Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." -- Madeleine L'Engle

It's been fifty years since Madeleine L'Engle's science fantasy novel, A Wrinkle in Time, was first published. Rejected at least 26 times by publishers before finally being accepted for publication in 1962, it's been continuously in print ever since. Marketed as a young adult novel (probably on account of its teenage protagonist), it's gone on to become a beloved classic for readers of all ages.

Describing the premise of this weird, wild, wonderful book can be tough, because there's no way to do such a unique story justice in a simplified summary. Suffice it to say, the book centers around Meg Murray, an awkward (and somewhat angry and stubborn) high school student. Living in a tiny rural town, she's lost at school but takes comfort in the understanding of her family: her biologist mother, her ten-year-old twin brothers -- and most especially her five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, who is (to put it mildly) something of a child prodigy.

Her physicist father, however, is missing -- last seen leaving home on special assignment for the government. It's in Meg and Charles Wallace's attempt to find him (with the help of classmate Calvin O'Keefe, and three highly unusual neighbors) that the book finds its story, but to say more would be to give too much away. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Meg's missing father is far enough away that finding him will involve a bit of traveling. Or, if you will, tessering.

What follows is a story about wormholes and missing laundry, alien planets and physics homework, time travel and midnight sandwich snacks. It's a delightfully bizarre and flawless melding of the ordinary and the extraordinary, of the daily routine and the outrageously unusual, that plays a large part in making this such a unique story (even by the standards of sci-fi!).

The book also has more unique messages than what might is often found in the standard sci-fi fare: the importance of family and relationships, that stubbornness and anger can occasionally be great gifts (if you can only use them correctly) -- and that we don't have to all be exactly alike to be equal to each other.

There's also some light -- but undeniable -- religious allegory in its pages, as issues of faith and belief are explored (albeit of an unorthodox-enough nature that L'Engle joins the ranks of such authors as J.K. Rowling and Judy Blume for having her books occasionally challenged and banned). Science and faith co-exist quite easily in the pages of L'Engle's Time Quartet (which is not to say that you need to be a religious sort to enjoy her writing).

But even more unusual at the time than her gentle blending of science and faith was L'Engle's decision to make the main protagonist of her science fiction tale ... female. Even before Anne McCaffrey and her sci-fi heroines, L'Engle had broken new ground by featuring a young girl as her main character. For this reason (among others), her publishers were unsure if the book would sell -- so it was a surprise to everyone when the book not only became a hit but won the Newbery Award in 1963.

To the book's millions of fans, however, it's not surprising at all. If you've never read this unique story, you might consider giving it a try in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary. From Camazotz to tesseracts, L'Engle's classic has something unique for every sci-fi fan.

Pressed for time? Check out a fairly complete telling of "A Wrinkle in Time" -- in ninety seconds!

"A Wrinkle In Time" In 90 Seconds from James Kennedy on Vimeo.

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Australia Day

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to accompany my husband on a business trip to Australia. It's a country I've wanted to go to since I saw the film "The Man From Snowy River" in the mid-80s. Of course, the movie is set in the 19th century and doesn't reflect what the country is like today, but for some reason it sparked an interest in me. So when I had the chance to finally see this country that I had been dreaming about for years, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. And I was not disappointed!

Australia, as we now know it, was created as a British colony in the late 18th century as a penal colony. The first fleet of ships arrived in what is now Sydney harbor on January 26, 1788. Even in the early days of the colony, this date was celebrated. By the mid-19th century, transportation of convicts to Australia was beginning to wane, but January 26th was still marked by dinners and other celebrations in the state of New South Wales. However, it wasn't until 1994 that Australia Day was officially celebrated throughout the entire country on January 26th.

In keeping with the nation striving to improve its relationship with the indigenous people of Australia, the nation has attempted to include the history and culture of the Aborigines. Since Australia Day celebrates the arrival of the British, it has not always been a day of joy for the Aboriginal people. Over the years they have either been forced into participating or boycotting the celebration, although most of the country didn't even notice. Now, all of Australia is celebrated. And it is celebrated in ways that most Americans would find familiar - fireworks, concerts, and parades.

