Michael Grant’s Gone Series Book Number 5 and Counting

Michael Grant's Gone
Michael Grant’s Gone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wow.

That one little word says exactly how I feel about Michael Grant‘s series about a group of Southern California teens who are trapped in a Dionysian apocalyptic world by a giant bubble that has been created by a 5-year-old autistic demi-god.

I read the first book in the series in August of this year. I was immediately hooked on the characters, their story and the tiny surfing community of the fictional Perdido Beach where everyone over the age of fifteen suddenly disappears.

Perdido Beach is soon renamed the FAYZ by the remaining children who are broken into factions. The first two factions are the “Freaks” and the “Normals.” Further factions are broken down into the Sam Temple camp and his half-brother Caine Soren, as the names imply Sam is the good guy and Caine is not.

The other faction that affects all the kids beside the actual bubble itself is the Gaiaphage, an outer space virus that was getting a piggy-back ride from a meteor that crashed through the Perdido Beach nuclear power station.

The trials and tribulations of the stranded kids has run the gamut from carnivorous teeth sprouting worms to bugs that eat you from inside out.  Of course there is still the disappearing at fifteen hurdle to overcome, but both Sam and Caine have proven that you don’t have to “poof out” if you don’t want to.

The books in the series are as follows:

1. Gone

2. Hunger

3. Lies

4. Plague

5. Fear

6. Light

Light the sixth and final book in the series will not be out until April 2013. I, for one, cannot wait for the finale of this outstanding series.

The Gone series is classified as fiction for Young Adults or Teens. I am neither and I have been swept away by Grant’s world. Each book in the series has followed the character’s development, deaths and decisions.

I actually sat down and in a three-day “read-a-thon” plowed my way through Lies, Plague and Fear. It was only after I’d downloaded Fear and read it as an E-book that I realised my error. If I’d waited for the book to be available via the library, I could have save myself the agony of waiting for the last book to be published months away.

Michael Grant has shown us what Lord of the Flies could be in the 21st century. Both tales are of nuclear catastrophes and of the effects that it had on a group of ungoverned youths. Grant’s FAYZ bubble is an island by everything but name and the kids in it are facing similar struggles to the plane wreck survivors in Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The addition of “super powers” in some of the kids and the “joker in the deck” of Coates Academy full of rich kid juvenile delinquents just makes the playing field that much more colorful.

I would recommend this series full of unforgettable characters to anyone, young or old. The villains of the series are not cardboard cutouts and some, Drake Merwin aka Whiphand especially, are terrifying. By the end of Fear we’ve learned that outside the bubble the “real world” exists and that it is aware of the bubble and is trying to penetrate it.

I have read the odd review where they stated that the kids did not seem like “real” teenagers. I have one thing to say to that, but since this is a series aimed at young adults, I’ll restrict it to a G rating. What a crock! I work with teenagers everyday (well I did until my accident and then heart attack) and I can identify with Grants depiction of Sam, Astrid, Caine, Diana, heck all the kids in the FAYZ.

I have, so far, written two reviews about this series. The Gone  and Hunger reviews were written literally minutes after completing the book. This review took a bit longer as I sat and digested the enormity of what Michael Grant has achieved with his story of the FAYZ and all those in it and their families outside of it.

It also took a couple of days to get over the disappointment of realising that I won’t know the outcome of the characters until April of next year. The sign of any good author is the trait of being able to leave his readers wanting to hear more about his creation.

Grant has done that no question. I am a Michael Grant fan now and like a true fan I’ll be reading everything else by him that I can get my hands on. If for no other reason than it will make the waiting for the final book of Gone that little bit easier.

Too Much Introspection or Me, Me, Me

Epiphany!

It is not often that I can have an instant epiphany while reading a blog post. It is even less likely for me to have one when reading a Freshly Pressed post.

I had one this morning though.

I won’t mention the  post by name or even by subject. You may be able to guess by the general tone of my post. If you can, I can only apologise to the person who wrote it, this isn’t personal. It’s not even a criticism.

It’s just an epiphany.

We all write blogs for similar reasons and they run the gamut from practicing to write to reviews on film.

