I only laid the cobbles for the streets of Bordertown; it took all of us, an entire community, to bring the city to life. And that’s as it should be. Community, friendship, art: stirred together, they make a powerful magic. Used wisely, it can save your life. I know that it saved mine. – Terri Windling in Welcome to Bordertown
Somewhere, a chicken is roasting as I can most clearly smell its deliciousness all the way from here in in the Green Man Pub as I serve a patron her Kinrowan Special Reserve Pear Cider. Well it’s in the Estate kitchen obviously. With sage, rosemary and garlic. And fatty Lancashire bacon slathered over it as well. I’m guessing that it, along with several others, is intended for a large copper pot later this afternoon to become an awesomely delicious rice, veggie and chicken stew for our eventide meal tomorrow.
When not working in the Pub, I’m been reading the second Teixcalaanli Empire novel from Arkady Martine, A Desolation of Peace. If anything it’s even better than the first novel in the series, A Memory Called Empire which most deservedly won a Hugo last year which I voted for. And I’ll be nominating A Desolation of Peace for a Hugo at the proper time.
We’re running a special book review section this time exclusively looking at the fiction set in the Borderland universe created by Terry Windling.
First, read Michael’s incisive look at the series save Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems which came out after this first ran: ‘There are seven books in all: four anthologies, one solo book by Emma Bull, and two solo books by Will Shetterly. Together, they comprise the down-and-dirty, nitty-gritty, flight-of-fancy grunge-rock-punk ballad known as Bordertown. How can I describe it? It’s a stylized vision of New York in the ’80s, leather-and-lace big-hair bands, and the Wild West, all rolled into one. Youth gangs, runaways, flamboyant rock-and-roll bands, Elven court politics, people seeking their dreams … it was all there. You could find your heart, lose your soul, find your dreams, lose your way, and always come back to the beginning, in Bordertown.’
Cat has a look at Finder which he thinks is the best look at this shared universe: ‘My personally autographed copy of the hardcover edition is subtitled A Novel of The Borderlands, which tells you that it’s set in The Borderland ‘verse created by Terri Windling. It’s not the only Borderland novel: her husband, Will Shetterly, wrote two splendid novels set here, Elsewhere and Nevernever. I, however, think that it’s the best of the three.’
Grey says that ‘The Essential Bordertown anthology (edited by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman) was written to be your first Bordertown friend, the handbook you keep with you until you find your niche — or at least until you get to The Dancing Ferret and have your complimentary first drink. It’s partly a collection of stories told by a variety of the city’s residents and visitors, and partly a really good travel guide — the kind you wished you had the first time you visited a place where you didn’t speak the language.’
Life on The Border was the third and last of the original Bordertown series until The Essential Bordertown: A Traveller’s Guide to the Edge came out some seven years later. It was a fat little paperback with two weird looking individuals, one of whom might have pointed ears. I think they’re meant to be Bordertown elven punks. Iain has a loving look at it here.
Michael also looks at Holly Black and Ellen Kushner’s Welcome to Bordertown anthology, the latest entry in this series: ‘A generation ago, Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold introduced us to Bordertown, an abandoned American city sitting on the Border between the “real world” (The World) and Faerie (The Realm). A place where science and magic both worked, if equally unpredictably, it became a haven and a destination for runaways and outcasts of both worlds, a place where humans and the Fae (aka Truebloods) could mingle, do business, eke out a living, and find themselves. It was a place where anything could happen.’
This last novel properly doesn’t belong here. So let’s have Michael tell the tale of why I included it: ‘For all its familiarity, The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford is -not- Bordertown. It’s Bordertown with the serial numbers scraped off and placed in the Witness Protection Program. But it’s also its own creature, and it’s on those merits that we’ll judge it.’
The KillKat Evil Wafers vinyl figure, is Cat says, an odd thing for this section of this edition: ‘OK, I’ll admit that obviously speaking that this item didn’t belong under our food and drink section as it’s quite inedible. Really, really inedible. But we like Kit Kat bars around here and actually reviewed some of the Kit Kat flavours though admittedly some should have never happened such as the Kumamon Ikinari Dango KitKat. Really should never have happened.’ Go ahead and read his review to see why this this vinyl figure is so tasteful. Pun fully intended.
Denise digs into a childhood favorite; Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Marzipan. ‘As my Grossie would say, “Dem Germans know how to make marzipan.” I concur.’ Check out her review for a taste of her thoughts about this bar!
Elizabeth (whose White Space novels, Ancestral Nights and Machine, are popular around here and which Gary is reviewing for us) reviews Berkshire Chocolates for us: ‘All in all, good respectable snacking chocolate, high quality, not a trace of bloom or unintentional grittiness in any of the bars, but not a lot of depth or nuance either. (The espresso beans are a bit gritty, of course.) It’s not the nuanced, rounded flavors of a Callebaut or a Schokinag, but it’s about as good as supermarket chocolate is going to get.’
J.S.S. says that ‘I’ve received a sampling of three different bars of chocolate from E. Guittard, the oldest family-owned chocolate company in the United States. San Francisco chocolate-makers since the 1850s, the company began with one enterprising Frenchman, Etienne, who saw a market for premium chocolates during the California Gold Rush.’ Read his review here to see what he thought of these tasty treats.
I‘be been watching a lot of British mysteries this month, so I’m going to recommend four of them for you —a Sherlock Holmes mystery of sorts, Gosford Park, a Hercule Poirot Christmas story and a Doctor Who episode. Yes, a Doctor Who episode.
Craig starts us off with a choice Sherlock film: ‘Nicholas Meyer adapted The Seven-Per-Cent Solution from his own novel, and he and director Herbert Ross turn out a fine Holmes pastiche. The book is even better, capturing the language as well as the different mannerisms of the characters. Meyers’ other outings were not as successful and can be skipped, but this one is a must-see (and read) for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-known creation.’
