A Man With An Agenda

I'm an indie bookseller in Vermont, sometime public servant, and voracious reader. I love antiques, cats, D&D, Victorian literature and pulpy nonsense.

 

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

 

I'm editing my reviews to cleanse them of Goodreads taint. Reviews fixed: approx. 460/1096

Wheel of Time Reread Books 7-9 by Leigh Butler

Wheel of Time Reread: Books 7-9 - Leigh Butler

Butler's commentary continues to entertain and inform me on my summer mission of re-reading the Wheel of Time series. Through no fault of her own the issue that raises its head more and more is that when she was writing these reviews two of the final three books were being released. Expectations are being expressed about upcoming reunions and solutions that I know in some cases were never resolved, which is frustrating all over again. Again, not her fault, as the re-re-read was cancelled partway through 'The Fires of Heaven'.

Winter's Heart, The Wheel of Time #9

Winter's Heart - Robert Jordan

As part of the series as a whole, the book is a definite upswing. 'The Path of Daggers' had left most of the main cast at a standstill and triggered my least favorite plot-line of all time - or Plotline of Doom as fandom has it - wherein Faile, Morgase, Two Aiel and some others are taken captive by the Shaido, necessitating a distraught Perrin to hunt them down. This slows down the 'meh' plot-line of getting Masema to Rand.

 

But the good! 'Winter's Heart' brings Mat back into the narrative, at some distance behind the rest of the characters so there's a good deal of time spent with him in an Ebou Dar occupied by the Seanchan. Thom and Juilin appear.

 

Perrin, as can be guessed, is trudging forward on a never-ending quest to save his wife and dealing with some sigh-worthy conduct of Berlaine and other characters in the camp who believe Berlaine.

 

Elayne is doing Succession things with Aviendha and Birgitte, which is on the dull side, and again, takes forever, but it is refreshing as it is tedious that complicated problems in 'The Wheel of Time' require complicated solutions. Nynaeve has less marital bliss reported and more frustrations with the Seafolk and the Kin, who are all still cooped up in the Royal Palace in Caemlyn.

 

Egwene continues to ratchet up her influence as Amyrlin. Siuan and Bryne hang out in the background.

 

Rand, I would say of course but his story-line has been sputtering since 'Lord of Chaos', elevates 'Winter's Heart' more than any other plot. It is one of the most epic parts of the series and I remember it blowing me away when I first read it. Now, it is still pretty awesome.

 

'Winter's Heart' had a lot more forward momentum to it - unfortunately, its about to come to a screeching halt.

 

The Wheel of Time:

 

Next: 'The Crossroads of Twilight'

 

Previous: 'The Path of Daggers'

The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg

The Red Address Book - Sofia Lundberg

I'll bend my rule about posting reviews for unreleased books as this 'The Red Address Book' has had considerable success in Europe even if the American edition won't be released for some time.

 

Sofia Lundberg's novel follows 96-year-old Doris as she remembers the people who have come and gone in her life, all of the crossed out names in the address book given to her by her father on her last birthday at home. Her only living relative is a grand niece Jennifer and Jennifer's children in America and Doris depends on their weekly Skype calls.

 

I can't say how accurate of a translation this is, but it read smoothly and had a light, easy to read style throughout. Doris is an independent woman, but a recent injury has left her vulnerable and the indignities attached to being dependent on visiting nurses and facing pressure to give up her home are well illustrated.

 

The novel picks up steam as the narrative picks out a few key people in Doris' address book - a book full of names, the majority of which are crossed out and marked 'deceased'. The conceit of the address book is a good one, but many readers will have problems with how, er, eventful Doris' life turns out to be. It isn't enough that she's lived a long life and taken care of loved ones, she has lived more than anyone else has ever in the history of living. The events of her life become more far-fetched as the story goes on.

 

You may be looking at my high rating. The book can be problematic, narratively and with some objectionable plot elements, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story even with its issues. Sappy, but satisfying.

Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift

Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island  - Earl Swift

Forgive my plug, but this is important to me: This book is available at your local bookstore! If you prefer audio or ebooks, I suggest trying Kobo or Libro.fm - or asking your local bookseller. These are options that are similar in cost to Amazon, but support local economies and fairly treated employees. When signing up you can select a participating bookstore and a portion of the sales go to that store at no additional cost.

 

Our regularly scheduled review: I first heard of the problem of erosion in Chesapeake Bay through the story of this house on Holland Island. The story went viral and I, who had always been fascinated with stories of lost towns and cities, read as much as I could find.

