31 August 2010

I'm not Picking Teams Either

I'm not picking teams either.

I have not had the pleasure of the Suzanne Collins books, yet. The previous post by fellow Word Nerd is enough for me to add them to the To-Be-Read list.

But what about the way the world boils itself down to the 60 second sound bite of "For me or against me?" I blame the ubiquitous adage for its beginnings in the school yard -- look at some popular kiddie lit like "How to Eat Fried Worms." Four boys, two teams -- and one that's willing to eat worms in order to win a bet. It's not even about the money. It's about us versus them.

Or what about the classic Winnie the Pooh tales? It's Pooh versus the Bees who have his honey.

The idea of them versus us is breed into our story telling at the earliest of ages. And while it's great for the marketers and politicians of the world, the Reader should stand up for herself and demand better.

The sound bite should be about the love of a boy for his bear, growing up and the changes, what happens when government overreaches its power. Demand more.

I'm with the Word Nerd on this. Readers, post your favorite story in the comments. Challenge us to create a better tag line that still fits the 60-second sound bite.

30 August 2010

I'm Not Picking Teams

I spent my Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon reading Suzanne Collins newest book -- Mockingjay -- the third book in her phenomenal and popular Hunger Games trilogy.

Last week, I saw a twitter post from a favorite author of mine proclaiming that she was part of Team Peeta and I shook my head.

Why do we have to copy ideas like that from one incident to the next? Are we not creative enough to come up with another way to describe a love triangle now that we've been inundated with Team Edward and Team Jacob? In Mockingjay, Gale and Peeta couldn't be more unlike Edward and Jacob (neither sparkles or turns into a werewolf, for starters). But because part of the story involves a girl who has to choose between two boys for whom she has strong feelings for different reasons, they get classified as Team Peeta and Team Gale. In my own Work-in-Progress, my main character is wooed by two different fellows. Is my own story subject to getting boiled down to Team Ibsen vs. Team Wes. (I cannot help but even cringe at that idea. Of course, I know what happens...)

We've done the same thing with scandals, slapping the suffix of "-gate" on them. If I were writing a real research paper, I wouldn't cite Wikipedia as an honest source, but this list shows just how pervasive the use of "-gate" has become.

Last winter's use of "snow-pocalypse" for the storms that blanketed the eastern seaboard and the word in fiction "zombiepocalypse" are likely heralds of another such trend. Google "-pocalypse" and you'll come up with a variety of clever (and not) doom-pending scenarios.

It's been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Does Suzanne Collins feel flattered that her two characters get compared in nomenclature to an angsty vampire and an over-protective werewolf? Do Woodward and Bernstein shake their heads when newspeople slam the "-gate" suffix on something so much more minor than a president covering up a break-in at the headquarters of the opposing party?

I'm not picking Team Peeta or Team Gale (or Edward or Jacob). Let's be honest -- Team Guy vs. Team Guy started a long time ago, but you don't see anyone making Facebook flair for Team King Arthur or Team Sir Lancelot.

And I'm not calling that I'm Switzerland either. I want more creativity. And I want people to stand up and say, "No, this scenario is different. This isn't Watergate. This isn't the same as Edward and Jacob. Don't draw the comparison for me."

Books, the world, politics -- they are all too nuanced. If all you know about Hunger Games is that there is Team Peeta and Team Gale, you would never know that the book is really about when government overreaches its power, about the depths of what makes us human, about what a person will do to protect those they love.

We're selling ourselves short to settle for teams.

27 August 2010

Re-read and share

So, it's probably no secret to anyone who knows me that I adore Harry Potter. Who wouldn't want to discover that the horrible, awful situation that is your life, isn't real and you had somewhere to go that is your life?

Yes, I'm talking grown-ups too.

In all seriousness, J.K. Rowling created a world that drew readers and non-readers in. She created a world that turned off video games and turned on flashlights under bed covers. She not only made it okay to read, she made it okay to pretend, to play make believe, to have a fantasy.

My boys have adopted the movies as their favorite form of absorbing the books. I refuse to watch more than number 1 or maybe 2, because it destroys the pictures in my head.

They aren't quite ready to pick up the books yet. Ollie should be but the movies make it too easy for that particular breed of 10 year old turn pages. Goofball McGee isn't quite old enough to read the books at the age of 7 but give him a couple of years and that whole "picture in my head" thing will start to make sense.

Isn't sharing grand?

26 August 2010

It's just a little crush...