Australia Day 2012 update:
Unfortunately, there was some controversy surrounding this year's festival, which has already taken place due to the time difference (Australia is 16 hours ahead of Monroeville).  A large group of Aborigines surrounded a restaurant in Canberra, where Prime Minister Julia Gillard was meeting with the Opposition leader and trapped them inside. Riot police had to be brought in to escort them out. Click here for more information on the incident.

Below are some links to websites about Australia and Australia Day.

Australian Government website:  http://australia.gov.au/about-australia

Australia Day Information : http://www.australiaday.org.au/

Additional Australia Day Information: http://www.australiaday.com.au/

Books about Australia (history and travel):

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

A Brief History of Australia by Barbara West

A Traveller's History of Australia by John H. Chambers

The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People by Josephine Flood

A Concise History of Australia by Stuart Macintyre

Keep Australia On Your Left: A True Story Of An Attempt To Circumnavigate Australia By Kayak by Eric Stiller

Travel Guides:

Australia (Insight Guides)

Australia (Berlitz)

Frommer's Australia

Australia (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

Documentaries (DVDs):

Dreamtime of the Aborigines

Australia Revealed

Modern Indigenous Culture
Feature Films:

Australia (2008)

Danny Deckchair (2003)

Ned Kelly (2003)

Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

Muriel's Wedding (1994)

Strictly Ballroom (1993)

Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Mad Max (1979)

-- Post by Tracy

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


On January 29, 1845, a poem was published in the pages of The Evening Mirror, a daily New York newspaper. The poem was an instant success, catapulting its author to fame and helping to cement his place as one of the classic American writers. 167 years after its original publication, "The Raven" remains not only Edgar Allan Poe's best-known work, but also one of the most famous poems in American literature.

"The Raven" -- along with such Stephen-King-esque fare as "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Tell-Tale Heart" -- has cemented Poe in the public consciousness as a somber, depressed, gothic figure, who may or may not have been a little crazy.

But scary stories aside (and they are true masterpieces of psychological horror, don't get me wrong), our modern-day popular perception of Poe is mostly incorrect. An innovator in the genre of science fiction, the inventor of modern-day mystery and detective novels, and a fierce literary critic in his time, Poe gets his morose, gothic reputation primarily at the hands of Rufus Griswold, the man (and literary rival) who wrote Poe's obituary.

In some ways, much of Poe's life is as mysterious as the cryptic puzzles he liked to invent for his mystery tales. The basic facts are clear: he was born in 1809 to parents who were traveling actors, although by the age of three both of his parents had died. He was raised instead by wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan, and his wife Frances Valentine Allan (from whom Poe received his "middle" name). Poe had early designs on becoming a writer and had composed enough poetry by the age of 13 to fill up a publishable manuscript, although it would be another five years before his work would first appear in print.

He attended school at both the University of Virginia and the United States Military Academy at West Point, the latter coming after Poe spent two years enlisted in the United States Army. After the death of Frances Valentine, the woman who'd raised him, Poe fell out completely with John Allan (a man he'd never gotten along with). Plagued by poverty as he struggled to make a living with his writing, he turned to his aunt, Maria Clemm. He would eventually move to Richmond and later bring Maria down to live with him -- along with Maria's daughter, Virginia, who Poe would eventually marry.

Poe's writing began to grow in popularity, but it wasn't until the publication of "The Raven" that his royalties began to grow as well. By now Poe was beginning to attract large crowds to his lectures, as well as gaining attention for being a fierce literary critic. But in 1847, Poe's wife Virginia finally succumbed to the tuberculosis which had plagued her for several years -- tuberculosis also being the cause of death for Poe's mother, brother, and foster mother.

Poe himself would die two years later, and modern-day historians still debate both his living habits of the past few years (was he really an alcoholic?) as well as his still-unknown cause of death. A few days after he died, literary rival Rufus Griswold would pen his scathing -- and patently untrue -- obituary for Poe, painting the author as a raving, drunken womanizer "with no morals or friends." Unfortunately, that (highly) inaccurate picture of Poe is still the one most people hold today.

