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Friday, October 29th, 2010

Time Event
10:42p
Not that strange ...
This is a book that I “won” back in June via the LibraryThing “early reviewers” program, but did not receive the review copy until just this past week. Obviously, a book that came out in April, featured in June, and delivered in October, has lost a whole lot of the “early”, but I did push this up to the top of the “what I'm reading” pile to get this out as soon as possible.

I'm not surprised that Michelle Souliere's Strange Maine: True Tales from the Pine Tree State was featured by LibraryThing, as she resides (and operates a bookstore) in the same town, Portland, ME, that is home to the L.T. Home office, and I'm assuming that she's friends with them (although, I must admit that I had to dig a bit to find her LT profile, as she's not flagged with the “author button”, and I've even got that!). She has been writing a blog for the past five years, also called “Strange Maine”, and producing a print version as well. I guess coming up with a book was the next logical step.

While I rather enjoyed reading Strange Maine, I do have to note that the primary “take-away” that I had from it was “is that all?”, as the five chapters here (each covering a different sort of “strangeness”) fill up exactly 100 pages, many of which are taken up by photos, illustrations, and extensive citations of verse. One would think that five years of blogging on the subject would have provided a bit more “meat” than what ends up between the covers here.

The book begins with “The Witch's Grave and Other Marked Monuments” which really only addresses two specific cases, although presented within a discussion of the various cemeteries in Portland, and civic cases surrounding these. The author does a substantial bit of investigation on the history of one of these, and then presents a bit of a present-time “ghost story” on another. Next is “Crime on the Coast, and Elsewhere” which discusses three notorious murders, again with a good deal of research involved (and at least one nod to Steven King), although the 3.5 pages of melodramatic verse from the mid-1800's commemorating one of these seems to be “overkill”. The book then moves to “Places that Go Bump in the Night”, a look at some supposedly spooky places … although two of them (both decommissioned military facilities) appear to be more “spooky” due to being home to psychic fairs and mystical festivals than anything inherent to the locales … the third tale in this section is simply a ghost story experienced by a friend of hers, who had sent it in. Fourth comes “What Monsters Roam in the Maine Woods?”, which features a half-dozen or so “strange” animal tales ranging from an early version of Oberon Zell's “unicorn”, to Emu farms, and assorted werewolf-related bits (much of this section is no doubt courtesy the author's bookstore sharing space with the International Cryptozoology Museum). Finally, there's “Oddities and Ephemera” which looks a quirky collections, including the aforementioned museum.

This is a reasonably engaging read, albeit a very short one (I managed to get through this in three 45-minute bus rides), with material that varies from quirky to really horrific (I really didn't need to read one of those murder stories). I think the book would have benefited from a map of the state, indicating where the various things were or had happened, and a bit more context about the history of the state (the stories jump around between centuries quite a bit).

Obviously, if you have an interest in what is “strange” in Maine, Strange Maine is the book for you, but for most folks its recommendation sits more with it being engaging while being “odd”, and a quick easy read. As noted, this came out earlier this year, so it may have slipped out of the bookstores to some extent by now, but both Amazon BN.com have it at a discount, so you can get it on-line.


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