26 May 2006

Where is the Word Nerd?

Please choose the correct location/circumstance for the Word Nerd:

a). Hiding out from a top secret government agency and therefore unable to post for fear of being found.
b). Stranded on a remote corner of the earth trying to find the scoop of the center, and therefore, unable to post.
c). Forced to save the world. Very James Bond/Sydney Bristow/Ethan Hunt. Posting is hard while dodging bullets or driving a tank through a European city.
d). Taking a few days off. Therefore, unable to post.

25 May 2006

Book Banter -- All That Remains

Title: All That Remains
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Length: 373 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: Young couples are being killed but their bodies aren't found until months later, making it difficult for Virginia's Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta to identify cause of death. In the most recent slayings, one of the victims is the daughter of a prominent Washington DC player in the war against drugs. And her involvement starts leading Scarpetta and others to wonder if the killer had an ulterior motive.
Banter Points: Cornwell does a good job of forcing her characters to grow and adapt as people too in her books. Her main characters have lives outside of the office that interfere with their investigations, rather than having them be investigators only.
Bummer Points: Cornwell started the series back in the early 90s and it shows, only because of the technology that shows up in the books. For example, Scarpetta has to get the computer analyst to get her a printout of something. Also, there's a big leap ahead in time from the first two Scarpetta books to this one.
Word Nerd recommendation: Cornwell's not funny like Evanovich, but the crimes Scarpetta investigates also seem more plausible (and more gruesome). Since the characters do grow as people, it may behoove a reader to read the series in order.

Pick a barcode, any barcode....

Dear Person/persons who order(s) books for the library:

Thank you for continuing to broaden the choices of books available in the library system. Your work is providing countless hours of literary enjoyment, not only for me but for us all as library patrons.

However, please consider this letter as my plea to speed thing up a bit.

As you may be aware, publishers released Nick Sagan's new book, "Everfree," on May 18. It is now a week later and the on-line card catalog still lists this book as "on order/unavailable." I find your classification of this book somewhat incorrect -- it is available. I can only say that this is causing me, as a reader, some distress.

In short, I must know what happens next!

I know some progress has been made. The title used to only have a series of x's in the catalog for its Dewey decimal system number. Now, it has digits attached to it, with only a few x's left to be filled in. When I first saw this, I saw it as a positive step forward. The book has remained listed thusly now for best part of a week, or more.

I am sure that you are busy cataloging and shelving the new material that must come into the library regularly. I doubt this is a small, or an easy task. But I would hazard a guess that for other new books (oh, say, Harry Potters?) you moved more quickly to get them on the shelves the day the publisher released the book. I ask only that you process "Everfree" more quickly for the sake of us who are anticipating this new book with the same kind of eagerness as a nine-year-old for the latest antics of a boy wizard.

I suppose, dear library book orderer, that you could say that were I truly dedicated to this series, I would stop waiting for my hold that I placed back in March for the above named book and go buy it. I would remind you that I need to put gas in my car and for the cost of a new hardback book, I can get a full tank.

You are forcing me to do something I don't want to do -- take a different book with me on vacation!

If the book is in a box somewhere, you would endear yourself to me forever if you would go find it and fill my hold request (which I placed in March) before Saturday.

Wandering in the stacks hunting for a suitable second choice,
Word Nerd

24 May 2006

Book Banter -- Second Helpings

Title: second helpings
Author: Megan McCafferty
Length: 373 pages
Genre: YA/chick lit
Plot Basics: Jessica Darling is embarking on her senior year of high school. She wants to figure out her college plan and she wants to not think about He Who Shall Remain Nameless (also known as Marcus Flutie... the mysterious boy in "sloppy firsts" who charms her). Both things, of course, are not quite as easy as she would hope, particularly when Marcus starts wearing his ideas on his t-shirts with iron-on letter messages.

Banter Points: Jessica Darling is one of the best first person voices Word Nerd has read in a while. She has such a defined perspective that makes reading it really fun. Also, it's a little bit over the top, but if you want to get a bead on what high school life is truly like nowadays, based on what Word Nerd sees in her day job, this isn't that far off.

Bummer Points: Word Nerd is so unhip sometimes. She tries to stay up to date on slang, etc, but there were a few moments in the book where she needed a translater to decode the lingo. There was not so much of it that the book was unreadable.

