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Cherie Priest takes on an infamous American crime with Maplecroft, the first in the new Borden Dispatches series. She plants the reader in Falls Church, Massachusetts as Lizzie and her sister Emma stubbornly remain, living down the infamy of Lizzie's trial following the murder of their father and stepmother. Lizzie still has her axe, everybody thinks she did it and an air of mystery surrounds the comings and goings of the two women in Maplecroft, their impressive home.

Then a whole bunch of monster killing happens and readers realize that whatever Lizzie Borden did or didn't do in real life is nothing compared to what Cherie Priest has decided to do with her in fiction.

Maplecroft keeps to many of the facts about Lizzie Borden's life: her father & stepmother were murdered by an axe, Lizzie was tried for the crimes and acquitted, no one ever found out what happened. Emma Borden was Lizzie's older sister and they both did remain in Falls River and moved into a house named Maplecroft after the trial. Also, the actress Nance O'Neil, who had a close (although never as clearly defined) relationship with Lizzie as portrayed in the novel, was also a real person.

Priest presents all of their stories from their perspectives, alternating the point-of-view throughout the narrative. Lizzie's commands most of the story, along with Nance and the fictional character of Dr. Owen Seabury, based on the real family doctor (who testified at Lizzie's trial), Dr. Seabury Bowen. Each of them inches closer to the startling truth of the horrors in Falls Church on their own as the the suspense builds and the characters find themselves in the most dreadful of circumstances.

Fictional Lizzie still has her axe and in this case is not afraid to use it (and for good reason). Her sister Emma is portrayed in the author's hands as a talented marine biologist, publishing her findings (as the times required) under a man's name. There is a sickness in Falls Church, a madness both of the mind and body, and the sisters approach it from two different directions: science and legend. Dr. Seabury seeks out his own answers through keen observation of the afflicted and his medical texts. Thrown together as the tension builds, they embark on a mad dash to find answers, all the while pursued by the stuff of nightmares.

Thank goodness Lizzie can swing that axe!

Maplecroft is great fun--it draws readers in with an almost Victorian pace at the beginning and then builds and builds as the heroes find themselves increasingly threatened. The characters are deeply written, full of flaws, tortured by their own inner doubts and achingly human. It is especially fun to read about Lizzie Borden and see her interacting with her sister and lover while struggling to be the hero that circumstance demands she must be.

This is a perfect autumn read; it will keep you on the edge of your seat, slight freak you out and totally conjure up images of "something wicked this way comes"!

After two quick trips to points both east and west, here is the current status of my reading life:

1. Lies in the Dust: A Tale of Remorse from the Salem Witch Trials by Jakob Crane/Art by Tim Decker. This graphic novel tells the story of Ann Putnam Jr., 14 years after the trials. Ann was one of the girls at the center of the accusations that led to the deaths of the so many. I never knew that she felt remorse--honestly I never thought too much about what happened to any of the girls. Crane does a great job of pulling readers in to Anne's adult (and that of the siblings she raises) and shows how much the attitudes of Salem's residents changed. (It's interesting to me that they blamed her rather than themselves.) Crane also explains why Ann did what she did & the influence her parents had on her actions.

Tim Decker's spare black & white line drawings are the perfect complement to the story, with sad and soulful eyes that can not be denied. A great read for 8-12 year olds (or teens who want to know what happened.)

2. The Family by David Laskin. Oh, this one hurt. Laskin tells the story of 3 branches of his Jewish family--the one that emigrated to the US and became financially successful (founding Maidenform bras!), the one that emigrated to Palestine and still lives in Israel today and the one that stayed behind in Eastern Europe and was 100% killed in the WW2.

It's not a memoir but a history and nearly impossible to put down. I liked that Laskin removed himself from the story and let the history speak for itself. So much to say on this book but mostly, that it needs to be read.

3. Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore & The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters. I am putting these 2 in a piece with Celine Kiernan's Into the Grey about offbeat scary stories that I'm pitching to LARB.

Dark Metropolis is set in an alternate world similar to a certain degree to Europe during the two world wars. Thea's mother has been suffering from separation from her father, believed to be killed in a recent war. Thea supports them by waiting tables in a swanky Jazz Age-ish club along with her best friend Nan. When her friend goes missing, Thea turns detective and teams up with Freddy who is at the heart of the mystery.

In The Cure for Dreaming, budding suffragist Olivia lives in Portland, OR in 1900 with her father while her absent mother works in the theater in NYC. A hypnotist arrives to give shows in town and Olivia's dad hires him to "cure her of her dreams" and accept her role as a dutiful daughter (and future wife for some fine young man). Olivia and "Henri" bond on a serious level and end up changing some minds and seeing the world in a different way. (Though don't expect the happy ending that my summary might be suggesting.)

Both of these are good reads and creepy in unexpected ways and I'm looking forward to writing about them (and Into the Grey).

4. 14 Days to Alaska by Troy Hamon. Sounds exactly like the title suggests--an engaging journal of two brothers on a plane trip from Ohio to King Salmon, AK in a small single-engine aircraft. Part of the hook here is that the author was learning to fly as they went and the airplane was his brand new (57-year old) purchase. Hamon is funny and honest and the trip itself is pretty interesting. I'm reviewing this one for ADN.

5. Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff. For Booklist, so that's all I can say!

6. The Public Library by Robert Dawson. I really loved this so much. Great pictures and wonderful essays. I think it needs to be widely read--Dawson does a great job of showing just why libraries are such a vital part of America's past & present (and future). I think a lot of folks who might not get that would understand better after this book. It's important and beautiful and powerful; probably one of the best books I've paged through this year.

7. Right now I have 2 more books going for Booklist, both of which need to be reviewed by the 14th. Otherwise, I'm going through a backlog of magazines which is always a good way to spend some time.

In the next few days I'll catch up on my reviewing and writing and share some cool family history pics among many many other thins I need to blog about!


Where My Wellies Take Me...
by Clare & Michael Murpurgo is one of those books that is so pretty and smart that I hesitate to do much of any kind of review because it's too hard not to lump the superlatives and make it sound impossible. I want to tell you it functions remarkably well as a poetry anthology, that Pippa's story of gentle outdoor adventure will appeal to kids and parents who enjoy a good jaunt and that Olivia Lomenech Gill's scrapbook style design and artwork is classic in all the best ways.

Oh heck. I love this book and I'm not afraid to just say tell you so.

The basic story is simple: Pippa sets off from her kind Aunt Peggy's on a trek through the countryside (hence the need to wear her wellies). She visits a local farmer, takes a ride on his horse, has a lunch, considers some birds, pigs and dandelions, plays Pooh sticks, spies a fisherman (and dwells on the end of life for a fish) and makes it back to the village in time to be crowned the unexpected victor of a race.

What elevates the book is the accompaniment of so many impressive poems from the likes of Ted Hughes, Rudyard Kipling, Yeats, Rossetti and more. The poems are often short, easy to understand and directly applicable to the text. The combination, with the great scrapbook pages and Pippa's story, makes this a lovely read and also a book to pore over for hours while studying the art.

Some books are treasures and Where My Wellies Take Me... certainly fits that standard. The very young will like Pippa a lot but I think it actually might reach best for the 6 & up crowd - 8 -10 year olds could be the best age of all. Really, though, it depends on the child. You'll know when you look at it if it fits for the explorer in your life. I hope it does.

Here are a couple of spreads from the Olivia Lomenech Gill's website: