Breeds by Keith C. Blackmore - a review

Breeds coverBREEDS is a really tough book to write about with no spoilers! This was also one of those books: at times I found myself unable to put it down. At several points I was sobbing. I have been hesitant to start reading another book because thoughts about this one keep popping into my head. In short, this book was pretty amazing.

When you open the book, the first thing you see is a warning from the author that if you are a dog lover, do not read the book. I am an animal lover, but I decided to ignore the warning. And actually, I was glad that I did because what I expected to happen when I saw that warning was not what the book was about at all.  I really would have hated to have missed this story because of what might have been.

I love stories that surprise me, and this one did! This is not your typical werewolf story that starts off with the protagonist camping out in the woods, gets bitten by a wolf and things get crazy from there. This is one of the most original werewolf stories I have ever read, totally unique. I would rate this one right up there with Stephen King’s Silver Bullet and  Whitney Strieber’s The Wolven.

Inherent in the werewolf genre is the exploration of man’s animal nature and the conflict between the higher and lower selves. Keith Blackmore’s approach to this is both unique and multi-faceted. It is not as simple as just tossing around some anthropomorphic themes. This book forces us to look at questions of identity and community, and challenges assumptions about fitting in. It makes us ask which part of ourselves is the animal and which part the human…. and I am still not sure how I feel about the answer.

And, just for the record, I really would like to see a sequel to this. There is a some great back story here that would lend itself to more exploration. I’d love to hear more from and about some of the characters in this book. And filmmakers, if you are listening, this would make a GREAT movie!

Keith C Blackmore is probably doing for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland what Stephen King did for Maine  — not sure I am up for a visit to the area, LOL! He writes horror, sci-fi and heroic fantasy. He is the author of the excellent Mountain Man zombie series and currently working on Mountain Man 4. You can check out his Amazon Author Page here for more of his books. You can also visit his website at keithcblackmore.com.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was given to me by the author with no expectation of a review.

Rock the Red Pump HIV/AIDS Awareness

Rock the Red Pump poster
Gather up your ruby slippers!

March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) in the United States.  The day is dedicated to raising awareness about the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls. Currently, 27% of new AIDS cases diagnosed are women and 66% of those women are African-American.

To help call attention to this problem, talk about it. Tweet and post on social networks with the hashtag #RocktheRedPump. Put on a pair of red pumps and show your support! And , if you can post those pix on Instagram, that would be totally awesome!

You can find out more information about the Rock the Red Pump campaign here at theredpumpproject.org.

The Strain Trilogy: A Review

strainThis has been on my TBR list for a long time. I used to love reading vampire books. Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and Robert McCammon’s They Thirst are my two favorite vampire tales ever. (Don’t judge me, but I like dark, gritty vampires, so I totally skipped the Twilight books!) I stopped reading for a while, simply because the overwhelming numbers of vampire stories out there put me off the genre for a bit.But the premise of this one sounded really interesting. And co-written by Guillermo del Toro? Who could resist?

I moved this up on my list because I found out that they are making this into a TV series on FX, scheduled for the summer of 2014. I wanted to read the books and give it time to settle before the series came out.

The Strain (Strain Trilogy): Five stars. I really enjoyed this novel. The characters were interesting to me. I loved the approach to vampirism as a virus and the CDC team involvement was a nice touch that really sold the story for me. The story was exciting and  fast paced and I found it hard to put down.

There were a couple of minor problems. There were a few typos. One was the repeated use of the word agonal. It is an unusual word to use repeatedly in a book. I also noted that sometimes the descriptions were a little stilted and didn’t flow. But since the story was so interesting, these were minor and I was really looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Fall: Book Two of the Strain Trilogy: 3.5 to 4 stars. I liked this book much less than the first. The authors spent way too much time rehashing material from the previous book. Much of the rest of it was spent in backstory. It  drug the pacing of the narrative down and made some parts extremely boring. And that repeated work use and stilted language I was saying was minor in the first book? There was a lot more in this one.

