Welcome to GMR

If you haven’t encountered us before, read on; otherwise skip to the fortnightly edition which is up every other Sunday morning and which alternates with a Story on the other Sunday morning.

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Rock and RollIrish music, Nordic live music, a  jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,  Folkmanis puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novels, action figures such as that of Spider-Man, the new Doctor Who series, fiction inspired by folklore, sf filmsegg nog recipes,  ymmmy street foodchocolatewhisky and cookbooks

Stories about the Kinrowan Estate will show up every Wednesday, be it Gus the Estate Head Gardener talking about pumpkins; Reynard, our Manager of the Green Man Pub located in Kinrowan Hall, sharing stories; Zina on the Neverending Session and Midsummer as well; or even Iain, our Librarian, talking about life there such as the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices. You’ll see material from The Sleeping Hedgehog, the in-house newsletter for our staff, such as Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Estate Gardener here in the Victorian Era, on a tree spirit. You might even meet Hamish, one of the current hedgehogs living in the Library who sleep the Winter away in a basket near the fireplace in the New Library. And you’ll also get to hear music here every week such as Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’  from his Rodeo album.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Apple Brandy

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A letter from Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, to Tessa, her botanist friend who is on an extended botanical collecting trip in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere. She copied her letters into her Journal and her will stated that they should be shared after her death. Alex, as she preferred to be called, lived to be well over a hundred and indeed outlived her beloved Queen.

Dear Tessa,

I must confess that I just got over a headache brought on by drinking more than a bit of a most excellent apple brandy that we laid down ten years ago. We were celebrating the birth of a daughter to a couple who works here, Ingrid and Jacob. It’s their first and she takes after her mother in both her blue eyes and flaxen hair.

Our idea for doing apple brandy came to us from a Several Annie whose family in Normandy was fond of Calvados, their version of apple brandy that is produced as a rather coarse, rough brandy that must age for several years to acquire its flavor, amber color and the right amount of alcohol, which our Brewmaster, Sven, says is ideally between 40 and 43 percent. Sven got the distillery equipment that he needed to produce it from France, and didn’t The Steward complain about the cost as he approved the funds transfer to our agent in Normandy.

We sampled it after the preferred two years of aging, then at five years, and now at ten years. Sven figured long aging would make it more smooth, less biting, and he was right. Sipped cold, it’s simply wonderful. And all too easy to drink while sitting by the roaring fireplace in the rooms of The Steward on a nippy early spring night.

We were also celebrating Ingrid’s being promoted to Lead Publican in the Green Man Pub when her baby was past nursing, the first woman to hold that post. She’s been studying with the retiring Lead Publican, who’s moving back to Glasgow so he and his wife can be near their grandchildren.

Love Alex

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What’s New for the 28th of November: Books about books, murder, witches, games and more; Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library; chocolate good and meh; indie rock, Americana, jazz, Latvian, and more music including a world bagpipe omnibus

The storyteller in me asks: what if? And when I try to answer that, a story begins. ― Jane Yolen, author of The Wild Hunt

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That lovely aroma is smoked ham cheddar biscuits with a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder baking in the Kitchen down the hallway about fifty or so feet from here and one floor up. One of the perks of being the Pub Manager is that it is quite close to the Estate Kitchens so that no matter when the sudden urge to grab a bite occurs I can head that way quickly and grab something delicious. And of course I can smell every one of those ever so tasty things being conjured up there which is a great perk indeed!

Indeed Mrs. Ware and her oh so talented Kitchen staff spend much of  the period from late November right through to lambing season providing lots of edible treats that are placed around Kinrowan Hall and the grounds as well, such as peanut butter dark chocolate fudge behind the bar in the Pub; s’mores ready for roasting in the warming hut out by the Mill Pond; and carefully wrapped clay pots of smoked turkey, rice  and veggie soup in the Barn for those doing outdoor chores in this cold weather, to name but a few of them.

Now let’s see what I’ve got for you in this edition….

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Cat says ‘Politics are always a bitch. And Murder in the Cathedral demonstrates this reality quite well. Generally thought to be the best of T.S. Eliot’s five plays, Murder in the Cathedral is about the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Beckett in 1170 in his cathedral. But it’s really about the now long-concluded struggle in Britain between secular and religious authorities that was still raging at that point in time. It is a dramatization in verse of the murder of Thomas Beckett at Canterbury, which over the years has become more important than it really was.’

Next he goes to sideways in time: ‘Ah, to visit John Carter and the inhabitants of Barsoom, Edger Rice Burrough’s richly imagined Mars. The characters in Robert Heinlein’s The Number of The Beast did in their travels across the multiverse, and now the protaganist of Rainbow Mars does it. Well, sort of. Maybe. Possibly. Let me explain the confusion that I may have intentionally generated… Larry Niven has stated many times that he firmly believes that time travel is logically impossible — an utter and complete fantasy. So when retrieval specialist Svetz heads back from polluted future Earth in search of extinct animals, he tends to sideslip into fantastic, fictional worlds. And delightfully so in these stories.’

That Charles looks at Charles Vess’ Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess. Now as his detailed review’s as much about the friendship that grew between them, I’ll let you read this charming tale of friendship and art without further ado. Oh and the book itself is simply stunning — truly an art gallery in a book form!

Craig looks at a John Updike novel considered a part of the literary canon: ‘In the end, The Witches of Eastwick is a good novel. It is not a great novel; it is not even a great witch novel. The research is at best minimal and often seems negligible. Nor does it compare favorably with the rest of the Updike canon, certainly not his tetralogy of everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, whose libido gets him in enough trouble to fill four novels and a novella. The book is not a waste of time, as long as the reader appreciates the above mentioned prose and description style.’

Gary has read (and reviewed) a lot of the late great Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, but for some reason hadn’t yet covered the second of the series, The Player of Games. He’s now remedying that: ‘It’s a deceptively layered story, something of a game in itself. From the very outset we’re told by the unidentified narrator that all is not what it seems. The story begins with a battle that is not a battle and ends with a game that isn’t a game, we’re told. Just who the book’s title actually refers to is but one of the bits of authorial legerdemaine we’ll contend with as we follow the story.’

Kate reviews a choice book on Jethro Tull: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here in Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’

A Chinese mythology infused series featuring Detective Inspector Chen is next up. The first one finds favour with Liz. She opens thusly — ‘Snake Agent, like any good detective novel, all starts with a dame …’ But does it lay ‘a solid framework for future novels in the series’?

Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta  which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series,  Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of  the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.

Michael looks at Holly Black and Ellen Kushner’s Welcome To Bordertown collection: ‘A generation ago, Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold introduced us to Bordertown, an abandoned American city sitting on the Border between the “real world” (The World) and Faerie (The Realm). A place where science and magic both worked, if equally unpredictably, it became a haven and a destination for runaways and outcasts of both worlds, a place where humans and the Fae (aka Truebloods) could mingle, do business, eke out a living, and find themselves. It was a place where anything could happen.’ Need I say that a goodly number of women writers are present throughout the course of these books?

Robert looks first at Moonheart, perhaps de Lint’s best loved novel: ‘Moonheart may very well be the first novel by Charles de Lint that I ever read. I can’t really say for sure — it’s been awhile. It certainly is one that I reread periodically, a fixture on my “reread often” list. It contains, in an early form, all the magic that keeps us coming back to de Lint. (And be reminded that Charles de Lint may very well be the creator of what we call “urban fantasy” — he was certainly one of the first to combine contemporary life and the stuff of myth.)’

Spritwalk, he says, ‘is a loose sequel to Moonheart, a series of related tales, again centering around Tamson House and including many of the same characters. In fact, the House is even more important as a Place in this group of stories. It begins with a brief discussion of Tamson House from a book by Christy Riddell, whom we will meet again in The Onion Girl and Widdershins, followed by a delightful vignette, “Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood,” of Sarah Kendell, age seventeen, remembering her childhood “imaginary” playmate, a red-haired boy named Merlin who lived in the oak tree at the center of the garden. It’s a sweet, sad tale of the price of love.’

Vonnie looks at a novel by Patricia Mckillip, a favourite writer around here: ‘McKillip uses the sea in many of her books, but in Something Rich and Strange the sea is not only the setting and a metaphor for mystery and magic and change — the sea is the subject. The book begins with protagonists Megan and Jonah (how is that for an apropos name?) experiencing a sea change after a long winter during which their lives had settled into a routine dependent on the shore. But the sea brings ambiguity, too. Just as the sea has the power to transform the people and things near it, the characters slowly realize that humanity has the power to overwhelm the sea, defeat it and kill the life in it. Moreover, man is doing so.’

Warner leads off this review: ‘Jeffrey Ford’s Big Dark Hole is another collection by an acknowledged expert storyteller. It contains  stories that range from the horrific to the whimsical, and gives a broad range of stories within a relatively small package.

Warner has the start of a mystery series for us: ‘Gone for Good is a wonderful little book detailing the ins and outs of a cold case gone hot. The twists and turns that happened throughout the plot are believable enough and keep the reader invested, while the characters remain both interesting and largely relatable. Easily recommended to fans of Joanna Schaffhausen’s work, or those merely looking for a good mystery.’

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Chuao Chocolatier’s Chocolate Bars were a mixed bag accord to Cat R: ‘ Most of the bars I tried were terrific but some are more successful than others. Idiosyncrasies of taste may make a difference; when I tweeted about the one I really disliked, someone mentioned that was their favorite, and bemoaned not being able to find it. And it’s not entirely fair to stack dark chocolate up against milk, particularly given that my sweet tooth resembles that of a six-year-old’s. Still, I present them in order of how much I liked them, from most to least.’

Lest you think we like all chocolate that we taste here as it seems very often than not, Leona reviews a bar she most definitely didn’t at all take to: ‘Bloomsberry & Company’s The Peace On Earth box is white with a big blue peace sign splashed off-center on the front; beneath, it says “May this chocolate bring you peace (and quiet) these Holidays, if only for a moment.” Beneath that is a note that this “premium milk chocolate” bar contains 34% Cocoa.’

Care for some more chocolate to nibble on? Robert has some very good stuff for you: ‘Among the latest goodies to cross my desk are two tins of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Wedges, Dark Chocolate Caramel and Extra Dark Chocolate. Since Trader Joe’s sells everything under its own label, there’s no way to know, without doing a lot more sleuthing than I care to, who actually makes their chocolates, but the quality is generally quite good, so it’s a moot point.’

