30 December 2010

Catching up on sci-fi/fantasy quickly!

It's no secret around here on Word Nerd that I enjoy sci-fi/fantasy books. I don't read as many of them anymore, but I harbor a deep love for them.

The problem with catching up on sci-fi/fantasy titles is that the books are often SO long, or involve a series of inordinately long books (Robert Jordan, anyone?)

To help you wade through all those pages, Book-a-Minute has helpfully condensed many famous titles.

I won't tell you how much time I wasted reading many of these.

Some personal favorites among these "adaptations":
  • Good Omens
  • Interview with the Vampire
  • Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft

28 December 2010

Searching for a Series

I love reading series. Over the years, I've narrowed it down to two reasons:
  1. The growth and development of characters
  2. Seeing old friends again and again
I realized the growth and development aspect during my undergraduate years. The Victorian age novels I read back had so much more character growth than the modern mysteries and thrillers that dominated my reading. I hadn't discovered fantasy - urban fantasy might not have been invented even, or was just beginning.

By revisiting the same characters again and again, opening up the next one in the series always meant catching up where you last saw them. It's a one-side relationship, no doubt, but one that is deep enough that if you catch me and a fellow reader gabbing, Harry becomes a friend we are concerned about, Jamie and Claire are grandparents concerned about their growing family overseas, and Joanne is the girlfriend who needs bail, again.

Something about these characters has morphed into a full-fledged obsession. There is much ado about the next release including re-reading the back story, scanning forums for hints and checking for accidentally early releases by the careless book store.

As such, I'm in search of a new series. I have five or six that I absolutely adore, but waiting for the next one is painful. And the best way to distract is to start a new series. I have two en route via the Oshkosh Public Library reserve system: the Elemental Assassin series and the Cast in series. Both I found by browsing what others readers of my series bought from Amazon. But it's shooting in the dark.

Instead, I turn to you, dear reader. What is a must read series in your list?

27 December 2010

Book Banter -- Swordspoint

Title: Swordspoint
Author: Ellen Kushner
Length: 269 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Richard St Vier is the legendary swordsman in Riverside. When he kills two men at a fashionable garden party and the Duke leaves for the country, the whole of Riverside and the Hill slides into a tumultuous political upheaval as nobles plot against noble. Their primary weapons are Richard and his lover, Alec, and it will take all of their combined cunning to stay alive.

Banter Points: I read this book in high school, totally forgot about it, then stumbled on to just browsing the stacks one afternoon and thought this seems like a book I'd enjoy. Once I started reading, I instantly remember Richard St Vier and the terrible, derivative swordsman-style fiction I tried to write that semester in creative writing. While I liked the book at 17, I really enjoyed it now --mumblemumble -- years later. There was lots I somehow missed then (like the whole relationship between Richard and Alec... cough... how naive was I?) and the intricacies of the political maneuverings.

"Swordspoint" feels sort of like steampunk, maybe "regencypunk?" -- that twisting of history. It's got all the manners of the best historical fiction and all the swashbuckling action of fantasy novels.

Bummer Points: This is the only novel featuring St Vier. There are a couple short stories about him and Alec. There are a couple short stories that I will have to track down. I think more novels in a series probably would have cheapened the first one, but that doesn't mean I don't still wish they existed.

Word Nerd Recommendation: "Swordspoint" is a quiet cult, classic among fantasy books. It's not flashy, it doesn't have an epic quest, just amazing characters and an even better plot.

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

from the Word Nerd team.



24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!


I checked Santa's list and found that he has a few books to deliver to you. Unfortunately, he didn't take Bethany and me up on our offer to pre-read them to make sure they were suitable for you.

Enjoy your time with family and friends!

We'll be back next week and are cooking up great things for 2011 so stay tuned!

23 December 2010

Advent Story -- Part IV

This is part IV of my Advent short story series.

This one is "Bright Morning Star."

22 December 2010

Best of 2010 -- Top Ten Books of the Year

The moment you've all been waiting for -- The Word Nerd team picks their top 10 books they read in the past year.

We didn't even try for consensus on this one because while we're both readers and read much of the same stuff, it's different enough that one list would be impossible. And of course, what one person really loves, the other might despise.

So, drumroll please --

Bethany's Top Ten Books of 2010
10. One Hit Wonder, Charlie Carillo
9. Chimera, Rob Thurman
8. Shades of Gray, Jasper Fforde
7. Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffeneger
6. Changes, Jim Butcher
5. Weeping Underwater Looks a lot Like Laughter, Michael J. White
4. The Serialist, David Gordon
3. Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer
2. Dracula in Love, Karen Essex
1. Son of Laughter, Frederick Buechner

It took me several tries to come up with a top 10 list I was satisfied with and it wasn't until I put "Son of Laughter" in the #1 slot that I had it. I love this book and the powerful retelling of the Biblical narrative of Jacob. Several of my top-pick titles were all read in the last quarter of the year -- I hit a literary fiction streak.

This year's dark horse picks for me -- Changes and Chimera. Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series hasn't made my top 10 in the past, but this latest one was even more amazing than the rest. Also, I'm a big fan of Rob Thurman and I thoroughly enjoyed Chimera and her foray into a sci-fi thriller from her usual urban fantasy bent. The characters in both are as complex (if not more so!) that their counterparts in traditional fiction, so these genre picks had to get the nod.



Stacie's Top Ten Books of 2010
10. The Trouble with Magic by Madelyn Alt
9. Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer
8. Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
7. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
6. Alice I have Been by Melanie Benjamin
5. The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff
4. The Program Management Office by Craig J. Letavec, PMP
3. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
2. Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
1. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I've never created a top ten list for the year's reading before. Doing so made me realize two things:
  1. I'm willing to read anything.
  2. Not every book is memorable.

The characters in The Postmistress by Sarah Blake still move me. Choosing between the three women and the antics of Harry Dresden was tough. The fate of Sarah Blake's character is set, but there is more to come for Dresden. Ergo, this couldn't be the best for Jim Butcher.

The Project Management Office by Craig Letavec, PMP, was from one of my classes. It's probably the first coursework book I have enjoyed enough to recommend it to others at work. It also gave me an idea of where my career could be headed as well. (Considering the extreme lack of planning occurring in that arena, guide posts are a good thing.)

21 December 2010

Book Banter -- The Big Short


Title: The Big Short
Author: Michael Lewis
Genre: Non-fiction
Length: 266 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Personal collection

Plot Basics: Everyone has been affected by the US economic downturn. But the reality behind the machine is little known. Michael Lewis re-visits the Wall Street machine that began his career and helps the little guy understand what happens when the people who should know better, don't.

Banter Points: CDOs, short sells, prime rate mortgages and bogus triple A ratings are a few of the tangibles behind the crisis. Lewis builds a story that even someone who knows nothing about the Wall Street financial district can follow. For example, the known-as Toxic Assests were nothing more than bad loans grouped, divided, re-grouped and sold as triple A rated bonds. Bonds that should have been as stable as a US Treasury bond.

