Saturday, July 30, 2016

Pecking Away at the Neverending To-Be-Read Pile

I calculated awhile back that if I read two books a day, every day for the rest of my life, I'd have to live to be about 150 years old before I get to the bottom of my waiting-to-be-read pile.

Of course, it isn't really a "pile" - it's boxes and shelves filled with books waiting to be read. I've made some progress recently. I have more reading time now that my grandkids are both going to day care in the morning. At some point I'll use this free time for writing instead of reading, but this summer I'm firmly entrenched in reading mode.

Two things about my "to-be-read" pile, besides the fact that it's not a pile. It's not static, since I'm always adding new and used books to it. And I don't always reach for a book I haven't read. I'm a big fan of re-reading old favorites.

Several years ago I started logging all the books I'd been reading on the Barnes & Noble website. Later, I started building a more comprehensive list on Shelfari. Lately, I haven't been updating my books read at all, except in a notebook - an actual paper notebook. But the habit of keeping track of my reading habits online is strong, so I'm transferring the old-school list here.

It's not in alphabetical or even strictly chronological order, and I know I've left out a few (I wrote some down and can't find the list.). But still...

What I've read so far this spring and summer:


THE HATING GAME by Sally Thorne

TEXTBOOK by Amy Krouse Rosenthal



IMPOSSIBLE by Nancy Werlin

THE FAIRY GODMOTHER by Mercedes Lackey


READY TO ROLL by Suzanne Brockmann


FIRST CULPRIT Mystery Anthology

MISSING, PRESUMED by Susie Steiner



THE BODY IN THE WARDROBE by Katherine Hall Page


MALICE DOMESTIC 9 Edited by Joan Hess

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch

FAKE by Twist Phelan


DON'T GO HOME by Carolyn Hart


TEAR DOWN AND DIE by Joanna Campbell Slan

GET A CLUE by Jill Shalvis


DINERS, DIVES & DEAD ENDS by Terri L. Austin

THE WICKED DUKE by Madeline Hunter

ONCE A KNIGHT by Christina Dodd

CAROLINA DREAMING by Virginia Kantra

DON'T TEMPT ME by Loretta Chase



THE OBSESSION by Nora Roberts

THE LIAR by Nora Roberts

THE GAME OF KINGS by Dorothy Dunnett

PLOTS & ERRORS by Jill McGown

CREATING CLARK by Jason T. Gaffney and Ed Gaffney

KNOT GUILTY by Betty Hechtman

GONE WITH THE WOOL by Betty Hechtman

SEAMS LIKE MURDER by Betty Hechtman

My American Duchess - Eloisa James

Not Quite Perfect - Annie Lyons

Bride Without a Groom - Amy Lynch

Driven by Fire - Anne Stuart

Murder at the Observatory by Christina Squire 

Saints of the Lost and Found by T.M. Causey (Toni McGee Causey)

To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey

Feel the Burn by G.A. Aiken

The Ex by Alafair Burke

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

PHRYNE FISHER series by Kerry Greenwood














Gideon's Day 

Gideon's Week 

Gideon's Night 

Gideon's Month 

Gideon's Staff 

Gideon's Risk 

Gideon's Fire 

Gideon's March 

Gideon's Ride 

Gideon's Vote 

Gideon's Lot 

Gideon's Badge 

Gideon's Wrath
Gideon's River 

Gideon's Power 

Gideon's Sport 

Gideon's Art 

Gideon's Men 

Gideon's Press 

Gideon's Fog 

Gideon's Drive 

GIDEON'S FORCE by William Vivian Butler writing as J.J. Marric












Thursday, July 21, 2016

Summertime, and the binge-ing is easy...

I Googled the word binge and this was the top result:

"a short period devoted to indulging in an activity to excess, especially drinking alcohol or eating.

"he went on a binge and was in no shape to drive"

synonyms:drinking bout, debauch

In my lexicon, binge-ing almost always refers to a binge of reading. I read all the time, but there's something especially enjoyable and relaxing about reading in summer. I remember when I was a teenager, sprawling in the grass in our background, soaking up the heat as I devoured book after book. 

As I've gotten older, bingeing has come to mean focusing on the entire booklist of an author, starting at book one and not stopping until I've read them all. This has always been my preferred way of reading. The luxury of reading ALL the books is a thrill that never grows old. When I was young and first fell in love with Nancy Drew, Bess, George, Ned Nickerson, Hannah Gruen et al, I got through every edition in our small library within a few months. I occasionally received books as gifts, and nearly every time I visited my Aunt Em she gave me a Nancy Drew book for my own personal collection. That was long before the internet, so I was never really sure how many books I hadn't read yet. I don't think I ever did read them all.

As a teenager, I discovered Agatha Christie. I lovely woman who hired me to babysit for her boys noticed that I was reading a paperback Christie when she came home one night. She hauled out a cardboard box filled with vintage Christie paperbacks and gave it to me as a gift. I still consider that one of the best gifts I have ever received. I read them all, and gradually added the newer books as well as British editions. I've read them all and re-read them all more times than I can count. Now when I have a Christie binge, I'll narrow it down. Last year I did a binge read of all the Miss Marple books. One of these days I'll reread all the Poirots.

It's always been my habit to seek out all the books by any author I enjoy. The first authors I binge-read, in addition to Carolyn Keene and Agatha Christie, were Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, Susan Howatch, Anya Seton, Mary Stewart, Helen MacInnes, Evelyn Anthony, Mignon G. Eberhart, Velda Johnston, Paul Gallico, Robert Ludlum, Dick Francis, G.K. Chesterton, John Dickson Carr, Patricia Wentworth, Ngaio Marsh, J.J. Marric - and so on and so on. In more recent years I've added the books by Deborah Crombie, Charles Todd, Louise Penney, Alan Bradley, Peter Robinson, Carolyn Hart, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Brad Parks, the Inspector Felse books by Ellis Peters, 

It's now become a sort of summer tradition for me to binge read a particular author. Some time back I added romance authors to the mix. I've read every book Nora Roberts has ever written, and nearly everything by Danielle Steel. Add Suzanne Brockmann, Jennifer Crusie, Lori Foster, Julie James, Anna Campbell, Eloisa James, Shana Abe, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra, Kristan Higgins, Linda Howard, Charlotte Lamb, Jill Shalvis, Janet Dailey, Sarah Addison Allen, Sophie Kinsella, J.R. Ward, Thea Harrison, Loretta Chase, Monica Burns, Anne Stuart, Lisa Kleypas, Julie Ann Long - honestly, I can't even scratch the surface here!

Last year I sought out all the Last Detective books featuring Dangerous Davies by Leslie Thomas and read them from start to finish. This year I added the Grantchester mysteries and I reread all of my beloved Mary Stewart novels, up to the Arthurian series (which I reread only a year or two ago). 

My mom died in the spring of this year, and I brought home several boxes of her mystery books. One box was filled with the Gideon of the Yard paperbacks by J.J. Marric. I'd read them all but it had been probably 40 years or so, and I'm not sure I'd ever read them all. So I sorted my mom's books and read them in chronological order. She was missing two, and I found used copies of those. That was binge number two, following Mary Stewart.

Now I'm reading Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mysteries from book one onwards. I'd read one or two of them years ago, but I'm enjoying following the series from its inception. I'm only on book 4 and there are, I think, 21 in the series. I'll have to scour used book sales to fill in the blanks in my collection. 

This week my annual, highly predictable summer cold struck, and I spent several days dosing myself with cold medicine, drinking lemon tea with ginger and honey and burrowing under the quilt with a stack of mysteries. I recommend this as a cold cure - it's been less than a week, and my cold is nearly gone. 

Binge reading is a luxury - a guilty pleasure. Now that I've nearly shaken off the cold, it will be hard to justify another binge. But it's supposed to get up to 100 degrees tomorrow. And, really, when it's that hot, there's not much better than a cold drink, a lime popsicle and a good book. 

