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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What’s New for the 23rd of January: Candlemas Will Be Upon Us Soon

So when a body was found in her party suite, the case came to me. Folks in fandom call me the Sam Spade of Science Fiction, but I’m actually more like the Nero Wolfe: a man who prefers good food and good conversation, a man who is huge, both in his appetite and in his education. I don’t go out much, except to science fiction conventions (a world in and of themselves) and to dinner with the rare comrade. I surround myself with books, computers, and televisions. I do not have orchids or an Archie Goodwin, but I do possess a sharp eye for detail and a critical understanding of the dark side of human nature. — Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Stomping Mad: A Spade/Paladin Conundrum”

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1I’m having an afternoon tea right now of smoked lapsang souchong tea and Droste extra dark chocolate pastilles. We eat a lot of chocolate here. We’ve even made a dark chocolate chili-laden smoked chicken noodle soup once or twice. Don’t wrinkle your nose — it actually tasted quite magnificent when served with Guinness extra dark.

I’ve been reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Ten Little Fen: A Spade/Paladin Conundrum, a novel set at an SF Con. A lovely mystery told in the first person narrative. Up to now, the series has been told as short stories, so it’s nice to see the author have the length to allow these characters to develop fully. All of the stories are available digitally.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Cat has high praise for Neal Asher’s Orbus, a novel in that prolific author’s Spatterjay series. ‘This ain’t state of the art space opera of thirty years ago, or even a decade ago – it’s perhaps the best space opera I’ve ever read, and that’s saying a lot as I’ve read space opera for over thirty years now.’

Craig reviews a book of film criticism, Ronald Schwartz’s Neo-Noir, which covers films in the noir style but made after that genre’s accepted heyday. ‘Beginning with 1960’s Psycho (which appeared only two years after the release of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, widely considered to be the final film noir), Schwartz has done an admirable job of covering the highlights of neo-noir with reviews of what he considers the 32 films most representative of the style.’

Donna found herself fascinated with a book about the making of Persian carpets, Brian Murphy’s oddly titled The Root of Wild Madder. ‘For a reader who, like me, finds Persian carpets and other forms of Persian design appealing, this book offers an introduction to the culture(s) that created them. Murphy tells about his fascination with the carpets and the process by which he overcomes his discomfort at being a Westerner bargaining with carpet dealers in the places he visits. Early on, he becomes interested in learning more about the wild madder plant that is the source of the red color so predominant in many of the classic rug designs. He builds the story around his quest to find carpets made of wool dyed with madder, to observe people working with this and other natural dyes, and to encounter a field of wild madder (rubia tinctorum).’

Gary spent some quality time with a hefty tome, the first of three volumes of a Beatles history by Mark Lewisohn, Tune In: ‘So who can keep up with all the books about The Beatles? Not me, obviously. I’ve been a fan since Beatlemania first broke on these American shores in early 1964, and in my life probably the only thing I’ve done more than read about The Beatles is listen to The Beatles. I’ve been a fan of Mark Lewisohn since I stumbled upon a copy of his first (of many) Beatles reference books, 1988’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions in a used book shop sometime in the ’90s. He’s been writing about the Fabs since the 1970s, and has actually worked for EMI and Apple Corps.’

Grey expressed no remorse when she snagged Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction for herself to review rather than forwarding it on to one of our staff writers. ‘This anthology, unlike many if not most anthologies that are published, is made up of entirely new, never before published stories. Completely fresh, still photosynthesizing, text. It makes me drool. And the contributors! Egad!’

Back when we concerned ourselves about the scope of what we reviewed, our reviewer J.J.S. took on one of those tales of all-powerful AIs and alien worlds that are firmly SF but are also in some ways indistinguishable from fantasy, Neal Asher’s and Brass Man. ‘Nevermind the differing explanations, the universe presented here is as far removed from our day-to-day realities as any story of gnomes and werewolves, and there is more than a little overlap into the realm of myth, scientific in origin or no. This is a world of demigods, golems, monsters, sorcerers, dragons, and familiars. Perhaps more importantly, this is a story of grand, sweeping events, and our heroes merely try to stay afloat as they are carried away with the current.’

Jayme had mixed feelings about a book on a topic that was of great interest. ‘In Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon, Ekkehart Malotki sets out to trace the origins of this mythic figure, hunting down hundreds of examples of the New Mexico and Arizona rock art featuring Kokopelli and conducting extensive interviews with Hopi tribe members. The result is an exhaustive, definitive account of the origins and history of the figure. It’s also something of a disappointment. Contrary to the press kit and dust jacket testimonials, this is not a lively read.’

Kestrel took on two weighty tomes of film criticism: The Hollywood Horror Film, 1931-1941: Madness in a Social Landscape, and Caligari’s Heirs: The German Cinema of Fear after 1945. Of the former, she says, ‘Reynold Humphries, a professor of film studies and author of <i>The American Horror Film: An Introduction</i> (2002), uses Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to examine the political, economic, and social influences of the classic horror film.’ And of the latter, ‘Each of the scholars who contributed to this collection demonstrated knowledge of both academic theory and pop culture resources, including fan communities and online publications. Perhaps it was due to the ways in which these very different domains were combined, but the anthology collectively is a very original work that challenges some of the assumptions about German horror cinema specifically and horror cinema in general.’

Michael reviews the first two books in Ilona Andrews’ urban fantasy series about ‘Kate Daniels, a mercenary who will clean up leftover magical problems as necessary,’ Magic Bites and Magic Burns. The premise? ‘In the semi-near future, Atlanta has become a strange and dangerous place to live. Waves of magic sweep over the world with unpredictable frequency, canceling out all things technological for the length of their duration. The supernatural is in full force during these times, with shapeshifters, mages, vampires, and far stranger things coming out to play.’

Paul‘s review of Tim Powers’ Alternate Routes contends that it provides an uneven but more mainstream fantasy novel, from one of Fantasy’s greatest luminaries.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1David reviews The Complete Ritchie Valens, a limited edition DVD that includes both music and a documentary film on DVD about the life and music of Ritchie Valens. ‘All 28 songs, including a couple of demos and alternate versions, every master take ever recorded by Ritchie, each one digitally remastered from the original masters, are here in sparking audio. … The piece de resistance, though, is the video program – a new 95 minute documentary entitled The Ritchie Valens Story: Viva Ritchie! This film includes interviews with family members, musicians and colleagues, rare home movies, rehearsal footage and much, much more.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Denise has a chocolate with an fiery edge to it: ‘There are lots of tastes that taste great together. Peanut butter and jelly. Buttered popcorn and champagne. (Seriously, try it.) And, of course, chocolate and licorice. But there’s one that doesn’t get enough love here in the States, and that’s chilies and chocolate. But we need to fix that right now. Taza’s Guajillo Chili chocolate is just the thing to make converts out of all chocolate lovers.’