It wasn't that people didn't know. Lewis uncovers a few key players that knew what was going on. Some of them were exploiting the system. Some of them weren't allowed to do their jobs and raise the red flag. Others willingly ignored it because the profits were fantastic.

Bummer Points: My illusions about Wall Street and someone being in charge are dissolved. I have an undergraduate degree in English Literature and pretty much ran from any sort of business class (hence, the MBA now that I am in business.) I kept thinking during one of my Finance classes that it seemed too much like gambling and I must not understand something. After reading Lewis' book, I realize that I was both right and wrong; not only did I understand it, but it also really is gambling. It's all about what people think is going to happen. Apply some basic psychology, general rules about people's response to motivation and you have it - greed, reward and the sacrifice of Americans everywhere.

Stacie's Recommendation: If you have been looking for an explanation of what happened, this book is a fabulous tour guide. Lewis has outdone himself.

20 December 2010

Advent Writing Part III

Here's part three of my Advent short fiction.

This one is "Faithful and True."

17 December 2010

Advent Writing Part II

As promised, the link to the second part of my Advent Writing series.

This one is called "Lion and Lamb."

15 December 2010

Best of 2010 -- First Book in a Series

It's the second of the Award Wednesdays here at Word Nerd.

Our second category is Best First Book in a Series. Again, the book doesn't have to be published this year, just read by the Word Nerd bloggers during this past calendar year. This category was almost a tie (as was last week's) but in the end, we went with different books. All the more to enjoy!

Stacie's Pick:
Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

This was a lovely read that set off a nice six book series that came to an end this year. The characters were rich and varied, without having too much of a modern voice. I love reading series where the characters that grow and develop along with the subsequent books. Even better, there was a bit of a lag between novels so that not only did they have a chance to grow and change, there were parts of their lives that the reader wasn't privy too. It helped keep the characters fresh since they had new secrets to uncover.



Bethany's Pick:
Secret Societ Girl by Diana Peterfreund

I haven't had as much fun reading a book in a long time as I did reading this one. The characters are enjoyable, the dialogue witty and fun, and the tone full of the right blend of pop culture and snark.

I barreled through the first book and then kept on going. Normally, I space series out over a long period, but I finished all four of these books in the span of a few months. Secret Society Girl was just brimming with such potential for the series, it had to get the nod from me.

14 December 2010

Book Banter -- Side Jobs


Title: Side Jobs
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 400+ pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Dresden has a life inbetween the novels - who knew? These stories capture some of those moments.

Banter Points: The stories were great and Butcher's notes about the history of how the story came to be were even better. Bethany and I have spent no small amount of time wondering how Butcher can bear to continue to torture Dresden (and and the reader). Butcher shares that the stories have him laughing gleefully when he isn't busy cackling with joy.

Some maniacal plotting is going on here.

Bummer Points: The last story is told from Karrin Murphy's point of view. That in and of itself isn't a bummer point. We STILL don't know what happened to Harry. Murphy is very capable of serious butt kicking all by herself, but even she realizes that Chicago without Harry Dresden is a bad thing.

Stacie's Recommendation: As always, pick it up. Immediately. It's a fabulous read.

13 December 2010

Word Nerd's Been Blurbed!

One of my long-time aspirations for Word Nerd when I started it was to have the reviews posted here "blurbed" for books. A blurb, in case you were wondering, is that quote by another author or a review on the front that's supposed to lend credence to why you should read this book

It's finally happened. And Word Nerd's not buried on the inside, oh no.

Check out the bottom of this cover, enlarged to show detail:


A FRONT COVER blurb for a NY Times best-selling series.

I'm standing in Borders' YA section trying to find a book for my mentee for Christmas. I don't think she reads my blog, but if she does, try to act surprised when you open the package, OK? I've read (and throroughly enjoyed) the Morganville series so the new omnibus editions would make a great gift, I'm thinking.

And there it is. At the bottom. A blurb. Credited to Word Nerd.

At first I think, oh, it must be some other Word Nerd. Except there isn't another one. The podcast that had the same name is kaput. And, as I read it again, it sure sounded like something I would write.

So I bought the book for my mentee and vowed to check the all-knowing internet when I got home. And lo and behold, from Feb. 2, 2009, there it is. My exact words in the review of the series' 5th book.

I'm a huge fan of Rachel Caine's work and I'm thrilled that Word Nerd's first blurb -- or the first one I saw -- is on one of hers.

Word Nerd's blurbing service, now open for business.

10 December 2010

Three Favorite Distractions

I'm sure that there is some scientific research to support this, but I'm a firm believer in distractions. I cannot tell you how many times I walk away from a problem, only to come back later and wonder why my brain was malfunctioning because the answer is oh-so-very-obvious now.


My three favorite internet distractions are as follows:
Dooce
xckd
Facebook

What are yours?

09 December 2010

Book Banter -- Brokedown Palace

Title: Brokedown Palace
Author: Steven Brust
Genre: fantasy
Length: 351 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Brust takes readers to the other side of the world from his Vlad Taltos series, to the land of Fenario. There, four brothers in the royal family are living in a crumbling palace. When the youngest brother, Miklos, dares to mention this to his eldest brother, the King, Laszslo, he is nearly killed and driven from the kingdom. When he returns a few years later, the Palace -- and the brothers' hold on the kingdom -- is threatened by a mysterious tree growing in the crumbling structure. Miklos must come to terms with his family and figure out what home truly means to save himself and those around him.
Banter Points: This is the first non-Vlad book of Brust's that I've read and I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. The narrative sounds nothing like the tone of a Vlad story, but then I realized that's exactly the point. The story is rather quiet -- none of Vlad's action-packed antics -- but it's charming. The main narrative is broken up with small "Interlude" chapters, full of folk-tales that add to the richness of the land Brust puts his readers in. The brothers are a brilliantly dysfunctional family and it's neat to see how he evolves the character of each of them.
Bummer Points: This would not be a good first introduction to Brust. The world is complicated and it helps to have a little idea of where things are from the Vlad stories because it wouldn't be as accessible without that background knowledge.
Word Nerd Recommendation: An absolute must-read for Brust fans and those who like interesting fantasy may well enjoy it too.

08 December 2010

Best of 2010 -- Best Discovered Author

Welcome to Award Wednesdays for the rest of the month of December. We'll be posting Word Nerd's usual award categories -- Discovered Author, First Book in a Series and the Top 10 list over the next three weeks. We're combining our picks for the first two and then we'll each post a Top 10 list just before Christmas. Not that you have to take our word for it, but there might be some last-minute gift ideas on that last list for the book-lover in your world.

As with these awards in past years, the criteria is its a book that we've read in the past year. Publication date is irrelevant, so a really old book that we just stumbled on to could be the winner.

So, now that the 'splainin' is out of the way, the first category up is Best Discovered Author. This is the first year for two judges and we weren't expecting this, but this year's pick is UNANIMOUS for Brad Parks, author of "Faces of the Gone."

Stacie offers her explanation for why he won:
I actually had the privilege of meeting Brad while at Bouchercon 2009. At the time, we resembled sardines in a can, but had drinks in hand so it was tolerable. The witty conversation with Brad definitely increased the enjoyment level, enough so that I forgot about the sardine situation. I was delighted to find that his book was just as fabulous. "Eyes of the Innocent" is out February 2011 and I can't wait to see what's up for this spunky reporter.

