Trick Or Treat, Alistair Gray by Lindy Ryan & Tímea Gazdag

Welp, Labor Day is over, so ofc it’s time to turn the consumerist attention to Halloween! (I’m mostly kidding, but also resigned to the world we live in.)

Halloween is such a weird holiday, IMO, less so in its origins than in the way it’s evolved over the years as an American (and associated) celebration. I’m one of those earnest weirdos whose favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, tho far, far less as a celebration of colonial survival at the expense of the indigenous than as a holiday focused on gratitude. While I enjoy the dressing up shenanigans of Halloween, I’ve found that as I get older, I 100% prefer the silly aspects of the holiday to the spooky, perhaps because real life is already scary enough without having to add supernatural fears into the mix.

However, if you have not yet been ground down by mundanity into eschewing the delight of a fearful thrill, then this book is definitely for you! Trick Or Treat, Alistair Gray is about a boy who loves Halloween but is taken aback by how cutesy it has become, with most of the other kids at school using the occasion as a time to dress up as princesses and cowboys instead of the monsters he longs to see. The school’s Halloween Ball is one of harvest treats and fall decor, greatly disappointing the mummy-rag-clad boy. Eschewing the safety of the school gym, he heads out into the night, looking for terror… and ultimately finding it.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/06/trick-or-treat-alistair-gray-by-lindy-ryan-timea-gazdag/

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

I’m only three books into the Rivers of London series, and already they feel like comfort reading. I can feel confident that with each new Peter Grant book I pick up, I will encounter characters I enjoy spending time with — the narrator first and foremost — that they will have adventures and scrapes, that Aaronovitch will reveal something new about London and its magical side, that the main characters will survive though not always unscathed, and that the mystery will be solved if not entirely resolved. I’ve previously mentioned three things that make Aaronovitch’s premise of magical police procedurals in contemporary (as of the time of writing) London work so well: humor both line-by-line and over longer stretches, unrestrained love for twenty-first century London, and a good balance of magic and mundane.

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Under Ground begins with Detective Constable Peter Grant corralled by the daughter of a friend of his mum’s to go and see a ghost. “Back in the summer I’d made the mistake of telling my mum what I did for a living. Not the police bit, which of course she already knew about … but the stuff about me working for a branch of the Met that dealt with the supernatural. My mum translated this as ‘witchfinder,’ which was good because my mum, like most West Africans, considered witchfinding a more respectable profession than policeman.” (p. 3) Thirteen-year-old Abigail has been down near some train tracks where, strictly speaking, she shouldn’t have been, and she saw the ghost of a young man who shouldn’t have been there either but was now in a sense there forever because a train struck him mid-graffiti. His ghost is still trying to finish spraying “Be excellent to each other.”

This encounter presages the main line of the book: an unknown person has been stabbed on the tracks just outside of the Baker Street tube station. He makes it as far as the platform before dying. The stabbing happened late at night. The man should not have been on those tracks, and he definitely should not have been able to get on those tracks without being spotted by Transportation for London’s extensive system of surveillance cameras. Which is the main reason DCI Seawoll — first seen in Rivers of London as a Northerner “with issues, [who]’d moved to London as a cheap alternative to psychotherapy” — calls in Grant in case there is any “weird bollocks” to deal with in the investigation.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/04/whispers-under-ground-by-ben-aaronovitch/

How To Master Your SOCIAL POWER In Middle School: Kid Confident Book 1 by Bonnie Zucker & DeAndra Hodge

So my eldest child is now in middle school, and as someone who did not go through the American system for that span but who does have a husband who thinks it’s the most formative experience of a child’s life, it has been a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least, to watch my little fledgling fly. We try to rear him well at home but, let’s face it, navigating tricky middle school relationships, fueled by hormones and kids’ experimentation with social dynamics, is stuff we can’t guard against, and for the most part shouldn’t. As this book reminds us, learning how to handle complicated relationships as a teenager sets you up, hopefully successfully, for adulthood.

But who couldn’t use a guidebook in that endeavor? Enter the American Psychological Association and their newest series of books aimed at middle schoolers (and only coincidentally their parents.) The first in the series is the very relevant How To Master Your Social Power In Middle School. Written in a lively conversational style, with a hybrid pictorial format a la my eldest’s favorite Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series, this is an easy-to-read self-help book for kids struggling to understand why other kids are suddenly so mean to them in middle school and, most importantly, what to do about it.

The book is formatted clearly, from an explanation of what social power is, what good and bad examples of it are, then steps for dealing with the problem of being on the receiving end of social imbalance. It assumes, ofc, that the reader is not the one being the colossal jerkface, and outlines not only how to stand up for yourself but also how to rehearse for such (in a very cute chapter about role-play that I can totally get behind.) It encourages confidence and self-belief, and instils not only the seeds of assertiveness and proactivity but also the knowledge that you don’t have to be friends with kids who are terrible.

