31 January 2012

Book Banter: Fae Fever

Title: Fae Fever
Author: Karen Moning
Genre: Fantasy
Length: approx. 350
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: A friend's library

Plot Basics: Samhain is drawing near. Mac finally has figured out the motives of three of the parties involved in the search for the Book, including a sisterhood of sidhe-seers like herself. Now, she needs to figure out how to help keep the Unseelie behind the Wall that is crumbling.

Banter Points: The sakes are rising. Mac is growing up and away from the naive southern bell she started as. I really like how she even starts to stand up for herself in this one, refusing to let Barrons be her only allegiance. She develops some other plans and plots, which raises her in my esteem and into the category of kicking ass heroines.

Bummer Points: None really. Completely enjoying this series. And I cannot wait to see the MacHalo in use against the Shades.

Stacie's Recommendation: In case you haven't figured it out, start reading this one!

30 January 2012

Book Banter -- One Shot

Title: One Shot (Jack Reacher series)
Author: Lee Child
Genre: thriller
Length: 462 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: IMCPL Friends of the Library book sale
Plot Basics: In a small Indiana town, six shots ring out at the end of the work day, killing five passersby. The prime suspect -- an ex-Army sniper -- seems to have a slam-dunk case against him, all the forensic evidence the prosecutor could want pointing at him. But in his only jailhouse interview with a lawyer, he insists he's innocent and to find Jack Reacher.

Hundreds of miles away, Reacher sees the news and the suspect on TV and begins independently making his way to Indiana. When he arrives, he's convinced the evidence is too perfect, and believes that the former sniper may indeed be telling the truth. Teamed up with a young defense attorney and a Brigadier General from his past, Reacher begins pulling the threads of evidence apart and following them into corruption.

Banter Points: This Reacher book was about the only redeeming part of a recent flight home from a work trip (save for the fact that eventually, I did get home) but it's just proof as to why Reacher books are such great reading. Despite being stuck in airports, the story line was captivating enough to help pass the time and make it actually entertaining.

The Reacher series is flat-out fun, a taut combination of brains and brawn. It's great to know that Reacher will figure out who did it and then hang on through the generally violent end.

Bummer Points: I'm trying not to take it personally that Child set this murderous rampage in my state. I'm sure other readers in other places would have had the same thought if he'd set the violence there. Truth is, he kind of got Indiana right.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Great beach reads, airplane books, wherever you want pure escapist reading. And, supposedly there's a movie in the works for this book -- do yourself a favor and get to know Reacher on paper first.

26 January 2012

The end of a writing tradition

On Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper announced that it would no longer be endorsing candidates for president.

It will continue, it says to cover campaigns, and post candidate questions and the like. But as for endorsements, they say, "We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before."

I suppose that's true. Maybe an endorsement isn't going to really change anyone's mind in this deeply, divided, partisan time. But, as writing goes, the candidate endorsement is a staple, the most sought-after piece and anchoring opinion piece in a newspaper.

It is a statement by a organization that "This is what who we believe in, the course we think is right and best." Are we so worried about offending people that opinion pages aren't going to say "This is who we want?"

During my college newspaper days, we endorsed during the 2000 presidential campaign-turned-debacle. We went against the grain for the campus, endorsing the other guy because we really believed he was the better choice.

It was our stand, against a tide of sentiment on campus that leaned the other way. Did it matter to the candidate that a small, weekly, college paper endorsed him. No, not really. Did we change any voters minds? I don't know. I hope somebody read it and gave it some thought. Twelve years later, I'm still really glad I wrote it, that it was our mark of belief.

This makes me sad, as a writer, to see this bastion of journalism starting to disappear.

It's unfortunate that the editors have so little faith in their readers to find it useful and so little faith in themselves to stand for something.

24 January 2012

Book Banter: Blood Fever

Title: Blood Fever
Author: Karen Moning
Genre: Fantasy
Length: approx. 350
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: A friend's library

Plot Basics: Mac was thrust into a war between Dark and Light. The Lord Master knows she exists and has the same sidhe-seer powers as her deceased sister Alina. Now Mac wants to learn more about her bloodlines. Her life, and that of humankind, depends on it.

Banter Points: I really am getting a kick out if this series. It has a great balance between light and dark, between Seelie and Unseelie. The good guys cannot always be distinguished from the bad guys. The tensions between Mac and Jericho Z. Barrons (or at least that's his name this time) are more than the sexual tensions typically found in novels. Mac knows that there is a very real possibility that Barrons is one of the bad guys. But he is a connection to her sister's killer. Barrons views Mac as a means to finding the Fae Objects of Power, specifically the Book known as the Sinsar Dubh.

And Mac has to wonder which side she is on.