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Its Autumn and an English country house murder mystery set in the time of year gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’oak_leaf_fallen_colored1David enjoyed Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library #16, which typically for Ware has multiple story lines, the main one being a tale of the redheaded boy Rusty Brown, who is himself obsessed by comic books. Ware is very creative in his storytelling techniques. He uses flashbacks, dream sequences, and quick cutting. It’s all very cinematic. His drawing style is unique. He uses architecture, not just as settings but to propel the narrative. His characters have a precise look, as if the french curve and a compass were Ware’s constant companions at the drafting table. But never do the characters become ciphers.  Each character has his or her own personality.’

David follows up with a fond review of The Acme Novelty Library #17, which also follows young Rusty Brown. ‘Ware’s panels are different than what you might be used to. Unlike Peanuts (another collection of “Scenes of Early Childhood”) which start in the left and using four equal squares tells a linear tale, Ware’s work is much more cinematic. There may be a large cover shot in the centre of the page, then quick cut closeups on one side, zooming out, panning right, and the story progresses visually.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Gary reviews Island of Noise, a new album by English singer and songwriter Jack Cooper and his band Modern Nature. It’s based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and walks the line between indie rock and jazz. ‘As ambitious a project as this was for the musicians, it requires nearly as much commitment from the listener to get the whole experience. This is the kind of project that you used to find on bombastic albums from prog rock bands, but Cooper and his collaborators always keep it down to earth, emphasizing subtlety over flair.’

Gary has high praise for Pohorylle, the debut album from Oregon country singer Margo Cilker. ‘Cilker writes and sings most potently about the joys, sorrows and dangers of a life on the road as a traveling musician – particularly for a woman. I have a hard time getting past her song “Broken Arm In Oregon,” which is all about those hazards that face women out in the world, and how much energy and time and thought they have to waste just to try to stay safe.’

Gary reviews some jazz music from a group with an odd name: ‘The Spanish jazz trio DAMUG‘s name is an acronym created from the name of pianist, composer and leader David Muñoz Guillamon. But it’s not a one-man show: the music this trio makes is a splendid example of three-way synergy as Guillamon makes lively, accessible jazz with drummer/percussionist Martí Hosta and bassist Manolo López.’

I went rambling through the archives this week looking for some English folk music. And I found some indeed, and plenty of other interesting tidbits along the way:

Donna went down something of a rabbit hole of Latvian music from the UPE Records label in that country. She starts with Kaza Kapa Debesis by the band Ilgi, which she says, ‘was founded in the early 1980s by violinist Ilga Reizniece. Although they began as a traditional folk ensemble, they have evolved into a genre they characterize as post-folk.’ And she goes on to Orkla Bolss by labelmates Laimas Muzykanti. ‘What distinguishes Laimas Muzykanti’s sound from that of Ilgi is the presence of an electric bass and two rock drummers, all mixed pretty well forward. I’m afraid the result is less than pleasing, at least on most of the tracks.’

She then went on in a separate review of Ilgi’s Isakas Nakts Dziesmas. ‘The music is based on a Latvian song cycle celebrating the summer solstice as embodied in an ancient pagan deity named Janis. Appropriate to that theme, the band held its CD release party at a park in Riga on June 13. Must have been a wild party!’

Finally Donna was flabbergasted by Ilgi’s album Ej Tu Dejot: ‘Just to make this all a bit sillier than it already is, a number of the tracks bear very non-traditional names, e.g. ‘pancakes,’ ‘hotcakes,’ ‘crepes,’ flapjacks,’ spacecakes,’ and (last but not least), ‘latkes.’ Did I already say what the…?’

Faith was nigh on ecstatic about an album called Floating Verses by the Welsh and English duo Mary Humphreys and Anahata. ‘Floating Verses is a gem of a CD — traditional English folk tunes played and sung by people who actually know how to play and sing and who have the scholarly background to know what they’re playing and singing. What a treat!’

‘The chabreta is a bagpipe equipped with an oboe and two bumblebees: the large bumblebee rests on the arm of the musician.’ Or so Jack was told by an online translation service when he was doing some research for his excellent omnibus review of bagpipe CDs from various places. You should read the review to see what the liner notes actually said.

Lars thought he didn’t care much about Danish folk music until he listened to Habbadám’s Bornholmsk Folkemusik and Sussie Nielsen’s Pigens Morgen. ‘Suddenly Danish folk music and folk-inspired music catches my ear and I must make another confession. I find myself wondering, why did I not search for this long ago?’

Lars also reported back from Uddevalla Folk Music Festival, which he says was held in the town’s museum: ‘With a small concert hall, holding up to about 200 people, one more proper stage and spaces for people to play together outside the official festival programme, it is a great place to hold a festival in.’

And that reminded us of the time Lars attended the Skagen Folk Festival in far northern Denmark, out at the tip of the Jutland peninsula: ‘During my family’s four days in Skagen we only tasted a small sample of the music on offer since we also did some travelling around to experience the wonderful north Jutland scenery. Our main intent when it came to the festival was to look for English, Irish and Scottish music, of which there was a lot.’

‘Hiring Fair has taken the bold step to release their debut album in the form of a live album, recorded during two gigs in New York in July 1999. I am not entirely convinced that this was such a brilliant idea,’ Lars says. See what he means in his review of Breakfast Anyone?

Scott called on a couple of Russian-speaking acquaintances to help him decipher the music of Russian singer-songwriter Boris Grebenshikov on a collection titled Russian Songwriter. ‘In this collection, he presents a number of his songs that characterize the Russian singer-songwriter tradition, along with his own versions of one traditional song and three covers of Russian songwriters who exerted a particularly heavy influence on him.’

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Our What Not this week are four rodent puppets from Folkmanis. First up is Denise with the Mouse in Pumpkin puppet: ‘All hail the spice! Pumpkin everything is the rule of the day this time of year, and I’m all for it. Give me my pumpkin donuts, pumpkin pies,spicy roasted pumpkin, and pumpkin crumble. And okay, a PSL or two while we’re at it, though I’m more a Chestnut Praline Latte gal myself. So when Folkmanis decided to indulge my love of the orange squash, my grabby hands eagerly shot out. And I’ve been snuggling with this adorable puppet ever since.’

Our next one this outing is the Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet that got overlooked when it came in so Reynard gives it a review now: ‘I’ve no idea when it came in for review, nor do I know how it ended up in the room off the Estate Kitchen that houses the centuries-old collection of cookbooks, restaurant menus and other culinary related material, but I just noticed a very adorable white mouse puppet holding a wedge of cheese in its paws there. Somebody had placed it in a white teacup on the middle of the large table so I really couldn’t overlook it. ’

Next is one reviewed by Robert: ‘I seem to have another Folkmanis puppet lurking around, this one the Rat In a Tin Can. The Folkmanis website describes him as being ready for a playful picnic (note the napkin in one paw). However, it seemed to me that he might just as easily be a waiter in an upscale rat restaurant: his black-and-white pattern might almost be taken for formal wear.’

He finishes off our reviews with a succinct note on this puppet: ‘The entry for the Mini Brown Mouse Finger Puppet at Folkmanis’ website reads: “The Folkmanis Mini Brown Mouse finger puppet is a pocket pet perfect to surprise your unsuspecting friends.” I see it.’

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So let’s wander over to the Infinite Jukebox and see what we can find for something upbeat to usher this edition out. I think I’ll skip something from the Anglo-Celtic traditions in favour of something from France this time. The band’s Malicorne, which Gabriel and Marie Yacoub formed nearly fifty years ago.

Gabriel had been a member of Alan Stivell’s band, playing folk-rock based on Breton music such as ‘Kost Ar C´hoat’ which was performed Germany fortho six years ago, but the couple decided to focus more broadly on French trad music, which is why Steeleye Span’s the most apt comparison in British folk music to them, as both are decidedly electric folk.

So let’s now hear ‘Pierre De Grenoble’ which is also the name of what I consider their best album. It was recorded at Hunter College in New York State in July thirty five years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Irish Coffee

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Let me tell the tale of Irish coffee while I fix you one.

It is said the very first Irish coffee was invented by Joseph Sheridan, a barkeep at an airbase located in Foynes, a small town in the West of Ireland.

The story goes that this drink was the result of  a group of American passengers back in the Forties disembarked from a Pan Am flight on a miserable evening like the one we’re having. Sheridan added a generous measure of whiskey to the coffee to warm the shivering passengers. The story since told is that one of the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was Irish coffee.

Now this doesn’t explain the commonly accepted Irish coffee recipe that calls for fresh brewed coffee, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a generous dollop of Irish whiskey, and a tablespoon of lightly whipped heavy cream. I always ask the drinker which way they prefer their Irish coffee as more than a few like it sans the cream and sugar. Others shudder at the idea of skipping these ingredients. It’s the punter’s choice as always, as one staffer wrote in the Pub journal one night: ‘It’s all Irish whiskey all the time for me, honestly! Irish coffee, especially, tends to be my drink of choice: there’s just something glorious about quality coffee, heavy cream, and a generous bit of sweet, golden Irish sunshine. Er, not to wax poetic or anything.’

I use a dark roast, preferably Kona if I can get it, or even Jamaican Blue Mountain when that blessed bean is available. The whiskey, Irish of course, is one of the good single malts, usually Connemara, which is a peat-smoked single-malt whiskey from the Cooley Distillery. If you insist, I’ll put sugar and cream in, but I think it’s better with just coffee and whiskey.

Here’s your Irish coffee.

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What’s New for the 14th of November: Mystery novels, mystery films, music of an autumnal nature, Chinese folk music, Buffy graphic novels, and lots of licorice

Every book tells a different story to the person who reads it. How they perceive that book will depend on who they are. A good book reflects the reader, as much as it illuminates the author’s text. — Charles de Lint’s The Little Country

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That heavenly smell is the apple cider doughnuts I’m having for breakfast with a big chunk of sharp cheddar cheese, along with a big mug of coffee with heavy cream. It’s a cold, raw day with the temperature not likely to break freezing which means the drizzle outside is coating everything with ice as it comes down. A decidedly perfect day for everyone on the Kinrowan Estate to stay to inside.

My reading this week has been an old favourite, Charles de Lint’s The Little Country, so I’ve been listening mostly to music from it as done by Zahatar on their Little Country album, plus music from Kathryn Tickell and Billy Pigg as well as Janey Little, the smallpiper in it, was inspired by them. Now let’s see what’s in this edition…

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Cat had high hopes for Philip DePoy’s The Devil’s Hearth, as he has ‘a special fondness for mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains, even though there aren’t a lot of good ones and a lot of not so great ones. Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballads series had some memorable outings, particularly among the later novels, and one which was outstanding, Ghost Riders.’ Read his review to see if DePoy lived up to his expectations.