Even though Gary has bad memories of what Ghirardelli Flicks tasted like back in the day, he grew to like this modern-day chocolate bar: Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark Raspberry. ‘First thing to clear up, though, is that “raspberry bits” does not mean “bits of raspberries.” So the first time I tried one of these bars I was a bit put off. The raspberry bits in this bar consist of, according to the ingredients on the package, “sugar, raspberry powder, fructose, natural flavor.” They’re crunchy teeny tiny bits of raspberry flavored candy.’

Robert has a single source chocolate for us: ‘Lolli & Pops Madagascar Sambirano comes in a flat 2-ounce bar, with a lightly incised pattern and company logo on the front, but no scoring deep enough to break the bar into bit-size pieces. It’s certainly worth sampling — if you can find it. Apparently Lolli & Pops, which has been largely a boutique confectioner with outlets in shopping malls, has been forced to closed a number of stores. So, happy hunting.’

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David found a lot to like, and it wasn’t all nostalgia, in Charles M. Schulz’s The Complete Peanuts, 1959-1960, part of an ongoing series from Fantagraphics: ‘This is the fifth book so far and we’re up to 1959-60. I was eight years old, and reading the comics for myself, so some of these simple strips are starting to look familiar to me. Of course, many of them have been reprinted in paperbacks or in deluxe versions over and over, but always in “selected” collections. Never before has the collected work of Charles Schulz been made available in this way.’

David came up with something quite different in Laurence Hyde’s Southern Cross. ‘Southern Cross is a novel with no words. Not a graphic novel, as we’ve come to understand them, but a series of 118 wood engravings that when “read” together in sequence tells a story of the atomic bomb tests by the USA in the South Pacific in the days following World War II. There is no text. Once or twice a word appears engraved in the image, but this story is told by images alone. And a powerful story it is.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Barb reviewed The Rough Guide To The Music Of Russia and found it to her liking. ‘Music from the former land of the Soviet Union is a study in the effects of repression by governments, the tenacity of artists, and the tidal wave of accessible information (especially from the West) on the musical community. Mix all of these elements up in the musical pot and you’re bound to get an incredible array of sounds and styles with sometimes surprising results.’

Next, Barb treats us to an omnibus review of four CDs of Latvian folk music from traditional to modern. ‘Like so many other cultures these days, Latvian music is enjoying the modern age of CDs and the music is reaching beyond their borders, landing in hands like mine. … If you like any kind of European folk music, you will most certainly enjoy music from Latvia.’

Big Earl was favourably impressed with Nohon’s Altai Maktal, a disc of Mongolian vocal music. ‘The voice is the real instrument of Mongolian peoples. While they scratch out a backing on simple lutes, bowed instruments, and flutes, the vocal chords are the measure of true musicianship. Nohon is a master of several different styles of throat singing, able to hit multiple octaves and sing chords. He spends much of the disc singing in a guttural baritone, but suddenly shifts up several octaves when the needs arises.’

Big Earl was a little less enthusiastic about a compilation of World music, Ten Years of Face Music. ‘This compilation comes after the release of their 22nd album, no mean feat for an independent label with such an esoteric roster. Like most compilations, there are high and low points that will differ for every particular listener, but for me, this is more a “what could have been” disc.’

Klezmer music of a modern sort is the focus of The Klezmer Conservatory Band’s Dance Me To The End of Love, according to Brendan. ‘All of the usual forms of klezmer are here: the frenetic freylekhs, the mysterious horas, melancholy waltzes. But rather than coming across as a group of stuffy scholars with the goal of sounding like their great-great-grandparents did, the Klezmer Conservatory Band is seeking to preserve the vitality and spark of old-time klezmer while expanding the repertory of klezmer as a musical form. After all, the title track is in fact a rather sultry love song written by Leonard Cohen.’

Gary found a lot to like in the new album Aboogi from Algerian Touareg band Imarhan. ‘Imarhan’s sound is similar to that of other Tuareg guitar rock bands, with perhaps a bit more of a pop influence and very strong melodic elements in the songs. This album has some very strong songs indeed.’

Gary reviews some Nordic jazz in Helge Lien Trio’s Revisited. The Norwegian pianist has a new drummer and bassist, so the trio re-recorded versions of tunes from the back catalog going back to 2002. ‘This album Revisited was partly recorded in intimate “studio” sessions at the Toyen church in Oslo, and partly live in front of an audience at the Anjazz Festival in October 2020, although there’s no indication which were which, as there’s no crowd noise from the live tracks. What’s it like? Let’s just say I’ve found the first few entries for my 2022 favorite jazz tracks playlist!’

Gary also reviews a new offering from the Castilian folk group Vigüela, A la manera artesana: ‘It kicks off splendidly with the fandango “Estrellitas matutinas” (morning stars), belted out by one of the women over a dense bed of strummed guitars and lutes with maracas and handclaps adding to the pulsing rhythm. … It wraps up more than 80 minutes later with the 10-minute tour de force of “Camina,” a son which features the vocalists showing their stuff punctuated by an expressive flute and some incredible picking and percussion. The vocal performances stand up to the best of European styles like Balkan sevdalinka and Portuguese fado in terms of the way they convey sheer emotion.’

Gary gives the thumbs up to Jake Xerxes Fussell’s Good and Green Again, his fourth album and one that is full of lovely Americana songs and instrumental tunes. ‘Jake played at one of the last live shows I saw pre-pandemic, opening for Daniel Norgren in the fall of 2019. Although I’m crossing my fingers, I doubt that I’ll be able to see him perform on the current tour, but hope to hear him sing some of these special songs next time he comes my way. In the meantime, this will be one of my go-to albums to help me get through what looks to be a third year of sheltering at home.’

An album of Finnish-American harmonica music? We review all kinds of music here, as Judith demonstrates in her review of Les Ross Sr.’s Hulivili Huuliharppu. ‘I’ve been told that Finnish-American music is insular. I’ve been told that Finns may not hug you when you arrive but that they won’t talk about you when you leave, either. In any event, Finnish-American music is not well publicized, but when you do find it, it is a joy and not all that “different” and inaccessible to American tastes. This album in particular is skillfully made and on top of things, and especially warm and a lot of fun.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Our What Not this outing is a Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet that got overlooked when it came 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.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Coda: Benedicte Maurseth’s ‘Heilo’: Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Benedicte Maurseth will release Hárr, her third album on Hubro, on Feb. 25. She has released the first single from the album on Bandcamp, and if it’s any indication of what the rest of the album is like (and I’ve no reason to doubt it), this will be a special album indeed. We hear the occasional calls of the shorebird known as the golden plover (and at least one other bird), and in addition to her haunting fiddle we have contributions from bandmates Håkon Mørch Stene on vibraphone, marimba, percussion, and possibly more; and the ubiquitous Mats Eilertsen on double bass and electronics, plus guest Rolf-Erik Nystrøm on saxophones. It’s a mesmerizing performance, and the album, which also includes the recorded voices of Maurseth’s great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, as well as other birds, mammals and even a bumblebee, promises to be just as unpredictable and fascinating.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Chicken Pot Pie

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Making chicken pies starts with slaughtering enough chickens to feed twenty-five or so hungry folk. A chicken dressed out yields two pounds of meat which is enough for four to six people depending on what else gets added in. All of Iain’s Library Apprentices, the Several Annies, as they’ve been called for centuries, get to be part of the slaughtering as we believe firmly they should know where their food comes from. Only one of the six got sick and vomited, not bad. Of course they also got to dress out the chickens, a filthy bit of work as stripping feathers, beheading, gutting them, and washing them free of blood just isn’t pleasant work.

