28 December 2007

December 2007 Bibliometer and 2007 totals

So, with four days left in this month and still needing to finish the book Word Nerd's currently in, she figured (counting that one) it was pretty safe to go ahead and total up the books for December and then for 2007.

Here are the readings:
7 books
2605 pages
84 pages/day average

96 books
32,747 pages
89.7 pages/day average.

Word Nerd read two more books in 2007 than in 2006, an increase that hardly seems significant.

In March, Word Nerd will post her book year totals. (A book year is like a fiscal year... since Word Nerd didn't start this habit with a new year, she tracks book years from the start of the list to a year later.)

21 December 2007

Best of 2007 -- Top Ten Books

And the moment you've all been waiting for. Word Nerd's Top Ten Book of 2007. (Just a reminder, while some of these actually were 2007 releases, Word Nerd makes her list based on books she's read in the past year, regardless of publication date.)

The envelope, please.

The winners are:

10. Destroyer, C.J. Cherryh (sci-fi)

9. Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey (fantasy)

8. The Hand of Oberon, Roger Zelazny (sci-fi/fantasy)

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (fantasy)

6. Nobody True, James Herbert (horror)

5. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper (juv. fantasy)

4. Whistling in the Dark, Lesley Kagen (literary fiction)

3. Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde (mystery/comedy)

2. The Blade Itself, Marcus Sakey (thriller)

1. The Liar's Diary, Patry Francis (thriller)

For comparison, the 2006 list is here.

There are no repeat winners on this list from last year. Also, 60 percent of the authors on this list were people that Word Nerd started reading in 2007.

A word of explanation about the winners in the #3, #5, #8 and #10 spots. Word Nerd wanted to nominate the whole series that these titles came from, but forced herself to pick the ones she most enjoyed out of multi-book cycles.

The dark horse pick for this year's top 10 pick is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Word Nerd wouldn't have expected Rowling's final book to make the top ten list, but when looking at the whole book list for 2007, it really stood out since it tied the whole series together so well. (Yes, there will be disagreements by some on that... post comments if you want to discuss. As an FYI though, Word Nerd's not the only one to put it in a Top Ten list list; Newsweek did too).

If Word Nerd had written the list on another day, it's quite possible that the 1-4 spots would have come out in a different order. As it is, Sakey's debut novel and Francis' debut novel were both stellar and Francis' only beat out Sakey's for the top spot because the twist at the end was so good.

If you search the blog, past reviews for the winning titles are available.

20 December 2007

Best of 2007 -- Discovered Author

The second of this year's "Best Of" awards is the one for author who Word Nerd discovered and started reading during 2007.

She discovered this author very early in 2007 and in the ensuing year has read his entire back list and his newest book which hit shelves on this side of the pond in July.

The winner of 2007's Best Discovered Author award is, Jasper Fforde!

Fforde is the author of the brilliantly zany Thursday Next series and equally odd-but-wonderful Nursery Crime series, featuring detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary.

This series was recommended to Word Nerd by two other bibliophile friends and she didn't hesitate to dive right in to reading them.

Fforde gets the nod this year because his books are so original. Word Nerd's not sure there's anybody else out there writing books quite like this, that blend mystery, science fiction, satire and literary history so well and are such a joy to read. Fforde has a delightful imagination that takes unexpected turns in the stories. He's also got a gift for puns and literary and cultural humor and all three are peppered through his books. (Word Nerd's fav? Probably the special agents Lamb and Slorter or the citing of Triffids in one of the books.)

Just for fun, Word Nerd names Jim Butcher as the runner-up. Butcher writes the Dresden Files series. They are entertaining, but don't quite rise to the level of Fforde's body of work.

Word Nerd earlier this year had a chance to interview Fforde and you can find the Q&A here.

In series order, here are links to all of Word Nerd's reviews of his books.

Thursday Next

The Eyre Affair

Lost in a Good Book

Well of Lost Plots

Something Rotten

First Among Sequels

Nursery Crime

The Big Over Easy

The Fourth Bear

19 December 2007

Book Banter -- New Moon

Title: New Moon
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Genre: YA
Length: 563 pages
Plot Basics: SPOILER ALERT (it's the second long book of a series... can't avoid this)

Bella Swan doesn't want to celebrate her 18th birthday. She's not enthused about it because it means she's growing older while her beau, the vampire Edward, will continue to remain 17 forever. And then Bella gets the birthday shock of her life: Edward breaks up with her. Bella becomes morose and severly depressed until she renews a friendship with Jacob Black and starts trying various extreme sports -- a dangerous pasttime for one as klutzy as Bella. Jacob's friendship starts to fill some of the hole in her life, but then Jacob starts acting strangely and Bella again gets caught up in a dangerous plot.
Banter Points: Word Nerd was so excited to read this one, after devouring Meyer's first "Twilight." These books are full of teen angst and kind of girly, but they are compelling. The plot remains tight, the emotions strong and it has a great twist at the end.
Bummer Points: The Cullen family is missing from about half of this book. It's unfortunate because all of them have interesting character traits.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you are a girl and you like paranormal romance type stories, this should be on your to-read list. The Shakespeare overtones in this book were great.

18 December 2007

Best of 2007 -- First Book in a Series

It's that time of year again for Word Nerd to dole out her completely subjective awards for Best Books of the year.

These are not titles that will likely show up on anybody else's top books of the year, largely because Word Nerd read mostly back-list books in 2007, trying to catch up in serieses (can she make that a word? Serieses? Seriesi? Anybody?) and be ready for new releases by those authors.

In addition to catching up, Word Nerd started reading several and it was a tough pick for which book would take top honors in the First Book in a Series category.

This year's winner is, Glass Houses, by Rachel Caine.

This marks the second year running where Caine topped Word Nerd's best first book in a series list. In 2006, she tied in the category with Garth Nix.

Caine won again, this time with the first book in her Morganville Vampires series because her writing is just that darn good. Morganville Vampires is YA fiction, but that's no barrier to winning in Word Nerd's mind.

Glass Houses was so good because it smoothly introduced the world of Morganville, the main characters and got the reader emotionally invested in what's going to happen to them. There are great levels of tension all around between the good guys and bad guys and within the ranks of the good guys themselves. You can read Word Nerd's original review here.

Word Nerd picks Kelly McCullough's WebMage as the runner-up in this category. This book was a great combination of sci-fi and fantasy and technology and mythology.

Up next: Best Discovered Author

17 December 2007

Book Banter -- Cybermancy

Title: Cybermancy
Author: Kelly McCullough
Genre: Sci-fi
Length: ~280 pages
Plot Points: After his big battle with the Fates, Ravirn (now dubbed Raven) is plotting his next move. He feels responsible that his girlfriend Cerice's webgoblin, Shara, was killed, and so Ravirn decides he's going to pull an Orpheus and get the webgoblin out of Hades. He gets in and out with Shara and the whole mission was easy... too easy, in fact and it sets off a whole new problem that could threaten the entire magic-web.
Banter Points: This series is a great combination of things. First, the combination of sci-fi technology and Greek mythology is just brilliant. Word Nerd loved reading Greek myths as a kid and it's very fun to see them recast this way. Second, the writing is propelling and intense. Scenes go from something right out of a James Bond movie to the "Matrix" quite seemlessly.
Bummer Points: McCullough's in the middle of writing this series so it'll be a while before book three comes out.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Word Nerd was a little skeptical of this series when she read the first book, thinking it depended too much on Ravirn's sidekick. For once though, a second book didn't drop in quality from the first but improved and became a series to look for in Word Nerd's list.

14 December 2007

Watch out, word fans

So, one of Word Nerd's Indiana VISTA colleagues found this site and it is way too cool not to share.


Test your vocabulary and help donate grains of rice through the UN to countries that need it.

So far, Word Nerd's donated more than 3,000.

Also, if you go under "options," you can set the computer to remember you vocabulary level so you always get challenged with tougher words. So far, Word Nerd's top level (of 50) was 47, but seems to hover most of the time in the lower 40s. She keeps playing, donating rice, and hoping to hit higher levels of words because it's fun!

