Genre Bingo!

Once upon a time I mostly read books from one literary genre: fantasy. As the years have gone by I have found that I read a much wider range of things. In fact, I voted for several genres in last weeks poll.  I don’t have a master plan here. I read whatever I come across that looks interesting, or is recommended to me. In fact I even went so far recently as to tell my wife to stick a book in my hand, and that is what I would read next. She did, and I read it. It was a good book, and it was something that I probably wasn’t going to read otherwise.

This is the main point of this post: reading things you wouldn’t normally read. It is easy enough for me to say you should try reading outside your comfort zone, but that doesn’t really help you do it now, does it? Oh, and if you only ever read, say, novels about 18th century conflicted Persian poets, than that is fine. You can keep reading those. But for the rest of us it is time for…Genre Bingo!

Genre Bingo pic
Feel free to print, use, or share this bingo card in any way that helps you (and others) read more.

The goal here is to read a book from each of the genres in a line across, down, or diagonally on the genre bingo card. Once you complete that line, you win! The Free Space space isn’t actually free. You still have to read a book, but you can read any sort of thing you want and count it for that space. There is no set order, and there is no time limit. You can read 20 mysteries before you get around to reading a book of short stories if you want. It can even be a book of mystery short stories. However, each book can only be counted for one space.

I know what you are thinking at this point. You are thinking “this is just the greatest and coolest, but how on earth am I going to find books from genres I am not familiar with?” Good question. I’m glad you asked. (Also, Genre Bingo is totally not my idea. Lots of people have done it before.) You can always ask your Friendly Neighborhood Library Practitioner for genre help and advice, of course. That is always a great option. You can also use this handy list of links to genre books that I am providing.

Fiction Essentially, any book that doesn’t fit into a specific genre. Most best sellers will fit this category.

New York Times best seller list

Mystery Who-done-its.

The Edgar Awards

Science Fiction Spaceships and aliens.

The Nebula Awards

Fantasy Wizards and unicorns.

The Hugo Awards

Romance Love is in the air. Also known as “happy ending” stories.

The RITA Awards

Horror To quote my niece coming out of the Haunted Mansion at Disney, “scary monsters, Mommy”. Also, zombies.

The Bram Stoker Awards

Western Howdy there, pardner.

The Spur Awards

Christian Fiction Also known as “gentle reads”.

The Christy Awards

old books
Random photo of old books to break up monotony of text.

Short Story Books of short stories are often anthologies with numerous authors, but can also be compilations of a single author’s work.

The O. Henry Prize

North Carolina Books set in North Carolina, or written by North Carolina authors.

A blog about books set in North Carolina 

Nonfiction Books with real facts in them.

A list of National Book Award winners for nonfiction

Biography A book detailing a person’s life. An autobiography is one written by the actual person.

A list of Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners for biographies

Young Adult Books for teenagers. Although us library types will tell you that there is some good reading for adults in YA.

The Alex Awards which are for adult novels that have appeal to teens

Historical Fiction Books set in the past.

The Walter Scott Prize

Classics All those books that we should have read but haven’t gotten around to.

A challenge to read 100 classics of which I have read like 25

Urban Fiction Usually features African American characters. My wife had a side gig reviewing submitted manuscripts in this genre a few years ago.

The Street Literature Book Award

Realistic Fiction Books where the characters, plot, and settings are are true to real life.

A list of realistic fiction books

Imperator Furiosa
Imperator Furiosa is skeptical of your realism.

Humor Books that make you laugh. Hopefully. Remember, British humor is different than ours.

The Thurber Prize

Adventure The Indiana Jones and Errol Flynn part of the blog. Can be fiction or nonfiction.

A list of 50 adventure books

Poetry It doesn’t even have to rhyme.

A list of Poets’ Prize winners

Thriller Hero vs the bad guys in a modern setting, such as spy novels.

The Thriller Awards

Graphic Novels Fully illustrated books. See my post here for a more thorough explanation.

List of award-winning graphic novels

Award Winners Any book that has won a literary award.

A list of literary awards which link to lists of the award winners

Crime This would include detective stories and police procedurals.

The Daggers Awards


So, what happens when you get genre bingo? First the fireworks go off.

Disclaimer: these are Canadian fireworks.

Then you get a prize. There is an exciting list of prizes to choose from.

  1. Reading is its own reward.
  2. The admiration of your peers.
  3. Something to gripe about (if you didn’t like some of the books you read).
  4. A cookie.
  5. Another cookie.
  6. A free cheat day (dieters only).
  7. Bragging rights.
  8. A personalized prize from me. (Seriously. Send me an email at with the details of your winning genre bingo card and I will do my best to send you a real life prize.)

Am I going to play genre bingo myself? Sort of. I think I am going to continue my reading habits as normal and keep track of what bingo spaces I hit on. In a year, if I remember, I will revisit this and see how many I got.

