31 December 2010

30 December 2010

Catching up on sci-fi/fantasy quickly!

It's no secret around here on Word Nerd that I enjoy sci-fi/fantasy books. I don't read as many of them anymore, but I harbor a deep love for them.

The problem with catching up on sci-fi/fantasy titles is that the books are often SO long, or involve a series of inordinately long books (Robert Jordan, anyone?)

To help you wade through all those pages, Book-a-Minute has helpfully condensed many famous titles.

I won't tell you how much time I wasted reading many of these.

Some personal favorites among these "adaptations":
  • Good Omens
  • Interview with the Vampire
  • Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft

28 December 2010

Searching for a Series

I love reading series. Over the years, I've narrowed it down to two reasons:
  1. The growth and development of characters
  2. Seeing old friends again and again
I realized the growth and development aspect during my undergraduate years. The Victorian age novels I read back had so much more character growth than the modern mysteries and thrillers that dominated my reading. I hadn't discovered fantasy - urban fantasy might not have been invented even, or was just beginning.

By revisiting the same characters again and again, opening up the next one in the series always meant catching up where you last saw them. It's a one-side relationship, no doubt, but one that is deep enough that if you catch me and a fellow reader gabbing, Harry becomes a friend we are concerned about, Jamie and Claire are grandparents concerned about their growing family overseas, and Joanne is the girlfriend who needs bail, again.

Something about these characters has morphed into a full-fledged obsession. There is much ado about the next release including re-reading the back story, scanning forums for hints and checking for accidentally early releases by the careless book store.

As such, I'm in search of a new series. I have five or six that I absolutely adore, but waiting for the next one is painful. And the best way to distract is to start a new series. I have two en route via the Oshkosh Public Library reserve system: the Elemental Assassin series and the Cast in series. Both I found by browsing what others readers of my series bought from Amazon. But it's shooting in the dark.

Instead, I turn to you, dear reader. What is a must read series in your list?

27 December 2010

Book Banter -- Swordspoint

Title: Swordspoint
Author: Ellen Kushner
Length: 269 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Richard St Vier is the legendary swordsman in Riverside. When he kills two men at a fashionable garden party and the Duke leaves for the country, the whole of Riverside and the Hill slides into a tumultuous political upheaval as nobles plot against noble. Their primary weapons are Richard and his lover, Alec, and it will take all of their combined cunning to stay alive.

Banter Points: I read this book in high school, totally forgot about it, then stumbled on to just browsing the stacks one afternoon and thought this seems like a book I'd enjoy. Once I started reading, I instantly remember Richard St Vier and the terrible, derivative swordsman-style fiction I tried to write that semester in creative writing. While I liked the book at 17, I really enjoyed it now --mumblemumble -- years later. There was lots I somehow missed then (like the whole relationship between Richard and Alec... cough... how naive was I?) and the intricacies of the political maneuverings.

"Swordspoint" feels sort of like steampunk, maybe "regencypunk?" -- that twisting of history. It's got all the manners of the best historical fiction and all the swashbuckling action of fantasy novels.

Bummer Points: This is the only novel featuring St Vier. There are a couple short stories about him and Alec. There are a couple short stories that I will have to track down. I think more novels in a series probably would have cheapened the first one, but that doesn't mean I don't still wish they existed.

Word Nerd Recommendation: "Swordspoint" is a quiet cult, classic among fantasy books. It's not flashy, it doesn't have an epic quest, just amazing characters and an even better plot.

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

from the Word Nerd team.

24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I checked Santa's list and found that he has a few books to deliver to you. Unfortunately, he didn't take Bethany and me up on our offer to pre-read them to make sure they were suitable for you.

Enjoy your time with family and friends!

We'll be back next week and are cooking up great things for 2011 so stay tuned!

23 December 2010

Advent Story -- Part IV

This is part IV of my Advent short story series.

This one is "Bright Morning Star."

22 December 2010

Best of 2010 -- Top Ten Books of the Year

The moment you've all been waiting for -- The Word Nerd team picks their top 10 books they read in the past year.

We didn't even try for consensus on this one because while we're both readers and read much of the same stuff, it's different enough that one list would be impossible. And of course, what one person really loves, the other might despise.

