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Colleen Mondor is a reviewer for Booklist, Bookslut, Eclectica Magazine and the Voices of New Orleans.
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1. Going Over by Beth Kephart & wondering why we don't have more Cold War novels for teens

Set in 1983 Berlin, Going Over is a combination of romance and coming-of-age that dwells a lot more with the fallout of the Cold War than just about any book I have read for teenagers. It works because the plot is driven less by the international politics of containment then the angst of Ada, 16, and Stefan, 18, who are separated by the Berlin Wall. They don't have hopes of changing the world, they'd just like to hang out together when they want to which is not easy with all the concrete and guns between them.

Basically, Stefan's got to go over the wall.

Before we get to the adventure aspect ,(which is comparatively quite brief), Kephart immerses readers in the complicated relationship between Ada and Stefan, whose grandmothers are childhood friends who became separated when the wall was constructed. Over the years Ada and her grandmother traveled to East Berlin to visit, (a relatively common occurrence readers may not know about), and what began as a friendship between the children slowly became more.

Stefan's life is small; his future predetermined by the stringent rules of education and work that dominate socialist society. Ada, a graffiti artist who lives with her mother and grandmother and works in a small day care, is wide open to possibility. Her Germany can be grim as well, but the chance of what might happen next is something she embraces. Ada is all about taking big leaps and encourages (practically forces!) Stefan to consider big leaps as well. Fearlessness doesn't come easy to East Germans however, not with so many examples of how badly things can go when you try to be brave.

In hoping to persuade Stefan to leave, Ada collects reports on successful crossings and smuggles them in to him to read. (These are all true.) Bit by bit, Stefan forms a plan, while on the other side Ada watches and waits and dreams of a world where they are both able to imagine a future of their choice.

Going Over is a teen novel of far bigger ideas than most I have come across. The setting is brilliant and the split narrative, between Ada and Stefan, provides readers with a close look at just how different Berlin became after the split. (Which also makes the reunification that much more impressive.) There are so many novels set during WWII, while the Cold War remains stubbornly overlooked. I'm thus delighted with what Kephart has done here and find these characters, in their decidedly European setting, to be different in the best way. It's a thought provoking title with exceedingly likeable characters and a great ending; all of which make Going Over a winner.

[Post pic courtesy LIFE of a mother & daughter speaking across the wall in August 1961.]

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2. Round-up of recent reads

Capsule reviews on several recent reads for those looking for a recommendation or two:

Young Woman in a Garden by Delia Sherman. This is the first short story collection from this prolific and outstanding fantasy author. Sherman is tough to pin down; her stories (and novels) are sly and wink a bit at expectations. Sometimes the fantasy elements are barely there--a whiff of a ghost story perhaps as in the title story, or suburban witchcraft in "Walpurgis Afternoon". The point is not always even the fantasy, as significant as it might be to the plot, but rather the characters and the setting and, (I love this), the language.

Delia Sherman writes sentences you want to read out loud and that, perhaps more than anything, is why I advise you to read each and everything she ever writes.

Unwept: Book One of the Nightbirds by Tracy & Laura HIckman. The set-up here is straightforward: Ellis is on a train alone with a nurse who is also caring for an infant. Most of her memory is gone and the nurse assures her that she is being sent to stay with family and friends in a small town to recuperate from a long illness. Everything will be better if she rests in Gamin with her cousin Jenny. But then of course, after she arrives, nothing is as it seems.

The tension in Unwept is outstanding and readers will find themselves flinching along with Ellis as she finds herself uncomfortable and alarmed while among the local literary group, "The Nightbirds," who claim to be her dear friends. As she puts things together, and finds more reasons to be afraid, the book shifts into thriller mode. It's set up for a sequel (of course) and I hope the reasons behind all this drama get fleshed out more. But a solid start and a true page-turner.

The Spiritglass Charade (A Stoker & Holmes Novel) by Colleen Gleason. Evaline Stoker, vampire hunter, and Mina Holmes, detective, return for this next adventure in an alternate Victorian London. This time the teens have been tasked to help a friend of Princess Alix , 17 year old Willa who has become obsessed with spiritualism as she searches for clues about her missing brother's whereabouts. The princess thinks Willa is being taken advantage of and Mina immediately agrees. There is a lot more going on though, including Charles Babbage's computing machines, vile murder, sleep walking, and vampires (of course!).

What I like about the Stoker & Holmes books is that the lead characters are not great friends. They are prickly characters who have been brought together by circumstance and continue to work together because otherwise they would be bored out of their minds. But Evaline & Mina don't especially like each other. They do however trust each other and that is important. In the midst of chaos, both professional and personal, they know they won't let each other down. Their evolving relationship is what draws me in even more than the mysteries themselves (which are always fun). Good stuff for the 13 & up crowd.

Nobody's Home: An Anubis Gates Story by Tim Powers. This novella might appeal more to fans of Powers and his wicked creepy 19th century London than anyone else, but I found it a lot fun to read, especially as the two main characters are young women who defy quite a few expectations.

Jacky Snapp is looking for the man who killed her fiancee Colin when she saves Harriet, who is under attack from the ghost of her husband. (Already crazy weird, right?) Post scuffle, Jacky and Harriet find themselves catching the attention of a lot London's ghosts and must travel to a barge moored below Westminster Palace called "Nobody's Home". They might have to pay in blood, but Nobody is their only shot to lose their attraction to London's ghosts. As it turns out though, Nobody knows a lot more about Jacky then she suspects.

Loads of atmosphere, breakneck pace, smart characters and no shortage of creepiness. It's short, fast and fun and includes outstanding illustrations from JK Potter. It's an expensive stocking stuffer, but Powers fans will be thrilled. (Excerpt here.)

And beyond these books there have been several for Booklist which I can't talk about and one for Locus which I can't talk about and....well, a couple of others but I'll post about them tomorrow.

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3. "It has to start with the art"

This book comes with a certain amount of baggage because Amanda Palmer, of the largest Kickstarter ever, of the viral TED talk, of the marriage to Neil Gaiman and the punk cabaret sound and the look that no one completely understands, is a person who carries a lot of baggage. Some folks love her and some folks hate her and some folks won't be able to set aside comments they might have read online or things they heard about her when considering her book. But they should, because it's really something special.

