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. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Brenda Novak's Auction is Coming Up Soon!

A message from Brenda Novak:

Thank you to everyone who has donated to Brenda Novak's 9th Annual Online Auction for Diabetes Research. We're hoping to make this year our best ever. . .and we couldn't do it without the support of our wonderful donors. If you haven't had a chance to donate yet, it's not too late. We'd love to have you on board. Contact Anna at and she'll create a fabulous auction page to showcase your item.

Whether you've donated or not, there are some free and easy ways to support this good cause:

*Register as a bidder (go to: and click on register)

*Like us on Facebook: We'll be posting lots of information here in the coming weeks and throughout the auction. Stay up to date on our progress as we strive to hit $2 million! Sharing and liking these posts would be hugely appreciated.

*Follow us on Twitter: @bnovakauction (we use the hashtag #bnda) Retweet and discuss the auction to your heart's content! The more people we can reach, the closer we'll get to our goal.

*Join us on Pinterest: New this year! We'd love to make the most of this new advertising/promotional option. Feel free to pin a picture of your donation on the page (or send an email to Danita at (, and she'll do it for you.

*Share the link to your item on your social media pages! Encourage your fans/readers to register, visit our FB, Twitter and Pinterest pages. You can find your items on the auction ( by typing your name into the search box at the top right corner. OR email Anna ( and she'll be happy to send you your links.

Diabetes affects millions, but we are so close to a cure. Thanks for your tremendous support. This auction could not succeed without you and, as a mother with a child who has diabetes, I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you are doing. Here's to making a difference. . . and funding a cure for diabetes!

Brenda Novak

P.S. (This is from Becke) Check out Brenda's books, too!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Dangerous - and Ever-Growing - To-Be-Read Pile

Like a shape-shifter, the Dangerous To-Be-Read pile morphs daily. These pictures were taken some time ago, and while I did read almost every book in these pictures, the TBR pile has not gotten any smaller. Instead, the book monster - angry because I gave away nearly 2,000 books when we moved last fall - is getting back at me by sneaking books into every nook and cranny of my new place. No pictures of the current TBR pile exist, because it won't stay in one place. The darn thing keeps growing, and no matter how many books I read the pile never seems to go down. 

POP QUIZ! I'll be 61 years old this year. How old will I have to live in order to read all the books waiting-to-be-read in my place, not counting any new releases I might add? My son is the math whiz, so I'm just going to take a wild guess and say I'll need 100 years or so. One hundred MORE years that is, assuming I don't do anything else but read. 

And then there's the money. I won't even think about how much I've invested in unread books. Let's just say books are in the budget right up there with food and shelter.

(Got that image from Pinterest. It's credited to:
Hope I'm not infringing any copyrights!)

What's in YOUR to-be-read pile? 
 (At least, that's all the books I've remembered to list).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

September 2012 at Barnes & Noble's Mystery Forum

I've shuffled the schedule around this year. For the past couple of years, August was our Month of Suspense & Thrillers. When I realized my grandbaby was likely to be born in August, I bumped this feature up to September.

At the time, I didn't realize I'd be moving in September. *bangs head on desk* Okay, you've figured it out by now - this isn't a normal year for me. I hope you'll bear with me as I muddle along!

I won't be online as much as I usually am in September, so I'll post an "Introduce Yourself" thread for authors who write Suspense and Thrillers. If that describes you, don't be shy about posting.

While spamming is discouraged here, you are more than welcome to promote your suspense novels and thrillers on the "thread" I'll be providing. To add links to your books, open a comment box (click "reply") and then click "Add Product" at the upper right.

In addition to the author introductions, we have some guest blogs and featured author visits, too! Because I'm aware everyone doesn't share my love of suspense and thrillers, many - but not all - of the books featured in September will be in that sub-genre.

Featured Author Visits and Author Guest Blogs

Week of September 3 – Penny Hancock

Tuesday, September 4 – Guest blog by Vicki Delany

Wednesday, September 5 – Linwood Barclay

Friday, September 7 – Guest blog by Molly MacRae

Week of September 10 – Jeff Abbott

Tuesday, September 11 – Guest Blog by Wendy Corsi Staub

Friday, September 14 - Guest Blog in Honor of Agatha Christie's Birthday on 9/15:

Week of September 17 – Sandra Parshall

Week of September 24 – Sheila York 

Monday, September 24 - 

American Mystery Classics: MARY ROBERTS RINEHART

Tuesday, September 25 – Guest blog by Anna Loan-Wilsey

Wednesday, September 26 - Guest Blog by Stefan Kiesbye

Thursday, July 19, 2012

August at Barnes & Noble's Mystery Forum

Where has this year gone? I'm soooo excited for August, because that's when my new grandbaby is due to arrive! We have a lot going on next month, but if I vanish for a day or so, you'll know it has to do with someone little and cute!


Wednesday, August 1 - Guest blog by Mitzi Szereto

Week of August 6: William Kent Krueger

Tuesday, August 7 – Guest blog by Julia Stuart 

Tuesday, August 7 - Guest blog by F.J. Lennon

Wednesday, August 8 – Guest blog by Rochelle Staab

Thursday, August 9 - Guest blog by Matthew Dunn

Week of August 13: Julie Garwood

(*possibly a double feature this week - more to come*)

Tuesday, August 14 - Guest Blog by Stephen Leather

Week of August 20: Amanda Kyle Williams

Week of August 27: American Mystery Classics - Rex Stout

Tuesday, August 28 – Guest blog by Tess Gerritsen 

Wednesday, August 29 - Guest blog by Anne Perry