So, drumroll please --

Bethany's Top Ten Books of 2010
10. One Hit Wonder, Charlie Carillo
9. Chimera, Rob Thurman
8. Shades of Gray, Jasper Fforde
7. Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffeneger
6. Changes, Jim Butcher
5. Weeping Underwater Looks a lot Like Laughter, Michael J. White
4. The Serialist, David Gordon
3. Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer
2. Dracula in Love, Karen Essex
1. Son of Laughter, Frederick Buechner

It took me several tries to come up with a top 10 list I was satisfied with and it wasn't until I put "Son of Laughter" in the #1 slot that I had it. I love this book and the powerful retelling of the Biblical narrative of Jacob. Several of my top-pick titles were all read in the last quarter of the year -- I hit a literary fiction streak.

This year's dark horse picks for me -- Changes and Chimera. Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series hasn't made my top 10 in the past, but this latest one was even more amazing than the rest. Also, I'm a big fan of Rob Thurman and I thoroughly enjoyed Chimera and her foray into a sci-fi thriller from her usual urban fantasy bent. The characters in both are as complex (if not more so!) that their counterparts in traditional fiction, so these genre picks had to get the nod.

Stacie's Top Ten Books of 2010
10. The Trouble with Magic by Madelyn Alt
9. Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer
8. Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
7. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
6. Alice I have Been by Melanie Benjamin
5. The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff
4. The Program Management Office by Craig J. Letavec, PMP
3. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
2. Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
1. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I've never created a top ten list for the year's reading before. Doing so made me realize two things:
  1. I'm willing to read anything.
  2. Not every book is memorable.

The characters in The Postmistress by Sarah Blake still move me. Choosing between the three women and the antics of Harry Dresden was tough. The fate of Sarah Blake's character is set, but there is more to come for Dresden. Ergo, this couldn't be the best for Jim Butcher.

The Project Management Office by Craig Letavec, PMP, was from one of my classes. It's probably the first coursework book I have enjoyed enough to recommend it to others at work. It also gave me an idea of where my career could be headed as well. (Considering the extreme lack of planning occurring in that arena, guide posts are a good thing.)

21 December 2010

Book Banter -- The Big Short

Title: The Big Short
Author: Michael Lewis
Genre: Non-fiction
Length: 266 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Personal collection

Plot Basics: Everyone has been affected by the US economic downturn. But the reality behind the machine is little known. Michael Lewis re-visits the Wall Street machine that began his career and helps the little guy understand what happens when the people who should know better, don't.

Banter Points: CDOs, short sells, prime rate mortgages and bogus triple A ratings are a few of the tangibles behind the crisis. Lewis builds a story that even someone who knows nothing about the Wall Street financial district can follow. For example, the known-as Toxic Assests were nothing more than bad loans grouped, divided, re-grouped and sold as triple A rated bonds. Bonds that should have been as stable as a US Treasury bond.

It wasn't that people didn't know. Lewis uncovers a few key players that knew what was going on. Some of them were exploiting the system. Some of them weren't allowed to do their jobs and raise the red flag. Others willingly ignored it because the profits were fantastic.

Bummer Points: My illusions about Wall Street and someone being in charge are dissolved. I have an undergraduate degree in English Literature and pretty much ran from any sort of business class (hence, the MBA now that I am in business.) I kept thinking during one of my Finance classes that it seemed too much like gambling and I must not understand something. After reading Lewis' book, I realize that I was both right and wrong; not only did I understand it, but it also really is gambling. It's all about what people think is going to happen. Apply some basic psychology, general rules about people's response to motivation and you have it - greed, reward and the sacrifice of Americans everywhere.

Stacie's Recommendation: If you have been looking for an explanation of what happened, this book is a fabulous tour guide. Lewis has outdone himself.

20 December 2010

Advent Writing Part III

Here's part three of my Advent short fiction.

This one is "Faithful and True."

17 December 2010

Advent Writing Part II

As promised, the link to the second part of my Advent Writing series.

This one is called "Lion and Lamb."

15 December 2010

Best of 2010 -- First Book in a Series

It's the second of the Award Wednesdays here at Word Nerd.

Our second category is Best First Book in a Series. Again, the book doesn't have to be published this year, just read by the Word Nerd bloggers during this past calendar year. This category was almost a tie (as was last week's) but in the end, we went with different books. All the more to enjoy!

Stacie's Pick:
Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

This was a lovely read that set off a nice six book series that came to an end this year. The characters were rich and varied, without having too much of a modern voice. I love reading series where the characters that grow and develop along with the subsequent books. Even better, there was a bit of a lag between novels so that not only did they have a chance to grow and change, there were parts of their lives that the reader wasn't privy too. It helped keep the characters fresh since they had new secrets to uncover.