 

This book focuses on the remote Tangier Island and the people who live there. Tangier and its population are central to the Chesapeake Blue Crab fishing industry, and most have deep roots on that island. The island is shrinking, from earliest verifiable maps it has shrunk by two thirds since the mid-19th century. Their situation makes them easy to romanticize, and it is hard to think of the homes lost, and the recurring images of cemeteries washing out to sea - many containing ancestors of current residents - is a tragic one.

 

Swift spends a year on the island and does his best to learn about the communities, their history, and profiles several residents. The writing is clear, and if its sentimental, it suits the subject. My problems with the book came with the hard-line conservative ethos of the island and its prejudices justified by religion. The erosion of the island has been a constant for centuries, if not millennia, but it has been hastened by climate change and rising ocean levels. This is something the people of Tangiers refuse to admit. It hardly matters, they'll be swept away regardless, but it bothered me. The island had some notoriety (already forgotten, like so much else) by its strong support of President Trump. He told them not to worry about their island, but is not likely to approve the costly breakwater necessary to saving their island when he has a fascist military parade to orchestrate. They also don't like the gays, so my personal sympathies for them evaporated

 

In the abstract, the problem of how to save a community from rising waters is something that is better addressed now with these front-line settlements then when we find our coastal cities even more threatened then they already are. Swift's account of the island and his point by point narration of the failure to act upon early warning signs is grim reading, but provides an important lesson.

Reading progress update: I've read 368 out of 624 pages.

Crossroads of Twilight - Robert Jordan

At some point I want to make a complaint post about these trade editions. They are rife with errors, carrying over many from the old editions and adding more.

 

'Crossroads of Twilight' so far is the book that embodies the absolute worst of this series, so it goes.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

The Incendiaries - R.O. Kwon

Due out this coming Tuesday, July 31st. Pre-order through your local bookstore's website, or just, you know, go there.

R.O. Kwon's 'The Incendiaries' is a quick, gripping novel about identity and faith. The plot is an attempt by college student Will Kendall to rationalize his former girlfriend's involvement in a terrorist group. We know what is going to happen, but the reader is still drawn into Will's story.

Will meets Phoebe Lin early on in their college career, and is dazzled by her, but ultimately unable to prevent her recruitment by a charismatic former student named John Leal into a new age club. A scholarship student, he has felt compelled to manufacture his own identity and cannot respond until its too late.

Kwon challenges the reader to confront extremism and religious and racial identities by presenting John and Phoebe's stories as well as Will's before the novel runs its course. A surprising book, I'll be interested in hearing other people's reactions.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch - George Eliot

'Middlemarch' is the daunting 5th novel from George Eliot. It primarily concerns the lives of the gentry and middle class, but showcases Eliot's dazzling ability to create worlds. The English novel typically had large supporting casts of characters and depended upon depicting shades of rural life, but Eliot was a master of crowd-work. Her four major plots are punctuated by extended sequences of social calls, gossip, and plain conversation that reverberate through the main text and give it life. I hesitate to call many of the characters minor not merely because of the their place in the plot, but in because how deftly they're drawn. These characters have layers. No matter how small their role is in the plot, like Miss Horner, or even a barely mentioned Mr. Clintup, have history and lives going on behind the scenes. They also have subtle social relationships with each other.

I read this novel at breakneck speed, perhaps 12 hours altogether over two evenings and a morning, and that allowed me to really experience the close relationships between many of the characters. Eliot provides vast insight into the inner lives of her characters, but also in their differing outer relationships with each other including all of the misunderstandings that create the two 'main' marriages of the plot, and, more cunning, the relationships which possess understanding. Dorothea and Casaubon; Lydgate and Rosamund; as fraught as their whole situation is, it was the relationship between Camden Farebrother and his family, Mr. and Mrs. Garth's mutual recalculation of their lives in the wake of Fred's note coming due (without Mrs. Garth knowing beforehand!), and even Trumbull, the auctioneer, being bequeathed a gold-headed cane seemed to be punctuation to a long-told joke.

Maybe I'm still worn out from all of that not sleeping so I could read 'Middlemarch' in time for the book club, but everything in this meandering novel is significant. It is not significant with the everything is an allegory way either. Eliot raised the bar again with her research, giving 'Middlemarch' an impeccable timeline and even mined 40-year-old medical journals for Lydgate's benefit. I loved this.

This novel merits the reams of words that have been written about it. She is rapidly becoming my favorite author. I was disappointed by Silas Marner and my appreciation for Romola is (mostly) academic. I had a bad time of it in college when I had to read this for the most boring man ever to scrape a chalkboard, but I'm so glad that I gave it another chance. Many serial novels suffer from how they were written, even with polish and editing, there's usually something disconnected. I'm including Thackeray and Dickens in that criticism, among others. Eliot was a planner and the end-notes of my edition repeatedly referenced her process. Read it in a glorious rush the way I did, or in your own serene time, but this one is worth it.