Most cooks boil their chicken before deboning them for the pie but the tradition here is to bake (bone in) with smoked bacon over them and certain spices (no Estate Head Cook will tell what they are) in the wood stove in covered iron pots ’til the meat fairly falls off the bones.

Next comes the crust, which is a yeast based dough that is allowed to rise overnight before being shaped into the pie pans. It makes a wonderful light crust that, on the bottom, soaks up the oh so tasty juices.

The pie wouldn’t be complete without vegetables. In the summer, it would get fresh baby pea pods, mushrooms, and anything else appropriate to the season. During this season, it gets cut up potatoes, carrots, rehydrated mushrooms, and onions. All are chopped fine as is the chicken to give it a uniform consistency for cooking evenly.

It goes in the wood stove on a low heat for several hours with the top crust covered with moistened cheesecloth to keep it from drying out. After baking, the pies sit for an hour to cool down just a bit.

Served along with cider, it’s a meal well worth savouring!

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What’s New for 9th of January: All things Batman; Ritter bars and other wonderful things

Luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.  ― Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice

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That’s ‘Number 37’ which is  James Keelaghan’s homage to a female horse racer playing here in the Green Man Pub this lovely day. It’s off one of the myriad samplers that we get, Festive to Go: An All Canadian Sampler that came in quite some years ago. I’m looking for a live recording of it so I can share it but no luck so far.

I remember seeing him play this quite some years back at a concert somewhere in Canada where I was managing the door as a favour to a friend. He pulled a flask out of his jeans that held some of the finest Irish whisky that I’d ever had. Don’t recall who distilled it but fuck it was good! If you’re in the mood for some Irish this afternoon, I’ll recommend the Powers John’s Lane which we carry here along with several others. It’s pricy but worth it.

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Kelly has a tasty piece of pulpy SF for us: ‘Poul Anderson, who died in 2001, was one of the grand old voices of science fiction right up until his death, winning the Hugo Award seven times, the Nebula Award three times, and being named in 1997 as a Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. His was a long and prolific career. In the middle of that career, he created a character named Dominic Flandry, whose adventures had eluded me as a reader until my review copy of Ensign Flandry arrived on my desk. Now I’m wondering why.’

Richard states: ‘Sometimes, the intentions are better than the end result. Such is the case with Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson’s Worlds, a tribute to the late Grand Master edited by Gardner Dozois and Anderson’s son-in-law Greg Bear. This is not to say that Anderson isn’t worthy of the honor. On the contrary, even a cursory look at his body of work suggests how highly he should be regarded.’

Robert says that  ‘Summon the Keeper is quite possibly the first of Tanya Huff’s books that I read – she’s another one of those writers who has a long history in my library. This one is a contemporary urban fantasy that is hilariously funny, original, and captivating.’

He also  has a review of Patricia McKillip’s 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 though you do not read that novel first: ‘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.’

Warner starts off with Charlotte Carter’s Rhode Island Red which he says ‘is a nice little mystery centering on the author’s recurring detective Nanette Hayes. Charlotte Carter has a number of quality novels under her belt at this point, yet on initial publication in 1997 this was the first to feature this detective. As one of the author’s earlier books, it is also a fascinating look back into older examples of her work.’

He says Sean Hogan’s England’s Screaming is ‘an interesting piece of literary studies as fiction. Specifically, it takes a number of icons and figures from British horror and attempts to build a coherent timeline of events assuming they are united world. This is a fascinating idea, harkening back to David Thompson’s Suspects (a fact which Hogan makes clear in his own preface) or Philip Jose Farmer’s World Newton ideas. although done with different style and organization.’

Short fiction is next for him: ‘Darren Speegle & Michael Bailey’s Prisms is an anthology centered almost entirely upon the strange matter of point of view. Whole stories exploring the question of change, and points of view. The pieces within this collection vary from obviously science fiction and fantasy to seemingly being a slice of life.’

He next has a review of a book that sounds very interesting: ‘Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favors the Dead is a wonderful bit of throwback fiction, featuring a pair of detectives solving mysteries while sharing a home. It is hardly a new formula, yet works so well that readers are willing to give their love to it. The case here deals with a psychic, a rich family, and a series of fairly distanced deaths. Still, like so many pairs, the detectives have to meet.’

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Denise digs into a childhood favorite; Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Marzipan. ‘As my Grossie would say, “Dem Germans know how to make marzipan.” I concur. Check out her review for a taste of her thoughts about this bar!

Richard states that ‘Sometimes, the intentions are better than the end result. Such is the case with Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson’s Worlds, a tribute to the late Grand Master edited by Gardner Dozois and Anderson’s son-in-law Greg Bear.’ Read his insightful review to see why this was so.

Robert has some really great chocolate for us: ‘As you will remember, Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG is a major German chocolatier and candy manufacturer. I happen to have recently received two of their Limited Edition candies for review, Raspberry Creme and Buttermilk Lemon, which means, sadly, that I wasn’t allowed to just snarf them down. These are part of a series of candies made with yogurt and flavorings and covered in chocolate.’

He also looked at three chocolate squares from Ritter, the German chocolate company. (Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts; Rum, Trauben, Nuss (Rum, Raisins, Nuts); and Dark Chocolate with Marzipan). His answer to why he has less satisfied this outing than when he reviewed the first three Ritter squares is detailed by him.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Cat was very enthusiastic about the Beeb’s The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries on DVD: ‘Nothing is amiss here — and keep that in mind, as it becomes important in a minute — with the acting perfect, the scripts well-written, and the setting (which appears to be London just after the Second World War) wonderfully realized. All in all, it’s one of the better BBC mystery series I’m seen done, an equal of the Brother Cadfael series which starred Derek Jacobi.’

David and Spike checked out the Anthony Minghella film adaptation of Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain. David was less than favorably impressed. ‘I suppose we shouldn’t expect realism in a film that is essentially fantasy. That two people should fall so hopelessly in love after a courtship that takes place at a distance and over only a few passing moments is a romantic notion that has provided the impetus for hundreds of novels. Somehow the idea works better on paper than on film. Especially when the director has gone to so much trouble to make the setting real.’ And Spike? I like the bit where they cut up the cow! That wuz really grisly!

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Our archives this time bring forth a plethora of reviews of all things Batman.