And Bethany...
Brad not exactly a stranger here on Word Nerd. Here's my review of his book and here's the interview I did with him after that sardine-like meeting. I totally agree with Stacie's assessment of that situation.

So why did Brad get the nod from me in this category too? Simple. Of all the times in the past year where I've thought Gosh, I should read that book and actually managed to pick it up, Brad's debut is the one where I'm most looking forward to reading something else by the same author. There are others that I read for the first time this year, but I'm not actively checking the library catalog for when I can put the next, as-yet-unreleased-book on hold for anybody else. (No, sadly, "Eyes of the Innocent" is not yet available through the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library... if it's anything like "Faces", it will be a long, impatient-on-my-part wait.)

I'm sure both Stacie and I are hoping there will be opportunity to chat with Brad again at Bouchercon 2011. Maybe just with less sardine-ness this time.

07 December 2010

Stacie's November Bibliometer

I'm in the count down to the end of the semester (t-minus 14 days). But other than showing up for class, my last big effort is to finish a four page paper - of which 2.5 pages have been written.

Until then, enjoy the following books stats for the month of November:
Nine Titles
2,165 pages
1 re-read that I did not recall the first read on (The Broker by John Grisham; not sure what exactly this says for his career)
Three YA-Fiction titles that my 10yo reluctant reader liked (yay!)
2 titles for class

Until next time, happy reading.

05 December 2010

Advent Writing

The church I attend is very welcoming of the arts and encourages artists to create things for our services and worship times. There's a group of us who write and we were asked to write pieces for the four weeks of Advent based on our reflections on the sermon Scriptures (from Revelation) and the whole Nativity story.

I'd never written anything for one of the holiday seasons before but decided to give it a go this year. I'm a fiction writer, so that's what happened when I sat down. I'll post links to the whole series as it comes out, though I'll probably be about a week behind.


Here's the introduction to the series and the link to part one, Alpha and Omega.


When I began reading Revelation in preparation for Advent writing, I never imagined I would be writing fiction. But as I asked God what he would have me write, the character of John Patmos – with all his past and all his current circumstances – came to me in a flash. My first reaction was No way. I can’t write something that’s got a science fiction bent for Advent. As I thought for the next few days, I had no other ideas, and John Patmos – and specifically the exhortation in Revelation 1:19 – was clamoring so loud in my head that I couldn’t help but agree to tell this story and trust that this was what God had for me this season.

On the other hand, fiction has always spoken loudly to me, and it’s where I’m finding my identity as a writer. C.S. Lewis’ beautiful Space Trilogy brought me to understand the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation in a way that no lecture or religion textbook could. Creating John Patmos’ story has helped me remember – again – that those are the four over-arching acts of all of our lives. We are in a constant state of Advent, waiting between Redemption and Consummation, and that has brought a renewed sense of hope to me this season.

03 December 2010

Jane Austen & Twitter

I decided to re-read one of my all time favorite Jane Austen books - Emma.

In the story the Woodhouses are the genteel family in the neighborhood and leave Emma desiring appropriate company on numerous occasions. One family that is available to her is the Bateses, an older lady and her niece.

Consider the dialogue below, from the younger Miss Bates, upon sharing news of the marriage between Mr. Elton and Miss Hawkins.

"But where could you hear it?" cried Miss Bates. "Where could you possibly hear it, Mr. Knightley? For it is not five minutes since I received Mrs. Cole's note—no, it cannot be more than five—or at least ten—for I had got my bonnet and spencer on, just ready to come out—I was only gone down to speak to Patty again about the pork—Jane was standing in the passage—were not you, Jane?—for my mother was so afraid that we had not any salting-pan large enough. So I said I would go down and see, and Jane said, 'Shall I go down instead? for I think you have a little cold, and Patty has been washing the kitchen.'—'Oh! my dear,' said I—well, and just then came the note. A Miss Hawkins—that's all I know. A Miss Hawkins of Bath. But, Mr. Knightley, how could you possibly have heard it? for the very moment Mr. Cole told Mrs. Cole of it, she sat down and wrote to me. A Miss Hawkins—"

It is too tempting to break the whole monologue into a twitter stream:

--Got a note from @mrsCole. Just put on bonnet and spencer. Patty will have to wait.

--@Patty - I know Mother wants to know about the salting pan, but she must wait. @mrsCole sent a note!!!

--@Jane, don't run down the steps. I'll do it - your cold is too bad. @patty was washing the kitchen.

--@Knightley - how ever did you hear about @Elton news already?

--@mrsCole did you tell @Knightley about the @Elton news already?

Etc. Etc. Jane would have loved Twitter.

02 December 2010

Introducing Mina

As if the holidays weren't crazy enough on their own, Word Nerd decided to complicate it all just a little bit more. I adopted a kitten.

Meet Mina.

At the vet's yesterday, she was 2lbs., 10 oz. which puts her right around 2.5 mos. old which is what we thought. She was born under a friend's porch, so her exact birthday is unknown.

I've always given my pets literary names, back to the gold fish I named Robin and Hood when I was a kid. As I was thinking about women in literature, it seemed like they all had really boring names (Jane, Lizzie, etc.) and then I thought of Mina Harker from Dracula (and more recently, Dracula in Love). It's a big name for this little girl to grow into, but I think it's going to fit her. She tries to be a proper lady, already she's a fastidious groomer, but then she breaks into wild bouts of playing that are anything but ladylike.

Big brother Gatsby isn't sure what to make of the kitten (a.k.a. squeaky toy) since her meows are more like "meeps" at this point. This morning, he's being very brave and sitting on the back of the love seat just observing Mina asleep on my lap while I type. Yesterday he spent most of the day hiding out behind the closed door to my bedroom and wouldn't get this close to the kitten without hissing or making that growling cat noise. This morning, he's been sniffing her toys (which he also hissed at yesterday) and she's been content to watch him watching her.

Mina's already been helpful with writing by standing on the keyboard or the paper I'm trying to edit. Gatsby didn't even have to teach her that.

Word Nerd will stay a book blog (not a cat blog, I promise!) but I wanted to introduce my the member of my editing team.

01 December 2010

Book Banter -- The Lincoln Lawyer

Title: The Lincoln Lawyer
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Legal mystery/thriller
Length: ~400 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Mickey Haller is a defense lawyer, trying to stay just this side of being that kind of sleazy defense lawyer, and his forays too close to that line cost him his marriage to one of the city's top prosecutors. When a well-to-do client charged with assaulting a prostitute comes his way, he thinks he's got the perfect case -- one he can charge the maximum billable hours and take into the appeals system. As Mickey digs into the case, hiring his own PI to investigate what the cops are ignoring, Mickey finds out that his client isn't innocent -- and he's worse than guilty: he's evil. Now, Mickey must put a courtroom gambit into play to ensure his client takes the fall, and innocent man is released and Mickey's own family stays safe.
Banter Points: I haven't read a courtroom thriller since back in the days when John Grisham was the big to-do so the whole style of the book was different than my normal reads.
Bummer Points: Sometimes I hate blurbs on book covers. The copy of Lincoln Lawyer I had used a blurb on the front about how this might be Connelly's best novel ever. A blurb like that, a girl's got high hopes. Which weren't fulfilled. I didn't love it. Not even close. It was a good story, yes, but of Connelly's characters, my fandom is divided between Harry Bosch and Jack McEvoy.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you really like courtroom dramas, or legal thrillers, or Michael Connelly, it's OK to pick up, but if any one of those things makes you hesitate, don't waste your time.

