She wanted to apologize again, but how many times could she repeat empty words without becoming empty herself? ― Aliette de Bodard’s On a Red Station, Drifting
I’ve been listening to Laurie Anderson’s Life On A String recording this fine late Spring afternoon as I do paperwork in the Library. I saw her once eight years ago at the Edinburgh Festival who’d commissioned a new work from her, and also decades back down London way. I’ve always lusted after her electric blue violin which is one of the coolest instruments I’ve ever encountered. Not to mention amazing sounding.
I just finished breakfast. I always drink tea as I never developed a taste for coffee no matter how good that I’m told it is. So it was lapsang souchong, a loose leaf first blush smoked black tea from Ceylon. With a splash of cream of course. And there was a rare surprise for breakfast too — apple fritters served with thick cut twice smoked bacon, using apple wood only, and yet more apples in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg infused apple sauce. There was even mulled cider for those wanting even more apples in their breakfast fare! Thus fortified, I’m now turning to writing the edition for this week…
Cat leads our book reviews off with a look at the Sandman audio drama: ‘It’s hard work to adapt the Sandman graphic series to another medium, but I’ll say that Audible, with the participation of the author as the narrator, has done it most excellently. It’s a full cast production with the usual exceedingly high production value that I’ve come to expect from Audible. This is the second Gaiman audio drama that I’ve listened to lately as I experienced the recent BBC production of Neverwhere as well, which I highly recommend. And I recommend this as well, as long as you’ve got a strong stomach, as this is a dark fantasy with more than a touch of horror.’
Somehow we missed doing a full review of a major work by Charles de Lint despite doing an edition on him a decade or so ago and reviewing pretty much everything he’s written or performed. Well, Robert rectified that some years back: ‘Moonheart may very well be the first novel by Charles de Lint that I ever read. I can’t really say for sure — it’s been awhile. It certainly is one that I reread periodically, a fixture on my “reread often” list. It contains, in an early form, all the magic that keeps us coming back to de Lint. (And be reminded that Charles de Lint may very well be the creator of what we call “urban fantasy” — he was certainly one of the first to combine contemporary life and the stuff of myth.)’
Denise is happy as a pig in … well … about Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits, a collection of previously published articles edited into book form. ‘Readers who are familiar with his other books, or who have seen No Reservations, will be glad to know that his trademarks are well represented here. His love of the Ramones, the Stooges and Manhattan, his history with coke and heroin, and his ability to drink like seven sailors are mentioned throughout this collection, whenever it might be relevant or enlightening to the topic at hand.’
Donna reviews Isabel Allende’s novel Zorro, in which Allende provides the backstory to the titular character of a popular television show from the 1950s. Reading the book sent Donna down a bit of a rabbit hole that led her to early 20th century pulp fiction, Disney Productions, a recent Antonio Banderas movie, and musings about Batman. Join her, won’t you?
Gary says the Istanbul of Ian McDonald’s near-future novel The Dervish House is rather like what our own world could be very soon: ‘…hotter, more crowded, with an even starker divide between rich and poor, and teeming with technology. … It’s also brimming with Anatolian spirits that sometimes seem indistinguishable from the effects of nano-technology.’
Another Macdonald novel garners this comment from Grey: ‘Today, I picked up King of Morning, Queen of Day again just to refresh my memory before writing this review. After all, it doesn’t do to refer to a book’s main character as Jennifer if her name is actually Jessica. But my quick brush-up turned into a day-long marathon of fully-engaged, all-out reading. I’ve been on the edge of my seat, I’ve been moved to tears, I’ve laughed, I’ve marked passages that I want to quote.’
Mia liked … some … parts of Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour. But as a whole? Not so much. ‘What could have been a marvelous and inspired culinary journey turns out to be a drug-addled literary meander. There are some fascinating stories here but it requires a dedicated reader to filter them out of the sludge.’
Richard looks at a novel from a beloved writer: ‘Peter S. Beagle’s Summerlong is an exercise in masterful, hopeful heartbreak. Deeply steeped in mythology yet relentlessly modern (if a bit sentimental), it tackles the big questions of love, compromise, dreams, and what you might do – or forgive – in the face of the sublime.’