My apologies to Jennifer Paige for borrowing her lyrics (and all the rest of you for getting that song stuck in your heads...)

I have a fictional crush. Admitting it is the first step.

It's not the suspects you might think -- not Jack Reacher, though he's popular with the ladies. It is not the icons of either Team Edward or Team Jacob.

It's Bren Cameron.

Awkward silence, I know. Unless you've read all 11 volumes of CJ Cherryh's Foreigner saga, you likely would never have heard of him. They aren't the books that get trumpeted whenever a new one comes out. There's been no gorgeous movie star playing Bren.

I'm getting ready to start the 11th book in the series and I'm so excited to spend another 300 pages with Bren. He's a diplomat, the human who has to keep peace between the other humans, a space station, an alien race on the same planet. He's done his job well -- too well, some would say -- and now rebels are trying to use him as political leverage, making him a target.

But why the crush? I met Bren Cameron when I was 16 or 17. I read the first three books in the series, then the next three. When the third trilogy came out, I went back and read the first six books again and then plowed ahead. When I reread them, I understood the predicaments he was in so much better, the quiet politics. The need to say things, or not say things. It was something that now-more-grown-up Bethany understood better than teenager Bethany.

Is the crush really about Bren Cameron? No, not really.

It's about an author putting words on paper that ring true about a person trying to figure out their wide in circumstances that are entirely alien. We all feel like that from time to time... and Bren's been there through big transitions in my life ... high school to college... college to grad school... you get the idea.

What characters have you had fictional crushes on? Or have meant something to you over the years?

24 August 2010

Re-read? Yes, Please

I love re-reading books. It started when I lived in a tiny, tiny town in South Dakota -- all 312 people there. (My brother and sister-in-law still live there, in fact.) No library inside the town except those provided by the school classrooms. Let's be honest. They were less than good.

So I hoarded books and re-read everything that came my way. In the third grade though, it was the original Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Maybe it was the fact that Laura grew up near by in De Smit. Maybe it was because of the trip we took as a vacation visiting her various homesteads. Maybe it was the television show.

Likely, it was because Laura grew up into a real author.

Most of the kid books that I share with my two boys (10 and 7) are ones I discovered as an adult during college (I originally started life as a teacher). I don't recall reading many picture books outside of the Dr. Seuss books like "Green Eggs and Ham." I'm sure I did.

My boys are not interested in the Wilder books. But I have hopes that some of my other adult re-reads are ones that they will. The 10 year old, aka Ollie, is almost ready for the next one -- Harry Potter. More on that next time.

23 August 2010

Book Banter -- The Narrows

Title: The Narrows
Author: Michael Connelly
Length: ~450 pages
Genre: mystery
Where Bethany's copy came from: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Harry Bosch, still on his own as a PI, is called to investigate the death of a friend that looks like should have bene natural, but may not be. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Rachel Walling gets the call she's been dreading receiving for years -- the Poet, a notorious serial killer, isn't dead and is killed again. As Bosch and Walling's cases converge, they will have to rely on each other to outsmart this killer.
Banter Points: These two books where Bosch isn't part of the police force have been an interesting character study to see how he moves through the world without the backing of the badge. Bosch is still highly disciplined, but that discipline slips a little more in this book. It's interesting to see Bosch and Walling work together since they are both outsiders trying to maneuver through a system that doesn't want them.
Bummer Points: Connelly cuts loose one of his recurring characters in this book and I'm kind of disappointed. I can't say more without spoilers, but while it made for a good story, I'm bummed because I think there would have been a lot of potential for that character in the future.
Word Nerd Recommendation: I'm still thoroughly enjoying my trip through Connelly's back list and getting excited that I'm only 7 books from being caught up. Again, this is a must-read series for fans of police procedurals and detective novels.

20 August 2010


By day, I'm a manager in a department of eight or nine analysts, affectionately known as propeller heads, number crunchers, that group in the corner, etc. We are the quiet people at a party. As a group, we are rather vanilla, bland even.

As individuals, there are some really great minds and thinkers in there.

For example, I'm working with one analyst that usually reports to the other department manager. He was the right fit for the project in front of us and it gave me the opportunity to work with someone new. This gentleman -- let's call him Matt -- is the right fit because he thinks through the project from multiple angles, questions the way the numbers fit together, and finds the right solution for the client. No matter what question is posed from either the client or the internal team, Matt is right there with examples, walking everyone through the answer.

