New Year, New Format

Hello all,

It seems I must apologize once again for being unforgivably absent of late. The various stressors of life finally overwhelmed me, and even though I’ve finally found a bit of free time this past week, I haven’t been able to motivate myself to do the things I usually do. Unfortunately, this includes reading and blogging, as I’ve slipped into a fantastic slump. The result is that my blog has lain fallow for far too long. So I’ve decided to lighten my load a bit, and for now, I won’t be participating in most of my memes any longer. Hopefully this will give me the energy to post reviews and other unique features, as well as get back on the reading train.

For those who have stuck with me, many thanks. Any advice on how to get out of a reading slump?

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: A Guide for the Thrifty, Impatient, and Clever Visitors

After spending hours reading blog posts and articles recounting others’ visits to the Wizarding World, I thought I was prepared to visit Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in all their glory. Friends, I was wrong; the Wizarding World was even more magical than I hoped for, and while I can’t in all honesty say that I want to go back to Orlando again any time soon (heat, crowds, and gaudiness galore do not a happy Shortlatte make), I do so wish that the Wizarding World wasn’t quite so far away, because I would be holding season passes if I lived within a hundred miles of it.

Yet while my trip was as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, I have a feeling that I might have been slightly less enamored of my experience if I hadn’t done so extensive research beforehand. As I mentioned before, many have written about their own trips to the park and have provided some useful tips to help get the most out of your visit. Unfortunately, most of these articles spend their time extolling the benefits of staying in an on-site Universal Studios hotel, as hotel guests get free express passes for the Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff rides as well as entry to the park an hour before the general public. Yet, when the boyfriend and I sat down to make travel plans, the pricey Universal package simply wasn’t an option, so I was forced to come up with some strategies of my own.

1. Do your research.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: there are a lot of useful tips that others have written about that will help you to navigate the park with the least amount of hassle and frustration. I won’t rehash what others have already said, but I will add that your research should span all aspects of your trip to the Wizarding World, including shopping. You might not realize it, but as exciting as the prospect of shopping in Hogsmeade might be, it also poses some serious logistical problems for park-goers. Shopping bags aren’t allowed on the rides, so if you’ve got something that doesn’t fit in a pocket, you’re going to have to rent a locker. Though lockers are free for a certain amount of time, there’s no guarantee that you will be through the waiting line and off the ride before the time is up, so you might wind up having to pay to stash your stuff. Not to mention the fact that the locker line is separate from the actual ride line, adding more time to your overall wait. Then there’s the pesky little problem of buying candy from Honeydukes in ninety-plus degree heat: many a Chocolate Frog have suffered a miserable melty fate from park patrons who insist on toting them around the park all day.

Obviously, visiting the Wizarding World without buying something isn’t an option, so my advice is this: don’t be afraid to do some shopping ahead of time online. I don’t suggest that you make any purchases, but the online shops give a good idea of the range of items available for sale, so you can get a sense of the souvenirs you simply have to take home with you. This leads to step number two: take advantage of the Potter merchandise for sale throughout Orlando. From the airport to the Universal shops in City Walk, most of the stuff available for sale “only” in the Wizarding World is actual available at other locations as well. My boyfriend and I stocked up on the items on our list, including those pesky Chocolate Frogs, upon arriving at the airport and visiting City Walk the night before. Not only did we not have to worry about the problems mentioned above, but we also didn’t have to wait in ridiculously long lines as we would have had we waited to buy our souvenirs at the park. That’s not to say that we didn’t make some purchases there as well, but we were able to wait until just before we were ready to leave the park.

2. Get up early.

Harry and company weren’t afriad to forego a little sleep when the occasion called for it, and neither should you be. As I mentioned already, if you don’t stay at a Universal hotel, you will be forced to wait in line at the turnstiles until the park officially opens. We got up at six and were at the park before seven, over an hour before the park opened to the general public. We were the first in line and were treated to an hour-long wait during which hordes of hotel guests breezed through the gates right in front of us. You will want to apparate all of those early entrants out of there, but it’s alright. The good news is that by the time you enter the park, the hotel guests have likely already ridden the Forbidden Journey, paving a clear path for you. So when you finally get in, powerwalk straight back to the Wizarding World and resist the urge to take pictures. Those shots of the castle will still be there in an hour, but the lack of line won’t be. We went straight to the Forbidden Castle and rode it without a wait, then went straight to the Dragon Challenge and did the same for both rollercoasters. By the time we got to the Flight of the Hippogriff, there was an hour-long wait, but we managed to experience the most popular rides relatively hassle-free.

