Monday, February 28, 2011

Paper Wasp photographed during year's first 'bug hunt'

Even though the start of spring is still over two weeks away, the weather has been warm lately, and we’re starting to see a few signs of spring as winter winds down.

Around my house, that means its time to “bug hunt” with the kids.

On Saturday afternoon, the kids and I made the rounds in our yard and found the first photo-worthy insect of year in the blossom of a Bradford pear tree that’s located in one corner of our yard.

The insect, pictured above, appears to be a Paper Wasp.

According to my well-worn copy of the National Audubon Society’s “Field Guide to Insects & Spiders,” paper wasps are usually between a half-inch and an inch long and are slender with a short, one-segmented waist. The upper portion of the head is pointed, never notched as in hornets and yellow jackets. Their heads and bodies are mostly reddish brown to black with yellow rings and reddish areas on their abdomens. Their wings are amber to reddish brown.

The wasp pictured above appears to be a female because, according to the field guide, male paper wasps have a pale face with hooked antennae tips. Females have brown faces.

The field guide goes on to say that paper wasps throughout North America inhabit meadows, field and gardens on flowers and near buildings. For food, adult paper wasps drink nectar and juices from crushed and rotting fruits. Larval paper wasps feed on insects pre-chewed by adults.

The field guide describes the life cycle of the paper wasp as follows: In spring, several females work together to construct uncovered paperlike hanging nest of wood pulp and saliva. One female becomes dominant queen. First few generations in summer are all females, cared for as larvae by unmated female workers. Unfertilized eggs produce fertile males. Only mated young queens overwinter under leaf litter and in stone walls. Old queens, workers and larvae die.

As you can see from the photo, I had to get closer than you would usually like to get to a wasp, but as it turns out, you can get away with that sort of thing more easily when you’re dealing with a paper wasp. According to the field guide, “paper wasps are much more tolerant of people and minor disturbances than are hornets and yellow jackets.”

Saturday afternoon’s trip was the first “bug hunting” trip the kids and I made this year, and we conducted it much like our “bug hunts” of the past. We made one lap around the yard, checking the leaves of the various trees and bushes for any sign of life.

Sometimes we find insects, sometimes we don’t, but I’ve often been surprised by the number and variety of insects that visit our one-acre yard. As the seasons change and temperatures become more insect-friendly, look for more insect photos and descriptions to follow in the coming weeks.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

'Unbroken' reclaims top spot on nonfiction best-seller list

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.

“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand replaced “Known and Unknown” by Donald Rumsfield as the top book on the hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list.

“Dreams of a Dark Warrior” by Kresley Cole replaced “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson as the No. 1 book on the mass market paperback best-sellers list.

“Tick Tock” by James Patterson retained the No. 1 spot on the hardcover fiction best-sellers list.

“Water for Elephants: A Novel” remained the top book on the trade paperbacks best-sellers list.

There are two books on this week’s hardcover fiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. Those books (and their place on the list) are "A Heartbeat Away" by Michael Palmer (10) and "The Twelfth Insight" by James Redfield (15).

There are four books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "True You" by Janet Jackson with David Ritz (3), "How the West Was Lost" by Dambisa Moyo-Farrar (9), "Straight Talk, No Chaser" by Steve Harvey (14) and "Life" by Keith Richards (15).

There is only one book on this week’s mass market paperbacks best-sellers list that wasn’t on that list last week - "Dreams of a Dark Warrior" by Kresley Cole, which was No. 1 on the list.

There are two books on this week’s trade paperbacks list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls (14) and "What the Dog Saw" by Malcolm Gladwell (15).

As a reminder, I’m posting these lists each Sunday because they, as a whole, represent a great, contemporary recommended reading list. These lists 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. Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "Tick Tock" by James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge
2. "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness
3. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
4. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
5. "The Confession" by John Grisham
6. "Dead or Alive" by Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood
7. "The Inner Circle" by Brad Meltzer
8. "The Secret Soldier" by Alex Berenson
9. "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue
10. "A Heartbeat Away" by Michael Palmer
11. "What the Night Knows: A Novel" by Dean Koontz
12. "Strategic Moves" by Stuart Woods
13. "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell
14. "The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown
15. "The Twelfth Insight" by James Redfield

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand
2. "Known and Unknown" by Donald Rumsfield
3. "True You" by Janet Jackson with David Ritz
4. "I Beat the Odds" by Michael Oher with Don Yaeger
5. "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
6. "The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommom Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman" by Timothy Ferriss
7. "Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff
8. "Veganist" by Kathy Freston
9. "How the West Was Lost" by Dambisa Moyo-Farrar
10. "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua
11. "The Investment Answer" by Daniel C. Goldie and Gordon S. Murray
12. "In the Blink of an Eye" by Michael Waltrip & Ellis Henican
13. "The Pioneer Woman" by Ree Drummond
14. "Straight Talk, No Chaser" by Steve Harvey
15. "Life" by Keith Richards

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "Dreams of a Dark Warrior" by Kresley Cole
2. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
3. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
4. "Swimsuit" by James Patterson, Maxine Paetro
5. "Deliver Us From Evil" by David Baldacci
6. "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown
7. "Tom Clancy's Endwar" by David Michaels
8. "The Lincoln Lawyer" by Michael Connelly
9. "Split Image" by Robert B. Parker
10. "This Body of Death" by Elizabeth George
11. "Marrying Daisy Bellamy" by Susan Wiggs
12. "Frankenstein: Lost Souls" by Dean Koontz
13. "Wild Man Creek" by Robyn Carr
14. "Broken" by Karin Slaughter
15. "Here to Stay" by Catherine Anderson

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "Water for Elephants: A Novel" by Sara Gruen
2. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese
3. "Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo, Colton Burpo and Lynn Vincent
4. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
5. "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz
6. The Postmistress" by Sarah Blake
7. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
8. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave
9. "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis
10. "The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel" by Garth Stein
11. "Committed" by Elizabeth Gilbert
12. "True Grit" by Charles Portis
13. "Winter Garden" by Kristin Hannah
14. "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls
15. "What the Dog Saw" by Malcolm Gladwell

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, February 26, 2011

Which 2010 movies were the best in science fiction, fantasy and horror?

Earlier this week, the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films announced the nominations for the 37th Annual Saturn Awards. First awarded in 1972, the Saturn Awards are given annually to recognize the most outstanding works in science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Saturn Awards are given in 34 categories that span works in film, television, DVD and stage from the previous calendar year. The categories that I always keep an eye on are Best Science Fiction Film, Best Fantasy Film, Best Horror/Thriller Film, Best Action/Adventure Film and Best Animated Film.

Nominees for Best Science Fiction Film include “Hereafter,” “Inception,” “Iron Man 2,” “Never Let Me Go,” “Splice” and “Tron: Legacy.”

Nominees for Best Fantasy Film include “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “Clash of the Titans,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Twilight: Eclipse.”

Nominees for Best Horror/Thriller Film include “The American,” “Black Swan,” “Kick-Ass,” “Let Me In,” “Shutter Island” and “The Wolf Man.”

Nominees for Best Action/Adventure Film include “The Expendables,” “The Green Hornet,” “Red,” “Robin Hood,” “Salt,” “True Grit” and “Unstoppable.”

Nominees for Best Animated Film include “Despicable Me,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” “Shrek Forever After,” “Tangled” and “Toy Story 3.”

We’ll have to wait a few months to find out who will win because the winners won’t be announced until sometime in June.

Which of the movies mentioned above have you had a chance to watch? Which did you like or dislike? Which would you recommend and why? Which do you think will win top honors in the categories mentioned above. Let us know in the comments section below.

I think “Inception” will win for Best Science Fiction Film. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” will win for Best Fantasy Film. “Shutter Island” will win for Best Horror/Thriller Film. “The Expendables” will win in Best Action/Adventure Film, and “Toy Story 3” will win for Best Animated Film. What do you think?

Saturn Awards will also be given in 29 other categories,including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Performance by a Younger Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Music, Best Costume, Best Make-Up, Best Production Design, Best Special Effects, Best International Film, Best Network Series, Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series, Best Television Presentation, Best Actor in Television, Best Actress in Television, Best Supporting Actor in Television, Best Supporting Actress in Television, Best Guest Starring Role in Television, Best DVD Release, Best DVD Special Edition, Best DVD Classic Film Release, Best DVD Movie Collection, Best DVD Television Release, Best Local Stage Production: Musical, Best Local Stage Production: Drama or Comedy and Best Local Stage Production: Small Theater.

To see the nominees in these other categories, as well as a complete list of past winners in all categories, visit the Official Saturn Awards website at www.saturnawards.org.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Which book will win this year's Nebula Award for Best Novel?

Earlier this week, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association released its slate of nominees for this year’s Nebula Awards, which are given annually by the SFWA to recognize the best science fiction and fantasy fiction published in the U.S. during the previous year.

Awards are given in four categories, including best novel, best novelette, best novella and best short story. There are also three special awards – the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Science Fiction or Fantasy for Young Adults, the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the Solstice Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Field.

The Nebula Awards are voted on by active members of the SFWA, and the winners will be announced during an awards banquet on Sat., May 21, in Washington, D.C.