A bad movie, a nail in the coffin of John Bellairs

The House With a Clock in Its Walls - John Bellairs

I felt compelled to reread this after seeing the godawful trailer for the new film. I ended up reading it aloud to my husband over the course of a few nights. The book is still wonderful. I've linked to book reviews for the Lewis Barnavelt Trilogy at the bottom.

I thought I was over getting nerdrage at bad book to film translations, but those trailers made me see red. 'A House with a Clock in It's Walls' is a meandering book about a lonely, scared boy finding a place for himself in his new family after his parent's death, and, above all, learning about true courage and friendship.

Tonally, aesthetically, and factually this movie has missed the mark. I know its only a trailer, but trailers these days seem to show the whole damn film. The casting is terrible. Lewis is some Hollywood kid instead of the weepy (his parents are DEAD, remember?), overweight bookish loner. Jack Black is all crazy googly-eyed as Uncle Jonathan. Mrs. Zimmerman instead of being the "wrinkliest" woman Lewis has ever seen, all smile lines, is played by Cate Blanchett with a silver wig. What a missed opportunity to bring back some great actress with a meaty role for an elderly woman.

Aesthetically, some effort seems to have been made to put it in early postwar America, but the CGI effects are plastered over everything and used for cheap laughs - complimented by bad dialogue.

Tonally, this was a book filled with gentle humor balanced with atmospheric dread and real scares. How can there be any balance in this movie?

John Bellairs books are in danger of going out of print - 'Figure in the Shadows' and 'The Letter, the Witch, and The Ring' are already gone. The book and the movie are so different that no kid who liked the movie is going to enjoy the book, creating NO demand for those sequels, and any kid with the sense to hate the movie is going to avoid the book thinking they share some similarities. More bad news: when this movie fails some asinine executive is going to think kids don't like fantasy or scary movies, when they only don't like bullshit.

The Lewis Barnavelt Trilogy:

'The House with a Clock in It's Walls'

'The Figure in the Shadows'

he Letter, The Witch, and The Ring'

The Path of Daggers, The Wheel of Time #8

The Path of Daggers (Wheel of Time) - Robert Jordan

This is my least favorite so far. It has some fantastic scenes in it, but for the most part it has a lot of frustrating tangling of plot-threads and very little progress.

The new cover art was changed here, too, but it was an improvement this time. The oddly posed scene of Aviendha, Elayne and Nynaeve using the Bowl of the Winds is replaced with the fight during the flight from the Kin's Farm through a gateway.

Rand al'Thor is unquestioned master of his domain and orchestrates a campaign against the Seanchan in Altara, taking along many of his followers with questionable loyalty as war fodder. Min reads.

Egwene continues her rise as pupper Amyrlin to legitimate ruler, taking advantage of the currents within Aes Sedai politics, with the help of Siuan and Leane and others.

Nynaeve, Aviendha and Elayne finally use the bowl in spectacular fashion at the opening of the book. The Sea Folk, the Kin, and other Salidar Aes Sedai often don't make things easy. Birgitte and Lan provide moral support.

Loial has been shuffled off somewhere, while Perrin and Faile and Three Aiel, followed by Berelain are sent to Ghealdan to bring the Prophet to heel.

Morgase and co....are out of the woods for a brief, shining moment.

In many ways this book was a slog. Mat is out of the picture, and everyone's plot-lines seem full of trudging and failure.

The Wheel of Time

Next: 'Winter's Heart'

Previous: 'A Crown of Swords'

A Crown of Swords, The Wheel of Time #7

A Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time #7) - Robert Jordan

Dumai's Wells happened. And Rand al'Thor is going to be difficult from here on in. Which is why he'll need minders more than ever. Cadsuane and Sorilea come up with a plan.

I don't know why they created new art for the trade paperback here instead of keeping the much-vaunted ebook art as with the rest of the series (minus 'Path of Daggers'), but I'm going to assume its because fans hate Nynaeve. Which seems unfair. This was the single most important piece of her character arc.

 

The new cover has the back of Cadsuane's head confronting a ridiculously posed Rand and the Asha'man (nee Pips) in a scene....that doesn't exist?

'A Crown of Swords' has Rand reeling from his rough treatment in the last novel and dealing with two very different, but subdued groups of Aes Sedai. Verin, Alanna, et. al. of the Rebels have sworn fealty to him. Unheard of. Impossible! And he is also keeping the White Tower Group as prisoners in charge of Aiel Wise Ones. Unheard of. Impossible! I have to admire his restraint, actually.

