Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dan Brown's 'The Lost Symbol' released in paperback

It’s Sunday, so that means that it’s time for my weekly review of this week’s Publishers Weekly Best-Seller List. According to the list, we’ve got two new books at the top of the four major best-seller lists this week.

“Worth Dying For” by Lee Child replaced “American Assassin” by Vince Flynn as the No. 1 book on the hardcover fiction list.

“The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown replaced “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson as the top book on the mass market paperbacks list.

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth: A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race” by Jon Stewart retained the No. 1 spot this week on the hardcover nonfiction list.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” retained the top spot this week on the trade paperbacks list.

There are five books on this week’s hardcover fiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books (and their positions on this week’s list) include “Worth Dying For” by Lee Child (1), “In the Company of Others” by Jan Karon (3), “The Twelfth Imam” by Joel C. Rosenberg (8), “Chasing the Night” by Iris Johansen (14) and “The Templar Salvation” by Raymond Khoury (15).

There are five books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books are “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” edited by Harriet Smith (3), “Sh*t My Dad Says” by Justin Halpern (11), “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh (13), Bobby Flay’s Throwdown by Bobby Flay with Stephanie Banyas and Miriam Garron (14) and “Oogy” by Larry Levin (15).

There are three books on this week’s mass market paperbacks list that weren’t on the list last week. Those books are “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown (1), “Blood Trinity” by Sherrilyn Kenyon (9) and “O’Hurley Born” by Nora Roberts (15).

There is one book on this week’s trade paperbacks list that wasn’t on that list last week – “The Finkler Question” by Howard Jacobson, which was No. 14 on this week’s list.

Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists. As a reminder, I’m posting these lists each Sunday because they, as a whole, represent a great, contemporary recommended reading list. They are initially released each week on Thursday, and if you’re interested in reading them then, visit Publishers Weekly’s Web site at www.publishersweekly.com.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "Worth Dying For" by Lee Child
2. "American Assassin" by Vince Flynn
3. "In the Company of Others" by Jan Karon
4. "The Girl Who Kicked the Nornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
5. "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett
6. "Safe Haven" by Nicholas Sparks
7. "The Reversal" by Michael Connelly
8. "The Twelfth Imam" by Joel C. Rosenberg
9. "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary" by David Sedaris
10. "Don't Blink" by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
11. "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen
12. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
13. "Our Kind of Traitor" by John le Carre
14. "Chasing the Night" by Iris Johansen
15. "The Templar Salvation" by Raymond Khoury

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race" by Jon Stewart
2. "Trickle Up Poverty" by Michael Savage
3. "Autobiography of Mark Twain" by Ed. by Harriet Elinor Smith
4. "The Last Boy" by Jane Leavy
5. "Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama" by Bill O'Reilly
6. "At Home" by Bill Bryson
7. "Extraordinary, Ordinary People" by Condoleezza Rice
8. "A--holes Finish First" by Tucker Max
9. "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward
10. "Washington" by Ron Chernow
11. "Sh t My Dad Says" by Justin Halpern
12. "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
13. "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh
14. "Bobby Flay's Throwdown" by Bobby Flay with Stephanie Banyas & Miriam Garron
15. "Oogy" by Larry Levin

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown
2. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
3. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
4. "61 Hours: A Reacher Novel" by Lee Child
5. "I, Alex Cross" by James Patterson
6. "Play Dead" by Harlen Coben
7. "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton
8. "Rough Country" by John Sandford
9. "Blood Trinity" by Sherrilyn Kenyon & Dianna Love
10. "Crave" by J.R. Ward
11. "Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
12. "Ford County: Stories" by John Grisham
13. "True Blue" by David Baldacci
14. "Styx's Storm" by Lora Leigh
15. "O'Hurley Born" by Nora Roberts

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
3. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave
4. "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert
5. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese
6. "Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel" by Jeannette Walls
7. "The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel" by Garth Stein
8. "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay
9. "Unlocked" by Karen Kingsbury
10. "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
11. "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho
12. "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls
13. "Worst Case" by James Patterson
14. "The Finkler Question" by Howard Jacobson
15. "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of these books. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Big List of Alabama's 'ghost hunting clubs'

Probably for as long as man has walked the earth, he’s tried to make sense of the things that he doesn’t understand, and I’m sure that most of us, at one time or another, have been curious about the supernatural and the paranormal.

Some people take it one step further and attempt to investigate claims of the supernatural and many of these hardcore investigators form “ghost hunting clubs.” Groups of this type have been around for years, but it seems that their numbers have exploded in the last decade or so, especially since the first season of the SyFy Channel’s hit show, “Ghosthunters.” (The show’s two stars, Grant Wilson and Jason Hawes, are pictured above.)

While claims of the paranormal and supernatural are fascinating, I personally find people dedicated to investigating these subjects to be equally fascinating. These individuals are generally bright and intelligent with a keen curiosity about the unexplained things that go bump in the night.

Halloween is tomorrow, and in the spirit of that holiday, I give you today a list of all the ghost hunting clubs (that I could find) in Alabama. I’ve broken the list into two parts. The first is a list of groups that have known, working Web sites, some of which are very sophisticated. The other list is of known groups without working Web sites, so far as I could tell.

Without further ado, here’s List I:

- Alabama Ghost Hunters Society: www.ghostinvestigator.tripod.com
- Alabama Paranormal Investigations (Muscle Shoals): www.myspace.com/api_alabama_paranormal
- Alabama Paranormal Research Team (Salem): www.alabamaghosthunters.com
- Alabama Paranormal Researchers (Montgomery): www.alabamaparanormalresearchers.webs.com
- Alabama Paranormal Society (Madison): www.alabama-paranormal-society.com
- All Night Paranormal (Nauvoo): www.allnightparanormal.com

- Bi-City Paranormal Research (Phenix City): www.bicityparanormal.com
- Birmingham Paranormal: www.birminghamparanormal.com
- Bon Secour Paranormal Investigations: www.bonsecourparanormalinvestigations.com

- Central Alabama Paranormal Society (Birmingham): www.centralalabamaparanormalsociety.com
- Central Alabama Society of Paranormal Exploration and Research (Wetumpka): www.myspace.com/c_a_s_p_e_r_2007

- Dixiedead Paranormal Society (Headland): www.dixiesdeath.webs.com
- Druid City Paranormal (Moundville): www.druidcityparanormal.net

- Ghosthunters Coalition (Dothan): www.ghosthunterscoalition.org
- Ghost Hunters of the South (Mobile): www.ghots.net
- Ghost Hunters of Uncommon Leagues (Boaz): www.ghoulparanormal.com
- Greater Alabama Paranormal Society – GAPS (McCalla): www.gaps.yolasite.com
- Gulf Paranormal Society of Mobile: www.gulfparanormalsocietyofmobile.web.officelive.com

- Lamar County Paranormal Society: www.myspace.com/lcapsociety
- Lower Alabama Ghost Hunters (Andalusia): www.myspace.com/la_ghost10

- Mobile Order of Paranormal Investigators: www.mobileparanormal.com

- North Alabama Paranormal Investigators (Cullman): www.bamaghost.com
- North-Eastern Alabama Paranormal Society (Mentone): www.napsonline.net

- Old South Ghost Hunters (Attalla): www.oldsouthghosthunters.yuku.com
- Organizations for Paranormal Research and Bizarre Phenomena Study – O.R.B.S. (Anniston-Gadsden area): www.angelfire.com/ab5/orbs
- Oxford Paranormal Society: www.oxfordparanormalsociety.com

- Paranormal Alabama (Birmingham): www.myspace.com/paranormalAL
- Paranormal Investigators of South Central Alabama (Alexander City): www.piscaonline.com
- Paranormal-Occult Research Team (Montgomery): www.paranormalort.com
- Paranormal Research Alliance (Cullman): www.ghosthauntings.org

- Rocket City Paranormal (Huntsville): www.rocketcityparanormal.com

- Society of Paranormal Investigations (Walker County): www.freewebs.com/kevanwalden
- Somerville Paranormal Apparition Team: www.somervilleparanormal.com
- Southeast Alabama Paranormal Society (Ozark): www.myspace.com/southeastaps
- South Eastern Ghost Research Association (Daleville): www.southeasternghostresearchassociation.webs.com
- Southern Alabama Paranormal Service: www.alabamaparanormalservice.com
- Southern Historic and Paranormal Society (Dothan): www.e-southerndata.com

- Total Paranormal Research (Birmingham): http://totalparanormal.webs.com/
- Trussville Paranormal Society: www.trussvilleparanormalsociety.blogspot.com
- Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group: www.tuscaloosaparanormal.com

- West Alabama Paranormal Research and Investigation Group (Tuscaloosa): www.myspace.com/westalabamaghosthunters
- West Alabama Paranormal Society: http://westalabamaparanormal.com
- Wiregrass Ghost Hunters (Ozark): www.wiregrassghosthunters.webs.com

The following is List II, that is, a list of known “ghost hunting” clubs in Alabama without known or functional Web sites:

- Alabama Foundation for Paranormal Research
- Alabama Ghost Haunting
- Alabama Ghost Hunting (Pell City)
- Alabama Ghost Research Society (South Alabama)
- Alabama Ghost Stalkers
- Alabama Haunted (Central Alabama)
- Alabama Paranormal Research

- Baldwin County Paranormal
- Black Warrior Paranormal Research Team (Gordo)

- Dixieland Paranormal Team (Phenix City)

- East Alabama Paranormal Enthusiasts
- East Alabama Paranormal Society (Gadsden)
- Eclectic Paths Paranormal Society
- Elite Paranormal Investigative Council of Alabama (Jasper)
- Elite Paranormal Investigators (Jasper)

- Ghost Research Society of North Central Alabama (Chilton County)
- Gulf Area Paranormal Society (Mobile-Pensacola area)
- Gulf States Paranormal Society (Birmingham)

- Mobile Area Ghost Club
- Mobile Area Ghost Investigations
- Mobile Paranormal Research Team

- No-Al Paranormal (Hartselle)
- North Alabama Paranormal Society (Huntsville)
- Northeastern Alabama Paranormal Society

- Paranormal Apparitional Research Team (Ardmore)
- Paranormal Expeditions (Birmingham)

- Shoals Paranormal (Muscle Shoals)
- South Alabama Paranormal Society (Mobile)
- Southern Alabama Paranormal Investigations (Mobile)
- Southeastern Paranormal Assistance Team (Boaz)
- Southern Paranormal Researchers (Montgomery)
- Supernatural Assistance (North Alabama)

In the end, I’d like to hear from you if you know of any other ghost hunting clubs that aren’t on this list. Also, I’ve never been on a formal investigation with an organization of this type, so if you wouldn’t mind having a writer and photographer tag along on one of your field investigations, let me know. I can be reached by e-mail at leepeacock2002@hotmailcom.

Friday, October 29, 2010

'Top 10 Spookiest Places in Monroe County, Alabama'

Halloween is the day after tomorrow, and in the spirit of that creepy holiday, I give you today my list of the “Top 10 Spookiest Places in Monroe County, Alabama.”

I compiled this list after discussing the subject with a number of the county’s lifelong residents and individuals well versed in the county’s long history. I was surprised by a number of their suggestions and even learned a little bit about a few places that I’d never heard of.

Without further ado, here’s the list, in no particular order:

1. McConnico Cemetery: Large cemetery, located off Monroe County Road 1 at Perdue Hill, containing some of the count’s oldest graves. According to “Haunted Places: The National Directory” by Dennis William Hauck, this cemetery is the setting for the county’s best known ghost story.

“The phantoms of 12 Union horsemen have been seen riding near this old graveyard,” Hauck wrote. “Captain and Mrs. Charles Locklin witnessed the ghostly parade in autumn of 1865. The Locklins were in their carriage early one morning when two columns of six soldiers on gray horses passed by on each side of them.

“Each member of the eerie troop wore white gloves, with his hands crossed on the pommel of his saddle, and every one wore a white bandage wrapped tightly around his head. The two respected citizens were certain they had been victims of Confederate solider Lafayette Sigler, who ambushed Northern patrols, killed them and cut off their ears. Sigler’s collection of Yankee ears was said to have been quite impressive.”

This first encounter with the ghost soldiers is also said to have occurred on Mount Pleasant Road and sporadic sightings were reported over the hundred years.

2. Louisville and Nashville Railroad Train Tunnel at Tunnel Springs: This abandoned train tunnel is now home to hundreds of thumb-sized bats. Completed in 1899, this 840-foot-long tunnel was built by four crews of 15 men each working day and night using simple equipment. One crew is said to have worked from the north side while the other worked from the south. The story also goes that a number of workers died during the construction of this eerie tunnel.

3. Old Monroe County Courthouse: Nicknamed “America’s Most Famous Courthouse,” this building was constructed in 1903 and is now one of the most often photographed buildings in the state. From 1903 to the construction of a new courthouse in 1963, this building housed most county offices and was the center of the county’s court system. It’s most famous for being the model of the courtroom seen in the trial scenes in the movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Now the home of the Monroe County Heritage Museums, frequent quests say that the upstairs part of the building can get very creepy on quiet nights.

“Things blow in the breeze but there is no breeze,” one man said. “You hear sounds that don’t belong, and I have smelled pipe tobacco smoke when no one was smoking or even there to be smoking.”

4. Claiborne Masonic Lodge: Located now at Perdue Hill on U.S. Highway 84, this building, pictured above, is the oldest existing manmade structure in Monroe County. Built in 1819 at Claiborne, this building was used as a courtroom, town hall, church, school and one of the earliest Masonic lodges in the state. Visited by Revolutionary War hero, Marquis De Lafayette, in 1825, this building was moved a few miles east to Perdue Hill in 1884. Lafayette was the last surviving general of the Revolutionary War at the time of his visit.

5. Nancy Mountain at Haine’s Island: Located off Monroe County Road 17 at Franklin, this locale is the site of one of the county’s most enduring ghost stories, the story of “Crazy Nancy.”

Variations of this story exist, but the most common version says that the ghost of a woman, “Crazy Nancy” or “Aunt Nancy,” can be seen walking up and down the hill to Davis Ferry in hopes of meeting her son and husband who were claimed by the Civil War, never to return. Witnesses say that this female phantom is seen walking with a lantern (or long walking stick) in one hand and with a bucket of water in the other.

According to George B. Singleton’s book, “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” you’ll know this spirit by her long, gingham dress, her old bonnet and the long, white hair that hangs out the back of her bonnet and all the way down to her waist.

6. The C.L. Hybart House: Located on Hybart Drive in Monroeville, this restored 1920s house is one of Monroe County’s most distinctive buildings. Built in the manner of a Mediterranean Spanish villa, including stucco, tile and columns made with stones from Limestone Creek. Now owned by the Monroe County Heritage Museums and operated under the name of the “Hybart House Museum and Cultural Center,” this reputedly haunted residence was built by the late Charlie Hybart, a colorful local attorney who became known for holding lavish parties that were attended by VIPs and politicians from all over the state.

7. Monroe County Public Library: Located on Pineville Road, this building houses over 60,000 volumes and is located in the former LaSalle Hotel. The library has been in this location since 1984, but the building is located on one of the oldest parcels of land recognized for continuous usage in Monroe County. In the past, the property has been used as a stable, various homes, a Methodist parsonage and as the LaSalle Hotel. Its famous guests included actor, Gregory Peck, who visited Monroeville during the 1960s.

More than a few library patrons have claim to have had unusual experiences on the library’s second floor.

“Once you leave the bright, sunny ground floor and climb the stairs to the second floor, where many of the former rooms were located, you just get a creepy feeling all over. Like most hotels, this building probably saw its fair share of visitors from all over, and I think that a few of them just decided to stay.”

8. The Robbins Hotel: Now a hunting club, this historic former hotel is located in downtown Beatrice, adjacent to town hall. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this hotel was located just off the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and was operated for many years by Miss Minnie Robbins. The hotel’s patrons were largely made up of railroad travelers, and the hotel featured 14 rooms, each with a fireplace.

9. Gin House Bottom: Located north of Monroeville, near the intersection of the Ridge Road and State Highway 41 (formerly called the Camden Highway), there were once a number of stores and family residences in this area, which took its name from a local cotton gin.

Also in this area, a tale sprung to life about a headless horseman that was seen by a number of county residences.

“On moonlit nights, when one could see, the headless rider could be seen riding the road along Gin Bottom Road,” George Singleton wrote in one of his Monroe Journal columns. “This was a common sight to the men who had to travel the road late at night after a hard day at the cotton gin. I have been told that on several occasions, the horse and rider would pass so close to a traveler that he could try to reach out and touch the headless rider.”

10. The Devil’s Bowl: Located about three miles off of State Highway 21 in the vicinity of the Megargel and Goodway communities, this geological oddity is a pool that’s about 30 feet in diameter. Also called “The Devil’s Soup Bowl,” no surface stream feeds this freshwater pool of deep, dark water, which is said to be one of “Monroe County’s strangest sights.” Locals claim that this pool is bottomless. Possible explanations for its existence vary from an ancient meteor impact to the idea that it’s the shaft left behind by dead volcano.

Before I wrap this thing up, I want to make clear that more than a few of these places are more than likely located on private property, so if you get the idea to visit any of these places (especially at night) you’d better get permission first or run the risk of trespassing. Also, if you plan to visit any of these places, especially cemeteries, respect your surroundings.

In the end, I’d like to hear from you if you know a good local ghost story or have information about a spooky location in Monroe County. You can reach me by calling 251-578-1492, by e-mail at leepeacock2002@hotmail.com or by mail at The Evergreen Courant, ATTN: Lee Peacock, P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is Evergreen library, CCHS Building haunted? Some say 'yes!'

Last Thursday, in the spirit of Halloween, I gave you my list of the “Top 10 Spookiest Places in Conecuh County, Alabama.”

I ended that post by asking readers to contact me with their own ghost stories, and, as things turned out, I didn’t have to wait long for two readers to contact me with a pair of spooky tales.

Last Thursday morning, a retired schoolteacher contacted me with an eerie story about a school building in Conecuh County. According to this veteran teacher, she had more than a few chilling experiences while working late at Conecuh County High School in Castleberry.

