The End of Two Wars

One week from the publication date of this blog will be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  While Lincoln’s funeral train was tracing in reverse Lincoln’s trip from Illinois to Washington 1861, Jefferson Davis was hiding from federal troops trying to find him.   Eighty years later, in 1945, three days from the anniversary of Lincoln’s death, Franklin Roosevelt’s heart gave out  as the European war was coming to a close in Europe with  western allies closing on Berlin from the southwest and the Russians from the east.  The other part of World War II, being fought in the Pacific, against the Japanese, had a little over three months to go.

First, Lincoln and Davis! It was Good Friday, April 14, 1865.  The Civil War was over!  President Lincoln and his wife had planned an evening at the theatre; Laura Keene was performing in “Our American Cousin.”   A little after 10:13, John Wilkes Booth sneaked into the president’s box and shot him point blank in the back of head.  Lincoln lived a few hours before dying from his wound the next day while Booth led authorities on a twelve day chase before he died in a barn, set on fire by United State Army troops.  A quick investigation proved Booth had not acted alone; his accomplices were rounded up,  incarcerated awaiting trial, and for some eventual execution.

While in the north, Americans were mourning the death of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis was fleeing south with a price on his head.  From the time Ulysses S. Grant took overall command of the Federal forces in 1864, he decided to go after the Confederate  Army of  Northern Virginia, with a goal to destroy it, rather than capture Richmond  However, after the  Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865,  General Robert E. Lee told Davis Richmond would have to be evacuated and the president became a fugitive carrying what was left of the government’s gold. Davis started his journey by train to Danville, Virginia. After Lee surrendered, he went into North Carolina, where he hoped to meet up Gen. Joseph Johnston who was in command of another Confederate army.   He stayed in Greensboro for a while, then moved to Charlotte, as long as it was safe.  Finally, Davis went south to Georgia, where he was finally captured near Abbeville, after 38 days on the run.

Eight decades later, the United States was nearing the end of another war.¹  In the spring of 1945, the Allies were getting closer to the Japanese Home Islands.  American bombers had bases, first in China then in the Caroline Islands, well within range of Japanese cities.  Although the first bombing raid on Tokyo was that led by General James Doolittle in April 1942, launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet,  bombing of the home islands didn’t resume until  the fall of 1944 when the B-29 super fortresses performed strategic bombing raids against targets in the Japanese capital and other major cities in the Home Islands.  Meanwhile, in the spring of 1945 the Allies were preparing to invade Japan itself.  United States armed forces had invaded Iwo Jima, hopefully they would  have learned something since the bloody invasion of the tiny Tarawa Atoll, that 3300 causalities in November 1943.

 Iwo Jima was a volcanic hell with 23,000 Japanese dug in on Mount Suribachi.  It took almost 24,000 American causalities to secure the island.  Then the high casualty rate on Okinawa, an estimated 65,000 all types,  prompted the Allies’ decision to use the A-Bomb rather than  invade Japan.   When Harry S. Truman succeeded FDR in April 1945, he knew nothing about this atomic weapon. After giving his consent, two bombs were used against Japan: the first on 6 August  1945,  was dropped on Hiroshima; and the second on 9 August on Nagasaki.  The devastation and fatalities caused by these two bombs led the Japanese to surrender on 15 August.


¹ In case you think there is no direct connection between the two wars, the American commander on Okinawa, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.  was the son of a Confederate general  and governor of Kentucky.  Buckner was the highest ranking American general officer killed in action during World War II.

Lincoln’s Assassination and Jefferson Davis

James L. Swanson.  Bloody Crimes

James L. Swanson. Manhunt

James L. Swanson and Daniel R.  The Lincoln Assassins

William C. Davis.  Jefferson Davis:  The Man and His Hour

War in the Pacific

James Bradley.  Flags of Our Fathers

Robert Gant.  The Twilight Warriors

Max Hastings.  Retribution:  The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

Robert Leckie.  Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II 

Donald L. Miller.  D-Days in the Pacific

Martin Russ.  Line of Departure: Tarawa

Ronald H. Spector.  Eagle Against the Sun

Joseph A. Springer.  Inferno

Still Waiting For The Sequel…

And waiting and waiting…

Okay, so some authors are less prolific than others.  James Patterson, for instance, had more than a dozen books released under his name last year.  Granted, most were either co-written or were shorter Young Adult novels, but that is still a lot of output.  Nelson DeMille, in contrast, releases a new book about once every two years.  That may seem to be a long time, but it isn’t really in comparison to others.  Jean Auel took 31 years to write the six books in her series.  And that still isn’t long enough for this blog.

