Highclere Castle is the residence of  the  eighth Earl and Countess Carnarvon.   This country mansion, situated on 5,ooo acres in Hampshire, west of London, has been in the Carnarvon family since the late Seventeenth century.  What does this English country estate, where the hit television show, “Downton Abbey” is filmed, have to do with King Tutankhamen, who lived in ancient Egypt?  That relationship is part of the story told Sally Beauman’s novel, The Visitors.

At the opening of the story, the narrator, who is an older woman, is talking to a man who is producing a  documentary about the discovery and opening of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and Queens in the Nile Valley  in the mid-1920s.   Eleven year old Lucy Payne and her guardian  visits Egypt from England, where typhoid fever  killed her mother and made her severely ill.   While in Egypt she becomes acquainted some of  historic personages, such as Howard Carter, the archaeologist,  and the 5th Earl Carnarvon, then owner of Highclere Castle, and some of his family.   Rose, another fictional character, whose society climbing mother is found murdered in Cairo, becomes a life long friend to Lucy.

On Lucy’s second trip to Egypt, she happens to be there when Carter opens the burial chamber of the young pharoah.  Later she is invited  by Carter see the room where King Tut’s coffin, containing his mummy, reclines. Fortunately for Lucy and her friend Rose, the supposed curse that caused the death of Carnarvon and others, skips them, so that by the story’s end they are still alive, albeit at an advanced age.  The Visitors  is one of the few novels I have read that has a bibliography.    It’s plain Beauman has done her homework.

The advent of modern archaeology came too late to avoid the pillage of the Egyptian tombs by robbers, who  harvested objects and sold them on international  black  market. The question posed in The Visitors  and some non-fiction books about Tutankhamen’s tomb, did Carter and Carnarvon remove objects from the burial chamber before letting Egyptian officials see what was inside?   If this is the case, are Carter and Carnarvon any better than the grave robbers who stole from other Egyptian tombs?  As part of a documentary, shown on PBS, that included a tour of Highclere Castle, the current owner showed some of his great grandfather’s relics from other tombs in the area.   In her book “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: the Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle,”  the 8th Duchess defends her husband’s ancestor by agreeing with his and Carter’s contention that they did not open the burial chamber until the proper officials were present.

The current resident of Highclere Castle, the  8th Duchess Carnarvon, has written the story of the 5th Duchess and her husband.   Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell married George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1895.   The bride was the illegitimate daughter of millionaire banker Alfred de Rothschild.  The couple had two children, a son and a daughter.  The newlyweds honeymooned in Egypt, where the earl evidently became interested in archaeology, for he returned in 1907 to participate  in search for tombs in Thebes, which he backed financially.      After the war, he joined Howard Carter in search for Tut’s tomb.

Sally Beauman.  The Visitors

For further reading:

Lady Fiona Carnarvon.  Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: the Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle

Howard Carter and A. C. Mace.  The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen

C. W. Ceram.  Gods, Graves, and Scholars:  The Story of Archaeology

C. W. Ceram.  Hands on the Past


Egypt – King Tut Uncovered

Secrets of the Manor House:  Secrets of Highclere Castle

Web sites:

Griffith Institute, Oxford

The Egypt Exploration Society

The Book Isn’t Always Better

So I finally got around to reading Warm Bodies, well after my zombie blog, and also after I had seen the movie.  As I was reading it I noted how closely the movie had followed the book.  It really was a strong adaptation.  The biggest change, and no real spoiler here, is that in the movie the main character, R, was clearly a teen, while in the book his age is indeterminate but he seems to have been a twentysomething business man.

We have all heard, or said, the phrase “the book was better”, and quite often that is true.  It isn’t a rule, however, and especially in more recent times there have been a number of movies that have done a nice job of faithfully taking their source book to the big screen.  Even going back farther there are many fine examples of this, especially if you look at period pieces, such as  the many versions of Jane Eyre.


I also don’t think you can always get too mad at changes made in a movie.  Oftentimes the book is too long or too convoluted (looking at you, Stephen King) for a straight adaptation to film.  Some changes are made for very specific reasons, including just taking into account the differences between print and film.  Change isn’t always bad.  On the other hand some directors seem to think they know better than the author does.  City of Bones and Fifty Shades of Grey are recent examples where the author and the filmmakers clashed.  And I suppose we must take into consideration that movies are made to make money, not to maintain artistic integrity.

Okay then, let’s talk about some movie adaptations.  Most of these are ones I consider to be well done.  Your views may differ, and I’ll talk about a couple that maybe weren’t so good.

The Harry Potter series


Books written by J. K. Rowling; movies directed by Chris Columbus (1&2), Alfonso Cuaron (3), Mike Newell (4), and David Yates (5-8)

When you look back, it was quite a feat to pull this off.  Taking a series of such popularity and living up to the demands of all those fans.  Some luck was involved here, in casting Harry, Ron, and Hermione as kids and having those actors pan out for the whole series.

These movies clearly show a dedication to the source material.  Most of the changes are those of omission, taking things out that they didn’t have space and time for in the films.  A friend of mine was quite disappointed that the house elf/S.P.E.W. angle was left out, but in the big picture that was a subplot that wasn’t a big factor in the end.  And it is a good example of the filmmakers working with the author, with a notable point being the background of Professor Dumbledore.

The Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit too, I suppose)


Books by J. R. R. Tolkien; movies by Peter Jackson

Another example of a big challenge that worked out well.  Similar to the Potter series, most changes were by omission or for pacing reasons.  The most notable being the exclusion of Tom Bombadil from the first film.  I didn’t really have an issue with this as Bombadil can seem a little silly.  Others disagree.  One friend of mine was downright livid about it, but then again she did name one of her children after a character from the books.

The Hobbit movies are a different kettle of fish.  The book itself is shorter than any of the three LOTR books, but was still stretched out into three movies.  A lot of the material added makes sense.  A good example of this is Legolas, who doesn’t appear by name in the book, but the King of the Mirkwood Elves is his father, so he probably was around and about there somewhere.  But ultimately I think they went too far with it.  The overall result lacks cohesion and goes on for far too long.

One other note here is that all six of these movies have extended versions, so some of the scenes from the books you didn’t see in the theater do actually exist.

Let The Right One In


Book by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson; US film directed by Matt Reeves.

I’ve talked about this startlingly good vampire book before, but I’m mentioning it again because it benefits by not one but two good movie versions.  A Swedish version was released in 2008, and was not only a good adaptation but a critical success as well.  Only two years later the US version was released.  Part of the impetus for the second version was the idea that not enough people had seen the first version, that the story deserved a wider range.

The US version has substantial changes.  The setting  moving from Sweden to New Mexico is a big one.  But the core story remains intact, and the whole feel of the original is there.  A young Chloe Grace Moretz plays the vampire here, and a shout out to the always excellent Richard Jenkins too, even though is character his pretty despicable.



Book by Neil Gaiman; movie directed by Henry Selick

Here is a good example of a major change made that makes sense.  In the book the lead character Coraline spends much of her time alone.  When director Selick set out to make his stop motion movie version, he saw this as a problem.  So instead of having Coraline narrate the movie he added in a new character by the name of Wybie specifically so that Coraline had someone to talk to.  Although this was a sensible change that did not alter the main plot of the story, some people did object, since we can’t ever have nice things.

The Hunger Games series


Books by Suzanne Collins; movies directed by Gary Ross (1) and Francis Lawrence (2)

I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the first book was adapted to the screen.  In my mind it is one of the most faithful adaptations I have ever seen.  It was so well done that the haters (and there are always haters) had to resort to complaining about things such as poor Rue’s ethnicity, even though that wasn’t something changed for the movie.

The second and third movies deviate a little more, but not to any great degree.  Of course the fourth one is not out yet, so we shall see.  The third book was split into two movies, and while this made sense for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (759 pages) I don’t think it was needed for Mockingjay (390 pages).  This is what is known in the business as a cash grab.

Winter’s Bone


Book by Daniel Woodrell; movie directed by Debra Granik

I have a confession to make: sometimes I see the movie first.  I really enjoy being surprised by movies. I guess you can blame The Empire Strikes Back for that.  So on occasion I will wait until after I see the movie to read the book.  I did this with Let The Right One In, and I did it with Winter’s Bone, and was glad I did.  You see, I think the movie is better.  Don’t get me wrong, the book is good, but the movie version strips down and focuses the story in a good way.

Winter’s Bone is one of the lowest grossing films to be nominated for Best Picture, and it is a crime that more people didn’t see it.  It was Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout film role, and it also features a standout performance by John Hawkes.  If you haven’t seen it then we can’t be friends.

No Country for Old Men


Book by Cormac McCarthy; movie directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Another film I saw before reading the book, even though that was accidental and not planned.  I decided to read it because I so thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I was amazed at how closely the movie had followed the book, at least up to a certain point.  The real strength of their filmmaking was casting actors who could make the characters in the story come to life so vividly.

True Grit


Book by Charles Portis; movie directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Another solid Coen brothers adaptation.  The book was filmed previously, in 1969, and starred John Wayne (in his only Academy Award winning role).  A lot of people like to compare the two films, but the Coen’s were really doing another adaptation of the book, not a remake of the movie.  And reading the book you will see that much of the dialogue in the film comes straight from the pages of the book.

I really like how they can move the story from the book onto the screen, not change any thing of significance, and still really make it their own.  Much like No Country for Old Men the casting is superb.  One thing I have learned about the Coen films is that they are about the journey.  Often times, notably for True Grit, the ending is quiet and even anticlimactic.  You don’t watch their movies to see how they end, but to enjoy the ride throughout.

World War Z


Book by Max Brooks; movie directed by Marc Forster

I wouldn’t say that the movie is a bad adaptation, more that it isn’t really an adaptation at all.  The majority of the movie does not appear in the book.  Even the zombies are different, as in the book they are classic Romero style shamblers while in the movie they are runners.  Does this mean the movie is bad?  Not at all.  It is a rousing zombie action flick.  It just isn’t the book.



Book (sort of) by Homer; movie directed by Wolfgang Peterson

Okay, I get it, The Iliad was written 2500+ years ago.  You are free to adapt it any way you please.  But should you?  In the movie the gods are taken out.  The characters still pay attention to them, but no deities actually appear on the battlefield.  Fair enough.  But some of the other changes…the final disposition of a number of characters is changed, namely in who kills who and when.  And I wonder why would you do this?  It doesn’t make the story any stronger for those who aren’t familiar with it, and for those who do know their mythology it only makes them mad.  It really takes you out of the movie experience when you keep going “wait, that’s not how it happened!”  Of course it could have been worse, as Peterson considered removing Helen from the movie.  You know, the person who was the whole reason for the Trojan War.  He did end up keeping her, and cast a then largely unknown Diane Kruger in the role.

