Walkin’ The Dog by Chris Lynch

Louis is a good kid, but his life isn’t the typical kind you see portrayed in the media. His dad took early retirement from firefighting in the city to become a fisherman in a much more laidback environment. His mom is a perennial do-gooder who wound up getting significantly hurt while breaking up a fight at the women’s shelter where she volunteers, so is now in in-patient rehab, to the dismay of her kids. Louis’ younger sister Faye is a charming know-it-all who’s taken over running their household in the meantime. And his older brother Ike… well, Ike is the real reason they left their old neighborhood behind. Ike did not have a great high school experience, but hopefully high school will be different for Louis and Faye now that they’ve moved away from the city.

Louis is actually pretty worried about starting high school soon. It doesn’t help that he and Faye have been homeschooled up till now. Mom is super smart and fully capable of tutoring kids — hers or others — to success, but even she knows her limitations.

And it isn’t really the academics that worry Louis. He’s a smart kid after all. But he doesn’t really have any friends outside of Faye, which will do very little to help him make a success of his high school career.

That begins to change when his dad asks him to dogsit Amos, the incredibly stinky dog of one of their incredibly stinky neighbors (an unfortunate occupational hazard of the fishing industry.) If Louis walks Amos while his owner helps Dad out on the boat, then both Singletarys can make some money. Louis agrees despite his mother disapproving of his capitalist tendencies, and soon finds himself at the head of a burgeoning dog walking business.

More importantly — and more interestingly — than collecting clients is Louis’ newfound knack for collecting friends. And not just from the ranks of the people who want him to walk their dogs, or even of the dogs themselves. Aggie comes into his life, as does Cy, and soon Louis starts thinking he might actually have a pack of his own to run with. But with Ike constantly looming in the background, and with his worries about Ma never far from his thoughts, will Louis be able to successfully navigate this pivotal summer before high school, and go in to his new academic experience with confidence?

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/03/walkin-the-dog-by-chris-lynch/

Here Comes Charlie Brown! A Peanuts Pop-Up by Charles M. Schulz & Gene Kannenberg Jr.

I didn’t realize when I picked up this title that it isn’t so much book as objet d’art, but oh, what a lovely, accessible objet it is!

At only twelve pages, this solid little tome is a compact work of art, cramming in arguably two short essays on the subject of Charles M Schulz’s inaugural Peanuts comic strip with archival photos and a marvelous feat of paper engineering. Honestly, the entire construction of this book is a delight, from the tri-part cover designed by Chip Kidd to the carefully constructed pop-up adaptation of said first strip that constitutes the bulk of the volume.

The pop-up parts do a terrific job of making an already artistically clever comic feel even more kinetic, as Charlie Brown “walks” through the first two frames, accompanied by the commentary of two other children in his neighborhood. Well, the commentary of one other child, technically. The other bears silent, if not tacit, witness to one of the most understatedly complex ways to introduce the main character of a 1950s cartoon.

In addition to taking the liberty of reimagining these images in 3D, academic and artist Gene Kannenberg Jr has also colorized them, using era-appropriate commercial techniques that cannot help but evoke the stellar Pop Art work of Roy Lichtenstein. I’m definitely not the first person to look at the use of the Ben Day process in fine art and feel the same kind of satisfaction as I do with pointillism: having it applied here only emphasizes the nature of this book as a tidy little art piece.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/02/here-comes-charlie-brown-a-peanuts-pop-up-by-charles-m-schulz-gene-kannenberg-jr/

The Issa Valley by Czeslaw Milosz

The Issa Valley would not do well in an elevator pitch. Nor could it be easily described as “Book A meets Book B,” much less “Movie C meets Movie D.” The first sentence — “I should begin with the Land of Lakes, the place where Thomas lived.” — is not a grabber. (The first-person narrator never returns.) The first chapter is given over to landscape descriptions, with diversions into how practically every item in a home in the Issa Valley was made within the household, and into the reasons for the relative prosperity of of the villages along the river’s course. Thomas, having been named in the initial sentence, does not reappear in the first chapter. Or indeed the second, which opens with the notion that “The Issa Valley has the distinction of being inhabited by an unusually large number of devils” (p. 6) and continues with speculation on what they might be up to, and saying what the local farmers sometimes do to propitiate them.