The Nebula Award that I keep an eye on each year is the Nebula for Best Novel. This year’s slate of nominees for Best Novel includes the following six novels.

- "Native Star" by M.K. Hobson
- "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N.K. Jemisin
- "Shades of Milk and Honey" by Mary Robinette
- "Echo" by Jack McDevitt
- "Who Fears Death" by Nnedi Okorafor
- "Blackout/All Clear" by Connie Willis

The first Nebula Awards were awarded in 1965, and, as you might imagine, more than a few outstanding and famous sci-fi and fantasy novels have received the Best Novel award over the years. What follows is a complete of the Best Novel winners over the years.

1965 – “Dune” by Frank Herbert
1966 (tie) – “Babel-17” by Samuel R. Delany and “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
1967 – “The Einstein Intersection” by Samuel R. Delany
1968 – “Rite of Passage” by Alexei Panshin
1969 – “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin
1970 – “Ringworld” by Larry Niven

1971 – “A Time of Changes” by Robert Silverberg
1972 – “The Gods Themselves” by Isaac Asimov
1973 – “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke
1974 – “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin
1975 – “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman

1976 – “Man Plus” by Frederick Pohl
1977 – “Gateway” by Frederick Pohl
1978 – “Dreamsnake” by Vonda McIntyre
1979 – “The Fountains of Paradise” by Arthur C. Clarke
1980 – “Timescape” by Gregory Benford

1981 – “The Claw of the Conciliator” by Gene Wolfe
1982 – “No Enemy But Time” by Michael Bishop
1983 – “Startide Rising” by David Brin
1984 – “Neuromancer” by William Gibson
1985 – “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

1986 – “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card
1987 – “The Falling Woman” by Pat Murphy
1988 – “Falling Free” by Lois McMaster Bujold
1989 – “The Healer’s War” by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
1990 – “Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin

1991 – “Stations of the Tide” by Michael Swanwick
1992 – “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis
1993 – “Red Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson
1994 – “Moving Mars” by Greg Bear
1995 – “The Terminal Experiment” by Robert J. Sawyer

1996 – “Slow River” by Nicola Griffith
1997 – “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda McIntyre
1998 – “Forever Peace” by Joe Haldeman
1999 – “Parable of the Talents” by Octavia E. Butler
2000 – “Darwin’s Radio” by Greg Bear

2001 – “The Quantum Rose” by Catherine Asaro
2002 – “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman
2003 – “The Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon
2004 – “Paladin of Souls” by Lois McMaster Bujold
2005 – “Camouflage” by Joe Haldeman

2006 – “Seeker” by Jack McDevitt
2007 – “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon
2008 – “Powers” by Ursula K. Le Guin
2009 – “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Have you had a chance to read any of this year’s Best Novel nominees? Which did you like? Which do you think will win this year’s Nebula for Best Novel? How many of the past winners for Best Novel have you read? Which of did you like? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

For more information about the Nebula Awards, including the nominees in other categories this year, visit the SFWA’s website at www.sfwa.org.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What did you think of the season premiere of 'Ghost Hunters'?

Season Seven of my favorite TV show, “Ghost Hunters,” premiered last night on the SyFy Channel with Episode One, “Haunted Town,” in which investigators from The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) visited three spooky locations in Alexandria, La.

TAPS members on the trip included lead investigators Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, investigators Dave Tango and Amy Bruni, tech manager Steve Gonsalves and investigator-in-training Adam Berry.

What made this investigation unique was the fact that team members investigated three locations in Alexandria over the course of several nights. The locations included the Bentley Hotel, the Diamond Grill restaurant and a bar called Finnegan’s Wake.

Prior to the investigation, TAPS members received guided tours of all three locations. Mayor’s office liason Bill Hess and city spokesman Richard Gwartney took investigators through the Bentley Hotel, which was built in 1908 by timber baron Joseph Bentley and closed in 2004. Gwartney told of a girl who was killed when she fell down an elevator shaft and of a man who fell over the railing of the hotel’s large staircase. Gwartney indicated that the spirits of these individuals might be responsible for some of the unusual events that happen inside the hotel today.

From there, the TAPS team went to Finnegan’s Wake, where co-owner, Shannon Nolan, showed them around. Nolan said that the building is over 100 years old and over the years it has served as a clothing store and an optometrist’s office. Some of the furniture in the building also came from a brothel, Nolan said. Paranormal claims inside this location include glasses that fly off the shelves, unexplained footsteps and banging noises.

Bartender Dana Brodhead and assistant manager Ben Wightkin led TAPS members on a tour of the Diamond Grill, which was built in 1931 and once housed a jewelry store. Paranormal claims inside this building include lights that flicker on and off, glasses that tip over, candles that move on their own as well as other misplaced items.

From here, investigators set up their equipment and the City of Alexandria closed down the streets near all three locations and killed the street lights as the team “went dark” to begin their investigation.

With all six investigators working in three locations, they had an eventful investigation.

Jason and Grant heard noises in the Diamond Grill’s kitchen and saw a set of swinging doors move. Grant’s K2 meter went wild at one point, and they discussed the possibility that the kitchen’s high EMF fields could be creating a fear cage. Jason also saw something move in the dark, almost as if it looked back at him, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Also in the Diamond Grill, Amy and Adam checked for EMFs, and Amy claimed to hear a voice. They also found an open door, which was slightly moving, even though there was no breeze. They eventually set up a stationary digital video camera to record any future activity by the door.

In Finnegan’s Wake, Dave and Steve unsuccessfully attempted to have spirit move a beer bottle at the bar.

In the Bentley Hotel, Jason and Grant investigated the Venetian Room. Jason described the air as “thick,” and they later said they thought they heard a noise as if someone was pushing a wheeled cart. Jason and Grant then thought they heard voices and maybe saw a shadow or someone on the stairs. A few minutes later, they thought he heard someone say “hello” and “no you don’t.” Then they thought they heard what sounded like someone singing a song.

Later, Steve and Tango conducted an EVP session on the third floor of the Bentley Hotel, inside the apartment of the building’s original owner, Joseph Bentley. Bentley supposedly died in the room and haunts it to this day. During their session, Steve and Tango split up, going to opposite ends of the room or hallway, and begin to try to make contact with Bentley’s spirit. Eventually, they thought they heard multiple “thumps” or “knocking” sounds, but nothing more substantial.

Next, it was Amy and Adam’s turn to investigate the hotel’s third floor. They used a digital video camera and a special flashlight that cast a laser grid in front of the camera to help detect spirit activity. While they were seated by the light, the grid light seemed to roll on its own. They tried to make the light roll again, but couldn’t recreate the event. The light did move slightly when Amy set a recorder down on the floor beside it, so they didn’t chalk it up to paranormal activity.

Dave and Steve went on to investigate the hotel lobby and while casting a flashlight beam on some large, shiny marble pillars they figured out that they could make shadows on the balcony that appeared to look like a “head and shoulders.” Dave also made a couple of trips up and down the stairs to see if a spirit would push him or trip him on the stairs. He did manage to accidentally trip himself, resulting in one of the episode’s lighter moments.

We later find Jason and Grant in the mezzanine area of the hotel, and they’re not up there long before they see a light coming from several floors down in what they call the “basement.” They eventually see it again and describe it as a “spark” as if someone had struck a cigarette lighter or took a flash photo. They quickly went down to check it out and heard footsteps, but they couldn’t find the source of the sound after a brief search.

Shortly thereafter, they wrapped up the investigation and moved on to the analysis part of the investigation. Dave, Steve, Adam and Amy conducted the analysis and discussed several potential EVPs and other pieces of evidence.

The thing that made this episode most unique was how they conducted the reveal. Normally, the investigators conduct the reveal across a table from the person who has invited them to conduct the investigation. In this episode, they conduct the reveal before a standing-room-only crowd inside of Alexandria City Hall.

They start with their evidence from Finnegan’s Wake – an EVP they captured on the second floor that sounded like singing in a female voice.

From there, they move on to their evidence from the Diamond Grill. This time, it’s a couple of EVPs. One is a breathy voice that they think is saying “Hey, Adam.” Another was captured on the second floor, and they think it was saying “I’m sorry.”

Last, but not least, is the evidence from the Bentley Hotel. The strongest piece of evidence they have is footage of the unexplained light going off in the basement. They also capture the sound of unexplained footsteps and an EVP that sounds like “No you don’t.”

I thought this was a pretty decent episode featuring three cool locations. I’ve never been to Alexandria, but if I ever get a chance to go, I’ll probably visit all three just to say that I’ve been there.

Honestly, I thought their best piece of evidence – the flashing basement light at the Bentley Hotel – was weak, especially since Jason and Grant said they heard footsteps when they went down to investigate. I know that these locations are said to be secure and vacant, but you have to wonder about the possibility of someone slipping in and out without the team’s knowledge. I think it could easily happen, especially if the intruder is very familiar with the property and could slip in and out undetected.

How many of you out there saw this episode? What did you think of the evidence they collected? Do you think that any of the places they investigated in Alexandria are really haunted? Let us know in the comments section below.

Season Seven, Episode Two is scheduled to air for the first time next Wednesday at 8 p.m. Central Time and will feature an investigation of Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City, Pa.