30 November 2010

The Power of Writing

This is utterly fascinating to me.

15-minute Writing Exercise closes the Gender Gap in University-level Physics

Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.

Full Story

Seriously, this needs to be done at all universities, colleges, business, etc. Writing is such a powerful tool that is under-utilized.

24 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving from the Word Nerds!

23 November 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving signs a couple of things in my head. Usually, it's the start of a busy season where I have too much to do, not enough time in which to do them, and add in the stress of travel and people, well, it's not so much fun.

This year, I'm forcing myself to think about the things I am thankful for. Not the normal "Family, friends, home" sort of things, but the things that truly make my life great. These aren't in any particular order and are mostly subject to how they popped out of my head:
  1. Playing video games with my kids
  2. Watching movies with my husband
  3. Books that delight
  4. Movies full of clever, witty writing
  5. Authors who share their writing stories
  6. How Thanksgiving starts the sprint to the finish line for the school semester
  7. Snuggley puppies on cold nights
  8. Once a year treats like pumpkin pie
What are you thankful for this year?

22 November 2010

Book Banter -- One Hit Wonder

Title: One Hit Wonder
Author: Charlie Carillo
Length: 372 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Mickey DeFalco was an 80s teen sensation with one hit song, "Summer Days."  But those days are long gone and now Mickey is pushing 40 and is a washed-up has-been. He returns to his parents' house outside of New York and tries to put his life back together. Also back in town is Lynn Mahoney, the girl who broke his heart and inspired his one hit song, enigmatic as ever, and Mickey tries to figure out her -- and himself in the process of finishing growing up.

Banter Points: Delightful. I picked up this book up for the cover art and I was happily surprised to read the story inside. Carillo writes believable, breezy characters and deals with the journey into middle age a funny and heart-warming read. The story was Nick-Hornsby-esque with that right mix of comedy and heartfelt scenes. Carillo also writes a great yarn, keeping the threads of a mystery alive at just the right time and giving Mickey the big reveal about his recent past at what otherwise would have been a low-point in the story.

Bummer Points: The end. Not at all what I was expecting and thought it sort of cheapened what otherwise was a great story.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A definite worthwhile read, especially for Hornsby fans or people who like smart/funny reads.

18 November 2010

It's all about the deadlines

I used to be a newspaper reporter. Deadlines were part of my daily existence.

It's a good thing deadlines and I get along because -- whoo-boy -- I am stacked behind deadlines from now till the end of the year.

In my job, I'm a fundraiser and write a lot of grants for that. This is a big season for grant applications and filing end-of-the-year reports about how we spent the money before we ask for more. On my dry erase board at work, I have 14 writing projects that need completed before Dec. 31. The deadlines on that board represent, roughly, a potential $1.1 million for Starfish Initiative. That's major money and that will make it possible for a lot of kids to stay on track to graduation.

In my personal writing, I'm waiting to hear back on some firm deadlines for writing I'm doing for Advent for my church. It's looking like those pieces will be published online so I'll post links when I can. But first, I have to finish them. Four pieces, one for each Sunday of Advent. I have one done, one in revisions, one being drafted and one needing started. Advent starts on Nov. 28. The done piece is the first one up and so on for the whole four-part series, but Advent is a lot closer than it appears.

And so, I'm spacing out my deadlines to make sure it all gets done on time. Writing in the morning before work. Writing at work gets fit in between meetings and I'm pacing out how to get projects due on the same day done. After work is revision time.

All together, the deadlines can be a little overwhelming. But, taken one at a time, it's totally doable.

I have noticed, I'm drinking more caffeine... What's your deadline fix? Or, how do you manage multiple projects at a time?

16 November 2010

Writing Inspiration

The blank page can be a terrifying thing to a writer. Between 250 and 400 words fit on a single page, depending on formatting preferences. Stringing together that many words in a cohesive manner can be daunting, impossible even.

Sometimes, the inspiration doesn't come.

Writing can be pulled painfully, word by word, from the author's brain. It may not make a difference to the reader how it happens, it all reads the same, right?

Writers need to put the creativity back in, to refill the well, so to speak.

I find inspiration in unconnected events. I try to read on a variety of topics, to listen to a variety of types of music and podcasts. I watch both documentaries and popular series (Chuck anyone? I love how the writers are torturing him this season.) It usually takes stepping away from whatever I'm working on and giving my brain the chance to connect the dots between the facts.

For example, I listened to a podcast about Frenemies, watched Chuck, listened to a bit of classic U2 from the Joshua tree album and the husband paused on WWF.

Hmmm...a pair of lovers, one an ex-wrestler, run into a frenemy that lead them to a small town where the streets have no names.

Okay, that might be a little corny, but it could be a great freewrite, character sketch or short story.

Where does your inspiration come from? Pull together your story, Keyser Söze style, and leave it in the comments.

15 November 2010

Book Banter -- Pirates of the Levant

Title: Pirates of the Levant (Captain Alatriste bk. 6)
Author: Arturo Perez-Reverte
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 362 pages
Plot Basics: The enigmatic Captain Alatriste and his squire (and the story's narrator) Inigo are serving on a Spanish ship in the Mediterranean Sea. They are trying to capture what bounty they can from English or Turkish ships and live to tell about it. Inigo -- now having been through many adventures with the Captain and on the verge of adulthood -- is beginning to try out his independence and rebellion against his protector. When the ship they are on falls into a Turkish trap, Inigo and Alatriste must fight with all they have.
Banter Points: Since the story follows the chronological exploits of Inigo and Alatriste, it's neat to see Inigo start to assert himself (though not well pr with very good results). Inigo still is dragging the reader along in his unrequited love for Angelica Alquezar and that thread is, at this point, what's keeping the series holding together.
Bummer Points: Not my favorite of the Alatriste books. I had high hopes when the book opened and they were on a Spanish galley in the middle of a battle. But the book ends up in more battles and less political intrigue.
Word Nerd Recommendation: I hate to admit that I'm getting tired of Alatriste, but I am. The series started so well with Captain Alatriste and then Purity of Blood but the later ones just haven't matched the fun of those first few. If you're an Alatriste fan, sticking with it is probably good because Inigo hints a little at the future which could be some better stories, but on its own, Pirates isn't worth the whole series. 

12 November 2010

My Reading Goals

I have had reading goals in the past.

I've never tried to read more in a year; I have tried to read less. As in only one book a week. I almost made it in 2003, with 53 books, but it wasn't really the goal for that year.

