off here for while now!)

The other day, though, I made a decision that brought home my own changing book buying habits. I have belonged to three of the Doubleday Book Club divisions for many years. When I joined the Mystery Guild and the Science Fiction Book Club in the early 1970s, I was living in New Iberia, Louisiana, and the nearest bookstore was in Lafayette, about twenty miles to the north. We didn’t have much money, and books were expensive. But the well-made hardbacks from the Doubleday mail order clubs were very reasonable, and I ordered a lot of them. (A good many are still with me.)

I kept right on ordering from them (eventually adding the Rhapsody club for romances) as we moved from Louisiana to Texas (where I had access to more bookstores, but not much more money), and as the book clubs moved from mail order to the Internet. One in a while the opt-out method would fail me, and I’d get a book or two I didn’t order, but that was rare.

Then, over the years, Amazon happened. Ebooks happened. Over the last year, the Doubleday clubs responded with changes. Now, instead of opting out on specific books, one opts out on “member credits,” automatic charges to one’s credit card (no more checks, no more mail orders), good for one book each, with free shipping on orders of two or more. The standard book price has also risen to $13.99 (how old am I? I remember the Doubleday Dollar Book Club, where I was introduced to the novels of Phyllis A. Whitney).

I soon got tired of opting out of those charges (and the idea of supporting their cash flow in advance of ordering books annoyed me). Maybe it was time to abandon my old friends. I looked at my Quicken file and discovered it has been years since I ordered regularly from any of the clubs. Yes, time to cut that cord.

I belong to Amazon Prime, so I never think about shipping charges, and I’ve gotten used to pre-ordering books and having them show up in my mail box on release day (would that I had time to read them that quickly). Amazon and Goodreads are very clever about letting me know when an author I enjoy has a new book out. I buy a lot of ebooks, too, for my Kindle (Doubleday has added ebooks recently, but only through some Android app). And maybe my tastes have changed, and my favorite authors just aren’t showing up in the clubs these days.

So last week I emailed my membership cancellation to Doubleday. Amazon meets my needs, for the most part. And there’s the Book Depository for British editions, and Alibris for out-of-print books (got one from them just last week). But I still felt a bit of a twinge at parting ways with such old friends.

Meanwhile, I still have all those recently culled books sitting in my storage room (it will be a library again some day, I swear, just as soon as I get all those boxes out of there), waiting for a trip to Half Price Books, and I still hit the local Barnes & Noble once a month or so.

Where are you buying books these days?

books

Writer Wednesday: Three Searches

Our Writer Wednesday assignment this month is “Show us your last three searches.” I’m afraid if I WW Augusttook that literally, you’d be reading about searches for TV show cast lists (What is that actor’s name? Where have I seen her before?) or lactose intolerance in cats. After finishing the first draft of my latest work-in-progress, I took a little break, so I haven’t been researching for a writing project, either, or searching for anything that might draw the attention of law enforcement. (If Facebook knows I’ve been shopping on line for a new bedspread, heaven only knows what the government knows about me.)

The little “Get Windows 10” icon continues to hover on my computer, and recently the HP help system chimed in, offering to help me install the new operating system. So I’ve searched various aspects of Windows 10. Results: I haven’t made the jump yet. My computer is about five and a half years old, probably strong enough to handle the new system, but I’m happy enough with Windows 7 for now. There was a time when I jumped on new releases the moment they were available, but these days I’m on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” team.

Yesterday my dentist, who has known me for more than thirty years, asked me to recommend authors a fan of Christine Feehan might like. No, he’s not a fan of dark paranormal romance himself, but his wife, whose health problems keep her at home, is, and being as good a husband as he is a dentist, he shops for her. Dr. B. was installing a new crown in my mouth at the time, so I was neither quick thinking nor articulate. But when I got home I searched “if you like Christine Feehan, you might like . . .” Results: a list of eight or ten names I sent to his Facebook page.

I’ve been doing some proofreading lately, combing through the files of some twenty-five year old Regency romances which have been scanned in preparation for a digital rebirth. I’m good with spelling and punctuation, not so much with Regency slang. Fortunately I have copies of the original books, tiny of print and a bit yellowed, to check against. I’ve found a few typos the original proofreader missed, so when I hit the word nuncheon and found it in the paperback as well, I thought I might have found another. But, hey, those Regency folks spoke their own language, so I searched. Results: yes, my dears, nuncheon is a word, meaning (according to Meriam Webster on line) “a light midmorning or midafternoon snack consisting typically of bread, cheese, and beer.” I have a feeling the characters in the story were not guzzling beer, but they were definitely enjoying their nuncheon.