13 December 2007

Book Banter -- Kushiel's Avatar

Title: Kushiel's Avatar
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Length: 702 pages
Genre: fantasy
Plot Basics: SPOILER ALERT (it's the third book in a trilogy... what do you expect?)

Phedre no Delaunay, now the Comtesse de Montreve, has enjoyed the 10 years of peace that were promised to her. Her beloved homeland, Terre D'Ange, is at peace and her arch-nemesis Melisande Shahrizai is still in exile. But one day, Phedre receives a letter from Melisande, explaining that her son, Imriel, the third in line for the Terre D'Ange throne, has gone missing from where he had been living, ignorant of his own bloodline and importance. Phedre agrees to help Melisande by finding Imriel in exchange for Melisande's help to find the information necessary for Phedre to free her childhood friend, Hyacinthe, from his eternal duty as Master of the Straits. Phedre's quest -- on which she is accompanied by her ever-diligent consort Joscelin -- takes them to uncharted lands beyond Terre D'Ange and into the most trying times they have ever known.
Banter Points: This book, seriously, was like a cross between Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings and bits of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series combined with Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Absolutely sweeping in scope and adventure, it's 700 pages of one great story. Phedre is a wily heroine and Joscelin is great male lead character.
Bummer Points: The middle of this book gets very dark. Very dark. Also, as in the other books, Carey's denouement takes a few chapters, which makes the end feel sort of like it peters out. Additionally, Carey gets caught up in the descriptions sometimes (not as bad as Robert Jordan, mind you) but there are places where it takes away from the main action of the story.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Fantasy lovers this series is a must if you haven't read it. If you are new to the genre, these are good too, unless the book length intimates you. Also, there's another trilogy set after these. Word Nerd is planning to read them after a break from this world.

12 December 2007

2007 Word of the Year

Merriam Webster has unveiled the top word of the year again.

All Word Nerd could think upon seeing it was, "Huh. Really?"

Maybe your reaction will be similar because the 2007 word of the year is..... (drum roll please)....


Yes, that's right. The word of the year only has two letters in it, the o's in this case being double zeros. How can the word of the year not even be a word!!?!? It's an acronym! (We Owned the Other Team... a reference from the world of gaming).

Anyway, the full release is here along with the rest of the top 10 words for 2007.

11 December 2007

Wisdom from the Masters

This was on Neil Gaiman's journal blog. Advice worth taking, Word Nerd thinks.

Dear Neil,I read your site everyday, and STILL I'm not a famous author,
what am I doing wrong?-mE.

At a guess, either you aren't writing enough, you aren't finishing things,
you aren't getting them published, or, if you're doing all of those, you're
worrying about the wrong things. Anyway, famousness is probably about as useful
for an author as a large, well-appointed hiking backpack would be for a prima
ballerina. Honest.Right. Back to work.

10 December 2007

Book News

Word Nerd discovered two great book things this weekend.

1. The opening of the renovated, expanded downtown Indianapolis Central Library. It is floors and floors (ok, six of them, plus the old library building) of book-y goodness. Though Word Nerd already had quite the TBR pile on her living room floor, she couldn't escape without checking out a few titles.

2. Half-Price Books. Just like its name, all the books there are half-price. They are remaindered titles and books sold back by readers. It's likely paid writers don't get much/any of the cut from the resale of these titles, but it's a great place to go to fill in missing books in a series you are collecting, or to go unload some books you don't want anymore. Word Nerd will definitely be doing the latter sometime soon here. After moving a number of titles from Wisconsin to Indiana, that she didn't want to move in the first place, it'll be nice to get at least a little $$ for them and not ever have to move them again.

04 December 2007

Book Banter -- Silver on the Tree

Title: Silver on the Tree (Dark is Rising sequence bk. 5)
Author: Susan Cooper
Length: 274 pages
Genre: juv/fantasy
Plot Basics: Will Stanton, Bran Davies, Merriman Lyon, and Simon, Jane and Barney Drew are on their last quest to help the powers of the Light triumph over the rising Dark. They must retrieve the crystal sword and be ready to stand against the Dark in a final battle. Will and Bran travel out of Time to get the sword in a daring race against the Riders of the Dark. Then, all Six -- who were chosen in prophesies beforehand -- have the final confrontation with the Dark and must make some difficult decisions.
Banter Points: Cooper again crafts magical descriptions of the places the characters visit and weaves enchantments with her very words. Will and Bran are highly compelling characters for being so young. Also, several of the old creepier enemies from the first two books (Mr. Hastings and the Riders) show up again which is nice that the group has more tangible enemies for this last volume.
Bummer Points: The end happens all in a rush, but that's how all of Cooper's other books in this series have been so it's not surprising it's like that in this one too. It's such high energy at the end, it would be nice to have it drawn out and keep the excitement going longer.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Word Nerd knows she's trumpeted the reading of these books in the recommendations for the other four titles in the series, but really, they are good and worth reading. Older kids can read these on their own, or they would be good read-aloud books for slightly younger kids. And adults... if you like fantasy, don't pass these by.

03 December 2007

Making the Goal

So, it was a hard-fought writing goal month, particularly right at the end, but Word Nerd hit her 10,000 words for November. It's probably about 2/3 new material and 1/3 typed in old stuff (the handwritten pages preceeding), but that's ok. The typed stuff all has to get typed in at some point and there's a small degree of editing going on while she's typing in the material.

The December goal, you will note, is already posted and underway. It's a cumulative goal of reaching 30,000 words, or 20,000 new ones over the November goal. It's a pretty aggressive goal for this month of holiday happenings, but Word Nerd's confident she can make it. Truth be told, she'd like to surpass 20K words, but whether that's possible is still an unknown so far.

This book will get finished.

30 November 2007

November 2007 Bibliometer

Since there's no way Word Nerd's going to finish any of the books she's reading today, it's safe to post the monthly stats.

For November:
8 books
2,742 pages
91 pages/day

89 books
30,142 pages
average book length = 339 pages

Interestingly, the November 2007 total pages is only 22 pages fewer than 2006's total.

29 November 2007

Book Banter -- Twilight

Title: Twilight
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Length: 492 pages
Genre: paranormal YA
Plot Basics: When her mom gets remarried to a minor league ballplayer who travels alot, Bella Swan decides to move from sunny Phoenix to rainy Forks, Washington to live with her police chief father. Bella worries that she won't fit in at her new small high school, but as the new girl, she attracts plenty of attention. Including that of her biology lab partner mysterious, aloof Edward Cullen. Bella is determined to find out Edward's secret and why he strangely avoids her. And the truth she learns is that she is very appealing to her vampire lab partner...
Banter Points: Meyer's books (there are three in this series now) have been huge sellers among teen readers. Word Nerd first stumbled on them when the third one released and Barnes and Noble made a big end-cap display, and well, YA vampire books selling that well... Word Nerd had to find out why.
In Twilight, the book is compelling as Bella and Edward sort out this rather Romeo-and-Juliet-ish secret love. There's action plot that comes late in the book, but Meyer deftly keeps readers interested as she (through Bella) lets readers discover her world of vampires.
Bummer Points: This is still another book about a somewhat ill-fated romance between a human and vampire. In the post-Buffy/Angel wake, these stories are becoming somewhat commonplace and losing some of their intrigue.
Word Nerd Recommendation: She put book #2 (New Moon) on hold because she wants to know what happens next.

27 November 2007

Another Intersection

Some thoughts about writing and editing today from Word Nerd's alter ego.

Editing and the Word Wall.

26 November 2007

Book Banter -- Fool Moon

Title: Fool Moon
Author: Jim Butcher
Length: 392 pages
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
Plot Basics: Harry Dresden gets another call to consult for the Chicago PD in a crime of the weird. Arriving on scene, he discovers a mangled corpse and evidence that a werewolf of some sort is behind the killing. Turns out, Lt. Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD tells him, it's not the first gruesome killing of its kind and she asks Dresden for his help. Werewolves, Dresden learns, come in several varieties and as he unravels the case, he learns he's got more than one kind on his hands. Besting them all will take a ton of magic and all of Harry's cunning.
Banter Points: Dresden is his usual wise-cracking, cynical self. The plot is taut and exciting and it's interesting to see how Dresden has to improvise at the end to keep himself and others alive.
Bummer Points: It's only book two, but Word Nerd gets the feeling that these books are pretty formulaic. Not that the formula is so bad, she just wonders if they will continue to stay interesting through the number of them that Butcher has written.
Word Nerd Recommendation: A good read that doesn't tax your brain overmuch. If you are a looking for something to cut through holiday schmaltz, this could be it.