The truth of the matter is that Poe is a much more complicated figure than that. For my part, I didn't become interested in Poe until I read his short story "The Purloined Letter" in high school and discovered, much to my surprise, that Poe essentially invented the mystery genre. His "consulting detective" character, C. Auguste Dupin, appeared in 1841 in the short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." "Murders" is widely held to be the first modern-day detective story, featuring as it does the first-ever fictional detective. (Hence the Mystery Writers of America choosing to name their annual awards "the Edgar" to honor the year's best works of mystery fiction, non-fiction and television.) A far more famous fictional detective owes his existence in large part to Dupin's inspiration -- prompting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to offer a wry tip of the hat to Poe in one of his stories. When Dr. John Watson makes a mention of Poe's famous detective, Sherlock Holmes responds that, in his own opinion, "Dupin was a very inferior fellow." (Conan Doyle did not share his character's humorous derision, however, and was known to be an admirer of Poe's work.)

Likewise, Poe's short story "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" was considered a ground-breaking work of science fiction, telling a tale about space travel and otherworldly aliens -- even if it was meant, at the time, as a satiric piece poking some fun at the scientific community of the day ... as well as serving as a hoax to the readers of Southern Literary Messenger. And again, a future author of far bigger fame in the genre would go on to be inspired by Poe's writing: Jules Verne, who references the story in his own work From the Earth to the Moon.

If Poe's best-remembered stories are his psychological thrillers, his influence on other genres is nonetheless undeniable -- as is his influence on the pop culture consciousness. But Poe himself remains, in large part, a mystery.

It's been three years since the Poe Toaster has last appeared -- the Toaster being a mysterious figure who arrived at Poe's gravesite in Baltimore every year on the author's birthday to leave behind roses and a bottle of cognac. Apparently starting the tradition in the 1950s, the Toaster (or Toasters; there's evidence to suggest that there was more than one) appeared annually until 2009, the year which marked the 200th anniversary of Poe's birthday. But interest in Poe remains, with his stories being continually reinterpreted as graphic novels, fictionalized historical novels, and even a murder mystery film due for release this April (with Poe himself -- appropriately enough -- in the role of detective).

Whatever your opinion of Poe -- and whatever the truth of the man himself -- he'll always be remembered as an author who changed the literary world forever. And that's one fact, at least, that his fans and admirers can be certain of.

You can read more about Poe here at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum's homepage.

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Cary Grant!

Growing up in the 70s and 80s I watched a lot of TV. If I wasn't reading a book, I was watching some old show or movie on the very limited number of channels available to us in those days. And what I really loved, was when there would be old movies from the 30s, 40s or 50s on. It was even more exciting if the movie happened to star Cary Grant. While many of the characters he portrayed were all very similar, I loved them none the less. Growing up in a blue collar, middle class family there weren't too many people I knew who were as sophisticated and sauve as Cary Grant. Plus he was funny! Of course, he was handsome, but that wasn't really important to me when I was 10.

So to mark the anniversary of the birth (January 18) of Archibald Leach (a.k.a. Cary Grant) here some DVDs (which will include some of my personal favorites) and books to check out:

This is one of Cary Grant's most famous and memorable movies, mostly for its importance in the film Sleepless in Seattle. Two people, while engaged to other people, meet and fall in love on a cruise. They agree to meet 6 months later on the top of The Empire State Building, but unfortunately one of them doesn't make it there. This is one of the all time great tear jerkers, so if you haven't already seen it, or even if you have, make sure you have plenty of tissues on hand!

In this film, one of many made with director Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant plays a hapless New York advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive. Also stars Eva Marie Saint.

When a reformed jewel thief is suspected of returning to his former occupation, he must ferret out the real thief in order to prove his innocence. Filmed on location on the French Riviera, which only makes Grant and his glamorous co-star Grace Kelly, look even more beautiful.

While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard "Baby." This is one of four films that Cary Grant did with Katherine Hepburn. And while it seems to be considered a classic screw ball comedy, it is not one of my personal favorites. But since it's been a long time since I've seen it, I may have to give it another try.

A man and his wife decide they can afford to have a house in the country built to their specifications. It's a lot more trouble than they think! If you've ever hired someone to do any kind of renovations on your house, or had your own house built, you will understand the problems Mr. Blandings and his wife (the marvelous Myrna Loy) encounter on the way to their dream house.

