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!

Barbie, The First 30 Years by Stefanie Deutsch

Barbie, the First 30 Years: 1959 Through 1989: An Identification and Value Guide - Stefanie Deutsch

This is the first edition from 1996, two subsequent editions have been released. If you have gone as far down the rabbit hole of Barbie collecting as I have you will want to check this author out. This book has minimal text - extended captions to the photos along with irrelevant values - but the photos are extensive and worth the price of admission.


Even as outdated as this book is the author's breadth of coverage is amazing. Sure, there are websites out there now that have all of this with perhaps better resolution and more accurate information, but as a single catch-all guide to classic vintage (pre-1973) and the new vintage of pre-'90s this book is hard to beat.



Barbie wearing 'Wedding Day' #972, flanked by Ken in 'Tuxedo' #787 and best friend Midge wearing 'Orange Blossom' #987. A classic group.


Especially noteworthy are the pictured dolls, accessories and clothes of Barbie's predecessor, the German comic doll Bild-Lilli. Ruth Handler had famously long wanted to create a fashion doll for kids, but it wasn't until she saw and bought some Bild-Lilli's in Switzerland that she was able to convince Mattel to start on a proto-type. You never see solid information on these dolls or their accessories.



A more modern wedding day. Skipper wears #1910 'Sunny Pastels', Ken wears 'Best Buy #9128', A Talking Barbie wears #3361 'Sweetheart Satin' and a Hair Fair Barbie wears a groovy clone fringe dress and accessories.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Mori #1 by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley

A gold pocket-watch left in Thaniel Steepleton's apartment saves him from an explosion several months later. Investigation leads him to Japanese watchmaker Keita Mori. How could the watch predict when the bombing would occur? With threats of more bombings looming Thaniel agrees to help Scotland Yard investigate Mori.


As Thaniel gets to know Mori, he realizes these something deeper going on. In the meantime there's Grace Carrow, who is conducting experiments at Oxford and facing prejudice of her own.


A sequel being scheduled for the spring prompted me to read this. It was a fun historic romance set in Victorian London. I like how the author explores stereotypes and prejudice in this era, especially through the lens of the unlikeable Miss Carrow, but the plot could have used more tension. It felt like more of a character study, which is fine, but the book seemed to promise a lot more with all of the clairvoyance and terrorism and Gilbert & Sullivan.


Keita Mori


Next: 'The Lost Future of Pepperharrow'

Some thoughts on dealing with Spam

Reblogged from Peregrinations:

I've been thinking about this.


Spam is the bane of our existence. We all hate it. We all want it to go away.


Spammers love our attention, whether it be positive or negative. The more we respond to spammers, the happier they are and the more they want to keep posting here.


In light of the fact that for all intents and purposes this community is entirely without moderators who can deal with spam and delete spam accounts, here is what we should do with spammers: We should make this place as uninviting as possible for spammers, a place where they are entirely ignored.



1. DO NOT respond to them. Do not add a comment to any discussion.Do not comment on any post. Do not engage. Period. (Yes, I know this is hard but don't do it! Not even to warn others that we have a new spammer; we are smart enough to figure it out for ourselves.)


2. DO NOT block them unless they are following you, because to block them you have to follow them first and following is engaging.


3. The only reason to visit a spammy looking discussion is to change the notification setting to "no notifications" -- and then only when you receive a notification. Out of sight, out of mind.


4. Check your follower page regularly and block spammers.


5. DO NOT keep returning to spam discussions. Do not add to the visitor count. Do not feed the spammer ego. Make this place as unfriendly as possible.


The more of us who follow the non-engagement plan, the less inviting we will become.


If you think this plan will work, please feel free to pass it along. The more times this is re-blogged, the more active members will see it --and maybe even a few spammers.



The Rocking Horse Secret by Rumer Godden

The Rocking Horse Secret - Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden was a prolific writer and, among other stories, created the eternal classic  'The Story of Holly & Ivy'.


