Tantalizing Titles — May 2024 — Part One

Hello, dear readers! I had a bit of a meltdown earlier this week when the weight of all the wonderful books I’ve received but haven’t been able to read, much less review, finally took its toll on me. Doug, ofc, helped me through this by brainstorming a recap post featuring all these luscious books I haven’t yet been able to get to but am absolutely meaning to once I get the time.

So let’s begin with the first two weeks of May, and five books that published in that time that I want to highlight ahead of reading them. Just because I can’t get to them in a timely fashion doesn’t mean that you have to miss out!

Our first selection is Women And Children First by Alina Grabowski, a gripping literary puzzle that unwinds the private lives of ten women as they confront tragedy in a small Massachusetts town.

Nashquitten, MA, is a decaying coastal enclave that not even tourist season can revive, full of locals who have run the town’s industries for generations. When a young woman dies at a house party, the circumstances around her death suspiciously unclear, the tight-knit community is shaken. As a mother grieves her daughter, a teacher her student, a best friend her confidante, the events around the tragedy become a lightning rod: blame is cast, secrets are buried deeper. Some are left to pick up the pieces, while others turn their backs, and all the while, a truth about that dreadful night begins to emerge.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/24/tantalizing-titles-may-2024-part-one/

Mapping The Night by J David Bethel (EXCERPT)

Hello, readers! This week we have the privilege of giving you a sneak peek at J David Bethel’s latest suspense-filled thriller, Mapping The Night.

The upcoming novel follows the hunt for a serial killer terrorizing New York City’s Upper East Side in attacks carried out only under cover of dark, bringing the reader into a shadowy underworld where evil lurks everywhere and nothing is as it appears. This opening scene was inspired by newspaper coverage of a real life murder, but leads our fictional investigators into an elaborate cover-up that could very well reach into the highest levels of American government. There are people in politics who are responsible for this killer being on the street –- and who do not want him caught.

Read on for a gripping excerpt!

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/23/mapping-the-night-by-j-david-bethel-excerpt/

Magic The Gathering Oracle Deck by Adam Lee & Fred Gissubel

It was one of the nicest surprises of my reviewer life to receive this package, unsolicited, in the mail! Back when the American Library Association’s Annual Conference was held in DC two years ago, I was subcontracted by Wizards Of The Coast to run D&D games for librarians. As part of my experience, I got to ooh and aah over the Dungeons And Dragons Tarot Deck that had just come out. It wasn’t quite in my budget then, but I 100% still think about it with longing.

So when I received the Magic The Gathering Oracle Deck from the same creative team unsolicited, you bet I squealed with joy. While I’m certainly far more active in D&D than I am in Magic nowadays, I’ve been a player since the glory days of Urza, and still use Arena to scratch that occasional card flopping itch. Gideon Jura stan for life, baby! And while I’ve always been a white weenie fan, I do have a fondness for a black and white Innistrad deck, because who doesn’t love gaining life with every point of damage I make? That said, I never really got to play in Theros, Magic’s Ancient Greece-inspired plane, so the setting of this Oracle Deck was both intriguing to me as someone new to it, as well as distinctly apropos given the origin of the word oracle. Plus, I super love retellings of the Ancient Greek myths, and definitely wanted to know Magic’s take on them, as well as the authors’ officially licensed take on a divination deck altogether (especially since reading some of James D’Amato’s fascinating theories on creating those for gameplay in his excellent The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Guide.)

But before I could do any of the reading, I first had to evaluate this as a physical object. Oracle decks are meant to be held and handled and used, after all. Frankly, the presentation of this deck is unparalleled. It comes in a sturdy case which flips open smoothly, revealing first a glossy guidebook, then the deck itself nestled in a hollow beneath the book, with a ribbon to help lift out the cards. All of the adornment excepting the card art is in black and vermilion with gold accents. I did think it a bit odd that the backs of the decks aren’t possessed of biradial symmetry: while this is in keeping with your standard Magic cards, it seems weird in a divination deck, where that lack of uniformity seems to discourage reversals or at the very least signal them. Before you say something dumb like “just buy sleeves like ppl do for competitive Magic”, these oracle cards are way bigger than even your standard Tarot deck, much less your typical collectible card game.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/22/magic-the-gathering-oracle-deck-by-adam-lee-fred-gissubel/

The Band by Christine Ma-Kellams

Reading this book was a distinctly disorienting experience, in the best way possible. Was I reading the author’s diary? Did this thus make us best friends? Obviously the answer to both questions is no, but it still felt like a weirdly intimate experience, as if a good friend was telling me all about a recent bizarre experience she’d had, in much the same manner I recount things, minus the academic citations.