20 November 2007

Book Banter -- The Grey King

Title: The Grey King (the Dark is Rising sequence book 4)
Author: Susan Cooper
Length: ~160 pages
Genre: Juvenile Fantasy
Plot Basics: After a bad case of the mumps, Will Stanton is sent to his relatives in Wales to recover. Will knows that there's something important that he's forgetting from before he was sick, but the illness has driven whatever it was from his mind. As he explores the countryside, he encounters a strange white dog and an equally strange boy, Bran Davies, who together trigger his memory and aid him in his quest as an Old One to find another object that will aid in the Light in the struggle against the rising Dark.
Banter Points: Another great book from Susan Cooper. This one won the Newberry Award and it's easy to see why. The plot is tight and compelling, the descriptions vivid and powerful. Will is a very neat character and it was nice to see him interacting with someone other than Merriman or the Drew children.
Bummer Points: It was pretty short. Word Nerd got caught up in this landscape Cooper painted and would have been more than willing to stay there for another 100 pages.
Word Nerd Recommendation: As she's said before, this series is worth reading, even if you are a grown-up.

12 November 2007

When real life interferes

Word Nerd's got another blog going about her current real life adventures, in addition to the occasional posts here too about writing.

But today's post was enough about writing that she thought she should at least post a link here.

So, here it is.

A link.

09 November 2007

Excited for a library

Word Nerd's a fan of libraries. Makes sense, given her avid reader status.

Here in the big city, the main, downtown branch of the library has been undergoing renovations. Big ones. Adding on to the building, shut down for at least a year kind of renovations.

It now will reopen in 30 days and Word Nerd can't wait.


First, there is a the practical side. The downtown one is closer to her apartment than where she's currently trekking off to one of the more suburban branches. Closer by many, many, blocks and literally, just down a block from her office. Guess where she'll be spending her lunch hours...

Second, this new library building is huge. Huge means room for books. Lots of books.

Word Nerd's a fan already and she hasn't even been inside.

08 November 2007

Book Banter -- The Mark

Title: The Mark
Author: Jason Pinter
Length: 367 pages
Genre: mystery/thriller
Plot Basics: Henry Parker only wants one thing in life – to be a respected journalist in New York City. When he lands a job shortly out of college at the New York Gazette, he thinks he’s got it made… until his editor keeps him writing obituaries and fluffy features stories. He finally gets a chance to help veteran reporter Jack O’Donnell on a big story, interviewing a former convict. But after the interview, something doesn’t sit right with Parker about what he heard. He goes back to the con’s apartment and end up running from the NYPD and running for his life.
Banter Points: Pretty good chase novel, with Parker constantly working to stay one step ahead of the cops. Likely since Pinter himself is in his late 20s, Parker’s voice as a mid-20-something rang true.
Bummer Points: A couple of these, unfortunately. First, it’s a pet peeve for Word Nerd – she really doesn’t like switches in POV in the story. The subplot about the hitman was OK, but in her view, the subplot with the policemen didn’t add anything. There would have been other ways around that at the end when the reader needed to know some things about them. Second, Parker sounds like a 24-year-old, but not a reporter. Word Nerd has unbelievably high standards for how reporters should act in a novel (since she was one for a while.) Parker and his newsroom fail on most accounts there. If Parker was such a promising reporter, he wouldn’t have been stuck writing nothing but obits. When Word Nerd was an intern at a major daily, she covered everything from features to international news and wrote no obits. Third, this is the first book in a series. One of Pinters 2007 Killer Year colleagues, Marcus Sakey, said something at an appearance that some characters go through too much hell for there to be a sequel. Word Nerd would put Henry Parker in that category.
Word Nerd recommendation: It’s a good page-turner, airplane book. If you like thrillers, it’s worth the read, but if this genre isn’t your thing, this isn’t a good book to try to break in with.

07 November 2007

The Switch

Word Nerd doesn’t have an official November writing goal yet, but at least she’s put words on paper again this month.

And on the computer.

Yes. It was time to make the switch from hand-writing the current work-in-progress to the computer. Blame it, if you will, on the move to the big city. Things here take more time because they are farther away to get to. Like, say, the library, which until the new downtown Central Library reopens, means traveling some 30 blocks away which takes a good 15 minutes to go. This is an unfortunately far longer distance than when Word Nerd lived, literally, three doors up the street from the Oshkosh library.

The writing by hand was taking to long to get done in the midst of other things that take to long to get done. So, even before finishing the last notebook she was working in, Word Nerd made the switch.

When she was working on the last WIP, the goal was 1,000 words a day. That seems like a lot, presently, so Word Nerd’s shooting for about 500. If it’s anywhere from about 450 words up, that’s fine. The rest of November is a crazy month so Word Nerd’s not sure about what the goal for the rest of the month should be.

Missing October’s goal was tough and she doesn’t want to do that again. Maybe the goal will just be to get as far as possible.

06 November 2007

Book Banter -- The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Title: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Author: Michael Chabon
Length: 411 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Plot Basics: In an alternate history of 1948, the Jewish people are given part of Alaska to settle in for 60 years. Now, on the eve of the land reverting to the United States, Sitka police detective Meyer Landsman takes it as a personal affront when a chess-playing man is murderer in the building he’s living in. Though the Sitka police is ordered to try to close out all its unsolved cases, Landsman can’t let this one go. His investigation brings up the demons of his past and shakes several Jewish notions of Messiah and the promise the people will one day reclaim the Holy Land.
Banter Points: Chabon’s description of the Alaskan environment is spectacular, using vivid words in unexpected combinations.
Bummer Points: After reading Chabon’s other masterpieces (Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys), Word Nerd had high hopes for this book. It, simply put, did not live up to them. The book plodded along, mired in moroseness and the gray Alaskan cold. Only in the last 100 pages did the book start to get interesting.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Skip it, unless you are a die-hard Chabon fan.

05 November 2007

October Bibliometer

Surprisingly, October turned out to be a rather bumper month for reading.

Word Nerd is a bit surprised by this, seeing as how October was also the month for her to relocate more than 400 miles to a new city and new job.

Granted, the October bibliometer reading is inflated for a couple reasons.
One of the counted titles was really an audiobook and half of another one was. While packing, Word Nerd listened to “Over Sea, Under Stone” and half of “The Dark is Rising.”
Word Nerd finished “The Dark is Rising” in print and counted the whole book in the page count. Also in the count is the 147 pages of the third book in this wonderful children’s fantasy series.
Word Nerd was also reading Yasuhiro Nightow’s Trigun graphic novels. The first two volumes were more than 300 pages each, but that includes all the pages of pictures as well as the words.

The official stats:

13 books
3366 pages
108 pages per day average

81 books
27,400 pages
Average book length: 338 pages

01 November 2007

Back to the writing

If you’ve been paying any attention to the page count meter over --> there to the right, you will notice that it hasn’t moved up in days. DAYS.

Word Nerd missed her October writing goal, something she hasn’t missed since, oh, March, when she was laid up recuperating from an emergency appendectomy.

What happened, you ask?

Easy. Word Nerd moved. And without a real, pressing deadline and boxes to pack and then unpack, putting words on paper daily was put on hold. She set her October page goal low – only 20 pages – to try to make it more feasible to meet it. But, alas, no such luck.

Why was writing so hard? Well, it’s hard to pump big emotions (betrayal, jealousy, loyalty, self-sacrifice, etc.) into a story when the writer is going through a pretty big upheaval in her own life. Moving 400 miles to a new town, starting a new job is a big deal. In the evenings after her first week at the new job, Word Nerd was just still too drained from learning the new ropes and new town to put pencil to paper.

