The Roosevelts: Theodore

The Roosevelts are among the first families of American politics along with the Adams, Kennedys, and, more recently, the Bushes.  A major book and a documentary series on public television have renewed interest in this New York political family.   Doris Kearns Goodwin had already published on Franklin Delano Roosevelt  and his wife Eleanor during World War II.  In her latest work of non-fiction, she turns to the older Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and his Vice President William Howard Taft.    Ken Burns’ sets his cameras to examining the lives of the Roosevelt cousins Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor.

Burns film focuses on how the three Roosevelts overcame serious obstacles that challenged their lives.  Theodore  contended not only with asthma as a young man, but  with his wife and mother dying in the same house on the same day.  Franklin contracted a disease that left him tied to a wheelchair or with heavy braces on his legs for the rest of his life.   Eleanor was orphaned while still a child, and  as an adult, discovered fairly early in her marriage her husband had been unfaithful to her.  The rest of this blog will focus on Theodore.

Theodore Roosevelt was a weak child who transformed himself into a strong man.  His strengths were many:  he was a writer, a hunter, a cowboy, an explorer, a husband and a father and last, but not least, a politician. After attending  college at Harvard,  he married Alice Hathaway Lee In 1880. Alice died in 1884, a few days after giving birth to Roosevelt’s first child, named after her mother.  On the day wife died, Roosevelt suffered double loss, his mother had passed away a few hours earlier.  In 1886, he married Edith Kermit Carow.  Together they had five children, four boys and a girl:  Theodore, III, Kermit, Edith, Archibald, and Quentin.  Quentin was killed in aerial combat in World War I;  Theodore III, died in Europe  shortly after DDay in World War II.

Roosevelt’s political career began in the New York State Assembly, from there he was appointed to the United States Civil Service Service Commission, where he advocated strict adherence to the laws governing that aspect of government service.  In his brief tenure as a New York City, Police Commissioner, he reformed that department.  His next federal government job was Asst. Secretary of the Navy, where he managed the day to day operations of that branch of the military.  When Spanish-American War broke  out he organized and commanded the Rough Riders and fought in Cuba.   In 1898, he was elected Governor of New York, but in 1900, the Republican machine, to Roosevelt out of the state, sought Roosevelt’s nomination for the Vice President of the United State on the ticket with William McKinley, who was running for re-election.

When McKinley died at the hands of assassin, Roosevelt became the President of the United States.  Senator  Thomas Collier Platt commented, “That damned cowboy is the President of the United States.”   The attempt of the New York Republicans to shunt Roosevelt into a job where he no power backfired.

While Theodore Roosevelt was president, he ushered in what became known the Progressive Era.  He attempted to bust the powerful economic trusts and corporations who controlled the nation’s economy, regulate workers hours and conditions, control the environment and the methods of food production, set aside federal lands for recreation, etc. The Panama Canal was one Roosevelt’s greatest accomplishments.  He sent the naval fleet on a round the world tour.  Secretary War Taft and Alice Roosevelt toured the western Pacific on a diplomatic mission designed to impress the Japanese with American power.   He negotiated the  treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War and earned the Nobel Peace Prize.

When his term of office ended in 1909, he went on a world tour exploring and big game hunting, confident he had left the country in good hands in President Taft.  After returning to the United States, Roosevelt discovered Taft was not as progressive as he first thought.  When his successor ran for re-election in 1912 against Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt formed the Progressive (“Bull Moose’) party, splitting the Republicans, leading to Wilson’s victory.

For the next seven years, Roosevelt went an expedition to South America, causing him to have health problems, which he never fully recovered.  The death of his son Quentin during World War I affected his health even more and died in 1919.

 For further  reading:

James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn.  The Three Roosevelts: Patricians Leaders Who Transformed America.

Selected Books by Theodore Roosevelt:

The Naval War of 1812, 1882

Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail,1888

Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography, 1913

The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

Selected Books about Theodore Roosevelt:

H. W. Brands, T.R., The Last Romantic

Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit

Hermann Hagedorn, Roosevelt in the Badlands

Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt 

Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex

Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt

19 Scary Books for Any Horror Mood

By Chris

It is that time of the year, pumpkins (and pumpkin drinks), leaves, and of course, Halloween.  So I thought I would whip up a concoction of spine tingling reads, a variety of chills for whatever your horror mood is.  On this list you’ll find classics and new books, vampires and ghosts (but no zombies; I just did them), books for the young and the old, famous authors (and their children) and not so well known ones, bloody scares and psychological ones, and plenty more.  Put on your pointy hat, get your skeletons out of the closet, and read ahead if you dare.  Just make sure to leave the light on.

If you want a modern take on a classic, try:

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation cover
The cover is deceptively cheery.

H.P. Lovecraft is one of the masters of horror.  This book reads to me much like Lovecraft.  The protagonist (only referred to as “the biologist”) is part of a government sponsored expedition into mysterious Area X.  It is the 12th such group to enter, following in the footsteps of 11 failed ones.  They quickly find that things are more mysterious than they could have ever guessed, as reality itself seems to change, and our heroine slowly reveals her own secrets.


If you like found footage films, try:

Last Days, by Adam Nevill

Looks like the perfect spot for filming.
Looks like the perfect spot for filming.

The Blair Witch Project introduced the mainstream to a film genre known as “found footage“.  These tend to be horror films, such as the Paranormal Activity franchise.  Last Days looks to capture that feel in print.

Documentary filmmaker Kyle Freeman is hired to do a movie about a notorious 1970s cult known as the Temple of the Last Days.  As he retraces their troubled past he starts seeing unsettling and impossible things on his recordings.  And he soon finds that escaping this evil is much harder than just turning off his camera.


If you want to see how the son of a master writes, try:

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

It costs an extra $30 to personalize your plates in North Carolina.
It costs an extra $30 to personalize your plates in North Carolina.

For those, like me, who have trouble figuring out what those clever personalized license plates are supposed to mean, NOS4A2 equals Nosferatu.  And indeed, the villain in this excellent book, Charles Talent Manx, has some similarities to the Nosferatu of film fame.  Joe Hill, by the way, is the son of Stephen and Tabitha King.  His writing certainly lives up to the lofty standards set by his parents.

Manx travels around in his Rolls-Royce Wraith abducting children.  One these kids, Victoria McQueen, escapes his clutches, although at a heavy price.  Years later Manx is on the prowl again, and Vic once again finds herself caught up in his diabolical machinations, fighting against an enemy that is much more than just a man.


If you want a horror graphic novel, try:

The Sandman: The Doll’s House, by Neil Gaiman (and a variety of illustrators)

And they say comic books are for kids.
And they say comic books are for kids.

First off let me point out that this volume collects issues #9-16 of The Sandman comic book.  Preludes and Nocturnes, the preceding volume, is a great read, has plenty of scary moments, and lays the background, but I put The Doll’s House on this list because it is, to me, more of a horror read.  You can read more of what I have to say about The Sandman and graphic novels in general here.

We have in here trappings of a ghost story, with strange inhabitants of a boarding house; we have mystical figures with Dream and his siblings; we have a convention of serial killers; and we have The Corinthian, a nightmare come to life.  Just hope that he doesn’t take off his sunglasses.


If you want a classic ghost story, try:

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson


The Haunting of Hill House was published in 1959, and has been made into two feature films (the 1963 version is scary; the 1999 one…not so much, although it does have Liam Neeson not killing everything in sight and Owen Wilson getting decapitated).  But the story is not dated.

In the book a paranormal investigator invites several guests to stay with him in an old creepy mansion.  Right on cue supernatural shenanigans start occurring.  Or do they?  They mostly center around Eleanor, and Jackson does a wondrous job of raising the sense of terror without us ever really getting a good look, if you will, of any ghosts.  It becomes difficult to tell what is real and what is in the minds of the characters.  Spoiler alert: you are still left wondering at the end.


If you want to read a lesser known work by one of the greats, try:

Desperation, by Stephen King

I'm desperate for people to read this book.
I’m desperate for people to read this book.

You could write books about the books Mr. King has written.  Plenty of book lists have The Stand or The Shining or It on them.  I decided to talk about one of his other books.  A family driving cross-country is pulled over by the police in the little town of Desperation, Nevada.  They soon learn that the policeman isn’t just homicidal, but the vessel for a much greater evil.  They have only a short time to desperately escape Desperation.