Word Nerd recommendation: When Word Nerd read "sloppy firsts" it was for research, to compare it to the "Opal Mehta" book. Word Nerd picked up "second helpings" solely for fun. Fun it was. (Word Nerd even stayed up late to finish the book... something that for being an avid reader, she doesn't do often). And reading about high school is way more fun now than when Word Nerd was a high school student.

23 May 2006

Author Answers with Cara Black

Bonjour à l'auteure de cette semaine. Elle s'appelle Cara Black et elle a écrit les mystèries d'Aimee Leduc. (Translation: Hello to this week's author. Her name is Cara Black and she has written the Aimee Leduc mysteries.)

Black is the author of books 6 books about Parisienne detective Aimee Leduc -- Murder in the Marais, Murder in Belleville, Murder in the Sentier, Murder in the Bastille, Murder in Clichy and the newest, Murder in Montmartre.

Black has a website which included excerpts from her books, links to other blogs about Paris and photos that Black took herself in Paris.

1. Place you do most of your writing:
At home on our old Mac with photos I've taken of Paris and post-it notes about plot all over the walls.
2. While you write, do you do anything else (munch on carrots or drink tea or listen to heavy metal, for example?)
I drink way too much coffee, chew Nicorette gum and play a French mix of lounge-like ambient music that I bought on the street in Paris.
3. Why did you decide to be a writer?
I don't know that I decided to be a writer. But I wanted to tell the story of my friends mother who was a hidden Jewish child during the German Occupation of Paris in WW2 and not comfortable attempting to write historical fiction, I came up with a contemporary half-Parisienne computer security detective who would be pulled into discovering an old crime and how it related to the present day government in France. I never intended to write a series of now 6 books set in different arrondissements of Paris.
4. What author(s) inspire you?
There are so many; Marguerite Duras, Romain Gary, Baroness PD James,Georges Simenon and Dr. Seuss to name a few.
5. How long did you have to work on writing before your first book was accepted for publication?
Three and a half years of writing and re-writing. I'm still in a writer's critique group too.
6. From your list of appearances posted on your website, it looks like you keep a full schedule, including bouncing back and forth from New York to Paris. How do organize your life so you have time for writing?
Good question and since I'm on my last day of booktour, I only know that I have to get back to work and WRITE! I do get fired up and inspired when I research in Paris and find invaluable info and a corner I never knew existed so hitting the cobblestones is research really.
But usually I get up at 5 a.m. and write everyday.
7. How much research do you have to do for one of the Aimee Leduc mysteries?
Quite a bit and that's the best part. It means I get to research on the street, in cafes, and in libraries in Paris as well as interview flics/cops, detectives and even sewer workers.
Of course, at home I use my public library and haunt used bookstores.

8. If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?
I'd like to be Aimee because she's taller and thinner than I am and I covet her apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis.

22 May 2006

Book Banter -- The Stolen Child

Title: The Stolen Child
Author: Keith Donohue
Length: 319 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Plot Basics: Hobgoblins, or changelings, live in the woods. And they pick Henry Day as the next child whom they will take and replace with one of their own. But neither the real Henry, nor the changeling who replaces him is never quite comfortable in his new life.
Banter Points: This book is Donohue's first novel and it's gotten some pretty good reviews which is why Word Nerd picked it up. And the good reviews are totally deserved. Donohue is so subtle with the emotions of his two protagonists. The plot lines parallel as he tells the story of the two Henry Day's, but seeing some of the events from both perspectives doesn't hurt this story at all.
The book was inspired by a William Butler Yeats poem (one that Word Nerd studied in high school, in fact), about changelings and faeries. Excellent jumping off point for a story.
Bummer Points: Donohue's talent lies in his subtlety, but sometimes it's almost too subtle. Some events are hinted at, or circuitously mentioned and while it works, the reader has to be paying attention or some things could easily be missed.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Yep. Read it.

18 May 2006

Summer reading

Word Nerd recalls, and without a great deal of fondness, her summer reading assignments in high school. About this time of the year the list would come out, ruining the prospect of no homework for three months, because the teachers would all assign books that should be read before we came to their classes in the fall.

Head to Barnes and Noble soon and you'll see that table of summer reading books sprout up.

Word Nerd remembers one summer in particular, of being slammed with 5 or 6 books including a condensed history of the United States and "Les Miserables."

Anybody else have recollections of required summer reading? Any books that stick out as particularly good or particularly ruinous to the summer?