Perrin and Faile, along with Loial, Min, and Berlaine are among those ensnared in the plotting of Carhien.

Mat continues south, but is pointed in a differenet direction, and a rendezvous with Egwene, now Amyrlin, and Elayne, Nynaeve. Aviendha, and Birgitte. Siuan and Leane and Logain have been Healed by Nynaeve and can touch the Power again.

The big takeaway from 'Crown' was Ebou Dar. I loved the hunt for the Bowl of the Winds and the other discoveries there. It was the first new location in awhile that I was excited to explore. Jordan's thumbnail sketches of different cultures may be on the shallow side, but for whatever reason it clicked here.

I realize I'd forgotten to mention the Morgase plot thread in the last review. I'll forget about it here, too. Oh, the Asha'man too. With all the over-sharing from other plot-lines I'd have liked to hear more from them as well, but it takes until 'Winter's Heart' to get a good peek at life in the Black Tower.

A much more satisfying book for me, but I can understand why many fans dislike it. Especially when looking at what's coming up next.

The Wheel of Time

Next: 'The Path of Daggers'

Previous: 'Lord of Chaos'

Wheel of Time Reread Books 5-6 by Leigh Butler

Wheel of Time Reread: Books 5-6 - Leigh Butler

Not much to add to my thoughts about the Reread for Books 1-4. Leigh is funny and insightful and I wouldn't have gotten half out of this reread if it wasn't for reading her thoughts. The only quibble I have is that often (this is on tor.com, I didn't read the e-books which may not have this) she refers to old commentary on certain issues such as 'Who killed ---------?' and links to dead pages. If those forums or arguments are mirrored somewhere, I don't know where to find them.

Most people won't be interested in the old arguments now that most questions have been settled so don't let that deter you from checking these out.

Lord of Chaos, The Wheel of Time #6

Lord of Chaos: Book Six of 'The Wheel of Time' - Robert Jordan

I have another review of 'Lord of Chaos' floating around, a fragment from my last full reread of the series in 2009. I was not impressed, and while there are still problems with the series - the first reluctant nod to homosexuality goes to a villain first of all - but as I've been saying this latest reread has been refreshing and addictive. I missed these books.

'Lord of Chaos' takes place over ten or eleven days, but a lot of stuff is happening so I won't complain. Rand gets overconfident in Andor and Carhien and ends up in serious trouble.

Nynaeve, Elayne, Birgitte, Gareth Brynne, Min, Siuan and Leane are in Salidar with the Rebel Aes Sedai, the former trying to adjust to being Accepted again and making 'discoveries' - Nynaeve still has a block on her channelling ability, which holds her back. Gareth is building an army to take the White Tower, Min is preparing to go back to Rand, and Siuan and Leane are continuing to adjust to being cut off from the Power.

Mat is once more on his own, his initial desires to escape responsibility have led him to become head of his own private army.

Perrin, a hero and Lord in the Two Rivers now, heads out with another army and Faile and Loial and Three Aiel to join Rand - who he senses needs him.

There are plots within plots and this book in many ways creates a pressure cooker. The sheer number of characters - I'm not even bothering inserting the villains and Daes  Da'mar nonsense - to move slows the narrative down. The existence of Traveling begins to ease this problem somewhat, but too many plot-lines for slim reasons don't take advantage of this.

This is still mostly a book to get through, but I found myself enjoying the pace.

The Wheel of Time

Next: 'A Crown of Swords'

Previous: 'The Fires of Heaven'

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time (Time Series, #1) - Madeleine L'Engle

I'm on the wrong side of history here, but I didn't enjoy 'A Wrinkle in Time'. I'd read it before (at too old of an age) but had forgotten everything except the back garden and an alien planet.

Meg Murray and Calvin are great characters, but there didn't seem to be enough of a story for them to move within. I liked the Mrs....I loved the imagination...but it left me cold.

It's not you, its me Madeleine L'Engle.

The (Original) Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy Drew #1

The Secret of the Old Clock - Russell H. Tandy, Sara Paretsky, Carolyn Keene

A little over a year ago I read 'Secret of the Old Clock' and mentioned being intrigued, but not necessarily interested in reading the original versions of the classic juvenile detective novels. Of course, in a year's time I've become convinced I need to not only read the old volumes, but to collect them, too.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate under Harriet Adams, the daughter of the man who invented the ghostwritten series and 'Nan' Drew, began revising the series from 1959 to 1976. They were intended to address issues of racism and xenophobia as well as the problem, apparently, of Nancy Drew being an entirely too willful girl. Changes needed to be made if the series was to survive, I wholeheartedly agree, but much of the descriptive language was cut out and plots were simplified, when not altogether altered.

