28 December 2011
To refresh the rules, we pick based on what we read this year, not just things published this year. I'm always amazed when I go back to the list to see what I remember reading and what I don't really remember reading from my yearly book journey.
But -- without more dawdling -- here are the Word Nerds' Top Ten Books of 2011:
10. The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, Marcus Sakey
9. Basilisk, Rob Thurman
8. Exley, Brock Clarke
7. The Invention of Hugo Cabrey, Brian Selznik
6. Mercy, Joshua Grover-David Patterson
5. Looking for Alaska, John Green
4. How the Mistakes were Made, Tyler McMahon
3. Perelandra, C.S. Lewis
2. The Orchard, Theresa Weir
1. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
26 December 2011
Author: Michael Connelly
Length: 388 pages
Plot Basics: LAPD Detective Harry Bosch is back working in the Open-Unsolved Unit when a case gets a hit on old DNA. The problem is, while the DNA belongs to a sexual predator, he would have been a child when the crime happens. Meanwhile, Bosch is also assigned to investigate the apparent suicide of Councilman Irvin Irving's son, even though Irving and Bosch are old rivals. Both cases have the potential to be laden with political ramifications. As Bosch works to close them both, he wrestles with how much longer he can keep doing this job.
Banter Points: The latest addition to the Harry Bosch series just continues to prove what a master at this genre Michael Connelly is. Weaving two disparate crimes throughout the story, Harry's tense relationship with his newest partner and his own decisions about if and when to retire from the department, keeps the police procedural format fresh and engaging. When I heard Connelly speak at the 2009 Bouchercon, he mentioned the fact that at some point, Bosch may be too old for the job and it's interesting to see how he's setting up a possible end to the series and having Harry deal with his age.
Bummer Points: I was really hoping that this book would pick up more of the crime that seemingly went unsolved at the end of The Reversal, but it wasn't really that.
Word Nerd Recommendation: For the umpteenth time, even if you think you don't like mysteries, the Harry Bosch series is a great read. Take the time, go back to the beginning of the series and read your whole way through. It's a terrific journey with an iconic character.
23 December 2011
22 December 2011
Author: Harry Connolly
Length: ~350 pages
Genre: urban fantasy
Plot Basics: Car thief turned Twenty Palaces Society henchman Ray Lilly gets a visit from one of his old crew, telling him he is responsible for her death. He goes back to his old world -- trying to figure out what's going on and trying, in a way, to escape what he's done with the Society in Washaway and the auction in the Cascades. All of his old gang seems to have become entangled with sorcery and predators and Ray must hunt them down along with a potential copy of one of the's Society's original and thought-to-be-lost spell books before the gang unleashes magical terror on the world.
Banter Points: This book was fantastic, explaining lots about Ray, the society, how magic works. It was great to see how much Ray has been changed as a character. Even though we aren't familiar with his life before becoming part of the Twenty Palace Society (on a very, very low rung), putting him back in that setting helped show how he truly is different.
Bummer Points: So, in case you haven't read my other posts on this series, the publishers yanked it and so there are no more. Ok, not entirely true, there's an ebook prequel that fills in the backstory now available through Harry Connolly's website. Still, a huge bummer that the series isn't progressing. As another friend said, "This is why we can't have nice things" because they get taken away.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Even knowing the series goes no further as I did when I started in on it, anybody who likes fantasy like the Dresden Files should read these. The publishers got this one all wrong. This Connolly one Best Discovered Author for me from the Word Nerds this year, the series is that good. Check it out.
21 December 2011
Both Stacie and I are big fans of series, getting to walk with characters throughout multiple stories. It's not that we don't like standalones -- we do -- but I think it's somewhat like getting to know new friends.
Without further ado -- the virtual envelopes please:
I am always looking for book recommendations and boy, did this one hit home! Average Jane, a blogger from the Kansas City area, purchased and read this whole series in one weekend. That made this a must read on my list: Soulless by Gail Carriger.
I grew up reading romance novels. In college I graduated to Victorian Literature. As an adult, I've grown to love science fiction and fantasy. Steampunk is this wonderful creation that combines all of them. I loved this book, not only because it covers several of my favorite reading ingredients, but also because of the wit and fabulous writing.
This was a crazy close contest for me this year, and both of my top choices came in unusual formats. As I looked over my whole reading list for the year, I realized the top contenders were a series I started in audiobook format and a graphic novel series. Not quite what I expected, but hey!, why not?
The truth is, the two first books are so different, I really had a hard time picking. But -- my winner is...
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.
After listening to it, I didn't hesitate to go get the sequel at the library and plowed right through it too. It's a great combination of steampunk and alternate history and just a darn good YA series.
20 December 2011
The next few weeks are ones that I know I'll cherish. The six weeks between Fall and Spring semesters are a welcome relief. Not only is is generally slower at work for the next few weeks due to the Christmas season, there's no school too.
I plotted the last of my semesters out and realized that I have two left! To say that I'm thrilled would be an understatement. I'm really proud of how much I've learned in the last three years and how much I have accomplished.
While I'm itching to move forward into the next phase in my life - post graduate school - I know that whatever comes next is going to be just as busy. I have a few ideas already. No doctoral degrees for me.
Just think, this time next year, you can join me in tossing my grad cap up in the air!
19 December 2011
I have. In fact, this is probably one of the two predominant reasons I've stopped reading in this category. The other reason is that books in this genre tend to be so darn long and in addition to learning a world of magic, I also have to get out my Elvish-English dictionary. (Or write a new one of those as I go...also a non-standard component.)
But, the good folks over at the IO9 site have come up with a handy table for understanding magic*. They've got most of the great fantasy series out there represented and the table gives you a standard dissection of how it works, is there good and evil types of magic, who can use it, etc.
I'm kind of hankering to dive into a series like this. My last big venture was all the Jacqueline Carey Kushiel books. I think this chart may be just the thing I need to pick a new world.
*My friend @ScribeJay found this online first. I promised him sweet, sweet credit for the link. The Word Nerds are nothing if not faithful to promises of credit.
16 December 2011
As Kindle Fire Faces Critics, Remedies Are Promised
Personally, I think the genius behind the Kindle Product line is not the device itself, but the ecosystem that it builds.
