A Man With An Agenda

I'm an indie bookseller in Vermont, sometime public servant, and voracious reader. My public commitments have not kept me from weekly D&D sessions or thinking about getting more cats and ways of keeping said cats off my antiques.

Mennyms Alone, Mennyms #4 by Sylvia Waugh

Mennyms Alone  - Sylvia Waugh

After the shocking end to the previous book, the Mennyms cautiously begin to go about their lives again. That is until Sir Magnus has a premonition. The end is nigh!

Waugh, as the series goes on, continually reached for a deeper meaning in her story about a rag-doll family that could have simply skimmed on the surface of cute whimsy. Sometimes she's reaching beyond her grasp, but with the early book and with this one she's hit a mark here. Time is passing outside even if the Mennyms advance only slowly. The outside world was going to figure out the Mennyms sooner or later and there would be questions that couldn't be avoided with a low-brimmed hat or an attitude.

Whatever their personal feelings about the premonition, the dolls prepare - especially Tulip - in their own way. As the day and the hour come nearer we can only wonder along with them about what will happen.

Previous: <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2172012888">Mennyms Under Siege</a>

Next: <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2172016578">Mennyms Alive</a>

Mennyms Alive, Mennyms #5 by Sylvia Waugh

Mennyms Alive  - Sylvia Waugh

The previous two books varied in quality, but shared a general "bummer" feeling. The Mennyms had faced the prospect of annihilation and had taken it with dignity, if incredulously.  

What happened next was their discovery by humans, but only as some beautifully crafted rag-dolls. The heirs to the house the Mennyms had lived in for so many decades were a little put-out by inheriting a house fully furnished and packed to the rafters with things.

As a side-note I would have been thrilled, but most people are not me.

Anyway, a kind-hearted antiques dealer and doll-lover adopts the Mennyms and creates a space for them in the unused apartment above her shop. Then without even the help of an old silk hat, the Mennyms come back to life and must plan out their next move.

A logical end to the series, but somehow unsatisfying.

Previous: <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2172014186">Mennyms Alone</a>

Mennyms Under Siege, Mennyms #3

Mennyms Under Siege  - Sylvia Waugh

Poor Pilbeam. All she wanted to do was to spend an evening out in the theater, and lose herself, her worries and her bruised rag-doll heart in the rhythms of Shakespeare. Instead, she's threatened by the reappearance of a nosy neighbor.

Sir Magnus, upset by this and a few other suspicious incidents, including a close run-in with child protective services, declares that the Mennyms must stay indoors at all costs and sever ties with the outside world. Predictably this doesn't go well as further events make the family increasingly paranoid and afraid, even as they begin to get sore with one another from keeping such close quarters for  so long.

Unlike the previous books, the charm wears thin. Things get increasingly metaphysical and readers can't share in the suspense either, so there wasn't much cause to read this except for the fact there's another one after.

Previous:  <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2172010834">Mennyms in the Wilderness</a>

Next:  <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2172014186">Mennyms Alone</a>

Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window: A Novel - A. J. Finn

Anna Fox is afraid to leave her house. It's been ten months since she's stepped outside for more than a few steps and is, frankly, OK with that. Her former career as a psychologist gives her a name for her condition, agoraphobia, and it allows her to help fellow sufferers on an online message board. It does not help her treat her own condition. Her only outside connections are with her reclusive tenant, her physical therapist, her own psychologist and phone calls with her estranged husband and daughter. The rest of her time is spent watching old films, drinking, and watching the neighbors while drinking.

When new neighbors move into the house next door, Anna treats them as characters in her drunken melodrama, feeling out their personalities and relationships by what she observes. When a chance encounter breaks her self-imposed fourth wall, Anna realizes she has to find out the truth of what she saw and confront her own past.

A.J. Finn's <i>The Woman in the Window</i> is a love letter to noir cinema - especially Hitchcock's classics. It's the best re-imagining of 'Rear Window' I've ever read or seen. Films like the <i>Third Man</i>, <i>Laura</i>, and <i>Shadow of a Doubt</i> layer the already unreliable narrator's tale with rich atmosphere. Finn is a top-notch plotter and he avoids the pitfalls of most thrillers by refusing to wrap everything up in a tidy bow by the end.