A high school girl (Shirley Temple) falls for a playboy artist with screwball results. This is a very silly movie, with a very silly premise, but I love it all the same. And once again, Mr. Grant stars with Myrna Loy.

An easy going drama critic discovers that his kind and gentle Aunts Abby and Martha have a bizarre habit of poisoning gentleman callers and burying them in the cellar. This is a charming movie despite the odd premise. 

Captain Henri Rochard is a French officer assigned to work with Lt. Catherine Gates. Through a wacky series of misadventures, they fall in love and marry. When the war ends, Capt. Rochard tries to return to America with the other female war brides. Zany gender-confusing antics follow. 

And now to my all time favorite Cary Grant film: when a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned 2nd marriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself. This is a fantastic combination of Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. Some of the funniest scenes are actually between Grant and Stewart. This is a movie not to miss!

And, if you'd like to read about Cary Grant's life, here are a few biographies of note:

Cary Grant,  A Life in Pictures edited by Yann-Brice Dherbier

Dear Cary: A Memoir by Dyan Cannon

-- Post by Tracy

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Poor Richard

I confess, I'm not particularly a Benjamin Franklin fan. Oh, it's not that I don't like him (because I do), and it's not that I don't think he was a fascinating historical figure (because he was). It's just that, of the Founding Fathers, I happen to have a particular soft spot for John Adams. (The original, that is, not his son.)

But that's just a matter of personal preference -- I'm not knocking Franklin. This Founding Father, who was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, is rightly remembered not only as a Founding Father -- but as a writer, publisher, inventor, scientist, politician, postmaster, musician, and diplomat, among other duties. He's intriguing for both his myriad accomplishments and his witty personality, making him a figure of fascination both in his own time as well as ours, and in America as well as abroad. My favorite story about Franklin comes from his trip to France, when he traveled to negotiate support for the American Revolutionary War. When he arrived, he found his reputation as a writer and scientist had preceded him. The French admired him, both for his philosophy and his politics -- admired him so much, in fact, that many French people hung his portrait in their own homes. (He'd go on to become "perfectly sick" of having his portrait painted, which he did often at the request of friends.)

You might know Franklin as the inventor of bifocals, the (aptly named) Franklin stove ... and, of course, the lightning rod. (We'll come back to the lightning rod in a bit.) Some of his other experimentations into the fields of science and invention, however, are not always as well-remembered:

-- A frequent traveler, it was Franklin who first proposed that illnesses such as colds and flu may not be caused by exposure to cold and chill air but rather "may possibly be spread by contagion." He noticed his excursions through severe temperatures, suffering cold "sometimes to the extremity only short of freezing," failed to make him sick. He noted that people did, however, often catch cold when spending too much time in close quarters to someone who was already ill, and he became a proponent of good ventilation and fresh air year round.

-- Not only did Franklin recommend exercise as a way to stay in good health, but he was one of the first to put forth the theory that it was more than duration that was important. He suggested measuring exercise not by the length of time it was performed, but rather "by the degree of warmth it produces in the body" -- and by the increase in a person's heart rate.

-- Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to begin to suspect that there were negative effects from the handling of lead. He began suggesting replacements be made with alternate metals to counteract the "possible" negative effects of lead.

-- He was the inventor of a musical instrument he called the "armonica," which consisted of thirty-seven glass bowls of different sizes attached to a spindle. You played the device the same way bored dinner guests might amuse themselves with their wine glasses -- by pressing on the glass pieces with wet fingers. As goofily fun as it might sound, the armonica proved to be a popular fad: Marie Antoinette took armonica lessons, and music was written for the instrument by both Mozart and Beethoven.

And then, of course, there's my other favorite Franklin story.

Everybody knows about Franklin's famous electrical experiment -- finding a link between lightning and electricity. While many other scientists (like Sir Issac Newton) had suspected a link between the two, Franklin was the first to devise a methodical test to prove that link. Hence, flying a kite with a wire and key attached, hoping to attract a spark.

What's not so well known? Franklin wasn't flying the kite.

It would have looked terrible, had Benjamin Franklin -- a quite respectable figure -- been seen dashing about a field hauling a kite wildly behind him. So he enlisted a little help: his son, William. Yes, it was Franklin's son, and not Franklin himself, who was out in the rain -- and the lightning -- testing the theory.

