People need belief systems, Barnaby. Druidism is as good as any.― Caradoc Singer to Dectective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murder’s “The Sleeper Under The Hill”
The Kitchen here at the Kinrowan Estate decided to make Eggs in Purgatory this morning which is baked eggs full of leftover finely diced ciabatta along with smoked sausage, onions, peppers, and two different cheeses, cheddar and mozzarella. They were baked in individual casserole dishes as that makes them easier to serve. They were serve up with fried turmeric spiced potatoes and lots of masala tea. Most delicious!
I’ve been reading the first in Simon R. Green’s latest series, The Best Thing You Can Steal. The character there is Gideon Sable, a master thief who steals magical items. It’s set in London, Green’s favorite setting. It doesn’t appear to overlap with his other series from what I’ve read so far, but I’d bet it does. Green’s ended several of his long-running series as of late, so it’s nice to see that he’s starting up some new series.
Cat starts off our book reviews with a look at Charles Stross’ The Halting State, which he says ‘is the best near future thriller I’ve read since first encountering John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider nearly thirty years ago. Indeed I’m quite surprised that it’s being marketed as sf genre fiction and not as a mainstream novel! Like Brunner’s novel, The Halting State is a clear and logical extrapolation of current technology pushed a mere decade into the future. And like Brunner’s novel (which deserves to be read by anyone who cares about what technology can do to a society), Stross’ novel presents a society both like and quite unlike our own.’
Gary takes a deep dive into Ancestral Night, the first volume in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. ‘I love a good space opera and Ancestral Night is a very good one. Bear mentions both C.J. Cherryh and Iain Banks in her Acknowledgments, and I definitely see traces of both those space opera forbears in this book’s themes and accoutrements.’
For a change of pace, Gary looks at a book that has a murder mystery, some folk music lore, some Irish history and more: ‘ “Star of the Sea” is the ironic name of a leaking, creaking hulk of a ship that is making its last crossing of the Atlantic, with a handful of first-class passengers and a belly full of the dregs of Europe, destitute Irish people fleeing the horrors of famine.’ For a change of pace,
Gary also reviews Molly Gloss’s Wild Life, a re-examination of the Sasquatch myth with a healthy dose of Western history thrown in. ‘The book adds up to a lively portrait of life in the Pacific Northwest 100 years ago; an exploration of the differences and similarities between “civilized” men, “savages,” and “lesser” animals; and a thoughtful meditation on the relationships between art, dreams and insanity.’
Gili is a self-professed ‘Oz freak’. So what did she think of Gregory Maguire’s Son of a Witch, the sequel to his very popular book Wicked, which spawned a popular Broadway show? ‘Like its prequel, Son of a Witch abounds with atrocities, brutality and betrayal, with a good dash of the simply gruesome. But whereas the main theme of Wicked was righteousness and hypocrisy, Son of a Witch seems more concerned with fallibility as a universal and humanizing trait.’ Read her full review to find out what she really thought!
Matthew reviews Kage Baker’s Not Less Than Gods, her last Company novel which Kathleen, her sister, told Cat that apparently only she and Kage liked. (Cat says he liked it too.) Matthew says of this novel that ‘Ultimately, this is not going to be considered one of Kage’s strongest works. For someone who is a Company junkie, it is a nice installment, but the newcomer would not understand the novel’s position in the entire series. A lot of “inside” knowledge is required to more fully appreciate the novel.’
Mike got hold of a copy of her Thirteen Orphans, the first book in Lindskold’s ambitious urban fantasy series Breaking the Wall, which is, he says, ‘one of the best things I’ve seen from her in quite a while. Drawing from Chinese history, mythology, and astrology, she’s created a fascinating new setting, one that straddles two very different worlds.’ Jane Lindskold is an author who has done some adventurous things with urban fantasy.
