He wanted to run through the stacks, pick at the books, sample them one after the other, climb the stacks to their highest reaches and see what treasures were hidden there. ― Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman
Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, pointed out to me on a recent afternoon as I took a walk outside on a particularly brisk day that many of the owls that overwinter here have made their seasonal transition into the protected spaces we built generations back to harbour them when the Winter gets too cold for them to be outside.
I’ve always found our owls to be as fascinating as our corvids, though the owls are far more aloof than those birds are. And I’m certainly not the only one who does, as I found a long note in The Sleeping Hedgehog from 1845 in which Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here for many, many years during the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, wrote for the Estate inhabitants about the need to be respectful of the hollow trees and other places where the owls took residence for the Winter.
You might be aware that 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.’
A first novel in a new series by Genevieve Cogman found favour with Cat: ‘The Invisible Library combines storylines I love: alternate Earths, steampunk, and libraries. That it is well-written comes as a pleasant surprise, as usually the stone soup approach to writing fiction results in indigestion from too much grit and too little real flavour. This is really tasty!’
Denise found two things to adore in Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter’s Vampira and Her Daughters: Women Horror Movie Hosts from the 1950s into the Internet Era; female horror hosts, and a comprehensive guide to ’em. “Cotter digs deep into the history of the horror host, and uncovers a wealth of knowledge about these hidden stars … And he does a bloody great job with it.” Happy haunting, horror hounds!
Elizabeth says of a Glen Cook novel that ‘Cruel Zinc Melodies has an interesting mystery, intriguing characters, and a truly original fantasy world that melds the magic and decadence of high epic fantasy with the grittier elements of ’40s detective novels. Glen Cook’s writing still has zing after twelve novels, so fans of the series should be well satisfied, and newer readers who enjoy this will have a large backlist to explore.’
I 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.’
A fantastic look at London is reviewed by Kestrall: ‘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.’
I’m going to give you a second opinion on The Owl Service as Kim reviewed the novel: ‘This is a magical book, and the finest of Alan Garner’s young adult novels. Now, a lot of people associate magic with ethereal forces, great quests and spells and all that, and indeed spells can be found in several of Garner’s other books. The Owl Service reveals a different kind of magic, the kind that arises from the interaction of people with patterns, of desires that unwittingly mesh with the larger forces around us, harsh magic that people employ without knowing it.’
Lory tries out Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy, an in-depth academic study of the fantasy genre, and discovers that academia and genre literature aren’t natural enemies after all: ‘Farah Mendlesohn takes fantasy seriously. Other scholars may tend to skip over the genre, or feel the need to explain or excuse their focus on popular fiction, but she takes for granted the worthiness of a body of literature which relies on the creation of ‘a sense of wonder.
In looking at The Time Quartet, Naomi has a confession to make: ‘As far as I am concerned, Madeleine L’Engle’s books should be required reading in all schools, as they open doors — not only in the imagination, but also in the academics, math and science especially. These wonderful tales could inspire the next Einstein to take the proper courses and feed his mind. I enjoyed the journeys that Mrs. L’Engle’s works took me on, and yet, I am saddened by the fact that I never read them as a child. I will rectify this mistake by introducing my own children to them posthaste!’
Robert says ‘We all have our personal lists, individual counterparts to those periodic lists of “most important,” “best,” or whatever the accolade of the moment might be. I have a personal list of “best fantasy series” that includes some works that might not be “great,” but several that I think arguably are. In the realm of modern heroic fantasy, in particular, I think anyone would be hard put to protest the inclusion of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Ftiz Leiber’s tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Michael Moorock’s great cycle of stories of The Eternal Champion, and Glen Cook’s Black Company.’ Read his review of The Chronicles of the Black Company to see why this is so.
April says that ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’
Camille looked at three bars from Chocolove (orange peel, toffee almonds and raspberry) which she summed up thusly: ‘All in all, three delightful chocolate bars if one has a particularly sweet tooth. Pleasant finish and texture to each, and a variety of interesting flavors to choose from and dead poets to sample.’
Cat R. got the chance to sample a whole bunch of chocolate bars from Chuao Chocolatier: ‘Here in America we like our add-ins, ice cream and candy full of other candy, nuts, random sweets, and sometimes savories. Chuao (pronounced Chew-WOW) has a shelf-load of such, chocolate bars with all the goodies, created by Venezuelan chef Michael Antonorsi.’
Denise picks out something rather spicy for her yearly ‘Winter Chocolate Binge’ – Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers’ Dark Chili Chocolate Bar. ‘[T]his bar is actually five smaller bars, each wrapped individually. It’s nice portion control, though this chocolate is tasty enough that stopping at one mini-bar will be a test of your willpower.’ Read her full review to find out why!
Chocolate at this time of year is one of the most sought after treats. So let’s let Kelly tell us about one she found: ‘By the register little chocolate squares beckoned. Labeled, somewhat exotically, ‘Xocolatl de David’, there were three sorts, but the one that caught my eye read “72% Ecuadorian Chocolate with Black Truffles and Sea Salt”. Not a chocolate truffle, mind you, but the kind of truffle pigs sniff out of the woods in Italy and France. I surrendered to impulse and bought one.’
Robert brings us a look at some fairly intense chocolates from Lindt’s Excellence line: ‘The latest treat to cross my desk was a package of chocolate bars from Swiss chocolatier Lindt & Sprüngli, who have been doing this since 1845. The line is billed as “Lindt Excellence” and comes packaged in elegant slim boxes. But enough of that — what does it taste like?’
He also looked at three chocolate squares from Ritter, the German chocolate company. (Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts; Rum, Trauben, Nuss (Rum, Raisins, Nuts); And Dark Chocolate with Marzipan). His answer to why he has less satisfied this outing than when he reviewed the first three Ritter squares is detailed by him.