The Art of Asking is about Palmer's experiences as a creative person and how she has both made her music and supported herself while doing it. One of the key issues she brings up early on is how much she did not want a job, which we all know is not the same thing as earning a living. Everyone and their cousin told her over the years that she needed a job and supported her efforts at obtaining jobs while also making clear more than once that making art (or words or music or sculpture) is not the same thing as working. (And consequently, not a job.)

All of you who proudly told your parents you wanted to be a writer (or artist or musician or...) and were answered with the words "That is a good hobby but you need to set yourself up for a decent career first," well, you know how frustrated Palmer was for a long time and you can't help but admire her decision to strike out on her own and set herself up on a crate as a living statue in Harvard Square. What she learns through this daily interaction with strangers (and the money they give her) changed her life and set her on the path that eventually led to where she is today.

What I got from The Art is Asking is less a dose of personal empowerment (although it's certainly here) but more some serious thoughtful writing on figuring out what you want to do as a creative and how to get to that place. Palmer's message is that you have to accept help when it's offered and not be afraid to ask, but she is also serious about the level of hard work involved as well. You have to be willing to stand in the rain in Harvard Square dressed as bride if need be; you have to keep your eye on the goal and not be dissuaded by the doubtful chorus that might be filling your ears.

Honestly, I'm still thinking about much of what I've read and over the next couple of weeks I plan to read The Art of Asking again. I spent a lot of years cultivating a professional existence that did not include the word "writer" in it, because I thought that was what any writer, other than someone impossibly famous, (hello Stephen King & Nora Roberts), was supposed to do or expected to do or had to do.

We all waste so much time thinking that way, don't we? Palmer has challenged that belief every step of the way and how she got to the moment she's living now makes for fascinating reading and, if you are a creative, sheds some light on just how you might alter your path as well. That's she's remarkably candid about her own missteps and fears is just icing in the cake of this truly outstanding book. I wish I had it when I was 21 but mostly, I'm glad to be reading it now.

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4. Meg Wolizter's Belzhar and the cult of Sylvia Plath

I surprised myself the first time I read The Bell Jar by falling hard for Sylvia Plath's autobiographical novel of a young woman in New York City and the fallout of her stressful summer. It was the Plath angle that sparked my initial attraction to Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar but that ended up being a way more complicated novel than I expected (with a truly amazing twist).

Introspective Jam Gallahue is a classic Plath heroine. Depressed over the death of her boyfriend Reeve, Jam has been sent by her parents to a "therapeutic boarding school" in Vermont. Selected for enrollment into a small English class, she and her fellow students immerse themselves in The Bell Jar and find themselves experience strange dreams attached to the individual traumas that brought each of them to the school.

Wolitzer uses the class to bring the misfits together and the mysterious dreams cause them to bond rapidly as they share their experiences and why they came to the school. Jam watchers a lot, observing her classmates and tentatively making friends. Mostly though she immerses herself in her dreams and memories of Reeve, rehashing every moment of their brief but powerful romance. It's a classic boarding school set-up and then Wolitzer hits readers with the wallop of a twist that blows every inch of the plot out of the water and yet also makes perfect sense.

I liked the teens in this novel and I think Wolitzer did a good job of showing how some things that bring us down can be remarkably small but still nonetheless devastating. And I liked how Plath fit into the novel and how seeing The Bell Jar through the eyes of Jam and her friends made me reconsider that novel a bit more as well. If Belzhar ends up being a way for readers to find Plath, then that is a really good thing and why I think that an excellent gift for teenage girls in particular would be copies of Belzhar, The Bell Jar and also Mad Girl's Love Song and Ariel: The Restored Edition.

More on Sylvia Plath at Brain Pickings.

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5. And now, tackling the email

Between my website and the email automatically forwarded to me from Guys Lit Wire, I have been averaging about 150 emails a day for a very long time and it is completely insane. I scan through my inbox every morning and delete with abandon, my junk mail is even worse. (I wish I could ignore the junk mail but a couple of times a week real mail ends up in there so I have to check it at least every few days.)

Email is a stupid thing to worry about but when it's there everyday it becomes a burden and when I can't tell what is good and what isn't, my day just ends up starting with an annoyance. So, I decided a couple of weeks ago to start trying to get off some of the zillion mailing lists that I somehow got put on without my knowledge.

My daily goal was really tiny: just open 5 emails and unsubscribe. I figured out pretty quickly that a lot of emails are from the same lists, and also that unsubscribing is not that tough. I was able to get through my five often in just a couple of minutes. Some days that was all I did and I still felt like I accomplished something which was huge.

At least I wasn't just passively accepting all this crap everyday.

Some of the lists respond that it takes 5-7 days to be removed, others say it takes as long as 10 days. Because of that I don't think I'll get a really good idea of how successful I've been until the end of the month. By then, hopefully, I will be left with only the real junk (the Nigerian prince emails, etc.) and then I plan to blacklist those and see if I can outright block them.

I am really puzzled how I ended up on all these list. Several of them involve wine, which I don't drink and haven't ordered. Bloomberg News and the Economist like me a lot - several lists from each of them and again, no idea why. I also get a lot of stuff from people selling window blinds and hair replacement treatments.


Today, I am down to 45 emails a day total. Since I doubt I spent 45 minutes of my time getting down to this, I think I've been pretty successful. I'm not done yet, but at least I don't feel angry every time I check my email which is huge.

Ending 2014 this way is actually a pretty good thing to do. Between the e-hoarding and the email, I feel like I'm cleaning up my computer life quite a bit. This week I start on the bookmarks with the same tactic - looking at 5 a day minimum and either deleting or organizing them into folders. I have no idea what I'm going to find but at least this is all stuff I definitely wanted at some point which is a huge improvement over the email.