He also had a copy of the next book in the series, Nine Gates: ‘Nine Gates is a wonderfully-told story, using the mythic resonance of the Chinese Zodiac along with elements of history, gamescraft and magical theory to build a world almost entirely divorced from the European traditions that make up so much of urban fantasy. It’s new and different, but not enough to create culture shock.’
Richard has a marvellous treat for all of us: ‘Seven Wild Sisters, a collaboration between Charles de Lint and Charles Vess, holds no surprises, and that’s a very good thing. The companion-cum-sequel to their earlier collaboration The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, the book delivers exactly what it promises: Gorgeous illustration and an encounter with the otherworld that’s ultimately more about wonder than it is about peril.’
Happily, Robert had a copy of the third (and final) novel in the Lindskold series that Matthew looked at above, Five Odd Honors: ‘Five Odd Honors continues the story begun in Thirteen Orphans and Nine Gates, leading the Orphans and their allies back to the Lands of Smoke and Sacrifice from which they were exiled years before. . . . The group decides on reconnaissance as the first necessity, but the scouting party runs into Lands bizarrely changed by a ruthless emperor determined to remake the Lands according to his own somewhat rigid and limited sense of what should be. (Yes, one can read a political subtext into this, if one wishes.)’
While poking around in the back reaches of the Library, Robert ran across an old favorite, Roger Zelazny’s collection The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories: ‘Although he published his first story in the early 1950s, Roger Zelazny didn’t really impact the science fiction scene until 1963. That’s when I remember reading “A Rose for Eccelsiastes” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (with their best cover ever illustrating Zelazny’s story). He followed it up the next year with the title story of this collection, which won him his first Nebula award. Zelazny and his contemporaries went on to become the American branch of science fiction’s New Wave, and pushed the envelope until it was altered beyond recognition.’
Vonnie looks at a novel by Patricia Mckillip, a favourite writer around here: ‘McKillip uses the sea in many of her books, but in Something Rich and Strange the sea is not only the setting and a metaphor for mystery and magic and change — the sea is the subject. The book begins with protagonists Megan and Jonah (how is that for an apropos name?) experiencing a sea change after a long winter during which their lives had settled into a routine dependent on the shore. But the sea brings ambiguity, too. Just as the sea has the power to transform the people and things near it, the characters slowly realize that humanity has the power to overwhelm the sea, defeat it and kill the life in it. Moreover, man is doing so.’ .
Bissinger’s Coffee Toffee 75% Dark Chocolate, Almond Toffee & Rich Roasted Coffee Bar really impressed Denise: ‘Sometimes I feel as though I’m not cool enough for some of these uber-fancy chocolate bars. Such was the case with this one; made in Italy, sustainable trade, single-origin chocolate…I’m way out of my league here. And I’m not telling anyone I’m out of my depth. Well, except you. Because this bar is a wonder.’ Read her sweet commentary here.
Gary checked out Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark Blood Orange Sunset bar: ‘This bar with its crispy bits, chewy bits and pleasant blend of tart and bitter flavors, is pretty good for what it is. Decent chocolate with a fun mix of flavor and texture.’
Robert has some really great chocolate for us: ‘As you will remember, Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG is a major German chocolatier and candy manufacturer. I happen to have recently received two of their Limited Edition candies for review, Raspberry Creme and Buttermilk Lemon, which means, sadly, that I wasn’t allowed to just snarf them down. These are part of a series of candies made with yogurt and flavorings and covered in chocolate.’
He goes on to talk about another Ritter bar: ‘I have another (huge) bar of chocolate from Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG of Germany , a major chocolatier. This one is the Ritter Sport Golden Edition Milk Chocolate Squares, and when I say “huge”, I mean just that: It’s about half a pound (8.8 oz, or 250 g) of fairly thick squares of milk chocolate. Now, I’m admittedly a dark chocolate person, but hey, chocolate is chocolate, right? So I’m willing to set my reservations aside and give this one a try.’
