Category Archives: Literary

Twilight Stars Invade Orlando – Watch Your Necks!

If you are a Twilight fan–and, yes, there are millions out there!–some of the stars of the movies will be featured at the Official Twilight Convention right here in Orlando, December 10-12 at the Disney Hilton.

Here’s some of the stars you can see (photos from the official website):

Peter Facinelli - Dr. Carlisle Cullen

Chaske Spencer - Sam, the Werewolf

Charlie Bewley - The Volturi Tracker Demetri

So, be sure to check out the convention and all the fun happenings including:

  • The Saturday Night Volturi Vampire Ball
  • Vampire makeovers
  • Sunday brunch and charity auction
  • Fantasy faces and body art

Sounds like a blast to us…just watch your neck with all these vampires in town!


Filed under Fun, General Info, Just Plain Weird, Literary

Central Florida Travel Bloggers – Travel Knowledge Central!

The Top 5 was at the Orlando Science Center today to attend the Central Florida Chapter Meeting of the Travel Blog Exchange, also known as TBEX, which is an international association of travel-specific bloggers. While there, we discussed all sorts of things related to travel, websites, blogging, etc., and we also got to hear from Jeff Stanford of the Orlando Science Center as well as Susan Lomax of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Chapter President Ben Reed leading a discussion about travel blogs.

I was pleased I got to see some old friends, including Britt Reints of Miss Britt and the TBEX Chapter’s organizer and president Ben Reed of Adventures With Ben, as well as discover some new friends and exciting blogs. So, Central Floridians, in addition to checking out the “Other Orlando Blogs” at the top of this blog, you can also visit these great sites:

Today's attendees are awesome bloggers located right here in Central Florida.

I enjoyed re-exploring the Science Center and highly recommend you visit the special Music Box exhibit.  And, a very special thanks to Ben for organizing today’s valuable meeting!

Top 5 editor Bess Auer with Ben Reed.


Filed under Blogger Extraordinaire, Education, Girlfriend Getaway, Literary, Orlando, Tourist

The Search for the Mount Dora Catacombs

For those who asked questions about our first post on the Mount Dora Catacombs, here’s what else we dug up. It’s an excerpt from an Orlando Sentinel Article by Ramsey Campbell, December 22, 1991:

“It is a monument to horror, madness and the will to survive.

And it is a secret this small Lake County community has kept buried for 30 years.

It is an elaborate subterranean bomb shelter, designed as an end-of-the-world hideaway to protect a select group of 100 Mount Dora residents during a nuclear war.

‘About all it’s good for now is growing mushrooms,’ said Dr. James Basil Hall, the 86-year-old former Lake County health director who helped plan the shelter. ‘But for a long time, it provided us with a lot of peace of mind. We knew where we would go if the bombs dropped.’

The fortress has 5,000 square feet of living space, not including storage areas. It was built to house 25 families. Each was assigned a private room large enough to accommodate four people. There was enough food and fuel to allow 100 people to live for more than half a year without ever having to poke their heads out of the ground.

The families – including those of the town’s mayor, the superintendent of schools, a local bank president, several doctors and a minister – planned to hunker down in relative comfort while a nuclear firestorm consumed those left above.

Then, when the smoke from World War III cleared and the radiation levels fell, they planned to emerge from their cocoon and start rebuilding civilization…

It took six months, a crew of 15 workers and a lot of heavy equipment to build the Catacombs. Keeping a lid on the project was difficult.

‘People would come up to me and ask to get in on the shelter,’ said J.G. Ray, 82, a Mount Dora contractor who built and designed it. ‘But I’d say I didn’t know what they were talking about.’

Ray told everyone who asked that he was using all that heavy machinery and all those truckloads of cement to build a croquet court. To keep up the facade, he did build a grass croquet court on top of the shelter.”


