Borden Murders. Sarah Miller. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: It happened every spring in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Premise/plot: Sarah Miller's newest book is a middle grade nonfiction book about Lizzie Borden and the 'trial of the century.' On August 4, 1892, Mr. and Mrs. Borden were murdered. Miller chronicles the events stage by stage. Her book is divided into sections: Lizzie Borden Took An Axe, Murder!, The Bordens, Investigation, Inquest, Arrest, Preliminary Hearing, The Waiting Time, The Trial of the Century, Aftermath, Epilogue.
My thoughts: This one was incredibly compelling and very well researched. (Over twenty pages of notes documenting among other things all the dialogue in the book.) Miller presents a balanced perspective of the case allowing readers to make up their own minds. Miller gives all concerned or connected the human touch. The press does not come out looking innocent.
Whether your interest is true crime, biography, or nonfiction set during the Victorian period, this one is worth your time.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
I am a Cybils second round judge. I am currently reading the all the nominated books in a fun "armchair readalong" way with the first round judges. My reviews and opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the work of the committee.
Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis Alexis Coe
Man, I love Zest in general and when I heard they were doing a New Adult line, my thoughts were “huh? really?” because I wasn’t sure how it would fit. Then I saw that their first New Adult book was a historical true crime about 19th century lesbian murder in Memphis. Because, of course, it’s Zest and that’s how they roll and that’s why I love them.
Sadly, I did not love this book, as much as I wanted to. It’s exciting and compelling, but has some fatal flaws.
Alice and Freda were school friends. In the late 1800s, it was common for young women to form very intense friendships, hold hands, declare their love for each other. For Alice and Freda though, it went much deeper than mere “chumming.” They were actually in love, and Alice was going to pretend to be a man so they could get married and Alice would work to support the family. But when Freda’s sister discovered the plot, she forbade Freda to contact Alice again. She then told Alice’s family who agreed to keep the girls apart. Freda moved on, but Alice could not, would not. So Alice slit Freda’s throat in the middle of a street in broad daylight. A sensational murder trial followed, with Alice’s family pleading insanity, because what other explanation was there for same-sex love?
Coe tells this story very well. It’s gripping and readable, opening with the murder and then jumping back to detail their relationship. Their relationship had many issues, Freda was a flirt, Alice was jealous and possessive, and Freda had moved upriver from Memphis. She also does a great job explaining the trial and differences in the legal system between then and now and I love the way she subtly emphasizes that Alice’s family was rich (not mega rich, not high society, but definitely not poor) and white and how that changed things. How Alice’s Memphis was not the same Memphis many other people lived in. Overall the story is a great one to know about and I couldn't put it down--I read it one sitting.
But, it still had some problems.
For one, it kept referring to Eastern Tennessee like that’s where Memphis is. (Such as when Alice’s father hires two of the most prominent, expensive attorneys in Eastern Tennessee.) At one point it talks about “nearby Knoxville.” Um, look at a map. Memphis is as far West as you can get in Tennessee and Knoxville is 400 miles away. If something as basic as the location of Memphis is incorrect, what else is, too?
But, my major problem is that it’s illustrated. As I’ve said before I don’t agree with using drawings of historical photographs instead of the actual photographs. And this book even illustrates historical DOCUMENTS, like newspaper headline and articles, and the Register of Deaths. Worst of all, all of the letters between Alice and Freda are illustrated in handwriting. Not their handwriting, or even time-period authentic handwriting, and some of it is VERY hard to read. Yeesh, just type it out.
Some of the pictures are great and there’s no way there’s a photograph (my favorite is this stark on of Alice lying in her jail cell where she’s lightly sketched in white, surrounded by this heavy, dark grey) and that’s fine. BUT. Don’t illustrate a newspaper headline. Just use the original. And, if you’re going to use letters as part of your narrative and evidence, make sure they’re readable.
So, on the whole, this is not one I’ll be looking for on the award lists this year (sadly) and I’ll be very disappointed if it is on the lists, BUT, it is one I’ll recommend to readers and share widely.
Book Provided by... my local library
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The other day Lauren Abramo pointed out this piece to me
and it brought to mind how much the category of true crime non-fiction
has changed over the last twenty or more years.
When I began representing books in this category, they were almost always published initially in hardcover and you could be sure once a high-profile crime was committed and someone arrested for it, there would be three or four authors rushing proposals out to publishers through their agents. I can actually remember one of my true crime writers coming through my office door with the proposal he had stayed up all night to finish just to beat out the next writer. When the Amy Fisher murder case happened, for example, my client’s book was one of three made-for-TV movies that aired.
Advances for true crime in those days could be substantial, which is why so many people wanted to get in the game, so to speak.
Over the years though, these books came to be published only in a mass market paperback format and advances went way, way down. That was the bad news; the good news is that full proposals are no longer necessary, especially for writers who have previously published in the category. Even when there needs to be some kind of a proposal, it nowhere near as complete as it once had to be.
True crime today is fairly formulaic. It must have a sensational murder; the characters need to be people whom the reader can truly relate to and it doesn’t hurt if there is lots of money and sex involved.