Bummer Points: The story speed picks up in this book. The writing is good. The one thing that is distracting me from the story and throwing me out of it are the out of date references. Not a big thing, but it can be jarring. And since the rest of the story is somewhat timeless, it makes me wish the editors had thought of it. The story is dependent on the setting; I cannot imagine it taking place anywhere other than Dublin. The rest of it is not dependent on a specific time.

Stacie's Recommendation: Definitely an entertaining story and while turning off the television for.

23 January 2012

Readers are weird

I spent several days last week with my new-ish co-workers during a three-day planning retreat. We had a chance to pound out fundraising strategies for the next few months, and get to know each other better.

At some point, we were discussing some past-time activity about which I was ambivalent (swimming, I think), and one co-worker turns to me and says, "What is it that you do like to do, Bethany?" (Somehow, I think they think I'm ambivalent about everything...)

"I read books." No questions about what my favorite book or author was or anything. Just quiet. I thought about adding that I read in the neighborhood of 85-100 a year, but decided in the silence that maybe I should just keep that bit of information to myself.
Cut to the next morning at breakfast.

I was in the hotel cafe, already up and having eaten and was working on writing things. I checked my email one more time before we switched gears and I saw an email from Simon and Schuster.

"Yes!" I said. "They are sending me galley copies." Blank looks around the table. "Galleys," I explained. "Review copies of books that aren't out yet."

Nope, nothing.

The meeting started then, but I was just struck anew with how weird we readers are to the rest of the world. Getting excited about books. Some that aren't even published yet.

I know one of my co-workers at least reads on airplanes -- we talked about Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer series and I promised I wouldn't give anything away. But... I guess for those that aren't so bookish, those of us proclaimed Word Nerds really are a bit obsessed.

What about you? Any times you've been struck by how odd it is to the rest of the world that you like to read?

19 January 2012

Book Banter -- Queen of Swords

Title: Queen of Swords (Wilderness series bk. 5)
Author: Sara Donati
Length: 546 pages (ebook version)
Genre: historical fiction
Plot Basics: The adventures of the the Bonner family continue, picking up right where Fire Along the Sky ended. Hannah Bonner and her half-brother, Luke Scott, are pursuit of Jennet who has been captured by pirates. In a desperate trade, Jennet has given her and Luke's new baby boy to a seemingly-prominent New Orleans family to care for, hoping it will keep the boy safe. Reunited with Luke and Hannah after a rescue attempt, the three go to New Orleans to get the boy back. But, the city is on the cusp of war and racial tensions also run high. It will take all the cunning the family and their allies posses to keep together, stay safe and hope of returning to their beloved New York Lake in the Clouds home.

Banter Points: Finishing this series is one of my reading goals for the year and I decided to get with it right away. The book, like the others in the series, is sweeping in scope, bringing life to what could otherwise be a dusty history lesson about the War of 1812. Coming back to the characters is a bit like seeing distant family, people you are glad to reconnect with once a year or so and everybody's got great stories to tell of everything that's happened in the interim.

Bummer Points: Several times in the narrative, Donati broke away from the main characters and wrote whole chapters in italics from the points of view of minor characters or people who can witness the action when the protagonists couldn't. While once might have been effective, the multiple uses of this device just felt cheap and like the author got stuck in how to move the plot forward any other way. The whole book seemed to be a lot more "showing" instead of "telling." I don't think I envy historical authors, because this has to be a hard pitfall to overcome when there's so much about the activities and actions that are foreign to modern readers.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I still like the series and fans of big history series books should pick this up. It's also nice to see the setting in a different period (not Revolutionary or Civil Wars.)

17 January 2012

Book Banter: Dark Fever

Title: Dark Fever
Author: Karen Moning
Genre: Fantasy
Length: approx. 350
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: A friend's library

Plot Basics: Fun, pretty, MacKalya has life brutally thrust upon her when her sister, Alina, is murdered while study in Dublin. Alina's final message reveals that her death is more than what the Garda believes it to be. Mac is determined to figure out what the cyrptic message means and heads to Ireland to investigate.

Banter Points: I actually picked up this title several years ago when it was first released in paperback. I thought it was weird and didn't finish it. Fast forward to 2012 (and several fantasy novels later) and I really liked it. It does require some knowledge of fantasy, even though Mac does not actually have any either. For example, one of the Fae she meets during the course of her investigation is gorgeous and the sort of Fae that a woman will die to have sex with. Literally die. In most novels with Fae, this is a normal convention and part of their story. To someone who hadn't read any Fae based novels, it seemed weird.

Amazing how knowledge changes perception.

Bummer Points: The story is a little slow and has a cliff-hanger ending. Thankfully, the series is complete and I have novel number two in my possession.

Stacie's Recommendation: Try it out. It reminds me of Laura K. Hamilton's series Merry Gentry Series.

16 January 2012

Books as Commodities, part II

I'm still thinking about the "books as commodities" argument and our attitudes to volumes of the printed word.

On Friday night, I went to my first ever "Friends of the Library" bonus sale event as a new Friend of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library system. The doors of the sale were scheduled to open at 5:30. I pulled into the parking lot about ten minutes early and there was a line snaking back from the door. In the dusk and about 20-degree temperatures.

Most of the participants carried either plastic milk crates or reusable grocery totes to carry around their finds. As the doors opened at 5:30, the line poured in, veering in to the sale room and their favorite sections.

I don't want to say chaos ensued, because it was slightly more organized that that, but only slightly. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a rush for books, not even the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Unfortunately, in this sense, the books were commodities. People wanted to find the best thing they can, at a used price, because they didn't want to pay the full retail for them. Yes, they are probably regular library users and all are donors to the library, putting financial support behind their use. But, in light of the commodities argument, they were proving it true.

I only bought three things -- A Jack Reacher novel in paperback for an upcoming trip instead of checking it out in hardback, a YA hardback that I'll likely read and pass on to my high school student mentee, and an "important" book -- The Magnificent Ambersons -- which is a feat in itself, me buying a classic. When I reached the checkout line, the volunteer almost couldn't believe it that I was only getting three things, especially since everyone around me was acting out of a scarcity model.

Maybe books are changing formats. Maybe ebooks are making the publishing landscape different. But so long as we don't pull a Farenheit 451 and start burning them, books aren't scarce.

Even when we have the opportunity to pick up copies for cheap, we need to remember why the printed words is worth valuing and not devalue them to commodities.

12 January 2012

How do you pronounce "Karamazov" ?

 Since I've said I'm going to read this book this year, I figured I should look up how to pronounce it.
There are long discussion boards about it (like this one) where Russian and non-Russian speakers weigh in.

It also makes me remember an old Square 1/Mathnet episode where they made jokes about the last name... is the Brothers KARE-a-ma-zaf or the Kare-a-MAHH-zof? (Anybody else remember this show??)

It seems like the consensus is "Ka-ra-MA-zaf" and now that means I can't delay figuring out my reading schedule for this book.

This is the Komsomolskaya metro station in Moscow. Since Dostoevsky
was exited to Siberia, an "underground" photo seemed appropriate.
Also, I've been there. This metro station. Not Siberia.

The Barnes and Noble Classic edition (for Nook) has good product reviews, so I'm likely going that route. It's far easier to do long classics as ebooks so I don't have to lug around the giant, physical tome. Some say it's not the best translation ever, but I know that I'll do better with it than 1000 pages of paper.

I started Anna Karenina last February and read two sections of it each month through May. BK is also divided into four parts, so I'm thinking the same kind of schedule unless, of course, I can't put it down.

11 January 2012

Books are not Commodities

The Digital Reader posted an interesting article about how Amazon has turned books into a commodity.

Their argument is that with the prevalence of eBooks, readers now search for better and cheaper alternatives.

I know that many of you will clamor to say that I am wrong, but I ask you to consider this: Once you have bought and read the latest release from your favorite author, do you stop buying and reading books until that author’s next release in 2 or 3 years or do you continue to buy and read books within that genre? And if you do continue to buy and read books, do you continue to be entertained by them or are you only entertained by books written by your favorite author? Finally, do you rush out to buy your favorite author’s newest release or do you wait for a less expensive edition to appear?
If you answer yes to the latter parts of each question (at least the first two questions), then books are commodities and substitutable.
Books may be commodities for some, the casual fans or sometimes-readers. But for those of us who are bibliophiles -- answering yes doesn't lead to the right conclusion.

I continue to buy and read books in my favorite authors genres because I enjoy the genre. I am entertained by the books of my favorite authors and look forward to them immensely and am happily surprised when new finds are just as entertaining, if not more so! I rush out and buy new releases, sometimes, and sometimes wait for less expensive editions. This is more about budgeting and whether I started collecting the series in hardcovers or paperbacks.

Books aren't really substitutable to me. While both Harry Potter and Harry Dresden are wizards operating in a magic world pushed up against our own, they are hardly substitutable for each other. Just because Michael Connelly and Tess Gerritsen write novels based in police procedure, Harry Bosch and Jane Rizzoli aren't the same as detectives. There's no substitute.

Does this mean that some fiction isn't just a cheap, derivative copy? No. We all know that exists and are terribly disappointed as readers when in our quest for something new, we run into something borrowed. It's the plague of a writer too to twist the conventions just enough that their new idea won't be that derivative offering.

I like the prevalence of eBooks. I appreciate that it's changing publishing and hopefully, eventually, for the better, opening the faucet of work out there.

Books have been becoming commodities ever since Gutenberg invited the printing press. We can hardly blame ebooks for making books into something that we can buy more of. And technology is only fueling the hearts of readers, not extinguishing them.