And here are photos that are claimed to be from inside the Catacombs, with full photo credits going to Last Leaf Productions, a company which we could find no information about:

We’d still love to go an fact-finding expedition to see it for ourselves… creepy yet fascinating at the same time!


Filed under History, Just Plain Weird, Literary, Mount Dora

Orville Schell: The Top 5 Concerns Central Florida Should Have about China

The Top 5 was very excited to be able to speak with Orville Schell, one of the country’s leading authorities on China. (You’ve seen him on 60 Minutes.)  Orville is coming to speak at Rollins College tomorrow night, Thursday, November 11.

Special note from the editor: Yes, I did a bit of reading to sound intelligent when speaking with Orville–I tried!– but he was kind enough to explain why relations with China matter to you and me as average Central Floridians.

And, after this conversation, I do realize how important his message is to all of us: from the products we buy and the jobs we may or may not have, to the money we can or can’t borrow from the bank to even preventing future apocalyptic wars. Pretty important stuff, no? Here’s what he had to say…

The Top 5 Concerns Central Florida Should Have about China

1)  Trade

Have you been to a Walmart recently? Come on, even if you haven’t surely you have seen these three words over and over: Made In China.

Confession: I heard about a local school who had a Veteran’s Day Assembly, where several worthy veterans were honored. The students proudly waved tiny American flags to show their patriotism. (The flags were flown on sticks that read “Made in China.” Ugh!)

2) Almost $2 trillion in Debt

Yep, China holds 20% of the U.S. government’s debt, and we seem headed towards going even deeper into their pockets.

Now, my hubby doesn’t let me handle our own bills, because I’m not much with economics, but even I can see the MAJOR problems with this much foreign ownership. It seems to put us in a rather poor negotiating stance, doesn’t it?

3) Climate Change

Although my older brother used to tell me that I could only get to China by digging a hole through the middle of the Earth, the world is apparently much, much smaller than he thought.  If ash from an Indonesian volcano can drift across the Pacific to pollute the western coast of America, then certainly the coal China and America burn affects each other.  We pollute the same air, melt the same glaciers, and destroy the same environment. Think about this: even if all of America switched to electric cars, there would still be 27 million cars in China to deal with!

“China is the fastest-growing contributor of global warming emissions,” says Douglas Ogden, director of the China Sustainable Energy Program, “with its carbon dioxide output on track to surpass that of the U.S. by 2025.”

So the lesson in all this? America must be on good terms with China to be able to work together to reduce the carbon emissions and slow the effects of global warming. Yeah, our very survival as a race depends upon this!

4) Nuclear Weapons

Okay, just Orville saying those two words kind of freaks me out!

There are a lot of countries that have (or soon may have) nuclear weapons, and North Korea and Iran are two that are not so friendly to the United States and our policies.  China, however, seems to have a much better working relationship with these two countries, and so it is imperative we learn to cooperate with China to reduce any and all nuclear threats. (That or we need to dig more fall out shelters here in Florida!)

5) Global Financial System

Here in Central Florida we have all felt the effects of the slow economy. Thousands of jobs lost, hundreds of stores closed, and far too many people out of their homes.  And in a global market dominated by both the U.S. and China, we will need to work together not only to keep the system from breaking down altogether, but to also figure out how to rebuild it.

As Orville pointed out, “We are joined at the hip with China whether we like it or not. It is an illusion to think we can separate ourselves.”

Baby Steps

Of course, the teacher in me asked Orville whether he thought today’s schools were preparing tomorrow’s generation to deal with this massive gorilla on our back (metaphorically speaking, of course), and he said no.  He pointed out that schools are not teaching students the history, culture, language, or politics to be able to deal with China. So, I would like to give some kudos to Lake Highland Preparatory School for offering Mandarin Chinese as one of their foreign languages options. At least it’s a start!

I would also like to congratulate the Central Florida city of Tavares, whose mayor Robert Wolfe is currently on a trip to Taiwan to explore a sister-city relationship. By taking the initiative, perhaps we Central Floridians can have a greater influence on international relations than we realize, and this can only be for the good of all!