The Night Eternal (The Strain Trilogy): Three stars, tops, if I am being kind. By the last book, I was ready for this series to end. In fact, I think the only reason I finished this one was that I had invested all the time reading the first two books. But by the time I got to this last book,  I did not like who some of these characters had become. And, without giving anything away, I absolutely hated the ending.

The weakest parts of the books were the plot and the exposition. From a reader’s perspective, the overuse of words in the novels really bothered me.  Seriously, how many times can you use the word “agonal” in a series? It came up in each and every book. I found myself asking, “What was the editor of this series thinking?” Poorly written phrases. Typos. And here’s one for the bad writing textbooks: the author referred to the sky as “the troposphere over Manhattan.”  Technically correct, but… ugh. For a book from a major publisher (Harper Collins), the errors in this book were, IMHO, pretty amateur.

So, do I still want to watch the TV series based on these books? Yes, actually I do. I honestly think that the storyline for this would be much better suited for a movie or an ongoing TV series than it was for a book series. Done correctly and with the right casting, this could be a visually stunning post-apocalyptic TV show.

FX is hoping that fans’ recent interest in zombies will translate into viewers for The Strain. Here’s the teaser that ran during an episode of The Walking Dead:

Here’s a look at the trailer for the series:

Who's for dinner? All those fine young cannibals in post-apocalyptic fiction

Cannibalism is one of those subjects that is a little touchy to talk about, at least in real life. As a culture, we have a dark fascination with real life stories involving it, whether it is the historical account of the Donner Party or the the real life events of the famous 1972 Andes Plane crash. Yet it is a subject that we seem to be more comfortable discussing in fiction rather than in fact…. In mainstream films, the topic is rare: One of the few films on the subject is the 1989 film Parents, a creepy, detached, understated piece set in 1950s suburbia,  where a young boy begins to suspect that his parents are cannibals.

Fiction seems to do a little better at tackling the subject. And, in science fiction particularly, cannibalism is not new at all. In fact, it is such a common trope in the genre, it has its own mention on the Cannibalism in Popular Culture Wiki page.

We see the trope in its traditional sense in the Time Machine, H.G. Wells’ classic novel which was published back in 1895. Wells describes two groups, the Eloi and the Morlocks. In the novel, the Eloi are presented as almost angelic lotus eaters and the Morlocks, who practice cannibalism, are portrayed as evil monsters.

Science fiction master Robert Heinlein used the concept in his Hugo award-winning novel, Stranger in a Strange Land(1961). This book was particularly noteworthy because he challenged the usual stereotype and the moral view that cannibals are bad by having his hero, Valentine Michael Smith, practice cannibalism.  He also mocked traditional religion by comparing the ritual of the Eucharist to cannibalism in the same book.

And, don’t forget about Soylent Green, the film based on Harry Harrison’s book,  Make Room! Make Room! While the focus of the book is overpopulation, not cannibalism, the movie gave birth to a pop culture catchphrase with that unforgettable scene in the film where Charlton Heston shouts: “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!”

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of cannibalism in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, in both the Young Adult and Adult fiction categories. I must note that for the purposes of this discussion, like the expert in George A. Romero’s 1978 film, Dawn of the Dead, I do not consider zombies themselves cannibals (cannibalism is an intraspecies activity; zombies do not eat each other…).

Max Brooks deals briefly with the issue and its aftermath in one section of his book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. In the book, the absence of food and a harsh North American winter forces a group of survivors into cannibalism. It is a very emotional and memorable section of the book.

In one of the most culturally significant of these recent books,  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a man must protect his child from being eaten by cannibals. The film adaptation caused a controversy of its own by showing a human baby being roasted on a spit, a scene that was later cut from the film but survived in some of the trailers.

There is no denying that this book is considered culturally important.  Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize, this book has spawned academic treatises discussing its significance. Look at Styles of Extinction: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Adventures in Reading Cormac McCarthy and see what I mean.