It's the little things, right? *grin*

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6. On e-hoarding

I have decided to get actually serious about redesigning my website and streamlining it in a major way.* I want to lighten it up, brighten it up and find some focus here. I was honestly thinking about suspending the blog for a bit but I need the website for my book and I do enjoy writing about my family history here, so I just decided a change might do the trick.

And then I had to face my e-hoarding issues.

I archive a lot here. I archive all my posts but also, until very recently, copy all all of my reviews and major articles as well. There is a lot of stuff backed up on Chasing Ray that is more about my paranoia of suddenly disappearing from the internet (it's insane, I know) then actually needing to be here.

It has to go.

So, just like we clean out our closets, I am cleaning up my website. I'm not going to worry about deleting everything, but more importantly, I'm not going to worry about copying everything here in the future. I'm going to put up my posts and if I think the world might like to know about an article or review then I'll link to it and that will be enough. And if something disappears from the internet then I need to LET IT GO.

It's like clinging to clothes from high school; embarrassing and stupid and not who I want to be (or how I want to live).

The thing about e-hoarding is that no one else can see it. No one knows about the dead bookmarks I have, or old articles cluttering my hard drive, and few even wander around the web site enough to see those reviews from forever ago. But I know and I can't stand it. I want it all gone and I want the compulsion that makes me keep all this junk gone as well.

It's a little change in the grand scheme of things but a bright one and in the midst of winter, bright things are always good. :)

*This means that I am happily paying Sarah Stevenson to redesign my website as I can't write code to save my life. Thank goodness she knows what she is doing.

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7. On the Irish Bridget

I have one Bridget in my family. She was my great grandfather's grandmother (my great great great grandmother). I have only the most tenuous of paper links to her thus far, finding her name on death certificates and in census records for 1900 and 1910. It appears though that Bridget is one of my immigrant Irish relatives, arriving in New York City in the late 1850s. I know that my great grandfather's (he was born in 1888) aunts and uncles were all born in NYC starting in 1860, so Bridget looks to be the one* who made the journey across the Atlantic.

The really weird thing about Bridget though is that she is our only known Bridget. The Irish are notorious for using the same names over again and we have a ton of Johns, Catherines, Roberts, Jameses, etc. When Bridget first popped up I didn't think she was one of mine because we have no Bridgets at all - not as a first or middle name, not as a deceased child - and my grandmother never ever mentioned this name. It's been a little puzzle and then I read the novel So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore a couple of weeks ago and I think I found my answer. (Loved the book - highly recommend it.)

In the novel, Massachusetts teen Natalie is working on a family history project while dealing with some horrible cyberbullying. She becomes friends with state archivist Kathleen who helps her read a diary found in Natalie's house. In those pages, they learn about the trials of Bridget O'Connell, an Irish maid who worked for a family in 1920. Here is the bit from the diary that gave me pause:

Ah, Charles had said when I first arrived at their home, a Bridget named Bridget. Because that was the name they gave to all the girls over from Ireland, they called them Bridgets, and while I should have been able to laugh that off, the terrible coincidence of my name, the way it made something I always thought was individual to me common and everyday, I often felt a flame of anger when I heard it. How funny, Charles said. We got the actual Bridget!

Moore listed a reference in her afterword, The Irish Bridget: Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America 1840-1930. Obviously I'm planning to read this and see what I can learn, but I'm also wondering if this was why Bridget's name was not repeated. Maybe my family found they did not want to use it again when they discovered how other people used it. I honestly don't know, but at least I have an idea now of what might have happened to it.

Now it's back to tracking my Bridget, and seeing what I can learn about her life and how she came to America, an endlessly fascinating mystery!

*Bridget's husband was Michael John or Michael or John (sigh) Lennon, my great great great grandfather. I have next to nothing on him though, so I don't know yet if they were married when she arrived, or if he was NY born.

[Post pic via Times Higher Education.]

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8. On Maira Kalman's Favorite Things

The ability to take a walk from one point to the next point, that is half the battle won.

Go out and walk. That is the glory of life.

A very short excerpt from Maira Kalman's My Favorite Things which is an incredibly indulgent purchase, a trifle really, but hard to resist.

It chronicles the items selected by Kalman in 2011 after she was invited to curate an exhibit by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Kalman selected her favorite things from the museum's collection and they were arranged in a room that thus provided an inside look at her thought process and creativity. As it turns out (to no one's surprise), Kalman is a very interesting person who selected very interesting things. She also writes a bit about her family history which made me hope that she will return to that subject again very soon.

Sometimes, you just open a book and it sings to you. When that happens don't question why, just turn the pages and relish the moment.

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9. Returning, some changes, some girls & a car

I have been, as they say, away for a bit.

I can definitively report that sunny Florida is still, even as the country freezes, sunny Florida. The beach was fab, the oysters tasty and much fun was had by all. As always, I am amazed that I could have grown up someplace so very different from where I live now. Life does take us all in the most interesting unplanned directions, doesn't it?

The best thing about going home and eating your mother's cooking is the time you end up spending thinking about your life. It happens, even when you don't plan it. Just driving all those roads that still hold the ghosts of your childhood (and yes, we visited the cemetery), makes you think about who you were and might have been.

It makes you think about who you are trying to be and if you are doing a good job at that. Or not.

What am I planning now? First, as soon as I got home I cleaned out my closet. (It needed to be done.) And now I am working on some long overdue aviation articles, (the news in Alaska has, not surprisingly, been terribly overwhelmed by politics the last couple of months).

I have learned some more amazing things about my family in recent weeks--an unexpected marriage, names from a past generation, (I can confirm we had a Bridget! My great great great grandmother!), the nationality of a great uncle that does not match what I thought I knew about him and more. I have found a 35 year old aunt (great great great aunt) celebrating her marriage in 1910. How unexpected to see a woman waiting so long back then to marry.

I have so many more questions to ask, and so many questions I still don't know to ask.

There are books beside me to be reviewed and submitted to several different venues. (I might be turning up in unexpected places in the coming months.) There is a site redesign that is desperately overdue here. And there is so much writing to do; so much writing that should have been done by now.