And I love all that. I escaped my adolescent years with my self-esteem intact, in large part because I believed in facing my fears and not giving in to self-doubt or peer pressure. I truly want that for my kids. As a way to stand up to kids who aren’t exactly bullies but are definitely on the meaner side of the relationship spectrum, this book is an invaluable resource.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/09/01/how-to-master-your-social-power-in-middle-school-kid-confident-book-1-by-bonnie-zucker-deandra-hodge/

Something of a Milestone

This last day of August makes five full years that we at The Frumious Consortium have had at least 10 posts every month. For a site with two principal writers, that’s no small feat. We’ve only gotten there because of Doreen’s fabulous and prolific nature, and Frumious isn’t the only place she graces with her lively prose. I never peek at her drafts because I want to be surprised at what she has to say, and I am thrilled about the range of books and subjects she chooses to cover.

Alice looking behind the curtain

No big changes are planned to mark this milestone, but I thought it worth noting.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/08/31/something-of-a-milestone/

Magical History Tour #10: The First Steps On The Moon by Fabrice Erre & Sylvain Savoia

I continue to be genuinely pleased and impressed by the consistently high quality of this children’s graphic novel series, that speaks just as meaningfully to any adult with an interest in popular (and sometimes not-so-popular) history as to any curious child.

The tenth installment of the Magical History Tour has Annie and Nico discussing spaceflight, with a focus on moon landings. It’s a very of-the-moment topic even despite the events discussed within the book’s pages having occurred over half a century ago: with the United States’ Artemis program currently in more or less full swing, interests are running high in space exploration once more. And while the recently delayed Artemis 1 was meant to be an uncrewed mission, our intrepid sibling narrators discuss the more interesting, at least to me, topic of all the crewed missions to have left earth for, orbited and landed on the moon.

The book begins with Nico on his trampoline, and Annie jokingly cautioning him not to launch himself to the moon. This leads to their discussion of the history of space travel, from the fanciful/prescient pop culture fantasies of the early 20th century to the actual rocket science developed by German engineers during World War II. The end of that conflict saw the United States and Russia scooping up German scientists as part of the nascent Cold War, with the space race beginning in earnest once the Soviets sent Sputnik I into orbit. After cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth, US President John F Kennedy vowed to send and safely return a man to and from the moon by 1970. Mission accomplished, as this book details, tho President Kennedy was no longer alive when that historic moment finally came.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/08/30/magical-history-tour-10-the-first-steps-on-the-moon-by-fabrice-erre-sylvain-savoia/

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Desolation Called Peace was always going to be a tough sell for me, and there’s little chance I would have started reading it if it hadn’t been a Hugo finalist. I could see the virtues of its predecessor, A Memory Called Empire, but from the way that book ended I had the sense — the sinking feeling, really — that the next book would be “plucky ambassador and her girlfriend team up to save civilization.”

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

At the end of A Memory Called Empire, the mighty Teixcalaan Empire was gearing up for a major war against an unknown, non-human starfaring civilization. The beginning of A Desolation Called Peace finds one protagonist of the first book, Mahit Dzmare, back from the imperial capital and sulking in various small spaces on Lsel Station, the outpost of some thirty thousand people that is her home. Three Seagrass, another protagonist, has risen quickly in the imperial government, but it is larger than Lsel, and wheels turn slowly. She is a Third Secretary, which turns out to be just right to be the person to receive a message from the commander of the war fleet on a weekend when most of the ministry is away. She is low enough in the hierarchy to be on duty, high enough to decide that she has all the qualities the commander has requested, to assign herself the task, and to be on her way almost before the rest of the bureaucracy notices.

Three Seagrass’ route to the war takes her through Lsel Station, where she is determined to pick up Mahit — who is not quite her girlfriend yet but who is quite clearly going to be — and take her along. Mahit has meanwhile managed to get herself into considerable trouble with the leadership of Lsel, who are, after all, her bosses as she is the station’s ambassador. Three Seagrass arrives just in the nick of time, and at least two members of Lsel’s governing council make improbable decisions to let Mahit leave with the Teixcalaanli liaison. Maybe it turns out that they had subtle reasons for doing so, maybe it’s just me thinking the choice unlikely, but I saw those choices as the characters living in the author’s favor. Martine can’t tell the story she wants to while keeping these characters apart, and so they must be together.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/08/27/a-desolation-called-peace-by-arkady-martine/

Aven Green Music Machine by Dusti Bowling

with charming illustrations throughout by Gina Perry.

I picked up this book at ALAAC and 100% did not notice that the titular heroine does not have arms, despite the many illustrations inside and out pertaining to it, till she actually mentions it herself in the course of the first-person narrative. To a large extent, that’s one of the primary charms of this book, that Aven’s lack of arms is just a matter of fact, and that while her adventures are complicated by not having them, that latter trait isn’t what defines her as a person.

