28 December 2011

Best of 2011 -- Top Ten Books

And the moment we've all been waiting for -- the Top Ten Books of Year as picked by the Word Nerd duo.

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:

Bethany's list:
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

Book Banter -- The Drop

Title: The Drop (Harry Bosch #17)
Author: Michael Connelly
Length: 388 pages
Genre: mystery
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

Merry Christmas

From the Word Nerds to you and your families and loved ones.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

22 December 2011

Book Banter -- Circle of Enemies

Title: Circle of Enemies (Twenty Palaces bk. 3)
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

Best of 2011 -- First Book in a Series

It's our second award week and this week, we're turning our attention to series that captured our attention.

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:

Stacie's Pick:
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.

Bethany's Pick:
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

That's a Wrap!

The final papers for school have been handed in. The grading remains for a single class; I'm pretty comfortable I'll get the B or above that I'm shooting for.

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

Rules of Magic

Ever feel overwhelmed when looking at a multi-book fantasy series, thinking, Great, now I've got to learn how this whole magic world works?

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

A follow-up

So, after I posted the last Amazon post, my hubby found this story:

As Kindle Fire Faces Critics, Remedies Are Promised

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.

Personally, I think the genius behind the Kindle Product line is not the device itself, but the ecosystem that it builds.

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

The back-to-school funk

I'm in the go-back-to-school funk once again.

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

Best of 2011 -- Discovered Author

It's time once again to kick off the 2011 Word Nerd Award Season!

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.

Bethany's Pick:
Harry Connolly!
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.

Stacie's Pick:
Agatha Christie!
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

More eReader News

With the release of Amazon's latest Kindle -- Fire -- I've noticed something cool for Amazon Prime members. With an annual subscription, not only do you get free shipping, you also get free movies and books for your Kindle. (gosh, that sounds like an info-mercial, doesn't it?)

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

Needing a "Important" Title

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

Paper Overload

In the last two weeks, I've written and edited two papers for school. Total page count was well over 50 pages.

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

Book Banter -- Zone One

Title: Zone One
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

Book Banter -- The Surgeon

Title: The Surgeon (Rizzoli & Isles no. 1)
Author: Tess Gerritsen
Length: 400 pages
Genre: thriller
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


Hey Word Nerd fans, Bethany here.

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.

Reading Logs

My youngest son is in third grade. His at home reading goals are to read 600 minutes every month. The amount per day, the type of book, etc. are up to him (with a few hints from Mom.)

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!