The Kindle Fire, Amazon’s heavily promoted tablet, is less than a blazing success with many of its early users. The most disgruntled are packing the device up and firing it back to the retailer.
A few of their many complaints: there is no external volume control. The off switch is easy to hit by accident. Web pages take a long time to load. There is no privacy on the device; a spouse or child who picks it up will instantly know everything you have been doing. The touch screen is frequently hesitant and sometimes downright balky.
My mom (a non-reader of this blog) is getting a Kindle for Christmas. I have found myself browsing more on Amazon lately for titles that I want to buy, especially if they are set by the publisher and not by the seller.
I do think that the complaints sound legitimate and are definitely things I would not be happy with. A co-worker of mine bought a pair of them for his 12 year old twins (yes, he is a brave man.) No complaints from him or the twins.
Bethany and I spend a fair amount of time on this subject as we believe that publishing is on the verge of something new and great. eReaders are definitely a part of it.
What is your vision for Amazon? Or, ereaders in general?
15 December 2011
It's not traditional back-to-school for kids time, I am well aware. But at least once a year, I get in a several week funk of contemplating going back to school for another degree. I've almost paid off the first two degrees making this feel even more like I could do it because I could incur more debt. (Goofy rationale, I'm sure, but hey, it's how my brain works.)
So -- I'm contemplating.
There are two programs I look at repeatedly; the MA or PhD program in Philanthropic Studies at IUPUI and the low-residency MFA program at Seattle Pacific University. I applied two years ago or so for the MFA program and didn't get in that go around but I've written a few things in the mean time that I think are better than the pieces I submitted that time.
The Philanthropic Studies program has much more to do with how I currently earn my living. The only thing that sort of concerns me about that is the difference between theory and practice. While understanding fundraising theory and the motivation that makes people give is cool, with a lot of theory, there's always some breakdown between the ideal theory and how it works in real life. I feel like I could set myself up for a lot of cognitive dissonance if I did that program while working full-time.
Everytime I start thinking about school, I get in this funk about missing school (yep, I was that kid). And I also think about how overwhelming life would be to work and own a home and all that AND go to school. I have friends, including my co-Word Nerd blogger Stacie, that do it and I'm just blown away with how they somehow manage to get it all done.
Am I going to apply for school? Unlikely. Someday maybe. For now, I'll just plow through my funk and admire those who do go back.
14 December 2011
I, Bethany, always look forward to this time because I get to comb through my reading list to determine what books and authors get to take top honors from this team of bibliophiles.
We'll be posting our awards over the next few Wednesdays, so stay tuned.
Our first award is "Best Discovered Author." This award goes to an author who we started reading this year and can't wait to stick with into the future.
Connolly was a strong contender in next week's category of "Best First Book in Series" but, I picked him for this category because it was such a fun discovery. I literally saw his third Twenty Palaces novel, Circle of Enemies on the library shelf, thought something along the lines of Ray Lilly seems like my kind of character, solely from the cover art (dark, brooding man). I immediately went to the stacks and found books one and two in the series and read them all in fairly quick succession (with a few renewals from the library).
As far as I've seen on Twitter, he's at work on something new and I will definitely be looking for it when it hits the shelves. You can learn more about him and his work on his website.
She's a classic mystery author, I know. But until this year I had not ever bothered to read anything by her. And now that I have started down this list, I'm excited about it. The prose is great, the twists and bends even better. I started down this path due to the various references in a modern book by Connie Willis. Christie played a supporting role in the plot, but a crucial one. It was a great choice and I'm glad I started.
13 December 2011
Basically, Amazon is taking the old-school, pre-public library format and applying it to their customers. But for $25 a year, it beats Netflix and opens up loads of books to those who find their local library limiting.
Personally, I'm tempted. I don't have a Kindle Fire but do have the Kindle app. I am not a Netflix subscriber, so if I didn't end up with movie access, I'd be okay with it. I read about 100 books a year, maybe purchasing 10, so I'm already a non-contributor to the writer's payment (part of which is why I give back through reviews.)
So, dear Reader, are you a prime member? Do you use a Kindle? What are your thoughts?
12 December 2011
I was getting ready to do my post about how I accomplished my reading goals for year when I discovered a big problem. I said I was going to read three "important" books in addition to my slog through a Russian master.
It's December 12, and I've only read two other important books. One of those is probably going to be a stretch pick for some classic literature afficianados.
But -- I need a title recommendation, pronto. If you're a Word Nerd regular, you know that classics aren't my cup of tea. So, to help you help me, I like things like Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll and Hyde. There's no way that I'd make it through another Russian in two weeks or a Jane Austen (no books of talking and dancing, please!)
Leave your comments on what classic/important title I should tackle in the next two weeks. I can stop by the library ASAP.
09 December 2011
It's crazy. It's insane.
It's the reason I keep missing deadlines for the Word Nerds blog.
How, exactly, does one keep track of the various ideas that float across your path? I'd had at least a dozen great blog ideas during the writing of them. Yet, I didn't jot a single one down and they are gone.
Do you have this problem as a writer? Is it actually problem?
One theory is that the posts weren't really that good since they didn't resonate enough to stick. Another is that I am old and need to write stuff down.
Ech. December 14 will be here soon and the final version will be handed in.
Back to your regularly scheduled program.
08 December 2011
Author: Colson Whitehead
Length: ~250 pages
Genre: literary/zombie apocalypse
Plot Basics: Much of the world's population is dead in a zombie apocalypse and the survivors are engaged in the grisly task of taking back civilization. One survivor -- named Mark Spitz after the Olympic swimmer -- is part of one of the teams clearing Zone One, an eerily empty New York City. As Mark Spitz and his team look for skels, the hardier zombies not cleared out in the initial sweep of the city, his story ranges back to his childhood, his time spent running for the zombies in the initial outbreak and his wrestling with PASD (Post-apocalyptics stress disorder).
Banter Points: I was intrigued by the idea of a literary zombie novel, and that's exactly what this book is. Zone One still delivers the guts and gunfire you would expect in a zombie-pocalypse novel, but with the deft and dashing prose of a literary novel. Whitehead ranges through the books true themes of loneliness and loss and mediocrity while forcing his protagonist into a pop culture setting.
Bummer Points: This book is wordy. It's not all that long, but you can't just read the sentences to understand what's going on. You have to read the sentences and digest them and chew on the symbolism and the narrative. In places, it feels like the action completely dies down and there's little propelling the reader forward (except, in my case, the OCD need to finish just about every book I start). There were also some weird real life things about loss going on for me while I read, making the book harder.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Only serious readers and serious zombies fans need apply themselves to this book. It really is a great read, but for the average zombie fan, this book isn't accessible. Whether or not it shows up in my top ten for the year is still undecided.
05 December 2011
Author: Tess Gerritsen
Length: 400 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Women in Boston are becoming victims of a terrible serial killer, one who works with medical precision to torture and then kill his victims. Detectives Jane Rizzoli and her partner Thomas Moore work the case, finding one woman in Boston who knows exactly how this killer operates -- because years earlier she escaped his clutches. As the killer closes in on his one missing victim, Rizzoli and Moore must fight against the department and against cop stereotypes to catch this brutal killer.
Banter Points: The Rizzoli and Isles series won out in my poll of what series to read with a female sleuth protagonist. While Isles isn't in this book, I think the series feels like it has some potential. During this book, I really liked Rizzoli's partner, Moore. It was a great thriller novel that kept me turning pages.
Bummer Points: As far as series investment, I'm still very undecided. I'm going to stick with it through at least the next two titles (The Apprentice and The Sinner) so I can meet Isles and put them together in a book. When I started the Harry Bosch books, I was pretty sold on the series after the first book. Looking for a new series after that one, I'm not sure R&I will be the answer. But... stay tuned.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Undecided. If I wasn't looking for a series I could sink in to, I think I'd give this a pretty good thumbs-up as a thriller novel. Since I'm looking for something with longevity, I can't say for sure yet.
01 December 2011
Just a quick note -- there's some major stuff that's just happened in my life that's probably going to affect posting. It has to do with writing (it's not a book contract) but it's going to take some time to sort out.
There may be a lot of reviews in the near future, but when I can talk about things, I will.
For now, keep reading, writing and staying safe.
Because I'm a geeky sort of mom, I decided to set him up with an Excel based reading log, to capture the minutes and titles for his 600 minutes.
With confidence, I am proud to say, the kid has read 2,330 minutes in three months. That's well above the goal.
That's also not counting the minutes he spends sneaking reads in bed when lights out has already been declared. If I were to acknowledge those minutes and add them in, he may very well be over 3,000.
Here's the deal: he isn't the only one. There are a handful in his class that are reading like this. Who says reading is dead?
Long live the book!
28 November 2011
Author: Brian Vaughn et al.
Length: approx. 120 pages each
Genre: graphic novel
Plot Basics: A mysterious virus kills every male on the planet -- human and animal -- except two: Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Civilization is crumbling and all Yorick wants is to somehow make his way to Australia where his girlfriend Beth is on the verge of accepting his proposal of marriage. But others -- including Yorick's Congresswoman mom -- have other plans for the last man. Top of the list is setting out to find a leading genetic/cloning scientist to see why Yorick survived. But getting there, around the motorcycle-gang women the Amazons, and others just curious about Yorick's existence won't be easy.
Banter Points: Got a recommendation for these through a post a few weeks ago on webcomics, I believe and have thoroughly enjoyed the first two in the series. The world is complex, but the characters stand out as well. Early on, they are all forced to make moral decisions about their roles in this new world which is nice instead of it being one giant string of action sequences.
Bummer Points: My only real bummer right now is a spoiler, so I can't tell you, other than that a plot twist makes me wonder about the title.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Highly recommend this for people who like graphic novels and this could also be an easy entry point for those who haven't read any graphic novels but think they might like to try them out.
24 November 2011
Here are our Thanksgiving lists:
- Family and Friends
- Running and races like Festival's Turkey Trot (now I don't feel guilty about that second piece of pie!)
- Reading and the marvelous authors who create the worlds I explore
- My dogs
- My church community -- what wonderful friends and encouragers and all around good people
- Books! and all the talented writers who bring words to life in amazing ways
- A fantastic new job that's introduced me to the Tekes -- these guys are great
- A house with two snuggly cats
22 November 2011
Title: The Royal Treatment
Author: MaryJanice Davidson
Genre: Romance, ChickLit
Length: 256 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics: In a world where the US decided not to purchase Alaska, it became it's own country after a civil war with Russia. Fast forward to the 2080s and the Royal Family needs a queen. Through an odd set of circumstances, Christina Krabbe (the e is silent and don't you forget it) becomes the queen. Mostly.
Banter Points: This was a really fun, fast book to read, and just what I needed after four solid weeks of homework. It's cute, full of sex, and has a murder plot.
Bummer Points: The language. I'm willing to bet that if all of the f-bombs were cut out, it would be at least five pages shorter. I am by no means a prude, and have been known to use the f-bomb here and there, but it was a bit over the top and didn't always add to the plot. It would have been better to show the rough edges through alternate means instead of relying on one trite technique.
Stacie's Recommendation: Check it out, but don't plan to take it seriously.
21 November 2011
Author: Lauren Oliver
Length: 470 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Planned Television Arts
Plot Basics: High school senior Samantha Kingston seems to have it all -- popularity, good looks, a great group of friends, a hot boyfriend. But her life changes when she dies on Friday, February 12th coming home from a party. She awakes the next morning, living the day over a number of times and coming to terms with her actions and how the choices she makes affects the people around her.
Banter Points: This book completely surprised me and I'm happy to give it a big thumbs up now because of it. At the beginning of the story, Sam and her friends are horrible people and as the reader, I really hated them. They epitomize mean girls and the agonizing culture of putting others down and just general reckless behavior. But, as the story progressed, I really found myself rooting for Sam and her efforts to put things to rights, restore relationships with those she hurt, and try to make sense of what kept happening to her. By the end, I nearly made myself late to an early morning meeting to spend a few more minutes reading to finish the book before work.