Enjoy your summer - and happy reading!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Mystery in the Windy City - Historical (Non-Fiction - Mostly)

Mention historical crime in Chicago and most people will think of Al Capone, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Eliot Ness and the Untouchables, More recent history brings us to serial killers Richard Speck and John Wayne Gacy, or the all-too-common gangland killings that keep today's death tolls high.

And then there is the notorious murderer H.H. Holmes, who terrorized women at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair - the Columbian Exposition, killing and disposing of his victims at his "terror castle."
Holmes had faded into obscurity until Erik Larson's brilliant book, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY became a best seller.  (Images and blurbs from Barnes & Noble's

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

To find outmore about this book, go to

An earlier book, Robert Bloch's AMERICAN GOTHIC, also focused on Holmes with his fictional murderer, G. Gordon Gregg::

The Castle: It looms over the streets of modern Chicago. Its stone walls conceal a maze of secret passageways and hidden rooms, private laboratories and concealed trapdoors.

The Castle is home to G. Gordon Gregg, physician- murderer. His victims are young, beautiful, wealthy women. His methods are swift, scientific, and painless, his crime perfect. Until a newspaper reporter becomes suspicious.

Investigating Dr. Dr. Gregg, Crystal finds herself falling in love with the charismatic surgeon, despite the danger. It is that love that seals her doom- for what G. Gordon Gregg loves, he kills.

Chicago's history is pretty riotous, and includes enough crime to fill a library. Here are some other books that dig into Chicago's criminal history and its mysteries.


Lurking below the Loop, behind the industry-driven energy of Chicago, lies the mysterious criminal underworld of the South Side. Recounting criminal exploits of legends like Alphonse Capone, as well as lesser-known stories like the Car Barn Bandies, Troy Taylor captures the intricacies of the most infamous stories of Chicago's South Side. From the gruesome murders committed by the unassuming H.H. Holmes to the mysterious death of Marshall Field Jr., join Taylor as he revisits the South Side's prosperous middle-class days and vividly depicts the strange and horrific crimes that have cast new light on the character of these too often overlooked neighborhoods.


Blazing from the West Side, the Great Chicago Fire left nothing but ashy remnants of the developing city leveling its landscape but certainly not its spirit. While the West Side was home to the infamous O'Leary Barn, it was also where the news of some of the city's most gruesome and horrific crime reverberated throughout the state and across the country. Read about the bloody end of Robert 'the Terrible' Toughy, who undoubtedly lived up to his name, met an ill-deserved fate. Troy Taylor also delves into the life of John Wayne Gacy the depraved man masked by the clown costume and yet again proves to be a master storyteller and historian of Chicago's criminal underworld.


From the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to Lincoln Park’s “Lipstick Killer,” Troy Taylor recounts many of the horrific crimes perpetrated in Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods.

This next book segues into my next post, fictional crime in Chicago. I know this post is far from comprehensive, so please add any books I've missed in the comment section below.


Around the world, the name 'Chicago' conjures up images of the Roaring Twenties, speakeasies, cops and robbers, and 'Scarface' Al Capone. In Mystery Reader's Walking Guide: Chicago author Alzina Stone Dale brings all of this--and more--to life in 10 walking tours of Chicago's neighborhoods, as described in the works of Sara Paretsky, Craig Rice, and more than 70 other mystery writers.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fiction in the Windy City - Part 1, Romance

Once - in the almost 20 years I lived in Cincinnati - exactly one time I can recall coming across a book set in Clermont County, Ohio, where I lived. (I think it was Susan Donovan's PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION - it's buried somewhere on my many keeper shelves.)

Since I moved to Chicago, it's a different story. I already knew of many books set in Chicago, and in the two and a half years I've lived in the city, I've discovered a lot more. For those who love the Windy City - particularly those who also like to read history, mystery, suspense and romance - you might want to give these a shot! Since there are so many good books to choose from, I'm splitting them up by genre.