King does what he does so well in this one, foreshadowing bad things to come.  But what really elevates Desperation is the companion novel The Regulators, written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym.  The Regulators is a mirror of Desperation, set in Ohio, with many of the same characters but in different roles, such as the children in one book being the parents in the other.  You can read either one first.

There was a TV movie made of Desperation, but I haven’t seen it.  Let me know if it is any good.


If you want to know if the book is scarier than the movie, try:

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

Fall is the season for soup.
Fall is the season for soup.

The Exorcist is widely regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made.  How scary is the book?  First off it was the basis for the movie (duh), and secondly it is based on an actual exorcism performed in 1949.  Make no mistake, this is a work of fiction, but Blatty did his research and presents a chillingly realistic tale.

Blatty also wrote the screenplay for the movie, and for other movies as well.


If you want to read something disturbing, try:

American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis

He needs to return some videotapes.
He needs to return some videotapes.

Full disclaimer here: American Psycho is one messed up book.  It is certainly the most extreme title on this list.  You will need a strong stomach to finish it.  The depictions of violence against women (and men) in this book are severe.  But that is not what this book is all about.

Patrick Bateman is an investment banker in the late 80s, living the life of women and drugs and money.  He is also an insane killer.  He shows as much pleasure in shiny new business cards as he does in dismembering people.  As the story progresses more and more bizarre things occur, such as Bateman arguing with a dry cleaner about their inability to get blood stains off his suits, and interludes that are in depth reviews of the works of Whitney Houston and Phil Collins.  In the end you can’t be sure how much of what Bateman tells us is real and how much is in his mind.  Either option is terrifying.

This book is quite controversial.  A neat bit of trivia is that Gloria Steinem, who was very opposed to the release of the book, is the stepmother of Christian Bale, who plays Bateman in the well done film version.


If you want to read a local author, try:

The Harvest, by Scott Nicholson

The truth is out there.
The truth is out there.

Set in southern Appalachia, the tiny town of Winshake is home to moonshiners, loggers, and trailer parks.  It is also the new home of something…else.  Something that crashed into the mountains and that now needs to feed.  Tamara Leon, a local teacher, finds herself caught up in the fight to discover, and defeat, the invader.

The Harvest is filled with fully fleshed out characters, bringing a level of realism that makes this book that much more scarier, especially for mountain folk.


If you want to read a Young Adult book, try:

Innocence, by Jane Mendelsohn

It's always the quiet ones.
It’s always the quiet ones.

Innocence was described to me as “Rosemary’s Baby, with vampires”.  Sold!  Fourteen year old Beckett has a hard enough time in life.  Her mother dies in an accident, she is sent to a new school, etc etc a lot of teen drama.  But then the strange starts.  Girls at school follow through on their suicide pacts and kill themselves.  She has nightmares, devastating nightmares beyond the norm.  And is that frozen blood in the freezer?

Innocence melds teen angst, pop culture, and critique of teen entitlement marvelously.


If you want to read a post-apocalyptic scare, try:

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

It does not have yellow bricks.
It does not have yellow bricks.

Okay, so The Road doesn’t have any ghosts, or zombies, or vampires, or aliens, or clowns.  It has a man and his son, walking on a road.  Big deal, right?  Well the road is pretty dirty…  There has been some type of cataclysm, perhaps nuclear.  Most life is gone, and the oncoming winter promises to be lethal.  The pair are heading south as quickly as they can, avoiding the predators that lurk about, men and women who will do anything to survive, namely by eating people.

This is a sparse harrowing tale of a world nearing its end.  A great example of a different way to give readers chills.


If you want to read something new, try:

The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

They shine for a reason.
They shine for a reason.

Harper Curtis was nothing much until he found that key.  The key that opened up a house that lets him time travel!  But there is a cost.  Harper is now compelled to track down the shining girls and to murder them.  Kirby Mazrachi was the one who got away.  And now she is hunting him.

The Shining Girls is as much thriller as horror novel, a surreal genre-bending mystery, and a book that will have readers hunting down Beukes’ other works.


If you want to read a book with a serial killer, try:

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

Many things can cut us.
Many things can cut us.

There are plenty of other books that probably fit the serial killer spot on this list better (The Silence of the Lambs, anybody?), but Flynn’s debut novel is too good to leave off.  With the movie of Flynn’s wonderful bestseller Gone Girl out here’s hoping this one gets some more attention.

Camille Preaker is a newspaper journalist in Chicago who is sent to the tiny southern town of Wind Gap to report on the killings of two girls.  Straightforward enough.  Of course Camille is sent because she is from Wind Gap.  Her mother owns much of the town.  Her half sister is at turns loving and manipulative.  Camille focuses on herself so much, dealing with her family, drinking heavily, resisting cutting more words into herself, that the horrors lying under the surface creep up unnoticed.


If you want a vampire book, try:

Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The Swedish cover, because I can.
The Swedish cover, because I can.

On the surface this seems like a teen book.  It isn’t.  12 year old Oskar is bullied at school and comes from a broken home.  When Eli moves in next door, things start to change.  Because Eli is a vampire.  She helps Oskar deal with the bullies and other issues, and they become close.  But being a vampire isn’t easy, and not everyone gets a happy ending.

This Swedish novel competently tackles many issues, such as bullying, alcoholism, and paedophilia, in addition to being a cracking good vampire story.  There have been two film versions, a Swedish one and an American one (titled Let Me In, and set in New Mexico), and both are worth a watch.


If you want to read a book with children behaving badly, try:

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Here piggy piggy piggy.
Here piggy piggy piggy.

Lord of the Flies?  Really?  In a horror blog?  Long before we had children killing each other for sport in The Hunger Games, we had Lord of the Flies.  And this book is scary.  Many of us read it in school and perhaps our young minds didn’t fully appreciate it.  These kids turn savage.  It is shocking how quickly the little society they are forced to form turns bad.

I read it twice in school, in 8th and 12th grade.  My 12th grade teacher was incensed that 8th graders were given this book to read.  Pretty sure Stephen King read this in school as well.  Where do you think Castle Rock comes from?


If you want a scary book for children, try:

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Trust the cat.
Trust the cat.

What things make children feel safe?  I would say two of the biggest things are home and mother.  Coraline turns this on its head.

Coraline’s parents move with her out to the country, renting a flat in an old house filled with eccentric neighbors.  While exploring Coraline finds her way into a mirror world, where her “other mother” dotes on her and everything seems wonderful.  The fact that her other mother and other father have buttons for eyes is the first clue that things are not so wonderful after all.

Recommended for ages 8-12, Coraline is a good read for adults as well.  The movie is a stop-motion masterpiece.


If you want a political horror book, try:

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
You are to be seen and not heard.

Another entry on the list without monsters lurking in the shadows.  In the not too distant future the United States government had been overthrown and a theocracy has taken its place.  With sterility common due to rampant pollution and disease, high ranking members of the ruling Sons of Jacob utilize the services of Handmaidens, who are essentially concubines.  Offred, the heroine of our story, is one of these Handmaidens.

Offred, a college student before the revolution, gives us an inside view of this new society, and we see that many talk the talk of their religion but do not walk the walk.  Scary in its plausibility, and in the fear of the loss of freedoms.  Similar in tone is When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan, that is more contemporary and focuses closely on reproductive rights.


If you don’t like big box stores, try:

The Store, by Bentley Little

Bargains abound.
Bargains abound.

We are all familiar with the tales of those big box stores coming to town and forcing the small local shops out of business.  But what if that big store wanted more than just profits?  What if the Store wanted everything, including our lives and souls?

Little, an accomplished horror writer, takes a strained premise and turns it into a smart and scary read.   The good writers make us believe in the unbelievable, and that is the case here.


If you want a book that comes highly recommended, try:

The Ruins, by Scott Smith

Because nothing bad ever happens at creepy abandoned places.
Because nothing bad ever happens at creepy abandoned places.

While researching this blog I looked at lots of lists of best horror books, and The Ruins was one that showed up on an awful lot of them.  I haven’t read it yet, but I am taking the recommendations of fellow horror fans and putting it on my list of books to read.

I also haven’t seen the movie, but I understand that they changed the ending.




Seems to me that if you can’t find a good read in that list for those dark and stormy nights then maybe horror is not for you.  Let me know what you think of this list, and share your own recommendations for scary reads.


A list of the titles mentioned in this blog can be found here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

Let’s Talk About Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult.

