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 Bungalow Mystery, Nancy Drew #3 (1930)

The Bungalow Mystery - P.M. Carlson, Russell H. Tandy, Carolyn Keene

Here is a Nancy Drew book that shouldn't have been touched by the revisions. This is the daring, pushy girl detective we all know and love without any racism. When it comes to vintage Nancy I'm OK with the class-snobbery as long as its funny. Unfortunately, I know that there's no racism in here only because every character is white, but I'll take the victory. The significant changes made to this text later were all to make Nancy more of a model citizen and lady. 

 

'The Bungalow Mystery' starts with a dramatic scene where Nancy and her friend Helen are caught in a storm and their boat sinks. Helen is a terrible swimmer and exhausts Nancy by flailing around while being saved. The two are rescued by a girl in rowboat who heard their cries for help. On dry land she relates to them that she is a recent orphan and has misgivings about meeting her new legal guardian who she has never met.

 

The mystery centers on Laura Pendleton and her guardian Jacob Aborn. Laura's mother had left her a comfortable fortune, but she is informed by her guardian, who is rude and makes her act the servant, that she is almost penniless because of business things. She runs away and begs for Nancy's help.

 

Nancy jets around in her blue roadster, going so fast the car starts shaking, she breaks into houses and with only a smidge of caution follows suspects alone. In the course of the investigation her father becomes involved and though she listens to his cautions to stay safe and allows her father, eventually, take the lead in car chases when danger is present the girl detective sometimes ignores dad and behaves recklessly.

 

This is great, great stuff. This is the volume to give to a young reader who wants a taste of the real Nancy Drew without worrying about any problematic elements. The danger? Pfft. Any modern mg or ya book will have loads more issues than dashing towards a burning vehicle. Nancy Drew gets her man, every. time.

 

Nancy Drew Mysteries

 

Next: 'The Mystery at Lilac Inn'

 

Previous: 'The Hidden Staircase'

The Hidden Staircase, Nancy Drew #2 (1930)

The Hidden Staircase  - Carolyn Keene

Nancy is having an elegant day being her elegant self when her doorbell rings and, on answering it (herself!) discovers a rude man named Nathan Gombet, on the porch. He accuses her father of cheating him on a land deal and it is all Too Much for the girl detective to deal with so she summarily dismisses him.

 

A visiting friend who benefited from Nancy's first case provides a low character reference for the man: he stole eggs. Presently, or some weeks later, she visits a dear old lady who also benefited from Nancy's winkling out the secret of the old clock who has a friend who has been troubled by GHOSTS.

 

So begins a good to decent installment of Nancy Drew. First written in 1930, 'The Hidden Staircase', like so many others, was later expurgated and re-written to conform to the standards of the 1950s. Sometimes these standards were well-meaning, meant to diminish Nancy's inherent class-ism as well as any racist elements of characterization or plot. Most of the changes, however, served to make Nancy more feminine, that is obliging, polite, domestic, and tame.

 

'The Hidden Staircase' as originally written, has Nancy planning an extended visit to "the mansion", the ancestral home of Rosemary and Floretta Turnbull, to explain mysterious happenings, including theft, which threaten to force the women out. This is done with the permission of her father who is planning an extended business trip away from River Heights and won't need her to remind the housekeeper to keep things in order. He asks her to be careful and then gives her a loaded revolver. Even though Nancy admits she's no good with guns she walks around with it all the time.

 

Nancy heads to the home alone to solve the mystery which involves screams in the night, secret passages and springed doors, and canaries. Her father also ends up needing rescue! Throughout Nancy vanquishes doubt and fear, strikes out into the dark alone, and encourages the Turnbull sisters to overcome their own anxieties. She is triumphant especially near the end when she confronts the police chief of Cliffwood. She has some pretty compelling leads and is backed up by both Turnbill sisters. The chief is skeptical, though, until Nancy in exasperation uses her father's name. Suddenly, the chief is all attention and asks why she didn't mention her father before. "What has that to do with the case?" Nancy demands, and is even sarcastic to him later.

