Welcome to GMR

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

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

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

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

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

Jethro Tull’s ‘The Hunting Girl’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Restless Queen


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Pub Party

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1I strongly urge that you do not join the teller of this tale later, nor should you drink too deeply of what he is offering you …

Come in. Yes, the party is here in the Pub tonight. There will be rituals in the hills and the Wood later, but I advise you to avoid them. Join me here, at least for the time being. I can’t stay for the evening — there are things I must do elsewhere tonight, but that will be later on. Oh, forgive me — I’m sure you recognize Reynard, and there’s Reynard’s cousin Kit, and I saw several Jacks around earlier. I am . . . well, I have many names, but you can call me Jake. Yes — Jake will do for tonight.

You’re just in time. People are starting to arrive from the press barn — yes, we do it the old-fashioned way here, and everyone pitches in. Fortunately, it’s still warm enough to use the pumps outside to clean up. That’s what I like to see — people are tired but happy. Look, even McKenzie is smiling, and the Annies are positively glowing. After all, it’s the Wine Harvest, the Merry Moon, when Summer’s work is done and the bloody business of colder days has yet to start. So, no meat for tonight’s feast, but we have fresh bread and a rich vegetable stew and good cheeses to share.

Grab a glass or a tankard — we still have the last of the old vintage, and good ale and beer. Come over to the corner, where the Neverending Session has set up. The music will be a little different tonight, I think. I’ve brought a couple of friends who will be playing — yes, those fellows there. Ah, I see you recognize the piper. Fitting him for boots was a problem, and we had to cut a hole in his pants for his tail. Oh, yes, we had to put him into pants, else the evening would have gotten much too lively much too soon. He lacks restraint, and I thought it best to keep him indoors tonight, and to keep him playing — there will be enough madness in the wild places. At any rate, there will be some fine music tonight — my friends have been playing together for time out of mind. And there will be tales later — I know the storyteller of old, and he’s a rare one.

What? The Equinox? Oh, no — that’s only part of it. Yes, tonight is a night when we observe time in balance, but it’s more than just day and night — it’s one of the days we can look back and forward, like Janus the Two-Faced. It’s nothing so simple as ‘balance,’ at least as you’re thinking of it — it’s a complex and delicate thing, an equilibrium that is already out of place, that only holds its shape for an instant, part of the long interplay between day and night, dark and light, the eternal dance of the Kings as each in turn takes his place as Lord of the Wheel. It’s the ends of the circle that count, do you understand? Tonight is just a pause to take a breath and rejoice before the serious business starts again.

And it’s the midpoint of the Harvests, which I rule with my brothers. You hold a mug of my brother John’s bounty in your hand, and my brother Kern will come in his turn with the harvest of the woods, that can only be bought with blood. They offer sustenance, as do I — I stand between them and bring joy. Remember, the Harvests mark a time of sacrifice — we offer our lives, and I my beloved as well, and tonight we celebrate my gift. No, don’t regret it. Accept it gladly, as it was given, lest you belittle them and me — no one lives without the sacrifice of others. Acknowledge it, and treasure it, and give us your blessing.

Ah, I see them slipping out. I suspected they would — fox-haired Kit and his cat-eyed companion. Ha! You didn’t even know he’d come in, did you? They’re good at being unnoticed, the both of them — I’ve seen them slipping through the Wood like smoke, and not even the sharp-eyed ravens marked their passing. They’ll be coursing the woodland paths tonight, offering shelter. That Wood belongs to Kit, though I can’t guess how much of it he’s gifted to his friend — and don’t be fooled by that one — they are subtle and devious, both of them — and they understand that sacrifice must be willing. Kit has declared that tonight is not the night for bloodshed in his domain, and I have agreed, out of respect — he is my elder, after all. I daresay any bands of my celebrants who wander into the Wood will find themselves wandering out again in short order.

For the rest, you’d best stay in tonight. Stay close to the fire. See, the storyteller is here, so there will be tales told, strange and wondrous, and, if I know anything about this place, many healths pledged.

No — sadly, I have other tasks ahead of me, other places I must be, and I must say adieu. Tomorrow? No, I can’t promise that, but next year — next year for certain.

For tonight, be merry!


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What’s New for the 19th of September: Red Molly cover Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning”, All Things Neverwhere, live rock and roll from New Zealand, lots and lots of Kit Kats, and much more

“Anyway, death is so final, isn’t it?”
“Is it?” asked Richard.
“Sometimes,”  said the Marquis de Carabas.

Neil Gaiman’s 

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If you look down to the bottom floor of the central well of the Library, you’ll see our card catalog on the wall nearest the circular staircase. Yes, a physical card catalog, as I feel it’s important for the Several Annies, my sort of Library Apprentices, to understand the relation of books to each other and nothing does that better than a physical tracking system. The card catalog represents one hundred and seventy years of the constant evolution of this Library and the entire Kinrowan Estate by extension.

Got a subject you’re interested in? Oh, cider making? Our card catalog has a précis of each book on that subject, the year published, the author(s) and of course where it’s located, as the Library has myriad locations, from the cookbook collection housed just outside the Kitchen to the botanical books that Gutmansdottir, the naturalist studying The Wild Wood, has in her work space, and the extensive fiction collection on the wall behind us.