A lot of people though, use their blog as a sort of public diary. Their posts deal with introspective ideas, realizations, or perspectives. There are an awful lot of introspective blogs out there.

My blog, for instance, does quite a bit of introspective wool gathering and then goes on to air it, as they say, in public.

I try very hard though to keep it from being all about me and my introspective study of personal belly-button lint. I hope I’m able to walk the fine line between Zen-like self discovery and the public “whinging” and whining about my  poor pitiful life.

When I write a blog that isn’t dealing with my own lifelong fascination of cinema and the acting profession I try to write about things that have happened to me or those around me. Not in a news sense, but in a sense of “I learned something today, I’ll just pass it on in case someone is interested.” I also like to put in print things I’ve done or seen or tried for the same reason.

I even like to put up introspective pieces if I feel that someone might identify with the issue and if not find an answer at least be compelled to look for one. I much prefer to post a “reflective” piece though. If you look at the tags for this post you’ll see reflective is one of them.

I was a young adult in the days of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” generation. A couple of decades when a few enterprising authors made a fortune on self help, self actualization, self promotion and even self love books, courses, and public seminars.

I'm okay, you're... well, maybe not
I’m okay, you’re… well, maybe not (Photo credit: pdxjmorris)

Do I sound cynical? If you answer yes, then you my dear friend and neighbor have been paying attention.  I am indeed cynical. I’ve had 54 years of learning, that despite the teachings of  a few self help books, people primarily look out for number one first and foremost.

Society has moved on from the “I’m okay, you’re okay” days and has moved into the “me” generation. The me generation started in the 90’s (I might be wrong here, but I became aware of it in the 90’s) and this has been morphed into the “I’m special” generation.

Father George Carlin spoke eloquently about the Special generation.

*contains adult language*

Now Father George refers to the “self esteem movement” aka the “I’m okay, you’re okay” days. It’s so nice to be vindicated. I just thought I’d point that out.

I guess the point I’m struggling to make is this, I don’t care about how well you can navigate the social network system. If you have discovered what a lot of folks already know about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (I know they’ve changed their logo, but I can’t replicate it nor do I care to try), Bebo, et al; great!

I’m pleased for you. I might even go on to say I’m proud of you. There are not many who have gone this long and not realised that the new improved social network system is just another way for those in control to keep an eye on the populace.

Actually, the above paragraph is a slight exaggeration. I like the social network system or the SNS as I like to call it. It’s helping to make the world a smaller place. It’s also proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that trolls do exist.

I’m guessing that the amount of introspection blogs on offer has an awful lot to do with the creation of the “special’ movement. I never experienced that movement. When I grew up the pressure was on to be better at something and, if at all possible, to be the best.

I was taught that if you tried your best, that sometimes you would be better at something and you might even be the best…for a while. It’s called competition people, it’s healthy and very non-introspective.

We need to have goals and sometimes the goal is to be a better nailer than George or Mildred and not over internalize it or even to write about it. I may be overthinking this whole epiphany thing and that’s okay. At least I’m not over introspecting it.

Hopefully.

Last Words (book)
Last Words (book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Healthy Heart Lasagne or Tastes Good & Good For You

My lovely assistant (actually Meg was in charge, there’s just not a picture of me doing anything).

If these pictures look a little fuzzy or a bit out of focus, it’s because I was weak from hunger while we labored our way through the first of my ‘healthy heart’ meals that were on my new FLORA proactiv (cholesterol lowering butter replacement) recipe booklet.

Out of all the recipes listed, the Winter Vegetable Lasagna looked the most straightforward and easy to follow. Amazingly it was fairly easy to prepare, although getting the ingredients was a little challenging.

Now I don’t know what classifies as “winter vegetables” where you live, but over in the UK it’s veg of the root variety. Parsnips, sweet potatoes, swede, carrots, onions, and so on. All of these bar the swede were used in the lasagna and the only ‘non-root’ vegetable was the red pepper that the recipe called for.

Now I will hold my hand up and state quite loudly that I like my vegetables. Not as much as meat though, there’s just something about tearing at the cooked flesh of most animals with my teeth that appeals to the Neanderthal in me. Unfortunately since my “life changing event” in August I’m having to rethink my mealtime choices.

