The Tower Of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town In Stories And Photographs by Chana Stiefel & Susan Gal

This is an important book about the Holocaust and one woman’s efforts to memorialize the lives so tragically lost to Nazi cruelty. It’s an inspiring true story matched only by the astonishingly vivid artwork Susan Gal uses here to bring Yaffa Eliach’s story to life.

Y’all, I could go on and on about this art. So much care has gone into it, from the blue-black of Yaffa’s hair to the exquisite patternwork of the clothes, to the truly inspired montage of photos over artistic depictions of everyday life in the Polish shtetl of Eishyshok (now a Lithuanian town called Eisiskes.) Ms Gal was inspired by the Tower Of Life memorial Dr Eliach curated at the Holocaust Museum and it shows in every joyful brush stroke, in every moment of hope captured in the face of despair. This art deserves to win awards.

The accompanying text is competent to good. I know that that sounds like weirdly faint praise when it’s not meant to be. It’s just that the actual point of the book is only truly elucidated in the afterword. The Tower Of Life serves to remind viewers that real people, people who loved and laughed and were just doing their best to get by, had their lives brutally stolen from them. Remembering them as victims has value, but not as much as remembering them as fellow human beings whose lives should have been celebrated, whose stories need to be remembered as touchstones for our shared humanity. The preceding text almost closes that circle between celebrating life and promoting empathy but doesn’t quite manage it, which feels like a weird disservice to everyone involved. I mean, this is a kid’s book. Feel free to spell that point out for the, likely very young, reader.

And, I mean, I get it, you don’t want to go overboard saying “it could happen to you” and traumatizing some poor 8 year-old. Writing children’s books is hard work, so more power to all the children’s books writers out there!

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/10/06/the-tower-of-life-how-yaffa-eliach-rebuilt-her-town-in-stories-and-photographs-by-chana-stiefel-susan-gal/

The Fairy Atlas: Fairy Folk of the World by Anna Claybourne & Miren Asiain Lora

This is such a gorgeous volume for anyone of any age who has an interest in fairy folk the world over. I highly recommend getting it in hardback, as the paper quality is absolutely wonderful: luxuriously thick and offering a wonderful canvas for the art and information on offer inside.

And what art and information! Anna Claybourne takes a thoughtfully continental tack to her examination of fairy traditions the world over, beginning in Europe and circumnavigating the world to end in South America. Each section starts with a two-page spread of an illustrated map, followed by explanations of each type of fairy highlighted in said map, before addressing a common theme of fairies worldwide. It brings to light different and often little-known mythological creatures, attributing them to their originating cultures in a way that’s succinct yet flavorful. Honestly, I could read pages and pages more of this kind of stuff, especially in the way that this book merges academic anthropology with the kind of classic folk tales you often hear growing up. Whether discussing the regal Ao Si of Ireland or the thumbless Duende that range as far afield as Patagonia, Ms Claybourne writes with both knowledge and wit.

The art, for the most part, keeps up beautifully with the text, tho there were certain choices made that had me grimacing. As a Malaysian, I’m far too used to grinning and bearing it when popular maps are more vague than precise when it comes to depicting my part of the world, tho in fairness, this book does not claim geographical accuracy. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of having important information land so close to the interior gutter, forcing me to flatten the book further than I wanted to — ironically, a layout issue that I have to constantly worry about in my other career as an independent game designer.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/10/04/the-fairy-atlas-fairy-folk-of-the-world-by-anna-claybourne-miren-asiain-lora/

The Loud House #16: Loud And Clear by The Loud House Creative Team

Y’know, I think this was the first Loud House anthology where I actually wasn’t clear on what the theme was, which is ironic given the title.

That said, I really appreciated the editor’s afterword praising veteran comics letter Wilson Ramos Jr. His work graces the Loud House pages and ensures that it’s fully legible for younger readers, as well as those of us with, ahem, veteran eyesight. It’s always nice when credit is given where it’s due, especially to undersung artists whose contributions are just as important as the more celebrated pencillers and inkers on comics titles.

