A Man With An Agenda

I'm an indie bookseller in Vermont, sometime public servant, and voracious reader. I love antiques, cats, D&D, and vintage Ken. Though my job requires me to dabble across the board genre-wise, my heart belongs to the Victorians and epic fantasy.


I write something about every book I read, but only publish reviews close to the release date of the book. If you see something on my shelves and there's no review, feel free to ask me about it!

The Heads of Cerberus by Francis Stevens

The Heads of Cerberus - Francis Stevens

Originally serialized in 1919, 'The Heads of Cerberus' is an early novel of a dystopian future. For sale at a Philadelphia estate auction is a strange artifact. A Renaissance crafted rock crystal vial with the titular silver heads containing dust rumored to have been collected from the gates of purgatory....


Robert Drayton is a lawyer down on his luck after being framed by unscrupulous businessmen, but an accident brings him back n contact with a formerly close friend, Terrence Trenmore. Trenmore collects curiosities and his purchase of the vial at an estate auction has drawn threatening letters from a mysterious collector and even an attempted break in.


Knowing there must be something more to attract this attention then mere dust the men investigate and accidentally breathe in the substance, unwittingly so does Trenmore's sister Viola. The three are transported to a mysterious land and when they are returned to Philadelphia they find it drastically altered.


The streets, buildings, and fashions of 2118 are strangely unchanged, but the mass of society are known only by their number, is cut off from its regions, ignorant of history and subject to the rule of Penn Service. In the former city hall, now a temple to 'Lord Penn', are the Servants of Penn named for virtues, and the Superlatives, named for the areas of government for which they are responsible.


The stranded refugees of the 20th century must face death or compete in the Civil Service Examinations. Forces in the city appeal to them to compete for the titles of Strongest, Loveliest, or Cleverest, but do they want to be a part of this society?


This was a lot of fun to read. Reprinted as a part of Modern Library's Torchbearers series, it novel about a dark, authoritarian future by a female author I'd never heard of before (and there's more, but I won't tell). In some ways its an artifact, but there were elements of this that elevate it above a historic milestone on the way to better things. In tone its more of a forebear to Philip K. Dick than the back-cover referenced 'The Hunger Games'. I especially loved the description of the transformation of Philadelphia's City Hall . Very cool, I'll be checking out other titles.

Barbie, Midge and Ken, Barbie #9 by Cynthia Lawrence and Bette Lou Maybee

Barbie, Midge and Ken - Robert Patterson, Cynthia Lawrence, Bette Lou Maybee

This rating is absolutely sliding scale, of course, and more than a little influenced by this being the last one I'll read for awhile. There are three more of Random House Barbie books out there, so maybe I'll get lucky this summer in the shops. The stories here are as simple and wholesome as in previous installments, but the difference is that all of them hit the right notes of humor and message. Also, finally, we get to talk about Allan! And Skipper, too, I guess. She's a bit more a problem, but I've decided that her sudden appearance doesn't mean a separate Barbie-verse. I believe she's the result of one of Mr. Robert's inexplicable business trips and he finally got stuck with custody. His wife doesn't seem to mind....


Anyway its a fairly even split with focus on characters. It finally feels like Midge and Ken have been given a bit of characterization that sticks, Allan vacillates between "Girls complicated, girls bad!" and being a total sweetheart to a lovesick Skipper. Skipper comes off as an absolutely authentic young girl. She's stubborn, makes mistakes, and does her best to make things right even if, like her older sister, she tends to be a little TOO traditional.


Allan could do little to sway Skipper's crush. He even went so far as to wear dirty clothes, act like a little boy, chew gum and pull her hair.


The blonde Skipper has lost her brass headband, but she's wearing 'Dress Coat' #1906, Allan is wearing 1963's 'Play Ball!' #792, complete with glove, ball and wooden bat.


Barbie Random House Novels


Next: 'Barbie's Candy-Striped Summer'


Previous: 'Barbie in Television'

John Dies at the End by David Wong

John Dies at the End  - David Wong

I've been side-eyeing this novel for a long time, so when a recent trip brought us to a used bookstore I picked up a copy. I usually don't for recent books still in print, but I'm glad I went on the cheap side for this one.