One of the first things that the pharmacist gave me when I went in for my first wheelbarrow full of pills and potions that my new condition required was a recipe book. It does have quite a few little healthy meals in it and if you’re interested they also have a website with loads more recipes and food ideas to tempt your taste buds. FLORA.com just click on the link and have a drooling look or two at what’s on show.

The recipe is simple and easy (it really is, otherwise I couldn’t have helped at all) just have a look:

Preparation time
35 to 40 minutes
Cooking time
35 to 40 minutes
Serves
4
Course
Mains and soups
Main ingredient
Vegetables
Ingredients:

2 tbsps olive oil
1 red onion, peeled, cut into wedges
2 parsnips, peeled
1 sweet potato, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
1 courgette
1 red pepper, diced
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp oregano or thyme
6 sheets no-cook lasagna
25g (1oz) Flora Buttery spread
25g (1oz) flour
350ml skimmed milk
55g (2oz) reduced fat Cheddar cheese, grated
½ tsp English mustard

The recipe won’t tell you, but these puppies need roasting for about 45 to 50 minutes.

Method
1. Cut the parsnips, sweet potato, carrot and courgette into chunks and place in a roasting tin. Add the onions and pepper, drizzle with oil and roast in a preheated oven at 180˚C (fan assisted)/gas mark 5 for 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked.
2. When cooked, mix with the tomatoes, tomato purée, chilli powder and herbs.
3. Meanwhile prepare the sauce by placing the Flora Buttery spread and flour into a saucepan. Add the skimmed milk gradually, constantly stirring over a moderate heat. Bring to the boil.
4. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until smooth and thickened. Add half the cheese and the mustard.
5. Assemble the lasagna by placing half the vegetables in a ovenproof dish, cover with three sheets of lasagna and top with half the sauce. Repeat layers ending with cheese sauce.
6. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and return to oven for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.
Now the only thing we left out was the English Mustard. We also added a bit of extra cheese. The mustard was left out because Meg’s not a huge fan of the taste and the extra cheese was to meet my culinary requirements.

The smell while the vegetables were roasting prior to adding the cheese sauce and the lasagna sheets was maddening. If I could figure out a way to include the aroma here, I would.

I will warn you that the measurements are English measures. If you look on the net though you’ll find quite a few different sites that will convert those pesky “foreign” measurements to something that US kitchens can use. I’d convert them myself, but hey, I never claimed to be Martha Stewart.

But do take that extra minute or two to get the measurements converted and don’t be tempted to just use the existing recipe as is. Trust me when I say, it won’t taste the same and it may even not be edible.

The end result is an aroma to die for and a taste that (for me anyway) is surprisingly delicious.

Scrumptious

The recipe states that it will feed four folks and it probably can. It certainly stretched to two meals for Meg and me. There is also a menu for homemade garlic bread but, as we did not prepare that, I’ve left it out.

You can find that recipe, along with the one for the lasagna on the website I linked above.

I was a bit leery about the new dietary requirements that awaited me after my heart attack but I think that I can relax a bit. If only a few recipes are as good as this one, I think I’m going to like my new menus and my heart will hopefully thank me.

Cyber-world Celebrities

English: Andy Warhol
English: Andy Warhol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first started blogging on a semi-regular basis on the 11th of November 2011 over on Blogger.com. I did my first ever blog post a year before that. I have changed my blog site twice and now I call WordPress.com my blogging home.

I also started my first YouTube Channel way back in 2007 mainly so I could leave comments on videos I’d seen that I found comment worthy. I uploaded my first video in March 2010. It was of a Tonka toy commercial I had done back in 1989. I didn’t upload a  “proper video” until October 2010, it was a tour of my new apartment that signalled the start of my new life.

I’ve been tweeting since 2009 and I was a very late convert to Facebook. Twitter became a solace when my marriage was crumbling to dust and Facebook gave me a chance to see how a few friends and family were getting on.

I was, for better or worse, now part of the social network. Since my internet debut things have never been the same.