Batman: Nightwalker

Batman: Nightwalker (DC Icons Series) - Marie Lu

Marie Lu has had a string of hits with her techno-savvy thrillers, so its a good call to give her the lead on rewriting Batman for the new generation. Bruce Wayne and his friends live in the modern world with its terrorism, identity theft, and paranoia. Gotham is currently under siege from a gang known as the Nightwalkers, who aim to execute the city's elite and seize their bank accounts.

When Bruce Wayne, still a teenager, interferes in a police action against the Nightwalkers, he is sentenced to community service at Arkham Asylum. He is drawn to the only Nightwalker captured alive, a girl named Madeleine who is his own age. With her help he may be able to solve this mystery and save some lives, but can he trust her? This was a capable thriller that matches Leigh Bardugo's <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2035079509">Wonder Woman: Warbringer</a>.

The DC Icons series is setting a high bar for future licensed novels. It should go over well with younger fans and perhaps win new ones, but I don't know how other entrenched old nerds like me will take it.

Mennyms in the Wilderness, Mennyms # 2 by Sylvia Waugh

Mennyms in the Wilderness  - Sylvia Waugh, Patrick Benson
A recent trip to Philadelphia brought me to a wonderful small bookstore where I found a complete set of The Mennyms in hardcover! So I got to read the rest of their story much sooner than I anticipated.

The Mennyms had weathered the (false) alarm of a visit from Aunt Kate's nephew, in fact Magnus and receiving a life-interest in their long-time home. but it is soon followed by a much more distinct threat to their safety: the wrecking ball. They receive a notice that their house, their whole quiet street in fact, must make way for a new road.

Help arrives, with a supernatural nudge, in the form of a relative of Aunt Kate's: Albert. Albert, a young man, is drawn into the Mennym's small world and becomes enchanted by them. He initiates a plan to help save their home, and when the outside world's curiosity threatens them, he brings them to a remote country house.

What really impresses me about this series is that Waugh really gave a lot of thought to the many complications that a living doll family could face. The simple solutions to their problems always have a catch that get picked up on. There are thorny issues like a modern bureaucracy catching on to the fact that the same 'man' has leased a property for 60+ years, for example.

The psychology of the Mennyms is complex as well. Its pointed out that for years, decades, at a time the Mennyms follow the little patterns of their pretends. They area static, but then a single change in their daily lives leads to experience and 'growing' up. Appleby and Pilbeam in particular face all of the pangs of being on the cusp of adulthood, forever. The danger of Albert, a person, being involved in the life of the Mennyms after the crisis of the outside world ends, leads to the inevitable conclusion.

Previous: The Mennyms

Next: Mennyms Under Siege

Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark - Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan

My dad has recommended many books over the years, but this one has to be the most timely - and it was written twenty years ago! I suppose that means reason is timeless. Carl Sagan questions why humanity is so enamored with pseudo-science and the paranormal as opposed to, you know, the truth.

Sagan's writing is warm and funny in a dry way. I liked that here is a guy who would genuinely love to accept the existence of extraterrestrial life and life after death, but needs to see the evidence. His disappointment is touching. Sagan scrutinizes ghosts, witchcraft, alien abductions, Atlantis, telepathy, and other phenomena and runs through the evidence. The evidence just isn't there. Sagan examines why people ignore the genuine discoveries of science for tabloid stories and fantastic claims with nothing backing them up. They are also more widely disseminated. Sagan was convinced that more people are aware of the theory that aliens have been "diddling" us for centuries than the mapping of the human genome. Too much credulity leaves us open to superstition, and we've all seen the results of that.

The book can be a little dry, but its refreshing reading and I would like to see an updated edition come out.