The unnamed narrator begins by talking about a fictional K-Pop group named, simply, The Band. Frankly, the only pop culture opportunity missed here was the lack of allusion to the Canadian-American group of the same name. We get a bit of a lesson on K-Pop as we’re introduced to each member, plus Pinocchio, the impresario who put them together.

When a song and music video released for The Band member Sang Duri’s birthday accidentally sets off an international firestorm, Duri goes into hiding in California. In an Asian grocery store, of all places, he meets and ingratiates himself with the narrator, and winds up staying in her house for a while, to the bemusement of her husband and kids. The narrator is unhappily married, and recognizes that, as a psychology professor, she has a bit of a savior complex. As her relationship with Duri unfolds, outside drama threatens to take him away from her for good.

Honestly, this book was the most grown-up version of boy band fanfic I’ve ever read. And, gosh, that’s definitely not even describing it properly. Insofar that all boy band fiction — hell, all fiction about musical groups — is fanfic in some form, this brilliant homage to the musical genre easily navigates and communicates the specific nuances of K-Pop to readers like myself who know very little about it. K-Pop fans will, I imagine, find much here that speaks to them too.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/21/the-band-by-christine-ma-kellams/

Plain Jane And The Mermaid by Vera Brosgol

I love pretty much everything First Second Books publishes. My relationship with them started with the excellent Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel, and while I haven’t had the time to cover as many of their books as I’d honestly like to, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review their latest title that also features an alluring mermaid.

Interestingly, before I could dive (ha) into this latest digital ARC, my favorite bookstore mentioned that they’d be having Vera Brosgol in to sign copies one Wednesday morning. Since I’d been planning to go lead an orchestra rehearsal afterwards anyway, I figured I’d stop by, if the digital read turned out to be good enough to warrant buying a physical copy. So I cracked open the ARC… and was full out sobbing by page 37.

So! Off to People’s Book I went the next morning, to buy a copy and get it signed and hopefully not make too much of a fool of myself in front of the author. Who is an absolute delight, btw! I loved the experience so much, I wrote about it during the bookstore’s Zine-Making Workshop a few nights later. Ms Brosgol and I chatted and laughed, and I cried a little bit, and I taught her how to mew, thanks to lessons from my Gen Alpha thirteen year-old. It was one of the loveliest author meetings I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot since I’ve genuinely had so many lovely author meetings in my lifetime.

What I wish I had more of, tho, is time to read! It took me a little while to actually be able to sit down and read the (signed) book, but I was so glad I’d bought it, because physical copies of graphic novels are so far superior to digital, ime. And oh, what a lovely, tender fable of learning to see your own value past the expectations society has of you! In Jane’s case, the expectations revolve around her physical attractiveness as a woman, a lesson that’s echoed and refracted in several different ways throughout the narrative.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/20/plain-jane-and-the-mermaid-by-vera-brosgol/

The Way by Swann’s by Marcel Proust

The writing of Jozef Czapski persuaded me to read Proust, and the writing of Marcel Proust persuaded me to stop. Czapski noted that Proust wanted popular success, and that one of the first translations of Proust into Polish had made him popular in that language, in part by rendering his famously extended sentences into more usual lengths for Polish prose. Warsaw wits then averred that the way for Proust to gain popular success was to translate him from Polish back into French. Of course the newish (2002) translation by Lydia Davis did not take that approach. In her rendition, Proust’s sentences are intact, in all of their recursive glory. I can’t say that I found the style a particular stumbling block; I would not have made it through a thousand pages of The Magic Mountain if complex sentence structure irritated me. The problem was much more fundamental: Proust left me indifferent to his characters and their world.