For more stories of Internet searches, visit the other Writer Wednesday bloggers: Historical romance writers –    Wendy LaCapra  |  Sweet and Inspirational writers –    Kristen Ethridge  |  Novels with Romantic Elements –  Jean Willett  –  Natalie Meg Evans  |  Romantic Suspense –  Carol Post  –  Sharon Wray  |  Paranormal writers  –  Pamela Kopfler  |  Contemporary romance writers –    Kat Cantrell   –  Priscilla Kissinger 

And don’t miss this month’s new release from Kristin Ethridge: The Doctor’s Unexpected Family.

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Culls and Keepers

Last weekend I did a fairly ruthless culling of the bookshelves in my bedroom and living room. Romance, mystery, and science fiction, mostly. I’m a bookaholic and always have been. Always will be, I’m sure. But from time to time I have to deal with reality, and overflowing shelves.

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while, but I think the tipping point came when I wandered into the local Half-Price Books looking for something they didn’t have. Came out with three books anyway, two historical romances and Steve Berry’s latest thriller. I’ve downloaded a few books to my Kindle lately, too. And then there’s Amazon Prime, encouraging me to preorder books, pay no shipping, and find them in my mailbox on Tuesday. Yep, it’s been nearly every Tuesday lately, and I’ve got two more coming in August.

So I spent a good chunk of last Saturday and Sunday going through books, pulling out ones I have enjoyed but will probably never read again, and books I really thought I’d read, but haven’t. Let’s face it, there has to be a limit to how long a book sits on the To Be Read shelf. Sooner or later you have to admit that it’s just not gonna happen. When you realize you’ve fallen six books behind on a series you once read eagerly, it may be time to put those books back in circulation.

I didn’t touch the shelves of non-fiction and research books. Occasionally I have to hit those, too, but perhaps not as often. I look things up. I sort of, vaguely, know what’s there. Last week I went to a meeting of the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter. The speaker mentioned two books in her talk on gender differences in writing (referring to characters, not writers, but the audience that night was all women): You Just Don’t Undertand, by Deborah Tannen, and Fiction Is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. I’ve read those, I said to myself on the way home, but not recently. Searching the non-fiction shelves (in the hall and the unused office), I found Tannen’s book (must reread) but not Peck’s. Not yet anyway, although I did turn up two copies (two different editions on two different shelves) of Dwight Swain’s Creating Characters.

Don’t worry: I still have a lifetime supply of books on my shelves (and my Kindle) and no intention of boycotting the booksellers in the future. (Probably just as well I didn’t make it to the RWA National Conference this week—all those free books are impossible to resist.)

Here’s one that’s earned a place on my keeper shelf: Sally Kilpatrick’s debut novel, The Happy Hour The Happy Hour ChoirChoir, is a pleasure to read, treating some serious subjects with humor, well-developed characters, and a warm small town setting. Beulah Land is content playing piano at a honky tonk, with a jazzed-up version of her namesake hymn as her signature piece, until she’s maneuvered into playing piano for County Line Methodist Church—and its attractive but stubborn new minister. This is a wonderful story about what family really means—you may not be able to pick your relatives, but if you’re lucky you can build a family from scratch. Beulah has a lot to deal with in her estrangement from her family, grief for her past, the deteriorating health of a dear friend, and an unexpected bond with a new friend, but she handles it all realistically, touching the reader’s heart as she does. I really loved this book.

Writer Wednesday: Natural Disasters

I have lived in hurricane country since I was ten years old, and have sat, slept, and occasionally cowered through more hurricanes and tropical storms than I can remember. The prompt for this month’s Writer Wednesday post sent me to Wikipedia, where I picked through several lists of storms (in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana) to find the ones I remember most.

WW JulyAs with many things in life, “firsts” have a special place. My first hurricane was Donna, which hit southern Florida on September 10, 1960, my birthday. (My birthday is often cited as the peak of the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, although I celebrated this one in the suburbs of Miami.) My mother, used to life in Wisconsin, was terrified. My brother, who was seven, slept through it. My dad and I thought it was an adventure. When the storm passed, and the electricity did not return (I don’t remember how long it was out), my dad made a valiant attempt to bake me a birthday cake on his charcoal grill. It didn’t look much like a cake, but served with melted ice cream, it tasted just fine.

In the summer of 1969, when I was attempting to move from Tallahassee, where I had just graduated from Florida State, to New Orleans, where I would attend grad school at Tulane in the fall, the central Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Camille, a nasty killer that closed the coast highway for weeks, forcing us to travel inland and hope we could find gas stations with electricity often enough to make it across Mississippi. The coast road was open again in the fall, and I remember seeing huge commercial ships on the beach.