In the past couple of years, I have tried to broaden the type of reading that I do. More early detectives stories or some other specific type of book. It doesn't always work. It is a perpetual goal to read more non-fiction. I always want to learn stuff but non-fiction books tend to be dry reading. Finding a good one is usually the goal.

But in 2011, I don't have a specific goal in mind. I have the Outlander series stocked-up. I would like to re-read that.

I read a Rex Stout novel last year and really enjoyed it. It would be good to go back and demolish those.

And then there is the never-ending TBR list of ideas that I get every where and pick through on occasion. Word Nerd has had several recommendations for over the years that I could finally get to, if I devote my reading to clearing out the list.

In college, I was a English Literature Major (great time, bad career choices). I'm pretty well-read when it come to early novels and the Victorian authors. I adore Jane Austen. The Russian greats? Not so interesting to me. Too much history that I don't know about and would miss the significance of given elements in the stories.

I don't have a goal. But now the idea is bouncing around in my head. Perhaps it will work out to something grand when it formulates.

11 November 2010

Book Banter -- Dracula in Love

Title: Dracula in Love
Author: Karen Essex
Genre: Literary fiction
Length: 368 pages
Plot Basics: What if the story of Dracula was told by Mina Murray Harker, instead of her husband? In a lush Victorian setting, Mina narrates her own story as she crosses the taboos of how women were supposed to be behave in her day as in Dracula-fashion, modern technologies and ideas clash with time period mores. Rather than being tormented by the vampire count, Mina is seduced by him in her dreams all the while trying to shield her good friend, Lucy, her husband Jonathan, and lastly herself, from the count's charms.

Banter Points: Brilliant. Sweeping. Breath-taking. Essex's journey into the social expectations of Victorian women through the telling of the Dracula story is genius. No longer is Dr. Von Helsinger the savior of the little company, but a scientist relying on what we now know as torturous methods to "cure" women of sexual desire. No longer is Count Dracula to be feared but heralded as Mina's potential rescuered from her life of civilized oppression. I also hadn't read a really good vampire novel in quite some time and Essex wrote a vampire love story where the vampire was both scary and sexy, a balance that's missed in many of the modern vampire tales.

Bummer Points: I read Stoker's Dracula a few years ago and I was bummed that I didn't remember the story very well to know when Essex was veering from the original, or interpreting events through Mina's lens.  (Actually, while reading, I kept seeing Hugh Jackman in his awful portrayal of Van Helsing which just didn't fit the Doctor Von Helsinger that Essex was writing).

Word Nerd Recommendation: I picked this book up off the new books shelf at the library, not sure what to expect. It's for sure going to be in my top 10 for the year. If you like old stories told in new settings, Dracula in Love is a great pick.

09 November 2010

Book Banter -- Outliers


Title: Outliers
Author: Malcom Gladwell
Genre: Non-fiction
Length: 309 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Is success a matter of chance and circumstance? Or is an individual able to achieve greatness through their own ability?

Banter Points: Gladwell examines what makes people great. His targets for review include Canadian hockey players, Bill Gates and The Beatles. While it isn't merely an accident of one's birth that propels them to greatness, it is not solely one's ability either.

Take, for example, the 10,000 hour rule. In order to be truly great at something, Gladwell proposes that one must put in 10,000 hours or more on the activity. The Beatles were great, but they got that way because they played 8 or more hours a day while they were living in Hamburg. All of that practice is what pushed them over the edge. Gladwell has other examples that the 10,000 hour rule applies to. Bill Gates and his programming abilities is one.

Gladwell also examines heritage and background for its impact on who a person becomes. A society or culture of honor can develop. The South is an especially great example of this. Insult a Northerner and he'll shrug it off to some extent. But a Southerner? He will take the insult personally and track you down to avenger his honor. Or his girlfriend's. Or his mother's. Several feuds in the South can be traced to this very trait.

Maxwell has excerpts from the book on his site, Gladwell dot com.

Bummer Points: It was a fascinating way to look at the rewards and structure of our society. And how our society is set-up for a maximum amount of resistance in so many ways. All of it has been unintentional and quite arbitrary but monumental nonetheless.

Stacie's Recommendation: Read and savor this title. While it easily could be read in a single session (or two), reading one chapter a day is a delightful way to change your thinking.

08 November 2010

2011 Reading Goals

I've been thinking about setting some reading list goals for myself for 2011. Only, I have no idea what those goals should be. Or, to be more accurate, I have too many ideas about what those goals could  be.

Is 2011 the year of catching up on all the books that I've bought or been lent by friends but have yet to read?

Is 2011 the year of the Russian masters? (I know, I know... rake me over the coals for having never read them... or better yet, blame my education.)

Is 2011 the year of "important books?" Classics that I feel like I should have read but never did (see above, and the education thing) and ones that I actually want to go back to (I'm talking about Graham Greene here.)

Is 2011 the year where I don't start any new series until I'm caught up on the backlists of the ones I'm already in (Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, and more)?

Am I thinking about this too much?

I'm sort of thinking about the first one -- the catching up -- or the year of important books. (Sorry Tolstoy...)

I've got a few ideas in my head about "important books" that I've never read, but what would you put on that list?

05 November 2010

Stacie's October Bibliometer

October rocked as far as reading goes:
8 books
3,190 pages

Truth and confessions version: some of those titles were started in September. And I grouped all of my articles as a single title of 175 pages. When you read that many articles, it should count for something right?

Year to Date:
49 books
22,281 pages

Since I started keeping a list in 2001, I've read almost 370,000 pages. If I keep up that pace, I'll be able to pass 1,000,000 pages in 18 more years.

Real facts, just like you find under your Snapple lid.

04 November 2010

Book Banter -- Shadow of Betrayal

Title: Shadow of Betrayal (Jonathon Quinn bk. 3)
Author: Brett Battles
Genre: Thriller
Length: ~350 pages
Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Cleaner Jonathan Quinn made a deal with the shadowy organization The Office -- three jobs no questions and then he walks forever. He is hired for the first job to observe a meeting in Ireland... and if his services are needed it means the job has gone terribly wrong. A hidden assassin sets Quinn into motion along with his girlfriend Orlando and apprentice Nate as they track UN operative across the ocean. The chase leads them to a secret bunker in the California desert and embroiled in a terrorist conspiracy with an unthinkable delivery system for the weapons.

Banter Points: Quinn is a slick blend of James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher. (Is it something about this suave and deadly characters that they all have names that start with "J"?) This book was neat because in addition to Quinn's ruthless efficiency, you get a glimpse of his history (he's still got a family who wonders where he is) and his self-doubt over the injuries Nate sustained on their last job in Signapore. (That's the second book, The Deceived). The conspiracy he uncovers is creepy because it's so darn believable and it's horrific because of how they are planning to launch their next attack.

Bummer Points: It was a little tricky to keep up with all the players in this novel. Additionally, the POV switched around from Quinn to some of the other people (including the bad guys) and that's just one of those writing things that tends to make Word Nerd a little nuts.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A must-read for fans of the spy-thriller genre.