Cat has spent a lot of time watching Batman: The Animated Series on DVD, and was quite pleased with this book about it, Paul Dini and Chip Kidd’s Batman Animated. ‘Batman Animated is a lavishly illustrated commentary by Paul Dini, writer on the series, and Chip Kidd, the author of Batman Collected, which is possibly the most fanatical look at the various products — from soap dispensers to action figures — based on the Batman franchise.’

Richard takes a detailed look at Grant Morrison and Tony S. Daniel’s Batman R.I.P., and comes to a bit of a mixed conclusion: ‘As a reader, you either go with what Morrison’s doing, which is to use the worst excesses of Batman’s long and storied history to try to get at some core truths about what has made the character so enduring, or you don’t. If you do, the narrative is an intriguing, clever look at precisely how powerful the idea of The Batman is, as manifested by Bruce Wayne’s imitators, followers, and ultimate drive to seek the truth when even his core personality has been stripped away. If, however, you don’t, it’s a muddled mess that’s overly reliant on willfully obscure bits of continuity, loaded with ridiculous supporting characters, and too clever for its own good.’

April casts her eye (and pen) over Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s attempt to assist DC in laying to rest a bunch of old Batmans in preparation for a reboot, in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader. ‘The scenario is a seemingly simple one: a rogue’s gallery of villains – and allies – have gathered in a torchlit room off a dark alley in Gotham City to pay tribute to an open casket. A casket containing Batman’s body. But there’s a twist, of course, for the proceedings have a pair of unseen voyeurs: Batman himself and a mysterious woman.’

April said it looked like DC was gearing up for a Batman reboot with Neil Gaiman’s book (see above), and here it is. Robert attempts to untangle the complex skein that is the beginning of a new Batman & Robin series. ‘Grant Morrison, in Batman Reborn, has brought us the next generation of — well, of Batman and Robin. In this case, Batman is Dick Grayson, the former Robin, the former Nightwing. Robin is Bruce Wayne’s son Damian, ten years old, raised by his mother and her league of assassins, returned home to undertake his part of his father’s legacy. It’s not an ideal mix, as far as personalities go.’

Robert found Matt Wagner’s Batman/Grendel to be a mixed bag. This book draws together two crossover series bringing those two characters together. Of the first, he says, ‘I have reservations about this one, starting with the story itself: it’s more than a little formulaic, even for comics, and Grendel’s methods, while certainly in keeping with his character, are almost trite. My deeper complaints have to do with the way the story is executed. … Most of those complaints disappear in the second mini-series, incorporating “Devil’s Bones” and “Devil’s Dance.” ‘

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1As is his wont every year about this time, Gary looks back at some of his favorite music of the past 12 months. Gary’s favorite jazz and world music of 2021 includes jazz duos, trios, quintets and larger groups, plus a lot of “Nordic noir” and some Uyghur folk songs.

Next, he reviews his favorite roots, rock, and Americana music of 2021. ‘There was plenty of good Americana and roots music in 2021, but I didn’t hear a lot of great music in those categories. Which is fine, and understandable. We’re all struggling to stay afloat.’

Doran is the sound of four young musicians engaged in the serious business of playing with sound,’ Gary says of this group’s self-titled debut. ‘These four, who hail variously from the Pacific Northwest, New York City, and rural Virginia, have made one of the most spine-tingling and yet comforting albums of American folk music in 2021.’

And he looks back at January 1966, when he was puzzling out the new album from The Beatles, Rubber Soul. The cover is different for one thing, and the music is different too: more acoustic than electric, and though still largely love songs, they’re more mature. In the end, he says, it’s ‘a solid, compact, enjoyable album. It may not have been apparent at the time, but it shows the Beatles beginning to pivot away from teenage love songs into more mature fare, which would become glaringly obvious on their next album Revolver.’

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What Not

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Coda

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Hidden Library

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It’s been jocularly observed that the presence of many books in one place can actually warp both space and time.

I’m Iain MacKenzie, the Head Librarian here at the Kinrowan Estate, and I’m not sure that this view is so very far from being right. The stacks here at the Library, for instance, can be rather frighteningly extensive. Though we’ve never actually lost anyone, that I know of.

And did you know there is a unique little bookshop in Kinrowan Hall? You didn’t, did you? I was here for years before I stumbled upon it, just last year.

I was restless late one winter night a month or so ago, unable to sleep no matter what I did, so I came down from our garret revidence leaving Catherine, my wife, sleeping to the Library to do some cataloguing, escorted by Finn, one of the cats. I noticed a warm, yellow light coming from a hallway where I didn’t recall existing before now, so I went to investigate.

The light spilled from the open top-half of a door; the door had a small sign hanging on it that read, rather simply, ‘Books’.

Peering through the door, I saw a rather small, gnarled-looking individual sitting at a tiny desk surrounded by what looked to be thousands of books, shelf after shelf of them. Library-style ladders ran along the walls on the left and right.

The whole lot was in a space barely wider than the doorway itself, but seemingly running deep into the building.

The proprietor appeared to be deeply immersed in a book, and didn’t seem to notice me and the cat standing rather hesitantly just outside the door, even when Finn jumped up onto the top ledge of the half-door and leaned in, waving his stumpy tail around for balance, to get a closer look.

All in all, it put me in mind of one of those tiny bookstores where the proprietor must be talked into parting with one of the books for sale. Finn and I exchanged a glance, and after a moment I decided to continue on my way to my catalogues, Finn jumping down with a soft thud to the floor and running ahead of me across the hall.

And then, as so often happens, I was busy with thing after thing, and I haven’t managed to make my way back to the strange little bookshop to explore. One of these days…

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What’s New for the 26th of December: It’s Boxing Day!

Sometime she forgot what subculture she was living in. — Dagmar Shaw in William Jon Williams’ This Is Not A Game

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The Kitchen this morning decided to take upon themselves to turn out a most excellent batch of pumpkin cream cheese muffins. Now, the Kinrowan Estate has grown those creatures for centuries now and they get used in cooking quite a bit here. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and tarts, curried rice with pumpkin and winter veggies… You name it, it’s likely pumpkin has played a role in it. Though not that abomination that is pumpkin spice coffee that Starbucks has popularised!

I like my coffee freshly brewed which is which the Pub has its own machine here. It is a Wolf Ten Cup Automatic Drip Coffee Maker. You don’t want to make too much coffee ahead.

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Cat says in his review that “I’ve got a lot of audiobooks in my Audible library as it’s been my primary source for such matters for many years now, so sometimes I forget if I’ve listened to one of them. This is how I came to be listening recently to Lavie Tidhar’s The Great Game, a genre stretching thriller that’s set, I think, at the end of the Nineteenth Century in an alternate universe that’s a riff off various literary works in our universe. Think Allan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as an apt comparison. It was a wonderful listen.’

