Welcome to Green Man

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. There’s even stories about the felines here. 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 15th of May: Cirque du Soleil, Steeleye Span live, A history of anime, peanut butter chocolate cups, mystery, vampires, and medieval feasts; Alison Bechdel and other queer comix; R. Crumb and old time music on film; Ojibwe Pow Wow singing, Albion Band, Springsteen, Teddy Thompson and more music

So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log. — Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine’s “In the Pale Moonlight”

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It’s a cold, damp afternoon, so many of us are in the Pub catching  up on our reading. See Gus, our Estate Gardener at the end of the Bar enjoying our Queen’s Lament IPA? He’s reading Cheese Holidays, a magazine solely devoted to cheeses and cheese regions worth visiting, which cheeses to try, best hotels in terms of the cheeses they offer and even local history as related to the cheeses created there. It even has a centrefold of sorts with a spread of the cheeses from a featured cheesery.

I’ve been reading the recently published journals of a British diplomatic attaché who spent quite some years in Islandia nearly three centuries ago. Fascinating look at a country few even visit now, but I’ve had a decades long mail-based friendship with the Librarian for the National Archives there.

And Catherine’s been happily immersed in a history of medieval musical instruments and the contemporary renaissance of their usage, and making notes on which ones Max, our resident luthier, might make for her. She’s enjoying an Irish coffee made with Kona beans we roasted here, a generous measure of Redbreast 12-year-old Single Pot Still Irish whisky and a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Now lets see what we’ve got for you in this edition…

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April starts us off with a treat for fairy tale aficionados: ‘Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are well-known, even to those who’ve never heard his name. His stories have entered our cultural consciousness (who doesn’t know of “The Little Mermaid,” even if it’s only through Disney’s version) and verbal lexicon (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”) and are here to stay. Maria Tatar’s The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen offers a glimpse at the man behind the tales, the subtle nuances of his art and language and renders the stories all the more powerful.’

April also mostly liked the updated edition of Susan J. Napier’s Anime: From Akira To Howl’s Moving Castle. ‘This is a well-written scholarly book about a cultural import that’s still largely misunderstood by non-fans in the U.S. While it’s perhaps not a good introduction to what’s available or a “What should my kids watch?” guide, it does make a good answer to the question “Why anime?”

Cat was disappointed at Caroline Graham’s The Killings at Badger’s Drift, the novel that was the source for one of his favorite TV mystery series of all time, The Midsomer Murders. The main problem, he says, is with the characters: ‘They feel like simple and not terribly interesting plot devices, not real beings. Now, it is possible to create interesting characters in mystery series – just go read James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series or Sharon Kay Penman’s Justin de Quincy series, both of which demonstrate rather well that you can do character creation and development in a mystery series.’

Cat looks much more favourably at the urban legend retold yet again, of a ghost girl asking for a ride home on the anniversary of her death: ‘Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.’ It’s the first of three volumes so fat, all well worth your time to read.

Christopher enjoyed Deborah Grabien’s Still Life with Devils but found the pudding a bit over-egged. ‘The story revolves around Cassius Chant, an African American San Francisco police detective, and his efforts to find and stop an elusive serial killer who has been murdering pregnant women. Chant’s sister Leontyne, known as Leo, is an artist with the unusual ability to literally enter into her paintings via a form of what used to be called astral projection. Chant is also the single parent to a precocious teenage daughter whose Chinese mother abandoned the family immediately following her birth.’

Elizabeth was, shall we say, less than impressed with Jennifer Armintrout’s Blood Ties, Book One: The Turning. ‘With its cumbersome title and dependence on vampire clichés, this paranormal romance offers very little in the way of original, engaging story. From a turgid and silly beginning, it improves toward the end, but once the last page is turned, nothing really has been gained. Nothing substantial has been contributed to the growing market for vampire romance novels. The only thing that potentially sets this novel apart from the horde of identical kiss-kiss-suck-suck stories is an attempt to reconcile and humanize a particularly vicious villain, but even that is only a subplot, and a flimsy one at that.’

Grey told us about a YA fantasy book, Jennifer St. Clair’s Nine Lives and Three Wishes, that has a bit of a twist  in that the lead character is a cat. One who ventures into Faerie to rescue a human family member. ‘This story is fun. It’s easy to follow, just suspenseful enough, and has a satisfying ending. It’s written for young adults, but I’m going to harp on my usual string and say, “Who’s a young adult?” I can see people as young as nine and as old as … well, however old … liking it, so long as they’re ready for a good time and a lively adventure.’

Kathleen has a look at book she’s treasured since her childhood, Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, ‘Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar — but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.’

Lory said she doesn’t know of any full-length historical novel about the Irish legend of Deirdre before Jules Watson’s The Swan Maiden, for which she has high praise. ‘Jules Watson has kept faithfully to the grand, tragic outline of the story, while seeking to fill in many details of the characters’ lives, both outer and inner, as only a novelist can.’

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

Although she’s loath to try any of the ancient recipes, Michelle positively swooned over Madeleine Pelner Cosman’s Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony. ‘Partly a history of medieval cooking, partly an illustrated guide to the harvesting and processing of food and partly a recipe book, Fabulous Feasts offers – well, to borrow an anachronism, a smorgasbord of pleasures for the reader. Though the text focuses primarily on the English banquet hall, the copious color and black-and-white illustrations originate in Spanish romances, French books of hours, Dutch woodcuts and illuminated Bibles, and the recipes reflect trading across regions in spices and herbs. It’s a beautiful volume that would be worth owning for the illustrations alone.’

Paul’s review of Gregory A. Wilson’s Grayshade, a rewritten and revised version of the novel of the same name, finds a conflicted and well drawn hero, world and story that, yes, starts a trilogy.

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

Robert brings us a look at a rather different take on fairy tales, in The Poets’ Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales, an anthology edited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Claudia Carlson: ‘The first thing one notices looking through the table of contents of The Poets’ Grimm is the overwhelming number of women contributors . . . They allude to several reasons for this, one, of course, being the increasing number of woman poets of note, but more important, the fact that fairy tales and women seem to be inextricably bound: not only were the majority of the Grimm Brothers’ informants women, but women, most particularly in the Victorian Era when the Grimms published their collections, were the guardians of the “virtues of the hearth”. . . .’

Warner has three novels by an acknowledged master of the SFF genre: ‘Ursula K. Le Guin’s Worlds of Exile and Illusion collects the three earliest published novels by the author. Specifically the first three Hainish novels (Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions) are contained with the pages of the large volume. They represent early work for the author, and introduce the Hainish setting for which she will become quite famous.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1David went back and rewatched Crumb, Terry Zwigoff’s documentary about the famous underground cartoonist, in order to review it and also to see if it was as weird as he remembered it being. ‘Zwigoff is a friend of Crumb’s and had known him for 25 years, played in Crumb’s band the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and worked together on a screenplay. That intimacy paid off in spades! OK, it may have cost Zwigoff his health, and a substantial amount of money, and even his friendship with his subject, but you will never see a documentary that lays its subject as open as Crumb does.’

David also reviewed That High Lonesome Sound, a three-part documentary series featuring some of the films of John Cohen. ‘John Cohen is perhaps better known as a member of the New Lost City Ramblers. This group of city boys playing the old time music of America influenced almost every musician interested in traditional American music who came along. Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, and on and on, all list the Ramblers as influences. But for forty years now, John Cohen has also been a photographer and film-maker.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Peanut butter chocolate cups are I think the best nibbles out there are and April has some great ones for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Gary reviews Alison Bechdel’s The Secret to Superhuman Strength, in which the award-winning comic artist and memoirist re-examines her life and times through … well, many lenses, including Americans’ penchant for fitness crazes. ‘I had a lot of laugh-out-loud moments while reading The Secret to Superhuman Strength, mostly from her astute and witty takes on the foibles and fads that seem to mirror the decades. She’s not above visual jokes, slapstick, or puns, and she doesn’t really punch up or down, just mostly at the mirror, shadow-boxing her way through life as she tries desperately to outrun the anxieties that also provide her with fodder for her livelihood.’

Bechdel shows up as well in a history of queer comics reviewed by Robert. Editor Justin Hall has penned an essay about “four decades of queer comics” and then included a bunch of comics that illustrate his themes. ‘No Straight Lines is, I think, more valuable for the comics than for the essay. That part of the book represents a broad selection of themes, approaches, and attitudes, although the sheer numbers are overwhelming. I would have appreciated a longer essay with more analysis and firmer linkages to the queer comics movement and the wider culture, both gay and straight. These are, after all, political acts, part of the give and take of American culture during the latter portion of the twentieth century.’

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Chris, in his review of The Albion Band’s The BBC Sessions and Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival, says you can never have too many live Albion recordings. ‘Over the years since the early ’70s well over one hundred different musicians have played in the Albion Band, and the list of ex-members reads like a Who’s Who of folk rock music. Ashley has a unique talent at picking and mixing musicians and has pioneered so much in the folk rock field that these recordings are part of English folk rock history.’