It was incredibly interesting to me then, during a long car ride, Matt asked why anyone would re-read a book. "You like to read, right? I don't get why anyone would buy a book. What's the point of reading it again if you already know the answer?"

At the time, I probably said something about liking characters or enjoy the story or something to that effect.

But further reflection has lead me to a different answer. It's not much different, to me, than all of the analysis and number crunching that Matt's done on this project. In order to truly understand all of the pieces, to answer the questions, to know everything inside and out, you have to look at it again and again. To live and breath it.

When it comes to books, the only way to do that is to re-read. Maybe it's a series. Maybe it's a single title. Maybe it's a childhood favorite that is re-discovered through the eyes of your child. I'm betting that readers of this blog have favorites to read again and again.

What's the story behind yours? Next time I'll share one of my favorite re-reads and that story.

19 August 2010

Author Answers Line-Up

The new, expanded crew here at Word Nerd is planning our fall/winter line-up of guest authors.

So -- we want to know, who do you want to hear from? Are there topics that you want to know about and we'll find the authors/experts to address them?

Or, are you an author with a new book out or coming out before the end of the year? Put yourself on the Word Nerds' hot seat for an interview or a guest blog post. You'll be in good company -- from mega-millions selling author Janet Evanovich to the quirky Jasper Fforde to the self-published and up-and-coming.

We can't make promises, but we'll do our best to get authors you want to hear from.

17 August 2010

Book Banter -- Lake in the Clouds

Title: Lake in the Clouds
Series: Book Three of the Wilderness Saga
Author: Sara Donati
Genre: Historical or Romance
Length: 655 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Purchased

Plot Basics: Several years have passed since the reader last saw the Bonner family. Hannah has grown-up and is well on her way to becoming a doctor. Enough that Richard Todd is willing to send her to New York in order to learn the procedures for the small pox vaccination. Elizabeth has lost loved ones to the harsh winters, including her son Robbie. Nathaniel continues to be amused and entertained by those he loves.

The Bonner family finds themselves in a variety of troubles, including runaway slaves, the blackbirders looking for them, and a vindictive girl who is jealous of them all.

Banter Points: Word Nerd recommended this series as I am a fan of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Both series fit my main reading criteria: Fat books that are well written.

That being said, I can see where this book will disappoint some readers. The first two titles, Into the Wilderness and Dawn on a Distant Shore, occur very close together - the two stories cover two or three years of the Bonner's lives - while this title introduces an eight year lag. After the jammed backed adventures of books one and two, it's tough to believe that nothing novel-worthy has happened to the family.

However, I liked the lag. Elizabeth, Hannah and Curiosity have had to live their own lives without the reader knowing the events that have shaped them. What has changed? Are they still the same people? Will they react in the same way? The eight year delay enhanced the story for me by introducing some very unknown elements. Elizabeth, for example, holds much tighter to her family now than ever before. The reasons are readily understood, but the details are not shared. Isn't Elizabeth allowed some of her own secrets?

Bummer Points: This is not the epic love story of Jamie and Claire Frasier. Readers wanting another series of with a grand and wide stretching love story won't find it here. Donati's focus shifts to her other characters like Hannah and Liam Kirby, and new characters like Strikes the Sky. Personally, I don't see this as a fault in the novels; others may.

Stacie's Recommendation: Well-written, fat books should be on every readers list.

16 August 2010

2010 Shamus Award Nominees

It might be old news by now, but the list of 2010 Shamus Award nominees was released last week.

I've only read a couple of these (and by a couple, she really means two) but when I unbury myself from the current TBR pile, these might be some good books to track down.

The full list of nominees, borrowed (ok, copied) from Mystery Book News. The name of the PI is in parenthesis.

Best PI Hardcover
◊ The Silent Hour by Michael Koryta (Lincoln Perry)
◊ Where the Dead Lay by David Levien (Frank Behr)
◊ Locked In by Marcia Muller (Sharon McCone)
◊ Schemers by Bill Pronzini (Nameless Detective)
◊ My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Thora Gudmundsdottir)

Best First PI Novel:
◊ Loser's Town by Daniel Depp (David Spandau)
◊ The Last Gig by Norman Green (Alessandra Al Martillo)
◊ The Good Son by Russel D. McLean (J. McNee)
◊ Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks (Carter Ross)
◊ Chinatown Angel by A. E. Roman (Chico Santana)