The Mist


Novella by Stephen King; movie directed by Frank Darabont

Most of King’s work doesn’t translate well to the big screen.  Just the way it is.  I think it is telling that some of the better movies based on his works (The Shawshank Redemption; Stand By Me) are based on shorter works, or are heavily altered (The Shining).  The Mist is of the former ilk, and indeed Darabont did both Shawshank and The Mist.

The movie is a pretty fair adaptation, but the real reason I mention it is because it has a pretty dramatically different ending.  In the novella the ending is pretty ambiguous, while in the film you get a shocker of a definitive ending.  (PS, I saw The Mist twice in the theater, because of reasons, and I have never been in a quieter room of people.  That movie gets tense).  Neither ending is necessarily better than the other.  Both are effective in their own ways.

And Others

As I went about writing this I realized that there were more of these than I had realized.  I think the title holds up.  The book isn’t always better, and sometimes the book and movie are each good in their own ways.


I asked some other movie buffs what adaptations they thought were good.  My mafia expert insists that The Godfather is better than the book, and really, you don’t want to argue with her.  Jaws does a nice job of stripping non-essential subplots out, making for movie that rises above.

Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club, The Princess Bride, The English Patient, The Remains of the Day, The End of the Affair, and many more.  Interestingly, more than one person mentioned The Shining.  I think both the book and movie are excellent, but I myself never thought it was a faithful adaptation.

What are some of your choices for best book-to-movie adaptations?

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



Happy Valentine’s Day

The Quiet World
By Jeffrey McDaniel
In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.
When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.
Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.
When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.

Valentine’s Day is Saturday, which means we will be with loved ones (whether it be our spouses, family, friends, ourselves, or our fur babies). It will be a day for hugs and laughter. It will be a day for love. It will be a day for chocolate.

Also, words. Whether it be books, magazines, dvds, etc., make sure to stop by and show your library some love this Valentine’s Day.

And don’t forget about Amnesty Week, where any overdue fines will be forgiven when you present your library card and say, “I love my library.”

Now, go hug someone you love. Hug your mom. Hug your dog. Hug yourself. (Let us never forget about one of the most important kinds of love: self love.)

I hope you all are having a wonderful 2015 so far, and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Check in with yourself, Check out a Book – 2015 edition

In the past, we’ve talked about how to set SMARTER goals and the importance of evaluating your progress. Since we’re only a couple of weeks into the New Year, it seemed an appropriate subject to revisit!

So, how’s it going this year? Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Are you still working on the ones you made last year?

New-Years-Resolutions-PhotoStatistics show that a month into the New Year, 64% of resolutioners are still working towards their goals! Now is a good time to assess your progress, and if needed, tweak your strategy and recommit!

8% of New Year’s resolutioners succeed. Why not you? Don’t be disheartened by that number-

“Don’t lose hope though. It turns out people who make a New Year’s resolution are 10 times more likely to change their lives than those who don’t.”

Accept the challenge! Make a promise to yourself that you will be one of the 8% this year. Even if you don’t hit all the goal markers you set up, you’ll still be making progress towards the things you want in life– and that’s the best gift you can give yourself.

With that said, here are five tips and some books to check out to help you meet your goals no matter what time of year you start:

  1. Persistence, not perfection. Life changes don’t take a lifetime, but the hope is that they’ll last a lifetime.
  2. Surround yourself with people and environments that support your goals. If you can’t find the support you need in your social circle, check out some online groups and forums.
  3. Challenge yourself in new ways- even if it’s not goal related. Tackling and overcoming challenges give you the courage and confidence to challenge yourself in other arenas.
  4. Focus on the reason, not the outcome. What motivates you to change? Keeping your “good reasons” in the forefront will give you the motivation for the persistence you need to meet your long term goals.
  5. Celebrate your successes! Progress is success, so take the time to notice how your hard work is paying off. Even if it seems minor in the big picture, small successes add up over the long term and appreciating those successes will improve your motivation and drive.

Improve Your Health

The diabetes reset : avoid it, control it, even reverse it : a doctor's scientific programThe diabetes reset : avoid it, control it, even reverse it : a doctor’s scientific program – George King

Here are some other book suggestions to help you meet your health goals in 2015:

Lose Weight

Why_We_Get_Fat_And_What_to_Do_About_It_book_coverWhy we get fat and what to do about it – Gary Taubes.

Here are some other book suggestions to help you meet your weight loss goals in 2015:

Learn Something New

big-bicycling-bookThe bicycling big book of cycling for beginners : everything a new cyclist needs to know to gear up and start riding – Tori Bortman.

Here are some other book suggestions to help you learn something new in 2015:

Get Your Finances in Order

retire-soonerYou can retire sooner than you think : the 5 money secrets of the happiest retirees – Wes Moss

Here are some other book suggestions to help you meet your personal finance goals in 2015:

If you didn’t make a resolution this year, don’t wait til next year! There’s no magic time of year to start working towards your goals.

What are your goals for this year? Did you have any successes or tips/resources to share in striving towards your own goals?

The Fall of Teens: Dystopia in Young Adult Fiction

Dystopia: “an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible”.  (Oxford English dictionary: a real honest-to-goodness book made of paper and everything.)