Since I started “YouTubing” and blogging I’ve had a chance to interact with folks from all over the globe. Most have been nice. A large amount have been funny, erudite and interesting. Very few have been tacky or unpleasant or rude. The folks who have been unsocial (0r just plain weird) are always unceremoniously blocked.

I have the privilege of 355 subscribers on my first YouTube channel, 114 on my second joint channel (with my daughter) and a combined 150 or so followers on my blog. I am still amazed and surprised that so many kind folks like tuning in to see what I’ve written or filmed (unfortunately I’ve not done a lot of filming lately but that is due to change very soon).

I also appreciate the folks who take the time to ‘click’ that like button or to leave a comment on any of my social sites. I find it hard finding time to do much more than click that like button, though I like to leave a comment or two if at all possible.

I will admit that I suffered from a huge amount of naivety when I first started blogging. I didn’t realise that it was required to respond back to someone who left comments on your blog. I had a sort of “old-fashioned” view about blogging. I felt like I was writing an editorial article or amusing (hopefully) essay or the odd film review that would be sent out into the cyber-world for anyone to read…or not.

I was pleased to see that someone had commented, but, I had written my piece and had moved on. I did not think about the article after it was posted. As I began doing more regular blog posts (or articles, I still think of them that way) I began getting more comments and I felt rude about not answering back even if it was to thank the commenter.

I had always thanked the people who commented on my YouTube channels. I don’t know why it took me so long to realise that I needed to do the same for my blog. To be honest, if I hadn’t read a “How to be a Successful Blogger” article, I probably still wouldn’t be interacting.  I can’t remember who wrote that little “how-to” blurb, but I’m grateful that I found and read it.

The point that I am slowly getting to (aka going the long way around the barn) is that the world is now an ever-increasing Cyber-world. It is becoming increasingly easier for “normal” folks to hop onto the net and broadcast themselves or their thoughts to the entire Cyber-world.

I have written a couple of posts about YouTube. I have had a fascination with it since my daughter Meg introduced me to it in 2007. I will also admit that I am slightly addicted to it. I talk about it quite a lot at work and I was amazed to find that my co-workers were not as ‘offay’ with YouTube as I was.

Español: Logo Vectorial de YouTube
Español: Logo Vectorial de YouTube (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was a bit shocked. I was one of the older chaps at work and I knew more about YouTube than a lot of my younger co-workers. I don’t mean that they weren’t aware of its existence, but they didn’t know how it worked. Talking to other people outside of work I found that my colleagues weren’t alone.

There are a large number of folks who still view YouTube as a fad or something that the “young folks” are interested in. They haven’t yet realised that this Cyber-world is rapidly becoming the norm. South Korean rapper PSY used YouTube to promote his career and is now the proud owner of the most viral video ever. He also has the added bonus of being just a little bit world-famous right now.

Andy Warhol once said that, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” It now seems that with the ever-increasing numbers of people who use YouTube and sites similar to it, that 15 minutes is not so unreachable. That Warhol quote has been bandied about for years and generally taken out of context, but in this instance, I think it fits.

Watching the Channel 4 news tonight I saw that their “feel good” piece at the end of the news was about English YouTubers who have earned a solid fan-base and steady income from their channels. I have asked the question before about YouTube becoming the new tv and the same question was asked tonight on the news.

I don’t know if that is the case or not. But I do know that with more homes having computers and camcorders and creative, talented occupants the odds are ever-increasing that you may be living next door to a Cyber-world celebrity.

Don’t laugh. My daughter has a small channel on YouTube. She started it aged 16 and only started uploading videos a few years ago. She has amassed a ‘hard-earned’ following of over 7,500 subscribers. I say hard earned because posting a regular video on the “Tube” is a lot of work. In case you haven’t seen it here’s a link: Meg Elisabeth Smith.

As more and more folks discover that they have the ability, talent, skills and tenacity to broadcast themselves or their thoughts or opinions to the world and that the world will not only pay attention but will come back to pay attention… Well, the possibilities are endless. This whole Cyber-world Celebrity thing sort of beats the “getting discovered in the local Schwab’s Drugstore” to pieces and it’s a lot more proactive.

