January 30, 2008

Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Science Fiction
Copyright 1959
Finished on 1/14/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Sci-Fi Experience 2008 #2

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
~ Albert Einstein

The lights went out in the room, the radio died, and at the same time the world outside was illuminated, as at midday. At that instant Randy faced the window and he would always retain, like a color photograph printed on his brain, what he saw -- a red fox frozen against the Admiral's green lawn. It was the first fox he had seen in years.

The white flashed back into a red ball in the southeast. They all knew what it was. It was Orlando, or McCoy Base or both. It was the power supply for Timucuan County.

Thus the lights went out, and in that moment civilization in Fort Repose retreated a hundred years.

So ended The Day.

I don't usually read a lot of science fiction, but if pressed I'd have to say that post-apocalyptic stories constitute my favorite SF subgenre. While I didn't care too much for I Am Legend or Earth Abides (and really only came to appreciate The Road several days after finishing it), I loved Swan Song and The Stand. Published in 1959, and thus a progenitor of those two favorites, Alas, Babylon is "the classic apocalyptic novel that stunned the world." While it doesn't have any of the supernatural aspects that McCammon and King's books are famous for, it's quite a spellbinding read. It's been over two weeks since I finished and I find I'm still thinking about the plot and characters.

I have a friend who read this in 1972 when he was around eleven-years-old. His father was in the Air Force and they were stationed at Eglin AFB in Ft Walton Beach, Florida at the time. In a recent email he said, "...[Alas, Babylon] scared the crap out of me, it may have been the first time that I realized that if there ever was a nuclear war, I would be one of the first to go. But to tell you the truth that is probably one of the 5 most influential books that I ever read. It was the book that instilled a love in me for stories about people who overcome great odds - both in fiction and nonfiction." I, on the other hand, wasn't the least bit scared by the narrative. Maybe I would've had a different reaction had I read it back in the Sixties or Seventies (when I was at an impressionable age like my friend). It was a contemporary work of its time, contemplative of the bellicose posturing of nations and of the potential results of that sort of sabre-rattling. However, I was not quite a year old during the Cuban Missile Crisis (the Bay of Pigs occurred prior to my birth), so I didn't grow up with the same fears of a nuclear holocaust that my husband vividly remembers. I wasn't taught to "duck and cover," nor do I remember any advertisements for fallout shelters. So while I could appreciate the significant fear and possibility of a nuclear war, I wasn't terrified by the author's writing; although seemingly realistic, it lacked any personal resonance. If anything, it just made me more aware of how interdependent we are as a society: on technology, on our various forms of communication, and on each other. We may not have the same worries as those of the Cold War era, but we are certainly not immune to a national disaster, as we saw with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Electricity, water, food, shelter, medical and protective services, and communication agencies are all vital to our daily lives. As Anderson Cooper states in his recent memoir, Dispatches From the Edge:

I used to get back from Somalia or Sarajevo and imagine what New York would look like in a war. Which buildings would crumble? Who among my friends would survive? I always told myself if it did happen here, at least we could handle it better. At least our government would know what to do.

…Katrina showed us all that’s not true.


This is the only chance we get for a test run if something even more horrible happens or something as horrible happens with a nuclear device in this country. And we botched this one. We won’t get a chance to botch it again.

Some twenty thousand people took refuge in the Superdome, told to come by the city’s mayor, who called it a shelter of last resort. He’d hoped that help would arrive from the state or federal government within two days. It didn’t. Hope is not a plan. [Emphasis mine]

I enjoyed Alas, Babylon so much that I decided to treat myself to a nice new trade paperback copy (with a foreword by David Brin), eager to toss the mass market copy (with the cheesy '80s cover art) I'd snagged at a library sale a few years ago.

I don't remember where I first heard about this book, but I'm glad I finally got around to reading it, thanks to Carl's Sci-Fi Experience. Now I'm even more anxious to read A Canticle For Lebowitz, On the Beach, Dies the Fire, Lucifer's Hammer, and (despite Kevin Costner's mediocre movie) Brin's The Postman.