In The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is forced to fight in a televised competition against other teens.  To the death.  In Divergent Beatrice Prior struggles to find her own way in a society that forces people into factions based on their natural aptitudes.  In The Maze Runner Thomas awakens in a teen society without his memory, and with the answers he needs hidden beyond a huge and deadly maze.  In The Giver Jonas lives in a seeming utopia, a world that has eliminated pain…and also emotion.

World Domination

These are four of the best known teen (or in library speak, Young Adult or YA) dystopian novels.  Even if you haven’t read them you have probably heard of them, if for no other reason the big budget films adaptations they all have.  But our real goal here is to talk about some of the books you may not know about.  And while these are “teen” books, adults are allowed to read them.  And will enjoy them.

It's just like high school!
It’s just like high school!

All fiction goes through trends.  One year political thrillers are all the rage and the next it is paranormal romances.  The same holds true for YA fiction, and in recent years dystopia has been popular.  This is well documented, as shown here, and here, and here.  A more thorough overview can be found here.

Similar to dystopian books you have post-apocalyptic ones, where some tragic event such as war or disease has destroyed civilization.  There is a lot of common ground between the genres.  To me it seems that many times dystopian books deal with the bigger picture of civilization while post-apocalyptic ones focus more on individual stories, something that is quite evident in zombie fiction.  I like how YA books often do a nice job of merging these tropes together.


Legend trilogy, by Marie Lu.

Legend_Marie_Lu_Book_coverLegend features dueling protagonists.  Day is a Robin Hood type, a teen who early on tries to steal the cure for a plague that afflicts his family in future Los Angeles.  June is a prodigy of the Republic, a girl with a bright military future.  She is sent undercover out into the world to try and find the notorious Day, who is also the suspected murderer of her brother.

When Day and June encounter each other they have no idea who the other one is.  By the time they figure it out, not only do they both realize that the Republic has been telling lies, but that they also have feelings for each other.

Legend is one of the books I stick in people’s hands when they are looking for something to read after The Hunger Games.


Uglies quartet, by Scott Westerfeld

UgliesThree hundred years in the future, with the world’s petroleum supplies destroyed, the government controls all aspects of life, including your looks.  At age 16 every citizen receives their “pretty” operation, cosmetic surgery transforming their looks to please society.

Days before her operation Tally Youngblood meets Shay, an “Ugly” who talks of rebellion.  Found out, Tally is ordered to betray Shay, and to discover where he and his friends are hiding.  Along the way Tally learns some hard truths, and suddenly becoming a Pretty doesn’t seem to be quite so appealing.


Delirium trilogy, by Lauren Oliver

DeliriumFellow blogger Stephanie says “I. Love. Lauren Oliver.”  That should be enough of a recommendation, I think.

Another series where the government mandates operations.  In this case the affliction is “amor deliria nervosa”, otherwise known as “love”.  Lena Haloway has been eagerly awaiting the operation, when days before she meets Alex, a boy living in the Wilds, the rural areas fenced off from the cities.  She experiences actual love, and now has to choose between love and remaining a part of society.


Life As We Knew It trilogy, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Pfeffer_Life_As_We_Knew_It_2006Miranda is a normal 16 year old girl, living in Pennsylvania.  Like everyone else she is excited to watch an asteroid crash into the moon.  But when the moon’s orbit is shifted, things fall apart quickly.

This book does not have many of the features of other dystopian novels.  There is no evil government entity, for instance.  In fact the government is helpful, but is no longer efficient or effective.  More so than any of the others this book gives you a good opportunity to put yourself in the place of the protagonist and ask “what would I do in that situation?”


The Chemical Garden trilogy, by Lauren DeStefano

witherIn the future genetic engineering has cured man’s ills.  All disease and defects are gone. However, the celebration is short as a plague comes with the cure, a plague that kills everyone once they reach their 20s.

Rhine Ellery is caught up in the chaos as society is torn by the plague, and the divide between the rich and poor grows ever wider.  The writing in this series is a little uneven but the powerful themes make up for it.


The 5th Wave trilogy, by Rick Yancey

5th WaveThis one varies a bit, as it features aliens and is really at least as much science fiction as dystopian.  An alien invasion quickly destroys all of human civilization, leaving the survivors to try to exist in a very different new world.

Cassie Sullivan is one of those survivors.  Despite all the hardships she encounters, she keeps going, and learns that her younger brother Sammy is being held captive by the aliens, who are reconditioning humans to fit their needs.  As she sets about to rescue him she learns that the few other free humans come in two types: those that can be trusted and those that can’t.


Matched trilogy, by Allie Condie

Why yes, many teen series are trilogies.  And have one word titles.
Why yes, many teen series are trilogies. And have one word titles.

Cassie Reyes lives in a society that “matches” you with your life partner at age 17.  She is matched with her best friend Xander.  But a computer glitch seems to indicate that someone else was supposed to be her match.  Are the results being manipulated?

Matched does a nice job of showing a world that initially seems utopian, but is slowly revealed to be the opposite.  Food is calorie controlled but is bland and tasteless.  Population control is strictly enforced.  And the government is openly observing the populace, looking for misdeeds.


Reboot, by Amy Tintera

Reboot-AU-CoverLike so many others, Connolly was killed by the virus.  But she was strong, and was one of the few who “rebooted” and essentially returned to life.  The reboots are no longer quite human, and she is trained with the others to be an elite crime fighter. She is very good at this; so good in fact that she is tapped to train new reboots.