So don’t just sit there!

Film yourself sitting there.

You never know, you could be the next Cyber-world Celebrity!

English: Alex Day screenshot from Youtube neri...
English: Alex Day screenshot from Youtube nerimon channel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scandi-Crime?

English: Waterstones and Fat Face, Northallerton
English: Waterstones and Fat Face, Northallerton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was wandering through the local Waterstones this morning to see what new books might be on-sale or worth paying that extra ‘bob’ or two for if not on-sale. I was really killing time while I waited for my business appointment time of two o’clock.

I took the escalator upstairs and after browsing through my favorite sections of the entertainment industry and biographical sections I moved onto the fictional crime section.

I noticed an entire display dedicated to Scandi-crime. I stopped for a moment to ponder this newly created genre. I have done the odd book review for Scandinavian crime novels aka mystery novels as I’ve enjoyed the ones I read. I was surprised to see that the apparent popularity of these previously undiscovered authors had spawned their own sub-genre.

When the literary world outside of Scandinavia discovered the late Stieg Larsson and his Millenium Trilogy two things happened almost simultaneously. The first was the public’s delight in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stories and the second was the presence of other Scandinavian writers.

Stieg Larsson’s popularity has opened the floodgates for other equally talented writers who only needed to be translated to English for the literary pundits to get excited about. I’ve read Hans Koppel and Thomas Enger, but both books by these talented men are obviously just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

On the dedicated display table in Waterstones I found out there were more presumably talented Scandinavian writers who had plenty of books for perusal.  Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg, Hakan Nesser, Karin Alvtegen, and Karin Fossum were the authors on display.

English: Håkan Nesser at a crime fiction festi...
English: Håkan Nesser at a crime fiction festival in Bremen 2009 Deutsch: Håkan Nesser bei der Veranstaltung “Crime Time Prime Time” in Bremen im September 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of signage had been set up for Nesbo’s The Bat. The display that was just in front of the downstairs main cash register proudly proclaimed that this was the first time that the Harry Hole novel had been available to the English-speaking and reading world. Over 14 million copies of the book have already been sold.

In fact Jo Nesbo alone has eight books on offer at the moment. This includes the “first ever” Harry Hole book of The Bat. If you continue down the Waterstones webpage of Scandi-crime novels on offer you’ll see a ‘shed-load’ of books on offer. All of them written by Scandinavian authors.

Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I was gutted when I finished reading the last of the Millenium books only to find that Stieg Larsson had died and that he would not be writing any further books. I was also sad that this obviously talented man had died far too early. The blow was softened a bit by my accidental discovery of two more Scandinavian writers who were also very entertaining.

Now thanks to a chance encounter with a display table in my local Waterstones, I’ve discovered even more. I will admit to having a schoolboy giggle at the sign for Jo Nesbo’s book The Bat. The large placard touted the fact that this was the first ever Harry Hole book. I did have quite a few immature thoughts about ‘a Harry Hole’, ‘the Harry Hole’, and even about ‘how Harry the Hole was.’

Luckily for me, I was on my own. This prevented me from vocalizing the above thought pattern. So apart from me giggling uncontrollably for at least a full minute, nobody had a clue as to why. My daughter has threatened to pretend that she doesn’t know me when we go shopping. Besides my annoying habit of automatically seeing the rude side to items on display in shops, I also cannot control myself over the Christmas sales months.

Every toy or musical/mechanical/automated device on display that has a “push me” or “try me” button on it will be pushed or tried by myself. The end result is a cacophony of barking dogs, Christmas songs, singing Santa’s, et al all going off at once. Small children glare at me and mothers look disapprovingly at me while I scamper about pushing all the buttons. My daughter has learned to move away from me when we go into stores at this time of year.

Sorry, I’ve digressed quite a bit here. Back on topic!

These ‘new’ authors are on my ‘to read’ list. I will be looking up Harry Hole’s (sorry) first adventure as soon as I’ve finished reading Michael Grant’s Gone series. It looks to me like Scandinavia has a few more exports than just furniture and trees.

Finally I have to be fair to Jo Nesbo’s character Harry Hole, I’m sure he loses something in translation.