Craig has a look at three mystery novels by the venerable Ray Bradbury, as collected in an omnibus. See for yourself why Craig says, ‘Where Everything Ends is a trio of fine detective novels (together with the short story that provided the starting point) from Bradbury in his inimitable style. He plays with the conventions, but since he so obviously loves the genre, this is easily forgiven — embraced, even — because the end results are, simply put, fine additions to the canon. This series is also dear to fans because it is likely the closest thing to an autobiography we will receive from this man who has brought so much joy to so many people for so many years.’

Gary reviews a book on the recent history of popular music, Ben Yagoda’s The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song. ‘Within the scope of a book that’s short enough to be interesting (and affordable) as popular non-fiction, The B-Side is a sweeping but detailed history of popular music in America in the 20th century. He shows us how the songs that make up what we now call the Great American Songbook were created through the intersections of art, commerce, technology and economics, oh, and luck; and how American songs and music changed along with those and other historical factors.’

Gary gives a glowing review to Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos, which surveys the winners of the first and most prestigious award for science fiction and fantasy content of all kinds. ‘I feel like a giant nerd for enjoying a book like this so much! But like Walton (about 10 years earlier) I started reading science fiction as a pre-teen before I even knew what science fiction was. I read a lot that excited me, a lot that interested me, and many things that left me very puzzled with questions that I didn’t even have the words or emotional maturity to formulate.’

Grey liked this novel a lot: ‘Charles de Lint’s Medicine Road stands nicely on its own as a complete story, but longtime readers of de Lint will find the story enriched by former characters, bringing the flavor of their pasts with them: Laurel and Bess, obviously, but also Bettina from Forests of the Heart. De Lint also draws on imagery and myth from Terri Windling’s lovely novel, The Wood Wife, incorporating it into his own Arizonan landscape. It’s a delight to meet the “aunts and uncles” again, to feel their watching presence from the saguaro and other ancient rooted beings here.’

Joel has a review of China Miéville intertwined cities as told in his Hugo winning The City & The City novel: ‘With acknowledgments to writers as diverse as Chandler, Kafka, and Kubin (to say nothing of Orwell), I don’t need to tell you this won’t be your typical detective story. But given this is Miéville, would you have really expected a typical anything?’

Lenora gives an incisive review of Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart, an Ellis Peters novel: ‘Originally published in 1967, ‘this is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and facts combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’

Lory gives us a mystery set in a Britain that never existed: ‘Jo Walton has a knack for genre fiction with a twist. In the World Fantasy Award-winning Tooth and Claw, she gave us a Victorian family saga — complete with siblings squabbling over an inheritance, the woes of the unwed daughters of the house, and the very important question of What Hat to Wear — with a cast of dragons, literally red in tooth and claw. Now in Farthing, her material is the mid-century British country house murder mystery. The story is told in alternate chapters through the eyes of Lucy Kahn, a reluctant visitor to the family estate of Farthing, and over the shoulder of Inspector Carmichael, who has been sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the death of one of the other guests.’

An (un)novel set in a future Tel Aviv caught the eye of Richard: ‘Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is barely a novel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, it’s a loosely connected series of stories featuring a rotating cast of characters, and the gently ramshackle DIY nature of the narrative structure matches up perfectly with the DIY, maker-centric vision of the world that Central Station presents.’

Warner starts off with choice offering from a master of fantasy: ‘Ray Bradbury’s Killer Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury is a collection which brings together works truly spanning the decades of one man’s career. While relatively limited in genre compared to the overall works of Ray Bradbury, this collection puts a specific subset of his materials together for readers curious about his look into stories of detectives, murderers, thieves and the like.’

He has a choice bit of Asian fantasy for us to consider: ‘Zen Cho’s Spirits Abroad is a nice little collection of the author’s work. This expanded edition of an earlier collection brings together many interesting tales long and short. The supernatural is rife in the stories, sometimes treated as something of a fact of life. It is a mark in favor of Cho’s writing that something extremely common in western fantasy and horror can feel like an unfortunate and unusual problem.’

Last up for him is a new edition of a classic work: ‘This new Suntup edition of Replay is wonderful, reproducing a classic novel and doing so in style. The new introduction by Tim Powers is easy to appreciate, acknowledging the influence the story has had, and providing as good a reflection upon it as one is likely to get given that Ken Grimwood is no longer with us. If one collects high-end editions of books this is easy to recommend, and Replay is an easy book to recommend regardless.’

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Gary went a long way for this treat: ‘On a recent vacation (or “holiday”) trip in New Zealand’s South Island, we were doing some grocery shopping before hitting the road for our next destination. We’d already picked up a couple of bags of Cadbury Jaffas to take home as candy mementos, and were looking for something else unique and representative of Kiwi candy culture. These RJ’s Licorice Choc Twists immediately jumped out out me.’

Cat R. reviews lakriti (Finnish fruit licorice) and finds it very sweet: ‘There is certainly both a determined sweetness and solidity to this Finnish candy (lakritsi in Finnish). The label tells me this is called “black gold” in Finland but a cursory scan of search engine results failed to corroborate this. It is an enigmatic candy that, despite the name, has no black licorice taste to it.’

Sukkerfri Dent Duett: Berry + Licorice Pastilles found a fan in Denise: ‘ I’m an unabashed fan of black licorice. I’ve tasted (and reviewed) lots of different styles, from salty to sweet, and even covered in chocolate. (Don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em y’all.) But licorice and berries? No, not berry flavored licorice. A mashup of black licorice and berry flavors. For those days when you can’t seem to make up your mind on what kind of taste you’re craving – which for me is just about every single day of my life – Duett has an equal amount of sweet and sweetly savory. And I’m a fan.’

For this issue, Denise also dove into a bag of Sirius Konsum’s Chocolate & Lakkris. And it seems that could be taken quite literally, “I didn’t want to review this. I wanted to grab the bag and flee into a hidden wilderness, so I could be alone with the deliciousness. … They’re more than candy, they’re comfort.” Intrigued? Well, blending chocolate and licorice is something Iceland has been doing for quite a long time, so it’s no surprise her licorice-loving heart found a new joy. Read her full review for exactly what she thought!

She finishes off with Halva’s Licorice Bars: “Both are super soft and chewy. Oh man that’s good. They both have 4% real licorice extract so you’re getting the real deal here. No anise posing. No mutton dressed as lamb. (Note: I love anise flavor too. But real licorice is…real.) Though folks worried about a dip in their potassium levels should indulge in moderation.”

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We have two British mysteries this time, quite different.

Craig has our first film: ‘Nicholas Meyer adapted The Seven-Per-Cent Solution from his own novel, and he and director Herbert Ross turn out a fine Holmes pastiche. The book is even better, capturing the language as well as the different mannerisms of the characters. Meyers’ other outings were not as successful and can be skipped, but this one is a must-see (and read) for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-known creation.’

David has our second film,  Gosford Park: ‘The film begins, as do most studies of murder in British society, by setting the tale. We meet an inordinate number of people (an Altman trait) who come and go with little logic. This is a common enough ploy in the films of Robert Altman, everyone has a reason for being there, and everyone has a story. Pay attention.’

 

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Just because Halloween is over for another year, that doesn’t mean we’re done with all things monstrous … like vampires, for instance. Or rather, vampire slayers. Denise is our resident aficionado of Buffy graphic novels, and she’s reviewed quite a few of them:

She starts us off with Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus: Volume 1. ‘Most Buffy fans who have gotten their hands on the slew of post-BtVS Season Seven graphic novels already know that it’s a Long Way Home for Ms. Summers, but just how did this wild and crazy ride of hers start off, anyway? … there’s a ton of information in this current volume to quench many a fan’s lust for backstory.’

Denise was very pleased with the release of the first post-TV comic treatment of Buffy in Season 8 Volume One: The Long Way Home. ‘How’s Buffy doing since we saw her last? Well, she’s got over a thousand other slayers covering her back, and a host of other supernatural do-gooders (witches, seers and the like) helping out too. Plus the Watchers Council is lending aid, and if you think that’s a whole lot of help . . . it ain’t. It’s looking like the Big Bad this season will need every last one of them.’

Next, she catches up with Season 8 Volume 4, also known as Time Of Your Life: ‘Buffy, the Slayers and the Scoobs are gearing up for a showdown. As with Wolves at the Gate, make sure you are up on your Buffyverse before you tackle Time Of Your Life. I’ll go so far as to say that a reading of Fray would come in handy as well, since Melaka Fray makes a Hyped-In-Volume-Three-So-This-Ain’t-No-Spoiler appearance here.’

Coincidentally, Robert happened to review Fray for us (I’m not sure what Denise was up to the day this one came over the transom …). ‘I really have nothing but praise for this one. The story is intelligent, inventive, somewhat iconoclastic, and extraordinarily engaging, while the graphics form a seamless envelope for the narrative line. The future world here is beautifully realized, in the post-Bladerunner noir vein, complete with flying cars, disgusting slums, and creepy underground lairs.’

Back with her Season Eight coverage, Denise was less enthusiastic about Vol. 5, Predators and Prey. ‘There’s a lot of change going on, with characters shifting from old patterns of behavior, but it just ends up a volume that screams “hey look, change is afoot!” without actually making things interesting. It’s great to hang with Buffy and the crew, but I’d like a bit more to chew on.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Gary was enchanged by new music from SUSS, a band from New York that makes “ambient country” music. ‘The Night Suite EP, which was dropped with no warning in late October, has five tracks, each named for a town on that route: Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Ash Fork, and Kingman, Arizona; and Needles, California. It’s perfect late-night listening, whether you’re on the road or not. It’s music that evokes a particular landscape. The desert Southwest of the United States. The gritty towns that you pass through late at night on your way from somewhere to somewhere else.

Laurel Premo sings and fiddles in the folk group Red Tail Ring, but her new solo album is mostly instrumental guitar music, Gary says. But not entirely. ‘Premo sings on a couple of these tracks, she plays in several different styles and with different instruments including a lap steel, and she’s accompanied by a couple of unique percussionists on three tracks as well. Golden Loam is a highly personal album but it’s also very listener friendly and welcoming.’