This collection of Loud House shorts riffs off of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon revolving around middle child Lincoln Loud, his ten sisters and assorted other family and friends. There are several inter-related bits on fashion, dolls, farm animals and musical performances, as the various members of the Loud family get up to their various hijinks. Lincoln himself suffers a (fake) fashion faux pas when he shows up to school in the same shirt as a friend, while Leni both wins a design competition and gets involved in fixing more (fake) fashion faux pas while trying to order dinner for the family. Why do I say “fake” in both instances? Because unless the clothes are completely inappropriate for the setting, there’s no such thing. Let people wear what they want, mixing and matching as they please. Maximalism!

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/29/the-loud-house-16-loud-and-clear-by-the-loud-house-creative-team/

Cats Rule The Earth Tarot: 78-Card Deck And Guidebook For The Feline-Obsessed by Catherine Davidson & Thiago Corrêa

Y’all, I love Tarot so much, I write games using the cards as inspiration. I was thus utterly delighted when offered the chance to review this set of Tarot cards, that adapts the classic Rider-Waite imagery to feature adorable cats of all breeds and colors.

And wow, did this set absolutely exceed my expectations! It comes in a gorgeous, sturdy presentation box that swings opens smoothly and closes tightly, with an A5-ish-sized guidebook inside resting over top of the deck itself. The guidebook is honestly fantastic. It briefly covers the historic connection between cats and the mystical before delving into the Tarot, using clear language that’s great for newcomers to cartomancy while also including material that will pique the interest of long-time collectors and card readers. For example, this was the first place I can recall ever encountering the Cat’s Paw divination spread, which I thought very well-suited to this deck. I even tried out a sample query using it, which I haven’t included here because y’all, it got real personal real fast for being only five cards.

The guidebook also included really smart exercises for interpreting card groupings. I particularly liked the idea of studying the cards in groups by number. The book was also more luxe than the usual guidebooks that come with Tarot decks, including illustrations of each card with their possible interpretations. This makes for really handy studying when you don’t have space to pull up a deck proper but still want to develop your reading skills, especially in relation to these particular cards.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/28/cats-rule-the-earth-tarot-78-card-deck-and-guidebook-for-the-feline-obsessed-by-catherine-davidson-thiago-correa/

Ways to Share Joy (A Ryan Hart Story #3) by Renée Watson

with the most charming illustrations by Nina Mata.

Ryan Hart is the one perpetually in the middle: between her prank-loving big brother Ray and her new baby sister Rose, and between her two best friends KiKi and Amanda. Fortunately, Rose is a little sweetheart, even if she does seem to take up almost all of Mom’s time and energy. Ray, however, is your typically self-centered older brother. When a prank war between the siblings backfires and threatens to ruin not only Thanksgiving but also Grandma’s birthday surprise, will Rose be able to maintain her trademark sunny demeanor?

As if that isn’t enough for a fifth-grader’s plate, she also has to deal with a kid at school who will not stop teasing her. Ofc, his shenanigans fade to nothing compared to the demands of one of her best friends, KiKi. Since their other best friend Amanda moved away to a new school, KiKi has become increasingly needy about being Ryan’s best best friend. How will Ryan reconcile what she knows to be true with her desire to preserve her friendships?

Luckily, Grandma and co are there to help Ryan figure out not only how to keep calm but also how to keep spreading joy. These are great lessons for any kid, told with kindness and heart in Renée Watson’s latest middle-grade novel. It’s especially refreshing to see a Black girl take center stage, as well as to absorb all the intricacies of her life growing up in blue-collar Portland, Oregon. While the book series and its heroine have been compared to the immortal Ramona Quimby, I think a more relevant comparison belongs to the even older Pollyanna series of books, with Ryan serving as the modern update. And by no means do I say that pejoratively, as the jaded and more worldly might. Ryan is a deeply lovely child, and while she doesn’t have a Glad Game of actively seeking out the positive, she is naturally more inclined to look for the good in a situation than to focus on the bad, an outlook which can help anyone build both inner strength and character.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/27/ways-to-share-joy-a-ryan-hart-story-3-by-renee-watson/