3. Have a gameplan.

Ours was mentioned above. Yours might be different (though I highly encourage bumping the Forbidden Journey to the top of your list). Nevertheless, you need to have an idea of where your priorities lie and do those things first, or else the crowds will swamp you.

4. Once you’re inside the castle, slow down.

You can always go back through the castle on the single rider line or on a castle tour without having to wait on the monstrous line, but those only give you a limited view of the castle. So when you go through the first time, let people pass you as you go along and take pictures to your heart’s content. Stop and absorb everything, because unless you want to wait on the uber-long line more than once, this is the closest you will get to the good stuff.

5. Explore the shops.

The stores in Hogsmeade are crowded pretty much morning, noon, and night, but not unmanageably so. The only one that has a truly off-putting line is Ollivander’s, and we opted not to wait for the wand-choosing ceremony. Instead, we ducked through Dervish & Bangles into the adjacent store and checked out the wands there. If you’re really craving the ambiance of Ollivander’s but don’t want to brave the line, there’s a good wand set-up in the Owl Post that gives much the same feel.

6. Chow down.

You woke up at the crack of dawn and have been walking or standing for hours, so chances are you’ll be hungry early. We headed to the Three Broomsticks around eleven and were seated instantly. A few minutes later, the crowds stormed in, so if you can, eat early to beat the rush. You’ll get a great seat and be able to eat in peace. If you get thirsty, resist the urge to get a Butterbeer from one of the carts and head to the Hog’s Head instead; there’s rarely a line and you can buy the collectible mugs there as well. You can get pumpkin juice (and the delicious Hog’s Head Brew) there too, as well as in Honeydukes.

7. Explore all the nooks and crannies.

The designers did a bang-up job with this park. It feels like a real locale rather than a recreation, and nothing shows that off more than the details. Take the time to notice the subtle touches. Look up everywhere you go, because so much of the good stuff is hidden above your head. Duck out back entrances to the Three Broomsticks and down alleyways for unique angles of the castle not visible from the main road. Even the ATM’s and the bathrooms have little touches that bring the world to life.

8. Don’t neglect the kiosks.

Had I not taken my own advice and done some shopping research beforehand, I wouldn’t have known about the amazing Skele-Gro keychain sold only at the Wizarding World. As it turns out, it really is sold only in the park, as it’s one of the items not available in other Universal gift shops. Unfortunately, it also didn’t seem to be available in the Hogsmeade shops, as after several passes through I still couldn’t find it. Thankfully, I thought to check the outdoor kiosk outside the Castle, and I found it in all its glory.

9. Go back at night.

The Wizarding World is a totally different experience when as the sun goes down. The heat isn’t as intense, and the crowds die down a lot. Most importantly, the setting sun gives the town a beautiful glow that makes for great photo ops. Hogwarts truly is stunning in the dimming light.

I’m a Negligent Blogger

I know I haven’t posted much this week, and I’ve completely ignored the weekly memes I usually participate in. But you see, this week my brain has been occupied by bigger things, magical things.

Until I get home and get situated, I’m afraid I’m going to continue to be a bit absent here, but have no fear, I haven’t forgotten my wonderful blog; I’ve just been a bit preoccupied. And I promise to catch you up on all of the wonderful things that have been holding my attention. For now, I’ll leave you with this lovely little teaser and hope that everyone has had a wonderful week reading, blogging, writing, and doing all things literary.

The Pains and Pleasures of the Book Sale

I make no allusions; I am a book sale junkie. I scour newspapers and library websites hunting for the next sale scheduled within an hour’s drive. However, after my most recent excursion, which resulted in forty minutes stuck in traffic and zero books to show for the effort, I began to wonder if my habit was paying off.