17 May 2006

One Sentence at a Time -- the Game

Help Word Nerd write a story.
In a comment to this post, write the next sentence. Write only one sentence at a time. From time to time, Word Nerd will collect the comments into a running narrative and repost the game so the whole story is visible. Look for a link on the right to keep adding to this post in the future.
To keep this narrative going, you can add one sentence a day. Everyday, if you want to.
Word Nerd will delete the old comments that she has added into the main story, just to make it less confusing.

Here goes:

“She’s trying to poison me. I know it.”

“You can’t overdose on Tylenol.”

“You’re imagining things. Your face always looked like that.”

“Yeah, and there’s no sugar in pixy sticks.”

“That’s just it – it doesn’t taste like Tylenol.”

I looked around the round table in the corner of Perkins – bubble-gum happy Ashley, black-helicopter Martin, love-struck Beckett and Cecily, Nick and me – this night was headed toward being just the same as all the others.

I was so tired of the same thing always happening in this speck of a small town; someone needed to shake things up.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of Nick's backpack, I knew he not only had pixy sticks, but also a decent stash of emergency cherry bombs.

Snorting pixy sticks or otherwise getting overloaded on sugar wasn't enough to break the doldrums I felt.

The last time we used the cherry bombs, it was to blow-up fish at the lake. The last time we went overboard on pixy sticks, it landed Ashley in the hospital for a freak reaction; exciting, yes, but not the kind of excitement I was hepped up to repeat.

"Let's go to our campsite by the river," I said.

"Too muddy," said Ashley, cheerfully dumping another Half-n-Half into her coffee, "and anyway we have to convince Martin that Konnie isn't secretly plotting his death."

Konnie, with a K, I thought scratching the side of my neck was the reason we were all at Perkins tonight in the first place, and more likely was going to be the death of us more of us that just Martin.

"There ya go," offered Nick with a silly grin, "Martin and Konnie should mud-wrestle. Great way to settle scores, plus perfect YouTube material."

"I am not going if Konnie's going to be there," Cecily said.

"When was the last time any of us checked the campsite? Is it still up?" mumbled Beckett, eyes still closed, before returning his head to Cecily's shoulder.

"It's still up," I said confidently, "I was out there already."

"Martin honey? Do you wanna go to the campsite?" Ashley asked, sounding much like she was asking a five year-old with a tummyache if he wanted to go lie down with his blankie.

Martin seemed to be intently watching Nick, who was trying to balance two forks on a toothpick he’d stuck into the salt shaker.

I stood up, put my palms on the table and looked them at them square; enough dinking around, I was deciding the plan.

16 May 2006

Author Answers with Megan McCafferty

This week's author answers is with Megan McCafferty.

McCafferty is the author of sloppy firsts, second helpings and charmed thirds. She is at work on the fourth book in the series.

If her name seems familiar, it's likely because of all the news stories about the Harvard University sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan who has admitted to using parts of McCafferty's book in her book.

For more on Megan McCafferty, read her website or her (retro)blog, where she posts both current thoughts and journal entries from her younger years.

1. Place you do most of your writing:
I do all of my writing in my home office. Sometimes I wish I could write in public spaces like coffee shops, just so I’m not such a hermit. But I get too distracted.
2. While you write, do you do anything else (munch on carrots or drink tea or listen to heavy metal, for example?)
I always listen to music as I write. I find that the music I choose is often influenced by the scene I’m working on. So it can be The Smiths one day, and Barry Manilow the next.
3. Why did you decide to be a writer?
I’ve been writing stories since I was in first grade. Being a writer is a huge part of my identity as a whole, I can’t imagine not writing. I would do it even if I wasn’t making a living from it.
4. What author(s) inspire you?
Judy Blume had a tremendous influence on me as a kid. In a journal entry from fifth grade I wrote about how it would be “so cool” to be her, to write books that are “sometimes funny, sometimes sad” that are “enjoyed by millions of readers around the world.” Later on, I was completely taken with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield was the first fictional character that revealed some of the crazy thoughts that were going on inside my own head. I’m honored when fans tell me that Jessica Darling does the same for them, that she expresses feelings they can’t articulate for themselves.
5. How long did you have to work on writing before your first book was accepted for publication?
I always say that Sloppy Firsts took ten years and six months to write. I wrote many comic coming-of-age short stories in various creative writing classes over the years. This material—-with a lot of rewriting and editing--provided the basis for Sloppy Firsts. The rest of the novel took about six months.
6. What made you keep working until it was done?
I was inspired by the story itself, and feeling like it needed to be told.
7. The recent brouhaha with Kaavya Viswanathan and her book also propelled your name and books in the news too... how has this whole incident impacted you as a writer?
It hasn’t affected me as a writer. I was writing long before this occurred, and will continue writing long after.
8. How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
It’s funny. As I wrote Sloppy Firsts, I didn’t give much thought about it going on sale. I just focused on the story. But when I saw my name on the cover for the first time, it hit me: Oh my! People are actually going to read this!
9. If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?
This may sound corny, but I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. My life certainly isn’t perfect, but I love my family, my friends, my work. I wouldn’t want to trade with anyone else.