She claimed that on a number of occasions she heard running footsteps in the building’s attic and on each occasion she knew that she was the only person in the building.

“It will give you a chill up your spine,” she said. “I know because it happened many times to me when I was teaching there, working late and knew I was alone.”

The Conecuh County High School building, which now houses Conecuh County Junior High School, was constructed in 1936. Since the late 1930s, thousands of students have passed through the halls of this school, which has bound to have been the site of a number of accidents over the years.

The second ghost story that came my way this week is about the Evergreen-Conecuh County Public Library, located on Cemetery Avenue in Evergreen.

Present and former staff members at the library, pictured above, have had a number of unusual experiences in the buildings, including cold temperatures even when the thermostat’s turned up, unexplained thumping noises throughout the building and finding lights on that should have been off. Staffers have also found books “turned topsy-turvy” or misplaced on shelves as well as items on the floor, even though things had been in their proper place when they closed the building the day before.

They say that this unusual activity has increased now that the building’s second floor has been opened for public use after recent renovations. Workers there also say that strange sounds have been on the rise, including the sound of someone coming up the stairs even when no one is there.

All of this aside, some library employees also claim to have actually seen a ghost outside on the library grounds. They describe this ghost as a young girl, wearing what looks like turn-of-the-century clothing and riding breeches, standing next to a phantom horse. The girl has her arm draped around the horse’s neck, witnesses said.

According to local historians, as many as three houses were once located on the corner where the library property sits today, so maybe this ghostly girl once tended her horse there decades ago.

In the end, I’d like to hear from you if you know a good local ghost story or have information about a spooky location in Conecuh County. You can reach me by calling 578-1492, by e-mail at courantsports@earthlink.net or by mail at The Evergreen Courant, ATTN: Lee Peacock, P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My movie picks this week are 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest,' 'Played with Fire'

It’s Wednesday, so today I give you my weekly list of movies that will open in theatres this week as well as my list of movies that will be released this week on DVD.

I hope this will serve as a useful guide as to what’s going on this week if you happen to be near a movie theatre or if you’re looking for something to drop into your NetFlix queue.

Movies that are scheduled to hit theatres this Friday include:

- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Drama, R): Directed by Daniel Alfredson and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Annika Hallin, Per Oscarsson and Lena Endre.

- Saw 3D (Horror, Thriller, R): Directed by Kevin Greutert and starring Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell and Sean Patrick Flanery.

- Welcome to the Rileys (Drama, R): Directed by Jake Scott and starring Melissa Leo, James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart.

- Wild Target (Comedy, PG-13): Directed by Jonathan Lynn and starring Emily Blunt, Bill Nighy, Rupert Grint, Rupert Everett and Martin Freeman.

- Monsters (Science Fiction, R): Directed by Gareth Edwards and starring Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able.

New DVD releases for the week of Oct. 26 include:

- The Girl Who Played with Fire (Crime and Mystery, Thriller, R): Directed by Daniel Alfredson and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Alexandra Eisenstein, Annika Hallin and Per Oscarsson.

- Winter’s Bone (Drama, R): Directed by Debra Granik and starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey and Sheryl Lee.

- South of the Border (Documentary, Not Rated): Directed by Oliver Stone and starring Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva, Cristina Kirchner and Nestor Kirchner.

- Sex in the City 2 (Comedy, R): Directed by Michael Patrick King and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis and Chris North.

If I could only watch one movie at the theatre this week, it would be “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” and if I had to pick just one DVD to rent this week, it would be “The Girl Who Played with Fire.”

In the end, let me know if you get a chance to watch any of the new movies in theatres this week or if you’ve already seen any of the movies that have just been released on DVD. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'Hellboy II' lacks Black Magic Nazis, but it's still a great movie

I scratched another Saturn Award winner for Best Horror Movie off my list yesterday, when I rewatched the 2008 winner, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”

I’m a big fan of the Hellboy movies and comics and while “Hellboy II” never gets old, it’s still not as good as the first Hellboy movie. (Maybe it’s the lack of Black Magic-welding Nazis?)

“Hellboy II” was released in July 2008 and has a number of huge names associated with its production. The movie is directed by the hugely talented Guillermo del Toro and is based on the Hellboy comics written by Mike Mignola. Music for the film was provided by Danny Elfman. The movie starred Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, John Hurt and Seth MacFarlane. (This movie was actually MacFarlane’s big screen debut. MacFarlane, who is best known for his work on “Family Guy,” provided the voice for the ectoplasmically disembodied Johann Krauss.)

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it’s about an elf prince who grows tired of living in the shadows and hiding from the humans. Breaking an ancient and largely forgotten truce between elves and humans, he seeks to revive an indestructible army of robots that would wipe out the human race. Hellboy, along with the other members of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), are tasked with stopping the elf prince and his followers from taking over the world.

This movie was a financial success, posting gross revenues of $160.3 million against a budget of $85 million. It also won a number of awards. In addition to a Saturn Award, it was named IGN’s Best Fantasy Movie of 2008 and was named the Best Fantasy Movie at the 2008 Scream Awards. It was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Makeup.

Every time I watch this movie and the original Hellboy movie, I’m always struck with the same thought: Where were movies like this when I was a kid? I eat this stuff up now, but I REALLY would have eaten it up when I was about 13 years old.

In the end, I enjoyed rewatching “Hellboy II,” which put me that much closer to having watched all of the Saturn Award winners for Best Horror Movie in chronological order. I’ve got one more movie left, the 2009 winner, “Drag Me to Hell.” It’s due to arrive at the house via NetFlix tomorrow, so I hope to cross it off my list before the end of the week.

Monday, October 25, 2010

'Prince of Persia' was OK. Not great, but OK.

Just a few days ago, I finally got around to watching 2010’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.”

This movie was OK. Not great, but OK.

Based on the popular “Prince of Persia” series of video games, this movie was released in May 2010 and was directed by Mike Newell. It starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton and Alfred Molina.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a street orphan, who’s adopted by the Persian king, Sharaman. Sharaman raises the boy, Dastan, as one of his own sons, and the boy eventually becomes one of the king’s top military leaders.

Fifteen years after his adoption, Dastan (which means “hero” in ancient Persian) leads a group of soldiers during an assault against the sacred city of Alamut. The leaders of this normally peaceful city are said to be selling weapons to Persia’s enemies.

The Persians topple the city, and Dastan soon finds himself in possession of a magical dagger that can turn back the hands of time. Soon after the assault on Alamut, Dastan’s father, the king, is assassinated before his eyes, and innocent Dastan is blamed for the crime. He spends the rest of the movie, trying to set things right.

If I had to sum up this movie, I’d say it’s “Aladdin” meets Jason Bourne meets “The Scorpion King” meets “The Matrix.” If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.

This movie was a financial success, bringing in gross revenues of over $335 million against a budget of nearly $200 million.

I found this movie especially interesting because it’s set in ancient Persia. The Persian Empire, also known as the Sassanid Empire, lasted from 224 AD to 651 AD. At its height, this empire encompassed all of modern day Iraq and the Persian Gulf area. The city of Alamut, which plays a central part in the movie, was located about 100 miles from the present day city of Tehran in Iran.

I’ve been to Iraq and Kuwait, and the films scenes of desert vistas and sandstorms brought back more than a few memories.

In the end, I enjoyed this movie and recommend it to anyone in the audience with a taste for action and adventure. If you liked “The Matrix” or “The Bourne Identity,” you’ll probably enjoy this movie.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

'American Assassin' takes No. 1 spot on best-seller list

It’s Sunday, so that mean’s that it’s time for my weekly review of this week’s Publishers Weekly Best-Seller List. According to the list, we’ve got three new books at the top of the four major best-seller lists this week.

“American Assassin” by Vince Flynn replaced “The Reversal” by Michael Connelly as the No. 1 book on the hardcover fiction list.

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth: A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race” by Jon Stewart replaced “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward as the top book on the hardcover nonfiction list.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson replaced “Crave” by J.R. Ward on the mass market paperbacks list.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” retained the top spot this week on the trade paperbacks list.

There are three books on this week’s hardcover fiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books (and their positions on this week’s list) include “American Assassin” by Vince Flynn (1), “Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre (7) and “Naked Heat” by Richard Castle (15).

There are five books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books are “The Last Boy” by Jane Leavy (4), “You Already Know How to Be Great” by Alan Fine with Rebecca R. Merrill (8), “Extraordinary, Ordinary People” by Condoleezza Rice (9), “Conversations with Myself” by Nelson Mandela (13) and “Late, Late at Night” by Rick Springfield (14).

There is one book on this week’s mass market paperbacks list that wasn’t on the list last week – “I, Sniper” by Stephen Hunter, which was No. 13 on the list.

There are two books on this week’s trade paperbacks list that weren’t on that list last week. They are “Unlocked” by Karen Kingsbury (4) and “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horwitz (15).

Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists. As a reminder, I’m posting these lists each Sunday because they, as a whole, represent a great, contemporary recommended reading list. They are initially released each week on Thursday, and if you’re interested in reading them then, visit Publishers Weekly’s Web site at http://www.publishersweekly.com/.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "American Assassin" by Vince Flynn
2. "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett
3. "The Girl Who Kicked the Nornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
4. "The Reversal" by Michael Connelly
5. "Safe Haven" by Nicholas Sparks
6. "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen
7. "Our Kind of Traitor" by John le Carre
8. "Don't Blink" by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
9. "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary" by David Sedaris
10. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
11. "Painted Ladies" by Robert B. Parker
12. "Bad Blood: A Virgil Flowers Novel" by John Sandford
13. "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue
14. "Getting to Happy" by Terry McMillan
15. "Naked Heat" by Richard Castle

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race" by Jon Stewart
2. "Trickle Up Poverty" by Michael Savage
3. "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward
4. "The Last Boy" by Jane Leavy
5. "At Home" by Bill Bryson
6. "A--holes Finish First" by Tucker Max
7. "Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama" by Bill O'Reilly
8. "You Already Know How to Be Great" by Alan Fine with Rebecca R. Merrill
9. "Extraordinary, Ordinary People" by Condoleezza Rice
10. "Washington" by Ron Chernow
11. "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
12. "The Roots of Obama's Rage" by Dinesh D'Souza
13. "Conversations with Myself" by Nelson Mandela
14. "Late, Late at Night" by Rick Springfield
15. "Is It Just Me?" by Whoopi Goldberg

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
3. "I, Alex Cross" by James Patterson
4. "61 Hours: A Reacher Novel" by Lee Child
5. "Play Dead" by Harlen Coben
6. "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton
7. "Crave" by J.R. Ward
8. "Rough Country" by John Sandford
9. "Styx's Storm" by Lora Leigh
10. "Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan and B randon Sanderson
11. "Cross Roads" by Fern Michaels
12. "True Blue" by David Baldacci
13. "I, Sniper" by Stephen Hunter
14. "Ford County: Stories" by John Grisham
15. "Taken by Midnight: A Midnight Breed Novel" by Lara Adrian

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
3. "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert
4. "Unlocked" by Karen Kingsbury
5. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave
6. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese
7. "Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel" by Jeannette Walls
8. "The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel" by Garth Stein
9. "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay
10. "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho
11. "Worst Case" by James Patterson
12. "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
13. "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
14. "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls
15. "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horwitz

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of these books. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sweeny Todd was (probably) nothing more than a Victorian era Boogey Man

I scratched another Saturn Award winner for Best Horror Movie off of my list on Wednesday and this time it was the 2007 winner, “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

This film was released in December 2007 and was directed by Tim Burton. The movie starred a number of famous actors, including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen (aka “Borat”).

For those of you who’ve never seen this movie, it’s set in Victorian era London and centers on Sweeny Todd, an expert barber who is falsely imprisoned, so that a corrupt judge can get his hands on his young, beautiful wife. Todd returns to London after 15 years and sets up a barbershop above the bakery of a Mrs. Nellie Lovett. Later, Todd begins to exact his revenge on London by killing his barbershop patrons with a straight razor. Lovett, acting as his accomplice, helps dispose of the bodies by grinding them up and baking what’s left in meat pies.

This film is actually an adaptation of the 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. (I usually don’t like musicals because, to me, films in which the characters break out into song is just way too unrealistic to me.) The movie was a financial success, pulling in gross revenues of $152.5 million against a budget of $50 million.

In addition to a Saturn Award, the movie was also nominated for three Oscars and received four Golden Globe nominations. Depp was also named Best Villain at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards.

The question that always seems to come up about Sweeny Todd concerns whether or not Todd was actually a real person. The short answer is no.

Sweeny Todd is a fictional character, who first appeared in the serialized “penny dreadful” story, “The String of Pearls,” in 1846-1847. Most experts agree that the legend of Sweeny Todd grew out of much older urban legends in England and France. Apparently, there was a common urban legend circulating in rural communities during this time about a big city barber who robbed his customers, slit their throats and disposed of the bodies by having them cooked into meat pies by an accomplice baker in the same neighborhood.

Despite extensive research into the origins of Sweeny Todd, no proof of his actual existence has ever been uncovered, which leads most experts to believe that he’s nothing more than a Victorian era boogey man.

In the end, I enjoyed rewatching “Sweeny Todd,” mostly because I enjoy Tim Burton and Johnny Depp movies. Have any of you seen “Sweeny Todd”? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments section below.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The 'Sidewise Award for Alternate History' winners list

I watched the movie “Inglorious Basterds” for the first time earlier this week, and I’ve been thinking it a lot ever since.

In most reviews, this movie is classified as a drama, thriller or war movie. It is all of those things, but first and foremost, in my opinion, it’s one of the best alternative history movies I’ve ever seen.

For those of you unfamiliar with this genre, alternative history is a genre of fiction (or film) in which stories take place in settings in which history has diverged from real events. These types of stories are well known for exploring “what ifs” at major turning points in history and give readers a different version of the resulting history.

The best example of this genre that I have ever read is the extremely entertaining book, “The Guns of the South” by alternative history master, Harry Turtledove. In this story, time travelers from the future visit Robert E. Lee and supply the Army of Northern Virginia with a trainload of AK-47s, which leads to a Confederate victory in the Civil War.

In “Inglorious Basterds,” (SPOILER ALERT) the good guys bring about the end of World War II by killing Adolph Hitler and a number of other high level Nazi leaders during a 1944 film premiere in Paris. Of course, we all know that the war didn’t end that way, and that’s where we get into the realm of alternative history.

I say all of this to say that yesterday I ran across a list of all of the books that have received the “Sidewise Award for Alternate History” over the years. This award was created in 1995 and is given in to the year’s best alternative history stories in two categories, Long Form and Short Form. Long Form winners are alternative history works of more than 60,000 words, and Short Form winners are less than 60,000 words. Most Long Form winners are either novels or a complete series of novels.

Today, I give you a complete list of all of the Long Form winners. Here they are:

1995 – “Pasquale’s Angel” by Paul J. McAuley
1996 – “Voyage” by Stephen Baxter
1997 – “How Few Remain” by Harry Turtledove
1998 – “Making History” by Stephen Fry
1999 – “Resurrection Day” by Brendan DuBois
2000 – “Ash: A Secret History” by Mary Gentle
2001 – “The Children’s War” by J.N. Stroyar
2002 (tie) – “Ruled Britannia” by Harry Turtledove and “The Severed Wing” by Martin J. Gidron
2003 – “Collaborator” by Murray Davies
2004 – “The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth
2005 – “The Summer Isles” by Ian R. MacLeod
2006 – “The Family Trade,” “The Hidden Family” and “The Clan Corporate” (series) by Charles Stross
2007 – “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon
2008 – “The Dragon’s Nine Sons” by Chris Roberson
2009 – “1942” by Robert Conroy

A panel of six judges selects the Sidewise Award winners annually, and the membership of the panel changes from year to year. The current judges are Stephen Baxter of Great Britain; Stuart Shiffman of Seattle; Evelyn Leeper of Matawan, N.J.; Kurt Sidaway of Great Britain; Jim Rittenhouse of Lisle, Ill. and Steven Silver of Deerfield, Ill.

For more information about the Sidewise Awards, visit http://www.uchronia.net/sidewise/.

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of the Sidewise Award winners. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

'Top 10 Spookiest Places in Conecuh County, Alabama'

Halloween is just 10 days away, and in the spirit of that creepy holiday, I give you today my list of the “Top 10 Spookiest Places in Conecuh County, Alabama.”

I compiled this list after discussing the subject with a number of the county’s lifelong residents and individuals well versed in the county’s long history. I was surprised by a number of their suggestions and even learned a little bit about a few places that I’d never heard of.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

1. Sanders Cave: Large cave located about 3-1/2 miles northwest of Brooklyn. According to the June 1, 1967 edition of The Brewton Standard, it’s believed that Joseph Thompson Hare’s gang of robbers buried gold in the cave. Hare’s gang, which was organized in New Orleans in 1801, robbed overland travelers from New Orleans to Pensacola. Hare was eventually hanged in Baltimore in 1818 for robbing a U.S. Mail coach.

2. Old Beulah Cemetery: One of the county’s oldest cemeteries, which contains a number of old fashioned headstones and monuments. The cemetery is located near the intersection of Hagood Road and County Road 29, southeast of Evergreen.

3. Monster Road: The traditional nickname of what is officially known as Hagood Road, which connects Conecuh County Road 29 and Brooklyn Road, southeast of Evergreen. I asked a number of people about how the road came to be called Monster Road, but no one could say with any certainty.

4. Old L&N Train Depot: Located in downtown Evergreen and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this building is over 100 years old. Thousands of people passed through this train station during its heyday, and former employees have shared tales about hearing unexplained noises in the building at all times of the day and night.

5. Old Carter Hospital (pictured above): Located on Burnt Corn Street in Repton, this was once the only hospital for a hundred miles in every direction. Closed in the mid-1950s, when Monroe County Hospital opened in Monroeville, this structure has seen more than its fair share of pain, sickness and death.