David found the video content in Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run: 30th Anniversary Edition, ‘Exciting. Raw. Vibrant. And it’s all put together in a sturdy cardboard box with a book of pictures from the sessions and the shows. But for me, it’s the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend that makes this release special. The new digital remastering of the album is beautiful. It makes the sounds that made me sit up and take notice three decades ago seem fresh and new.’

David also found that Bruce Springsteen can make folk music rock and even roll a bit, too. ‘We Shall Overcome is a loud and raucous celebration of this music, dragged kickin’ and screamin’ into the 21st century. Sure, sometimes it’s too much. On some of the songs you wish that Springsteen would just dial it back and pick his beat-up old guitar and whisper the lyrics, and that’s about the time that the horn section cuts loose! And then you find your feet moving again, and you start singing along to the glorious songs of generations of folk musicians.’

Gary has a lot to say about Niineta, a new album from Joe Rainey, an Ojibwe Pow Wow singer. The album combines new and archived Pow Wow singing and ambient sounds with studio production techniques for an effect that is intentional, he says: ‘Joe Rainey and producer Broder and their collaborators have deliberately created an aural document that illustrates one of the points Rainey makes in his notes: North America’s Indigenous people were here, they are here and they will be here. The timeless nature of the drumming, coupled with archived and modern songs, music concrete, post-classical string arrangements, and studio production effects all say past-present-and-future are one.’

Gary also reviewed José Medeles’s Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems: ‘This one is as eclectic and as Portland as they come, matching up three excellent and quite different Portland guitarists with a Portland drummer in a series of improvised duets in tribute to the legendary late guitarist John Fahey, who himself spent his last years in Oregon.’

What did Gary think of the second album by Teddy Thompson? ‘No sophomore slump for Teddy Thompson,’ he says. ‘On the contrary, his second outing Separate Ways is altogether a more muscular and cohesive affair than his 2001 self-titled debut. He’s aided and abetted by dad Richard and mom Linda (on the hidden bonus track), in addition to a fairly hefty handful of other standouts, including Garth Hudson, Dave Mattacks, Smokey Hormel, Tony Trischka and the singing Wainwright sibs Martha and Rufus – oh, and another folksinging couple’s offspring, Jenni Muldaur.’

Gary gave a thumbs-up to Haywire, yet another album from Pennsylvania roots-rockers Frog Holler. ‘As with every one of those albums since their 1998 debut, Haywire is an improvement over its predecessors; this time both sonically and musically. Frontman Darren Schlappich spent more time working out arrangements with drummer Daniel Bower and bassist Josh Sceurman, before going into the studio with the rest of the band and producer Brian McTear. The result is a full, rich “rock” sound, fully fleshed-out songs and consistently interesting production.’

Gary also reviewed an album called Heritage, the second by a band called The Youngers. ‘I was attracted to The Youngers by the presence of frontman Todd Bartolo, who plays guitar in one of my favorite bands, the Pennsylvania-based alt-country outfit Frog Holler. Though also based in rural Pennsylvania, The Youngers is quite a different band; they play solid Americana, with a sound that sometimes leans toward classic country and sometimes toward classic rock.’

Irene provides a good look at some of the releases by Ashley Hutchings and his various Albion Bands through the years, including Battle of the Field, 1990, Happy Accident and Songs from the Shows. ‘The Albion Band grew out of a large backing band that played on Shirley Collins’s No Roses album in 1971. The Albion Band’s lineups changed regularly, to say the least, even before the first recording as “The Albion Band.” Before the recording of their first album, the band included Richard and Linda Thompson, among others. An exhaustive history of the band in all its various incarnations, not to mention its some twenty album releases, would be of book-length!’

Lars says David Hughes’s This Other Eden is his best record yet. ‘For those of you who have not already come across David Hughes, he is an ace acoustic guitar player (mostly playing fingerpicking style with the guitar tuned DADGAD), a remarkable lyricist with a great sense of humour. He’s also very, very English. He is something of a cult figure among Fairport Convention fans and has toured with both Fairport and Pentangle. It is therefore not surprising that he is joined on This Other Eden by Dave Mattacks (formerly of Fairport), Gerry Conway (Pentangle and Fairport), Jacqui McShee and Spencer Cozens (Pentangle), Dave Pegg, Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie (Fairport), Danny Thompson (formerly from Pentangle) and Anna Ryder (who toured with Fairport in the spring of 1999), among others. Eddi Reader (formerly from Fairground Attraction and a solo singer in his own right) is there as well.’

 

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Our What-Not this time is a look at a decidedly different circus as Cirque du Soleil’s O draws this comment from Grey: ‘I’ve seen the Cirque du Soleil perform twice. The first time was a travelling performance in a tent big enough to hold a crowd of maybe 250 people. The show was “amazing, superb…” and so on. The intimacy of the space was used to full advantage. The second, just a few weeks ago, was a “resident show” in the enormous, brazenly luxurious space of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. Again, superlatives fail me. All I can do is give some of my impressions to the best of my ability.’

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Now let’s see what would be good to finish with for music this week… ‘Robbery With Violins’ is perhaps the finest example of the stellar work that violinist Peter Knight did in his long years with Steeleye Span. This is from their performance at My Father’s Place in Roslyn, New York on the 20th of April 1973. This was the third version of the band with a lineup of  Peter Knight, Maddy Prior, Bob Johnson, Tim Hart and Rick Kemp which released two albums, Below the Salt  in August of ’72 and Parcel of Rogues in June of the next year.

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A Kinrowan Estate Story: Strawberry Ice Cream

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During the early Victorian Era, the Head Gardener at the time, Jacob Niles, persuaded the Steward, Allison MacPhee, to invest in a conservatory. According to the Journals kept by him and the Steward, the deciding factor was that it could be used for growing fruit in the long winter, including oranges and bananas. It wasn’t cheap and was costly to heat as it needed lots of seasoned wood to make it warm.

Fortunately, triple glazed glass was used (at no small expense), and that helped. Certainly the fresh tropical fruit was a hit during our long Scottish winter. We still use it for that purpose but now we use solar power to heat it more efficiently than the original builders could possibly have imagined.

So what does that have to do with strawberry ice cream? Well, that was my idea. You see, we exist on The Border with the Faerielands. Several decades back, I made friends with the Head Gardener for the Red Dragon House, who had no luck growing their version of strawberries — the ones that start red and turn white when fully ripe — when it turned cold there. So he asked me to see if I could make them flourish.

It took several years before I figured that it needed a symbiotic bacterium that didn’t like being cold ever, so I started growing them for the Red Dragon House with the proviso that we could also use them. Would you believe that took a contract signed by all parties? Elves are big on formality! Three pages of contract to be precise. And that’s how we came to have strawberry ice cream in the winter. The whole milk comes from High Meadow Farm, the ever so costly vanilla from Madagascar, and it’s sweetened, just a bit, with honey from our hives. It’s quite delicious!

It is just weird eating strawberry ice cream that is all-white. Really, really weird.

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What’s New for the 1st of May: A Folkmanis Piglet puppet, Chocolate to nibble on, Classic SF on Mars; Music from Big Foot County, Finnish music, classical music, Ian Anderson and other music; Led Zep and Hawaiian cowboys on film; YA fantasy horror

She had not won a clean victory. Tinkering with time and history offended her political sensibilities. History was written in the stones. It was not a numinous thing to be tossed sparkling in the air to lie where it fell. She did not like to think of her life and world as a mere mutability of potential

Ian MacDonald’s Desolation Road

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If you’re looking for the residents of Kinrowan Estate, most have found somewhat valid reasons to be outside today, from planting the annual herbs in the Beatrix Potter kitchen garden to helping out with the scrubbing down of the slate patios, as the weather’s warm, somewhat muggy and blessed with full sun. I’ll be headed out as soon as I finish this GMR edition; we’re doing a whole lamb roast in the Courtyard, followed by a concert.

The visiting band’s Snow on the Mountain and they’re named after a plant that has green and white leaves that’s up as soon as the first Spring warmth arrives. They hailed they said from Big Foot County though I couldn’t find such a place in any gazetteer that we had, but that matters not. Voice, Appalachian dulcimer, fiddle and concertina are their instruments, which makes for a very sweet sound.

Their music is a happy merging of Celtic and bluegrass, something that might’ve been Appalachian Trad, and oh and more than a bit of upbeat Tex-Mex, so if you’ve heard  and enjoyed The Mollys or Celexico, you’ll definitely like them. We’ve got them here for several contradances and this performance as well. 

Now let’s see what we’ve got this edition…

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Carter starts off our all Mars related reviews with a classic: ‘Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is a baklava of a book — rich, layered, so sweet it has to be enjoyed in small bits. This novel-that-is-not-a-novel rightfully remains a classic in the science fiction genre, and a classic example of Ray Bradbury’s genius with words. As with all of Bradbury’s work, don’t look for accurate or even consistent science. Look, instead, for tales well told, stories that seep into your mind and blood and become part of you forever.’

