Catching Up

It’s only the second day of the Olympics and I’m starting to feel burnt out.  There are just too many events going on AT THE SAME TIME – and the BBC is providing live streams to ALL of them (or so it seems).  I *almost* want to go back to work on Monday so that I’ll be limited to the live text commentary (and maybe whatever’s being shown on the TV screens at work 😉 ).  If you’re not into sports, I think you’d be burying your head under your duvet and having a little  cry.  I thought the opening ceremony was brilliant (Mr Bean! James Bond! The Queen!) and it lived up to the hype.  The pop music section was perhaps too long, but I loved the nod to children’s literature (JK Rowling!) and the lighting of the cauldron was really dramatic (did anyone else think Hunger Games??).  Your thoughts?

Enough babbling about the Olympics for now.

A couple of links of interest:

Reading-wise, I’ve finished Eloisa James‘ PARIS IN LOVE.  I wasn’t planning on reading it as I’m not a massive non-fiction reader, but I bought it when the UK publisher offered the Kindle edition at a bargain price (still £2.39 as of time of posting), and ended up being surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I read it over a couple of weeks, and the vignettes-interspersed-with-a-few-essays format lent itself very well to dipping in and out.  It was charming, which I expected (how could Eloisa James NOT write a charming account of her time in Paris), and hilarious, which I didn’t quite expect (I ended up giggling helplessly at a couple of scenes in the book).  But there were also sombre undertones (their sabbatical in Paris was partly as a result of Ms James’ brush with cancer) and I got an impression this was really a love letter in book form.  Not just the obvious one addressed to Paris, as much as Paris comes off as being a beautiful place to live, but also a love letter to her children and husband.  Good read.

That’s mostly it reading-wise – it’s more of short stories and novellas due to me being hopelessly distracted by the Olympics.  I have started on Wen Spencer‘s ELFHOME though.  Unfortunately it’s been years since I last read this series, so I’m appreciating the almost-info-dumping in the first chapters – it’s helping to jog my memory and I need it as it’s a rather complicated world!

Cautiously Excited

That sums up my feelings about London hosting the Olympics in a couple of weeks.  Part of me is looking forward being in a city that is celebrating sport (not that I have any tickets, but that would be another post in itself) – the banners are up, the torch reaches London this evening… it’s all starting to feel real.  But the other part of me is wondering if it will turn out to be a complete nightmare logistics-wise for people who actually live here.  The Tube stations I frequent are on the list of stations to avoid as much as possible as they’re expected to be extremely busy, buses are on diversions, everyone’s trying to figure out how to work from home… So yes, it could turn out to be fantastic and a summer to remember, or it could be one that I would prefer to forget.

Have any of you ever lived in a city that was hosting the Olympics before?  Any tips on what to expect?

Anyway, to bring this back to books, I was thinking about London the other day – specifically books that are set in London.  I get a secret thrill when reading books set in places I know – it’s like seeing a familiar place through other people’s eyes.  But not all books do that; there are numerous historical romances that are set in London, where lip-service is paid to riding in Hyde Park and dancing at Almacks, but somehow, it doesn’t feel like the London I know and love.

Here are a few books that bring London alive for me:

Jacqueline Winspear‘s Maisie Dobbs books: These are historical mysteries set in the post-WW1 era (here’s what I wrote a few years back about the first four books).  I’m not massively keen on the paranormal and psychic elements of the latter books in the series, but love the period-era details in the books.  And when Maisie walks to her office in the Bloomsbury area or makes her way home, I think, yes, this is London.

Sarah Rees Brennan‘s Demon Lexicon trilogy: It’s no secret that I love these books to death, and the fact that London acts as a backdrop to some of the action is a bonus.  I think THE DEMON’S SURRENDER cover is great (and not just because it’s Alan looking all moody and heroic) – the London skyline behind him sets the scene so perfectly.

Ben Aaronovitch‘s Peter Grant books: I’ve only read the first book in this gritty urban fantasy series (RIVERS OF LONDON / MIDNIGHT RIOT) so far, but what I really like about his writing is that it brings out the multicultural-ness (yes, I just made up that word) of London.  And I actually learnt some fascinating facts about London rivers when reading this book.  Educational entertainment 😉

Benedict Jacka‘s Alex Verus books: As with the Peter Grant books, I’ve only (just) read the first book in the series, FATED.  There is a bit of a Dresden Files feeling about this book (the blurb from Jim Butcher on the cover and an in-joke about a Chicago wizard in the first couple of pages didn’t do anything to dispel this).  But a clear sense of place comes through – Alex runs a shop in Camden and a lot of the action takes place in the British Museum.  In fact, this was the book that inspired me to write this post.