Go Hear Orville Schell in Person: 2 Chances

Tomorrow night at Rollins College, Bush Auditorium, 7 pm:
Climate Change and the Melting Glaciers of the Himalayas: Why it Matters

Friday morning at Rollins College, Bush Auditorium, 9 am:
What’s Happening in China and Why It Matters: Q & A with Orville Schell


Filed under Celebrity, Education, General Info, Literary, Politics, Rollins College, TV Fame

The Legendary Mount Dora Catacombs…Seriously!

In keeping with the NaNoWriMo theme I started earlier this month, Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank was unknowingly left off my list of Florida books.  Had I known then what I know now, this best seller would be right at the top!

During my recent foray to Mount Dora, I had the pleasure of sitting in the Mount Dora Coffee House reading a quarterly magazine called Pulse, which covers local events in Lake County. In an interesting article entitled “After the Apocalypse” by Mari Henninger, I read author Pat Frank was living in nearby Tangerine, Florida when he penned the classic novel in 1959. Apparently Alas, Babylon‘s quaint town of Fort Repose was actually based on Mount Dora.

Now, for those of you who haven’t read Alas, Babylon, this was the first important novel written in the nuclear age, speculating on a post-apocalyptic world.  FYI–author Pat Frank depicted the town leaders as bumbling fools, so the Mount Dora leaders, who knew full well the town was based on them, weren’t too pleased!

However, the novel’s effect was legendary, spawning a whole legion of post-apocalytpic books and shaping a generation of writers. It had quite an effect in town as well, and during this time of bomb-shelter building, Mount Dora was no exception. In fact, several families got together and built a huge underground fallout shelter called The Catacombs.

Here’s more from the Orlando Sentinel article on Mount Dora’s Catacombs:

“It is a 5,000-square-foot underground fortress complete with a kitchen, a recreation room, a medical facility, a sewage system and an air-conditioning and filtering system.

Dubbed ‘The Catacombs’ by the select group of families who had the secret shelter built, it was designed to allow as many as 100 people to dwell underground for more than half a year.

The families — including the city’s mayor, county superintendent of schools, a local bank president, a farmer, several doctors and a minister — planned to hunker down while a nuclear firestorm consumed those left outside.

Twenty-five families had private rooms in the complex, each large enough to shelter four people.

Each family paid about $2,000 — a sizable sum at the time — for the chance to survive.

The underground complex even included its own weapons arsenal to ward off jealous neighbors who might want to enter, as well as a huge collection of seeds to provide a food supply afterward.

When the threat of fallout was over and it was safe to come out, they would emerge from the underground cocoon and try to start civilization over.”

The owner of the land under which the Catacombs were built had claimed he was simply putting in a tennis court…yeah, keep that in mind next time your neighbors are doing some construction!

And apparently the location of the Catacombs is still kept secret… hmmm…. guess what I want to look for on the Top 5’s next visit to Mount Dora! Anybody wanna come?


Filed under History, Just Plain Weird, Literary, Mount Dora, Uniquely Florida

Rollins College: Founder’s Day is Here!

Long before Disney, Sea World, and certainly Universal Studios were a dream in someone’s head; way before I-4 or the Bank of America Building had been planned on paper, even before the Lake Eola Fountain was a wisp of an ideaRollins College was founded, 125 years ago today!

Founded in 1885, Rollins College opened its doors for the very first classes on November 4.  With just 66 students that first year, Rollins became known for its beautiful Florida landscape, including Lake Virginia, and top-rated faculty.


Old Knowles Hall, one of the earliest buildings at Rollins College.


With just under 3,000 students today, the college is consistently ranked as #1 in the South of “America’s Best Colleges.”  Rollins is celebrating 125 years with a very special line up of speakers, including Robert F. Kennedy tonight at 6 pm.