Cat has a neat work for us: ‘At a mere one hundred and three pages, this is one of the best Robert Heinlein works I’ve ever read. Oops, I meant Kage Baker works. Or did I? Ok, let me reconcile the contradiction I just created (somewhat). The Empress of Mars reads like the best of Heinlein’s short fiction from the golden period of the 1940s and 1950s. It is so good that I’ve no doubt John W. Campbell would’ve published it! It would sit very nicely alongside much of his short fiction such as ‘Blowups Happen’, ‘The Long Watch’, and ‘The Green Hills of Earth’, to name but three classic Heinlein tales. It’s that well-crafted. It’s that entertaining. And it’s that rarest of short works — one that is just the right length.’

He next goes 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.’

Chuck reviews Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road: ‘I figure this much: It starts with a green man crossing the desert, so this has to be the perfect book for Green Man Review. OK, the book calls him a “greenperson,” and the desert is on a Mars of the future, transformed by mankind’s effort, but you get the idea. Trailing this greenperson is Dr. Alimantando. He comes to a place along a railroad, where, almost accidentally, he settles and starts the community that he names Desolation Road. Soon after, more people begin arriving and, in short order, the community becomes a village, a city, a war zone and a ghost-town — all within 23 Martian years. That’s the story.’

Joel looks at another novel set on Mars, Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief: ‘I could make some surface comparisons to another critically-acclaimed debut from years past. Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon is also set some centuries hence, also takes place in a universe of heavy extra-terrestrial human colonization, and also features the altered social, legal, and economic dynamics of a humanity that’s bested mortality. But as excellent as Morgan’s post-cyberpunk whodunit is, comparing the two titles, even favourably, sells The Quantum Thief short.’

Richard looks at another Ian MacDonald novel set in the same world as Desolation Road and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’

Robert has a look at Edgar Pangborn’s A Mirror for Observers: ‘About 30,000 years ago, the Martians fled their dying planet for Earth, where they took up a hidden residence, waiting for humanity to progess to the point where it could accept them. They send their Observers out into the world, to report back to their superiors in their hidden cities and to guide, surreptitiously, those who might make a difference. Some Observers conclude that there is no hope, and abdicate their responsibilities, becoming outcasts. One such, the Abdicator Namir, has concluded that the only hope for the Martians is the elimination of humanity. He means to bring it about however he can.’

Warner finished off this themed reviews for us: ‘David Ebenbach’s How To Mars is a fascinating bit of comedy built from a series of shorter pieces into a novel. A group of people are on an ill-considered mission to chastely colonize Mars. One of them has gotten pregnant. As a premise goes, this certainly lends itself to comedic potential.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Being a big fan of Led Zeppelin, Craig had to check out the DVD reissue of a program originally broadcast on MTV. It was called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. So what did Craig think? ‘As far as the Led Zep canon goes, this barely places, but it’s definitely one of the most consistently entertaining things either of them has done since the breakup. Your taste for rock and roll injected with world music will dictate whether you are a repeat viewer, but I can’t imagine any Page or Plant fan being without No Quarter.’

Craig also reviewed a cerebral horror film from director Bernard Rose called Paperhouse, which he says ‘… is a delightfully scary look at the blending of dreams and reality. Anna (Charlotte Burke) is an eleven-year-old girl who enjoys drawing. During a class one day, she produces a picture of an amorphic house with large, forbidding rocks (gravestones?) in the front yard. After an unfortunate incident, she dreams that she wakes up in the field in front of the house that she has drawn.’

David thoroughly enjoyed Paniolo O Hawaii, a documentary about a little known American subculture, the cowboys of Hawaii called paniolos. ‘This is an evocative and moving film about Hawaii, about love for the land, and about pride in a job well done. It shows a different attitude toward ownership of natural resources, ownership of property, community, and the clash of cultures that resulted in the development of the fiftieth state. Lee is rightly proud of the accomplishments of these men, and has made a wonderful tribute to their lives and calling.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Care for some chocolate to nibble on at length? Then 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.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Rebecca Scott reviewed the first two volumes of Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin series, The Night Things and The Coven of Mystics. Though the tale involves a lot of YA fantasy horror tropes, it’s better than most, she says. ‘The first thing that’s different is that Courtney Crumrin is a graphic novel series. Not that that automatically exempts it from being hackneyed, I know, but it isn’t. Because the second thing that’s different about Courtney Crumrin is Courtney. She’s cranky, rude, and misanthropic. She hates the stuck-up rich kids at school, can’t stand her parents’ aspirations, and finds she’s quite fond of her great uncle Aloysius. She takes up magic in order to get revenge. Courtney is my kind of girl.’

 

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1David was highly impressed with Ian Anderson’s solo album Rupi’s Dance: ‘When he released his first solo album Anderson was criticized that he had over-reached his abilities. It is only by over-reaching that we stretch ourselves far enough to touch those things out of our grasp. Rupi’s Dance shows an artist ready to grow again. Subtle and emotive, Ian Anderson is producing some of the best music of his career.’

Gary reviews Narrow Line, an album from Canadian Americana duo Mama’s Broke. ‘Pretty much every song and tune on this album contains at least one startling surprise, be it lyrical or musical or both, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything that’s rote or clichéd. Their unique blend of styles that includes Celtic, Appalachian and Eastern European arises organically from their experiences and enthusiasms rather than sounding cobbled together. Mama’s Broke’s Narrow Line is testimony that, if there is hope in these dark times, it’s through community and song.’

Gary reviewed Irish singer Denis McArdle’s debut album Untold. ‘McArdle has a strong, highly trained baritone that sometimes seems too pretty for his material, especially the folk-pop of songs like “Sick Day,” by the American indie group Fountains of Wayne, and the Massive Attack number, “Protection,” a rock song in a folk setting. His vocal style and the elaborate production also threaten to overwhelm a couple of traditional Scottish songs, the lullaby “Hush, Hush, Time to be Sleeping,” and the Robert Burns poem “Green Grow the Rushes,” set to the tune of “The Misty Covered Mountains,” as well as the atmospheric electronica version of the trad Irish “May Morning Dew.” ‘

Judith enjoyed a couple of Finnish dance music albums she picked up at a workshop in Vancouver, B.C., Spelarit’s Kalabaliikki and Tradivaara’s Kaikki Soitaa. ‘If I had a choice of bands, Spelarit would win hands down. The skill level is higher, the sound is richer, and they are more inventive. But Tradivaara has a stately charm all its own. In my life, there is way too little Finnish dance music, so comparing the albums is like comparing diamonds and gold.’

Matej Novak reviewed a couple of classical masterworks by a couple of modern virtuosos, Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma’s Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev Cello Sonatas. ‘Virtual contemporaries, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev demonstrate the best of Russian music from the end of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries. Featuring them together on one recording, then, is a perfect match, and the specific choice of pieces – Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19, and Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major, Op. 119 – highlights their strengths as well as the unique qualities of their respective styles.’

Robert gives a mixed review to two recordings by the composers he calls ‘The Two Sergeis‘, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Of the Rachmaninoff, he says, ‘I can’t say that I’m overwhelmingly impressed by this recording of the Symphony No. 3 by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra, and I don’t know where to lay the blame. Commentators have remarked on the “taughtness” of the form, its rhythmic vitality, its orchestration, and I have to confess that at this hearing, it strikes me as both formless and fairly colorless.’ He’s much more positive about Van Cliburn’s recording of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3: ‘This one has all the drive and passion – and the lyricism – we look for in the romantic repertoire. Some commentators have called Cliburn’s interpretation “confused,” but I really can’t hear that. Regrettably, the sound quality is not great, but even under the muddiness of the recording, one can sense the clarity of Cliburn’s approach and his deep involvement with the music.’

Scott interviewed Mari Kaasinen, singer and co-founder of the Finnish powerhouse Värttinä shortly after their album iki was released. ‘In this interview, Mari talks a little bit about the history of Värttinä, culminating with the recent release of their tenth album iki and some of the influences that have shaped the band’s output over the years. She also explains the meaning of the album title, and describes a couple of her own songwriting contributions to the album; “Syylinen Syli (Faithless Arms)” originated as a choral piece, and “Nahkarouska (Leather Whip)” tells the tale of a wife who takes a rather aggressive stand against her husband’s philandering. Finally, Mari talks about the new contributors to Värttinä’s music, and tries to explain how the band has successfully endured through all the personnel changes in its history.’ Read the whole interview here.

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Robert brings us his comments on a Folkmanis hand puppet: it’s the Piglet: ‘ I have to confess, as I sat here looking at him reclining on my bed — he’s rather large, about 14 inches from nose to curly tail (not corkscrew curly, but it’s making a good start) — the first thought that came to my mind was the title of a Tony Hillerman mystery, The Sinister Pig. With his half-closed eyes and slightly open mouth, he looks — well, hungry.’ Hmm — maybe that’s not so different than cats after all.’

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Speaking of Big Foot county, let’s go with something from the late Robert Hunter as I rather like ‘Brown-Eyed Women’ quite a bit but my favorite version isn’t the one with Garcia singing that the Dead did, but rather is one someone here found some years back. Hunter who wrote much of what they played including this song and my favourite version is done by him during a show at Biddy Mulligan’s in Chicago on the tenth of October some thirty years ago. So let’s now listen to him doing that song.