Bummer Points: I firmly believe in ending stories at the right point and Oliver did that, but I would have happily read another 300 pages to get to know Sam better.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you've got teens interested in things like Gossip Girl (sheesh, is that even popular anymore?), pluck those out of their hands and put "Before I Fall" in its place for better writing and better outcomes and better (eventually) role models of how we want to girls to act.
18 November 2011
Author: Gail Carriger
Length: 474 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics: Alexia Tarabotti has been placed on the shelf, in favor of her younger sisters have a Season of their own. Alexia is quite already with this as she has a secret of her own that she would rather the Vampires and Werewolfs not know. In this version of Victorian England, Alexia falls into a thick plot, a romance and manages to snatch the most eligible bachelor of them all.
Banter Points: My exposure to Steampunk has been really limited (one title previously) but after reading this one, I need to explore this genre more. I grew up reading romances based in Victorian England. I love fantasy novels. And this title combines those two favorites with some new twists.
Alexia is opinionated, stubborn and determined to do her own thing, just like any Victorian maiden in a Regency romance. Only her world is populated with Werewolves, Vampires and mechanical creations that are part of a larger plot. And Alexia finds herself at the middle of it, with both the Vampires and the Werewolves trying to figure out if they should fear her or destroy her.
I love the twist too of America, which is still a British colony, and religious zealots have control, albeit in a different manner than what really happened.
Bummer Points: I'm a little fearful that this is really a mediocre title, and that my lack of Steampunk knowledge makes it seem great. I'd hate to give out a bad recommendation, but I do really like it.
The hold list is really long. And since this series is five titles deep already, I am considering a purchase with my Christmas money. The first three titles are available as a bundle from several ebook retailers.
Stacie's Recommendation: Check it out. Let me know if this is mediocre steampunk or something great.
17 November 2011
Haven't heard of Wowbrary -- check it out www.wowbrary.org.
Weekly, they send you an email of all the new stuff at your library. They break down the new material down in categories -- fictions, mysteries & thrillers and the category that I've been perusing a lot, graphic novels.
The great thing about Wowbrary is while there are certain authors that I keep an eye out for when they have new stuff and put it on hold early (#166 for Michael Connelly's "The Drop"), others I don't follow as closely or just like browsing the shelves, my interest gets piqued by something new. A librarian friend told me she uses Wowbrary to keep up on nonfiction. I don't even click on that section or I'd be even more overwhelmed...
But the result is that I have something like a dozen books currently checked out of the library! Granted, getting through a graphic novel is an evening's entertainment or less since they read quickly, but there's a hefty number of novels in that mix as well. (And don't get me started on the books I own waiting still to be read...and the asks for reviews... )
Remember back in college when some schools would give reading days in between the last day of class and the start of finals week?
Maybe I need one of those....
15 November 2011
Titles: The Stonekeeper
The Stonekeeper's Curse
The Cloud Searchers
The Last Council
Author: Kazu Kibuishi
Genre: Graphic Novel
Length: about 200 pages each
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Personal Collection
Plot Basics: After a terrible accident that leaves Emily and Navin with one parent, they move to the country and the house where her great-grandfather Silas lived. Once there, Emily finds that her inheritance is move than just a old house, and bigger than anything she imagined.
Banter Points: My eleven year old introduced this series to our house after a unit in English on graphic novels. The first two or three books were out then, and we purchased this much conversed about series. After a while, my eight year old was reading and talking about them too. This week, I decided to see what they were about.
Gorgeous pictures. Fun, yet scary, adventures. Themes that both the boys and I can relate to. Emily and Navin are equally part of the plot, with different challenges. The side characters are fabulous also.
I really like that Emily needs to judge and decide what is best. It isn't obvious, she doesn't always go with the advice she is given and occasionally she makes bad decisions.
Bummer Points: Each book moves the plot forward by one point only. Maybe that is typical of graphic novels, but new to me. The pictures are definitely what holds the story together.
Stacie's Recommendation: Check them out. It's rare that the boys introduce me to a book that I enjoy as much as them. Usually, I'm telling them what to read, rather than them telling me.
14 November 2011
The novel is still, well, in progress. Like it's been. For a long time. My crit group offered some good suggestions, but my motivation for implementing those is about Nil.
I'm sure lots of writers go through this slump. It's not writer's block -- I have ideas. I just am feeling like this very long process is never going to end and that I'm never going to get there.
Through my church, I again have the opportunity to do some writing for the Advent season and I'm hoping that by working on something else, I'll get the juices going again.
I'm consuming reading material at a pretty good clip, so maybe this is just a time to be re-priming the pump. I've been reading graphic novels, thrillers, an ARC of a friend's novel. I was so into Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan" that I was dreaming the book the other night.
But my own stuff? Meh.
I'll keep you posted on if a new project helps lift the writing doldrums. I'm hopeful, at least.
10 November 2011
Author: Harry Connolly
Length: 338 pages
Genre: urban fantasy
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Ray Lilly survived the events of Hammer Bay, but has since lost contact with the Twenty Palaces Society and his boss, Annalise. When a woman named Catherine comes to the store where he works with what feels like a mission, Ray drops everything to accompany her to a small town where an auction for a predator is set to take place. Ray and Catherine arrive too late and the predator has escaped his new owner and is terrorizing the small town of Washaway. They set out on desperate quest to stop the predator and the citizens of the town -- maddened by the predator's presence -- without the help of a peer.
Banter Points: Connolly's Twenty Palaces series is like a cross between Jack Reacher and Harry Dresden -- all the violence that Reacher can mete out with a hefty does of Dresden-esque magic. Ray Lilly reminds me a lot more of Reacher in his I-don't-want-to-hurt-anybody-but-gosh-darn-it-I'm-really-good-at-that persona. The magic elements are less classy than Dresden's magic, making them feel more rough-hewn and volatile.
Ray is a such a flawed main character, it's hard not to like him. It's great to see him grapple in this book with how much he wants to be a part of the Society and how much he likes to hurt things (OK, people) and why that's not bothering him as much as he wants it to.