Callum is one of these new recruits.  He retains more of his humanity, which causes him to not follow orders the way he should.  This is a big problem for Connolly, especially when she is ordered to eliminate this problem.  She must then see if she can regain her own humanity, and her capability to love.


The Adoration of Jenna Fox trilogy, by Mary E. Pearson

Jenna FoxJenna Fox wakes up from a year long coma.  Her memory is shattered, but she has lots of support from her adoring family, even if they won’t really talk about what happened to her.  She has plenty of home movies to watch that help her start piecing her life back together.

But things don’t seem right to her.  She starts to doubt that all of these memories are really hers.  She realizes that a great secret is being kept from her, and she must decide if she really wants to find out the truth.


Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank

BabylonThis is another outlier to the “standard” dystopian fare.  It is by far the oldest book on this list, having been published in 1959, and is more post-apocalyptic than dystopian, although those two genres have similar traits.

Randy Bragg lives in a small town in central Florida, and thanks to a warning from his brother is able to help the town cope with the outcome of a nuclear war.  The townspeople have to create their own new society in order to survive.

This is a fascinating read when done through the eyes of current times.  The technology of the 50s was so different that it is fun to make the comparison and to think about life without all our modern conveniences.


Feed, by M. T. Anderson

FeedTitus lives in a future where most people are directly wired into the “feednet”, a huge computer network that gives them instant access to a wealth of information.  Of course the feed is controlled by corporate interests that adjust the content to fit the users preferences, and also strips away any notions of privacy.

When Titus and his friends meet Violet, they are stunned by her critical-thinking skills.  Violet starts them down the road of resisting the feed, but there are consequences to doing so, and there are forces actively opposed to them doing so.


One of the things I really enjoy about dystopian fiction is that it makes you think about how things came to be so bad.  It often serves as a warning about how as a society we must be careful about losing control of our lives.  Teen dystopia often features exciting action sequences as a bonus, while adult ones tend to be more grim.


In any event, I am ready to do some reading!  Also, here is a brief list of some great adult dystopian novels, and be sure to add your own recommendations to the comments below.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932)

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (1949)

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (1953)

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (1968), movie version is Blade Runner

The Children of Men, by P. D. James (1992)

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

Tales of a Lifelong Reader: My Favorite Kids Books

By Chris

I’ve always been surrounded by books.  Reading is a popular activity in my family, something my mother championed, and something I was able to pass on to my own sons.  My mother’s motto was “it doesn’t matter so much what you are reading, so long as you are reading”.  In fact, when some relatives disapproved of me reading comic books, she went and got me subscriptions to the Star Wars and G.I. Joe comics.

When I had children of my own it was neat to go to the bookstore and see many of the same books I had as a wee tot still on the shelves, classics such as Are You My Mother and Make Way for Ducklings.  It was a treat to watch them discover their own favorites, like Richard Scarry and series such as Goosebumps and Captain Underpants.  And yes, they also read comic books, although one favored The Simpsons and the other liked Spawn.  I am confident that when they have their own children the reading legacy will continue.

But this blog is about my faves, not theirs.  And I really want to talk about books that I liked as a child and as a teen (and as a parent, though here is a list of kids books that adults should read, or read again).

Christopher for President
Well, that didn’t happen.

I don’t believe any such list can be made without including Dr. Seuss.  He is the grandmaster of the genre.  My favorite as a child was Green Eggs and Ham.  I can remember wondering back then if there was such a thing as green eggs.  And I was delighted when in kindergarten my eldest had a classmate named Sam, so I could use the phrase “that Sam-I-Am” a lot.  My boys took a liking to their mother’s favorite, Yertle the Turtle.  My coworkers can attest that to this day I can recite most of the book from memory.

A staple of children’s books through the years are Little Golden Books.  My favorite was The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover, written by Jon Stone (who was a Sesame Street writer and producer) and illustrated by Michael Smollin.  In the book the narrator, Grover, implores you to not read the book, since there is a monster at the end.  He employs various tactics to try and stop the reading, only to find at the end that the monster is Grover himself.  A great interactive read, and as an adult you appreciate the subtleties of the book, which I talked about before here.

Another all timeless favorite  is Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.  It is a book that sparks imagination, and it is fun to read to kids as you get several text-less pages where you can just go “RUMPUS! RUMPUS! RUMPUS!”

One of the first books I loved as I became an independent reader was a bit of an anomaly, being that it is a “girly” book.  The author having the same last name as me probably got me to initially read it.  Little House in the Big Woods was the first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.  I really liked how the life that it portrayed was so different from mine.  I don’t recall if I read any of the others.

The Lion, the Witch, and the wardrobe
My childhood copy.

I believe it was in 4th grade that my love for fantasy books was kickstarted by, unsurprisingly, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the first of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.  I read those books repeatedly, especially enjoying The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy.  As a kid I would sometimes read a book and when I finished I would go back to page one and start over.  As an adult I recently cleared a number of books off my shelves, since I have read them once and I am fine with that.  Also, if you are wanting to get a child to read this series, make sure to start with “The Lion…”  Some editions number the series chronologically, which puts the driest of them, The Magician’s Nephew, first.  Bad idea to me, but opinions vary.