A good review works like that as well. It, when done right, not only helps you in telling if you’ll be interested in seeking it out (and some of our reviewed books take a bit of effort to find as many are long out of print, or are of works done on presses long gone) but also places it within the greater landscape of literature itself.  And our music reviews also do this, so that you know where Dexy’s Midnight Runners falls in the history of the 70s Birmingham, England, music scene and why their ‘Come On Eileen’ caught on with the MTV listening public.

And of course we cover other interesting stuff such as mystery filmscookbooksFolkmanis puppets, chocolate, really tasty ale, neat action figures and tarot cards.

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All of our literary and related reviews in this section this time are of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. To my not surprise given its popularity among the staff here, I discovered that we’ve reviewed it quite a number of times – as a book of course multiple times, as an audiobook several times, as a BBC series, as a graphic novel and even as a theatre production, so I decided to bring all of those together here.

April leads us with the graphic novel that was made of it: ‘Over a decade after the original televised mini-series and the novel it spawned, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has found new life in comic form — but not scripted by Gaiman himself. That honor has gone to Mike Carey, writer for the Vertigo series Lucifer and Crossing Midnight, with Glenn Fabry (Preacher, Hellblazer) providing the artwork. Gaiman did serve as consultant for the project. In his introduction, Carey remarks on the difficulty of adapting a novel to comic format, noting that some scenes have been moved around, some cut, dialogue changed to accommodate both, and the omission of a character. His hope is that fans of the original will appreciate the decisions that were made and the final result.’

Cat is up next with a recently released full-cast production audiobook of Neverwhere: ‘I spent nearly four very entertaining hours listening to the latest interaction of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a full cast production that I swear was completely rewritten yet again for this production. Gaiman would win the 2015 BBC Audio Drama for Outstanding Contribution to Radio Drama for this series. He certainly deserved it!’

He also looks at Neverwhere: The Author’s Preferred Text: ‘There are any number of editions, many in the author’s preferred edition, of Neverwhere from inexpensive paperbacks to really costly hardcover editions signed by Gaiman. And of course, it exists as a digital publication in the same author’s preferred edition, not to mention as a graphic novel, a BBC series which is interesting if flawed,  and a full cast audio-drama, which is splendid.  But the edition I own, well, aside from the audio-drama and an ebook, is the illustrated edition with artwork by Chris Riddell.’

Cat has a small treat for us to finish off his reviews: ‘Neil Gaiman’s “How The Marquis Got His Coat Back” is a fun appetiser of a story though it really should be put back into Neverwhere: The Author’s Preferred Text where it really belongs instead as an appendix at the end, or as a separate audio story, as it’s really just a chapter within that greater story. It’s wonderfully played here by the cast of Paterson Joseph, Bernard Cribbins, Samantha Beart, Adrian Lester, Mitch Benn and Don Warrington with a special appearance by Neil Gaiman as he always does in his radio productions.’

The audiobook version of this novel has a second review by Kestrell that starts off this way: ‘I’m not a big fan of audiobooks. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy having someone read to me, because I do — I’m even married to a man who reads to me as often as I let him.’  Now read her review to see why Gaiman narrating it won her over!

She had some worries about a stage production of this novel before she saw it: When I sat down to view Lifeline Theatre’s live stage production of Neverwhere, I had my doubts. Works of fantasy offer a particular challenge for live theatre in that the fantastic often translates poorly to the limitations of the flesh and the material world, resulting in bad fur suits and the omission of many favorite passages.’

Rebecca, who loved the novel, watched the BBC series that became that novel. Did she like it? Let’s see: ‘I enjoyed the show. I really did, despite all the things I’ve tutted over in this review. And if you’re a Gaiman fan, or a Dr. Who fan looking for something new, or you like urban fantasy and don’t mind the BBC’s style, you’ll probably like it too. But if you’re addicted to The O.C. or Friends or some other shining example of American TV, you’ll probably be happier skipping it.’

Richard finished off these reviews by giving us a second opinion on the novel:  ‘Neverwhere is the story of a not-quite-nebbish named Richard, who is a perfectly archetypal young executive. He’s got a suitably generic job, a suitably socially climbing fiancee and a suitably mundane existence being harried along by the demands of each. Richard’s is exactly the sort of life that could do with a swift kick of magic, and that’s exactly what he gets.’ Now read his review to see why he thinks this tale of London Below is worth reading.

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As a woman who grew up snarfing on all sorts of Japanese Kit Kat bars (#HapaLife), Denise decided to see how the other half lives by eating her way through several flavors Hershey’s has on offer in the States. First off, Kit Kat Duos Mint and Dark Chocolate. ‘… this one seems to be the one that would play well even in Peoria. Mint and dark chocolate. Sounds refined, no? Yes.’ 

Next up, she nibbled on Kit Kat Duos Mocha and Chocolate, which seemed to whet her appetite for a Mocha Frappe. At least for a little while. ‘And yeah, I understand that mocha and chocolate is basically coffee, chocolate, and chocolate. But I’m okay with that.’

Wandering into the world of Limited Edition flavors, Denise decided to try Kit Kat Key Lime Pie, a flavor she had her reservations about, but seemed to be pleasantly surprised by. ‘This particular combo of sweetness, umami-esque lime flavor, and silky texture is a bit too much all in one sitting. But that’s okay. That means I have some for tomorrow. Or later tonight.’