Be sure to check out Bookfool's fabulous review. She goes into much more detail about the book (and the stereotypes of that era) than I have. Such is the danger of writing a review two weeks after finishing the book! And check out Wikipedia's blurb for more information about Alas, Babylon.

January 27, 2008

Expense Report

Two round-trip tickets to Virginia Beach: $680

6 days' boarding at the doggy spa for Miss Annie: $130

Driving through near-blizzard from Lincoln to Omaha: 1 1/2 hours

One rental car (flat tire included): $75

One Cinnamon Dolce Latte, two Hot Cocoas, five children's books from Barnes & Noble (while waiting for roadside service to change tire!): $25

Listening to our five-year-old granddaughter read to us for the first time: PRICELESS!

January 23, 2008

I Am Legend

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Finished on 1/13/08
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)
The Sci-Fi Experience 2008 #1

Book Description:

Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville's blood.

By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.

How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

After recently watching I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, I decided to read the novel for Carl's Sci-Fi Experience. I'm not sure what I was thinking. This isn't really science fiction. At least I wouldn't think so. It seems to fall more into the category of horror. Yes, it's a post-apocalyptic novel, yet the emphasis is more on the vampires than the disaster. However, since it was written in 1954 and set in 1976, I suppose it can be viewed as a work of science fiction.

This is one of those rare instances in which the movie is better than the book. I did not care for the novel at all. It felt dated, particularly the dialogue (yes, in addition to his internal thoughts, Neville -- in spite of having no one to speak to -- speaks out loud). It reminded me a bit of Earth Abides, with the continuous internal ruminations.

In addition to the title story, there are ten short stories included in the edition I read: "Buried Talents," "The Near Departed," "Prey," "Witch War," "Dance of the Dead," "Dress of White Silk," "Mad House," "The Funeral," "From Shadowed Places," and "Person to Person." Go here for a brief synopsis of each story (listed in the right-hand sidebar of the site).

I didn't particularly care for any of these stories (I've never been a big fan of short stories), although I suspect several will stick in my memory for a long, long time. A few are quite creepy (in an Outer Limits/Twilight Zone manner) and some have a darkly humorous feel.

I sure wish I felt the same as these folks:

One of the most important writers of the twentieth century - Ray Bradbury

The most clever and riveting vampire novel since Dracula - Dean Koontz

I think the author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson. Books like I Am Legend were an inspiration to me. - Stephen King

About the Author (from Amazon.com):

In addition to novels in the mystery, science fiction, horror, fantasy, and western genres, Matheson has been a prolific writer of film and television scripts. He wrote the script for some of the most memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (you remember -- William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane...), "The Invaders," and "Little Girl Lost." He also wrote episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel, Night Gallery, and Star Trek (among them "The Enemy Within," in which Kirk is split into good and evil halves).

Several of Matheson's novels and stories have been made into films, including The Shrinking Man (filmed as "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in 1957), I Am Legend (filmed twice, once as "The Last Man on Earth" starring Vincent Price in 1964, and again as "The Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston in 1971), and Bid Time Return (filmed as "Somewhere in Time" starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in 1980). Matheson also wrote the scripts for Stephen Spielberg's first feature film, Duel; the TV-movie The Night Stalker, which drew a record 75 million viewers on its first broadcast; and several of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films, including House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and The Raven (1963).

Over a career spanning five decades, Matheson has won numerable prestigious awards, including the World Fantasy Convention's Life Achievement Award, the Bram Stoker Award for Life Achievement, the Hugo Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Golden Spur Award, and the Writer's Guild Award. Born in New Jersey in 1926, Matheson has lived and worked in California since 1951.