15 May 2006

Book Banter -- A Feast for Crows

Title: A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, book 4)
Author: George R.R. Martin
Length: 684 pages
Genre: fantasy

SPOILER WARNING -- Plot of this book (and some previous volumes) will be revealed.

Plot Basics: After the death of her father, Tywin Lannister, the self-proclaimed Queen Regent Cersei tries to keep the kingdom together for her 8-year-old son, Tommen. Her now one-handed twin brother, Jaime, Lord Commander of the famous Kingsguard, is dispatched to Riverrun to deal with the siege of that castle. Farther to the north, the death of Balon Greyjoy prompts the choosing of a new king of the Iron Isles, one bent on conquest. Arya Stark finds her way to Braavos. Sansa Stark is little better than a prisoner of Petyr Baelish in the Vale, and Brienne of Tarth, the lady-knight, continues her quest to find the Stark girls. And Samwell Tarly sets sail south from the Wall with desperate news that could change the course of civil conflicts in the south... if the right people get the message. And for all of Cersei's scheming... well, holding a kingdom together is hard work.

Banter Points: Wow. Um. First. Word Nerd is likely stronger than she was before hauling this tome around for the three weeks it took to read it.
Bummer Points: This book has no Davos, no Dany, no Tyrion and no Jon Snow! Let Word Nerd explain... Martin's series is told through limited third-person POVs of at least a dozen characters. Martin admits that as he was writing FfC, things were getting very long. So he lopped the book in half. Not half like directly in the middle, but he split the characters he was using so FfC told the events going on mostly in the south of the kingdom and the next book will tell all the events in the North and across the sea. Since none of Word Nerd's most favorite characters were in this half of the book, it really plodded along in plot and pacing.

Word Nerd suspects that the book was really divided into the good half and the boring half, Feast for Crows being the latter.

The other big drawback for FfC was the timing. Originally, the book was supposed to come out in 2004. So, fan that she was of the first three books, Word Nerd reread them all (at 600+ pages a pop, that's no small undertaking). She was excited, ready, remembering who the heck all these characters were. And then the release is delayed. For a whole year. And even then, Word Nerd doesn't get her hands on the book for 6 months after it hits the shelves. (To help better explain the timing, there were no less than 9 years in between the release of the first book and the release of the fourth book.) Word Nerd's recollection of all these characters is somewhat sketchy -- the main ones she remembers, of course -- but... the rest... kind of fuzzy. Likewise, Word Nerd's recollection of plot and who's dead and who killed them (save for the really unexpected deaths in earlier books) was also a bit foggy.

Word Nerd recommendation: It's a shame that this one is not as exciting because the first three were so good. And the next one, since the good characters will be back, also has the possibility of being good. So Word Nerd isn't sure what to recommend at this point. She used to be a big fan and would encourage people to read this series. Now though, the verdict may be out until the fifth book comes out and she can see if Martin returns to his usual flair or if his is bogged down in his own plot.

12 May 2006

Melange* (updated...)

A Push update: Word Nerd got through another 40 pages or so of "A Feast for Crows." The bookmark is somewhere around 580s-590s. In a book that long, it's hard to remember. (Weird word linkage here... since we're talking about Push, does anybody else remember that strange 6-episode TV show, "Push Nevada?")


A Count of Monte Cristo update: Word Nerd has read 8.2 of the 12 required chapters of the classic this week. Getting to the end of chapter 12 is only another 23 pages and should be easily reachable. Word Nerd wants to stay on track with this classics reading attempt.