This didn't really match that in terms of emotional impact and originality. Our heroine is Tibby, a 7 year old girl, who comes with her mother to live in a grand old house called Pomeroy Place. Her mother, Mrs. Winters, is the housekeeper, cook, and maid-of-all-work in a house that once had an army of servants. There is Jed who does all of the gardening and once looked after the horses when elderly Miss Pomeroy still had them.


Tibby is alone most of the time and falls in love with the old day nursery. She especially loves the large wooden rocking horse. That rocking horse has a secret, and the reader must muddle through a whole book before the seven year old realizes that secrets are silly things.

The Prophecy, Animorphs #34

The Prophecy - Katherine Applegate

This serves as a good follow-up to 'The Hork-Bajir Chronicles'. The Animorphs are summoned to the hidden Hork-Bajir colony because an Arn, the race that created the Hork-Bajir, has appeared asking for help. Toby, the Hork-Bajir seer, wants to hear the Animorph's advice on the matter.


The Arn introduces himself and explains that he is the last of his kind. He had heard of the free colony and found it, by ways and means, so he could offer the Hork-Bajir a chance to retake their home world from the Yeerks.


The plan is dangerous and involves resurrecting Aldrea to find a cache of weapons to get the Hork-Bajir started. Of course, the Animorphs are in.


Cassie's role was interesting and, again, pitch-perfect for the themes of her books. I've gotta love that heroic morphing of hers and giving an Andalite's perspective of it confirms it. I did not love the 'Phantom Menace' reference. It is NOT cool Marco. You've totally blown your cover as a middle school boy.




Next: 'The Proposal'


Previous: 'The Illusion'

The Illusion, Animorphs #33

The Illusion - Katherine Applegate

This book goes even further into the relationship between Tobias and Ax, and making steps towards their being family. We found out in 'The Pretender' (with a very obvious hint in the first 'Chronicles' book) that Tobias is the son of Elfangor during his time on Earth. The story hasn't had the opportunity to go into the deeper meaning of that.


The real thrust of this book was, of course, the heist surrounding the destruction of the Yeerk-developed 'anti-morphing' ray. The Animorph's plan is pretty clever, but of course involves one of them being tortured. There's a brief foray into  'Pretty White Yeerks with Problems' as well.


The real enjoyment of the story is in Tobias and Ax's bonding, and, finally, some momentum between Rachel and Tobias.




Next: 'The Prophecy'


Previous: 'The Separation'

The Separation, Animorphs #32

The Separation - Katherine Applegate

Rachel makes an impulsive decision to acquire a starfish on a class field trip to recover an earring, and the results are disastrous.


This is a split personality story, Rachel has literally been divided in half. In one corner we have 'Mean Rachel', who is pure aggression, competitive spirit, and with no ability to think in the long-term. In the other corner we have 'Nice Rachel', who is strategic, kind, and also frightened of everything. 


We've all read or seen this kind of thing before, and it was...OK, this time around.


There was a nod to 'Beast Wars' in the text, which was funny, because Beast Wars ended up inheriting leftover designs from the failed Animorphs toy-line. I have never come across one of those in the wild, but I might have to pick one up if I do.




Next: 'The Illusion'


Previous: 'The Conspiracy'

Anyone by Charles Soule

Anyone - Charles Soule

What? This isn't an 'Animorphs' review!


A new technology, developed now, will transform society. With 'the Flash' people can transport their consciousness into another living person for an hour, a day, a week, so long as they can pay for it. Everything has been effected: employment, travel, prostitution, and even war. There are two rules hardwired into the tech. The first is that if the host body dies, both bodies die. The second is that a consciousness must return to their own (or prime) body before flashing into someone else. This world is a familiar one to us, but corrupt in ways that only humanity could think of.


The story is broken into two narratives. The first follows a scientist who accidentally discovers the technology when she finds herself in her husband's body. She immediately realizes the dangers of the technology and sets out to protect her discovery. The second is set twenty-five years in the future where much good has been caused - the end of mass global travel has improved health and reduced carbon emissions significantly - but also highlights the dark flash, where illegal activity is conducted in the bodies of those desperate enough to risk their lives and reputation.


