So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log. — Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine’s “In the Pale Moonlight”
It’s a cold, damp afternoon, so many of us are in the Pub catching up on our reading. See Gus, our Estate Gardener at the end of the Bar enjoying our Queen’s Lament IPA? He’s reading Cheese Holidays, a magazine solely devoted to cheeses and cheese regions worth visiting, which cheeses to try, best hotels in terms of the cheeses they offer and even local history as related to the cheeses created there. It even has a centrefold of sorts with a spread of the cheeses from a featured cheesery.
I’ve been reading the recently published journals of a British diplomatic attaché who spent quite some years in Islandia nearly three centuries ago. Fascinating look at a country few even visit now, but I’ve had a decades long mail-based friendship with the Librarian for the National Archives there.
And Catherine’s been happily immersed in a history of medieval musical instruments and the contemporary renaissance of their usage, and making notes on which ones Max, our resident luthier, might make for her. She’s enjoying an Irish coffee made with Kona beans we roasted here, a generous measure of Redbreast 12-year-old Single Pot Still Irish whisky and a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Now lets see what we’ve got for you in this edition…
April starts us off with a treat for fairy tale aficionados: ‘Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are well-known, even to those who’ve never heard his name. His stories have entered our cultural consciousness (who doesn’t know of “The Little Mermaid,” even if it’s only through Disney’s version) and verbal lexicon (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”) and are here to stay. Maria Tatar’s The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen offers a glimpse at the man behind the tales, the subtle nuances of his art and language and renders the stories all the more powerful.’
April also mostly liked the updated edition of Susan J. Napier’s Anime: From Akira To Howl’s Moving Castle. ‘This is a well-written scholarly book about a cultural import that’s still largely misunderstood by non-fans in the U.S. While it’s perhaps not a good introduction to what’s available or a “What should my kids watch?” guide, it does make a good answer to the question “Why anime?”
Cat was disappointed at Caroline Graham’s The Killings at Badger’s Drift, the novel that was the source for one of his favorite TV mystery series of all time, The Midsomer Murders. The main problem, he says, is with the characters: ‘They feel like simple and not terribly interesting plot devices, not real beings. Now, it is possible to create interesting characters in mystery series – just go read James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series or Sharon Kay Penman’s Justin de Quincy series, both of which demonstrate rather well that you can do character creation and development in a mystery series.’
Cat looks much more favourably at the urban legend retold yet again, of a ghost girl asking for a ride home on the anniversary of her death: ‘Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.’ It’s the first of three volumes so fat, all well worth your time to read.
Christopher enjoyed Deborah Grabien’s Still Life with Devils but found the pudding a bit over-egged. ‘The story revolves around Cassius Chant, an African American San Francisco police detective, and his efforts to find and stop an elusive serial killer who has been murdering pregnant women. Chant’s sister Leontyne, known as Leo, is an artist with the unusual ability to literally enter into her paintings via a form of what used to be called astral projection. Chant is also the single parent to a precocious teenage daughter whose Chinese mother abandoned the family immediately following her birth.’
Elizabeth was, shall we say, less than impressed with Jennifer Armintrout’s Blood Ties, Book One: The Turning. ‘With its cumbersome title and dependence on vampire clichés, this paranormal romance offers very little in the way of original, engaging story. From a turgid and silly beginning, it improves toward the end, but once the last page is turned, nothing really has been gained. Nothing substantial has been contributed to the growing market for vampire romance novels. The only thing that potentially sets this novel apart from the horde of identical kiss-kiss-suck-suck stories is an attempt to reconcile and humanize a particularly vicious villain, but even that is only a subplot, and a flimsy one at that.’
Grey told us about a YA fantasy book, Jennifer St. Clair’s Nine Lives and Three Wishes, that has a bit of a twist in that the lead character is a cat. One who ventures into Faerie to rescue a human family member. ‘This story is fun. It’s easy to follow, just suspenseful enough, and has a satisfying ending. It’s written for young adults, but I’m going to harp on my usual string and say, “Who’s a young adult?” I can see people as young as nine and as old as … well, however old … liking it, so long as they’re ready for a good time and a lively adventure.’
Kathleen has a look at book she’s treasured since her childhood, Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, ‘Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar — but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.’
Lory said she doesn’t know of any full-length historical novel about the Irish legend of Deirdre before Jules Watson’s The Swan Maiden, for which she has high praise. ‘Jules Watson has kept faithfully to the grand, tragic outline of the story, while seeking to fill in many details of the characters’ lives, both outer and inner, as only a novelist can.’
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.