Have you heard the name? I’m sure you have. But if you haven’t, keep reading because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you. (And also, keep reading even if you have heard the name because Jodi Picoult is fantastic.)

Jodi Picoult has written 22 novels thus far. She covers topics from: a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome (House Rules) to a five year old being sexually abused (Perfect Match) to a woman befriending a man who confesses to her that he wants her to help him die because he used to be a Nazi SS guard (The Storyteller). Picoult writes it all, and it’s controversial, and it’s close to home at times, and it sucks you in so that you not only cannot stop flipping the pages, but you also end up with multiple shelves of all of her books in your home. Er, wait. That last one was me. But it is also now my mom, and some of my friends, and any others I have suggested Picoult to. Who knows? Maybe you could be next.

It’s a good thing, I promise.

I mean, this is the woman who was asked to write several issues of the Wonder Woman comic book series.

So why all the fuss? You ask. Well, it’s because Jodi Picoult’s new book, Leaving Time, comes out in less than a week! Leaving Time will be in libraries and bookstores across the nation on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

Leaving Time
If you visit Jodi Picoult’s website, there’s loads of info about Leaving Time, including:

  • a synopsis
  • information on how Picoult researched for the book
  • A Day in the Elephant Sanctuary video
  • A Conversation with Jodi about Leaving Time
  • Book Club discussion questions for Leaving Time
  • Related eShorts and Novellas
  • an excerpt from Leaving Time

Here’s the synopsis from her website if you’re not quite sure about it yet and need a little more nudging:

“For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers.”

If it sounds interesting to you, here’s Leaving Time in our catalog.

And if you want to try one of Picoult’s other novels first, or after, if you’ve come back to this post after devouring Leaving Time, here are all of Jodi Picoult’s works in our catalog.



What the Heck is a Graphic Novel?

By Chris

Graphic novels!  A bit of a buzz word in libraries.  It is a term many have heard but not everyone knows what it means.  Simply put, graphic novels are comic books.  A little less simply, they are comic books that are in book form.  And like all books, they come in all shapes and sizes and for all ages.

Now I could blather on about the origin of the term and all that, but that is boring and is also what wikipedia is for.  I could also go on about comics in general and their variety (and controversy) and such, but instead I am just going to start listing some varying examples of graphic novels.  You might surprised at how variable they really are.

Comic Books

Avengers assemble!
Avengers assemble!

Many graphic novels are just comics books rebound and repackaged.  The graphic novel versions often have additional material, such as introductions or alternate cover galleries.  Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 1: The Fantastic reprints issues #1-6 of the regular monthly comic book.  Captain America Reborn contains all the issues of a limited series comic.  Batman The Greatest Stories Ever Told has compiles batman comics ranging from 1939 to 2002.  By the way, Thor is now a girl.

Ultimate Fantastic Four: The Fantastic

Captain America Reborn

Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

All-star Superman

The Amazing Spider-man


Newspaper Strips

Presumably that sammie is made with the good stuff, not chunk light tuna.
Presumably that sammie is made with the good stuff, not chunk light tuna.

Some graphic novels are compilations of newspaper comic strips.  Typically these are in chronological order, and it can be neat to follow story arcs and also to see the evolution of the comic over the years.  Peanuts is a great example of this, as characters came and went and the art changed over time.  I also like reading old Doonesbury strips and seeing what current events Trudeau was incorporating into his stories.

Peanuts: A Golden Celebration

Garfield Rolls On

Dude: The Big Book of Zonker

In Search of the Far Side

The Revenge of the Baby-sat: A Calvin and Hobbes collection

The Bloom County Library


Authors and Adaptations

Those are bulletproof bracelets.
Those are bulletproof bracelets.

Many well known authors have written comics, and also have had their books adapted into graphic novels.  For instance, Jodi Picoult wrote several issues of Wonder Woman in 2007.  Max Brooks has a new graphic novel out.  Joe Hill writes an excellent comic series.  Brad Meltzer has written more than one comic.  And not just authors.  Patton Oswalt, William Shatner, and Kevin Smith are some of the many celebrities who have penned comics.

Similarly, a lot of writers have had their books turned into graphic novels, including James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer, Terry Pratchett, Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Patricia Briggs…the list goes on.

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder (Picoult)

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (Hill)

Witch & Wizard: Battle for Shadowland (Patterson)

Twilight: The Graphic Novel (Meyer)

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files



Manga nirvana.
Manga nirvana.

Manga are Japanese comics, or comics done in the Japanese style.  This is not to be confused with anime, which are Japanese animated movies.  Manga has become very popular in the US in recent years.  The typical manga book is smaller than the typical graphic novel, being closer in size to a paperback novel.  Most of them, whether translated from the Japanese or created in that style, are read “back to front”.  While graphic novels can be stand alones or part of a series, manga are almost always part of a series.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

D. Gray-man



Nice skull you've got there.
Nice skull you’ve got there.

Classic works of literature often receive the graphic novel treatment.  Shakespeare is common this way, unsurprisingly, and he is joined by many others, such as Poe and Austen.  These versions have some similarities to the Great Illustrated Classics series, giving younger readers an introduction to the classics.  The graphic novels can provide a nice overview and summation of works that can be intimidating or hard to understand for students, notably with Shakespeare.


Edgar Allan Poe: Graphic Classics

A Wrinkle in Time: the Graphic Novel


Pop Culture

Is that a rabbit with a blaster? Yes. Yes it is.

Many movies, TV shows, and other pop culture things end up as comics and graphic novels.  Star Wars, The Simpsons, Dungeons and Dragons, Aliens, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are just a few.  Some of these might simply be a comic version of the movies, such as the first Star Wars comics, or might be completely original stores, such as most of the 100s of Star Wars comics printed since.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures (great for younger readers)

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago  (the first Star Wars comics)

Star Wars Empire: The Wrong Side of the War  (more contemporary Star Wars comic)

Simpsons Comics Belly Buster

Dungeons & Dragons 1:  Shadowplague

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin



Go, Bone, Go!

The bulk of comics come from the two big companies, DC and Marvel, but they aren’t the only publishers of comics.  These days there are many companies putting out comics.  Some of these are pretty big, such as Dark Horse, Image, and IDW, while many others remain largely unknown.  There was a time, though, that the smaller independent publishers had a harder time breaking out into the mainstream.

Did you know that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out as a comic back in 1984?  We can go back farther too, like for The Adventures of Tintin, which first appeared in 1929, and since the series has sold over 200 million copies.  Indie comics have often broken out of the mold of superheroes, giving readers some nice alternatives to the spandex crowd.

The Adventures of Tintin

Out From Boneville

ElfQuest, Wolfrider


Serious Comics

A serious comic about a serious issue.
A serious comic about a serious issue.

While most graphic novels are light hearted affairs, some tackle very serious issues.  Maus, by Art Spiegelman, is a good example in this, as it explores the Holocaust.  Maus was the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize.  Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi,  is an autobiographical graphic novel about a girl growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran.  Newsweek named Persepolis one of the top 10 fiction books of the 2000s, and the movie version received an Academy Award nomination.  Blankets is by Craig Thompson and is a coming of age story about a teen struggling with his Christian faith, and an award winning book.

Maus: My Father Bleeds History

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood


9-11: Artists Respond



Dream and Death from The Sandman
Dream and Death from The Sandman

I thought a great way to end this post was to list some of my personal favorite graphic novels.

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted.  Collecting the first six issues of a new X-Men series, this is one of my all time favorite superhero comics.  It is written by Joss Whedon (art by John Cassaday).  Yes, that Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and director of The Avengers and so on and so forth.  The characters behave like real people.  They are heroic when needed but also have their own feelings and drama.  Plus an exciting twist.  It has even been adapted into a full length novel, penned by longtime comic writer Peter David.

Watchmen.  Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s tour de force may not have been the first graphic novel, but it is the one that put them on the map.  And it stands as one of the great pieces of modern literature, as evidenced by the number of accolades it has received.

The Sandman.  Written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by a host of artists, The Sandman series (75 issues) showed how comics could incorporate mature themes and appeal to adult audiences.  Issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings”, is perhaps my favorite comic ever.  Gaiman went on to become a bestselling author of novels for both children and adults.

Flight is a series of comic anthologies, basically graphic short stories.  The series was conceived and is edited by Kazu Kibuishi with a goal of showcasing young comics creators.  I really enjoy the series because of the great variety of stories and art you find in it.