I don't know who these two ladies are or where the picture was taken or when, (the 1930s I think from their outfits), but it was in one of my great grandmother's photo albums and I couldn't resist it. This one I love even though it will likely forever remain a mystery. I defy you not to love it too.

Appreciating small things like this is something I am resolved to do more of in the future. Going back home will do that to you; it reminds you of all you didn't take time to appreciate when you should have.

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10. Forsaken by Kelley Armstrong (an "Otherworld" novella)

I am a light reading fan of Kelley Armstrong's werewolf books, which started with Bitten (which spawned a tv series) (which I have not watched). In all honestly, I didn't love Bitten--the world building was pretty cool but there was some killing that seemed to be gratuitous and all the dramarama was a tad bit soap opera-ish at points to me. But I did read it and I didn't hate it and it certainly was not anything like Laurell K. Hamilton's succubus insanity so I've been open to reading Armstrong's other books in the series, especially the novellas released by Subterranean Press.

Forsaken is due out in late January but open for preorder now and one of the better books in the series I've read. It manages to combine a lot of tension with a look at the politics of a woman in power. Armstrong has been out in front of the woman-as-leader issue from the beginning--werewolf Elena's position in the werewolf pack has always been a big deal--but now that she is the Alpha of the North American pack and involved in some situations away from her territory, things take an international turn and that brings Forsaken into remarkably timely territory.

Elena's story has always been about a woman having to make big choices which I think is one of the strengths of the series. Who to be, where to live, who to love--all of these are things that readers can identify with even without the paranormal bits. But Armstrong took the books in a surprising direction when she her two main characters not just marry but have children. In Forsaken, it is the assertion that as a mother Elena can not be strong leader which takes center stage. (Can anyone hear echoes of this in the campaign of every single female political leader ever?)

So, our heroine is juggling a big scary issue with her kids in Forsaken and trying to negotiate with the British werewolf pack who is led by a serious sexist jerk and then bad guys try to kill her and her family and it all goes to hell in a hand basket. That final part is pretty standard stuff for the series but it actually takes backseat to the rest and female readers in particular will likely identify a lot with how Elena tries to balance her demands as mother and leader while still considering her very significant relationship with big sexy husband Clay.

Yeah, you knew that was going to be part of it too, right?

Armstrong is still not a 100% guarantee for me, but Forsaken is a fun read that hit all the bells and whistles. I blew through it overnight and enjoyed the ride a lot. I recommend it and suggest you keep an eye out for her other titles that appear at Sub Press.

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11. "...and the local library matters." - Bill Moyers

One of the best books I read this year and a truly important reading experience is The Public Library, a photographic essay by Robert Dawson. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, this is a gorgeously designed book of photos and essays on American public libraries, which I could not stop paging through.

Right now, you are probably thinking you know what the book is and agree with me that it's important and yet you likely have no interest in paging through it. A book like this is a good thing, but you already value libraries, right? You think you don't need this one.

Allow me to convince you otherwise.

I know public libraries matter on many levels. My hometown library had a huge influence on my life and I know that sentiment is the same for a lot of other people. So I approached The Public Library expecting an appreciation and I certainly was not disappointed on that score. But there is a lot more going on in this book, in the essays (by Bill Moyers, Ann Patchett, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver and more) and the photos.

Dawson shows libraries in a variety of situations: urban and rural, small communities and large, in remote locations and city centers. The design differences are amazing and the closed facilities are heartbreaking but what really got to me was seeing how really useful the libraries are in unexpected ways. Also, the issue of homeless patrons came up several times and the essayists were pretty blunt on that subject.

While I was reading The Public Library and pouring over the photos, what struck me time and again was that open, free libraries are not a gift for a community, but a necessity. They are an equalizing force between the rich and poor and as significant as schools and the right to vote. They can make the difference for so much that might be missing in your life and be a game-changer in so many ways.

The best case scenario would find all of our elected officials sitting down and reading this book. It's the type of title that makes you think and inspires action. (I feel like I'm getting almost silly about libraries right now but I can't help it; just looking at these pictures touched my heart.)

The Public Library--obvious choice for book lovers but an even more important one for folks who just don't get it yet and need to be persuaded.

Listen to an interview with Robert Dawson at NPR.

[Post pics from the book.]

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12. Celebrating Ballou Sr High School's library dynamo

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.

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13. Lizzie Borden, kick ass monster killer

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"!

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14. Whew....catching up!

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!

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15. When Mother is Mad: Parents with mental illness in YA literature

TROUBLED TEENS have always been present in literature, long before the current crop of vampires and dystopian futures provided window dressing for their fears and struggles. Tales of addiction and separation, abuse and abandonment, have always been a staple of the young-adult publishing market, and their enduring appeal is easy to explain: young people are hyper-alert to injustice and pain. Not only do they have to get through every day (as we all do), but they often find themselves in powerless positions where their pain is discounted by the adults around them. Contemporary realistic fiction addresses these perspectives in much the same way that titles of the past have done, and writers such as Sara Zarr, Meg Medina, and Matthew Quick continue in the footsteps of such classic authors as S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, and Paul Zindel.

In the last several years, three novels have focused on a specific kind of teenage pain: that of having a parent who struggles with mental illness. This Is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky, A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler, and White Lines by Jennifer Banash all give us teen protagonists trying to understand the destructive and dangerous behaviors of volatile, creative mothers who may be kind or cruel, depending on forces invisible even to them. These are powerful stories of daughters who have all been left to find their own way through the fits and starts of madness that fill their lives. They love their mothers as they believe they should, and they strive, as best they can, to protect them, either by covering up their behavior or keeping secrets about just how bad it has become. All three of these books explore the guilt and despair that result from a teenager's long overdue act of self-preservation, the personal fallout from the moment when the protagonist finally decides that her fate is separate from that of her mother's.

This Is How I Find Her
opens when high school junior Sophie saves her mother's life after a prescription drug overdose. As the doctors take over and her mother faces weeks of inpatient treatment, Sophie turns to her long estranged aunt and uncle for safe harbor, but there is trouble there as well. Sophie and her cousin Leila were once close, but when Sophie's mother impetuously endangered their lives while behind the wheel of a car, Leila's mother cut off all contact. Sophie's aunt chose to guard herself and her family and, in doing so, left her niece behind to deal with the chaos.