Bummer Points: I was hoping for a little bit more of a reveal in this book about the whole Society. There is some, don't get me wrong, a few questions are answered, but I was hoping a lot more back story was filled in. Where Connolly did fill in the blanks, it was done deftly and not like an info dump.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Just like with Child of Fire, I have mixed feelings here, knowing that the series has been cancelled. Normally, I would say run right out and start reading, but... sigh... the writing is solid, but if you're looking for a long-term relationship with a series, know that you're going to be left hanging here.
08 November 2011
It is, however, the Word Nerds. And I'm pretty sure that the by-laws demand that self-proclaimed nerds of words should know how to search a corpus.
Or what a corpus is.
Thank goodness for Grammar Girl's recent podcast on this very subject.
It's like the universe recognized my need before I could even articulate it.
A corpus is a database of writing and Google has one called Ngram. Thanks to Grammar Girl, I'm going to have fun pretending to be smart this weekend and figuring out some cool word facts.
Any guesses as to the first word I type? Post it in the comments!
07 November 2011
We'll return you to your regularly scheduled book blogging tomorrow.
04 November 2011
Goodreads is sponsoring its 3rd Annual Goodreads Choice Awards.
They break books down into genre categories and you can vote in any and all where you feel like you can make an informed decision.
Exercise your right to vote. It'll be good practice for those of us who have an election coming up next Tuesday.
03 November 2011
Author: Tyler McMahon
Length: ~350 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: ARC from St. Martin's Press
Plot Basics: Musician Laura Loss was ready to put her career in rock bands behind her when she meets Nathan and Sean, two young, gifted and naive rockers. The two convince her to play drums for them at a gig, and The Mistakes are suddenly riding high into the early 90s grunge rock scene. Laura becomes somewhat of a matriarch to the fledgling band, while at the same time, striking up a relationship with Sean, the group's mega-talented guitarist. As the group's popularity grows, Sean's talent leads to self-destructive behaviors and Laura's efforts to keep the band together may either save or destroy them all.
Banter Points: Reading book is like watching a train wreck in the absolute best way possible.You know going in with a story about a rock band that the band is doomed to break up and the whole story is the build-up to that. It's so formulaic of a plot that at first, I wondered how in the world it was going to work.
Enter Tyler McMahon's prose and deftly created characters and use of flashbacks. Laura's voice as the maligned narrator was the compelling hook that got me to keep turning pages, as well as her flashbacks to the 1980s and her time in her brother's punk band. The stories parallel so well and you have to wonder as a reader if she will learn the lessons from the past or not.
Bummer Points: It's not really a happy-ending sort of book. To me, this is actually OK, but for some readers, the schmaltz-free ending could be kind of a bummer.
Word Nerd Recommendation: I'm predicting that How the Mistakes Were Made will be in my top 10 for this year, so you might want to check this one out.
01 November 2011
I don't think either of us here at the Word Nerd team are jumping on that bandwagon this year, but we've both done it in the past and know what you're in for in the next 30 days.
There are a zillion of great links out there on how to make the most of NaNoWriMo. Of course a chief practice is to not get hung-up reading posts but to actually write. Some of the best encouragement is over at Pbackwriter's blog, so I'd point you there if you need a boost.
Hope the words flow freely for you.
27 October 2011
|Click for full size image|
The list is out now, but SFSignal took the whole thing and put many of the choices into this flowchart to help you narrow down exactly what kind of book you're looking for in that wide genre.
The flowchart breaks down what's out there through questions like the following:
Do you like Arthurian legend? If you answer Yes, you move on to "Which character is your favorite?"
Morgan le Faye points to "Mists of Avalon," Merlin to "The Crystal Cave" and Arthur to the classic "Once and Future King."
On the sci-fi side, for example:
Ready to blast into space? --> Maybe, let's stay close, I'm new at this --> 2001: A Space Odyssey.
From there comes an arrow --> Too far. Too trippy. How about Mars?
That branches off to How Would You like to see the Red Planet?"
Vignettes gives you "The Martian Chronicles"
Environmentally gives you Kim Stanley Robinson's MarsTrilogy and
Through the Looking Glass is C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet"
Spend your lunch hour perusing this diagram... it'll likely lead you to a new favorite book.
26 October 2011
To wit, I have tried this with one book and, therefore, have a conclusive answer for you all.
The answer is, a brand new book can be enjoyable and comprehensible just listening to the audio.
So much so, that I'm completely captivated by Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series and have the sequel, Behemoth, on hold in the audiobook version.
There was one plot point that had I been reading the book, I would have gone back a page or two to double-check. As it was with how it was tracked, rewinding wasn't really going to work. So, I just had to go with it and assumed that I missed a nuance or the track skipped or something. (I'm not saying what it was, because I don't want to put a spoiler out there.)
The other great thing about audiobooks (some that I've read for adults and definitely the kid and YA titles) is that the readers do voices. They don't just read the book, the vocally act the book. Leviathan was read by Alan Cumming who not only did changed pitches or cadences but accents for the Austrian, Germans and British characters. I think my favorites were his Count Volger and his Dr. Barlowe (OK, here's a shortcoming of audio books... I don't know how to really spell character names!)
Part of the original question was also about appreciation of the work. In the case, I think I was more appreciative to see how Westerfeld made an alternate history fit in a YA book that comprises steampunk, modern genetics, and warfare and still told a great story. Several times, I was nervously drumming my thumbs on the steering wheel to find out what would happen next.
Clearly, my deep scientific research has proven this question, that comprehension really isn't lost when delving into an audiobook as opposed to hardcopy.
25 October 2011
Most feedback is like this until something shakes us up. Occasionally, feedback walks up and slaps us in the face. Maybe it is the critique that went less than stellar. Maybe it is the performance review at work that caught you off guard.
I had a piece of feedback from school this last week that had me shaking my head and wanting to share. Context: I was third presenter in line at the end of the lecture delivered by the professor. My thunder was gone - not just stolen, but gone. Keyser Soze style.
Here it goes:
Done well: Compared goals and objectives very well. Nice powerpoint. Research, good conclusions, concise. Good eye contact. Good examples of companies in the area, objectives were well laid out. Good pausing.Gotta love those contradictions.
Opportunities for Improvement: Talk a little louder, be more enthusiastic. Seemed a little lacking compared to the amount of information others had. Seemed brief and minimally detailed. Better eye contact. Slides were too busy with too many details in some. Add more supporting info.