As a finale I present to you an alternate bingo card. Instead of genres we have random types of books to read. Same rules and prizes as above. Feel free to share your thoughts and bingo progress in the comments. and Happy Reading!

random book bingo card
Feel free to print, use, or share this bingo card in any way that helps you (and others) read more.

What Are You Reading: Genre Poll

As a lead in for next week’s Genre Bingo post, I am doing a poll about what genres we all read. If you don’t see one that you read, you can write it in at the bottom. You can also choose more than one. This poll will remain open for one week, so get voting!

Penelope’s Picks

penelopes-picks-6This week, I have a co-writer who will be recommending some series for the pre-teen age group that you must read! Though Penelope says must is rude, “you should only read them if you really want to.” I think they’re definitely worth checking out though!

The first series we want to talk about is Grimmtastic Girls by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams . This is the series that started Penelope’s foray into chapter books.

My school was having a book fair and my dad came with me to pick out some books for me to buy. That’s when I bought the Grimmtastic Girls. The first two books in the series came together in a pack with a key necklace and there was heart on the back of the key.

I think she picked those books just for the necklace, though she refuses to say anything about that on the record! In any case, she brought the book home and we started reading “Grimmtastic Girls: Cinderella Stays Late.

Grimmtastic Girls is a book about princesses and fairytale characters who go to school at Grimm Academy. Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood are all best friends. The princesses are on a quest to find their magical charms and find out what E.V.I.L. society is up to- and stop them! It was a fun series, I liked it a lot!

After reading Grimmtastic Girls, Penelope was excited to read more chapter books. We took a trip to the library to check out what was available.

I saw the Rainbow Fairies and Weather Fairies series in the paperbacks at the library. I love fairies! They have magical powers! There are two best friends who discover the fairies and help them find their sisters and fight the mean goblins together.

If you can’t get enough fairies from author Daisy Meadows, there are the Sports Fairies, the Music Fairies, the Ocean Fairies, the Jewel Fairies, the Fashion Fairies, and more!

Penelope shares one of her favorite books with a friend.
Penelope shares one of her favorite books with a friend.

The next series Penelope wanted to read was “Ever After High” by Shannon Hale. This series is interesting in that it’s part of the “Ever After High” franchise, which (oddly enough) started with the toy line and was followed by the television/web series. The books came after the toy line and TV series were already a big success.

penelopes-picks-3-1Ever After High is about two best friends, actually a lot of best friends…  who attend Ever After High to prepare for accepting their destiny and their story. The characters in the book are the children of famous fairytale characters. The children must promise to re-tell their parent’s story by becoming them- Apple White must play her part as Snow White and Raven Queen must fulfill her destiny as the Evil Queen in the story of “Snow White.” But, Raven Queen doesn’t want to play her part as the evil queen; she wants to write her own destiny.

Another series we discovered by browsing the shelves at the library was the “Goddess Girls,” brought to you by the authors of “Grimmtastic Girls.”

We’re only on book 3, but I love this series. The Goddess Girls follows the Goddess Girls of Mount Olympus Academy. Athena is the youngest and smartest student at MOA. The books tell the stories of Athena and her friends Persephone, Aphrodite, and Artemis (along with other goddess girls, god boys, and various mortals). They sometimes go on adventures and they have lots of fun together!

Penelope is super excited to continue the Goddess Girls series and plan to finish out the Ever After High series after discovering that each character has her own book with her own story, in addition to the main series. Stop by your library and discover something new to read, too!


Erik  Larson is one my favorite non-fiction writers, probably because he has written on a variety of subjects.  Larson’s books first appeared  in the early nineties, but the first to become a bestseller was Isaac’s Storm: a Man,  a Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (1999).  Larson followed that book with best sellers in 2003,  2006,  2011, and 2015   After reading these books, I surmise Larson might agree with Robert Morgan’s statement, “Sinners make the best characters.”  Sinners abound in these stories.

The Galveston hurricane of 1900 is the subject of his first bestseller, Isaac’s Storm.  That storm killed thousands of people and cut off communication between Galveston Island and the mainland, despite Isaac Cline’s claim that the sea wall would protect the population and property from any storm.    When Cuban meteorologists predicted a  severe hurricane brewing in the Caribbean was going to follow a westerly passage, enter the Gulf of Mexico, and threaten the south coast of Texas, the West Indies office of the United States Weather Bureau in Havana downplayed the Cubans’ forecast. By the time Isaac  Cline, in Galveston, realized what was happening and tried to warn his superiors in the Weather Bureau in Washington of the severity of the storm, it was too late.

Larson’s second bestseller, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, is set in Chicago in the last decade of the 19th century.  The city has a successful bid to hold a world’s fair in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.   The books focuses on two men:  Daniel Burnham  and Herman Webster Mudgett, better known by his alias H. H. Holmes.  Burnham was one of America’s most famous architects, Holmes was to become  America’s most famous serial killer .   While Burnham was in charge of transforming Jackson Park on the south side of Chicago in the fairgrounds for the Columbian Exposition, as the world fair was officially called, Holmes was enticing young women to his building nearby and taking their lives.  The “White City” was the name associated with architecture and landscaping of the  Columbian Exposition and Holmes claimed the Devil was to blame  for his killing people; ergo, the title.  The way Larson weaves the two stories is the reason the book has been a best seller ever it was published.