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Considering a book of scholarly articles about the history Chinese international relations, I wrote that it was “chock full of implied stories” and looked forward to the day that I could read some of them. Shelley Parker-Chan chose a later inflection point from Chinese history to tell the story of She Who Became the Sun, but it’s a similar notion, and part of a welcome trend in fantasy writing: opening the genre to historical backgrounds that aren’t just warmed-over England. Parker-Chan sets her novel at the turn of Chinese dynasties, when the last heirs of Chinggis Khan faced growing rebellions in the south that eventually toppled their rule.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Dynasties, marching armies, the fate of millions: all of that is far away from the book’s beginning. It starts with a poor family, Zhu, and their second daughter who only vaguely knows her age in a time of famine. Parker-Chan leaves the girl nameless as she describes the privations that have reduced the Zhu family from 13 people to three: father, daughter and favored son Zhu Chongba. He is the eighth boy in his generation of male cousins, considered lucky even though all his brothers have perished. For his twelfth birthday the father takes him to a fortuneteller, who trembles at the greatness that he sees in Chongba. Emboldened, the girl asks for a reading of her fate, too. “Then, as if from a distance, she heard the fortuneteller say, ‘Nothing.'” (p. 20)

But when their village is raided — soldiers? bandits? is there a difference in a time of civil war and famine? — and father Zhu is killed, it is not Zhu Chongba who seizes greatness. He soon lies down and dies. His sister is incredulous. How could he, to whom greatness had been promised, choose nothingness? A thought soon appears: “If he took my fate and died … then perhaps I can take his, and live. … She took off her skirt and put on Chongba’s knee-length robe and trousers; untied her hair buns so her hair fell loose like a boy’s, and finally took the amulet from his throat and fastened it around her own.” (p. 26) Having taken all that, she takes his name too, and takes herself off to the Buddhist monastery where their father had once promised to send Chongba to be a monk when he was old enough.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/25/she-who-became-the-sun-by-shelley-parker-chan/

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

At the end of Rogue Protocol, the SecUnit otherwise known as Murderbot had incontrovertible evidence that its corporate nemesis GrayCris had been engaging in illegal activities involving alien technology. It had little faith that exposure of the activities had caused the corporation serious harm, but GrayCris’ reactions suggested that the company might take a different view.

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

The corporation was holding Dr Mensah, the human who had given SecUnit its freedom, thus causing all sorts of feelings that SecUnit didn’t want to think about at all, and would likely soon do more than just keeping her as a hostage. Mensah and her team theoretically had the resources of a bond company as well as the diplomatic heft of Preservation Station at their call to free her. In practice, GrayCris was outbidding Mensah’s claim on the bond company and obstructing her team’s efforts to hold them to their contract. Diplomacy’s stern words did little to deter a corporation whose back was up against the wall, and who cared little for legalities in the first place. Enter SecUnit, hoping to secure a survivable exit for Mensah, her team, and itself.

Reading Exit Strategy well out of order in the series (it’s the fourth novella, and I’ve read them 2-5-6-1-3-4) did not diminish my enjoyment at all. I probably would have enjoyed Exit Strategy even more if I had experienced it as the culmination of four novellas instead of knowing that future SecUnit manages to go from frying pan to fire both on an outward mission and closer to home on Preservation Station. Even knowing that SecUnit eventually succeeds in its mission — not least because this isn’t the kind of series that kills major sympathetic characters, not yet anyway — the action is clever and tense.

In addition to the well-constructed rescue story, Wells also shows SecUnit coming to terms with itself. It has had some changes made to make it appear more human, and it doesn’t like that much at all. On the other hand, if nearly every scan and a large number of basic humans could identify it as a Security Unit that had gone rogue, then its life would probably be considerably shortened. It wants to be itself, but it is willing to trade some of that in exchange for not being reduced to spare parts. SecUnit’s bargain for living in a society is starker than most people’s, and that would probably give it anxiety if there weren’t so many other more immediate reasons to be anxious.