I eagerly await the dvd release of this film. I loved watching it on the big screen, but it will be great fun to watch the bonus material. This goes high on my list of favorite movies. Don't miss it! The book, on the other hand, didn't impress me nearly as much.

January 17, 2008


-40 degrees (F)
Valleyview, Alberta, Canada

It's cold. (16)

It's snowing. (Again)

The wind's blowing. (When isn't it?)

On the brighter side...we're off to Virginia Beach where it's a balmy 35 degrees!

Oh, and Spring is just 63 days away. :)

January 15, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Juvenile Fiction
544 pages
2007 Scholastic Press
Finished on 1/8/08
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Quill Award Winner (2007)
National Book Award Finalist (2007)

Book Description (from the author's fabulous website):

ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come together...in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

This 526-page book is told in both words and pictures. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things. Each picture (there are nearly three hundred pages of pictures!) takes up an entire double page spread, and the story moves forward because you turn the pages to see the next moment unfold in front of you.

After working several shifts in the Children's section at Barnes & Noble this past holiday season, I decided to make an effort to read at least one Juvenile Fiction selection in order to become more knowledgeable and better equipped to make future recommendations. I'd heard very good things about Selznick's hefty book and decided to start the year off by giving it a read.


What a delightful story! Selznick was inspired to create a book about Georges Méliès after watching the 1902 Méliès film, A Trip to the Moon (the world's first science fiction film). I liked the story well enough, but my real enjoyment lay in the incredible black and white illustrations. They are simply amazing.

This book should appeal to most young readers, as the narrative is compelling yet the pictures keep it from feeling too long and dry. I think it could be a good book for those readers who might struggle with the more lengthy chapter book.

Even if you decide not to read it yourself, do spend some time at Selznick's website. Someone has put a lot of work into it with all the various links. One could easily spend an afternoon lost in Selznick's favorite websites. Pay particular attention to the Intro and Slide Show link. You can watch the opening sequence of drawings here (scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link - it's a Flash sequence to which I am unable to link to directly).

January 12, 2008

The Face of Death

The Face of Death by Cody McFadyen
464 pages
2007 Bantam
Finished on 1/6/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Book Description

In Shadow Man, Cody McFadyen took the suspense thriller where other writers have feared to tread. He introduced readers to a heroine every bit as dark and edgy as the serial killers she hunts: Special Agent Smoky Barrett. Now, in his latest novel, McFadyen brings Agent Barrett back to track down a killer who breaks all the rules. Get ready for a shattering confrontation with the very essence of human evil.

“I want to talk to Smoky Barrett or I’ll kill myself.”

The girl is sixteen, at the scene of a grisly triple homicide, and has a gun to her head. She claims “The Stranger” killed her adoptive family, that he’s been following her all her life, killing everyone she ever loved, and that no one believes her.

No one has. Until now.

Special Agent Smoky Barrett is head of the violent crimes unit in Los Angeles, the part of the FBI reserved for tracking down the worst of the worst. Her team has been handpicked from among the nation’s elite law enforcement specialists and they are as obsessed and relentless as the psychos they hunt; they’ll have to be to deal with this case.

For another vicious double homicide reveals a killer embarked on a dark crusade of trauma and death: an “artist” who’s molding sixteen-year-old Sarah into the perfect victim—and the ultimate weapon. But Smoky Barrett has another, more personal reason for catching The Stranger—an adopted daughter and a new life that are worth protecting at any cost.

This time Smoky is going to have to put it all on the line. Because The Stranger is all too real, all too close, and all too relentless. And when he finally shows his face, if she’s not ready to confront her worst fear, Smoky won’t have time to do anything but die.

I don't know whether to worry more about Cody McFadyen for creating such a horrific novel, or me for reading it. I'm not sure what it says about someone who can pen such vividly disturbing images or someone who can read the entire book (during the Christmas season, no less), only to quietly whisper (to the dog, because she listens to everything I have to say), "Goooood book!"