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A Kinrowan Estate Story: Cranachan

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Good Evening Ekaterina,

Ingrid sends her love and hopes your trip to Canada is going well.

Mrs. Ware cooked the traditional Scottish dessert that you love earlier tonight — cranachan, which you know is made with oats, cream, whisky and raspberries.

Scottish cranachan is a very quick, easy recipe. It is also a very festive recipe and perfect for any celebration especially Christmas, Hogmanay and rounds off a Burns Night Supper quite beautifully.

However, Scottish cranachan is too good to save just for special occasions and is especially good in the summer, making the most of the delicious raspberries found on this Estate growing wild in immense brambles for a truly authentic recipe. But don’t worry if you can’t find them, use any raspberries, as with the other wonderful ingredients in the cranachan it’ll taste good anyway.

If you use frozen raspberries, make sure to decrease the amount of sugar you use as most of them come in a sweetened syrup. Though I’ve noticed that the natural foods movement has resulted in just raspberries, no sweetener, being sold as well.

Mrs. Ware has been pondering the idea of substituting blueberries in the recipe which should be tasty as well.

Yours with affection,

Gus

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What’s New for the 17th of April: Gods, goddesses and ghosts, Gaiman, Crumb and Sacco, June Millington, Celtic Harp, Catalan Jazz, Georgiann Choral Music, Slovenian post-rock, chocolate, and more

There are no happy endings. There are no endings, happy or otherwise. We all have our own stories which are just part of the one Story that binds both this world and Faerie. Sometimes we step into each others stories, perhaps just for a few minutes, perhaps for years – and then we step out of them again. But all the while, the Story just goes on.” ― Charles deLint’s Dreams Underfoot

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Food often has a story attached to it, as does the chili prepared by Mrs. Ware and her excellent staff for for the eventide meal tonight. The beef in it is sourced from High Meadow Farm, the other proteins are beans and corn grown here, the chilis gifted to us by The Coyotes, an all-woman Celtic band from Arizona who stayed and played here a Winter past, and the exquisite spicing is … well what goes into the spicing is known by Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, but otherwise it’ll remains a secret to everyone save our Head Cook.

The Sleeping Hedgehog for August of 1880 says a traveller from the Southwest USA showed the Head Cook of the time how to make this chili. It’s been made every winter since and is always quite popular among everyone here. We added grated cheddar cheese to it when a neighbouring farming estate started up a cheesery between the Wars and we traded honey and other farm products for it.

Now let’s see what we’ve got for you this Edition…

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Andrea looks at an Appalachian-set tale: ‘Ghost Riders is the latest novel in Sharyn McCrumb’s “Ballad Series.” Ghost Riders is different from the others in the series in that there is no mystery (in the “mystery novel” sense of the word) to be solved. In the other books, the storyline goes back and forth between past and present, the stories linked sometimes obviously and sometimes tenuously. Usually in the “modern” story there is a mystery which the story in the past fleshes out or provides with a new insight. In Ghost Riders there are two separate tales from the past and a storyline set in the present. The narratives set in the past are linked by a chance meeting but still remain separate tales. One of these stories has a direct influence on the present. There are various characters, past and present, whose lives intertwine briefly in interesting and occasionally surprising ways.’

April was fascinated by Marija Gimbutas’s The Living Goddesses, in which the Lithuanian American academic outlined her controversial theories about goddess worship in prehistoric Europe. ‘Gimbutas has chosen a mix of Neolithic and Indo-European cultures to demonstrate the growth, assimilation, and eventual decline (but persistence) of the goddess in religion,’ April says. ‘Well written, and easy to read despite the richness and breadth of the material, this text is invaluable as an introduction to both Gimbutas and study of Neolithic goddess worship.’

Cat looks at the urban legend retold yet again, of a ghost girl asking for a ride home on the anniversary of her death: ‘Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.’

David reviewed one of many biographies of Frank Zappa, Kevin Courrier’s Dangerous Kitchen. ‘Courrier has provided an eminently readable volume that covers every aspect of Zappa’s life. He covers the albums one song at a time; he provides brief biographies of all the musicians who came and went through Zappa’s bands. He is respectful, but maintains enough distance that the reader can still make up his or her own mind about Zappa’s achievements.’

Donna turned in a comprehensive review of two books of ancient history in the Islamic world, Hugh Kennedy’s When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, and Justin Marozzi’s Tamerlane. ‘In many respects, these books complement each other in helping the reader gain an understanding of Central Asia and the Middle East during the Middle Ages. Of the two, I would say without hesitation that When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World has a much more scholarly foundation.’

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

Jennifer takes a look at a series she wishes she’d discovered sooner, namely Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s Night Calls series: ‘Once in a while I find out I’ve missed something important in the book world, some classic that’s been out forever that I somehow never noticed when it was first published, something that turns out to be wonderful. Then once in a very great while I find something I wish I’d read thirty years before it was ever published.’

Michael put a lot of work into an omnibus review of several of the early installments of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. ‘Over the course of ten volumes now, Steven Brust has charted the career of Vlad Taltos, skipping back and forth out of sequence to give us his beginnings, his endings, his rise and fall within the Jhereg organization. We’ve followed his progress through life and death, war and peace, prosperity and exile. And we’ve truly grown to know this extraordinary man, in his own words, through his own voice.’

Robert has a look at one of a series that has become rather more than a mere series. In this case, it’s Kage Baker’s The Machine’s Child: ‘What Baker is doing is putting together an extended mega-novel with all of time and all of humanity as its focus. By this stage of the game, it’s become something on the order of Wagnerian opera, but accomplished with characters and relationships rather than with musical leitmotifs.’

Stephen says of an Alan Garner work ,which is definitely aimed at adults, that ‘These are only the questions which I find myself considering today. When I read Thursbitch again (and I will), they may be different, as they may be for you, when you read this book. The reasons for this are that Thursbitch is a book that casts the reader as an enthralled participant, rather than a passive recipient. It is, to repeat, a mystery. It may unsettle you (if not actually give you nightmares), but you’ll love it unequivocally nonetheless.’

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Jack had mixed feelings about a DVD featuring a concert by one of his favorite bands, Little Feat: ‘ …if you’re looking for a showcase for technical state of the art in DVD production, this isn’t it, as the video sucks and even the audio could be better in places. But if you’re in for a look at one of the coolest bands performing in concert ever, Little Feat: Rockpalast Live more than earns its chops.’

Now here’s a classic for spring! Mia reviewed Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation of the 1947 stage musical Finian’s Rainbow, with Fred Astaire in his last leading role. ‘Finian’s Rainbow is a particularly tricky movie to review. Is it a lighthearted musical romance? Or is it something deeper?’ she ponders. ‘The sweeping indictment of racism is more than enough reason for me to enjoy the film. The performances are uneven but enjoyable.’

Mia says she was obsessed with unicorns in 1986 when Ridley Scott’s Legend debuted on the big screen: ‘And so, when Ridley Scott and Universal produced a movie that featured unicorns, not to mention Tom Cruise fresh from his breakthrough in Risky Business, I and zillions of other young girls lined up to see a film that would surely become a fantasy classic.’ Read her review to find out what she thought about it.

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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.’

Marcel Desaulniers’ Celebrate With Chocolate really pleased Mia: ‘This is one of the most sensually exciting cookbooks that I’ve ever had the pleasure of adding to my collection. Aside from being an accomplished chef and restauranteur, Desaulniers is a very fine writer. Celebrate With Chocolate is not just a collection of recipes, it’s a good read.’

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_colored1April recommends Neil Gaiman’s slim YA graphic novel Odd and the Frost Giants: ‘It’s a delightful treat, though, as Gaiman’s characterizations of the denizens of Norse mythology are sharp and witty (the Frost Giant’s dismayed opinion of the lovely Freya’s true personality is particularly amusing) and anyone who’s ever felt out of place will identify with Odd’s coming of age.’

David had nothing but praise for the special edition of Joe Sacco’s Palestine: ‘Bound in hard cover, with a colour plate on the front cover, and embossed gold titles, the book just feels rich. It is solidly put together, with the original nine isues of the comic all joined, plus a wealth of support material, like Sacco’s rough sketches, some photographs used as source material and some additional text to fill it all out. I can’t imagine that it would be possible to assemble a more complete edition.’

David also reports back on Kafka, a graphic presentation of that author’s life and works. ‘Kafka is a brief, but fairly concise look at the Czech writer’s life and work. Robert Crumb provides the illustrations while David Mairowitz tells the story in text. The text is well-informed and blends biography with Kafka’s literary work, placed in context. This is a clever and eminently workable format. Especially if you believe, as these collaborators do, that Kafka’s fictions were images of his own life.’