I’ve probably missed off quite a few books – have any books brought London to life for you?  And do you feel the same way as me when reading books set in your home city?

My Local Bookstore #wwread

This is part of the Where in the World are You Reading meme started by Kailana, Lisa, and Trish – the July theme is Local Bookstore, hosted by Trish.

Intrigued by pictures of Kailana and Christine‘s local bookstores (yes, I’m curious like that), I decided to take part in this meme.  Easier said that done – if this was really where I bought the most books, you’d end up seeing screenshots of Amazon’s website 😉

But the prompt said a physical bricks-and-mortar store which you’ve visited – whether on vacation or one local to you.  So I wandered down to my nearest Waterstones, and had a bit of a photo-taking dilemma.  Was I actually allowed to take photos or would I be rapidly escorted outside as soon as I whipped out the camera?  And to be honest, even if photo-taking was allowed, I felt rather self-conscious snapping photos of the shelves.  So what you get is a few sneaky photos of the shelves taken by my phone camera – sorry!

Some background on Waterstones if you don’t live in the UK – it’s pretty much the only major national high-street bookstore chain still in existence.  I haven’t been following the news that closely, but James Daunt (who runs a smaller chain of bookstores called Daunt Books) was brought in to run the company fairly recently – his strategy, from what I gather, is to “localise” the bookstores, giving more purchasing power to local store managers as opposed to dictating everything centrally.  Recent Waterstones’ decisions that have hit the headlines: (1) their partnership with Amazon where they’ll start selling Kindles in-store (either a brilliant or terrible idea – I’m honestly not sure which it is yet) and (2) the dropping of the apostrophe in the name (surely there are better things to do!).

I don’t buy very much at Waterstones – mostly due to the fact I read the majority of my books on the Kindle (so it’ll be interesting to see how their Amazon partnership plays out), but also because it’s cheaper to buy paper books online (I know).  But I do buy the occasional book there – probably a couple every other month.  Usually a total impulse buy (Ernest Cline‘s READY PLAYER ONE) or when I really want a hardcover (they had numbered signed editions of Laini Taylor‘s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE).

So with all that said, here are the photos I took (click for larger photos):

The picture on the left is one of the displays near the front of the store with children’s books for the Olympics.  I think I’m almost Olympic’d out and it hasn’t even started!

The two mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, are pictured on the cover of four of the books.  They’re growing on me – I admit I joined in the chorus of ???!!!!! when they were first revealed, but they have a certain charm.  Sorry about the blank spaces in the display – a result of my hasty point-and-shoot approach!

The picture to the right is another display table – this one with a Great Britain theme.  I’m not familiar with a lot of the authors on the table (all my deep dark secrets coming out obviously) but I did see Ben Aaronovitch‘s MOON OVER SOHO – I liked the first book, RIVERS OF LONDON, so will probably get around to reading this soon-ish.

The picture on the left shows part of the shelves with staff recommendations on the cards below them.  A pretty eclectic mix, and I like looking at the recs, but I rarely find one that appeals to me.  On the right is a  display of ummm… postcards, I think.  My bookstore has quite a few non-book items – I think this is increasingly common across the board.

And the final picture on the right is the (small) urban fantasy section – or Dark Fantasy, as it’s termed in Waterstones.  You get the usual suspects – Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K Hamilton, Sherilyn Kenyon, Richelle Mead, JR Ward, etc.  There’s the Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling series on the lower right shelf.  All these are UK editions – if I had put more thought into this picture-taking thing, I would have turned some of these books to face cover out!

So that’s all the photos I snapped.  How does your local bookstore match up?  I’d love to hear about yours (and also your take on taking photos in-store!).

My Auto-buy Authors: The 2012 Romance Edition

Auto-buy Authors definition: You don’t have to know anything about their latest book, you just buy.  As soon as the release hits the shelves.