A disclaimer here: Due to descriptions of its totally depressing nature, I have not personally read The Road. As a parent, the idea of trying to protect my child against cannibals is more than I can bear to think about and is certainly more than I can handle as entertainment. I prefer a dash of hope with my apocalypse….

I recently talked to two of my favorite authors who have used cannibalism (quite effectively) in recent novels.  Mike Mullin is the author of Ashfall. This award winning novel shows what happens when society falls apart after the eruption of the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park. In the sequel,  Ashen Winter, groups of cannibals known as flenser gangs endanger survivors .

Keith C. Blackmore is author of Mountain Man and its sequels, Safari (Mountain Man Book 2) and Hellifax (Mountain Man Book 3)The Mountain Man series is set in Canada two years after a zombie apocalypse has destroyed civilization. In the latest installment, Hellifax,as  food becomes scarce, a vicious group of cannibals emerges.

As they talked about their approach to using cannibalism in their novels, I noticed that there were some striking points of similarity and differences.

According to Mike Mullin, “Cannibals crept into Ashfall without much planning on my part. I wrote the scene in which Alex encounters an escaped convict, Target, roasting a chunk of mystery meat and realized that many would assume he was eating human flesh. That seemed cool in a slightly disgusting way, so I purposefully left that scene open-so that the reader can interpret it however she wishes. But writing that scene did spur me to do more research on cannibalism, and, ultimately, to include more explicit cannibalism in Ashen Winter.

Keith Blackmore, on the other hand, deliberately chose these characters for their villainy.

“Well, cannibals,” according to Keith, “that is to say, folks who kill other folks solely for pleasure and then devour them–represent an evil, a base savagery, which I find terrifying. Killing a person and eating them is fucked up (can I say that here?) er… screwed up and a person’s instinctive reaction is to be horrified by the act or even the willingness to carry out such an act. It triggers a primeval revulsion, of something gone way too far. It’s not a wild animal, but a person willing to devour another person for sustenance, and at the very worse, you probably won’t realize it until it’s too late. In a zombie story, it fairly easy to spot a zombie and avoid it. Not so with a living, breathing, honest-to-gawd person who’s reverted to cannibalism. Having a character in a story who is capable of such an act is damned frightening, so having several characters should be terrifying… or so I hoped.”

The two authors differed in their approach to researching the flesh-eaters as well:

Blackmore admitted that since he chose them for the fear factor, he really didn’t do a lot a research into his cannibals at all. “I’ve read some articles on Jeffery Dahmer and the guy who actually posted an ad online seeking out a person to kill and then eat, and there was a more recent Russian (Ukrainian?) who was executed for it. It’s the stuff of nightmares.”

The process was different for Mullin: “After I wrote the scene with Target, I read epidemiological research on the Donner party and the book Alive by Piers Paul Reid. But the book that was most influential to my portrayal of cannibalism in Ashen Winter was Collapse, by Jared Diamond. It examines what happens when whole societies break down, rather than localized, temporary disasters like the Donner party or the Andean plane crash. That case-ecological disasters that ended whole societies like the Mayans or Easter Islanders-is a better analogue to the aftermath of a supervolcano.”

Both Mullin and Blackmore agree that there is a tremendous difference between eating those who have died for survival purposes (such as the Donner Party and Andes plane crash scenarios) and overtly attacking people for the purpose of eating them.

According to Mullin, “Yes, there’s a huge ethical difference. If you eat my carcass after I’m dead and it helps you to survive, I’m totally fine with that. If I’m still kicking as you try to carve off a flank steak, then you and I are going to have a problem.”

However, he goes on to say, “I attempted in Ashfall and Ashen Winter to portray the full range of ethical behavior that would follow a collapse of our society-from groups who won’t even cannibalize the dead (a couple of the people in the Andean plane crash died for their ethics in exactly that way) to groups who are totally self-interested and will do absolutely anything to survive.”