It's clear that something has gone wrong, but Soule skillfully keeps you guessing. This is a world where appearances mean nothing, anyone can be ANYONE. Like the best science fiction, Soule analyzes the society that is created by technology X, but doesn't forget the humanity of his characters. I had a great time with this and couldn't put it down. His first novel, 'The Oracle Year' (out for some time now in paperback), was a lot of fun, but the characters and the plotting is much improved here. It's official, this is a writer to keep an eye on.

The Conspiracy, Animorphs #31

The Conspiracy - Katherine Applegate

Happy Thanksgiving fellow American Booklikers!


Right on the heels of Marco's crisis with his mother, a death in Jake's family means an extended family visit away from home - this wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that Jake's older brother Tom has a parasite that needs Kandrona rays every three days or he'll die a slow and painful death.


Tom can't come right out and say that of course, being a secret invader and all, so it leads to tension between Tom and Jake's father. Jake fears the Yeerk inside Tom's head will kill if necessary to get out of the trip. 


Jake has to face some personal demons and contemplate the impossible, but when it comes down to it, what is one life in the face of the Animorph's struggle for the future of all of humanity?


All of this guerrilla warfare may not be so hot for these middle-schoolers.




Next: 'The Separation'


Previous: 'The Reunion'

The Reunion, Animorphs #30

The Reunion (Animorphs No 30) - K. A. Applegate

Marco is still haunted by the memory of his mother's body drowning in that undersea Yeerk facility. In 'The Escape' The Animorphs invaded the lab and destroyed it, and Visser One, who has been Controlling Marco's mother's body for years, got in the way.


It turns out things have not gone well for Visser One since that confrontation and the loss of the planet Leera. She has been demoted to a sub-visser (though everyone in this book still calls her Visser One) and is on the run. Marco runs into her by accident downtown and hatches a plan that could eliminate her and Visser Three in one go. 


The problem is can Marco eliminate Visser One without killing his own mother? This is another dark one, but the writer shied away from the worst of it in my opinion. It'll be interesting to see how this effects the next few books, and the end game, of course.




Next: 'The Conspiracy'


Previous: 'Elfangor's Secret'

Elfangor's Secret, Megamorphs #3, Animorphs #29.5

Elfangor's Secret - Katherine Applegate

I can usually get down with a good time travel story, but this was so, so, not good. This is the third time travel story for the Animorphs. I really enjoyed the goofy science and temporal mayhem of 'The Forgotten' and the previous Megamorphs 'In the Time of the Dinosaurs', by the way, but this was too much to handle.


Applegate makes a real effort to describe life conditions of the time periods (especially filthy, filthy Agincourt) and how reality differs from myth (Washington crossing the Delaware), but the story was just a mess.


I still don't care about the 'Drode', who exists only because Applegate didn't think about how immovable her off-brand Sauron 'Crayak' was. She needed to invent a lackey, but, he was irritating. And where was the Ellimist? I never thought I'd miss him.


It's a shame, because there are very few Applegate-written Animorphs books left, and this one is the worst so far.




Next: 'The Reunion'


Previous: 'The Sickness'

The Sickness, Animorphs #29

The Sickness - Katherine Applegate

Not bad at all, especially for a ghost-written book. The real author is Melinda Metz of 'Roswell High' fame.


This book acts as a follow-up to 'The Departure'. Aftran, the Yeerk who was convinced by Cassie to seek out another path for the Yeerk species, has been accused of treason and will be interrogated by Visser Three within a few days. Cassie finds an unexpected Controller ally, but before the mission can go off there is a problem (of course!).


Ax comes down with a sickness that is in some way attached to morphing. He runs a high fever and is likely to die without brain surgery. The other Animorphs are susceptible to it, but, for reasons of convenience, the illness behaves like a normal flu virus.


Cassie has to carry out the impossible - rescue Altran or risk exposing themselves and the Yeerk Peace Movement, and save Ax's life with obviously no real surgical knowledge, let alone any Andalite physiology.