'The Secret of the Old Clock' lost many pages, but not the plot. Nancy Drew is the courageous girl out to solve crimes and right wrong, daughter of Carson Drew and all-around capable woman. In the revised edition she rescues a little tyke who runs in front of a speeding vehicle and befriends two poor, elderly women who are taking care of the girl after her parents died in a boat explosion. They express their disappointment in being left out of the will of a wealthy relative.

In the original there is no boat explosion. No little tyke, either. Nancy learns of the speculated missing will from her father over breakfast, and an encounter with two snobby social climbers who are the daughters of the man who will inherit without the will. The family is obviously new money and their behavior makes Nancy dig in her heels and make sure somebody, anybody else gets the money instead of them.

Other characters stay the same, but Nancy's relationship with them is altered. An odd change is that a pair of young sisters - genteelly poor and kind in contrast to the snobs - have their dream changed from getting seed money to start them in tailoring and farming respectively in the original, to getting damn singing lessons in the revision is baffling. What is wrong with working for a living?

This original book is far superior in every respect, until Nancy accepts an invitation from her friend Helen Corning (No Bess and George, yet) to a camp getaway, but sneaks away to sleuth and gets into trouble. Its not getting into trouble that's the matter. Nancy interrupts a robbery at a lake house and is locked away by the crooks. She is found later by the black caretaker who has an "alcoholic glitter" in his eyes, Prohibition was still in effect in 1930. The caretaker had been given alcohol by the crooks and then locked in a shed to be kept out of the way. There's some unfortunate dialogue and Nancy delivers a lecture and...let's not go into it.

To solve her case Nancy hides evidence from the police, avoids gunfire, and in the end enjoys seeing the downfall of the social climbers as much as helping out the poor friends and relations who desperately needed the money from will. This Nancy is flawed, but I like her a lot.

Next: 'The Hidden Staircase'

The Fires of Heaven, The Wheel of Time #5

The Fires of Heaven: Book Five of 'The Wheel of Time' - Robert Jordan

Jordan's epic continues to thrive, but there are signs of it faltering under its weight. 'Fires of Heaven' finds our victorious Nynaeve, Elayne, Thom, and Julien making their way out of Tarabon assured that they had left it better than they found it. Alas....but that's another plot-line. Nynaeve is hardly a fan favorite, but I've always liked her and a tonal shift in her narration is Nynaeve at her most enjoyable. She also scores a major personal victory.

Anyway, Rand, Jasin, Mat, Aviendha, Moiraine, and Lan are headed out of the Waste after the villainous Shaido, who have quickly become a menace to the 'treekiller' nation of Carhien and everything and everyone else they run into. The changes to Mat and Moiraine's characters are particularly noteworthy.

Perrin, Loial, Faile and Three Aiel....nothing. They don't appear, so readers must presume that domestic bliss and the flowering of the Two Rivers just wasn't interesting enough. Considering how toxic Faile and Perrin's relationship can be...I probably agree with Jordan on that.

Min, Siuan, Leane and Logain are still traveling incognito to find where rebel Aes Sedai may be gathering, but run afoul of someone who could help their plans or simply drag them back to a farm in chains.

Meanwhile, in Caemlyn, some really icky stuff is going on, and one of the most depressing character arcs in the series is swanning on down into the mud.

That last may be why this book has some tarnish. I've been loving the reread much more than I anticipated, but there's no getting around some unpleasant and barely plot-necessary happenings. Then again, the series still has some great moments (I for one loved the circus), more information from the Forsaken, big sea-change moments as Rand achieves more victories and yet also suffers great losses, and another spectacular finish. Though the plot-lines no longer converge, Jordan had a knack for pulling together enough of his plots to make gripping reading.

The Wheel of Time

Next: 'Lord of Chaos'

Previous: 'The Shadow Rising'

Wheel of Time Reread Books 1-4 by Leigh Butler

Wheel of Time Reread: Books 1-4 - Leigh Butler

I was late in discovering the existence of the vast world of Wheel of Time fandom. Leigh Butler isn't the be-all-end-all authority, she herself would deny that, but I've found her posts and analysis of what's going on in the series invaluable for my latest reread.

Sharp analysis, critiques, quick explanations and timely reminders of which characters and subplots to keep an eye out for make this essential reading for any fan of the series. It does have a lot of spoilers so no reading before you've gotten through 'A Memory of Light'!

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