My 5 Desert Island Books

Okay, so we've all done the lists of 5 things you'd bring with you if you were stranded on a desert island..... movies, music, etc., but what we really care about is books! To quote Dale from The Walking Dead, "If I had known the world was ending I would have brought better books." Well, now we know: you're gonna be stranded on a desert island and you've got room for 5 paperbacks.

Sorry, your Kindle sinks like a rock.
No cheating.

Some of my favorite writers are not going with us. I love Vonnegut, Palahniuk, Bradbury, Orwell and many others, and it pains me to leave them behind. But a book that will be read and re-read must stand the test of time. If I haven't already read the book twice, it's automatically disqualified. Also, I must rule out books in a series. It would drive me crazy to have The Prisoner of Azkaban and not the Sorcerer's Stone.

1 - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This is one of the books that take me places, and I'm taking it to our desert island as well. I breaks my heart to watch the movie massacre of Gruen's brilliance, but the pages themselves remain untainted by Hollywood fumbles. There is just so much to savor; the wonder of the circus, nostalgia for a simpler time, the darkness of the prohibition era and the danger of forbidden love. This story's beginning is my favorite on record and every time I put this book down I am satisfied.

2 - The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. A love affair played out backwards, this is probably the most romantic book I have read, with a fun sci-fi twist sprinkled in. The Hollywood attempt for this film fairs a little better but still falls short. This book shows the hard parts of a life - a hard marriage, a family tragedy, unrequited love, past secrets, loss, pain and loneliness - while still leaving the reader uplifted upon closing the pages. It's stunning every single time.

3 - I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. This book is a collection of short stories about, you guessed it, robots. Asimov chronicles the history of robotics (a term he coined, by the way) starting with the lovable robot nanny Robbie all the way up to a robot who can pass for a man. Every robot made is guided by the Three Laws of Robotics, programming ingrained in the circuitry of each mechanical sentient being. Each story is written as a mystery; trying to determine how a robot behaved in an unprogrammed way. If you think it sounds dull, I dare you to read it. I will certainly be reading it again.

4 - Timeline by Michael Crichton. This is my most favorite of all Crichton's books and it is certainly the most fun to read time and time again. While I love the science that is the foundation to all of Crichton's realities, at times I feel it foreshadows the plot line more than I'd like. Absolutely not the case here. It's an unexpected adventure with characters I genuinely missed once I put the book down. Oh yeah, I forgot this one is a movie too. Please, don't judge the book by it's movie.

5 - Polgara the Sorceress by David Eddings. This is probably not one that many non-fantasy readers know about, but you should check it out. David Eddings wrote two fantasy series, the Belgariad and the Morallean, about a family of sorcerers charged with protecting the world from a vengeful vain and pouting deity. This book tells the story of Polgara, one of the main characters, apart from her adventures in the Belgariad and Morallean. So, I guess technically it's a prequel, but since it's not a necessary part of the series, I say it stays. Also, it's my list. Haha.

All right. Now it's your turn. You get 5 books to bring to our desert island. What are they gonna be?

The Bear Came Over The Mountain by Alice Munro

Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university. It was a big, bay-windowed house that seemed to Grant both luxurious and disorderly, with rugs crooked on the floors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish.

Her mother was Icelandic—a powerful woman with a froth of white hair and indignant far-left politics. The father was an important cardiologist, revered around the hospital but happily subservient at home, where he would listen to his wife’s strange tirades with an absent-minded smile. Fiona had her own little car and a pile of cashmere sweaters, but she wasn’t in a sorority, and her mother’s political activity was probably the reason.

Not that she cared. Sororities were a joke to her, and so was politics—though she liked to play “The Four Insurgent Generals” on the phonograph, and sometimes also the “Internationale,” very loud, if there was a guest she thought she could make nervous. A curly-haired gloomy-looking foreigner was courting her—she said he was a Visigoth—and so were two or three quite respectable and uneasy young interns.

She made fun of them all and of Grant as well. She would drolly repeat some of his small-town phrases. He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.
“Do you think it would be fun—” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?”
He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Book: The Dog Stars
Author: Peter Heller
Why I Read It: I love a good apocalyptic dytopian novel, the astronomy nerd in me liked the cover design, and after I read a few lines I was addicted.
First Line: I keep the Beast running. I keep the 100 low lead on tap, I forsee attacks.
First Impression: I am surprised that there are no quotation marks around conversations. I love the laid back narration; usually apocalyptic novels are rather action-driven.
Last Impression: Wow. That was amazing. I am left with a quiet sense of satisfaction.

