Monday, August 5, 2013

Ilona Andrews in San Diego

Posing with the husband-wife writing team, Ilona Andrews

I don't talk a lot about my reading habits on this blog, but it's one of my favorite hobbies in the world and I will always have books to fall back on. It's my fantasy to live in a huge house with its own dedicated library room (kind of like the Beast's library in the Disney Beauty and the Beast). If only, right? Reading was my first love growing up and I even wanted to make a career out of it once; after all, I was a graduate student in English for a long time.

But I definitely don't read high-falutin' books all that much anymore. These days, my reading diet consists mostly of genre fiction. Confession: I ended up as a graduate student in literature partly because I was a romance-novel junkie in my formative years. I moved to the United States from the Philippines when I was about seven years old, and in the ensuing years, I became adept at reading, writing, spelling, and speaking English mostly because I read romance novels all the time. You know, the racy but quick-reading Harlequin Presents stuff. Then I moved on to longer stand-alone historicals, contemporary romances, and then paranormal romances (a subgenre which exploded into the publishing scene back when I was a late teenager). In the middle of all that, I also read the more age-appropriate The Baby-sitters Club series and the occasional sci-fi/fantasy and young adult book (think Norma Klein and Lois Lowry), but it's really the romances that got me started. Once I read Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre in 8th grade, I was hooked into a literate and literary life for good.

In the mid-1990s, while in my tender high school years, I found Laurell K. Hamilton and became a fan of dark urban fantasy. When I got tired of the constant sexxx0ring in the later books of her Anita Blake series, I looked around and found Kim Harrison, who introduced me to a funner and funnier version of the subgenre (I highly recommend her Hollows/Rachel Morgan series -- start with Dead Witch Walking). That led me to several other authors later on, particularly Ilona Andrews, whose Kate Daniels series also had a lot of biting humor and excellent romantic tension that never took over the plotting or world-building.

Reading these novels was my little secret for a long time. You may not know how many people scoff when they hear me talk about romance novels. And this is from people who've never read any (sorry, Jane Austen doesn't count). Only my older sister and one of her friends ever read genre fiction the way I did, and my sister now reads mostly contemporary literary fiction. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when my son and I visited his classmate's house for a playdate last year and I found that his mother's bookcases carried TONS of genre fiction, with lots of crossovers with my own collection. Michelle, the classmate's mom, used to be a young adult services librarian, and she even has a book review blog documenting her prolific reading. We've been exchanging books since then, and I have been happy to get lots of recommendations from her. I slowed down my personal reading quite a bit while working on grad school projects, and it didn't pick up again until this summer, when I managed to knock off at least 6 novels plus several novellas from my mountainous TBR (to-be-read) pile since July. (That's a lot for me, by the way. I'm not a fast reader by any means.) I even re-read a couple of books to remember context. I just wish I didn't need sleep! Anyway, Michelle is a huge fan of Ilona Andrews books, and when she told me about their upcoming visit to San Diego and invited me to go down with her, I said yes.

It turned out to be a grand experience. Her friend Becca kindly drove us down to the awesome independent bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, and then we met up with Maggie, one of Michelle's blogger friends, after the talk and signing. The talk was really an hour-long Q&A with the husband and wife team that is Ilona Andrews. Ilona is a Russian immigrant with a charming accent and really fun sense of humor, and Andrew is an ex-military guy with a quieter but complementary kind of humor. They were so wry and funny together, and you could see how it's possible that they haven't killed each other working so closely together everyday. It was also fun to see how each of their personalities is built into their characters, especially Kate and Curran (if you're familiar with the series). What was truly wonderful, though, was how nice they were in person. They were so generous with their time, signing ALL the books that people brought/bought, and then taking a little extra time to take photos with their readers. Even though they must be exhausted from traveling (Ilona said she has a lot of anxiety flying on airplanes), they are so good with their fans. If you'd like to get a taste of their writing, you can check out their blog where they have hilarious posts as well as free stuff you can read.

We ended the outing with sushi and a visit to a huge used-book/CD/DVD emporium called Book-Off, which was conveniently across the street from the yummy sushi place we found via Google Local. We stuffed ourselves ridiculously full (I didn't take photos of the spicy seaweed poke salad I polished off) then treated ourselves to even more books. Gah!!

Aside from requiring such long drives (special thanks to Becca for getting us there and back safely as well as going to the nearby Japanese grocery and providing us with fun candy snacks to keep us awake on the drive home), it was a perfect day with new friends that nourished mind and body both. Bonding over good books and good food is no small thing. What a great way to cap off my summer vacation.

xo, Gladys


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