Unshelved.  I think I would be remiss in this blog not to mention a graphic novel that takes place in a library.  Unshelved is actually a webcomic created by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes.  It follows the toils and travails of the staff of the fictional Mallville Public Library.  It is a great way to see things from the other side of the desk.  I used to have a Read Responsibly shirt.


I hope that some of you found this post educational and put graphic novels, and all comics for that matter, in a different light.Share with me your insights, favorites, and recommendations!

A list of the graphic novels mentioned in this post can be found in our library catalog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

fREADom- Celebrate the Right to Read

banned-booksThis week (Sept. 21-27) is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Every year, the American Library Association collects reports of attempts to ban or challenge books in classrooms, schools, and public libraries in order to study censorship and raise awareness. Check out the Top Ten Challenged Books lists of the 21st Century, which also includes reasons the book were challenged.

The reasons for the challenging of these “banned books” elicit pause: violence, sexually explicit, racism, drugs… all things that might keep you up at night, especially if you have children. Other reasons may be seen as more subjective or dependent upon personal values: political viewpoint, Occult/Satanism, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint. The majority of challenges came from parents.

Parenting is hard. There’s a constant questioning that comes along with parenthood- you never really know if you’re doing the best thing for your child. Decision making is made even more difficult when you’re dealing with difficult subjects: racism, violence, sex. Part of being a parent is the drive to protect your child, wanting to shield them from all the terrible things in the world- things that you hope they will never have to experience personally.

I certainly can understand the desire to shield children from some subjects. They’re kids: blank, unmarred slates upon which, as parents/educators/caretakers, we draft a filter through which the child will experience the world. I say draft, because at some point they’ll grow up.  They’ll explore the world for themselves, holding fast to some of what they’ve been taught and replacing others with new truths- the world as they define it. I hold no delusions that my daughter will see the world as I see it, and that’s the best thing I could hope for! The world is constantly changing.

110924_censorship_banned-booksI’ve talked a bit before about my take on parenting in the digital age and it’s a stance I take on books as well. These “hard truths” (some admittedly harder than others) are, in my opinion, best dealt with head-on.  I believe unfettered access to information is best for my child. My husband and I try to keep an open dialogue with our daughter, where (we hope) she feels comfortable asking us questions about anything. Banning children from accessing information just makes them more curious to do it anyway, with the added disadvantage of having no authority figure to consult if things get confusing.

So with that in mind, I’ll encourage my daughter to read anything she takes an interest in. I did find some studies about children’s exposure to inappropriate material (though they all dealt with media in general, none specifically about books), but nearly all agreed that banning your child from all inappropriate media is an impossible feat and evidence suggests talking openly with children ameliorates any negative effects that such media may otherwise have. On the other other hand, there are numerous studies about the positive impact of reading on children, even beyond early literacy.

If you’re interested in checking out a banned book, visit your local library for their “Banned Books Week” display or check out some of these:

Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

“The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “religious viewpoints” and for being “unsuited for age group.”


Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

“Of all the contenders for the title of The Great American Novel, none has a better claim than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Intended at first as a simple story of a boy’s adventures in the Mississippi Valley – a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – the book grew and matured under Twain’s hand into a work of immeasurable richness and complexity.” – Good Reads

Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”


Harry PotterHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (& series) – J.K. Rowling

“Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick, never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys… But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives… with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him…” – Good Reads

Challenged for promoting “occult/Satanism.”


BoneBone  (& series) - Jeff Smith

In this graphic novel, “three modern cartoon cousins get lost in a pre-technological valley, spending a year there making new friends and out-running dangerous enemies. Their many adventures include crossing the local people in The Great Cow Race, and meeting a giant mountain lion called RockJaw: Master of the Eastern Border. They learn about sacrifice and hardship in The Ghost Circles and finally discover their own true natures in the climatic journey to The Crown of Horns.” - Good Reads

Challenged for “political viewpoints,” “racism,” and “violence.”


BelovedBeloved – Toni Morrison

“Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby…. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “sexual content,” “violence,” and “discussion of beastiality.”


The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

“Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “homosexuality,” “offensive language,” and for being “sexually explicit.”


Adventures of Captain UnderpantsThe Adventures of Captain Underpants – Dav Pilkey

“Two fourth-grade boys who write comic books and love to pull pranks find themselves in big trouble. Mean Mr. Krupp, their principal, videotapes George and Harold setting up their stunts and threatens to expose them. The boys’ luck changes when they send for a 3-D Hypno-Ring and hypnotize Krupp, turning him into Captain Underpants, their own superhero creation.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “offensive language,” “violence,” and being “unsuited for age group.”


Gone with the WindGone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell

“Gone with the Wind is a novel written by Margaret Mitchell, 1st published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, GA, & Atlanta during the American Civil War & Reconstruction era. It depicts the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to come out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea.” – Good Reads

Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”


by Amy

The War of 1812

By Stephen

A few weeks ago, the British Embassy in Washington sparked a controversy when it released a Tweet celebrating the burning of the American capital by British soldiers in 1814.  That story was a reminder to Americans that  the nation is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.  More to the point, this last weekend was the same anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore,  during which Frances Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The direct cause of the War of 1812 was the impressment of American sailors by British Navy vessels.   But actually relations between the United States and Great Britain had been declining during the first decade of the  nineteenth century, while the this country had been trying stay neutral in the war between the French and the British.    The British passed trade laws which the United States stated violated international law and interfered its trade with France.  Moreover the the British had been arming Native American tribes in what now the Mid-West.

There was a split along party lines on the decision to go to war with Great Britain.  The Federalists, ancestors of the present-day Republicans, were against it, because it would interfere with New England (an area where the Federals were strong) trade with the British. On the contrary, Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans favored the war.

Like the Revolutionary War, native Americans split their allegiance with northern tribes supporting the British  and the Cherokees, Choctaw, and some of the Creeks were loyal to the Americans.  The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh was successful in building a British backed confederation in the north , but he only managed to the northern or Red Stick Creeks to join his confederation in the south, causing a civil war amongst the tribe.  Andrew Jackson was responsible for defeating the  Red Sticks with force consisting of militia from Tennessee, some regular army troops, Cherokees, and the southern Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend .

While the British were involved with fighting Napoleon in Europe, some Americans thought it would a good time annex Canada to the United States.  The war in the Canadian theater was fought both on the Great Lakes and the Niagara frontier. The Canadians, many of the Loyalists who escaped north after the Revolutionary War, with Indian allies, resisted the American invasion.

On the positive side of things, the United States Navy came into its own both on the Atlantic and the  Great Lakes, defeating the British and Canadians on the water.  In the Atlantic, American frigates, which were bigger and out gunned their British counterparts, won a number of battles. The Admiralty ordered British ships not engage the American unless they had 2 to 1 odds or greater.   However, when the British fleet were free from blocking the coast of Europe, and came across the Atlantic with their ships of the line, American frigates stayed in port.  

Where the American navy did the nation proud, the land troops, with few exceptions, performed poorly. The War of 1812 is notable for being the last time the continental United States was invaded by a foreign nation.  (Note: Japan did invade part of the Aleutian Islands during World War II. )  The British were defeated at Baltimore, but the Americans could not defend their capital, sending government officials scurrying for their lives, leaving the invaders to burn government buildings, including the Executive Mansion. When it was repainted, the president’s mansion got its new unoffical name, The White House.

The biggest land victory for the American came after the war was officially over, when Andrew Jackson’s army of westerners and pirates overcame British regulars outside New Orleans under command of General Edward Pakenham, who was killed and sent home in a barrel of alcohol. Meanwhile, American and British negotiators reached agreement on the Treaty of Ghent.  The results of the war were inconclusive, with neither side gaining any territory (“Status quo, ante bellum”).

For Further Reading:

Brookshiser, Richard.  James Madison.

Buchanan, John.  Jackson’s Way:  Andrew Jackson and the People of the Western Waters.

Cote, Richard N.  Strength and Honor:  The Life of Dolly Madison.

Molotsky, Irvin.  The Flag, the Poet & the Song.

Robotti, Frances Diane and James Vescovi. The USS  Essex and the Birth the American Navy

Roosevelt, Theodore. The Naval War of 1812.

Standiford, Les.  Washington Burning.

Toll, Ian W.  Six Frigates:  The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy.