While Blackmore agrees that there is “a huge difference” between the two extremes, he says that he really didn’t factor those ethical considerations into Hellifax. He does note, however, that “in those survival stories I imagine there was a huge amount of reflection upon a person’s spirituality, not to mention the reluctance of actually going through with the deed in order to survive, followed by the self-revulsion/loathing (or so I expect there would be some self-loathing) and having to live with that knowledge thereafter.”

In both authors’ books, certain people seem to turn almost gleefully to cannibalism as a source of food. So, I asked both authors how realistic they thought that scenario is, given our cultural taboos against it. Surprisingly, their answers were very different.

Blackmore replied, “To gleefully turn to cannibalism? Realistically, no, I don’t think such a scenario would happen. It’s a work of fiction, meant only to entertain, if not frighten (just a little). Real cases of gleeful cannibals freak me out like old Cronenberg movies.”

Mullin, on the other hand, had a less optimistic view. “People (a tiny minority) gleefully turn to cannibalism even now, despite our cultural taboos and laws. If you have a particularly strong stomach, check out this link or this one. The flensers in Ashen Winter are a minority-but a particularly vicious and (temporarily) successful minority.’

Not having a strong stomach, I will have to trust him on that one.

I was trying to decide if cannibals in fiction are an up-and-coming trend, like vampires and zombies in fiction, or if it is just a brief, temporary interest. Then, I found this story on CNN that tells of a police officer accused in a plot to abduct and cook women. I think I may need to think about this a little more seriously…. How about you?

Many thanks to Keith C. Blackmore and Mike Mullin for stopping by and chatting with me!

Keith C. Blackmore writes heroic fantasy and horror and is currently teasing his fans with the possibility of a Mountain Man 4. You can find out more about him at his website, KeithCBlackmore.com, and follow him on Twitter at @KeithCB1 and on GoodReads.

Mike Mullin is busy working on the third book in the Ashfall series, Sunrise. You can connect with him on the web at mikemullinauthor.com, on Twitter at @Mike_Mullin, and on Google+, FaceBook and GoodReads.

I'm a little tea gadget...

tea ballSo. I have been having all these discussions online recently that involve tea. Since I am supposed to limit my caffeine intake, I have not been actually drinking much tea lately–just talking about it. Then a friend suggested rooibos as a caffeine-free alternative that I might like. (Thanks, Kate!)

Well, yesterday, the tea fairy visited my house and left an interesting selection of teas for me to try (including some rooibos). So, I have to take stock of my tea-making paraphernalia so that I can try one of these scrumptious sounding brews.

The first stop was the kitchen gadget drawer to look for my old tea infuser (commonly known as a tea ball). However, much to my chagrin, somewhere between the re-lining of the kitchen drawers, kitchen remodels and general gadget pruning, my tea infuser seems to have disappeared. It may be in a box in the basement somewhere, but since that’s roughly the equivalent of residing in an alternate dimension, that meant it was time to shop for a new one.

That’s when I found out that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore….

A few of the items I found were unsurprising. You can still get an ordinary mesh tea ball: classic, simple and functional. If you say tea infuser to me, this metal ball (or a close variant) is the thing that comes to mind.

I also saw a brew in mug tea infuserwith a lid:  This is similar to the Melitta single cup coffee brewer. I keep one of these around the house for use during power outages.

Years ago, I remember seeing an electric set called a Mrs. Tea (similar to a Mr. Coffee electric drip pot, but designed for brewing tea). I actually still found some of these for sale on Amazon and eBay.  Back in the day, these were all the rage for people who were die-hard tea drinkers, LOL! Now, they have them that make iced tea as well.

Now for the unusual and the kitsch – the selection here was really widely varied and really interesting:

How about tea infusers that look like tea leaves? Or, what about your very own Tea Rex?

What about a little something for the Sesame Street fan? Bert and Ernie would be so thrilled with a yellow rubber ducky tea infuser, no? Especially one that floats in your cup!