Gary takes a look at three volumes of graphic literature by world-renowned comics artist Art Spiegelman. They include the two-volume Maus which simultaneously tells the story of how Spiegelman’s father survived the Holocaust, and of how the artist extracted the story from his father 40 years later. Vol. I, My Father Bleeds History, ends with Vladek Spiegelman’s arrival at Auschwitz; Vol. II, And Here My Troubles Began, tells how he survives. The third work is MetaMaus, an exhaustive compilation in book and DVD form that takes you behind the scenes of Spiegelman’s creation of his masterpiece.
Barb has a story to tell us in her review of Trio: ‘Väsen is Olov Johansson on 3-row chromatic nyckelharpa and kontrabasharpa, Mikael Marin on viola, 5-string viola, and pomposa, and Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar and bosoki. Having had the opportunity over the last few years to immerse myself in many of Väsen’s recordings, see them perform live, and interview Olov Johansson, these musicians (unbeknownst to them) have become old friends.’
Brendan found much to like in the recording called Glory Be: ‘Finality Jack is a trio of instrumentalists based in Northamptonshire, England and named after an obscure 19th century English politician, Lord John Russell. Consisting of Tim Perkins on violin and bouzouki, Richard Leigh on violin and kantele (a nordic form of the violin), and Becky Price on accordion and keyboards, they play an intriguing mixture of English- and French-influenced instrumental music with a smattering of Eastern European polka in there as well. These may not be typical traditional dance tunes, but in their quiet way they all feel as exuberant and full-of-life as the Greek morris dancers on the cover of the CD.’
Blind Faith were an English blues band made up of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech. The band released their only studio album, Blind Faith, in August 1969. (There’s also Live Cream & Live Cream, Volume II.) Craig says about the deluxe version of Blind Faith that: ‘For collectors and rabid fans of the artists, this deluxe edition is probably worth the extra cash, given the expanded and informative liner notes and the extra 90 minutes of music.’ Now if were I betting, I’d say it was very good odds that Live Cream & Live Cream, Volume II are where the extra material on it came from.
Gary first looks at the Escape Artists recording: ‘Vocal harmony has always played a leading role in country music. Today’s alternative country and country folk music continues to draw on that tradition, as we see in this recording from The Dolly Ranchers. This Santa Fe, New Mexico based female quartet’s music revolves around the harmonies of two lead singers. Amy Bertucci usually takes the low parts and Sarah-Jane Moody the high. Moody also contributes Dylan-esque harmonica, rhythm guitar and hand percussion. Rounding out the quartet are Maria Fabulosa on bass and chief songwriter Marisa Anderson on guitar and banjo.’
He next tells us about Frixx, the 20th anniversary release from the Finnish folk septet known as Frigg. ‘Frigg plays like a well-oiled machine, but also demonstrates lots of personality. Solemn but never stuffy during the slow parts, frisky and witty on the fast songs, the arrangements always fitting and the recording superb.’
He tells that on their third CD, Après Faire le Boogie Woogie, ‘Louisiana’s Magnolia Sisters cooked up a winner that pays tribute to their Cajun and Creole musical roots with an attitude that’s thoroughly modern. The three original Sisters, Ann Savoy, Jane Vidrine and Lisa Trahan Reed, are joined by young fiddler and singer Anya Shoenegge, with drums and percussion supplied by “Mr. Sister” Kenny Alleman. Savoy, Vidrine and Reed all have deep ties to the music of southern Louisiana, and all as well are experts in various aspects of its folklore and culture.’
Folk singer Toshi Reagon’s Toshi also gets a nod from Gary. ‘Toshi is a fascinating, genre-busting record. Excellent production and musicianship, and most of all Reagon’s powerful but not overpowering vocals make this well worth listening to.’
Jo wrote a review of the Labyrinth recording by a band created by Scots fiddler Alasdair Fraser: ‘All of the members in Skyedance are consummate musicians, who have honed their craft to excellence. It is pure pleasure to hear these six phenomenal performers work together with such precision and craftsmanship.’
Lars says Eilean mo Ghaoil: The Music of Arran ‘is the brainchild of Gillian Frame, fiddler and Arran native, and if the Arran tourist board doesn’t adopt it as its official soundtrack (assuming there is such an animal as an Arran tourist board) then they’re definitely missing a bet.’
Mike says ‘Stockholm 1313 Km is a greatest hits compilation of a fine Swedish folk band. The tunes are great out of the gate, and I actually became nostalgic upon hearing the fourth and fifth selections, “Pojkarna pa landsvagen” and “Hambomazurka efter Blomqvistarn,” respectively.’
Robert also brings us an album that is a favorite around here, String Sisters Live: ‘There seems to be something magical about the number “6” when you’re talking about fiddles. Maybe that many fiddlers reaches a kind of critical mass that sets off a chain reaction of some sort. At any rate, when the six fiddlers in question are six star-caliber women from across the Britanno-Nordic musical realm, what you wind up with is some really, really good music.’
This issue’s What Not is brought to you by Jennifer, who discovered the NotJustBikes Youtube channel and found wonderful articulation for the dissatisfactions of growing up in the suburbs.
So let’s finish off with some seasonally apt music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘White Snow’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April ’91. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.
You can hear Skara Brea perform ‘Casadh Cam na Feadarnaigne’ off their reunion concert at Dunlewey Lakeside Centre seventeen years ago here. Nice, very nice indeed.
Speaking of the Bothy Band, let’s see if there’s any Bothy Band whose Old Hag You Have Killed Me is one of best Irish trad albums ever done. Yes 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 nearly fifty years ago is the most common guess, though there’s no idea where it was recorded for that matter. So here it is for your listening pleasure.