6. Interstate 65: This 40-mile stretch of the interstate between Evergreen and Greenville was designated “The Haunted Highway” in the book, “Haunted Places: The National Directory” by Dennis William Hauck. Book claims that this section of highway is haunted by the spirits of displaced Creek Indians and has resulted in an “accident rate that is well above average.”

7. Old Sparta Site: According to “Shadows and Dust, Volume II” by Kevin McKinley, this is the location of a haunted well. The story goes that whispers can be heard coming from the well, which may have been constructed near the burial grounds of some long since removed Indian tribe.

8. Hawthorne House Site: This residence, which was located in Belleville and burned down in 2003, was used as a hospital for individuals injured in a train collision in October 1862 and as a hospital for Confederate soldiers hurt near the end of the Civil War. Many in the Belleville community believed that the Hawthorne House held the lingering spirits of countless Confederate souls. Lights, televisions and other modern conveniences in the home would often malfunction for no apparent reasons.

9. First Evergreen Cemetery: Small cemetery located in Evergreen, just off Main Street, adjacent to old Evergreen High School property. Contains some of the city’s earliest graves, including three unusual-looking unmarked vaults made with handmade bricks.

10. The Evergreen Courant Office: Located in one of the oldest buildings in downtown Evergreen, unexplained noises can be heard during the day and after hours. Long time employees at The Courant jokingly say that the noises are just former employees who don’t know that they’ve passed their final “deadline.”

Before I wrap this thing up, I want to make clear that more than a few of these places are more than likely located on private property, so if you get the idea to visit any of these places (especially at night) you’d better get permission first or run the risk of trespassing. Also, if you plan to visit any of these places, especially cemeteries, respect your surroundings.

In the end, I’d like to hear from you if you know a good local ghost story or have information about a spooky location in Conecuh County. You can reach me by calling 578-1492, by e-mail at courantsports@earthlink.net or by mail at The Evergreen Courant, ATTN: Lee Peacock, P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My movie picks this week are 'Paranormal Activity 2' and 'Predators'

It’s Wednesday, so today I give you my weekly list of movies that will open in theatres this week as well as my list of movies that will be released this week on DVD.

I hope this will serve as a useful guide as to what’s going on this week if you happen to be near a movie theatre or if you’re looking for something to drop into your NetFlix queue.

Movies that are scheduled to hit theatres this Friday include:

- Paranormal Activity 2 (Drama, Thriller, R): Directed by Tod Williams.

- Hereafter (Drama, Thriller, PG-13): Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon, Cecile De France and Frankie McLaren.

- The Company Men (Drama, R): Directed by John Wells and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck and Kevin Costner.

- Kuncklehead (Comedy, PG-13): Directed by Michael W. Watkins.

New DVD releases for the week of Oct. 19 include:

- Predators (Action, Science Fiction, R): Directed by Nimrod Antal and starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace and Danny Trejo.

- Oceans (Documentary, Special Interest, G): Directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud and starring Pierce Brosnan and Lancelot Perrin.

- Please Give (Comedy, R): Directed by Nicole Holofcener and starring Amanda Pete, Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt.

- Kings of the Evening (Drama, PG): Directed by Andrew P. Jones and starring Tyson Beckford, Lynn Whitfield and Linara Washington.

If I could only watch one movie at the theatre this week, it would be “Paranormal Activity 2,” and if I had to pick just one DVD to rent this week, it would be “Predators.”

In the end, let me know if you get a chance to watch any of the new movies in theatres this week or if you’ve already seen any of the movies that have just been released on DVD. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

R.A. Salvatore has published 53 novels since 1988

Robert A. Salvatore’s new book, “Gauntlgrym,” appeared this week on Publishers Weekly’s hardcover fiction best-seller list, and this got me to thinking about how many books Salvatore has written over the years.

I knew that Salvatore, who is enormously popular among fantasy and science fiction fans, was a prolific writer, but I was very surprised by the number of novels he's published over the years. By my count, he’s published 53 novels since 1988.

I’ve had the chance to read six of Salvatore’s early novels – The Icewind Dale Trilogy and The Dark Elf Trilogy – and they are excellent. Without further ado, here’s a complete list of all of Salvatore’s books:

1988 – The Crystal Shard
1989 – Streams of Silver
1990 – The Halfling’s Gem
1990 – Homeland
1990 – Exile
1990 – Echoes of the Fourth Magic
1991 – Sojourn
1991 – Canticle
1991 – The Witch’s Daughter
1992 – The Legacy

1992 – In Sylvan Shadows
1992 – Night Masks
1993 – Starless Night
1993 – The Fallen Fortress
1993 – The Woods Out Back
1994 – Siege of Darkness
1994 – The Dragon’s Dagger
1994 – The Chaos Curse
1994 – The Sword of Bedwyr
1995 – Dragonslayer’s Return

1996 – Passage of Dawn
1996 – Luthien’s Gamble
1996 – The Dragon King
1997 – The Demon Awakens
1998 – The Silent Blade
1998 – The Demon Spirit
1999 – The Spine of the World
1999 – The Demon Apostle
2000 – Servant of the Shard
2000 – Mortalis

2000 – Bastion of Darkness
2000 – Vector Prime
2001 – Sea of Swords
2001 - Ascendance
2002 – The Thousand Orcs
2002 – Transcendence
2002 – Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
2003 – The Lone Drow
2003 - Immortalis
2004 – The Two Swords

2004 – The Highwayman
2005 – The Promise of the Witch King
2006 – Road of the Patriarch
2007 – The Orc King
2008 – The Pirate King
2008 – Stowaway (written with his son, Geno Salvatore)
2008 – The Ancient
2009 – The Ghost King
2009 – The Shadowmask (written with his son, Geno Salvatore)
2009 – The Dame

2010 – The Bear
2010 – The Sentinels (written with his son, Geno Salvatore)
2010 – Gauntlegrym

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of these books. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds' is darkly comic

I finally got around to watching the movie “Inglorious Basterds” last night, and while the movie wasn’t quite what I’d expected, it was fun, nonetheless.

Released in the U.S. in August 2009, this darkly comic, alternative history movie was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. It starred Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Daniel Bruhl, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger and Melanie Laurent.

For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, it’s set mostly in Nazi-occupied France during World War II and centers on two plots to wipe out top Nazi leaders during a movie premiere in Paris.

The movie’s title is derived from the name of a U.S. military unit called “The Inglorious Basterds,” which consists of eight Jewish American soldiers that go behind enemy lines prior to the D-Day invasion. Their mission is simple: To strike fear into the hearts of German servicemen, mostly by taking no prisoners and scalping their kills.

The Inglorious Basterds are led by First Lieutenant Aldo Raine (played by Brad Pitt), who has a nasty scar on his throat and claims to be descended from bootlegging bandits in North Carolina.

Also, for those of you who haven’t seen this movie, be prepared to read a lot of subtitles. The movie is two hours and 33 minutes long, and the dialogue is in English for about 42 percent of that time. The rest of the movie is in German (28 percent), French (22 percent) and Italian (one percent). According to the Internet Movie Database, there is one 54-minute stretch in which less than nine minutes of the dialogue is in English, include a stretch of 25 minutes in which no English is spoken.

That is not to say that this movie isn’t worth watching. It grossed $320.4 million (against a budget of $70 million) and won a number of awards. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who played SS Colonel Hans Landa, aka, “The Jew Hunter,” won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In the end, I enjoyed this movie, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Quentin Tarantino rarely disappoints, and you can always expect a few surprises, so if you like his movies, you’ll love “The Inglorious Basterds.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New R.A. Salvatore book appears on best-seller list

It’s Sunday, so that mean’s that it’s time for my weekly review of this week’s Publishers Weekly Best-Seller List. According to the list, we’ve got two new books at the top of the four major best-seller lists this week.

“The Reversal” by Michael Connelly replaced “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett as the No. 1 book on the hardcover fiction list.

“Crave” by J.R. Ward replaced “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson as the top book on the mass market paperback list.

“Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward remained the No. 1 book on the hardcover nonfiction list, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” retained the top spot on the trade paperback list.

There are four books on this week’s hardcover fiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books (and their positions on this week’s list) include “The Reversal” by Michael Connelly (1), “Painted Ladies” by Robert B. Parker (8), “Promise Me” by Richard Paul Evans (11) and “Gauntlgrym” by Robert A. Salvatore (14).

There are six books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books are “Trickle Up Poverty” by Michael Savage (3), “Divine Transformation” by Zhi Gang Sha (4), “At Home” by Bill Bryson (7), “Washington” by Ron Chernow (9), “The Moral Landscape” by Sam Harris (11) and “Is It Just Me?” by Whoopi Goldberg (14).

There are two books on this week’s mass market paperbacks list that weren’t on the list last week. They include “Crave” by J.R. Ward (1) and “Styx’s Storm” by Lora Leigh (5).

There are two books on this week’s trade paperbacks list that weren’t on that list last week. They are “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls (10) and “A Gate at the Stairs” by Lorrie Moore (15).

Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists. As a reminder, I’m posting these lists each Sunday because they, as a whole, represent a great, contemporary recommended reading list. They are initially released each week on Thursday, and if you’re interested in reading them then, visit Publishers Weekly’s Web site at http://www.publishersweekly.com/.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "The Reversal" by Michael Connelly
2. "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett
3. "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen
4. "The Girl Who Kicked the Nornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
5. "Safe Haven" by Nicholas Sparks
6. "Don't Blink" by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
7. "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary" by David Sedaris
8. "Painted Ladies" by Robert B. Parker
9. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
10. "Bad Blood: A Virgil Flowers Novel" by John Sandford
11. "Promise Me" by Richard Paul Evans
12. "Legacy: A Novel" by Danielle Steel
13. "Getting to Happy" by Terry McMillan
14. "Gauntlgrym" by Robert A. Salvatore
15. "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward
2. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race" by Jon Stewart
3. "Trickle Up Poverty" by Michael Savage
4. "Divine Transformation" by Zhi Gang Sha
5. "The Roots of Obama's Rage" by Dinesh D'Souza
6. "A--holes Finish First" by Tucker Max
7. "At Home" by Bill Bryson
8. "Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama" by Bill O'Reilly
9. "Washington" by Ron Chernow
10. "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
11. "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris
12. "Love, Lust & Faking It: The Naked Truth About Sex, Lies, and True Romance" by Jenny McCarthy
13. "The Coming Economic Armageddon: What Bible Prophecy Warns About the New Global Economy" by David Jeremiah
14. "Is It Just Me?" by Whoopi Goldberg
15. "Sh t My Dad Says" by Justin Halpern

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "Crave" by J.R. Ward
2. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
3. "61 Hours: A Reacher Novel" by Lee Child
4. "I, Alex Cross" by James Patterson
5. "Styx's Storm" by Lora Leigh
6. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
7. "Play Dead" by Harlen Coben
8. "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton
9. "Rough Country" by John Sandford
10. "Ford County: Stories" by John Grisham
11. "Taken by Midnight: A Midnight Breed Novel" by Lara Adrian
12. "Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan and B randon Sanderson
13. "Cross Roads" by Fern Michaels
14. "True Blue" by David Baldacci
15. "Dark Slayer" by Christine Feehan

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
3. "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert
4. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave
5. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese
6. "The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel" by Garth Stein
7. "Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel" by Jeannette Walls
8. "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay
9. "Worst Case" by James Patterson
10. "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls
11. "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
12. "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
13. "The Corrections: A Novel:" by Jonathan Franzen
14. "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho
15. " A Gate at the Stairs" by Lorrie Moore

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of these books. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Complete list of Academy Award winners for Best Documentary Film

On Thursday, I gave you Outside Magazine’s Best Documentary List, which was featured in Outside’s September issue and included 25 great documentary films.

A few of those movies have won Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature, which got me to wondering about what other movies have received an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

I researched the subject, and tonight, I give you a complete list of all of the documentary films that have received Oscar awards since the awards for Best Documentary Feature was given in 1942. Without further ado, here’s the list:

2009 – The Cove
2008 – Man on Wire
2007 – Taxi to the Dark Side
2006 – An Inconvenient Truth
2005 – March of the Penguines
2004 – Born into Brothels
2003 – The Fog of War
2002 – Bowling for Columbine
2001 – Murder on a Sunday Morning
2000 – Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport

1999 – One Day in September
1998 – The Last Days
1997 – The Long Way Home
1996 – When We Were Kings
1995 – Anne Frank Remembered
1994 – Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision
1993 – I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School
1992 – The Panama Deception
1991 – In the Shadow of the Stars
1990 – American Dream

1989 – Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt
1988 – Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
1987 – The Ten-Year Lunch
1986 (tie) – Artie Show: Time Is All You’ve Got and Down and Out in America
1985 – Broken Rainbow
1984 – The Times of Harvey Milk
1983 – He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’
1982 – Just Another Missing Kid
1981 – Genocide
1980 – From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China

1979 – Best Boy
1978 – Scared Straight!
1977 – Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?
1976 – Harlan County, USA
1975 – The Man Who Skied Down Everest
1974 – Hearts and Minds
1973 – The Great American Cowboy
1972 – Marjoe
1971 – The Hellstrom Chronicle
1970 - Woodstock

1969 – Arthur Rubinstein – The Love of Life
1968 – Journey into Self and Young Americans
1967 – The Anderson Platoon
1966 – The War Game
1965 – The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
1964 – World Without Sun
1963 – Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World
1962 – Black Fox: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler
1961 – Sky Above and Mud Beneath
1960 – The Horse with the Flying Tail

1959 – Sereneti Shall Not Die
1958 – White Wilderness
1957 – Albert Schweitzer
1956 – The Silent World
1955 – Helen Keller in Her Story
1954 – The Vanishing Prairie
1953 – The Living Desert
1952 – The Sea Around Us
1951 – Kon-Tiki
1950 – The Titan: Story of Michelangelo

1949 – Daybreak in Udi
1948 – The Secret Land
1947 – Design for Death
1946 – No Award Given
1945 – The True Glory
1944 – The Fighting Lady
1943 – Desert Victory
1942 (four winners) - The Battle of Midway, Kokoda Front Line!, Moscow Strikes Back and Prelude to War.

In the end, how many of these movies have you had a chance to watch? What did you think of them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Is portion of I-65 from Evergreen to Greenville haunted?

In the Oct. 7 edition The Evergreen Courant newspaper, in the spirit of Halloween, I relayed to readers a ghost story that someone told me about a portion of Interstate 65 that runs through Conecuh County, Alabama.

About a year ago, a man who’s normally not given to telling such tales told me that he believes there’s a stretch of interstate in Conecuh County that’s cursed. He explained that over the years an unusually high number of accidents have happened in this area, and some motorists have claimed to have seen an unusual creature dart in front of their vehicles in this area. He believed that the distraction caused by this creature running across the road may have been the cause of so many of these accidents.

Soon after the Oct. 7 paper came out, a reader contacted me with more information about this story. The reader presented me with a copy of “Haunted Places: The National Directory: Ghostly Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings and Other Supernatural Locations,” a 1996 book by Dennis William Hauck.

(Hauck is a journalist and an internationally recognized authority on the paranormal. He’s also one of the founding editors of the Mutual UFO Network’s “MUFON UFO Journal.” He currently publishes a weekly newsletter called “The Haunted Places Report.)

In Hauck’s “Haunted Places,” you don’t have to flip far through the book to find information about the Evergreen-Interstate highway tale. On Page 3, there’s an entry for “Evergreen: Interstate 65.” Here’s what the book has to say.

“A section of this modern highway is haunted. Engineers built the highway over sacred Creek Indian burial grounds. The hills around Evergreen remain the Creeks’ spiritual home, and many believe that their ghosts haunt the white man’s highway that runs through the middle of it. The Creeks loved the land so much that they said goodbye to every tree and hill when they were forced to leave the area in the 1830s. Of fifteen thousand Creeks marched to a reservation in Oklahoma, over 3,500 died along the way. Between 1984 and 1990, there were 519 accidents, 208 injuries and 23 deaths on this 40-mile stretch of highway. The road is even, straight, and well-maintained, but the accident rate is well above average.”

The book goes on to say that “The Haunted Highway is a 40-mile stretch of I-65 that runs between the towns of Evergreen in Conecuh County and Greenville in Butler County, in south central Alabama.”

Now, I’m among the most skeptical people you’ll ever meet, but the fact that this story has made it into print does lend some degree of credibility to this story. Whether or not the story’s true remains to be determined.

In the end, I should say that since the Oct. 7 paper, a number of readers have contacted me about a variety of other spooky locations throughout the county, and I’m currently putting together a “Top 10 list of Creepy Places” that will be published at a later date.

If you know a good local ghost story or have information about a spooky location, call me and tell me about it. You can reach me by calling 578-1492, by e-mail at courantsports@earthlink.net or by mail at The Evergreen Courant, ATTN: Lee Peacock, P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Outside Magazine's Best Documentary Film List

The September issue of Outside magazine was chock full of great content, and today I pass along to you an outstanding best-of movie list that was between the magazine’s covers.

Titled “The Outside Documentary Canon,” this piece is a list of the 25 best adventure, investigative and nature documentary movies ever. The list was compiled by the magazine’s editors and guest editor David Holbrooke, who is the director of the Mountainfilm festival in Telluride, Colo.

The list is divided into two parts with the first 15 documentaries being the “greatest adventure, investigative and nature documentaries of the 21st century,” while the other 10 are “20th century classics.”

Without further ado, here are the first 15 in no particular order:

1. Riding Giants (2004) surfing documentary.

2. Man on Wire (2008): About Philippe Peitit, who walked a highwire between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974.

3. Touching the Void (2003): Mountaineering film based on the book, “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson.

4. Encounters at the End of the World (2008): About workers at McMurdo, the U.S. research station in Antarctica.

5. Stranded (2007): About the 1972 plane crash in the Andes that inspired the 1993 movie, “Alive.”

6. An Inconvenient Truth (2006): About Al Gore’s nationwide global warming campaign

7. Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006): About the demise of the General Motors EV-1 concept car.