I had two main thoughts on the feedback:
- No criteria was issued by the professor as to what made a good presentation. Ergo, my audience compared me to everyone else they had seen that night.
- You can't please everyone.
I didn't exceed the expectations. I met them. It wasn't stellar and I was okay with that in this situation. Would I have done this if it were my turn for crits at a writing group? I hope not. But what if I had? Was it still worth it?
I think it was worthwhile. At some point feedback must be as much of your writing process as putting on a sweatshirt in response to cold. It has to be natural and just something you do. No emotions. It's not personal, it's something you consider about the environment and move forward in response.
What do you think?
24 October 2011
Author: Michael Connelly
Length: 421 pages
Genre: legal drama
Plot Basics: Defense attorney Mickey Haller has turned to defending foreclosure victims as the economy tanked around him and many criminal clients can no longer afford him. One foreclosure victim -- Lisa Trammel -- ends up the target of a murder investigation in the death of a banker in charge of the bank fight to take her house. Now Haller's back defending a client against the powerful economic forces of the day and he puts himself in danger to follow the case to the unexpected end.
Banter Points: Reaching this point has been a long time coming -- I have now read every fiction book Michael Connelly has published to date and there's a huge sense of accomplishment in getting here.
I don't love the Haller books as much as the Bosch books (or as much as the Poet) but, this one is probably my favorite of the Haller novels. The courtroom drama is sort of predictable but the evidence is not. The story is neatly tied into current events with the housing collapse without feeling trite.
Bummer Points: Mickey has an about-face as a character that's a little unbelievable at the end. While the whole Haller story has been showing how tough things are for him as a defense attorney, this proposed switch is just a little too much since most people really can't/don't make such radical changes to their lives.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're ready for the long-haul, dig into Michael Connelly's who catalog of books. You won't be disappointed.
21 October 2011
(Ok, I looked at results while votes were coming in... sheesh...)
For those of you just joining, here's why I was doing a poll for the next series.
According to popular opinion, it looks like I'll be trying out the Rizzoli and Isles series.
I am suspect that it won because of the TV show, or perhaps because it was first in the poll. Survey design matters, I suppose.
I will dutiful read the first book in the series (soon, but not yet, I've got a couple other things on deck already), but I'm not making promises. If it's not me, I'm not going to stick with it. I do trust the opinion of my voters, so I'm anticipating good things, but there are too many other books to move on to if I'm not entirely captivated.
For those of you that picked Rizzoli and Isles, what is it about it that love? (And no spoilers!)
20 October 2011
Author: Harry Connolly
Genre: Urban fantasy
Length: 343 pages
Plot Basics: Criminal Ray Lilly and Twenty Palaces Society member Annalise are sent to the small town of Hammer Bay to investigate magical disappearances of children. When Annalise is injured and not healing like she should, it's up to Ray and his small amount of magical power to find out the truth about the town and stop the predators harming the children. Ray's investigation riles up a whole host of secrets, threatening to rip the town apart.
Banter Points: I found the third (and sadly last) book in the series on the library's new book shelf, bearing a blurb from Jim Butcher and I immediately went to the stacks to find one and two. I wanted some new urban fantasy that didn't involve vamps/zombies/etc. and Connolly delivered.
I love love love the fact that he never fully explains the Twenty Palaces Society, their magic, etc. I love it because it keeps the story from getting bogged down backstory and infodumps. As a reader, I loved the mystery that I could related to Ray in not knowing exaclty who he was working for.
I like that Ray is not a nice guy and has to come to grips with right and wrong as he moves through the story.
I love the idea of magic tattoos (thanks Weis/Hickman and the Death Gate cycle for that one).
Bummer Points: Ray Lilly basically has one magic trick to solve all his problems, his ghost knife. It gets a little repetitive to see him use it over and over.
Of course, the big bummer is Del Rey has dropped Twenty Palaces and there won't be anymore. Connolly explains the whole thing over on his blog. My timing on this one sucked, seeing the announcement when I'm 2/3rds of the way through Child of Fire. I'm going to keep reading through books 2 and 3, but I'm bummed.
Word Nerd Recommendation: I have mixed feelings here, knowing that the series has been cancelled. Normally, I would say run right out and start reading, but... sigh... the writing is solid, but if you're looking for a long-term relationship with a series, know that you're going to be left hanging here.
19 October 2011
WN: What is it that drew you to setting a novel in the grunge music world of the 90s?
McMahon: Seattle—especially at this time period—has always cast a long shadow for me. I was 15 or so when Nirvana’s Nevermind was released. As a teenage misfit on the other side of the country, all the Sub-Pop and so-called “grunge” music—as well as the photographs and clever liner notes—fed a certain illusion that there was a place out west filled with people like my friends and me. It was a sort of Utopian vision for sloppy outsiders.
I was also interested in grunge’s relationship to earlier underground punk scenes. I think that the mainstream success of grunge gave them a certain validation. I wanted to show how marginalized or fringe artistic movements can shift the paradigm of pop culture—and grunge is a great example of that.
WN: What kind of reader is going to really get into "How the Mistakes were Made"?
McMahon: I hope it has a fairly wide appeal. So far, I’ve been very flattered that readers with varying degrees of foreknowledge or experience with these music scenes have connected to it. Certainly, the novel doesn’t assume any punk or indie rock expertise.
Certainly, Gen X readers who grew up with Nirvana and their peers should find some resonance. However, I conjured up this idea when I was a Teaching Assistant, lecturing to college freshman about rock history. So I’ve always held out hope that the book might appeal to a younger readership, and to folks that might not otherwise read a lot of fiction.
In an odd and personal way, I truly hope that readers in the Northwest will get into the book. I started this novel after living in some small towns in Idaho and Montana, and there’s a way in which How the Mistakes Were Made is my love song to that part of the world. It’s a beautiful region full of big-hearted, creative people, and it deserves more attention that it gets in contemporary literature.
WN: You've written a lot of short stories -- what were the biggest challenges in writing a novel?
