Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesday Book Review - Aftertime

I’m working out a schedule for the blog and Wednesdays are going to be devoted to book reviews – Review Wednesdays.  Since martial arts are such a big part of my life, I’m going to adapt black belt for the rating – 5 black belts being the highest rating, 1 being the lowest. I was considering doing color belts, but that can quickly get confusing, especially for people not well acquainted with the belt system in martial arts.

And so, without further adieu, here’s my first review, since I just finished reading the book this morning.

Title: Aftertime

Author: Sophie Littlefield

Genre: Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic fiction (with strong elements of romance and horror)


Since I got interested in reading dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction recently, Aftertime seemed like a definite book to put on the list. I wasn’t disappointed.

Aftertime tells a story of Cass, a troubled young woman and a recovering alcoholic, searching for her little daughter in the world where there’s no more government, where much of the cattle and poultry has been poisoned by bio-terrorists, and where Beaters – skin eating zombies – roam the streets and roads.

However, the novel is much more than just another zombie apocalypse story. Some of the issues that Cass deals are issues that exist in our world today. The exploration of losing oneself in alcohol and sex to run away from emotional pain is just one example.

The descriptions are raw and beautiful, and quiet realistic. The action is fast-paced and moves the development of the story along nicely. Aftertime explores the topics of human spirit, survival, compassion, civilization, nature and, of course, hope and renewal.

I’m looking forward to picking up the next book in the series, Rebirth.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The rise of post-apocalyptic fiction

It’s Sunday night and hurricane Irene has passed our area as a tropical storm, weaker than expected but strong enough to cause some damage and a lot of worry. It’s been a strange week – from the rarity of feeling the tremors of an earthquake in NYC to this hurricane taking a rare north-east course. Gratefully, everyone I know is safe and sound and we are praying for all those who have been affected by hurricane Irene in more serious ways.

The preparation and waiting for the storm to hit made me think of other things though. Things that I have been thinking about a lot lately. Things that have to do with survival. Our times are so uncertain and so full of crazy events that you can’t help but think of that. It is not surprising that the post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction has been steadily becoming very popular and mainstream.

As it happened, as we were waiting for Irene, I have been in the middle of reading Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield, an enjoyable post-apocalyptic novel. Her description of the post-apocalyptic world is raw and beautifully realistic. This is the third post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel I have read in the last year. The first one was the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, a bestseller that is now being made into a movie.

The apocalyptic events can take many various forms, from the social disintegration stemming from the fall of economic system, to natural disasters of major proportions, to a yet unknown disease that spreads like wildfire with no cure in sight, to a nuclear catostrophe. Some fiction integrates all of the above.

So why are we so fascinated by this type of fiction nowadays? It explores the topics of human spirit, survival, resistance, compassion, civilization, nature and, of course, hope and renewal. Topics which are near and dear to most of us today because you can’t avoid them with all the events going on in the world. I believe we will see this genre become even bigger and more wide-spread in the next year. There so much material for writers in this genre still. And much interest from readers because, no matter how fantastic, it often is realistic enough to imagine and relate to, even just as an exploration of a human psyche in situations of major stress and survival.

I will be posting reviews of books I read and lists of novels coming out, so come back and check those out.

I would also love to know which post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels you enjoyed reading or look forward to reading soon. And what is your vision of a possible post-apocalyptic world?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Trip to Rome and Mediterranean Cruise

Since I was a little girl, I couldn’t read enough about history – mostly ancient and Renaissance. In college, I was very close to majoring in archaeology (oh, why does the practical side of life often has to win over passion?). I blame this obsession in part on my grandfather (love you, granddaddy) whose own love of history was contagious when I was a little girl (and also whose best friend was a famous archaeologist back in Russia). The other part was my natural curiosity.

In any case, reading about ancient Greece and Rome, about the artists and nobles of the Renaissance and everything in between, fiction and non-fiction, has dominated much of my life.
But reading about it and seen the places are two different things. Having come from Ukraine originally, I have seen some spectacular art and architecture of old. Yet since coming to America over 20 years ago, I haven’t seen Europe. So it was the most amazing surprise imaginable to me that my husband planned our vacation to…Rome and the Mediterranean Cruise to Sicily, Athens in Greece, Ephesus in Turkey and Crete! And I found out about all that literally half an hour before leaving for the airport!

Needless to say, this was the best vacation of my life. I finally got to see the places I’ve been reading about all these years and dreamt about visiting.

First, there was the glory that is Rome…And it is glorious indeed. Anywhere I turned, there was something interesting to see. One of our tour guides told us that Rome is like a sandwich. There are so many layers of the city that no matter where you start digging you’re bound to find something ancient. When there was an earthquake or another calamity, the Romans would just build on top of the buried ruins. And we got to see a perfect example of this. Not far from the Coliseum, there’s the Basilica of Saint Clement. The top church was built around the year 1100 A.D. One level down, under this church, there’s an older basilica from the 4th Century A.D. Yet one more level down, archaeologists uncovered the home of a Roman nobleman who built his home around 64 A. D. on the foundation of a home from the republican era!! We were able to visit all three levels and this is currently still an active archaeological excavation. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I said that I wanted to dance like a little girl from happiness that I got to see this.  It's the closest I've ever been to a live archaeological dig!

This, of course, was just the cherry on top of the sundae. Coliseum, the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel, many of the other beautiful churches we saw, the Trevi Fountain – nothing disappointed. Everything was as amazing as I imagined it. I even got to touch the work of Michaelangelo in one of the churches. Unfortunately, one of his most famous works, La Pieta, is now behind glass at St. Peter's. I also saw the tomb of Rafael, another one of my favorite artists of Renaissance. I was so surprised to see the tomb at the Pantheon (shame on me for not knowing that!) that I have to admit my eyes got moist at that special moment.

Then, of course, came the cruise on one of the ships of Royal Carribean.  Sicily was gorgeous with its mountains and sea landscapes (which reminded me a lot of the landscapes in Crimea), and quaint little towns. We went to one such town called Taormina, located not too far from the Etna Mountain, which is an active volcano. There were many souvenirs and jewelry made of lava rock in every store. People living in towns like this still take siesta in the middle of the day, closing the doors to their shops no matter who is around and going home for their meal and nap.

Athens, Greece was the next stop and I could hardly believe I was finally there as I stood in the middle of the Acropolis. The ruins of the ancient temples were as impressive as I always imagined them.

In Ephesus, Turkey we visited two very special sites. The first was the house of Mary, the place where Jesus’ mother Mary lived out the last years of her life. The second site was the ruins of an ancient church built around the tomb of St. John the Evangelist, who wrote the Revelations. The place was very peaceful and picturesque. We also visited the ruins of Ephesus, the 2nd biggest city of the Roman Empire and, supposedly, the best preserved ruins today.

On the way back to Rome, our ship went by an island called Stromboli, which has the most active volcano in Europe. This was definitely another first for us.

I have so many beautiful memories of this trip and lots and lots of material for writing, which I have to organize (in my head and on paper). I would like to say a big thank you to my wonderful hubby for this surprise vacation of a lifetime. And here’s to many more trips all over the world.
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