8. Food, Inc. (2008): About corporate farming in the U.S.

9. Gasland (2008): About communities affected by natural gas drilling.

10. The Cove (2009): About the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan.

11. Winged Migration (2001): About the migration of birds on every continent.

12. Grizzly Man (2005) About bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell.

13. Red Gold (2007): About Bristol Bay, Alaska, “the site of the world’s largest sockeye run and a proposed open-pit mine” that could wipe out the fish.

14. Earth (2007): About a wide variety of wild habitats and animals around the globe.

15. March of the Penguins (2005): About the annual journey of emperor penguins in Antarctica.

The following is the list of 10 best “old school” documentary films from the 20th century:

1. South: Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919): About Shackleton’s 1914-16 Endurance voyage.

2. Olympia (1938): About the 1936 Summer Olympics.

3. Kon-Tiki (1950): About the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition from Peru to Polynesia.

4. The Conquest of Everest (1953): About the various expeditions to the top of Mount Everest.

5. The Silent World (1956): Groundbreaking underwater film.

6. Endless Summer (1966): About two surfers on a surf trip around the world.

7. Fitz Roy: Mountain of Storms (1968): About the summit of 11,073-foot Fitz Roy in Argentina.

8. Koyaanisqatsi (1982): Voice-less film that consists mostly of time-lapse and slow-motion footage of cities and natural landscapes.

9. Blizzard of Aahhh’s (1988): About extreme skiing in the late 1980s.

10. For All Mankind (1989): About the 12 men who walked on the moon during the 1969-1972 Apollo missions.

I’ve been tossing around the idea of trying to watch all of these movies, but a few of them are apparently hard to find, especially three of the older movies.

Those available through NetFlix include “Riding Giants,” “Man on Wire,” “Touching the Void,” “Encounters at the End of the World,” “Stranded,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” “Food, Inc.,” “Gasland,” “The Cove,” “Winged Migration,” “Grizzly Man,” “Earth,” “March of the Penguins,” “South,” “Olympia,” “Kon-Tiki,” “The Silent World,” “Endless Summer,” “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Blizzard of Aahhh’s” and “For All Mankind.”

Those that didn’t return results in a search of NetFlix included “Red Gold,”
“The Conquest of Everest” and “Fitz Roy: Mountain of Storms.”

In the end, how many of these movies have you had a chance to watch? What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

(I’ve summarized a good deal of the original Outside magazine article, so if you’d like to read the entire story online, visit http://outsideonline.com/adventure//201009/adventure/travel-ta-adventure-documentaries-sidwcmdev_151282.html.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My picks this week are 'Jackass 3D' and 'Jonah Hex'

It’s Wednesday, so today I give you my weekly list of movies that will open in theatres this week as well as my list of movies that will be released this week on DVD.

I hope this will serve as a useful guide as to what’s going on this week if you happen to be near a movie theatre or if you’re looking for something to drop into your NetFlix queue.

Movies that are scheduled to hit theatres this Friday include:

- Jackass 3D (Comedy, R): Directed by Jeff Tremaine and starring Johnny Knoxville.

- Red (Action, Comedy, PG-13): Directed by Robert Schwentke and starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich.

- Conviction (Drama, R): Directed by Tony Goldwyn and starring Hilary Swank and Minnie Driver.

- Carlos (Drama, Not Yet Rated): Directed by Olivier Assayas and starring Edgar Ramirez.

- I Want Your Money (Documentary, PG): Directed by Ray Griggs and starring Mike Huckabee and Ray Griggs.

New DVD releases for the week of Oct. 12 include:

- Jonah Hex (Western, PG-13): Directed by Jimmy Hayward and starring Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox.

- How to Train Your Dragon (Family, PG): Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois and starring Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel.

- Leaves of Grass (Comedy, Crime and Mystery, R): Directed by Tim Blake Nelson and starring Edward Norton, Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss.

- I Am Love (Drama, R): Directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton.

- Breaking Upwards (Romance, Not Rated): Directed by Daryl Wein and starring Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones.

If I could only watch one movie at the theatre this week, it would be “Jackass 3D,” and if I had to pick just one DVD to rent this week, it would be “Jonah Hex.”

In the end, let me know if you get a chance to watch any of the new movies in theatres this week or if you’ve already seen any of the movies that have just been released on DVD. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

'The Descent' is 'The Jaws' of cave exploring

Day before yesterday, I scratched another Saturn Award winner for Best Horror Movie off of my list and this time it was the 2006 winner, “The Descent.”

Directed by Neil Marshall, this British film was released in the United States in April 2006. The movie featured an almost entire female cast and starred Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring and Nora Jane Noone.

The movie posted gross revenues of around $4.2 million and spawned a sequel called “The Descent Part 2.” According to the Internet Movie Database, bombings in London during the week of the movie’s U.K. release affected its box office performance.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it’s about six athletic, thrill-seeking women who decided to go caving in North Carolina. They eventually become trapped in an unmapped cave. It won’t be long before their flashlight batteries run out and to make matters worse, they soon learn that they’re not alone. Before all is said and done, they find themselves face to face with a colony of flesh-eating almost-human creatures that have adapted to life in the dark cave.

For those of you who have seen the movie, you may be surprised to learn that there are multiple endings to the film. If you watched the theatrical release, you get one ending, but if you rent the unrated DVD release of the film, you get the original ending that UK audiences saw. To keep from ruining it for you, I won’t go into any more detail about the endings, but you might want to watch the unrated version if you’re a fan of the movie.

In the end, I enjoyed rewatching this movie. It’s far more creepy than other Saturn Award winners, and it definitely qualifies as a first rate horror film. From here, it’s on to the 2007 winner, “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

'Exorcism of Emily Rose' is based on true story

I scratched another Saturn Award winner for Best Horror Movie off of my list of movies to watch yesterday when I rewatched the 2005 winner, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was released on Sept. 1, 2005 and went on to post gross revenues of over $140 million.

The movie was directed by Scott Derrickson and starred Jennifer Carpenter in the lead role of Emily Rose. Other actors appearing in the film included Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson and Campbell Scott.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a college student, Emily Rose, who supposedly becomes possessed by six demons. She seeks medical attention, but when treatment and medications don’t work, she and her devotedly Catholic family turn to their parish priest for help.

The priest does all he can, but Emily eventually dies from a combination of starvation and stress to her body from her possession experience. After her death, the priest, Father Richard Moore, is put on trial for criminal negligence in connection with Rose’s death.

Moore is represented by a talented, but agnostic, lawyer, who begins to have a number of supernatural experiences during the course of the trial. In the end, Moore is left with having to explain his actions to a jury of his peers, who ultimately hold his fate in their hands.

The most interesting this about this creepy movie (and it is creepy) is that it’s loosely based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a young German Catholic girl who died in 1976 after several unsuccessful exorcism attempts. However, the story of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was heavily altered for purposes of the movie.

In the end, I enjoyed the satisfaction of scratching another Saturn Award winner off my list, and I’m edging closer to having watched all of them in order. Award winners for Best Horror Movie left on my list include “The Descent” (2006), “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007), “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008) and “Drag Me to Hell” (2009).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

'Operation Dark Heart' appears on nonfiction best-seller list

It’s Sunday, so that mean’s that it’s time for my weekly review of this week’s Publishers Weekly Best-Seller List. According to the list, we’ve got two new books at the top of the four major best-seller lists this week.

“The Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett replaced “Safe Haven” by Nicholas Sparks as the No. 1 book on the hardcover fiction list.

“Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward replaced "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race" by Jon Stewart as the No. 1 book on the hardcover nonfiction list.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson remained in the No. 1 spots on the mass market paperback and trade paperback lists.

There are six books on this week’s hardcover fiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books (and their positions on this week’s list) include "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett (1), "Don't Blink" by James Patterson and Howard Roughan (2), "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary" by David Sedaris (6), "Naked Heat" by Richard Castle (7), "Legacy: A Novel" by Danielle Steel (8) and "Call Me Mrs. Miracle" by Debbie Macomber (15).

There are eight books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best seller list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books are "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward (1), "A--holes Finish First" by Tucker Max (3), "The Roots of Obama's Rage" by Dinesh D'Souza (4), "The Coming Economic Armageddon: What Bible Prophecy Warns About the New Global Economy" by David Jeremiah (7), "Love, Lust & Faking It: The Naked Truth About Sex, Lies, and True Romance" by Jenny McCarthy (8), "Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan -- and the Path to Victory" by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer (10), "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose" by Tony Hsieh (12) and "Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny" by Marlo Thomas (15).

There are nine books on this week’s mass market paperbacks list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "I, Alex Cross" by James Patterson (2), "61 Hours: A Reacher Novel" by Lee Child (3), "Taken by Midnight: A Midnight Breed Novel" by Lara Adrian (5), "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton (6), "Play Dead" by Harlen Coben (7), "Cross Roads" by Fern Michaels (8), "Rough Country" by John Sandeford (10), "Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (13) and "Dark Slayer" by Christine Feehan (14).

There is one book on this week’s trade paperbacks list that wasn’t on the list last week: "New York: The Novel" by Edward Rutherford, which was No. 15 on the list.

Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists. As a reminder, I’m posting these lists each Sunday because they, as a whole, represent a great, contemporary recommended reading list. They are initially released each week on Thursday, and if you’re interested in reading them then, visit Publishers Weekly’s Web site at www.publishersweekly.com.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett
2. "Don't Blink" by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
3. "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen
4. "Safe Haven" by Nicholas Sparks
5. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
6. "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary" by David Sedaris
7. "Naked Heat" by Richard Castle
8. "Legacy: A Novel" by Danielle Steel
9. "Bad Blood: A Virgil Flowers Novel" by John Sandford
10. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
11. "Wicked Appetite" by Janet Evanovich
12. "Getting to Happy" by Terry McMillan
13. "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue
14. "Mini Shopaholic: A Novel" by Sophie Kinsella
15. "Call Me Mrs. Miracle" by Debbie Macomber

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward
2. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race" by Jon Stewart
3. "A--holes Finish First" by Tucker Max
4. "The Roots of Obama's Rage" by Dinesh D'Souza
5. "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
6. "Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama" by Bill O'Reilly
7. "The Coming Economic Armageddon: What Bible Prophecy Warns About the New Global Economy" by David Jeremiah
8. "Love, Lust & Faking It: The Naked Truth About Sex, Lies, and True Romance" by Jenny McCarthy
9. "Sh t My Dad Says" by Justin Halpern
10. "Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan -- and the Path to Victory" by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer
11. "Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Columbian Jungle" by Ingrid Betancourt
12. "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose" by Tony Hsieh
13. "White House Diary" by Jimmy Carter
14. "The Power" by Rhonda Byrne
15. "Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny" by Marlo Thomas

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "I, Alex Cross" by James Patterson
3. "61 Hours: A Reacher Novel" by Lee Child
4. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
5. "Taken by Midnight: A Midnight Breed Novel" by Lara Adrian
6. "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton
7. "Play Dead" by Harlen Coben
8. "Cross Roads" by Fern Michaels
9. "Eight Days to Live: An Eve Duncan Forensics Thriller" by Iris Johansen
10. "Rough Country" by John Sandeford
11. "Ford County: Stories" by John Grisham
12. "True Blue" by David Baldacci
13. "Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan and B randon Sanderson
14. "Dark Slayer" by Christine Feehan
15. "The Scarpetta Factor" by Patricia Cornwell

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
3. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave
4. "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert
5. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese
6. "Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel" by Jeannette Walls
7. "Worst Case" by James Patterson
8. "The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel" by Garth Stein
9. "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
10. "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay
11. "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
12. "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho
13. "The Corrections: A Novel:" by Jonathan Franzen
14. "Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey and France" by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
15. "New York: The Novel" by Edward Rutherford

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of these books. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Frank Herbert...

I read on Writer’s Almanac that yesterday would have been writer Frank Herbert’s 90th birthday.

Herbert, who died in 1986, is one of the most famous science fiction writers of all time and is best known for his 1965 book, “Dune” and its five sequels.

Simply put, “Dune” is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it.

Herbert was a prolific writer, and he wrote a number of novels, nonfiction books, essays, poems, newspaper articles and scores of short stories. Tonight, I give you a complete list of Herbert’s novels.

Without further ado, here they are in order of publication:

1956 – The Dragon in the Sea
1965 – Dune
1966 – Destination: Void
1966 – The Green Brain
1966 – The Eyes of Heisenberg
1968 – The Heaven Makers
1968 – The Santaroga Barrier
1970 – Dune Messiah
1970 – Whipping Star
1972 – Soul Catcher
1972 – The Godmakers
1973 – Hellstrom’s Hive
1976 – Children of Dune
1977 – The Dosadi Experiment
1979 – The Jesus Incident
1980 – Direct Descent
1981 – God Emperor of Dune
1982 – The White Plague
1983 – The Lazarus Effect
1984 – Heretics of Dune
1985 – Chapterhouse: Dune
1986 – Man of Two Worlds
1988 – The Ascension Factor

Have any of you had a chance to read any of Herbert’s novels? If so, which ones? What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Never written a 'ghazal' before? Try it. It's hard.

The featured poetic form in the “Poetic Asides” section of the October issue of Writers Digest was the “ghazal.”

Pronounced “guzzle,” this form of poetry is of Persian origin and consists of “five to 15 couplets (two-line stanzas) with a word or phrase refrain at the end of each couplet,” the magazine said.

Also, traditionally, each couplet must be a complete sentence (or several sentences) in itself. In addition, all the couplets, and each line of each couplet, must share the same meter.

Famous ghazals written by English-speaking writers include “The Night Abraham Called to the Stars” by Robert Bly, “The Mother Mourns” by Thomas Hardy and “The Hall” by Robert Pinsky.

Writers Digest provided a portion of an example by Tiel Aisha Ansari, called “Can these crumpled leaves…” Here are the first four couplets.

Can these crumpled leaves really hold a flower?
A fist clinched this tight would crush any flower.

A glimpse of sky through the roof of a bower
naked to the wind and unclothed with flowers.

Emerald enamel sheathes the walls of this tower,
this bud that imprisons the thought of a flower.

And the hopeful search, and the desperate scour
their hearts for a glimpse of a beckoning flower.

Now comes the part where I try my hand at writing a ghazal. First and foremost, I need to pick a word that will end each couplet. I’m just going to choose one at random. Let’s go with “mind.” I’ll also write my ghazal, so that each couplet contains 22 syllables, as does “Can these crumpled leaves…”

Was anyone sure that the scholar would mind?
When it began no one asked if he’d mind.

When the library fell, his hands they did bind.
Between those walls was where he fed his old mind.

He thought of the book clerk, all merry and kind.
Never again would he help shape a young mind.

And what of the Braille books for the crippled blind?
Did anyone ask if those feelers would mind?

The deal was sealed when the papers were signed.
Still no one was sure if the scholar would mind.

OK. Now that I’m on the tail end of my first ever ghazal, and I can assure you that it was much more difficult to write than I thought at first. It’s somewhat difficult to keep true to the same end word and rhyme scheme.

Don’t think so? Then I challenge you to write you own ghazal and post it below for us to read. I’m sure that you’ll be like me and will have a new appreciation for how difficult this poetic form is to write.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Outside Magazine's 'Essentials' gear list

Tonight I give you an interesting list from the September issue of Outside magazine, an issue that was dedicated to “The Life List.

Between the covers of this issue, the editors and writers gave readers a best-of list they called “The Essentials.” Here’s how they described the items on the list.

“There’s the great you want, and there’s the gear you need. After much internatl debate, we present the 25 products every guy should own.”

Below I give you the overall category followed by their recommendation.

1. One Big Bag: The North Face’s Base Camp Duffel ($110).
2. A Warm Jacket: First Ascent’s Igniter ($199)
3. A Headlamp: Black Diamond’s Spot ($40)
4. Fat All-Mountain Skis: K2 SideStash ($950)
5. A Three-Season Tent: REI’s Half Dome 2 Plus ($199)
6. Winter Boots: Merrell’s Whiteout 8 Waterproof ($130)
7. A Smart GPS: DeLorme’s PN-60 ($400)
8. Trail Shoes: LaSportiva’s Wildcat GTX ($125)
9. The Right Sunglasses: Smith Optic’s Hideouts ($179)
10. Snowshoes: Louis Garneau’s Vector UX Trek 824 ($165)
11. Soft-Shell Pants: Westcomb’s Recon Cargo Pants ($200)
12. One Bomber Multitool: Leatherman’s Wave ($99, pictured above)
13. All-Purpose Sandals: Keen’s Newport H2 ($95)
14. A 15-Degree Sleeping Bag: Sierra Design’s Trade Wind ($270)
15. A Top-Notch Storm Shell: Arc’teryx’s Beta AR ($425)
16. An Attic For Your Car: Yakima’s RocketBox ($279) and Thule’s Frontier ($330)
17. A Pocket Camera: Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-ZS7 ($400)
18. An Ultimate Midlayer: Marmot’s Vars Half Zip ($140)
19. Utility Gloves: Gordini’s Approach ($50)
20. Running Shoes: New Balance’s 1226 ($140)
21. A Training Watch: Timex’s Ironman Race Trainer ($150)
22. A Weekend Backpack: Osprey’s Aether ($229)
23. A Backcountry Bed: Big Agne’s Diversion Insulated Air Core Recycled ($90)
24. One Good Boat: Old Town’s Penobscot ($1,389)
25. The Perfect Bike: Specialized’s Epic Comp 29 ($2,800)

If you went out and bought each of these items at the prices listed above, it would cost you $9,583. The least expensive item on the list was headlamp (No. 3) and the most expensive was bike (No. 25).

If anyone out there’s wondering what to buy me for Christmas, I’d really like the training watch (No. 21) or the camera (No. 17)

The original article was written by Justin Nyberg and Sam Moulton with photographs by Inga Hendrickson. If you’re interested in reading the entire article online, visit http://outsideonline.com/gear/201009/gear/travel-ta-north-face-base-camp-duffel-sidwcmdev_151454.html.

In the end, let me know if you own any of these items. What do you think about them? Do you like them or not? Would you recommend them to a friend? What other items would you include among a list of “essentials” for outdoor fun? Let us know in the comments section below.