Robert has some some tasty poetry for us: ‘Born in 1942 in New York City, Billy Collins has published numerous collections and garnered, among other recognition, fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is possibly one of the most widely exposed of living poets. Questions About Angels, originally published in 1991, was selected by Edward Hirsch for the National Poetry Series and has been reissued by the University of Pittsburgh Press.’
He follows up with another tasty collection, The Complete Poems of Cavafy: ‘Modern Greece has produced an amazing body of literature including works by such luminaries as Nikos Kazantzakis, George Seferis, and others. One of the most significant members of this select community is the poet Constantine Cavafy.’
Speaking of Isabel Allende, Tabatha has some issues with Allende’s first YA novel, City of the Beasts, but gives it an overall positive review. ‘Allende maintains a quick pace throughout the book, which should appeal to younger readers. She makes learning about another culture interesting: young readers will probably enjoy watching Alexander adapt to another culture – for instance, from being a fairly picky eater to being willing to try new, even unappealing foods.’
Warner starts off with a bio of the James Bond author: ‘Oliver Buckton’s The World is not Enough: A Biography of Ian Fleming joins a crowded field in an effort to produce something interesting. There have been a number of past biographical pieces on Fleming, ranging from short articles to long books. The deep dive this volume takes from a point of view for biography and life, as literary influence does much to set this volume up on its own strengths.’
Next he has review of J. North Conway’s Crime Time: Twenty True Tales of Murder, Madness, and Mayhem which he says ‘is a nice little volume taking a quick peek into a number of cases that, with or without a conviction, have both an interesting course of events and an interesting outcome.’
Up next from him is some general fiction: ‘Overall this is a nice collection from Alaya Dawn Johnson, with powerful and often mournful materials contained within. It is easy to recommend to readera whom enjoy the subject matter, and certainly the title story is recommended true fans of historical genre work. Reconstruction should be an easy yes for a tempted reader.’
Vosges Haut-Chocolat, say April, isn’t your usual chocolate: ‘Applewood bacon, alderwood smoked salt, hickory smoked almonds, plus guajillo and pasilla chilis – oh my! This exotic selection of ingredients are just a few of the flavor surprises in store for chocolate aficionados, such as myself, when they reach for a Vosges candy bar. Definitely not your garden variety chocolates here.’
Gary went a long way for this treat: ‘On a recent vacation (or “holiday”) trip in New Zealand’s South Island, we were doing some grocery shopping before hitting the road for our next destination. We’d already picked up a couple of bags of Cadbury Jaffas to take home as candy mementos, and were looking for something else unique and representative of Kiwi candy culture. These RJ’s Licorice Choc Twists immediately jumped out out me.’
Chocolove’s Coffee Crunch in Dark Chocolate pleased Leona: ‘I enjoyed it, however, and found the slight sweetness of the dark chocolate matched wonderfully with the bitter coffee pieces. I don’t know that I’d shell out for another bar anytime soon -– the taste does tend to stick with you for days afterwards -– but I’d definitely give it as a gift to another coffee and dark chocolate fan.’
Rebecca watches Constantine and has a question as a result of doing so: ‘Anybody who reads DC’s Vertigo line of comics will be familiar with him: a trench-coated Sting look-alike with a Liverpuddlian accent, a Silk Cut cigarette dangling from his lip, a hoard of dead friends, and a problem with authority. John Constantine is one of the world’s finest occultists, and in the war between Heaven and Hell, he’s firmly on the side of humanity. He’s a smart-ass, a former punk rocker, a man who can spit in the devil’s eye and get away with it (seriously: he once tricked Lucifer into drinking holy water). I wish someone would explain to me how Keanu Reeves got cast as John Constantine?’