Thunderstruck, Larson’s third bestseller in a row, combines the stories of Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the wireless radio, and a murderer who leads the British police in  a chase that leads from England to Canada.    On one hand the reader is introduced to Hawley Crippen, an American doctor practicing in London who suspected of murdering his wife; on the other,  reader meets a young Italian inventor who is trying to win the race to successfully develop the wireless telegraph.  Like in his previous book, Larson alternates between the two stories as the reader is trying to figure how he is going to bring  them together.   This book reads like a fiction thriller.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, the family of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, finds themselves living in the pre-war Nazi society.  As Hitler’s political party ramps up its crusade against the Jewish population of Germany and Nazi thugs mistreat America citizens, Dodd gets concerned enough to cables back to the State Department in Washington reporting what he seeing. But his communications are all but ignored.   To complicate things, his young adult daughter is carrying affairs with leaders in the Nazi party.  As Dodd witnesses Germany moving closer to war, the United States government continues its isolationist policy.   This book reminds me of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary.

During World War I, before the United State became involved, the British liner  Lusitania left New York on 1 May 1915 bound for Liverpool.  The German Empire had earlier issued a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare on ships carrying war supplies to the Allies. This meant that German submarines would torpedo these vessels without warning or without regard for the safety of civilians.  Because of this, the German Embassy published ads in the New York papers warned civilians, especially Americans, not to travel on the liner because she was carrying munitions.     UBoat 20 fired one torpedo without warning into the Lusitania, but there were two explosions, one following right after the other, and the big liner sunk in only 18 minutes taking nearly 1200 people with her.    Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, published this spring, is the story of that tragedy.

All the above listed books make good summer reading!

The Truth is Out There: 13 Documentary Films

We watch movies for many reasons.  To laugh and to cry, to be amazed and to see things blow up. Mainly we watch them to be entertained. But some films can do more than just entertain us. They can also educate us, and show us the world in new ways.

Documentary films have been around ever since the movie industry started.  The process has been refined throughout the decades, and today some documentaries can see widespread theatrical release.

Documentaries differ from other nonfiction films, such as travelogues for instance, in that they inject some type of drama or opinion into them.  And that is something important to remember.  A documentary filmmaker is telling a story, even though the story is true, and they bring their own opinions and biases into the equation.  It is good practice to do some research after (or perhaps even beforehand)  to make sure you get the full story and relevant facts. To help with that I will not only link you to these docs in the library catalog, but also to any companion books and websites. Sometimes there will be a follow up or update available.


These lucky 13 documentaries come to you courtesy not just of me (and my wife) but also my wonderful coworkers here at the Macon County Public Library, Kristina and Erin.  They recommended many of these, and it is through their efforts that many of these films have been shown at the library.

Bag It (2010) DVD / Official movie website

“Paper or plastic” is not something we hear so much any more. These days it is just plastic. But should it be? That is what Jeb Berrier, the subject of this film, sets out to discover by deciding to stop using plastic grocery bags.  This decision is more profound than he thought it would be.

Coincidentally, I recently read a piece about plastic bags and what we know, and perhaps more importantly what we don’t know, about their effect on the environment.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) DVD / Official movie website

In November of 2001 Andrew Bagby was murdered. His girlfriend was the chief suspect, but before she could be arrested she fled to Canada. While awaiting extradition it was revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby’s son. Bagby’s longtime friend, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, decided to interview on film all of the friends and family members he could, so that this child (Zachary) would have something of his father while he grew up.

But Zachary never did grow up, as he was killed by his mother in a homicide/suicide. The film then became a documentary of the tragedy and a look at the (successful) efforts of Zachary’s grandparents to change the Canadian legal system so that something like this could not happen again. A powerful and moving story.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) DVD / Official movie website / A book of Banksy art

Street artist Banksy is famously famous now. In this film he tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a man obsessed with documenting his life. When Guetta meets up with his cousin, a street artist known as Invader, he turns he attention to this particular form of art, and begins doing some himself. The movie also features Shepard Fairey, who is well known for his iconic Barack Obama piece, amongst other things.

What is fascinating about this film is that in the end you are not quite sure how much is real and how much is a put on. Plus some people will watch this and see art within art within art, and others won’t think any of it is art at all. Like all great documentaries do, this movie inspires conversation. And no, you do not get to see Banksy’s face in it.

A Banksy piece in New Orleans.
A Banksy piece in New Orleans.

Good Hair (2009) DVD

Chris Rock talks about hair. While that is probably a good enough description to get you interested, I will expand on it. What he does here is look at the world of African-American hairstyles, primarily those of women. And he does so through a variety of interviews (including an appearance by Maya Angelou). A great example of how a seemingly simple topic can be made into something more.