Gillis Morgan escapes close call thanks to seatbelt, Jags to play in regional tourney

Many of you in the reading audience will be familiar with the name Gillis Morgan and will be happy to hear that he recently escaped a very close call thanks to a seatbelt.

Morgan, 76, graduated from Evergreen High School in 1952. After a tour in the Navy, he received bachelors and masters degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. He then went on to teach at Auburn University for 23 years before retiring as an associate professor emeritus in journalism.

In a story by editor Jacque Kochak, The Auburn Villager recently reported that Morgan, who writes a column for The Villager, had been in a serious automobile accident that might have been deadly if not for his seatbelt.

Morgan, who was alone in his car, was on his way to lunch in Opelika and while driving down Shelton Mill Road, a woman in a mini-van pulled out into the street and struck the back passenger side of Morgan’s car. His car spun out of control and then flipped onto its side, The Villager reported.

Morgan’s car came to a stop against a large brick sign, and Morgan became trapped against the wall of the car. Morgan said that he never blacked out and wasn’t in any pain, but he was trapped inside the car for about 20 minutes.

Police arrived quickly, and Morgan, who has asthma and is diabetic, told police that he felt as if he was about to have an asthma attack. Rescue workers eventually made their way into Morgan’s car and put an oxygen mask on his face.

“At that point, I knew I was going to be all right,” Morgan said in The Villager story. “The seat belt, the police and the rescue squad saved my life.”

Rescue workers had to cut Morgan out of his car and despite his protests that he was OK, he was flown by medical helicopter to the trauma unit at Columbus (Ga.) Regional Hospital. Morgan was fine, after all, and the story goes on to end on a humorous note.

Morgan’s wife, Gerry, didn’t hear about the accident until a Columbus Hospital nurse called her to tell her that her husband was fine. She later learned more details about the accident from Auburn police.

Gerry began to try to arrange for transportation for her husband from the hospital back to their home, but by the time she got Columbus Hospital ER staff on the phone, she learned that her husband had already left the hospital.

About the time that she hung up the phone, her husband appeared on the front porch steps. The story says that he was wearing nothing but his blue, disposable hospital gown because after his wreck, rescue workers had to cut his clothes off to fully evaluate the extent of his injuries.

The Villager story ends with four words that can’t be repeated often enough: Thank heavens for seatbelts.

Those of you who remember Morgan will be interested to know that you can read his award-winning newspaper columns on The Auburn Villagers website, www.auburnvillager.com. Check them out when you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

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Hats off this week to Hillcrest High School’s varsity boys basketball team as they prepare to enter the regional tournament in Mobile. The Jags play Headland tomorrow (Friday) at 10:30 a.m. at the Mitchell Center on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.

If the Jags win that game, they’ll play for the regional tournament title on Saturday at 5:20 p.m. at the Mitchell Center. If they win the regional title, they’ll earn a spot in “The Big Dance,” aka, the state tournament in Birmingham in early March.

The Jags have had a great season already and could be on the verge of so much more. Hillcrest has been ranked in the Alabama Sports Writers Association prep basketball poll all season, and the way they’ve played this season has backed up their ranking.

They posted a 7-1 regular season area record and won the regular season area title. They backed that up by winning the area tournament title and blasting B.C. Rain of Mobile in the sub-regionals Friday night in Evergreen.

It’s a big deal to earn your way into the regional tournament and with each passing round of games, the field gets narrower and narrower.

If Hillcrest makes it past Headland, the Jags will play either Escambia or Andalusia. Escambia, Andalusia and Hillcrest are no strangers this season, and regardless of who plays in the regional finals, they’ll have to bring their A-game to be successful.

Escambia finished the regular season ranked No. 8 in Class 4A, right behind Hillcrest, which finished No. 7. Hillcrest and Escambia played three times this season, and Hillcrest won two of those games. The only loss Hillcrest had to Escambia this season was a three-point loss to Escambia in Atmore. This game came just two days after a hard-fought, one-point Hillcrest win over Jackson in Jackson.

Andalusia and Hillcrest, who were in the same area a few years ago, met only once during the regular season this year. In what was arguably the biggest game in the state on that particular night, Andalusia eked out a two-point win, 49-47, on Dec. 17 in Evergreen, which was Hillcrest’s first loss of the season.

Again, this game followed another big game for the Jags, coming just one day after Hillcrest downed Central-Hayneville, the No. 4 team in Class 2A, by five points.

It’s interesting to note that Hillcrest has only lost six games this season. (They’ve won 22, as of Monday.) Of those games that they lost, four of them were by four points or less and four of them were to ranked opponents who are contenders for the state title in their respective classifications.

I think that Hillcrest definitely has what it takes to win the regional title. If they play up to their potential and take it one game at a time, then they’ll make us even more proud of them.

The Mitchell Center is a fine place to watch (and play) basketball, and I hope to see a lot of familiar faces in the stands on Friday morning, and hopefully again on Saturday night.

In the end, good luck to the Jags as they represent Conecuh County down in Mobile this week.

The Evergreen Courant's Sports Flashback for Feb. 24, 2011

12 YEARS AGO
FEB. 25, 1999

“The Sparta Academy Warriors finished their 1998-1999 season as runner-up of Class AA of the AISA. The Warriors lost the state championship game to Dixie Academy last Thursday night at Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Members of the team are Justin Tranum, Kyle Johnston, John McKenzie and Jake Adams; Coach Russ Brown, Lee Booker, Drew Skipper, Derek Faulkner, Bryant Shipp, Chad Morris and Seth McIntyre. The Warriors will only lose three players this year, so look for them back in the state playoffs next year.”

“Corey McCulley received his first degree black belt in Taekwondo at an awards ceremony held in Andalusia on Jan. 29, 1999.”

“Andrea Ward, a sophomore at Sparta Academy, was named the American General AISA Girls Player of the Year, as selected by the Alabama Sports Writers Association during a luncheon ceremony at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Mon., Feb. 22, 1999. During the 1998-99 season, Andrea scored 693 points in 24 games for an average of 28.8 points per game. She currently holds the highest point per game average in the history of the school. She has scored more points in a single game than any other girl in the history of the school and has hit 40 points or better four times this year.”

27 YEARS AGO
FEB. 23, 1984

“The Sparta Academy Warriors are shown with their state runner-up trophy as the No. 2 team in the Alabama Private School Association. The Warriors, coached by Headmaster Richard Brown, also won the District III championship. Kneeling are Tim Brantley, Jason Evers, Vince Watts, Al Etheridge, Connery Salter and Chad Grace, and standing from left, Thad Ellis, Russ Brown, Danny Reed, Jim Wagstaff, Britt McNeil and Mark Rigsby. Russ Brown and Al Etheridge were named to the All State team.”

“The fish were biting! Mary Hawsey, Corine Holcombe and Wade Holcombe are shown with 75 pounds of catfish caught from Leonard Braxton’s pond.”

“The Conecuh County High School Tip Off Club will sponsor an Old Timer’s Basketball Tournament March 2 and 3 beginning at 6:30 p.m. Admission will be $1.
“All graduates of CCHS and their spouses and parents are eligible to participate. There will be a $5 entry fee for each team. There will be two age groups for men: graduates to 35 years old and 35 and older. There will be two women’s teams. Drawing for the teams will be held Sat., Feb. 25, at 4 p.m. at the school gym.”

42 YEARS AGO
FEB. 27, 1969

“They start fishing young around Evergreen and some of them have good luck, too, witness young Trent Taylor and this 3-1/2-pound bass. This was the largest of three nice bass Trent took over the weekend from his grandparents pond.”

“Ronnie, David and Donald Jackson and Don Owens were in Montgomery Saturday to see the basketball between Alabama Christian College and Marion. Grover Jackson played in the game.”

57 YEARS AGO
FEB. 25, 1954

“The Aggies were defeated by the Andalusia Bulldogs Friday night in Andalusia when the locals went down gallantly to a 59-52 score. Randy White led our scorers with 16 points, followed closely by Jimmy Frazier with 14.
“Our hardwood bearers of the green and white journey to Greenville Friday night to encounter the Tigers of that city. The Kittens edged out our quints in their last meeting by a mere four points and the Aggies are set for them at this encounter.
“Evergreen’s hardwood five close out their season Monday night in Memorial Gym when they play host to the Bulldogs of Andalusia. It’s the Aggies’ final game, and they are looking for all of their supporters to be on hand. We’ll see you at the gym.”
Other players on Evergreen’s team that year included Ward Alexander Jr., Walter Carrier, Wayne Douglas, Ronnie Edson, Wayne Frazier, Johnny Fussell, Hosea King, Robert King, Tommy Melton, Don Pate and Charlie King.

“Coach Harold Shirley’s blue jersied Rotarians rode high, wide and handsome on the magic shooting of Jimmy Moorer to whip the fighting Kiwanians (42-16), who were playing without their two aces, Bill Ivey and James Nelson.”

72 YEARS AGO
FEB. 23, 1939

“Brooklyn School News: Last Wednesday night, the home boys defeated Evergreen by a score of 21-16. The town lads were out to get revenge on the Blue Devils for a defeat handed the visitors earlier in the season.
“Evergreen’s boys played gallant but losing ball against the home boys, who were hampered by not having Carry and Green all the way through the game, they having fouled out in the third quarter and were replaced by subs who made things miserable for their foe while they were in the game.
“Haywood Hanna called the game.
“On the following Friday afternoon, Brooklyn defeated Damascus, Coffee County by a score of 28-20 and by so doing got revenge for the drubbing received earlier in the season.
“At times the visitors dealt us misery but we managed to stay on top of the team who were the strongest of Coffee County.
“The game was a nice clean fought affair with a few fouls on either side.
“The game was called as nice and as square as any by Foy English – thanks Mr. English.”