What we really are talking about here are the authors who were mostly “one and done”.  They put out their book and never did much of any writing after that.  Well, I suppose many, many authors have that happen.  If no one buys your first book there isn’t much chance you’ll get to publish a second one.  But some authors did have success and sales and still didn’t ever get around to that sequel.  Now I know that this topic has been written about on the Internet many times before.  So instead of just giving you a list of these not-writing-much writers I’m going to talk a bit about why they didn’t keep writing, and also pop in some bits about the writers who seem to never stop writing.

Consider these to be the unicorns of authors.
Consider these to be the unicorns of authors.

Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

I bet you thought I was going to start with something else?  I’m sure many people hear this title and think of the movie, but the book is not to be disregarded.  It won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.  It has 30 million copies in print.  The book and movie both continue to engender discussion on race portrayals.

Gone With The Wind Figurines
Gone With The Wind Figurines

Mitchell wrote it while on break from being a reporter, in part inspired by her husband who was exasperated at having to bring her so many library books and told her to write her own.  Which she did, taking three years to do so.  But being a novelist wasn’t her real passion.  She vowed she would never write a sequel.  During World War II she did more writing, this time letters to soldiers.  She also served in the American Red Cross, sold war bonds, and sponsored the cruiser USS Atlanta.

On August 11, 1949, she was struck and killed by a speeding car.  She was only 48, and I would like to think that eventually she would have written some more.  Her estate has in more recent times commissioned sequels to Gone With The Wind.

(Agatha Christie is estimated to have sold over 4 billion books.  Yes, that is billion with a b.)

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

The famously reclusive Salinger wrote plenty of short stories and novellas, but only one full length book.  The Catcher in the Rye wasn’t just an immediate success in 1951, but a lasting one as well, remaining a constant on school reading lists and having sold in the neighborhood of 65 million copies.  I reread it myself a year or so ago and it does hold up all these years later.

Predictable joke is predictable.
Predictable joke is predictable.

Salinger was never comfortable with fame and the spotlight, and slowly stopped writing.  He last published a story in 1959, even though he lived until 2010, reaching a respectable 91 years in age.  His reclusiveness became famous enough that author W. P. Kinsella used him as a character in the novel Shoeless Joe.  In the movie version, Field of Dreams, the Salinger character was removed due to a threat of legal action.  I talked a bit more about that many moons ago in this post.

An earlier brush with fame Salinger had was when he dated the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill.  She ended up leaving him for her future husband…Charlie Chaplin.

(Have you heard of Eleanor Hibbert? Not surprising since there are no books published under that name.  What about Victoria Holt? Philippa Carr? Jean Plaidy? All the same person.  Hibbert wrote over 200 novels using eight pseudonyms.)

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Ah yes, that Mockingbird book.  We all know that it is the one and only book Lee ever did…for now.  Her attorney recently released a statement that a second Lee book, Go Set A Watchman, is set to be released in June of 2015.  This is apparently a recently found lost manuscript, a book she wrote prior to Mockingbird, that features Scout as an adult woman.  When she wrote it her editor suggested she write a book focusing on Scout as a younger character, and the rest is history.

1960 review copy.  Not the Capote blurb.
1960 review copy. Not the Capote blurb.

That all being said, Lee has a strong connection to another very famous book, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  Capote and Lee were lifelong friends, and she traveled with him while he researched the case that inspired his book.

In the decades since she won the Pulitzer, she started several books, including a Mockingbird follow-up, but never completed them.  Despite only ever having published the one title she has received numerous distinguished awards, including an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(Isaac Asimov not only wrote hundreds of books and stories, but wrote a wide range of things.  He has books in nine of the 10 major Dewey Decimal System categories.)

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

It sure is hard to keep those Brontë brats sorted out.  Charlotte, the eldest, wrote four books (including Jane Eyre) and a number of assorted other works.  Anne, the youngest, wrote two novels.  And Emily wrote just the one.  But it was a good one.

Wuthering Heights was first released in 1847 as the first two parts of a three volume set, with the third part being Anne’s Agnes Grey.  Wuthering Heights is still considered to be a literary classic.  We don’t know all that much about Emily.  She was shy and avoided sociable events.  There are hints that she was working on a second book but this is unproven.  What we do know is why she didn’t finish it.  And that reason is tragedy.

We just wish you had left more relics.
We just wish you had left more relics.