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Chuck goes on a journey with Celtic harpist Jo Morrison to explore The Three Musics. ‘There is an air of scholarship about The Three Musics. Morrison has set out to describe an aspect – or, perhaps, a triad of aspects – of Celtic music and has succeeded in doing so. She could have done more explaining the three types of music in the liner notes. Nevertheless, she has not let the lesson overmatch the music and has created a fine recording in doing so.’

Chuck also reviewed Jo Morrison’s next album A Waulking Tour of Scotland, and he liked it a lot. ‘Inspired (and how!) by a tour of Scotland that Morrison took with her husband, she again brings together many other musicians to join her for a track or several. She includes a number of songs, as well as tunes, mostly sung in Scots Gaelic. By the way, waulking was the process by which people would soften cloth, usually tweed, by pounding it on a table. The waulking songs, several of which are included on this CD, were often used to keep the work from becoming tedious.’

Deborah found a lot more than nostalgia in Snapshots, a new album from June Millington, one of the founders of the rock group Fanny. ‘The range of styles on Snapshots is so diverse, I got whiplash in the best possible way. From classic high multi-layered harmony (no autotune here!) to early 80s echoes of David Bowie in “Grace,” to the hard-won and well-earned rage rap of “Eyes In The Back Of Our Heads” (more on this one shortly) to the pure Millington honesty and feminism of “Girls Don’t Dream (The Big Lie),” she jumps with an energy that, at six years her junior, I can only envy.’

Gary enthusiastically reviews Albat Alawi Op.99, from the Tel Aviv-based DIY band El Khat. ‘On the majestic “Ma’afan” we hear a tin drum setting the rhythm, joined by a bowed violin played by guest musician Elad Levi, known as the foremost Jewish violinist of Andalusian music. Then the rest of the ensemble joins in, its string-and-horn melody reminiscent of a Turkish court orchestra to my ears. The production, the vocals, the whole attitude, however, reminds me of ’80s Southwestern punk rock – Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Black Flag.’

Gary reviews the unique album called The Liquified Throne of Simplicity from the Slovenian trio Širom, which he liked quite a bit. ‘One of the features I like best is its utterly organic nature. Listeners might assume that some of the sounds made by this trio are electronic or synthesized, and in fact I did so myself. But everything is done on acoustic instruments, some of them invented and handmade, plus some non-vocal singing by Ana and Samo. And as far as I can tell there’s not much or any double-tracking going on, although perhaps some looping.’

Gary was intrigued by an album entitled bit by bit from Toronto singer-songwriter Evan J Cartwright, who’s better known as a drummer for various indie bands. ‘To his circular lyrics and experimental arrangements Cartwright adds the element of musique concrete (which seems to have become quite a thing this year), nestling these songs amid field recordings of birdsong, church bells and other ambient sounds he’s collected over the past few years of touring. They’re not random, either, but play into the album’s overall theme and structure.’

‘Catalan jazz, combining the blues-based American idiom with flamenco, is having a moment, and Manel Fortià is in the thick of it,’ Gary says of Arrels, the new album from Manel Fortià & Libérica. ‘The result is an exciting update for both jazz and flamenco, at least the way Fortià’s ensemble Libérica does it, mixing flamenco, folk songs and free jazz.’

‘Iberi is a Georgian men’s choir led by Buba Murgulia, a former rugby player and lifelong singer,’ Gary says. ‘That’s the Georgia the country, which coincidentally is in a region that’s very much on everybody’s minds right now.’ He gives a glowing review to the polyphonic singing on Iberi’s new release called Supra.

Some albums by “various artists” are better than others. Gary says I Am The Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey, is one of the better ones. ‘On first listen, what struck me is that nearly all of these musicians used a full band to capture what Fahey did with just his guitar. This approach could open up Fahey’s music for some folks, particularly those who wouldn’t sit down and listen to a whole album of guitar instrumentals.’

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Our What Not is an action figure who’s definitely not a hero: ‘As I noted on my review of the Lady Thor figure in this series, ‘No, I don’t collect that many of these figures, despite it seeming that I might, given the number of reviews I’ve written concerning them. Right now I’ve less than a handful of them, largely because I don’t find most of them all that interesting and some that I do find interesting are way overpriced, such as the female stars for the Game of Thrones. Seriously, sixty to a hundred dollars for a five point five inch tall figure is simply crazy!’ But occasionally a figure is both interesting and reasonably priced as we have here in Man-Thing.’

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So let’s have some lively music to finish out this edition. It’s a soundboard recording of Dervish at the Festate Chiasso in Switzerland nigh unto Summer Solstice in 2006 performing ‘Red Haired Mary’. You’ll be getting more cuts from that splendid concert as times goes by as the whole concert is a joy indeed.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Sleeper Under The Hill (A Letter to Ceinwen)

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Dear Ceinwen,

As a fellow librarian interested in all things mythopoeic, you’ll find this interesting.

This is the month that I’ve got the Several Annies studying a myth in depth, this one being that of The Sleeper Under the Hill. They started off by studying the myth of the king under the mountain or the sleeping hero, as it’s a prominent motif in mythology that is found in many folktales and legends. Arthur of course was believed to be taken away to the Isle of Avalon to sleep until he was needed by the people of Britain. Now, not all sleepers are Good. Loki was bound with cold iron by Odin after he caused the death of Baldr. With the onset of Ragnarök, Loki is to slip free and fight alongside the forces of the jötnar against the gods.

Now all of this was fairly dry and I could see that the dear lasses were not that interested in the subject, even though they loved Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, so I decided to have Jack take them out to a barrow mound several hours distant here on the Estate. So they got their warm clothes on, waxed up the skis, and had the Kitchen staff pack them a hearty lunch. I figured the combination of Jack and outdoor exercise would do them good. Besides, I had a curling match that I didn’t want to miss!

Our barrow mound is a small one, barely thirty feet long, but obviously not a natural feature. No archaeologist has dug into it, nor are we willing to let them do so, so the reality of what it is will not be known. The stories of what it is are all that matters. And given a thousand years of storytellers here, you can well imagine how interesting those stories are.

So Jack had them build a warming fire which they sat around as he told them tales of a long-dead King who defended his people until the enemy struck him down, though his army won the battle, won that long forgotten war, and whose Merlin, not our Merlin, put him to sleep under this barrow mound to sleep with his sword ’til his people need him again. A king who will sleep forever, as his people vanished from history into legend and finally into myth a very long time ago.

Just before they journeyed back, he rosined up his bow, drew a long note on his fiddle, and played ‘A Lament for a Sleeping King’, a mournful tune.

I can’t say that they dove into their studies with any more enthusiasm after their trip out there, so we moved on to another subject, Medieval music, with Catherine, my wife, as their tutor, and that does interest them.

Cheers,

Iain

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What’s New for the 3rd of April: Music-related fantasy literature, speculative fiction manga series, all things Natalie MacMaster, some jazz-dub-world music, transcultural jazz and Spanish accordion music, dragon puppets, and of course chocolate

People used to say, don’t you object to the title? And I said, well there are two of us. I had problems with ‘ladies’ because it sounds like a public convenience. But which bit do you object to? Are you saying I’m thin? — Clarissa Dickson Wright of the Two Fat Ladies whose DVD the late Kage Baker who greatly admired them reviewed here.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1I have noted before that the Library on this Scottish Estate is just a few hundred feet away from the Kitchen, which is why you’re clearly smelling bacon wrapped roast duck with apple and onion stuffing being baked right now. It’s quite mouth watering, isn’t it? They’ll be our evening repast be later tonight along with roasted sweet potatoes and warm apple tarts with fresh churned Madagascar vanilla ice cream.

It’s still morning here, so there’s nothing quite like a freshly brewed pot of tea to get me going. I should know as I need at least two large mugs of tea before I’m fully awake. Not black though as I’ve a generous splash of Riverrun cream in my tea.

I once knew a well-regarded folk musician who started each morning with much more than a dram of Kilbeggan Irish whiskey. Seemed to suit him well for the coming day as far as anyone could tell. He once offer me and I accepted some of that excellent whiskey.

So I’m up in my Library office, a pot of  Darjeeling second blush tea at hand, putting together this edition and watching the rain lash heavily outside the window. I’m playing a live performance by Altan with you hearing ‘A Bhean Udaí Thall’ from a concert in Phoenix nearly thirty years ago.

Want to see what I’ve got this week? Of course you do.

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April says that James Hamilton’s Arthur Rackham: a Life with Illustrations ‘has been gorgeously reproduced here as an oversized softcover editing…Hamilton’s book is an excellent glimpse into the painter’s life for both fans and those unfamiliar with Rackham’s own special brand of whimsy.

The Vernal Equinox plays a role in this next book, which Cat reviewed. ‘This is a great book for fantasy lovers, but it will probably be most appreciated by those with a musical background,’ he says of Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe, which he notes ‘is clearly written by a musician. Indeed, under her stage name of Gael Kathryns, Gael Baudino is a concert harpist who also teach workshops, composes, and regularly writes for the Folk Harp journal. Gossamer Axe was an early work of hers, but while it may appear rather roughly written at first glance, it is still definitely worth the read.