 

Of course, such triumph is unacceptable and is scrubbed out. The maiden Turnbull sisters are transformed in the rewrite into the grandmother and aunt of Nancy's friend Helen Cornish, who in the original 'Hidden Staircase' is dismissed from being a part of the mystery for being too much of a gossip. The revised Nancy must be flirtatious at a dance and be accompanied by a friend to the "haunted" house. The plot is other ways is less ridiculous, but not nearly as fun.

 

The only problem came about three quarters in when we find that our villain employs a slovenly "negress" who, though an active accomplice in the crimes and suitably violent and dastardly, is given neither name or motivation. The simple-minded rendition of a southern-fried accent was racist icing on the bigot cake.

 

Urgh, so close to perfection.

 

Nancy Drew Mysteries

 

Next: 'The Bungalow Mystery'

 

Previous: 'The Secret of the Old Clock'

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Women Talking - Miriam Toews

This was phenomenal. There were very good advance reviews for this in trade publications and elsewhere, but it was the positive response from two customers I trust that made me invest in this book myself.

 

'Women Talking' is a novel about a meeting of women of two families in a Mennonite community. These women have been chosen to represent all of the women in their community, as most must continue to deal with the day to day tasks and therefore can't take the time to be a part of the decision. The decision is about what to do in the wake of horrific crimes that had been committed against them.

 

Recently it had come to light that the women and young children who had woken up bloody and violated had been raped, not by demons punishing their sins, but by men of their own community. They had been drugged and repeatedly raped, for years.

 

A central tenant of their faith is forgiveness of all transgressions. After the police had been brought in for the personal safety of the accused rapists, one having been attacked by one of the women, an order was given. The men would leave to post bail for the rapists, and when they returned the women would forgive their attackers.

 

The novel takes the form of the "minutes" of the meeting of these women, written by the semi-outsider August, a man born into the colony but raised outside of it after his parents were excommunicated. His outside perspective allows for context to be put to their discussion, their society, and the women themselves.

 

The conversation is seemingly simple. The women must decide if they will do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. The conversation ends up getting to the roots self-determination, education, faith, and power.

 

This novel was inspired by the real 'Ghost Rapes of Bolivia'. The world can be an awful place. Hopefully this book will add to the larger discussions about areas of the world where women still have no voice of their own and what can be done about it.

 

Barbie Doll Fashions: Vol. 1, 1959-1967 by Sarah Sink Eames

Barbie Doll Fashions 1959-1967 - Sarah Sink Eames

I know you were all waiting for more photos of Ken and Barbie! But first, the book:

 

The reason to get the Sarah Sink Eames books is simple: her photos are the best. There may be some accessories not pictured or one that is the wrong color, there may be some variations that hadn't been verified yet at publication, but, by using one of the many other options out there to double-check some information, and let's face it people if you are collecting Barbie you are getting ALL the books, the photos in this book are the clearest, biggest and best displayed of any other book I've seen.

 

Eames was an expert and published at the height of the market, meaning that publishers were willing to invest in a glossy book with superb quality pictures. There will never be another book like this again, I guarantee it. The prices are also tucked away in the back of the book out of sight, which is nice because prices are in such flux these days I would never trust it even if the book was brand new, and now that the book is itself vintage they would only be a distraction.

 

This book covers the years when the first Barbies were being produced. From 1959 to 1967 there were significant changes to Barbies hair, "makeup" and body while keeping the same head mold. These changes were cosmetic or in response to production flaws. #1 Barbie, for example, had holes in its feet for an 'invisible' doll stand, but drilling the vinyl legs proved too costly. The color in the vinyl was also unstable and the first produced Barbies have all faded to the white complexion seen on the doll on the cover. Cover girl is also wearing one of three outfits that was only produced in 1959. Way out of my league, of course, but a boy can dream. After 1967 Barbie got a new face mold, the original Ken was discontinued as well as the most of the other friends and family to make room for the next generation.