And, for those with some social media savvy, check out Jason Sadler from honoring Rollins today by wearing their shirt! (Yeah, we think that’s pretty cool!)


Filed under Education, History, Literary, Rollins College, Uniquely Florida, winter park

Top 5 “Literary” Events in November

1. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

November 4 at Rollins College
One of Time Magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet,” Kennedy will discuss “Green Gold Rush: A Vision for Energy Independence, Jobs and National Wealth.” Sounds like an important discussion to us!

Yes, he’s one of the Kennedys and, yes, he’s pretty passionate about doing good in the world. This is a must-see ticket!

2. James Robert Smith: The Flock

November 14 at Barnes and Noble, Colonial
Author of more than 60 short stories, comic strips published by Marvel, and is the co-editor of Evermore, The Flock is his first novel…sounds fascinating!

So, if you need a little escape from reality, a little action and adventure, perhaps The Flock and its author are just what you need!

3. Anthony Flint

November 3 at Rollins College
Calling all builders and planners: Flint will discuss the story of his book Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City holds lessons for the 21st Century City.

Don’t believe in the power of the “little guy” anymore? Well, hear about how a common housewife took on the Yale-educated and Oxford Phd power elite to help shape the New York City we know and love today.

4. Orville Schell: Climate Change and the Melting Glaciers of Himalayas – Why It Matters

November 11 at Rollins College
Schell is a journalist who specializes in US-China relations and has been a contributor on PBS, NBC, CBS, and had a 60 Minutes program win an Emmy. He will shed light on how the other side of the world (and the top of the world) can have far-reaching consequences.

Schell will also hold a second lecture at Rollins College on November 12 entitled: What’s Happening in China and Why It Matters: Q & A with Orville Schell

5. Timothy Michael Carson: When the Truth Lies

November 11 at Barnes and Noble, Colonial
Come out to support Orlando resident and author in his debut novel!

From the book’s description: “When the Truth Lies is an intricate urban tale of love lost and found through the intertwining lives of four engaging characters all in pursuit of love, happiness and success.”

Now how’s that for a debut novel!?

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Filed under Celebrity, Education, Literary, November 2010, Rollins College, Top 5 Literary Events

Happy NaNoWriMo! Who’s Going to Try It?

For those not in the know, November is National Novel Writing Month, where the challenge is to write a novel in 30 days. It is a contest, of sorts; there’s no real winner and you are really just competing against yourself.  However, thousands of people from all over the world sign up to “compete.”  They even form teams, plot ahead of time, but don’t actually start writing until 12 a.m. November 1st. And the goal? To write 175 pages (or 50,000 words) by 12 a.m. on November 30th.

Sound extreme? Maybe. But what a cool idea to promote writing and reading!

As an English teacher, avid writer and blogger, and self-confessed bibliophile, I love it! And while I am much too busy this month to participate, and I have already written my share of novels. (It’s my favorite form of writing, by the way!)  In fact, I my first novel, Soul Conspiracy, went on to be one of 8 finalists (from out of 200 submissions) in the 1998 International Hemingway Novel Competition.  Alas, I did not pursue getting it published because I still want to re-write it to make it a faster-paced thriller. (Yeah, I’m a bit of a perfectionist with my novel writing.)

At any rate, I thought in honor of NaNoWriMo, I’d select a few novels set in or about Florida. Some of these you may have read, others may be new to you. Feel free to add your favorite Florida-based novels!

20 Great Florida Novels

1. A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith (This author has won more awards from the state of Florida for this novel than any other novelist, including Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.)

2. Crossing the Creek, A Literary Friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, by Anna Lillios  (Brand new, but simply wonderful!)

3. The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (This novel won a Pulitzer Prize)

4. Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

5. Seraph on the Suwanee, by Zora Neale Hurston

6. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (This novel is on most lists of 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century)

7. To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway’s only novel set in the U.S. Vastly different from the movie.)