New book alert:
Word Nerd found out two of her favorite authors both have new books coming out this fall.
First, artist/author Nick Bantock is releasing a novel, "Windflower."
Second, Thomas Cahill is releasing the fifth book in his Hinges of History series, "The Mystery of the Middle Ages." Word Nerd highly recommends these books (and they are non-fiction!) because they provide a great overview of a lot of history focusing specifically on important and formative events in Western civilization and thinking. (To catch up on the series, check out "How the Irish Saved Civilization," "Gift of the Jews," "Desire of the Everlasting Hills," and "Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea.")


A grammar/writing tidbit:
Use of gerunds (If your reaction is a ger-what-und, don't worry, you're not alone.) This came up at the Oshkosh Area Writers Club and whether using gerunds is a sloppy (read lazy) form of writing descriptions and conveying actions. Stacie took it upon her self to ask somebody in the know, Miss Snark, and got a satisfactory answer that can be found here.


As if the publishing world hasn't seen enough of stuff being copied/made up lately, James Frey is now admitting that parts of his other book, "My Friend Leonard" aren't true either. Click here for the scoop.


Just because this is a weird post, Word Nerd decided that she should admit to how many and what books are stacked on her floor at home in the "I should read these" pile.

There are 8 books in said stack:
Confessions of a Super Mom, Melanie Lynne Hauser
Storm Front, Jim Butcher
Second Helpings, Megan McCafferty
The Last Detective, Peter Lovesey
All That Remains, Patricia Cornwell
The Stolen Child, Keith Donohue
Departure Gate, Chad Taylor
Boot Tracks, Matthew F. Jones

Word Nerd is not seeking input on what to read next. It's going to be Donohue's book. Don't try to change her mind.


Last night the Oshkosh Area Writer's Club met and did a little activity to write the short bios that authors have in the dust-jackets of their books. Since we will all be published some day, this is a good thing to have on hand. Here is the one Word Nerd wrote for her current work in progress.

Bethany K. Warner has never lived in a house with a balcony. She has named all of her pets after literary characters and currently lives with an orange cat of dubious origin named Gatsby in Wisconsin. {Title} is her first novel.


*Melange: n. (from the French, meler: to mix) a medley, mixture of incongruous elements.

11 May 2006

The Push

Yesterday, Word Nerd started the Push to get done with one of the books she's reading, "A Feast for Crows" by George R.R. Martin.

The Push regularly happens for Word Nerd while reading. It's like the make or break point ... either that she's read enough to make not-finishing not worth it so why not just get it over with, or if she picks the book up now, there's no way she'll put it back down until it's done because not knowing what happens is going to make her crazy.

Sadly, for Martin's book, it's the former. Yesterday, Word Nerd was at page 460 in this massive 694 page tome. 460 pages read though is like two-thirds, so Word Nerd decided she'd better just start making a concerted effort to read the rest of it. (Plus, the library wants its copy back on 5-19...)

As of this morning, Word Nerd's at least 60 pages ahead of where she was, somewhere in the 520-540 page range.

By early next week, hopefully she'll be done all together and can pick up the kind of book where the better kind of push happens at the end.

Does this happen to anybody else while reading? What novels have you either raced to the end of or slogged word-after-word to finish? Have you ever been surprised by what you find when you get there?

Share your thoughts...

10 May 2006

Always the sidekick, never the hero...

Sidekicks are one kind of "stock" character in movies, comics and books. Often, they are thought of in connection to Superheros (think Batman and Robin, etc.).

Sidekicks may not get all the glory that the main character does, but they certainly have roles to play. The sidekick character often gets to be the one to question the hero, have a critical skill that the hero lacks or do tasks that aren't worth the hero's time. The sidekick often is really the only one who can match the hero's prowess and can be singularly devoted to the hero.

But, before the caped crusader had a young protege, the sidekick character type was already established through literature.

Can you identify who the following characters are sidekicks for? (Answers will be posted later today -- check back!)

1. Arthur Hastings ... is the Dr. Watson for Hercule Poirot
2. Mr. Smee ... is more of a henchman than a sidekick, but he tags after Captain Hook
3. Sancho Panza ... helps out Don Quixote
4. Sam Gamgee ... treks with Frodo Baggins to Mordor
5. Willie Garvin ... is the sidekick for comic-book and novel heroine Modesty Blaise
6. Patroclus ... is Achilles' best-bud in the "Iliad."
7. Enkidu ... is the only one who can tame Gilgamesh in ancient epic.

09 May 2006

Author Answers with Harley Jane Kozak

This week, the author who is shedding some light on the writing life is Harley Jane Kozak.

