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We are often asked why we have chosen to stay with Ballou Senior High School for our annual book fair. Prior to Ballou, Guys Lit Wire worked with a group serving juvenile offenders in Los Angeles and two schools on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. While we certainly were happy to help those folks and felt that our book fairs did a lot of good and were appreciated, when we first teamed up with Ballou we quickly realized we had found a special situation.

Melissa Jackson, the Library Media Specialist, loves her job and her enthusiasm is quite infectious. A look at the library's facebook page shows the many events she plans there from poetry slams to club meetings to author readings and tons of visiting speakers. Melissa works tirelessly to get students excited about reading and has been key to the past success of the book fairs. She cares so much about the kids at Ballou and has shown us just how much one dedicated librarian can accomplish for a whole school. Melissa is a powerhouse whose dedication can not be denied. We are thus delighted to work with her, and help her, through the current book fair.

If you want to know how the world can be changed, then Melissa is a shining example of what a force for good looks like. Guys Lit Wire organizes these book fairs each year through her direct coordination and support; Melissa is the one who gets all these books you purchase off the list into the hands of teenagers eager to read them. Please know how much you making her job easier with every title you send to Washington DC and every effort you make to spread the word.

The Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School continues. Please check out the details and shop the Powells wish list.

[Post pic of Melissa Jackson with the Ballou mascot, the "Golden Knight".]

Cross posted from Guys Lit Wire.

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!