Every book tells a different story to the person who reads it. How they perceive that book will depend on who they are. A good book reflects the reader, as much as it illuminates the author’s text. — Charles de Lint’s The Little Country
That heavenly smell is the apple cider doughnuts I’m having for breakfast with a big chunk of sharp cheddar cheese, along with a big mug of coffee with heavy cream. It’s a cold, raw day with the temperature not likely to break freezing which means the drizzle outside is coating everything with ice as it comes down. A decidedly perfect day for everyone on the Kinrowan Estate to stay to inside.
My reading this week has been an old favourite, Charles de Lint’s The Little Country, so I’ve been listening mostly to music from it as done by Zahatar on their Little Country album, plus music from Kathryn Tickell and Billy Pigg as well as Janey Little, the smallpiper in it, was inspired by them. Now let’s see what’s in this edition…
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.
Craig has a look at three mystery novels by the venerable Ray Bradbury, as collected in an omnibus. See for yourself why Craig says, ‘Where Everything Ends is a trio of fine detective novels (together with the short story that provided the starting point) from Bradbury in his inimitable style. He plays with the conventions, but since he so obviously loves the genre, this is easily forgiven — embraced, even — because the end results are, simply put, fine additions to the canon. This series is also dear to fans because it is likely the closest thing to an autobiography we will receive from this man who has brought so much joy to so many people for so many years.’
Gary reviews a book on the recent history of popular music, Ben Yagoda’s The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song. ‘Within the scope of a book that’s short enough to be interesting (and affordable) as popular non-fiction, The B-Side is a sweeping but detailed history of popular music in America in the 20th century. He shows us how the songs that make up what we now call the Great American Songbook were created through the intersections of art, commerce, technology and economics, oh, and luck; and how American songs and music changed along with those and other historical factors.’
Gary gives a glowing review to Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos, which surveys the winners of the first and most prestigious award for science fiction and fantasy content of all kinds. ‘I feel like a giant nerd for enjoying a book like this so much! But like Walton (about 10 years earlier) I started reading science fiction as a pre-teen before I even knew what science fiction was. I read a lot that excited me, a lot that interested me, and many things that left me very puzzled with questions that I didn’t even have the words or emotional maturity to formulate.’
Grey liked this novel a lot: ‘Charles de Lint’s Medicine Road stands nicely on its own as a complete story, but longtime readers of de Lint will find the story enriched by former characters, bringing the flavor of their pasts with them: Laurel and Bess, obviously, but also Bettina from Forests of the Heart. De Lint also draws on imagery and myth from Terri Windling’s lovely novel, The Wood Wife, incorporating it into his own Arizonan landscape. It’s a delight to meet the “aunts and uncles” again, to feel their watching presence from the saguaro and other ancient rooted beings here.’
Joel has a review of China Miéville intertwined cities as told in his Hugo winning The City & The City novel: ‘With acknowledgments to writers as diverse as Chandler, Kafka, and Kubin (to say nothing of Orwell), I don’t need to tell you this won’t be your typical detective story. But given this is Miéville, would you have really expected a typical anything?’
Lenora 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.’
Lory gives us a mystery set in a Britain that never existed: ‘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.’
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.’
Warner starts off with choice offering from a master of fantasy: ‘Ray Bradbury’s Killer Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury is a collection which brings together works truly spanning the decades of one man’s career. While relatively limited in genre compared to the overall works of Ray Bradbury, this collection puts a specific subset of his materials together for readers curious about his look into stories of detectives, murderers, thieves and the like.’
He has a choice bit of Asian fantasy for us to consider: ‘Zen Cho’s Spirits Abroad is a nice little collection of the author’s work. This expanded edition of an earlier collection brings together many interesting tales long and short. The supernatural is rife in the stories, sometimes treated as something of a fact of life. It is a mark in favor of Cho’s writing that something extremely common in western fantasy and horror can feel like an unfortunate and unusual problem.’
Last up for him is a new edition of a classic work: ‘This new Suntup edition of Replay is wonderful, reproducing a classic novel and doing so in style. The new introduction by Tim Powers is easy to appreciate, acknowledging the influence the story has had, and providing as good a reflection upon it as one is likely to get given that Ken Grimwood is no longer with us. If one collects high-end editions of books this is easy to recommend, and Replay is an easy book to recommend regardless.’
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.’