Cat’s review of Baudino’s Gossamer Axe referenced his earlier review of George R.R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag, which makes sense as they’re both fantasy novels that incorporate music into the plot; Martin uses an imagined ’60s band called the Nazgul. ‘Rock ‘n’ roll music from the Rolling Stones to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix infuses the book as it pervaded that tragic period in American history. The author’s use of lyrics from real songs of the ’60s as chapter headings emphatically conveys a chillingly accurate sense of the ’60s, and the music credits in fact run for two pages in the hardcover edition.’

Gereg looks at a novel by Larry Kirwan, founder of the Black 47 band: ‘Pour yourself a cold one; put on a few old Horslips albums — not the mythic ones, the edgy ones about Irishmen sailing to Americay; steel yourself to endure some self-pity time with an emigrant version of Holden Caulfield who ‘s had a few too many himself . . . and you’re ready to settle down to Rockin’ the Bronx. The soundtrack helps the book go down the smoother, and for sure the good beer won’t hurt.’

Lory looks at what sounds like a very interesting book given its subject matter, Mark I. West’s A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain, but really wasn’t ‘tall interesting. Read her review to see why this was so.

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.

Richard has an intriguing thriller for us: ‘The reference that gets used most often to describe Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn is John le Carre. Now the sequel, Europe At Midnight has arrived and the comparison is even more apt. Like le Carre, Hutchinson excels at telling stories of espionage through quiet, human moments, only later revealing how those seemingly innocuous passages affected the larger whole. And like le Carre, Hutchinson punctuates his narratives with moments of unexpected violence that are all the more shocking because they feel so unlikely.’

Steven Brust, a musician himself, brings us, in collaboration with Megan Lindholm, The Gypsy, which — well, as Robert puts it: ‘There are three brothers who have become separated. They are the Raven, the Owl, and the Dove. Or perhaps they are Raymond, Daniel, and Charlie. They are probably Baroly, Hollo, and Csucskari. One plays the fiddle, one plays tambourine, and one has a knife with a purpose.’ There’s a lot more to it, of course, so check it out.

He also has a review of Brokedown Palace by Brust: ‘This is a novel, with all the elements that make a novel what it is. I’ve said before that I think Brust is one of the master stylists working in fantasy today, and this one only confirms that opinion. Even though Brust is describing fantastic things, his mode is realist narrative, and a very clean and spare narrative it is, although more poetic than most of his work. While his characteristically sardonic humor and his flair for irony are readily apparent, there is a magical feel to it, in the sense of things that cannot be, and perhaps should not be, explained.’

A classic leads in for Warner: ‘Peter Benchley’s Jaws is well remembered as a bestselling novel, and even more so as a film directed by Stephen Spielberg. In the past few years this book has gained a new significance for many people, making it more than understandable that a press like Suntup would put out a delightful edition.’ Read his review to discover that this edition is chock full of interviews and other really cool stuff befitting its high end cost.

A novel that will make some uncomfortable is next: ‘Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire is a fascinating and strange piece of historical fantasy. While the concept of a fantasy relating to the early twentieth century entertainment world is not unusual, nor is the portrayal of the situations of marginalized people, this book represents an excellent mixing of both concepts.’

A bit of crime is up  next for Warner: ‘Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule is a dark, disturbing and twisting thriller. Touching upon real life organizations such as the Innocence Project, this volume deals with the difficulties of investigation in an unusual manner and quickly draws in the reader. Based loosely upon an actual case tied to Michigan, this volume revises the setting and adds unusual layers of intrigue for real or fictitious crime stories.

Next up is a beloved author who died far too early: ‘John M. Ford was a well respected author among the speculative fiction set of his time. He also died young at the age of 49 years, and the legal oddities surrounding much of his work meant that for over a decade it remained largely out of print. While the return of older works to print was greatly appreciated, in Aspects readers get a work that was unpublished and indeed unfinished at the time of his passing.’

Zina ends our book reviews with Charles de Lint’s What The Mouse Found and Other Stories: ‘Ah — two of my favorite things, paired in one slim volume. (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “slim volume” somewhere.) Fairy tales and Charles de Lint. The postman dropped the package through the door this afternoon. Just a bit later, here I am at my computer. I couldn’t not read it right away, could I?’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Mia gave a high recommendation for three classic films from Studio Ghibli by Hayao Miyazaki: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke. ‘Even those who do not generally watch anime should give the work of Studio Ghibli a try. These are all beautiful films made to engage the mind, heart, and spirit of the viewer.’

Rachael was similarly effusive about Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. ‘Visually, it’s an exquisitely detailed, painterly film. Miyazaki’s incomparable style encompasses everything from comedy to pathos, from heartbreakingly beautiful vistas to sequences of Hitchcockian suspense, from the very Japanese mask of the No-Face spirit to a lamp post that might have stepped out of a Disney version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A number of images, like a train running on the surface of the ocean, are pure magic.’

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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.’

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.’

A trio of Trader Joe’s chocolates, to wit Super Dark Chocolate, Trader Joe’s Super Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Truffle are says Robert socially conscious: ‘ In the case of Trader Joe’s Organic Chocolates, this also includes certification by both the USDA and Quality Assurance International, and since organic chocolate is the product of a fairly limited group of producers, its almost guaranteed that the growers are getting fair, and probably premium prices. So, how does all that social consciousness taste?’ Read his insightful review here.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1‘Comics and graphic novels have always had an affinity for the bizarre, surreal, fantastic, and otherwise otherworldly, and manga is no exception,’ Robert says. ‘Although many titles – probably most – deal with the here and now, many series take place in future universes, alternate historical universes, and sometimes even fairly standard fantasy universes.’ His three-part deep-dive into speculative manga takes us into some dark fantasy series, some heroic fantasy series, and some science fiction titles.

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Gary found a lot to like in the jazz-dub-world music of the Boston-based band Club d’Elf. ‘Fans of the jazz rock fusion of Miles Davis and Frank Zappa, and anyone who likes North African music but isn’t a purist about it, will find a lot to like on this sprawling set. Club d’Elf’s You Never Know is utterly amazing on first listen and offers depths that infinitely reward close attention.

Gary says ‘transcultural jazz’ is a good description of the music on fiddler Coloma Bertran’s second album Principis. ‘The disc opens with the title track that after a dramatic fiddle-and-tympani intro kicks into a blazing Celtic reel, which is interrupted for a brief interlude of sunny West Coast jazz meandering. That’s not the only Celtic style tune here. The penultimate track “Poeta De L’asfalt” has a similar kind of blend of styles. This one mixes up an Ashley MacIsaac style Celtic rocker complete with huge drum sound, with some more of that West Coast style light jazz.’

Gary enjoyed the music on Harmònic, an album of accordion music by Spanish composer and performer Pere Romaní and his eponymous trio. ‘The 12 tracks on Harmònic are split between solo tunes and those with the trio. They’re all pretty much dance tunes of one kind or another. And really, just listening to this album makes me miss folk dancing!’

The last week of March brought the sad news of the unexpected passing of Jim Miller, founding member of the roots jam band Donna the Buffalo and the alt-country western swing band Western Centuries. Chris Woods wrote about Donna the Buffalo’s first album here and their second album here, Gary wrote about them here. Gary reviewed all three of Western Centuries releases: Weight of the World, Songs From the Deluge, and Call the Captain.

From the archives, some of our extensive coverage of Cape Breton fiddler, step-dancer and singer Natalie MacMaster:

Chuck was wowed by Natalie’s In My Hands. ‘There are, by my quick count, about 40 musicians who contribute to this CD. However, with the exception of “Get Me Through December,” this is Natalie MacMaster’s show. And it is an incredible show with MacMaster demonstrating why she is one of the top Celtic fiddlers going today.’

Yours Truly finds Natalie showing her abilities in a lot of styles, Gary says. ‘This disc is a very nice example of the whole range of MacMaster’s music, from straight traditional Cape Breton to contemporary Celtic to some flat-out rock ‘n’ reel. She is joined by a cast of some of the biggest names in contemporary Celtic music, as well as some less well known musicians from Cape Breton with some very Nova Scotia names like Chiasson and MacIsaac.’

We can’t help but include this archival review by Gary of a concert called ‘Close to the Floor‘ at Celtic Colours International Festival in 2002, which included some MacMaster family connections. ‘Accompanists for the evening were Andrea Beaton on fiddle and her mother, Betty Lou Beaton, on piano. Betty Lou is the sister of Cape Breton’s favorite fiddler, Buddy MacMaster, which would make Andrea the cousin of the highly popular fiddler and step-dancer, Natalie MacMaster — who had just married another fiddler, Donnel Leahy, the week before the festival began.’