We are still handling several true crime titles every year and, though the advances are low, they very often earn out and so the writers earn royalties (which they generally didn’t when the advances were higher). Still, this is a very difficult category to succeed in. It takes someone who is persevering, energetic and patient enough to search out just the right cases.
If you have any questions about this category, I am happy to try to answer them.
We'll spare everyone pictures on this rainy, humid day, but today Carrie Hagen came into the Overlook offices to work with our new editor, Stephanie Gorton. (Welcome, Stephanie!) She has a book coming out this August called WE IS GOT HIM: ABDUCTION, MURDER, AND FEAR OF THE EVE OF AMERICA'S CENTENNIAL.
We launched this title last week, and everyone is waiting impatiently for the manuscript to be finished so we can start reading! It's true crime in the vein of Devil in the White City, and the story is absolutely fascinating. It's 1874, and a young boy named Charley Ross (learn more about him here) was snatched from his front yard in Philadelphia in what became the first kidnapping for random in America.
The title "We Is Got Him" comes from the famous random note, which we'll just preface with one [sic]:
Mr. Ross- be not uneasy you son charly bruster he al writ we as got him and no powers on earth can deliver out of our hand. You wil hav two pay us befor you git him from us. an pay us a big cent to. if you put the cops hunting for him yu is only defeeting yu own end. we is got him fitt so no living power can gits him from us a live. if any aproch is maid to his hidin place that is the signil for his instant anihilation. if yu regard his lif puts no one to search for him you money can fech him out alive an no other existin powers don't deceve yuself and think the detectives can git him from us for that is one imposebel
yu here from us in few day
Philadelphia was preparing to celebrate the American centennial after decades of civil war and recession, and Hagan weaves the story of this kidnapping--and how it threatened to unravel social confidence and plunge a city into despair--into the fight by the Philadelphia mayor to preserve the city's stature and other politicians using the Centennial as a chance to show America's endurance.
The research that went into We Is Got Him
is incredibly daunting--Hagen worked on it while earning her MFA in Writing Nonfiction from Goucher College. We're absolutely thrilled to be publishing this--mark your calendars for August!
Fallen (Guitar) Hero (Activision pulls the plug on its "Guitar Hero" franchise, canceling the release of the sixth edition of the game. PSFK, via the Guardian, offers theories for why the billion-dollar franchise failed: selling out and lack of... Read the rest of this post
(Apologies for the lateness. I had the flu.)
Have you heard there's a big new movie coming out?
I won't go into it too much, because if you have children, or a television, or you're one of the millions who loves the series, or you possess any of the senses, you probably know that The Hunger Games is opening at the end of the week.
Although I had nice things to say about it over the holidays, I'll refrain from discussing it in this Media Monday, lest you suffer from Hunger pangs. Or loss of appetite. Or maybe you don't care either way. This post will remain a Hunger-free Zone.
Still, it's nice to see a book get so much attention. As Young Adult Books Editor at Amazon, Jessica Schein said the other day, "There are books we all love, and books we can't put down, and then there are books that morph into cultural events." Well put, Jessica.
The New York Times
The New York Times takes us to court in this Sunday's Book Review. A review of Dale Carpenter's Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas tells us that "Dale Carpenter’s Flagrant Conduct is a stirring and richly detailed account of Lawrence v. Texas, the momentous 2003 decision that overturned Bowers." The reference is to "Bowers v. Hardwick," a 1986 Supreme Court decision that is largely seen as a key ruling against the privacy of homosexuals. Reviewer David Oshinsky writes that the book "tells the story through the eyes of the major players — the plaintiffs, arresting officers, attorneys, judges and prosecutors — most of whom were interviewed at length. The result is a book that turns conventional wisdom about Lawrence on its head. Indeed, the readers most likely to be surprised by Flagrant Conduct are those who think they already know the basic outlines of the case."
Kevin Boyle calls Raymond Bonner's Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong "mesmerizing," describing first the grizzly 1982 murder that sets up the case, then describing the man who was sentenced to death for the crime, eventually telling us that this capital case, like so many, "was shaped by the fearsome combination of race and class." For years, the case was in and out of court. "Then, in the summer of 1993, [the] file ended up in the hands of Diana Holt, a law student working as an intern for the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center. And the case’s trajectory suddenly changed." Boyle that we watch as Holt "peels back the prosecution’s omissions, manipulations and deceits,
Murder in the First-Class Carriage. The First Victorian Railway Killing. Kate Colquhoun. 2011. Overlook Press. 352 pages.
Murder in the First-Class Carriage is a nonfiction account of "the first Victorian railway killing." The murder occurred in July of 1864. The victim, Mr. Briggs, was found after the discovery of the hat and all the blood. (His body was found on the railway tracks). The railway car--he'd been supposedly alone in the car--was covered in blood, and one of the only clues was a hat that didn't belong to the victim. It wasn't the only clue--a watch chain, I believe, was missing as well.