And while we are on yellow, for that special tea-drinking Beatles fan, yes, there actually is a infuser shaped like a Yellow Submarine!

In fact, you can get almost any kind of infuser you would like: robot? Check. A monkey? Yep! What about a “Deep Tea Diver”or a sea shell?They even have one that actually looks like a teapot.

But my personal favorite is one that seems no longer to be available: A shark infuser that floats in the cup.

I mean seriously, who could resist this? Do I hear the music from Jaws playing as I sip my tea?

Keep the court where it is: where the people need it!

According to the NWI Times, on Friday, February 8, 2013, there will be a court hearing about whether to grant a restraining order to keep the child support department of the Juvenile Court in Gary, Indiana. The judge would like to consolidate her court in Crown point. I think this is a move that disproportionately and adversely affects the poor, minorities and women!

This move will inconvenience thousands of people, many of whom do not have transportation.  And just exactly how do supporters of the move suggest that people get to court with no county-wide transportation? Are these the same people who have repeatedly shot down a food and beverage tax in Lake County that would pay for a county bus service?

Remember, generally you are required to appear in court; it is not like an invitation to tea that you can easily reschedule. This will only add more stress to an already stressful situation. And, missed court dates due to transportation issues will be more costly for everyone concerned.

This is a move that would seriously hurt those who can least afford it. The cost in lost work time, gasoline and stress on poor families far outweighs any personal convenience efficiency gained by the judge and her staff. Leave the services where the people who need it are at. I am sure the judge and her staff have cars….

Miserere: An Autumn Tale - A Review

Teresa Frohock’s Miserere: An Autumn Tale was an absolutely amazing book!

And, ironically, I have actually had it on my Kindle since it first came out. Why did I wait for so long to read it? I am still kicking myself over that one….

Truth is, I am much more of a straight sci-fi fan and I have to confess that Dark Fantasy is not exactly my favorite genre. It is generally…. well, dark and then there’s all that evil.  And usually, lots of swords and hard to pronounce names, too. So, generally, I have to be in just the right mood to read it.

But I realized that this book might be more than I thought it was when I read this review on GoodReads and the review’s opening lines had me totally enthralled:

From the start, I went into this expecting it to be a fantasy novel. I mean, the cover? Fantasy! The name? Fantasy! The blurb? Fantasy! So I was a bit shocked when, after a gripping and very fantasy-esque intro, we are plopped right down into a conversation between some teenagers leaving a ballet class and walking home. Wha…? Color me intrigued, and excited, and totally, totally hooked!

So, I read the book. It was sooooo good, I immediately started over and read the whole book again, this time slowly savoring. And I came to the conclusion that the cover and the blub for this book simply don’t do it justice. Seriously, that is the only reason I can think of for why this book is not a runaway best seller! The description only covers maybe the first chapter anyway….

So what can I say about this book? As a writer, Teresa Frohock has a lovely voice; the beauty of some of her prose is just stunning. Doubly amazing for a debut author! The characters?  Rich, fully developed, interesting. Lindsay’s character is so real, I can see why some people (erroneously) tried to classify this as young adult.  I wanted to meet her. I felt protective of her. I want to read more about her. (That’s code for she better be in the next book, LOL!)

Despite what the blurb might suggest, this isn’t a romance in the usual stereotypical or genre sense of the word. It does have an element of the feeling of a medieval romance: In the Middle Ages, a romance meant an adventure, a quest, one with themes of honor and/or redemption. This one fits the bill perfectly!

The exploration of Christian religious myth in this book fascinated me. The book never proselytizes.  But, as you might expect from a reality that exists to keep the fallen angels from taking over earth, the religious themes permeate both the world-building and the world view. It adds an additional delightfully authentic “touch of medieval” flavor to the book.

This book should be definitely be made into a movie – the story (and Teresa’s writing) really lends itself to a visual interpretation.