That changed Sunday. She wrote a whole page. Not amazing progress, but it’s something. Even getting back in the story required some work, rereading more than the 100 preceding pages to reminder herself what was going on and how characters behaved. Any hiatus in storytelling can be bad because it puts the writer out of the rhythm of the story.

Hopefully, Word Nerd will refind her writing groove soon, because this story needs an ending soon.

31 October 2007

Book Banter -- Greenwitch

Title: Greenwitch (The Dark is Rising sequence, book 3)
Author: Susan Cooper
Length: 147 pages
Genre: juvenile/fantasy
Plot Basics: All the work that Simon, Jane and Barney Drew did to recover the grail seems to be lost when the artifact is stolen in a museum break-in. The children and their Great Uncle Merriman Lyon know that the theft wasn’t the work of just any thieves, but agents of the Dark, trying to reclaim one of the Things of Power. Merriman recruits the three Drew children and Will Stanton to accompany on a week-long holiday back in Cornwall. But the week is hardly a holiday as a local rite – the creation of the Greenwitch – is wrapped up in the next piece of the struggle between Light and Dark.
Banter Points: Again, this is a fantastic fantasy series for kids. It’s classic good against evil, with a fun dash of British mythology thrown in. Word Nerd really liked to see Will Stanton interacting with the Drew children in this book. He’s a compelling character and was a nice contrast to the sometimes whiny-seeming Drews.
Bummer Points: The Dark wasn’t nearly scary enough in this book. In “Over Sea, Under Stone,” Mr. Hastings and a few others were acting as the agents of the Dark. Same for the Rider in “Dark is Rising.” While there was a bad guy in this book, he never had a name. As is understood in most books dealing with some kind of magic, names have power, and leaving this character unnamed didn’t heighten the mystery, but made it harder to believe this character had malevolent intentions.
Word Nerd Recommendations: Adults and kids still yearning for something to read in the Harry Potter vein should check these out. The Dark is Rising sequence doesn’t have the humor of HP, but the basic good vs. evil plot should be appealing.

24 October 2007

Book Banter -- Storm Front

Title: Storm Front
Author: Jim Butcher
Length: ~320 pages
Genre: sci-fi/paranormal
Plot Basics: Harry Dresden is a wizard. And he advertises his services as such in the Chicago Yellow Pages. He also consults for the Chicago PD when they get the weird crimes. Like a recent pair of murders. Harry's called up to investiage two deaths at the same time he's hired by a woman to investigate her husband's growing interest in magic. As Harry starts to uncover the truth, he puts his own life and those of some of the people he works with, in danger.
Banter Points: Word Nerd's heard good things about the Dresden Files books, so she wanted to check it out. This first one is so-so. There's enough potential there that she sees why an editor/agent would have be interested in this series, but there's also a lot left unexplained.
Bummer Points: A little bit more background on how Dresden's mystical Chicago works would be nice.
Word Nerd Recommendation: She's been told the books get better after the third or fourth one, so she's got book 2 on hold.

18 October 2007

Book Banter -- The Dark is Rising

Title: The Dark is Rising (The Dark is Rising sequence book 2)
Author: Susan Cooper
Length: 218 pages
Genre: juvenile/fantasy
Plot Basics: Will Stanton just wants snow for his 11th birthday, but what he gets is far more adult and dangerous. Will discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones, a group of people withheld from Time who are the guardians of the Light and in constant struggle against the Dark. But as Christmas approaches, and the darkest time of the year, the powers of the Dark are growing stronger and Will is given a mission to collect and join the six Signs of Power as a weapon against the Dark. As Will comes into his power, he has a collection of mentors, including Merriman Lyon.
Banter Points: Word Nerd got interested in this series first after reading an interview with Cooper and then seeing the trailers for "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising" movie. (The movie is based on this book.) But, what she has found is a great kids' fantasy series that's good reading for adults too. High adventure and mysticism await in this book as Will learns what it means to be an Old One.
Bummer Points: Sometimes, Word Nerd really thought she needed to brush up on English mythology. There were a few references that she thought she should have known to stuff that was likely legend from Celtic/British mythology.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Though you don't have to read "Over Sea, Under Stone" to understand the action in this book, it's still good to start with that one first.

16 October 2007

Book Banter -- Over Sea, Under Stone

Title: Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising Sequence, book 1)
Author: Susan Cooper
Length: audiobook... no page count this time
Genre: juvenile/fantasy
Plot Basics: Simon, Jane and Barney Drew are on holiday with their Great Uncle Merry in Cornwall, England. The big house where they are all staying holds many secrets and one day, while exploring the attic, they find a ancient manuscript. The manuscript, Merry tells them, dates back to the time of King Arthur and could lead them to a great treasure, an item that will help the powers of good ward off the growing Dark. But the Drew children aren't the only ones looking for clues in Cornwall and they find themselves in a race to understand the manuscript, chased at every step by those who serve the Dark and would like to see them fail.
Banter Points: First, Alex Jennings' narration of the book was great. He did a wonderful job of reading the story making it truly enjoyable to listen too. Second, Word Nerd doesn't know how she missed this book as a kid. Since she enjoyed it now as a grown-up, it would have been even better then! Cooper keeps the action up in the story, writing great chase scenes and description that really take the reader to southwest England.
Bummer Points: Simon, Jane and Barney were, at times, a bit wooden. They seemed sort of like the stock British sibling characters on holiday.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like Harry Potter, these are worth checking out.

15 October 2007

Book Banter -- The Fourth Bear

Title: The Fourth Bear
Author: Jasper Fforde
Length: 378 pages
Genre: mystery/comedy
Plot Basics: Nursery Crime Division Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt is off the job. His boss says it's because Jack is too crazy. But Jack's craziness is nothing compared to that of the serial killer Gingerbreadman who has recently escaped from prison. Top it off with some porridge smuggling, a Friend to Bears who may have been murdered, the world's worst idea for an amusement park and Jack is knee-deep in a bizarre case that he, technically, isn't authorized to solve.
Banter Points: Only Jasper Fforde could write this book and pull it off. At times laugh-aloud funny and filled with literary witticisms, The Fourth Bear is still a great mystery book. Obviously, Fforde knows both the genre and his audiences and the book is a delight to both.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd has now read her way through all of Fforde's back list and wishes there were more left for her to read.
Word Nerd recommendation: A must-read for anybody who loves books.

12 October 2007

Book Banter -- Trigun Vol. 1

Title: Trigun, Vol. 1
Author: Yasuhiro Nightow
Length: 357 pages
Genre: sci-fi/manga
Plot Basics: Vash the Stampede, also known as the Humanoid Typhoon, the legendary gunman, has a $$60,000,000,000 (that’s 60 Billion Double Dollars) price tag on his head for the damage that’s caused when he’s been around, including the total destruction of Third July City. Given his destructive wake, the Bernardelli Insurance Society sends two agents, Meryl Stryfe and Millie Thompson, to try to avert the risks and damage Vash causes. But they can’t believe at first that the donut-loving man they find is really such a phenomenal gunman until he stops the infamous Nebraska family, saves people and a town and does it all without actually killing anyone… a position Vash adamantly upholds that no one has the right to take another life.
Banter Points: Word Nerd decided to read the actual manga series after having watched the anime series and thoroughly enjoying that. So far, while the manga mostly follows the plot in the anime (or the other way around, technically), it’s fun to see the little things in the original story that didn’t make the TV show version.
Bummer Points: It’s not a true bummer, but this is the first manga that Word Nerd’s read, so it’s taken a while to get used to the format. Manga are read back to front, right to left, even in English, to mirror the original Japanese format. For at least the first half of this book, Word Nerd really had to work to follow the series of comic panels.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you’ve ever wanted to check out manga, but didn’t know what to pick up, try these. The stories have a fun old West flavor to them, with a good dose of sci-fi. Or if you’re disinclined to read a graphic novel, the anime TV series is good too.