My auto-buy authors have changed a lot over the years, partly as my genre preferences have changed, but also because the internet has opened my eyes to numerous new-to-me authors out there.  You can probably guess at my list from either my monthly new releases posts (they’re always on there!) or my sidebar with authors I’ve blogged about, but I thought it would be interesting to pull both past and present together in a single post.  And then I decided to break it down by genre, else it would be a bit of an epic post.

So first up, romance.

Historical romance

There was a time when historicals made up the majority of my reading, now it is very rare that I run out to buy one on the day of release.  So the authors I still buy: Eloisa James (true fangirl here), Jo Beverley (primarily for her Georgian settings), Julia Quinn, possibly Lisa Kleypas (if she ever returns to historicals).

Old favourites who I’ve stopped buying: Amanda Quick, Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood , Mary Jo Putney, Stephanie Laurens. Their recent releases (recent being relative here) feel as though they’ve lost the magic that their early books had.

Authors who have sadly passed away: Georgette Heyer – I’ve all her books, both romances and mysteries; Elizabeth Mansfield – I’ve a lot of her books and her backlist is being released in e-format (yay!); Eva Ibbotson, though I don’t think of her as “traditional” historical romance

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Contemporary romance

It’s not a genre that I read a lot, but if you include category romances in this subgenre, Kelly Hunter was my 2011 discovery.  And I used to read Lynne Graham as my guilty pleasure, but either my tastes have changed or her writing has.   Oh, Suzanne Brockmann – though does it count as an auto-buy if you only like certain series?  Her new paranormal/suspense series is not working for me.

I used to love Jayne Ann Krentz and Linda Howard.  Past tense being the operative word – I liked JAK’s straight contemps, but her recent releases with paranormal themes just leave me cold.  And it’s been years since I’ve loved a new Howard.  Who else?  I follow Erin McCarthy’s stockcar racing series, but don’t read all her books, so I wouldn’t really count her as an autobuy author.

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M/M romance

Josh Lanyon.  I’ve only started reading m/m romance in the past few years, but he is one of my all-time favourite authors regardless of genre.  Other auto-buy authors?  KA Mitchell. Harper Fox. Jordan Castillo Price.

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Paranormal romance

Ummm… it’s a lot more series-specific here.  Nalini Singh‘s Psy-Changeling books. Meljean Brook‘s Iron Seas series – I abandoned her Guardians series a couple of books in (okay, one and a half books in) and have yet to go back.  Though seeing I’ve really liked her steampunk romance book, I should give it another go.  Ilona Andrews for their Edge series (I classify the Kate Daniels books as UF).

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Fantasy romance

Drawing a blank here.  I think I lean more towards romantic fantasy, which I’ll save for the fantasy post (which I suspect will be longer).  There is Elizabeth Vaughan, but I wouldn’t call her an auto-buy author.

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YA romance

I’ve loved both of Stephanie Perkins‘ books, so I’m guessing she probably counts as an auto-buy now.  I enjoy Sarah Dessen’s books though they do come across as a bit same-y after a while, and the one Jennifer Echols book I’ve read, but I don’t think that qualifies them as auto-buys for me.  This is probably the subgenre I read least.

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I think that’s it for romance – how do your auto-buys compare to mine?

Getting Around in London, or the Best Way to Use the Underground

I know – London transport is not really a common topic here.  But I was inspired, shall we say, by the increased number of tourists I’m seeing in London. And with the Olympics coming up, I thought I would post about tips on using the Underground.  Otherwise known as the Tube.