Grey Gardens (1975/2006) DVD / Official movie website

Let’s roll it back old school here. In the early 1970s a story surfaced about the two Edith Beale’s, aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (!), who were living in a run down old mansion.  “Run down” is probably too gentle a phrase here.  The place was overrun by fleas and raccoons and lacked most basic amenities. In the film we see the efforts made to help the mother and daughter renovate and save their residence. Quite a different look at what one might call “American aristocracy”.

The filmmakers did a follow up in 2006, The Beales of Grey Gardens, and that one is also on DVD. It is also the first documentary ever to be made into a Broadway musical, and it was also adapted into a 2009 TV movie for HBO.

The estate circa 2009
The estate circa 2009

A Man Named Pearl (2006) DVD

Plants can also be art, as shown in this film about North Carolina’s own Pearl Fryar. Son of a sharecropper, Fryar took a liking to topiary, and taught himself how to do it. And by “taught himself” I mean he became an amazing artist at it. His garden is in Bishopville, South Carolina, and is free to visit. that being said, art like this deserves support, so if you do visit please leave a donation.

Man On Wire (2008) DVDTo Reach the Clouds (Petit’s autobiography)

In 1974 Philippe Petit did something a little out of the ordinary. He walked on a high-wire between the Twin Towers in New York City. And he did it unauthorized, leading to his arrest. The doc has all the details, including a reenactment and interviews with some of the people involved.

The story inspired a very well received children’s book in 2003, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein, and is the basis for a new feature film, The Walk, out this fall, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed by Robert Zemeckis.

The Rape of Europa (2006) DVD / Book / Official movie website

World War II took a toll on many things, and one of those things was art. For years the Nazis collected and looted art from across Europe. This movie documents not just that but also the efforts of Allied forces to counter this, and looks at the actions, both good and bad, of art dealers all over the world. The recent feature film The Monuments Men loosely tells the same story.

Restrepo (2010) DVD

Sticking with the war theme, Restrepo is a film about the Afghanistan War, as documented by two journalists (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington) who were embedded with a platoon of the US Army. The title comes from the name of a combat medic in the platoon who is killed in action. This is not a light and happy film, as it shows what these soldiers went through over the course of a year fighting in one of the deadliest areas of that country. It is a meaningful film.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) DVD / Official movie website

Sixto Rodriguez was a succesful American musician. Not familiar with his music? Maybe that is because his success came chiefly in South Africa. Two fans from Cape Town decided to find out what had happened to Rodriguez, whom they knew little about except his music, and the result is this wonderful film.

Minor spoiler alert here: they do find Rodriguez, who was not dead as was rumored. After the documentary was released, the singer found a little more fame (and sales) both in the US and abroad.

The man himself, performing in 2014.
The man himself, performing in 2014.

Shakespeare Behind Bars (2005) DVD / Official movie website

Would you mind if I broke protocol and got up on my soapbox, just for a moment? I feel that our penal system is flawed, notably in that prisoners are dehumanized. Inmates are not adequately prepared to rejoin society, and that along with social stigma contributes to our high recidivism rates.

So I was already predisposed to like this film, and it did not disappoint. The Shakespeare Behind Bars program has been running for 20 years now, and it does just what the title says: prisoners put on an annual Shakespearean play for family members and fellow inmates. The film documents one such performance.

It is a little startling realizing that some of the participants have done horrific crimes, and some are not going to see the outside of prison again. But the core theme, and one that the SBB group stands behind, is of the innate goodness in humanity. Even though that is hard to see at times. The website has updates on the performers featured in the movie.

Trouble the Water (2008) DVD / Official movie website

Having spent much of my life in Florida, I am conversant with hurricanes. But Katrina was something different, which is what this film shows us. A mix of home video (including scenes from people trapped in an attic as flood waters rise), news footage, and more it is a compelling look at what the victims of the storm went through.

We get to see not only the weather itself but the lasting effects afterwards on people and places that maybe weren’t in the best shape before Mother Nature got nasty. It also features a killer soundtrack.

Waste Land (2010) DVD / Official movie website

Now if you are like me, whenever you make a trip to the dump or the recycling center and someone has left something of theirs out for the taking, you at least glance at it. I don’t think I have ever taken any of that stuff home, but it is like wired in us to at least take a quick look at it. So it is not surprising to know that some people do more than look. But in this film we are not seeing people who scavenge for their survival or scour for recyclables. We see people who do it for…art?

The largest land fill in the world is in Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro, and this is where our story takes us. A group of catadores there have turned some of what they find into art. Prized and auctionable art. It is quite a film, but don’t just take my word for it. Just look at this list of awards it received.

I don't think this is the right wasteland...
I don’t think this is the right wasteland…

Hopefully you will find some documentaries in this list that will teach, entertain, and maybe even inspire you. I have to go now. We have a new documentary on our DVR at home that needs watching. And please share your thoughts on these and recommend any good docs you know of in the comments below.