Okay, enough fan gushing! You: Read this book! Tell everybody you know about it! As for me, I want to read the sequel… now is good…. I’m waiting….

You can learn more about the author at her website, Teresa Frohock.com.  She is also on FaceBook and Twitter.

Ice Box Rolls

I was cleaning out a box in my office and found this recipe for these yummy bread rolls my mother used to make when I was growing up.  I have seen various versions of this recipe floating around the Internet and it supposedly dates back to the early 1950s. The name comes from the fact that you refrigerate the dough before you bake the rolls. The recipe uses leftover mashed potatoes and the bread has a really unique taste because of it.

The recipe is supposed to make 36 rolls. But my mother always made them bigger. When baked, they were the size of a big hamburger bun.  Hot out of the oven and slathered with margarine, the taste was just to die for. This is one of the strongest flavor memories of my childhood.

Ice Box Rolls

¾ cup shortening

½ cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk (luke warm)

½ cup water (luke warm)

1 package dry yeast (fast acting)

6 cups flour

1 cup mashed potatoes

Dissolve yeast in luke warm water and milk. Cream together sugar, shortening, and eggs. Add to yeast mixture. Add mashed potatoes. Mix well. Add flour and salt. Knead well. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down, and place in refrigerator (overnight or for about eight hours). Take dough from refrigerator and roll into shape for individual rolls. Let rise until double in size. Bake in 425 degree oven until brown.

Remaining dough can be covered and stored in refrigerator for up to 48 hours, but, honestly, it never lasts that long around here….

Playing Fizzbin at the Indiana BMV

I have decided that it is easier to play Fizzbin (also known as Fizbin) than it is to conduct business at The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

If you are a geek like me, you remember Fizzbin from the classic Star Trek original series episode “A Piece of the Action.” (See the end of this entry for a refresher if necessary.) For geeks, the name is synonymous with misdirection and confusing rules. And, unfortunately, that describes my last visit to the BMV.

As some of you may know, I am the primary caregiver for my 81 year old mother. 

My mother is 81 years old, legally blind and unable to walk without assistance.  I recently brought her here from Alabama to live with me in Indiana. (My mother had been an Indiana resident for over 30 years prior to moving to Alabama.)

On Friday, May 4, 2012, I took my mother to the my local License branch to get her a Indiana State Identification card. I had all the proper documents: Birth Certificate, Marriage License, Social Security Card, utility bills, bank statement, etc. (Now, it is worth noting here that I am college educated and previously worked for a government agency managing FTA and DOT grants, so I speak fluent bureaucrat.)

Even though I had all the necessary documentation as listed on the Indiana website, the license bureau rejected her social security card because it was “too old.” There is no qualification listed on the website that certain types of Social Security cards would be considered unacceptable. We were unable to get her ID card and now will have to make another trip.

I have several concerns: First, a reasonable person would have no way of knowing that any given Social Security card would be unacceptable. I, for example, am college educated and double checked the requirements before I came. I also had other acceptable documents with her Social Security number that I could have brought had I known that her card might not be good enough. I had no reason to question that a valid Social Security card would not be satisfactory.

Secondly, the staff was uncaring, particularly given my mother’s age and disability.

This ID law as practiced is onerous and a burden, especially to the elderly and disabled. To have to make more than one trip to get an ID card is deplorable, especially as the elderly and disabled often no longer drive and require assistance or have to pay someone to transport them.

Most troubling is the fact that in the 21st century, Indiana’s BMV website still does not give its citizens the information they need in order to conduct their business with the State.

On Monday I emailed three members of the Indiana HouLegislature expressing my concern:

…  First, a reasonable person would have no way of knowing that any given Social Security card would be unacceptable. I, for example, am college educated and double checked the requirements before I came. I also had other acceptable documents with her Social Security number that I could have brought had I known that her card might not be good enough. I had no reason to question that a valid Social Security card would not be satisfactory.

Secondly, the staff was uncaring, particularly given my mother’s age and disability.