Rebecca says ‘I’ve now been immersed in Sandman and Gaiman for a solid month. Reading and reviewing all ten volumes, plus one, doing my research in The Sandman Companion and on Neil’s Web site, picking up Jill Thompson’s Death manga digest, finally reading Adventures in the Dream Trade and watching Neverwhere (and, apparently, volunteering to review it), and participating in collaborative fan fiction (and Neil points to the ongoing saga there when he’s asked about good fanfic), I feel a bit like the narrator at the end of Milne’s Once on a Time. Now I can take all of those volumes off of my desk, where they’ve stood as a rampart between me and the world, behind which I’ve lived in far-off lands and days, surrounded by dreams.’
Christopher was pleasantly surprised by a 1956 field recording of Mrs. Etta Baker and her family and friends, Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. ‘The recording quality is exceptionally good considering how roughly and how long ago the tunes were taped, and it is worth reflecting on how the trend in much of today’s folk music has reverted back to the raw, driving style found in these recordings. The standard of performance is very high, the tunes a good selection of dances and song melodies.’
David liked a reissue of some early country rock recordings by Chris Darrow titled Chris Darrow / Under My Own Disguise. ‘There’s a real rootsy quality to this stuff, as if Mike Seeger was his mentor — all folky and string band-oriented. And that’s a good thing. … Acoustic guitar strums and Darrow’s very southern California voice, then steel guitar and the rhythm section, and some harmonies lift Darrow right into the era of the Byrds and the Burritos.’
David has some more reissues, this time two albums by Bobbie Gentry that followed her megahit single ‘Ode To Billy Joe.’ ‘What was it that Billy Joe McCallister threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? Who knows? Who cares? Bobbie Gentry had clearly moved past those questions when she recorded these albums. They are filled with a commercialized swampy funk.’
Donna had a mixed reaction to a couple of CDs from a Danish folk music label. She liked Kristine Heebol’s 10 Point: ‘This is a charming, highly listenable CD. My only complaint is that it’s just over 40 minutes long. You’ve barely gotten into it and it ends!’ The other one, not so much: ‘Henrik Jansberg’s Omnivor is a whole other kettle of fish, if you know what I mean.’ Find out what she means by reading her review.
Gary reviews a new record from Americana singer Turner Cody. He says the music on Friends in High Places combines spare European production style with deep American roots music and sharply observed lyrics. ‘The lyrics and vocal stylings conjure up some chimerical conjoining of Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, and Michael Hurley.’
Gary likes what he hears on the debut self-titled album from Sam Filiatreau, which he says is ‘…Classic ’70s country meets Appalachian-based folk meets modern indie folk.’ He goes on to say, ‘It’s the right length for an old vinyl record, eight songs ranging from less than two to a little more than four minutes each. And they have that kind of warm feel to them you get on a classic LP, too. The production is simple and uncluttered, some acoustic guitars, bass and drums, some electric guitar accents here and there.’
Mike found an album by British singer songwriter Darren Black very much to his liking. ‘Everything about Thinkers & Fools is likeable. Black’s lyrics are thought provoking and reflective; the instrumental arrangements are accomplished but never intrusive.’
Peter got his kicks from Rockin’ Memphis, a compilation album of rock ‘n’ roll made by musicians in a certain Tennessee town that’s more known for the blues than rock. ‘This album is a testament to the fun they had in those heady days making innovative music. The album was born out of work done by a little known record label and a collection of young Memphis players who were more influenced by the English invasion than by what was being recorded at Sun Records or Stax Records at that time in Memphis.’
Speaking of All Things Sandman, Vertigo’s The Sandman Death Statue came from an interesting history says Cat: ‘Death as personified in flesh is one of the most interesting characters to come out of The Sandman series, as she’s not designed by Neil Gaiman, who wrote the series and designed almost all of the other characters as we see them in his series. Rather, he says, ‘the initial visual design of Death was based on a friend of [artist Chris] Dringenberg’s named Cinamon Hadley’. He later ran into a waitress dressed all in black as Dringenberg has shown her and decided that was indeed how Death should look.’
I think a bit of rather lively music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition will do very nicely. Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband with June Tabor joining them there as well though she’s not on this piece. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album where you can find another version of this tune.
Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad. It features John Jones calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.