Messy family relations are laid bare, revealing how wild and unpredictable a home can become while still remaining within the limits of the law. Sophie's mother, an accomplished artist, can control her mood swings with medication, but taking the pills mitigates the manic states she has come to rely upon as an artist. Her subsequent wild behavior and risk-taking drives everyone away. Sophie however, has nowhere to go and is left to act as caregiver. She sticks it out until the day her mother nearly dies and her inability to hold everything together can no longer be ignored.

Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose is in a similar situation in Holly Schindler's A Blue So Dark. Her mother suffers from schizophrenia, and Aura has been holding their lives together since her father moved out a couple of years ago. In one heartbreaking passage, Aura recalls a panicked phone call she made at age 12 from a soccer field, as her mother's delusions suddenly consumed her and she became convinced she was about to die:

But Dad didn't say, all worried, like I still expected him to, "I'll be right there." He just sighed, long and exasperated, right in my ear. Sighed so hard I could practically feel his breath, hot, coming through the phone. "Aura, I can't."

"You -- you --" I stuttered.

"I'm not even working in town today, Aura. I'm all the way over in Billings. And I can't just keep running off at a moment's ... Look, you're going to have to handle it, okay?"

My whole body was thudding and was so scared, so scared, suddenly I was the one who was drowning. I can't. I can't. You're not really going to do this are you? Why are you going to let everything fall on my shoulders, heavy as every brick building in the whole world?

Aura's thoughts sum up the horrifying realization that any teen with a mentally ill parent must face. Her parents break up, and Aura handles it because she has no choice. She keeps things under control until her mother slips into a near catatonic state. That's when she reaches out to her long absent grandmother who comes to the rescue, while her father, now in another relationship, also steps up to provide some guidance. Schindler makes clear that while these adults knew Aura was given a burden much too great to bear, they chose to ignore what was happening. They didn't do anything until it was almost too late and, even then, only because the teenager was falling to pieces.

Jennifer Banash's White Lines focuses on a teen who thinks she has escaped a mother with a combination of borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, but finds herself still very much in the emotional grip of a parent she cannot let go.

Seventeen-year old Cat seems to be handling things just fine; she is out of her mother's house and her wealthy remarried father has set her up in her own apartment. With New York City at her fingertips and no rules to follow, she holds an enviable position in her social crowd as a "club kid." She and her friends have a job of sorts; they are paid by a local promoter to bring in a teen cliental to various clubs. Her group is comprised of overlooked, ignored, or desperate kids who nominally attend high school, engage in all manner of drug-fueled activity, link up with sexual partners on a whim, and basically have what appears to be a full-time good time. They are also the kind of kids who kill themselves or get killed while no one notices.

Smart and self-aware, Cat knows her lifestyle cannot last forever but she also doesn't know what to do instead, and she's terrified of what will happen if she stops acting like she has it all together. For her, the problem is learning how to care about anyone again after the years of unpredictable violent abuse at the hands of her predatory mother. Consider this thought:

Sometimes I think that's what life really is -- the passing of small hurts on to one another, those circular moments of daily abuse. You hurt me, I hurt you. Rinse and repeat.

For Cat, it is the near death of a friend that finally prompts her to realize how close to the precipice she has come. This is the moment when she makes the phone call to her father, when she acknowledges not only that she's not okay, but that no one with so much psychological damage can be okay. Thankfully, after passively watching on the sidelines for years, her father steps up, and Cat is on her way to discovering what a safe and happy home can be.

Statistics on children living in homes with mental illness are difficult to come by, although a 2007 issue of Social Work reported that five million children in the US have a parent with serious mental illness. In Canada, a 2009 national health survey found 12 percent of children under the age of 12 living in that country shared a home with a parent suffering from at least one mood, anxiety, or substance abuse disorder. Children must also deal with the secrecy that surrounds many mental disorders, and fear of what might happen to a family often prevents honest and open discussion of the issue. As the teenage protagonists of these three novels come to learn, however, staying in the sphere of the mentally ill means ceding control of nearly every aspect of their lives. That moment of realization -- when the teen asserts that the life she's been living is not okay -- makes for a triumphant reading experience. These books represent gritty teen drama at its finest; they are powerful stories that teach readers what it truly means to be a young adult.

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16. Chasing Dogs by Jeff Schultz

After more than 30 years of being the official photographer for the Iditarod, Jeff Schultz has accumulated 50,000 pictures on every aspect of the race. In his recent book, "Chasing Dogs," he highlights many of the more arresting images, providing readers with an inside look at the working mushers, dogs and volunteers who make the race a success. He also shares decades of memories, which include a lot of time in airplanes flying over the trail and one nearly fatal crash near Golovin.

As he recounts in the book, Schultz has flown both with pilots who were dedicated solely to moving him along the trail and also with Iditarod Air Force volunteers who picked him up along the way. Over the years, he has developed a unique appreciation for the intricacies of decision-making while flying in winter.

"I sometimes find myself stuck in a checkpoint, waiting for a change in the weather so the plane can leave," he writes. "There's a saying, 'When you have time to spare, go by air.' I used to be anxious when I was grounded by weather, thinking I was missing many opportunities. Although I agreed that the pilot knows best, often I'd try to persuade him to fly. Not a good idea."

In 1997, Schultz and Barry Stanley found themselves in Ptarmigan Valley, between the Rainy Pass and Rohn checkpoints. Stanley had towed Schultz out to the valley, snapping shots along the way, in a sled behind his snowmachine. Pilot Sam Maxwell planned to pick him up there later for Rohn. Unfortunately, the snow ended up being too deep for the Super Cub and Maxwell was quickly stuck in the fading daylight. The plane had to be dug out and the snow compacted to make a firmer runway for departure. In an experience shared by thousands of bush pilots and passengers back to the days of Crosson and Wien, the three men got to work until Maxwell and Schultz were in the air and Stanley "...fired up his snowmachine, ready to ride back home to the Rainy Pass Lodge."

