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've been writing at least something about everything I read since May of 2010.

The Collectors, #1 by Jacqueline West

The Collectors - Jacqueline West

FIrst of all, the good.

 

The squirrel was funny, and I liked the fact that our protagonist was a boy who's hard of hearing.

 

That's about it. The premise here is that there is a hidden world just below our own, in some cases literally. WIshes - true wishes are made under certain circumstances such as on a coin thrown into a fountain or in the breath blowing out a birthday candle - can come true with the help of a species of magical creature. These wishes can, obviously, be dangerous and have serious consequences, so there is a group of people, known as collectors, who collect these wishes and make sure they don't come true.

 

West makes a good attempt at covering the moral grey areas from a child's point of view, but the story never came together for me. It came off as a little slap-dashed, and I'm not looking forward to a sequel.

 

The Collectors

 

Next: 'Volume 2'

 

 

Wheel of Time Reread Books 10-12 (and 0) by Leigh Butler

Wheel of Time Reread: Books 10-12 - Leigh Butler

Still enjoyable, just becoming more of a sidebar as we approach the finish line.

New Spring, The Wheel of Time #0

New Spring (Wheel of Time, #0) - Robert Jordan

I remember being bitterly disappointed when I heard that the newest 'Wheel of Time' book would be a prequel, and, worse yet, a prequel based on a short story I had already read in the 'Legends' anthology. Remember that I was in high school at the time, and you may guess at just how deep those emotions were.

 

Ah, youth.

 

Anyway, I never read this. I never saw the need until this last reread made me realize I shouldn't leave any 'WoT' stone un-turned.

 

'New Spring' isn't bad, but even with my memories of the original short story grown dim over these many, many years, there wasn't much new to be gleaned from the book.

 

Moiraine and Lan's origins are discussed, as well as Siuan's, to a lesser extent. It was an easy read and it was fun to catch all of the cameos from later characters that we knew as Aes Sedai, darkfriends and light-sided.

 

I wish I could say something more positive about this, I could see how this could have lead into a whole series of prequels and side-series that complimented the main series, but as it is its just short of a waste of time.

 

The Wheel of Time

 

Next: 'The Gathering Storm'

 

Previous: 'Knife of Dreams'

Knife of Dreams, The Wheel of Time #11 by Robert Jordan

Knife of Dreams - Robert Jordan

A wonderful return to form, bittersweet as this was the last book that Jordan completed before his death in 2007. After the near-endless politicking, skirt smoothing, and cups of tea and kaf of previous books real progress was being made and the reader could start to feel that the Last Battle was imminent.

 

'Crossroads' had ended with the capture of Egwene by the Aes Sedai of the White Tower, and we were left with the question of who betrayed her. It would seem no one did, Egwene was simply too visible and unprotected. With skillful use of the world of dreams she stays in contact with the rebels and begins to sow serious dissension within the White Tower. Siuan and Leane continue to sway in the background.

 

Perrin is the hero of the series just because he finally brings an end to the terrible slog that was the captured Faile plotline. He creates an interesting alliance to do it as well. To be fair, reading the Plotline of Doom this last time it wasn't so bad as it was reading it the first time and seeing no end in sight. Morgase, Alliandre, Two Others and Two Aiel are also rescued.

 

Rand attempts to orchestrate an alliance with the Seanchan and stop all of this conquest nonsense until the Last Battle is over with. His meeting with the supposed Daughter of the Nine Moons predictably ends in disaster (see the cover). Meanwhile, Loial is finally bundled off to his arranged marriage

 

Galad becomes leader of the White Cloaks in the best way possible, Elayne is finally Queen of Andor, Nynaeve helps Lan in unexpected and cool fashion raise up the Borderlands, and Mazrim Taim may not be Demandred (even if he's supposed to be), but is definitely not a good guy.

 

The biggest shoe to drop though was Thom's revelation to Mat that Moiraine is alive and held captive by the Snakes and Foxes. His marriage to Tuon fades into the background.