Compiled from past issues of The Evergreen Courant.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My movie picks this week are 'Drive Angry 3D' and 'Due Date'

It’s Wednesday, so today I give you my weekly list of movies that will open in theatres this week as well as a 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:

Drive Angry 3D (Suspense, Action, R): Directed by Patrick Lussier and starring Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, David Morse, William Fichtner and Christa Campbell.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never: The Director’s Fan Cut 3D (Family, Musicals, G): Directed by Jon M. Chu and starring Justin Bieber, Sean Kingston, Miley Cyrus and Ludacris.

Hall Pass (Comedy, Romance, R): Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly and starring Owen Wilson, Christina Applegate, Jenna Fischer, Richard Jenkins and Amanda Bynes.

The Grace Card (Drama, PG-13): Directed by David G. Evans and starring Michael Joiner, Michael Higgenbottom, Louis Moore, Dawntoya Thomason and Rob Erickson.

Of Gods and Men (Drama, R): Directed by Xavier Beauvois and starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach and Jacques Herlin.

New DVD releases for the week of Feb. 22 include:

Due Date (Comedy, R): Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan and Juliette Lewis.

Eyes of the Mothman (Documentary, Special Interest, Not Rated)

Get Low (Crime, Mystery, Drama, PG-13): Directed by Aaron Schneider and starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek and Gerald McRaney.

The Killing Jar (Suspense, Drama, Thriller, R): Directed by Mark Young and starring Harold Perrineau, Michael Madsen, Danny Trejo, Amber Benson and Kevin Gage.

Megamind (Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, PG): To be released on Feb. 25. Directed by Tom McGrath and starring voices by Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and David Cross.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Crime, Action, Drama, Thriller, R): Directed by Jena-Prancois Richet and starring Vincent Cassel, Cecile de France, Gerard Depardieu, Roy Dupuis and Elena Anaya.

Psych 9 (Horror, Suspense, Drama, Thriller, R): Starring Sara Foster, Cary Elwes, Michael Biehn, Gabriel Mann and Colleen Camp.

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

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, February 22, 2011

How many of these Gold Dagger Award winners have you read?

In a post on Jan. 22, I gave readers a complete list of all the crime and mystery novels that have received Edgar Allan Poe Awards over the years from the Mystery Writers of America.

Earlier today, while reading about the MWA’s sister organization, the British-based Crime Writers’ Association, I learned that their top annual award is called the Gold Dagger Award. First awarded in 1955, this award is presented annually for the best crime novel of the year.

Without further ado, here’s a complete list of all of the crime novels that have received Gold Dagger Award over the years.

2010 – Blacklands by Belinda Bauer
2009 – A Whispered Name by William Brodrick
2008 – Blood From Stone by Frances Fyfield
2007 – The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
2006 – Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
2005 – Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indrioason
2004 – Blacklist by Sara Paretsky
2003 – Fox Evil by Minette Walters
2002 – The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza
2001 – Sidetracked by Henning Mankell

2000 – Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
1999 – A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson
1998 – Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke
1997 – Black and Blue by Ian Rankin
1996 – Popcorn by Ben Elton
1995 – The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid
1994 – The Scold’s Bridle by Minette Walters
1993 – Cruel and Unusual by Patricia Cornwell
1992 – The Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter
1991 – King Solomon’s Carpet by Barbara Vine

1990 – Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill
1989 – The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter
1988 – Ratking by Michael Dibdin
1987 – A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine
1986 – Live Flesh by Ruth Rendell
1985 – Monkey Puzzle by Paula Gosling
1984 – The Twelfth Juror by B.M. Gill
1983 – Accidental Crimes by John Hutton
1982 – The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey
1981 – Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

1980 – The Murder of the Maharaja by H.R.F. Keating
1979 – Whip Hand by Dick Francis
1978 – The Chelsea Murders by Lionel Davidson
1977 – The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre
1976 – A Demon in My View by Ruth Rendell
1975 – The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer
1974 – Other Paths the Glory by Anthony Price
1973 – The Defection of A.J. Lewinter by Robert Littell
1972 – The Levanter by Eric Ambler
1971 – The Steam Pig by James H. McClure

1970 – Young Man I Think You’re Dying by Joan Fleming
1969 – A Pride of Heroes by Peter Dickinson
1968 – Skin Deep by Peter Dickinson
1967 – Murder Against the Grain by Emma Lathen
1966 – A Long Way to Shiloh by Lionel Davidson
1965 – The Far Side of the Dollar by Ross Macdonald
1964 – The Perfect Murder by H.R.F. Keating
1963 – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre
1962 – When I Grow Rich by Joan Fleming
1961 – The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly

1960 – The Night of Wenceslas by Lionel Davidson
1959 – Passage of Arms by Eric Ambler
1958 – Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett
1957 – The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons
1956 – The Second Man by Edward Grierson
1955 – The Little Walls by Winston Graham

In the end, how many of these Gold Dagger Award winners have you had a chance to read? Which did you like? Dislike? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Monday, February 21, 2011

'Restrepo' is one of the most powerful movies I've ever seen

A few days ago, I watched one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen, the 2010 documentary movie, “Restrepo.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this film, it chronicles the 15-month deployment of the U.S. Army’s Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, who were assigned to the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, aka, “The Deadliest Place on Earth,” in 2007.

This 93-minute movie, which was filmed, directed and produced by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, was released in U.S. theatres on June 25, 2010. Junger, who is best known as the author of “The Perfect Storm,” and Hetherington filmed the movie while embedded with the Army during an assignment for Vanity Fair magazine.

The bulk of the film details events at a desolate outpost, which was named “Restrepo” in honor of a medic who was killed in action early in the unit’s deployment to the Korengal Valley. The entire movie takes place in the valley, and the vast bulk of the movie focuses on the 15 soldiers charged with manning this dangerous, isolated outpost. The movie is rated R for language and graphic depictions of true-life combat violence.

Before you know it, you get sucked into this movie. You naturally begin to pull for the soldiers in Second Platoon because they’re American. They’re on our side. They're fighting for us. You look at their faces and see a cross-section of our nation’s young men. Any one of them could be your neighbor’s kid, the kid who quarterbacked the high school football team two years ago, the kid that used to deliver your morning newspaper, your brother, maybe your son.

The footage was especially gritty, and you only catch glimpses of the enemy. They’re the nameless, faceless foot soldiers of the insurgency, the same sort of nameless, faceless operators who flew planes into the twin towers on Sept. 11. Along with all this, comes plenty of action and gunplay, and unlike “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket,” this movie isn’t make believe. It’s real, and should give you reason to take pause and remember that U.S. soldiers are over there right now, continuing to fight the same fight against the same enemy.

Not surprisingly, “Restrepo” has met with critical acclaim. It has been nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary and was named one of the top documentary films of 2010 by the National Board of Review. At the Sundance Film Festival, it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary.

Another side effect of having watched this movie, for me anyway, has been the desire to go out and read all of Sebastian Junger’s books. He’s been called “our modern day Hemingway,” and it’s hard to argue with that description. You may find yourself feeling the same way after having watched “Restrepo.”

In the end, how many of you have had a chance to see “Restrepo”? What did you think about it? Did you like it? Dislike it? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Donald Rumsfield book is No. 1 nonfiction best-seller

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.

“Known and Unknown” by Donald Rumsfield replaced “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand as the top book on the hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson replaced “Swimsuit” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro as the No. 1 book on the mass market paperback best-sellers list.

“Tick Tock” by James Patterson retained the No. 1 spot on the hardcover fiction best-sellers list.

“Water for Elephants: A Novel” remained the top book on the trade paperbacks best-sellers list.

There are five books on this week’s hardcover fiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. Those books (and their place on the list) are "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness (2), "The Secret Soldier" by Alex Berenson (7), "A Red Herring Without Mustart" by Alan Bradley (10), "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell (13) and "The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown (15).

There are three books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "Known and Unknown" by Donald Rumsfield (1), "I Beat the Odds" by Michael Oher with Don Yaeger (7) and "The 4-Hour Workweek Expanded & Updated" by Timothy Ferris (15).

There are two books on this week’s mass market paperbacks best-sellers list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books include "Split Image" by Robert B. Parker (9) and "The Black Cat" by Martha Grimes (15).

There are two books on this week’s trade paperbacks list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "The Three Weissmans of Westport" by Cathleen Schine (14) and "Think Twice" by Lisa Scottoline (15).