I’ve mentioned before my general aversion to ebooks and my personal preference for buying my books rather than borrowing from the library.  While this goes a long way toward satisfying my book-buying cravings, it also means that I’m shelling out the bucks on a regular basis.  I’d never be able to buy all of the books I wanted if I bought new, and I’m sure many fellow bloggers frequent used book stores as well.  Until recently, however, nothing satisfied me more than a library sale. The exhilaration of beating others to be first in line, the mystery of the selection available, the ability to walk away with an entire shelf’s worth of books for only ten dollars, nothing could beat a good library sale in my book. This was, however, until my most recent experience in which I met the unfortunate equivalent of a book sale drill seargant. I arrived straight from work, and so got there only a few minutes before the sale was scheduled to begin.  I assumed I would be just fine, since I was already a library member.  However, upon arriving, I was given a slip of paper with the number 54 scribbled on it. Fine, I thought, they just want to make sure I am really a member; oh, how wrong I was. General Paperback soon proceeded to herd us all like cattle, instructing us to line up in the order of our numbers and waving her arms about to direct us to the precise room we were allowed to enter.  So there I stood, impatiently grumbling behind fifty-three other irritated book buyers, waiting for my turn to enter the sacred chamber of dogeared paperbacks.

Usually, I would be in my element at such a sale, but by the time I actually entered the room, the wind had been let out of my sales. Add to that the general lack of quality of books available this time around, and I left a very displeased camper indeed. Given the recent deluge of blog posts detailing bloggers’ trips to BEA, I couldn’t help but remember my own frazzled book-buying experience. So it made me wonder, how many of you enjoy attending book sales, exhibitions, and other high-stress book-buying events? Is the ability to stock your shelves cheap or grab the next big ARC enough to inspire you to endure the stress, or would you prefer to shell out more money or wait a few months in exchange for comfort?

One Year Blogoversary GIVEAWAY

Alright, so my blog isn’t turning 25, but at least it shows I can bake. Mmm, cake.

Today, my wee little blog celebrates its first birthday. It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by since my blog transformed from a niggling thought at the back of my head to a reality. I’ve achieved more this year than I could have hoped for, made a few fellow blogging friends along the way, and read some fantastic books, which is really what it’s all about. It seems only fitting that my first giveaway should be celebratory in nature.

To commemmorate my first blogoversary, I’m giving away two books from three of my favorite authors. One lucky follower will win a copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. A second follower will win a copy of Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Oh, and in case I forgot to mention: Will Grayson, Will Grayson is SIGNED.

Alright, now I’m going to do the shameless self-promotion bit, but really, don’t you want to win one of the fabulous books mentioned above? So to enter, please become an email subscriber of my blog and leave a comment telling me that you’ve signed up. For kicks and giggles, also let me know what your favorite most underrated book is, because I’m always looking for suggestions.

Entrants will gain an additional entry for each of the following:
  • Following me on Twitter (@BooknShortLatte)
  • Friending me on Goodreads (Shortlatte)
  • Tweeting the link to the giveaway
  • Commenting on any previously-posted review

Include your total number of entries in your comment, please! Contest runs from Sunday, July 15 through midnight on Sunday, July 22.

So that’s it. Go forth and let your entries abound.

Book Signing: Kevin Hearne, Author of the Iron Druid series

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a signing on one of the stops for Kevin Hearne’s book tour for the latest in his Iron Druid series, Trapped. Amidst much laughter, discussion, and fangirling (or fanboying, as the case may be) about certain fantasy authors, Hearne had some rather interesting things to say about the develpment and future of his series, his thoughts on urban fantasy today, and the importance of being a geek.

Despite the warning not to judge a book by its cover, I’ve always been somthing of a cover art nerd, so it was fascinating to hear Hearne speak a little bit about the evolution of the Iron Druid series’s cover art. As part of his research regarding the Native American mythology that features in Tricked, Hearne traveled to the Navajo nation to get a good look at the land where his story would be set. He wanted to take pictures of where everything would be to get the feel, the sound, and the smell of the locale. “There’s a lot to the white noise you would get in a place,” he says, before going on to describe the sights he encountered on his trip. Amidst precariously maintained roads flanked by mounds of shredded tires that couldn’t endure the journey, Hearne was particularly struck by what he described as jagged rocks covered with sand that sat in the distance. He took pictures of said rocks, sent them to his editor with fingers crossed that they would eventually make their way to the cover artist, and lo and behold, the silhouette of his picture can be seen on Tricked‘s cover. “I am so excited,” he exclaims before stating that, since they put the cover blurb over the silhouette, you can’t actually see it, but rest assured that it’s there. “That shadow there; that’s me.”

