I have two words for you: Free Books

I’ve been audited by the IRS twice and both times one of the line items on my Schedule C has been questioned, the amount spent on books and magazines.

“Do you really spend more than 10 percent of your income on books?” one auditor asked incredulously.

“It’s kind of like tithing,” I said, and pulled out my envelope of receipts.

“That’s a lot of books,” the auditor said and moved on to the next item.

I bought books anytime and anywhere. I used to live in walking distance of an awesome indie bookstore that had a terrific selection of used books in addition to the best-sellers and calendars, and greeting cards. And used to be, I never thought twice about tossing a few paperbacks in with my curly kale and ground turkey when I was grocery shopping. I’ve bought books on eBay and at yard sales and picked them up from the 10-cent-a-book library tables. (Ten cents a book! Score!!)

I spent a LOT of money on books.

And I was okay with that. As vices go, buying books is pretty benign. You won’t die from having too many books (unless you live in earthquake country and they fall on you) and reading doesn’t contribute to any medical conditions except perhaps eyestrain. (“You’ll wear your eyes out,” my grandmother used to say when she saw me reading instead of engaging in something she considered a more worthwhile pursuit, like playing outside.)

Then my best friend gave me a Kindle for Christmas and it changed my life.

I was the girl who had the library card as soon as I could print my name.

I was the girl who furnished a studio apartment with one bed and five bookcases.

And suddenly I was the woman who was all about the digital. The evolution of the ebook is probably my favorite technological advance of the last decade. (I’m keeping my eye on those driverless cars, but in the meantime—ebooks take first place.)

Shortly after I registered my kindle—it’s katherine_5258@kindle.com if you want me to review one of your books—I discovered the bazillion and one newsletters that offer free and discount deals on books every day.

Free.

Books.

Every day.

I signed up for all of them and like a glutton let loose in a candy store, I spree-clicked, downloading anything (and everything) that looked interesting.

I presently have 1632 books in my Kindle.

Have I read all of them? Of course not. But it’s my digital TBR pile and it’s a lot more manageable than my actual TBR pile, which long ago outgrew mere “pile’ status and took over its own bookshelf.

But here’s the thing. Whenever I’m standing in line, or waiting for an appointment or riding the metro, or otherwise stuck in a situation where my time is being wasted, I fire up the Kindle app on my phone and start sampling.

If I’m not immediately engaged, I go on to the next book in the queue. And as mentioned, I have a LOT of books in the queue. And when I find something that does engage me, I read it. And then I review it. And if I like it a whole lot, I’ll tweet about it.

Which brings me to Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris.

Pushing Up Daisies was Harris’ debut mystery novel and it was nominated for both an Agatha and an Anthony Award. I didn’t know any of them when I clicked the button to download the FREE copy of the book.

I sampled the book three days later and I was completely hooked from the moment I read the epigraph: In the garden, beauty is a by-product. The real business is sex and death. —Samuel Llewellyn

 

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Harris’ heroine is Paula Holliday, a former documentary filmmaker who downsized her life rather than continue churning out endless video variations of “Who killed Diana?” and moved to Springfield, Connecticut to open her own landscaping business. Volunteering for the local historical society, she’s in the middle of renovating the gardens at a local mansion when she finds a tiny mummified body buried in a metal crate in the “white garden.”

The story’s tangled roots run deep, with family secrets, vintage tragedies, and local politics fertilizing the mystery, which opens out with each new chapter.

The story is deftly plotted, but what makes the book so engaging is Paula. She’s smart (and not above showing off that intelligence every now and again with a remark like, “What would Vita Sackville-West do?”) and she’s also the kind of woman you can imagine actually knowing. She’s the hip friend with the exciting past who doesn’t make you feel like a loser because you chose to stay in the ‘burbs. And meanwhile, Harris nails the way small-town life actually works.

I love mysteries and although the ones I write tend toward the dark snark side of the spectrum, I have a very soft spot for cozy-ish books with a great sense of place and this one (the first in the “Dirty Business” series) suited me right down to the ground.

Fans of the Janet Evanovich brand of mystery (and I am one) will get a kick out of Paula and her friends, a large and varied assortment of characters that includes prissy Historical Society types, bad girl diner owners, and intriguing cops. (Harris is a member of both the MWA and RWA, so the story comes seasoned with a large dollop of romance.)

As they say about a number of addictive substances—the first taste is free. I’m hooked on Harris’ books now and will definitely pick up the next three mysteries in the series.

And I will binge-read them.

Just because I can get books for free doesn’t mean I’ve stopped buying them.

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