... well. Family is all about helping each other.

Today, January 17, marks Franklin's 306th birthday. He lived to be eighty-four, and his myriad accomplishments, trades, discoveries, and experiences make him as fascinating a figure as ever. But then again, I may be biased. Much as I love John Adams, I'll always appreciate Benjamin Franklin, first and foremost, as the creator ... of the very first public lending library in America.

(Oh, and don't feel too bad about William Franklin being stuck flying the kite. He was in his twenties at the time -- and he survived the experiment just fine.)

-- Post by Ms. B

Friday, January 13, 2012

Financial Wellness

January is Financial Wellness Month -- which makes the start of the new year a great time to take stock of your current financial situation, and plan for the future.

How to measure your financial "health?" Try this simple online quiz, designed to help you take a closer look at your financial practices:

If you find yourself in need of some financial tips, tricks, and advice, be sure to check out these resources. These books, audiobooks, DVDs, and websites will help you explore your current financial habits, find ways to budget and save, discover investing opportunities, and help you plan for the future -- and retirement!


The Ultimate Financial Plan: Balancing Your Money and Life by Jim Stovall and Tim Maurer.

In the Black: Live Faithfully, Prosper Financially: The Ultimate 9-Step Plan for Financial Fitness by Aaron W. Smith with Brenda Lane Richardson.

Common Sense Economics: What Everyone Should Know About Wealth and Prosperity by James D. Gwartney.

Money Makeovers: How Women Can Control Their Financial Destiny by Christopher L. Hayes and Kate Kelly.

The Elements of Investing by Burton G. Malkiel and Charles D. Ellis.

The 250 Personal Finance Questions for Single Mothers by Susan Reynolds and Robert Bexton.

Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved by Jean Chatzky with Arielle McGowen.

Protecting Your Parents' Money: The Essential Guide to Helping Mom and Dad Navigate the Finances of Retirement by Jeff D. Opdyke.

Making the Most of Your Money Now by Jane Bryant Quinn.

The Ultimate Money Guide for Bubbles, Busts, Recession and Depression by Martin D. Weiss.

Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier With Less by Peter Walsh.

One-Income Household: How to Do a Lot With a Little by Susan Reynolds and Lauren Bakken.

The Little Book of Main Street Money: 21 Simple Truths That Help Real People Make Real Money by Jonathan Clements.

10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget by the writers of Wise Bread.

DVDs and Audiobooks:

Suze Orman's The Courage to Be Rich - [DVD]

Maximizing Your Money: Personal Finance Made Easy! - [audiobook]

The Don't Sweat Guide to Your Finances: Planning, Saving, and Spending Stress-Free - [audiobook]

The ABC's of Getting Out of Debt - [audiobook]

All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan - [audiobook]

Online Resources:

CNN Money's "How Healthy Are Your Finances?"

Annual Credit Reports: Free from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion

Yahoo!Finance Market Overview

Mind Your Finances: Personal Finance Advice, Tools, and Educational Material

-- Post by Ms. B

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Scottish Mystery

I love reading mysteries and I have a few several go-to authors I like to read (Elizabeth George, Minette Walters, Sue Grafton). But a few months ago I was looking for something other than the usual and boy, did I find that in Denis Mina's Garnethill series.

The first book in the series, Garnethill (1999), introduces us to Maureen O'Donnell. She is a young woman struggling in a dead end job and trying to get back to a normal life after spending 6 months in a psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. The cause of the breakdown is the memory of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Unfortunately, most of the rest of her family, including her alcoholic mother, don't believe her stories. On top of this she's just found out that her boyfriend, Douglas, is married. After finding out about Douglas' marital status she goes on a bit of a drinking binge with her friend. When she finally wakes up in the morning she finds Douglas, naked and tied to a chair in her kitchen with his throat slit. Naturally, Maureen is the prime suspect. The story continues with Maureen battling with Detective Chief Inspector Joe McEwan to clear her name.

