A Man With A Spooky 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 Fire Game, Fear Street #11

The Fire Game - R.L. Stine

Jill Franks and her best friends Andrea and Diane are in the library alternatively studying geography and admiring Andrea's oversized purple sunglasses with the heart-shaped lenses, when Max and Nick interrupt by goofing around with their disposable lighters, like you do.


Some background: Andrea and Jill have been friends forever, but Diane is new this year, but they've really hit it off on the gymnastics team together, even if she's mousy. Max and Nick are totally in love with Jill and her long dark hair. Probably to impress Jill, Max sets a folder on fire. Dawn freaks out, but Andrea, with short red hair, waves the fire out and throws the folder away.


Next period, there's a fire, and it started in the library waste basket.


They get out of a pop quiz in geography and are ready to impress Diane's old friend Gabe who's just moved to town from Center City. Gabe is hot and all, but he's pretty lame in how he shoots down anything and everything in Shadyside, even when they start talking about all the mysterious death, serial killers, and attackers that have plagued their peers in the last few years. Doesn't faze him one bit.


He's more interested in the fire and he starts daring the other boys to set fires. This, somehow, escalates. The fires get bigger and Jill starts to think that Diane and her "unreasonable" fear of fire might be on to something.


This has an abrupt ending, but fairly satisfying and - unlike the villain - unexpected.


Fear Street


Next: 'Lights Out'


Previous: 'Ski Weekend'



Any Opinions on Bookmooch?

Some time ago I did some research on book-swapping sites and I liked Bookmooch best, I use it infrequently - most of my books get donated to the library - but I keep a few points available in case something on my wishlist pops up.




Does anyone else use it, or is there any other site you prefer for book trading?

The Second Generation by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The Second Generation - Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis

I'm just a sucker for punishment, so I'm going to keep going down the Dragonlance rabbit-hole a few more books.


Unlike other recent reviews, this Dragonlance novel was new to me. It represented a return by Weis and Hickman to TSR in 1994, after the fairly successful 'Darksword' and 'Rose of the Prophet' trilogies and the still-in-print 'Death Gate Cycle' for Bantam-Spectra. Sidebar: 'Rose of the Prophet' had queer characters, which, despite other issues, made it ground-breaking and I have really fond memories of that trilogy that I won't ruin with a reread...yet.


Anyway, 'The Second Generation' is my first new Dragonlance in almost twenty years so I was a little too hopeful. My main problems with my other rereads have been the lack of depth to world-building and how the stories didn't seem to merit a second go-round.


Well, this first go-round wasn't that awesome. I had a lot of issues with how women are treated and the lack of depth to the stories in general. I've already read a little ways into 'Dragons of Summer Flame' and I'm not convinced that the insights into the characters provided here are necessary. 


There's a little blurb in the front of the book warning readers that these stories may contradict other books they've read, but don't worry, its because the Heroes of the Lance are so legendary all sorts of things have been written/said about them. This is patent bull-shit. I'm sorry TSR, but you made decisions with those 80-odd books covering every single side character and their histories and you should stick to them. How did it feel to the fans who had bought and enjoyed those novels and discover they're no longer canon? Boooo! 


So, these stories begin the over-writing and ret-conning of Dragonlance, for better or worse depending on your biases. I have strong feelings about it, obviously, but the real deciding factor is that these stories are just not that good. I don't think Weis and Hickman were feeling the characters the way they used to and the two new stories for this book dealing with Steel Brightblade and Gilthas Three-Quarter-Elven make women all the more insignificant in this universe. Where is the Weis that protested Hickman's decision that Laurana would betray millions to save her boyfriend?


We'll see if she turns up again.




Next: 'Dragons of Summer Flame'


Previous: 'The Test of the Twins'

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

No Ivy League - Hazel Newlevant

This graphic memoir follows Hazel as they exit the bubble of their home-schooled existence to work in Portland's "No Ivy League" to earn some summer cash so they and their friends can go to a concert across the country. The No Ivy League battles English ivy in public forest, keeping the invasive plant from strangling trees.