'John Dies at the End' is mostly David Wong telling his story to a reporter. After accidentally taking a strange drug known as 'Soy Sauce' he and his buddy John have gained notoriety for their ability to spot and intervene in supernatural problems. Wong, which is an alias for the character as well as the author, can't avoid sharing some details about his troubled youth and lots and lots of details about what a lonely, sad life he has.


The humor is juvenile, but effective. Its the language of a bro and loser who got in over their heads. The angle that the demons or whatever have an even lower, racist and homophobic, sense of humor is kind of funny. Any inconsistencies within the logic of the story is played off because of drugs, lies, and other hand-waving - which is also fine. I'm not going to read a goofy horror novel and expect internal consistency. The plot itself has no real momentum, and the book feels like the episodic piecemeal narrative the novel originated as. The real problem with the book is the female characters. There are only two substantial women in the book: 1. Jennifer Lopez who looks like J-Lo from behind and is a love interest; and 2. Amy, the younger sister of an early character, and who becomes a major character herself in the last act. There's also the dog, Molly, who arguably has a more fulfilling character arc then either woman.


All other women are either non-entity off-the-camera coworkers, party guests, victims, and girls John is having sex with - one gets a name and a brief speaking role so we can admire her breasts. Which, that's the market for this book, fine.


I've read worse, of course, Wong interjects a few paragraphs about women and how they're more than objects of desire, so he tried, I guess. The book had some entertaining absurdist moments. If I come across the sequels for less than wholesale I'll think about it.


John Dies at the End


Next: 'This Book is Full of Spiders'

Barbie's Secret, Barbie #7 by Eleanor K. Woolvin

Barbie's Secret - Eleanor K. Woolvin, Robert Patterson

After arranging for his family to take in a Japanese exchange student, Mr. Roberts has vanished on a long, long business trip. His stressed out wife and nervous daughter are also hosting a young boy cousin, just because.


Barbie is excited for her new 'sister', so much so that her cousin, and friends Midge and Ken get sick of hearing about it. When Yoshiko arrives the two girls hit it off. Barbie even gives Yoshiko a western nickname, Posy. Uh-oh. Worse yet, Barbie begins getting poison-pen letters demanding her new sister go home.Barbie keeps these letters secret from Yoshiko and the rest of her family.


The second plot has to do with Barbie's friendship with a morose girl named Shirley who, among other things, kisses boys to get dates with them and plans to run away to become a "sandwich girl". Career choices, right ladies? Her home life is unhappy, with a stern and emotionally distant mother, and various clues make Barbie  begin to suspect Shirley of writing the letters.


Yoshiko is fine as a character, but the text constantly refers to her as dainty, bird-like, delicate, floral, etc. It gets a little wearing. The homesick Yoshiko pulls through and introduces the Roberts to new experiences. Overall the novel uses her character to make a nice story about acceptance and true welcoming.


Despite Yoshiko's fragility, its interesting to note that 'Barbie's Secret', perhaps because of new author Woolvin, is the best written so far with interconnected plots and occasionally atmospheric writing.



It seems appropriate to show off this "absolutely mint" (husband's words) raven-haired Barbie in 1964's 'Garden Tea Party' #1606. Yoshiko teaches Barbie a tea ceremony as a way of relaxing and bringing harmony back to the house.


Barbie Random House Novels:


Next: 'Barbie in Television'


Previous: 'Barbie's Hawaiian Holiday'

Barbie's Hawaiian Holiday, Barbie #6 by Bette Lou Maybee

Barbie's Hawaiian Holiday - Betty Lou Maybee

Mr. Roberts surprises Barbie with Christmas in Hawaii! Barbie is excited to leave the snow behind for two weeks in the sun. Midge is thrilled, but Ken still insists on being a wet blanket. I mean, granted, Barbie doesn't give him too much thought in these novels, but he shouldn't be so possessive. There's loads of girls at Willows High who would love to have a malted with him.