In this third installment of the chapter book series, Aven is excited for her class’ upcoming Talent Day, as she’s decided that she’s going to become a Professional Musician. Trouble is, she’s not sure exactly what instrument she’ll play, having never actually played one before. She’s pretty sure she’s going to be amazing at it when she finally does tho! Alas she soon discovers, as most of us inevitably must, that learning to play an instrument is nowhere near as easy as she thought it would be.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/08/25/aven-green-music-machine-by-dusti-bowling/

Around The World In 80 Birds by Mike Unwin & Ryuto Miyake

Genuinely unsure how I’ve become some sort of go-to reviewer for books about birds, but I 100% love it, especially when it brings gorgeous, informative books like these into my inbox!

Around The World In 80 Birds is a delightful travelogue that uses birds as its focus. Charting the world by discussing eighty of the most distinctive birds found regionally — or, in some cases, in extremely small, protected areas — Mike Unwin discusses the scientific backgrounds, colorful histories and current realities of these remarkable avian creatures. The prose is wonderfully conversational, perfect for the amateur birder or naturalist (such as myself!) and accessible for a wide range of ages.

I really enjoyed the expansive variety of birds chosen here, with each entry bringing up fascinating new information about its subject, even when said subject was something I thought I already knew quite a bit of popular information about. From the bald eagle of Northern America to the jungle fowl of Southeast Asia, Mr Unwin always has something interesting to share regarding birds I thought was already well familiar with. And the entries on birds that were very much unfamiliar to me were absolute cornucopias of information. I’d never heard of the oilbird or the purple-crested turaco before but my world is much the richer for having learned about them here.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/08/23/around-the-world-in-80-birds-by-mike-unwin-ryuto-miyake/

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

A few chapters into Light From Uncommon Stars, after it was clear that the violin teacher had made a pact with a demon and was under tight deadline to collect one more soul or else the usual penalties would apply and also that the local landmark donut shop was run by space aliens pretending to be human and biding their time for a couple of centuries until a galactic conflagration had passed and they could safely return to civilization by turning the solar system into a tourist destination, I was worried, concerned that Aoki would try to shoehorn all that strange into some semi-plausible systemic worldbuilding. I needn’t have fretted. Aoki has faith in her art, faith in her readers. She doesn’t try to explain why an apparently normal earth of the early 21st century has demons and aliens, has had at least one of them for quite some time, with most people are none the wiser. She leans in to her weirdness, and I love it.

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Another great thing about Light From Uncommon Stars is that all of the characters I can think of are having their own stories, with themselves at the center of those stories. The book isn’t about all of them equally — it would be unreadable cacophony if it were — but they are not there just to support things that the author and her chosen narrative want to happen to the protagonists. They are living their own tales, with themselves as the good people at the center, and they just happen to intersect for a while with the story that Aoki is telling. The character who creates greater problems through inappropriate violence absolutely thinks he is doing the right thing; the characters who fall victim to that violence are at worst heedless folk who mostly want to have fun, and who wasn’t like that at some point or another? The demon wouldn’t say that he’s good, exactly, more that he’s fulfilling his nature of taking souls off to eternal torment, and he’s good at that, he’s practically an artiste of the diabolical contract, and the six souls the violin teacher has delivered up were so very exquisite. The violin maker from a distinguished family who thinks her gender bars her from that legacy, the aunty who figures out why the donut business is declining, other aspiring violinists who are willing to do anything for fame and fortune. Each has their story, and Aoki tells part of it while leaving no doubt that it continues beyond the confines of this book.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/08/19/light-from-uncommon-stars-by-ryka-aoki-2/

Squirrel Girl: Universe by Tristan Palmgren

Y’all know I’m all in for any Marvel superheroine named Doreen (even if I don’t like squirrels. Shocking, I know, but my brother and I have stories.)

Animal-animosity regardless, the best part of the Squirrel Girl titles has always been, for me, how Doreen Green’s positive attitude ensures that she truly is unbeatable. This novel does an amazing job of illustrating that despite being entirely prose, and I loved it so much.

We open in New York City, home to Squirrel Girl as well as her superpowered friends (and college classmates) Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boy, as strange things start happening to the city. Every supe is on high alert, but it’s SG and co (and their closest companions, including the adorable squirrel Tippy Toes, SG’s roommate Nancy and CH’s trigger-happy girlfriend Mary. Oh, and another superhero collegemate of theirs, Brain Drain) who figure out whodunnit and where first, and go to confront the bad guy. Trouble is, stopping him involves accidentally transporting themselves to an unknown alien planet.

After hitching a ride on a cosmic whale, they find themselves held captive aboard an abandoned spaceport turned holding facility, where their captors are working the prisoners for… poetry? Turns out that an impending war has increased the demand for heroic verse, and SG and friends are trapped in the middle. But you know SG! Despite being (rightfully) accused of being a meddlesome Earther, she decides that she needs to free the prisoners, stop the war and get her roommate home in time for the finals Nancy will not stop stressing about. All in a day’s work for the Unbeatable SG! Trouble is, will saving the universe mean sacrificing far more than she ever bargained for?

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/08/18/squirrel-girl-universe-by-tristan-palmgren/