Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wrap Up: May 2018

Hey everyone!

So this has been an absolutely brilliant month for me in terms of reading progress and book bargains. I feel like I have become a much more productive reader of late and that I am making progress with my Goodreads goal of 100 books this year. I am still way behind schedule, but I am going to push to get more reading done.  I sit for far too many hours on Social Media and this is time that could be better spent actually reading books.

The month started off with a bang, as it was the Exclusive Books Warehouse Sale. We have not had one on two years, so I was really excited as every single item on sale was R30 each. Everything! I got up super early and drove out to their Warehouse in Kramerville with Nandi (who sometimes contributes to the blog with reviews).

We arrived at 07h30am and the queue was absolutely insane already. It is clear that Jozi loves books, but doesn't always have the money to spend on them.

After standing for an hour or so in the queue and burning my mouth on my coffee, we were let inside to scratch through tables and tables of all kinds of books. I was really pleased with the overall quality of this sale and saw books less than 2 years' old.

My Sale haul.
I got around 27 books and could easily have bought more if my arms and budget allowed for it!

I read 9 books this month, a record for me. It's been a while since I have managed this many books in one month. We will ignore the fact that some of these are Mills & Boons and very quick reads. The point is that I read them. Dammit.

Books I read this month were:

  • Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
  • The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily XR Pan
  • The Taking by Kimberly Derting
  • Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham
  • The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
  • Born of Silence by Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • Swept Away by the Enigmatic Tycoon by Rosanna Battigelli
  • The Lieutenant's Online Love by Caro Carson
  • Captivated by the Brooding Billionaire by Rebecca Winters
I will do reviews on some of these in time, as well as a Mills and Boon Mashup Review for May.

A small sample of my TBR.

As much I would like to share my June TBR with you, I have realized that I cannot plan for my moods and never stick to them. Oh well.

If you follow me on Instagram (UrbansedGeek), you will notice an increase in quality and quality posts over the next month or so. I am trying to get my Insta account going properly as I am finding it to be a great way to interact with other bookish people. Also, there is almost no hate there. It's awesome.

Also, you can expect more opinion posts instead of reviews as I have realized that people tend to read those more than reviews, which I suppose can get boring after a while. If you do want to keep up-to-date on my reading, I am on Goodreads as Monique Bernic.

That's it from my side. Have a great June, everyone!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Completely Subjective and Judgmental Opinion on South African Bookstores

I have been debating about this post for a few weeks and I decided that, reactions be damned, I have thoughts to get off my chest.

As a disclaimer, the following points are based purely on observation and my own feelings on the matter. I do not want anyone going into this thinking it is well-researched facts. I have limited retail experience and am simply taking this from the perspective of both a customer and book enthusiast. If you disagree with anything I say, please let me know with a comment and we can get the conversation going.

In my younger and more vulnerable years (yes, I am quoting from The Great Gatsby, you clever bookworm, you), I used to work for Look & Listen, a music store known for having a great selection of genres and knowledge staff. Their offerings extended to DVD's, gaming and the like, but the heart of each store was its music. Their slogan was "for the fans" and I believe, for a time, it really was.

I remember, prior to my employment there, spending hours upon hours finding hidden gems, obscure albums and sitting at one of their listening booths, discovering new music that made me feel things. So it was, in many ways, a dream job for me. I got to chat to people about music, sort through new stock and and expand upon my music knowledge. I am not a one trick pony, you know. It's not just about the books in my head.

But, the digital age loomed over traditional music stores, with customers opting to go online and get iPods. The CD was slowly becoming obsolete and this began to hurt stores like Look and Listen. So, the franchise went into survival mode. They began to look for other avenues of revenue to keep their stores alive and bring feet through the door.

Trinkets like gift bags, branded fan items like keyrings, socks and the like started to dilute the merchandise on offer. CD sales continued to plummet and stock levels dropped with the demand. Not even Look and Listen's famous 3 for R99 sales could help them. And people didn't give a damn about the trinkets. They had specialist stores like Cardies for that sort of thing.

Look and Listen lost their identity and their entire reason for being. No amount of innovation was going to stop the inevitable closure of stores and subsequently the whole franchise. And it is sad and makes my nostalgic heart sore.

Gone are the days of browsing CD racks and jamming to the latest album from a favorite artist. The era of Empire Records has passed and this generation of teenagers will never experience the joy of visiting a music store that offers that unique experience. Now, they will be streaming Taylor Swift's latest on YouTube or Spotify, in what is essentially a solitary experience from the comfort of home.