Lastly, Denise decided to try the Kit Kat Cereal Candy Bar, and has been requesting a GMR Purple Heart ever since. (I hate to tell her, but we don’t have those…perhaps Blodeuwedd can work some feline charms on her, and snuggle the pain away.) ‘DAMN this smells like candy plastic. You know what I’m talking about; when a food has so many chemical reactions going on that all you can think of is an ’80s Strawberry Shortcake doll and that “strawberry” smell. But with more plastic.’

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Big Earl rhapsodizes about Doc Watson and David Holt’s Legacy in this archival review: ‘Jaw-dropping playing, great songs, fantastic stories, and more than enough yucks to keep the tempo up, all wrapped up in a beautiful package. And cheap to boot! Strongly recommended.’

Gary steps outside his usual comfort zone to review some actual rock music! And by a band from New Zealand, no less. ‘So, rock and roll. Two guitars, bass and drums. Loud, messy and emotional. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I still need it. And who better right now to provide the catharsis of rock and roll than Auckland, New Zealand’s The Beths?’

‘If you like sharply poetic lyrics in aggressively engaging musical settings, don’t sleep on this one,’ says Gary of The Felice Brothers’ new album From Dreams To Dust. ‘The Felice Brothers have been on my radar for years but I confess this is the first I’ve checked them out. I’m regretting my omission. This is smart and catchy music.’

Gary was very favorably impressed with Volume 16 of Naxos World’s Folk Music of China series, this one featauring Folk Songs of the Dong, Gelao & Yao Peoples. ‘Anyone who likes multipart ensemble singing with intricate, close harmonies will find this disc absolutely indispensable. I’m a big fan of the choral music of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and the music of the Dong and Yao people on this disc rivals anything found there.’

Percussionist André Ferrari is a part-time member of the Swedish folk ensemble Väsen, and nyckelharpa virtuoso Olov Johansson a full-time member since it was founded in 1989 or thereabouts. Gary reviews a new recording by Ferrari and Johansson called In Beat Ween Rhythm. ‘Playing nothing but the nyckelharpa, percussion and some electronic synthesizers, they’ve made a program of highly engaging music rooted in tradition but thoroughly modern.’

In her archival review, Jo was pleasantly surprised by a Celtic harp recording. ‘In general, harp recordings can capture a good bit of the enchantment of the instrument, but rarely do they come close to the magic of hearing a live harp performance. Jennifer White’s Clarsach sounds more like sitting in someone’s living room listening to them play harp live than any other I have experienced.’

From deep in the Archives comes this extensive review by Kelly of Howard Shore and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s The Lord of the Rings soundtracks. ‘Let me lay my cards on the table: As far as I am concerned, Howard Shore’s work on The Lord of the Rings constitutes not just the finest individual aspect of the films themselves, but also one of the finest efforts in film scoring of the last two decades, if not the finest.’

Also from the archives, Patrick took a deep dive into Jimmy Young’s Pipe-works, an album featuring the Scottish smallpipes, Northumbrian pipes and border pipes, and dedicated to a specific ship. ‘But this album does more than bring together different types of bagpipes. It also doubles as a tribute to Greenpeace’s first “Rainbow Warrior,” which was scuttled by members of the French Secret Service. … As such, Pipeworks is at once celebratory and melancholy…’

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For our What Not this time, Robert takes us on a tour around Lincoln Park Zoo’s South Pond Nature Boardwalk: ‘ If you’re visiting Chicago and need a break from the museums, architecture tours, shopping, and theater, check out South Pond in Lincoln Park, just south of Lincoln Park Zoo, for a nice relaxing hour or two. It’s another restoration project in the Park, this one under the auspices of the Lincoln Park Zoological Society, and it’s come along quite nicely — I call it “the Lakefront, BC — Before Chicago”.’

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Now lets finish off with ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, a Richard Thompson penned song which was first on his Rumor and Sigh album, as covered here by the all female Red Molly band. It was assumed when this song was released by them as there’s a red haired Molly in the song that they’d named the band after this song but instead it’s because there’s a red headed Molly in the band. We’ve reviewed several of their recordings including Love and Other Tragedies.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Cernunnos

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I’ve rarely been scared deeply but I was upon encountering The Horned God while on a walk with two of the Estate’s Russian wolf hounds deep in the woods a few days ago.

As you know, this Estate is big. Really big. Part of that is a result of being on The Border with the realms of The Fey, but it’s also a very old Estate that never got broken up. You can walk in the direction away from the village that’s twenty miles away and where Riverrun Farm borders us, for more hours than really bear thinking about. I had packed a lunch, some ale, a book, and a desire to be away from everyone for a full day, as I was getting grouchy for no good reason.

So I set out not long after dawn, walking in a direction that would take me past the Standing Stones and into the forested area we leave alone. It’s an old forest, old as anything in these Isles, which is a situation best not dwelled upon. Really old forests mean even older beings and so I was was not surprised when I encountered one here.

So why was I scared so deeply? Because old gods such as the one I encountered there are rarely of the compassionate sort. And standing there tall and wide of beam with skin more like bark than anything else with a set of antlers complete with deep green moss was what I took to be Cernunnos. What else could such a being be?

Despite being roughly human in shape, there was an inhumaness to him, something in his eyes and bearing that said he’d been living for longer than I was comfortable thinking about – and I’ve talked with Odin. Fortunately for me, it seemed that he had no interest in me, for he noticed me not as he moved on toward wherever he’d been headed before I came upon him.

I decided that I’d skip playing music and eating lunch out there. Suddenly I was very desirous of getting back to that which I had been wanting to be away from! Oh, and the Estate Russian wolf hounds had already decided that returning home was a task to which they quite urgently needed to attend.