The Issa Valley by Czeslaw Milosz

Milosz’s book blithely breaks practically all of the norms of contemporary publishing. The point of view wanders a bit. The three-act structure is nowhere to be seen. There is barely a plot. There is not, properly speaking, a climax, nor is there a denouement, and there is definitely not a happily-ever-after. I cannot imagine that any part of it was workshopped, sent to beta readers, or circulated in any way to a marketing department or a sales team. The Issa Valley is where hype goes to die.

And yet it is a lovely, affecting book. First published in Polish in 1955, translated into English in 1978, the novel is neither old-fashioned nor a period piece; it passed directly into a kind of timelessness, in which the eternal human stories of birth and death, growing up and growing old, merge with the specifics of a particular corner of Lithuania in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Viewed from one angle, The Issa Valley has no stakes at all. The German invasion during the First World War consists of a couple of mounted soldiers who are given some milk and then ride on. The Soviet-Polish war passes not far away, but does not intrude on the closed world of the valley. There are no overarching threats, only the conflicts that the people themselves bring. But just like that, the stakes are life and death, honor and dishonor, the land passed down through generations, holdings divided among squabbling heirs or managed poorly. There are descendants of great lords whose daily life is barely distinguishable from their peasant neighbors, except that neither side ever, ever, ever forgets who is part of the nobility and who is not.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/01/the-issa-valley-by-czeslaw-milosz/

Die Farbe der Rache by Cornelia Funke

“And they all lived happily ever after.” That wasn’t quite the ending of Cornelia Funke’s epic Tintenherz (Inkheart) trilogy — some 2000 pages of action in and between the author’s world and the world within the books, complete with characters who can cross the borders and others who can write the stories from within — but readers could be forgiven for thinking it was. Enemies had been defeated, at great cost, but peace descended upon the lands that mattered, and the protagonists had most of their hearts’ desires.

Die Farbe der Rache by Cornelia Funke

But “ever after” is a mighty long time and although Orpheus, the most persistent antagonist from the trilogy had been vanquished, the last chapter of Tintentod (Inkdeath) only said that he had fled to the mountains far to the north where “he had hopefully frozen to death.” (Tintentod, p. 737) At the start of The Color of Revenge (as the English translation will be titled when it is published later in 2024), Funke shows her large cast of protagonists enjoying life in the peaceful city of Ombra. Mo and Resa, Staubfinger (Dustfinger, the English version of his name, is somehow unsatisfying) and Roxanne are content in domestic tranquility with the partners they had been separated from for so many years of the trilogy’s stories. The biggest event is that Meggie, now-adult daughter of Mo and Resa, is about to undertake a longer journey with her beloved Doria. The parents fret about sending the young people out into the wider world for months at a time, just as they recognize that holding them back would be ungenerous and probably impossible. What is parenting about, if not raising people who will in turn strike out into the world on their own?

Soon, though, there are signs that the collection of heroes will have much more to worry about. The most worrying is the report that Eisenglanz, the glassman who served Orpheus faithfully for many years, has been seen in Ombra. Perhaps his master did not freeze in the far north after all. The second chapter switches locations and reveals that Orpheus has landed in a northern city, is eking out a living as a tutor to the children of the city’s wealthiest citizens, and is nursing his grievances. But he has gained access to dire magical assistance, and very quickly his plan to put almost all of the heroes out of action succeeds.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/03/31/die-farbe-der-rache-by-cornelia-funke/

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

Legends & Lattes showed the end of the adventuring career of Viv, an orc barbarian who decided she had had enough of treasure hunts and dungeon crawls. Bookshops & Bonedust shows how her first adventure very nearly became her last, and how the times in between quests can be every bit as important as the fights that make up most epic tales.

Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree

Viv is new with the mercenary troops called Rackam’s Ravens, and she is feeling her strength in battle against the undead raised by Varine the Pale. “Old warhorses, the lot of them. Old and slow. They’d tried to keep the new blood in the back, but that wasn’t what she was built for.” (pp. 1–2) Her kill count was nearing twenty, and she was far out in front of the main Raven line. “And then her leg lit up with a cold fire that turned hot in half a second. She staggered and pivoted on the other foot just as a pike’s rusty head withdrew from a long wound in her thigh. … Then the blood came. A lot of it.” (p. 2) Fortunately, some of her fellow Ravens caught up with her before the wights make Bookshops & Bonedust an extremely short book.