I do have a point for you, bookstores. I feel there is a lot of learning that can be done from looking at traditional music stores as an example.

The digital age has impacted the book industry, too. It's just been a slower process probably in part due to the tangibility of books. I could get into the ebook versus paperback debate, but this is not the place for that.

I have seen in some local bookstores that they have also began the dilution process. Bringing in boardgames, trinkets and odd gifty things displayed prominently at till points. Mugs with names, pens and more. Bookstores, I am sure you mean well, but this is going to kill your revenue more that it will help. Fancy chairs and coffee are not why you are here.

I do have some ideas, though. Things which I feel are especially lacking in this country as well.

  1. Educate your staff on not just bestsellers, but also lesser known titles. Carry stock of some of those titles.
  2. Don't just buy off publishers' new release lists. See what else is out there. Rather carry less stock of new trade paperback titles, saving your risk of having to flog these off later with sales.
  3. If book 5 is coming out in a series, make sure you carry stock of books 1-4.
  4. Take advantage of your staff's knowledge and have a staff recommendations shelf unique to your store. If Frankie is a Sci-Fi buff, ask him what's good and get a few copies in your store for Frankie to sell.
  5. Stop buying trinket crap. It's a waste of money and no one actually wants it. I promise.
  6. Stock local authors. Put them in a prominent spot in your store. Lower your profit margins on these titles a little to get them into the hands of the people the books were written for.
  7. Use the power of the human element of physical stores. Make sure every customer has a good experience and feels welcome to hang around and browse. 
In short, bookstores need to continue to sell books and sell them well. Remain specialists of the trade and make sure each customer feels taken care of. Keep your shelves full of interesting titles and not just ones that are on current bestseller lists.

Your buyers need to know their stuff and stock your store according to the customer tastes of your area. The buyer has to interface with visitors too and find out what they are reading and what they want but cannot find. 

Book people love talking about books to other book people. Your staff are key in this interaction. It does not take much to have a good general understanding of each genre and the prominent authors who are the figureheads for it. 

I would hate for bookstores as we know them to become yet another nostalgic memory that the online experience cannot replicate. It loses the personal touch that books and reading should be embracing.

A book is expensive these days and people will be more willing to part with their money if they continue to have good experiences with bookstores. If visiting the store and dealing with the staff makes them leave with a smile, then that is a job well done. 

If you are reading this, please leave a comment below on what bookstores mean to you. Why do you visit your local bookstore over buying from an online store? Or have you made the move to purely shopping online for your physical books? Let me know! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Publisher: Penguin (January 2018)

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” 
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

The Hazel Wood is one of those super-hyped books that pretty much everyone is talking about since its release in January.

I have mixed feelings about it, though. It's like those candied nuts you find at flea markets. They smell really good and you want some, but as soon as you bite into it past the sugar, it kinda loses all appeal.

Melissa Albert is a competent writer. Her prose and pacing are brilliant, as is the build up of suspense. The first half of the book was amazing and I was so, so sure that this would be my new favorite read of 2018.

Of course, like the nuts, I was in for disappointment. Suddenly the book seemed to fall apart and the charm and intrigue simply vanished along with any desire I had to find out what was going to happen next. The worst part about this experience is that I cannot tell you what caused this, exactly.

I think, towards the end, the book tried to be too clever. And what happened didn't meet my expectations leading up to that point. I wanted so much more than what was on the page.

If you do want to read something a bit offbeat and different, do give this a try. But also do not let thr hype fool you into believing this is going to blow you away, either.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (April 2015)

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? 
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? 
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. 
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. 
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions... 

This was one of those books that made me feel guilty just by looking at it. I received my copy as a gift from Pan Macmillan a few years ago and I was so reluctant to read it. And not for the reasons you are thinking!

My copy is this gorgeous hardback edition with blue-lined pages. The best part is that it's actually signed. It is one of only three books I own signed by international authors and I really didn't want to hurt it in any way by reading it. But I am also cheap and wasn't willing to spend the money on a second copy either.

So, on a whim, I decided to finally read it and I am so glad I did.

Before I get into detail, I just want to put it out there that you should take the Goodreads reviews of this book with a pinch of salt. I think a lot of fans went into it with big expectations because of Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy.

This is a quiet, unassuming read. It's very character-driven and might be percieved as slow if you are not into that kind of thing and prefer your reads more action-packed. Although, there is plenty of action, it just takes place on the sidelines, which is the whole point.

If you enjoy a John Green or a Becky Albertelli, give this one a try. You will love all the characters!