You can find a list of all the titles mentioned in the library catalog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

Oh, A Doxxing We Will Go!

Actually, let’s not.  Doxxing is rude.  Oh, what’s that?  You have a question?  Ah, of course!  I need to explain what doxxing is. While I’m at it I may as well talk about some other Internet terminology.  It helps to be prepared, because you never know when some sockpuppet’s viral meme will make you fall for clickbait.

Cat in a box
No post about the Internet is complete without a picture of a cat. Here is Beavis in a box.


Simply put, clickbait is when a website attempts to lure you into clicking on a link by giving it an incomplete or tantalizing headline.  This is done by many sites, and for differing reasons.  Sometimes a news site does so do to limited space for the headline.  Often entertainment sites do it because getting you to click on their links helps them generate advertising revenue.  And sometimes it is done just to catch your eye and try to get your attention.

Let’s make up some examples:

“Tom Cruise in trouble again”.  Why is he in trouble? You’ll have to click the link to find out (and to possibly discover he isn’t really in trouble at all).

“15 foods you won’t believe are bad for you!” These sort of lists are everywhere, and about everything.  And believe it or not, you probably will believe some of those foods are bad for you.  Assuming you make it through the list, which probably requires multiple clicks and seeing tons of advertising.

“Oh, a doxxing we will go”.  Seems familiar…our blog titles are often done so as to pique your interest.  Did it work?

Clickbait is always going to be there, and like many things some is good, some is bad, and much is meaningless. If you are entertained by those endless lists of things, go ahead and click away. Experience will be your main method of determining if it is worth it.  And keep in mind, many of the sites that do those lists are designed for mobile device use.

One more thing.  You can hover your mouse over a link before clicking on it to (usually) see where the link leads.  This can help you decide if you want to click on it or not.


To dox someone is to publish their personal information online, such as their home address, phone number, real name (if they are online anonymously), where they work, their social security number, or other things.  It is generally done maliciously, often it retaliation for the victim posting something that the doxxer disagreed with.

If you dox someone these ladies will take your computer apart.
If you dox these ladies will take apart your computer.

An example is when actress Felicia Day was doxxed after she publicly commented about GamergateRecently there have been examples of doxxing done, allegedly, for good, such as Anonymous doxxing members of the KKK.


Most of us think of a meme as an image with a humorous caption on it.  But technically not only does a meme not require a caption but it doesn’t have to be an image at all.  Videos and hashtags can also be considered memes.

Clickbait meme, FTW!
Clickbait meme, FTW!


A hashtag, denoted by the # sign, is way to label or tag something on the Internet to enable others to find it.  For example if you wanted to talk about the show Downton Abbey online you might put #downtonabbey in your post, which would help other fans of the show find it.  A hashtag that I like is #SupportYourLibrary.  You can also rent Downton Abbey DVDs from the library, of course.


When some type of meme, usually a video clip, gains popularity on the Internet without any commercial backing or advertising, it is said to have gone viral. Sometimes these are just personal videos done for fun, and others may become newsworthy. Maybe we can make this one go viral. It was taken in my kitchen.


One dark and stormy night, as you crawl through the scary Internet, it happens! A box pops up telling you that your computer is at risk, and if you don’t purchase and download this particular security software then your surfing days might be over!

Spoiler alert: it will always find an infection.
Spoiler alert: it will always find an infection.

Scareware comes in two general varieties.  One is advertising done is such a way as to “scare” you into purchasing a product.  The product might be legitimate and effective, but the selling technique is distasteful.  The other variety is an actual computer virus, aimed at getting your money by forcing you to buy the software (or else your computer does not work properly), or by using the virus to steal your information.  In either case, my advice is to stay well away from them.  Anytime you see any message like this do a search about it on the Internet and see what it is really about.


A shill is someone who is paid to spread certain information on the Internet.  Since “being paid to talk to people on the Internet” isn’t usually a real job, shill is often used as a pejorative against those of differing opinions.  For instance, if I were to say that there is no evidence linking autism to vaccines, someone might accuse me of being a shill for Big Pharma.


On Facebook you have to use your real name.  But most websites allow you to use any name you wish. Hence the sockpuppet, a second account (or third, or fourth…) that someone uses to bolster their position or to avoid being identified.  For instance a poster who has been banned from a site may try create a new account with a different name.



Now, I wish I could point you towards a book that has this information in it, but we don’t have one.  Truth be told, Internet terminology changes so frequently that it doesn’t lend itself well to book format.  So if you come across a term you are not familiar with, do a search for it and you should find plenty of good examples and explanations.

And don’t forget that many of the Fontana Regional libraries offer computer classes which can help you with not only terminology but many other things as well.  Visit our website for class dates and times.