Best PI Paperback Original:
◊ Dark Side of the Morgue by Raymond Benson (Spike Berenger)
◊ Sinner's Ball by Ira Berkowitz (Jackson Steeg)
◊ Red Blooded Murder by Laura Caldwell (Izzy McNeil)
◊ Vengeance Road by Rick Mofina (Jack Gannon)
◊ Body Blows by Marc Strange (Joe Grundy)

Best PI Short Story:
◊ "The Dark Island" (Boston Noir) by Brendan DuBois
◊ "Deadline Edition" (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) by S. L. Franklin
◊ "Blazin' on Broadway" (Phoenix Noir) by Gary Phillips
◊ "Suicide Bonds" (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine) by Tim L. Williams
◊ "Julius Katz" (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine) by Dave Zeltserman

Any of you read any of the rest of these that the Nerds should be sure to check out?

In the meantime, I'm pulling for Brad Parks and Laura Caldwell.

13 August 2010

Book Banter -- Alice I Have Been

Title: Alice I Have Been
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Charles Dodgeson -- better known by his sobrequiet Lewis Carrol -- Alice in Wonderland is a children's classic that intrigues children and grown-ups like since its original publication in 1865. A fair amount of mystery remains around who Alice really was and his relationship with the Liddell family. If the Alice who fell through the looking glass really was based on Alice Liddell, what does it mean when Alice grows up? Benjamin explores one possibility, focusing on the ruined relationship between Alice and Charles Dodgeson.

Banter Points: Watching Alice grow up and enter into "society" and manage her own house was rather strange. It was amusing to see how relationship between Alice and her older sister Lorina changed as the focus of both girls changed from childhood play to suitors and families. The importance of their relationship is signaled by the start of the novel and the eventually revolution of what exactly transpired between Dodgson and Alice.

Bummer Points: While Benjamin does an excellent job of navigating what little is known about the years Dodgson and Liddells were friends, it left this reader wondering what really happened. The lack of information is extremely disappointing, but also is the large cause for the intrigue surrounding them. The details likely aren't to be exciting as the rumors.

Recommendation: Well worth the time, especially if you are a fan of any version of the Alice story.

12 August 2010

Book Banter -- Original Sin

Title: Original Sin
Author: Allison Brennan
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 472 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Moira O'Donnell is having vision of a hellacious future -- literally. She's on the trail of her mother's coven who's attempting to raise the Seven Deadly Sins to earth. Moira's got her own magic and her own secrets, but she's not apt to reveal either of those things. Instead, with the help of a demonologist, a local sheriff and mysterious member of the secret St. Michael's Order, she's going to go up against the sins raised to the Earth.

Banter Points: Brennan does a great job of writing fight scenes. Those were always good in her more romantic/suspense book and she carries on with that trend now that she's got characters fighting demons.

Bummer Points: So that whole fighting demons thing... Word Nerd's a fan of Buffy and Angel so it's not as if she's against the premise of people fighting demons. That said -- she had trouble with this book on a bunch of levels.

First, there's the whole spiritual side of things. The whole idea of a coven raising demons just didn't sit well with Word Nerd in this book. Word Nerd fully believes that there really are demons and angels and a spiritual battle going on. The problem she had was that this book just felt like it was toying too close to the edge of things that are real. Maybe the difference is that in a show like Buffy, Word Nerd knows that the bad guys are just people dressed up in costume (and awfully campy costumes, sometimes) whereas with the written word actually has a lot more power.

Second, well, then there's the writing itself. Brennan's niche is romantic suspense between a victim and the cop/sheriff/FBI guy tracking a serial killer. She's gotten good at those. Sure, are they all a bit the same? Yes -- but when Word Nerd picks up one of her books, she knows what she's going to get. This book had character whiplash every few pages trying to keep up with her huge cast (this is a multi-book series starting here) and Brennan often repeated information. The plot was all over the place as backstories for characters were introduced and POVs switched.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Skip it in favor of Brennan's earlier romantic suspense stuff.

10 August 2010

Recognition of Self

It's a grand feeling to read something and recognize yourself in the words.

Whether it is a personality profile test -- like Myers Briggs or DiSC -- or in a book, it validates who you are.

With luck, it was not the psycho stalker deranged killer in the that mystery novel that kept you up late last night.

For me, it has been a combination of things. Both of the above referenced personality tests and a book on project management.