Another aspect of cover art today, urban fantasy in particular, that Hearne finds troublesome is the prevalence of unrealistic body types depicting female characters. As the upcoming Trapped is the first in the series to feature Atticus’s protoge Granuaile on the cover, Hearne felt it was very important to portray her as a normal human being. Unfortunately, despite explicitly asking for modest attire and no cleavage, the first draft looked more like what most urban fantasy seems conditioned to provide: leather and comic book boobs. “Dang near poked me in the eye,” he jokes. Luckily, the final draft features a decidedly more normal Granuaile.

Regarding the future direction of the series, Hearne says that we should expect to see further incorporation of Greco-Roman mythology. He laments that they only teach the boring parts in school, and that there’s some twisted stuff that many people haven’t heard before. He teases that we should keep our eyes out for the upcoming Hunted (“Hunted; goddeses of the hunt”). Hearne also alerts readers to some stories that we might not be aware of yet that help to fill in the gaps in the Iron Druid timeline. The novella Two Ravens and One Crow, due out the 15th in electronic format only, takes place six years after Tricked and six years after Trapped, and it resolves some issues left hanging after Hammered regarding Thor’s, well, hammer. Hearne jokes that he was persuaded to write the novella after receiving numerous requests from fans wanting to know why the hammer hasn’t played more of a role in recent books. “Just step away from the World of Warcraft,” Hearne jokes, stating that the novella will clarify why Atticus hasn’t used the hammer more extensively. In addition, the novella A Test of Mettle, formerly available only with the ebook version of Hammered, is now available on Hearne’s website for all to read (just scroll to the bottom of the “Goodies” page).

As far as timelines go, Hearne clarifies that there will be nine in the series, consistent with Irish mythology in which cycles are told in series of nine. “Three times three nights he labored…” and so on, nine is a constant. As far as the twelve-year gap between Tricked and Trapped goes, Hearne explains that he made the decision mainly in order to cut out the boring bits as Granuaile progresses in her training. He says that as it’s mainly a magical rather than a technological issue, hopefully the technology will hold up and we won’t have subthermal implants in eight years’ time. As long as Atticus can still refer to a cell phone, he thinks the chronological jump will withstand the test of time.

Perhaps one of the more interesting discussions of the evening involved Hearne’s explanation that, while he writes his series mainly to provide entertainment, the books do actually hold an important message: that of religious tolerance. Atticus is the last living practitioner of his faith. He doesn’t have a choice; he must be tolerant. “Are you going to hate everyone?” Hearne recounted a conflict he had with his copy editor regarding the lowercase pronoun “he” in reference to Jesus. Hearne explained that while Atticus knows Jesus is a deity, he’s not Atticus’s deity, thus the lowercase pronoun made sense, but the copy editor merely referred to standards in the industry and audience expectations. Hearne’s response? He rewrote the sentence to get rid of the pronoun.

Other fun facts we found out that night:
  • Hearne is a professed Patrick Rothfuss fanboy, claiming that, upon meeting the author at San Diego ComicCon, he lost his cool. He also suspects that Rothfuss’s beard has layers and depth and may involve another dimension. One of his favorite moments at a signing thus far involved being asked to sign a sword (by a fan named Kodiac, no less) previously signed by Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, and R.A. Salvatore.
  • Hearne loves the audiobook versions of his series and laughs at his own jokes not because he thinks they’re so funny, but because the way the reader delivers the lines is so awesome.
  • The idea for the series began as Atticus and Oberon the comic book (for a DC Comics-sponsored contest). While he writes, Hearne continues to see his story as comic book panels.
  • Regarding his stance on fanfiction, Hearne says “my feeling is that fans are awesome and so is fiction…I’m not gonna say ‘how dare you like my stuff.”‘
  • While Hearne features real locations in his stories, he sometimes changes the names. “Whenever there’s a vast slaughter of people, I change the names to protect the business.”