Camp Prodigy by Caroline Palmer

A graphic novel about viola players, whaaaaaaat!

Haha, sorry, as an orchestra cellist, it’s always fun for me to read about underrepresented instruments and their players. Perhaps more importantly, this Middle Grade comic is about two nonbinary teenagers who meet at the title summer camp, which has the no-pressure name of Camp Prodigy, lol. There they learn how to navigate and confront the challenges of putting way more pressure on themselves than necessary, whether it comes to music or pretending that everything is okay for the benefit of the people around them.

Our two main protagonists are Tate Seong and Eli Violet, who sorta meet backstage at a concert one day before meeting for real a year plus later at Camp Prodigy. Tate was actually inspired to take up the viola after hearing Eli play backstage that evening, but hasn’t really progressed via school instruction since. After being discouraged from performing in the school concert, Tate is feeling pretty down about music — not to mention their inability to come out about not being a boy to their family and friends — so is thrilled when their parents suggest sending them away to a summer camp for music students of all abilities. They’re not great at the viola but they’re ready to learn, and they look forward to camp.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/18/camp-prodigy-by-caroline-palmer/

The Blasphemers by Annamaria Alfieri (EXCERPT)

Hi readers! This week, I’m thrilled to be able to bring you an excerpt from the latest book in the Vera And Tolliver series, The Blasphemers.

Justin Tolliver is on the brink of an enormous change. The younger son of an English peer―that is, the son with no money and no prospects―he had joined the police force in British East Africa, full of dreams of bringing His Majesty’s justice to a “dark and savage” world. But it’s 1913, and with his faith in the British government in tatters, Justin is opting instead for life as an African farmer and a newly minted family-man. It is his wife Vera who has helped him put aside images of darkness and come to see Africa, instead, as all but lit from within.

Yet even as Justin is embracing Africa, Vera’s faith in the land is being tested as she is brought face to face with terrible brutalities and her own naiveté. There are murders, yes, and Justin and Vera will take a hand in solving them. But when the crimes are solved and the killers brought to justice, Justin and Vera will have to reckon with levels of injustice far beyond anything they had previously understood.

Read on for a thrilling excerpt!

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/17/the-blasphemers-by-annamaria-alfieri-excerpt/

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Through most of the first six books in the Rivers of London series, a rogue magician known as the Faceless Man has been leading the mystical branch of the Metropolitan Police on a merry chase. Well, not so merry for his many victims. But he’s a formidable practitioner, and while Peter Grant, Nightingale, and company have been able to foil some of his plans, they have not been able to lay a finger on him either magically or legally. Before the beginning of Lies Sleeping the higher ranks of the Met have decided to change that by going on the offensive and leaning on his networks with the Met’s considerable resources. It may not be pretty, it may not be elegant, but it will be — so they hope — inexorable.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter and colleagues have identified a number of practitioners who learned from the same teacher who trained the Faceless Man. They’re not sure which of them have maintained connections to him, so they have chosen a few to subject to a period of intense scrutiny to see if they get spooked and lead the police to him. The first two passed more or less uneventfully. Lies Sleeping begins with the third, just a few minutes before everything goes, in Peter’s own words, pear-shaped. Peter and Sahra Guleed, his partner on many assignments, are stationed outside the house of one Richard Williams. Nightingale has rung the bell “because we weren’t looking for shock and awe but aiming for sinister and creepy instead. Nightingale is remarkably good at that — I think it’s the accent.” (p. 9) Not long after, Peter senses a use of magic that tells him Nightingale has well and truly cut loose; seconds later, he and Guleed are in a desperate melee with Williams’ nanny, who generally looks human but definitely isn’t. “I could see a wash of crimson around her mouth and chin, and running down the chest of her blue Adidas sweatshirt. I didn’t think it was her blood.” (p. 11) He’s right about that, and right too that his and Guleed’s combined efforts are not enough to hold her.

“Where the fuck is Nightingale?” I asled.
Saving Richard Williams from bleeding out, as it happened.
“She tried to bite his throat right out,” [Detective Constable David] Carey told me. (p. 13)

With that, Lies Sleeping is up and running.
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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/16/lies-sleeping-by-ben-aaronovitch/

Stille Zeile Sechs by Monika Maron

How much fury fits into 142 pages?

Monika Maron tells her readers from the very first sentence that Herbert Beerenbaum dies, so a good bit of Stille Zeile Sechs (Silent Close Number Six — “Close” in the sense of a small cul-de-sac street, with six as the house number) is finding out who he his, how he dies, and why that matters. Maron also has her first-person narrator, Rosalind Polkowski, slowly reveal how she came to know Beerenbaum, and what he came to mean for her.

