30 September 2011

Book Banter: Up In Smoke

Title: Up In Smoke
Author: Katie MacAlister
Genre: Fantasy
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

Rereading a favorite

Re-reading is sometimes the curse of being a voracious reader -- what if the book isn't as good the second time through?

I recently reread one of my childhood favorites and was glad to see the story still stood up.

I made my way through Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain for the umpteenth time, which is kind of funny given my initial reluctance to read it when I was 9 or 10. My dad suggested it and I looked at it and thought, "It's a boy book" which at 9 or 10 was really important. In 5th grade English with Mrs. March, Johnny Tremain was required reading and it turns out, I loved it.

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

Book Banter: Playing with Fire

Title: Playing with Fire
Author: Katie MacAlister
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 352
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.

26 September 2011

Book Banter -- The Reversal

Title: The Reversal
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: legal/mystery
Length: 398 pages
Plot Basics: When new DNA evidence looks like it could reverse the charges against a man convicted nearly a quarter-century ago of kidnapping and murdering a young girl, defense attorney Mickey Haller agrees to cross the aisle and serve as a special prosecutor to put him away again. Haller teams up with his ex-wife and prosecutor Maggie McPherson and taps LAPD Detective Harry Bosch to help as the team's investigator to dig up new evidence and refind witnesses in this old case. But as the evidence points away from the alleged killer, his behavior makes the team suspicious that he might be preparing for even worse crimes.

Banter Points: I'm always a little leary of authors doing mash-ups when they bring characters from two series together, but Connelly has done it in the past and does it well again in The Reversal. It was always clear who was the main character of each chapter, going back and forth from first person with Mickey to third person with Bosch.

The book was a legal drama, so the timeline was fairly predictabe with courtroom proceedings, but the book moved along as the investigation took unexpected turns.

Bummer Points: I didn't know Connelly wrote cliffhangers. I'm not a happy reader with where they book left off and how I have to wait another two months for his new one, The Drop, to come out that sounds like maybe will finish off this plot.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you haven't ever been introduced to Bosch or Haller before, this is not the book to start with. Go back and read at least The Lincoln Lawyer and Nine Dragons to get a little bit of who these guys are. If you're already into the series, what are you waiting for?

23 September 2011

Book Banter: The Ghosts of New York

Title: The Ghosts of New York
Author: Jennifer Pelland
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 24 minutes
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Podcastle Episdode 153
Plot Basics: Everyone knows about the survivors, victims and rescuers involved in the fall of the Towers on 9/11/2001, but what about the ghosts?

Banter Points: This was a great perspective of life and death, in the context of 9/11. The event is recent, only 10 years ago, and there are many emotions around the event: fear, anger, pride, sorrow and joy. Processing the event will take more than ten years. Stories like this will help.

But the title isn't "Ghost of the Towers" or something of that sort. Instead, New York is the subject. And in this story there are ghosts everywhere. And our ghost, the one who leads us through the story, finds her place and realizes what her role may be.

Bummer Points: Not any really. It was a tough subject, and well handled.

Stacie's Recommendation: Read as part of the Dark Faith anthology or listen to it at Podcastle.

22 September 2011

First Impressions

Today is a little story about why being a good writer matters.

Bunches of people are looking for jobs in today's economy and in my job hunt, I had an amazing number of interviews. Not to sound haughty, I know I'm a good employee, but the thing that started to open doors was my first impression -- my cover letter.

For a job I thought was kind of a long-shot, the interviewer told me I got an interview because of my cover letter. It was creative and it was free of typos. In fact, he brought me in before the application period was closed, solely because of my letter. I ended up moving forward with a different organization, but I'm sure that I have a great new professional contact because of it.

My new boss mentioned that he received lots of letters for the positions that had typos and mistakes in them. I've heard the same thing from grant makers, that they get multiple proposals with mistakes in them. When they find one free of mistakes, it gets extra notice. Maybe you aren't the most qualified candidate or applicant, but a letter free of mistakes shows something that all the credentials in the world can't demonstrate -- you care about quality and spend the time to get it right.

