Word Up, Nerd Up

a few words about words

review: Summer People by Brian Groh

Written By: Word Nerd - Jul• 10•12

Summer People: A Novel

Brian Groh

Harper Perennial/fiction

Release Date: August 28, 2007

Nathan Empson has just accepted the most unusual summer job of his life. In exchange for serving as a “caretaker” for Ellen Broderick, the eccentric matriarch of an exclusive coastal community, he’ll earn a generous paycheck and gain access to one of the last bastions of old New England wealth. But not everyone in town is welcoming—or even civil. And while he discovers companionship with a philosophical, ex-punk Episcopalian pastor, and more than companionship with the alluring nanny to the pastor’s children, Nathan finds it increasingly difficult to ignore his employer’s unnerving behavior. With each escalating mishap, a new aspect of Ellen’s colorful past comes to light, exposing the secret lives of her old friends, flames, and enemies, as well as the story behind a scandalous incident Nathan must prevent her from repeating. Yet to sound the alarm about her condition would mean leaving his beachside oasis and the romance that may well change him forever.

The first hurdle in this book is believing that a wealthy family would hire, at the last minute, a 20-something loser son of their financial advisor to care for their mentally declining matriarch.  I suppose it is possible (Groh claims the book stems from a real life experience), but it felt like a tremendous reach.

Groh may be a delightful storyteller, but he doesn’t really tell a story in Summer People.  He relates a series of events that revolve around a group of thoroughly unlikable people.  The main character is a selfish, juvenile, self-deluded drunk and he is one of the few that you almost care about. 

The story never really builds and it certainly does not resolve.  The summer ends and the story is over. 

My verdict:  Skip it.  There are so many fantastic books to read, why waste your time on this flat take on the “coming of age” story?

review: Nevermore by William Hjortsberg

Written By: Word Nerd - Jul• 05•12

Nevermore: A Novel

William Hjortsberg

Open Road/fiction

Release Date:  January 1996, re-released March 2012

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini team up to search for a literary-minded killer. It is 1923 and a beautiful young woman has just been found outside a tenement, bones crushed, head ripped from her shoulders. A few stories above, her squalid apartment has been ransacked, and twenty-dollar gold pieces litter the floor. The window frame is smashed. She seems to have been hurled from the building by a beast of impossible strength, and the only witness claims to have seen a long-armed ape fleeing the scene. The police are baffled, but one reporter recognizes the author of the bloody crime: the long-dead Edgar Allan Poe. 

A psychopath is haunting New York City, imitating the murders that made Poe’s stories so famous. To Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the killing spree is of purely academic interest. But when Poe’s ghost appears in Doyle’s hotel room, the writer and the magician begin to suspect that the murders may hold a clue to understanding death itself.
When this book crossed my desk, I felt like I had been handed a gift from the literary gods.  I love mysteries and historical fiction, especially America in the 1920’s.  Throw in Houdini, Arthur Conan Doyle and Egar Allan Poe and it can’t be anything but good.
Or, so one would think.
The story was convoluted and overwrought.  Hjortsberg honed in on minute details of the era, but left gaping holes in the story.  He created a layer to the story that was completely unnecessary and vulgar.  I do believe that when using the names and personas of real people in fiction, an author has a responsibility to be true to that person and Hjortsberg failed miserably in that respect.
My verdict:  Skip it.  It isn’t worth your time.


Art + Science = The Gene Ring

Written By: Word Nerd - Jul• 02•12

This post brought to you by ConnectMyDNA.com. All opinions are 100% mine.

You are probably familiar with the theory of “Six Degrees of Separation”, which purports that no one is more than six acquaintances away from anyone else in the world.  For example, this is how I get to Khloe Kardashian:

I am mother to Word Nerd Teen (1), who dances under Ben Stevenson (2), who taught ballet to Jane Seymour (3), who was on DWTS with Mark Cuban (4), who hired and fired Lamar Odom (5), who is married to Khloe Kardashian (6). 

The Gene Ring is almost a visual representation of “Six Degrees of Separation”.  It demonstrates where you genetic make-up overlaps with communities around the world.  It doesn’t tell you where you have come from, but connects you to the world today.


Unlike other DNA tests, the Gene Ring does not contain any sensitive or identifying information.  It is simply an artistic rendering of how your genetic profile matches up with populations around the world.

I cannot wait to see my Gene Ring.  I really have no idea where in the world I will fall.  My ancestry is English, but the current population of England is very diverse and not likely to match.  Who knows? I could match up with some place totally unexpected, like Brazil!

ConnectmyDNA has a very special offer for Word Up, Nerd Up readers who would like their own Gene Ring.  For only $29 (a savings of $60), you can see where in the world you belong.  Simply use the code IZEA290512 to take advantage of this fabulous deal.