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What’s New for the 5th of September: All things whisky; Child ballads and Welsh mythology; demon barbers and swamp things; Rick Danko, singers from Queens and Florida; a rat in a tin can, and much more

After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink. Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search of the Prefect Dram

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Summer is passing as it always does on the Kinrowan Estate in fits and starts with both unseasonably warm weather and weather that means a fire is built in the rooms that Ingrid, the Estate Steward, and I have on the fourth floor of Kinrowan Hall. I think having a fire this time of year, as the early Autumn rains begin in earnest, is as much about feeling warm as being warm.

And that also applies to my fondness for both playing and listening to Celtic music as both activities are quite comforting. It just feels good to be either a member of the Neverending Session, particularly when they’re here in our Pub, or working behind the Bar when they’re playing. That space feels at its very best on a late Summer evening when there’s a chill in the air and the Neverending Session is playing this steller music.

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April says ‘Wise Children, like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, is comprised of stories within stories. The framing story concerns events occurring on the day of Melchior’s 100th birthday — which also happens to be Nora and Dora’s 75th birthday. But Dora runs away with the narrative and lays out a memoir for the “Lucky” Chances (as the sisters were known professionally), beginning two generations before they were even born, with their paternal grandparents. Along the way, readers are treated to a brief history of British live stage entertainment — with a brief foray into American movies — throughout the 1900s.’

Thomas the Rhymer gets the approval of Debbie: ‘Ellen Kushner has taken Child Ballad #37 (upon which Steeleye’s version is based) and thoroughly fleshed it out into a most enjoyable and fascinating read. In one of those odd coincidences in life (or maybe not so odd), the aforementioned Maddy Prior is quoted on the back cover of this paperback, saying “A book to introduce those who know nothing of the ballads to their rich and deep content … and intrigue those already familiar with them.” I couldn’t agree with her more. Think of it, if you will, as your invitation to a most marvelous world you might not discover otherwise.’

Cat has an unusual offering from an English writer: ‘Let’s start off with what Boneland isn’t: despite sharing a primary character with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, beloved children’s novels known as The Alderley Tales that were published in 1957 and 1964, this is very much an adult novel not intended for the pleasure of children whatsoever. Indeed its tone is more akin to what the late Robert Holdstock did in his Ryhope Wood series than anything else Alan Garner has done excepting Thursbitch and Strandloper.’

Grey looks at The Wood Wife by Terri Windling: ‘Some writers give us stories that are like keys to the door of our cage. They let us escape out of a world that is mostly mundane, often confusing and troubling, into worlds of light and beauty. Because of them, we learn to hope for a better world. Then there are writers who give us stories that are like looking glasses, through which we can see our world with fresh, strangely clear vision. Because of them, we learn to love the world we have more fiercely. In her fairy tale The Wood Wife, Terri Windling gives us a story that begins like a key, but turns into a looking glass in our hands.’

Iain looks at Angela Carter’s The Curious Room: Plays, Film Scripts and an Opera. As he says of her in his review, Sometimes the Reaper is just too damn unfair. Angela Olive Stalker Carter died of lung cancer in 1992 at the far too young age of 52. Writer, feminist theorist, folklorist, opera buff, playwright, poet — she was these things and much, much more. ‘

Welsh mythology in the guise of a well-loved novel gets looked at by him: ‘I must have first read Alan Garner’s The Owl Service some forty years ago when I was interested in all things concerning Welsh mythology. I wanted a hardcover first edition which cost a pretty penny at the time. I mention this because it’s now been at least twenty years since I last read this novel, which is long enough that when Naxos kindly sent the audiobook, I had pretty much forgotten the story beyond remembering that I was very impressed by the story Garner told.’

Steven has a look at a novel in a long running mystery series: ‘Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger was inspired by a real 1998 case that resulted in the murder of a police officer. The author refers to the case repeatedly but doesn’t offer any clues to its solution. Instead, he uses it as the springboard for a story that plays on Navajo history and mythology, with the “Badger” of the title turning out to be both a legendary Ute warrior and his son, the former having been thought of as a witch by mystified Navajos and the latter perhaps taking advantage of his father’s tricks following a murderous raid on a casino.’

Warner has a mystery for us: ‘One Last Lie is Paul Doiron’s latest novel of adventure and mystery in the wilderness near the U.S.-Canada border. Filled with questions of past sins and current crimes, the book manages to continue in the trend of exciting and detailed mysteries in Doiron’s work. Like many mysteries, this volume starts with a little breathing room to familiarize us with the protagonist.’

He next moves on to this book: ‘Rhythm of War is a big step for Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. Sanderson has a reputation for writing very long books, as well as very intricate rule-based magic systems. At over 1,200 pages, many of them focusing explicitly upon characters researching the systems in this setting, Rhythm of War stays very true to form in that regard.’

He finishes off with a short story that became a novel, albeit of a compact nature: ‘Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground is a fascinating example of a lost novel. A relatively early manuscript by an author famed for his work dealing with the American black experience, this volume is as much a reflection of what could have been as it is an extension of his existing themes and storytelling.’

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Our food and drink reviews this time is all about whisky, something that many of us here at the Kinrowan Estate are quite fond of. Did you know we do whisky tastings here? The tastings are one of the two times a year, midsummer, and the annual Robert Burns supper being the other one, when Iain dons his clan kilt with full regalia. It’s quite a sight. And the Neverending Session plays nothing but traditional Scottish tunes for them. There’s also a concert at each tasting featuring performers such as Dougie MacLean, the Old Blind Dogs or Shooglenifty.