Money was offered as a reward for information, and many, many, many people came to share information. But most turned out to be false information or irrelevant information. But. Eventually the detectives were satisfied with a suspect, they chose to follow a particular lead ignoring all others that didn't quite match up. This took them on a little chase across the Atlantic. The alleged murderer having bought passage on a ship to the United States. So the detectives followed him, and arrested him in America. And this story captured attention in America as well even after the suspect returned to England to await his trial.
For me the most interesting aspect of the novel was the trial itself, the book focuses on the three days of trial and the oh-so-short jury deliberation. Readers get to view the legal system of the time, and get a unique perspective on the court system. Readers can "hear" the prosecutor and defense attorney make their cases and arguments. Readers can "hear" the witnesses on the stand. The last chapter or perhaps the last two chapters focus on the pros and cons of capital punishment, or at the very least the pros and cons of public execution versus private execution.
While this one did prove compelling--in places--I wouldn't say that it was that fascinating or compelling throughout the whole book. It worked, in places, but in other places it dragged a bit.
Read Murder in The First-Class Carriage
- If you're a fan of mystery novels
- If you're interested in true crime, true court cases, etc.
- If you're interested in this time period--the Victorian era, the 1860s
- If you're a fan of nonfiction
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
“This hardcover graphic novel covers the 1920 unsolved murder of author and bridge expert, Joseph Elwell.”
I doubt you will need more encouragement than the above to go RIGHT THIS MINUTE and support Rick Geary’s
Kickstarter for The Elwell Enigma
— but just in case, here are five more reasons:
* Rick Geary is one of the best (and most underrated, IMHO) cartoonists of his generation, with more than 30 years of distinctive, disturbing and thought provoking work in his resume.
* Geary’s two Treasuries of Murder — Victorian and 20th Century— both published by NBM, are eerie, fascinating painstakingly researched accounts of the most notorious crimes of 200 years, from Lizzie Borden and Mary Rogers to Sacco & Vanzetti and William Desmond Taylor. They are non fiction comics at their best.
* Though NBM has supported Geary’s murder series very well, he’s taking matters into his own hands with this Kickstarter, so you can now support him directly.
* The Elwell murder is a classic “locked room” mystery — he was found inside a locked house, shot in the head. The crime has has never been solved. I confess, as a bit of a “murder buff,” I had never heard of this crime, so I’m looking forward to learning all about it.
* The book is almost finished—all but 20 pages are drawn—so rest assured YOU WILL GET YOUR BOOK and postcards and whatever in a timely fashion.
Bonus! Geary talks about the new Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium, Volume 1 here
I always try to find out as much as I can about whatever subject I’ve chosen. This is probably my favorite part of the process because it’s often a journey of discovery in which what I thought I knew about a particular case turns out to be untrue or misleading.
With the more famous cases, I always end up with more information than I would ever need for an 80-page book. In that case, the process becomes one of editing down and searching out the essential elements. With other cases—likeThe Bloody Benders or The Axe-Man of New Orleans—there is relatively little material out there, so it’s more a matter of expanding what I have by means of fewer panels per page, more full-page illustrations, etc.
Of course, with all the books I’ve done, the research process never really ends because I’m constantly acquiring new bits of information and incorporating them into both text and visuals up through the final inking.
By: Maggie Summers
Blog: A Latte a Day
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I'm dreaming of captains manning their underwater armies fighting to keep the seas clean. This is only a portion of the actual concept for "captain" however my time is very limited over the next couple of weeks, so I am posting just a vingette of the complete scene.
The illustration I indicated in my previous post is still not finished but I'm enjoying the subject so much. I'll give you a hint...it too has an underwater feel to it. I guess I must be dreaming of a vacation by the sea! Finishing it will have to wait though as my husband's parents are coming from out of state for a visit tomorrow.
This is the original Missing Person poster for the Honorable Joseph F. Crater, gone missing on August 6, 1930. The story of Judge Crater is one of the most interesting unsolved cases in New York--the New York State Supreme Court Justice was last seen leaving a restaurant near Times Square, and simply disappeared.
80 years later, the case is still alive in the public consciousness (here's a quick primer for those who are unfamiliar with Judge Crater). Beloved Overlook author Peter Quinn has taken this story and woven together true crime and historical fiction in The Man Who Never Returned (coming August 5, 2010). Private investigator Fintan Dunne, the hero of The Hour of the Cat, is hired in 1955 to solve the crime.
Here's a picture of Peter Quinn holding one of the first copies of his new book fresh off the presses.
Early Praise for The Man Who Never Returned:
"Quinn delivers a satisfying solution to the real-life mystery of Joseph Crater... Quinn not only makes the existence of clues at such a late date plausible but also concocts an explanation that's both logical and surprising. The depth and complexity of the lead character is a big plus." --Publishers Weekly
"Freely mixing history, mystery, and novelistic license, Quinn offers a noirish tale... Quinn’s rich, insightful, evocative descriptions of New York, both in Crater’s time and in 1955, will certainly please fans of historical crime novels." --Booklist
"This hybrid of mystery and history builds a compelling case." --Kirkus