Instead of staying at one of the new beachside hotels on Waikiki, they stay with an old army friend of Mr. Roberts, his stiff British wife and their son. 


There's surfing, lots of information about Hawaii's history - a little white-washed, the only anti-imperialist sentiment is some faint regret about the end of monarchy. What I liked was the use of Hawaiian words and that Barbie's latest fling is with the hunky half-Hawaiian surfer Apaki.


Additional points awarded for letting stubborn Barbie be in the wrong about Mrs. Stiff Upper Lip, even if its just refusing sunburn ointment, actual cultural diversity, and Barbie learning the sport of surfing instead of being passive.


I don't have either of the Hawaii outfits, and haven't put new elastic on the accessories for 'Skin Diver', so we're going to fast forward to a groovier, more tropical, time. This is a Good Lookin' Ken from the early '70s wearing Best Buy #9128 (1976). They stopped naming the outfits in 1973.



It's amazing.


Barbie Random House Novels


Next: 'Barbie's Secret'


Previous: 'Barbie Solves a Mystery'

My Essential Books (25)

As requested by Moonlight Reader


A few years ago it became obvious to me that my reading wasn't diverse, like at all, and I've tried to correct it, but whether the authors are poc, outside the US/Great Britain, or otherwise non-white, non-male, and/or still alive, those books have predominately been recent titles and with other classics falling into the always-recommended category, its a very white slate I'm offering...Not a great situation, but I'm working on it! What I've chosen may not be perfect works, but have had a significant impact on my perception of the world and reading experience.


No real order, I started grouping things into categories, but it fell apart as I kept swapping things out.


1. 'Villette' by Charlotte Bronte


     Her last novel, full of loneliness, regret, and yearning, and all told by my favorite unreliable narrator ever. For Lucy Snowe I felt a sympathetic kinship that is...hard to explain. It means the world to me, ten stars, eleven!


2. 'The Country of the Pointed Firs' by Sarah Orne Jewett


     A pastoral sketch, could almost be called an American 'Cranford', that initially seemed slight to me, but my admiration has grown with each year.


3. 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel' by George Meredith


     This bold novel was an important stepping stone for modernist writers. It's also entertaining and subversive.


4. 'The Grandmothers' by Glenway Wescott


     A beautifully written family saga set in the Midwest and a celebration of America untainted by nationalism.


5. 'The Prince of Tides' by Pat Conroy


     Crazy, passionate, haunting. I must have read this a dozen times in high school and couldn't get enough of it.


6. 'Another Country' by James Baldwin


     A chaotic portrait of a specific time and place, but the often fraught and tender relationships of the characters resonate, and the America they live in is shamefully recognizable. Why haven't I read more Baldwin yet?


7. 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Shirley Jackson


     I've now read all of her novels and most of her short stories/essays, and this still comes in at the top.


8. 'Peyton Place' by Grace Metalious


     Purple prose, petty gossip, and hypocrisy in golden, booming America: a small town skinned to the bone. I loved it.


9. 'The Dispossessed' by Ursula K. Le Guin


     I see its flaws, but Le Guin's anarchic novel is the one that I think about the most often. A powerful vision and, in my opinion, her most relevant book today.


10. 'The Greenlanders' by Jane Smiley


     A portrait of the decline of a culture and life continuing to go on.


11. 'Dancer From the Dance' by Andrew Holleran


     So many sad gay novels to pick from....but this one's scope feels broader than its narrow decadent setting. I can't list 'Gatsby', but this at times surpasses Fitzgerald and has more humor.


12. 'The Complete Concrete' by Paul Chadwick


     Chadwick's superhero is not concerned with supervillains or snappy dialogue. He debates human nature, is curious, and if he's working to save the planet, its from us, not any outside threat. An underrated series and ahead of its time.


13. 'The Other' by Thomas Tryon


     A chilling story about evil suffused with nostalgic memories of a small town childhood which elevates the book above ordinary horror.


14. 'Watership Down' by Richard Adams


     Need I say more? That fact may mean it doesn't belong here...damn. Keeping it for now.