He also found a lot to like in Seanan McGuire’s Indexing books: ‘I’m re-listening right now to one of those things that Seanan McGuire does so ever well: she takes a familiar story and make it fresh. … I first read it as novels when they came out some six years ago and then listened to it a few years later. Now being home confined due to three knee surgeries, I’m doing a lot of audiobooks and this was a series I wanted to revisit while working on other things.’

Gary reviewed all three of the books in William Gibson’s so-called Blue Ant trilogy: Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History. He says, ‘The best-selling series brought Gibson out of the ghetto of genre fiction into the limelight of more mainstream fiction, which is something that some sci-fi fans may hold against him. One of the inventors of cyberpunk is writing books that aren’t even sci-fi, and they’re about … fashion! How dare he?’

Farah Mendlesohn’s Diana Wynne Jones: The Fantastic Tradition and Children’s Literature gets a review by Kestrell: ‘Diana Wynne Jones (DWJ to her fans) is one of those writers who, despite the fact that she is frequently referred to as a “children’s author,” has a significant following of adult readers. Although there are an increasing number of literary critics addressing the subject of children’s and young adult fantasy, there is still a lack of literary criticism addressing why those books often shelved in the children’s sections of bookstores and libraries hold such a strong appeal for so many adult readers. Despite the title of this book (a title chosen by the publisher, not the author), its subject is a sophisticated exploration of Diana Wynne Jones’s complex approach to writing and storytelling.’

Jo has this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR a very long time ago.: ‘Folk legend merges with Jane Yolen’s creative world to create a work of pure magic in The Wild Hunt, which should be destined to become a classic in the world of children’s literature. Pitting the forces of light and dark against one another is a common theme, but it is rare for those forces to acknowledge the other as essential to their own existence, as done in this delightful tale. Yolen’s use of time and words have woven a masterpiece from the ancient threads of an old tale together with the modern threads of something totally new and different. The resulting tapestry is beautiful to behold.’

Richard’s first review is a look at an award-winning fantasy series which is perhaps the most English of the series here: ‘Trying to write an omnibus review of Robert Holdstock‘s Ryhope Wood cycle is a damnably difficult task. On a strictly practical note, two portions of the cycle (‘The Bone Forest’ and Merlin’s Wood) are fiendishly hard to find. ‘The Bone Forest’, which can be found in The Bone Forest collection describes the original explorations of George Huxley and Edward Wynne-Jones into the nature of Ryhope Wood, at a time when Christian and Stephen Huxley, the protagonists of Mythago Wood and Lavondyss are still children.’

He also looks at Donald E. Morese and Kalman Matolcsy’s The Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock: Critical Essays on the Fiction: ‘The myth-infested landscape of Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood would seem to be fertile ground, not only for walking legends and “mythagos”, but also for literary criticism. After all, in the sequence Holdstock tackles not the structures of mythic fiction – dark lords, questing heroes, magical macguffins and so forth – but rather the concept of myth itself, and how the same core stories have echoed down through the millennia, amplified and distorted and reflected by centuries of human experience.‘

Richard ginishes his reviews off with a book of Appalachian lore for us: ‘Manly Wade Wellman’s stories of Silver John are like snatches of a familiar song: you find them in the most fascinating places, but good luck finding the whole tune in one place when you want to. While the Silver John tales are relentlessly anthologized (at least, by anthology editors with good taste), finding the actual novels and collections of stories featuring Wellman’s wandering guitarist are rarer than hen’s teeth. Finding a Silver John novel, like After Dark, is cause for a discerning reader to rejoice. Alas that such causes for rejoicing are few and far between these days.’

Robert starts off a review I think is perfect for a reading as it was the author’s Birthday this week this way: ‘I’ve long followed Charles de Lint’s writing, starting with, if I remember correctly, Moonheart way back when, and I’ve been as close as I ever come to being a fan for years. (I even got my hands on some early stories, somehow.) So when I was asked to do a review of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, I said, “Yes. I haven’t had a chance to read de Lint in a while.” ’

Warner says ‘Lyndsay Faye’s Observations by Gaslight is a collection of stories about a familiar detective which take an interesting stylistic decision as a common feature. The subtitle of the book is “Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes” yet rather than featuring Watson as the narrator, instead chooses to have each tale told by a different individual.’

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April has some chocolate cups 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.’

Chuao Chocolatier’s Chocolate Bars were a mixed bag according 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.’

Carletti’s Jakobsen Coffee Time chocolate collection pleased Denise: ‘Danish chocolates? Don’t mind if I do! Especially when the package itself gives me a great excuse to indulge. Coffee time? Yes please! And while these chocolates would go great with coffee, I had mine with a stout, and then a mug of green tea. I was pleased.’  Read her detailed reviews for all the sweet notes.

Robert got a treat this week — Chocolat Frey’s Chocobloc Dark 72% with Honey-Almond Nougat: ‘Chocolat Frey AG was founded in 1887, and is presently the number one chocolate in the Swiss retail market. Like all good chocolatiers these days, Frey is environmentally and socially conscious, which extends not only to its procurement of raw materials, but to its conservation-minded manufacturing and shipping.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1In a thorough omnibus review, Michael took a run through three Brian Froud faery-related collaborations, including the first in the “pressed fairy” series: Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, and Strange Stains and Mysterious Smells, both by Froud and Terry Jones; and Good Faeries, Bad Faeries by Froud and Terry Windling. ‘Froud’s artistic genius has matured and developed a lot over the decades. He’s not the same artist he was when he helped create the uniquely memorable characters and concepts in *Labyrinth*, but he’s changed only for the better.’

Next up Michael takes a fond look at Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Journal, also by Froud and Terry Jones.  ‘Worry not, for no fairies were harmed in the production of this book, even though a great many of them appear flattened and squished on the pages. See, what they’ve left are -psychic- impressions, and the whole thing is actually something of a fairy sport. So you don’t have to feel sorry for them.’

The review of Brian Froud and Ari Berk’s Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters fell to Mia, who was charmed. ‘The third volume exploring the world of notorious Lady Angelica Cottington, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters brings us a collection of her correspondence, saved and carefully pressed along with more of her victims . . . er, specimens . . . in another insanely fascinating companion to her Pressed Fairy Book.’

Finally, if you’re tired of all those faeries, pressed or otherwise, Mia takes us for a spin through Ari Berk and Brian Froud’s Goblins, which she says ‘is a brilliant representation of Berk and Froud’s contact with the goblin world — and it was very close contact, as Froud even locked a goblin scribe in his downstairs bathroom (Help! I trapped in downstairs water closet. Mr. Froud very bad man … Come to Froud ground floor poop-cupboard and unlock door. Will give you many socks and a small dog with cheese on him. — Gargle)!’