Stille Zeile Sechs by Monika Maron

The book is set in East Berlin in the mid-1980s, a time when it looked like the Wall would remain in place forever, keeping people locked in place and subject to the whims of the bureaucrats of the Socialist Unity Party under the watchful eyes of the Ministry for State Security. Silent Close is a fictional street in East Berlin where former Party bigwigs live out their retirement, the current leadership having decamped to a closed settlement about 15km outside the city limits. The real counterpart to the Silent Close is the Majakowskiring, located in the norther part of Pankow. These days it’s a relatively normal street in a leafy part of the city; I haven’t visited. Back then it would have been very closely watched, with every visitor noted, identified and reported. One of the streets that ends at the Majakowskiring is Stille Strasse, Silent Street.

Polkowski is an unusual figure in 1980s East Germany: She has given up her assigned job as a researcher in a history institute and is making a living with whatever comes her way. In her telling, one day she had simply had enough. She had been assigned a topic soon after completing her studies, and plugged away at it year after year until in her early forties she didn’t see any sense in it. That decision was in its way a fundamental challenge to East Germany’s system. Everyone was supposed to have a job, they were all supposed to be doing their bit to build socialism and advance the revolution. They were not supposed to make their own way, outside of the institutions, like a cat with no fixed home who gets a little bit from everyone in the neighborhood. It’s never spelled out in the book, but Polkowski had to have had a relatively privileged upbringing, in Party terms, to have gotten a job as a researcher in the first place.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/15/stille-zeile-sechs-by-monika-maron/

Tantalizing Tales — June 2024 — Part One

Happy June, readers! We have so many great books to cover from the first half of the month, and a few selections from earlier this year that I want to highlight here, as well!

First up is Looking For Smoke by K. A. Cobell. This debut YA mystery by a member of the Blackfeet tribe tells the story of Mara Racette, whose move to the Blackfeet Reservation with her parents hasn’t gone anywhere near as well as hoped. The tight-knit locals are quick to remind her that she grew up far away, as if that’s some sort of personal failing.

So when local girl Loren includes Mara in a traditional Blackfeet Giveaway to honor Loren’s missing sister, Mara thinks she’ll finally start making some new friends. Instead, a girl from the Giveaway, Samantha White Tail, is found murdered. Because the four members of the Giveaway group were the last to see Samantha alive, each becomes a person of interest in the investigation. And all of them–Mara, Loren, Brody, and Eli–have a complicated history with Samantha.

Despite deep mistrust, the four must now band together to take matters into their own hands and clear their names… even though one of them might actually be the killer.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/14/tantalizing-tales-june-2024-part-one/

The Noh Mask Murder by Akimitsu Takagi

translated from the original Japanese by Jesse Kirkwood.

Reading reprints of classic mysteries can be so hit and miss for me, and especially when they’re in translation. As cultures converge globally, reading these snapshots of past attitudes to murder and other unsavory dealings can often feel jarring, especially when taking into account the fact that sometimes there just aren’t words to adequately express a particular cultural touchstone (tho Mr Kirkwood certainly does an excellent job here, so far as I can tell!) The attitudes towards mental health and sex, especially, can seem really dispiriting, particularly in comparison with our relatively more compassionate age.

Which was why Akimitsu Takagi’s The Noh Mask Murder was such a breath of fresh air for me. There is sex and madness aplenty in the pages of this slender volume first published in the 1950s, but they’re treated matter-of-factly and not as indicators of evil. Surprisingly progressive and compassionate, this book showcases the post-World War II culture of Japan while also invoking the universality of the human experience.

But dearest to my novel-loving heart was the brilliant construction of this unusual book, a set of found documents delivered to a detective who happens to bear the same name as the author. The diary at the heart of the book is also an observation of the case, with several less than flattering descriptions of the detective himself. It’s smart, playful and inventive, even before you get to the end of the book and are shocked by how many layers of revelation are contained in these mere 200+ pages.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/13/the-noh-mask-murder-by-akimitsu-takagi/

Bunnybirds Vol 1 by Natalie Linn

In the world of the Bunnybirds (essentially rabbits with wings,) the most important thing is to stay light-hearted so that one can fly freely with the rest of the flock. Princess Aster has been taught that heavy emotions lead to leaden wings, so she, like the rest of the Bunnybirds who live in splendid isolation in the royal tree, tries to live a life that’s essentially “no thoughts, head empty” beyond mealtimes and playtimes.

So when members of the flock begin disappearing, Aster tries not to worry, especially when she’s told that thinking and talking about it will only make everyone sad. But when her own father vanishes, Aster knows she can no longer pretend that everything is fine.

Uncertain of what to do next, she goes to the neighboring dragon court for advice. They laugh her out of their palace, but a young rebel Bunnybird comes to her aid, offering to guide her over the rim of the world in search of her missing people. Carlin is nothing like the rest of the Bunnybirds: her emotions are often all over the place and fully on display, in stark contrast to Aster’s much more dignified composure. The pair have no idea what to do with each other, but Aster needs a guide and Carlin needs the reward, so off they go to territories uncharted by the average Bunnybird.