Bethany's Pick:
Secret Societ Girl by Diana Peterfreund

I haven't had as much fun reading a book in a long time as I did reading this one. The characters are enjoyable, the dialogue witty and fun, and the tone full of the right blend of pop culture and snark.

I barreled through the first book and then kept on going. Normally, I space series out over a long period, but I finished all four of these books in the span of a few months. Secret Society Girl was just brimming with such potential for the series, it had to get the nod from me.

14 December 2010

Book Banter -- Side Jobs

Title: Side Jobs
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 400+ pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Dresden has a life inbetween the novels - who knew? These stories capture some of those moments.

Banter Points: The stories were great and Butcher's notes about the history of how the story came to be were even better. Bethany and I have spent no small amount of time wondering how Butcher can bear to continue to torture Dresden (and and the reader). Butcher shares that the stories have him laughing gleefully when he isn't busy cackling with joy.

Some maniacal plotting is going on here.

Bummer Points: The last story is told from Karrin Murphy's point of view. That in and of itself isn't a bummer point. We STILL don't know what happened to Harry. Murphy is very capable of serious butt kicking all by herself, but even she realizes that Chicago without Harry Dresden is a bad thing.

Stacie's Recommendation: As always, pick it up. Immediately. It's a fabulous read.

13 December 2010

Word Nerd's Been Blurbed!

One of my long-time aspirations for Word Nerd when I started it was to have the reviews posted here "blurbed" for books. A blurb, in case you were wondering, is that quote by another author or a review on the front that's supposed to lend credence to why you should read this book

It's finally happened. And Word Nerd's not buried on the inside, oh no.

Check out the bottom of this cover, enlarged to show detail:

A FRONT COVER blurb for a NY Times best-selling series.

I'm standing in Borders' YA section trying to find a book for my mentee for Christmas. I don't think she reads my blog, but if she does, try to act surprised when you open the package, OK? I've read (and throroughly enjoyed) the Morganville series so the new omnibus editions would make a great gift, I'm thinking.

And there it is. At the bottom. A blurb. Credited to Word Nerd.

At first I think, oh, it must be some other Word Nerd. Except there isn't another one. The podcast that had the same name is kaput. And, as I read it again, it sure sounded like something I would write.

So I bought the book for my mentee and vowed to check the all-knowing internet when I got home. And lo and behold, from Feb. 2, 2009, there it is. My exact words in the review of the series' 5th book.

I'm a huge fan of Rachel Caine's work and I'm thrilled that Word Nerd's first blurb -- or the first one I saw -- is on one of hers.

Word Nerd's blurbing service, now open for business.

10 December 2010

Three Favorite Distractions

I'm sure that there is some scientific research to support this, but I'm a firm believer in distractions. I cannot tell you how many times I walk away from a problem, only to come back later and wonder why my brain was malfunctioning because the answer is oh-so-very-obvious now.

My three favorite internet distractions are as follows:

What are yours?

09 December 2010

Book Banter -- Brokedown Palace

Title: Brokedown Palace
Author: Steven Brust
Genre: fantasy
Length: 351 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Brust takes readers to the other side of the world from his Vlad Taltos series, to the land of Fenario. There, four brothers in the royal family are living in a crumbling palace. When the youngest brother, Miklos, dares to mention this to his eldest brother, the King, Laszslo, he is nearly killed and driven from the kingdom. When he returns a few years later, the Palace -- and the brothers' hold on the kingdom -- is threatened by a mysterious tree growing in the crumbling structure. Miklos must come to terms with his family and figure out what home truly means to save himself and those around him.
Banter Points: This is the first non-Vlad book of Brust's that I've read and I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. The narrative sounds nothing like the tone of a Vlad story, but then I realized that's exactly the point. The story is rather quiet -- none of Vlad's action-packed antics -- but it's charming. The main narrative is broken up with small "Interlude" chapters, full of folk-tales that add to the richness of the land Brust puts his readers in. The brothers are a brilliantly dysfunctional family and it's neat to see how he evolves the character of each of them.
Bummer Points: This would not be a good first introduction to Brust. The world is complicated and it helps to have a little idea of where things are from the Vlad stories because it wouldn't be as accessible without that background knowledge.
Word Nerd Recommendation: An absolute must-read for Brust fans and those who like interesting fantasy may well enjoy it too.

