Sometime she forgot what subculture she was living in. — Dagmar Shaw in William Jon Williams’ This Is Not A Game
The Kitchen this morning decided to take upon themselves to turn out a most excellent batch of pumpkin cream cheese muffins. Now, the Kinrowan Estate has grown those creatures for centuries now and they get used in cooking quite a bit here. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and tarts, curried rice with pumpkin and winter veggies… You name it, it’s likely pumpkin has played a role in it. Though not that abomination that is pumpkin spice coffee that Starbucks has popularised!
I like my coffee freshly brewed which is which the Pub has its own machine here. It is a Wolf Ten Cup Automatic Drip Coffee Maker. You don’t want to make too much coffee ahead.
Cat says in his review that “I’ve got a lot of audiobooks in my Audible library as it’s been my primary source for such matters for many years now, so sometimes I forget if I’ve listened to one of them. This is how I came to be listening recently to Lavie Tidhar’s The Great Game, a genre stretching thriller that’s set, I think, at the end of the Nineteenth Century in an alternate universe that’s a riff off various literary works in our universe. Think Allan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as an apt comparison. It was a wonderful listen.’
He also found a lot to like in Seanan McGuire’s Indexing books: ‘I’m re-listening right now to one of those things that Seanan McGuire does so ever well: she takes a familiar story and make it fresh. … I first read it as novels when they came out some six years ago and then listened to it a few years later. Now being home confined due to three knee surgeries, I’m doing a lot of audiobooks and this was a series I wanted to revisit while working on other things.’
Gary reviewed all three of the books in William Gibson’s so-called Blue Ant trilogy: Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History. He says, ‘The best-selling series brought Gibson out of the ghetto of genre fiction into the limelight of more mainstream fiction, which is something that some sci-fi fans may hold against him. One of the inventors of cyberpunk is writing books that aren’t even sci-fi, and they’re about … fashion! How dare he?’
Farah Mendlesohn’s Diana Wynne Jones: The Fantastic Tradition and Children’s Literature gets a review by Kestrell: ‘Diana Wynne Jones (DWJ to her fans) is one of those writers who, despite the fact that she is frequently referred to as a “children’s author,” has a significant following of adult readers. Although there are an increasing number of literary critics addressing the subject of children’s and young adult fantasy, there is still a lack of literary criticism addressing why those books often shelved in the children’s sections of bookstores and libraries hold such a strong appeal for so many adult readers. Despite the title of this book (a title chosen by the publisher, not the author), its subject is a sophisticated exploration of Diana Wynne Jones’s complex approach to writing and storytelling.’
Jo has this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR a very long time ago.: ‘Folk legend merges with Jane Yolen’s creative world to create a work of pure magic in The Wild Hunt, which should be destined to become a classic in the world of children’s literature. Pitting the forces of light and dark against one another is a common theme, but it is rare for those forces to acknowledge the other as essential to their own existence, as done in this delightful tale. Yolen’s use of time and words have woven a masterpiece from the ancient threads of an old tale together with the modern threads of something totally new and different. The resulting tapestry is beautiful to behold.’
Richard’s first review is a look at an award-winning fantasy series which is perhaps the most English of the series here: ‘Trying to write an omnibus review of Robert Holdstock‘s Ryhope Wood cycle is a damnably difficult task. On a strictly practical note, two portions of the cycle (‘The Bone Forest’ and Merlin’s Wood) are fiendishly hard to find. ‘The Bone Forest’, which can be found in The Bone Forest collection describes the original explorations of George Huxley and Edward Wynne-Jones into the nature of Ryhope Wood, at a time when Christian and Stephen Huxley, the protagonists of Mythago Wood and Lavondyss are still children.’
He also looks at Donald E. Morese and Kalman Matolcsy’s The Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock: Critical Essays on the Fiction: ‘The myth-infested landscape of Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood would seem to be fertile ground, not only for walking legends and “mythagos”, but also for literary criticism. After all, in the sequence Holdstock tackles not the structures of mythic fiction – dark lords, questing heroes, magical macguffins and so forth – but rather the concept of myth itself, and how the same core stories have echoed down through the millennia, amplified and distorted and reflected by centuries of human experience.‘
Richard ginishes his reviews off with a book of Appalachian lore for us: ‘Manly Wade Wellman’s stories of Silver John are like snatches of a familiar song: you find them in the most fascinating places, but good luck finding the whole tune in one place when you want to. While the Silver John tales are relentlessly anthologized (at least, by anthology editors with good taste), finding the actual novels and collections of stories featuring Wellman’s wandering guitarist are rarer than hen’s teeth. Finding a Silver John novel, like After Dark, is cause for a discerning reader to rejoice. Alas that such causes for rejoicing are few and far between these days.’