La Belle Sauvage, Book of Dust #1 by Philip Pullman

The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1) - Philip Pullman

I waited too long. Faaaar tooo long. On top of the incredible length of time since the original trilogy carried me away when I was kid - The Amber Spyglass was the first book where I could hardly wait for it to come out. This is a magnificent return to the world of The Golden Compass. I wasn't sure how a prequel so many years later would even work, but there was so much going on in La Belle Sauvage and none of it felt like a retread. It was so much fun to read about daemons again.

Malcolm Polstead and his daemon Asta live with their parents in a small enclave north of Oxford. He helps his parents in their tavern and does odd jobs for the nuns across the river. He spends as much time as he can piloting his boat up and down the river. It is ten years before Lyra Belacqua overhears her father talking about Dust. Times are changing, however, the Church is growing in power, entering into private lives and the schools, and even Malcolm can see something is wrong.

La Belle Sauvage goes into darker territory than The Golden Compass, and that's saying something. Malcolm and his friends must risk their lives to protect an innocent with a great destiny. It was wonderful and I can't wait to read what happens next, ten years after The Amber Spyglass.

Next: The Secret Commonwealth


The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics

The Women in the Walls - Amy Lukavics

Lucy Acosta loses a chef, the woman she thinks of as a mother and then her best friend and all seem to illicit the same emotional response. I've read a lot of books about repressed WASPs in fancy houses surrounded by elegant people who also have no emotions, but this book wins a prize for flat-lining. It's almost as if these characters not only don't have feelings, they also don't know how to pretend to have them.

The Women in the Walls hurtles into its territory too fast. There is no time at all to develop any feelings of suspense or cultivate an atmosphere. I couldn't do it.

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

All's Faire in Middle School - Victoria Jamieson

Preteen angst visits the ren-faire and it was enjoyable.

Imogene has grown up working and playing at the Renaissance Faire where her parents work. This year she's old enough to start training as a squire and she's proud of the responsibility. Too prove her worth she decides to brave public school after a lifetime of homeschooling. She soon runs afoul of cliquey preteen girls who criticize her clothes and she becomes aware that her family and her home are not like everyone else's.

Middle school is just awful. There's no pretending its anything else. Jamieson writes a all-too-typical story with an unusual flair.

Edgedancer, Stormlight Archive 2.5, by Brandon Sanderson

Edgedancer: From the Stormlight Archive - Brandon Sanderson

I've loved Sanderson's Stormlight Archive from the beginning, so when I heard there was going to be a bonus novella to the series I was excited. I usually don't appreciate sidebars to my epics, but I felt like I could trust Sanderson not to waste my time.

Edgedancer is not a waste of time. Surprisingly, it's required. Which has its own problems, but I was planning on reading it anyway so no harm done. A real highlight of Words of Radiance was the introduction of Lift, the cheerfully ignorant 'slick' thief. Edgedancer follows Lift across the continent and on an adventure with has a surprising impact on the rest of the series.

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross - Marie Lu

Everyone plays Warcross. It is the centerpiece of the virtual reality headsets that have transformed how people interact with each other - across the globe, in public and private.

Emika Chen is a teenage hacker who tries to make ends meet with bounty hunting. Like seemingly everyone else, she is obsessed with Warcross and spends all her spare time playing. Everything changes when Emika tries out a new hack during a qualifying match for the Warcross Quidditch cup or whatever and winds up as a minor celebrity when she's caught in the act.

Her stunt lands her a job with the corporation that invented Warcross and the mysterious young CEO enlists her aid in stopping a shadowy group of terrorist hackers.

There are elements to this book that definitely do not work, but Lu creates a techno-thriller that's perfect for young readers. The blow-by-blows of the games, the intrigues on the dance-floor, and a little bit of romance enhance a surprisingly engaging plot.

Senlin Ascends (Books of Babel #1) by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel) - Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends is an independently published success on its way to the main market. I had never heard of it, but I should have! This is the first book of a series that could go in any number of directions. Bancroft infuses his novel with a rich history and background that is a perfect counterpoint to Senlin's quest. Senlin is a mild-mannered teacher who takes his new wife Marya to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. He has lectured about the history of the tower for years, but is ill-prepared for the reality of the place. Marya is lost in the crowd and Senlin must face impossible challenges to find her again. The only direction for him to go is up.