15. 'Stories of Your Life and Others' by Ted Chiang


     Still jaw-dropping after all of this time. Absolutely stunning speculative fiction that comes from every direction.


16. 'Night Watch' by Terry Pratchett


     This is my favorite. Personal and full of longing underneath the humor and intricate plot.


17. 'Roadside Picnic' by the Strugatsky Brothers


     Parts of the world are left devastated after an extraterrestrial visit, the land and the people themselves twisted. There is profit to be made in the alien tech left behind in the 'zones', however. A novel about desperate actions and despair and a sliver of hope.


18. 'The Absolute Sandman' by Neil Gaiman


     His novels are an inescapable part of popular culture, but his overall his work on 'Sandman' surpasses them. Surreal, powerful, and far-ranging, the writing was excellent and he worked with some of the greatest artists in the industry.


19. 'The Chosen Place, the Timeless People' - Paule Marshall


     A novel that reveals the lingering effects of colonialism on a fictitious Caribbean island. Full of anger and insight, Marshall's characters, black and white, are forced to examine their motives and what is "best" for the people of Bourne Island. It has some problematic elements, but comparatively much less than my beloved Victorians.


20. 'The Eye of the World' by Robert Jordan


     Does a 14-part flawed epic belong on this list? It does on mine!


21.'Last of the Curlews' by Fred Bodsworth


     Something on this list was going to be a book that makes me dissolve into ugly tears, God, I can't even think about it. This book about the end of species from the perspective of a bird and a series of newspaper articles is brief, compelling, and devastating.


22. 'Girlfriend in a Coma' by Douglas Coupland


     Coupland has written a lot about the ridiculous nature of our existence and the precarious state of the planet, but he nailed something with this novel about grief, the end of the world, and what, if anything, we can do about it.


23. 'I Capture the Castle' by Dodie Smith


     The writer's life and some often bitter wisdom about growing up, wrapped in a breezy novel.


24. 'The Secret Country' by Pamela Dean


     A group of cousins discover that the imaginary world of their games is more real than they ever could have imagined. First of a trilogy, but it says everything it needs to say in the first volume.


25. 'Dark Lord of Derkholm' by Diana Wynne Jones


     This features unlikely heroes, unexpected twists, fond poking at genre conventions, absurd humor, and the strong independent streak that I love in her books. This was my first Jones, and it is still my favorite.


Publishing this list before I stay up all night tweaking it more!

The Doll Shop Downstairs, Doll Shop #1 by Yona Zeldis McDonough

The Doll Shop Downstairs - Yona Zeldis McDonough, Heather Maione

A sweet story about three girls growing up above their father's Doll Repair shop just before and during World War I. According to the author she used elements of the life of dollmaker Mme. Alexander to inform this story of a young girl helping her parents when war disrupts their business.


Anna is the middle child between the superior Sophie and the fussy Trudy. When they finish their daily chores they're allowed to go downstairs and play with "their" dolls. They can't afford store-bought dolls of their own, so they are allowed to choose one of the dolls waiting for repair as long as they're careful and don't take them outside. The doll they choose is "theirs" until it is fixed and goes home. War is announced in Germany and soon the parts their father needs to import from Germany to fix the dolls in the shop are unavailable. Many of the dolls are returned un-mended, except the girls current favorites. Anna has an idea of what the family can do to make a living, but will it work and can she keep her beloved doll?


This is an early chapter book with plenty of illustrations so this is good reader for a child who isn't quite ready for 'All-of-a-Kind Family' or similar historic fiction. 


Doll Shop


Next: 'The Cats in the Doll Shop'

Barbie Solves a Mystery, Barbie #5 by Cynthia Lawrence

Barbie: Solves a Mystery (Book 5) - Cynthia Lawrence, Clyde Smith

Barbie is recruited by her small town's weekly newspaper as the fashion reporter. The rest of the staff is an accountant/social columnist, the editor himself and a flashy young buck from the city eager to make a name for himself. His name? Johnny November. So a teen fashion reporter makes sense.