Gary continues his reviews of the series of Chinese folk music albums from Naxos with Vol. 17 – Folk Songs of the Tujia and Sui Peoples. These people, he says, ‘live mostly in several landlocked provinces of south-central china, the Sui in Guizhou, the Tujia in Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Chongqing. The folk songs of each of these groups is as distinctive as any of the music presented on other releases in this excellent series. This album has 17 songs, eight from the Tujia and nine from the Sui.’

He also reviews Vol. 18 – Folk Songs of the Uyghur Peoples, which he found quite suitable to his tastes. ‘I’m betraying my own personal preferences a bit here, but I find the  music on this album totally beguiling and fascinating. I’m much more familiar with the modes of music from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern and Central Asia than I am with those from East Asia which comprise most of the other albums in this series. I guess I just connect with this music more readily, although I find the whole series and each individual disc interesting, at times captivating and frequently very exciting.’

Our minds seem to have turned to matters autumnal as we wandered through the archives this time, as you can see by this eclectic bunch:

David wrote up his thoughts on a couple of CDs and a DVD from the English prog group Mostly Autumn: ‘While they remind this listener of some of their influences, here of Genesis, there of Jethro Tull, and then a little Floydian guitar texture, Mostly Autumn manage to carve out their own sound from the mix. The blend of male and female vocals, the acoustic guitars punctuated by a stinging electric lead, swirling organ figures and the interweaving woodwinds create a full and wonderful sound.’

Danish folk musicians Harald Haugaard on violin and guitarist Morten Alfred Høirup teamed up on several albums, starting with Duo for Violin & Guitar, which Gary found ‘immensely enjoyable.’ He goes on to note, ‘Two of the tracks feature Haugaard’s rumbly baritone vocals. One, an old traditional poem set to a tune written by Haugaard, has a definite “smell of autumn and death,” as the liner notes point out.’

Judith reviewed a couple of obscure gems from the English folk group Roam, starting with their debut Count the Stars. ‘Roam is an acoustic folk band from Yorkshire. They’ve released a later album called Songs Of J.R.R. Tolkien, having on occasion performed dressed as elves and dwarves. Only one Tolkien song appears on Count the Stars but the sense of fantasy is yet there, wrapped in pretty arrangements.’

Roam’s next album Ragged in the Rain summoned the spirit of Phil Ochs in an epigraph of sorts, ‘In such an ugly time the true protest is beauty.’ Which Judith found puzzling. ‘Here is something perplexing: How do these songs of loneliness and sadness protest ugliness and unhappiness? Maybe the premise of the album would ring more true if the lyrics were sweeter. Perhaps the lyrics here are soldiers in Trojan horse songs, in the eternal war of human nature against dystopian content.’

Robert reviewed the New Age / World album Of Air, by Anders Hagberg and Johannes Landgren: ‘Hagberg is a jazz musician who shows equal facility on straight and transverse flutes and soprano saxophone, and has collaborated with many other musicians from many parts of the world, including Indian, Japan, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Landgren is an organist with a degree in church music who not only teaches organ but has done considerable research on the instrument, and has recorded works ranging from the Renaissance to those of contemporary composers.’

He also took a close look at Joseph Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons). ‘Not only do the seasons mark the passing of the year, they become in this work the stages of life: the bright promise of spring, also the bright promise of youth; the fullness of summer, the season of growth and maturity; the bountiful harvest of autumn, when one (ideally) enjoys the fruits of one’s life’s labors; and the chill of winter, when one sits by a crackling fire and looks back on life.’ Ah, we can identify with that last bit.

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For our What not this time, Robert takes us into the realm of traditional remedies: ‘Andrew Chevallier’s The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants offers not only fascinating tidbits of the history of medicinal herbs, but descriptions, analysis of constituent compounds, and methods of preparation for home remedies.’ He follows up with a more specialized look: ‘James Green’s The Male Herbal: Health Care for Men and Boys is an interesting addition to the literature of alternative medicine. His focus is intentionally limited to a group that, believe it or not, could quite possibly be underserved.’

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So let’s have a bit of Autumnal music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition.  Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband  with June Tabor joining them there as well for that concert though not on this piece of music. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album where you can find another version of this tune.

Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad though he notes to us it isn’t. It features John Tefler calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on What’s New for the 14th of November: Mystery novels, mystery films, music of an autumnal nature, Chinese folk music, Buffy graphic novels, and lots of licorice

A Kinrowan Estate story: Guy Fawkes Day (A Letter to Anna)

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Dear Anna,

It’s nigh unto Guy Fawkes Day and Iain’s Library apprentices got the jones to put on a full-blown celebration, which The Steward agreed to fund, provided that Iain gave them a full lesson on what Guy Fawkes Day really means in the United Kingdom, historically and currently, including how Halloween has now largely replaced it.

Many Catholics takes offence at the burning of an effigy of the Pope that takes place at Lewes Bonfire in Sussex on this day, which makes perfect sense. Of course, Guy himself was a Catholic, so many, many Protestants in England assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the Catholic Church was behind the attack on Parliament. (Iain says a fellow Librarian uses the pejorative ‘Fucking papists’ when referring to the Church.) Soon thereafter they developed this celebration, which featured burning effigies of Guy and the Pope. And lots of fireworks.

Revisionist historians ofttimes claim that that there was no conspiracy to blow up Parliament but rather Guy and his fellow conspirators were framed by the Government to stir up anti-Catholic hatred. That might be true, might not be true. What’s true is that there’s no definitive way now to tell what happened so long ago.

Now mind you, most folks more commonly call it Bonfire or Firework Night so they’re in it for the drinking, the bonfires, and the rather drunken singing of such songs as ‘Devil and the Washerwomen’, ‘Remember the Fifth of November’, and ‘Guy Fawkes Prince of Sinister’.

Iain pointed out to them that Guy had denounced Scotland and the King’s favourites among the Scottish nobles, so it wasn’t surprising that the Scots are enthusiastic celebrants of the Fifth of November. Not that the good Presbyterians of Scotland needed much of an excuse to hate the Pope. And many, like a bookseller I was chatting with one time in Aberdeen, are openly anti-papist even now. 

Our Brewmaster’s devised an ale similar to what was called mild ale, which is a beer with a decidedly malty palate that originated in Britain in the 17th century or earlier. And Mrs. Ware is having her staff making food that would’ve been served by a late 17th century Pub.

So hopefully you can fly back here for the week-long celebration from All Hallows Eve through Samhain and now Guy Fawkes Day. Should make for an interesting week!

Affectionately, Gus


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What’s New for the 31st of October: All Hallows’ Eve Edition

I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair
To travel to Carterhaugh for young Tam Lin is there
None that go by Carterhaugh but they leave him a pledge
Either their mantles of green or else their maidenhead

Fairport Convention’s ‘Tam Lin’

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It’s quite cold and blustery here on this Scottish Estate so we’re all thankful that the Fey provide the lighting for the exterior pumpkins, as candles of a conventional nature wouldn’t stay lit at all, but the lighting of a supernatural nature is perfect. We here on the Estate and invited guests will be celebrating by attending a concert by the Neverending Session  in which they perform Halloween music.

Roast pumpkin soup, sourdough rolls shaped like skulls, cinnamon-spiced pork hand pies and nutmeg-spiced pumpkin ice cream will be our eventide meal tonight which will be perfect for working off when we have a midnight contradance by Chasing Fireflies, which tonight is Ingrid, our Steward, on hand drums, Bela, our Hungarian violinist, Finch, one of our barkeeps, on Border smallpipes and Iain, our Librarian on violin.

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Andrea reviewed Marion Dane Bauer and Trina Schart Hyman’s Ghost Eye, a tale of ghosts, cat shows and lonely little girls. Ghosts?! Not to worry, it’s a charming children’s book, she says. ‘It’s really just a sweet story about a lonely old lady who loved cats and a lonely little girl who would like to have a cat to love. The illustrations are fun as well, especially if one likes pictures of cats. I loved reading this book and have recommended it to friends and family of all ages.’

April introduces us to an intriguing bit of metafiction, if you will, David Barbour and Richard Raleigh’s Shadows Bend: ‘Imagine, if you will, Conan the Barbarian taking on Cthulhu and its inhuman minions, with the fate of the world at stake. Quite an image, isn’t it? Admittedly, it does sound like something you’d find in a straight-to-video movie, or some obscure animated feature. But if you’re a fan of either Conan or Cthulhu, it also sounds like a heck of a lot of fun.’

Cat recalls that time he received a package from Tor containing the latest installment in the Repairman Jack series: ‘I opened the package, took out The Haunted Air, and sort of read the first few pages. Well, I actually read the first fifty or so pages by the time I stopped. Hot damn — Wilson’s rediscovered horror! And I mean horror! Blood sacrifices! Restless ghosts! Demons from beyond this reality! And a good dollop of violence to boot. All the benchmarks of a classic Repairman Jack novel.’ His review contains a link to his omnibus review of  previous books in the series, which you should also check out.

Horror meets cyberpunk in Ernest Hogan’s Smoking Mirror Blues, a wild ride that Cat reviews for us. Briefly, he says, in this book ‘… the citizens of Los Angeles are preparing to celebrate Dead Daze, a bacchanalian rave of a holiday that’s an over-the-top merging of All Hallows Eve, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Mardi Gras. The reawakened Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, riding the body of a human, is feeling quite well, thank you!’

Leona has opinions about the audiobook of Roger Zelazny’s A Night In The Lonesome October, read by the author himself. But first, for those unfamiliar with the story, is her delightful plot summary: ‘Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, Count Dracula, and Frankenstein all walk into a small village … and no, that’s not the setup for a bad bar joke, although Zelazny drops in at least two deftly placed alcohol-related puns. No, these characters are all part of a split conspiracy; some want to invite the Elder Gods back into the world, others to deny them that entrance. Calling themselves, respectively, Openers and Closers, none of the characters are entirely nice folks, which is standard for a Zelazny story (and one of the things I love most about his writing).’

Richard reminds us of the classic horror tale by Ray Bradbury: ‘By right and nature, all October babies should love Something Wicked This Way Comes. It is a love letter to autumn, and to the Halloween season in particular, a gorgeous take on maturity and self-acceptance and all the dark temptations that come crawling ‘round when the calendar creeps close to October 31st.’

Richard takes a deep dive into an anthology edited by Christopher Golden, The Monster’s Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes. ‘The concept – a collection of stories that show monsters as sympathetic, not heroic – is tricky enough on its own, a long step into more mature territory than the too-prevalent vampiric moping that’s meant to let us know that bloodsuckers really aren’t such bad people. Then, throw in Golden’s restriction on the subject matter – no low-hanging fruit, i.e. no vampires or zombies – and things get really interesting.’