Hazel is intelligent, well-meaning, and adjusting to the realities of being 17. The other kids in their group have different priorities and Newlevant subtly conveys Hazel's disconnect with her art via the expressions of characters and wordless panels.

I read an early, unfinished draft of the book so many pages were still uncolored or blank, but Newlevant's intentions are clear. Hazel researches and uncovers truths about Portland, OR's history of segregation and discrimination, and scrutinizes their own education and their parent's motivations for keeping them out of public schools. This is an honest, realistic look at a young person's first brush with privilege and the decisions they make because of it. This is a true story, but nothing all that ground-breaking occurs, but this narrative is one that hopefully will open some eyes.

This book is available in comic book stores exclusively on August 7, standard bookstores will get in within a few weeks.

Test of the Twins, Dragonlance Legends #3 by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Test of the Twins - Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis

Reading this over again, it felt like a lot of padding had been added to make these books into a marketable trilogy.


'Test of the Twins' follows Caramon and Tasslehoff's terrible vision of a future where Raistlin succeeds, Tanis teaming up with Dalamar, more Kitiara (urgh), and Raistlin's journey through the Abyss with Crysania. I like mucking around with time-travel, and the angle that events have to be changed to prevent the end of the world was great, however, Raistlin's journeying mostly made no sense. The Abyss and the Dark Queen are attacking his mind, but he keeps behaving completely out of character to these situations. On top of that, the climactic battle scenes didn't have the same element of fun as in the 'Chronicles'.


That said, we have a nice tidy ending - though it is a bit at odds with the subsequent Krynn-shattering events of the novels of the '90s. People keep behaving as if the War of the Lance was this legendary thing and yet it ended only two years previous, and foreshadowing is made about the great future of the Temple of Paladine and...uh....ok. Sure. Never mind. Forget I said anything.


For now, I'll keep going.


Dragonlance Legends


Previous: 'War of the Twins'


Next: 'The Second Generation'

Amazon isn't killing independent bookstores – they're too charming!

— feeling big smile

The Christian Science Monitor had a nice article a couple days ago, I'm glad to see the news cycle catching on to how well indies are doing. (My own store gets a mention!)

War of the Twins, Dragonlance Legends #2 by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

War of the Twins  - Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis

A cliff-hanger ending is a sure way to make me pick up the next book in a series, if only to glance at the opening chapters and see what happens. The Cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins.


Caramon, Crysania and Raistlin emerge in the Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas but clearly at a time before its re-opening. Tasslehoff, meanwhile, has a very interesting new experience in a new place.


The set-up to this novel was a good one, the brothers and Crysania wind up marching with an army, trapped in Fistandantilus' footsteps, encouraging a civil war among the dwarves in order to get closer to a powerful artifact that will further Raistlin's dark plans. This trilogy spawned a few more prequel novels, but not as many as the 'Chronicles'. 


The ultimate issue I had was that, because this was a reread, I knew what was happening and the action and the characters our primaries meet along the way were not enough of a distraction for me. There wasn't enough here to keep my interest this time around. We know how this is going to end and we know we're going to get another cliff-hanger. This is a good fantasy trilogy, but a reader is better off picking up one of the omnibus editions. That are, er, out of print....


Dragonlance Legends


Next: 'Test of the Twins'


Previous: 'Time of the Twins'

The Sign of the Twisted Candles, Nancy Drew #9

The Sign of the Twisted Candles  - Carolyn Hart, Carolyn Keene

Nancy, Bess and George are stuck in a thunderstorm on their way home in Nancy's roadster. Two trees are struck by lightning before their eyes, which, wow. The conditions are so bad they seek shelter at a house advertising meals "at the sign of the twisted candles".


While freshening up before tea, the girls overhear the innkeeper scolding a waitress for bringing up a fine meal to the old man upstairs when a plate of mush would do as well. Nancy questions the girl and finds the waitress, an orphan taken in by the innkeeper and his wife, to be too finely bred to be doing heavy labor. There's a mystery afoot!