11 October 2007

Book Banter -- The Pardon

Title: The Pardon
Author: James Grippando
Length: 406 pages
Genre: legal/thriller
Plot Basics: Jack Swyteck is a high-profile defense attorney, helping criminals avoid sentencing. His estranged father, Harry, is the law-and-order governor of the State of Florida, committed to enforcing the state’s death penalty when applicable. But after Jack defends – and wins a trial – for the notorious killer Eddy Goss, both Jack and Harry start receiving threatening messages. As they try to stay steps ahead of the blackmailer, Jack finds himself back at the defense table in a courtroom, but this time, as a defendant in a first-degree murder case. Jack knows he’s being framed, but it’s going to take reconciling with his father to catch another killer on the loose.
Banter Points: This is a great legal thriller read, reminiscent of early John Grisham books like The Firm and The Pelican Brief. Grippando makes both Jack and Harry believable characters instead of stock character-cut outs (the hotshot attorney, the governor only concerned with reelection). The plot has some interesting twists.
Bummer Points: This is one of Word Nerd’s recurring pet peeves in thrillers – the chapters written from the POV of the killer/bad guy. Word Nerd just doesn’t find this an effective technique. Most often for her, it doesn’t make the killer/bad guy any scarier, in fact, it breaks from the rising tension building for the main characters.

Word Nerd recommendation: Grippando’s got quite a list of titles out featuring Swyteck and Word Nerd’s excited to keep reading his back list based on his initial showing.

10 October 2007

Author Answers with Ben Bova

This week's authors is one of the top names in science fiction today, Ben Bova. Bova has written many books, looking at the exploration of our own solar system, nanotechnology and green energy.

For more on Bova, check out his website.

WN: Your latest novel, "The Aftermath" is part of your Asteroid Wars/Grand Tour books. How did you get the idea to do a series looking out further and further into space?

BOVA: I’ve been an advocate of space exploration and development just about all of my life. I worked on the Vanguard program, the first US satellite effort, two years before the creation of NASA. So it was quite natural for me to write a series of novels about how the human race will expand through the solar system. My readers dubbed the series, “Bova’s Grand Tour of the Solar System.”

WN: You are categorized as a science fiction writer, but from your perspective, how much of what you write is fiction and how much is science, or possible future science? What kind of research do you do for your novels?

BOVA: I’m researching all the time. Fortunately, I have many friends in various scientific and technical fields, and I know where to go to find the information I need. My novels are solidly based on what is known, but I feel free to go beyond that – as long as no one can prove that I’m wrong. For example, in my novel JUPITER I postulated giant creatures living in a world-spanning ocean. The conditions on Jupiter are based on current information, but the ocean and the creatures in it are my extrapolations of existing data. The human characters are what makes a novel interesting, and I try to pattern my human characters on real, living human beings, with all their emotions, strengths and weaknesses.

WN: How do you think science fiction has shaped or influenced technology for things like space exploration and nanotechnology?

BOVA: Many top researchers and industrialists started reading science fiction as youngsters. I know that all the astronauts who walked on the Moon did. Their early readings convinced them, I think, that working in science or technology can be fun – and much more interesting than selling insurance.

WN: When you look at recent developments like SpaceShipOne being the first private craft to reach sub-orbit, where do you think space exploration or space travel is headed?

BOVA: I think private, profit-oriented entrepreneurs will push the development and exploitation of space, while government and university efforts will focus on scientific research – and defense.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid... what turned you on to reading/writing books and science fiction in particular?

BOVA: I was an asthmatic (still am), so I was reading when most of my friends were playing at sports. Science fiction excited me. That old “sense of wonder” hit me from the very first.

WN: After writing the number of books you have written, does the process get easier or harder? Why?

BOVA: It gets easier AND harder. Easier, in the sense that you have acquired the skills needed to tell a story; harder, because you are always trying to stretch your abilities and reach new territory.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?

BOVA: There isn’t any single book, there are dozens, hundreds. Among the top are THE STORY OF MAN by anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON by Robert A. Heinlein, and THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway. Not necessarily in that order.

WN: What's next for you as a writer?

BOVA: I want to do an historical novel set in the time of the Trojan War

09 October 2007

Book Banter -- Kill All the Lawyers

Title: Kill All the Lawyers
Author: Paul Levine
Length: 352 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: The lawyer team of Solomon and Lord is back, only this time, it's mostly Steve Solomon defending himself from a strange string of circumstances. It starts one morning when he discovers a marlin jabbed into his front door and then a local radio personality -- a man Steve once defended -- lambasting him on air. As Steve wrestles with his past and the possibility there's a killer still at large, his partner Victoria Lord struggles with whether their partnership is doomed.
Banter Points: Bobby, Steve's 12-year-old nephew, may again steal the show in this book. And for once, he's more integral to the plot.
Bummer Points: This one is not the best of the series, so far. It's strange to have a mystery novel without a dead body and the comedy between Solomon and Lord is lacking as well in this one.
Word Nerd recommendation: Since the first two were good, Word Nerd's not going to pass judgment on this series quite yet and is still planning to read the fourth one.

08 October 2007

Character Study -- Chuck Bartowski

Word Nerd has admitted in the past how she does put down the book from time to time to watch TV shows. Particularly in the fall, when the new crop of shows comes on.

And one of this fall's new ones provides a good look at another character archetype.

Chuck from the NBC show "Chuck" is a good example of the everyman character.
The everyman type (originally coined from an English morality play) is supposed to be just as the name describes -- a character that anybody can relate to.

That's Chuck: average guy with a humdrum job, trouble finding dates, a quirky best friend, a somewhat meddling sister. In the story, of course, Chuck comes into the possession of government secrets, which is admittedly not very ordinary, but he's not suddenly a James Bond. He still is trying to live his average life and not being very suave with the whole secret-agent thing.
Chuck works as an everyman character, Word Nerd thinks, because many people have probably thought (after watching a James Bond movie, or Alias episode etc.) that they would make a good spy if called upon to do that. Chuck, naturally, remains just as geeky as a quasi-secret-agent as he was before.
Just like most of us would be.

05 October 2007

The Book Meme

Word Nerd spotted this great meme over at upcoming author Jamie Ford's site, and thought, this is a good meme, since it's not the usual silly questions.

Since Ford tagged anybody who wanted to be tagged, Word Nerd decided to play along.

Total number of books
As in that are on Word Nerd's bookshelves? Or that she's read in a year or what? This category is ambiguous.

But here goes: Total number of books.

Seven Harry Potters + seven Chronicles of Narnia + four Time Quartet books by Madeleine L'Engle + six Griffin and Sabine + seven Graham Greene titles + ... oh you get the idea.

Both of Word Nerd's two bookshelves are full to overflowing.

Last book read
The Dead Girls' Dance. See the review of that here.

Last book bought
Thin Air. Rachel Caine. Book six in her Weather Warden series. Word Nerd had to lay down the cash for this one because the library hadn't purchased it yet and Word Nerd didn't want to wait.

Five meaningful books

1. The Lord of the Rings.
Word Nerd knows that this is a popular book for a lot of people, but seriously, this book has played a big part in her life. From having her dad read most of it to her the first time (until she got too scared at the end and made him stop until he insisted he tell her the end so she would know everything turns out OK), to rereading times for herself through in Jr. High, college, etc., it's been such a foundational story of how good triumphs and it's up to the least to change the world.

2. Watership Down.
Yes, it's the rabbit book. Another great foundational book that Word Nerd first had read to her as a kid, but has re-read many times since then. A great book about how stories impact communities.

3. The Once and Future King
T.H. White's classic King Arthur story. Another great book that has a good story, but deeper insights as well about how we order our societies and if might can ever make right and the falibility of humans.

4. The Hungering Dark
Frederick Buechner's powerful little book on doubt and faith and how having doubt doesn't mean that one doesn't have faith and that God is often found in the unexpected moments when we see "through a glass, darkly."

5. The Book Thief
Australian author Markus Zusak's haunting and compelling tale of a girl living in Nazi Germany. His prose is captivating and unique.

Since this is a meme, Word Nerd's tagging Stacie, Worderella and Kelly.

04 October 2007

September Bibliometer

Here's the count for September.

6 books
2,315 pages
average 77 pages per day

68 books
24,034 pages

Compared to August, the monthly book/page count is lower, but then again, there was no time spent on an airplane to boost the count this month.

03 October 2007

Author Answers with Harry Hunsicker

So Word Nerd temporarily forgot that today was Wednesday, but better late than never, here's today's author interview with Harry Hunsicker.

For more on Hunsicker, check out his website.

WN: Tell us about your newest book, “Crosshairs.” What kind of reader will like this book?
HUNSICKER: Anybody who likes hard-boiled thrillers. Fans of Robert Crais, Lee Child, Michael Connelly.

WN: When you wrote “Still River,” did you expect to write a series?
HUNSICKER: When I wrote STILL RIVER I was mainly just trying to finish. In revising it, I realized that the character had some legs to him and might be a good guy to hang a series.

WN: How did you create the character of Lee Henry Oswald?
HUNSICKER: I wanted a character whose name was tied to the area where he operated, Dallas and North Texas. I thought about creating a character who was a hitman named Tom Landry (The Dallas Cowboys legendary head coach) but I thought they might run me out of town. A few days later I came up with Lee Henry Oswald. In actually creating who he is, I wrote out a four or five page biography of him. Likes, dislikes. Physical description, education, etc. Including a fair amount about who his parents were.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
HUNSICKER: I’ve been a huge reader since age five or six, devouring books by the truckload. I loved getting lost in a different world. At some point, I realized that I wanted to try and create some of those worlds myself.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
HUNSICKER: The best part of writing is the satisfaction that comes when everything works, when a scene comes together and everything fuses. It’s a marvelous feeling. (Which doesn’t happen enough!) The most challenging part is creating the setting. I spend hours describing the way a room or street looks, and then a few minutes on what happens. Weird, I know.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
HUNSICKER: Yikes, this is a hard one. I’m going to say TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Story and character all came together seamlessly in that novel, making me realize what to shoot for.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
HUNSICKER: I’ve got premises for a couple of more Oswald books jotted down. I am working on a standalone right now. The hero is a similar character to Hank Oswald, but at the same time radically different. I’m doing a lot of magazine work these days and have also started on a screenplay about, what else, a writer.


The September page count meter barely got filled by the end of the month, but Word Nerd squeaked it out... all 30 pages.

Let's just be clear: September was hard work to make the goal. There's some life stuff currently making it hard to write because time is at a premium.

October likely will be the same way, so Word Nerd's dropped her page count goal for the month from 30 to 20. That also conveniently takes her to the end of the current composition book she's in, so at that point, again, she'll have to consider if this is the time to make the switch over to writing this book on the computer. (Her hunch is the answer is yes...)

The new October meter is up.

02 October 2007

Book Banter -- The Dead Girls' Dance

Title: The Dead Girls' Dance
Author: Rachel Caine
Length: 248 pages
Genre: YA/urban fantasy
Plot Basics: Claire Danvers, teenage genius, barely survived her move into the Glass House after being run off campus by an all-beauty-no-brains clique. Moving to Glass House, despite making her great new friends Eve, Michael and Shane, may have been just as dangerous for Claire as she learns the truth about Morganville -- that the town is controlled by vampires. Now, there's a new gang in town determined to wipe out the vamps, no matter what the cost. And Claire finds herself in the position where going to a notorious frat party -- the Dead Girls' Dance -- may help her avert disaster.
Banter Points: There's a requisite "wow" needed here because it's a Rachel Caine book. She is one of the best writers of series that Word Nerd has encountered. Each book raises the stakes far higher than the last one, but in addition to having good plot, forces changes on the characters. Also, Word Nerd doesn't want to give away what it is, but it's interesting to watch Shane make a moral choice at the end of the book, when much of the current culture would say he should have chosen differently.
Bummer Points: Again, it's a Caine book, so who can say cliffhanger?
Word Nerd recommendation: Looking for good books for teen girls? These are on the OK list. They may feature vampires, but compared to the snarkiness that girls dish out to each other in some other YA books (like Gossip Girl), the vamps aren't so bad.

28 September 2007

Book Banter -- The Big Over Easy

Title: The Big Over Easy
Author: Jasper Fforde
Length: 383 pages
Genre: mystery/comedy
Plot Basics: Detective Inspector Jack Spratt has been with the Nursery Crime Division for years, but his success rate isn't so great. On the heels of a failed prosecution of the Three Little Pigs, DI Spratt is assigned a new partner, Detective Sergeant Mary Mary. Together, they begin to investigate the death of Humpty Dumpty. At first they think the giant ovoid committed suicide, but as they piece together the clues (and Dumpty's shell), they begin to suspect murder. But Spratt and the whoel NCD division are under some pressure to finish this case before the division is shut down or the case is given over to wildly popular detective Friedland Chymes.
Banter Points: Another winner from the wacky mind of Jasper Fforde. Honestly, this man must take imagination pills with his morning coffee to come up with all this stuff. He mercilessly plays off of familiar nursery rhymes and fairy tales in this book as easily as he does with classic literature in his Thursday Next series. His humor is smarty and witty, but the comedy doesn't overshadow the story. At it's heart, even though it's the death of Humpty Dumpty, the book is still a smart mystery.
Bummer Points: For a reader unfamiliar with Fforde and Thursday Next, some of the humor would be lost.
Word Nerd recommendation: Fans of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams if you haven't read Fforde, what are you waiting for? Bibliophiles of all stripes, Fforde will likely tickle your funny bone as well, but start with The Eyre Affair and read the Thursday Next series (at least up to Something Rotten) before reading Big Over Easy, to see how the two series link.

27 September 2007

Harry Potter and the Bothersome Punctuation

Word Nerd was forwarded this commentary from Education Week and it was too good not to share.
This will not dilute Word Nerd's fan status for the books, but it is interesting to wonder if because it was Harry Potter, the editors involved were more forgiving.

Published Online: September 24, 2007

No Wiz at Grammar
Does it matter if the newest Harry Potter book is a punctuation train wreck?