Overall – 5 Heart Racing The end of the world dystopian novel has been written many, many times but this is the first time it's been such a quiet, reflective world. There is death and strife and hardship, but there is a underlying search for humanity and peace.
Characters – 5 There are few characters, which is understandable considering it's the end of the world. The dynamic is honest and believable; it's the end of the world, you might not like who you are left with but it's better than being alone.
Story – 4 The action in the book is secondary to the internal musings of Hig, the main character. While the events are engaging, it is the characters that truly captivate.
Narration – 5 Poetic and addicting. The novel is set in the Colorado wilderness and each step seen through Hig's eyes is rich and descriptive. The reader forgets the space and gets lost in the flu-destroyed world Hig is left to wander.

Read Again? Absolutely! I checked this copy out from the library, but this is definitely a book I will have to purchase for my library.
Tell Others to Read? Yes. It's accessible, it's part of the currently popular dystopian genre, it has great characters, phenomenal writing and beautiful descriptions. Definitely read this book. And then read it again.

Excerpt: Jasper used to be able to jump up into a cockpit now he can't. In the fourth year we had an argument. I took out the front passenger seat for weight and cargo and put down a flannel sleeping bag with a pattern of a man shooting a pheasant over and over, his dog on three legs, pointing, out in front. Not sure why I didn't do that before. The dog doesn't look like Jasper, still. I carried him. Lay him on the pattern of the man and the dog.

You and me in another life I tell him.

He likes to fly. Anyway I wouldn't leave him alone with Bangley.

When I took out the seat he got depressed. He couldn't sit up and look out. He knows to stay back of the rudder pedals. Once in a shear he skidded into them and nearly killed us. After that I fashioned like a four inch wood fence but scrapped it after he inspected it and jumped out of the plane and like refused to fly, no shit. It insulted him. The whole thing. I used to worry about the engine roar and prop blast, I wear the headset even though there is no one to talk to on the radio because ti dampens the noise, but I worried about Jasper, even tried to make him his own hearing protector, this helmet kind of thing, it wouldn't stay on. Probably why he's mostly deaf now.

When I picked up oil etc I moved the quilt to the top of the stack so he could look out.

See? I said. At least it's good half the time. Better than most of us can expect.

He still thought it was lame I could tell. Not half as excited. So now when I'm not picking up, just flying, which is most of the time, I bolt the seat back in, it just takes a few minutes. Not like we don't have time. First time he sat up straight again and glanced at me like What took you so long? then looked forward real serious, brow furrowed like a copilot. His mood it lifted palpable as weather.

He's getting old. I don't count the years. I don't multiply by seven.

They breed dogs for everything else, even diving for fish, why didn't they breed them to live longer, to live as long as a man?

A Grown-Up Peeta

I loved the character of Peeta in The Hunger Games series; he's loyal, caring and flat-out adorable. But, he's also under 18, which makes thinking he's adorable just a teeny bit weird. So, for all you adult women out there who liked the idea of liking Peeta, may I present the non-creepy grown up version: Geraden from Stephen R. Donaldson's series Mordant's Need.

The first book, The Mirror of Her Dreams, is the very first book I ever judged by its cover and I was completely thrilled that I did. It is now one of my life rules because it's usually quite successful. But I digress. It's a fantasy series, about a young woman named Terisa Morgan who suddenly has a strange young man, Geraden, arrive in her living room through her mirror. He comes from a world where mirrors serve as doorways rather than reflectors and he convinces her to travel back with him. The masters of mirrors are destroying the kingdom of Mordant and he thinks she can help stop them. It's a riveting story with well-crafted and memorable characters and I can't recommend it highly enough.

But we're here to discuss Geraden. He's initially described as having an undeniable inherent goodness and "the type of loyalty that is usually ascribed to puppies," an eagerness that outpaces his actions, which causes him to frequently embarrass himself. Throughout the first book, he is honed from a lovable, fumble-footed boy to a strong, protective and determined man and in the second book, this man grows into his strength. Re-reading the series (again) I found more similarities between Peeta and Geraden than I expected:
  • Their first concern is always the girl. Terisa and Katniss are ridiculously lucky to have these two looking out for them.
  • Each possesses an inherent goodness that he himself seems unaware of. The girls, of course, notice it right off the bat. Everyone loves a good guy.
  • They are honest and dependable. If they say they'll be there, they'll be there. And that's commitment.
  • They have a sense of humor that is just darn adorable. Not only are they good guys who aren't afraid of commitment, they're funny too.
  • Neither of them ever fails to make the right decision no matter how difficult. Both Peeta and Geraden find themselves in tough spots, but they always do what is right, not what is easy.

Donaldson's books are adult novels, so the romance is fully developed, less one-sided, and thus a bit more satisfying than the flirty hand holding of The Hunger Games. Not that there's anything wrong with hand holding. But grown ups have a little more imagination than that. So, for your grown up readings, I give you Geraden. Enjoy ladies!

PS - Guys, there's war and intrigue and betrayals and all kinds of other good stuff. You'll like this book too. Just like you liked The Hunger Games.