There's also the 100 year old man, Asa Sidney, working away in his tower room making candles and talking about his tragic past. Nancy and her friends insist on joining him for a birthday party with the young girl, Sadie. A fun time is had and Nancy asks that if Sadie or Asa need a good lawyer, to call on her father. It turns out, he does. The next day Nancy's father is called by Asa to draw up a new will. Asa Sidney made a lot of money with his inventions and, having no children, has many relatives who may have an interest in his property.


A low point for me was the revelation that the man was a near-distant relation to George and Bess and those two worthy girls are manipulated by their families to cut off Nancy Drew because of her interference with the will! I seriously thought it was just going to be a ruse, but it was an actual thing that happened and us readers are expected to believe. That element was even kept for the revision in the 1960s.


Doing a little digging about these novels I'm upset to find that there were 3-4 illustrations in addition to cover art originally attached to these books, but subsequent editions eliminated them to a single frontispiece, redrawn in a mid-century style. I have some earlier editions, but none of mine have any of this extra art. If you have time, search for the frontispiece for this one featuring a man about to push Nancy off a high ladder from a window! It's amazing.


Bess and George's defection aside, this book was exciting because of the extra depth provided to the secondary and tertiary characters - the friend of her father's brought in to witness Asa's will was so eager to be a part of a mystery it was great - and the extra lengths Nancy had to go to to solve the case. Highly recommended.


I've reached another gap in my Nancy shelf, so it may be some time before I continue.


Nancy Drew


Next: 'The Password to Larkspur Lane'


Previous: 'Nancy's Mysterious Letter'

The Baby Name Wizard, 4th Edition by Laura Wattenberg

The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby - Laura Wattenberg

Nope. No babies here, but I was told to expect a new niece or nephew and I've been intrigued by this book since shelving it in the Parenting section, so I took it home for my sister.


We've all seen baby name books, but this one is different. Wattenberg takes a look at the statistics behind names, points out trends and groups names in "families" such as similar cultural background, regional favorites, trends and, most importantly, the 'feel' of a name. She uses categories such as Elegant Antique, Exotic Traditionals, etc. so it easy to find names that spark interest. Everything is cross-referenced nicely for simple navigation.


Wattenberg has a good sense of humor about names and doesn't mince words with her practical advice to parents about getting over the anxiety of naming, and find one that feels right to them.

The Mystery of Cabin Island, Hardy Boys #8

The Mystery of Cabin Island (Hardy Boys, #8) - Franklin W. Dixon

Like many of the volumes prior, 'The Mystery of Cabin Island' begins with the Hardy Boys and Chet having a grand day out. It's close to the Christmas holiday from school and the waters of Barmet Bay have frozen up enough near the coast to allow the boys to take out their ice-boat.


I'm positive I'd never heard of ice-boats before. They make perfect sense, of course they exist, but they're a little dangerous for kids. There are several accidents and so many more near misses that I want nothing to do with them.


Chet suggests the boys go "camping" by renting one of the coastal cabins and make the most of their break that way. Later, the boys run into Biff who has a similar idea. It seems too good to be true when the Hardys get an invitation from the wealthy Elroy Jefferson to call on him. Jefferson's Pierce Arrow had been one of the cars recovered by the boys from the 'Shore Road' gang and he wants to give the boys a reward as he had been out of town when the crime spree had ended. He also happens to be the owner of one Cabin Island.


Cabin Island appears to be getting a lot of attention from a man over-eager to buy the property, mysterious noises in the night, ruffians on the ice, a cypher in an old journal, and a certain long-missing collection of rare postage stamps to be recovered. That's a lot of ground to cover, but throw in a fox hunt and you have an entertaining adventure story.


I was a little put-off by the pace of 'Secret of the Caves', but something about the mix of a leisurely pace that allows the boys to drop their sleuthing and hunt foxes for the garrulous owner of a general store worked here. There's a lot of joy in the book, not to mention my growing conviction that Biff and Chet are more than friends. I'm just saying that when the team splits up, they're always going off together and don't find anything in their section of the woods. Except each other. They even went in together on gifts for the Hardy Boys at Christmas. Total couple move.