So 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.’

Jennifer heard tell of putting smoke in your booze years ago, but it was a while before she met an actual smoke-flavored whiskey. Actually, it’s even weirder than that. Here she reviews the most controversial of the offerings from Two James Distillery of Detroit.

Judith looks at The Water of Life; ‘You would think that one album about booze would be enough for even a Scotsman, but not for singer-traditional songwriter Robin Laing. The Water of Life is Laing’s second, after The Angel’s Share, with songs on both CDs from his one-man show on whiskey. Laing, originally from Edinborough but now living in rural Lanarkshire, seems to have settled into a distillery groove. Great idea!’

Speaking of great ideas, 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.’

Coming full circle, Vonnie looks at yet another album about whisky by Robin Laing: ‘Whisky for Breakfast is an amiable album, not to be taken too seriously, about the pleasures of life as seen through the lens of whisky. Robin Laing’s songs all have something to do with whisky, but the thread is interpreted broadly, with celebrations of drinking but also history and a grand sense of place.’

Lets finish off with  a recommendation of a whiskey tasting blogspot which is described this way: ‘SmokyBeast is penned by a whisky-loving wife and husband team in New York City. We sit down every Sunday night after our daughter goes to bed, and crack open a well-earned reward: a bottle of dark, smoky, and delicious whisky. Here are some of our favorites, and some lessons we’ve learned along the way.’ Need I say more? I think not.

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Craig is a big fan of the PBS film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. So how did he feel about Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Sweeney Todd, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter? He liked it! ‘It works as a horror film, as a tragedy, as an oddball romance (of sorts), and best of all, it still works as a musical.’

Although she liked the original Wes Craven film of Swamp Thing, Denise was less happy with the DVD set of the first two seasons of Swamp Thing: The Series based on that movie. ‘I’m a Swampy fan, so when I started watching this set I was excited. That excitement dimmed once I got hip-deep into the first episode. These episodes are touted as “the first 22 episodes in the order they were meant to be seen!” so things should flow seamlessly. But the first five episodes are horrible, jumbled messes, bouncing from one scene to the other with little if any explanation for the gaps in continuity.’

Gary enjoyed a concert DVD from one of his favorite musical acts, Calexico’s World Drifts In: Live at the Barbican London: ‘Calexico is one of the most interesting bands performing right now, both aurally and visually, and World Drifts In captures the band in all its glory during a festival at London’s Barbican hall in November 2002. The Tucson alt-rockers put on quite a show.’

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Cat predicted a serious hit to his disposable income from the purchase of many new graphic novel series, after he spent some quality time with one particular tome: ‘So can I say 500 Essential Graphic Novels will help assist me – or you, for that matter – with finding new series? Quite well I’d say, given that it covers more than three hundred fifty authors, four hundred artists, and yes, five hundred graphic novels.’

Elizabeth was not pleased with the comic treatment of the Marvel universe’s Wolverine Volume 1: Prodigal Son, which she found to be the literary equivalent of a cheap knock-off action figure toy. ‘Heaven knows, the creators of this forgot everything they knew about Logan, as well as about plot, subtly-developed female characters, and realistic dialogue.’

Jack was thoroughly pleased with Alexander Irvine’s The Vertigo Encyclopedia, which he found to be a valuable guide to the various graphic series published by the estimable Vertigo house. ‘It is absolutely perfect for sensing if a series will interest you, as each entry for the major series includes a look at the characters and key story arcs, plus generous amounts of the artwork for that series.’

Raspberry dividerBig Earl did his best to review Abdouli Diakite and Mamadou Sidibe’s Jebebara: The Bamana Djembe; and various artists’ Tambacounda Senegal: Live Sogoni. They’re a couple of field recordings featuring the African drum known as the djembe. ‘It’s a beautiful sounding instrument, and in the hands of a master, an incredibly versatile one. However, on its own, it’s still a drum, and after a while, one would really appreciate another instrument (even a differently toned drum) to accompany the sound.’

David appreciated an album looking back at “The very best of” Dickey Betts from the 1970s and ’80s. ‘Bougainvillea’s Call reminds us that there were two great guitarists in the Allman Brothers Band, and it makes an outstanding call for us to pay more attention to the Richard Betts side of the equation.’

David truly enjoyed a reissue of an One More Shot, an early album by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen. ‘The studio album is beautiful. The three members play acoustic guitars and take turns singing lead and harmony vocals. They are complementary and supportive. This is truly a collaborative effort.’

Gary reviews an album that combines 19th century poetry with country music, noise rock and even jazz. ‘Queens-based singer, songwriter and bandleader Nico Hedley has dubbed his first full length album Painterly. It’s an odd sort of adjective, but just one listen to the album’s first track and its first single “Tennessee” explains it succinctly and sufficiently. This is an album whose lyrics and sound are indeed painterly.’

‘Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra is a modern big band featuring lots of horns including Bernstein’s slide trumpet, trombone, up to three saxophones, violin, guitar, bass, drums and the occasional guest vocalist,’ Gary notes. They’ve just released the first of a four-part series of albums of new music, this one called Tinctures in Time.