They Ate My Brain: 15 Top Zombie Reads

By Chris

Zombies!  They just won’t go away, both in the stories featuring them and in popular culture.  Now we could engage in a long discussion as to why zombies strike a chord with us, how they reach a primal part of our psyche, how an unrelenting, implacable, remorseless enemy that cannot be reasoned with is so terrifying, and so on.  But instead I am just going to give you a top 15 countdown of good zombie reads.

Whether you like your zombies slow or fast, created by government scientists or plants or space viruses, mindless or intelligent or what have you, there should be something you find…palatable…in this list.

#15  Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber

I really like this cover.
I really like this cover.

What better way to kick off our zombie list than with Star Wars.  I’ll let that sink in for a moment.  Set about a year prior to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it tells the tale of poor souls trapped on an Imperial prison barge that is overrun with zombies.  The chief medical officer leads the survivors on a desperate mission for escape with the help of a certain scoundrel and his furry companion, a pair well known to all Star Wars fans.

The prequel to Death Troopers, Red Harvest, is set 3500+(!) years earlier.  It feels a little more zombieish to me, but the Star Wars setting in that one will be less familiar to most readers.

Death Troopers  /  Red Harvest

#14  The Living Dead, edited by John Joseph Adams

Not exactly living.
Not exactly living.

This is an anthology of zombie stories featuring some top echelon authors, including Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman.  As with many anthologies the stories vary in quality and style, but most are well worth the read.  The opener, “This Year’s Class Picture”, by Dan Simmons, is perhaps the best.

The second volume I haven’t gotten to read yet, but seeing how it features stories from several authors that appear on this very list I will surely get to it soon.

The Living Dead  /  The Living Dead 2

#13  Cell, by Stephen King

Are you going to answer that?
Are you going to answer that?

An interesting thing about zombies is that they are more varied in books and movies than we realize.  In this particular case people are driven into a zombie-like madness from using their (no real spoiler here considering the title) cell phones.  Those who avoid being afflicted have to fight for survival versus more than one type of threat in a world rapidly disintegrating.

This may not be King’s best work, but is still a good read.  And it is notably shorter than many of his other books, so it is a pretty quick read as well.

Cell  /  Large Print  /  CD Audiobook


#12  Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Devil's Wake Cover
Give the Devil his due.

Barnes and Due, both accomplished writers on their own (and also married to each other) collaborate on this solid zombie tale.  A group of teens must use all their wits to cross zombie filled territory to reach the promise of a safe haven.

While the zombies at first seem to be pretty standard, virus-infected biting killers, they turn out to be something more. To find out exactly what the zombies are you’ll need to read all the books in the series.

Devil’s Wake  /  Domino Falls


#11  Allison Hewitt is Trapped, by Madeleine Roux

All bookstores should have axes handy.
All bookstores should have axes handy.

When the zombie outbreak occurs Allison Hewitt finds herself trapped in a bookstore.  Not the worst place to start the end of days, I suppose.  Allison and her fellow survivors make a good go of living in the shop, but must soon venture out into the world, facing not only zombies but the evil that lurks in humans as well.

If you like Allison’s story you can followup with Sadie Walker is Stranded, Roux’s second zombie book.

Allison Hewitt is Trapped  /  Sadie Walker is Stranded


#10  Rise Again, by Ben Tripp


A small town sheriff, still recovering from her tour in Iraq, finds herself right in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.  She has to fight to protect her people (from both zombie and human predators), she has to protect herself, and she has to find her kid sister, who is out there somewhere.  Personally I felt that after a pretty good opening this book lost its way in the middle, but the ending makes it worth the read.

In fact the clever and chilling ending has me eager to read the sequel.

Rise Again  /  CD Audiobook  /  Rise Again: Below Zero

#9  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austin

You can never go wrong with the classics.
You can never go wrong with the classics.

Where do we start with this one?  How about with the fact that besides zombies we also get ninjas?  Grahame-Smith (who also brought us Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) took Austin’s book and added segments to it, which is where the zombies come in.  Turning the Bennet’s into proficient zombie killers, while keeping the original plot intact, is quite an amazing feat.  The concept is original, and the writing is sharp.

There is both a prequel and a sequel, written by Steve Hockensmith, but I haven’t read them yet.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  /  CD Audiobook  /  Ebook  /  Graphic Novel  /  Prequel  /  Sequel 


#8  Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Unicorns have brains too.
Unicorns have brains too.

The second anthology on my list, and one quite different from the first.  In this one Black’s Team Zombie stories alternate with Larbalestier’s Team Unicorn ones.  They write an intro for each story, and in the end the reader decides whether zombies or unicorns are better.  Choose a side!

The book features stories from some of the best Young Adult writers in the business, including Scott Westerfeld, Meg Cabot, and Garth Nix.  Some top notch writing here, stories that made me want to read more.  And I must say that I think Team Zombie scores a decisive victory here.

Zombies vs. Unicorns  /  CD Audiobook

#7  The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Get back to nature.
Get back to nature.

What a great title!  Teen Mary lives in a secluded village in the forest, fenced on all sides to keep the zombies out.  Of course things are not all as they seem, and Mary’s curiosity and questioning leads to danger.

One of the things I liked here is that the story is set a couple of hundred years after the zombie apocalypse.  It gives the story a very different perspective.  The two sequels take us out of the forest and into “civilization”.  A related story appears in Zombies vs. Unicorns

The Forest of Hands and Teeth  /  CD Audiobook  /  The Dead-Tossed Waves  /  The Dark and Hollow Places

#6  Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, by S.G. Browne

Love can be rotten.
Love can be rotten.

Told by the point of view of Andy the zombie, Breathers shows the zombie side of things.  Still self aware, Andy falls in love with a zombie girl, and fights against his urges to eat the living, which his parents (who are letting him stay in the basement) appreciate.

While billed as a rom-zom-com, the story stays true to the zombie genre and has its fair share of dark parts.

Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament


#5  Feed, by Mira Grant

We are both predator and prey.
We are both predator and prey.

Appropriately, the heroine of Feed, Georgia Mason, is a blogger.  Society is for the most part holding together and keeping the zombies at bay.  The chronicles of Mason and her news team catch the attention of senator embarking on a presidential campaign, and they are drawn into a world of political intrigue.  Plus zombies.

The first installment of the Newsflesh trilogy, Feed has all the elements of a socio-political thriller as well as satisfying zombie action.  And while Grant may not have quite the same knack of predicting future technology that such luminaries as Heinlein, Bradbury, and Gibson did, she does give us an idea of how our current social media habits may evolve in the very near future.

Feed  /  Deadline  /  Blackout

#4  The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman

Walking is healthy, right?
Walking is healthy, right?

In 2003 Image Comics published The Walking Dead #1, and black and white comic book written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore (Charlie Adland took over the art after issue #6).  It kind of became a big thing.

The Walking Dead tells the story of a group of survivors facing one crisis after another.  Food, supplies, and shelter are a constant concern, as are bad people and of course the zombies.  The comic (which is still an ongoing series, with over 130 issues so far) spawned a hit tv series, and Kirkman has written Walking Dead novels as well.

One warning about this series: it is unrelentingly grim.  No real comic relief, just one tragedy after another.

The Walking Dead Book 1  /  Season 1 DVD  /  The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor

#3  The Reapers are the Angels, by Alden Bell

Define "angels".
Define “angels”.

A Southern Gothic zombie novel?  Yes, please!  While the protagonist here is 15 year old Temple, this is not a Young Adult book nor a light read.  All that Temple knows is zombies, having been born after the outbreak.  She travels through the south, interacting with both the good and the bad survivors, trying to find her place in the world.

It is these interactions that make up the backbone of this terrific book.  The zombies are always there, but the people are what we focus on.  And Temple finds that there are consequences to her actions.

The Reapers are the Angels

#2  Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

I don't even want to think about Zone Two.
I don’t even want to think about Zone Two.

I don’t think anyone expected Pulitzer-nominated Whitehead to write a zombie book, but he did.  And it is good.  In the aftermath of the zombie plague “Mark Spitz” is working on a clean up crew in New York City, eliminating remaining zombies and disposing of bodies.  As he works he ruminates on the past, giving us flashbacks of what happened at the beginning, how he survived, and how he came to be called “Mark Spitz”.  And of course the zombie plague isn’t as over as we think.

Zone One is as much literary fiction as it is a zombie book, and is not a casual read.  Definitely not for everyone.  But for those of us it does work for, it works very well.

Zone One  /  Large Print  /  Ebook

#1  World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks

The book is better.
The book is better.

