31 March 2010

Book Banter -- Shades of Grey

Title: Shades of Grey
Author: Jasper Fforde
Length: 388 pages
Genre: sci-fi
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Earth in the future... society has become stratified based on how much color a person can see. It's all the result of some sort of Event, that has forced society underground and into strict adherence of a set of rules. Young Eddie Russett is sent to the village of East Carmine to conduct a chair census -- punishment for bad behavior in his home town. He's also due to take the national test that determines his future abilities and will measure permanently how much Red he can see. But on the journey there, he meets Jane, a Grey, who is belligerent and mysterious and doesn't behave at all like a subservient Grey should. Eddie ventures into village politics and realizes that the societal system is far more insidious than he ever realized. And color may not be all its cracked up to be.

Banter Points: Shades of Grey is not Thursday Next. While at first, the book has much of the same level of quirkiness that the Thursday Next series (and Nursery Crime, too) has, by the end, it's clear the Fforde is not just writing a fun breezy story. His subtle commentary on society is dead serious and spot on. He shades (yes, pun intended) his characters with brilliant levels, making them entirely believable in this unbelievable world of CMYK color.

Bummer Points: Fforde takes a while to get the book going. The first 200 pages set up the world and introduced the players, all of which was important, but it was kind of slow going. Without this intro, a reader would be lost because the society Fforde's created is so complex. What the beginning lacks for in action, Fforde makes up for in the last 100 pages.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If sci-fi isn't your thing (because you think it's all aliens and space opera), this book can prove otherwise. It's a must-read for Jasper Fforde fans and a great read for those who like a quirky, good yarn.

17 March 2010

Book Banter -- Her Fearful Symmetry

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Literary fiction
Length: 401 pages
Where Word Nerd’s Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: When Elspeth dies, she leaves her London flat to her twin nieces, Valentina and Julia with strict instructions that their parents – including their mother, her twin, Edie – are not allowed to visit them there. She also leaves behind a cast of crazy neighbors, including her lover, Robert Fanshaw and Martin, a crossword puzzle genius who suffers from terrible OCD. Valentina and Julia come to London to fulfill the terms of their aunt’s will and discover she has left behind more than just a flat – Elspeth seems to be haunting the place, working her ways to still bring about what she wants. As the two girls struggle to understand London and their family and become adults in their own right, Elspeth’s plans unfold long after her death.

Banter Points: Her Fearful Symmetry isn’t The Time Traveler’s Wife. That said, it’s a book that stands well on its own merit, but will forever be in the shadow of Niffenegger’s tremendous debut novel. Like Time Traveler’s Wife, Symmetry is infused with just a touch of the paranormal or science fiction (it really is a ghost story at its heart). Like other great literary novels, its sense of place is also so tremendous that Highgate Cemetery nearly becomes its own character. And with Elspeth’s haunting, her flat takes on a persona as well.

Bummer Points: Symmetry suffers from a bit of character overload. Word Nerd was most interested Robert Fanshaw, the bereaved lover, but his world of academic associates got cluttered. Likewise with the side story of OCD Martin. He’s a great character, but while he plays one crucial piece, much of his story feels like it was written to justify him being in the novel for that one scene.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you enjoyed Time Traveler’s Wife, you’ll likely enjoy this one, though for different reasons. This is actually a great introductory book for a reader wanting to get more into paranormals but not knowing if they like the genre. The paranormal is woven in so closely with the plot, at times, you forget it’s there.

12 March 2010

Banned news words

As a former reporter, Word Nerd is happy to see this list.

WGN in Chicago banned this list of overused media phrases. Word Nerd doesn't watch much TV news for these very phrases.

If the list is too much for you to get through in one sitting, try the Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! version which uses them all in one sentence.

11 March 2010

Book Banter -- Red, White and Dead

Title: Red, White and Dead (Izzy McNeil bk 3)

Author: Laura Caldwell

Length: ~400 pages

Genre: mystery

Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Former Chicago lawyer Izzy McNeil is still trying to put her life back together after being involved in two murder investigations. She's still moonlighting for PI John Mayburn, trying to take down a mob player. When a sleuthing evening goes badly, Izzy is rescued by a person from her past -- one she thought was dead. Determined to find out what's going on, Izzy sets off for Italy to uncover family secrets and to try to stay one step ahead of a mobster determined to make sure she doesn't find out the truth.

Banter Points: So back in December, when Word Nerd read the second one she lamented that the book was too long. And lo and behold, Laura Caldwell herself commented on that post, promising a faster pace in the third book.