Georgiana, Maisie, and Amory: Detectives All

Most of my blogs in this series have been about non-fiction books, but occasionally I write about fiction, most often mysteries. I have lately discovered a mystery sub-genre that is set in 1920s or 1930s Great Britain and features  lone female detectives.   Two different examples of this genre are Rhys  Bowen’s series of “Royal Spyness” novels and   Jacqueline Winspear’s “Maisie Dobbs” series.  The heroines in these two series come from opposite  ends of the British social spectrum with one series featuring humor while the other is more serious.  Joining these two authors,  Ashley Weaver, a Louisiana librarian, has published Murder at the Brightwell, the first book in a new series in this type of mystery.

 Bowen’s heroine,  Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, the sister of the impoverished Duke of Atholl and Rannoch,  a penniless Scottish family, is a second cousin to George V and is  34th in the line for the throne. Using her, the Rannoch family,  and her friends, Bowen pokes fun at the British aristocracy.  At the outset of the series, Georgiana moves into the family town house in London to get away from the Rannoch’s   drafty Scottish castle and her sister-in-law, whom she detests.  Through most of the series, Georgiana lives in London with no servants and little money, thanks to her father gambling  away his fortune in the French Riviera casinos and then committing suicide, leaving Georgiana’s brother with expensive death duties to pay.   On the other side of her family, Lady Georgiana’s mother is an actress, the daughter of a retired Cockney policeman.  The series is populated with real people including King George V and Queen  Mary, their eldest son David (who became Edward VIII) and the love of his life, Wallis Simpson.   In fact, Queen Mary encourages Georgiana to spy on David and his  inappropriate American lover.  Her adventures include showing London to a German princess, whose knowledge of English comes from American gangster movies,  helping her sister-in-law entertain a castle full of obnoxious guests, including the Prince of Wales’ favorite American, Wallis Simpson, representing the Royal Family at a wedding in Transylvania, retrieving a snuff box belonging to Queen Mary from a shady British earl, etc.  In the latest episode, she accompanies her mother to Reno, Nevada to get a quickie divorce from her Texas millionaire step-father.  Georgiana has a habit of showing up where murders are taking place, so not surprisingly, she becomes a suspect, especially when she is abroad.

Maisie Dobbs comes from a similar background to Georgiana’s mother.  Maisie’s mother dies when Maisie is thirteen, so her father, a cockney costermonger, persuades one of his rich customers to take Maisie into service as a maid.  When the lady of the house discovers Maisie reading in their library early one morning, she recognises her young  servant has above average intelligence and decides to see to her education.  Eventually Maisie is accepted into the women’s college at Oxford, but World War I interrupts her education. She enlists as a nurse and is sent to France, where she meets a doctor and falls in love.  Tragedy strikes when their aide station is hit by an artillery shell, seriously injuring Maisie and the doctor. Returning to England, Maisie continues her education and then fulfills her ambition to be a private detective.    Although the war is long since over, Maisie carries external and internal scars that influence her life and the cases she investigates.  The series is full of characters, like Maisie, who have to deal with physical and psychological effects from their experiences in the war.   Her assistant, Billy Beale, is one of these.   The doctor she served with in the war is another.   In the latest episode, Maisie finds herself in Gibraltar, on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula,  with the Spanish Civil War raging close by on the other side of the border.  She is drawn into intrigue that puts her life in danger.

Set in England in the same time period as the other two series, Ashley Weaver’s Murder at the Brightwell falls between the satire of the “Spyness” novels and serious themes of the “Maisie Dobbs” stories.  The main character, Amory Ame,s is a wealthy young woman married to a playboy who would rather travel the globe than stay home with his wife.  Amory lets a former fiancee talk her into going to a ritzy hotel on England’s south coast to help talk  his  sister out of a bad marriage.  Of course, murder rears its ugly head.  Amory finds herself a suspect, but then her wandering husband shows up and they solve the case together.     Amory will appear in the second book in the series, Death Wears a Mask, due to be published in October this year.

Conspiracy Theories (Or, Citation Please)

The Internet is a wonderful place.  I can renew my library books, order a pizza, watch cat videos, and learn that the Earth is hollow, and we are living inside of it.  Wait, what?  Am I being serious? Yes and no.  I am not telling you that the Earth is hollow, but that some people on the Internet say it is.  Welcome to the world of conspiracy theories!


For those who don’t know, a conspiracy theory is the idea that some group of people (often the government) is hiding or concealing information for some nefarious purpose.  For instance, did you know that the county used to store ghosts under the library?  When the containment grid started to fail in 2005 the library was moved to a new building, and the ghosts are now stored in an undisclosed location.  Full disclosure: none of that is true.  I made it up on the spot as an example.

Now while those two CTs are kind of silly, many are not.  And even ones that seem incredibly farfetched can have fervent believers.  With that in mind, here is something you should know about us library people: we don’t care what you believe in.  At least not in a professional sense.  While I am at the reference desk I try not to have any politics, any religion, or any general opinions of any kind.  If you want me to help you find information about the Battle of Stalingrad or about how the government dumped poison plastic snow on Atlanta, I will help you find info on both of those topics equally.