The most compelling chapter by far is the author's recollection of surviving a plane crash in 1992. Along with pilot Chris McDonnell, Schultz was en route to the White Mountain checkpoint. According to the chapter entitled "My Life-and-Death Plane Crash," McDonnell decided to fly across Golovin Bay to avoid low clouds. They were approaching the village of Golovin as the visibility steadily decreased.

"We could only see a few hundred feet up the sides of the mountains near us," writes Schultz. "Chris felt it was a safer bet to follow the shore of the bay, where we could see willows and a few fish camp shacks along the shoreline. After a few minutes those willow and shacks were no longer there. Or were no longer visible. I don't know which."

The aircraft hit the ground with little warning and neither pilot nor passenger was able to recall how they exited the crumpled wreckage. Both men were seriously injured and it was several hours before anyone was able to reach them. Schultz writes powerfully of desperately working his handheld radio and finally making contact with Will Vacendak, a Bering Air pilot who came looking for their emergency locator transmitter. Vacendak stayed with him overhead on the radio until rescuers arrived on snowmachines. In the end, Schultz required multiple surgeries and it was clear both he and McDonnell were lucky to be alive.

"Our rescuers were astounded by what they saw of the plane. The landing gear was broken off, the propeller bent, the wings contorted -- one forward, one backward -- and the cockpit smashed. Richard Toymil described the scene later saying, 'The plane was all messed up. The windshield was broken, there was blood all over the dashboard, and there were bloody streaks where they crawled out'."

Schultz, of course, took pictures of the crash site before leaving the scene.

Many fans of the Iditarod are going to love "Chasing Dogs" for the intimate look it provides of the race and the many, many stunning photographs. But pilots should also seek it out for the rare glimpse it provides of yet another facet of the state's unique aviation environment. Schultz's recollection of the accident is particularly riveting and illustrates perfectly how important proper survival gear is for all Alaska aircraft. One expects to be dazzled by Jeff Schultz's pictures; the appeal of his text is a great surprise and something to share with pilots everywhere.

"Chasing Dogs" can be purchased at stores across Alaska and online via Jeff Schultz's website. For more information, wholesale purchasers can contact Taku Graphics.

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17. The utter delight found in "Where My Wellies Take Me..."

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:

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18. State of Affairs on September 15th.

An assessment of life at the moment:

1. I have realized that the work involved in getting an agent after your agent retires is really exhausting. My synopsis is done but I need to update the professional bio (which feels like college all over again) and come up with a list of comparable titles (thus proving that while my proposed book is still unique, it is not too unique).

2. I'm also supposed to provide 2 chapters. As I am still researching the stuff for the beginning of the book, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to accomplish this in any sort of chronological order, but 2 chapters are 2 chapters, I suppose.

3. UGH!

4. I will be at the Pacific NW Booksellers Association Tradeshow in Tacoma in 2 weeks, manning a booth for Taku Graphics & Shorefast Editions. If you are going to be there, stop by and say hello! (And enter our drawing for Alaskan awesomeness.)

5. My website is getting a bit of a redesign in the coming weeks. Mostly behind the scenes stuff (including a new commenting format).

6. I'm working on articles about aviation + mail in AK, fly-your-own-plane tourism in AK and the history of aviation and fishing. If this excites you, keep an eye at Alaska Dispatch News for more.

7. I think I have rewatched every episode of The Gilmore Girls a zillion times. I'm wearing out my dvds. (Perfect background watching for writing.)

8. I'm sending out 2 letters to churches with questions about family weddings from the past and purchasing some certificates from NYC. The genealogy continues.

9. I have to find out how to query for a Rockland State Hospital record of commitment because on top of everything else (and there has been a lot of stuff in my family history), we also had someone committed to one of the most notorious psychiatric hospitals in US history.

10. Of course.

11. Recent reads include Celine Kiernan's Into the Grey - a very atmospheric YA ghost story set in Ireland that I loved a lot. I'm hoping to get a review of it (and a couple of other scary-type books) submitted to an online review site. I'll keep ya posted.

12. I've been reading lots of small stuff around the edges. I can't seem to focus too much beyond my Booklist reading these days (which lately included a title about infectious diseases - oy). Last night I read Marie Claire magazine and it was almost too much. (I am however all over the 1930s articles on Alaska flying and fishing; that is my speed these days.)

13. I'm craving grilled cheese sandwiches. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

14. I have to send off a letter requesting archival information about the papers of a man who died 70 years ago. I thought I might be crazy to pursue writing an essay about him (I have no idea where I would submit it) but google searches bring up so little and there should be more. We'll see what happens. Maybe I won't find enough to write about - although that alone might be the point of the essay then.

15. I found out last week that one of my relatives died from complications due to syphilis.

16. Of course.

16. Pretty hard to top that, so I think I'll end here!

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19. Photos from the sky in 1926

From my article on the survey of Southeast Alaska up at Alaska Dispatch News:

In 1926 Alaska's aviation industry had barely been born. Ben Eielson had flown and lost the first air mail contract in 1924. Russ Merrill and Roy Davis made the first flight over the Gulf of Alaska only one year before. And future famous pilots like Bob Reeve, Joe Crosson, Bob Ellis and Shel Simmons had yet to make their marks. But as reported in the 1929 publication "Aerial Photographic Surveys in Southeastern Alaska," using aircraft to survey the territory was a logical choice. Although topographic mapping of Alaska had been conducted by the Geological Survey for nearly 30 years, progress remained slow-going and extremely hazardous with some regions still stubbornly inaccessible. Photographing by aircraft presented endless possibilities; it just needed to be tested.

It's just amazing when you think of what they accomplished with such crude equipment and poor weather reporting information. I'm always so surprised when I come across stories like this--what pilots accomplished back never ceases to amaze me.

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20. Born in America but not an American

carol1915.jpgThis ranks as the weirdest thing I have discovered thus far in my family history research.