By Alan Warhaftig

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels have earned a special status in our culture, along with copious royalties for Ms. Rowling and profits for her publishers. The stories are imaginative, complex, and charming, and have accomplished the magical feat of inspiring millions of children to read.
This special status brings with it special responsibility, and in one important respect the final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, fails: It does not respect the conventions of grammar and punctuation. This complaint may seem peevish, but as a high school English teacher I have to question the curriculum at Hogwarts. Like Chaplin’s dehumanized assembly-line worker in “Modern Times,” who feels compelled to tighten everything in sight with his wrench, I found myself marking this final Harry Potter as though it were a student’s paper.
For example, on Page 416, Hermione says, “I don’t think anyone except Mr. Lovegood could kid themselves that’s possible.” On Page 426, she says, “If surviving was as simple as hiding under the Invisibility Cloak, we’d have everything we need already!” While many teenagers are casual in their use of language, Hermione is not one of them, and while we know that she excels in Potions and Divination, she is also the type who would be acquainted with pronoun-antecedent agreement and the subjunctive mood—the errors in these two examples.
Hermione would also have learned to express herself in complete sentences, yet on Page 414, she says, “It’s just a morality tale, it’s obvious which gift is best, which one you’d choose—”
Grammar is not a scheme to suppress creativity wherever it rears its head, and following its conventions would not have compromised Ms. Rowling’s vision.
Albus Dumbledore, the longtime headmaster at Hogwarts, may be the root of the problem, a non-grammatical hero for young wizards to emulate. On Page 685, he says, “Harry must not know, not until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?”
If these were isolated errors, it would be one thing, but I noted 474 run-on sentences in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—all “comma splices” (We went to the store, then we went home)—and countless more saved only by dramatic overuse of the ellipsis, dash, and semicolon.
Speaking of the semicolon, a punctuation mark with noble potential, Ms. Rowling frequently misuses it, combining it with coordinating conjunctions (and and but) and using it between an independent and a dependent clause—both of which require English teachers to reach for the red pen.
An even more egregious problem is Ms. Rowling’s approach to punctuation of quotations, which appears to be almost perfectly random. In some instances, italics are used in place of quotation marks, as on Page 248: Her office must be up here, Harry thought.
Frequently, as on Page 21, both quotation marks and italics are used: “I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks.”
On Page 312, this technique is used in combination with another serious punctuation error:
He could hear Ron saying, “We thought you knew what you were doing!”, and he resumed packing with a hard knot in the pit of his stomach.
In one instance, a punctuation train wreck on Page 566, the need for quotes within quotes is completely ignored:
“I told him, you’d better give it up now. You can’t move her, she’s in no fit state, you can’t take her with you, wherever it is you’re planning to go, when you’re making your clever speeches, trying to whip yourselves up a following. He didn’t like that, said Aberforth, and his eyes were briefly occluded by the firelight on the lenses of his glasses: They shone white and blind again.
Of course, none of these examples accords with the rules we teach in school, but what’s impressive about the grammar and punctuation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is its inconsistency, a trait it shares with the preceding novels in the series. Did Scholastic Inc. neglect to assign an editor to the project, or are Ms. Rowling’s manuscripts protected by an immutability charm?
Writing is communication, and as readers we look for certain indicators to help us construct meaning. If we read, “John took Jane Eyre to bed,” we may infer from the italics that the name refers to the title of a work rather than someone he met at a nightclub—even if we have never heard of Charlotte Brontë.
Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin. The clues we require as readers are our responsibility to provide as writers. Punctuation serves the function of traffic lights and signs: It may be inconvenient to stop when we’re in a hurry and the light turns red, but we’d be far more severely inconvenienced if there were crashes at every intersection because there was no order to the flow of traffic.
In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote that our language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Writing is not necessarily the recording of existing thoughts on paper; it can also be the means by which we form our ideas. The rules of language provide boundaries within which our voice must flow; they force us to discipline both expression and thought, which is why it is so important for young people to learn to use language precisely.
Grammar is not the enemy, a scheme to suppress creativity wherever it rears its head, and following its conventions would not have compromised Ms. Rowling’s vision. It is unfortunate that the editing of her books, with millions of young, impressionable readers, has not matched the quality of their storytelling.
How shall my colleagues and I respond to students who ask why they should follow the rules when the author of the wildly successful Harry Potter novels does not? Should high-stakes exams adopt an “anything goes” approach, with any of the multiple-choice answers considered to be correct? Writers and publishers have a responsibility, and Ms. Rowling and Scholastic Inc. have clearly dropped the snitch.
Alan Warhaftig teaches English at the Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts, in Los Angeles.
Vol. 27

26 September 2007

Author Answers with Thomas Maltman

This week's featured author is Thomas Maltman. Maltman's first novel, "The Night Birds" was chosen as a Book Sense and Midwest Connections book pick earlier this year. Maltman teaches at Silver Lake College.
For more about him, visit his website.

WN: What is "Night Birds" about and how did you get the idea for this book?
MALTMAN: The Night Birds is about the Dakota Conflict of 1862, a lost history long overshadowed by the Civil War. It's about this history and so much more. Recently, I interviewed with a bookseller down in Iowa. "What your novel is really about," she told me, "is family secrets." Now that's a much juicier description. Much of the novel also takes in 1876, fourteen years after the conflict. My narrator grows up, as he puts it, "in the shadow of the Great Sioux War."

I first came across the story of conflict and the hangings in a book written for children and my imagination was captivated. Then I married an ELCA pastor from Minnesota and our first assignment took us to Little House of the Prairie territory, just five miles from where the trouble all started. I felt this history calling to me from out of time and knew that I had to tell it.

WN: What's your writing process like?
MALTMAN: I have a lovely, two year old daughter who governs the household. (Or likes to think she does!) So I rise early in the morning and begin writing at 5:00. I like to write while it's dark outside and the world is hushed and still. In that quiet, my half-asleep mind can dream up surprising things. I write for a few hours, until my daughter wakes up, and I always try to end in mid-sentence, so that I have a beginning place the next day. I write drafts all the way through, then put the story away for awhile, so I can take it out a few months later and look over it with fresh eyes.

WN: You also teach creative writing. As a writer, is it hard to practice what you preach?
MALTMAN: I hope not! I do think my students here at Silver Lake College can learn from my failures just as much as my successes. I've saved everything I've ever written and it's not all pretty. Sometimes, I'll bring samples from my undergraduate work, which includes some comical missteps, and we'll talk about where a poem or story went wrong.

I'm a poet as well as a storyteller and I so want them to learn how to make language sing. Ultimately, the class is about them and the focus is on their individual growth as writers.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
MALTMAN: My grandma was a large woman who had a rich, sonorous reading voice. When she held me in her lap to read to me it was like sinking into a warm, plush cushion. She read to me from Tarzan and the Lost Empire, a book illustrated with lovely paintings. I traced these paintings with my fingers while her voice invoked the action. The scenes were of immense trees with twisting vines, pythons and black panthers, and the orphaned boy mesmerized by his own reflection in a dark pond. My grandma's voice was every bit as important as the visuals. She could imitate animal sounds, change pace and pitch as danger threatened Tarzan, and descend into a low whispery cadence when the hero was alone or dreaming. She made the book come alive.

As an adult reader and writer I still marvel at the power of good fiction to transport us to another time and place. There is nothing else like it. No movie or video game can awaken the imagination the way a good book can.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
MALTMAN: I love Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov. I used to smuggle this sprawling Russian epic into my jacket when I went deer hunting with my brothers-in-law and read it after the sun came up. Vivid and charged with incident, the novel still takes on the great question of our existence—why are we here?

WN: What's next for you as a writer?
MALTMAN: My next project is a small town mystery. I think many writers are drawn to small towns, which offer the universe in a microcosm. Good and evil exist everywhere, but in a small town those attributes are much more apparent. The novel will still touch on history and the way history is alive and impacts the present.

25 September 2007

Book Banter -- Fire Me Up

Title: Fire Me Up
Author: Katie MacAlister
Length: ~380 pages
Genre: paranormal/chick-lit/romance
Plot Basics: Aisling Grey, recently discovered to be a Guardian, goes to paranormal conference in Budapest to learn more about her powers and maybe get a mentor to show her the ropes. Her uncle has also graciously extended her another courier job to complete while she's in town. When she arrives in Budapest, she also spots Drake, the uber-cool and sexy thief who tormented her time in Paris. Turns out Drake's got business in Budapest too, business he may have moved there just to be in the same city as Aisling. Aisling's search though for a mentor becomes difficult when some of the Guardian's she approaches later turn up dead.
Banter Points: Again, as in the first book, Jim the talking Newfoundland may be the best part of these books.
Bummer Points: See the review of "You Slay Me." Most of those problems still apply. Also, Aisling seems to be suffering from Anita Blake syndrome (ie, she keeps getting massive new powers for no good reason...)
Word Nerd recommendation: If you like novels heavy on the romance side of "paranormal romance," then you might like these books. If you want something with a better plot, better characters, etc., skip these.

20 September 2007


Yes, the page count meter is slowly creeping up this month. Since Word Nerd hasn't yet set pencil to paper for today, the meter is exactly where it should be in the one-page-a-day plan.

She was hoping to make more progress on the WIP this month, but sometimes life gets a little busy for that. A page a day is still respectable. The difficulty now is that the story is getting to the good part -- murder! treason! possible regicide!

As a writer, it's harder to stop writing some of these scenes. That unfortunately means that if Word Nerd doesn't think she has the time, she's not starting them... Again, she's wondering if it's time to abandon the composition books for the keyboard, where the words flow a bit faster.

19 September 2007

Author Answers with Todd Stone

This week's featured author is Todd Stone, sometimes also known as T.A. Stone, and also as the leader of the Novelists Boot Camp.

For more on Stone and where to find Novelist Boot Camp sessions, go to his website.

WN: Tell us about your latest novel to hit shelves. What kind of reader will really like this book?
STONE: My latest mystery is No Place Like Home, the second in the Jonathan Kraag, reluctant PI series. Readers who like a fast-paced mystery that delves deeply into the mind of a troubled detective, manipulative criminal, and also goes behind suburbia's wholesome facade will enjoy No Place Like Home.
My most recent work, however, is Novelist's Boot Camp: 101 Ways to take your fiction from boring to bestseller. It's a military-themed "how to write a novel" book from Writer's Digest Books, and it helps aspiring and new authors take command of their novels with very practical strategies and tactics (Drills) that drive progress. There's all kinds of free downloads--like sample chapters, a battle plan for novel writing, and others--on our website http://www.storytellerroad.com/.