Doubly fortunately for Viv, Rackam has an enlightened view about the fighting talent that he hires. Though the unit will continue north to pursue Varine the necromancer, they will pay for Viv’s needs while she recovers in a nearby seaside town, and if she’s healed up enough when they pass that way again, they will take her back on. Viv starts to object, and Rackam cuts her off.

“It’s done, kid. You survived a stupid mistake today. If you want to make another so soon after, well…” His gaze was hard. “Want me to tell you the odds I give on that?”
But Viv wasn’t a stupid orc, so she shut the hells up.

And so she washes up in Murk, jewel of the western coast, as an innkeeper tells her when she regains consciousness and mobility a couple of days later. But is she washed up after just one outing? Baldree does a terrific job of showing a younger Viv, someone who knows her strength and thinks that limitations happen to other people. The near-fatal wound in the prologue is just the beginning of Viv learning, really learning, that she can’t do it all, and that other people can be more than they seem. And learning to extend her view of what qualifies as people, too.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/03/30/bookshops-bonedust-by-travis-baldree/

The Joy and Light Bus Company by Alexander McCall Smith

Good characters keep revealing more of themselves over time. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni has been around the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for quite a long while, first as the owner of the garage next to the agency, and then as husband to Precious Ramotswe, father to their adopted children. He is a steady, low-key man, slightly old-fashioned in his preferences, especially when it comes to automobiles, but willing to follow good sense and adapt. He is a whiz with mechanical items, and better than one might think with people, especially in his management of the two long-time apprentices in the garage. A few volumes back, he had a bout of depression, and since then Mma Ramotswe has kept an eye out for its potential return. A few days after he went to a course organized by the local Chamber of Commerce — titled Where Is Your Business Going? — she is worried that he might be having another episode. He does not seem himself. She brings up Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s changes in a conversation with Mma Potokwani, the formidable matron of a local farm for orphans.

The Joy and Light Bus Company by Alexander McCall Smith

“Well, he seemed to be in a very quiet mood last night. And again this morning, when I made him his breakfast, he ate it without saying anything very much. He usually talks to me in the kitchen while I am making breakfast for everybody. He talks to the children. He talks back at the radio. But no, he said nothing, and just looked out of the window, as if he was thinking about something,” [said Mma Ramotswe].
“Sometimes they do that,” said Mma Potokwani. “Sometimes men think.”
“I know that,” agreed Mma Ramotswe. “There are many men who think, Mma.”
Mma Potokwani looked thoughtful — as if she were weighing the truth or falsity of what had just been said. (p. 44)

They consider the matter a while longer, and eventually Mma Potokwani tactfully broaches the question of whether Mr J.L.B. might have met someone while on the course. It seems unlikely, but Mma Ramotswe has been a private detective long enough to at least contemplate the idea. They dismiss the possibility, but Mma Potokwani suggests that something else may have happened. “He might have been somehow persuaded that he is a failure. Or he might have met all sorts of big, successful people there and drawn the conclusion that his own business was never going anywhere. He might well have been upset by that.” (p. 45)

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/03/29/the-joy-and-light-bus-company-by-alexander-mccall-smith/

One Giant Leap by Thao Lam

Is Thao Lam the most artistic children’s book creator working today? With One Giant Leap, she certainly positions herself strongly for the title!

Wordlessly witty, this picture book tells the tale of a young astronaut venturing out into space and the adventures encountered thereof. There’s a strange landscape to be explore, strange tracks to be followed and strange animals to befriend. Ultimately, there are strange aliens to run away from. Or are they? Our intrepid explorer’s imagination runs riot, as we see in the denouement of this charming tale.

A large part of that charm comes from the astonishing attention to detail and texture present in the gorgeous collage art. I sat and stared at the opening pages for a good long while, admiring the almost tactile effect even on the flatness of my PC screen. I also loved the subtle incorporation of brocade, as a callback to our young protagonist’s Asian heritage. It was a lovely cultural touch that felt very meaningful to me as someone who also has Southeast Asian roots.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/03/28/one-giant-leap-by-thao-lam/

Reports From The Deep End edited by Maxim Jakubowski & Rick McGrath

subtitled Stories Inspired by J. G. Ballard.

