Now Sending Gifts

There’s been some really good gift ideas posted on Facebook lately.  Really good as in, thoughts about sending a gift to some fellow nerds has been in order:

I’m pretty sure that this shirt from Thug Life is perfect for Bethany:

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I have the dog, why not get him the mane:

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And one is perfect for my favorite trouble maker:

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This is the part of Christmas that I actually like, finding the perfect gift for someone that will make them ooo and aah.

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Book Banter: The Secrets of Life and Death

life and deathTitle: The Secrets of Life and Death

Author: Rebecca Alexander

Length: 385 pages

Genre: historical & urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Plot Basics: In 1585 Poland, scholar (or maybe sorceror) John Dee and his apprentice Edward Kelley are commanded by the king to save his niece from a malady that’s also gotten noticed by the Inquisition. In modern day England, Jackdaw Hammond has been staving off death for years. When she saves a teenage girl (like her), she and occult-studies professor Felix Guichard are suddenly trying to unravel the mysteries that Dee and Kelley left behind years ago.

Banter Points: Any time an author can weave a mystery across two time settings, I’m pretty impressed. This book reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” and in general, Charles deLint. It opens with a bunch of action to hook the reader. I found myself reading big chunks at a time because the chapters switch back and forth between the two time periods. I would often say, “I’ll read two more chapters because I need to know what happens with Jack (or Edward).”

Bummer Points: This book started out so well and then fell apart the longer I read. There were way too many people for a not-even 400 page book. Each time period had a full set of characters and many people were introduced just to complete some action. Because of the amount of action too, the characters that should have been having big emotional reactions to what was going on were very stoic.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Good concept but falters a little on execution. Also, I’d been on this weird string of books all dealing with death (Chris Holm’s Collector series, “As I Lay Dying” for book club, etc.) This one may have fallen at the wrong time for me.

Move over, Elves

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(via Book Week Scotland)

Gift-giving for the Socially Anxious

In the next couple of weeks, we are exchanging gifts at work.  It is probably one of the most stress-filled days of a holiday season for me.chinese-gift-exchange

At home, I’m not in charge of gift shopping.  I’m strictly on wrapping duty.  My wrapping skills are such that the box is getting covered, but there’s definitely some judicial usage of tape going on.  That being the case, you have to question my ability to select gifts for people.  Yes, it is hubby to the rescue on the gift exchange front.  He is in charge of family gift purchases for pretty much everyone.

But when it comes to work gifts, well, those are new for this group of co-workers.  In former companies, it wasn’t really something we did.  We were more of a dinner and drinks crowd.  This group does small gift exchanges.  So, I’m sweating out if they will like what I got them or not.  What do you think?

Co-worker #1 is the recipient of a pour-over coffee set-up.  He doesn’t like the brew at work, but is a coffee fan.  I figure this will let him indulge in a cup without having to worry about quality.

Co-worker #2 is the recipient of a handmade scarf with some really thick cuddly yarn.  Actually, if I’m not careful, my kids want to steal that package.  She is a coworker who is envious of my crafting abilities, so I know she’ll appreciate the thought behind the gift.

Co-worker #3 is the newest and as such is the most challenging.  He too likes coffee, so I went with the easy option of a gift card to a place that I’m reasonably certain he will like.

But until the gifts are actually opened and exchanged, I keep second guessing myself.  What if the scarf is the wrong colors?  Or too long?  (It’s really long on me and that’s how I like them but I’ve never seen her wearing a scarf.   Maybe she hates them?!)  What if pour-over coffee doesn’t work that well?  (I’ve never tried it!?)  And what if the gift card is to some place that he hates?! (I’ve had this happen to me.  Awful to get rid of.)

I’m fretting and I know it.  This is the real reason I don’t buy the gifts.  If I don’t have to agonize over the purchases, I’m more likely to enjoy it when the recipient opens the gift.

What happens at your office?  What do you wish that they would do instead?

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Find your inner Hemingway

Hats off to the Hemingway App.

I ran across this gem over at Paperback Writer and it’s too good not to share.