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol

On 25 March an unusually strange event occurred in St. Petersburg. For that morning Barber Ivan Yakovlevitch, a dweller on the Voznesensky Prospekt (his family name is lost now — it no longer figures on a signboard bearing a portrait of a gentleman with a soaped cheek, and the words: “Also, Blood Let Here”) — for that morning Barber Ivan Yakovlevitch awoke early, and caught the smell of newly baked bread. Raising himself a little, he perceived his wife (a most respectable lady, and one especially fond of coffee) to be just in the act of drawing newly baked rolls from the oven.
“Prascovia Osipovna,” he said, “I would rather not have any coffee for breakfast, but, instead, a hot roll and an onion,” — the truth being that he wanted both but knew it to be useless to ask for two things at once, as Prascovia Osipovna did not fancy such tricks.

“Oh, the fool shall have his bread,” the wife thought, “So much the better for me then, as I shall have that much more coffee.”

And she threw one roll on to the table.

Ivan Yakovlevitch donned a jacket over his shirt for politeness' sake, and, seating himself at the table, poured out salt, got a couple of onions ready, took a knife into his hand, assumed an air of importance, and cut the roll open. Then he glanced into the roll's middle. To his intense surprise he saw something glimmering there. He probed it cautiously with the knife — then poked at it with a finger.

“Quite solid it is!” he said to himself. “What in the world is it likely to be?”

He stuck in his fingers, and pulled out — a nose! .. His hands dropped to his sides for a moment. Then he rubbed his eyes hard. Then again he probed the thing. A nose! Sure enough a nose! Yes, and one familiar to him, somehow! Oh, horror spread upon his feature! Yet that horror was a trifle compared with his spouse's overmastering wrath.

Another Reason Science Is Awesome

I have just picked up The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, and so far, it is pretty good. It's much more of a chronological history of the periodic table, rather than the short story style exposition of 'true tales' I was expecting, and not as chock-full of delightful tidbits as I thought, but still all right. Reading it today, I realized that most of what Kean is discussing would probably be more impactful visually than as just words on a page. Turns out I was right. There are many interesting facts contained in the book that would make a good visual, but I figure, let's go with the namesake and see what a disappearing spoon actually looks like -

And that is a spoon melting ladies and gentleman! Turns out this is possible because of the element gallium. Gallium is solid at a moderate room temperature, but melts at 84 degrees Farenheit. As Kean says: "it's one of the few liquid metals you can touch without boiling your finger to the bone." Pretty cool, huh?

I think I want to watch superfluid helium defy gravity by flowing uphill and over walls next.....

Maria by Vila Spiderhawk

Maria's been down for such a very long time. I think she might have gone too deep. She's so damned reckless. She never listens to me. I tried to warn her of the risks, but she just shooed me off the way she always does.

"I'll be just fine," she grinned the way she does, the way that melts my heart. And the uncanny thing is that she's always right. I grind my teeth and pull my hair, pace back and forth and bite my nails each time she's gone. And yet she always comes back whole. However strong my sense of doom, however prickly my concern, she always triumphs, always greets me with that grin. So she goes deeper every time, her pockets bulging with success, and I wait here and tell myself that she's quick-witted enough figure out a way to slip from danger's grip. And yet there's always a first time. She could be facing dreadful harm. How would I know? She has no way to contact me.

What if she's lost to me forever? What if some jealous tortured soul steals her away and hides her in the catacombs? Or even worse, what if she's comfortable down there among the dead and she forgets that she belongs here in my arms? How would I sleep without her warmth all snuggled up against my back? What would I do without her playfulness, without her ready laugh, without her joy, without her light, without her tenderness and love?

The thought is just too horrible. My life would simply be too gray. She must return, that charming half-moon grin intact. I want to bargain with the angels, with the demons, with that pit. I want to give them all I have so they'll release her. I want to charm them with my song. Or offer tasty things to eat. Or sell my soul. Whatever works. I need Maria!

I have to banish these bleak thoughts. I have to see her in my mind--see how she'll bounce and point at me, laugh at my worry. I have to keep that image clear. How very happy we'll both be! Yes, she'll return! My love for her will pull her back.

Though in my heart I'll leap for joy at the first sign that she's unscathed and, though I'll want to make her promise not to go so deep again, I'll greet her calmly with a smile and a kiss and an embrace, and I'll assure her that I wasn't scared at all. I'll even casually ask her what she learned on this adventure. She won't have the slightest inkling that I want to grab her shoulders, shake her hard and screech some sense into her brain. I'll welcome her with such restraint that she won't have the smallest clue that terror clawed like cornered cats inside my belly.