For some people, like my mom, good grammar is as natural as breathing. I recognize I'm lucky that I inherited some of that from her, but I also know I have my problem words and constructions. When I was writing cover letters, I asked her to proof several of my letters just to make sure I was sending in a perfectly polished letter.

The statistics exist, but I've heard that in print, you get something like six seconds to make a good first impression. Don't harpoon your chances with a bad letter. Find that grammarian grandma or English major former roommate and ask for help. Offer a trade for their time -- while granny proof reads, clean something for her.

Don't let a typo stand in your way.

20 September 2011

Book Banter: Marathon Woman

Marathon Woman: Running the race to Revolutionize Women's Sports
Author: Kathrine Switzer
Genre: Non-fiction
Length: 418 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics: Women's liberation came from many fronts, working aside one another. This is the story of how women transformed from fragile creatures into strong, bold runners.
Banter Points: I picked up this book because my interest in running is becoming an obsession. I want to know the names of those who got us here today. Who are the record holders and why. I crave becoming part of the running community.

I found a story about women's liberation and how something that I take for granted today really was a battle. Kathine Switzer's story is inspiring. As a child she was never told by family that she shouldn't run. In fact, her father told her to run in order to be better at a sport acceptable for girls to play.

As I read, the running became the method or the mode of translating the story of how a woman can become strong. How that strength translates to freedom. And what both of those things mean to women.

Bummer Points: The last portion of the book, where Switzer relays the journey of bringing the marathon to the Olympics felt rushed. While the Olympics was the ultimate destination, it was part of the denouement. The climax occurred at the Boston Marathon.

Stacie's Recommendation: Kathrine Switzer has become one of my heroes. I cannot praise her enough. What are you still doing here? Go and see if your library as a copy or if you can find a used version.

19 September 2011

The (Netflix) Apology that Wasn't

If I'm not reading as a way to decompress after work, I'm watching a DVD, most often from Netflix. (Sorry, library, yours are often too scratched up!)

A few months back, you may recall that Netflix hiked their prices for their combination DVDs-in-the-mail and unlimited streaming plan. This was exactly what I used, liking that I could get a DVD in the mail and then stream something else on my iPad while I was waiting for the next disc in the mail. So, grumbling, I accepted the price hike.

Then, this morning, while listening to NPR over breakfast, I heard them reference a story about how the Netflix CEO sent an apology email to subscribers. I checked my email and yep, there it was. If you missed the story or the email, here's a good recap.

Except, I don't really feel any regret. I'm more frustrated now as a customer than I was. Why?

Because now, not only is what I use costing more money, it's going to be less convenient as Netflix is moving its by-mail DVDs to a new company called Qwikster. So, now, instead of being able to manage my streaming queue and my DVD queue in the same place, I'll have to go to two sites. My time is limited. Maybe it'll only take an extra minute to handle the other site, but it's the principal -- they've just made it take an extra step for me as a customer.

Did Netflix need to do something to handle the bad PR and loss of customers the price hike generated? Yes, absolutely.

But this apology wasn't it. I'm not feeling forgiving, just more frustrated

16 September 2011


Have you been paying attention to the #fridayreads Twitter trend?

Some months back, the #fridayreads hashtag became quite well-used it it's great every Friday to see what people are reading.

There's lot of tweets out there about books, about authors, etc. I like the #fridayreads trend because it tends to go beyond that sphere of people who are regularly posting about the industry. #fridayreads is about regular people sharing about the books they love. Or maybe don't love. The point it, we're sharing about reading.

Some brilliant book bloggers (The Book Lady's Blog) captured @fridayreads and use it to award some free book prizes every week as well. Word Nerd was an early winner, scoring a copy of Kristina Riggle's "The Things We Didn't Say." It's on the TBR pile and Word Nerd finally getting through her stack of library books, so it should be in the reading now category soon.

Come join the trend on fridays. Who knows, you might be a winner too.

15 September 2011

The New Gig and Guarding Time

A week ago, I started my new gig as the Development Manager for the TKE Educational Foundation and what a week it's been.