Or so Aster had always believed. As the pair traverse strange new lands, they fall in with an aloof sand-dog named Feet, and soon learn that their friendship affords them greater power than they had ever wielded individually. Will their bond be enough to save them, however, when they finally discover the fate of the missing Bunnybirds and confront a foe far greater than any they had ever imagined?

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/12/bunnybirds-vol-1-by-natalie-linn/

All That Really Matters by David Weill (EXCERPT)

After writing the memoir Exhale: Hope, Healing, and A Life in Transplant, revealing the emotional rollercoaster that is the life of a transplant surgeon, David Weill returns to the operating theater with his debut novel, All That Really Matters!

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Joe Bosco is an arrogant, hard-charging transplant surgeon whose ambition knows no bounds. He pursues his job with a “take no prisoners” approach, as saving patients is not just his job or even his passion: it’s his religion. After his surgical residency, he passes on a job offer from Stanford, instead taking a wildly lucrative position at a private hospital in San Francisco where the bottom line is…the bottom line. Joe leaves behind academic medicine, much to the chagrin of his father— a German Jewish Holocaust survivor who is a world-renowned neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner—and his girlfriend Kate, who sees Joe turning into a different man from the one she met at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Bosco makes it to the top as a star in the transplant world but soon realizes that the new world he inhabits is fraught with moral and ethical transgressions, some that his partners commit and, eventually, some that he commits. When the hospital administration sides against Joe in an operating room catastrophe, he is isolated and left with a career in shambles, a girlfriend who wants nothing to do with him, and a father who can’t hide his disappointment.

It is not until his life spins out of control that Joe must come to terms with his own failings and find his true purpose in life in the most unlikely of places.

~~~~~~~

We’ve been lucky enough to snag the following excerpt for our readers!

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/11/all-that-really-matters-by-david-weill-excerpt/

Stamped From The Beginning: A Graphic History Of Racist Ideas In America by Ibram X. Kendi & Joel Christian Gill

I do not have time to read all the books I want to, so when I was offered the graphic history adaptation of Ibram X Kendi’s award-winning Stamped From The Beginning, I absolutely jumped at the chance. Graphic novels and non-fiction are usually a much faster read for me than plain text, and I really loved the cover of this book (plus Joel Christian Gill’s linework is just excellent throughout.)

Covering the history of anti-Black racism since the founding of America as the nation it is today, via the lens of five important figures on both sides of the fight against racism, this was a super enlightening book for me to read. I only grew up intermittently in the United States, so my education in its history is even sketchier than the average informed student’s. As my own circle of friends and acquaintances has grown — as well as my access to excellent material like this book — I’ve learned a lot more, including the stuff they don’t put in textbooks and, in fact, are fighting to keep out of the curriculum in certain states even in the present day.

Having not read the source material, I can’t say with any certainty how true to the original book this is. Professor Gill acknowledges that Dr Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning was only one reference point for this volume: an understandable choice given the need to look up what all the historical figures, locales and times depicted here looked like. I do know that this nearly 300-page graphic adaptation of the 500+ page original follows the five-part structure of the original, so a significant condensation must have been applied in order to get all the ideas to fit in here. And for the most part, this works out well, especially when it comes to talking about how to be an antiracist and how to fight racism, even the insidious kind we don’t realize is present in our everyday lives. Frankly, the only criticism I have of this book relates to how certain topics are very conspicuously dropped in ways that can too easily confuse a layperson like me, particularly in the earlier chapters. I know that the climate theory of race is bogus, but it doesn’t even make sense in the way it’s presented in the book. I also wondered why the first Black representative, Hiram Rhodes Revels, was never named but only mentioned in passing by position: a weird omission in a book about seeing Black people as human beings. I also, frankly, wanted to know more about the colonization of Liberia, tho I imagine that’s a whole other book on its own.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/10/stamped-from-the-beginning-a-graphic-history-of-racist-ideas-in-america-by-ibram-x-kendi-joel-christian-gill/

Hugo Awards 2024: Best Short Story

How to Raise a Kraken by P. Djeli Clark

I was glad to see that enough Chinese fans nominated works for this year’s Hugos that a fair number of works and people from China made it to the list of finalists. There are two short stories, one novelette, and two novellas in the long-established fiction categories, plus one in best graphic story, two in best related work, one in best dramatic presentation (long form), two in best editor (short form), one in best editor (long form), and one in best fancast. I am grateful that all five tales in the fiction categories were translated into English so that I could read the works and cast a more fully informed vote. This is putting more of the world into Worldcon, and I hope it continues.

Like Doreen, I’ve found that writing about the short story nominees is a good way to get into the flow of writing about the finalists, even if I have already read some of the other nominated works. (And I read Starter Villain so fast and with such delight that I couldn’t not write about it.) So here are my brief thoughts on the short story finalists, in ascending order of preference.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/08/hugo-awards-2024-best-short-story/