(The book blurbs and book cover images are from Barnes & Noble at

Susan Donovan's KNOCK ME OFF MY FEET:

Autumn Adams never planned to follow in her mother's footsteps as Chicago's answer to Martha Stewart--she can't cook, doesn't clean, and would rather play soccer than discuss the joys of white bathtub grout. Then some lunatic starts sending her threats in the mail and Audie finds herself under the protection of simmering, sexy Detective Stacey Quinn, a man determined to examine her every nook, cranny, and ex-boyfriend in his effort to find the stalker. A disarming combination of macho cop and sweet charmer, Quinn is hard to resist. But with Audie's bad luck at finding and holding on to Mr. Right, she think it's best to keep her distance...
Quinn soon discovers that the real Audie is an alluring blend of fantasy babe and tender-hearted female all wrapped up in what he can only hope is leopard-print underwear. She's not what he's always pictured for himself, but could she be everything he'll ever need?
Digging through Audie's many layers could turn out to be the hottest, craziest, sexiest bit of detective work Quinn has ever attempted...if it doesn't kill him first.

(Elizabeth Hoyt writing as Julia Harper)
Dante Torelli is an undercover FBI agent assigned to protect a mob informant and his family. But when the informant's hiding place is blown, a baby girl is snatched by a ruthless hitman. Now, Dante must save the toddler, uncover the traitor in his department, evade various bad guys, and deal with the toddler's sexy aunt, all before the biggest mob trial in Chicago history, set to begin in just three days.

When Zoe Adler's stepsister went into the witness protection program because of her sleazeball boyfriend, she wasn't supposed to tell anyone. Except the two sisters have always been close, and Zoe has been babysitting her niece, Pete, since her birth. What harm could it be to secretly get Zoe an apartment in the same building where the FBI is keeping the family under protection? So when someone inside the FBI turns and a hitman snatches Pete, Zoe is right there. During the shootout, she jumps into a sexy, uptight FBI agent's car and hangs on as he pursues the hitman. No matter what it takes, Zoe is going to bring her niece back.

There are several series set in Chicago - you don't want to miss any of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars books, or Julie James' FBI mysteries, Susan Wiggs' Great Chicago Fire trilogy and Patricia Rosemoor's Chicago Heat books. Several of Beth Kery's sizzlers are set in Chicago, too. 

Julie James' SOMETHING ABOUT YOU (FBI/US Atty Series #1):
Of all the hotel rooms rented by all the adulterous politicians in Chicago, female Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde had to choose the one next to 1308, where some hot-and-heavy lovemaking ends in bloodshed. And of all the FBI agents in Illinois, it had to be Special Agent Jack Pallas who gets assigned to this high-profile homicide. The same Jack Pallas who still blames Cameron for a botched crackdown three years ago—and nearly ruining his career…
Work with Cameron Lynde? Are they kidding? Maybe, Jack thinks, this is some kind of welcome-back prank after his stint away from Chicago. But it’s no joke: the pair is going to have to put their rocky past behind them and focus on the case at hand. That is, if they can cut back on the razor-sharp jibes—and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension…

Julie James' ABOUT THAT NIGHT (FBI/US Atty Series #3):

Though Rylann Pierce tried to fight the sparks she felt for billionaire heir Kyle Rhodes the night they met, their sizzling chemistry was undeniable. But after being stood up on their first date, Rylann never expected to see him again. So when she finds herself face to face with Kyle in a courthouse nine years later, she’s stunned. More troubling to the beautiful Assistant U.S. Attorney is that she’s still wildly attracted to him.
Just released from prison, Kyle Rhodes isn’t thrilled to be the star witness in a high-profile criminal case—but when Rylann comes knocking at his door, he finds she may be the one lawyer he can’t say no to. Still as gorgeous and sharp-tongued as ever, she lays down the law: she doesn’t mix business with pleasure. But Kyle won’t give up on something he wants—and what he wants is the one woman he’s never forgotten. . .