I admit, there were several moments when I thought I couldn't go on and was tempted to ditch The Face of Death, but I was compelled to see how it would turn out, not only for Sarah, but for Smoky and Bonnie, as well. This book is not for the faint-of-heart. It is violent and disturbing and full of depictions of the most vile sorts of evil. But if you were entertained by Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs, you won't be disappointed by this sequel to McFayden's debut novel. As with Shadow Man*, McFadyen crafts a gripping story that is unputdownable in spite of the graphic details depicted in Sarah's diary. And yet, the author includes a few tender passages that tugged at my heartstrings, bringing tears to my eyes.

Cody McFadyen is high on my list to watch for in the future. I'm excited about handselling both books at work and anxiously await the publication of his third novel in the series, Secret Sins. I certainly hope it's not the last!

*Click on title to read my review of Shadow Man


Every weekend I receive an email of Bookreporter.com's newsletter. I can't remember when I first discovered this informative site, but over the years it's become a part of my weekly routine. I love to read about all the new book releases, occasionally enter a drawing for a basket of books & goodies (as if I really need more books!), read a few author interviews, and if time permits, I click over to Coming Soon: A List of Upcoming Books or Carol Fitzgerald's (Founder/President) entertaining blog. I can also check out the plethora of reading group guides or catch up on the latest author news. Books Into Movies is another useful feature, as is Author Bibliographies (great to keep track of those prolific mystery writers!) and Awards. I can easily spend an hour or two clicking my way around the site, adding more titles to my Amazon Wish List.

Hoping to try out a new Thanksgiving recipe, Carol asked her readers to submit a favorite recipe with a promise to send a book to a selected reader. How could I resist? I sent her my family's favorite potato casserole recipe and guess what? I won! I was stunned to read my name in the November 30th newsletter:

I realize that last week I failed to talk about the recipes that I selected from readers for the holiday. Confession: a neighbor joined us for the holiday at the last moment, pairing her feast with mine, so I had no holes in the menu. That said, I did select two recipes that I am going to try in the upcoming weeks. One is from Dena for an Eggnog Poundcake that sounds great for Christmas morning, and the other is from Lesley for a Potato Casserole. I will get a book out to each of them next week as a thank you. I also appreciate all the other recipes that were shared. I printed them out and will hold them in my "recipes from friends and family" file.

And true to her word, Carol sent not just one, but two fabulous books from my Amazon Wish List! I received a copy of Jennifer Donnelly's The Winter Rose (yahoo!!!) and Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs. What a wonderful, unexpected treat with which to kick off the New Year. Thank you, Carol (and Bookreporter.com), for your generosity!

Go here to sign up to receive the weekly newsletter.

January 7, 2008

In Their Shoes Challenge

January 1, 2008 - December 31, 2008

N. Vasillis over at 1330V is sponsoring a Memoir, Autobiography, Biography challenge for 2008. She's created an In Their Shoes group blog here.

The rules are simple:

1. You pick the number of books that you want to read.
2. You also pick the books you read. They just have to be either a memoir, autobiography, or biography. If you don't know the differences, Vasilly has provided definitions for you!
3. You can cross challenge books from other challenges with this one .
4. You can also re-read books.
5. You can post your reviews on the group blog or your own.

AND there may be a prize at the end!

This is the perfect challenge for me. I love memoirs! And once again, I'm choosing books that I already own (many of which I've had for several years!). Here are my choices:

1. The Curve of Time: The Classic Memoir of a Woman and Her Children Who Explored the Coastal Waters of the Pacific Northwest by M. Wylie Blanchet

2. Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk

3. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

4. On Writing by Stephen King

5. Libby: The Alaskan Diaries and Letters of Libby Beaman, 1879-1880 as presented by her Granddaughter Betty John

6. Prairie Reunion by Barbara J. Scot

7. Under a Wing by Reeve Lindbergh

8. Clear Springs: A Family Story by Bobbie Ann Mason

9. My Losing Season by Pat Conroy

10. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

11. Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea by Catherine Goldhammer