The other nice point was that though clues are still being hurled at them, this is one of the first times since 'The Tower Treasure' that the boys had to work at an actual puzzle to solve the mystery. The cypher was a nice touch.


When this was revised in 1966 the plot stayed the same except there the ruffians, disreputable classmates of the boys, became high school drop-outs, and there were added subplots of a missing grandson and a foreign dignitary. Fancy.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Great Airport Mystery'


Previous: 'The Secret of the Caves'

The Cheater, Fear Steet #18

The Cheater - R.L. Stine

Carter Phillips is feeling the cold bite of her father's disapproval for the first time in her life and it hurts. She has always gotten good grades, made the right friends, does all the extracurriculars, but she's only OK at math. Her advanced math score (was SAT trademarked in the '90s?) came out at only 570 and she needs over a 700 to get into Princeton. Daddy is a judge working on a big case against a Shadyside Crime Boss and really doesn't need his little girl disappointing him right now.


She's supposed to retake the test on Saturday, and is dreading it. Her best friend Jill and boyfriend Dan commiserate with her, and Dan takes her for a milkshake. There, giddy with malt sugar and dairy Carter jokes that Dan, being a whiz at math, should take the exam for her and no one would ever guess since her name could just as easily be a guy's. Square Dan doesn't think that's funny and soon leaves, wishing her luck. At that very moment a breathy voice tells her he'll take the test for her. To Carter's shock its Adam, the brilliant, but poor, kid who lives on Fear Street. He's in advanced math with her, but he's edgy and '90s cool even while serving milk shakes.


When Carter hears that all Adam wants is a single date she agrees to let him take the test for her - what could go wrong?


Duh, it isn't just one date. Adam keeps demanding more and more from Carter until she doesn't know what to do. At first, it seems like Carter enjoys the different kind of attention Adam is giving her (sure he's forcing me to hang out with him, but the kissing is so great!), but at the first sign of Carter mentioning her actual boyfriend, or Adam's own girlfriend Sheila, he's all about the blackmail, so that doesn't last. She receives a bloody note, a car almost runs her off the road, and Adam's girlfriend, also poor, is really freaking her out. Worst of all, Carter feels super guilty about the Tiffany diamond earrings her father gets her as a congratulatory gift.


This had some pretty terrible stuff in it. You do not want to mess around with Shadyside's underworld. At a dive club a whole bar (including the band) gathered 'round to watch a girl get molested, screaming, on the dance floor. The reason? She was rich. No supernatural elements needed in a place where that happens.


Scenes such as that one were over-the-top, but effectively scary, and there was a neat twist ending and some real ambiguity near the end about who is the real baddie, so that gives it a boost. It's been said before, but no one should read 'Fear Street' expecting good behavior and fairness, or, you know, any positive behavior.


Fear Street


Next: 'Sunburn'


Previous: 'The Best Friend'

Sport, Harriet the Spy #3 by Louise Fitzhugh

Sport - Louise Fitzhugh

Louise Fitzhugh wrote one of the great classics of children's lit with 'Harriet the Spy' and the neglected sequel 'The Long Summer' has a lot to offer. This book, the third and final book featuring Harriet was published a few years after Fitzhugh's death. I was pleased to get a-hold of this awhile ago, but didn't get around to reading it until I had to go on a trip to the in-laws and only had room (in luggage and itinerary) for a small book.


Unfortunately, 'Sport' is light in plot, character, and charm as well as page count. Simon "Sport" Rocque takes care of his father's finances and the two of them get along alright. Sport is set to start the new school year in public school since the school he shared with Harriet, Beth Ellen, and Janie is girls only after 6th grade. His father introduces him to a new girlfriend, Kate, who is stable and entertaining, and cooks a great steak. Best of all, his father is going to marry Kate so it looks like he'll have two parents in his life again. His mother has little interest in him and spends most of her time in Europe.