My great grandmother had three younger sisters: Marie, Ernestine & Carol. All three of them were born in NYC (1895, 1897 & 1900). I knew they were born in NYC because all of their birth certificates are available online. These are not "people we heard were born in NYC" or "people we thought were born in NYC" but 100%, no doubt, for sure, born in NYC.

So imagine my surprise when I found Carol's naturalization papers.

I tracked Carol through the census records in the early 1900s, just as I tracked her sisters. I knew her husband's last name was Redmond and he showed up with her in the 1930 census (first name Frank). (I have no idea why they aren't in the 1920 census but I'll worry about that later.)

I knew Carol's son's name was Warren (I actually have a postcard he sent my great grandmother when he was in WWII) and there was was Warren, born in 1927. Everything about Carol was lining out as I expected, and I was just filling in the necessary blanks.

Then ancestry.com sent me a hint about Carol with a link to a naturalization record. This made no sense but I looked and there she was, my great great aunt Carol, with her place of birth in NYC applying for citizenship in the US in 1939. There is no doubt about this being my Carol (how many Caroline Freida Redmonds can there be in the world?), but it made no sense. The one thing that really jumped out at me was that the application stated she and Frank were married in Barbados and he was born in NYC in 1903.

None of this made any sense.

It got more complicated when I searched for her marriage certificate online and found it in 1919 in NYC. (Which is clearly not Barbados.) So....I think the clerk on the naturalization papers might have flipped it--Frank was born in Barbados and they were married in NYC. (According to the 1940 census, Frank was born in the British West Indies.)

But that's all Frank and not Carol and where Frank was born should not affect Carol's citizenship except....it actually did.

According to the National Archives website, there was a lot of confusion at the turn of the century over female citizenship. Just as foreign women became citizens upon marriage, the courts began to decide that American women could lose citizenship upon marriage to a foreigner. It finally became law in 1907. Under the act of March 2, 1907, all women acquired their husband's nationality upon any marriage occurring after that date.

If a husband eventually filed paperwork and naturalized into a US citizen, the woman then became an American....again. But if the husband did not obtain US citizenship for whatever reason, then the woman couldn't either because it was all totally up to the man. Basically, a woman born in the US, who lived her whole life in the US and never ever left the US could still cease to be a US citizen if she married a man who wasn't an American.

(My inner historian is screaming all about the 14th Amendment right now.)

Frank must have been British still at the time of their marriage and when Carol married him, she lost her US citizenship. Now why she applied in 1939 is still a mystery. I can find no record of Frank applying for citizenship however so perhaps Carol applied to get hers back after the laws changed again (and got rid of this insanity). Oddly enough, I think when she became a citizen in 1939, that would automatically make Frank one if he had never sought citizenship before. (Because, after all, he was then married to a US citizen. AGAIN.)

Maybe. Honestly, I have no clue at this point.

The key bit in all this is that Carol was born in America, fell in love in America, got married in America and then lost her American citizenship.This happened because Carol was a woman. It really makes all this immigration stuff today seem even crazier when you realize that once upon a time in this country even being born here wasn't enough.

I have ordered a copy of Carol & Frank's marriage certificate. Can't wait to see what that reveals.....

[Post pic of Carol, about age 15.]

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21. Considering the masterful plotting of Miss Peregrine and Hollow City

I just read and enjoyed immensely Ransom Riggs's Hollow City, the sequel to Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children. Fans of the first book need only hear that the second exceeds it in every way, (which is pretty amazing as that book was fantastic), and those who have missed both and love a good story (regardless of whether you like young adult, new adult or just plain adult) really ought to read these books immediately.

But what I've been thinking about is what a good job Riggs did at crafting both of these books around the photographs he illustrates them with.

Riggs finds odd photographs in the usual settings: flea markets, antique stores and via collectors. In Miss Peregrine many of these were comprised of the individuals who made up the story: the peculiar children. In Hollow City he goes much further in using photos to illustrate not only people the children meet (and animals) but also significant events that occur throughout the novel. Clearly, the pictures were key to plot development and how he accomplished this is truly inspiring to me as a writer.

The other thing about the 2 books is that they remind readers how pleasurable it is to read illustrated novels. I greatly enjoy Barbara Hodgson's novels for this reason and Riggs has made me a big fan with how well he integrates his quirky postcards (which Quirk Books presents so beautifully in these lushly designed editions).

As to the plot--there's time travel (primarily late 19th to mid 20th century), "peculiar" children with all manner of odd talents (control of bees, weighing lighter than air, communicating via echolocation, etc.), and a major war between good and evil (of course!). World War II plays a big part in Hollow City, which allowed Riggs to use some evocative images (including the cover) and also amps the peril the main characters find themselves in.

But.....none of that is why I wanted to write about these books. My biggest reason to recommend them is to persuade adults to give them a go. Yes, there is a slight teenage romance going on here but it is subtle and kind and will ring true for many. More importantly the overall story is escapist fiction at its best; thrilling, creepy, smart and also quite hopeful. It's like nothing else I have read and reminds me a lot of Bradbury at his Something Wicked This Way Comes best.

Good books + cool photos. What's not to love? :)

Read Chap 1 of Hollow City at Ransom Riggs's site.

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22. Cursing a clerk who did not write clearly in 1895

marriagelicense (1).jpg

This is the marriage certificate for my great great grandmother and her husband (who was not my great great grandfather). It has given me a lot of information including, on the 2nd page (which I did not scan), her signature. That finally proved her true name was Maria Filak. As her first and last names are spelled differently in all sorts of census records, it was nice to have that proven. (Even here they screwed up though--as you can see the clerk wrote in "Mary Filak".)

My problem is Maria's address. It is listed under her name and the number, "59", is clear but the street name gets unclear. Starts with an "M", has an "h", maybe a "c". It looks like a "St" at the end--a capital cursive "S" is pretty clear. But what street is this? Marchallow St? Hmmm - doesn't show up I'm afraid.

I just don't know.