Kim reviewed one of Natalie’s earliest U.S. releases, an instrumental affair titled My Roots are Showing. ‘MacMaster’s playing is technically superb and infectious. She excels on the fast sets of jigs, hornpipes and reels that make up most of the album. I enjoyed all the numbers on this recording, but I would have liked to see the pace slow down in a few more places to give the outstanding dance numbers more distinction. I particularly enjoyed the set entitled “The Balmoral Highlanders,” beginning with a pipe tune of that name, and a set of hornpipes and reels entitled “Captain Keeler.” ‘

Fit as a Fiddle is Natalie’s first gold record, selling over 50,000 copies in Canada alone,’ Naomi tells us. ‘It contains 13 tracks and a total of 44 tunes, the majority of which are traditional … There are a large assortment of strathspeys, reels, and jigs, with a couple of airs, a march, a hornpipe, and a waltz added in. Natalie’s fiddling is incredible, no matter what style she is playing, and the entire disc is enjoyable.’

Pat reviewed Cape Breton Tradition, a rare CD release of fiddle tunes by Natalie’s uncle Buddy MacMaster. ‘Recorded in the relaxed environment of pianist Gordon MacLean’s living room, with daughter Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnis at the keyboard, it is an object lesson in how to bring dance music to the recorded environment and make it work. No flash, no overdubs, nothing that doesn’t belong where it is – great tone and a beautiful relaxed rhythm.’

Rick was impressed with Natalie’s album Blueprint. ‘This collection of tunes is big in a lot of ways. It is big in sound, with a depth of tone that captures the essence of all of the instruments used (and believe me, she uses the entire range available to her). It is also a big step for the girl from Canada’s east coast to the world stage. She certainly has prepared herself well and is obviously ready to take her place at centre stage.’

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What Not comes courtesy of Mia who looks at four of Folkmanis’s creations, to wit Blue Dragon, Green Dragon, Three Headed Dragon, and Phoenix and she says, ‘Oooooh, shiny! I have a box of dragons here! Folkmanis makes the best puppets ever, and their dragons are some of the finest of their puppets.’

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If you visit me in the Library here,  you’ll very often find me listening to Celtic music of some sort, and more than not, it’ll be a soundboard recording of a performance by a band I like as I prefer live performances. So it is this week with Nova Scotian band Rawlins Cross performing ‘McPherson’s Lament’ at The Cohn in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the 18th of April 2009.

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on What’s New for the 3rd of April: Music-related fantasy literature, speculative fiction manga series, all things Natalie MacMaster, some jazz-dub-world music, transcultural jazz and Spanish accordion music, dragon puppets, and of course chocolate

A Kinrowan Estate story: Breakfast for the Neverending Seesion players 

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Oatmeal drizzled with cream, rotund pork sausages sizzling with fat, eggs both simple and fancy, bread thick with butter and strawberry jam, scones with clotted cream, calves liver, bacon, lobscouse, crispbreads, tea, coffee, Turkish coffee…

At some point you stop playing and decide to get a breath of fresh air; there’re no windows in the Pub, you see, and, after Reynard goes to bed, the only light comes from the fireplace in winter after the candles burn down, guttering in brief spouts to smoke and dark, though he often leaves the gas lamps burning in other seasons — he used to try letting the musos sit and play in the dark, legend has it, but supposedly a few clumsy feet tripped somehow into the bar and several bottles were broken or at least emptied, so he started leaving lights.

Orange and grapefruit and cranberry and pomegranate juices, sausage patties steaming up fragrantly like a wish to the gods, sliced melons and fruit gleaming like jewels, mushrooms and onions sizzling in butter, buns and breads studded with berries and dusted with sugar…

You open the door, and, hey presto, there’s light. Damn. You’ve done it again, or perhaps rather the Neverending Session has done it for you again, you’ve gone and played through the night ’til the daylight, and now that you’ve seen the light of the sun creeping up into the sky, your body can’t make up its mind if it’s more tired or more hungry.

Crisp and golden potatoes, fried with onions and lots of pepper, omelettes stuffed with sour cream and spinach or asparagus or studded with bright squares of peppers, perfectly crisp toast ready to cut into soldiers to be dipped into that egg, and did I mention coffee?

Luckily, this is the Neverending Session, so this is Kinrowan Hall, and that means that any musician still able to stand and heigh themselves to the kitchen hall will find Mrs. Ware’s staff, crisply aproned and bright-eyed at an ungodly hour, serving a body all the breakfast it can eat before that body, now happily full, decides it’s had enough, and sleep becomes less of an option and more of a consequence…

Oatmeal drizzled with cream, fat pork sausages sizzling with fat, eggs both simple and fancy, bread thick with butter and strawberry jam, scones with clotted cream, calves liver, bacon, lobscouse, crispbreads, tea, coffee, Turkish coffee…

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Posted in Stories | Comments Off on A Kinrowan Estate story: Breakfast for the Neverending Seesion players 

What’s New for the 20th of March: Lots of Brian McNeill music, more UK TV, roots music from the US and Spain, some European jazz, Kim Stanley Robinson on the moon, Roger Zelazny, China Miéville, rowdy Americana, some boozy things, and more

Every good fiddler has a distinctive sound. No matter how many play the same tune, each can’t help but play it differently. Some might use an up stroke where another would a down. One might bow a series of quick single notes where another would play them all with one long draw of the bow. Some might play a double stop where others would a single string. If the listener’s ear was good enough, she could tell the difference. But you had to know the tunes, and the players, for the differences were minute. — Fiaina in Charles de Lint’s Drink Down the Moon

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Candlemas is well past which means Spring’s here. We marked Candlemas here not as a Church celebration but rather as the time when the days are noticeably longer. We’ve got a Several Annie by the name of Astrid, from Sweden, who initiated the present Estate residents into the tradition of St. Lucia’s Day.

Its been an unusually rough winter here with Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, suffering several broken ribs when one of our draft horses pinned him up against a stone wall. Not the horse’s fault, as he was startled by an owl swooping toward him. And our Head Cook, Mrs. Ware, has been away for a month as her daughter took ill and the grandchildren needed looking after. And the Pandemic has still kept us isolated from the rest of the world though hopefully that’s ending soon.

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We’re very fond of works of Roger Zelazny here and April has a look at a work about his longest work: ‘Roger Zelazny’s Amber series spans three decades, ten volumes, several short stories, a RPG, graphic novels and even a recent revival attempt (John Betancourt’s Dawn of Amber series). Packed into those original books and stories is a wealth of characters, settings, items and plots — far too much minutiae for any but the most die-hard fan to remember. And that’s where Krulik’s The Complete Amber Sourcebook comes in. The Sourcebook is not for someone who has not read the entire series, as spoilers are literally everywhere. Krulik assumes an audience already familiar with the core set of books.’

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

Cat leads off a review in this way: ‘If you started listening to audiobooks over the past ten or so years, considered yourself to be extremely lucky as you’re living in a true Golden Age where narration, production, and ease of useless is extremely good. But long ago, none of that was something you could take as a given as it most decidedly wasn’t.’ Now read his review of Roger Zelazny’s Isle of Dead to see if this older audiobook transcended these limitations.

Gary first takes a deep dive into Ancestral Night, the first volume in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. ‘I love a good space opera and Ancestral Night is a very good one. Bear mentions both C.J. Cherryh and Iain Banks in her Acknowledgments, and I definitely see traces of both those space opera forbears in this book’s themes and accoutrements.’

Gary reviews one of Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent books, Red Moon, a near future SF tale set entirely on the Moon and in China. ‘Red Moon is a compelling novel, which you can say about many of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books. This book gives you a lot to think about when pondering the near future, especially what it might mean for life on Earth – politically, socially and economically – to have working colonies on the Moon.’

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

Iain reviewed the audiobook edition of The Owl Service when it came out a decade back: ‘Listening to The Owl Service as told by Wayne Forester, who handles both the narration and voicing of each character amazingly well, one is impressed by his ability to handle both Welsh accents and the Welsh language, given the difficultly of that tongue, which make Gaelic look easy as peas to pronounce by comparison.’

The Ides of Octember: A Pictorial Biblography of Roger Zelazny is, Iain notes, ‘a bibliography which was prepared as part of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, a six volume undertaking, of which you’ll find the first volume, Threshold, reviewed here.’ Read his review on this bibliography which only diehard Zelazny fans or libraries with a strong  sf emphasis should consider buying, so quite naturally we have a copy.

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

Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as Ashley helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’

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

Robert says of Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop  that ‘I was prepared to like this book just because of the publisher’s name — and, of course, the fact that it is by Kate Wilhelm, one of science fiction’s legends: aside from the quality of her stories, in the 1950s and 60s she was one of the two or three women of note in a field dominated by men. Being a writer-working-on-being-a-novelist, I am particularly drawn to books about the craft of writing, and to have one about the Clarion Writers’ Workshop drop into my lap was an unlooked-for gift.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1We have a couple of archival book reviews to accompany this week’s featured music selections from the catalog of Irish fiddler Brian McNeill – who’s also a published and popular author! What did our reviewers think of his early efforts? Well … first up, Cat reviews McNeill’s The Busker. ‘The bottom line is that I believe The Busker is a poorly written novel, but The Busker And The Devil’s Only Daughter CD that is the companion to this novel is a brilliant piece of music that one should hear if one loves Scottish folk music.’