 

Along with the clear photos of the outfits and accessories and certain other fashion-related sets (pictured here are only those sets that had a unique item of clothing in them so play-sets such as various Dream Houses, Little Theater and Goes to College are not included) Eames does write-ups that attempt to inject humor and storytelling into the hobby. Mileage may vary. My husband appreciated it, it was a little twee for me. Dignity, always dignity in doll collecting.

 

For your entertainment:

 

A basic ponytail Barbie, #5 I believe (c1961), because of her coloring and body, but I'm far from mastering the dating system. The books I've read don't cover those variations in depth, only the fashions. She would have had sunglasses and "pearl" post earrings that if left in would have turned her ears green. You see a lot of that because these dolls were often put away for such long periods, but there's a method to reverse it if the collector wants to take a chance and if the tarnish isn't too deep.

 

 

Below is a painted-hair Ken in the plain red jersey suit and a stiff striped jacket. His cork sandals and a borrowed towel (by this time Ken stopped coming with it) are at his feet. This guy is special, too, because he is what is known as a "Shorty" Ken. They are 1/4" shorter than standard because of a different "stockier" body mold. They were produced in the United States in 1963 presumably as an experiment. They were not up to the standards of the Japanese produced dolls, however, and it didn't continue. Thinking about it, I should have done a side by side comparison. Oh well.

 

 

Barbie is great and all, but ever since I learned of their existence I've loved these two. This is Ken's buddy Allan (1964-66) and Barbie's best friend Midge (1963-66) in their original swim suits. Midge came in three different hair colors, each with a different suit combination.

 

 

Of course I have to include Skipper (1964-66)! Pictured here in "Red Sensation" (1964-65), sans sun hat, accompanied by a Bubblecut Barbie (1961-67) wearing "Garden Party" (1962-63) with an off-brand necklace (DON'T TELL) and walking her poodle in only some of the "Dog 'n Duds" (1964-65) he came in.

 

 

Here's some fun ones. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the Little Theater costumes intact enough to display, but here is a flocked-hair Ken (1961-62) in "Masquerade" (1963-64). I took off the cap and hat so you can see the hair, which is thinning. The flocked hair was discovered to come off when wet or handled roughly, which is why his hair began to be painted.

Though clowns are creepy, it's cool that matching black & yellow outfits were made for Barbie, Skipper and the dog!

The blonde ponytail Barbie (another #5) is dressed up in "Barbie in Holland", part of the travel series of 1964 where Ken and Barbie had matched outfits for various exotic destinations (check out her "wooden" shoes!).

 

 

Finally, because early Barbie was all about elegance here's a lemon swirl ponytail Barbie (1964) with a blonde painted hair Ken. He's in his "Tuxedo" (1961-65) with an incorrect black tie (it should match the cummerbund). Barbie is in "Enchanted Evening" (1960-63), but missing her pearl choker and drop earrings.

 

 

There's a lot going on and I didn't even get into the bend-leg styles. Another time. We have the summer coming up which means it'll be time to hunt the shops some more.

 

Anyway, back to the book - because of the very few, slight inaccuracies present in the photos I can't say these are the only books you'll need, but I recommend them as valuable supplements to the casual and serious collector who wants a better angle on many sought-after items.

 

Barbie Doll Fashions:

 

Next: 'Vol. 2, 1968-1974'

Dragons of Spring Dawning, Dragonlance Chronicles #3 by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Spring Dawning - Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis

After the defeat of the Dragonarmies at the High Clerist's tower Laurana is named as the General of the armies of Solamnia and, by default, Palanthas. Her leadership and her brother Gilthanas' persuading the good dragons to join the fight against evil means a quick turnaround of the war, the battles mostly being skipped in favor of character development.