 

This novel raises plenty of questions, but it was mostly about laying to rest many old rumors, old plotlines, and finally gets everyone pointed towards the Last Battle. This was the book that really pulled me back into the series back in the day and then, of course, worried that we would never see the end of it.

 

Thankfully, there was a plan and Brandon Sanderson was brought in to finish the series. I liked what he did, but the fact remains we'll never know just how Jordan would have done it.

 

Up next I finally read the full-length 'New Spring' and have a last taste of pure Jordan before heading to the finish line.

 

The Wheel of Time

 

Next: 'New Spring'

 

Previous: 'Crossroads of Twilight'

The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by William Sloane

The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror - Stephen King, William Sloane Kennedy

I'd had this one on my shelf for a long time before being inspired to take it down for 2018's Halloween Bingo.

 

William Sloane (no Kennedy) inspires a lot of what-ifs. It's incredible to think that after producing these two works he never produced another long work of fiction. The two novellas have echoes of Lovecraft, but with a distinct - and more refined - flavor of their own. Lovecraft was many things, but he was never an effective prose stylist the way Sloane is in these two works.

 

'To Walk the Night'

 

After the tragic death of his friend, Berkeley Jones goes out to Jerry Lister's father's house to tell him what he believes happened. The two had witnessed the death of a professor of theirs in his lab from strange radiation, and subsequently Jerry marries the widow of the professor. There is something unusual about the Selena, however, that Berkeley can't figure out. He is even given disturbing, improbable evidence about Selena, but (mostly) keeps quiet about his suspicions in order to keep his friend. Sloane masterfully draws the relationship between Berkeley and Jerry, to my modern eye there was some homoerotic undercurrents beneath their corduroys and within their tastefully decorated bachelor apartment. Selena has come between old friends and upset the balance of their friendship, there couldn't be anything else to it could there that Berkeley resents?

 

Even when the reader guesses what's going on, Sloane has created a chilling science fiction novel.

 

'The Edge of Running Water'

 

This has more of the feel of Lovecraft to it - the remote New England setting, the dramatic old house situated above the water, and secrets behind a closed door.

 

Richard, a professor in psychology, receives a letter from an old friend - and romantic rival - Julian requesting help in a new experiment. Richard is unsure how he could help an expert in electrophysics, but as they've been estranged since the death of Julian's wife some years before.

 

Tragedy is hinted at, so the reader closely examines the old house Julian's converted into his lab, the sinister lab assistant Mrs. Walters, even the presence of the friendly housekeeper and Julian's wife's sister Anne, are viewed with suspicion.

 

This had more elements of the detective mystery story entwined with the horror and sf elements and falls flat a few times, but still a fascinating glimpse at a talent that we should have seen more from.

 

 

Melmouth by Sarah Perry

Melmoth - Sarah Perry

I'm sorry things got so hectic for me these last two months, I would have liked to follow through with Halloween Bingo, but I'm glad it inspired me to read a few more books like this one.

 

'Melmoth' by Sarah Perry is self-consciously layered with atmosphere, following Helen, a grey, self-punishing woman getting by making translations of technical manuals. and living in Prague, that most atmospheric of cities. Her brooding is interrupted by a man named Karel. He is clearly spooked and, after some mutterings and a brief conference in a bar, leaves Helen with a manuscript describing encounters with an obscure folk figure known as Melmoth the Witness. She watches the worst sins of mankind and, occasionally, asks lonely sinners to join her and they are never seen again.

 

Helen is concerned for Karel. He is the only one who has, with his wife Thea, penetrated Helen's gloom. Thea's recent debilitating stroke has put a strain on the marriage, but cannot account for his strange behavior. Helen begins reading the manuscript, and later learns of Karel's disappearance.

 

The novel follows Helen's reading of the manuscript, what led to its creation, and the responses it provokes from herself, Karel, and Thea. Traces of Melmoth are found around the greatest horrors mankind has produced in the 20th century, and in more personal, individual failings of the human spirit.