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. Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "Tick Tock" by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
2. "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness
3. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
4. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
5. "Dead or Alive" by Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood
6. "The Inner Circle" by Brad Meltzer
7. "The Secret Soldier" by Alex Berenson
8. "The Confession" by John Grisham
9. "Strategic Moves" by Stuart Woods
10. "A Red Herring Without Mustart" by Alan Bradley
11. "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue
12. "What the Night Knows: A Novel" by Dean Koontz
13. "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell
14. "The Sentry" by Robert Crais
15. "The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "Known and Unknown" by Donald Rumsfield
2. "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand
3. "Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff
4. "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua
5. "The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommom Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman" by Timothy Ferriss
6. "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
7. "I Beat the Odds" by Michael Oher with Don Yaeger
8. "Veganist" by Kathy Freston
9. "The Pioneer Woman" by Ree Drummond
10. "The Hidden Reality" by Brian Greene
11. "The Investment Answer" by Daniel C. Goldie and Gordon S. Murray
12. "Autobiography of Mark Twain" by Ed. by Harriet Elinor Smith
13. "Sexy Forever: How to Fight Fat after Forty" by Suzanne Somers and Michael Galitzer
14. "In the Blink of an Eye" by Michael Waltrip & Ellis Henican
15. "The 4-Hour Workweek Expanded & Updated" by Timothy Ferris

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "Swimsuit" by James Patterson, Maxine Paetro
3. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
4. "Deliver Us From Evil" by David Baldacci
5. "Marrying Daisy Bellamy" by Susan Wiggs
6. "Tom Clancy's Endwar" by David Michaels
7. "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown
8. "The Lincoln Lawyer" by Michael Connelly
9. "Split Image" by Robert B. Parker
10. "Wild Man Creek" by Robyn Carr
11. "This Body of Death" by Elizabeth George
12. "Here to Stay" by Catherine Anderson
13. "Broken" by Karin Slaughter
14. "Frankenstein: Lost Souls" by Dean Koontz
15. "The Black Cat" by Martha Grimes

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "Water for Elephants: A Novel" by Sara Gruen
2. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese
3. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave
4. "Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo, Colton Burpo and Lynn Vincent
5. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
6. "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz
7. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
8. The Postmistress" by Sarah Blake
9. "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis
10. "True Grit" by Charles Portis
11. "Winter Garden" by Kristin Hannah
12. "Committed" by Elizabeth Gilbert
13. "The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel" by Garth Stein
14. "The Three Weissmans of Westport" by Cathleen Schine
15. "Think Twice" by Lisa Scottoline

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, February 19, 2011

Barnes & Noble releases Best Books of the Month list

Barnes & Noble released this week its Best Books of the Month list for February, and more than a few notable titles made the cut.

Eleven books were named to the “Best Books of the Month for Adults” list, including:

1. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
2. Townie by Andre Dubus III
3. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
4. The Long Road Home by Ben Shepard
5. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah
6. A Widows Story by Joyce Carol Oates
7. Under the Sun by Bruce Chatwin
8. When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle
9. The Hemlock Cup by Bettany Hughes
10. My Father’s Fortune by Michael Frayn
11. Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen

Eight books were named to the “Best Books of the Month for Kids & Teens” list, including:

1. Silverlicious by Victoria Kann
2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
3. I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal
4. Cloaked by Alex Flinn
5. The Mask Wearer by Bryan Perro
6. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
7. Closer by Roderick Gordon
8. Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

Barnes & Nobles top 10 hardcover books for the month include:

1. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement by David Brooks
2. Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr
3. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
4. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
5. Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting
6. Closer by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams
7. Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
8. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
9. Cloaked by Alex Flinn
10. The Gift by James Patterson and Ned Rust

Barnes & Nobles top 10 February paperbacks include:

1. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah and Geoffrey Strachan
2. The Gift by James Patterson and Ned Rust
3. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
4. Unbroken: A World WWII Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.
5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
6. Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
7. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
8. Leaves of Grass: The Complete 1855 and 1891-92 Editions by Walt Whitman
9. Volt by Alan Heathcock
10. Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

E-readers can't replace the feeling of reading real books (yet)

I had two new experiences yesterday. I finished reading Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, “Heart of Darkness,” and this book was the first book that I have read entirely on an e-reader.

To say the least, the novel was great. First published in 1902 in Blackwood’s Magazine, this book is narrated by Charles Marlow, who is telling his friends about his adventures in the Congo while they are anchored on a ship near London. Marlow previously worked as a ferryboat captain for a Belgian trading company in Africa.

His mission in Africa was two-fold. He was to bring a valuable cargo of ivory back down the Congo River and bring back another ivory trader, the mysterious Mr. Kurtz. Prior to meeting Kurtz, Marlow learns that the man has a remarkable reputation and later discovers that the natives regard the charismatic Kurtz as a god-like figure.

About halfway through the book, I began looking to see if there were any film adaptations of the novel. I figured there had to be, given that the book is considered a literary classic. Much to my disappointment, there have only been two television adaptations of the book, one in 1958 by CBS and another in 1993 by TNT.

The closest thing to a motion picture adaptation is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 movie, “Apocalypse Now.” However, the book, “Heart of Darkness” and the movie, “Apocalypse Now” are very different. The book is set in the Congo in the 19th century, and the movie is set in Vietnam during the late 1960s or early 1970s during the Vietnam War. In the movie, a young Martin Sheen plays the character of Capt. Willard, who takes the place of Marlow in the story. Willard secures passage on a navy boat headed up river, where is supposed to “terminated the command” of Col. Walter E. Kurtz. Kurtz, a genius who has apparently lost his mind, has broken away from the Army and is waging his own private war. He is also revered as a god by the natives.

As mentioned before, this is the first book that I’ve ever read on an e-reader, and it was an interesting experience. My wife gave me a very slick e-reader called by “The Book,” which is manufactured by Augen, for Christmas. The e-reader is back lit, very easy to read, has a color screen and has a long battery life. It also came packed with 150 free e-books, including “Heart of Darkness” and other classics.

Makers of these sorts of devices have a long way to go before they can replace the feel of reading a real book, but this technology has come a long way in a short time. My only fear is that they will, once they become ubiquitous, render libraries and newspapers obsolete. That day may never arrive, and for the sake of print book lovers, myself included, I hope it never does. This is not to say that I plan to throw my e-reader away.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's hard to believe that it's been a year since 'The Big Snow of 2010'

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since that huge “snow storm” that we received last February. Many of you will remember this weather event, which dumped an unusually large amount of snow on Southwest Alabama.

I think we had five or six inches at my house, and my kids got a bigger kick out of it than I did. To be honest, I hate snow, but my kids and I had a big time building a full-sized, bona fide snowman. I’m just left wondering how old they’ll be (and how old I’ll be) before we see snow like that again in these parts.

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Many of you probably saw the picture that Ronald Randolph brought by the paper of the buzzards roosting on and circling around the water tower in downtown Evergreen. (The picture was published in the Feb. 3 edition of The Evergreen Courant on Page 7.)

I’ve been told that this unusual activity has continued at least through this week, and it may be something that our city officials might want to look into if they haven’t already.

One theory is that the buzzards are drawn to the water tower because it’s the highest point in the city and gives them a good place to “sun” and dry out their feathers.

I don’t subscribe to these theories though because I’ve known buzzards to congregate in one area for only one reason – something has died. For those birds to have hung around for so long and in such great numbers, I’m almost afraid to imagine what they might be catching a scent of.

I can tell you some very unsavory stories that you will not want to hear about dead animals and water towers that have taken place outside of Conecuh County in the past. You’d rather not hear them, I’m sure.

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I want to thank one of Evergreen’s finest citizens, Bert Cook, this week for putting me on to a great book with obvious Evergreen connections, E.O. Wilson’s 2010 novel, “Anthill.”

Wilson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Harvard University professor, was born in Birmingham and grew up in several southwest Alabama towns, including Evergreen and Brewton.

In “Anthill,” much of the story takes place in the fictional town of “Clayville,” which Wilson admits to having based on Evergreen. I’m only about 100 pages into the book, and other towns mentioned include Monroeville, Thomasville, Brewton and Mobile.

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The Alabama Tourism Department released last week its list of Top 10 events for the month of March. Events that made the list included the Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma on March 3-7, the George Lindsey-University of North Alabama Film Festival in Florence on March 3-5, the BRAVO! Birmingham Music Festival on March 5, the “Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Scottsboro Boys Story” exhibition in Birmingham on March 8-May 22, Mardi Gras Day in Mobile on March 8, the Alabama River Festival in Franklin on March 10-12, the 59th Annual Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival on March 18-20, the Trasher Brothers and Neil Thrasher concert in Montgomery on March 18, the 197th Anniversary of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alexander City and Daviston on March 26 and the Piney Woods Arts Festival in Enterprise on March 26-27.

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Five-star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney – the No. 1 college football prospect in the nation - made his big announcement Monday about where he plans to play football next fall.

Prior to Monday, most experts believed that Clowney had narrowed down his choices to Alabama, Clemson and South Carolina. In the end, he ended up picking South Carolina, where he will play for “The Great Visored One” himself, Steve Spurrier.

Now that Clowney’s made up his mind, we can review the final college football recruiting rankings.

According to ESPN, the top 10 signing classes were as follows – 1. Florida State, 2. Alabama, 3. Auburn, 4. USC, 5. Texas, 6. Georgia, 7. Ohio State, 8. Clemson, 9. Notre Dame and 10. LSU.

Here’s the top 10 according to Rivals. Com – 1. Alabama, 2. Florida State, 3. Texas, 4. USC, 5. Georgia, 6. LSU, 7. Auburn, 8. Clemson, 9. Oregon and 10. Notre Dame.