03 November 2010

Bethany's October Bibliometer

October was a pretty good reading month for me. Here's a look at the month's statistics:

October 2010
8 books
2535 pages
82 pages/day average

YTD
67 books
23465 pages total

During October, I also hit the 700th book in my list since I started keeping one. The 700th book was Diana Peterfreund's Tap & Gown. Glad the "honor" went to a fun title.

02 November 2010

Feedback on Writing

I'm in the midst of an MBA program. As one may well imagine, it's a large time commitment with lots of reading, analytical thinking and writing.

Some of my favorite things, right?

Except one of the classes where the bulk of the grade is based on writing isn't going so hot. In fact, my grade is progressively getting worse.

And it got me to thinking about the feedback I'm getting from the course instructor and what I am doing with it. Most of the comments I've received are to the effect that I am creative in my solutions but not incorporating the course material appropriately. The solutions have been appropriate and well-developed.

My confusion resulted from the appropriate and well-developed solutions, but not incorporating the course material. How is that possible? If the solution is appropriate, I must be hitting the course material, right?

Wrong. A kind classmate shared his paper which earned him an A-level grade. He directly quotes the text, incorporates stats, etc. The difference, as far as I can tell, is that I was applying the knowledge in my solution without direct relation and my classmate was rehashing the text's jargon.

Each approach is fine, unless you are relaying on a passing grade. Then you need to play the audience.

It's the same for publishing, right? Your novel/book/article/baby may really show off your writing skill and creative juices, but if it isn't what your audience is looking for, it's the rejection pile for you.

I'm off to re-write my next case analysis. A little less creativity and a little more blatant fact.

01 November 2010

Book Banter -- Don of the Dead

Title: Don of the Dead (Pepper Martin series bk. 1)
Author: Casey Daniels
Genre: chick lit/mystery
Length: 325 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Pepper Martin can see dead people -- in specific, a dead Mafia don buried in the famous Cleveland cemetary where she works as a tour guide. Augustino Scarpetti was gunned down almost a half-century earlier but now, he's got Pepper to figure out who put the hit out on him. Pepper, never forced to work before her investor father got convicted of financial crimes, doesn't want to play detective for Gus. But he keeps popping up at inopportune times -- like when she's flirting with Dr. Dan or Quinn the cop. Pepper's investigation leads her into the Mafia that still controls part of Cleveland, bring the FBI on her trail and keeps her dodging bullets to stop her from getting to the truth of the dead Don's death.

Banter Points: An absolutely entertaining, page-turning read. While the premise a little goofy, the book reads well as Pepper doesn't believe her new found ghost-seeing power and stumbles through conducting an investigation. Pepper is a spunky heroine with a hilarious internal monologue running through most of the story. The men -- Gus, Dan and Quinn -- were also great characters and I'm looking forward to seeing Dan and Quinn in subsequent stories. Dan definitely is not entirely the mild-mannered and bookish doctor he first appears as and Quinn is set-up to be the bad-boy cop. It has the feeling of the early Stephanie Plum-Joe Morelli - Ranger triangle and it'll be great to see how Daniels plays the relationships as the series moves forward.

Bummer Points: Occassionally, Daniels would get stuck on a descriptive phrase that became annoying to read over and over. For example, in a chapter when Pepper's being followed, she makes a comment no less than three times about how the people behind her weren't the Prize Patrol. While phrase that like was funny once, the book could have used a sharper editing eye in a few places like that to make sure that ideas didn't get overused.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Janet Evanovich fans for sure would love Pepper Martin as well as reader who like a well-crafted mystery. The story, as I described to my dad, is a "girl book" given the chick lit feel with Pepper's interest in the two male characters. If you're a girl looking for a fun read, you can't go wrong here.

29 October 2010

Original Shakespeare

Hamlet happens to be a favorite of mine too.

In college I was able to take two different Shakespeare courses. During the course it was a delight to borrow some BBC productions that followed the exact wording of Shakespeare's plays and follow along between both the performance and the book.

But this delightful find really would have pushed me over the edge: "Professor's research allows audience to hear Shakespeare's words in his own accent."

Thanks to the work of Paul Meier, audiences can get a sense of what it might have been like to eavesdrop on opening night of “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” at the Globe Theater in London or to listen in on a shipboard conversation on the Mayflower as it approaches the shores of the New World.

“What did English sound like back then?” Meier said. “Was it posh or down to earth? Was it anything like today’s British or American English? Would we understand it?”


Considering the number of challenges that understanding Shakespeare in a modern tone can be difficult, I would likely struggle with this production too. But it doesn't mean I wouldn't try. I can't wait until this hits the public radio waves.

via kottke.org

28 October 2010

Hamlet revisted

Recently, I watched the film of the new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet featuring David Tennant as the moody Danish prince and Patrick Stewart as his evil uncle Claudius.

Three hours on a Saturday night, I spent watching a new version of Hamlet. And it's not the first time I've committed hours to this play.





I've watched the Mel Gibson version...









the Ethan Hawke version,










parts of the old Laurence Olivier version and
 the Kenneth Branagh version.







I've seen a live stage version of it that the theatere department did when I was in college. Like most high school kids, I studied the play in senior year English, even memorizing several chunks of it for an assignment.

So why go back to it again?

Like any good story, each version brings something a little different.

The new RSC version (a film adaptation of their staged version) made me think about Gertrude, Hamlet's mom, because the scene when Hamlet confronts her was so well done. I'd never given much consideration before to her plight as a mother with a supposedly grief-mad son on the heels of a death and wedding.

The amazing thing as well about the new version was how it felt like a play instead of a movie. Branagh's version is a movie and is equally as wonderful but for different reasons. It has scenery (filmed inside the famous Blenheim Palace, how could it not?) and it has lush costumes and has that feel that all of Branagh's Shakespeare movies do.

In the RSC version, the space used is the same almost the whole time, just new scenery added and much of that adapted directly from the stage version. The camera gets right up on the actors, catching the internal-ness of this great play. The "to be or not to be" is worth the watch alone in the new one. The symbolism and imagery is woven well throughout but it's not heavy-handed.

In a way, I think it's just a way of re-reading this story. Like any good book, it's worth going back to... and like good drama, it's cathartic and emotional.

If you've ever got 3 hours to spare, I'll be happy to watch it again with you.

26 October 2010

Are You a Plotter?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Pantsers, for those not familiar with the term, are people who fly by the seat of their pants, rolling with whatever happens with the punches or what the characters bring to them. It works for some, but not for me.

I'm more of a plotter. I love seeing and hearing about what others do to plot. I've tried pantsing, but it doesn't work for me.

And based on this gem from kottke.org, I'm in good company. J.K. Rowling is a plotter too. Check out an except from her outlining process, likely to be from Order of the Phoenix.

What's your plotting technique? What do you think of Rowling's?

25 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Thieves of Manhattan

Title: The Thieves of Manhattan
Author: Adam Langer
Length: 253 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Ian Minot works in a NYC coffee shop, dates a Ukranian (or maybe Romanian?) girl, hates the new memoir by gangsta-thug-rapper Blade Markham and collects rejections for his short stories. When Ian's frustrations with the publishing world boil over, he meets Jed Roth, a former editor who's got a plan for revenge against the literary world. Ian teams up with Jed to write a novel (or maybe a memoir?). Ian's story turns into a modern caper story weaving fact and fiction together with literary aplomb.