 

Perry has created something powerful here. I love reworkings of myth and subversion of what's expected. This is a novel about guilt, human tragedy, and the best and worst that we are capable of. This was the perfect read for the fall season.

 

 

Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History Of 80’s and 90’s Teen Fiction - Gabrielle Moss

This was pure, excessive delight from start to finish. Moss' "Totally Radical" history of 80s and 90s teen fiction skews towards the female and the romantic, but many of these books were ones that I read growing up.

 

Moss begins by describing her love of reading, and her eventual returning to Sweet Valley High, etc, in her adult life. She provides important background to the genres, poo-poos the idea that 'good' YA Literature started with John Green, and divides the bulk of the books she discusses into categories - dating, scares, mysteries, school, etc.

 

Another real benefit to having this book is the trove of cover art that it features. Cover art was better in the 80s and 90s, we all know it. Romance and limited SF & fantasy publishers are the only ones who still get how to market a fun book.

 

The only flaw I found was in the exclusion of boys' titles, though Moss does touch on Goosebumps and a few others. I hope a sequel or companion may be in the works.

 

 

White Knight by Sean Murphy

Batman: White Knight - Sean  Murphy

This is a perfect standalone Batman story. We're taken to a Gotham where Batman apprehends the Joker once again, but goes to far and assaults him after he's been restrained. These being modern times, Batman is filmed beating the shit out of Joker and force-feeding him pills.

 

Understandably, this sparks a crisis. The twist is, however, that shortly after this incident the Joker is reformed. This new man, Jack Napier, becomes an advocate for justice in Gotham, declaring that it needs to be out of the hands of masked vigilantes and, it appears, he succeeds at the expense of Batman.

 

Fantastically plotted, this is one that shouldn't be missed.

Eyes of the Lich Queen: An Eberron Adventure

Eyes of the Lich Queen (Eberron Campaign Setting) - Stephen Schubert, Nicolas Logue, Tim Hitchcock, Scott Fitzgerald Gray

With some alterations, I planned this as a follow-up to the chain of adventures/modules that started in the 'Eberron Campaign Setting'. With some level adjustments, it's quite possible to play this on the heels of 'Grasp of the Emerald Claw'.

 

The campaign is an ambitious one, almost up to the length of the current $50 hardbound adventures published for fifth edition. Adventurers begin by investigating an ancient temple with evil dragons in at the behest of a mysterious, rich client, and end up traipsing across Eberron.

 

It was a lot of fun, but again, if there's a next time I play this one its going to need some serious alterations to survive play with the timeline intact. I have some objections, but my high rating stands. If there's going to be one Eberron adventure you're going to try, it should be this one.

Halloween Bingo 2018 - A Grimm Tale

Melmoth - Sarah Perry

'Melmoth' by Sarah Perry

 

I'm going to stick to my rule about not reviewing unreleased books, but to keep things straight I wanted to claim the square.

 

I will say, it was fantastic, dark and creepy. My expectations were pretty high considering how much I liked 'The Essex Serpent'.

 

 

'Melmoth' centers on the legend of a woman who is damned to walk the earth and witness the worst sins of mankind. It'll be released in October.

Halloween Bingo 2018 - Modern Masters of Horror

Slade House: A Novel - David Mitchell

'Slade House' by David Mitchell

 

I've been keeping my eye on this one for a long time, it had an intriguing premise, but I was not expecting what this book delivered. I thought this book would be a more traditional haunted house story mashed with the party game 'Sardines'. This was pretty cool, though.

 

Slade House is revealed through chronological point-of-views from various victims starting the the late 1970s and continuing to the present day. Every nine years the back garden door to Slade House appears in an alley and a new guest is lured in. The nature of the house, the 'magic' involved, the deconstructed fairy-tale elements, and the villains were great.

 

Mitchell does a good job of keeping his various character's voices distinct. With each perspective more of the history of the house is revealed, too. I learned in the afterword that 'Slade House' was originally released in a series of tweets, the pace of the story dictated by the author in a unique way.