And she was right. The third book was the best in the series, by far. The action kept up through the whole book. There was no subplot that threatened to overtake the book like in the first two. While the plot is a little out there (she can't say more without spoilers), it read well and Word Nerd was totally willing to suspend her disbelief and just go with it. Sometimes, that's exactly what Word Nerd wants a book to be and this one hit the mark.

Bummer Points: At this point, there is no more Izzy McNeil. Izzy's character ended up at a really interesting place at the end of this book. It's one of those endings where if this is it, Word Nerd's OK imagining what might happen to her. If however, Caldwell is writing more, she's set herself up well for where this character can grow in the future.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Get to know Izzy McNeil. It's three books, but by the third one, you'll be glad you did.

10 March 2010

Book Banter -- Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot like Laughter

Word Nerd's also reviewing for Pop Syndicate, so from time to time, she'll be linking to review there instead of double posting.

Today, her review of Michael J. White's Weeping Underwater Looks a lot like Laughter. This book will definitely be in her top 10 for the year.

08 March 2010

Swept Away

Because of a contest, Word Nerd won herself a copy of Sara Donati's The Endless Forest -- the last book in Donati's six-book historical fiction series.

Because Word Nerd can't read things out of order very often, she went to the library to find herself the first book in the series, Into the Wilderness. Standing there in the Ds in the fiction section, Word Nerd gulped a little bit because the whole series is LONG. Like 800-pages-per-book kind of long. And there are 6 books.

But, Word Nerd plunged ahead and checked the first one out and started reading it yesterday.

At this point in time, she's 159 pages. She'd be farther save for the fact that she started reading the day after a big work event and was just too tired to stay up any later and that she had to go to work today.

Word Nerd isn't a huge reader of historicals, but early American history is a particular soft spot and this book delivers. Also, it's more than possible that after 159 pages, Word Nerd is nursing a bit of a crush on Nathaniel Bonner, one of the main characters. (Yes, she knows he's fictional. That's the whole point, right?) What's really got her swept up though is how full and vivid Donati's world is, from the layout of the village to the language to the details and the fact that there's a plot that keeps the book moving.

Sigh. Word Nerd's got to get back to work. So she can go home eventually and read more.

03 March 2010

February 2010 Bibliometer

Another month, another bibliometer reading:

February 2010
7 books
2,491 pages
89 pages/day average

14 books
4,455 total pages

Word Nerd did the math that if she's ever going to crack 100 books in a year, she's got to read 8.3 of them every month. So far for 2010, that means she's 2.6 books behind. 2008 was the closest year she came to 100 (with 98 total read). To get to 100, Word Nerd feels like she'd have to cheat and read lots of shorter YA or graphic novels or something that reads faster than a 350-page novel.

Sigh. She's got Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell waiting to be read. Surely, that's long enough to count as two, right?

02 March 2010

Book Banter -- Iorich

Title: Iorich (Vlad Taltos #12)

Author: Steven Brust

Genre: fantasy

Length: ~300 pages

Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Vlad, still on the run from the Jhereg, hears that Aliera is being held prisoner on charges of practicing elder sorcery. While everyone knows that she's been doing that for a long time, it appears that her arrest is a smoke-screen to take attention off problems elsewhere in the realm. But Vlad isn't willing to let his friend be sacrificed, so he takes on the justice system... and discovers more treasonous plots in the process.

Banter Points: Word Nerd really likes Vlad (after 12 books, the majority of which she's read twice) and this one was fairly good entry into the mix. Vlad's back in the city which Word Nerd prefers to the books where he's not. The city is his element and it's a fun read to see that become an uncomfortable place for him. Brust also hinted at some great things for future books, and since he's shown himself to be a master of this circular, non-chronological story-telling, it's good news for the future of the series.

Bummer Points: Sort of like Athyra (book number... well, farther back in the series), Iorich has a lot of philosophy woven into it, thoughts about justice and retribution and when justice and laws don't really have anything to do with each other. The plot got lost a little bit in all the philosophy.

Word Nerd Recommendation: This series is now to the point where it really requires some commitment to jump in because you really do need to start at the beginning. (Maybe not Robert Jordan or George R.R. Martin-length commitment, but nonetheless...) Die-hard fantasy readers, if Vlad's not on your radar, you need to read them. If a wise-cracking assassin isn't really your cup of tea, well, there are a dozen other books you'll like better than the 12 Vlad books.