08 December 2010

Best of 2010 -- Best Discovered Author

Welcome to Award Wednesdays for the rest of the month of December. We'll be posting Word Nerd's usual award categories -- Discovered Author, First Book in a Series and the Top 10 list over the next three weeks. We're combining our picks for the first two and then we'll each post a Top 10 list just before Christmas. Not that you have to take our word for it, but there might be some last-minute gift ideas on that last list for the book-lover in your world.

As with these awards in past years, the criteria is its a book that we've read in the past year. Publication date is irrelevant, so a really old book that we just stumbled on to could be the winner.

So, now that the 'splainin' is out of the way, the first category up is Best Discovered Author. This is the first year for two judges and we weren't expecting this, but this year's pick is UNANIMOUS for Brad Parks, author of "Faces of the Gone."

Stacie offers her explanation for why he won:
I actually had the privilege of meeting Brad while at Bouchercon 2009. At the time, we resembled sardines in a can, but had drinks in hand so it was tolerable. The witty conversation with Brad definitely increased the enjoyment level, enough so that I forgot about the sardine situation. I was delighted to find that his book was just as fabulous. "Eyes of the Innocent" is out February 2011 and I can't wait to see what's up for this spunky reporter.

And Bethany...
Brad not exactly a stranger here on Word Nerd. Here's my review of his book and here's the interview I did with him after that sardine-like meeting. I totally agree with Stacie's assessment of that situation.

So why did Brad get the nod from me in this category too? Simple. Of all the times in the past year where I've thought Gosh, I should read that book and actually managed to pick it up, Brad's debut is the one where I'm most looking forward to reading something else by the same author. There are others that I read for the first time this year, but I'm not actively checking the library catalog for when I can put the next, as-yet-unreleased-book on hold for anybody else. (No, sadly, "Eyes of the Innocent" is not yet available through the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library... if it's anything like "Faces", it will be a long, impatient-on-my-part wait.)

I'm sure both Stacie and I are hoping there will be opportunity to chat with Brad again at Bouchercon 2011. Maybe just with less sardine-ness this time.

07 December 2010

Stacie's November Bibliometer

I'm in the count down to the end of the semester (t-minus 14 days). But other than showing up for class, my last big effort is to finish a four page paper - of which 2.5 pages have been written.

Until then, enjoy the following books stats for the month of November:
Nine Titles
2,165 pages
1 re-read that I did not recall the first read on (The Broker by John Grisham; not sure what exactly this says for his career)
Three YA-Fiction titles that my 10yo reluctant reader liked (yay!)
2 titles for class

Until next time, happy reading.

05 December 2010

Advent Writing

The church I attend is very welcoming of the arts and encourages artists to create things for our services and worship times. There's a group of us who write and we were asked to write pieces for the four weeks of Advent based on our reflections on the sermon Scriptures (from Revelation) and the whole Nativity story.

I'd never written anything for one of the holiday seasons before but decided to give it a go this year. I'm a fiction writer, so that's what happened when I sat down. I'll post links to the whole series as it comes out, though I'll probably be about a week behind.

Here's the introduction to the series and the link to part one, Alpha and Omega.

When I began reading Revelation in preparation for Advent writing, I never imagined I would be writing fiction. But as I asked God what he would have me write, the character of John Patmos – with all his past and all his current circumstances – came to me in a flash. My first reaction was No way. I can’t write something that’s got a science fiction bent for Advent. As I thought for the next few days, I had no other ideas, and John Patmos – and specifically the exhortation in Revelation 1:19 – was clamoring so loud in my head that I couldn’t help but agree to tell this story and trust that this was what God had for me this season.

On the other hand, fiction has always spoken loudly to me, and it’s where I’m finding my identity as a writer. C.S. Lewis’ beautiful Space Trilogy brought me to understand the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation in a way that no lecture or religion textbook could. Creating John Patmos’ story has helped me remember – again – that those are the four over-arching acts of all of our lives. We are in a constant state of Advent, waiting between Redemption and Consummation, and that has brought a renewed sense of hope to me this season.

03 December 2010

Jane Austen & Twitter

I decided to re-read one of my all time favorite Jane Austen books - Emma.

In the story the Woodhouses are the genteel family in the neighborhood and leave Emma desiring appropriate company on numerous occasions. One family that is available to her is the Bateses, an older lady and her niece.