 

The book suffers a little from repetition, but is genuinely creepy. You feel for these characters and it was hard for me to put the book down and return to the real world. Also

is there a sequel coming?! It works as is, but come ON.

(show spoiler)

 

I haven't read anything else from Mitchell, but I'd be willing to try them out.

 

 

I could have argued this into a few other categories, but I have some things in mind for those more specific boxes.

Halloween Bingo 2018 - Cryptozoologist

Oblivion Song - Robert Kirkman, Lorenzo De Felici

'Oblivion Song, Chapter 1' by Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo De Felici

 

I don't know why I chose the shortest possible book for my Bingo pre-read, but there you go.

 

'Oblivion Song' is a new comic series by Robert Kirkman ('Walking Dead') that puts us in Philadelphia ten years after an unexplained phenomena wiped out a huge portion of the city, replacing it with horrific monsters and alien vegetation. 300,000 people vanished with the land. The monsters were defeated and the plants died, leaving a barren wasteland that the government built a wall around as a precaution.

 

It was soon discovered that the 300,000 were not dead, they were somewhere else. A scientist, driven by the loss of his brother, figured out the frequency to go to that other place and endeavored to bring back as many people as he could find. The government supported him and his team, but after many years, have shut down the program. Nathan Cole refuses to give up on his brother, making solo expeditions to Oblivion, avoiding the deadly creatures and rescuing those he finds.

 

The art is vivid, and the story hooked me right in. This is a promising start to a great series.

 

Oblivion Song

 

Next: ?

 

 

While 'Oblivion Song' hasn't gotten into the biology of the creatures of the zone, Nathan Cole expresses compassion for them, even objecting to their being killed out of hand. The alien landscape and its native inhabitants is an essential part of the series.

Legion of Super Heroes, Vol. 1

Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Vol. 1 - Jerry Siegel, Michael C. Hill

My neighbor growing up, his dad collected the DC Archives, hardbound editions collecting gold and silver age comic books. They were of phenomenal quality, and introduced me to the deeper history of Superman, Batman and The Flash, among others. A blast from the past!

 

I loved those books, I was allowed to borrow one at a time and devoured everything he had. My favorites though, were 'The Legion of Super Heroes', teens from the distant future (there was some confusion about their being 100 or 1000 years ahead) who had formed a super-hero club in honor of Superboy.

 

Since they were a 'Superboy' spin-off, they were rather silly at first, but these proto-typical X-Men struck a cord with me. By the end of this volume, the Legion is only beginning to gel into the story-telling dynamo it became, but it was a pleasure to be re-introduced to Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and the rest (even Bouncing Boy).

 

These books can get crazy-expensive, so I don't know when I'll get to the next volumes, but I'll keep my eyes open.

 

Legion of Super Heroes

 

Next: 'Volume 2'

The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time

The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan, Teresa Patterson

Fans have labeled this 'The Big Book of Bad Art', and for good reason. This book is large format, almost coffee-table sized, and I'm sorry to say there is no reason even a die-hard fan should pick this up.

 

'World' was released after 'A Crown of Swords' so there are many unanswered questions and plot lines hanging in the air. Reading this, years after the entire series is complete, I read this with the eye of spotting information that wasn't otherwise duplicated elsewhere in the official series.

 

There's nothing. Well, almost nothing. There are fragments of information about the Seanchan and other lands beyond "Randland" (the main setting of the series, the continent and the world were never given a name, so it was dubbed "Randland", woof.) Even that information gets repeated in the novels themselves.

 

The text itself couldn't decide if this were a mock-history of Randland from a fictitious scholar, an arch commentary on the book series, or...what? It worked on no level. The text was riddled with awkward sentences and typos as well, which was unfortunate.

 

With the text out, that leaves the art.

 

It's bad. If you, as a reader, have ever done a quick internet search about a character or a plot point to refresh yourself (which is acceptable in a 14-volume series with hundreds of characters) pictures will pop up. For years I'd dismissed them as fan art, which has its place, but it turns out they were from this book. Muddy portraits with doubtful anatomy and melting features. Even the landscapes and buildings, such as the White Tower, were terrible. This was an official product of a best-selling fantasy franchise from the premier fantasy publisher. Presumably Jordan signed off on this? I was so appalled, I could only laugh.