To be fair, Willows has a large garment factory in town and a booming postwar population that may need a little fashion guidance. Barbie's start as a reporter coincides with the return to town of a famous New York fashion designer who left town fifteen years ago in a cloud of scandal. Can Barbie juggle her reporting duties with high school? Can she clear the name of a glamorous woman? Can her and Midge and Ken just hang out like they used to before she dropped them for these strangers?


Fun. The career-oriented Barbie is a great trajectory for a book of this era. Oh, there are problems, sure, but Lawrence pokes just enough at the expected limitations of women to get young readers thinking.



Does this look like a woman with a bad reputation? A bubblecut Barbie in one of the original glamour outfits 'Evening Splendor' #961 (1959). She's missing her pearls, but the hankie is in the purse.


Barbie Random House Novels


Next: 'Barbie's Hawaiian Holiday'


Previous: 'Barbie and Ken'

Addison House by Clare McNally

Addison House - Clare McNally

Doreen Addison is in a bind. Her landlord is selling the modest ranch house where she's been fostering local kids. With very little notice and low funds, she doesn't have much hope that she'll find something they can afford. Until, of course, she reaches the last realtor in town who, at the last second, remembers there is this one house....


'Addison House' is a complete wreck, and it is exactly what I needed. I'm not familiar with McNally's work, but I'm going to seek out more of her books. It doesn't take long after moving into the house for things to start going terribly and hilariously wrong.


The desperately lonely Doreen seems to be the only person not to think the handsome stranger who keeps showing up in or around her new house, dropping cryptic references to have been waiting for her, telling her she can't leave, and that he has six horses - something she really latches onto by the way - is maybe related to the crazy shit going on.


There is a whole cast of ghosts including a religious fanatic really concerned about whores taking her man and a scared little boy. The fanatic especially is prone to showing up at the end of chapters to rub her hands together and make villainous pronouncements that take away any atmosphere the events of the chapter had built up.


There were some effective parts featuring the ghosts manipulating or just plain scaring the shit out of the kids, but there was always a balance. A really effective turn where a young girl was almost driven to throwing herself into a near-boiling bath is undercut when her theatrics drive everyone upstairs from dinner. When they eventually march back downstairs they find that all of their fried chicken has vanished. Don't worry, the ghost didn't eat it, it just shows up later in a closet, covered in mold, with a piece of paper with the day of discovery's date on it.


There is a body count to the book, some cheap romance, a wise, raccoon-eating hillbilly, some epic friend-zoning (sorry Dr. Muscly Arms, it doesn't matter that you're a pediatrician - you just don't have enough horses), and a really productive Dr. Phil therapy session at the end to straighten the ghosts out.

Barbie and Ken, Barbie #4 by Cynthia Lawrence and Bette Lou Maybee

Barbie and Ken (Book 4) - Bette Lou Maybee, Cynthia Lawrence, Clyde Smith

I have to take some rating love away from this collection of stories and plays, because even though Ken and Midge get a LOT more play here then in the novels, the character development is really lacking. Lawrence and Maybee have invested so much in making Barbie a fairly believable every-girl that they don't know what to do with her actually-also-a-doll-for-sale friends. Midge is a little boy crazy and Ken is supportive and present.


It's no surprise that there are continual continuity blunders, the two authors don't seem to have compared notes about their assignments. There are at least two Barbie-verses, but you don't have to look too far ahead to see there will be more fracturing when it turns out this sprightly single-child gets saddled with at least three younger siblings in the next few years.


I was disappointed by the lack of activity pages that made 'Here's Barbie' so charming.


One highlight was the the play-within-a-play that featured the characters working with a bossy classmate who wanted to buy her way into the character of the Queen of Hearts. Barbie seemed OK with being stage manager.


Another new acquisition is this 'Guinevere' #873 costume from the 'Little Theater' (1964) series. I have her in front of the 'King Arthur' #773 costume we found, still stitched on the card, in a garbage pile!