8. Tourist Season, by Carl Hiassen (One of Hiassen’s many outstanding books set in Florida.)

9. Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski (This novel won a Newberry Award, the highest honor for young adult books.)

10. Ninety-Two in the Shade, by Thomas McGuane

11. We Are The Boys, by Glendon Swarthout (This novel was the inspiration for the movie by the same name.)

12. From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne (Written in 1890 and has man launching to space from Florida’s WEST coast!)

13. Guard of Honor, by James Gould Cozzens (This novel won a Pulitzer Prize.)

14. Hoot, by Carl Hiassen (This is a young adult novel by Hiassen.)

15. Shadow Country, by Peter Matthiessen

16. At The Moon’s Inn, by Andrew Lytle (This novel adeptly explores De Soto’s ventures into Florida.)

17. Mile Zero, by Thomas Sanchez

18. Remembering Blue, by Connie May Fowler (This is a wonderful young adult book.)

19. Big Trouble, by Dave Barry (One of Barry’s many hilarious novels.)

20. Florida Roadkill, by Tim Dorsey (Again, one of many by Dorsey.)

There are lots of other books set in Florida, and if you love mysteries you can check out this list here.  And here is another good list of many different genres, all still set in Florida.

And, for a final shameless plug about books set in Florida, you can always check out one of my other novels,  Confessions of a Gator Cheerleader which you can get as an iPhone app, too. 🙂


Filed under Blogger Extraordinaire, Education, General Info, History, Just for Me, Literary, Uniquely Florida

A Hot and Sticky Florida Halloween? (Nah, let’s get creepy!)

I bet you’ll never guess why I love Halloween so much!

I love Halloween because of the season’s ability to motivate my middle schoolers to read and write! Most of my readers probably know that in addition to editing the Central Florida Top 5, I also teach middle school English.  Well, in between soccer practice and video games, my students have little time is left for reading, let alone writing! But, enter Halloween, with its doominess and gloominess, its eerie sights and sounds…yep, my students relish reading about it!

By reading Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy tales, we can create a bit of the spookiness right here in Sunny Florida.  By exploring the madness of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories, my students can contemplate the undead roaming the earth once again.  And through Washington Irving’s writings, they can imagine a story book setting of scarecrows in the field and pumpkins lining the front porches of New England’s sleepy hamlets.

Yes, through literature we can escape our 90+ degree weather and pretend the leaves outside have already turned to a bright crimson or burnt gold and have dropped to the ground, leaving the bare tree branches to claw at the moon!

So, to celebrate the season on the Top 5 blog, I thought why not recreate a little of this magic for you, my readers… so, here’s a little gem of a short film based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” (More spookiness will be forthcoming as we creep towards All Hallow’s Eve!)

So what’s your favorite spooky tale?

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Filed under Education, Fun, Just for Me, Literary, Seasonal

Taylor Swift takes Time for Kids (and reading!)

Students at local private school, Park Maitland School, got a special treat today. They were “visited” by Taylor Swift via a webcast, where Taylor relayed to the students how important reading is to her personally.  This was a special event hosted by Scholastic (who has a division here in Central Florida) to celebrate their 90th year of of book selling.

Other schools were allowed to “tune in” for the webcast, where students got to ask Taylor questions and listen to her answers.  Taylor listed To Kill a Mockingbird and Dr. Seuss’s as some of her all-time favorite books.  When asked what she thought was the most important thing about reading, she responded by listing the items that might go unnoticed unless a person had read something about it to be interested:  Civil War items in a museum, a plant with incredible orange blooms, or even a particular place to visit.  She sagely noted, “Life has more color if you have read about it.”

We at the Top 5 couldn’t agree more!

Students were then treated to a live performance of Taylor’s new single “Sparks Fly.” Taking time to tell children about the importance of reading, answering their questions, and then singing for them… yeah, we think she makes a pretty darn good role model!

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Filed under Celebrity, Education, Literary