Banter Points: I picked this book up in the library because I walked past it and it has cool cover art. However, it's quickly rocketed up the charts and into my Top Ten novels of the year list because it was just so smart and funny. Langer's riddled the book with literary allusions, creating his own version of literary classic slang (such as calling a fashionable men's jacket a "gatsby" because it's like what Jay Gatsby might have worn.) Also, for anyone who wonders what exactly is going on in the publishing world, it's fiction, yes, but it's a dead-on portrayal of the industry and the battle between best-sellers and good writing.

Bummer Points: The end of the novel seemed to get into a bit of telling, instead of showing. While Ian was such a sharp character in the beginning, as events begin to truly happen around him and because of him, he takes the voice of a detached narrator.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I wasn't expecting this title to be on my short list for Top Ten books of the year, but it's going to be there for sure. Anybody who likes smart, witty fiction and has ever entertained dreams of being a writer or loves literature, steal some time and read "Thieves of Manhattan."

22 October 2010

Update -- The Mysterious Benedict Society

Chalk one up in the win category -- the 10yo liked the book. He started it last night for his nighttime reading, liked it enough that he asked to read right before bed and was THRILLED that it was almost 400 pages.

Since he loves series too, it's great for him to know that two more books are available after this one as well. Joy!

I love matching books with readers.

21 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Closers

Title: The Closers (Harry Bosch series #11)
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Length:  403 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Harry Bosch returns to work for the Los Angeles Police Department, assigned to a special new unit dealing with unsolved murders. Applying new forensic technology like DNA to old cases, the squad is closing cases from the past decades. Reunited with his former partner Kizmin Rider, Bosch is assigned to a case from the late 1980s of a girl abducted from her home and and killed in the nearby countryside. As Bosch and Rider investigate, it becomes clear that certain facts were intentionally overlooked in the original investigation. To close the case, Bosch will have to go against some of the very LAPD brass who gave him back his badge.

Banter Points: This book went back to being in third person which makes huge sense since Bosch is back inside the police department. It was also nice to see him around more people since he's been such a lone wolf in the last two books. Most of all, I'm just impressed with how Connelly has continued to push the series and force Harry to change because of some circumstances and in others Harry remains obstinately the same guy.

Bummer Points: As far as the series as a whole, this just wasn't one of the amazing ones. It was still a fun read, but after The Narrows, it didn't meet quite the same level that one did.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I feel like a broken record, but, nevertheless, I'll say it again: Read this series.

19 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Mysterious Benedict Society


Title: The Mysterious Benedict
Author: Trenton Lee Steward
Genre: YA Fiction
Length: approximately 475 pages

Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Personal collection
Plot Basics: Four children are brought together to subvert an evil plan.

Banter Points: I tried. I could have written that the children were clever, witty, smarter than any peers, best in class, but really? What children essential to plot destruction aren't? Maybe it would have been better to stress that they were orphans, only that's the best way for children to get away with everything - minimal adult supervision.

And of course, they have been sought for years and years, to bring down the mastermind behind an evil plan. Only no one knows for sure what the plan is. Or how to stop it.

Okay, so I'm a little tough on this title. The characters are wonderful, especially the mysterious Mr. Benedict. It's great how they piece together the clues and have a love of truth that serves a purpose seldom found in children's titles.

I'm willing to pick-up the second in the series for two reasons: One, my 10 year old may like the series; two, the children all of parents in the second book and I'm curious about how that works out.

Bummer Points: In the end, the backbone was the same as many other children's titles and it didn't translate well to the adult reader. I'm okay with that as kids need their own titles too.

Stacie's Recommendation: The age rating is dead on for this title so read with that audience in mind.

18 October 2010

Spooky Tale Telling

This weekend, I got to visit Connor Prairie for their Headless Horseman program, complete with mildly haunted hayride in which the Horseman himself chases you.

But, the Horseman was not the best part. Not by a long shot.

Nope. It was the guy telling stories in the old cabin. I could have listened to him all night. In fact, we listened to him two different times in the evening and didn't hear any of the same stories twice.

He had a great way of keeping you right there with him -- through both "true" stories and his retelling of old legends.

I've been thinking about his delivery of the stories, trying to put my finger on what made them so good. Maybe the setting had something to do with it... the firelight and the flickering cabin. The second time we listened to him, the cabin was so dark that he was just an outline really against the fire that was mostly down to embers then.

In one of the "true" stories (I say "true" because could all these somewhat spooky things really have happened to one man?), he said he was from Mississippi, near the border with Tennessee. Maybe the draw was the slight lilt to his voice, that timbre that said you should believe everything I tell you. And maybe, it was something in the actual telling, a way of weaving together plot and descriptions that kept us on the edges of the hard wood benches.

In the spirit of Halloween, what story that you heard told out loud scared you the most?

15 October 2010

My Boys Read

My boys read. And I adore that they do. Mercer Mayer, David Shannon and Dr. Suess are regularly read. So are Mo Willems and Mary Pope Osborne.

All fun and entertaining books. Give them a try if you have some that are adventuring into a love of reading.

But what about the ones that aren't as safe, yet still entertaining?

Junie B. Jones comes to mind. Read one of those and you will discover that the story is told from the point of view of Junie - who is less than grammatically correct. She is 6 after all.

Or what about Greg Heffley? He is quite rude and mean at times. Just like most middle schoolers.

Is it good if the authors accurately capture the best and worst of these characters?

Personally, I'd say yes. It makes it tougher for me as a parent to explain why Greg is mean to Rowley. Or why Junie's favorite phrases aren't always the best way to string words. Yet my kids love that the stories. Those flaws are real to them. It's how they sound, what their friends say and do.

If it means that my guys are reading, great. I'll do the leg work on the critical thinking skills instead of eliminating them from the options.

14 October 2010

B'con Blues

Over on the West Coast, in San Francisco, in a few hours when it actually becomes morning there, Bouchercon 2010's program schedule kicks into full swing. Mystery readers and writers rub elbows and tell funny stories and sign books and it's a blast.

And I'm not there.

I'm missing panels with people like Brad Parks, Simon Wood, Cara Black, Hank Philipi Ryan, Marcus Sakey, Kat Richardson and dozens of others. I'm not going to get to go to Lee Child's "Reacher Creature" party. (Last year, it was great fun to tell people that Lee Child bought me a drink... of course, he buys everybody at the party their drinks, but like any good story, part of the impact is in how you tell it...) This year, there is apparently also a dance which maybe I'm not so sad that I'm missing. (I have traumatizing visions of middle school and high school dances floating in my head; on the other hand, I've seen the quantities of alcohol that writers guzzle at these things and so maybe the dance would be not so bad... I hope there are pictures later....)

And I'll miss the free books. Truth to tell, I still have free books from last year that I haven't read, but doggone it I will read them someday!

Check out this photo from the BoucherBlog of the "loot" to be given out in book bags this year...