The groom's address is 2913 8th Ave and the clergyman who married them was from 405 W. 125th St in Harlem, which I found out online is St Joseph of the Holy Family. (The oldest church in Harlem as it turns out.) But Maria's place of residence is a mystery to me and she is the one who matters most. Her whereabouts between 1886, when she arrived in NYC and 1895, when she married Rudolph, are unknown. In that period she gave birth to my great grandmother, whose father is also unknown. So pinning down any hint as to where Maria was is a very valuable clue in my family history search.

If any of you recognize the street, give me a shout. I'd appreciate any help I can get.

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23. Finding Evelyn

Five (!!) years ago, I posted about my grandmother's cousin, Evelyn. She died relatively young of a disease (I thought typhus) that was caught from a used mattress. Her toddler son died as well. At the time, I did not know Evelyn's married name nor her husband's name nor her year of death. All I knew was that she and my grandmother were quite close as evident from the many photos of them together.

Soooo...a couple of months ago I decided to get serious about Evelyn. Her mother was one of my great grandmother's younger half sisters and I hope to track down this missing branch of the family and learn more about my great grandmother's childhood from them. Also, I just wanted to find out what happened.

I searched through census records and found her with her married name. I found two marriages for her, both to Joseph Baranello. One was in 1933 which makes sense as her first child was born in 1934. The second was in 1937. They are the exact same names so I think it's unlikely that one of these marriages was a different couple. I have no idea why they got married twice but I'll run this down eventually, if only because the weirdness can't be ignored.

With her married name I easily found her death record and also that of her baby boy, Richard, who died two weeks before.

As it turns out, Evelyn died on my birthday in 1940. That kind of freaks me out a bit because I come from people for whom signs are everything. (Blame Catholicism and all those saints.) Evelyn and I had more in common than I thought.

She did die from a communicable disease. It looks like diphtheria from the certificate although I will have to follow up for another report apparently to know for sure. Her coffin however was ordered hermetically sealed (written in hand down the side of the certificate). This was established practice for communicable diseases at the time. And now I have the cemetery where she was buried although I won't be following up on that. (Because really - $105 to find out who she is buried with is just a bit high to me.)

Evelyn was 23 years and 10 months old when she died. She had two older daughters, Joan & Barbara Baranello. According to my grandmother, their father took them away and they were never seen again. I was told he was from South America or "someplace like that," except from census records he seems to be have been born in NYC in 1916. Finding Joan and Barbara (and their descendants) will require some more work, I know but finding them might mean more answers about my great grandmother's mother who is the real mystery in all this. So I'll keep looking but at least now I have Eveyln, and that is something good.

Just look at how happy she is in that picture. She smiles in every photo I have of her.

[Post pic from l-r, my grandmother Catherine, Marie Gonzales, Evelyn Baranello. Marie was Evelyn's mother and my grandmother's aunt. Taken 1935 - my grandmother was 16, Evelyn was 19, Marie was 38.]

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24. Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

On the basis of Beth Kephart's recommendation in her book Handling the Truth, I ordered a copy of Hiroshima in the Morning through Powells. The author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto received a fellowship to go to Japan in mid-2001 for six months and research her planned novel about the bombing of Hiroshima. What she did not expect was the wrenching difficulty (in a myriad of ways) of parting from her husband and 2 young sons in NYC and how complicated it would be to navigate Japanese culture and gain the insight she wanted on her subject.

This is a really tough book to classify because if I tell you it will resonate strongly with women who feel torn between family life and their work, you will probably immediately think of "Lean In" and not give it a second thought. But that aspect of the book is important and needs to be noted. Rizzuto's personal/professional conflict is so intense and so tied to the unique aspects of researching a book, that any writer who has ever felt similarly torn is going to identify very powerfully with her words. She wonders if she is committed enough to her marriage and motherhood and also worries about her own mother who is suffering from the early stages of dementia. Are there other places where Rizzuto should be? It doesn't help when her husband starts to rethink all of his earlier support for the project after spending one too many nights dealing with sick kids. And all Rizzuto can tell him is that she is talking to people, visiting museums and temples, "soaking up" the culture of Japan.

She might be more convincing if she felt more certain that she was getting done the work she needed.

That's the other impressive aspect of Hiroshima in the Morning--Rizzuto's discovery of how complicated the Hiroshima story is. The book has excerpts from the interviews she conducted with survivors and they are the very definition of gut wrenching. Rizzuto finds herself overwhelmed by the horror of those stories, (you will be too), and transformed by them. Then 9/11 happens and her family arrives for a visit and again her vision of herself and the world goes through another change.

There is a lot about this book that made me think about writing, history, stories, the power of family and so much more. So many times as a writer I have questioned the value of what I choose to do with my life and anyone who has ever been in that position will understand what Rizzuto goes through. But the stories from Hiroshima are what has stayed with me more than anything else and they make me think yet again how much our history is dominated by the way we tell stories, and our collective acceptance of who does the telling.

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25. A tradition of September resolutions

From Tingle Alley:

When Jane was working on this story on the history of Seventeen, we did a lot of emailing back and forth about Back to School magazine issues and how much we loved them. In junior high I read the hell out of every September issue of Seventeen, and the memory is all caught up with the anticipation of seeing people again after the summer and the belief that Everything Was Going To Be Different This Year.

One year, one of the pieces of editorial advice was to soak cotton balls with perfume and lay them on your next day's outfit so that the outfit would become pleasantly layered with scent. I did this DILIGENTLY for at least a month. Four or five cotton balls each night. So that's what September always feels like to me, like the time of year that you believe that you can soak some cotton balls in Jean Nate, tuck them in your clothes overnight, and become magically alluring the next day.

I was a huge fan of Seventeen, from about 1980 (7th grade) through high school. I identify completely with what Carrie writes here about the back to school issue. Every summer I plotted transformations to be unleashed upon the world (and school) in September.

It never happened.

But I still get that thought--that "bouquet of newly sharpened pencils"--thought about making my mark in the fall. Back then it was all about changing my clothes and my hair, now it's more about getting my closet sorted out and reducing the stacks of paper that threaten my laptop; about plotting future articles and organizing research notes.

September comes around again this year, just like it always does, and I'm so happy to see it. I love September and all the accomplishments it still dares us to have.

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