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Friday, 9 March 2018

Ringo's London

It was cold in London in February, 2018, and the last days of my week-long trip were spent dodging snow flurries and warming frozen fingers around mugs of hot tea. I spent several days with this book in my pocket, traveling the city as Ringo and Jess might have - on foot and with an eye for the small details that average Londoners, head down against the cold, might overlook.

Some of the locations I wrote about in this book were already familiar to me, but others had to be researched online, with only old maps and available photographs to guide my words. It was magical, then, to see the places I'd only gleaned from Google and Wikipedia - to feel the age of them, experience the size and color and smell of them - and to confirm that I'd gotten things right, or at least right enough.

Before the snow came, I accidentally stumbled upon the College of Arms - that venerable institution and part of the Queen's Household which keeps the records of every noble title and Coat of Arms in England and Wales. I'd seen a photo online, and I'd guessed at the interior behind the courtroom, but I was delighted to see that I'd pictured it very nearly the way it was in real life. The next time I go to London, I will make an appointment well in advance of my visit to speak with a herald, and perhaps view the books full of Coats of Arms themselves.

The exterior courtyard of the College of Arms, facing toward the River Thames

The interior court of the College of Arms, just inside the doors
Another day I had an hour before I'd promised to meet some friends, so I walked down to Holland Park to visit the Leighton House Museum. It was a location I had carefully researched online, and had even sent my husband to visit before Ringo's book was published. Ed had remarked on the house's beauty, and made the point that the tiles in the Arab Room would be very loud if one were to attempt to sneak around inside wearing shoes. I had seen the photos on the South Kensington website, of course, but nothing had prepared me for the utter loveliness of the house in person.

Very sadly, I was not allowed to photograph the interior of the house, because the museum itself does not own the reproduction rights to several of the on-loan artworks. So I had to console myself with photos of the exterior red brick, and of the lovely, hand-made coffee mug I bought in the gift shop, which has become my new favorite.

Leighton House Museum, Holland Park Square

Leighton House - exterior of the Arab Hall

From the gift shop inside the Leighton House
Here is a link to the official Leighton House website, and I promise, it's so much more breathtaking in person, than in photos: Leighton House Museum

Then it was my last day in London, and after two days of snow, Ringo and I still had some places to visit. First stop was the Langham Hotel - the famous luxury hotel in Fitzrovia and the setting for the fateful Oscar Wilde/Arthur Conan Doyle meeting which inspired Ringo's Sherlockian adventures. I first took this photo ...
Exterior of the historic Langham Hotel, London
... which required an explanation to the two doorman who had posed so exuberantly in the background. Hassan and Daniel were very enthusiastic about the idea of their hotel having been written into my book, and Daniel explained that he had also written a book set around the Langham - a children's book about Sherlock Holmes' dog - and he wanted to buy my copy of Urchin from me right there. I still had too many photo adventures to take with this copy, so Ed graciously agreed to deliver it to the Langham the next day. The gentlemen were lovely, and generously allowed me to take as many photos of the interior of the hotel as I liked.

Hassan and Daniel, doormen at the Langham Hotel
The historic register plaque describing the meeting between Wilde and Conan Doyle

Inside the front doors at the Langham Hotel

Comfortable places to wait for one's carriage at the Langham Hotel

The Art Deco style is not Victorian, but I can imagine Oscar Wilde in this setting

The bar in the Langham Hotel
After bidding the lovely doormen farewell, I ventured up Great Portland Avenue and made my way to  the corner of Marylebone High Street and Paddington Gardens, where the historic and gorgeous Daunt Books, specializing in travel books, has occupied a three-story building since 1912, and is alleged to be the oldest custom-built bookstore in the world. It is one of those bookish places that inspire fantasies of finding every secret passage behind the shelves, and discovering whole rooms full of books hidden within the walls.

Daunt's Books in Marylebone, London
A nice view in Daunt's Books
I had placed Mrs. Dorne's pawnshop just around the corner on Paddington Gardens because halfway down the block is an almost invisible alley, listed on maps as a street since well before 1885, called Grotto Passage.

The passage is no wider than a man's shoulders, and leads to a small courtyard, maybe twice the size of my living room, on which remains the building that once housed the Marylebone Ragged School, which was the Victorian way of providing education for poor children whose families couldn't afford to send them to "public" (private) schools.