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Gary reviews the final two installments of a 20-volume series of CDs of the Folk Music of China. First, he gives an overview of the sprawling Vol. 19 – Folk Songs of the Lahu, Jingpo, Jino and Achang Peoples: ‘It’s difficult to do justice to such a panoply of diverse music on one disc, even in 36 tracks, and just as difficult in a review. This 19th and penultimate volume of the Folk Music of China series feels like a whirlwind sonic tour of Yunnan province, best experienced with a hot cup of tea, perhaps pu-erh.’

Next up is the even more compendious Vol. 20 – Folk Songs of the Hui, Manchu, Xibe, Korean and Gin Peoples, with 41 tracks covering the music of five ethnic groups! ‘This 20th volume of the Folk Music of China series is emblematic of the whole: filled with incredible variety in style, substance and performance. It is surprising and gratifying that so many of these highly differentiated regional and ethnic styles of folk song have survived the arrival of radio, television and other electronic media. I don’t know if any of this music is threatened by the rapid modernization and urbanization of China, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is.’

Gary enjoyed the modern hard bop sounds of a quintet from the Spanish region of Catalonia called David Viñolas’s 5ET. ‘Viñolas is a true international player. As a drummer he has played with musicians in jazz and other idioms throughout Spain as well as in France, Cuba, Turkey, Portugal and Austria. Viñolas has been blind since his birth in a village in Catalonia, and showed an early interest in music, playing classical piano and Catalan music with local student ensembles, where he showed particular interest in drums. Largely self-taught in his early years, he’s been a voracious student of all aspects of modern music in various schools, workshops, and through private lessons.’

We’re nearing the end of another calendar year, so as I was perusing the music archives I had in mind the many, many variations on Robbie Burns’s curious song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ our reviewers have covered over the years. Here are just a few of the examples I turned up:

Chuck was a bit puzzled by A Thistle and Shamrock Christmas Ceilidh, which he liked but said was more of a Green Linnet sampler than a holiday album. ‘With tracks as recent as Lunasa’s “Goodbye Miss Goodavich/Rosie’s Reel” from 1999’s Otherworld and as old as Tannahill Weavers “Auld Land Syne” from 1982’s The Tannahill Weavers IV, there’s a lot of good material for Ritchie to choose from. Several songs of the season are included. Besides the above-mentioned “Auld Land Syne,” Altan’s “The Snowy Path” (From Harvest Storm) and John Renbourn’s “I Saw Three Ships” (from Christmas Guitars), fit the winter theme. Outside of that, however, there’s nothing but good music.’

Gary notes that June Tabor’s jazzy ensemble Quercus opened their second album Nightfall with an interesting rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ ‘It has become something of an odd musical touchstone in Western culture, a song that looks resolutely backward that is sung at the beginning of each new year, a paradox that Tabor embraces by placing this in the first position. It’s reharmonized, as they say in the jazz world, to a tune that’s less sentimental and less obvious than the one we all drunkenly sing on the stroke of midnight. And of course Tabor includes the other verses, giving herself and the players a chance to explore things a bit.’

Gary also found a lot to like (of course!) in Richard Thompson’s Old Kit Bag, including a sardonic song that comments on our ambiguous New Year’s ritual. ‘Thompson saves almost the best for last, with “Happy Days and Auld Lang Syne.” Underneath the surface of this glimpse of a relationship’s end lurks a typically twisted bit of Thompson commentary. The title, of course, refers to the song sung in much of the English-speaking world at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Robbie Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne.”

Lars mostly enjoyed an offering from The Gothard Sisters, a Celtic trio who work many other styles of roots music into their performance, as they do on their third CD Mountain Rose. ‘I am not that impressed by their reading of ”Auld Lang Syne” though. They rush through it, and at the end you understand why; they turn it into a fast, furious reel. And that part is superb. Probably a great number to finish one of the girls’ 120 concerts a year, but as a song it does not work on record.’

Lars was gobsmacked by a 12-CD collection of The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, which includes more than one version of our now New Year’s Eve standard. ‘This is one of the most ambitious recording projects I have encountered within the folk music world, covering all of Robert Burns’ 368 songs. It took about six years and twelve volumes to complete, with a great number of well known Scottish musicians and singers taking part.’

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For this week’s What Not, Robert has a group of four — count ’em, four — finger puppets from Folkmanis: ‘All in all this is a nice group, although there’s not a lot of mobility — about all you can do is wag your finger back and forth, but given their size, I suppose that’s about all that can be expected.’

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Let’s finish off with Garmarna, a Swedish group founded in nineteen ninety ,after several of them who were friends saw traditional Swedish music performed in a film. Emma Härdelin, their vocalist, would join them several years after that. ‘Vedergällningen is from a concert in Sweden they did around the turn of the millennium.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Butlers (A Letter to Svetlana)

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Dear friend,

First, I’m glad that you’ll be joining us here shortly. The Steward has made your travel arrangements and has set aside one of the crofter cottages we renovated a few years back for you to use as a living space and a weaving studio. He’s overjoyed to have you here to oversee apprentices and offer apprenticeships in weaving. And of course, Catherine’s eager to start grilling you for interesting recipes to use in her Kitchen. Not to mention it’ll be nice to have you as a staffer for all the apprenticeship programmes.

I was amused that you asked who acted as Brittle here. (I see you’ve been re-reading Stoddard’s excellent Evenmere novels.) The answer’s simple if a bit odd by estate standards: no one does. There’s no Gentry here to give orders to a Butler nor does The Steward, Jean-Pierre, nor, if the Journals are truthful and they may not be, any of his predecessors over the past thousand or so years, actually give orders to any of the Staff. Long before the Diggers, the Levellers or the Paris Workers Commune, this Estate apparently functioned as less of a hierarchy and more as a collective with staff chosen managers for task areas.

We’ve got (currently) Ingrid as Stewart (selected by the senior staff as mandated by the Charter), Head Cook (Catherine), Librarian (Iain), Brewmaster (Björn), Pub Manager (me), Head Gardener (Gus), and Gillie (also handled by Gus). They pick the staff under them but everyone pitches in as need, so work crews (visiting musicians and other long-term guests are strongly encouraged to lend a hand) are comprised of those best suited to task at hand. So when Gus needs night watches over the expectant ewes in the Spring, he usually has two or three Several Annies who volunteer. In turn, Catherine has several staff always willing to spell them and take warm food and beverages out to them. And several of the lads got basic vet training from the vet who practices in the nearest village as that’s twenty miles away, so she’s not really available if something goes wrong. (We’ll need a vet here if we go back to using horses.)

It’s a big Estate, nearly twelve thousand acres in size. And the staff’s small for its size, barely thirty including apprentices. I don’t know how far back present practices go but Gus guesses they stretch back several centuries at least and maybe a lot longer if the Journals can trusted. I’ll tell you sometime why we distrust the Journals before the early Sixteenth century but that’s a tale for when you’re here as it’s really best told in the presence of senior staff.