Cat R. reviews lakriti (Finnish fruit licorice) and finds it very sweet: ‘There is certainly both a determined sweetness and solidity to this Finnish candy (lakritsi in Finnish). The label tells me this is called “black gold” in Finland but a cursory scan of search engine results failed to corroborate this. It is an enigmatic candy that, despite the name, has no black licorice taste to it.’
Sukkerfri Dent Duett: Berry + Licorice Pastilles found a fan in Denise: ‘ I’m an unabashed fan of black licorice. I’ve tasted (and reviewed) lots of different styles, from salty to sweet, and even covered in chocolate. (Don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em y’all.) But licorice and berries? No, not berry flavored licorice. A mashup of black licorice and berry flavors. For those days when you can’t seem to make up your mind on what kind of taste you’re craving – which for me is just about every single day of my life – Duett has an equal amount of sweet and sweetly savory. And I’m a fan.’
For this issue, Denise also dove into a bag of Sirius Konsum’s Chocolate & Lakkris. And it seems that could be taken quite literally, “I didn’t want to review this. I wanted to grab the bag and flee into a hidden wilderness, so I could be alone with the deliciousness. … They’re more than candy, they’re comfort.” Intrigued? Well, blending chocolate and licorice is something Iceland has been doing for quite a long time, so it’s no surprise her licorice-loving heart found a new joy. Read her full review for exactly what she thought!
She finishes off with Halva’s Licorice Bars: “Both are super soft and chewy. Oh man that’s good. They both have 4% real licorice extract so you’re getting the real deal here. No anise posing. No mutton dressed as lamb. (Note: I love anise flavor too. But real licorice is…real.) Though folks worried about a dip in their potassium levels should indulge in moderation.”
Craig has our first 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 has our second film, 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.’
Just because Halloween is over for another year, that doesn’t mean we’re done with all things monstrous … like vampires, for instance. Or rather, vampire slayers. Denise is our resident aficionado of Buffy graphic novels, and she’s reviewed quite a few of them:
She starts us off with Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus: Volume 1. ‘Most Buffy fans who have gotten their hands on the slew of post-BtVS Season Seven graphic novels already know that it’s a Long Way Home for Ms. Summers, but just how did this wild and crazy ride of hers start off, anyway? … there’s a ton of information in this current volume to quench many a fan’s lust for backstory.’
Denise was very pleased with the release of the first post-TV comic treatment of Buffy in Season 8 Volume One: The Long Way Home. ‘How’s Buffy doing since we saw her last? Well, she’s got over a thousand other slayers covering her back, and a host of other supernatural do-gooders (witches, seers and the like) helping out too. Plus the Watchers Council is lending aid, and if you think that’s a whole lot of help . . . it ain’t. It’s looking like the Big Bad this season will need every last one of them.’
Next, she catches up with Season 8 Volume 4, also known as Time Of Your Life: ‘Buffy, the Slayers and the Scoobs are gearing up for a showdown. As with Wolves at the Gate, make sure you are up on your Buffyverse before you tackle Time Of Your Life. I’ll go so far as to say that a reading of Fray would come in handy as well, since Melaka Fray makes a Hyped-In-Volume-Three-So-This-Ain’t-No-Spoiler appearance here.’
Coincidentally, Robert happened to review Fray for us (I’m not sure what Denise was up to the day this one came over the transom …). ‘I really have nothing but praise for this one. The story is intelligent, inventive, somewhat iconoclastic, and extraordinarily engaging, while the graphics form a seamless envelope for the narrative line. The future world here is beautifully realized, in the post-Bladerunner noir vein, complete with flying cars, disgusting slums, and creepy underground lairs.’
Back with her Season Eight coverage, Denise was less enthusiastic about Vol. 5, Predators and Prey. ‘There’s a lot of change going on, with characters shifting from old patterns of behavior, but it just ends up a volume that screams “hey look, change is afoot!” without actually making things interesting. It’s great to hang with Buffy and the crew, but I’d like a bit more to chew on.’
Gary was enchanged by new music from SUSS, a band from New York that makes “ambient country” music. ‘The Night Suite EP, which was dropped with no warning in late October, has five tracks, each named for a town on that route: Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Ash Fork, and Kingman, Arizona; and Needles, California. It’s perfect late-night listening, whether you’re on the road or not. It’s music that evokes a particular landscape. The desert Southwest of the United States. The gritty towns that you pass through late at night on your way from somewhere to somewhere else.