The Way by Swann's by Marcel Proust

The Way by Swann’s — often translated as Swann’s Way, and indeed both the translator of this volume and the general editor of the complete translation of In Search of Lost Time have seen fit to discuss the proper translation of the title in their respective introductions — is the first of seven volumes that comprise Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu. (The edition that whose first volume I have combines The Prisoner and The Fugitive into a single book, so it is six volumes as published.) The Way by Swann’s is divided, like Gaul, into three parts: “Combray,” “A Love of Swann’s,” and “Place Names: the Name.” The first is mostly recollections from the narrator’s childhood in the eponymous town, mostly based on Proust’s own childhood in the village of Iliers in north-central France. Charles Swann, who lent his name to both the love and the way, is a wealthy, socially connected man of the narrator’s family’s acquaintance. The middle section is set quite a few years before the first and third. It tells of Swann’s love for, and eventual apparent indifference to, a former courtesan named Odette, along with many dinners and social occasions on the way from infatuation to disdain. The third part returns to the direct experience of the narrator as a boy, this time in Paris. Readers may be surprised to find that Odette has become Madame Swann, and mother to a daughter named Gilberte. When, how and why did the relationship between Swann and Odette change? This book does not say.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/19/the-way-by-swanns-by-marcel-proust/

Marked by L. R. W. Lee (EXCERPT)

Hi, readers! We’re so pleased to be able to give you a sneak peek of the third book in the addictive Morningstar Academy series, about a fallen angel who fights to save a world spiraling out of control, while trying to protect humans and her own heart.

Following the first two books in the series, Marked is set in the intriguing and unseen world of angels and demons created by L R W Lee, taking the reader on a wild ride filled with fantasy, romance, friendship, war and more — all while addressing the many theories and questions of Apocalyptic fiction.

Gladriel, her new fallen friends, and her former squadron mates, have had limited success shifting the world-ending prophecy. They feel increasingly helpless as war, famine, plague and hyperinflation rage, killing millions of the humans they are committed to protecting. Their only hope for rescue is to throw themselves on the Almighty’s mercy and beg him to reverse their sentences, putting Glad and her friends in an impossible situation.

Marked gives us a peek into the unseen world of angels and demons that’s perfect for fans of Good Omens and Penryn & The End Of Days. Read on for an excerpt from the very first chapter of this genre-bending romantasy!

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/16/marked-by-l-r-w-lee-excerpt/

Thailand: A Color-Your-Own Travel Journal & London: A Color-Your-Own Travel Journal by Evie Carrick

with illustrations by Emma Taylor.

As someone who enjoys both travel and art, the idea of Color-Your-Own Travel Journals absolutely appeals to me. While the prospect of actually creating my own travel journals from scratch seems immensely daunting, having guides like these, that provide not only outlines to apply my creative imagination to but also highlight must-see travel spots while leaving space for my own thoughts, fit perfectly with my own modest aspirations. The journals themselves come in sturdy hardback with rounded corners, and are lightweight enough to chuck into your carry-on with a set of colored pencils. Honestly, these books are just beautifully and thoughtfully designed inside and out, and are absolutely outstanding as a consumer object.

I was sent the Thailand and London editions to check out, reflecting my interests both in Southeast Asia, where I’m from, and in one of the best cities in the world. London was actually my last international travel destination, to watch my beloved Arsenal play in North London while staying in a delightful walk-up in Bethnal Green. Over a whirlwind two nights and days, a good friend and I explored Brick Lane, roamed in the steps of Jack The Ripper and took in the art at the Whitechapel Gallery, in addition to touring Arsenal Stadium and surrounds, before I bussed it over to Dalston to enjoy some excellent kebab at Mangal 2, off of a popular thread on Twitter. Side note: every city should feel as easily traversable by public transport as London. I was entirely cash-free in England, but my Oyster card got me everywhere at all hours. It was cheap, efficient and a great way to see the sights.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/15/thailand-a-color-your-own-travel-journal-london-a-color-your-own-travel-journal-by-evie-carrick/

The Best Worst Camp Out Ever by Joe Cepeda

When I was a kid, I too loved the romance of camping outdoors. Once I actually encountered the realities of it tho, I realized that God invented air-conditioning for a reason. Indoor plumbing? A gift to be cherished. King-sized mattresses? Something to be savored and enjoyed.