Richard looked at another monstrous anthology: ‘In the introduction to Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives, editor Justin Gustainis makes a case for the fact that really, anyone who goes around hunting monsters in a real-worldish setting falls under the broad rubric of “occult detective.” After all, they’re looking for monsters to kill, which means detecting them, and those monsters are certainly occult, so there you have it. ‘

Richard also reviewed The Anubis Murders, a fantasy mystery by Gary Gygax, better known as one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons. ‘The premise of the book starts out promisingly enough, with a pack of too-friendly nobles and magical types from the fair isle of Avillon. They’ve journeyed hundreds of miles to ask Master Inhetep to look into some deeply unpleasant magical murders. The kicker is that the murders seem to implicate the jackal-headed god Anubis, who generally doesn’t go in for that sort of thing. Needless to say, there’s more to this than meets the eye, and all sorts of wacky hijinks ensue.’

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Denise has many a Halloween treat – and one trick – for us all this fine day. First off, she digs into a Cadbury Screme Egg. No, not creme. SCREME. ‘I recommend splitting an Egg with a friend, or saving a half for later. I’ve done the stomach work, so you don’t have to overindulge. Unless that’s your thing. Then? Happy Halloween!’

Next, she indulges in a four pack of Chocolats Passion Skulls. ‘The attention to detail is staggering; I can barely draw a straight line, yet these beauties have red in their sockets, golden teeth, and a splash of gold on the “parietal” that could be the sun glinting on them…or the reason for their demise. Six of one, half dozen of the other, I say.’

Need a drink after all that candy? Denise obliges with Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer! (We don’t dig TERFs here, but we do dig interesting mythology…and soda.) ‘Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer is a light, fizzy soda that’s non-alcoholic, for the wee muggles/no-mags in your life. Don’t think that means adults won’t like it, however. As cream-esque sodas go, it’s not that sweet.’

Aiming for something savory rather than sweet? Denise’s review of Aldi’s Happy Farms Preferred Transylvanian-Romanian Cave Cheese is sure to satisfy. ‘There are two types on offer, the regular and “soaked in red wine.” Naturally, the wine version went into my tote.’

Last but not least, a treat that was more of a trick for our stalwart foodie; Dunkin’ Donuts’ Spider Donut. ‘Impressive, no? No. It’s a mess. Somewhere, Mary Berry is sobbing.’

Whatever you decide to eat and drink this fine Halloween, have a wonderfully spooky time!


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Denise here. Shh, don’t tell Cat, but I’ve hijacked this edition’s film section. Because what’s better on Halloween than a look at some spooky films? Ready? Let’s go! *cue spooky background music*

First off, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a mix of possession horror and courtroom drama. ‘As children, we all thought about things living in our closet, underneath the bed, or in the basement. Dark, scary things that made us jump into bed, calling for our parents when things became too much to bear. As we got older, creaks in the stairs late at night gave us the chills, and we called out to friends or told ourselves that it wasn’t anything but a sure sign of shoddy home craftsmanship. But are those things signs of the devil among us?’

Next up, something a bit more fun and action-y; Underworld Evolution. ‘This is a good film that only suffers from the potential the first film laid out. A common curse with many sequels, but one that doesn’t harm the basic story of this film . . . if that’s all you’ve got.’

Something for the kiddies, perhaps? Why not try The Haunted Mansion? ‘Stir it up, keep it loud, and everyone will think they’re watching something really cool…. This is a lovely film to look at, but there’s not a lot of substance. Just double-check to make sure any young children you take are up for a pretty good scare.’

And last, but certainly not least, Halloween III. Because the OG Halloween has been done to death, so why not check out the sequel that’s not really a sequel, now that Halloween Kills is currently in theaters? This film’s divisive as hell, but I sure did enjoy myself writing up my thoughts…and though it’s grown on me since, I stand by my words when I first watched this film. ‘There are some reviews that are meant to have you rush to the theater. Others will leave you to decide whether or not to head out to the multiplex (or rent the video). Then there are reviews that serve as warnings, specifically designed to save the movie viewing public unnecessary pain and agony. This review falls into the latter category.’

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This nation shaped the British Empire every bit as much as the British shaped India over the centuries of of oftimes brutal occupation. Peter Milligan’s John Constantine: Hellblazer India says Cat as this story ‘neatly plays off the British experience in India and what happens when that experience takes a horrible turn into the supernatural world that Constantine knows all too well.’ And the Big Bad in it is definitely a true horror.

Robert has a look at a suitably scary graphic novel from a story originally penned by Robert E. Howard: ‘Pigeons from Hell is an adaptation by Joe R. Lansdale of a story by Robert E. Howard, with art by Nathan Fox and color by Dave Stewart. Lansdale is at pains to point out, in his “Notes from the Writer,” that it is really an “adaptation” — updated, exploring some new facets of Howard’s story, and not to be confused with the original, all of which leads me to treat it as its own creature.’

And what would Halloween be without demons and ghosties and that sort of thing? Well, that’s what we get with the latest incarnation of John Constantine, in Hellblazer, Vol. 1: The Poison Truth. Says Robert: ‘I’ll be honest: John Constantine is not a comic book hero who has ever really grabbed me. I can’t think of any particular reason for that, unless it’s his rapid-fire delivery and glib personality. Maybe it’s because he’s a sociopath, and I’ve learned to be wary of those — even comics. (It’s a wonder how many of the characters in this collection really don’t like Constantine very much, but they go along with him.)’

2F1E3C1F-3976-487C-BB76-623C51D8C475Pushing aside the cobwebs and entering the music archives, we came up with reviews of music ghostly, bewitched and pagan in nature, as you’ll see:

Christopher reviewed a disc whose title seems promising: Ghosts & Spirits, by The Band from County Hell. It didn’t pan out too well, though: ‘I wish I could be more enthusiastic, but found myself thinking how generic the disk seemed, generic as in musical genre. Here is a modern era, rollicking, rowdy pub and festival Celtic band that might go down nicely with a pint or two of stout, but I struggled to find anything that truly set them apart from dozens of other practitioners.’

David enjoyed an album by Dog Cox & Sam Hurrie, who he said played regularly at a pub in Comox, British Columbia. ‘Hungry Ghosts is one of those albums that just sidles up alongside you and makes itself at home. It’s mainly just Sam and Doug, playing a variety of guitars, with some vocals and lots of mood.

Faith had an ‘Occasionally weird, but interesting’ encounter with a spoken word recording, Steven Posch’s Radio Paganistan: Folktales of the Urban Witches. ‘The liner notes explain how Minneapolis has come to be the Pagan heartland of the USA, and how Steven Posch came to be there. They also tell how he came to write the stories, songs and poems. The illustrations run from very old woodcuts to photos of a shirtless man in a mask (presumably Posch), and one photo of him with his shirt and without the mask.

Gary says there’s nothing monstrous about the self-titled album by M. Ward, Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Yim Yames (a.k.a. Jim James of My Morning Jacket), who call themselves Monsters of Folk. ‘This album seems like a loving homage to the music of the Baby Boomers: Neil’s dusty wheatfield soul, The Beatles’ r&b-inspired pop and layered harmonies, a little Philly Soul, some Gram Parsons psychedelic country-rock and even a fairly explicit homage to that other rootsy ubergroup the Traveling Wilburys.’

Patrick sings the praises of Ghostdance, the eighth album by American Indian musician Bill Miller. ‘Miller, a Mohican-German raised on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in northern Wisconsin, makes music that is an uncanny combination of rock ‘n’ roll, folk and native, classical and contemporary. His sound seems influenced as much by Neil Young as it is by the traditional songs he sang as a child.’

We got a bit of a history lesson when Peter reviewed a disc titled Ireland – A Troubled Romance, by a band called ‘… Henry Marten’s Ghost, a strange name for a band you might think, but not when you read the cover notes and realise that the band was born out of Oxford, England. Henry Marten, born in Oxford, was one of the signatories on the death warrant for King Charles I. He was a Parliamentarian who supported the cause of the Irish during Cromwell’s invasions. For urging peace with the Irish, Henry Marten was tried and imprisoned for treason in Chepstow castle, where he died in 1680.’ The album’s subtitle is Irish Ballads, and that’s what you get, he says.

Peter also reviewed High On Spirits by the same band, which he says is an honest working Irish band. ‘Truly, this is the real thing as you can expect to hear in almost any folk club or Irish bar in the U.K. today. This is reflected in the band’s choice of material on the album. In short, the songs and tunes are all tried and tested standards. They are the songs you “the public” like to hear and can easily identify with — good listening!’

Robert says it once was common to create operas from fairy tales, and Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel fits that mold. Even though this was probably originally staged during the winter holidays and not Hallowe’en, we’re highlighting it here because, as Robert notes, it has a really monstrous witch: ‘…the Gingerbread Witch, who throws children into her oven where they become gingerbread, which she then eats.’ He also notes, ‘Humperdinck made extensive use of folk melodies in the score, which certainly adds to the opera’s charm (I don’t think anyone would not recognize the music to “Ra-la-la,” the dance song in the first act), and the story, of course, is well-known.’

Speaking of witches in opera, Robert also enjoyed this recording of Philip Glass and Beni Montresor’s The Witches of Venice, although he says it’s helpful to actually see the opera. ‘There is an element of absurdity here, some broad comedy, and some delightful moments that can only be described as “camp.” There are also moments of truly affecting pathos, most notably in “The Plant-Boy’s Song,” which is not something that I would normally expect from Glass.’

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Our What Not this time is about the Folkmanis Puppets of an Autumnal Nature, or at least that’s how Cat defined them. They were the ones Cat asked Folkmanis specifically to send and then he handed off to various staff members for review. So here’s the review of these wonderful puppets which though not quite fitting All Hallows’ Eve are still worth your time.

The Worm in Apple puppet gets reviewed by Robert: ‘One of the more unusual items to cross my desk from Folkmanis is their Worm in Apple Puppet. It’s a nice, big apple — not shiny, since it’s made of plush, but it is very appealing — unless you count the small green worm peeping out of a hole in the side.’

Next up Denise looks at the  the Chipmunk in Watermelon puppet. While she’s as entranced as ever by this company’s creations, there’s one quibble. ‘Mine looks as if he’s suffering from agoraphobia. Exo-karpoúzi-phobia, maybe?’ Read her review to find out what’s going on…

She finishes off with the Mouse in Pumpkin puppet: ‘All hail the spice! Pumpkin everything is the rule of the day this time of year, and I’m all for it. Give me my pumpkin donuts, pumpkin pies, spicy roasted pumpkin, and pumpkin crumble. And okay, a PSL or two while we’re at it, though I’m more a Chestnut Praline Latte gal myself. So when Folkmanis decided to indulge my love of the orange squash, my grabby hands eagerly shot out. And I’ve been snuggling with this adorable puppet ever since.’