Gary reviews an album from Florida native Matthew Fowler. ‘The Grief We Gave Our Mother is a lesson in how arrangement and production can turn a collection of good songs into something more. Along the way a collection of confessional songs that started out as bare-bones acoustic numbers became an album of sparkling, enlivening and enlightening indie folk songs.’

Since Deb mentioned Steeleye Span & Maddy Prior’s A Rare Collection 1972-1996 in her book review above, we dug through the archives and found Michael’s review of the record. Of which he says, ‘The twenty tracks are a mix of never-before-released songs, different mixes, unusual edits, songs from solo and collaborative albums and so on. Yet, it comes across as a pretty cohesive album in its own right. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily “sound” like a compilation. All the tracks flow together well, and the musical quality is as high as anyone who knows Steeleye Span will expect.’

Speaking of Richard Danko, No’am was ambivalent about his posthumous solo album Times Like These. ‘Liking The Band does not mean that automatically you are going to like Rick Danko’s solo records, especially if The Band’s records you like the most were recorded in the 1960s.’

Peter warmed up to Jim Causley’s Fruits of the Earth, an album of old English folk songs by a young English folk singer. ‘I wasn’t quite sure about this album to begin with but it does grow on you. I fancy it will be favoured by the staunch traditionalists amongst you, so don’t be put off of buying it by the cover. It has a lot of excellent songs. The sound and content could have been recorded 20 years ago.’

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Our What Not this week is another treat from Folkmanis. Says Robert: ‘I seem to have another Folkmanis puppet lurking around, this one the Rat In a Tin Can. The Folkmanis website describes him as being ready for a playful picnic (note the napkin in one paw). However, it seemed to me that he might just as easily be a waiter in an upscale rat restaurant: his black-and-white pattern might almost be taken for formal wear.’

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I’m very fond of the newish wave of Scottish bands that started up some thirty years ago, I’m also giving you the Peatbog Faeries, Peaties to their  fans, doing ‘The Great Ceilidh Swindle’ at the 2006 Celtic Connections in Glasgow. This band’s a favourite among the Fey including a friend of mine, Jenny Thistlethwaite.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Our Rooms

Green LeavesKinrowan Hall’s a vast sprawling edifice going back far longer than one would suspect and it’s been added unto more often than perhaps was for the better. What that means is that we who are staff here each have private space that’s unique.

The rooms here used as living space are eclectic to say the least. Myself and Catherine, my wife who’s a musician, have rooms on the fourth floor that consist of a bedroom, living room and a third room. What, no bathroom or kitchen, you ask? Well there are shared bathrooms on every floor and of course the Estate Kitchen is second to none in terms of feeding everyone here.

What’s interesting about our rooms is that they were completely renovated for us before we moved in some twenty years ago. The heating system was upgraded to the latest forced hot water compete with the flat wall radiators which are amazingly effective and keep us comfy even in the coldest weather. The trade-off for this is that we don’t use the fireplace that was here as it, like all such fireplaces, was really horrid at both heating this space and being energy efficient. I admit probably felt nice.

The bedroom is generously sized and has a lot of built-in storage, which is great for us. It looks over a near-by apple orchard, which of course means amazing smells in the spring. We’ve got a cozy sitting area with built-in bookcases, a comfortable couch and chair, reading lamps and a Turkish rug that’s centuries old. Again it looks out upon Oberon’s Wood. The third room I mentioned is actually the largest room which is how it can be both her work space and our personal library.

The rooms are up on the fourth floor which means it’s a quiet enough space. Reynard and his wife have quarters here as they moved into the space occupied by the former Steward when Ingrid took that position over.

It’s particularly nice during one of the fortunately rare blizzards we get as the storms are awesome from this viewpoint — you can see the walls of snow coming across the landscapes!

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What’s New for the 22nd of August: some Grateful Dead, Lady Astronauts, Swedish and American jazz, a Tenth Doctor tale, and much more

In the middle of this poor life, we are surrounded by mystery, and the pity of it is that we would rather just be poor. No real tolerance for mystery at all. — Jennifer Stevenson’s Trash, Sex, Magic

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Come in… Let me pour you a pint of Dark Hollow Ale, one of our soon to be Autumn offerings here in the Green Man Pub —  I think you’ll like it. A Brewer from Big Foot County in the States who visited us collaborated with Bjorn, our Brewer, on it. He said that it reminds him of wood smoke, brightly coloured falling leaves and of the promise of an Autumn just starting.

Yes, I’m playing music by the Grateful Dead and the various associated bands and solo performers as I like most of what they did and the Neverending Session’s off elsewhere this afternoon. They’re helping Iain, who is doing a hands-on music lesson for the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices, who are learning the grimmer side of Scottish ballads such as ‘The Cruel Sister’ as performed here by the Aberdeen based Old Blind Dogs at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica one November, twenty seven years ago.

I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries as late, so I included a number of my favourites this time. Most are traditional mysteries, though David Hutchinson’s Europe In Autumn, one of my choices, is clearly SF also.

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

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

Gary was initially confused by Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon, because he picked it up without knowing that it’s an alternate history type science fiction tale, involving female astronauts in the late 1950s and early ’60s. ‘Let’s say I was confused for a while to be tossed into the first-person narrative in the voice of Nicole Wargin, who claimed to be a former military pilot and an astronaut, but she was parading around in heels and diamonds, and fielding a lot of archaic sexist banter at a dinner party hosted by her husband the governor of Missouri, who’s thinking about running for president.’ 8/22 or 9/5

Leona 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.’