Barbie Random House Novels


Next: 'Barbie Solves a Mystery'


Previous: 'Barbie's New York Summer'

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5: 1959-1960

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5: 1959-1960 - Whoopi Goldberg, Charles M. Schulz

In these years Schulz really gains a lot of confidence and the experimental tweaking of gags and characters begin to truly pay off. There are some great debuts in this collection, but the craftsmanship of the strips is evident even in the strips that, at first glance, could have appeared in any of his late '50s strips.


I love sharing my favorite strips, but its a little labor intensive, so from now on I'll skip it unless the spirit moves me. (le sigh).


Debuts! I can't believe it took over eight years for Schulz to give Lucy her Psychiatric Help booth (the rate was 5 cents even then)! Linus simply can't get a break, on top of Snoopy's continued depredation, his grandmother confiscates his blanket for the first time, and he has his faith tested by the Great Pumpkin.


Of course, the biggest change is the introduction of Sally. We hear about her being born and, much like toddler Lucy and baby Linus, quickly grows up.


The original Patty doesn't get much love, even though she was one of the original three Peanuts characters. I remember reading a reference that Schulz got tired of drawing her tartan dress. I'm glad she got the cover at least once.


Complete Peanuts


Next: 'Volume Six: 1961-1962'


Previous: 'Volume Four: 1957-1958'

Barbie's Fashion Success, Barbie #2 by Bette Lou Maybee

Barbie's Fashion Success (Book 2) - Bette Lou Maybee, Clyde Smith

Barbie comes home to discover her mother giving up on joining her husband on a cruise to Alaska so she can be chained to the stove and make sure Barbie's not alone. Barbie objects, so they remember that they could maybe send her to visit an aunt instead. More importantly, an acquaintance of the family sends a fashion icon to call on the family on a tour of Midwest. She is charmed by Barbie's self-made fashions and offers her an internship in San Francisco. Everyone's happy!


The plot had some similarities to 'New York Summer' and its a struggle to put them into the same world. Barbie would have to be pretty thick to be this naïve about the industry, twice, in the same year. Untangling the Barbie multi-verse aside, the book has some notable elements - Barbie being an independent young woman (the aunt offers up some sophisticated adult advice, but otherwise barely exists in the plot) with career choices, crushing her workload, and even makes a frenemy in the shape of the jealous daughter of the owner. Luckily for Barbie that jealous daughter has a brother who is a dreamboat and has a yacht, so.


Poor Ken. A nod to reality came in the form of a suspiciously sassy, prank-loving male designer who Barbie butts head with at first, but ultimately bonds with. Barbie knows who to network with.


The obvious outfit here would be 'Busy Gal' with its portfolio of fashion sketches, or the later 'Junior Designer' where kids could "design" Barbie's dress with decals, but I don't have either one. So here is Allan playing the part of the boy with the biggest yacht:




Barbie Random House Novels


Next: 'Barbie's New York Summer'


Previous: 'Here's Barbie'

Reading progress update: I've read 180 out of 304 pages.

Addison House - Clare McNally

This book is so terrible, I love it! The ghost stole a fried chicken dinner while everyone's backs were turned.

The Vintage Ken Book by Anthony Gayton

The Vintage Ken Book: Ken & Allan Dolls and Their Clothing 1961-1967 - From the Private Collection of Anthony Gayton - Anthony Gayton

It should come as no surprise to any of you that we've continued to go nuts over Barbie everything, but the real hook that got me into the doll-collecting world was Ken.


I came across the website Something About the Boy when trying to find reference photographs for an outfit - and hit the jackpot. The author started collecting about 15 years ago and has not only amassed an impressive and complete collection, but his photography is so good. Just look at it. There are exclusive images and content in the book/PDF that is not available on the website, that, and just having the images and information handy at a show, store or yard sale without needing an internet connection, is worth the $20 price.


This book does not come in a bound edition, yet, but I'm hopeful it will appear someday. The art in here elevates the toy into something worthy of a coffee table book. All photos in this post, on the other hand, are mine.


This book only covers the "Vintage Years" from Ken's first introduction in 1961 to his discontinuation in 1967. The website goes all the way into the 1980s (Barbie and the Rockers!) and, OMG, just look at it. It's beautiful. I don't think I'll ever collect that late, but I love that he's doing this project and documenting everything Ken. 