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Very long after the band recorded Leige and Leif, which Deborah plays proper homage to in, “Trad Boys, Trad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do….?” Liege & Lief remembered, Fairport Convention played the entire album live at their own summer bash, the ‘07 Cropredy Festival. Everyone who was on the 1969 recording save Sandy Denny who had passed on was on stage so with Chris While doing the vocals for this epic experience. The soundboard recording is stellar, so here’s ‘Tam Lin’ as performed by them on that warm summer night.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Preparing for All Hallow’s Eve

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Gus, here. All Hallow’s Eve is a week away, and the Staff is deep in preparations. Mind you, a lot of those are just fun and games: putting up decorations and scurrying around with secret costume plans. Some of the more inventive around here won’t be able to move for the weight of their guisings on the night itself. Those who are already done are creeping about vying for dibs on copies of Charles Vess’ The Book of Ballads – we’re giving them away this coming month, and they are the most anticipated Treat in the place: a entire book/bag of bittersweets by the likes of Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman.

It’s a busy month in the gardens, but I am leading from the rear at the moment; sitting here and watching the main courtyard, wondering if the great oak there is going to win this year’s contest with my lads pruning deadwood. Our esteemed cook Mrs. Ware has requested my feedback, as it were, on an experimental batch of triple Brie and fig scones for the annual Halloween feast, and it’s my pleasure to sit and give it my deepest attention. That woman brings inspiration to a plate of crackers and cheese; what she does to a risen dough enters the realm of the sacred …

For the Kitchen Staff, Reynard’s Tap Crew, and for my own lads in the garden, there’s a lot of real work leading up to Samhain celebrations. Mrs. W. is, as I said, already cooking: she’s been laying aside a veritable treasure trove of pickles, relishes, butters, marinades, sauces, curds, creams and other culinary conceits – when the freshly baked and just roasted masterpieces hit the tables, they will be accompanied by her usual astonishing condiments. Do you fancy pork roast rolled in leeks and apples, with whipped sweet potatoes in a cognac sauce? And new bread? Well, plan to move fast when it’s served, then, because so do I.

Reynard, of course, is both laying in appropriate potables and fretting over the batches brewed here specifically for All Hallow’s. All this month he’s been serving Headless Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Halloween Ale in the Pub. Come try a pint, but be careful! I’m told the name is not only seasonal, but a fair warning of the effects of over-indulgence. And there are the porters, the stouts, the dark brews like liquid bread that are required for this holiday; the cider and perry and aged brandies to keep off the growing chill and light the holiday bonfires in us all.

The Endless Session has been having night ceilidhs in the gardens, before the nights get too cold and they retreat to the Pub for the winter. Autumn evenings the wind rises in the woods, and gives the music in the courtyards a special pace and chorus … the secret’s in the pruning, of course, though I doubt the Session has figured that out. But I go out and do the trimming myself, tuning the oaks like an Aolian harp, so their voices will be clear on All Hallow’s night.

Most of all, though, my lads and I are responsible for the bonfires. No one cuts wood in my gardens except me and mine, and at this time of year I’m just as particular about the fallen wood as I am about the trimmed. That wood’s been gathered and stacked with great deliberation, you know. The Halloween bonfires have to be carefully planned, and meticulously built; I daresay the mix of firewood I use is as complicated as Mrs. Wares’ pumpkin butter or Reynard’s Samhain Stout. It needs a particular scent, a notable stamina and even special colour … which is why that one oak has to be pruned just so. The eastern boughs have seen soaking up the salt mist and should burn like tourmalines. It will make the perfect King Log … if that fool Andrew doesn’t hang himself with that guy rope!

Hi! Look sharp, lads! What are you about? We don’t do that anymore…

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What’s New for the 17th of October: A Plethora of Neal Stephenson novels, Several Things of a Jethro Tull Nature, Elizabeth Bear on all things culinary, an ex-Beatle and an ex-Monkee and a bunch of Wicked Tinkers

Crop handle carved in bone,
sat high upon a throne of finest English leather.
The queen of all the pack;
this joker raised his hat and talked about the weather,
All should be warned about this high born Hunting Girl;
She took this simple man’s downfall in hand,
I raised the flag that she unfurled.

Jethro Tull’s ‘The Hunting Girl’

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What am I eating this fine afternoon? That’d be blueberry jam tarts with a sprinkle of chocolate  powder on them. Most delicious. I’m very fond of autumn weather coming upon us as it means lots of delicious warm food coming out of our Kitchen like these tarts. I’ve paired these tarts with an oversized mug of cocoa.

Here in this quite remote Scottish Estate where the nearest town’s a good thirty-five miles away, the group of thirty or so souls here year round forms a community that’s at its most cohesive when the weather turns decidedly cold and oftimes unfavourable to travel. This ‘hunkering down’ is a gradual process that starts in early Autumn and doesn’t really end ’til after lamb season in April as it’s hard to be a good host when you’re covered with blood, shit and other stuff that’s unpleasant in general.

Pumpkins are versatile food here, so you can help us harvest them now that our first light frost has passed; likewise apples and potatoes need harvesting and proper processing for the uses they’ll be put to. Gus, our Head Gardener, uses for staff anyone able to be properly picky at what they’ll be doing.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1So, one of the editors has been on a bit of a Neal Stephenson jag lately, so we’ve turned the book section over to our coverage of Stephenson’s books.

Christopher had some thoughts about a mid-2000s revival of an early Stephenson novel, Snow Crash. ‘What Stephenson does in Snow Crash is combine the better attributes of an action adventure SF page turner (cyber punk division) with some fairly dense and intriguing explorations into religion, language and socio-political history and theory. Depending on a given reader’s taste, some of this may seem too tangential, but various readers will no doubt find particular threads “tangential” that other readers find central to their enjoyment of the book.

Gary spent some time catching up with Stephenson’s 2015 hard-sf tome Seveneves. ‘Neal Stephenson starts his big books in one of two ways. Either slowly with a lot of character introductions and scene setting (Reamde) or with a bang, hurling you headlong into the action such that the first time you come up for air you’re on about page 100. Seveneves is that second kind.

Speaking of Reamde, Gary was quite pleased with that book, as he says in his review. ‘Stephenson is a straightforward writer with a good ear for dialogue and a good hand at action scenes. He engineers the story so plausibly that I willingly suspended my disbelief at the way all the surviving major characters came together for the climax. He doesn’t lard his prose with adjectives or similes, and he injects a good deal of wit into the proceedings.’

Kestrel had high praise for one of Stephenson’s most enigmatic (and also most popular) books: ‘How to describe Anathem? This is how I took to explaining it to my friends: if Gödel, Escher, Bach and The Name of the Rose had gotten together to produce literary offspring, the result could well have been Anathem, complete with wordplay and quirky dialogue.

Wes offers an enticing description of Stephenson’s feats in the writing of Crytonomicon: ‘He explores basic fundamentals of information theory through analogy to bicycle chains; tears through a brilliant and amusing synopsis of how Athena is the Greek goddess of hacking; and in between serves up a script of PERL that produces a nice little encryption program, which can also be duplicated with a pack of playing cards. Then end result is that this book reads like something Thomas Pynchon and Stephen J. Wolfram might have co-authored, were they to have vacationed together on Midway Island.’

Finally, Wes delved into a follow-up to Cryptonomicon, a hefty volume titled Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle, Volume One. ‘Those familiar with Neal Stephenson’s earlier novel Cryptonomicon will recognize the Shaftoes and Waterhouses, and the imaginary Qwghlm islands. Quicksilver, while exploring the state of alchemical study during the years of the Royal Society, focuses on the contributions of the ancestors of the protagonists of Cryptonomicon. Even so, you don’t need to have read Cryptonomicon to enjoy Quicksilver.

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Iain has a rather special treat for us as he interviews one of favorite authors: ‘We here at Green Man remember the winter afternoon that Elizabeth carefully tended a pot of turkey stock that many hours later would become one of the most tasty turkey veggie soups ever encountered by anyone ‘ere. Later that week, I got to interview her about all things culinarily that interested here ranging from her ideas picnic basket and what make a great winter hearty meal to the perfect brownie.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Kage and Kathleen say Jethro Tull’s Live at Montreux 2003 ended thusly: ‘After two hours of concert, Anderson’s voice expired, barely croaking out the last phrase of the encore’s snippet of “Cheerio”. He stood there waving at the audience, his shirt soaked with sweat. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. He had earned it. That anyone can still get a crowd on their feet after forty years of touring is proof of genius, in my book.’

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From the archives, a couple of graphic novels in the world of Hellblazer: John Constantine.

April was pleased with the book titled The Roots of Coincidence, which brings together several issues of the Hellblazer comic, with two stories, both written by Andy Diggle. ‘In “The Mortification of the Flesh,” Constantine teams up with an old friend to manipulate a very wayward priest into giving him a very old and powerful book in the Church’s possession, a lost Gospel. A very interesting lost Gospel at that! … “The Roots of Coincidence” finds Constantine getting to the heart of all the coincidences in his life.’

And Cat reviews Hellblazer: Lady Constantine, written by Andy Diggle with art by Goran Sudzuka. He found it to be ‘a delightful romp,’ and says that … ‘Lady Johanna Constantine herself is witty, sexy, and a truly kickass character? Though I will stress strongly that she shares the Constantine family trait of never, ever being someone you should trust not to stab you in the back if need be.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Gary has some decidedly mixed feelings about the totally remixed version of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass that was released to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. ‘George’s vocals have been pulled out front and mostly stripped of reverb, a lot of the solos or sonic accents have been lifted forward in the mix, and certain elements inside that wall of sound have been emphasized while others have been quieted. It is a great novelty to hear some of these songs and their component parts much more clearly – some for the first time, even. But I’d be unhappy if this album became the definitive version going forward.’

What else was Gary listening to in 1971 besides All Things Must Pass? A lot of Michael Nesmith, it turns out, and here he tells us about the three albums loosed upon the world by Nesmith and the First National Band, Magnetic South, Loose Salute, and Nevada Fighter. ‘I suspect I was not alone in 1970 and ’71 in being a fan of both classic country and modern rock, who discovered the joys of country rock through Nesmith & the First National Band’s records. These three albums were a brief flash in the pan of popular music of that era, but they’ve had a long legacy and remain in print, followed by faithful fans worldwide.’