09 January 2012

Book Banter -- A Visit From the Goon Squad

Title: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Author: Jennifer Egan
Length: 275 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Plot Basics: Egan takes the reader on a journey through time in this collection of loosely-associated chapters, rife with music and the forward progression of time.
Banter Points: Reading this knocks off one of my "important" books for 2012 since it won the Pulitzer Prize.

The best part of the book, which I was expecting to be highly pretentiousness, was the section written as a PowerPoint presentation. While ostentatious, to be sure, the content was some of the most poignant in the book, as a young girl tried to use the medium to order her feelings and her world. 

Bummer Points: This book was more a collection of somewhat interwoven short stories than a real novel and as such, left the reader with no character to really care about. The plot -- while all dealing with the passage of time -- were disparate and hard to get excited about. The characters were often over-the-top and inaccessible to me as a reader, as very little in my life related to theirs.

Word Nerd Recommendation: It seems like this is one of those books that people either love or really disliked. Unfortunately, I'm in the latter category and just don't get why it won a Pulitzer. Read at your own risk.

05 January 2012

Word(s) of the Year

Every year, Word Nerd posts the words featured by dictionaries and linguists as the Word of the Year.

This year, according to Dictionary.com, the word of 2011 was "tergiversate." According to the Huffington Post article on the pick, "tergiversate" means “to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.” They picked it to sum up what happened in 2011, and it's a pretty good pick. The whole article is here

In hunting up this year-defining word, I found this great list at M-W.com of the Words of the Year, providing a little bit of context of why this word became a flash-in-the-2011 pan.

It's a little bit like a Word a Day calendar, because theses words and phrases are all good ones. Hopefully, you too will recognize many of them from 9th-grade vocabulary quiz days, and if not, learn a few.

03 January 2012

2012 Reading Goals

I really enjoyed having reading goals during 2011. I like that sense of accomplishment, of purpose and of challenge. Given that, I'm going to set reading goals for 2012 as well.

Here we go:
  • Read a total of 90 books in 2012. I got through 92 in 2011 and with my current interest in graphic novels, I think 90 is do-able, though a bit of a stretch. Mathematically, that's 7.5 books a month, or about 2 a week. Phew. Maybe this means less TV (not a bad thing in the least.) 
  • Read another book by a Russian master. Though I didn't love Anna Karenina, I got through it and now feel like more of a "real reader" because of it. I'm going to do another Russian masterpiece in the moody winter. I'm not taking votes this year. It's Brothers Karamazov. Don't try to talk me out of it. 
  • Read 4 important books. I'm upping this by one from 2011, and hoping that I don't end this year in a crunch to finish like I did last year. One of these will be Catcher in the Rye. A friend gave me a copy years ago, and I've been a terrible friend and haven't read it yet. This year, I will. 
  • Finish both Sara Donati's "Lake in the Clouds" series and Lauren Willig's "Pink Carnation" series. I'm part way through both, and it's silly to not just plow forward and finish. All told, I think this is 5 or 6 books, total. 
  • Read one book from my bookshelf or a loaner every month. This was the goal I dropped last year, so I'm trying again. 
I think these goals are pretty do-able, but a stretch. Good thing I got two more loaner books last night from a friend....

    02 January 2012

    2011 Reading Goals -- Accomplished!

    Back at the end of 2010, I set some reading goals for myself for 2011 and now that the year is over, it's time to see how I did. 

    Bethany's 2011 Reading Goals
    • Read a total of 85 books in 2011. The grand total was 92. 
    • Read one book by a Russian master. I will gladly take recommendations. Pushed my way through Anna Karenina back in the first part of the year. Done. 
    • Read the remaining 6 of Michael Connelly's back list (and the new one coming out in April) to be totally caught up with everything he's written. Done and done, with the bonus of also having read the newest, new one that came out in November. 
    • Re-read either Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. It was a decade ago that I last read them both. If I get through both, I'm awarding myself bonus points. No bonus points here, as I only made it through Lewis' Space Trilogy. That such a good series, it's a win. 
    • Read at least one book a month that comes from my bookshelf instead of the library to get caught up on things I've borrowed or purchased. I completely lost track of this goal. I know in the last few months, I've failed, so sigh... missed this one. 
    • Read at least 3 books considered to be "important" books that I've never read. Despite taking advanced or AP English through all of high school and two lit classes in college there's an alarming number of really famous books I've never read (for example,Catcher in the Rye.) I think it's high time that I tackle of a few of these classics. Just don't make me read Jane Austen unless it also involves zombies or sea monsters, OK? And the three were: "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, "Finding Alaska" by John Green and "Foundation" by Isaac Asimov. 
    And now, to create 2012's goals... tune in Thursday.