  1. Stand on the right: I’ve noticed every city appears to have its own rules of escalator etiquette.  In London, it’s stand on the right, walk on the left.  And please please please do not come to a stop at the bottom (or the top) of the escalator.  You’ll cause a pile-up, though in typical Londoner style, people probably won’t say anything – they’ll just give you dirty looks.
  2. Familiarise yourself with North, South, East, West: I don’t mean that you need to carry a compass.  But the Underground platform signs will have Northbound, Southbound, etc, so it’s useful to know if you want to go to a station to the right of yours on the map (i.e. East) or above (i.e. North) or below (you get it).
  3. Don’t panic if you miss your stop: In most cases, you can just get off at the next stop and cross the platform to the other side to catch the next train back.  If you’re very unlucky, you’ll end up having to go via a couple of staircases or escalators.
  4. Stand near the end of the carriage if possible: Right, this is a summer thing.  There is no air-conditioning (*cries*) and in summer, the temperature can hit crazy levels.  However, there are windows at each end of the carriage which can be lowered for ventilation, and trust me, this will be a life-saver.
  5. Stand in the aisle: I know this contradicts the previous one, but if you’re not at one end of the carriage (and not getting off at the next stop), move further inside and stand between the two rows of seats.  Because fewer people do this, you may actually get some personal space back (as opposed to being crammed in near the doors).
  6. Signal when you’re getting off at the next stop: And this is if you are stuck in the middle of the carriage, it’s packed and you need to get off at the next station.  Although eye contact is a rarity on the Tube, people do look around the carriage.  So indicate when you’re planning to get off – turn towards the doors, rearrange your bags, adjust your handgrip on the rail – you get the idea.  That way, the people next to you won’t be startled when you start making your way off the train.
  7. Walk to the end of the platform:  The worst place to wait for a train is at the platform entry/exit.  Because everyone does.  Walk to the end – chances are this is the best place to get on the train and it will be a lot less crowded.  Caveat: If the previous station’s platform entry/exit is at the far end, ooops.
  8. Let people off the train first: I know, basic, right? But it makes getting on the train much quicker.  And wait your turn – some stations do queues at peak hours.  On the other hand, don’t be overly-polite and let everyone go ahead of you – there is likely to be a very irritated person behind you waiting for you to get on.
  9. Get an Oyster card: Never ever do the cash fare.  It’s twice as expensive as a pay-as-you-go Oyster card.  And consider travel cards.
  10. Ask for help: Contrary to public perception, we Londoners are generally a helpful bunch, and can tell you the closest station to Big Ben or the London Eye – though it may take a while for us to remember, because we never go there.
  11. Consider walking: Those two stations that look so far apart on the Underground map?  They’re probably 5-10 minutes’ walk, especially if they’re in Zone 1.  Marble Arch > Bond Street > Oxford Circus = 10-15 minutes down Oxford Street at a brisk walk and dodging shoppers.  Same for Oxford Circus > Piccadilly Circus.  Or Piccadilly Circus > Covent Garden.
  12. Or taking the bus:  Check out these very handy maps – and bus stops generally have clear route maps as well.  And there are announcements on the bus as to where you are.  Plus you get to see a lot more of London.
  13. Figure out the colours: Red = Central. Dark blue = Piccadilly.  It helps when service update announcements are made.
  14. Announcements and “Good service”: You’ll hear “There is a good service on the Jubilee line”.  What it really means is that there is a normal service, i.e. trains are running.  “Minor Delays” – still do-able usually, you’ll have to wait a few minutes extra.  “Major Delays” – a bit hit-or-miss.  If you’re lucky, you’ll time it right and your train will actually start moving within ten minutes or so.  But start thinking about alternative routes.  “Suspended” – ouch.  Go find the nearest bus stop.
  15. Stand on the right: See #1.  This is really important.

So that’s my top 15 tips for using the Underground!  If you’ve been to London (or live here), would you agree or disagree?  What transport tips would you give visitors to your city?

Books for July

It feels as though the first half of 2012 has just raced past.  Seriously.  But on the other hand, July releases – yay!  And gosh, these are good ones.

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Kalayna Price‘s GRAVE MEMORY (urban fantasy): This is the third book  in the Alex Craft books, and I’m hoping it’ll be just as good as the previous ones.  While we’re on the subject of Kalayna Price, I finally picked up her other series after resisting for a very long time (I’ve been feeling burnt out on shapeshifters and vampires) and well, I’m kinda hooked.  On paper, the Haven books sound like a complete mishmash of everything popular in UF – apart from the previously-mentioned shapeshifters and vampires, you also have mages and demons, portals, other worlds etc etc – but she makes it work.  It’s addictive.  Sorry.

Anyway, back to GRAVE MEMORY, here’s the back cover blurb:

When the dead need to talk, Alex Craft is always ready to listen…

As a Grave Witch, Alex solves murders by raising the dead—an ability that comes at a cost, and after her last few cases, that cost is compounding. But her magic isn’t the only thing causing havoc in her life. While she’s always been on friendly terms with Death himself, things have recently become a whole lot more close and personal. Then there’s her sometime partner, agent Falin Andrews, who is under the glamour of the Winter Queen. To top everything off, her best friend has been forever changed by her time spent captive in Faerie.