Next, Deb took a crack at To Answer The Peacock, because she loved the companion CD. ‘I really, really wanted to be able to give this book the same unqualified praise that I’ve lavished on McNeill’s music; unfortunately, I cannot do that. Despite my reservations, however, I found the book interesting, since it’s set in places I have yet to go but would like to visit someday.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Cat binged on the U.K. television series A Mind to Kill, Series One, which is set and filmed in Wales. What’d he think? ‘A brilliant show, well-acted with an intelligent story and an engaged and talented cast, filmed on location. Perfect. I look forward to seeing the second series when Acorn releases it!’

What did Cat think about the U.K. television series Bonekickers? Funny you should ask. ‘It’s amazing how horrible it is given it came from the creators of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, two must-see shows. The storyline, which has a cliched Excalibur premise, is badly told and requires a leap of faith that even I who regularly read British fantasy couldn’t make; the dialogue is bad enough to make me want to rewrite it on the fly; and let’s not mention the back story that simply doesn’t hold together at all.

Liz reviewed Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which she says combines elements of fairy tales and SF. ‘The film sets a plucky little robot, David, on a hero’s journey. During the course of David’s quest, the film examines the nature of humanity. What does it mean to be human? Is it having the right DNA? The ability to feel emotions? The ability to dream and imagine? The ability to die?’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1So let’s start off with American whisky. Gary looks at a detailed history of that drink: ‘I realize that movie Westerns are no longer the cultural touchstone they were for my generation, but I’m sure many of you have no trouble remembering a movie scene in which a cowboy walks into a saloon, orders a whiskey and the barkeep pours him one from a clear glass quart-size bottle. Maybe the cowboy even says “I’ll take the bottle” and heads for a table. Sorry, but it probably didn’t happen that way. Like so many other historical details, the makers of Westerns probably got that one wrong, or so implies Reid Mitenbuler in his lucid book Bourbon Empire.’

Next up is more whisky. The late Iain Banks, best known for his Culture novels such as The Hydrogen Sonata and Surface Detail, decided to ask his publisher for money to sample the smaller whiskey distilleries in Scotland. The resulting book, Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram was given a rave review by our Cornish-based Michael, who aptly notes that ‘This review was written over Hogmanay, 2003, under the influence of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie Port-Wood Finish, both of which, I’m delighted to report, meet with the approval of Mr Banks.’

Something boozy gets reviewed by Robert now to finish off this section: ‘Trader Joe’s Assortment of Boozy Little Chocolate Truffles seems to be a seasonal item, which is possibly why they’re not listed on the Trader Joe’s website, which in turn is why I’m not able to provide any background information. Trader Joe’s, of course, is the national grocery chain that’s hip, fun, and offers a lot of things you can’t find elsewhere, with an emphasis on natural ingredients, all offered under the “Trader Joe’s” brand.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1It’s not exactly a graphic novel, but April applauds Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman as ‘a thorough examination of Gaiman’s body of work. Actually, thorough is an understatement; Wagner, Golden and Bissette have compiled 500 plus pages of information about Gaiman, his diverse output and its impact. Prince of Stories is both a treasure trove for fans and a bibliography extraordinaire up to and including 2008’s Graveyard Book.’

Richard says Camelot 3000 was a comics ‘landmark’ in the 1980s and remains so today. ‘The first finite run “maxi-series” DC published, it explored territory that, in the early ’80s, was not common ground for any mainstream comic book: gender roles and sexuality, the morality of treatment of prisoners and the ultimate self-sacrifice. All of this was wrapped up in a rollicking science fantasy tale of King Arthur and his knights coming back to save Earth from an alien invasion secretly sponsored by the dread Morgan Le Fay.’

Richard says the GraphicAudio presentation of Batman: The Stone King has some problems. ‘It would be foolish to think that there’s no way to do a good audio play of Batman material. After all, of all of the major comic book heroes, he has the most in common with The Shadow, and Lamont Cranston certainly ruled the airwaves for long enough. But The Stone King is a graphic novel trying to be a novel trying to be an audiobook of a radio play, and as such, it’s best skipped.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1‘This is such a joyous album,’ Gary says of Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves’ second album Hurricane Clarice. ‘By which I mean that few things give me more joy than to see and hear each new generation mastering traditional music and making it their own. Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves bring their family traditions and history, the art and literature that inspires them and everything else in their young lives to this music, and continue the tradition of making the old new with each generation.’

‘How much more is there left to lose?’ Gary says, ‘That’s a good summary of the spirit of this eponymous album born of the fortuitous conjoining of two of the greatest underground bands on the globe – alt-country outliers Freakwater and U.K. punk cum Americana rabble rousers Mekons. If you’re spoiling for a good bit of pro-union, pro-worker, pro-environment musical mayhem, you’re in the right place with Freakons.’

Gary instantly recognized the sound of Stefan Aeby Trio’s Fairy Circus, but he says the music seems a bit less “graceful” than past excursions. ‘The third track, for instance, is called ” The Wolves Are Waiting” and it can’t help but remind me of the unsettled feeling I live with constantly due to the war currently going on in this German and Swiss trio’s back yard, as it were.’

‘It’s a lovely album with a strong Mediterranean vibe, alternately sunny and melancholy – and sometimes both at once,’ Gary says of Almalé’s Hixa Mía. ‘It’s a sound based in ancient music – medieval, Renaissance and baroque – but with a host of modern influences, all kept close to their roots. No pernicious dancehall beats creep in here.’

From the archives, our extensive coverage of Scottish fiddler Brian McNeill:

Everyone loves McNeill’s liner notes including Cat, who reviewed his collaboration with Tom McDonagh, Horses for Courses. ‘I can’t possibly tell the story of the tunes and songs on the CD as well as Brian does in his two page essay in the liner notes. (He notes Horses for Courses is in part inspired by a disasterous race, the English Grand National, when everything went wrong!)’

Cat was quite pleased with an album by a Danish group with a nifty name, which McNeill had a hand in as well. ‘I consider Brian McNeill to be one of the finest musicians ever. And now it turns out that he’s a truly great producer too! Bothwell, the second CD by Danish group Drones & Bellows was produced by Brian and bears more than a passing resemblence to many albums he was released under his own appellation.’

Deb Skolnik discovered McNeill as a solo artist with his CD No Gods, and she found it much to her liking from the get-go. ‘Skirling bagpipes and a full horn section at a furious pace preface the vocals to the title song (also the first track on the album), which debunks the “all the ridiculous, over-romanticised baggage of Scottish history.” What good are the “heroes” like Bonnie Prince Charlie, asks McNeill, when so many of the present-day Scots still live a hand-to-mouth existence?’

Deb reviewed a McNeill CD that is a companion to his first novel: ‘… McNeill is not only an accomplished musician and songwriter, he is an author too, and The Busker And The Devil’s Only Daughter is the companion CD to the first of his two novels about Alex Fraser, a busker. (The other novel is titled To Answer The Peacock.) The liner notes are a story about McNeill and Fraser, written as if Fraser is more than a fictional construct. Who knows? Perhaps he is …’

Deb says she doesn’t usually care for all-instrumental albums unless they’re classical, but she makes an eception for McNeill’s To Answer The Peacock. ‘McNeill’s relationship with his music is so personal and so honest, it sometimes feels like eavesdropping into his soul to listen to him play. But since he’s recorded these for us to hear, I guess he doesn’t mind. McNeill coaxes warm, rich tones the color of rosin out of his fiddle, and he plays with such honesty and emotion that it is impossible not to be moved when you listen to this album.’

Deb also reviewed McNeill’s The Back o’ the North Wind, a concept album of sorts. ‘Subtitled “Tales of the Scots in America,” this fine collection of songs and tunes is inspired by Scots men and women, some you probably have heard of, and some you likely have not, all of whom found their way to North America. Some wound up in Canada, some wound up in the United States but all have been immortalized in music by McNeill, on this CD and in a stage show based on it (or perhaps it’s the other way round).’

Donna provides us with an omnibus review of some of McNeill’s more recent recordings including The Baltic tae Byzantium, The Crew o’ the Copenhagen (with Drones & Bellows), and The Road Never Questions. ‘I would be hard pressed to tell you which of these would be your best bet if you had to pick one, I would say you can’t go wrong with any.  This is the kind of quality Scottish music for which Brian McNeill has long been known and revered.’

 

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Our What Not comes courtesy of Pamela Dean, who was asked what her favourite ballad was: ‘As I went through all the Child ballads when I was trying to think of a frame for Juniper, Gentian, & Rosemary, and the only other remotely feminist ballad I could find was ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded,’ which is not nearly as active for the young woman as ‘Tam Lin’ is. Well, there is the one where a young woman ransoms her guy and says, ‘The blood had flowed upon the green afore I lost my laddie,’ which is nice, but all she does is take all her money and hand it over.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Let’s go out with some music from Brian McNeill performing “Trains and My Grandfather” performed at  the Music Star in Norderstedt, German on the eleventh of November, 2016. The song was recorded on No Gods.

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A Kinrowan Estate Tale: A Restless Queen

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

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

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

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

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