This ID law as practiced is onerous and a burden, especially to the elderly and disabled. To have to make more than one trip to get an ID card is deplorable, especially as the elderly and disable often no longer drive and require assistance or have to pay someone to transport them.

Most troubling is the fact that in the 21st century, Indiana’s BMV website still does not give its citizens the information they need in order to conduct their business with the State.

So far, I’ve gotten several phone calls from legislators and a call from the branch manager anxiously offering to resolve my problem by running my mother’s number through the link with the Social Security office – even if I didn’t have the proper documentation.

Here’s what I want to know: Where was all this “help” on Friday when we made our initial visit? And what about fixing the BMV’s website so that someone really knows what to expect (and what to bring) when they come for an ID card or a driver’s license? This seems to be a point that is getting lost. Why is it that I am suddenly deserving of this help because I know how to contact a legislator’s office?

Silly me. I think that that the BMV should do everything it can to help every customer before sending them away empty-handed. Maybe Mr. Spock can compute the odds on that happening.

Here’s a “refresher course” in Fizzbin:

It's 10 minutes past the apocalypse. Do you know where your children are?

I started reading apocalyptic fiction at a very young age. I have to admit that it had its effect on me: I like to be prepared. Add in some real life experience with blizzards and power outages. The result: a tendency to stockpile certain things.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t buy things that I won’t use in the normal course of events. I wouldn’t buy a generator, for example. Eventually, the things I buy do get used. I mean, I have almost used up all the stuff I stockpiled for Y2K.

But all those things I keep on hand—the food, water, flashlight batteries, etc—well, I keep all of them at home. After all, that’s where I am going to need them, right?

Wrong.  ASHFALL blew all that out of the water.

In ASHFALL, 15 year old Alex is left at home alone in Iowa while his parents visiting family in Illinois. The supervolcano underneath Yellowstone Park blows; Alex’s home is destroyed. And that’s just chapter one!

This wonderful book, the first in a planned trilogy, follows Alex’s struggle to not only survive but to try to find his family.

These characters are incredibly well-written. As the mother of two sons, I can tell you that Alex is a very believable character with a lot of nuance. Yes, Alex has some serious martial arts skills. Alex has a good heart. But Alex is also inexperienced and makes some really dumb decisions. As a mother reading this book, I could totally buy Alex as a real kid with all those mixed qualities – that he could be that difficult, that kind, that fierce, and, sometimes, that naive….

Darla also is an incredible character. She has great survival skills. I loved the fact that she was actually better at a lot of things than Alex was. She also tended to be more practical than Alex and, in many ways was a much more suspicious character, fiercely protective. And in the world after Ashfall, that just may be a very good thing.

As a mother, I would be incredibly proud of both of them.

This really isn’t a book just for boys nor is it a just for girls book. The fact is, Alex and Darla were both strong characters that any reader, boys or girls, men or women, could identify with.

There were a lot of things about this book that disturbed me and that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since I read it. This is not one of those post-apocalyptic books where the main characters seem to magically find everything they need in an abandoned convenience store. There are real problems in the world of Ashfall and the characters must solve problems, endure real hardships and make hard choices.

Animals do not fare well in this book. (Indeed, they don’t in most apocalyptic fiction.) And the government? Well, you need to read that one for yourself, okay?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, too, that I am eagerly looking forward to hearing more about in the sequel.

I started to tell my youngest son about the book. He happens to live in New Mexico. He listened, then said to me, “Yeah, there’s one of those underneath Albuquerque.”

Talk about hitting where you live…. I think I am going to be hoping for apocalypse by zombie instead….

You can read more about author Mike Mullin and ASHFALL at his author website. Check out some of the great interviews and an awesome fan-created book trailer while you are there!

The sequel to ASHFALL, ASHEN WINTER, will be out in October, 2012.

Disclaimer: I won a ARC of this book in a charity auction, but my review is based on reading the Kindle edition which I purchased.