The next entry on my list is probably the longest book I read as a youth, coming in at 500+ pages.  Of course my kids read longer ones, thanks to Harry Potter. Duncton Wood is a book about moles.  Not sold?  Let me try again.  Duncton Wood is a grand sweeping adventure novel, filled with romance, intrigue, harrowing battles, dastardly villains and heroic deeds.  It just happens to features moles as the characters.  William Horwood wrote another five books about these brave moles.  When I read it I didn’t even know what a mole looked like.  I had to look them up next time I was at the library.

A mole
Totes heroic.

Often times someone comes into the library and asks us to help them find a book they once read.  This can be an easy task or an extremely difficult one (“It had a red cover, and maybe there was a dog in it”)  In fact, the library had a challenge contest for all our staff a couple years ago to help track down one of these books.  It was hard.  This leads me to my next books, because for many years I couldn’t find them.  I did not remember the titles or the author, and the parts of the books I did recall were too generic to help.  Until I thought of one particular monster that appeared in the second book, a gelatinous cube (okay, it was called a Bayemot in the book, but I know a gelatinous cube when I see one).

The Prince in Waiting is the first in the Sword of the Spirits trilogy by John Christopher.  It is a teen series mixing fantasy and science fiction.  Set in England, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where technology is shunned and mankind has reverted to medieval ways.  Our protagonist, 13 year old Luke, has to not only learn to deal with the political intrigue that comes from being the son of a Captain, but also cope when he finds that the ways and the teachings of his society are both wrong and are being manipulated.

My best exposure to puns came with A Spell for Chameleon, the first in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony.

Ice Ice Baby
I’m not explaining this.

The Xanth series of novels, originally planned to be a trilogy, debuted in 1977.  The 39th volume was released this year, with more to come.  Set in the magical land of Xanth, which is shaped exactly like Florida, these books are fun even before you factor in all the puns in them.  Just look at some of the titles:  Crewel Lye, Isle of View, and Knot Gneiss.  They were a reading staple of my teen years.  I haven’t fully kept up with the series as an adult, but they are always good for a quick, fun read.

These were my favorites, but I would like to mention some of the books my boys liked when they were little.  Go, Dog. Go!, by Seuss protege P.D. Eastman, is a good read along book, one that helps the transition from you reading to them to them reading to you.

The Bravest Ever Bear, by Allan Ahlberg, takes standard childrens tales and turns them on their head, featuring a princess who won’t follow the script and kung fu bears.

This was my oldest son’s first favorite book.  A prize to whomever can identify it.

Ruined book
Does this count as mint condition?

Finding an old Pooh book lead to many great reads.  Pooh and Piglet trying to catch a Heffalump had us laughing so hard that I could barely keep reading.

Three Stories from The House at Pooh Corner book

And then we have Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin.  Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter and use it to start to issuing demands.  For those of us with offbeat senses of humor this book is a must.  Plus your kids will like it too.

There are so many other great kids books out there, like The Giving Tree and Love You Forever, two books that are great if you want your kids to see your cry.  And there is A Wrinkle in Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Goodnight Moon, The Hobbit…but you don’t need me to tell you that.  You are clearly a reader since you read this blog.  So you tell me what kids books you like.  There are no wrong answers.

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

Here’s to You

Burns’ original Scots                                    English translation

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,                  Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?                                and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,                  Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?                                                and long, long ago?

CHORUS:                                                                    CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,                                    For long, long ago, my dear,
for auld lang syne,                                                 for long, long ago,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,                          we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.                                                 for long, long ago.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!                  And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll be mine!                                         and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,                 And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.                                                 for long, long ago.

CHORUS                                                                  CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,                        We two have run about the slopes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;                                  and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,              But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
sin’ auld lang syne.                                                 since long, long ago.

CHORUS                                                                   CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,                          We two have paddled in the stream,
frae morning sun till dine;                                   from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d                But seas between us broad have roared
sin’ auld lang syne.                                                since long, long ago.

CHORUS                                                                 CHORUS  

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!                  And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!                                     And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,       And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.                                                 for long, long ago.
CHORUS                                                                 CHORUS

I’ll make this one short, because I know we all have a lot going on at this transitional time of the year.

For the longest time I had no idea what this song meant. I listened to it, and I sang along to it (all the wrong words), and I knew that I liked it. It makes my insides feel warm, and then the warmness spreads to my outsides as well. Now, I listen to it and read the words that are being sung, and I know that it is a song of reflection and of kindness. Maybe even of forgiveness. It can mean something different to each of us, just as all words can.

Today is the last day of 2014. Many of us are making resolutions we may or may not keep. Some of those are good. Do that. Make yourself a list on paper or in your head, but remember: this life is about love. Loving yourself, first and foremost, and loving others. Maybe instead of making resolutions like, “Lose __ pounds” or “Read __ books” we could make our resolutions more like, “Try new things” or “Be happy.”

Words for thought.

As always, here’s a link to our catalog, but this time I’m going to link to the main page. Now, search for anything and everything that interests you and makes your insides warm and that you’ve been wanting to read or watch or listen to but haven’t yet for one reason or another. Check it out. If you like it, good. If you love it, great! If it’s not what you thought it would be, don’t finish it and bring it back in exchange for something else.

Here’s to another year filled with good books and good people and warm insides and outsides.

Here’s to taking a cup of kindness.

Here’s to you.