The deadpan humor and dry observations make this a story that’s funny page by page; the humanity of someone learning to be a person, a good person, give it grace.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/24/exit-strategy-by-martha-wells/

The Very Genius Notebooks #1: The Chronicles Of Deltovia by Olivia Jaimes

I’m genuinely starting to believe that some of the best under-the-radar writing out there nowadays is coming from middle grade authors.

Not that Olivia Jaimes is primarily that (or even her real name.) Having gained acclaim for her reboot of the long-running Nancy comic strip, she’s now published her first middle-grade novel under this name, using the hybrid illustrated format popularized by Jeff Kinney with his Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series. And at first this book reads just like those more famous novels, only with a trio of female friends as the centerpiece. But as the story progresses and we discover the truly heavy — but not too, too heavy — stuff going on behind the scenes, it’s clear that this isn’t just a genderbent version of an already successful franchise but something truly special in its own right.

The Chronicles Of Deltovia starts with Mischa, June and Ollie — three best friends who attend Lakeview Middle School — deciding to write a fantasy novel together. They pass a notebook around that they take turns filling out and illustrating, adding comments and notes to each other as they go. At first, it’s very much like every pre-teen’s collaborative effort at writing a fantasy novel (or at least a lot like my own): uneven but with glimmers of greatness. Far more interesting than the fantasy narrative is what we learn of the girls as we go. Mischa is dramatic and dreamy; June is focused, scholarly and often anxious, while Ollie is a kind-hearted jock.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/23/the-very-genius-notebooks-1-the-chronicles-of-deltovia-by-olivia-jaimes/

Cryptid Club by Sarah Andersen

with the loveliest colors by Celi Godfried.

This utterly charming collection of cartoon vignettes revolves around a Cryptid Club populated by the mysterious monsters that have haunted folklore since time immemorial. Well, mostly since time immemorial, as there are two much more modern but still quite famous cryptids featured here as well, in the form of Eric Knudsen’s Slender Man (created in 2009!) and Trevor Henderson’s Siren Head (2018). Also, did you know that Cthulhu’s first printed appearance was in 1928, in a H. P. Lovecraft short story? I feel like I did, but also that Cthulhu and the rest of that mythos were far, far older!

Regardless of their origin point in human history, each of these monsters and more are presented as having very relatable needs and desires, particularly when it comes to modern living. After all, who doesn’t want friends and understanding, and a flattering photograph taken every once in a while? Told in a loosely linear fashion, we follow along as the cryptids establish relationships, tell jokes and try to connect with the weird humans who keep wandering through their lives.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/21/cryptid-club-by-sarah-andersen/

The Real Women Of Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes & Natalie Foss

As a game designer and enthusiast myself, it’s perhaps a natural evolution of my career in book criticism to consider and cover all the many things a bookstore can provide, games included. So when I was offered the chance to review The Real Women Of Greek Myths: A 1,000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle Based on Feminist Tales, I absolutely leapt at the opportunity.

With countless others around the globe, my interest in jigsaw puzzles was reignited by the pandemic that kept so many of us indoors for the better part of two years. My best friend even got me a mat kit with little snap-together trays one Christmas, not only to sort out pieces while working on the puzzle, but also to keep the whole caboodle clear from my little children’s naughty fingers. My puzzling tastes are fairly orthodox: I prefer strong, clear images with lots of color, and appreciate both a bit of narrative and a keen wit. I do like the occasional mystery puzzle where I go in image-blind in order to find the solution to the accompanying short story, but most of all I’m a huge fan of the Magic Puzzle Co’s innovative work and gold standard craftsmanship.

So how does this jigsaw puzzle hold up in comparison? By now, regular readers will know that I’ve been obsessed with Greek mythology since I was a child. Despite this, I’d never done a Greek mythology-themed jigsaw puzzle before TRWoGM. This was a surprisingly great way to combine the two interests, as constructing the images of the women — who are delightfully shown in a full range of skin colors and body types — really helps reinforce each of their stories. I don’t think I’ve ever thought “poor Europa!” as many times as when I was putting the pieces of her together, as she crouches in the forefront of the picture, holding a toy-sized bull.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/20/the-real-women-of-greek-myths-by-natalie-haynes-natalie-foss/