Ofc, I wasn’t going to discourage my own kids when they expressed an interest in camping out in the backyard of their grandma’s beach house. I even helped set up their sleeping arrangements after my co-parent put up a tent for them. Even so, I admit to feeling a little swell of justification when they all abandoned the tent at different points in the night to come and sleep indoors where it’s comfortable.

This is all to say that while I’m definitely not the target audience for a book about camping, I was all in on what turned out to be a lesson in resilience that just happens to use the great outdoors as its framework. As with my usual experience with camping, the best laid plans rarely go the way we want them to. The important thing is how we roll with the punches and choose to move forward and adapt, with a positive, almost Zen attitude about accepting what we can’t change and figuring out how to make our own experiences better within that framework.

I promise that Joe Cepeda’s book is a lot less wordy and thinky than my own opinions here, as he details a kid’s camping trip with his dad. Dad is, perhaps, an over-preparer, as he packs up the car for a weekend of outdoorsy fun. Things go pretty well, till they discover that the beautiful campsite they chose to stay in has already filled up. Everything threatens to go pretty rapidly downhill from there, but Dad isn’t upset by any change of plans. In fact, he has a ton of backups prepared just in case, as what threatens to be the worst camp out ever turns into one of the best experiences of their lives.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/14/the-best-worst-camp-out-ever-by-joe-cepeda/

The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis

Some twenty years after publication, The Cold War no longer matches its subtitle, “A New History,” but it remains a useful book about the conflict that shaped international politics for nearly half a century and, not incidentally, came close to ending human civilization. It is useful in a number of ways. First of all, it covers the entire period, with important arguments about the conflict’s origin in the tensions among the members of the Grand Alliance that won World War II. Second, it emphasizes how the principals in the conflict — the USA and the USSR — viewed the conflict as global. Regional powers naturally saw their region as the one that mattered most, sometimes as the only region worth considering, but while the superpowers considered some places — divided Berlin, for example — as crucial at some times, they never forgot that the conflict spanned the world. Third, Gaddis takes a clear point of view: regulated capitalism and representative democracy are preferable to state socialism and the one-party dictatorship of the proletariat, and thus the Cold War was worth both waging and winning. Fourth, he writes mainly for an audience for whom the Cold War has always been history. Considering that nobody presently under age 50 was an adult when the Cold War ended, this is an increasing and increasingly important share of the population. (Consider: Germany’s current Foreign Minister was under age 10 when the Berlin Wall fell.) Fifth, he does all of this in just over 250 pages of main text.

The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis

Gaddis also sets out plainly what the book is not. “It is not a work of original scholarship” (p. x–xi); it is a synthesis of his and other scholars’ more detailed studies. He adds that it does not attempt to locate the Cold War origins of later phenomena such as globalization. This is a history of a distinct period. “Nor does it make any contribution whatever to international relations theory, a field that has troubles enough of its own without my adding to them.” (p. xi) Scholarly humor tends toward the dry. Though Gaddis’ humor may be dry, his prose is not, and he avoids the historian’s pitfall of getting bogged down in details. He uses his decision to write a synthesis to his readers’ advantage. Those who want more detail may go and find it; for the others, he shows how the pieces fit together, and how the decision-makers at the time thought the pieces fit together. The two are not the same, and he is not afraid to draw sharp conclusions.

For example, he argues that despite some of Roosevelt’s hopes, the interests of the principal members of the Grand Alliance were too different for wartime cooperation to continue past the surrender of the Axis powers. Even during the war, the Allies competed for positioning in the postwar world. The difference between their behavior and that of, say, the seven different coalitions that fought Revolutionary France and Napoleon before his final fall, is that they managed to keep defeating the Axis as their top and joint priority. None of the Allies sought their own advantage to such an extent that the others would consider a separate peace. Considering the history of coalition warfare, this was no small achievement, but it couldn’t last. Gaddis writes:

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/12/the-cold-war-by-john-lewis-gaddis/