If ever there was a series that broke all the rules, it is the one Kathleen and her sister Kage wrote up, the The Two Fat Ladies. They were brilliant English cooks who rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, drank excessively, smoked whenever they pleased and cooked using bloody great hunks of meat, butter and anything else that isn’t ‘tall good for you. And funny as all Hell, as is the review.
April has a warm response to the first volume of what looks to be an intriguing comics series, Air: Letters from Lost Countries: ‘Blythe is not your typical airline attendant. Sure, she’s blonde, pretty and personable, playing into every conceivable stereotype there is. But Blythe is much more than that. For starters, she’s acrophobic, surviving each flight only through the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals. Then there’s the attractive, mysterious passenger she’s fallen in love with, who may or may not be a terrorist.’
Cat had mixed feelings about Valiant, the sophomore effort of the New England Celtic/American roots band The Sevens: ‘Now I must admit I liked the songs on their first album a lot more than I do on this album — for pity’s sake, why would anyone cover Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”? But the instrumentals here more than make up for the less than stellar songs.’
David enjoyed Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu: ‘Like an African doo-wop group combined with a gospel choir, Ladysmith, under the leadership of the great Joseph Shabalala, sound fantastic on this recording. Their harmonies are pure and gentle. The clicks and hoots that come from the native Zulu tongue add an exotic touch, but never distract from the enjoyment of the music.’
David is pretty enthusiastic about a best-of collection from the Canadian supergroup Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. ‘As an introduction to a remarkable band, Swinging From the Chains of Love can’t be faulted.’
Deborah has strong opinions about Raising Sand, the duet album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. ‘There are no weak spots on this CD, either in the song selection or in the supporting band [producer T Bone] Burnett has put together.’
Phil Hardy, Donna tells us, makes whistles. He’s also ‘a musician who plays pipes, didgeridoo, guitar and bass, as well as a composer of tunes that I would characterize as somewhere between neo-traditional Celtic and plain old new age,’ so what does she think of his album Revisited?
Gary reviews another in a continuing series of Folk Music of China, this one Vol. 12, Folk Songs of the Bai, Nu & Derung Peoples. ‘This volume is yet another fascinating offering in the Naxos World series bringing examples of China’s rich and diverse musical heritage to the rest of the world.’
Richard takes a close look at two releases from Putumayo. Speaking of Putumayo World Music Presents: Mali, he says ‘… the CD contains a wealth of Malian music, and even if not every track will suit every taste, there is enough good music here to please every lover of Malian sounds.’ And regarding Putumayo World Music Presents: Afro-Latin Party, he says ‘This CD is a very good introduction to the fusion of African and Latin American music that has proved to be such a lasting force, beginning with the popularity of the rumba over half a century ago and passing through the mambo, the cha-cha and the samba that filled the dance halls, down to the Buena Vista phenomenon of the 1990s.’
Our What Not is a role playing game this time. So let’s let Warner tell us about it it: ‘Overall, if something like the Dungeons and Dragons Starter set is a first car, Symbaroum: Treasure Hunts in Davokar would be one’s first car as a high performance vehicle. It is wonderful to look at, well constructed, well written, and easy to understand. While it is not a sure thing purchase for just any fantasy fan, it is effortless to recommend to gamers and worth more than a look even by those who doubt they would find the time to toss a few dice.’
So let’s wander over to the Infinite Jukebox and see what we can find for something upbeat to usher this edition out. I think I’ll skip something from the Anglo-Celtic traditions in favour of something from France this time. The band’s Malicorne, which Gabriel and Marie Yacoub formed in the fall of ’73.
Gabriel had been a member of Alan Stivell’s band, playing folk-rock based on Breton music such as ‘Kost Ar C´hoat’ which was performed Germany on the 11th of May 1975, but the couple decided to focus more broadly on French trad music, which is why Steeleye Eye Span’s the most apt comparison in British folk music to them, as both are decidedly electric folk. So let’s now hear ‘Pierre De Grenoble’ which is also the name of what I consider their best album. It was recorded at Hunter College in New York sTate on the 21st of July ’84.