The Brontë family, living in unsanitary times, weren’t long for this world.  Emily died in 1948, at the age of 30, from tuberculosis.  Anne, 29, died the following year from influenza.  Their brother Branwell passed a few months before Emily did, 31 years old and ravaged by alcohol and laudanum addictions.  The two eldest sisters had died within a month of each other in 1825.  Charlotte made it to 1855, when she died due to pregnancy complications.  She was almost 39.  All of which is tragic in its own right, but the thought of how many great works these sisters could have written if they weren’t struck down young adds a certain level of poignancy.

(Barbara Cartland wrote over 700 novels, and holds the record for most in a year, with 23 in 1983. She was 82 years old that year.)

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell

BBWith 50+ million copies sold, Black Beauty is one of the best selling books of all time.  And, obviously since it is on this list, Sewell’s only book.  She wrote it in her fifties while in failing health, often bedridden and forced to dictate to her mother.  She sold it to a local publisher and lived long enough to see it have initial success, dying only five months after publication at the age of 58.

While classified as a children’s book, it also remains a must read for horse lovers of all ages.

(Alexandre Dumas is well known for having written The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.  He also wrote 275 over things.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar WildeDG

Wilde’s reason for writing only one book are twofold.  First, he was primarily a poet and playwright.  He wrote many things, including short stories, but only produced one actual novel.  Secondly, he died at age 46, his health shattered after a prison sentence for “gross indecency” with other men.  His wit survived even unto his death bed.

(Printing Nora Roberts bibliography off of Wikipedia will take 13 pages.)

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Okay, lets modernize things here a bit.  This 2009 novel, which is a very different look at race relations than Gone With The Wind is, has already sold ten million copies and received a feature film treatment.

Stockett worked on the book for five years and received dozens of rejection letters, and I think that kind of effort probably takes a lot out of you.  Perhaps that explains how six years later no new book has appeared.  She said in several interviews that one was forthcoming, but no sign of it yet.  Fans of the book will need to keep their fingers crossed.

Everyone needs some help at times.
Everyone needs some help at times.

(Remember Goosebumps? They remain popular reads, and R. L. Stine never stopped writing, with over 400 titles to his credit so far.)

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

And finally we come to this one.  Published in 1980, it wasn’t an instant smash.  It did snag the 1981 Pulitzer and has slowly grown from a cult classic to being considered a modern masterpiece.  But there will be no sequel.  You see, Toole committed suicide in 1969.  After his death his mother found a carbon copy of the manuscript and spent a decade working tirelessly to get it published.  We are all glad she did.

While vacationing in New Orleans last year (WrestleMania!) one of the things we didn’t get around to was visiting the Ignatius statue.  Which means we will have to make a return trip some day.

Some day...
Some day…

(Many of us read Sophocles in school, most likely Oedipus the King.  I’ve read a couple other of his seven plays.  Well, several of his seven extant plays.  It is estimated he wrote over 120 in total, most now lost to history.)

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

A Song of Ice and Fire (and Obsession and Heartbreak)

One title: A Game of Thrones.
One name: George R.R. Martin.

Sound familiar?

If so, I admire your taste. (Or your friend’s taste, or your coworker’s taste, or your parent’s taste. Whoever spoke this title and/or this man’s name.)

If not (and even so), take a stroll with me. Or, well, a scroll, seeing as you’re reading this and not walking beside me, listening.

Let me start off by saying that I’m not a huge fantasy fan. I know. I’m sorry. Shame me if you must; HOWEVER, even though I am not as well acquainted with foreign worlds in fiction as I am this one, that does not stop or slow my love for A Song of Ice and Fire (the name of the series in which A Game of Thrones is the first book). This series has got it all, and once you’re in, you’re in. In. Invested. Theorizing. Obsessed.


Because I know I cannot and will not do it justice by trying to explain, the following is a direct quote from George R.R. Martin’s website:

“Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.”

And as if it couldn’t get any better, HBO has adapted the books into a TV series.

This poster is from season 1 (2011). Now, four years later, season five is premiering (returns April 12 at 9PM).

(A warning: these books and this show are not for those who take offense easily. It is not for those with weak stomachs. This story is raw. It is fantasy, but it is true. The people are kind, and the people are cruel. They are playing the Game of Thrones, they are fighting a war, and George R.R. Martin portrays it as such.)

If I have swayed you with my (and other’s) words and you are interested in beginning your own journey into A Song of Ice and Fire, HERE is a link to the first book (as well as the TV series) in our catalog.

The order of the books thus far is as follows:
A Game of Thrones
Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons

Good luck! Let me know what you think.