Gayton goes year by year, and with careful research and documentation of never-opened dolls and accessories provides the collector with images of changes made in the production of the dolls themselves and in the clothing and accessories. The trouser identification guide quickly became that thing I didn't know I needed!



On the left is Allan in 1964's 'Special Date' #1401, and on the right is Ken in an assembled outfit that was eventually sold as "Victory Dance" #1411. It was released in 1964, but was made out of several repackaged items that had once been sold individually. The exposed zipper on the white slacks marks them as earlier, the lack of cuffs makes them transitional. Late '61, early '62.


Barbie is a popular brand but any information on Ken and Allan and their accessories has always seemed like an afterthought. Gayton advances an interesting theory that in 1963 Mattel had bigger plans for Ken as a toy for boys - 1963 saw Ken joining the army and navy, playing baseball and football, as well as boxing, skiing, and diving. The success of G.I. Joe in 1964 ended that possibility. That makes a lot of sense. Would girls in the early 60s have been expected to play boxing?



1963 'Dr. Ken' #793 monitors a bend leg Ken with "blush" on the cheeks going 'In Training' #780 from 1961. The doctor's surgical mask and reflector have ties that are too fragile to use.


Anyway, this is a great resource. That clued me in to a lot more variations in the dolls and their clothing then I thought there was. For your time, another new arrival:



We found the mask for the Big Bad Wolf (from the Barbie's 1964 'Little Red Riding Hood' costume) for $5 at a show. Couldn't resist! He's with a mid '60s Barbie clone wearing homemade clothes.

Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera

Call Your Daughter Home - Deb Spera

Set in South Carolina in 1924 'Call Your Daughter Home' details a community sharply divided by race and class. This novel gripped me with its powerful prose and its depiction of a woman prevailing under terrible circumstances. The novel centers on three women, but it is the opening chapters featuring Gertrude that remain with me still.


Gertrude is the daughter of poor white farmers and is trapped in marriage with a cruel and abusive man. Her four daughters are depending on her, but she has few options left. Annie is wife to the most powerful and respected man in the county, and has had her own success in business, but something has torn her family apart. Retta was born a free woman, but she works, as her mother did before her after emancipation, for the Coles, who had kept her family as slaves. Her faith and compassion allow her to bridge the distance between the two other women.


I loved the writing, but there is a problematic aspect to the novel. Retta is a fully-developed character, but, without giving away important plot elements, there is a subservient role to her part of the story, above and beyond her employment as a cook, that goes beyond what is appropriate for the period. The overall effect of the novel is positive - note my rating - but I have nagging doubts about some of the tropes in effect with her character. I'd be interested in hearing other's opinions about this.

Note: I read an early and uncorrected proof of the novel (earlier then most arcs), changes may have been made.

Bunny by Mona Awad

Bunny - Mona Awad

Samantha has found graduate school to be a lonely and frustrating time. Her writing has hit a dead end and her only solace comes from her friend Ava, a caustic bohemian. Samantha's cohort is made up of four other women who call each other bunny and represent different literary and mean girl clichés. At the beginning of her last year Samantha receives an invitation from the Bunnies and finds herself drawn to them and their surprising creative process.


The book gets to the heart of college and post-grad loneliness that is often only subtext in other novels. I really enjoyed the writing at  the beginning, but the black comedy that started so strong loses momentum as it gets closer to the end. I was in tears laughing when I started the book, but the jokes kept hitting the same note and I found I couldn't understand what Samantha was going through, or even doing. This may have to do with some distractions in my own life while I was reading this, but the novel had a hard time sustaining itself.

Currently reading

On Swift Horses
Shannon Pufahl
Progress: 19/320 pages
The Clue in the Diary
Russell H. Tandy, Margaret Maron, Mildred Benson, Carolyn Keene
Progress: 101/202 pages
The Last of the Wine
Mary Renault
Progress: 35/389 pages
The Tale of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu
A Modern Comedy
John Galsworthy
Progress: 553/862 pages
War of the Twins
Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis
Progress: 160/387 pages