Kozak is the author of Dating Dead Men and Dating is Murder. She's got a website where there's an excerpt of Dating is Murder. Kozak is also a regular writer on The Lipstick Chronicles where she blogs about life and writing.

1. Place you do most of your writing:
On my laptop, generally at my kitchen table, or in my car, waiting in the carpool pick-up lane at my kids' school . . .
2. While you write, do you do anything else (munch on carrots or drink tea or listen to heavy metal, for example?)
I work very hard not to eat everything that's not nailed down. I drink a lot of coffee & tea, but try for peace & quiet (sometimes even successfully)
3. Why did you decide to be a writer?
It sort of decided for me. It's like being taken captive.
4. What author(s) inspire you?
SO many it's hard to say -- the mystery writers John D. MacDonald, Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer, John Le Carre . . .
5. How long did you have to work on writing before your first book was accepted for publication? I worked on my first book for 8+ years.
6. What made you keep working until it was done?
My writers' group made me finish it.
7. How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
8. If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?
Uncle Theo, because he's the happiest man on earth and loves poetry and doesn't drive and thinks people are just wonderful.

Great questions! Thanks!
Harley Jane Kozak

08 May 2006

Word Meter and an open letter to Michael Brewster

If you've noticed, dear reader, the word meter over there (-->) on the right has steadily been creeping up over the last few weeks. This weekend, in another great writing push, Word Nerd crossed the one-quarter mark for the first draft of the Work-in-Progress. The thing doesn't even have a working title yet, but Word Nerd's plunking down letters and words and is (knock on wood) having rather good luck getting this story going.

Which brings Word Nerd to the open letter.

Dear Mr. Michael Brewster,
This novel is all your fault. And I don't even know you. (Is that your real name, or just a blog-posting persona?)
Back in March, Mr. Brewster, I posted a flash fiction on Fictional Musings about a woman fighting zombies that came out of her magical grandfather clock. You, apparently, read that story and made the following comment.
ha!I almost fell in love, until the violent end. Still, almost is better than not having loved at all. I'd like to see you explore this world more- great narrator...

What havoc you have wrought in my life from that comment, Mr. Brewster.
I had not given a second thought to this narrator, this world of magical clocks. It was flash fiction, nothing more. Until you posted that comment.
Now. Now, Mr. Brewster, I have written an outline. I have spent weekends and evenings hunched in front of my keyboard. I have created other devices like fire-breathing teapots and mystical bug catchers. I am developing a whole world, Mr. Brewster.
Do I thank you? Do I mutter curses under my breath for the amount of work your comment has made and is making me do?
Do you feel the slightest bit of remorse for your comment? Or are you simply glad to now know that there may well be more of this story, more of this world, a longer chance for you to love the narrator?
Toiling under your influence,
Word Nerd

05 May 2006

...and the winner of the "Next classic" is...

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.

The votes break down as follows:
Out of 25 total votes:
Count of Monte Cristo -- 11 (44%)
Lord of the Flies -- 9 (36%)
Captain Blood -- 3 (12%)
Our Man in Havana --2 (8%)

Admittedly, Word Nerd is not as thrilled that this book won. She loves Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana), thinks pirates are cool (Captain Blood) and feels like she really missed out on something by never having Golding's book assigned in school (Lord of the Flies.)

There was a moment as the votes clearly started to favor "Monte Cristo" when Word Nerd thought perhaps voting on her blog was like voting in Florida. Perhaps "Monte Cristo" could win the popular vote and then the electoral college (of one) would pick "Lord of the Flies." But, she thought, "No. That would disenfranchise the voters. They might stop believing in the process."

So "Monte Cristo" it is.

And since it was by popular vote that Word Nerd is reading this book, she's inviting you to join her. Find a copy and dig in to this tale of revenge. Word Nerd's going to try to finish this book by June 15. So on that date, she'll post her review and welcome comments from other readers.

If you're following along at home, that means reading about 12 chapters a week. (The first 12 chapters are less than 100 pages.)

Welcome to the club.

Spies? Pirates? Flies?

Help Word Nerd pick what classic she should read next. Reading more classics is a goal for the year, but she's stuck as to which novel to read. Go vote in the poll here on the side.

UPDATE: This is the last chance to vote. Voting closes at 3 p.m., Central Daylight Savings Time.

Sloppy Firsts and Opal Mehta

With all the hubbub about 19-year-old Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan and the plagiarism in her debut novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," Word Nerd decided to read both Viswanathan's book and the one she borrowed from, Megan McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts."