Moving on.  I find conspiracy theories to be pretty interesting, even ones I do not think have merit.  They are fun to read about. Did you know that no conspiracy theory has ever turned out to be true? Well, that does depend on how exactly you define what a conspiracy theory is.  Actual conspiracies do happen, with Watergate as a good example.  The key thing here is that the “theory” has to be out there before the “conspiracy” comes to light.

Another illustrative example is UFOs.  They do exist in the literal sense, as in “unidentified flying object”.  The question is are any of those UFOs actually alien space craft?  The conspiracy theory part would then be the idea that they are spaceships, and that the government knows about them and is covering up their existence.

Some CTs have been around for some time, such as the moon landing being faked. (A little joke for you: Stanley Kubrick admitted to doing this, but he was such a committed filmmaker that he insisted that it be shot on location.)

Is it live or is it Memorex?
Is it live or is it Memorex?

Some are quite new, like the Jade Helm 15 exercise being a cover for a plot involving everything from FEMA to Navy SEALs to Walmart to a Chinese invasion.

Some are pretty straight forward, such as the Kennedy assassination being a CIA plot, while others are very complex and/or have many versions.  This is particularly true for 9/11 conspiracy theories, which range from the idea that it was a government operation using controlled demolition all the way to there having been nuclear bombs placed under the towers when they where built, or death rays from satellites being the cause of destruction.

Whatever your interest in conspiracy theories might be, my advice is to do your research.  Read books from both sides, and you can probably find some good debates online.  A few years ago I had just read up on the claims about the moon landing, and one night at dinner my 15 year old, having watched a TV show about it, started asking questions.  I was very glad that I had real answers at hand, like if Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, who took the picture?

So, here is a list of some library books that talk about the conspiracies and the events that created them.  Now it may seem that these books seem to be more anti than pro conspiracy, but that is because many theories live more online than they do in books.  Either way, you can start your way to enlightenment, or down the rabbit hole, here.

The United States of paranoia : a conspiracy theory by Jesse Walker

Debunking 9/11 myths : why conspiracy theories can’t stand up to the facts : includes new findings on World Trade Center Building 7  edited by David Dunbar & Brad Reagan ; an in-depth investigation by Popular mechanics

The second plane : September 11 : terror and boredom essays by Martin Amis

Secret societies– and how they affect our lives today by Sylvia Browne

The Commission : the uncensored history of the 9/11 investigation by Philip Shenon

Among the truthers : a journey through America’s growing conspiracist underground by Jonathan Kay

American conspiracies : lies, lies, and more dirty lies that the government tells us by Jesse Ventura

The Kennedy detail : JFK’s secret service agents break their silence by Gerald Blaine, with Lisa McCubbin

They killed our president : 63 reasons to believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK by Jesse Ventura with Dick Russell and David Wayne

Inside job : unmasking the 9/11 conspiracies by Jim Marrs

Conspiracy Theory DVD directed by Richard Donner [You need a break after all these big old books]

The cell : inside the 9/11 plot and why the CIA and FBI failed to stop it by John Miller and Michael Stone, with Chris Mitchell

The 9/11 report : the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States Thomas H. Kean, Chair, and Lee H. Hamilton, Vice Chair with reporting and analysis by The New York Times

The terror dream : fear and fantasy in post-9/11 America by Susan Faludi

How to fake a moon landing : exposing the myths of science denial by Darryl Cunningham [Graphic novel]

Direct from the Moon DVD directors/writers, Tomoyuki Katsumata, Yuichi Kunihara [Footage from recent lunar probes]

Voices from the moon : Apollo astronauts describe their lunar experiences by Andrew Chaikin with Victoria Kohl

Bad astronomy : misconceptions and misuses revealed, from astrology to the moon landing ‘hoax’ by Philip C. Plait

Room 237 DVD director, Rodney Ascher [This documentary shows several theories about hidden meanings in the movie The Shining, including one that says Kubrick left clues that he faked the moon landing in the film.  Whether you find these theories credible or not they are certainly entertaining.]

The lost journals of Nikola Tesla : HAARP, chemtrails and the secret of alternative 4 by Tim Swartz

A field guide to the atmosphere by Vincent J. Schaefer and John A. Day [Chemtrails are an interesting theory in that we can see them with our own eyes every day.  This book will tell you how contrails are formed.]


Well, that should be enough for now.  Let me leave you with two more things.  First, if you are going to read or talk about conspiracy theories on the Internet then you should think about brushing up on your fallacies.  That way you can recognize ones people use and be prepared when they accuse you of using them.

Second, here is a link to a piece talking about conspiracy theorists, and why people believe the things they do.  It comes from a “none of this is true” viewpoint, but is still interesting for people who have differing viewpoints.