The other major college football recruiting service, Scout.com, had its top 10 as follows – 1. Florida State, 2. Auburn, 3. Ohio State, 4. Texas, 5. USC, 6. Alabama, 7. Georgia, 8. Notre Dame, 9. LSU and 10. Oregon.

For Alabama and Auburn fans in the reading audience, this gives Alabama an average finish of No. 3, and Auburn an average finish of 4.3. In other words, they were neck in neck in recruiting when you average out their finishes among the three major college football recruiting rankings.

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From the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” file this week, I read on Monday that the U.S. Olympic team almost missed the 1896 Olympics in Athens, Greece because Greece was still using the Julian Calendar, which was 12 days ahead of the calendar used by Americans.

The Evergreen Courant's Sports Flashback for Feb. 17, 2011

THREE YEARS AGO
FEB. 21, 2008

“Four points.
“That’s all that separated Sparta Academy’s varsity girls basketball team from a shot at the AISA Class 2A state title after a heart-wrenching 48-44 loss to Lowndes Academy last Thursday.
“Mallory Kendrick, a five-foot-nine junior, led Sparta with 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.”
Other standout Sparta players in that game included BreAnna Pate, Morgan Harden, Erica Palmer, Christin Booker, Susan Ann Cook, Camarena Godwin and Hayden Armuelles.

“Hillcrest High School’s varsity boys basketball team closed out its 2007-2008 season with a 61-59 loss against Jackson High School. The loss came during the subregional round of the Class 4A state playoffs Friday night in Evergreen.
“Freshman DeAundre Lyons and Taft Lark, a junior, led Hillcrest with 18 points each.”
Other standout Hillcrest players in that game included Lawrence Bennett, Aaron Dees, Clarence Jackson, Cleveland Knight and Antonio Lewis.

“About 70 children took part in a free baseball clinic at Evergreen Municipal Park on Saturday. Evergreen Little League sponsored the clinic.”

18 YEARS AGO
FEB. 18, 1993

“The Hillcrest High School Lady Jaguars finished the regular season with a 19-1 record. Despite having a record better than most ranked teams, the Lady’s have been ignored in the high school polls. Coach Calvin Fluker says the lack of attention could play in favor of the Lady Jags as tournament action begins. The team is comprised of Kenisha Nevlous, Shinetta Richardson, Phyllis Lindsey, Rhonda Byrd, Christy Maxwell, Tisha Thornton, Tracey Boykins and Tamila Lampley. Not pictured is Brenda Byrd.”

“Gennifer Meeks is called one of the ‘best players in the state’ by Coach Calvin Fluker… and he may be right. Gennifer averaged 18 points per game and 15 rebounds per game for the 19-0 Lady Aggies of Evergreen Junior High School.”

“The Evergreen Junior High School Lady Aggies finished the season with a perfect 19-0 record, winning the county title last week in a contest against Lyeffion. The boys team also took first place in the county with a 13-5 record. Shown representing the teams are Lewis Young, Cammie Roach, Shantel Scott, Gennifer Meeks and Brenda Turner.”

33 YEARS AGO
FEB. 16, 1978

“The Lyeffion Yellow Jackets upped their record to 15-5 last week by defeating Georgiana at home, 51-47.
“Adrian Woods led scoring with 19 points. Harold Kyser and Ricky Hall both reached double figures with 15 and 11, respectively. Willie Hunter added six for the Jackets.”

“The Evergreen High Aggies beat the Greenville Tigers on Friday night, 67-57.
“The Aggies top scorer was Michael Floyd who had 16 points and 12 rebounds.”
Other standout Evergreen players in that game included Tony Rogers, Earnest Williams, Joe Mitchell, Chris Askew, Terry Floyd and James Straughn.

“The Sparta Academy Warriors downed the Greenville Academy Tornadoes, 60-53, last week.
“Terry Peacock hit 13 points, Gray Stevens, 12, and Johnny Ralls, 10, to pace Sparta.”
Other standout Sparta players in that game included Tony Raines, John Hall, Steve Dubose, Bobby Padgett, Cook Morrison and Ronny McKenzie.

“The Warrior girls romped to an easy 43-22 win. Angie Driver led the scoring with 15 points.”
Other Lady Warriors in that game included Michelle Joyner, Missi Thacker, Mary Claire Robinson, Cathy Johnston, Sharon Johnson, Cathy Cope, Teresa Blackmon and Cheri Johnson.

“The Evergreen High Junior Basketball team, winners of the county, area and district tournament, will compete in the state tournament starting tomorrow at Carver Community Center in Montgomery. The Junior Aggies are Tracy Scott, James Crosby, Wayne Parker, Donald Grace and Terry Nettles; and Coach Harold Carter, David Floyd, Edward Straughn, John Allen, Horace Smith and Philander Rodgers.”

48 YEARS AGO
FEB. 21, 1963

“Frisco City avenged an earlier defeat Feb. 12 as they whipped the Evergreen Aggies, 63-43, in Evergreen.
“Evergreen was led by the 12 points of Ronnie Jackson and the 10 markers of Joe Sasser.”

“The Castleberry Blue Devils ended their first unbeaten season ever Saturday night as they downed the Evergreen Aggies, 63-39, in Evergreen. It was the season ender for both squads. Castleberry’s record is 24-0 while Evergreen had a 9-9 season slate.
“Larry Jane had 21 points while Donnie Kast followed with 16 and Henry George Foster pumped in 10. Jimmy Raines with 13 and Sid Lambert with 12 were the top Evergreen scorers.”

63 YEARS AGO
FEB. 19, 1948

“The Aggies of Evergreen High took two easy wins over the Castleberry Panthers during the past week for their 16th and 17th wins of the season and lost to Murphy for their third defeat of the year.
“Last Wednesday night, the Aggies whipped Castleberry on the Evergreen court Monday night of this week, the Aggies again defeated Castleberry, this time on the Castleberry court. Last Friday night, the Aggies were trimmed by Murphy High of Mobile in Mobile by a 52-45 score.”

“The Evergreen High Aggies will end a successful 1947-48 basketball season here next week with three games Saturday night, Feb. 28.
“Frisco City will furnish the opposition in Junior, B and varsity contests. The Aggies downed the Whippets in Frisco City several weeks ago, but expect plenty of trouble here next Saturday.
“Frisco City recently whipped Murphy High of Mobile by an 11-point margin and pose a strong threat to the Aggie hope of closing the season on a successful note.
“On Tuesday night, Feb. 24, the Butler County High School Tigers of Greenville are slated to appear on the local court for a three-game performance. The Aggies defeated all three of the Greenville teams early in the season, but the Tigers are vastly improved since that date.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My movie picks this week are 'Unknown' and 'Unstoppable'

It’s Wednesday, so today I give you my weekly list of movies that will open in theatres this week as well as a 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:

Unknown (PG-13, Suspense, Drama, Thriller): Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, January Jones, Diane Kruger and Bruno Ganz.

Vanishing on 7th Street (R, Horror, Thriller): Directed by Brad Anderson and starring Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore and Taylor Groothius.

I Am Number Four (PG-13, Science Fiction, Action): Directed by D.J. Caruso and starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Durand, Teresa Palmer and Dianna Agron.

Brotherhood (R, Drama, Action, Suspense): Directed by Will Canon and starring Trevor Morgan, Jon Foster, Lou Taylor Pucci, Arlen Escarpeta and Jesse Steccato.

The Chaperone (PG-13, Comedy, Family): Directed by Stephen Herek and starring Paul Levesque, Kevin Corrigan, Annabeth Gish, Jose Zuniga and Ariel Winter.

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (PG-13, Comedy, Action): Directed by John Whitesell and starring Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Jessica Lucas, Faizon Love and Emily Rios.

Even the Rain (Not Yet Rated, Drama, Epic and Historical): Directed by Iciar Bollain and starring Luis Tosar, Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan Carlos Aduviri, Karra Elejaide and Raul Arevalo.

I Am (PG-13, Documentary, Special Interest): Directed by Tom Shadvac.

Immigration Tango (R, Comedy): Directed by David Burton Morris and starring Elika Portnoy, McCaleb Burnett, Carlos Leon, Ashley Wolfe and Avery Sommers.

The Last Lions (PG, Documentary, Special Interest): Directed by Dereck Joubert and starring Jeremy Irons.

Now & Later (Not Rated, Drama): Starring Luis Fernandez-Gil, Adrian Quinonez, Shari Solanis, Marcellina Walker and James Wortham.

Putty Hill (Not Rated, Drama): Directed by Matthew Porterfield and starring Sky Ferreira, Zoe Vance, Dustin Ray, Cody Ray and Charles “Spike” Sauers.

New DVD releases for the week of Feb. 15 include:

Unstoppable (PG-13, Action, Suspense): Directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Jessy Schram and Jeff Wincott.

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (Not Yet Rated, Horror, Thriller, Comedy): Starring Kyle Davis, Devin McGinn and Barak Hardley.

Stag Night (R, Horror, Drama, Thriller): Starring Scott Adkins, Kip Pardue, Vinessa Shaw, Breckin Meyer and Karl Geary.