Although she’s loath to try any of the ancient recipes, Michelle positively swooned over Madeleine Pelner Cosman’s Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony. ‘Partly a history of medieval cooking, partly an illustrated guide to the harvesting and processing of food and partly a recipe book, Fabulous Feasts offers – well, to borrow an anachronism, a smorgasbord of pleasures for the reader. Though the text focuses primarily on the English banquet hall, the copious color and black-and-white illustrations originate in Spanish romances, French books of hours, Dutch woodcuts and illuminated Bibles, and the recipes reflect trading across regions in spices and herbs. It’s a beautiful volume that would be worth owning for the illustrations alone.’
Paul’s review of Gregory A. Wilson’s Grayshade, a rewritten and revised version of the novel of the same name, finds a conflicted and well drawn hero, world and story that, yes, starts a trilogy.
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.’ The second work, NEOM, set in that setting is coming out in November and I’m currently reading it.
Robert brings us a look at a rather different take on fairy tales, in The Poets’ Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales, an anthology edited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Claudia Carlson: ‘The first thing one notices looking through the table of contents of The Poets’ Grimm is the overwhelming number of women contributors . . . They allude to several reasons for this, one, of course, being the increasing number of woman poets of note, but more important, the fact that fairy tales and women seem to be inextricably bound: not only were the majority of the Grimm Brothers’ informants women, but women, most particularly in the Victorian Era when the Grimms published their collections, were the guardians of the “virtues of the hearth”. . . .’
Warner has three novels by an acknowledged master of the SFF genre: ‘Ursula K. Le Guin’s Worlds of Exile and Illusion collects the three earliest published novels by the author. Specifically the first three Hainish novels (Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions) are contained with the pages of the large volume. They represent early work for the author, and introduce the Hainish setting for which she will become quite famous.‘
David went back and rewatched Crumb, Terry Zwigoff’s documentary about the famous underground cartoonist, in order to review it and also to see if it was as weird as he remembered it being. ‘Zwigoff is a friend of Crumb’s and had known him for 25 years, played in Crumb’s band the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and worked together on a screenplay. That intimacy paid off in spades! OK, it may have cost Zwigoff his health, and a substantial amount of money, and even his friendship with his subject, but you will never see a documentary that lays its subject as open as Crumb does.’
David also reviewed That High Lonesome Sound, a three-part documentary series featuring some of the films of John Cohen. ‘John Cohen is perhaps better known as a member of the New Lost City Ramblers. This group of city boys playing the old time music of America influenced almost every musician interested in traditional American music who came along. Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, and on and on, all list the Ramblers as influences. But for forty years now, John Cohen has also been a photographer and film-maker.’
Peanut butter chocolate cups are I think the best nibbles out there are and April has some great ones for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’
Gary reviews Alison Bechdel’s The Secret to Superhuman Strength, in which the award-winning comic artist and memoirist re-examines her life and times through … well, many lenses, including Americans’ penchant for fitness crazes. ‘I had a lot of laugh-out-loud moments while reading The Secret to Superhuman Strength, mostly from her astute and witty takes on the foibles and fads that seem to mirror the decades. She’s not above visual jokes, slapstick, or puns, and she doesn’t really punch up or down, just mostly at the mirror, shadow-boxing her way through life as she tries desperately to outrun the anxieties that also provide her with fodder for her livelihood.’
Bechdel shows up as well in a history of queer comics reviewed by Robert. Editor Justin Hall has penned an essay about “four decades of queer comics” and then included a bunch of comics that illustrate his themes. ‘No Straight Lines is, I think, more valuable for the comics than for the essay. That part of the book represents a broad selection of themes, approaches, and attitudes, although the sheer numbers are overwhelming. I would have appreciated a longer essay with more analysis and firmer linkages to the queer comics movement and the wider culture, both gay and straight. These are, after all, political acts, part of the give and take of American culture during the latter portion of the twentieth century.’
Chris, in his review of The Albion Band’s The BBC Sessions and Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival, says you can never have too many live Albion recordings. ‘Over the years since the early ’70s well over one hundred different musicians have played in the Albion Band, and the list of ex-members reads like a Who’s Who of folk rock music. Ashley has a unique talent at picking and mixing musicians and has pioneered so much in the folk rock field that these recordings are part of English folk rock history.’
David found the video content in Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run: 30th Anniversary Edition, ‘Exciting. Raw. Vibrant. And it’s all put together in a sturdy cardboard box with a book of pictures from the sessions and the shows. But for me, it’s the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend that makes this release special. The new digital remastering of the album is beautiful. It makes the sounds that made me sit up and take notice three decades ago seem fresh and new.’
David also found that Bruce Springsteen can make folk music rock and even roll a bit, too. ‘We Shall Overcome is a loud and raucous celebration of this music, dragged kickin’ and screamin’ into the 21st century. Sure, sometimes it’s too much. On some of the songs you wish that Springsteen would just dial it back and pick his beat-up old guitar and whisper the lyrics, and that’s about the time that the horn section cuts loose! And then you find your feet moving again, and you start singing along to the glorious songs of generations of folk musicians.’