But the personal takes a backseat to the professional when a mysterious suicide occurs in Nekros City and Alex is hired to investigate. The shade she raises has no memory of the days leading up to his brutal ending, so despite the very public apparent suicide, this is murder. But what kind of magic can overcome the human will to survive? And why does the shade lack the memory of his death? Searching for the answer might mean Alex won’t have a life to remember at all…

Out now (book page)

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Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan‘s TEAM HUMAN (YA urban fantasy): It’s not exactly a secret that I’m a massive fan of SRB’s books – her writing is laugh-out-loud funny (as is her blog), her characters have heart, and she just tells plain good stories.  So it’s a given that I’m getting her collaboration with Justine Larbalestier, and what promises to be a unique take on vampires in the YA genre.

Blurb:

Just because Mel lives in New Whitby, a city founded by vampires, doesn’t mean she knows any of the blood-drinking undead personally. They stay in their part of town; she says in hers. Until the day a vampire shows up at her high school. Worse yet, her best friend, Cathy, seems to be falling in love with him. It’s up to Mel to save Cathy from a mistake she might regret for all eternity.

On top of trying to help Cathy (whether she wants it or not), Mel is investigating a mysterious disappearance for another friend and discovering the attractions of a certain vampire wannabe. Combine all this with a cranky vampire cop, a number of unlikely romantic entanglements, and the occasional zombie, and soon Mel is hip-deep in an adventure that is equal parts hilarious and touching.

Acclaimed authors Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan team up to create a witty and poignant story of cool vampires, warm friendships, and the changes that test the bonds of love.

Out now (excerpt)

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Kelley Armstrong‘s THIRTEEN (urban fantasy): The FINAL book in her Women of the Otherworld trilogy.  Yes, that deserves capitals.  This was one of the very first UF series I started reading way back then.  This was when UF had yet to become mainstream – heck, I’m not sure if the term “urban fantasy” had yet been coined – and way before I started blogging.  I haven’t loved all the books in the series, but quite a few have made it onto my keeper shelf.  However, I do have a slight peeve with this release – only the hardcover has a bonus story, which means I’ll be waiting for my library reservation to come in.

Blurb:

A war is brewing—the first battle has been waged and Savannah Levine is left standing, albeit battered and bruised. She has rescued her half brother from supernatural medical testing, but he’s fighting to stay alive. The Supernatural Liberation Movement took him hostage, and they have a maniacal plan to expose the supernatural world to the unknowing.

Savannah has called upon her inner energy to summon spells with frightening strength, a strength she never knew she had, as she fights to keep her world from shattering. But it’s more than a matter of supernaturals against one another—both heaven and hell have entered the war; hellhounds, genetically modified werewolves, and all forces of good and evil have joined the fray.

Uniting Savannah with Adam, Paige, Lucas, Jaime, Hope, and other lost-but-not-forgotten characters in one epic battle, Thirteen is a grand, crowd-pleasing closer for Armstrong’s legions of fans.

Out July 24 (book page)

Ilona AndrewsGUNMETAL MAGIC (urban fantasy): I’ve realised it’s urban fantasy all the way for me this month.  It’s obviously one of those months.  So this isn’t quite a Kate & Curran book, but let’s face it – Andrea and Raphael are almost quite as fascinating.  Perhaps even slightly more fascinating, as they’re both grappling with that unresolved sexual tension thing.  I’m looking forward to reading their story.

Blurb:

Some people have everything figured out — Andrea Nash is not one of those people. After being kicked out of the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, Andrea’s whole existence is in shambles. All she can do is try to put herself back together, something made easier by working for Cutting Edge, a small investigative firm owned by her best friend, Kate Daniels.

When several shapeshifters working for Raphael Medrano — the male alpha of Clan Bouda and Andrea’s former lover — die unexpectedly at a dig site, Andrea is assigned to investigate … and must work with Raphael. As her search for the killer leads her into the secret underbelly of supernatural Atlanta, Andrea knows that dealing with her feelings for Raphael might have to take a backseat to saving the world…

Out July 31 (excerpt)