This writing analyzer is far better than the spelling/grammar/readability checker built into Microsoft Word. Hemingway App shows you where the problems are and adjusts your score as you edit. Hemingway breaks your sentences down into “hard to read” and “very hard to read.” It tracks adverbs and adjectives. It shows you passive voice.

It also gives you a meter to show the grade level reading level for the passage.

This kind of works and kind of doesn’t. I found a chunk of Hemingway (himself) and pasted it into Hemingway App. Two of Hemingway’s own sentences are “very hard to read” and require “reading at a post-college level.”

A tough sentence here and there is OK. The great part of Hemingway is showing your when you’ve got three or four tough sentences strung together.

The place this app has been the most helpful to me is in the day job. In my fundraising role, I write our direct mail appeal letters. Direct mail fundraising is its own particular challenge, to use a page or two to write a compelling letter to a wide audience of potential donors that will inspire them to go find their checkbook or credit card to make a donation.

Since fundraising writing gets a bit myopic, Hemingway shows me where my writing gets convoluted because I know the topic too well.

This blog post? Eighth-grade reading level with one very hard to read sentence. I’ll take it.

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Some New Slang, just in time for the Holidays

New word lists and best of word lists are going to start popping up everywhere.  To beat the rush, I’m download (1)in favor of this list: The 11 Best New Words Added to Oxford Dictionaries

Honestly, any list that starts with a word that is perfect for how I eat lunch is a list I need to pay attention to:

AL DESKO:  A play on al fresco, which means “dining outside,” this word is perfect for the way we live now, wolfing down food at our desks while messing around on the computer.

I do this at home, at work, at breakfast, pretty much anywhere.  And good grief if you try to get my attention and I’m eyeballs deep in something.  I recommend you wait until I come up for some air.  In a few hours.

Most of the words on the list are slang from other countries.  Some sound like my kids might already be saying it:

MAHOOSIVE:  Even bigger than massive. And it sounds that way doesn’t it? The new ginormous.

According to Global Language Monitor, Top Word for 2014 according to the 15th Annual survey of the English language is the ideograph for Heart (and Love), aka <3.  That, by the way, is the first time I have ever in my life typed that phrase.

The most ridiculous word of 2014 goes to “Active Nutrition” explained at The Take Away by John Hockenberry as “…“sports nutrition” for people who don’t exercise. This seems to involve selling sport-themed snack bars, chews, gels, and “ready to drink” beverages to the folks who order Diet Coke (0 calories) with their Big Mac and fries (760 calories). In other words: Genius.”  It definitely is a marketable product for my kids.

I invite you to put a stake in the ground and leave your best, worst, or most ridiculous word in the comments.  We will adopt it and see if we can make it on the a “best of” list for 2015!

 

 

Book Banter: The Wrong Goodbye

wrong goodbyeTitle: The Wrong Goodbye (The Collector Book Two)

Author: Chris F. Holm

Genre: urban fantasy

Length: 383 pages

Plot Basics: Collector of souls Sam Thornton is assigned to collect a particularly bad South American’s soul. But when he goes for it, another Collector scoops it up first. As the tensions between Heaven and Hell are at historic levels, Sam’s got to race against time to get the soul back or he will pay.

Banter Points: Holm again hits a unique tone with this book, blending pulp detective novels with urban fantasy and a dash of Quantum Leap added in. I really liked how Sam had to find new allies for this book and the way that different characters reacted to his job, believing him and not.

This book also one that had consequences. The events of Sam’s past and the things he did in the first book in the trilogy mattered to what was happening here. Raising the stakes and figuring out the “what does this mean later” for a character is a big thing I look for in series storytelling. It’s kind of like Chekhov’s gun on the mantle. If the writer does enough things to a character, they have to respond to that pressure

Bummer Points: This has nothing to do with Chris’ writing… but it took me more than a week to get through this book because of holidays and a crazy work schedule on either side of Thanksgiving. I prefer to read more like watching a movie, in longer swaths, but I was forced by time and circumstances to read this one more like an episodic TV series where each time, I had to remind myself what happened the week before. I don’t understand people who take months to finish a book or read one till nearly the end and then put it down for a long period. HOW do they remember the story? (Maybe at 100 books a year, my head is already too full of stories, plus random facts, plus the plot of my own WIP and the other ideas carroming around in there. This is why Sherlock doesn’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun, people.)