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

Next we have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets a looked by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’

Richard has a look at a book containing a very big mystery: ‘David Hutchinson’s Europe In Autumn is really three books. There’s the first half of the volume, which is an elegantly crafted spy thriller set in an all-too believable near future Europe of endless “pocket” nations. Reminiscent of early period Le Carre (you’re going to hear that comparison come up a lot in connection with this series, and with good reason), it’s a slow burn that details the transformation of the laconic Rudi, a chef in a Polish restaurant, into a high-powered member of the secret organization Coureurs des Bois.’

He also has a look at, well, let him describe it: ‘Not So Much, Said The Cat is a largely themeless short story collection from five time Hugo winner Michael Swanwick. Apart from the byline, there’s little to unify these tales, which leap from the end of the Cretaceous to the deserted highways of post-apocalyptic Russia to the mean streets of Hell itself. Sometimes the stories themselves jump boundaries, as in “Goblin Lake,” which starts out as a Munchausen-style tall tale of old Europe and takes a sharp left turn into metafiction, or “The Dala Horse,” which starts as a fairy tale, veers into postapocalytpic grimness, takes a sudden left into cyberwarfare and sentient AIs, and then closes the circle with a fairy tale ending.’

A noir mystery is up next as Robert looks at Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm’s The Gypsy, which has been in his ‘peripheral vision for some time, and was brought front and center by Boiled in Lead’s CD Songs from The Gypsy. I’ve sort of put off Brust’s collaborations, of which this is one, although I can see that I’ve got to catch up on them.’ He goes on to say that he found this Hungarian folklore-tinged novel to be terrific, a comment I wholeheartedly agree with!

Warner says Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Chianti Flaskis a most enjoyable little story featuring the agony of a murder trial and the bizzare nature of what can often follow. This is a wonderful twisting mystery that deserves more attention than it currently gets. Although as in most romantic mysteries, there is some focus a man (in this case a doctor named Mark Scrutton) the lead of the story is without a doubt a woman.

How about some horror? Warner has a nifty collection for us: ‘Joan Passey’s Cornish Horrors: Tales From the Land’s End is a well crafted theme anthology focusing upon strange and horrific tales relating to Cornwall. The stories in this collection were written over the better part of a century, ranging from the 1830’s all the way to 1912. They vary in subject matter, tone, style, and even the presence of the supernatural. The unifying elements are Cornwall and the out of the ordinary, a set of standards that creates an excellent assortment of stories for the reader.

Next up he reviews a bit of pulp: ‘James Swallow’s Shadow is an enjoyable read. Something on an update of a very old formula, and a part of a series that still manages to stand on its own. If one enjoys this type of thriller it is easy to recommend, and skipping the previous volumes shouldn’t be much of a concern.’

Some classic fantasy is his final review this edition: ‘Gene Wolfe’s Sword &  Citadel is a nice new omnibus of the third and fourth volumes in the series known as The Book of the New Sun. This new edition contains two classics of science fantasy The Sword of the Lictor and The Citidel of the Autarch in one package, with the bonus of a new introduction by celebrated author Ada Palmer.

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On June 11, Jennifer posted the megilleh for roasting a pig, Jenniferstyle. Today she’ll tell you how to keep your guests from gnawing your leg off while they’re standing around, drinking, and smelling the pig.

This is a pragmatic rather than a dramatic choice. You want to build suspense, sure, but more realistically speaking it’s very hard to predict the exact minute when a roast pig is donety-done-done. So invite people for three hours early. No need to tell ’em it’s pot luck – most people bring something anyway, and by people, we mean wives, because we have known husbands who say, “But there’s always way too much food, why are you cooking something to bring?” Cue eye-roll.

Just in case, however, and so’s not to let the table look bare or throw the first three arrivals back on their own bowl of potato salad, have these dishes ready before the first guest shows up: Tump chiliChocolate trifle,  Mint julepsBBQ chicken wings and corn bread.

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We start off our video reviews  with a Tenth Doctor story, ‘The Unicorn & The Wasp’ which Cat reviews: ‘One of my favourite episodes of the newer episodes of this series was a country house mystery featuring a number of murders and, to add an aspect of metanarrative to the story, writer Agatha Christie at the beginning of her career. It would riff off her disappearance for ten days which occurred just after she found her husband in bed with another woman. Her disappearance is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily answered to this day.’

An English country house murder mystery also gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’

Green LeavesChristopher reviewed some Swedish jazz on Bobo Stenson and Lennart Åberg’s Bobo Stenson/Lennart Åberg. ‘As testament to Stenson and Åberg’s talents, there is never the sense of something missing in this album. When needed, they comfortably create the propulsion and rich bottom usually provided by bass and drums, but also make excellent use of the open, spare, quality inherent in the duo format. This is “chamber jazz” in the best sense of the term, intimate and personal.’

David has some thoughts on songs, improv and how they meet in his review of Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead: ‘The Dead were not known for songs. They were the band of the long, free form jam. Deadheads reveled in the invention and magic created during what critics called “noodling”! Songs require structure and form. You might think that structure and form are concepts far outside the realm of improvisation, but the best improvisers require structure and form. It gives them something to hang their hat on.’ There’s much more, so check it out.