In 1974, Jack and I sat out Hurricane Carmen in our house outside New Iberia, Louisiana. Although Carmen was a serious storm along some of its path, it didn’t hit us too hard, although it made our tin roof rattle something fierce. On the other hand, I remember looking out the window and watching a cat, oblivious of the weather, wander across our lawn. Somewhere around that time, I had my closest encounter with a tornado, as we ducked behind the refrigerators in a New Iberia appliance store while a twister roared down the street out front.

We moved to Seabrook, southeast of Houston between the Space Center and Galveston Bay, in 1976. In 1979, Tropical Storm Claudette dropped 42 inches of rain on a nearby weather station and overflowed an open garbage can in my yard. No flooding in the house, but we were on an island for a day or two. Claudette was followed by Hurricane Alicia in 1983—lots of damaged vegetation, which all grew back in a couple of years, and a power outage that lasted a week or so—and Hurricane Jerry in 1989, a smallish, late season storm that went right over our house, the only time I’ve experienced the Eye of the Storm.

Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, scored a catastrophic hit on the Florida Peninsula, and scared Jack so badly he insisted we evacuate inland. The storm went to Louisiana, but we did have a nice visit with Jack’s uncle in Austin. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was the storm that refused to go away, circling around and causing severe flooding and a number of deaths in Houston, but the worst of it missed us and we watched it on TV. That was the last storm I shared with Jack, who died the next year.

By the time Hurricane Rita reared her head in 2005, only a few weeks after Katrina devastated New Orleans, local authorities had become a lot more emphatic on the subject of evacuation, and I had no desire to stay home, so I packed up my cat and dog and we went to Houston to stay with my friend Jo Anne, the day before evacuation was made mandatory for my zip code. That was a good move, because the storm caused such panic that people who tried to flee west were stuck on the highways for hours, sometimes twenty or more, while the storm went east to the Beaumont area, and Houston seemed deserted—and perfectly safe.

In 2008 we had a visit from Ike, a massively destructive storm. This time people not in the flood prone areas were urged to stay home. My cat and I went to Jo Anne’s, where I stayed until my neighbor called to say she was home and the power was back on—twelve days later. My yard took another beating, but my house was okay.

Since then the hurricane seasons have been quiet here. Last month Tropical Storm Bill paid the area a visit, bringing more rain than we needed but not much damage. If Bill is our storm for this year, we’ll be happy.

Every storm has its own set of stories, but I still have fond memories of that first adventure in 1960, and my lop-sided, crispy-edged birthday cake served with melted ice cream by candlelight. Thanks, Dad!

For tales of more natural disasters, check out the Wednesday Writers in the sidebar to your right. Two of our merry crew have new releases this month: Carol Post’s Hidden Identity, a suspenseful tale of blackmail and murder is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Natalie Meg Evans’ The Milliner’s Secret is available for pre-order at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Cheryl Bolen’s Countess by Coincidence

As its title would suggest, Cheryl Bolen’s latest Regency romance opens with wild coincidences and foolish behavior, all of which combine to throw the hero and heroine of Countess By Coincidence into that favorite entertaining (for the reader!) predicament, the Marriage of Convenience.

Countess By CoincidenceMargaret Ponsby, sister of the Duke of Aldridge (the hero of Bolen’s Duchess by Mistake) has harbored a girlish crush on John Beauclerc, the Earl of Finchley, for years, although she has never actually spoken to him. His grandmother is her neighbor, and she has watched him coming and going from her window. When she stops at a local church one morning and finds herself swept to the altar by the earl, she assumes she’s been recruited to act as bride in a proxy wedding.

Finch, as the earl is known to his friends, is a good-hearted rake who has concocted a ridiculous scheme to marry a stranger and pay her to go away, thus proving to his wealthy grandmother that he has matured enough to handle the money she has been too cautious to settle on him. (Finch’s grandmother, mind you, is far too intelligent to fall for this nonsense.)

Determined to make the best of her unexpected lot, Margaret persuades Finch to let her move in with him and take up her formal position as his countess (much to the bewilderment of her family) while he continues to lead a life of freedom with his trio of equally rakish friends. Margaret would love to have a proper marriage and family with Finch, but she tries to convince herself that she’ll settle for a home of her own and friendship with this oddly endearing (and very handsome) man.

Finch, meanwhile, has absolutely no use for a wife or marriage, or so he tells himself and his friends—over and over again. But Maggie would be such a perfect wife. If he wanted one. Which of course he doesn’t. Does he?

Countess By Coincidence is a sweet, heartwarming story of two people who are perfect for one another, if only they can see past the nature of their accidental relationship. The third installment in Bolen’s House of Haverstock series (which began with Lady By Chance) also continues the story of the home for war widows and orphans established by Margaret’s sister-in-law Elizabeth and provides happy endings for several supporting characters. If you love traditional Regency romance, you will certainly enjoy this series.

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