I'm not taking any points away, because I did like the book, but Erek and the Chee are also conveniently useless in times like these. They can project holograms, but they can't restrain an ill person from running out of their sick bed because of their programming?


This book also fares better when I think about what's coming.




Next: 'Elfangor's Secret'


Previous: 'The Experiment'

The Experiment, Animorphs #28

The Experiment - Katherine Applegate

Ax's voice becomes even funnier here with a little help from daytime television, especially 'The Young and the Restless'. This turns out to be the only saving grace in an ultimately pointless book.


Chee intel has gathered that Visser Three has invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into a research laboratory and a meat-packing plant. What's the deal? The Animorphs have to make a plan to break in to both facilities and figure out what's going on.


There are important things to remember, such as the difference between steers and bulls, the importance of free will, and double-blind studies. Cassie is allowed to shine.




Next: 'The Sickness'


Previous: 'The Exposed'

The Exposed, Animorphs #27

The Exposed (Animorphs, #27) - Katherine Applegate

Rachel and Cassie are at the mall when they witness a problem. Erek, their Chee ally, appears to be frozen in front of The Gap. Worse, his hologram is flickering, revealing his true dog-like, android form. Working quickly, they rescue Erek, but his malfunction is shared by all Chee. Most are safely hidden away, but one is in a secure facility and is sure to be discovered by a Yeerk unless the Animorphs locate the hidden Pemalite ship that can broadcast a signal to fix the Chee's malfunctioning software.


The only problem is that the ship is three miles underwater, and they only have eight hours.


This book was alright. It had a well executed plan with some unforeseen hiccups (of course!). I liked the gags about Pemalite culture: such as when the Animorphs receive the security code for the ship (6) and their reactions to the on-board computer's interjections. There is some minimal connection with the Crayak, but I'm not too interested in any more non-Yeerk flunkies.




Next: 'The Experiment'


Previous: 'The Attack'

The Attack, Animorphs #26

The Attack - Katherine Applegate

Jake has been troubled by bad dreams of an entity suspiciously like the 'Eye of Sauron'. The only communication? 'Soon'. Jake and the Animorphs receive an explanation when the Ellimist drops in and asks them to fight on his behalf to save an entire race from extinction at the hands of the Howlers. With them will go Erek as his experience with Howlers (who had destroyed Erek's creators, the Pemalites) will be valuable. The real deal is that this is one battle in a millennia-long galactic struggle between the Ellimist and the Crayak. 


This is only one of two titles completely written by Applegate in the long stretch of ghost-written titles from #25-52 (she did also write all of the 'Megamorphs' and 'Chronicles' titles). Its bizarre, but has some unnerving elements that highlight the best of the series. The identity and true character of the 'Howlers', the symbiotic, mercantile Iskoort and their 'Legoland' home-planet, and the horrible fate of the peaceful, "Gumby-like" Graffen's Children were amazing creations. 


It just felt that for something that had been building up since the glimpse of Crayak in 'The Capture', it didn't feel like enough. Perhaps too much of a long game?




Next: 'The Exposed'


Previous: 'The Extreme'

The Extreme, Animorphs #25

The Extreme - Katherine Applegate

Erek has brought some disturbing news to the Animorphs, again. The Yeerks are building a base in a remote area of Earth that will allow them to use satellites to turn any contained body of water (say, a swimming pool) into a Yeerk Pool.


The location is unknown, but the Animorphs can hitch a ride with Visser Three to the base and destroy it - Chees using holograms will cover their absence from home and school. It is a non-plan, but the team goes for it, because what else can they do?


The arctic setting was a great idea, I liked the problem solving from the team, but the casual introduction of the Venber (hydrogen based aliens) as some big deal revelation and the overall simplicity of the mission made the book feel insignificant. This is also the first book to be completely ghost-written, not a good sign of things to come.




Next: 'The Attack'


Previous: 'The Suspicion'

Currently reading

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow
Natasha Pulley
Progress: 145/512 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