David has some good words for a project by three blues singers, Eric Bibb, Rory Block, and Maria Muldaur’s Sisters & Brothers. ‘The trio sound as if they were born to sing together. They capture the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the spiritual and the physical aspects of a life of blues. The sound is up to Telarc’s high standards. Producer Randy Labbe manages to capture pristine sound that never loses the essential humanity of the performers. Warm and real.’

Gary tried hard but couldn’t find anything not to like about Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream TriosSongs From My Father. ‘It’s a tribute by one of the most creative musicians in contemporary jazz in honor of his father, himself a top player and bandleader since the early 1950s who’s still going strong today at age 96. And it contains the last recordings by a titan of the jazz world whom we lost in early 2021.’

Gary has mixed feelings about The News, a new project led by free jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille with a new quartet of guitar, piano and bass. ‘Throughout the program Cyrille’s stickwork, particularly on cymbals, is mesmerizing. The sort of control and focus this type of music requires of all the players can’t be overstated. Undoubtedly I’d find it enthralling live in a club or theater setting, but much of it doesn’t quite gel for me as a recording.’

Gary enjoyed another jazz album, this one featuring New York pianist Orrin Evans fronting a quartet. ‘The Magic of Now is pianist Orrin Evans’ 20th album as a leader, and it’s surely one of his best, the statement of a mature artist at 46 years of age.’

Gary reviews yet another in Naxos World’s series of the Folk Music of China. This time it’s Vol. 15 – Folk Songs of the She, Miao & Li Peoples. ‘Much of this volume has a slightly more informal feel than the others I’ve covered. In addition to that giggling we hear a rooster crowing twice during one song, other background noises, singers pausing to clear their throats – the sort of thing that reminds you these are field recordings, though with much higher production values than I usually associate with that genre.’

Speaking of the Dead, Jack took a good long listen to another tribute album that’s long out of print now but well worth seeking out. ‘Deadicated is a compilation celebrating the Grateful Dead’s 25th anniversary. According to the liner notes, proceeds from this CD were to be given to organizations combating the devastation of the world’s tropical rain forests, specifically Rainforest Action Network and Cultural Survival.’

Scott reviews some Finnish folk music by singer Anna-Kaisa Liedes. ‘Best known for her work in groups like Niekku and MeNaiset, Liedes has spent her career blending Finnish and Karelian song traditions with vocal improvisation and experimentation. She continues in this fashion with her new CD and new backing band, both called Utua.’

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For our What Not this week, Robert takes us once again to the Field Museum of Natural History and a blast from the past as we wander Inside Ancient Egypt: ‘As we traverse Stanley Field Hall, the central main-floor atrium of the Field Museum of Natural History, we notice off in the southwest corner, behind a row of arches, what looks to be an ancient Egyptian mastaba. Well, close — it’s a reconstruction of a mastaba, more precisely, the mastaba at Saqqara that housed the tomb on Unis-Ankh.’ There’s more, of course, so feel free to investigate.

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I’m going to leave you with the late Kage Baker reading one of her own works, that being her Empress of Mars novella. It was supposed to be included on a CD in the limited edition version of the story that was going to be published by Nightshade Books but that never happened, so she gave us permission to publish it digitally. So find a quiet place to listen and settle in to hear a most excellent SF story told by a master storyteller!

Kathleen, her sister and a damn fine writer as well, notes that ‘she was an old-fashioned storyteller. She loved adding dimensions, and felt that all her stories should be either copiously illustrated or read out to an audience.’


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A Kinrowan Estate story: Venison Stew

A letter from the journal of Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria to her friend, who was staying in Constantinople as of this letter. Alex, as she was known, copied her personal correspondence into her Journal. She noted in her will that her letters were to be part of the Estate Library upon her death. She would live to well over a hundred, even longer than her Queen would!

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Dear Tessa,

It’s now starting to get seriously cold here and we’ve enjoyed the heating in Kinrowan Hall as it’s been below freezing overnight for the past fortnight. I’ve pulled my long woolen skirts and sweaters out of storage and am glad that there’s not much that needs doing outside this time of year that I can’t delegate to Estate staff. As I get older, I’m very much appreciating that our Steward convinced our bankers in Edinburgh that a central hot water heating system was needed. It’s certainly nice to be warm in the winter. 

Fitting for the weather, Cook decided a few days ago that a venison stew and sourdough rolls would be a good repast for the communitarian supper we have on Fridays here. Fortunately we had some venison that was aged just right after hanging outside for several days, so I had the lads take a haunch off it and deliver it to him for use in the stew.

Cook noted that was a particularly good Fall season for venison, as the previous winter had been mild and the summer fattened them up nicely and you want meat well marbeled with fat, which was also the case with the pigs we let forage in the acorns dropped by our ancient oaks. My staff has had some very long days slaughtering the latter and getting the meat either preserved in a brine or, as is our preferred manner, twice smoked before hanging in the dry, cool cellars beneath Kinrowan Hall.

Potatoes, carrots, onions, dried mushrooms,  juniper berries, and a generous measure of red wine went into the large stew pot yesterday so that the stew would have a chance to get its full flavour. It certainly smelled good when one passed the Kitchen and it tasted even better! Fresh pressed cider and hot gingerbread for dessert were all else served and it was quite sufficient.

Now I’m off to The Pub to sit by the fire and listen to the musicians play while I work on another sweater. The wool was from the North Country farm whose daughter Catriona is a Library Apprentice here. We traded some of our metheglin, Welsh style mead,  for it. It’s lovely wool indeed!

Affectionally yours, Alex
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