Enter the plot. Sport's grandfather, a kind man, is rich and dying. When he passes away it turns out the will leaves most of the money in trust to Sport and a large chunk to his mother if she can take half the responsibility of raising her son.


What follows is ridiculous, so I'm not going into it.


What works in the book are the opening character sketches of Sport's friends Harry, Sherman, and Chi-Chi. If Fitzhugh had been so inclined she could have written a book centered on each of them. Fitzhugh isn't afraid to point out the casual racism of the day in privileged people like Sport's mother and the NYPD. For a book in this age group that's supposed to be funny, it's pretty intense and, even if the book were better quality, would still ensure it being out of print. The fact that 'Sport' was shelved until well after Fitzhugh's death makes me think the manuscript was probably left incomplete sometime in the '60s. It makes me think of what could have been if she'd been so inspired.


Harriet the Spy


Previous: 'The Long Summer'

First Date, Fear Street #16

First Date (Fear Street, No. 16) - R.L. Stine

Being a girl on Fear Street is tough, but Chelsea has everything stacked against her. She's the new girl, she plays saxophone, and she's chubby. She's pretty down on herself about it, but maybe that's because everyone from her "best" friend Nina to her mom tell her she only needs "to lose a little weight" to be attractive. There's also a scene later where the killer notices that she's a total slob because the tag on her size 'L' sweatshirt is sticking out. Kill her now, am I right?


Anyway, there's a pretty gruesome scene in the beginning where a heavy make-out session turns creepy and murderous real fast and we find out he's been going from town to town killing girls and Shadyside is his next stop....


The book makes a good effort of making the identity of the killer ambiguous. From the opening scene there are a few clues to his appearance and behavior, but there are two new men in Chelsea's life and they both appear to fit the bill.


First there's Will, the new boy in homeroom, who's muscly arms and shy demeanor win Chelsea over immediately. Her takeaway from their first encounter is that she has a whole day to think of something to say to him. Which...good game Stine, that is crazy enough to be actual teenage behavior.


Next there's Sparks, who shows up at Chelsea's dad's diner where she works. He seems dangerous enough to be cool, aggressively flirts, and Chelsea fantasizes about what it would be like to go out with a bad boy.


Both young men raise a lot of red flags, (WIll likes snow because its "pure", Sparks has a hair-trigger temper) but only one can be the killer! It doesn't mean that either one is really dating material, but as the only other boys in the book are either Chelsea's dad, Nina's boyfriend, or actual nasty kids and/or criminals what choice does she have? Chelsea better wait for college.


A shout-out to continuity was a cameo from Suki Thomas, from 'The Overnight' and others, who was seen talking to Doug, Nina's boyfriend, which only means one thing, because Suki's a big ol' tramp. Stine really gets teens.


The book is legitimately horrible, but that's kind of what makes it fun to read.


Fear Street


Next: 'The Best Friend'


Previous: 'The Prom Queen'

Nancy's Mysterious Letter, Nancy Drew #8

Nancy's Mysterious Letter - Walter Karig, Carolyn Keene

Nancy, Bess, and George have returned from a visit to Red Gate Farm with their arms loaded with fresh produce. They have settled in at Nancy's for tea when Ira Dixon, the postman, arrives with a letter for her from England. Nancy knows he is retiring after many years of service and so coaxes him into the house for a cup of tea, despite it being against regulations. After the brief visit, to their dismay, they discover Mr. Dixon's post-bag has been stolen! Nancy is implicated in the theft and Dixon's pension and reputation are on the line.


Later, she opens her letter and discovers that someone with the name of Nancy Drew stands to inherit a fortune. Nancy's determined to find the rightful heir. Meanwhile, Ned Nickerson has invited Nancy to watch him in 'the big game' at Emerson College.


The two mysteries are given equal time (and a large share is given to football which is equally baffling and charming) as Nancy does some actual legwork in tracking down her namesake and her prime suspect in the mail-theft: a shifty half-brother of Mr. Dixon's.