“Nuts” The Battle of the Bulge, Christmas 1944

Seventy years ago American serviceman were fighting a two front war, both in Europe and in the Pacific, against the Axis nations as the fourth and last Christmas in World War II approached.  After Allied troops landed in Normandy in northern France (June 6, 1944), liberation  of that country went slowly until the Germans retreated across the Seine in August, freeing Paris. Rumors the European war would be over by the year’s end circulated among American troops.  However, the closer the Allies got to the German border with France, The Siegfried Line,  the more the Nazis resisted.  Unknown to the Allies, Hitler was planning a counter-offensive that would split the American and British armies and let the Germans capture Antwerp, a British supply base on the Belgian  coast.  The Germans would attack through the Ardennes and the Hürtgen Forest.   The operation was finally  scheduled to begin in the middle of December 1944, although the German generals in charge of the operation did not think it would succeed because elements of the Wehrmacht could not field full strength units .

In the middle of December the snow lay thick on the fields surrounding Bastogne  Belgium, close to the borders with Luxembourg and France.  American soldiers were serving there were caught by the surprise German offensive, launched through the Ardennes forest on 16 December, 1944.   Six days later,  the Americans troops  were completely surrounded by the Germans. At division headquarters in France, General Patton was trying to get a Catholic chaplain to distribute a prayer for good weather so the Allies could have air support.   The priest refused, saying he would not pray to God for good weather so more people would be killed.  Lt. Gen. Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz  sent a message to the American commanding general in Bastogne, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, demanding surrender to avoid more needless deaths.  McAuliffe’s answer was “Nuts!”  Not understanding, the Germans envoys asked if that was an affirmative, their American counterparts told them definitely not. Patton’s prayer or not, the weather cleared allowing supplies to be dropped to the troops in Bastogne.  The next day, the head of a relief column broke through to end the  siege.   On Christmas Eve, Gen. McAuliffe sent this message to the troops under his command:

Headquarters 101st Airborne Division

Office of the Division Commander

24 December1944

What’s Merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting – it’s cold – we aren’t home. All true but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. We have identifications from four German Panzer Divisions, two German Infantry Divisions and one German Parachute Division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were headed straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Divisions glorious history but in World history. The Germans actually did surround us. their radios blared our doom. Their Commander demanded our surrender….

Allied Troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General Taylor, will say: Well Done!

We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.

Meanwhile, at home, Christmas gifts were hard to come by because of the rationing.  Ads were suggesting giving War Bonds as Christmas presents to help war effort.  Radio programming too emphasized support for the military at home and abroad at the holiday season. During the Christmas season, 1944, Americans gathered around their radios to listen their favorite stars salute the troops.  For example,  Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy’s Christmas Show featured a chorus  from the Great Lakes training command. You can transport yourself back to 1944 on YouTube:     Also on YouTube, you can watch the  PBS American Experience documentary on the Battle of the Bulge,

Take a minute this Christmas say a prayer or toast the memories of the men who gave their lives in that white Christmas in Belgium seventy years ago and the members of the military who are today spending the holidays away from their loved ones!

For Further Reading:

Gerald Astor, A Blood Dimmed Tide

Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last light,  pp. 412-192.

John S. D. Eisenhower, The Bitter Woods

Charles B. MacDonald, A Time for Trumpets

Cindy Lou’s Lesson and the Miracle of ZuZu’s Petals

Somehow, it really is a wonderful life.
Somehow, it really is a wonderful life.

OK, I get that we’re supposed to appreciate this most Festive of Seasons for its deeply personal spiritual foundations — Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve.

And I really do understand those meanings — the promise of new beginnings; hope for this sad, sad, world; the appraisal of our lives and our connections to those around us.

I suppose that’s what the Season of Advent is about — preparing our hearts and minds for the miracles that are at the core of existence. I try, really try, to appreciate the wonders that are the birthright of each of us.

But regardless of my circumstance, regardless of my earnestness,  all too often my beliefs are shaken by the vagaries of 21st century life. I approach the holidays with a vague sense of unease, a hint of irritation at the demands that accumulate as the days grow shorter and the night stretches out forever.

That’s why I’m grateful for a quintet of movies that manage to pull me back from the abyss every time, that never fail to remind me of the goodness and gentle decency that lies at the heart of this season.

I hope you find time during your busy holiday season to bask in the glow of “”How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story,” and
“A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Each weaves a powerful spell and each captures the bedrock message of these glorious days.

Then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!
Then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the animated version, not the Jim Carrey jab in the eye) marries the timeless words of Dr. Seuss with the Looney Tunes-honed animation style of Chuck Jones. Delivered with the extraordinary vocal talents of Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft (who sings the irresistible “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”), this is one for the ages. If you’re not touched by the scene when the Grinch finally, finally, learns why the Whos down in Whoville aren’t crushed by the removal of their presents and feasts, well, maybe your heart is two sizes too small.

Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.
Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

A different form of animation, “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” finally captures the glory and dread at the heart of Dickens’ strange and marvelous tale. All too often adaptations jettison the truly macabre images that Dickens has scattered throughout.

Ebenezer Scrooge must go through an extraordinary journey before he finds comfort and joy.
Ebenezer Scrooge must go through an extraordinary journey before he finds comfort and joy.

Take, for instance, that grotesque moment when The Ghost of Christmas Present opens his cloak to reveal the emaciated children named Ignorance and Want. This frisson of revulsion and horror is critical to the tone of Scrooge’s journey and his ultimate salvation, yet it’s seldom given its due in TV or movie adaptations. Here, the scene plays out as it Dickens intended and is the richer for it. It’s astonishing that Disney, of all the studios, gave it the green light.

disney-christmas-carol-001While you’re watching this masterpiece of mood, pay attention to the play of light in each scene. It’s as though Rembrandt had access to a full suite of animation programs.