Well, no one should be surprised at this.  It is, to me, the acme of zombie fiction.  Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) first wrote the Zombie Survival Guide, a book that described zombies and the ways to defeat them in great detail.  This led to WWZ.

World War Z is told in vignettes, as related to an unnamed United Nations agent some 20 years after the war.  The vignettes, presented as interviews, fill in the details of the zombie war, from the start of the outbreak, to humanity being pushed to the brink, to the ruthless and startling tactics used to fight back, and finally on to triumph and the clean up.

Some of these stories are better than others, of course, but the scope of the book is breathtaking.  From the Kansas woman, now in an asylum, who as a toddler was a lone survivor and can still recall the events in harrowing detail, to the military disaster at Yonkers, to the decisions of the worlds leaders, World War Z leaves no part of the war untouched.

World War Z  /  CD Audiobook  /  Ebook  /  DVD  /  The Zombie Survival Guide

And so that is my Top 15 zombies reads countdown.  But it is just my countdown, and is subject to change (Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion, is sitting on my shelf at home waiting.  Let’s hope it makes the cut).  For fun I took a look at how these books are rated by Goodreads users:

#15)  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

#14)  Zone One

#13)  Cell

#12)  The Forest of Hands and Teeth

#11)  Death Troopers

#10)  Devil’s Wake

#9)    Zombies vs. Unicorns

#8)    Allison Hewitt is Trapped

#7)    Breathers

#6)    The Living Dead

#5)    Rise Again

#4)    Feed

#3)    The Reapers are the Angels

#2)    World War Z

#1)    The Walking Dead

Hmm.  Some pretty close, and some not.  Please share your thoughts on my list, and let me know what other zombie titles need to go on my reading list.  Also, do you think we should have a zombie movie list as well?

Here is a list of all the titles mentioned in this blog:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0



By Stephen

 A while ago, I read a  mystery, The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black, featuring Philip Marlowe  Raymond Chandler’s favorite private eye.  Black is not the first contemporary author to use Chandler’s character.  Before his death, Robert B. Parker, wrote a sequel to The Big Sleep.  Parker also finished Chandler’s “Poodle Springs.” Private detectives, who wander between the law and the underworld, accepted by neither, are generally the main characters in noir mystery novels and films.  “Oh, I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache, the Boston Blackie kind, then I could solve some mysteries too.,” sings Jimmy Buffett.

Boston Blackie, Sam Spade, Thin Man (AKA Nick Charles) are just few of the heroes, or anti-heroes if you prefer.   But noir books and film didn’t all had private detectives as the main characters.  James M. Cain’s short story “Double Indemnity,” featuring an insurance salesman who helps a woman, a ‘femme fatale,’ murder her husband by making appear an accident so she can cash in on the double indemnity clause on his insurance policy.  Likewise, “The Postman Always Rings Twice, ” features a woman who wants get rid of her husband and cons a man into helping her commit the crime.

Early noir short stories, novellas, and novels was originally written for publishing in the pulp magazines as “Phantom Detective.”   Noir authors who wrote for pulp magazines included Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett among others.

Dave Robicheaux, a modern creation of James Lee Burke, is a retired policemen who makes his home in the bayous of Louisiana, where crime is  around every slough, and eventually leads Dave back to New Orleans, where he used to enforce the law.   Burke’s Robicheaux novels have an atmosphere as dark as the 1930s and 1940s noir tales.  I suppose one could argue the Louisiana swamps have a greater sense of evil  than sunny California.

New Orleans was also the location of Ezlia Kazan’s picture, “Panic in the Streets,” a 1950  release. Richard Widmark stars as U. S. Public Health Officer charged finding a fugitive stricken with bubonic plague before he infects the city. The plot adds a new dimension to noir genre.   The film was filmed on location, making New Orleans a character in the film in its own right.

Mickey Spillane introduced his character, Mike Hammer in “I the Jury,” in 1947.  I seem to remember the paperback version being passed around when I was in the the eighth or ninth grade.    I remember it had a salacious cover that would interest junior high boys.   Spillane would go on to write over a dozen Hammer novels, including some finished by a friend after Spillane died in 2006.

“Spenser for Hire” was the tv version of Robert B. Parker‘s Spenser novels.  Spenser, private detective who has frequent run-ins with the Boston underworld on the one hand and the Boston police on the other.   Spenser’s sidekick Hawk, played menacingly by Avery Brooks on the tv series, is there when he needs extra muscle.  Some readers think Spenser is a direct descendant of  Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

Walter Mosley is another modern writer whose main character is of the hard-boiled variety.  Easy Rawlins is a black veteran, living in Watts section of Los Angeles.  Mosley’s hero is a novice detective, who lives his life from the forties into the mid-sixties.    In the later books he has the respect of the LAPD, who turns to him to solve some politically charged cases.

Kinsey Millhone, a creation of Sue Grafton, is another California based private detective.  The  main character of Grafton’s alphabet novels, is a female version of the hard-boiled detective.   Kinsey’s stories are set in the late seventies and eighties, so she doesn’t have access to more modern crime solving techniques such the internet or cell phones.   Like the private detectives of the forties and fifties, she brushes shoulders with people who live on the edge of polite society.

Dan Simmons reaches back to  the time of Charles Dickens in his novel, “Drood.”   Dickens’  friend Wilkie  Collins narratives his fellow writer’s search to find a mysterious man he encountered after the train he was riding in wrecked. The two men’s search takes them to the dark demi world of London’s slums, including the infamous  opium dens.  The reader slowly realizes that Collins and Dickens are drug addicts and begins to doubt the reliability of the former’s narrative.

In 1997, The Library of America published a two volume set of American noir writing  entitled  “Crime Novels:  American Noir of the 1930s & 4os”  and “Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s.”   These two volumes are a good place to start if you are not familiar with the genre.   NovelList+ on NCLive is another resource to explore the noir genre.


An Enigma Inside A Question Inside A Book Part 2

The problem with researching real life mysteries is that there are just so many of them.  Too many for one blog post, so here is a second installment, with even more conundrums from the annals of history.  Enjoy!

DB Cooper

Christina:  When it comes to unsolved mysteries, DB Cooper is the king. To this day, no one is really sure of what really happened to Cooper, but there’s been no shortage of people who claimed to be the missing hijacker (or to have known where he stashed the stolen loot).

Cooper’s story isn’t that old. In late November in 1971, he hijacked a 727, demanded a ransom and threatened to blow up the plane, and parachuted before he could be captured. The story stands out for a number of reasons; Cooper’s real identity was never revealed, he was described as “friendly” and “calm” by those he held hostage, none of the hostages were killed or even injured, and no one knows if he survived.

What sounds like something out of a James Bond movie actually happened, and details of the hijacking are laid out here.  His legacy is one of mystery, with occasional clues. In 1980, an eight year old boy was digging around the Columbia River and found deteriorating bills that the FBI confirmed was part of Cooper’s ransom.

Not sure that the vending machine will take these bills.
Not sure that the vending machine will take these bills.

Another question that looms over the case is that the rest of Cooper’s money was never spent. The FBI recorded the serial numbers of all of the ransom bills, but since the hijacking, none of the money was ever circulated. Not one bill. Which leads to speculation: If Cooper didn’t survive the fall, where is his body? And where is the missing cash?

This is one of those mysteries that might never be solved, and therefore Cooper has become an almost mythical creature, reaching anti-hero status and the subject of obsessive speculation.

Have you seen this man?  If you do ask him for a loan.
Have you seen this man? If you do ask him for a loan.

D.B. : a novel / Elwood Reid

Skyjack : the hunt for D.B. Cooper / Geoffrey Gray


Amelia Earhart

Chris:  Here is a truly enduring mystery. Earhart was a very accomplished flyer back when airplanes were still pretty new. Her feats would have been notable even for a man! Ah, different times those were. She was the first woman to solo a transatlantic flight. She was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, an honor limited now to military personnel.

In 1936 she started planning a flight around the world. While others had already done this, her route would have been the longest, at 29,000 miles. After a first attempt was foiled by mechanical issues, she took off from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan. They had covered 22,000 miles, over South America, Africa, India, and southeast Asia, and had only the cross the Pacific to complete the historic trip, when tragedy struck.

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

Or something happened. On their approach to tiny Howland Island, the plane disappeared. No definitive trace was found of the plane or the occupants. The prevailing theory is that they ran short of fuel and crashed into the ocean. As we know from the recent Malaysian 517 incident the ocean is a big place. We can understand how the wreckage might never be found.