All those glorious books....Sniff...

It's not really the books that I'm missing from not going. It's talking to other writers about writing. It's talking to other people who love books as much as I do. It's about community, really.

So, I've got my eyes set on Bouchercon 2011 which is in St. Louis and much closer to home. In the meantime, I'm going to keep writing and keep reading.

Hopefully, we can talk about it all next fall.

11 October 2010

Book Banter -- Tap & Gown

Title: Tap & Gown
Author: Diane Peterfreund
Length: ~270 pages
Genre: Chick lit
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Rose and Grave secret society member Amy Haskel is close to the end of her senior year at Eli University. Now, all that's left is to write her thesis, enjoy the company of her new boyfriend and tap a class of new Rose and Grave members. But as the choice of taps in Amy's class (including her and the other Diggirls) has been an constant source of struggle, how to pick the next class proves even more difficult. Amy's got two potential taps that she's courting, but planning an initiation gets harder when rival societies are after the same recruits and one unpicked student decides to make Tap Night truly terrifying. And as always, the Rose and Grave patriarchs might want to interfere in matters....

Banter Points: This series has been entirely delightful. Peterfreund's writing voice is the perfect combination of college humor, quiet insight and zingers that make the books hard to put down. It was nice to see Amy grow over the series. Even though the total time span is only a year, she goes through a lot and isn't the same as when she started. And Word Nerd is glad about Poe. (That's all I can say without too many spoilers.)

Bummer Points: It's sort of too bad that Peterfreund's characters only get to be in the secret society for a year. I would have loved more. On the other hand, I doubt Secret Society Girl the Next Generation would work well, so I shall be content.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A highly fun read if you're looking for something that's entertaining.

07 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Son of Laughter

Title: The Son of Laughter
Author: Frederick Buechner
Length: 274 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Personal collection
Plot Basics: Biblical patriarch Jacob narrates the story of his own life, from his search for approval from his father Isaac (also called Laughter... hence, Son of Laughter), his jealousy and rivalry with his brother Esau and the familiar biblical images of the stone stair, his wrestling with an angel, giving his son Joseph the mutli-colored coat and the promise of deliverance for the nation that he would father when he earned the name of Israel. It is an earthy and salty telling of the story as Jacob has women competing for him, his parenting of his 12 sons and his quest for wealth as he strives to understand (or run from) the power of God.

Banter Points: Buechner makes Genesis chs. 25-40 come alive. A Presbyterian minister, it's clear that Buechner studied the story of Jacob in great detail but then applied his considerable talent as a writer to bring the sometimes-stuffy sounding Old Testament narrative to modern readers in compelling ways. What he brings to the story are Jacob's emotions. They are there in the Biblical account if you read closely, but Buechner makes Jacob's struggle for identity one that many readers will relate to in our postmodern world.

I picked up this book now because at the church I attend, the preaching has been about the life of Jacob this fall. This novel is only adding to the richness of those sermons. (Curious about sermons? Find them here for 9/5, 9/12, 9/19 and 10/3)

Bummer Points: A few years ago, I read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent which focuses on Genesis 34 and the story of Dinah. Diamant extrapolates from the Biblical story what might have been Dinah's side, where Buechner sticks much, much closer to the actual text for the inspiration of his narrative. It's just interesting how two different books can be drawn from the same story.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A phenomenal piece of fiction that brings what could be a dusty, old story to vibrant, relevant colors.

05 October 2010

Must Reads

Every reader I know has a decent sized list of "must read" authors. While mine have changed a bit over the year, there's a fair number that always remain on the list.

Madeleine L'Engle and the Wrinkle in Time Series
Jim Butcher and the Dresden files
J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Series
Audrey Niffenegger and The Time Traveler's Wife
Eoin Colfer and the Artemis Fowl Series
Diana Gabaladon and the Outlander Series

If you ask me what I'd recommend, I'm like to pull on from that list.

Who is on your must read list?

04 October 2010

Bethany's September 2010 Bibliometer

It's two back-to-back stats postings, but the Word Nerds are also geeks...

For me, September was a pretty good reading month. In the spirit of full disclosure, two of my "reads" were audiobooks.
8 books
2221 pages
74 pages avg/day

YTD Totals
59 books
~20900 pages

Difference from 2009 YTD
-10 books

01 October 2010

Stacie's September Bibliometer

I have to admit, September was a good month.

Six books, 3,133 pages or 522 pages per book.

That puts me at 41 books for the year, still trending at 53 for the year.

Fun Facts:

2007: September meant 22 books for the month (which isn't the all time high)
2003: First month back at work after maternity leave -- 0 books read
2010: Included the re-read of Harry Potter Books 5 & 6, at 6 times and 4 times respectively.

30 September 2010

NaNoWriMo = NaNoNOTMo for me

Let me declare my intentions boldly -- I am NOT participating in NaNoWriMo this year.

It doesn't start for a month, you might say. How can you be so definitive, you ask. You had fun last year, you remind me.

Yes, I know. It was fun. Once. But here's the deal -- I'm still working to whip that 50,000 words into shape. It's about 90K words now and I like maybe the first 50K of them. It took a good number of early mornings to work the section I wrote during NaNo into something viable. The next 40K words need that kind of attention if this story is ever going to be anything. Some of the changes will delve back into that first 50K as well, tightening the plot and the focus.

I can't say I'd never do NaNo again, because never is an awfully long time and an awfully definitive statement. I think it's fair to say it's unlikely I'll do NaNo again. As a writer friend said, when you're done, you have to take a machete to cut out the bad stuff. I think I'm beyond machete-ing to slash-and-burn deforestation. I knew I was writing a lot of crappy words as they went by but the NaNo pace is such that you can't fix them.

Now, I know that NaNo enthusiasts will say that's the point. It's quantity, not quality. But, if you're hoping for a real book when you're done, quality counts.

So, I'll spent November (and October and possibly December as well) continuing to edit and rewrite and revise.

28 September 2010

Book Banter -- The Postmistress


Title: The Postmistress
Author: Sarah Blake
Genre: Historical
Length: approximately 300 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics: Three women will come together and strike a balance between life and their beliefs with the rise of World War II.

Banter Points: Each of the women plays a very different role in the novel, not quite an "Every Woman" character, but each faces challenges in the world that is unraveling before them. One, a reporter, Frankie Bard, seeks a place in a world dominated by men. The wife of the local doctor, Emma, wants to be the strength behind her husband who is fighting his own demons. And Iris, the Postmistress, wants to keep order in the world, according to the established system.

Certain liberties were taken with in the history, but not in an offensive way. Two facts were tweaked to pull the story together, but this reader found each one forgivable and well within the author's right. (I'd say what they are and why but the author's note at the end does a much better job than I would.)

World War II was a world changing event for so many reasons and people. Focusing on these three women shows how women changed, their roles changed and the world was forced along even when it disagreed with those changes.

Bummer Points: It was a bit slow to get moving, but I think that has more to do with the difference between the types of books that I normally read and this one.

Stacie's Recommendation: Read it. Wonderful writing, great stories, enriching characters.