The story of Maureen O'Donnell continues in Exile (2001). Maureen is now working at a women's shelter in Glasgow along with her best pal Leslie. She is even more miserable than she was before. She is still struggling with the after effects of her boyfriend's murder so when Anne, a woman from the shelter, turns up dead in the Thames, Maureen agrees to head to London to find out what happened to her. During this trip Maureen learns some new information regarding Douglas' murder and also has her own life threatened.

The trilogy concludes with Resolution (2002). Maureen's life is still in the dumps. She's even more depressed than ever and her friends (and Maureen) are afraid that she is an alcoholic. She might have destroyed her relationship with her new boyfriend and now the man who murdered Douglas is going on trial. Plus she has distanced herself from her family, except for brother Liam. Her sister is pregnant and Maureen is worried that her father will abuse Una's baby if it's a girl. And to top it off, the elderly woman at the local flea market that she has befriended has died and Maureen believes the woman's son is responsible.

These books are definitely not of the "cozy" mystery variety. They are a gritty and realistic look at the underbelly of Glasgow, especially Garnethill where much of the story takes place. Maureen O'Donnell is a character that is now always completely likable but knowing her past history makes her actions somewhat understandable. And while she is innocent of her boyfriend's murder she is not past committing other crimes to protect herself and those that she loves. What it comes down to, is that Maureen knows good from evil and is willing to do anything to defeat the evil that is around her. If you are up for a gritty, realistic look at a life in turmoil, these series is for you.

-- Post by Tracy

Thursday, January 5, 2012

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

With the Harry Potter films complete and the Twilight series wrapping up with their final installment this coming November, Hollywood is looking for the next hit Young Adult book series to become a blockbuster movie franchise. This March will see the release of the latest book-to-film adaptation: The Hunger Games, based on the first in the bestselling series by Suzanne Collins.

Although there have been a dozen or two film adaptations in recent years based on bestselling YA books, most other book-to-movie transitions haven't seen the success of Potter or Twilight. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Eragon, The Golden Compass, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, I Am Number Four, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and a slew of others have appeared on the big screens, to generally mixed results. Even Martin Scorsese's recent adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which, strictly speaking, is based on a non-fantasy YA novel, although the story's steampunk edge gives it something of a fantasy feel) opened to rave reviews -- but it couldn't hope to match the numbers of the boy wizard and sparkling vampires.

Enter The Hunger Games.

What's the story of The Hunger Games?  Suzanne Collins opens her YA science fiction series with a premise that seems like a cross between extreme reality television and Shirley Jackson's famous short story "The Lottery." In a post-apocalyptic North America, the continent has been divided into thirteen "Districts," with the wealthy Capitol governing the Districts' people. The Games are an annual contest held by the Capitol, in which one boy and one girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are chosen from each District to compete. The Games have a Survivor feel to them -- a wilderness contest of strength, endurance, and survival skills, televised live to the District citizens back home. And there's really only one rule: the winner is the last person left alive.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen isn't chosen as one of the two Tributes from District 12 -- her young sister Prim is. But Katniss becomes District 12's Tribute when she volunteers to take her sister's place in competing in the Games.

What follows is a trilogy of post-apocalyptic books about survival, courage, government control -- and, in the final book, war. The stories have a decidedly darker tone (with a decidedly darker ending) than many of their YA counterparts (even if nobody could call the final Harry Potter book a light read, by any definition of the word). Which, in some ways, may make The Hunger Games an unlikely choice as the next Potter or Twilight marketing juggernaut.

Then again, The Hunger Games has already had its share of marketing success, with a wide array of themed merchandise, including journals, jewelry, t-shirts -- even a line of nail polish. (Although, to this last, there is a precedent set by Twilight -- a Twilight-themed perfume.) And the books themselves are bestsellers, appearing on the New York Times bestseller list for over 100 consecutive weeks. There's a devoted, all-ages fanbase for these books, and the novels themselves have a rich, well-developed world and cast of characters to draw on -- all good building blocks for a successful movie.

With the second book already slated to be filmed as a sequel for release next year, Hollywood is banking on The Hunger Games to be a financial phenomenon. Expect to hear a lot about this movie in the coming months, as theaters prep for what all involved hope will become the next big blockbuster. But whether or not the film series succeeds will rest in the hands -- and wallets -- of moviegoers.

-- Post by Ms. B