 

Meanwhile, Tanis and the other Companions with him have discovered that the mysterious "gem man" who has been sighted several times through their adventures is the key to defeating the Dark Queen. Tanis must outrace Kitiara, revealed as a Dragon High Lord in the last book, to secure the gem man. There are rifts growing between some of the Companions, however, and they are not destined to stay together.

 

The Dark is not going to be defeated easily and on top of betrayals and death there are more surprising revelations in store.

 

This is still a solid fantasy. There are still too many main characters, but Weis and Hickman continue to improve on their skills of separating our heroes and villains into manageable groups. The one sour note in the text is something I'm glad the authors acknowledge as a mistake in the annotated editions of the book: This is Laurana risking her life and, essentially, the world so she can save her boyfriend.

 

This plot point takes back a lot of character development, and is not only lazy, but stupid. Both authors regret it now (or in 2004 when the commentary was written), which is something, I guess.

 

That aside, the book has a nice, epic conclusion that suits the tone of the series, eases readers into future Dragonlance titles (see below), and one death in particular still moved me. This was fun, I might have to read more.

 

Dragonlance Chronicles

 

Next: 'Dragons of Summer Flame'

 

Previously: 'Dragons of Winter Night'

 

or, traditionally, next would be Dragonlance Legends 'The Time of the Twins'

 

or, Any of a dozen prequels, midquels and story collections. A lot branches off from here depending on which character you like best.

Legion of Super Heroes, Vol. 4

Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Vol. 4 - Jerry Siegel, Bob Kahan

As the issues move deeper into the 1960s the Legion of Super-Heroes begin acting on some of the seeds planted in earlier issues. The Time Trapper in particular is a villain that was foreshadowed years before he actually makes an appearance in an issue collected here.

 

Legion stories take up most of "Action Comics" space, but there begin to be more stories that couldn't be completed in a single book. Some events and characters became important only in hindsight (and known only to me because of the introduction). Legion comics of the 1990s and now still pull from these early issues for inspiration.

 

The problem with reading these so close together is that I run out of things to say. I could go into plots but, honestly, they're so slight it would be spoiling things.

 

That doesn't sound like a hearty recommendation, but I'm going to still pursue these when I can find them for close to their retail price.

 

Legion of Super-Heroes

 

Next: 'Volume 5'

 

Previous: 'Volume 3'

Legion of Super-Heroes, Vol. 3

Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Vol. 3 - Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan

I love these Archive Editions, in most cases they cost more used then they did new back in the 1990s but they have crisp color and, of course, they're more available, durable and readable than the original comics. They are the only way, other than pirating of course, to read these old comics books.

 

I wish they had left the credits pages in though. Or added them if the original book didn't have them for some reasons. The introduction talks about the evolution of the series and the influence various writers and artists had on the series, but when you're reading the stories themselves I can't find who wrote them unless I look online, which defeats the purpose of the book somewhat.

 

That is small quibble compared to the joy of seeing all the girls in the Legion vying for Jimmy Olsen's sweet, sweet loving. Feminism will get to the 31st century eventually girls! More seriously there are storylines like the "mutiny" that established "space fatigue" and allowed writers to shuffle through the roster without having to constantly explain why the Legion doesn't just have Superboy and Mon-el do everything all the time. I may be mistaken, but I think this might also be when Bouncing Boy is (temporarily) de-powered after several panels in various issues are spent pointing out that the boy may be jolly but his powers aren't much use in most circumstances.

 

Legion of Super-Heroes

 

Next: 'Volume 4'

 

Previous: 'Volume 2'

Legion of Super-Heroes, Vol. 2

Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Vol. 2 - Jerry Siegel, Bob Kahan

Collected here are "Action Comics" #306-317, plus a "Superman" annual and a "Jimmy Olsen"

 

This is 1963 and the silly roots of the 'Legion' are very much in evidence, but I think that sillyness and the emphasis on plot more than action (semi-often fights are not even depicted in one panel, the results are talked about instead) helped mold the comic into what it became. The diverse cast of the Legion of Super-heroes lent it a flexibility that other DC comics didn't have when readers began expecting more sophistication and emotional development from their heroes.