Desire becomes obsession in an electrifying novel of scandalous secrets by the New York Timesbestselling author of Because You Are Mine and When I’m with You
It’s been thirteen years since Laura suddenly left Chicago Special Agent Shane Dominic and he’s never forgotten her—or stopped wondering why she left. Until the murder of a criminal mastermind draws Shane back into Laura’s shadow. He knows this is his last chance to get to the truth about the woman he loves—and he’ll get it any way he can.
Laura’s feelings may still run deep, but she’ll never tell her secrets—even when Shane takes her as his captive to a secluded cabin, and subjects her to his every torturously erotic whim. As her defenses melt away she has no choice but to trust him with the truth —one that will expose them both to a danger closing in like wild fire.

Beth Kery's WHEN i'M WITH YOU (BECAUSE YOU ARE MINE series #2):

New York Timesbestselling author Beth Kery’s blistering new novel of a man and a woman bound by the scandalous secrets of the past—and by the sexual hunger that still fuels their uncontrollable desires…

Out-of-control party girl and wealthy socialite Elise Martin has come to Chicago to prove to herself and the rest of the world that her life is truly worthwhile. But she never dreamed she’d find herself at the erotic mercy of the dynamic and wealthy Lucien Lenault, her girlhood crush, an irresistible enigma who renders women powerless and vulnerable...not to mention wholly insatiable.

But Elise isn’t just any woman. She’s used to playing with fire, and for her, discovering Lucien’s secrets is all part of the game. What brought Lucien to Chicago with a new name and a new identity? Who is Ian Noble, the provocative new stranger in Lucien’s shadow? And why has Lucien taken to following him in the night?

As the two of them get deeper into a dangerous sexual dance, Lucien can’t help but wonder if the exquisite firestorm that Elise has ignited could not only expose his secrets, but draw him dangerously close to the edge and leave both their futures in ashes.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips': IT HAD TO BE YOU (Chicago Stars series #1)

The Windy City isn't quite ready for Phoebe Somerville -- the outrageous, curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not prepared for the Stars' head coach Dan Celebow, a sexist jock taskmaster with a one-track mind. Celebow is everything Phoebe abhors. And the sexy new boss is everything Dan despises -- a meddling bimbo who doesn't know a pigskin from a pitcher's mound.
So why is he drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does the coach's good ol' boy charm leave cosmopolitan Phoebe feeling awkward, tongue-tied....and ready to fight?
The sexy, heartwarming, and hilarious "prequel" to Susan Elizabeth Phillip's This Heart of Mine -- her sensational bestsellng blockbuster -- It Had To Be You is an enchanting story of two stubborn people who believe in playing for keeps.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips' MATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Chicago Stars series #6):
You met star quarterback Kevin Tucker in This Heart of Mine. Now get ready to meet his shark of an agent, Heath Champion, and Annabelle Granger, the girl least likely to succeed.
Annabelle's endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement . . . even her hair's a mess! But that's going to change now that she's taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City's hottest bachelor as her client, and she'll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.
Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she's entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success -- the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?
Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she'd do anything to keep her star client happy . . . did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn't careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

Patricia Rosemoor's HOT ZONE (Chicago Heat): 
Helen Rhodes is ready to take on upstart Luke DeVries and his trendy new coffee place, Hot Zone. So what if Hot Zone offers steaming java, even steamier hot tubs and a sizzling massage or two for customers? Helen's Cybercafé is the coolest thing in this quirky Chicago neighborhood, and she plans to keep it that way!
Luke is intrigued—and very aroused—by his sizzling blond business rival. He just wants to make peace with Helen, make her cappuccinos every morning...and make love to her every night. Simple? Not exactly. Much more than java is heating up between these two people. It's very tasty...very addictive. And neither is calling it quits!