12. Peter Jennings: A Reporter's Life by by Kate Darnton (Editor), Kayce Freed Jennings (Editor), Lynn Sherr (Editor)

January 6, 2008

Best of 2007

I've been keeping track of how many books I've read each year for the past nine years. The lowest amount was back in 1999 with a total of 42. The best year was 2003 with a total of 88, but that included the books I gave up on. I have no idea what the true number was. Last year I read 73, but gave up on another 17, so that beats 2003 with a total of 90. Are you bored yet? ;)

Here are my stats for 2007:

Books Read - 58
DNF - 9
Male Authors - 19
Female Authors - 39
New-To-Me Authors - 24
Audio - 2
Fiction - 40
Nonfiction - 18
Classics - 0
Poetry - 3
Young Adult - 7
Sci-Fi - 0
Fantasy - 4
Horror - 2
Romance - 0
Humor - 1
Travel - 2
Memoir - 6
Culinary - 3
Mystery/Thriller - 6
Re-read - 4
Mine - 38
Borrowed - 20

I'm surprised there weren't any classics in the list this year... or Sci-Fi. While I borrowed quite a few, I'm happy to note that the majority came from my own shelves. Of course, I probably added that many new books (if not more) back to my stacks.

In no particular order, other than the only perfect 5/5 heading the list, here are my favorites of the year:

Click on the title to be re-directed to the review within my blog.

Dispatches From the Edge by Anderson Cooper (5/5)

Lottery by Patricia Wood (4.75/5)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (4.75/5)

The Good Guy by Dean Koontz (4.5/5)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (4.5/5)

Dreamcatcher by Stephen King (4.5/5)

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (4.5/5)

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (4.5/5)

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (4.5/5)

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (4.5/5)

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen (4.5/5)

On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis (4.5/5)

iPod: The Missing Manual by J.D. Biersdorfer (4.5/5)

More like a Top Thirteen than a Top Ten.

Favorite Character: Perry (from Lottery)

Best Young Adult Fiction: Twilight

Most Humorous: I Feel Bad About My Neck

Scariest: Tied between Heart-Shaped Box and Dreamcatcher

Most Disappointing: Dream When You're Feeling Blue; Birth House; Brother Odd

New-To-Me Authors to Watch: Patricia Wood, Joe Hill, Will North and Kelly Corrigan

January 3, 2008

What's In A Name? Reading Challenge

Yep. I've joined another challenge. I can't help myself. It's such a great incentive to read some of the books on my shelves. And I've heard great things about several of these, so I'm very excited to begin!

Here are the details from Words by Annie:

Dates: January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008

The Challenge: Choose one book from each of the following categories.

1. A book with a color in its title. Examples might include: The Amber Spyglass, The Red Pony, Blue Blood

2. A book with an animal in its title. Examples might include: The Hound of the Baskervilles, To Kill a Mockingbird, Julie of the Wolves

3. A book with a first name in its title. Examples might include: Jane Eyre, the Harry Potter books, Anne of Green Gables

4. A book with a place in its title. Examples might include: From Russia with Love, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Out of Africa

5. A book with a weather event in its title. Examples might include: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Red Storm Rising, Tornado Alley

6. A book with a plant in its title. Examples might include: Where the Red Fern Grows, The Name of the Rose, Flowers for Algernon

And now to my list:

Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay
The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier (alternate choice)
A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym (alternate choice)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe (alternate choice)
Swan by Frances Mayes (alternate choice)

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz
Hanna's Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson (alternate choice)
Maggie Now by Betty Smith (alternate choice)

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
Pasadena by David Ebershoff (alternate choice)
Outer Banks by Anne Rivers Siddons (alternate choice)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson (alternate choice)
The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (alternate choice)

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach (alternate choice)
Eucalyptus by Murray Ball (alternate choice)