This is a spoiler alert. If you want to discover these books on your own, don't keep reading. Plot will be given away.

McCafferty's plot.
The basic premise is that high school sophomore Jessica Darling is crushed when her best friend moves away, leaving her to socialize with three other girls she dubs the "Clueless Crew." As Jess wrestles with the discontent and two-faced-ness of her friends, she finds she may have more in common with Marcus Flutie, a mysterious genius, than she ever would have suspected.

Viswanathan's plot.
High school senior Opal Mehta wants nothing more than to get into Harvard. She's got the grades and the SAT scores for it, but in her early admissions interview, the school tells her she needs to get a life in addition to great grades to be admitted. Opal and her parents devise a plan to make her popular. Opal gets frustrated with the two-faced-ness of her new social status and finds she may have more in common with Sean Whalen, hot and brainy rocker, than she would have ever suspected.

What was good about McCafferty's book:
As a reader, Word Nerd got completely sucked in to Jess Darling's life. It was very easy to want to see the character grow and adapt.

What was good about Viswanathan's book:
Downright funny. The best characters in the book are Opal's parents who go completely over the top in trying to help Opal learn to be cool. When Opal's dad trots out slang like "dope," "mad ice" and "crunk" it's hard not to chuckle.

What wasn't good about McCafferty's book:
There were times where the plot sequence of the book leapt around and it was confusing as to what happened when.

What wasn't good about Viswanathan's book (plagiarism aside):
Predictable. There was little doubt in Word Nerd's mind about how the book would end. The plot trudged along in expected patterns.

What wasn't good about Viswanathan's book (plagiarism included):
Since Word Nerd read this book immediately after finishing "Sloppy Firsts" and had read the news stories about the number of copied passages, they were easy to spot in the book. It's doubtful Word Nerd spotted all of them, but there were definite places where sentence construction seemed very familiar.
While it's not word-for-word copying, Viswanathan's characters also felt familiar as a reader.
Similarity 1. The main character is smarter than her friends.
Similarity 2. The group that the main character hangs out with has three people in it. These three girls have some character traits that in Viswanathan's book feels like she took the basic idea of McCafferty's characters and renamed them.
Similarity 3. The main character has a crush on a popular boy.
Similarity 4. There is a mysterious but brainy boy who catches the attention of the main character and see through her facade.
Similarity 5. One of the group that the main character hangs out with used to be her best friend when she was younger.
There are others, but this list gets at the main point -- as a reader, if felt like Viswanathan took McCafferty's book as a template and started changing things to make a new story instead of starting from scratch.

All that said, Word Nerd has some measure of regret for Viswanathan. Parts of "Opal Mehta" really were funny or insightful or otherwise well-written. With all the bad press, it looks like Viswanathan's career as a writer could be over, which is really too bad. A little bit more wisdom and life experience and a new novel and Viswanathan could have really been the star author that the early reviews of "Opal" hinted that she could be.

04 May 2006

If you want to have a good read, turn to page 2.

Word Nerd was recently in a bookstore (ok, in the kid's section of the bookstore) and she saw something that made her very happy. Not a new Harry Potter. Not the release of Garth Nix's "Sir Thursday."


Somebody had the brilliant idea to re-release the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

When Word Nerd was a kid, these were all the rage. In fact, Word Nerd mostly fondly remembers writing her own C.Y.O.A. book as a class assignment in third grade. (Mostly fondly is not all fondly because there were some struggles as she recalls to come up with enough endings.)

Unfamiliar with C.Y.O.A books? They are a rare form of book told in 2nd person. You, as the reader, make decisions throughout the book (go through the revolving door or the trapdoor by the fireplace). The decision corresponds to a specific page number, so you flip there and find out what happens.

Sometimes your decisions are good. Sometimes, well, not so good.

Bottom line, these books provided plenty of entertainment for Word Nerd as a young reader to figure out how to make the right series of choices that would result in a good ending. It's nice to see that another generation will get to experience these books as well.

03 May 2006

Book Banter -- Ten Big Ones

Title: Ten Big Ones
Author: Janet Evanovich
Length: 352 pages
Genre: mystery/chick lit
Plot Basics: The bumbling bounty hunter Stephanie Plum takes on a street gang in this novel. Her on-again-off-again cop boyfriend Joe Morelli thinks this case is far too dangerous and after some close encounters with gang members, Stephanie agrees and goes into hiding. But the only place she can think of that's safe is the secret lair of Ranger, her fellow bounty hunter who happens to be out of town.
Banter Points: As always, very funny.
Bummer Points: This one seemed a little over the top (ok, a little further over the top than some of the others) with Stephanie taking on a gang.
Word Nerd recommendation: This was a great airplane book. Actually, Word Nerd has read the majority of this series on airplanes. Might be a good beach read too.