Patricia Rosemoor's IMPROPER CONDUCT (Chicago Heat):

Nick Novak is shocked when gorgeous Isabel Grayson suddenly reappears in his life. She'd broken his heart once years she suddenly needed his help? Nick's price is high--a no-holds-barred sexual fling with him. Maybe then he can get her out of his system.
Isabel is shocked by Nick's "proposal." But she desperately needs his assistance to find her runaway sister. By day she'll accompany him on the hot streets of Chicago. By night she'll make love to every way possible. Maybe then she can get him out of her system.
But nobody expected what happened next....
(Text from

Susan Wiggs' THE HOSTAGE (Great Chicago Fire series #1):

Deborah Sinclair is a beautiful, accomplished young heiress with a staggering dowry. But her fortune does her no good when, one horrible night, Chicago is engulfed in flames.
Tom Silver will walk through fire to avenge a terrible injustice—and he may have to. But when he makes Deborah a pawn in his revenge, the heat of the inferno fades next to the attraction he feels for his captive. And the further he takes her from everything she's known, the stronger their passion grows, until it threatens to consume them both.

Susan Wiggs' THE FIREBRAND (Great Chicago Fire series #3):
Chicago is burning
And Lucy Hathaway is running for her life. As she rushes past a fine hotel engulfed in flames, a wrapped bundle tumbles from a window into her arms. Seconds later the building crumbles—and Lucy is astonished to discover the swaddled blanket contains a baby.
Five years later Lucy walks into Rand Higgins's bank and knows: the orphan she rescued that day actually belongs to this ruthless financier. Now, to keep the child she's come to love, she'll have to give up her hard-won freedom and become his wife. But giving Rand her heart? That, she could never have expected…

I'm sure there are lots of romances set in Chicago that I've neglected to mention - please add any I've missed in the comment field below. I'll be back soon with blogs on Chicago mysteries and historical books, fiction and non-fiction.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seasonal Affective Disorder - it's a Killer!

I'm not a fan of winter. It depresses me to see the sun go down in the afternoon, to see endless white and gray where green and colors used to be. No matter how many layers I wear, I'm always cold - or within memory of cold. I can stand in front of a hot radiator, soaking up the heat, but the sound of the wind whistling outside will still make me shiver. I think I'm part bear, primed to hibernate through the long winter and wake up when the bulbs start to bloom.

Winter finds me watching more TV than usual (mystery shows, of course), but in winter I always read a lot, too. Even when I'm tired, I'll stay up into the wee hours to finish a book.

I'm not a great one for self-analysis, but I've come to realize I respond to winter in specific ways.

1) When it's cold outside, I start compulsively solving Sudokos (sometimes giving myself a headstart by filling in a few blanks with the help of the solved puzzles at the end of the book. It's not a competition, I remind myself.) And lately I've started doing the USA Today crossword puzzles online, too. Why am I drawn to puzzles in winter? It's a mystery.

2) And speaking of mysteries, they are my go-to reads in winter months. I read pretty much anything, but my favorites are mysteries and romance. While conscientiously updating my Shelfari shelf, I noticed that I've been reading a lot more mysteries lately, with romance slipping behind. Maybe it's because all my favorite romance authors have spring releases - but that's not the case.  It's a puzzle.

So why do solving puzzles, playing number games and pretending to be a literary Miss Marple help me survive the cold and snow? Why am I drawn by murder and mayhem instead of cute little snowmen?

I haven't figured that out yet. Do any of you change your reading habits season by season?

I'm naturally more of a Pollyana than a Scrooge, but winter definitely makes me whine and winge. If you grump through winter the way I do, what helps you while away the days until the warm weather returns?

The end of February is usually a time of celebration for me - I am happy to see the sun sticking around a little longer each day, but right now I have no confidence March will be much warmer than it is now.

In the meantime, I have more mysteries in my waiting-to-be-read pile. At this rate, I might whittle that pile down to a reasonable size before the tulips bloom.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

"One is silver and the other's gold..."

I was never in Girl Scouts, but for a short period of time I belonged to a Brownie troop. I think it was while I was a Brownie that I learned this ditty:

"Make new friends,
but kee-eeep the old.
One is silver
and the other's gold."

At least, that's how I remember the words - not sure how reliable my memory is on song lyrics learned fifty-odd years ago.