But we don’t know for sure that is what happened. There are plenty of other theories, like that they landed on another island and lived on for some years, or were captured and executed by the Japanese, or that Amelia never crashed at all, but finished the flight, changed her name, and moved to New Jersey.

In the end we can only wonder and surmise what really befell a pioneer of both aviation and women’s rights. Well, we can only wonder, but others do more than that. To this day there are expeditions to that area of the Pacific looking to solve the mystery.

I was Amelia Earhart / a novel by Jane Mendelsohn

The sound of wings : the life of Amelia Earhart / Mary S. Lovell


Princes in the Tower

Christina:  History is full of tragic stories, but ones of neglected or abused children are especially heartbreaking. The story of the Princes in the Tower is a notable example.

Nice hair.
Nice hair.

Edward IV of England died an unexpected death in 1483, leaving two sons (Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York) and a brother (Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard the III). Before the eldest son, Edward V, could return home from a trip, the royal party was intercepted by his uncle and two of his protectors were beheaded. Richard later claimed both boys were illegitimate, and therefore unsuitable for the throne, and sent them to the Tower of London. After about a month, the boys disappeared.

The general assumption is that both princes were murdered, with their uncle (and the subsequent king) Richard III as the prime suspect. Some popular theories have the king’s allies as the culprits, with no shortage of possible assassins.  To be fair, there is no proof that the princes were in fact murdered, but it is true that no one had seen the royal boys since.

Like most other tales of disappearance, there were people claiming to be one of the princes in the Tower long after it was generally accepted that the princes had died.  Ultimately, public fervor against the king after the treatment and death of his nephews lead to the Rebellion of 1483, and Richard the III’s eventual death in battle.

Sure, looks like a swell place to grow up.
Sure, looks like a swell place to grow up.

In 1674, two small skeletons were discovered when construction was being done on the Tower of London, and though they were unable to do forensic testing at the time, they were generally accepted as the remains of the princes and were buried in Westminster Abbey.  Both the royal family and Westminster Abbey spokespeople have refused DNA testing on the remains, believing that “the mortal remains of two small children…shall not be disturbed”.

The tale of the princes in the Tower has captivated many artists and writers, and there is no shortage of references to the doomed royal brothers in paintings, fiction, and nonfiction books.

Great tales from English history. Joan of Arc, the princes in the Tower, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, and more / Robert Lacey

The white queen / Philippa Gregory


Crop Circles

Chris:  Take a look at this picture, and tell me how the pattern was created:


There are two opposing viewpoints as to how this was done. As you can see, they are very opposing:

Aliens did it!
Aliens did it!
Some dudes did it!
Some dudes did it!

Crop circles came to prominence in the 1970s, notably in England. Speculation as to who, or what, was creating them carried on into the 90s, when some gentleman revealed that they had made many crop circles using nothing more than boards and rope. No flying saucers required.

Indeed, it seems that hoaxters are behind the majority of crop circles. Many different people have explained how they create them. This also explains why so many circles are in unfenced, easily accessible fields close to roads. In some cases weather can create weird patterns in the field, and in Tasmania wallabies made some, after eating poppies and running about in crazed circles. Some of the largest and most elaborate circles were created as advertising.

Signs DVD

Round in circles : poltergeists, pranksters, and the secret history of cropwatchers / Jim Schnabel

Crop circles : signs, wonders and mysteries / Steve and Karen Alexander



Atlantis is sort of an underwater Shangri-La, a mystical palace that was doomed to sink under the ocean (like that guy from Titanic). Mention the mystical place at a party and you’ll find at least one person who will proclaim that “Atlantis is real, man, it’s real!”

Well, it’s not. And it never was.

A slightly inaccurate map.
A slightly inaccurate map.

Sadly, an awesome story like Atlantis’s is a mythical tale, full of fiction and embellishments. Plato made up Atlantis, having it act as his own example of a perfect place that ended up being destroyed because the gods were angry (But when WEREN’T the gods angry? Seriously.). Plato’s utopia caught the imagination of Francis Bacon and Thomas More, who expanded on the idea until someone eventually decided that Atlantis was in fact a real place. This thought is often credited to Plato’s student Crantor, who claimed to have seen references to Atlantis written in hieroglyphics on a column in Egypt.

The rumors of Atlantis snowballed with various people in history describing the riches and splendors of Atlantis, as well as the priceless artifacts from the doomed continent. Even recently, a series of lines spotted on Google Earth was deemed to be remnants of Atlantis.

Seems legit.
Seems legit.

But the public was dismayed to learn that those lines were, in fact, created by sonar boats. Conspiracy theorists hold out on this,  however, and insist that the government is in fact hiding evidence of the lost continent to the public. (…Why? Oh wait, aliens!)

Search for Atlantis now, and you’ll find tons of resorts and themed places, not an ancient underwater city. Bummer.

Mysteries of Atlantis / Edgar Evans Cayce, Gail Cayce Schwartzer, Douglas G. Richards

The lost empire of Atlantis : history’s greatest mystery revealed / Gavin Menzies


The Amityville Horror

Chris:  This was perhaps the first scary book I ever read. The tale of a family moving into a new house only to move out a month later after being terrorized by demons was spine tingling enough without that fact that it was true. Or was it?

My first edition copy.
My first edition copy.

I remember that when I first read it oh so many years ago, thinking that it was true since the cover said so, that it got over the top at the end. My suspicions were raised. Now years later with a more skeptical eye and the Internet to aid in research, they seem confirmed.

What we do know is that there was a mass killing in the house before the Lutz family moved in, that they did move out 28 days later, and that members of the family stick to the story to this day. We also know that with all the legal wranglings and lawsuits involved with the book and movies (11 films to date) that there are a lot of versions of what happened out there.

So I find it informative to look at some of the corroborating evidence. The damage to the house mentioned in the book was not evident to the next tenants. The tracks in the snow are problematical since there was no snow reported in Amityville during that time. In the book the police are called to the house, but there are no actual police reports backing this up. Oh, and that photo taken by the paranormal investigators of the “ghost boy”? Not a boy at all, but a camera man kneeling down.

An iconic house, which has since been remodeled to remove those "eye" windows.
An iconic house, which has since been remodeled to remove those “eye” windows.

In the end my advice to you if you are reading the book or watching one of the movies is not to worry about whether it is true or not, or if I think it is true, but to just enjoy a nice scary story.

The Amityville horror / Jay Anson

The Amityville horror DVD (original)


Area 51

Oh man. Area 51 can be a touchy, “don’t get me started” subject for some people, but it’s a treasure trove of secrecy. The U.S. government has had a field day denying evidence of Area 51, even denying its existence until last year.

Most conspiracy theories are convinced that Area 51 is a housing place for alien artifacts, most notably the UFO that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The fact that the site is off-limits to even military air traffic seems extreme, and the ominous, threatening signs plastered around Area 51 only add to its mysterious presence.


They are not kidding.
They are not kidding.

The most plausible theory is that Area 51 is in fact a hub for military aircraftwith the government encouraging the extraterrestrial rumors so that anyone who spotted top-secret aircraft sounded unreliable. Hey, the military’s allowed to have fun too.

Dreamland : travels inside the secret world of Roswell and Area 51 / Phil Patton

Area 51 : an uncensored history of America’s top secret military base / Annie Jacobsen


The Loch Ness Monster

Chris:  Is Nessie the most famous cryptid of all? It has to be either Nessie or Bigfoot, right? Besides popularity another thing they share is a wealth of sightings and anecdotes and a dearth of actual evidence.

Loch Ness certainly seems a good place for a sea monster to hide. The Scottish lake is 22 miles long and hundreds of feet deep, plenty of space for Nessie to hide. This adds to the seeming plausibility, until you start getting into the sciency stuff such as breeding populations.

Stories of a strange creature in the loch date back centuries, but it was a sighting in 1933 the spurred the current interest. Since then many people have reported seeing something, and many have taken photos and videos of, well, something. We know that many of these are hoaxes, which makes figuring out which might have some legitimacy even harder. Besides actual hoaxes there are many natural things that can be misidentified as Nessie, such as flocks of birds, logs, and the wakes of boats.

The famous Surgeon's Photograph.  some skeptics thought it might be a circus elephant bathing in the lake!  Now known to have been a hoax.
The famous Surgeon’s Photograph. Some skeptics thought it might be a circus elephant bathing in the lake! Now known to have been a hoax.