McMahon: I was ridiculously lucky in that—as a young writer towards the end of my graduate study—I stumbled into a sort of accidental apprenticeship with Brady Udall, an amazing novelist and teacher. He was my thesis advisor, and also taught a course on novel structure. Between those two things, I had a year of novel “training” that very few writers ever get.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the differences between short stories and novels in the past few years. Others have said that novels are more like drama, and that short stories are more like poetry. I’d say that’s accurate. But to my mind, novels have two fundamental requirements that shorter pieces might get away without.
The first is that a novel’s protagonist must—to some extent—be likeable. You can’t ask a reader to spend that many pages with a voice that they loathe. That’s not to say that protagonists have to be nice and charming, but they must show some redeeming qualities and inner humanity.
The second is that a novel must control tension and release—almost the way that a song does. With short stories, I used to get away with simply ramping up the tension for ten or twenty pages and then breaking the action off decisively. With novels, it’s necessary to ease up at times and let the characters catch their breath.
WN: How did your Peace Corps experience contribute to writing a novel?
McMahon: My time in El Salvador informed so much about my life since; I almost can’t imagine what things might be like if I’d not had that experience. It was certainly good training for a writer: you work on projects that are difficult, thankless, and often don’t make any sense to people outside of a small group of peers.
In another way, all the Peace Corps Volunteers I knew in El Salvador were storytellers. We might only see one another every few weeks, but our ritual gatherings invariably consisted of late-night bull sessions. We all tried to top each other with stories and anecdotes from our villages and rural communities. Some of the accounts would be second- or third-hand. The best ones would be repeated over and over, often by request.
Because that was a small community of people with shared experiences, we had a kind of shorthand, and a highly idiosyncratic lingo. Once back in the States, I often had to “translate” those stories to other friends and family. It was a great lesson in how to specific details can both pull readers in and push them out.
WN: What's next for you as an author?
McMahon: I’m a little superstitious when it comes to talking about works-in-progress. But at the moment I’m working on a manuscript about some expat surfers stuck in El Salvador in the wake of the earthquakes that devastated the country in early 2001. There’s a small port town there called La Libertad, which has an incredible world-class point break, along with an insidious crack-cocaine epidemic. The juxtaposition has always fascinated me.
It’s a subject that’s close to my heart, but the piece has moved in stops and starts, and been fraught with setbacks and second guesses. I’m hoping I can get a version of it into shape sometime in the next few months.
18 October 2011
My first real memory of Apple was the Think Different campaign. At the time, I didn't pay attention to much other than my undergraduate work. The school that I student taught at, however, opened my eyes to the campaign.
The 4th grade teacher was extremely offended by the posters that were donated to the school. The phrase lacked the very proper "-ly" that made it grammatically correct. She tried to rally various teachers into taking the posters down, myself included.
I looked at them and smiled. Great writing is about breaking the rules. The people on the posters were rule breakers as well - Albert Einstein being my favorite one of all.
Yes, it should have been Think Differently. But that's the point, in my mind. It should be think different. Apple certainly would.
I'm a fan of Apple. I have a iPod and iPad. I've broken or sold other iPod models. I mourned the loss of Steve Jobs by remembering the campaign that taught me the most I ever learned about grammar.
17 October 2011
Previously, audio books kept me company while doing yardwork thanks to downloadable audio books. But when the next book I wanted wasn't available for my iPod but was on CD, I remembered, "Hey, my car has one of those!" So, audiobooks, meet drivetime.
But, my audiobook choices have always been books I already read. The audiobook was a way to "reread" and not worry about having to pay more attention to my driving (or gardening) than the book at hand because I knew what happened.
Except -- there's so much stuff I want to read for the first time.
And enter a Twitter question by @tyrusbooks: Does your appreciation/comprehension of a book change between reading and/or listening?
This question had been knocking around in my head as well. So, I replied: @tyrusbooks I'm going to find out! All my audiobook exp. has been "rereading" but going to try a new book just with audio to see.
That afternoon, I went to the library and checked out an audiobook I haven't already read in paper.
I popped disc one of Leviathan in the car last Wednesday and started to get into an alternate 1914, full of airships and steam-powered Stormwalkers.
The experiment is underway. And as @TyrusBooks asked: @BKWordNerd report back with your findings, B.
I'll keep you posted.
13 October 2011
Now, when I look at the funny papers, I don't get into them that much because I think my tastes have grown up and moved from newsprint to online.
There's a huge market of web comics that span a huge range of artistic ability as well as storytelling that raises from them to comic strips to online graphic novels.
Today -- I want to highlight a few of the webcomics that I check on, from sporadically to being a faithful reader.
11 October 2011
Title: Ghost Story
Author: Jim Butcher
Length: 481 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics: Harry probably pushed it too far this time. After his last adventure, he may have succeeded in destroying the Red Court Vampires, but the ramifications begin with his death and subsequent appearance as a ghost.
Banter Points: I liked this installation in the series. I was prepared to find it slow moving and uneventful. Potentially a dud in comparison to some of the brillance I had come to expect from Harry.
Instead, I found the slower pace something that Harry and I both needed. Harry is a classic, act first think later kind of person. And while it makes him daring and dramatic, full of adventure and escape. But not too good at thinking through the consequences of his action. And when you are as powerful as Harry, not thinking is a really bad thing.
The other side of this is that it gives Harry a chance to see what life would be like for his friends without him. Since Harry has had this as a fleeting thought before, but never focused on it, it is a great time for him to experience it.
Side note: I always love Molly, but she really ROCKED in this book. I may want to be her when I grow up.
Bummer Points: Umm...waiting for the next book? 'Cos, like always, I want more Dresden?
Stacie's Recommendation: Go now. Hurry. Rush. But don't get a speeding ticket.
10 October 2011
But -- after almost three years of reading, I'm done with his 20-book deep backlist.
Which brings me to the question: "Now what?"
Reading the Harry Bosch books especially (and Connelly's others) have made me realize I really like mysteries. I liked them alot as a little kid (Anyone else remember Piet Potter or Miss Mallard? Anyone?)
Of course, with so many good mystery series out there, I'm having trouble deciding what to jump into next. Having read the Bosch series (and being part way through the Jack Reacher series), I think I want to tackle a series with a female detective/cop/etc.