02 May 2006

Author Answers with Nick Sagan

This week's author in the spotlight is Nick Sagan. If the name Sagan seems familiar, it's because he's the son of astronomer Carl Sagan.

Nick Sagan has written screenplays, teleplays, computer games, a few episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager and is also a novelist. He's the author of Idlewild and Edenborn and his latest book Everfree hits stores on May 18. For more on Sagan, check out his website or his blog. There is an excerpt from Everfree on the website.

Where do you do most of your writing?
With the laptop, I'm capable of working just about anywhere. I'm sure I get most of the writing done within the home, but there are times when a change of scenery really helps.

While you write, do you do anything else?
I listen to music constantly. Satellite radio can stream through the laptop, which makes the writing process a little less lonely. Some writers find that music distracts them, but I find I often do my best writing with a song playing in the background. Especially one that speaks to the theme or subtext of what I'm writing at the time.

Why did you decide to be a writer?
At sixteen, I discovered videos of "The Prisoner," a strange and wonderful show from the 1960s. I'd never heard of it before, but from the first episode I was hooked. It was the first time I realized that stories can go beyond entertainment. Here was a show that while being wildly enjoyable on its surface, the deeper I looked the more I found. It operated on a variety of levels--social, ethical, even religious. I knew that was what I wanted to do. I found my way to film school and became a screenwriter, wrote screenplays and television episodes for many years, and three books have followed.

What author(s) inspire you?
Too many to list. Here's a few: Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Carroll, Chuck Palahniuk, Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor, Jack Womack, Susan Cooper, Stephen Baxter, John Scalzi, Carl Sagan.

How long did you have to work on writing until your first book was accepted for publication?
My first novel, "Idlewild," took me about nine months to write. After finishing, I was very fortunate: multiple agencies wanted it, and the one I went with sold it in about a month.

What made you keep working until it was done?
Curiosity. When I started writing it, I wasn't sure what it was. At first I thought it might be a screenplay, but it was coming to me as a book. I'd never written a novel before, but I liked how it was coming together, and I had to get to the very end to see what I had.

How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
Fairly amazed. It's also how I feel when I see my credit on a television screen. I have a disconnect where emotionally it seems that whatever I write exists only in the form I originally wrote it. So my latest novel, "Everfree," is to my sensibilities just a word processing file--it's a weird but deeply flattering feeling to see the finished project after it's been edited, typeset, printed, given a beautiful cover, etc.

If you actually had to live the life of one of the characters in your book(s), who would it be and why?
Well, the trilogy I've written (Idlewild, Edenborn, Everfree) follows humanity's last desperate efforts when confronted with a deadly pandemic. It's a story of survival, but as I tend to take my characters to hell and back I'm not sure I'd want to live any of their lives. If I had to pick one, I'd choose the protagonist, Gabriel "Halloween" Hall. He goes through enormous turmoil, but manages to stay true to himself the entire time. That counts for a lot in my book.

All the best,

Nick Sagan

01 May 2006

April Bibliometer

April was a bumper month for reading. To be clear though, that was because Word Nerd was traveling for few days and because of airline craziness, spent more hours than she would have preferred in an airport with books as the only thing to pass the time.

By comparison, the most books Word Nerd has ever read in any other April was April 2002 with a grand total of 8. Several of those, however, were books for school.

So. April 2006 Bibliometer:
12 books, for a total of 3,489 pages or approximately 116.3 pages/day.
The books in April were (* denotes read in an airport/on an airplane):

A Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier
Dating Dead Men, Harley Jane Kozak
Walking on Water, Madeleine L'Engle
Idlewild, Nick Sagan
Drowned Hopes, Donald Westlake
* Murder in the Bastille, Cara Black
* Edenborn, Nick Sagan
* To the Nines, Janet Evanovich
* Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
Ten Big Ones, Janet Evanovich (this one should have half a *... started on the plane, finished at home.)
Full Moon Rising, Keri Arthur
The Alphabet of Grace, Frederick Buechner

Since January 2006, Word Nerd's read 31 books.