WN: Todd Stone. T.A. Stone. They are really both you, but what’s the difference and why use a different name for some books?
STONE: I received some advice--whether it was good or not time will tell--to use a different pen name for different genres. I wanted to use the pen name "Earnest Hemingway," but my publishers nixed that idea.

WN: From the looks of your website schedule, it seems you spend a lot of time teaching writing workshops. Why do you take the time to help aspiring authors?
STONE: I spent quite a bit of time presenting workshops and I wrote Novelist's Boot Camp for the same reason--to de-mystify the writing process. I guess it's the teacher in me--I was a writing instructor when I served at the US Military Academy at West Point and a creative writing teacher after that--and once teaching is in your blood, you never really leave it behind.

WN: What’s your writing process like?
STONE: Of course, Novelist's Boot Camp mirrors my writing process--although sometimes I struggle to practice what I preach. Because I have a day job, a lovely (and long-suffering wife), and other interests, I have to break my writing down into very small, very manageable pieces and then work on those pieces. I've found this planning and discipline actually lets me be more creative, and I think some of the awards my fiction has won is testimony to that process' effectiveness. That said, every writer has to find what works for them. The key here is what "works." If you have a process but you're not making progress on your novel, get a different process. I'd suggest you try the one in Novelist's Boot Camp, but I may be a trifle prejudiced.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
STONE: Books were a great escape for me as a child, and I read everything I could get my hands on--from comic books to history to mystery to biography to treatises on the relationship between Zen and subatomic physics ("The Dancing Wu Li Masters") to the back of cereal boxes.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
STONE: The best parts are crafting something good and then seeing people enjoy it--at least for fiction. For non-fiction, the best part is literally helping people achieve one of their dreams by helping them make progress in their writing.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
STONE: There's no way I could single out just one, but if I had to fill my rucksack with only a couple of books, you can bet The Complete Works of Shakespeare and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance would go in near the top, with Lawrence Block's When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes right after that. The Bard's stories of and insight into the human condition -- and his craftsmanship -- are timeless. Pirsig's novel/philosophical tract on men and machines and madness is one to come back to again and again, and Block's tale of murder and modern demons that live at the bottom of a glass can't help but strike a cord in a man's soul.

18 September 2007

Book Banter -- You Slay Me

Title: You Slay Me
Author: Katie MacAlister
Length: 334 pages
Genre: paranormal romance
Plot Basics: Aisling Grey takes a job as a courier for her uncle. Her first assignment is to deliver an aquamanile to Paris. When she arrives to make the delivery, she finds the purchaser dead and an mysterious (and hot) man, Drake Vireo, at the scene. When Aisling leaves, she realizes the mystery man took the aquamanile. Determined to make her job a succes, Aisling decides to clear her name and retrieve the aquamanile. But her search takes her into the underworld of Paris and leads her to discover she's a Guardian, with mystical powers and has a fate intertwined with Drake's.
Banter Points: Why this book ended up on Word Nerd's reading list deserves some explanation.

Last summer, you may recall Word Nerd was working on a different WIP. That WIP, which is/was a paranormal/urban fantasy/chick-lit deal had a main character originally named Aisling, kid you not. Word Nerd stumbled (thanks to Amazon.com recommendations) across MacAlister's series and realized she had to change the name of her protagonist. Two paranormal books with a protag named Aisling is one too many. Since then, Word Nerd's been curious about this series and finally ran across it at the library.

Not surprisingly, Word Nerd likes her Aisling (now Ainsley) much better.

Best part of MacAlister's books? Jim, the talking Newfoundland dog. As sidekicks go, he's right up there as is Rene, the French taxi driver.
Bummer Points: Oh boy. Yeah... The problems with this book are all over the map, but Word Nerd will just pick one.

Big Problem #1: Why Aisling has the powers she does and doesn't know about it. There's a line about her being born to it. Word Nerd doesn't get it though... In most cases of somebody being born to powers, there's somebody else who fills them in. (Think Buffy and the Watchers here.) This Aisling is completely in the dark about what she can do -- no Watcher-type character, no explanation of how somebody as powerful as she's made out to be has slipped through the cracks. Nothing.

Big Problem #2: Drake's past.

Big Problem #3: Why are green dragons in charge of fire? Doesn't green imply earth to most people, not flames?
Word Nerd recommendation: Though this book had some big problems, Word Nerd's plowing ahead into book 2 because, largely, Jim the Newfoundland is funny enough to make up for much of the rest of it. And she's still curious about this Aisling...

17 September 2007

Another great

Is there a writing equivalent of dimming the lights on Broadway in memory of a famous contributor who's passed away?

If so, the literary world should do it again today.

Epic fantasy novelist Robert Jordan has died, leaving the 12th and apparently to be final volume of his Wheel of Time series unfinished. USAToday has the story here.

Word Nerd read the early Jordan books in the series in the late 90s. She was quite a fan of the very early volumes of the story, plowing through the 800-page tomes with vigor. In high school, one of Word Nerd's good pals was also a Jordan fan, leading to intense conversations over lunch about the plot and characters. Word Nerd took one of the Jordan books with her when she traveled to Russia in fall 1997 and remembers distinctly reading it there and being distraught when two characters hooked up and not being able to gossip about this over lunch.

In subsequent years, Word Nerd stopped reading the series as they got long and seemed to be drifting farther and farther from the original plot. Word Nerd lost interest, but the books sold millions of copies and she knows there are saddened fans out there everywhere.

Book Banter -- Lady Friday

Title: Lady Friday (Keys to the Kingdom series bk. 5)
Author: Garth Nix
Length: 304 pages
Genre: juv. fantasy
Plot Basics: Arthur Penhaligon, rightful heir to all the Houses of the Architect, is worried about his humanity. If he uses too much more magic found in the Keys to the Kingdom, he won't be able to return to earth. But as he's contemplating this, Lady Friday announces she's abdicating her position to whomever can claim it first, Arthur, the Piper or Superior Saturday. Arthur finds himself in a race to win, or a race to stay alive. And meanwhile, his friend Leaf is caught up in Friday's true plot.

Banter Points: Nix must have taken imagination pills before writing this series because book 5 (like 1-4) is chock full of fanciful ideas. From paper clothes (and the ingeniously bureaucratic Paper Pushers) to "experiencing" the lives of mortals, this latest volume in the series is another of the action-packed adventures readers can expect from Nix.
Bummer Points: Something about the pacing of this book seemed slower. Word Nerd can't quite put her finger on what was different.

Word Nerd recommendation: A worth-while post-Potter read for adults and kids. The downfall is the whole series isn't out yet...

14 September 2007

Book Banter -- Thin Air

Title: Thin Air (Weather Warden Book 6)
Author: Rachel Caine
Length: 307 pages
Genre: urban fantasy

Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin has to save the world. Again. Only this time, she doesn't remember who she is, what she's doing, how to use the powers she can control (weather and fire and now, surprising, earth) or who the two men, Lewis and David, who come to rescue her are. Jo's past memories have been removed from her by an angry Djinn and end up being taken by a demon, who starts impersonating Jo. Problem is, some people want to take advantage of Jo's powers when she can't remember if she should trust them.
Banter Points: It's always great to see the next exploits of this kick-butt heroine in a series (not about vampires) that has a tough-girl chick lead. The world building of powers to control the elements and the little touches (like Weather Wardens not liking to fly) make the series fun. It's a great airplane/beach/need-something-light read.
Bummer Points: Fun, yes, but not the best of the series, by far. The past five have been great because each book raised the stakes of the plot for the next one in dramatic ways. This one, while an interesting premise of her not having her memory, doesn't carry through with what seemed to be promised at the end of book 5.
Word Nerd recommendation: Caine's reported that she's got a contract for a few more Weather Warden books and a new series on the djinn, so Word Nerd's going to keep this series on her radar.