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.

13 September 2007

Fall Book Previews

Within the last few weeks, many of major news organizations and retailers have put out their Fall Book Preview sections.

Here's a round-up.

Washington Post Book World



Some writers to watch for in the lists -- Alice Sebold, Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham and Patricia Cornwall all have new books coming out. On the non-fiction side, so does Bill Clinton, Alan Alda and Stephen Colbert.

One book Word Nerd's got her eye on that just missed the fall lists (coming out very early in September) is Brock Clarke's "Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England." Just to be clear, it's fiction... not a how-to book.

12 September 2007

Author Answers with Cynthia Dennis

This week's author, Cynthia Dennis, is the author of a memoir, "The Sunflower Sinner," about her father's attempt to become the governor of Kansas.

Dennis will be in Oshkosh on Sept. 20 for an event at the UW-Oshkosh Womens Center. The event, co-sponsored by Apple Blossom Books, will be at 5 p.m. in the Foundation Building on campus.

WN: Why did you decide to write “The Sunflower Sinner?”
DENNIS: I wanted to offer readers a firsthand glimpse inside the life of a scandalized political family. We rarely hear from a politician's spouse or children about the effect of scandal on them. I also wanted to tell this story because it is a compelling example of how one moment of fate, and a politician's fatal decision, can turn an entire family's life upside down.

WN: What challenges were there in writing a personal memoir?
DENNIS: There is a delicate balance between focusing evenly on one's own role while telling the larger story, This memoir was never intended to be about me. Rather, it was written with the goal of examining a scandalized political family within the framework of a sensational abortion murder trial, a bribe, and an explosive political scandal trial. Both Kansas trials are reported in the book.

WN: This book is about your family. How have other family members or close friends reacted to the book?
DENNIS: The response has been gratifying because comments have been insightful and positive. Those who knew our family have offered fascinating tidbits about how they viewed us, and details not known until now. And readers who never met my family have provided a range of interesting reactions, including observations about their own family relationships.

WN: You are a journalist as well. Did that training help you for writing this book?
DENNIS: Having spent my career in various types of journalism certainly helped with the writing. However, as a newspaper journalist for 18 years and a graduate student before that, I was not used to writing in the first person. Journalists are taught not to inject themselves into their stories. Compiling a lengthy book was also a new experience as none of my journalism assignments ever totaled more than 200 pages!

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
DENNIS: I was an avid reader as a child, and still am. My parents made sure that we had access to books. My father was an attorney who was passionate about current events and reading newspapers, which influenced me. I began writing at a young age, and never stopped.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
DENNIS: As a feature writer, the best part of newspaper writing was meeting new people, having novel experiences, and learning about unfamiliar things. The most challenging part of writing a book was the continuous rewriting to make it better. One spends so much time with the text that it is easy to lose your objectivity, which is needed in order to assess whether the overall product is good or not.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
DENNIS: I like, and have been influenced by, so many books that it is difficult to select just one. At the top of my list are two books by Raymond Carver: "Call Me If You Need Me" and "Where I'm Calling From." These collections of short stories are inspiring because they offer fine examples of spare yet eloquent writing with richly defined characters.

11 September 2007

Book Banter -- Kushiel's Chosen

Title: Kushiel's Chosen
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 678 pages
Plot Basics: Phedre no Delaunay finds herself once again in the service of the Queen of Terre d'Ange. This time, Phedre goes south to seek out where traitor Melisande may have fled. But even from a distance, Melisande continues to play her game of thrones and Phedre's trip sets part of Melisande's terrible plot in motion. And Phedre must use all her wits, wiles and wherewithal to stop her and save her beloved Terre D'Ange.
Banter Points: Again, Carey's world building is amazing. This alternate Europe she's created is as rich in detail as the real thing and fraught with the same kind of king-making history as the true one as well.
Additionally, she does a good job of writing both a book with exquisite character development and introspection and rousing action sequences.
Bummer Points: The end of the book seemed to drag on, though with a book this long, it's somewhat understandable that the denouement will take longer.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Fans of Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin take note. This is a very manageable series but with the magical and fant-historical elements these other authors do well.

10 September 2007

August Bibliometer

The reading on the bibliometer for August is as follows:

11 books
3,899 pages
average 126 pages/day

62 books
21,719 pages
average book length, 350 pages

07 September 2007

Another great loss

The Associated Press is reporting that author Madeleine L'Engle died yesterday at age 88.

The story is here.

Word Nerd has always been a fan of L'Engle's works, both fiction and non-fiction. Word Nerd always wanted to meet her; based on her writings, she seemed like such a classy, faith-filled, imaginative woman.

L'Engle is the second, after Lloyd Alexander earlier this year, of beloved childhood authors that have passed away recently. It's sad to know that the world is losing these authors, that there will never be new books like them.
At least their past works will be around for future generations.