There is a brief reunion with Helen Corning, Nancy's first friend, but she doesn't do much other than nap, fret, and dance. Despite this book being written by a new author to the series - a man named Walter Karig (that explains the football) - Nancy is still a rebel, chasing down leads and taking risks on the road. If she also enjoys a fancy dress ball and Ned's attentions, more power to her. Of course there is a reliance on coincidence, but somehow it doesn't get stale the way it has with some of the Hardy Boys.


Nancy Drew


Next: 'The Sign of the Twisted Candles'


Previous: 'The Clue in the Diary'

The Secret of the Caves, Hardy Boys #7

The Secret of the Caves (Hardy Boys, #7) - Walter S. Rogers, Franklin W. Dixon

OK, so...nothing really happens?


That's not entirely true, but that was my feeling by the end of the book. However, the energetic writing and the very real, stupid danger the boys are allowed to get themselves into gives the rating a boost.


The boys are out having a lark in the bay when a casual boat race is interrupted by a fire on an incoming steamer. It isn't serious, but an excited passenger jumps overboard and must be saved from drowning by the Hardys. Even stranger the elderly woman, when coming out of her swoon, gasps that she must see Fenton Hardy!


The lady is looking for her brother, a professor with a penchant for saying "By jing!" and not tying his shoelaces - this is very important information say the boys AND their father. Hardy, Sr. takes off on the case and the boys plan a camping trip with Chet and Biff to take their minds off the lack of mystery in their lives.


Of course, there are rumors of an escaped convict - member of the gang that terrorized motorists in the last volume no less - and the caves they set out to explore have been the site of strange noises and gunshots and even a hermit named Captain Royal.


There is a resolution to all things, but as I've said, the real winner here is the pleasure the boys take in planning their excursion, camping, exploring the cave, cooking over fires and the like. The boys bring their trusty guns and shoot them off a few times and the cave exploring I mentioned? They immediately split up and Frank gets lost in the dark. Amazing.


'Secret of the Caves' got a serious re-write in 1965 in which the thin plot was scrapped and the hermit gets himself some serious hardware. The girls have more to do in the revision than wistfully regret having to stay home and clean house, so that's something.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Mystery of Cabin Island'


Previous: 'The Shore Road Mystery'

The Overnight, Fear Street #3

The Overnight - R.L. Stine

This is about the only kind of book I can take right now. The nutshell is that somehow, while I've been getting older, so have my parents and father-in-law. There's a lot to be done and about all I can take is something wholesome like this about a group of kids camping.


The Outdoors Club of Shadyside High is disappointed when their faculty advisor has to postpone the long-anticipated overnight camping trip on Fear Island. Even worse the overnight camping trip was going to be Della O'Connor's big chance for getting her boyfriend Gary back from that punk tramp Suki Thomas - if you're new to the series, you should know that Fear Street is all about slut-shaming. There's a joke here about Shadyside and shade, but....eh.


The rest of the club is the shy Maia who lives in terror of her parents' disapproval, fat prankster Ricky, and Pete "The Prep" Goodwin who's totally into Della, but may be too vanilla for her taste.


A plan is hatched to have the overnight anyway - parents have given permission and the teacher left so suddenly there was no chance they were notified. On the island things seem to be going great, a lively game of paintball goes wrong, however, when Della is accosted by a handsome stranger in a leather jacket who flirts/threatens her enough to make her try to run. A struggle ensues and the man ends up in a ravine. The teens swear to keep the accidental murder a secret - they'd be totally grounded - but it seems as if someone saw what they did.


This is a straight-forward thriller. Della is a bit vain, but she stands up a little better than some other Fear Street female leads I could name. I'd forgotten how few of these books had any supernatural elements to them. 'The Overnight''s length doesn't allow for much characterization aside from the phenomenal outfits the characters wear and basic high school clique tropes, but it gets the job done.


Fear Street:


Next: 'Missing'


Previous: 'The Surprise Party'

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