It will be perfect. We'll go home and have linguine with red sauce. Oh no! A classic basil pesto! And a salad. I'll make an avocado dressing, open up a nice red wine. A Beaujolais. Then maybe cheesecake for dessert. We'll sip our coffee on the porch and watch clouds drift across the stars, and I'll forget this icy fear. If she comes back.

[The End]

(C) Vila SpiderHawk, 2012. All rights reserved.

Does Maria return unscathed? Pick up Hidden Passages: Tales to Honor the Crones for just 99 cents to find out. Available as a PDF file, Nook book or Kindle book. For more info on Vila Spiderhawk's other works, visit her author page.


3 Awesome Things I Learned About Planets

Astronomy is one of my favorite nerdy things. I suppose I can blame my dad for this overwhelming interest. You see, he’s an aeronautical engineer and has been involved in missions that involved the Hubble Telescope and the International Space Station. He’s actually walked around inside parts of the Space Station that are in orbit now and has a mission flag that was flown on a shuttle. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s cool as hell!

So naturally, How I Killed Pluto, is right up my alley. My inherited interest in space gave me a good background on much of what Brown talks about, but there were a few fun facts that I learned about our planets. Here are my favorite three (so far) -

1. We used to have 11 of them in our solar system. While we cry over the loss of little planet number nine, we’ve previously lost quite a few more. For 40 years our solar system consisted of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Ceres, Pallas and Juno. When the definition of planet was narrowed, Ceres, Pallas and Juno were collectively demoted to asteroids. Apparently our generation isn’t alone in mourning a planet.

2. Our days of the weeks are named after our planets. Of course this was hundreds of years ago when the Sun and the Moon were planets. What’s that you say? We have no planet named Thurs? Well, you’d be correct! Mythology translated our planets into interesting names –

Sunday – the Sun. Pretty straightforward.
Monday – the Moon. Again, saw it coming.
Tuesday – Mars. Ah, it gets exciting. Mars is the Roman god of war. The Germanic God of war is Tiw, and it is for him we named Tuesday.
Wednesday – Mercury. Famous for being the winged-shoe messenger of the gods, one of his lesser known duties was serving as carrier of the dead. Or maybe still messenger. I suppose the gods have to deliver bad news too. Anyway, his Germanic Grim Reaper cousin is Woden, who gives us Wednesday.
Thursday – Jupiter. Jupiter is king of the gods, Thor is Norse king of the gods. Ta-da. Thursday.
Friday – Venus. Even though I think Venus, the Roman goddess of love, sounds more romantic, this day is named for her Norse counterpart Frigga.
Saturday – Saturn. Of course!

3. Our planets inspire names for the elements. I kind of guessed it with Plutonium, Uranium, Mercury, and so on. But Cerium and Palladium can thank the planets for their names as well. Fun random fact for parties.

I’m sure there’s many more delightful tidbits to be discovered, but I’ll let you find those for yourself when you pick up How I Killed Pluto.

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

     "George, I wish you'd look at the nursery."
     "What's wrong with it?"
     "I don't know."
     "Well, then."
     "I just want you to look at it, is all, or call a psychologist in to look at it."
     "What would a psychologist want with a nursery?"
     "You know very well what he'd want." His wife paused in the middle of the kitchen and watched the stove busy humming to itself, making supper for four.
"It's just that the nursery is different now than it was."
     "All right, let's have a look."
     They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.
     Their approach sensitized a switch somewhere and the nursery light flicked on when they came within ten feet of it. Similarly, behind them, in the halls, lights went on and off as they left them behind, with a soft automaticity.
     "Well," said George Hadley.
     They stood on the thatched floor of the nursery. It was forty feet across by forty feet long and thirty feet high; it had cost half again as much as the rest of the house. "But nothing's too good for our children," George had said.
     The nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high noon. The walls were blank and two dimensional. Now, as George and Lydia Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls began to purr and recede into crystalline distance, it seemed, and presently an African veldt appeared, in three dimensions, on all sides, in color reproduced to the final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot yellow sun.
     George Hadley felt the perspiration start on his brow.
     "Let's get out of this sun," he said. "This is a little too real. But I don't see anything wrong."
     "Wait a moment, you'll see," said his wife.
     Now the hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odor at the two people in the middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air. And now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery rustling of vultures. A shadow passed through the sky. The shadow flickered on George Hadley's upturned, sweating face.
     "Filthy creatures," he heard his wife say.
     "The vultures."
     "You see, there are the lions, far over, that way. Now they're on their way to the water hole. They've just been eating," said Lydia. "I don't know what."
     "Some animal." George Hadley put his hand up to shield off the burning light from his squinted eyes. "A zebra or a baby giraffe, maybe."
    "Are you sure?" His wife sounded peculiarly tense.
     "No, it's a little late to be sure," be said, amused. "Nothing over there I can see but cleaned bone, and the vultures dropping for what's left."
     "Did you hear that scream?" she asked.

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