Gary has a lot to say about Niineta, a new album from Joe Rainey, an Ojibwe Pow Wow singer. The album combines new and archived Pow Wow singing and ambient sounds with studio production techniques for an effect that is intentional, he says: ‘Joe Rainey and producer Broder and their collaborators have deliberately created an aural document that illustrates one of the points Rainey makes in his notes: North America’s Indigenous people were here, they are here and they will be here. The timeless nature of the drumming, coupled with archived and modern songs, music concrete, post-classical string arrangements, and studio production effects all say past-present-and-future are one.’
Gary also reviewed José Medeles’s Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems: ‘This one is as eclectic and as Portland as they come, matching up three excellent and quite different Portland guitarists with a Portland drummer in a series of improvised duets in tribute to the legendary late guitarist John Fahey, who himself spent his last years in Oregon.’
What did Gary think of the second album by Teddy Thompson? ‘No sophomore slump for Teddy Thompson,’ he says. ‘On the contrary, his second outing Separate Ways is altogether a more muscular and cohesive affair than his 2001 self-titled debut. He’s aided and abetted by dad Richard and mom Linda (on the hidden bonus track), in addition to a fairly hefty handful of other standouts, including Garth Hudson, Dave Mattacks, Smokey Hormel, Tony Trischka and the singing Wainwright sibs Martha and Rufus – oh, and another folksinging couple’s offspring, Jenni Muldaur.’
Gary gave a thumbs-up to Haywire, yet another album from Pennsylvania roots-rockers Frog Holler. ‘As with every one of those albums since their 1998 debut, Haywire is an improvement over its predecessors; this time both sonically and musically. Frontman Darren Schlappich spent more time working out arrangements with drummer Daniel Bower and bassist Josh Sceurman, before going into the studio with the rest of the band and producer Brian McTear. The result is a full, rich “rock” sound, fully fleshed-out songs and consistently interesting production.’
Gary also reviewed an album called Heritage, the second by a band called The Youngers. ‘I was attracted to The Youngers by the presence of frontman Todd Bartolo, who plays guitar in one of my favorite bands, the Pennsylvania-based alt-country outfit Frog Holler. Though also based in rural Pennsylvania, The Youngers is quite a different band; they play solid Americana, with a sound that sometimes leans toward classic country and sometimes toward classic rock.’
Irene provides a good look at some of the releases by Ashley Hutchings and his various Albion Bands through the years, including Battle of the Field, 1990, Happy Accident and Songs from the Shows. ‘The Albion Band grew out of a large backing band that played on Shirley Collins’s No Roses album in 1971. The Albion Band’s lineups changed regularly, to say the least, even before the first recording as “The Albion Band.” Before the recording of their first album, the band included Richard and Linda Thompson, among others. An exhaustive history of the band in all its various incarnations, not to mention its some twenty album releases, would be of book-length!’
Lars says David Hughes’s This Other Eden is his best record yet. ‘For those of you who have not already come across David Hughes, he is an ace acoustic guitar player (mostly playing fingerpicking style with the guitar tuned DADGAD), a remarkable lyricist with a great sense of humour. He’s also very, very English. He is something of a cult figure among Fairport Convention fans and has toured with both Fairport and Pentangle. It is therefore not surprising that he is joined on This Other Eden by Dave Mattacks (formerly of Fairport), Gerry Conway (Pentangle and Fairport), Jacqui McShee and Spencer Cozens (Pentangle), Dave Pegg, Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie (Fairport), Danny Thompson (formerly from Pentangle) and Anna Ryder (who toured with Fairport in the spring of 1999), among others. Eddi Reader (formerly from Fairground Attraction and a solo singer in his own right) is there as well.’
Our What-Not this time is a look at a decidedly different circus as Cirque du Soleil’s O draws this comment from Grey: ‘I’ve seen the Cirque du Soleil perform twice. The first time was a travelling performance in a tent big enough to hold a crowd of maybe 250 people. The show was “amazing, superb…” and so on. The intimacy of the space was used to full advantage. The second, just a few weeks ago, was a “resident show” in the enormous, brazenly luxurious space of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. Again, superlatives fail me. All I can do is give some of my impressions to the best of my ability.’
Now let’s see what would be good to finish with for music this week… ‘Robbery With Violins’ is perhaps the finest example of the stellar work that violinist Peter Knight did in his long years with Steeleye Span. This is from their performance at My Father’s Place in Roslyn, New York on the 20th of April 1973. This was the third version of the band with a lineup of Peter Knight, Maddy Prior, Bob Johnson, Tim Hart and Rick Kemp which released two albums, Below the Salt in August of ’72 and Parcel of Rogues in June of the next year.