Gary reviews Norman Blake’s Day By Day, the latest album from a living legend in American roots music. ‘Day By Day was recorded in a single afternoon at an Alabama studio just a half-hour from his home. It was recorded with loving attention to detail, which shows in the way Blake’s warmly worn voice comes through, the long fade-outs on final notes, and the lovely tones of his instruments.’

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole in the Music Archives (as usual) this time. It started with Michael’s impassioned omnibus review of an independent Celtic artist, which led to a whole series of releases and live appearances by a madcap Celtic pipe-and-drum outfit, and it all somehow led to Big Earl (which frequently happens, trust me) and a blues compilation:

Big Earl was almost totally thrilled by a reissue of music by “Mississippi” John Hurt. ‘Rediscovered (as if he was ever lost!) is a collection of Hurt’s 1960s output for Vanguard. Twenty-four tracks, one voice and one guitar. We should be grateful that no one opted to “fill out” his sound during recording with other instruments. Hurt’s music makes any listener smile; it’s so gentle, so comfortable, even when he deals with the darkest subjects. Part live, mainly studio, with some spoken parts, it’s a great overview of the man’s music and legacy.’

Michael’s review of three discs by Celtic fiddler and singer Heather Alexander awakened memories of his discovery of Celtic music via … I’ll let him tell you: ‘Through sheer random chance, I stumbled across Mercedes Lackey’s first book Arrows of the Queen. That in turn led me to discover the musical paradise that is Firebird Arts and Music, who at the time distributed a lot of Mercedes-related books, music, art, and god-knows-what-else. I found myself with this driving thirst for all things Celtic, especially music.’

Peter fell under the spell of the American band Wicked Tinkers when he listened to their third CD, aptly titled Loud. ‘On this album you have what the Wicked Tinkers call Gaelic bagpipe music, not the refined playing of a normal pipe band, but their own version of what the ancient tribal bands might have been like. It’s the sort of sound you might have heard at Scottish weddings, ceilidhs, or around the campfires of a highland raiding party.’

Cat reviewed two Wicked Tinkers albums, Wicked Tinkers and Hammered, and was quite enthusiastic. ‘Wicked Tinkers is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard — and after hearing literally thousands of Celtic CDs in the past twenty years, I’m more than a bit jaded. From the opening set of jigs titled “The Bird Set” (“The Hen’s March/The Seagull/The Geese in the Bog”) to the “Wallop The Cat” jig (“We do not advocate cruelty to cats, hares or any other creatures, for that matter. In fact, we hope this tune is about a cat named Wallop …”) with its gratuitous silly sound effects, to the closing jig/hornpipe combo of “The Man From Skye/The Judge’s Dilemma,” this is a damn near perfect album.

Mia had the time of her life at the Portland Scottish Highland Games, where she took in a few sets by the Wicked Tinkers. ‘The Wicked Tinkers are crazy in the way that only very, very good performers can be, with a nuttiness that is enticing rather than intimidating. Consummate performers, they work together like the proverbial well-oiled machine, albeit one oiled with mutton grease and lubricated with plenty of ale.’

Mia also reviewed a live CD from the same band, Wicked Tinkers’ Banger for Breakfast. ‘The recording is really well done for what must have been almost entirely outdoor, open air shows. Wayne Belger’s didgeridoo on “Those Marching O’Neill’s” from Hammered rumbles through the speakers like doom … you’ll want to turn up your bass when you listen to the Tinkers as their music is an incredibly visceral experience.’

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Denise really enjoyed her new puppet from Folkmanis, the Chipmunk in Watermelon. ‘This company makes the most adorable puppets, and this one’s no different. There’s wonderful attention to detail, and the colors on the melon have a lovely blended watercolors look. And don’t get me started on the “vine”; it’s twisty and sproing-y and had me stretching it out just so I could watch it snap right back into place. I’m one for the simpler pleasures in life.’ Is it perfect? Not quite, read her review for more on that.

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I personally have a keen liking for the Tull of the Sixties and early Seventies, which is why you’re getting a cut off their 1976 album, Songs from The Wood. The cut I’ve selected is ‘The Hunting Girl’, a fine pagan story about boy meets girl riding horse and … Oh just go give it a listen! It’s a soundboard recording done forty three years ago at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Restless Queen

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It was late at night when the green-cloaked storyteller told her tale. ‘ “Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” ‘ she said softly, quoting Yeats, ‘ “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; The center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

‘The Queen knew that all was lost — her kingdom, her people, even her gods were gone. Nothing had survived in a war that ended with the Queen and her opposite, the King, fighting each other on a battlefield of bones, of blood, of the smell of chaos itself.’

She went on, ‘Though they cut each other deep, oftimes to very bone, neither could die as their mutual hate kept them from dying. And the land itself died just a bit more with each blow that landed from their swords.’ She took a deep drink of our Autumn ale and continued, ‘Eventually the king dealt a blow from his broadsword that cleaved her left arm off. That didn’t kill her, but she cried for mercy and he granted it, so long as she left the Kingdom never to return. She did, and like a restless spirit, wanders the land looking for peace.’

She finished her drink and with her only arm fastened her cloak tightly about her before she left us wondering how history becomes legend and legend gives way to myth and eventually drifts through our lives like fog.

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What’s New for the 3rd of October: Bothy Band’s “Old Hag” tune, CBGB Punxs, Hot Chocolate, Russell T Davies back as Who Showrunner and It’s Autumn!

She looks like the wizened old crone in that painting Jilly did for Geordie when he got into this kick of learning fiddle tunes with the word ‘hag’ in the title: ‘the Hag in the Kiln,’ ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me,’ ‘The Hag With the Money,’ and god knows how many more. Just like in the painting, she’s wizened and small and bent over and … dry. Like kindling, like the pages of an old book. Like she’s almost all used up. Hair thin, body thinner. but then you look into her eyes and they’re so alive it makes you feel a little dizzy. — Charles de Lint‘s ‘The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep’ story, which is collected in Dreams Underfoot

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Impressive sunset, isn’t it? When we built the new Library in the late nineteenth century, we moved the Pub here to top floor of the cellar. And we made sure the Greensward facing side had as much glass as possible. So that means for you that every sunset, barring inclement weather, is visible here and with all of them being spectacular indeed as is tonight’s sunset.

The chair you’re sitting in facing that sunset is commonly known as The Falstaff Chair as Estate lore has him telling tales in it one winter’s night. Yes I know he’s fictional but I’ll bet you’ve got characters and stories you believe strongly are real. So do be careful what you think of while here as nightmares as well as dreams can come true and often do…

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Geographies, both those in the mundane world and the imaginary ones as well, have something within them that fascinates readers. Cat starts us off with a look at Stefan Ekman’s Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings: ‘Now we have a really detailed look at the role of fantasy maps and the settings they help create in fantasy literature. (Though weirdly enough, Here Be Dragons has only three such maps in it suggesting the author either had trouble getting permission to use more such maps or the use of them was deemed too costly.) It is not the usual collection of edited articles but appears an actual cohesive look at this fascinating subject.’

The Whovian Universe is vast and has grown increasingly complex over the fifty years that it’s been evolving. Torchwood was one of its spinoffs, the secret agency that fought alien invasions from its Cardiff base. So he reviewed the James Goss authored Torchwood India audio adventure and had this to say about it: ‘Golden Age is the story of Torchwood India and what happened to it. It is my belief that the best of all the Torchwood were the audio dramas made by BBC during the run of the series. Please note that it was BBC and not Big Finish that produced these despite the fact that latter produces most of the Doctor Who and spinoff dramas. This is so because the new Doctor Who audio dramas was kept in-house and these productions were kept there as well though Big Finish is now producing the new Doctor Who adventures as well.

But first, for something new — and more than a little out of the ordinary:  Cat R. takes a look at, not a book but a genre, in her survey titled An Armload of Fur and Leaves: ‘In the last year or so, I found a genre that hadn’t previously been on my radar, but which I really enjoy: furry fiction. Kyell Gold had put up his novel Black Angel on the SFWA member forums, where members post their fiction so other members have access to it when reading for awards, and I enjoyed it tremendously. The novel, which is part of a trilogy about three friends, each haunted in their own way, showed me the emotional depth furry fiction is capable of and got me hooked. Accordingly, when I started reviewing for Green Man Review, I put out a Twitter call and have been working my way through the offerings from several presses.’

That Charles looks at Charles Vess’ Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess. Now as his detailed review’s as much about the friendship that grew between them, I’ll let you read this charming tale of friendship and art without further ado. Oh and the book itself is simply stunning — truly an art gallery in a book form!

Iain was, perhaps not surprisingly, favorably impressed by a critical study of Patricia McKillip, Audrey Isabel Taylor‘s Patricia A. McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building: ‘We’ve reviewed damn near every book that Patricia A. Mckillip has published over the many decades she’s been writing. Indeed the editing team is updating the special edition we did on her so that it can be republished this Autumn, as many of us here think of her as befitting the Autumn season. And so it is that I’m reviewing what I think is the first academic work devoted to her.’

Kestrell has a look at a novel that  mixes magic and science and a bloody big squid as well: ‘Don’t let the tentacles fool you — yes, China Miéville’s Kraken takes as its starting point a tentacular god of the deep reminiscent of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, but then Miéville adds to it the baroque psychogeographies of Moore and Moorcock, the whimsy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and American Gods, the surreal imagery of a Tim Powers novel, and a dizzying barrage of geeky pop culture references, not to mention what is probably the best use of a James T. Kirk action figure ever.’

Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta  which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series,  Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of  the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.

One of my fave Autumn reads gets a look-see by Mia, a  Charles de Lint novel to be precise: ‘Seven Wild Sisters advertises itself as a modern fairy tale. Including the seven sisters, it certainly has all the trappings: an old woman who may be a witch, an enchanted forest, a stolen princess. But Sisters is not just borrowing the clothes of fairy tale. It sings with the true voice of fairy tale: capricious, wild, and not entirely safe, but rich and enchanting.’

An (un)novel set in a future Tel Aviv caught the eye of Richard: ‘Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is barely a novel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, it’s a loosely connected series of stories featuring a rotating cast of characters, and the gently ramshackle DIY nature of the narrative structure matches up perfectly with the DIY, maker-centric vision of the world that Central Station presents.’

