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.