National Lampoon’s Dirty Movie (R, Comedy): Directed by Jerry Daigle and Christopher Meloni and starring Christopher Meloni, Diane Neal, Adam Ferrara, Caitlin Fitzgerald and Cyndi Lauper.

Game of Death (R, Action): Directed by Giorgio Serafini and starring Wesley Snipes, Aunjanue Ellis, Gary Daniels, Zoe Bell and Robert Davi.

Glorious 39 (R, Drama, Suspense): Directed by Stephen Poliakoff and starring Bill Nighy, Romola Garai, David Tennant, Juno Temple and Eddie Redmayne.

Kites (Not Rated, Drama, Action, Romance): Directed by Anurag Basu and starring Hrithik Roshan, Barbara Mori, Kangana Ranaut and Nicholas Brown.

Love at First Kill (Not Rated, Drama, Thriller): Directed by John Daly and starring Noah Segan, Margot Kidder, Michael Bowen and Lyne Renee.

Waiting for Superman (PG, Documentary, Special Interest): Directed by Davis Guggenheim.

Williams S. Borroughs: A Man Within (Not Yet Rated, Documentary, Special Interest): Directed by Yony Leyser.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (R, Romance, Comedy): Directed by Woody Allen and starring Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Gemma Jones and Antonio Banderas.

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

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, February 15, 2011

Which literary work will win this year's Warwick Prize for Writing?

Ever heard of the Warwick Prize for Writing?

Me neither, that is, until today when I ran across a press release saying that six works had been named to the short list of nominees for this year’s award.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Warwick Prize, it is given ever two years “for an excellent and substantial piece of writing in the English language, in any genre or form, on a theme that will change with every award.” The theme for the 2011 award is “colour.”

The prize, which was first awarded in 2009, is worth 50,000 English pounds, that is, about 80,000 dollars American. The award was launched and is sponsored by the University of Warwick, which is located in Coventry, England. Anyone at Warwick University, including professors, students, alumni and staff, can nominate a work for the prize.

According to the university’s website (http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/prizeforwriting/), the Warwick Prize is the “only cross-disciplinary writing competition in existence, including things such as scientific research, novels, poems, websites, movies and plays.”

The short list for this year’s award was released on Friday, and six works made the cut. They include:
- “The Wasted Vigil” by Nadeem Aslam
- “Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage” by Peter Forbes
- “The Memory of Love” by Aminatta Forna
- “The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences” by Peter D. McDonald
- “What Color is the Sacred?!” by Michael Taussig
- “White Egrets” by Derek Walcott.

One of these works will receive the 2011 Warwick Prize, and the winner will be announced on March 22.

The above works and five others were named to the long list for this year’s award several months ago. Other works on the long list were:
- “Colour and Meaning in Ancient Rome” by Mark Bradley
- “Shades of Grey” by Jasper Fforde
- “Molotov’s Magic Lantern” by Rachel Polonsky
- “Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip” by Lisa Robertson
- “Hackney, That Rose Red Empire” by Iain Sinclair

“The Shock of Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” by Naomi Klein won the first Warwick Prize in 2009. The theme for that year’s award was “complexity.”

Other works that made the short list for the inaugural award were:
- “Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800” by Lisa Appignanesi
- “The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop Gerardi?” by Francisco Goldman
- “Reinventing the Sacred” by Stuart A. Kauffman
- “The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century” by Alex Ross
- “Montano’s Malady” by Enrique Vila-Matas and translated by Jonathan Dunne

Works that made the long list in 2009 were:
- “The Tiger That Isn’t” by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot
- “Torques: Drafts 58-76” by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
- “Glister” by John Burnside
- “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davies
- “Someone Else” by John Huges
- “The Burning” by Thomas Legendre
- “Adam’s Ancestors: Race Religion and the Politics of Human Origins” by David Livingstone
- “The Wild Places” by Robert Macfarlane
- “The Meaning of the 21st Century” by James Martin
- “Brasyl” by Ian McDonald
- “Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill
- “The Informers” by Juan Gabriel Vasquez and translated by Anne McLean
- “Portrait with Keys” by Ivan Vladislavic
- “The Trader, The Owner, The Slave” by James Walvin.

In the end, how many of you have ever heard of the Warwick Prize prior to tonight? Have any of you had a chance to read any of the above works? Which would you recommend? Which do you think has the best chance of winning this year’s prize? Let us know in the comments section below.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Do you think 'Inception' will win the Academy Award for Best Picture?

I finally watched the movie “Inception” the other night, and I have to say that this is one of the best movies of 2010 that I’ve seen.

To say that I enjoyed the movie would be putting it mildly. I’d call it a healthy mix of “The Matrix,” “Johnny Mnemonic” and Philip K. Dick with a dash of Stanley Kubrick thrown in.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of watching this science fiction film, it’s about a unique corporate spy who can enter the dreams of his targets and, unbeknownst to his victim, he can extract valuable information as well as their innermost secrets. Much of this movie centers on a high-powered Japanese businessman who hires a dream thief to pull off an “inception,” that is, to plant a destructive idea into the mind of one of his business rivals.

This movie, which was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was released in theatres on July 16, 2010. Leonardo DiCaprio played the lead role of dream thief Dom Cobb, and Michael Caine plays Cobb’s father-in-law, Dr. Stephen Miles. Other cast members included Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao and Tom Berenger.

“Inception” has been wildly successful. After being nine years of development prior to its release, the movie was shot under a budget of $160 million. On its opening day, the movie grossed $21 million and grossed nearly $63 million in its opening weekend. To date, gross DVD sales have topped $68 million.

Fans of “Inception” will also have a lot to look forward during the upcoming Academy Awards, which will be held on Feb. 27 and aired on ABC. “Inception” has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Art Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects and Best Writing-Original Screenplay.

This movie was great, and I suspect that it won’t be long before it’ll be considered a sci-fi classic. However, if I had to say that there was one thing I didn’t like about it, it would be that the movie is too long. The film’s run-time was 142 minutes, and there towards the end, I caught myself glancing at my watch and wondering just how much more of the movie was left.

In the end, I loved this movie, and I suspect that it will do well at this year’s Academy Awards. In my book, it gets an A+.

How many of you have seen this movie? What did you think about it? What did you like or dislike about it? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

'Swimsuit' is this week's No. 1 paperback best-seller

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 one new book at the top of the four major best-seller lists this week.

“Swimsuit” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro replaced “Marrying Daisy Bellamy” as the top book on the mass market paperback best-sellers list.

“Tick Tock” by James Patterson retained the No. 1 spot on the hardcover fiction best-sellers list.

"Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand retained the top spot on the hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list.

“Water for Elephants: A Novel” remained the top book on the trade paperbacks best-sellers list.

There are three books on this week’s hardcover fiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. Those books (and their place on the list) are "Fatal Error" by J.A. Jance (7), "Blackveil" by Kristen Britain (12) and "Left Neglected" by Lisa Genova (15).

There are five books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "The Pioneer Woman" by Ree Drummond (2), "Veganist" by Kathy Freston (8), "As One" by Mehrdad Baghai & James Quigley (11), "The Lean Belly Prescription" by Travis Stork, M.D., with Peter Moore (14) and "In the Blink of an Eye" by Michael Waltrip & Ellis Henican (15).

There are five books on this week’s mass market paperbacks best-sellers list that weren’t on that list last week. Those books include "Frankenstein: Lost Souls" by Dean Koontz (9), "The Lincoln Lawyer" by Michael Connelly (11), "This Body of Death" by Elizabeth George (12), "Tom Clancy's Endwar" by David Michaels (14) and "Blood Wyne" by Yasmine Galenorn (15).

There are four books on this week’s trade paperbacks list that weren’t on the list last week. They include “The Postmistress" by Sarah Blake (8), "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis (10), "Committed" by Elizabeth Gilbert (13) and "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho (15).

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. Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "Tick Tock" by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
2. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
3. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
4. "The Inner Circle" by Brad Meltzer
5. "Dead or Alive" by Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood
6. "Strategic Moves" by Stuart Woods
7. "Fatal Error" by J.A. Jance
8. "Shadowfever" by Karen Marie Moning
9. "The Confession" by John Grisham
10. "The Sentry" by Robert Crais
11. "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue
12. "Blackveil" by Kristen Britain
13. "What the Night Knows: A Novel" by Dean Koontz
14. "The Red Garden" by Alice Hoffman
15. "Left Neglected" by Lisa Genova

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand
2. "The Pioneer Woman" by Ree Drummond
3. "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua
4. "The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommom Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman" by Timothy Ferriss
5. "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
6. "Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff
7. "The Investment Answer" by Daniel C. Goldie and Gordon S. Murray
8. "Veganist" by Kathy Freston
9. "Sexy Forever: How to Fight Fat after Forty" by Suzanne Somers and Michael Galitzer
10. "The Hidden Reality" by Brian Greene
11. "As One" by Mehrdad Baghai & James Quigley
12. "Autobiography of Mark Twain" by Ed. by Harriet Elinor Smith
13. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
14. "The Lean Belly Prescription" by Travis Stork, M.D., with Peter Moore
15. "In the Blink of an Eye" by Michael Waltrip & Ellis Henican

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "Swimsuit" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
2. "Marrying Daisy Bellamy" by Susan Wiggs
3. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
4. "Wild Man Creek" by Robyn Carr
5. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
6. "Here to Stay" by Catherine Anderson
7. "Deliver Us From Evil" by David Baldacci
8. "Sizzle" by Julie Garwood
9. "Frankenstein: Lost Souls" by Dean Koontz
10. "Broken" by Karin Slaughter
11. "The Lincoln Lawyer" by Michael Connelly
12. "This Body of Death" by Elizabeth George
13. "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown
14. "Tom Clancy's Endwar" by David Michaels
15. "Blood Wyne" by Yasmine Galenorn

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "Water for Elephants: A Novel" by Sara Gruen
2. "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese
3. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
4. "Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo, Colton Burpo and Lynn Vincent
5. "True Grit" by Charles Portis
6. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave
7. "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz
8. The Postmistress" by Sarah Blake
9. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
10. "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis
11. "The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel" by Garth Stein
12. "Winter Garden" by Kristin Hannah
13. "Committed" by Elizabeth Gilbert
14. "The Imperfectionists: A Novel" by Tom Rachman
15. "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

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.