The new gig's got tons of writing coming up that are a nice combination between my journalism past and my more current fundraising writing experience (one of the reasons I wanted this job...). For example, if all goes according to plan, I'll be on the phone with a 2-star General and former Teke for a testimonial piece. Getting to interview and interact with that kind of people of prestige is a huge draw to this job. Telling their stories is thing that will keep me getting out of bed in the comings months, and hopefully, years, for this job.

The new job's also got a longer commute to work. Not as a long as Stacie's daily drive, but long enough for someone used to about 8 minutes to get to work (and that because of two school zones.) Since I've started the job, I've finished reading one book and gotten about 60 pages into a second because I don't have as much reading time. Of course, one audiobook is almost done and I'm already thinking about what I'll listen to next. That reading time is because very precious.

The real place where I'm trying to guard time is the novel writing. With longer work days, it's tempting to sleep in and not keep the alarm set for the early morning writing time. Or, it's tempting to use that morning time to catch up on chores (like how I'm remembering there's a load of clothes in the dryer....)

But, I'm here, in the den, at the computer to write. The novel and the blog posts are the morning fair that have to get done in this time. Especially with all the writing at work, the morning time just sets the tenor for the day. A good 700 words or more in the morning propels all the writing for the day. A lousy morning of 50 words is OK too, because it means work can be the place where I write the thing I'm most proud of that day.

I've been asked about NaNo for this year and again, it's a no for me. My writing time is too precious right now to squander on 50K words that may not go anywhere.

And I've got to save some brain space for work writing.

13 September 2011

Keeping Track

I love reading series, but it is tough to keep up with the new books and when they are coming out, especially if you are tracking a dozen or more series and favorites authors.

This website just might be the solution for me (and you, if you are in the same situation): Any New Books?

According to the blurb, the site will help you "...Discover new books every week. Receive FREE weekly notifications about new books covering the subjects you love"

It seems to be more genre based than series or specific author based.

Anyone out there trying it? What do you think?

12 September 2011

Book Banter -- Daemon

Title: Daemon
Author: Daniel Suarez
Length: 429 pages
Genre: Techno-thriller
Plot Basics: Legendary computer game designer Matthew Sobol's death rocks the technology world with the loss of such a brilliant mind. But Sobol's death triggers a number of daemon events -- auto-programs scattered around the Internet and housed in the back doors of Sobol's wildly popular MMORPG. The Daemon programs grow in ferocity, killing federal agents at Sobol's former house and begins recruiting others to work for it. Police, technology experts and national security experts find themselves battling an unseen, digital enemy that has the power to bring down economies, government and individual lives and seems unstoppable.

Banter Points: There is no shortage of creepiness about the idea that somebody could be (and probably is) building daemon programs like this that could take over the Internet and life as we know it. Suarez keeps the plot moving along, and does a phenomenal job of raising the stakes with every action and counter-action for the Daemon. The conflict of man vs. machine is great, almost a modern Frankenstein of a our creations run amok.

Bummer Points: Two big ones: first, the book ends is a strange place. I've heard from reliable sources (hi, Dad!) that in book two, everything gets wrapped up. This is good, because most of everything is unresolved in book one. Second, the plot of the book is great, but the characters are 2D and wooden. Suarez throws new characters in 3/4ths of the way through the book, and the characters who I sort of cared about disappear for pages on end. If there had been a little more about a character to make them more realistic, more thoughts instead of just action, it would have made a great book even better.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I'm definitely going on to the sequel. If you want a good scare about the Internet and how our level of connectivity could really put us all in danger, Daemon is a great read.

08 September 2011

Book Banter -- Blood Calling (ARC)

Title: Blood Calling (ARC)
Author: Joshua Grover-David Patterson
Length: 325 pages
Genre: YA
Plot Basics: Poised on the cusp of adulthood, high school senior Lucy Leary isn't taken seriously as a kid or a grown-up. Neglected by her family, and desperate for attention, she goes to a party where she makes a serious mistake. The consequences -- hours of community service at a local homeless shelter -- brings her in contact with an underworld full of vampires that she couldn't imagine. And as she navigates her own family's connection to vampire hunting, Lucy finds out that adulthood -- and childhood -- aren't quite so easily distinguishable and that family always matters.