And what stories! In fairness, it’s hard to write anything nowadays about climate change, dystopias or class-stratified urbanization (and certainly not technological erotica, vehicular or otherwise) without being able to trace influences back to that same scrappy, complicated kid who was the focus of Stephen Spielberg’s WWII movie Empire Of The Sun.

But subject alone is not enough to make a story feel Ballardian. Tho I’m hardly an expert on his oeuvre, when I think of what makes Ballard stand out from his peers, I think of a sort of tension between the protagonists and the often inhuman, uncaring forces outside of their control, followed not altogether gracefully by a surrender to inevitability. It’s important, I feel, that the protagonists struggle till the very end, and only capitulate when there is no other choice. Change is rarely welcomed, only accepted.

In this, all of the stories in this brilliant anthology succeed. Some of the stories, like the excellent opener Chronocrash by Jeff Noon, and Adrian Cole’s The Next Time It Rains wouldn’t be out of place in any collection of sci-fi shorts. The indelible weirdness of tales like James Lovegrove’s Paradise Marina and Chris Beckett’s Art App are hard to forget. And, of course, there are some entries that are disturbingly sexy, including Preston Glassman’s The Astronaut’s Garden and David Gordon’s Selflessness. That last gives us these excellent lines:

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/03/27/reports-from-the-deep-end-edited-by-maxim-jakubowski-rick-mcgrath/

Silver Vessels by Steve Orlando & Katia Vecchio

Middle-grade/Young Adult treasure hunting by the sea, with a diverse cast of leads? Sign me up!

Josh Friedman is a young teen (late middle schooler? early high school?) who’s a wee bit obsessed with finding lost treasure. When he hears that the remains of a shipwreck have been found near where his maternal grandfather lives down in Florida, he immediately tries to convince his mom to let him spend the summer there. Grandpa Matt and his husband Grandpa Ivan have long extended an invitation for Josh to come visit, and to bring friends, too, if he likes — no kid wants to be stuck with only his granddads for company, after all. Josh knows that his best friends Hope and Hunter would 100% love spending some time on the beach, and will hopefully be just as enthusiastic when he brings up the prospect of finding where the shipwrecked treasure really is.

For Josh thinks he has a significant lead on the location of the wrecks of ships once so laden with treasure that they earned the nickname Silver Vessels. A news report mentioned the discovery of worthless trinkets in the shipwreck, but Josh is convinced that these trinkets are actually clues to where the vessels still lie in hiding. Once he and his friends get down to Key West, they can start exploring in earnest.

And sure, maybe he has a little bit of an ulterior motive in getting the gang all together. But he’s not the only one with secrets, as he’ll swiftly discover. Worse, The Apex, a society of cutthroat treasure hunters, has figured out Josh’s interest in the Silver Vessels, and isn’t above using the teens to further their own ends. Will Josh, Hope and Hunter be able to figure out not only where the treasure is and what to do about it, but also how to outwit The Apex while sorting through their feelings for one another?

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/03/26/silver-vessels-by-steve-orlando-katia-vecchio/

The Little Regent by Yewande Daniel-Ayoade & Ken Daley

Abioye is only eight years old when her father, the king, suddenly dies. As per Yoruba tradition, if the king dies without a son to take his place, his daughter will rule as regent for three months, until the village chiefs can select three men to nominate for kinghood. The villagers will vote on these nominees and select a new leader from among them.

Even with the power of kingmaking in their hands, the chiefs aren’t thrilled at being led, even if only for a short while, by such a young girl. In all honesty, Abioye isn’t herself sure about what she’s supposed to do now. Serious and responsible, she wants to be a good leader, but isn’t sure how. Her mother reminds her of her father’s philosophy: Those who will rule must first learn to serve.

And so Abioye applies herself to watching and listening, so that she can learn how best to serve her people. She quickly discovers that merely sitting in on palace meetings with the chiefs feels less useful than bureaucratic, as they talk about taxes, treaties and other subjects that go over her head. So she begins spending time with her subjects, listening to their concerns and learning what it is they need in order to make their daily lives better. Gradually, she implements improvements that make her subjects happier and more prosperous.

Unsurprisingly, this does not make her any friends among the village chiefs, especially when she overrides their opinions to get the villagers what they need. When the chiefs decide to force her out of her position, will she be able to continue to serve her people?

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/03/25/the-little-regent-by-yewande-daniel-ayoade-ken-daley/