Robert starts off a review I think is perfect for a reading as it was the author’s Birthday this week this way: ‘I’ve long followed Charles de Lint’s writing, starting with, if I remember correctly, Moonheart way back when, and I’ve been as close as I ever come to being a fan for years. (I even got my hands on some early stories, somehow.) So when I was asked to do a review of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, I said, “Yes. I haven’t had a chance to read de Lint in a while.” ’
Warner says ‘Lyndsay Faye’s Observations by Gaslight is a collection of stories about a familiar detective which take an interesting stylistic decision as a common feature. The subtitle of the book is “Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes” yet rather than featuring Watson as the narrator, instead chooses to have each tale told by a different individual.’
April has some chocolate cups for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’
Chuao Chocolatier’s Chocolate Bars were a mixed bag according to Cat R: ‘ Most of the bars I tried were terrific but some are more successful than others. Idiosyncrasies of taste may make a difference; when I tweeted about the one I really disliked, someone mentioned that was their favorite, and bemoaned not being able to find it. And it’s not entirely fair to stack dark chocolate up against milk, particularly given that my sweet tooth resembles that of a six-year-old’s. Still, I present them in order of how much I liked them, from most to least.’
Carletti’s Jakobsen Coffee Time chocolate collection pleased Denise: ‘Danish chocolates? Don’t mind if I do! Especially when the package itself gives me a great excuse to indulge. Coffee time? Yes please! And while these chocolates would go great with coffee, I had mine with a stout, and then a mug of green tea. I was pleased.’ Read her detailed reviews for all the sweet notes.
Robert got a treat this week — Chocolat Frey’s Chocobloc Dark 72% with Honey-Almond Nougat: ‘Chocolat Frey AG was founded in 1887, and is presently the number one chocolate in the Swiss retail market. Like all good chocolatiers these days, Frey is environmentally and socially conscious, which extends not only to its procurement of raw materials, but to its conservation-minded manufacturing and shipping.’
In a thorough omnibus review, Michael took a run through three Brian Froud faery-related collaborations, including the first in the “pressed fairy” series: Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, and Strange Stains and Mysterious Smells, both by Froud and Terry Jones; and Good Faeries, Bad Faeries by Froud and Terry Windling. ‘Froud’s artistic genius has matured and developed a lot over the decades. He’s not the same artist he was when he helped create the uniquely memorable characters and concepts in *Labyrinth*, but he’s changed only for the better.’
Next up Michael takes a fond look at Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Journal, also by Froud and Terry Jones. ‘Worry not, for no fairies were harmed in the production of this book, even though a great many of them appear flattened and squished on the pages. See, what they’ve left are -psychic- impressions, and the whole thing is actually something of a fairy sport. So you don’t have to feel sorry for them.’
The review of Brian Froud and Ari Berk’s Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters fell to Mia, who was charmed. ‘The third volume exploring the world of notorious Lady Angelica Cottington, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters brings us a collection of her correspondence, saved and carefully pressed along with more of her victims . . . er, specimens . . . in another insanely fascinating companion to her Pressed Fairy Book.’
Finally, if you’re tired of all those faeries, pressed or otherwise, Mia takes us for a spin through Ari Berk and Brian Froud’s Goblins, which she says ‘is a brilliant representation of Berk and Froud’s contact with the goblin world — and it was very close contact, as Froud even locked a goblin scribe in his downstairs bathroom (Help! I trapped in downstairs water closet. Mr. Froud very bad man … Come to Froud ground floor poop-cupboard and unlock door. Will give you many socks and a small dog with cheese on him. — Gargle)!’
Gary reviews the final two installments of a 20-volume series of CDs of the Folk Music of China. First, he gives an overview of the sprawling Vol. 19 – Folk Songs of the Lahu, Jingpo, Jino and Achang Peoples: ‘It’s difficult to do justice to such a panoply of diverse music on one disc, even in 36 tracks, and just as difficult in a review. This 19th and penultimate volume of the Folk Music of China series feels like a whirlwind sonic tour of Yunnan province, best experienced with a hot cup of tea, perhaps pu-erh.’