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like UF or mysteries and are willing to deal with a bit of the supernatural, these are fun reads. Holm and the Collector trilogy are definitely in the running for Word Nerd awards from me this year.

Who’s Yours?

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My book boyfriend is Harry Dresden.  Or Jamie Fraser.  Who is yours?

Book Banter: Orange is the New Black

Title: Orange is the New Black6314763
Author: Piper Kerman
Genre: Memoir
Length: 298 pages
Where Stacie’s Copy Came From:  Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics: Piper Kerman is an unlikely criminal. She’s a Smith College graduate. She has a well to do boyfriend. A promising career. And one small mistake that occurred about ten years ago: she delivered a suitcase of drug money.

Banter Points: The title originally caught my eye because it is a Netflix original series. I figured I was getting the fictional book that the story was based on. I had no idea that this was a memoir. By the time I connected the dots, I was intrigued. I did have to wonder if Kerman suffered from a similar issue as James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces. Kerman’s time in prison didn’t completely seem like the hardship that prison should be, even considering that she was far removed from the life that she had been living when she committed the crime.

She never denies it in the book. She owns up to it, and analyzes the reason why she did it. Probably one of the more intriguing concepts is that prison showed her the side of society that impacted by drugs and what it does to them. She learned because of that interaction, but felt that the cost to the state was too high. The housing costs for a prisoner are a modest annual salary for most Americans. Kerman never really comes out and says that the prison system needs some serious evaluation, but she points out the illogical situations and lack of reason when she sees it.

I also found it curious that Netflix has the series labelled as a comedy. It almost makes me wonder what the heck happened in the translation. While the book wasn’t doom and gloom, nor did it have a serious serving of scary, it wasn’t laugh out loud funny either.

Bummer Points: Kerman probably could have been stronger in speaking out against some of the prison systems issues and deliberately choose not to. While I can appreciate that from a legal stand point (after all, prisons have lawyers too, and not just for persecuting criminals), it really weakened some of the effect I believe she was trying to bring out in the memoir. The central theme, I felt, came across as “Prison isn’t as bad as you think.” I really hope that wasn’t the intended message.

Stacie’s Recommendation: This probably was a bad book selection for me. I’m not a huge fan of memoirs, and was heavily affected in my thinking by the revelations around Frey’s “memoir” when it was first published. I’m not unhappy with the time I spent reading the book, but I would have skipped it if I had known it was a memoir too. End result: Mixed reaction. It was a solid middle of the road for me.

Coming to a shelf near you

empty book shelfI’m always keeping an eye out for what’s coming out from authors I love.

Here’s what I’ll be watching for in early 2015 (or hoping for…)

1. Lyndsay Faye says her next Timothy Wilde novel releases in May.

2. Jim Butcher has apparently finished his first steam punk novel, “The Aeronaut’s Windlass.” No release date yet, but he’s a book-a-year guy normally, so this gives me high hopes for a 2015 release. And then he can get back to Dresden.

3. Sean Chercover has a sequel to his “Trinity Game” novel coming in summer 2015. (It releases on my birthday… cough, hint, cough).

4. Likewise, if the past two years are any indication, Marcus Sakey will have the third book of Brilliance trilogy out, which means I can go back to the beginning and read them all in order, without a year in between each.

5. Seth Grahame-Smith is doing a sequel to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” called “The Last American Vampire.” I loved ALVH, and can’t wait to see what he does in this next one. For those of you who watched the movie, it’s the typical Hollywood botch-up of an otherwise great book. Do yourself a favor and read it.

6. Former NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly burst on to the thriller scene with her “Anonymous Sources” and seems to have a second novel coming in spring 2015.

What books are you looking forward to from your favorite authors in 2015?

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