I can think of at least four series that sound interesting and I don't know which one to pick. Just to be clear, I've already read most of Stephanie Plum (up to at least book 12 or 13 or so) and I read a bunch of Patricia Cornwell back in high school and the A for Alibi series just feels so long that I'm not really game for diving into those.
So you, dear reader, get to help me. Poll. Over at the right.Pick your fave female sleuth (or sleuth team) from that list.
Maybe she'll be my new favorite sleuth-ess too.
07 October 2011
There are three of us - an operations manager for a manufacturing company, a brokerage / trader and me the Supply Chain consultant.
The Trader came with a three bullet point out line that was perfect to launch the conversation. The Ops Manager provided the meeting space.
Me? I took over the keyboard and launched into consultant speak.
At one point I had us laughing so hard with the sentence that went something like "The correlation of goals and alignment of processes truly expedites the process."
After a while, I cleaned up and turned down the extravagant phrasing and churned out some decent sentences. Not that those sentences would pass the muster of a crit partner like fellow Word Nerd Bethany, but they are good enough for this project.
It was good for my ego to be able to churn out a paper like this in 45 minutes or less. It's bad that writing like this passes muster for an MBA course.
It sort of felt like a "Dark and Stormy night" contest.
What's the best writing story you have for the week?
06 October 2011
In the scheme of a multi-state move with little kids in tow, new library cards are a small item compared to the other logistic hurdles they will have to overcome.
The buildings are all different. The systems clearly have different purposes or different things they focused on in collections. But, getting my library card connected me to something bigger, the community as a whole.
It's a marker of identity that "yes, I belong here" no matter how temporary some of those cards were. I had my DC card for a grand total of 14 weeks but I fondly remember the Northeast Neighborhood Branch. I checked out "Interview with a Vampire" and "Cider House Rules" from their room of paperbacks. I think that was a definitive semester as I shifted what I was reading and feeling like a "grown-up" in my choices.
04 October 2011
I also lucked out and found the complete Keys of the Kingdom Series by Garth Nix at the library.
Oh, and there's the Agatha Christie books I've been trying to read in order. Been a while since I grabbed one of those too.
And, then there's that pesky school stuff too.
Gosh, that's not even touching the To Be Read pile upstairs.
Deep breath. Focus on the next one - Ghost Story by Jim Butcher.
Who knew reading could be so stressful?
03 October 2011
Author: Daniel Suarez
Length: 402 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: The Daemon computer program has taken over most of the world -- from financial markets on down. Darknet operatives are banding together to form new kinds of societies that collaborate and try to restore the world with renewable energy, heirloom seeds and cooperation. But others are determined that the influence of the Daemon and the Darknet is malevolent and are set on hacking the ultimate computer hack to put power back in other hands.
Banter Points: The sequel to Daemon picks up almost where the first book left off, making me wonder if it was really originally one book that was way too long. Some editor -- a la George R.R. Martin-style -- whacked the thing in half and presto! Two books!
If not, Suarez really grew as a writer between one and two, managing in Freedom to actually get a little bit more into characters as well as techno-thriller plot. Instead of bouncing around between as many POVs, the story is focused more tightly on a handful and moves the plot forward through their perspectives.
Bummer Points: There's still not a very satisfying conclusion to this story. There's still a lot more of some characterization that I would have liked to see. The whole story line of Jon Ross feels wildly unfinished and the major reveals for his character were just kind of thrown in like an after thought.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're looking for a series that's high on action and high on the creepiness factor of what computer technology and the Internet could really do to our lives, Daemon and Freedom (TM) are a good read. If you're looking for a book about people responding to such upheavals, these aren't it. Or, you could just wait for the movie version that's supposed to hit theatres in 2012.
30 September 2011
Title: Up In Smoke
Author: Katie MacAlister
Length: 352 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Wisconsin Public Library Consortium
Plot Basics: May is still trying to figure out her place in the world, especially her feelings for Gabriel, the wyvern that has claimed her as mate. Her common-sense missing naiad is causing her typically amount of problems, including declaring herself as a mate.
Oh, and the evil overlord who May is bound to has been released into the world. Minus his powers, but out here nonetheless.
Banter Points: The trouble was turned up a few notches in this book. Not enough for me to believe that May was ever in true peril, but enough to make it interesting.
I like the world that is being built. The fantasy elements are woven into our world in a way that makes it believable.
Bummer Points: Cyrene annoys me to pieces and it's because of the whole lack of common sense thing. I get that she gave it up, but really? Lack of common sense doesn't automatically translate to stupid, but it seems to here.
Stacie's Recommendation: Given that I usually enjoy series, and love being able to check out books on my iPad, I'll continue with this series. It isn't a strong winner, but it sort of like your second favorite candy. Sweet, tasty and sort of satisfy that craving you have.
29 September 2011
I recently reread one of my childhood favorites and was glad to see the story still stood up.
I read it multiple times during late elementary and middle school and probably snuck some re-reads in during high school at home. But, since then, it's been years since I've picked this one up.
I was browsing a friend's bookshelf and she had a copy which I promptly asked if I could borrow and read it in a few days.
The story was familiar and new all at once. I remembered the major plot points, but not all the little details that really make this historical novel sing. It was a joy to rediscover this book and remember again why I loved it in the first place.
27 September 2011
Title: Playing with Fire
Author: Katie MacAlister
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Wisconsin Public Library Consortium
Plot Basics: For doppelganger, May Northcott cannot catch a break. Her twin sister, a naiad, gave up common sense to create May. Her boss, evil overlord, has her breaking and entering on a regular basis. Now, she has been thrown into life as a wyvern's mate, a world she knows nothing about.
Banter Points: Pretty fun read. Light-hearted, and nothing dark scary or goth. The variety of characters keeps the reader on her toes, and the story is consistently told from a single point of view (something of a danger with this many competing characters.)
Bummer Points: I like my fantasy with a little more danger, and a little less gratuitous sex. Even though May's life and well-being is threatened in the story, I never worried for her. The light and even playful tone belied the seriousness of any situation.
Still, I like dragons and stories about them. Since it's spin-off series, I'll probably continue to see how it develops.
Stacie's Recommendation: Tentative, depending on how you like your dragons.