 

It was slow to come, to be sure, but it happened and the roots of that lie in the death of Lightning Lad and the introduction of Lightning Lass. This proved that the stakes could be high. The readers response is easy to discover as this volume begins with Legion stories taking up only part of that month's "Action Comics", but ends with the Legion being the main and only event in the book.

 

Members of the Legion, full and honorary, and Substitute Legionnaires, and allies, and villains are so numerous that they don't often have many characteristics. In these issues how much do we really know about founding members Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl anyway? Not much. But these are important seeds to the series and, more importantly, these stories are just plain fun.

 

Legion of Super-Heroes

 

Next: 'Volume 3'

 

Previous: 'Volume 1'

A Man With An Agenda - Snakes and Ladders Moves 16-20: Forward 26 spaces

Big, big catch-up time. Five rolls here and didn't roll during my comics spree. Oh well.

 

 

 

1. Author is a woman

 - 2/27: Read 'The Immortalists' by Chloe Benjamin
Rolled two dice, 1 + 3
2. Genre: mystery
3. Set in the twentieth century
4. Published in 2019
5. Published in 2018

- 2/28: Read 'Myra Breckinridge' by Gore Vidal

Rolled 1 die, 2

- 3/10: Read 'The Wandering Fire' by Guy Gavriel Kay

Rolled 1 die, 6

6. Title has a color word in it

7. Author's last name begins with the letters A, B, C, or D.

- 3/3: Read 'The Golden Ass' by Apuleius

Rolled 2 dice, 5 + 6
8. Author's last name begins with the letters E, F, G, or H.

9. Author's last name begins with the letters H, I, J, or K
10. Author's last name begins with the letters L, M, N or O
11. Author's last name begins with the letters P, Q, R, or S

- 3/14: Read 'A Woman is No Man' by Etaf Rum

Rolled 2 dice, 5 + 6
12. Author's last name begins with the letters T, U, V, W, X, Y, or Z

13. Author is a man
14. Author is dead
15. Genre: romance
16. Genre: fantasy
17. Genre: horror

18. Set in a school

- 3/4: Read 'Rage' by Stephen King/Richard Bachman

Rolled 2 dice, 5 + 1
19. Set in the UK
20. Set in a country that is not your country of residence
21. Set in Europe
22. Set in Asia

- 3/15: Read 'The Wildlings' by Nilanjana Roy

Rolled 2 dice, 5 + 1

23. Set in Australia/Oceania

24. Set in Africa

- 3/5: Read 'The Summer Tree' by Guy Gavriel Kay

Rolled 1 die, 1
25. Snake - go back to 5

- 3/5: !

26. Part of a series that is more than 5 books long
27. Set during WWI or WWII
28. Written between 1900 and 1999

- 3/18: Read 'Hexwood' by Diana Wynne Jones

Rolled 2 Dice, 5 + 3

29. Someone travels by plane

30. Someone travels by train

31. Road trip
32. Genre: thriller
33. Set in North America
34. Snake - go back to 1
35. Has been adapted as a movie
36. Set in Central or South America

- 3/18: Read 'The Darkest Road' by Guy Gavriel Kay

Did not meet the terms of the ladder rolled one die, 6
37. Has won an award
38. Newest release by a favorite author
39. A reread
40. Characters involved in the entertainment industry
41. Characters involved in politics

42. Characters involved in sports/sports industry

- 3/19: Read 'Pages From A Cold Island' by Frederick Exley

Rolled 1 die, 6

43. Characters involved in the law
44. Characters involved in cooking/baking
43. Characters involved in medicine
44. Characters involved in science/technology
45. A book that has been on your tbr for more than one year
46. A book that has been on your tbr for more than two years