Next up is the even more compendious Vol. 20 – Folk Songs of the Hui, Manchu, Xibe, Korean and Gin Peoples, with 41 tracks covering the music of five ethnic groups! ‘This 20th volume of the Folk Music of China series is emblematic of the whole: filled with incredible variety in style, substance and performance. It is surprising and gratifying that so many of these highly differentiated regional and ethnic styles of folk song have survived the arrival of radio, television and other electronic media. I don’t know if any of this music is threatened by the rapid modernization and urbanization of China, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is.’
Gary enjoyed the modern hard bop sounds of a quintet from the Spanish region of Catalonia called David Viñolas’s 5ET. ‘Viñolas is a true international player. As a drummer he has played with musicians in jazz and other idioms throughout Spain as well as in France, Cuba, Turkey, Portugal and Austria. Viñolas has been blind since his birth in a village in Catalonia, and showed an early interest in music, playing classical piano and Catalan music with local student ensembles, where he showed particular interest in drums. Largely self-taught in his early years, he’s been a voracious student of all aspects of modern music in various schools, workshops, and through private lessons.’
We’re nearing the end of another calendar year, so as I was perusing the music archives I had in mind the many, many variations on Robbie Burns’s curious song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ our reviewers have covered over the years. Here are just a few of the examples I turned up:
Chuck was a bit puzzled by A Thistle and Shamrock Christmas Ceilidh, which he liked but said was more of a Green Linnet sampler than a holiday album. ‘With tracks as recent as Lunasa’s “Goodbye Miss Goodavich/Rosie’s Reel” from 1999’s Otherworld and as old as Tannahill Weavers “Auld Land Syne” from 1982’s The Tannahill Weavers IV, there’s a lot of good material for Ritchie to choose from. Several songs of the season are included. Besides the above-mentioned “Auld Land Syne,” Altan’s “The Snowy Path” (From Harvest Storm) and John Renbourn’s “I Saw Three Ships” (from Christmas Guitars), fit the winter theme. Outside of that, however, there’s nothing but good music.’
Gary notes that June Tabor’s jazzy ensemble Quercus opened their second album Nightfall with an interesting rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ ‘It has become something of an odd musical touchstone in Western culture, a song that looks resolutely backward that is sung at the beginning of each new year, a paradox that Tabor embraces by placing this in the first position. It’s reharmonized, as they say in the jazz world, to a tune that’s less sentimental and less obvious than the one we all drunkenly sing on the stroke of midnight. And of course Tabor includes the other verses, giving herself and the players a chance to explore things a bit.’
Gary also found a lot to like (of course!) in Richard Thompson’s Old Kit Bag, including a sardonic song that comments on our ambiguous New Year’s ritual. ‘Thompson saves almost the best for last, with “Happy Days and Auld Lang Syne.” Underneath the surface of this glimpse of a relationship’s end lurks a typically twisted bit of Thompson commentary. The title, of course, refers to the song sung in much of the English-speaking world at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Robbie Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne.”
Lars mostly enjoyed an offering from The Gothard Sisters, a Celtic trio who work many other styles of roots music into their performance, as they do on their third CD Mountain Rose. ‘I am not that impressed by their reading of ”Auld Lang Syne” though. They rush through it, and at the end you understand why; they turn it into a fast, furious reel. And that part is superb. Probably a great number to finish one of the girls’ 120 concerts a year, but as a song it does not work on record.’
Lars was gobsmacked by a 12-CD collection of The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, which includes more than one version of our now New Year’s Eve standard. ‘This is one of the most ambitious recording projects I have encountered within the folk music world, covering all of Robert Burns’ 368 songs. It took about six years and twelve volumes to complete, with a great number of well known Scottish musicians and singers taking part.’
For this week’s What Not, Robert has a group of four — count ’em, four — finger puppets from Folkmanis: ‘All in all this is a nice group, although there’s not a lot of mobility — about all you can do is wag your finger back and forth, but given their size, I suppose that’s about all that can be expected.’
Let’s finish off with Garmarna, a Swedish group founded in nineteen ninety ,after several of them who were friends saw traditional Swedish music performed in a film. Emma Härdelin, their vocalist, would join them several years after that. ‘Vedergällningen is from a concert in Sweden they did around the turn of the millennium.