 

The only redeemable art in the whole book was the double page spreads of Darryl K. Sweet's cover art for the first seven books. I've never been a fan of his figure drawing, but the landscapes were beautiful.

 

That, however, does not make up for the cover price. You're better off picking up only 'The Wheel of Time Companion' and letting this one fade into legend, myth, etc.

 

The Wheel of Time

The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn

The Girl in the Locked Room - Mary Downing Hahn

I read this well before Halloween Bingo, but it may interest some of you! This was just released Sept 4.

 

Mary Downing Hahn is a powerhouse of middle grade fiction, her talent transcends genre - does anyone else remember 'Stepping on the Cracks'?, but it is the supernatural stories that most people associate with her. 'The Girl in the Locked Room' is a classic story of loneliness, mystery, and discovery.

 

Jules' father renovates houses for a living, so she's used to moving to different town and living in creepy, old houses. Her mother is a writer. Jules has a bad feeling about this house, however, especially after she catches a glimpse of girl's face in an attic window. A window in a room that is sealed shut. The construction puts most of the house off-limits to Jules, but after making a new friend and hearing ghostly sounds in the night, she is driven to investigate.

 

A great thing about the book is the inclusion of the titular 'Girl's perspective. She has been locked away for so long she's forgotten everything, even her name, and it takes time for her to remember what happened to her and her family. This adds delicious atmosphere to the story.

 

The house and Jules' situation would have been a dream of mine growing up, but for Jules the nomadic life is one of loneliness. That element grounded the story and Hahn excels at creating relatable protagonists.

 

As a side note, I loved Hahn's respect for history and attention to detail in all things. My husband appreciated that she even got the dolls right.

 

Hahn still has it! This is a supernatural mystery for younger readers, but has sufficient depth for an adult to read and there are many potential topics to discuss with children.

Crossroads of Twilight, The Wheel of Time #10 by Robert Jordan

Crossroads of Twilight - Robert Jordan

This is a toughie. There are many reasons why this book is so notorious, but I'll stick with two reasons. The first is that the bulk of this book is people reacting to the admittedly awesome cleanse of saidin at the end of 'Winter's Heart'. It was awesome, but did we really have to read through all of those reactions, we easily could have just jumped right to people's responses to the phenomenon.

 

The second reason is Elayne and Aviendha taking a bath together. There's nothing salacious there, and we had plenty of Egwene and the Wise Ones sweating together in the lodges back in 'The Shadow Rising', but it was such a long bath. So very, very long.

 

'Crossroads' spends a lot of time reeling out some of the back storylines, without a whole lot happening. The bath is just too good of an example to pass by. Elayne and Aviendha are successioning in Andor, and we learn that claiming the throne of Andor, and carrying babies, can be deadly serious business.

 

Perrin is still chasing after Faile, who is still a prisoner of the Shaido along with Morgase, Alliandre, two others and two Aiel. Masema is...around.

 

Mat is playing getting to know you with his suspected bride along with Egeanin, Domon, and once-prominent characters Julien, Thom, etc.

 

Egwene's politicking with the Aes Sedai is more showing us the steps characters must take to grow, but it sure isn't exciting. I chaired the main administrative body of my municipality (sounds exciting right?) for two years, and sat through many meetings that mimicked the meetings of the Hall of the Tower. Jordan nailed it. It was like I was there! As dull as those scenes could be, I had to grant points for accuracy.

 

Rand... shows up! He does orchestrate important things, and we get to see Loial again (yay!), but there's not a whole lot of movement.

 

After 'Crossroads' came out there was a longer wait than usual for the sequel, as Jordan chose to flesh out a prequel story called 'New Spring'. I was too disgusted to read it at the time, but I'll get to it this reread, eventually.

 

The Wheel of Time:

 

Next: 'The Knife of Dreams'

 

Previous: 'Winter's Heart'

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