- 3/21: Read 'Destroy All Monsters' by Sam J. Miller (Publication in July)

Rolled 1 die, 5
47. Snake - go back to 19
48. A book you acquired in February, 2019.
49. Recommended by a friend
50. Has a domestic animal on the cover
51. Has a wild animal on the cover

- 3/22 'Dragons of Autumn Twilight' (Annotated) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Rolled 1 die, 4

52. Has a tree or flower on the cover

53. Has something that can be used as a weapon on the cover
54. Is more than 400 pages long
55. Is more than 500 pages long

- 3/28 Read 'Middlegame' by Seanan McGuire (Publication in May)

Rolled 2 dice, 6 + 5
56. Was published more than 100 years ago
57. Was published more than 50 years ago
58. Was published more than 25 years ago
59. Was published more than 10 years ago
60. Was published last year
61. Cover is more than 50% red
62. Cover is more than 50% green
63. Cover is more than 50% blue
64. Cover is more than 50% yellow
65. Snake - go back to 52
66. Part of a series that is more than 10 books long

- 4/2 Read 'Dragons of Winter Night' by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Rolled 2 dice, 5 + 3

67. Set in a city with a population of greater than 5 million people
68. Something related to weddings on the cover
69. Something related to travel on the cover
70. Something related to fall/autumn on the cover
71. Involves the beach/ocean/lake
72. Involves the mountains/forests
73. Categorized as YA
74. Categorized as Middle Grade

- 4/7 Read 'The Dollhouse Murders' by Betty Ren Wright

Rolled 2 dice, 2 + 2
75. Set in a fantasy world
76. Set in a world with magic
77. Has a "food" word in the title
78. Set in a small town (fictional or real)

- 4/14 Read 'Women Talking' by Miriam Toews

Rolled 2 dice, 3 + 2
79. Main character is a woman
80. Main character is a man
81. Ghost story
82. Genre: urban fantasy
83. Genre: cozy mystery

- 4/14 Read 'The Hidden Staircase' by Carolyn Keene

Rolled 1 die, 5
84. Genre: police procedural
85. Written by an author who has published more than 10 books
86. Author's debut book
87. Snake - go back to 57
88. Comic/graphic novel

- 4/15 Read 'The Bungalow Mystery' by Carolyn Keene

Rolled 1 die, 4
89. Published between 2000 and 2017
90. A new-to-you author
91. Snake - go back to 61


92. Reread of a childhood favorite

- This has possibilities, I'll find something.


93. Author's first/last initial same as yours (real or BL handle)
94. Non-fiction
95. Memoir
96. From your favorite genre
97. Title starts with any of the letters in SNAKE
98. Title starts with any of the letters in LADDERS
99. Snake - go back to 69
100. Let BL pick it for you: post 4 choices and read the one that gets the most votes!

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

Dollhouse Murders - Betty Ren Wright, Scholastic Inc.

This is one I've wanted to read for a long time. I remember asking my parents to get it for me and their refusing, on the grounds of its being about dolls and having a purple cover. Eventually they realized that it wasn't purple covered books that was making me gay, but that's another story. I found a copy of the 'The Dollhouse Murders' at a book sale the other day and dug right in.

 

This is a juvenile supernatural tale, but has more going on than one would think. Amy is at that age when its normal to be dissatisfied and embarrassed all the time, but she has some legitimate complaints. Her parents both work and she's often left to look after her sister Louann. Louann has an unspecified disability that often causes conflict when impulsive Louann damages something at the mall or simply takes over the conversation. Amy feels like she can't make any friends. Louann doesn't want to be left behind by her sister. Wright is sympathetic towards Amy's feelings and Louann herself is a prominent character. As much, if not more, of the plot of 'The Dollhouse Murders' is about the sisters redefining their relationship with each other and maturing as it is about solving a ghostly mystery. Unfortunately the back cover doesn't mention Louann at all and no editions of the book even picture her.