Banter Points: Patterson has done it again, taking a popular genre -- this time vampires -- and turned it on its head to tell a new kind of story. Like with his debut novel, "Mercy," the vampires are the backdrop to the story, but not what its really about. Patterson is pitch-perfect emotionally, giving Lucy the voice of maturity and insecurity that anyone who's ever been a teenager can relate to. The fears about growing up and living and dying and finding one's place in the world cleans off the showiness and sparkles that have been the trademark of YA vampire fiction and gives it characters of grit and substance.

Bummer Points: I think Patterson's setting this up for a sequel, or at least that's how the end felt to me. I would gladly read more about Lucy and was bummed there wasn't any more.

The other bummer is that there was a character named Wash. While not at all like the Wash from Firefly, my geekiness got in the way and I kept thinking of Alan Tudyk while reading and having to remind myself it's not that Wash.

Word Nerd Recommendation: When this hits the e-book stores, you want to read it.

05 September 2011

Book Banter -- Where Demons Fear to Tread (ARC)

Title: Where Demons Fear to Tread
Author: Stephanie Chong
Length: 348 pages
Genre: Paranormal romance
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: ARC from Planned Television Arts
Plot Basics: Newly minted angel Serena St. Clair is assigned to be the guardian for Hollywood's latest drinking-drug using-girl chasing star. When she follows her "client" to Devil's Paradise, an elite club run by archdemon Julian Ascher, she's never expecting the demon to tempt her so thoroughly. Fearful that following her desire will cause her to fall, Serena tries to stay away from Julian. But to protect her guardianee, Serena makes a deal to accompany Julian to Las Vegas to oversee the opening of his newest club, putting them both in the sights of two other demons who want to send Julian back to hell. Permanently.

Banter Points: OK, so I don't normally admit to reading this kind of book, but this is an free ARC requiring a review situation. *cough*

I finished the book in two days during my vacation reading marathon. And it was a good brain candy book for this period of time. The conflict between Julian and Serena was fairly classic (think Buffy and Angel or Anita and Jean-Claude here) and well-played.

Bummer Points: So I know angels are one of the latest things in paranormal fiction (right with mermaids, right?) but I can pretty safely say that this may be the first and last angel romance I read. Don't ask me why I've got no problem with vampire fiction, or fiction involving demons and heck, Lucifer like the Dante Valentine series, but with this, I had serious theological problems with this book. The writing was fine, the plot was fine, the characters for this kind of book were pretty well developed. But... I have serious issues with Serena (an angel) saying that all world religions are the same.

Word Nerd Recommendations: If you're an indiscriminate reader of paranormal romance fiction, then I think you'll like this one. If you understand why I had issues with it, then skip it because you'll have the same issues.

02 September 2011

History of Labor Day

Do you know what Labor Day was established to celebrate?

Me either. Google to the rescue!

According to the US DOL, "Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

Like many Monday holidays, Labor Day has become a three day weekend for office workers, and an extra weekend day for those making tips. Maybe I'm a little cynical as I write this, but it doesn't really seem like the best way to celebrate workers.

So let's throw the system out. If you were constructing a day to celebrate the labor movement and the success of the American worker, what would you propose? Leave it in the comments. If we get five or more comments, I have two mystery books to send to a pair of lucky winners.

Pretty good odds, folks.

01 September 2011

The Bandwagon

It's 6:43 p.m. and I think I just woke up to the fact that it's Thursday and so I should have posted a blog hours ago.

I've got scads of time where I could have blogged. I'm on a two week hiatus from working as I transition between positions. But, without the daily schedule of work, I've got nothing to keep me on track with what day it is. It's been like 11 Saturdays in a row so far.

But -- I am reading a ton. My goal (save for a few days when I went home to see the family) is to finish a book every other day. I've been on track so far, and think I can keep it up for a few more days.

At least, if I don't totally lose track of time.