Senior staff are selected by the recommendation of the stepping down holder of that position with the consent of the full Estate staff. Generally they agree, but we’ve had two leave suddenly in recent times (one Librarian named Grubb, one Steward who went fleeing into the night when he realized he really wasn’t in charge) and several die (one gillie strangely enough drowned, one gardener broke his neck in a logging accident) so the Staff as a whole had to pick new ones. We try to bring fresh blood in so we ask Staff for recommendations, so Catherine, to give an example, was recommended by Gus who knew her as her late husband was Swedish from his community and knew she was looking for a new position.

I achieved my position several decades back because I mentioned to Jack as we were busking in (I think) northern Germany that I was tired of busking and needed a steady job managing a pub as Ingrid and I wanted to settle down. I had no idea that he actually lived on an estate or what that meant but we agreed to spend a few weeks here. A few weeks became a few months and a few months became, well, a very long time here.

At any rate, that’s how it works. As general staff, you’ll find it works very well no matter the occasional grumbling from Iain or other senior staff.

Till we see you, Reynard

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What’s new for 12th of December: Mari Boine Persen live, Spidery things, Gwyneth on chestnuts and other late Autumn Matters

And when I feel alone, like no one understands what I’m going through, I remember my friends who get it. I never thought I’d be able to do any of this stuff, but I can. Anyone can wear the mask. You could wear the mask. If you didn’t know that before, I hope you do now. Because I’m Spider-Man. And I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot.— Miles Morales in Spider- Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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So you want to try something different this afternoon from the Green Man Pub stock? You about Glen Kennebragh single malt whisky? It’s quite good but it‘ll cost you deep in the pocket as it’s a thousand pound bottle which is why I keep it on that recessed shelf. So that’s sixty pounds if you’re up for it but I do pour a generous dram.

So may I get you a copy of Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram to read? It’s a popular around here for the obvious reasons. And as Banks says in the book, “After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink.”

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April starts our book reviews off with a work from Charles de Lint: ‘Part murder mystery, part horror story, Mulengro is a de Lint urban fantasy of a different sort. Set in and around modern day Ottawa, the novel is, above all else, a study in colliding cultures, namely those of Rom and Gaje (all that is not Rom), that which is resilient yet transitory and that which is possessive.’

Now let’s have a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting beings that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming, at least for me, are Maida and Zia, the two Crow Girls, who look like pinkish teenagers — all in black, naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in ‘A Crow Girls Christmas’ written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his equally talented wife, MaryAnn Harris.

Chris looks at deservedly beloved holiday classic: ‘Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent. If you have (as we do) a beloved dog-eared copy that gets read each Christmas you won’t find any misguided, dramatic, self conscious, ‘gee, how can we repackage this for media savvy kiddies?’ mistakes; just the familiar, wonderful book in a nice matching slipcase. What you will notice most are the deep, rich, exquisitely printed illustrations.’

Gary read recent editions of the first and third novels of Iain M. Banks’s Culture series, Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons. It wasn’t the first time he’d read them, but he still found both gripping, as he says in his dual review.

He looks at another novel in the series: ‘As with all of Bank’s Culture novels, Surface Detail is richly imagined in addition to being intricately plotted. The characters’ actions sometimes surprise but never seem out of character. The settings are minutely described, and in such a way that I can almost always them see in my mind’s eye. There was a short section somewhere past the midpoint where I felt that the plot got bogged down for a while; other than that, I could hardly turn its nearly 650 pages fast enough.’

Gary also reviews a book of literary criticism about the Culture series. He says Simone Caroti’s The Culture Series ‘is valuable reading for anyone who wants to move into a deeper understanding of what that series is really about, where it stands in the history of SF and literature, and why it’s important.’

Grey looks at a seasonal work from Wendy Froud and Terri Windling: ‘The faery court of Old Oak Wood was not the largest in the British Isles, but it was the oldest, steeped in elfin history and tradition. Ruled by Titania and Oberon, those celebrated lovers of story and song, the wood was a misty, mossy place hidden deep in the hills of Dartmoor. The court maidens of Old Oak Wood were said to be the most beautiful, its dancers lightest on their feet, its flying faeries faster than the wind. Its wizards and its warriors were famed throughout the faery realm. But young Sneezle was none of these things; he was just a humble tree root faery who lived in a small round house at the very bottom of Greenmoss Glen — The Winter Child

Steampunk set in the Victorian Era is quite the rage these days (even if much of it is shite),  so it’s apt that Kelly has a review of  the following work: ‘To the casual reader or observer, it sometimes may seem that the twentieth century was the time of real blossoming in terms of the Fantastic in literature: after all, that’s when science fiction really came into its own, and when a certain Don of Oxford penned a tale about hobbits and gold rings. But the more rigorous student of the Fantastic knows that Fantasy, as well as those tropes that eventually spun away to become science fiction, are far older than just a hundred years. The literature of the fantastic stretches back as far as Homer, after all, and likely even before that. The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, a long-gestating labor of love by Jess Nevins, focuses on the Fantastic of the Victorian era.’

A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files got this note from Richard: ‘Generally speaking, the supernatural western rests roughly at the heart of Joe Lansdale’s run on Jonah Hex. You can shift it a little toward Briscoe County here, a little toward the Deadlands RPG there, but really, the metaphor’s pretty solidly set. Until, of course, something comes along like Gemma Files’ A Book of Tongues, which takes the traditional supernatural western, sizes it up, and then calmly shoots it in the back of the head.’

It’s the time of year when we look back over the year (or years) past, and Robert came up with a series that has become a contemporary classic: Glen Cook’s Annals of the Black Company, recently (well, fairly recently) reissued in a set of omnibus editions. Start with The Chronicles of the Black Company: ‘We all have our personal lists, individual counterparts to those periodic lists of “most important,” “best,” or whatever the accolade of the moment might be. I have a personal list of “best fantasy series” that includes some works that might not be “great,” but several that I think arguably are. In the realm of modern heroic fantasy, in particular, I think anyone would be hard put to protest the inclusion of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Fritz Leiber’s tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Michael Moorock’s great cycle of stories of The Eternal Champion, and Glen Cook’s Black Company.’

Warner has a historical mystery for us: ‘Overall Lindsey Davis’ A Comedy of Terrors is excellent. It features a number of interesting characters, a twisted mystery, and a wonderful setting. While it does not add too many elements to the Flavia Alba Roman Empire series, it does a fine job of illustrating a new status quo. Recommended to those looking for a female led historical mystery.’

He says that ‘Cody Goodfellow & Joseph S. Pulver Sr.’s New Maps of Dream is an anthology that also serves as a love letter to the Deamlands stories of H.P. Lovecraft and others. Filled with carefully chosen stories themed after dreams and a special reality in them, this is a collection in which even the elements which are predictable are exquisitely crafted.’