Consider the dialogue below, from the younger Miss Bates, upon sharing news of the marriage between Mr. Elton and Miss Hawkins.

"But where could you hear it?" cried Miss Bates. "Where could you possibly hear it, Mr. Knightley? For it is not five minutes since I received Mrs. Cole's note—no, it cannot be more than five—or at least ten—for I had got my bonnet and spencer on, just ready to come out—I was only gone down to speak to Patty again about the pork—Jane was standing in the passage—were not you, Jane?—for my mother was so afraid that we had not any salting-pan large enough. So I said I would go down and see, and Jane said, 'Shall I go down instead? for I think you have a little cold, and Patty has been washing the kitchen.'—'Oh! my dear,' said I—well, and just then came the note. A Miss Hawkins—that's all I know. A Miss Hawkins of Bath. But, Mr. Knightley, how could you possibly have heard it? for the very moment Mr. Cole told Mrs. Cole of it, she sat down and wrote to me. A Miss Hawkins—"

It is too tempting to break the whole monologue into a twitter stream:

--Got a note from @mrsCole. Just put on bonnet and spencer. Patty will have to wait.

--@Patty - I know Mother wants to know about the salting pan, but she must wait. @mrsCole sent a note!!!

--@Jane, don't run down the steps. I'll do it - your cold is too bad. @patty was washing the kitchen.

--@Knightley - how ever did you hear about @Elton news already?

--@mrsCole did you tell @Knightley about the @Elton news already?

Etc. Etc. Jane would have loved Twitter.

02 December 2010

Introducing Mina

As if the holidays weren't crazy enough on their own, Word Nerd decided to complicate it all just a little bit more. I adopted a kitten.

Meet Mina.

At the vet's yesterday, she was 2lbs., 10 oz. which puts her right around 2.5 mos. old which is what we thought. She was born under a friend's porch, so her exact birthday is unknown.

I've always given my pets literary names, back to the gold fish I named Robin and Hood when I was a kid. As I was thinking about women in literature, it seemed like they all had really boring names (Jane, Lizzie, etc.) and then I thought of Mina Harker from Dracula (and more recently, Dracula in Love). It's a big name for this little girl to grow into, but I think it's going to fit her. She tries to be a proper lady, already she's a fastidious groomer, but then she breaks into wild bouts of playing that are anything but ladylike.

Big brother Gatsby isn't sure what to make of the kitten (a.k.a. squeaky toy) since her meows are more like "meeps" at this point. This morning, he's being very brave and sitting on the back of the love seat just observing Mina asleep on my lap while I type. Yesterday he spent most of the day hiding out behind the closed door to my bedroom and wouldn't get this close to the kitten without hissing or making that growling cat noise. This morning, he's been sniffing her toys (which he also hissed at yesterday) and she's been content to watch him watching her.

Mina's already been helpful with writing by standing on the keyboard or the paper I'm trying to edit. Gatsby didn't even have to teach her that.

Word Nerd will stay a book blog (not a cat blog, I promise!) but I wanted to introduce my the member of my editing team.

01 December 2010

Book Banter -- The Lincoln Lawyer

Title: The Lincoln Lawyer
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Legal mystery/thriller
Length: ~400 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Mickey Haller is a defense lawyer, trying to stay just this side of being that kind of sleazy defense lawyer, and his forays too close to that line cost him his marriage to one of the city's top prosecutors. When a well-to-do client charged with assaulting a prostitute comes his way, he thinks he's got the perfect case -- one he can charge the maximum billable hours and take into the appeals system. As Mickey digs into the case, hiring his own PI to investigate what the cops are ignoring, Mickey finds out that his client isn't innocent -- and he's worse than guilty: he's evil. Now, Mickey must put a courtroom gambit into play to ensure his client takes the fall, and innocent man is released and Mickey's own family stays safe.
Banter Points: I haven't read a courtroom thriller since back in the days when John Grisham was the big to-do so the whole style of the book was different than my normal reads.
Bummer Points: Sometimes I hate blurbs on book covers. The copy of Lincoln Lawyer I had used a blurb on the front about how this might be Connelly's best novel ever. A blurb like that, a girl's got high hopes. Which weren't fulfilled. I didn't love it. Not even close. It was a good story, yes, but of Connelly's characters, my fandom is divided between Harry Bosch and Jack McEvoy.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you really like courtroom dramas, or legal thrillers, or Michael Connelly, it's OK to pick up, but if any one of those things makes you hesitate, don't waste your time.