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review: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Written By: Word Nerd - Jun• 28•12

The Dressmaker: A Novel

Kate Alcott

Doubleday/historical fiction, Titanica

Release Date:  February 21, 2012

Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy. Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she’s had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic’s doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes. Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky. On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period’s glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.

Recommended by a friend, I downloaded this book from my local library.  It was my first time to borrow an e-book from the library and now I am hooked!  Why did I think it was going to be a hassle? I know why- because I use a Kobo, which can be grouchy.  Thankfully, Word Nerd Teen is otherwise occupied this summer (dance intensive), so I am using her fabulous Nook Tablet and in addition to downloading free books from the library, I am now reading free books in Barnes & Noble stores.  Considering most of my summer is going to be spent waiting on her, this is a great development!  Enough about that– on to the book…

I wasn’t sure I could handle another Titanic story.  I have read a lot of them, fiction and non-fiction, and they tend to either be marginally about the disaster or something that keeps me in tears.  I cannot forget that it was a real event, with real people and the tears just flow. (Let’s not even discuss the movies….)  The Dressmaker fell into the latter category, as there were scenes that were almost impossible for me to read. I don’t feel that Alcott was trying to dramatize and wring out false emotion, she just did a very effective job of describing what passengers must have been feeling.

At times the story became so fantastic, it became off-putting.  I can suspend reality with the best of them, but don’t expound on the gritty reality in one sentence and then present me with a totally unrealistic episode in the next.  I don’t want to spoil the story, but for those that have already read it– Jack.  You know what I’m talking about.  Cinderella anyone?

Despite the occasional jaunt into fairytale land, this book is well written with strong characters.  You do care what happens to them- even the ones you do not like. The depiction of mental illness and the way it is skirted around in polite society is particularly wrenching.

I did have one major disappointment.  In numerous places Tess and Lucile were referred to as Jess and Jucile.  Is copyediting even a thing anymore?  Jucile?  I supsect that it was probably a font issue in the e-book and something not found in the printed copy.  Regardless, I think it is totally unacceptable for a major publisher to issue a book in any form with such an obvious error.

My verdict:  Read it.  I believe this is one of the best Titanic fiction books I have read, most likely because of the great use of real people and documented facts surrounding the tragedy.

review: So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger

Written By: Word Nerd - Jun• 26•12

So Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel

Leif Enger

Grove Atlantic/literary fiction

Release Date:  December 31, 2007

In 1915 Minnesota, novelist Monte Becket has lost his sense of purpose. His only success long behind him, Monte lives simply with his wife and son. But when he befriends outlaw Glendon Hale, a new world of opportunity and experience presents itself. Glendon has spent years in obscurity, but the guilt he harbors for abandoning his wife, Blue, over two decades ago, has lured him from hiding. As the modern age marches swiftly forward, Glendon aims to travel back to his past–heading to California to seek Blue’s forgiveness. Beguiled and inspired, Monte soon finds himself leaving behind his own family to embark for the unruly West with his fugitive guide. As they desperately flee from the relentless Charles Siringo, an ex-Pinkerton who’s been hunting Glendon for years, Monte falls ever further from his family and the law, to be tempered by a fiery adventure from which he may never get home.

My heart skipped a beat when I spied this book on the library shelf.  Enger’s novel  Peace Like a River sang to me in a way that few books do and I was afraid that a disappointing follow-up might somehow tarnish it.  I walked around with it for a bit and consulted with our fantastic Adult Services Librarian, Meg, who shared that she didn’t think it was as good, but encouraged me to read it nonetheless.

I was immediately drawn to the character of Monte Becket, who struggles with the thought that his successful debut novel might have just been a fluke.  He details his awkward path to completing a second manuscript, made all the more difficult by the fact that those around him are so certain he cannot and will not fail.  The detailed descriptions of the heartache that comes along with failing yourself were filled with such morose and defeat, I was beginning to wonder if this novel began as merely a way to excise the demons around Enger’s own writing life.

Once again, Enger features a precocious child as the sensible and mature voice in a story full of adults.  Young Redstart Becket is not quite as dramatic as Swede Land, which I’m sure will make him a bit more likable in the eyes of many.

Enger’s storytelling is delicious and lush.  Every scene, no matter how unbelievable, is lit with details that make the story jump from the page.  I feel as though he could describe a walk to the refrigerator in a way that would have you holding your breath to hear what comes next.

My verdict:  Read it.  Although I have to agree that it is not as good as Peace Like a River, this is still a book that deserves your time.  It is a somewhat bittersweet, yet comforting, tale and perfect for a day that you want to forget the modern world in which we exist.