Up for some Holmes? Warner starts off with Sherlock Holmes’  A Case of Royal Blackmail,  a novel about the great detective by Ian Strathcarron. ‘Serving as a prequel of sorts, the book deals with the romantic affairs frequently conducted by Edward the VII, nicknamed “Bertie.” ‘

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Befitting the time of year, we asked Gwyneth what her favorite winter comfort food was and here’s the lead-in to her long and delightful answer: ‘Chestnuts, I’m obsessed with chestnuts at Christmas. The obsession dates back to childhood, when chestnuts roasted over the coals on a fire-shovel were a winter treat, back in the primitiive and labour intensive days when my parents’ house was heated by an Aga (solid fuel range) in the kitchen, and coal/wood fires elsewhere. And marrons glacees were the ultimate in sophistication. . . until I finally tried them, and wondered what the fuss was about. (I’m sure they’re very nourishing, by the way) Now I live in Sussex, I expect to forage a kilo or so of sweet chestnuts in October or November. After that it’s hit or miss. One year I slung them in the freezer wet and still in the shell & they defrosted as mush. Another year I left them in a copper bowl in a corner they went mouldy & the bowl suffered too. The supermarket then provides, boring!’

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Cat looks at a film that he wasn’t sure about: ‘Marvel’s animation has in contrast to that of DC generally sucked. It’s been weak, both in overall design and in actually carrying the story. It often looks awful and feels dated. DC live films may be a mess but their animation efforts are usually second to none. However Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had been getting reviews that said its story was great and that its animation was stellar, so I figured I’d give it a go.’ Did he like it? Oh yes!

Michael looks at two Spider-Man films. Of the first, he notes: ‘Spider-Man reinvents the classic comic book character for the big screen, remaining as faithful as possible to the source material. We follow the evolution and growth of Peter Parker from tormented geek to daring hero. All the classic elements are in here.’ And he follows up with Spider-Man 2.

And Robert takes a look at another version of the Spider-Man story: ‘So I had this coupon from Best Buy that allowed me to pick up a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man for half price. Another one of those films I’d heard of but didn’t really know much about, except that 1) it’s about Spider-Man, a character who has started to intrigue me, and 2) superhero.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Of Jason Latour’s Spider-Gwen, Volume 0: Most Wanted Cat says: ‘Please note that I’ve said little about the story here. That’s quite deliberate as I want you to have the fun of discovering just how great a story Latour has written. It’s certainly one of the better uses of the Spider mythos I’ve seen. I’m going to have to read the rest of the story of Gwen Stacy of Earth-65, drummer in the Mary Janes when she’s not keeping the Multiverse safe from harm.’

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Gary notes that jazz bassist Christian McBride has played an annual December residency at the storied Village Vanguard for many years. He’s just released a CD recorded there during one such residency in 2014 with his quintet Inside Straight, whose members play vibraphone, saxophone, piano and drums in addition to McBride on bass. ‘If you enjoy modern hard bop type jazz like I do, you’re in for a treat with this superb set by Christian McBride & Inside Straight.’

In the wake of the sad news of the passing of Michael Nesmith last week, we’re re-running Gary’s recent review of Nesmith’s three albums that he made with the First National Band just a little more than 50 years ago: Magnetic South, Loose Salute, and Nevada Fighter. Rest in peace, Papa Nez.

We’ve covered a lot of winter holiday music over the years, so we pulled a few from the archives for your enjoyment this time:

David had very high praise for the first winter holiday release by the archival label Dust-to-Digital. ‘There are some Christmas albums that can be played non-stop throughout the Christmas season — favourite seasonal songs by your favourite singers. … But every once in a while a record comes along that transcends the season and provides good listening, solid musical value, and even (dare I say it) historical importance to be played outside the month of December. Where Will You Be Christmas Day? is one of those recordings.’

David was unexpectedly pleased with The Jethro Tull Christmas Album: ‘The songs are, for the most part, original pieces which carry a traditional framework, and offer lyrics which comment on the realities of modern life, and how our expectations for the Christmas season might be somewhat skewed… The sound is beautiful, the mood seasonal, and the message timely.’

He also rather liked their benefit release for the holiday season, Merry Christmas from Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. It’s a short three song CD to raise funds for an organization called Wild About Cats, and the music is lovely, he says: ‘It’s all very warm and cozy. People outside the office called in, “Dave! You’re putting us in the Christmas spirit!” Oh! Wouldn’t want to do that . . .before you know it I’ll be surrounded by tinsel and lights!’

Kim reviews a mixed bag of Christmas-themed CDs, and she likes all of them! ‘Bringing out the holiday music is as much a part of the ritual as baking cookies, pounding out some carols on the family piano, and wrapping presents. These are the types of discs that get played year after year, or discarded if they don’t measure up.’ You should proceed to her omnibus review of Ensemble Galilei’s A Winter’s Night, St. Agnes Fountain’s Acoustic Carols for Christmas, and Comfort & Joy, and O Christmas Tree: A Bluegrass Collection for the Holidays from our good friends at Rounder.

Peter had a couple of minor quibbles about Broceliande’s Sir Christmas, by a folk group based in Southern California. ‘If, after listening to the album, you thought the band has been classically trained, you would be one half right. The tempo, playing and singing are absolutely note perfect. In fact for some of the folk music buffs it might be just a little clinical, but it was okay by me, and it is pleasant enough. It was, however, just a little strange to hear the song “Gloucester Wassail” sung in a mid-Atlantic accent instead of a Gloucestershire dialect.’

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So our What Nots this edition are all Spider-being figures, all reviewed by Cat.

First up is a review of the masked Funko Rock Candy Spider-Gwen figure, out of the many figures in the Rock Candy line of Marvel characters. He says that ‘she was more than a bit difficult to find, as she was a Hot Topic exclusive but she had long since disappeared from those stores by the time I managed to track her down some months later. The non-masked version showing Gwen Stacy with blonde hair was available online just about everywhere — at the original price.‘

He purchased another Spider-Gwen, to wit the Marvel Femme Fatales Spider-Gwen Statue, he  ‘went shopping for a decent representation of Spider-Gwen after repeated watchings of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse while I had my first of two lengthy stays in-hospital for treatment of a staphylococcal infection. She was definitely a highlight of the film — tough, intelligent and a match in every way for the Spider-Man of that universe, Miles Morales.  Surprisingly there were very few available then, several years back, though there are many more now. Or rather there were lots sans her hood showing the face of Gwen Stacy.‘

The Miles Morales Spider-Man figure. is officially known as the Kotobukiya Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man Artfx+ Statue. a mouthful indeed. Ccat says ‘So I went hunting on the internet for a good Miles Morales Spider-Man figure. I liked that particular Spider-Man after seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse while I was in-hospital being treated for a staph infection that required not only that I have bone surgery but that I spend forty two days there having antibiotics three times a day.’

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Our musical coda befits the Winter season that’s here in force now with the first serious snow storm arriving last week. ‘Mojas Katrin’  is from Mari Boine Persen‘s Schauburg, Bremen, Germany performance of some twenty five years ago, though the exact date’s unknown. I think that both her voice and playing feel perfect for this season.

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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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