119 runners take part in Gator Chase 5K in Spanish Fort

Yesterday, I found myself among the 119 runners that took part in the Gator Chase 5K and Fun Run in Spanish Fort, and it was a picture perfect day for a foot race.

The 5-K (3.1-mile) race began at 8 a.m. at Meaher State Park in Spanish Fort, and it was 36 degrees under clear and sunny skies at race start time. The one-mile fun run began at 9 a.m.

The 5-K course began near the park entrance, but mostly consisted of an out-and-back stretch on the Spanish Fort Causeway. The course was mostly a flat track on asphalt, except for a slight hill on the Causeway before the turn around for the final stretch back to the finish line inside the park.

Reece Stevens, 14, of Spanish Fort was the overall male winner. He ran the race in 18:43, an average of 6:01 per mile.

Joy Lueck, 30, of Spanish Fort was the overall female winner. She finished the race in 23:10, an average of 7:27 per mile.

I finished 27th overall and fifth in the 30-39 male division. I crossed the finish line in 25:01, an average of 8:04 per mile. For the complete race results, visit http://www.productionsbylittleredhen.com/resultsinfo4.asp?raceid=gatch10.

Runners in the race came from all over, but mostly from Baldwin and Mobile counties. Runners in the race represented Atmore, Bay Minette, Biloxi, Miss., Daphne, Excel, Flomaton, Foley, Grand Bay, Gulf Port, Miss., Loxley, Mobile, Moss Point, Miss., Ocean Springs, Miss., Pascagoula, Miss., Pelham, Pensacola, Fla., Saraland, Satsuma, Semmes, Silver Hill and Spanish Fort.

When it comes to races of this sort, they are often judged on the quality of their race t-shirts, and this race gets an A+ in that category. The Gator Chase 5K shirt was a high quality shirt with a stylish logo across the front. The back listed the race’s many sponsors. I meant to post a picture of the shirt, but just didn’t get around to it.

Another interesting thing about this race was that it began and ended inside of a state park, which appeared to have a number of guests camping in several dozen RVs near the park entrance. The race began early on a Saturday morning, and I wondered about how many folks didn’t get to sleep in because of all the race activity. Who knows? Maybe some of the folks in the RVs actually took part in the race.

The park, located at 5200 Battleship Parkway East, offered a nice setting for the race. The park consists of 1,327 acres and is located along the Mobile Bay’s wetlands. It features camping hook-ups, a picnic area, bathhouses, laundry facilities, a boat ramp, a fishing pier and two nature trails. The park is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to sunset. Entrance fees are 50 cents for children 6-11, $1 for visitors 12-61 and 50 cents for seniors age 62 and older.

The Gator Chase 5K and Fun Run benefited the Spanish Fort Education Enrichment Foundation, which provides educational enrichment opportunities for students in Spanish Fort schools.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mobile Symphony wows sizeable Monroeville audience

My wife and I were among the sizeable crowd last night that attended - and thoroughly enjoyed - a Mobile Symphony Orchestra concert at Alabama Southern Community College in Monroeville.

The Mobile Symphony normally performs at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile, but they scheduled last night’s free performance in Monroeville thanks to funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. The event was also sponsored by Alabama Southern Community College, the City of Monroeville and the Monroe County Commission.

The theme of last night’s concert was “Love and Literature,” which fit nicely with Monroeville’s official nickname, “The Literary Capital of Alabama,” and the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday.

The concert, which began about 7:30 p.m. and ended just after 9 p.m., featured 16 musical selections, all of which were taken from or based on famous literary works.

Musical selections included two songs from “Carmen, Suite No. 1” by Georges Bizet, “Los Toreadors” and “Aragonaise;” the theme from the movie “Romeo and Juliet” by Nino Rota; two songs from “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein, “Somewhere” and “One Hand, One Heart;” “Dulcinea” from “Man of La Mancha” by Mitch Leigh; “Clarinet Candy” by Leroy Anderson; “All I Ask of You” from “Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber; “Moon River” by Henry Mancini; “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” by Frederick Loewe; “So in Love” from “Kiss Me Kate” by Cole Porter; the main title theme from “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Elmer Bernstein; “Bugler’s Holiday” by Leroy Anderson; “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot” by Frederick Loewe; and “People Will Say We’re in Love” from “Oklahoma” by Richard Rodgers.

Many of these songs featured the vocal talents of soprano Diane Penning and baritone Ken Weber. After the completion of the songs on the program (and a rousing standing ovation from the audience), the symphony closed out the night with a very entertaining final number, “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun” by Irvin Berlin.

All of the above songs were artfully conducted by the symphony’s music director, Scott Speck. Speck, who introduced each piece with good-natured and often humorous remarks, is a native of Boston and is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Southern California. He is perhaps best known for being the co-author of “Classical Music for Dummies” and “Opera for Dummies.”

A number of my friends attended the event, and they all said that they enjoyed the concert. More than a few of them expressed interest in traveling to Mobile to watch the symphony perform at their home theatre. One upcoming performance described on last night’s program seemed to catch everyone’s eye, a May 7 performance of “The Music of Led Zeppelin,” featuring guest conductor Brent Havens and vocalist Randy Jackson. “A 50-piece orchestra and a full Rock band will perform Led Zeppelin’s classic songs in a brilliant combination of passion and power,” the program said.

In the end, last night’s concert was a hit for the hometown audience, and we may have more concerts to look forward to in the future. On the way out of the auditorium last night, I spoke briefly with Alabama Southern’s president, Dr. Reginald Sykes, who said that the college is looking into the possibility of hosting more events like this in the future.

For more information about the Mobile Symphony, visit its website at www.mobilesymphony.org.

Friday, February 11, 2011

'Murder in Amityville' details Ronald DeFeo Jr.'s crimes

Last night, I finished reading “Murder in Amityville” by Hans Holzer, and if you’re interested in reading more about the “Amityville Horror,” you’ll definitely want to read this book.

Published in 1979, this 288-page book was meant to serve as a prequel to the original, better known book about the case, Jay Anson’s 1977 book, “The Amityville Horror.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the “Amityville Horror” case, it centers on a Dutch Colonial-style house at 112 Ocean Ave. in Amityville, N.Y. In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family inside the house. In late 1975, George and Kathy Lutz, along with their three children, bought and moved into the home. After just 28 days, they fled the house and claimed to have been terrorized by “paranormal phenomena” while living there.

The experiences of the Lutz family are covered in detail in “The Amityville Horror,” with passing mention of DeFeo and his crimes. “Murder in Amityville” briefly summarizes what happened to the Lutz family, but mostly focuses on Ronald DeFeo Jr.

In “Murder in Amityville,” which was used as the basis of the movie “Amityville II: The Possession,” consists mostly of transcripts from DeFeo’s trial as well as interviews conducted by the author. Transcripted interviews in the book include interviews with attorneys involved in DeFeo’s court case, police investigators, private investigators, local history experts and a prison interview with DeFeo himself.

Also included in the book are transcripts of séances conducted in Amityville and transcripts of paranormal investigations conducted inside DeFeo’s home. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, the material is extremely interesting, well presented and raises many questions about DeFeo’s actions.

As previously mentioned, Hans Holzer wrote “Murder in Amityville”, and many of you will be familiar with that name. Born in Austria, Holzer, who died in 2009 at the age of 89, wrote well over 100 books on supernatural and paranormal subjects. His most famous investigation was into the “Amityville Horror” case, which he began conducting, along with spiritual medium Ethel Meyers, in January 1977.

One of the most striking things, to me anyway, about Holzer’s “Murder in Amityville” is the boldface statement you’ll find on the page opposite the tables of contents: This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely incidental.

I suspect that Holzer’s publishers demanded that this be printed in the book for fear of being sued by the Lutz family and others. As many of you are probably well aware, a number of lawsuits were filed by a handful of plaintiffs after the publication of “The Amityville Horror” and the release of the motion picture version of that book.

In the end, I enjoyed “Murder in Amityville” and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the “Amityville Horror.” I don’t think this book is as good as Anson’s “The Amityville Horror,” but it was very interesting nonetheless.

How many of you have read “Murder in Amityville”? What did you think about it? Did you like it? Dislike it? Let us know in the comments section below.