December 31, 2012

Review: "World War Z" By Max Brooks

I didn't include this book in my list of favorite reads in my "2012--My Year In Review" list that I posted, but I probably should have.  It must be something about the time and age that we live in that the zombie apocalypse has become something of a cult phenomenon--witness all of the zombie books being published and read, and AMC's remarkably popular TV series "The Walking Dead"--and I must confess that I am a 'card-carrying' member of the zombie cult too (which, on its face, is perhaps the most ridiculous thing I've said in months ;-).  Anyway, World War Z was a morbidly fascinating and well-written fictional account that purports to provide an 'oral history' of the efforts of the world's living to contain and eradicate the world's undead.  Max Brooks (Mel Brooks' son) wrote this book as a collection of interviews among the survivors of the horrific war against the zombies, and certainly pays an extraordinary amount of homage to the late Studs Terkel. 

As crazy as it sounds, this was an easy and entertaining book to read, largely because of Brooks' organization of the novel.  It starts with a chapter describing the initial outbreak and spread of the virus that leads to the 'zombification' of billions of humans across the entire globe.  The remaining chapters include the personal accounts of the survivors as they try and combat the horror of the mounting threat of the zombie hordes, and then the formulation and implementation of a global strategy to reclaim the planet from the undead hoards. 

Personally, I liked the use of the personal interview and vignettes of story-telling rather than focusing on a first- or second-person accounting of this horrific tale.  And while the notion of zombies taking over the world may seem a bit far-fetched (I hope?), there was plenty of 'food-for-thought' about the way governments and individuals might react if there were global threats associated with nuclear or biological terrorism, or even the short- and long-term effects associated with global climate change.  The human propensity for inhumanity to other humans is well known, and is maybe even more terrifying than that of the zombies described in Brooks' World War Z.  I'll be interested to see how the upcoming blockbuster movie starring Brad Pitt handles the material in the book when it is released during summer 2013.  World War Z, the book, gets four out of a possible five stars from me.


December 29, 2012

Reviews: A Neil Gaiman Cornucopia

2012 found me discovering, or rediscovering, the British author Neil Gaiman, and I am so glad that I did.  A few years ago I read his novel American Gods, and I was really not all that impressed.  However, after my most recent experiences with Gaiman's fiction I must confess that I am prepared to give American Gods another chance at some point.  Anyway, over the past couple of months I've read Stardust, Neverwhere, and Coraline.  Here are my brief thoughts about each of them--

Stardust is an elegant and poignant little novel, and is truly one of the very best books that I've read this year.  Gaiman is a brilliant story-teller, and this is a tale for the ages.  Stardust is a story that has the feel and threads of a fairytale that has been handed down and greatly loved through the generations.  There is something in this beautiful and compelling story that re-galvanizes one's faith in the good-heartedness of most people, and that Fate and Chance can also work for good.

You'll note that I am not sharing one jot about the plot of this tale, as I don't want to influence you other than to simply say that it is my humble wish that each and every person read Stardust at some point during their lives, and maybe bring a little extra Magic and Love into their hearts and souls.  Upon finishing this lovely little story you simply can't help but look at the world around you just a little differently, and that'll be a mighty fine thing, I think.


I finished Neverwhere over a three-day period while on Christmas vacation, and loved every moment and every word.  In my humble opinion, Neil Gaiman is the undisputed master of the 'modern British fairytale'.  He is a sorcerer with words as he successfully weaves new twists and turns into the fables and fairytales that we've all probably encountered over the course of our lives.  Neverwhere is a brilliant story that looks at the 'other' world below modern London--the world of abandoned 'Tube' stations, trains from odd places and going odd places, ancient sewer systems and its denizens--in other words, the 'Land of Faerie' in an urban setting. 