Laurel Premo sings and fiddles in the folk group Red Tail Ring, but her new solo album is mostly instrumental guitar music, Gary says. But not entirely. ‘Premo sings on a couple of these tracks, she plays in several different styles and with different instruments including a lap steel, and she’s accompanied by a couple of unique percussionists on three tracks as well. Golden Loam is a highly personal album but it’s also very listener friendly and welcoming.’
Gary continues his reviews of the series of Chinese folk music albums from Naxos with Vol. 17 – Folk Songs of the Tujia and Sui Peoples. These people, he says, ‘live mostly in several landlocked provinces of south-central china, the Sui in Guizhou, the Tujia in Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Chongqing. The folk songs of each of these groups is as distinctive as any of the music presented on other releases in this excellent series. This album has 17 songs, eight from the Tujia and nine from the Sui.’
He also reviews Vol. 18 – Folk Songs of the Uyghur Peoples, which he found quite suitable to his tastes. ‘I’m betraying my own personal preferences a bit here, but I find the music on this album totally beguiling and fascinating. I’m much more familiar with the modes of music from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern and Central Asia than I am with those from East Asia which comprise most of the other albums in this series. I guess I just connect with this music more readily, although I find the whole series and each individual disc interesting, at times captivating and frequently very exciting.’
Our minds seem to have turned to matters autumnal as we wandered through the archives this time, as you can see by this eclectic bunch:
David wrote up his thoughts on a couple of CDs and a DVD from the English prog group Mostly Autumn: ‘While they remind this listener of some of their influences, here of Genesis, there of Jethro Tull, and then a little Floydian guitar texture, Mostly Autumn manage to carve out their own sound from the mix. The blend of male and female vocals, the acoustic guitars punctuated by a stinging electric lead, swirling organ figures and the interweaving woodwinds create a full and wonderful sound.’
Danish folk musicians Harald Haugaard on violin and guitarist Morten Alfred Høirup teamed up on several albums, starting with Duo for Violin & Guitar, which Gary found ‘immensely enjoyable.’ He goes on to note, ‘Two of the tracks feature Haugaard’s rumbly baritone vocals. One, an old traditional poem set to a tune written by Haugaard, has a definite “smell of autumn and death,” as the liner notes point out.’
Judith reviewed a couple of obscure gems from the English folk group Roam, starting with their debut Count the Stars. ‘Roam is an acoustic folk band from Yorkshire. They’ve released a later album called Songs Of J.R.R. Tolkien, having on occasion performed dressed as elves and dwarves. Only one Tolkien song appears on Count the Stars but the sense of fantasy is yet there, wrapped in pretty arrangements.’
Roam’s next album Ragged in the Rain summoned the spirit of Phil Ochs in an epigraph of sorts, ‘In such an ugly time the true protest is beauty.’ Which Judith found puzzling. ‘Here is something perplexing: How do these songs of loneliness and sadness protest ugliness and unhappiness? Maybe the premise of the album would ring more true if the lyrics were sweeter. Perhaps the lyrics here are soldiers in Trojan horse songs, in the eternal war of human nature against dystopian content.’
Robert reviewed the New Age / World album Of Air, by Anders Hagberg and Johannes Landgren: ‘Hagberg is a jazz musician who shows equal facility on straight and transverse flutes and soprano saxophone, and has collaborated with many other musicians from many parts of the world, including Indian, Japan, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Landgren is an organist with a degree in church music who not only teaches organ but has done considerable research on the instrument, and has recorded works ranging from the Renaissance to those of contemporary composers.’
He also took a close look at Joseph Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons). ‘Not only do the seasons mark the passing of the year, they become in this work the stages of life: the bright promise of spring, also the bright promise of youth; the fullness of summer, the season of growth and maturity; the bountiful harvest of autumn, when one (ideally) enjoys the fruits of one’s life’s labors; and the chill of winter, when one sits by a crackling fire and looks back on life.’ Ah, we can identify with that last bit.
For our What not this time, Robert takes us into the realm of traditional remedies: ‘Andrew Chevallier’s The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants offers not only fascinating tidbits of the history of medicinal herbs, but descriptions, analysis of constituent compounds, and methods of preparation for home remedies.’ He follows up with a more specialized look: ‘James Green’s The Male Herbal: Health Care for Men and Boys is an interesting addition to the literature of alternative medicine. His focus is intentionally limited to a group that, believe it or not, could quite possibly be underserved.’
So let’s have a bit of Autumnal music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition. Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband with June Tabor joining them there as well for that concert though not on this piece of music. 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 though he notes to us it isn’t. It features John Tefler calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.