I bring this up because I recently realized I have a silver-and-gold relationship with books and authors. I'm not sure how it's intended in the song, but I've always taken the lyrics to mean that old friends are precious gold, and new friends are silver.

By that token, my golden oldies include Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Ngaio Marsh, Doris Miles Disney, Patricia Wentworth, Paul Gallico, Dorothy Eden, Josephine Tey, Martha Grimes, Peter Robinson, P.D. James, Dick Francis, Ian Rankin, Evelyn Anthony, Ray Bradbury and James Thurber. My addiction to the books by many of these authors goes back nearly half a century.

I'm going to ignore the connection between 25 years and silver anniversaries. My "silver" authors include many I've been reading since their first books came out (whenever that was). Some of these authors I discovered within the last decade or so, and since then I've been devouring their backlists.

This list includes Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz, Wendy Corsi Staub, Rhys Bowen, Alan Bradley, Louise Penny, Lisa Unger, Brenda Novak, Brad Parks, Mary Kennedy, Duffy Brown, Lori Foster, Shannon McKenna, Tara Janzen, Kristan Higgins, J.R. Ward, Nalini Singh, Sarah Addison Allen, Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, Lani Diane Rich, Deborah Crombie, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Marian Keyes, Maeve Binchy, Lisa Gardner, Shana Abe, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Deanna Raybourn, Harlan Coben, Sara Paretsky, Jeff Abbott, Marie Force, Melissa Nathan, Jean Harrington, Kresley Cole, Patricia McLinn, Nancy Atherton, Marie Ferrarella, Jane Graves...

Partial Bookcase Overflow

Well, dang. I've barely scratched the surface. I could fill a page with cozy mystery authors alone, another page with British mystery authors

Maybe if I broke it down genre by genre? Or by sub-genre?

And this doesn't even take into consideration authors I've recently become addicted to, like John Verdon, Susanna Kearsley, Terri Osburn, Kelsey Browning & Nancy Naigle,

Apologies to all of you I've left out - I haven't even attempted to list historical romances. I only started reading them a few years ago, but I could fill a blog post with all my favorites. As to my favorite romances, my favorite mysteries? How many headings are there in the Encyclopedia Britannica? That's about how many authors I'd need to list.

Yes, I'm a bookaholic. No, I'll never get through all the books in my waiting-to-be-read piles.

On the other hand, if you're looking for some new books or authors to check out, I would LOVE to share some suggestions. I don't read a lot of inspirational romances, and I don't read a lot of Westerns. I am not currently reading a lot of Chick Lit but I have read plenty over the years. Same goes for Young Adult novels.

Who are your old favorites? What authors have you recently become hooked on?

Let's talk books.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Book Club Boogie

I don't deny it - when it comes to books, I'm greedy. I want to OWN books. I want them on shelves in my house where I can re-read old favorites whenever the mood strikes. I trace this back to my childhood, when I received books as birthday gifts, and treasured the books my family owned. 

I got A.A. Milne's NOW WE ARE SIX for my sixth birthday, along with a penny charm bracelet and days-of-the-week undies. (I have a very random memory!) I've always had a special fondness for that book, especially King John's Christmas: "But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all, Bring me a big, red India-rubber ball!"

I'm not sure how old I was when I got THE LITTLE SISTER DOLL by Laura Bannon. It was published in 1955, so if I got it the year it came out I was three years old. I still have my copy - well-loved, but a little worse for wear.

I don't have the Weekly Reader/Scholastic edition of the first mystery I remember reading, but I bought a used copy for my personal library. It started me on a lifetime of mysteries, so I owe quite a bit to this book.

I discovered Nancy Drew books shortly after reading THE SECRET OF THE OLD POST BOX. I read most of them at the Elk Grove Village library, which was at that time in a model house on (I think) Evergreen Street, behind the Ben Franklin store. My wonderful aunt Emily gave me a couple of Nancy Drew books in this type of edition - I thought they were AWESOME.

Right about now you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with book clubs. Consider the beginning of this post a sort of prologue. (Feel free to sneer - it's either that or backstory; I can't win.)