Book Banter -- Fourth Comings

Title: Fourth Comings

Author: Megan McCafferty

Length: 310 pages

Genre: Chick-lit/literary

Plot Basics: Jessica Darling, the quick-witted sharp-tongued protagonist of McCafferty's series is back. Now, done with college, she's living in a rented room, sharing a bunk bed with best friend Hope in New York City, while working as a part-time writer/editor for a magazine. Her boyfriend, the ever-eclectic Marcus Flutie is beginning his freshman year at Princeton and before his semester starts, makes Jessica a proposal. The proposal, actually. And while he's off on a freshman trip, Jessica has a week to think about (and journal) his proposal.

Banter Points: Voice, voice, voice. This is what McCafferty's series has going for her. Voice, the first-person narration/journal entries of Jessica have an unique timbre and bite that makes turning pages a necessity. The plot may be kind of predictable, but the way McCafferty tells the story is what's so good, rather than the ups-and-downs of the plot itself.

Bummer Points: It's funny, but Word Nerd liked the books better when Jessica was in high school.

Word Nerd Recommendation: The series is still holding strong four books in. If you are looking for a good book for older teen girls, this series is a good pick.

06 September 2007

Book Banter -- Garden of Darkness

Title: Garden of Darkness (releases 12.4.07)
Author: Anne Frasier
Length: 384 pages
Genre: thriller/horror
Plot Basics: Welcome back to the town of Tuonela, Wisc. The town, long plagued by stories of a vampire called the Pale Immortal, is hoping to capitalize on the legend as a tourist attraction, putting the body of the Pale Immortal, Richard Manchester, on display in a museum. The display brings to town ghost hunters and film students all hoping to capitalize on the event. And some of them start ending up dead, making it impossible for Rachel Burton, the town's medical examiner, to leave and go back to California. The town gets in a frenzy over the Pale Immortal and the killings, though none more so that Evan Stroud, who maniacally starts digging up part of the town, looking for a dangerous key to the town's haunted past.
Banter Points: This book is creepy -- not for reading before going to bed and not for the faint of heart, even during daylight hours. Frasier definitely delivered on this sequel to Pale Immortal. It was nice to see the characters move ahead (or try to) in their lives, as they were impacted by the events that happened in P.I.

Bummer Points: There was some switching POV stuff that just isn't Word Nerd's favorite literary technique. Frasier did it well, but it's just not a technique that Word Nerd likes.

Word Nerd recommendation: Mark Dec. 4 on your calendars for the release date for this one.

05 September 2007

Author Answers with Scott Westerfeld

This week's author is YA and sci-fi writer Scott Westerfeld. His next book will come out in October, the latest in his Uglies series.

For more on Westerfeld, check out his website.

WN: Your new book, “Extras” comes out in October. On your website, you describe it as a companion novel to your Uglies series. What do you mean by that and how does it fit with the other books?
WESTERFELD: Extras takes place a few years after the events of Uglies/Pretties /Specials. It's from the point of view of a new character in Japan, a 15-year-old girl named Aya, who's watching the end of the prettytime in her own city. The old regime of uglies and pretties is over, so I thought it would be good to see from a new perspective how Tally and her friends changed the world.

WN: You’ve got quite the list of appearances scheduled. Do you like the opportunity to interact with readers and if so, why?
WESTERFELD: Teens are very intense readers. They're willing to tell you what they liked, what they didn't like, and how they would have ended your book. Because their feedback is much more honest than that of adult readers, it's much more exciting (and nervous-making) to hear what they have to say.

WN: Why did you make the switch from writing adult novels to YA novels? Is one harder than the other?
WESTERFELD: I got an idea (for my Midnighters series) that featured a bunch of teenage protagonists, so I wrote the book as a YA just as an experiment, to see if I could. I soon found that I really liked the "YA voice." The teenage years are much more intense and fraught than adulthood, with opportunities for a lot more drama, which I love to write. On top of that, younger readers don't let you get away with as much waffling, so I think it sharpens my writing to keep the narrative focus they demand.

One thing I didn't expect about the shift was how welcoming the world of youth librarians and teachers turned out to be. It's wonderful and humbling to have a whole new set of champions helping readers find my work.

WN: What’s your writing process like?
WESTERFELD: I used to write manically, but as I get older I'm much more of a tortoise than a hare. These days I try to write about a thousand words a day, quite steadily, without any bursts of hyper-activity. Every day starts with a few hours of editing, usually the stuff I've written over the last few days, to get me warmed up before I start on new scenes. The most important ritual is that I always start right after breakfast, before there are too many other thoughts in my head.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
WESTERFELD: I read a lot: under the covers, on the bus, during class. I don't actually remember how that started, except there was a teacher who read to us in second grade who had the best voice ever. I think a lot of readers start off as listeners.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
WESTERFELD: I like always having something complicated to think about. My novels are around 80,000 words long, and when I'm thoroughly into a book, that vast presence is in my head all the time, demanding to be shaped and crafted. It's a very rich thing to carry around in your mind.

The most challenging part is the blank page, when there's no characters or voice or setting yet. It's a very lonely place.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
WESTERFELD: I don't really have an answer for this one. Sorry.