I could not break away from this book. The society, the civilizations, the infrastructure of the tower were fascinating. There are so many elements of the book that I should have found absurd, but all the little pieces worked. Fans of Neal Stephenson and Frank Herbert will love it.

Brave, (Awkward #2) by Svetlana Chmakova

Brave - Svetlana Chmakova
  Jensen is having a hard time in middle school, but the tragic fact, initially at least for the reader, is that he doesn't know it. Because he believes that sunspots are a real danger to us all, among other reasons, he's teased, tormented, and even ignored or taken for granted by his classmates.

Chmakova's story is full of humor and affectionate for its characters, and the first half of it was a great character study. As for the second part, most people won't have any issues, but I was bothered by how the plot was resolved. Brave has an important message, but I don't know if its the right way to teach compassion.


Over a month behind...yikes!

Spinning - Tillie Walden, Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden's Spinning is a graphic novel/memoir in the vein of Blankets or Stitches, err, with less child abuse. It chronicles the author's competitive experience with figure skating as a child, falling in love, learning how to communicate, and the changes she was undergoing and why she ultimately felt like she had to leave the sport behind.


Despite also being an introvert and being on the queer spectrum, the only pieces of Walden's experience that I could personally relate to were parental indifference to sports involvement. I, of course, used that as an excuse to never play any sports past 3rd grade. This is also one of the first books I can immediately tell has been created by someone younger than my generation. There's a quality to the book, not to mention the ubiquity of handheld smart electronics, that I can't pinpoint that made me feel ancient. It was a great experience.


This was a great find, highly recommended for any teen reader (or older) looking for a good coming of age story. Walden's storytelling transcends any pigeon-holes a bookseller may be tempted to use to categorize her book.

Lie in Wait (Canaan Crime Series) by Eric Rickstad

Lie In Wait - Eric Rickstad

In Lie in Wait a teenage girl is murdered while babysitting for a lawyer who's taken on a high-profile, highly controversial case. Set in a fictionalized version of the small town of Canaan in the far Northeastern corner of the Vermont, this is a thriller that makes great use of its setting and recent history.

In 2000 Vermont legalized civil unions for same-sex couples and there was a backlash across the state from many Vermonters who felt that their state was being "taken over" by liberal flatlanders who were moving to the state in large numbers and therefore their own concerns were being ignored. Signs were put up everywhere encouraging voters to "Take Back Vermont" and roll back the civil union legislation and many other progressive policies. The bigots did not win that time, but its hard for me to forget how many of those signs there were, and how slowly they came down.

Rickstad sets his novel in 2010 against the backdrop of gay marriage instead of civil unions. This brings the action more towards the present for the reader and perhaps ties the Take Back Vermont movement in with other, more recent, knee-jerk political movements. The truth is, in my part of the state, there wasn't nearly as much animosity or division about the same-sex marriage bill as there was about same-sex civil unions, but animosity and division make for a better novel.

The sleepy town of Canaan is rocked by the murder of a bright young girl in the home of a prominent man. Was her death a tragic quarrel with a boyfriend, a message from those opposed to the gay marriage case, or something else? Detective Sonja Test wants to make the most out of this case, there are few opportunities to investigate this level of crime, but the case belongs to the State Police and Detective North, so she has to work within his investigation. Sonja's struggles are compounded by sexism and Rickstad deftly handles that. Women have fair play here, which isn't always the case in genre novels.

I have some issues with the ending, but it was still satisfying.

My real disappointment is an editorial one. I read the paperback first edition and it is riddled with errors - character descriptions contradicting each other, sometimes on the same page; the time of day in one pivotal scene of confrontation is referred to as both the morning and the afternoon; and some small typos. I hope these have been fixed for future editions.

Currently reading

The Big Book of Science Fiction
Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer
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A Modern Comedy
John Galsworthy
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Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present
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Progress: 225/408 pages