Robert has a review of Winter Rose: ‘The story is told in McKillip’s characteristically elliptical style, kicked up an order of magnitude. Sometimes, in fact, it is almost too poetic, the narrative turning crystalline then shattering under the weight of visions, images, things left unsaid as Rois and Corbet are drawn into another world, or come and go, perhaps, at will or maybe at the behest of a mysterious woman of immense power who seems to have no fixed identity but who is, at the same time, all that is coldest and most pitiless of winter.’

He also looks at Solstice Wood, a sequel of sorts to Winter Rose: ‘McKillip has always been a writer whose books can themselves be called ‘magical,’ and it’s even more interesting to realize that she seldom uses magic as a thing of incantations and dire workings, or as anything special in itself. It just is, a context rather than an event, and perhaps that’s the way it should be.’

He next offers a look at a SF collection that sounds rather cool: ‘A while back, Baen Books reissued the stories of James H. Schmitz, concentrating on the cycle centered around the Hub and the adventures of Trigger Argee and Telzy Amberdon, super-heroines who are somewhere between Barbie and Wonder Woman. We’ve also been rewarded with Schmitz’ stories of the Vegan Confederacy in Agent of Vega and Other Stories. This group, including works first published between 1943 and 1968, is delightful.’

He finishes off with a book that is radically different,David Wojnarowicz’ Close to the Knives :  ‘The book is subtitled “A Memoir of Disintegration.” So powerful and so lucid is the author’s voice that we become c.onvinced that it is not Wojnarowicz who is disintegrating, but our own safe, respectable world.’  He warns us that this is not an easy book.

Warner leads off with an English mystery: ‘The entertaining setting and characters, along with twisting plot, makes The Widow of Bath an exceptionally interesting choice. The volume hooks the reader quickly and then takes just enough time to introduce major players before the first body hits the ground, showing masterful pacing. While not a perfect work, it is a great mystery novel and a solid introduction to the work of Margot Bennett.’

A cold climate mystery is next up for him: ‘Arnaldur Indridason’s The Darkness Knows is a fascinating example of the Icelandic detective story. Starring a retired police detective named Konrad, an old man with unsolved cases under his belt and a fractured history, this volume by it’s very nature digs into the past.’

Sherlock Holmes down the years has developed some interesting riffs and he has one for us one for us here as his final review this time: ‘Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is the latest in a long running series, yet in the interesting position of being published after a long gap. Within the pages Enola, now on good terms with her brothers, finds herself and Sherlock wrapped up in a case involving a missing twin, with the titular clue coming into play sometime later.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Hot chocolate is our focus this time for our culinary reviews as the weather has turned decidedly colder, so let’s lead off with Richard who has a recommendation on where you can find great hot chocolate in a place called Matthews: ‘Now, North Carolina’s not what you’d call a hot chocolate hotbed, at least east of the mountains, on account of the fact that it’s generally pretty warm. Which is why I never expected the hot chocolate in this shop which my wife practically dragged me into (she’d done some scouting, having previously infiltrated Hillsborough with friends on a yarn-shopping expedition) would blow my socks off.’

Next up April looks at a trio of ready to use cocoa packets: ‘For hot chocolate to be good — really good — it needs to be rich, creamy and full of flavor. It always seems doubtful that any one of these three qualities, let alone all three, can come out of a little paper packet. So how do the Gourmet du Village varieties hold up? Very well, as it turns out. When prepared with skim milk, all three mixes result in a marvelous mouth feel, smooth and silky and an absolute pleasure to sip contentedly (would whole milk or cream intensify the texture, one wonders?).’

Denise takes a look at Trader Joe’s Organic Hot Cocoa Mix. She found it a lovely way to start the day, and perhaps even enjoy the evening; “…if you’ve a mind, a splash of Kahlua and/or Bailey’s wouldn’t be amiss.” Now go see what she thinks cocoa lovers should give this one a try.

Great hot chocolate needs a great topping and Denise has one in Smashmallow’s Cinnamon Churro marshmallows: ‘ ‘Tis the season for warm festive beverages! And for all the things to top ’em. Nutmeg for nog, a cinnamon stick for mulled goodness, and for folk who partake of animal products (ex: gelatin), marshmallows for coffee and chocolate-centric libations. I have a love-hate relationship with marshmallows. I love how they bob on the top of my drink, but hate that most of the time I’m left with a soggy bit of ‘mallow bloof (it’s a word because I just used it) as I empty my mug. However, that’s about to change, thanks to Smashmallow.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Russell Davies has just been rehired as the Showrunner for Doctor Who so I’m including Cat’s review of a Tenth Doctor story done during his previous tenure, ‘The Unicorn & The Wasp’: ‘One of my favourite episodes of the newer episodes of this series was a country house mystery featuring a number of murders and, to add an aspect of metanarrative to the story, writer Agatha Christie at the beginning of her career. It would riff off her disappearance for ten days which occurred just after she found her husband in bed with another woman. Her disappearance is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily answered to this day.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1David looked at Pascal Blanchet’s White Rapids, a graphic telling of the story of a Canadian town that was created to build and run a hydroelectric power plant in Quebec, flourished for a few years and then died. ‘Planchet mixes the tragedy of the political reality, with some well imagined fictions describing the lives lived in Rapides Blanc, and this makes White Rapids a stunning, moving little book.’

Mia didn’t expect Holly Black and Ted Naifeh’s The Good Neighbors, Book One: Kin, to be a graphic novel, and also didn’t expect to like it as much as she did: ‘Slightly darker than her Spiderwick series yet not as dark as the Tithe novels, Kin is very much a Holly Black story – her view of Faerie is always complicated, generally creepy, and never likely to mesh with, say, Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy art. Holly’s fey are not pink and they do not sparkle.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1American double bass player Devin Hoff recruited singers and players from the indie, jazz, and world music ranks for his new album Voices From the Empty Moor (Songs of Anne Briggs). Gary says, ‘The songs of Anne Briggs are perfect for the somber colors and textures of the multilayered bass arrangements, and Hoff has found the appropriate voices and players to bring these songs and tunes fully to life. If you’re looking for a new disc of atmospheric autumnal music, this is it.’

Gary confesses to a mad bout of toe tapping while listening to a band that’s been around for a half-century. ‘Not many bands make it to 50 years (we won’t get into the Rolling Stones, those great outliers). That’s what the Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel has achieved as of 2021, so of course they made a record to celebrate. And what a record Half A Hundred Years is!

Gary was moved by  Iranian-American vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi and Indian composer and sitarist Shujaat Husain Khan’s new album This Pale. ‘This time out they elected to perform nothing but love poems by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a 13th-century Persian mystic bard and Sufi master who has been the best selling poet in the U.S. for 20 years running. They’re joined by Iranian Shaho Andalibi on the ancient end-blown flute known as the ney, and Shariq Mustafa, a fifth-generation Indian tabla player. The four musicins – Goudarzi, Khan, Mustafa and Andalibi – expertly translate Rumi’s shifting flow of emotions through their vocals and instruments.’

Gary also reviews jazz pianist Helen Sung’s Quartet+, on which she fronts her own quartet and is joined by the Harlem Quartet, a classical four-piece string ensemble, on which they honor a number of pioneering women in jazz. ‘Quartet+ is just a quality project all around. You’ll seldom hear jazz and classical idioms integrated so seamlessly and organically.’

As the weather’s taken a turn toward the autumnal, we got in the mood for some music from the northern climes. Digging through the archives we found some tasty reviews of Nordic music:

Barbara takes us on a musical tour of the Nordic lands with an omnibus review of Alicia Björnsdotter Abrams’ Live at Stallet, Marianne Maans’ Marianne Maans, Majorstuen’s Jorun Jogga, Jan Beitohaugen Granli’s Lite Nemmar, and Kristine Heebøll’s Trio Mio. ‘The five CDs reviewed here are a miniscule sampling of violin/fiddle music from Nordic countries. With this group, the versatility of the violin is evident as we move from solo settings to a sextet and everything in between. Through all of it, the violin is the binding force. The geographical areas represented include Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.’

Richard delighted in the Nordic-adjacent Mither o’the Sea by Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley, who he says belong in the group of young musicians reclaiming and expanding folk music in northern Europe. ‘The Wrigley twins, Jennifer and Hazel, are also members of this new generation born in the final quarter of the twentieth century. They come from the Orkney Islands that lie off the northeast coast of Scotland, on the way to Scandinavia. The geography and history alone are enough to guarantee a fusion of Celtic and Nordic musical traditions, although the latter influence is possibly a little more Scottish in flavour in Orkney than in the Shetland Islands further to the northeast, which are very Nordic in character.’

Scott says, ‘The contemporary folk music emanating from Scandinavia in general, and Finland in particular, has branched out from home-grown traditions to incorporate a great variety of musical styles across the globe, from Western pop and rock to Balkan and Middle Eastern folk music. The Finnish band Vilddas goes even further than most of their compatriot folk performers in this regard.’ To find out what he means by that, read his review of Vilddas’ Háliidan.

Scott found mixed results from a disc by the Finnish avant garde group Alamaailman Vasarat, but recommends it anyway: ‘The Helsinki-based sextet loves to experiment with unusual sonic combinations, most specifically when they plug their cellos into amplifiers and crank up the distortion. If you’re the kind of person who likes the idea of cellos crunching out killer riffs while the drummer attacks his kit with reckless abandon, then you will find plenty to like in Alamaailman Vasarat’s second album, Käärmelautakunta.

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Our What Not this time Reynard’s review of two characters that inhabit his office space: ‘Well back in 2003, Stronghold Group released two characters based on the sort of people that inhabited the CBGB club, one being Maxx, a singer, and the the other being, Bad Apple, who is less clearly defined though he too could be a musician, a fan, and even perhaps a CGBG bouncer. One site claimed these are ‘extreme look-alikes of Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten’ but the manufacturer doesn’t say who they based on.’

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Okay, let’s see if there’s any Old Hag tunes on the Infinite Jukebox, our media server, as they’re what I consider proper autumnal tunes. I’ve got one by the Bothy Band whose Old Hag You Have Killed Me is one of best Irish trad albums ever done, and we’ve audio of them performing ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me’ which we’ll share with you as it’s very splendid. No idea when it was done, though nineteen seventy six  is the most common guess, or where it was recorded for that matter. But here it is for your listening pleasure.

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on What’s New for the 3rd of October: Bothy Band’s “Old Hag” tune, CBGB Punxs, Hot Chocolate, Russell T Davies back as Who Showrunner and It’s Autumn!