The story's protagonist, Richard Mayhew, falls through the cracks and emerges into this other London, and is immediately thrust into an epic adventure with a Dickensian cast of characters.  The adventure rapidly turns into a titanic struggle between the forces of Good and Evil (and the Evil forces are really quite horrifyingly awful).  Like most, if not all, of Gaiman's protagonists, Richard Mayhew has to dig deep within himself to find his courage, but once he commits himself he is a stolid and reliable friend to the young woman, Door, who is in desperate need of his help.  Again, I dare not say more about the plot, other than I loved this book immensely and I simply loved the ending--it was perfect! Neverwhere is a marvelous, marvelous novel.


I loved Coraline!  This beautiful little book can, and should, appeal to readers of all ages, including my precocious and intelligent seven year-old grandson (who, by the bye, is reading The Hobbit right now).  This little fairytale is all about the notion of "the grass is not always greener on the other side"; courage and fidelity to one's beliefs; the love of family and friends; and most importantly perhaps, that one must stand up and fight injustice whenever it is encountered.  Little Coraline does all of this in spades.  In short, this little girl is my hero.

As a bit of a sidenote, something else that I've noticed is that Gaiman has a thing for doors, doesn't he?  Hmmm...Think about it.  In his novel Stardust there is a gate to Faerie; and in Neverwhere the young woman, Door, is able to find, open, and pass through doors that are portals to other planes and places; and then our own Coraline and the 'fourteenth' door in her parents' flat that opens upon the alternate world of her "other Mother" and "other Father" and some other creepy doings.

Being the father of two beautiful daughters, this little tale cast me back to the days of watching their inquisitive natures and insatiable curiosities as they began exploring the world around them and the people they encountered. So, while there are some superb moral lessons for children in this book, there are an equal number of lessons for the parents and grandparents of children too.  Foremost is to pay attention to and unconditionally love our children, and in so doing that is likely enough to prevent them from seeking out or, worse yet, actually finding a set of "other parents" behind the "fourteenth door".

Coraline is a wonderful little book to pass around to all of the adults and children in your life.


Neil Gaiman is certainly one of my great literary discoveries of 2012, and I'm so glad to have most of his fiction sitting on my bookshelf now.  Both Stardust and Coraline made my "Year In Review" list too.  Finally, I have Gaiman's The Graveyard Book sitting in the queue on my TBR shelf.  I can't wait!

December 28, 2012

2012--My Year in Review

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

I know that I have been extremely remiss in posting to ProSe over the past couple of months, but there's been a lot--a great lot--going on in my life of late.  This posting, while some of you may find it of interest, is probably written more for my own edification than anything else.

In early-August 2012, my oldest daughter received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska.  I cannot begin to tell you how proud all of us are for the hard work she has put in over the years to achieve this significant milestone.  I was extremely honored to have been asked by her to read and review her dissertation prior to it being finalized and submitted to her committee.  She is still teaching at UNL while she begins the task of trying to find a full-time teaching position at a four-year institution.  I am sure that a good school will snap her up soon.

My very elderly mother passed away after a long struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or "Lou Gehrig's Disease") on November 7, 2012.  She died quite peacefully in the morning with family and friends surrounding her in the sun-room of my parents' house in southern Arizona.  I was able to spend a lot of quality time with her over the past couple of years, and for that I shall always be eternally grateful.  ALS is a terrible and miserable disease, and my heart simply goes out to any who have a family member struggling and endeavoring to cope with it.  I also want to give a huge 'shout-out' to the magnificent angels who involve themselves in all aspects of home hospice care.  I think having my mom in her own home surrounded by her own possessions and memories, her cat, her friends, and my father--in short, her Life--made the struggle so much easier for her to bear.  I also want to say that my father is really doing very well, and that my younger brother has moved in with him to lend a helping hand.  We all miss you, Mom!

Concurrent with my mother's passing, my wife and I found out that our oldest son (my stepson, my wife's son) had been selected to attend the U.S. Army's Warrant Officer Career College at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  He has been in the Army for 14 years and has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years.  He was a Sergeant First Class when selected to become a Warrant Officer, which is a hugely positive career move.  At the same time that he was off to Warrant Officer school, his wife (our daughter-in-law) was deployed to the large U.S. military base in Doha, Qatar, in the Persian Gulf.  She is active-duty Army too, and began her year-long deployment in early November.  So, "Grammie" (my wonderful wife) and I have taken in their two children--a wonderful seven year-old boy, and a sweet little two-and-a-half year-old girl.  We set up one of our guest rooms for the kids, and are now back to being full-time parents, running kids hither and yon.  I am 56 years old, and I can absolutely attest to the fact that raising young children is most assuredly a young person's "sport"!  At the same time, it really is kinda like riding a bicycle, you really don't forget how to do it.  Depending upon the needs of the Army, the kids could be with us through July 2013, or as long as November 2013.

Early November 2012 also saw the President being reelected, and I was profoundly relieved that the American people saw fit to give his administration another four years.  Personally, I do believe the country is moving in the right direction under his leadership.  I just wish that there was some of way of stepping back from the extreme polarization and partisanship that seems to have overtaken the two political parties.  I am cautiously optimistic that President Obama can use his second term in trying to find a way to bridge the gulf--more like a chasm--between the parties and get the Congress back to doing the Nation's business.

From a literary perspective, 2012 was a very good year for me.  I read over 110 books this year, and I've still a few days left! Of the books I read, some were 'old friends' that I was revisiting, and others were brand new to me.  While I read a lot of fiction, 2012 was also a year in which I read a lot more non-fiction than is typical in a given year, as I explored the latest books associated with human origins and anthropology, and a whole raft of relatively recent military history books about the American Civil War.  I thought it might be fun to share "My Best Books of 2012"--

Best of Non-Fiction
Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth, by Chris Stringer (Science/Anthropology)
Hardy: A Biography, by Martin Seymour-Smith (Biography)

Best of Military History
The Battle of The Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864, by Gordon C. Rhea
The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, by Gordon C. Rhea
This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga, by Peter Cozzens
Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, by Noah Andre Trudeau

Best of Historical Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror
Hide Me Among the Graves, by Tim Powers(Historical Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, and my review here)
11/22/63, by Stephen King (Fantasy)
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks (Fantasy/Horror)
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy)
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy)
The Fall of Troy, by Peter Ackroyd (Historical Fiction)
Something Red, by Douglas Nicholas (Historical Fiction/Fantasy/Horror)
Morality Play, by Barry Unsworth (Historical Fiction/Mystery)
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Post Apocalyptic and a re-read for me)
The Forge of Darkness, by Steven Erikson (Fantasy)

Best of Classic Fiction
Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy (A re-read for me)
The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy (A re-read for me)
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (A re-read for me)

Best Poetry
The Oresteia, by Aeschylus (Translated by Peter Meinick)
The Lays of Beleriand, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Iliad, by Homer (Translated by Anthony Verity)
Beowulf: A Dual-Language Edition, Translated by Howell D. Chickering, Jr.

Special 'Kudos' to Neil Gaiman's Stardust, Douglas Nicholas' Something Red, and Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves.  These three books may very well be my favorite new reads of the year, and I highly recommend them to readers. I'd have to give an 'Honorable Mention' to Stephen King's new novel, 11/22/63 as well.

Finally, the book that I am really looking forward to reading is the final volume in the monumental "Wheel of Time" series of fantasy fiction that was started by the late Robert Jordan, and is being finished up by Brandon Sanderson.  The fourteenth and final book, A Memory of Light, is being released on January 8, 2013, and I can hardly wait.  I have been reading this series for over twenty years, and it really is some of the very best fantasy fiction out there.

A very Happy New Year to each of you as we ready ourselves to leave 2012 and begin 2013.  I look forward to stopping by and visiting each of your blogs and sharing our love of all things literary as we start a new year.  Cheers!