David is up next with Gosford Park: ‘The film begins, as do most studies of murder in British society, by setting the tale. We meet an inordinate number of people (an Altman trait) who come and go with little logic. This is a common enough ploy in the films of Robert Altman, everyone has a reason for being there, and everyone has a story. Pay attention.’ Oh and what stories they tell!
Next up is Poirot’s Christmas as reviewed by Cat: ‘Ahhhh, an English locked room mystery set at Christmastime! What could be a better diversion on a cold winters night with snow falling ‘ Now there’s no snow falling out outside on this April day, but it’s still a most splendid mystery.
Finally we have a Tenth Doctor story, ‘The Unicorn & The Wasp’ which he also reviewed: ‘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.’
So do you need a long graphic novel series to read? If so, I’m going to recommend Bill Willingham’s Fables series, which lasted for thirteen years and was collected in twenty volumes. Cat has a look at Fables, The Deluxe Edition: Book One: ‘Imagine, if you will, if the inhabitants of the fairytales you know so well — human and fantastical alike — were alive and well and living in New York. Such is the premise behind Bill Willingham’s Fables series for Vertigo Comics. The Fables, as they call themselves, have long since been driven from their lands by an entity they call only The Adversary. The human-looking Fables settled in New York City, in a neighborhood they call Fabletown. Those who are less than human (think the Three Little Pigs, Shere Kahn, and Oz’s winged monkeys) live in bucolic upstate New York. Good King Cole is mayor of Fabletown, but the real power is in his deputy, Snow White. Long divorced from Prince Charming and estranged from her younger sister Rose Red, Snow White is quite far removed from her former passive self. Helping her maintain order is the Big Bad Wolf, better known now as Bigby Wolf, gumshoe detective.’
Donna has an overview of several CDs from the Spanish folk group La Musgaña from the late ’90s through the early 2000s. ‘Although the music is primarily Castilian Spanish, the band’s official website notes that the central Iberian region has experienced cultural influences from other parts of Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.’
David thoroughly enjoyed two releases from Maury Muehleisen, a guitarist and singer-songwriter you’ve probably never heard of. Who was he? ‘He was Jim Croce’s guitar-playing accompanist, and the guy who made Big Bad Jim sound the way he did. He was killed in the same plane crash that killed Croce, on September 20, 1973.’
Otis Taylor masterfully realizes the premise of his CD Recapturing the Banjo, according to David. In Taylor’s hands, he says, ‘The banjo becomes more than simply that percussive, harsh thing in the background. It’s more than the flashy solo bluegrass instrument. It takes on an identity of its own. And you begin to hear subtleties you never thought possible.’
David also reviews Tom Paxton’s Comedians & Angels, a followup to his Grammy nominated 2002 album Looking For the Moon. ‘Paxton calls all these song “songs of love,” and admits that since he’s almost 70 years old his “definition of love songs is broader than I once would have found it to be. Still, there is love in them all.” ‘
‘The late great John Hartford’s legacy continues to resonate down the generations of American roots music.’ Gary notes in his review of Eli West’s Tapered Point of Stone. ‘The music itself is something Hartford would be pleased with, too, I like to think. Hartford liked music that could be played by folks together, not by soloists showing off, and there’s not much of that kind of bluegrass pyrotechnics here, although the playing is all top-notch.’
‘Will Beeley has spent the past three decades and change as a long-haul trucker, but before that he was a Texas troubadour,’ Gary says. He reviews 1970 Sessions, an album of demos Beeley cut that year, that he says offer ‘a perfect window into 1970.’
Gary reviews a CD from the Basel Music Academy made by jazz students from around the world as part of an annual residency program called Focusyear. ‘If nothing else, the Focusyear Band 21’s Bosque represents assurance that the future of jazz is in good hands. But it’s a lot more than that; it’s an hour of good music, for one thing.’
Gary’s getting all nostalgic for the “Cosmic American Music” of a half-century ago. Seems he’s been listening to the debut disc from the Athens, Georgia band The Pink Stones, who are influenced by Gram Parsons, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Tom Petty … you get the picture. ‘So if you’re looking for some Americana that has a bit more of an irreverent, cosmic vibe to it than the usual fare, Introducing… The Pink Stones would be a great place to start.
Kathleen was pleasantly surprised by a collection of folk songs called Old Wine, New Skins. ‘The CD is a companion piece to The Folk Handbook: Working With Songs From The English Tradition (Backbeat Books, 2007). Clean and straightforward, it showcases 17 songs from the book in an exquisitely simple presentation: Good songs. Good singers. Good musicians.’
Mike liked pretty much everything about a CD from Old Crow Medicine Show called Tennessee Pusher. ‘The five-piece Old Crow Medicine Show take an old-time American roots sound and give it a contemporary makeover, in much the same way that Gram Parsons did with country music some 40 years ago.’
Peter highly recommends a collection of Irish songs and tunes from Canadian singer and flutist Norah Rendell and American guitarist Brian Miller, titled Wait There Pretty One. ‘Put together these two experienced and talented musicians from the folk world, and you get, as you would expect, something above average in terms of performance and taste.’ Put together these two experienced and talented musicians from the folk world, and you get, as you would expect, something above average in terms of performance and taste.
Jennifer wallows in two historical fictions with delightfully authentic voices: David Liss’s new novel, The Peculiarities, and the first novel in a new series of Victorian mysteries by bestselling author Barbara Monajem, Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen.
Spring is definitely upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere. If that makes you feel like dancing, check out this offering from Tatiana Hargreaves and Allison De Groot. They’re joined by clogger Ruth Alpert as they play the delightful Appalachian tune ‘Cotton Bonnet’ at a house concert in early 2020.