 

The book begins with a mall trip where Amy feels like her chance to make friends with the new girl Ellen is ruined by Louann. She loves her sister, but she feels like her parents are asking too much. After a fight, Amy runs to her Aunt who is staying in the area to clear out an old family property. Amy's aunt Clare has the idea that Amy can stay with her and help clean up the house for sale and give the sisters a break from each other. Amy is thrilled, Louann is hurt and Amy's mother is disappointed, but the plan goes ahead.

 

It quickly turns out that Ellen is a more understanding person than Amy gave her credit for and that there is something going on in the house. Amy knows her grandparents died many years ago in an accident, but ghostly lights and sounds coming from the dollhouse in the attic tell a different story. Together, Amy, Louann and Ellen uncover family secrets, heal wounds, and grow. This book still has a lot to offer today and a new edition is scheduled to come out this summer. Pre-order it at your local bookstore, not Amazon, and help ensure the book sticks around for a new generation of readers.

The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding - Bridget Collins

A stunning new work of fantasy and romance by Bridget Collins. This has the best of both worlds - a stunning fantasy conceit in the form of memories being bound into books, dark secrets and unexpected twists, and a romance that unexpectedly ties it all together.

 

I was urged to read this, and I can see why people have gotten excited about it. Collins evokes an alternate world where certain people have the gift of binding people unwanted memories into books and a dark trade has grown up around selling these books, and, perhaps even worse, using the binder's gifts to cover up transgressions and to buy the memories of the desperate to provide entertainment for the wealthy.

 

Emmett Farmer has been sick for months, and is unable to help his family anymore with the farm. He appears to be getting better though, and is dismayed when he discovers he is to be put into apprenticeship with the Binder, who lives in a remote part of the country. Emmett knows that books are forbidden, but has no idea of their power.

 

Collins uses the loss of memory to tell a moving story and examines the cost of giving up and denying our experiences in exchange for peace of mind and a more comfortable present. Fantastic.

The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

The Dark Game - Jonathan Janz

In the latest novel from Jonathan Janz, ten authors have been invited to compete in an exclusive retreat at a famous writer's remote estate. The winner gets a golden ticket to literary stardom. The rules are that you can tell no one where you're going and bring no method of communication with you. The last such retreat's winner, many years before, had become an overnight sensation and is still a revered writer.  For these authors, who have a dark secrets in their past, this is too good an opportunity to pass up.

 

The tone is set as the individual authors arrival is deliberately staggered. They approach the house on foot from the surrounding forest. The house is in disrepair and the welcome isn't what they expect.

 

I've put in a spoiler screen below, but the back of the book makes it pretty clear that ten writers walking in does not mean ten writers walking out. 'The Dark Game' struck me as a combination of

 

(show spoiler)

 

I was surprised there were no references in-text to either title, as there were a few shout-outs to other works and other writers across the Horror/Mystery spectrum. This is the first book I've read by Janz so I can't comment on how this compares to his other work, but this was an effective story - it kept me reading - but I feel like a lot of characterization was thrown out the window in favor of more scares and gore early on. I wanted to tell him that its OK to build up the suspense a little. You have this diverse(ish) group of characters isolated in the middle of the woods, and they are all creative types, and we don't get a lot of what's going on inside their minds.

 

In addition to the ten writers there are a couple of villains who muhahaha'd a little too hard, too soon so there was little chance of more atmosphere. Some of the best sections of 'Dark Game' were when portions of the author's writing was shared, it allowed nice breaks in the flow of the plot and some better insight into the characters themselves.

 

I'll definitely check out more Janz and other authors on the Flame Tree Press imprint.

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova

Without Protection - Gala Mukomolova

This collection of poetry was thrilling, and has left me mostly speechless. Mukomolova's poetry is defiant, sexy, and uncompromising. She pulls from her Russian heritage and that literary tradition, modern life and relationships, and a dry sense of humor to create her poems. Lovers of modern poetry and those who want to fall in love with poetry again owe it to themselves to read 'Without Protection'.