Dark Fiction: 5 Things To Read After Gone Girl

After I posted my last blog about book-to-movie adaptations I was, unsurprisingly, asked what I thought about the Gone Girl film.  I hadn’t talked about Gone Girl in that post since I have mentioned Gillian Flynn’s work more than once lately.  The answer to the question was that I thought it was not only a good film but a good adaptation of the book as well.  Which it should have been considering who the screenwriter was.  With Gone Girl we have the trifecta: great book, great movie, great soundtrack.

One of the things we do here at the library is a service called “Reader’s Advisory”.  In a nutshell this is when someone comes in and asks for a book similar to the one they just read, or for an author that writes like their favorite does, and we find them something new to read.  This can be pretty easy or a real challenge, depending on how unique the original book or author is.  A great example is To Kill A Mockingbird, which has no true equivalent.  Over the years I have had many people ask for something like it, and I can only shake my head sadly and point them towards works that pale in comparison.

Which brings us back to the point.  If you did like Gone Girl there are some other books that I think you will like.  My wife refers to them as “dark fiction”, which seems as good a name as any other.  They all have a similar feel, and they have some recurring themes as well.  The protagonists tend to be damaged in some way, whether it be through memory loss, or psychological trauma, or addictions, or just making bad decisions.  They are all flawed.  Also, we see “regular” people doing bad things, particularly murder.  We aren’t dealing with mastermind serial killers or super hacker terrorists.  The characters, both good and bad, are grounded in reality.  Plus the ladies are just as likely to be the bad guy as the men are.  These books can be classified as some mix of (murder) mysteries or thrillers, but the focus is on the people and not the crimes.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins Book Review-The Girl on the Train

Rachel, the lead character in Hawkins debut novel, has issues.  Shattered by her divorce, she drinks herself into blackouts during which bad things happen.  The train that she takes into London stops each day at the same place, where she can look upon a couple enjoying their back deck.  A couple that lives only a few doors down from her old house, where her ex-husband still lives with his new wife and baby.  Rachel invents stories about this couple to occupy herself.  One morning she sees the wife kissing a different man, and the next day the wife goes missing.

Told through the perspectives of Rachel, Megan (the missing woman), and Anna (Rachel’s ex’s new wife), Hawkins does a nice job of building suspense through flashbacks and foreshadowing.  As the end approaches you as the reader are left trying to determine which of these women, or the men in their lives, is the villain of the story.

In The Woods, by Tana French In-the-Woods

Another debut novel, this time set near Dublin, Ireland.  In 1984 three 12 year olds went out to play in the woods near the Knocknaree housing estate.  Only one, Adam, is found, his shoes full of blood and his memory of what happened gone.  Twenty some years later in the same area another 12 year old is struck down, although this time her body is found.  Murder Squad detectives Rob and Cassie are assigned to the case.  Is there a connection to the previous incident?

Yes there is.  Rob is in actuality Adam, now sporting an English accent thanks to boarding school, and with no one except his partner knowing the truth.  He remains on the case, hoping that his past might help to find a killer, and help him discover what happened all those years ago.  Many secrets are uncovered, but not the ones that are needed.  The stress of the case and Rob’s erratic memory lead him to making poor decisions, ones that come with real consequences.

Rob says right at the beginning that he is a liar, and that and the tease of supernatural events helps turn this from a standard police procedural into something more.  I also liked how the police were competent in the story.  Too often police, FBI, or whomever are shown as bumbling idiots.  Do be warned that French uses a lot of words.  Her style takes a bit of getting used to.

The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison Silent Wife

Okay, I promise this is coincidental!  The Silent Wife is yet another debut novel.  Jodi is a middle aged woman, happy in her carefully structured life, and is a successful psychologist.  She knows that her husband Todd cheats on her, but it is okay as long as he follows her protocols and the illusion is maintained.  But the illusion is just, hmm, an illusion.  Jodi is not as secure as she thinks, evidenced by her secret petty acts of revenge on Todd, things like taking the key to his office building off of his keychain while he sleeps.  And when Todd goes too far with his latest infidelity lines are crossed, and the dissolution of their marriage will not be pretty.  Or safe.

The Silent Wife is told alternately through both Jodi’s and Todd’s perspectives.  You get to see the rationalizing they engage in.  And you get to see how bright, smart, and (in her case, at least) educated people can make bad choices that take them to dark places.

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl Night Moves

A young woman, daughter of a famous but reclusive cult film director, commits suicide.  Or did she?  Scott, a reporter who lost his job (and his marriage) due to his investigations of the director, isn’t so sure.  Assisted by a wannabee and boisterous actress and a “friend” with plenty of secrets, Scott makes an effort to uncover the truth, both about the suicide and about the family.