It certainly would be wonderful if Nessie was real. And maybe he is. Napoleon Dynamite thought so. But a lot of people have spent a lot of time, money, and expertise looking with no success to date, so I am not holding my breath.

Abominable science! : origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other famous cryptids / Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero

Mysteries unwrapped : mutants & monsters / written by Oliver Ho ; illustrated by Josh Cochran



Stonehenge, besides being a hilarious scene from This is Spinal Tap, is a collection of prehistoric stones that were arranged in a circle. The arrangement of the circle was no easy task, with the stones being dragged from 250 miles away from the site. Plus, there were almost 100 of them, each weighing about 4 tons. Experts aren’t even sure how the site was constructed (*cough* *cough* ALIENS!)

No words needed.
No words needed.

People still have ceremonies at Stonehenge, and even weddings.  There are some pretty cool-looking modern Druid ceremonies performed as well, complete with awesome costumes.

Stonehenge : a new understanding : solving the mysteries of the greatest stone age monument / by Mike Parker Pearson and the Stonehenge Riverside Project

Don’t know much about mythology : everything you need to know about the greatest stories in human history but never learned / Kenneth C. Davis


Oak Island (The Money Pit)

Chris:  This has always been one of my favorite mysteries. Buried pirate treasure? Booby trapped tunnels? A curse? What’s not to love?

An appealing story to youngsters.
An appealing story to youngsters.

Oak Island is just off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is a privately owned island about 140 acres in size. It was in 1795 that the treasure hunting began, with the discovery of what appeared to be a filled in pit. Over the years many expeditions have tried excavating the pit. The main problem is flooding. Inevitably after digging down so far the sea intrudes and progress is halted.

You can see here how close the pit is to the water.
You can see here how close the pit is to the water.


Different diggers have reported that at various intervals they find a layer of material other than dirt, including flagstones, logs, and coconut fiber. Hmm, no coconuts grow in Canada! This all gave credence to the idea of buried treasure. There was even a stone found that said two million pounds were below. Of course that stone disappeared and there is no proof that it is anything other than a fanciful story.

Six men have died on Oak Island hunting for treasure, giving rise to tales of the treasure being cursed. Some people will tell you that the pit is nothing more than a sinkhole, which are common in the area. The layers of logs and such are simply debris that washed into it. But I think you’ll find that the crew that is digging there now would disagree.

Oak Island gold : one of the world’s most baffling mysteries / William S. Crooker

The money pit mystery; the costliest treasure hunt ever / Rupert Furneaux


The curse on King Tut’s Tomb

I remember being in middle school and watching a video on Tut’s Tomb. Most of the videos we had to watch were torturously boring and badly made, but this one captured EVERYONE’S attention. Let’s face it, mummies are cool, and curses? Even cooler.

After class everyone was convinced that King Tut had a curse placed on those who might disturb his final resting place. I’ll admit, for a long time, I was one of them. Then, you know, I grew up, started reading more, and yeah, I don’t think the tomb of King Tut was cursed. If you’re not convinced, here’s a great site listing the epic rumors with the more mundane facts.

Speculation has been made that the more likely culprit in the tomb was germsbut the conclusion seems to be that it’s unlikely at best.

I'd wash my hands if I were you.
I’d wash my hands if I were you.

Pharaoh curses have been the stepping stone for plenty of horror movies and mysteries, but there doesn’t seem to be much fact behind them. Still, knowing that there are in fact pharaoh tombs with curses inscribed on them is rather harrowing. An example from the tomb of the ancient Egyptian ruler Khentika Ikhekhi:

“As for all men who shall enter this my tomb… impure… there will be judgment… an end shall be made for him… I shall seize his neck like a bird… I shall cast the fear of myself into him”

Okay, that’s scary. And seriously cool. If you’re looking for inspiration for writing song lyrics for a metal death band, look no further than pharaoh curses.

The murder of King Tut : the plot to kill the child king : a nonfiction thriller / James Patterson and Martin Dugard

The mummy’s curse : the true history of a dark fantasy / Roger Luckhurst


So there we are.  Ten more imagination kindling mysteries.  Let us know what you think about these, and what other ones keeping you wondering.

Find a list of the books and movies listed in this blog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0


D-Day, Part 2

By Stephen

My last blog ended at H-Hour off the Normandy beaches, with Allied forces getting ready to land at 6:30 AM (British double summer time), June 6, 1944.   While the landing craft were heading to the shore, a naval barrage was sending shells toward the German defenses and bombers were unloading their bombs, trying to reduce enemy ability to counter attack while the landings were taking place.

On one of the American beaches, Omaha ,  small arms and artillery fire  from the Germans on shore, along with rough seas, the rising tide, and smoke from the naval artillery and air force bombs caused chaos. Units were taken to the wrong locations.  Landing craft ramps were opened too early causing soldiers to drown trying to wade to shore with their heavy equipment  Machine gun fire from shore killed some before they left the landing craft and causing those that made it alive to shore to be trapped on the beach.  Destroyers were forced to go close to shore using their guns to support the troops trapped on the beach.  However, Rudder’s Rangers completed their mission on Pointe du Hoc, disabling the big Germany gun  and interdicting the road to the rear of the German position, hindering re-enforcements getting to Omaha Beach to oppose the landings.

Utah Beach had less opposition and therefore landing was easier.  One reason was the Germans had flooded the behind the beach, dispensing with the heavy casements protecting heavy guns, like soldiers faced on Omaha Beach. Major General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., over 56 years old, won a Medal of Honor for directing traffic on the beach under fire.  Unfortunately, he didn’t received  the award before he died of a heart attack two months later.

Landing on French soil was the easy part.   Moving inland was a different story.   That part of France was mainly agricultural with fields set off by thick hedgerows (bocage).  The German defenders made good use of the bocage to set up traps for the allied troops, who used tanks converted to bulldozers to open pathways through the hedgerows.  On 1 July (D+25), the beachhead was only six miles deep in some places and the Germans still occupied key cities of Caen and St.-Lô. On the other hand, the Americans had cut off the Germans on the Cotentin Peninsula.  Cherbourg, at the head of the Cotentin Peninsula, was captured on D+20.  The Allies undertook a variety of operations to push the Germans back:  EPSON (26 June-1 July);  GOODWOOD (18-20 July);  COBRA (25 June- July ).

By the end June, overwhelmed by the amount of Allied troops and equipment that came ashore after D-Day, German troops were retreating, despite Hitler’s orders to stand fast.   By 30 June (D+24) over 850,000 men, almost 150,000 vehicles, and nearly 600,000 tons of supplies had landed   Four days later one million men were in Normandy. By the time the Allies broke out they outnumbered the Germans seven to one in manpower and four to one in machines.   Besides,  Allied air power was interdicting the German transportation network, delaying reinforcements and supplies from getting to the front.

As well as running low on manpower and the machines of war, the Germans faced a bigger problem than the fact they were fighting a two-front war: their commander-in-Chief, Adolph Hitler.   The Fuhrer was a micro  manager and mistakenly thought himself a master strategist.  His generals couldn’t transfer units without  his approval and requests for retreat were met with a firm, “Nein!”

The Falaise pocket (August 8-17) was one example.  50,000 Germans were trapped in the town out flanked by the Allies.   A sizable number escaped, but Allies captured  more materiel  than Germans could afford  to lose.  The Allied victory here opened the road to Paris, which was liberated two days later.  Germans retreated north of the Seine River, ending Operation Overlord.  The books listed below tell the story in more detail.

The victory came at price.  The Allies suffered  37,000 deaths and 172,ooo wounded. 19 of the soldiers killed during the D-Day landings came from Bedford, Virginia, future  home of the National D-Day Memorial .  That was more per capita causalities than any other town on the United States.   On the other side, more than 40 German divisions were destroyed and 240,000 men killed or wounded.

Of course this was only the first step.  There was still was nine more months war in Europe before Germany surrendered and the citizens of western Europe were free from Nazi occupation.

For further reading:

Rick Atkinson,  The Guns at Last Light

Anthony Beevor,  D-Day: The Battle for Normandy

Max Hastings,  Overlord:  D-Day and the Battle for Normandy

John Keegan.  Six Armies in Normandy


Breakout and Pursuit:  Operation Cobra

Battle of Normandy


Military History Online