The Dream Peddler by Martine Fornier Watson

The Dream Peddler - Martine Fournier Watson

Historic fiction with a twist of magical realism, Martine Fornier Watson tells the story of a community visited by a dream peddler. With a few quiet words and a little money he can sell a person any dream they desire in the form of a potion drank before sleeping.

 

He has the misfortune to arrive in town on the eve of a tragedy, a young boy is lost in late winter. His wares, once proven, creates unexpected rifts in the town and Watson examines the value we put on our dreams, real and tangible, and the price we pay for honesty.

 

This was another one I had to finish just to see what Watson would do with this premise. I have to say I was impressed by the restraint she showed in the fantastic elements of the story, using them as a vehicle for the chararter's emotions, and not as merely a plot device or flashy window dressing.

 

'The Dream Peddler' is a quiet novel, but I expect it will get people talking.

Dragons of Winter Night, Dragonlance Chronicles #2 by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Winter Night (Dragonlance: Chronicles #2)  - Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis

This is continuing to be a rewarding re-read. 'Dragons of Autumn Twilight' was a by-the-numbers D&D campaign by an author team who were still developing their collaboration skills. 'Winter Night' is where the writer's can pull away from the events as dictated by the published adventures and break new storytelling ground.

 

I still have to say, because I'm a jerk, that the writing is still at times awkward and characters are dependent on their archetype for many traits. However, the writing is still effective, and the the trilogy is packed with detail about the world of Krynn and it feels like just about every named character and historical event in this trilogy ends up getting a novel(s) down the line, or at least a short story in an anthology. The annotations make up for their repetitive nature by pointing out these numerous connections in the stupendously large Dragonlance canon.

 

The scope of this novel is also much bigger, gaps of time are acknowledged - that end up getting covered in various midquel novels of course - and epic Adventures are referenced that the character's participated in but Will Not Be Appearing in This Novel. Its a great move on the author's part, they get to stick with the story they want to tell now, and without getting the reader over-involved and distracted by side-quests, they get the added development of the characters and their relationship with each other.

 

'Winter Night' uses that exposition and fast-forward to get to two scenes that have an enormous impact on the last novel and the 150-odd books that follow. For me they were the nightmare expedition into Silvanesti where our heroes confront their fears, weaknesses, and death along with some prophetic foreshadowing. This scene gets referenced so many times I'm tempted to go back and read it again. The second scene involves the death of a lead character, which in the 1980s was still a big deal. It didn't have the same effect on me now, but I still remember how it felt when reading it for the first time at 13.

 

These books may not stand up to the literary and faux literary giants of modern fantasy, but there is something special about this series and the passionate following it developed that can't be denied.

 

Dragonlance Chronicles

 

Next: 'Dragons of Spring Dawning'

 

Previous: 'Dragons of Autumn Twilight'

Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Caterpillar Summer - Gillian McDunn

Cat spends a lot of time looking after her little brother Chicken. He's different than other kids and she knows what he likes and how to treat him when he has a "meltdown". After their father passed away their mother works a lot, so Cat is used to being responsible. When a long promised vacation together has to be cancelled, Cat is upset to find out her mother is dropping her off with grandparents she's never met on a coastal island in North Carolina. For the first time in years, Cat has the time and space to reflect on life, make friends and take care of herself for a change. What will this mean for her family?

 

This was a beautiful book. I wasn't sure how I would take this middle grade summer adventure, but McDunn pulls from her own personal experience to create a dynamic between Cat and Chicken that is realistic and elevates 'Caterpillar Summer' above most summer stories. What I liked the most was the honesty about the frustration as well as the joys of having a loved one who is different. Different is special and difficult at the same time and there are not many authors that can pull that off, especially in a way that younger readers can understand and appreciate.

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