Some stories start out complicated and as the end nears they narrow down.  Night Film goes the other way, getting more convoluted, and more intriguing, as it progresses.  Pessl also incorporates multimedia elements into the book, allowing the reader to deeply immerse themselves into the story.  This one is as much Stephen King as it is Gillian Flynn.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-book

Originally I had planned to write just about the four books above, but as I got on with it I decided to add in this one as well, and not just because it was another debut novel (although Larsson had co-authored several non-fiction books previously). This was a big time best seller, and many of you may have already read it, but thinking about it I felt it fit the theme too well to leave out.

Mikael is a magazine publisher who is convicted for libel against a rich and powerful industrialist.  After serving his sentence he is offered a chance at redemption, after a fashion.  A retired businessman hires him to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece, an event that occurred decades ago.  Part of the payment will be damaging information against the man Mikael had libeled.  As he starts uncovering family secrets he enlists the help of a computer technician, a gifted and very mentally damaged young woman named Lisbeth, the inked girl of the books title.  Together they discover that some dark deeds are never forgotten, and that some people will go to lethal lengths to try and keep them buried.

The book is set in Sweden, which is neat.  This is story that shows that not only can people you think are normal turn out to be abnormal and evil, but also that people can overcome the horrors inflicted upon them and become the hero.  Or heroine.  Sort of.  Oh, and I am clearly not the only one who likens this to Gone Girl, as David Fincher directed both movies (and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did both soundtracks).

Gone Girl teaser
Quote is from Gone Girl, but pretty much could come from any of these books.


Five books that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and are likely to keep you up past your bedtime turning the pages.  You can also try these Young Adult books that are in the same vein, although not quite as dark and with tamer content.

I Hunt Killers, by Barry Lyga

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake

Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas

And finally the magazine Dark Scribe used to give out the Black Quill award to dark fiction.  You can check out their lists of winners and nominees for some more good reading options, but bear in mind their definition includes some true horror titles.

All of these titles can found in the library catalog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

Live Long and Prosper

UPDATE from Youth Services Staff:

 The “Under the Stars” program at Macon County Public Library has been rescheduled due to the rain and thunderstorms that are forecast for Thursday evening, March 12.

It will now be held on Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM. Consequently, Science Club will be at 7 PM that day (instead of 3:30 PM). Should the weather be bad that day, we will still have Science Club at 7 PM and instead of covering astronomy, we will cover electricity that evening.

Live long and prosper.
Live long and prosper.

This past week a man who helped popularize science fiction (and science!) with his role as Spock on Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy, died at age 83.  Nimoy’s performance as Spock spawned a new generation of scientists, showing that cold, dispassionate logic could be tempered-and even improved- by compassion and sensitivity. Star Trek was a show that inspired imagination and the characters & performances of the actors helped draw in audiences that may have never dared to dream about space exploration.

Science fiction, however, doesn’t just beget daydreams. Many technologies that improve life on Earth have originated from the ideas first proposed in science fiction. The 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon, (inspired in part by the 1865 Jules Verne novel From the Earth to the Moon ) depicts a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule to explore the moon’s surface- 67 years before the Apollo 11 crew rocketed to the moon. NASA’s push to explore space has led to technologies such as infrared ear thermometers, artificial limbs, invisible braces, portable cordless vacuums, solar power technologies, as well as improvements in highway, fire, mine, and food safety- and so much more.

Image provided by Astronomy Club of Asheville
Image provided by Astronomy Club of Asheville

Space exploration, in general, is not really seen as a topic of great importance in the “real world.” Many people seem to still dismiss the idea as a fanciful pursuit- one to, realistically, remain squarely in the realm of science fiction; not nearly as important as the economy or other political issues. Stephen Hawking, however, recently said that space travel will save mankind.

Technological advancements aren’t the only benefits gained from space exploration. Working on the problems and puzzles of space exploration often gives us new perspectives on the immediate problems on Earth. The sort of out-of-the-box thinking that is required to do the seemingly impossible prompts breakthroughs in other realms- those sparks of imagination spread like wildfire!

Library Loaner TelescopeThe awe that people, children especially, feel when studying space can’t be underestimated. The impact that sort of wonder can have is enormous and life-changing, even if it’s not immediately seen.  If you have children, bring them out to Macon County Public Library on March 12 at 6:30pm for the “Under the Stars” Science Club event with special guests from the Astronomy Club of Asheville. Children will get the chance to use a refractor telescope to check out the night sky and learn about astronomy.

Who knows? Maybe your child will discover the inspiration or passion to become an astronaut, a sci-fi writer, or an unforgettable TV alien.

Do you have a favorite science fiction show or book? Has space or science inspired you or had any impact on your life?



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