I had stumbled across this ragged school in my research about the type of schooling that was available to street urchins in Victorian London, and it was like discovering hidden treasure to actually find the passage and building that I'd read about.

Finally, the cold had seeped in well beyond my leopard print gloves, and I had just one more photo to take before I could seek the warmth of a pub.

Townhouses on Regents Park
These aren't the actual townhouses in which I placed Ringo and Charlie, because I was too cold to walk that far, but these were designed and built by the same architect. All of these windows face Regents Park, as does Ringo's house on Cornwall Terrace, and a quick property search just revealed that an 8-bedroom, 8k square foot house on Cornwall Terrace is currently listed for sale at over 27 million pounds.

My other adventures in and around London have included locations and research for previous books, and I'll share the photos here in case you find yourself wandering around the historic city one day, looking for interesting things to see. 

The Tower of London
Borough Market
St. Paul's Cathedral
Parliament from a boat on the Thames
Portobello Road Market

Portobello Road
The Electric Cinema on Portobello Road
Hyde Park outside Kensington Palace
King's Cross Station
The permanent exhibit at the British Library
Leeds Castle in Kent
The actual artwork hanging at Leeds Castle
Bletchley Park
The Diagon Alley set at the Harry Potter Studios
The Hogwarts Great Hall set at the Harry Potter Studios

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Best YA Books Under $4

I read a book every two or three days, and consequently, I have a fairly vast storehouse of book recommendations to fling at friends, acquaintances, parents at my kids' schools, their crossing guard, my bank teller, and the cable guy. I've built a page of book recommendations on my website because I need lists, and I go there periodically to check the prices of my favorite books so I can shout to my reader group on social media when there's a sale.

Here's a link to that page if anyone is interested:

A couple of my favorite YA Fantasy books are on sale right now, and I haven't done a blog post in ... wow, months, so this is a good time to talk about some great books.

Gregor the Overlander (The Underland Chronicles, book 1 of 5) by Suzanne Collins

This book is the first in a five-book series, perfect for about 10+ year-olds. Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games, wrote the Underland series first, and it's full of giant bats, rats, battles, and the sort of adventures a twelve-year-old boy can get into when he's helping a strange girl save her underworld. Be advised, Collins doesn't shy away from the tough stuff. At the end of it all, Gregor has to deal with some hard truths about war, even inside his own happy ending. I read this series out loud to my boys when they were 8, and they've since read it again to themselves. Highly recommended.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson (book 1 of 3)

This fantasy series is geared more toward girls, aged about 12+. The heroine is as unlikely as the adventure on which she finds herself in the desert, against the elements, and even against magic. Her personal journey is a valuable one as she discovers her own strength and determination to save the people she was meant to rule. The romantic thread through the trilogy is subtle, yet satisfying even to an adult reader, and I've read these books several times.

An Urchin of Means (The Baker Street series, book 1 of 3) by April White

My 10-year-old son loved this, and my 75-year-old father did too. The urchin of the title is Ringo Devereux, who knows far too much for a young Victorian man of means, as he is the product of his childhood on the street and his travels through time. He and his 10-year-old female pickpocket cohort become the unintentional inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle as they solve the actual mysteries on which the Sherlock Holmes adventures are based.

The Queen's Poisoner (The Kingfountain series, book 1 of 6) by Jeff Wheeler

This entire six-book series is currently on sale for $2 (or less) per book. It's a fantasy series appropriate for about 12+, and begins with young Owen Kiskaddon, a duke's son traded as a hostage to a corrupt king, who secretly learns to survive from the king's own assassin. The whole series is full of magic, adventure, war, intrigue, and a bit of romance just to keep it real. The audiobooks are also on sale, and the whole series is well worth the investment.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, book 1 of 9) by Keven Hearne

There are 9 books in this excellent urban fantasy series about a two thousand-year-old Druid masquerading as a twenty-something-year-old rare book and herb shopkeeper. It is certainly not written as a YA series, but both of my boys have inhaled it in e-book and audiobook formats, and they demanded I read it too. I loved the whole series, especially the Irish Wolfhound the Druid has taught to mind-speak, and the whole pantheon of Gods and deities from every culture in the world. Highly recommended.