The fun part of the Myers Briggs was learning that all of the order and logic I seek to find in the world is part of the Thinking and Judging characteristics that I'm strong in. All of you disorganized people out there drive me crazy, AND IT'S OKAY. Now I know why, and I can organize you into that bucket of stuff that is hopeless to tackle. All is right with the world again.

(T's show a preference for organizing and structuring information to decide in a logical, objective way and J's show preference for living a planned and organized life. The counterparts, respectively are F's showing preference for organizing and structuring information to decide in a personal, values-based way and P's showing Preference for living a spontaneous and flexible life. I live with a P. There are benefits to being spontaneous, but don't tell him I said that.)

The fun part of the DiSC profile is that I am a 7-1-2-5 or rather a High D who is likely to be focused on shaping your environment by overcoming opposition to achieve results.

Shake or stir the above characteristics and out comes a natural project manager who likes structure, order, planning, thinking through possibilities and is good at getting what they want.

In a sense, the three items validated that the bossy, manipulative, follow my directions persona really wasn't a bad thing. It's more about finding a place where your talents and personality are rewarded and liked for who or what they are.

Being part of Word Nerd's blog is like that. Talking books and language and how the systems work to make a really good read is something I've done offline with WN for a while now. I'm thrilled to be part of it. Especially to be able to share my bookish thoughts with fellow word nerds.

Where did you recently find yourself? Where do you want to find yourself?

09 August 2010

Book Banter -- Lost Light

Title: Lost Light (Harry Bosch #9)
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Length: ~400 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Retired from the LAPD, Harry Bosch just can't let an old murder case go. Armed with his private eye license, Bosch starts looking into the murder of a young woman -- Angella Benton -- and the disappearance of $2 million from a movie set, years after he was pulled off of the original case. As he digs, the two cases -- once unrelated -- seem to be converging. But in the post-9/11 world, Bosch's one-man investigation triggers anti-terrorism alarm bells. Bosch gets warned off the case more than once, but he's not letting the FBI get in his way of recovering his old thrill of solving a case.

Banter Points: Word Nerd can't really remember, but she thinks this might be one of the only Bosch books so far in first person which was a really interesting switch to see Bosch in his own head. The switch really made sense given the fact that Bosch isn't surrounded by police procedures anymore and has to work it all out in his own head. It was also neat to see the switch after 9/11 changed the way the FBI can operate and Bosch reacting to the anti-terrorism ideas. And as always, Connelly pushed the character in a new direction by having him alone and having to rely on others instead of his usual partners.

Bummer Points: Connelly drops a huge revelation on his readers at the end of the book. Word Nerd ever knew this entered the story line from hearing Connelly speak at Bouchercon 2009 and still found it shocking. It's not necessarily bad, just that she's got to go find the next book to resolve things.

Word Nerd Recommendation: The Bosch series is a committment (Word Nerd's maybe halfway through now...) but it's well-worth the time. Harry Bosch is going to be one of the detectives that gets remembers with Holmes, Poirot and Lord Peter.

04 August 2010

Book Banter -- MythOS

Title: MythOS (Ravirn bk 4)
Author: Kelly McCullough
Length: 289 pages
Genre: sci-fi/fantasy
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Computer hacker and Greek god descendant Ravirn is trying to fix Necessity -- the supercomputer that controls the Greek pantheon -- and gets sucked into another reality with his webgoblin and his Fury-girlfriend, Tisiphone. The new world operates on the whims of a different set of gods, specifically ones of a Norse origin. Ravirn has to maneuver his way around the tricks of Loki, the plans of Odin and Thor and try to prevent the ultimate battle of Ragnarok if he wants to try to get home.

Banter Points: It had been a while since Word Nerd read any of this series and this was a great entry back in because it didn't rely so much on the plot of the books that came before it, nor was it a throw-away book in the series. Sure, Ravirn wasn't in his home turf, but the plot moved along and forced him to grow as a character still, understand his new powers in a different light. Word Nerd's not a big Norse mythology buff, but it was a great way to get a bit of that story too.

Bummer Points: Word Nerd doesn't know what's coming in the next book, of course, but she's kind of disappointed that it seems like Ravirn won't interact with these characters anymore. They were fun.

Word Nerd Recommendation: The Ravirn series is a great pick for sci-fi or fantasy fans because it crosses both lines. Heavy on mythology and computer stuff, it's got appeal for lots of readers.

03 August 2010

July 2010 Bibliometer

Another month, another tally of books.

July 2010
6 books
2,348 pages
avg. 76

44 books
15,928 total pages