Not even this version’s refusal to sugar-coat the awful truth’s revealed on Mr. Scrooge’s amazing night can match the terrifying shock of recognition found at the heart of George Bailey’s trip into darkness.

In 2006 I was watching the annual broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the same time my life was crumbling in the same spectacular fashion as Jimmy Stewart’s Building and Loan president. When that terrified, broken man prays for something, anything, to pull him back from the abyss – that’s me. And I’m guessing a lot of other adults, too. The entire movie is a testament to the uneasy path we all take on this tightrope strung between heaven and hell.


Try not to be moved by George Bailey as he peers into the darkness.
Try not to be moved by George Bailey as he peers into the darkness.











Holy Cow, I hope I haven’t ruined the holidays for you with these encounters with these sad characters at the center of these tales.

Let’s consider another journey, which while also fraught with obstacles, never descends into bitterness or peril.

a_christmas_story_13“A Christmas Story,” Jean Shepherd’s timeless recollection of a boyhood Christmas in 1940s Indiana, rings with truth for anyone who’s ever been a child, in any age.

Ignored by critics at the time of its release, in my book, "A Christmas Story" deserves a Major Award.
Ignored by critics at the time of its release, in my book, “A Christmas Story” deserves a Major Award.

Young Ralphie’s indefatigable quest to snare a Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle takes him through terrain trod by every kid. The frustrations, perils, setbacks and close calls that are a part of everyday existence for children, that adults ignore or choose to forget, are delivered in a series of vignettes that ache with authenticity.

In the world of “A Christmas Story,” grown-ups are incomprehensible and rarely aware of the little dramas that are constantly unspooling around them.

There are no adults present in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a program that strips away the commercialism and cynical gamesmanship of the American holiday experience to reveal the sweet, simple Gospel account at the heart of Christmas.

"I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about." A Charlie Brown Christmas is spiked with heart-breaking moments.
“I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about.” A Charlie Brown Christmas is spiked with heart-breaking moments.

The fact that every line in the show is delivered by a child gives the story its bite and heart-warming tenderness.

"I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love." Yet it also celebrates the warm spirit of the season.
“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” Yet it also celebrates the warm spirit of the season.

All of these are available in the Fontana Regional Library. I hope that during the frantic days and evenings leading up to the holidays, you’ll carve out a bit of time for yourself and watch one or all of these titles. See them alone or with your loved ones. See if, on balance, it really is a wonderful life after all.

And please know that I’m wishing you a joyous season.

eHealth: Doctor-Patient Teamwork for Improved Health Outcomes

e-health-feat-imageeHealth is a growing trend in medicine- many doctors and hospitals are making patient records available electronically, allowing patients to log in to “health portals” to see their own records. In addition to the convenience these services provide, other benefits include better quality and more efficient health care, increased privacy and security of health information, reduction of paperwork through administrative simplification, and better patient involvement- all of which are expected to help decrease healthcare costs.

My own doctor has a patient portal available. On my computer and smartphone (yes, there’s an app for that, too!) I can login to check my medical records – see the medications and dosages I’ve been prescribed, see notes from all my visits, see lab results, scheduled appointments, and even send messages to my doctor. The health portal also includes built-in patient trackers- if your doctor has asked you to track things like your blood pressure or blood sugar at home, you can have your results sent right to your doctor in real time!

mobile-phone-health-appI think that’s one of the greatest benefits of eHealth: getting patients more involved in their own care. Often times, a visit to your doctor’s office is a blur and it’s hard to remember all the instructions given, discharge papers get lost in the shuffle, or you can’t remember the name of that antibiotic you took last year that you had a bad reaction to.  Patient portals let you review all of that information and also let you share more information with your doctor. If you forget to mention something at an appointment that you had meant to tell your doctor, send them a message! So much easier than trying to remember it for your next visit!

A World Health Organisation (WHO) study has shown that deploying eHealth technologies improves health behaviors and physiological outcomes: in one prenatal program in Sao Paulo, the proportion of pregnant women who completed their scheduled prenatal visits increased from 10% to 80% after the implementation of an eHealth program and health outcomes across several conditions saw a large improvement.

Doctors aren’t the only resources for eHealth. The library also has resources to help you manage your health care. Visit the NCLive Health and Wellness Information Center to access health eBooks, health databases, and other health resources.

Other Online Resources

MedlinePlus – this service from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health provides information about health topics, drugs and supplements, and interactive tools and health tutorials.

Mayo Clinic – find articles on diseases, symptoms, medical procedures and much more! Their healthy lifestyle section offers articles on nutrition, fitness, and health, as well as access to healthy recipes.

NC Health Info –  get information on general health topics as well as local services. Check out their Being an Informed Patient page for more resources!

National Institute of Mental Health – provides information and resources for a variety of mental health conditions.

North Carolina Medical Board Consumer Resources – offers information about health providers and resources for filing complaints.


Information is always great- but remember that no website on the internet can diagnose or treat you or your health conditions. Use what you learn on your own to open a dialogue with your doctor so that he or she can address your concerns while offering you the benefits of their expertise and diagnostic tools. You and your doctor, working together, can more positively affect your health and well-being.