As always I appreciate your comments and feedback, and here is a list of all these titles in our library catalog:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

Celebrating Parents

With Mother’s Day this past Sunday and Father’s Day right around the corner (June 21 for those keeping track!), I thought I’d write a bit about celebrating parents.

 mcpl-mother-day  mcpl-fathers-day

It seems like plain, common sense that parents are important in a child’s life. Parents birth you, feed you, change your diapers, protect you… basically keep you alive until you’re able to do so yourself. Research shows, however, that parenting well is about so much more than that. While not biologically imperative, the warmth a mommy or daddy shows a child when treating a boo-boo has been shown to be crucial to a child’s social and emotional development.  The relationships parents forge with their children have a lifelong impact on not just one’s future interpersonal relationships, but also on quality of life in general. Research indicates that levels of parental involvement are indicators for school performance and graduation rates, self-esteem & mental health, and substance abuse & violence.

“Parenting is probably the most important public health issue facing our society. It is the single largest variable implicated in childhood illnesses and accidents; teenage pregnancy and substance misuse; truancy, school disruption, and underachievement; child abuse; unemployability; juvenile crime; and mental illness.” – The Importance of parenting in child health; National Center for Biotechnology Information

Parents aren’t perfect- they’re just human, after all! But I think failing and making mistakes as a parent is not only unavoidable, it’s essential. Watching their role models make mistakes shows children that mistakes and failures happen- and it’s not the end of the world! Children are far more forgiving, understanding, and resilient than we give them credit for.

In any case, whether you’re a parent or just have one, celebrate parenthood! If you missed mother’s day, call your mom (they’re more forgiving than you think!) and don’t forget dad- it’s always a great time to appreciate parents.

As a note: My daughter and I love Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama books! What are some of your favorite books about parents? -children, YA, or adult.

Nelly Gnu and Daddy too
Nelly Gnu and Daddy too – Anna Dewdney
Llama Llama Mad at Mama – Anna Dewdney
Always Daddy's Princess - Karen Kingsbury
Always Daddy’s Princess – Karen Kingsbury
Mama Says: a book of love for mothers and sons - Rob D. Walker
Mama Says: a book of love for mothers and sons – Rob D. Walker
Mama, do you love me? - Barbara M. Joosse
Mama, do you love me? – Barbara M. Joosse
Because your Daddy loves you - Andrew Clements
Because your Daddy loves you – Andrew Clements
Someday - Alison McGhee
Someday – Alison McGhee

Shelby Foote

Shelby Foote was born in the Mississippi Delta in 1916. His family  moved frequently,  because of his father’s job,  so he was raised in a number of southern cities.  Eventually, Foote  graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Then he served in the military during World War II.  Before he wrote his narrative history of the Civil War, he was known as a novelist.  The success of his novel, “Shiloh”, caused Random House publisher Bennett Cerf to ask Foote to write a short history of the Civil War to be published in conjunction with that conflict’s centennial.  What Foote’s efforts resulted in was three volume history stretching to approximately 3000 pages, published over twenty years.  In 1983 the paperback edition was published and then in 2005, Random House brought out a nine volume edition which added illustrations to the original text.  A new edition of the trilogy, edited by Jon Meacham, who wrote a companion volume, American Homer: Reflections on Shelby Foote and His Classic The Civil War: A Narrative was published in 2011.

I had a nodding relation with Mr. Foote because he used the Main Library in Memphis where I worked.  But more than that, I remember sitting in a room in the basement of Mitchell Hall on the campus of the University of Memphis listening to Shelby Foote discuss the American Civil War for two and a half hours with faculty and graduate students of the Department of History in the spring of 1990.  This was before Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War aired on PBS, so Foote was known to history students as the author of the expansive three volume narrative history of that war, not as a television personality.  As he later told Brian Lamb on C-Span’s Book TV, he hadn’t the realized the power of television until he was featured on Burn’s film.  Like Lamb, Burns had come to Memphis to interview Foote in his home on East Parkway.

Although Foote admits he is a novelist, he argues the historian and the novelist are seeking the end: “the truth–not a different truth:  the same truth–only they reach it, or try to reach it by different routes.  Whether the event took place on a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was:  to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.”   I quote this passage as another way of saying, if you need foot or endnotes to substantiate a quote or  description of an action,  The Civil War, a Narrative is not for you.

Foote’s narrative opens with Jefferson Davis’ farewell speech in the United State Senate.  It ends with the death of the same man in New Orleans on December  6, 1889.  In between, as only a novelist paint them, there portraits of military leaders on both sides as well glances of the civilian administrators who sometimes helped their military counterparts but often got in their way.  Close to the end, Foote quotes Lincoln, on learned of his re-election said this, “What has occurred in in this case must ever recur in similar cases.  Human nature will not change.  In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have a weak  and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good.  Let us therefore study the incidents of this, as philosophy, to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.”

Foote lived to be eighty-eight.  He died in 2005 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, where his grave is surrounded by the graves of soldiers who fought in the war he spent two decades writing about.   Nathan Bedford Forrest, the great Confederate cavalry general lies next to him.

The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume 1:  Fort Sumter to Perryville

The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian

The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox

Brian Lamb’s Interview with Shelby Foote

Ken Burns Civil War