By the time I was in high school, I was well and truly addicted to books. Even though I went to the library a lot, I still wanted - craved - books of my own. But books were expensive and money was scarce. Book clubs were a way to get books at a discount. (More on that later.)

The first book club I belonged to was Weekly Reader. My kids got their Scholastic books at school book fairs, but I seem to remember getting mine in the mail. Somewhere around here, I still have A DOG ON BARKHAM STREET, and that's also where I got THE SECRET OF THE OLD POST BOX. I'm not sure, but I think my copy of Scott O'Dell's ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS - the first book to make me cry - might have also come from a Scholastic book club.

My grandparents gave me (not just me, but me and my brothers and sisters) a mail-order membership to SLOTTIE TOY books. These were traditional (and sometimes very strange) stories that all featured punch-out cardboard figures at the back of each book. I still have some of these, but none of the punch-out toys survived. The books had titles like THE ELEGANT ELEPHANT, COLUMBINE THE WHITE CAT, FAIR, BROWN AND TREMBLING, BEAN BLOSSOM HILL, THE LAZY LION, PAPA POMPINO and ROSALINDA. 

I got hooked on the excitement of receiving books in the mail at an early age. In high school, I worked a number of part time jobs - as a teaching assistant at Maryville Academy, as a cashier at Jake's Pizza, as a cashier at Jarosch Bakery and so on. SOME of my earnings went to clothes, records and Yardley makeup. MOST went to pay my book club invoices. 

To me, "Book club" doesn't bring to mind ladies sipping tea and chatting about the latest best-seller. "Book club" means Reader's Digest Condensed Books (where I first read Dorothy Eden (WAITING FOR WILLA) and Barbara Michaels (AMMIE, COME HOME), the Crime Club, the Mystery Guild, the Literary Guild, the History Book Club, the Science Fiction Book Club, the Quality Paperback Book Club, Doubleday Book Club and, later, the Harlequin and Silhouette Book Clubs and the Country Homes and Gardens Book Club (now owned by Book-of-the-Month Club - which I also joined). I belonged to them all. 

I was young and broke - a stickler for doing things correctly, but not above making the rules work in my favor. Most of the book clubs had deals where you got four or more books when you joined (free books, plus shipping and handling), and you had to purchase an equal number of books to fulfill the membership agreement. The shipping and handling charges sometimes cost more than the books, so it was pretty obvious where they made their money. That, and the fact that most people would join and forget about it. Not me! I would quit as soon as I fulfilled the agreement, and then join again. Just like the old shampoo slogan: shampoo, rinse, repeat. Only in my case, it was: join the book club, quit, rejoin. I got a lot of books that way - none of which have any value in the resale market, because they were published in slightly smaller editions and on cheaper paper than the books in stores, but I still got to read the books and keep them on my bookshelves. 

The added benefit was that I discovered a lot of new books and authors through those book clubs. Babs H. Deal's THE CRYSTAL MOUSE was a featured selection, along with other titles of hers. I read them all, and I would never have found her if not for the book clubs. Her books are still hard to find.

Another favorite was A THOUSAND SUMMERS by Garson Kanin, and LIVING ROOM by...well, something like Richard Stern but I don't think that's it. I lost that book somewhere along the line, but I still remember how good it was.

I could go on and on (I guess I already have) so I'll leave it with this: I'll always love book stores, but I'll never regret joining book clubs, either. I don't belong to any right now, but that could change. Maybe I'll take a look at what's out there. I can always squeeze a few more books on my shelves.

Footnote: Thinking of book clubs reminded me of a few exciting moments in my career as a garden writer. My book AT HOME IN THE GARDEN was a book club feature:

*Featured selection (“Editor’s Choice”) in the Country Homes and Gardens Book Club, April 2001
*Featured selection in the Garden Book Club
*Featured “Best Books for Christmas,” Country Homes and Gardens Book Club, November 2001

Sadly, my books are out of print. That's the way of the book world - and one more reason I like to have old favorites on my shelves.