That had been a little more than forty years past. Fatma was born into the world al-Jahiz left behind: a world transformed by magic and the supernatural. ―
Cat says for some time he’s been looking forward to a full length novel in P. Djèlí Clark’s Dead Djinn series set in an early 1900s alternative Cairo where magic has returned to the world. It’s now here in A Master of Djinn, which Cat enjoyed on audio. ‘Now let me be clear that this is a pulp story with a heroine who has her own sidekick and truly deliciously evil antagonists. The story starts fast, gets faster and never slows down.’
Drawing Down The Moon: The Art of Charles Vess is is an exhibition catalogue for a show that should’ve been for someone who’s illustrated such works as Seven Wild Sisters and The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a favourite of mine. Let’s have Charles explain why I believe this: ‘All you need to do is flip through the book to realize that when it comes to traditional fairy, folk tale and fantasy art, there are few artists who do it better than Vess.’
Chuck notes that ‘I figure this much: Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road starts with a green man crossing the desert, so this has to be the perfect book for Green Man Review. OK, the book calls him a “greenperson,” and the desert is on a Mars of the future, transformed by mankind’s effort, but you get the idea. Trailing this greenperson is Dr. Alimantando. He comes to a place along a railroad, where, almost accidentally, he settles and starts the community that he names Desolation Road. Soon after, more people begin arriving and, in short order, the community becomes a village, a city, a war zone and a ghost-town — all within 23 Martian years. That’s the story.’
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.’
The novel Gary looks at in this review is set in a richly imagined future India, Ian Mcdonald’s River of Gods. And it’s a bloody good read as well: ‘You can hold whole universes in your hand, between the covers. And as with those old faery tales, you need to pay attention to books like River of Gods. They contain important truths, hidden inside entertaining stories.’
Gary found the latest book by Kim Stanley Robinson to be thought-provoking and hard to put down. He says Robinson is ” …a curious creature who loves strenuous minimalist backpacking in the High Sierra and attending scientific conferences and symposia that most mortals would find stultifyingly dull. He often combines aspects of those things in his fiction, and he does so again very effectively in The Ministry for the Future.’
Another Ian 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.’
Kestrell reviewed a nonfiction book about detective fiction in the mid-20th Century: ‘Making the Detective Story American is relatively clear and concise (excluding the index, the book totals under two hundred and twenty pages), with most of the work accessible to the general reader, although an interest in the cultural critics and literary lions of the early twentieth century is helpful.
Kim found a book that was more than merely good: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals. This novella, she says, takes the reader ‘..into the magical world Gal, or Myra as she is known in some circles, experiences after being injured in a plane crash and then rescued by Coyote. Boulet’s work draws us into the world Gal sees with her new eye, a multilayered field of vision that bridges the nature and the appearance of things so beautifully communicated in Le Guin’s story. It has earned a place next to my treasured “children’s” books — the selfishness of an adult who finds some things too beautiful to actually let the wee wilds grub them up.’
Next we have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets a looked by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’
Down the decades, we’ve reviewed most everything Patricia McKillip has published, so it’s only fitting that we finish off this time with a review by Richard of her latest book: ‘With Dreams of Distant Shores, Patricia A. McKillip delivers something that is not quite your typical short story collection. While the point of entry is a series of shorter pieces, the collection builds to and is anchored by the lengthy novella “Something Rich and Strange”, with an essay on writing high fantasy orthogonal to the usual tropes. The book then ends with appreciation of McKillip’s work (and the stories in the collection) by Peter S. Beagle, an elegant coda to a warm, thought-provoking collection.’
Richard finishes off our reviews with at an Ian MacDonald novel which is set in the same reality as Desolation Road and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’
David was moved by Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time, a documentary that traced the history of a long-lost Cuban singing group. ‘Los Zafiros was filmed beautifully by Thomas Ackerman, the island of Cuba providing a perfect setting for the cinematographer’s art. Producer and director Lorenzo DeStefano did a marvelous job in balancing the archival with the new, and the whole team has created a stunning work of art. It stands as a brilliant tribute to an extraordinary group of musicians, to an exotic and exciting country, to an era that existed on the edge of time.’
Donna provides a comprehensive review of a BBC multiseason drama: ‘The House of Eliott was the creative child of Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, who also created Upstairs, Downstairs. Like its long-running and acclaimed predecessor, The House of Eliott portrays a particular period in British history with a lot of attention to relationships between people of different social classes.’
Sarah highly recommends a blast from the past, Ralph Bakshi’s animated fantasy Wizards. ‘In the end, Wizards is a cult film. Like other cult films, it’s not necessarily perfect, but it is always energetic. The small budget is often grievously obvious, and the plot is simplistic at best, but Eleanor shows more personality in five minutes than the average Disney heroine in an entire movie. If you need your fantasy sleek and pretty, this probably isn’t the film for you.’
April starts our chocolate review off with a look at three tasty bars: ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’
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.’
Robert has a single source chocolate for us: ‘Lolli & Pops Madagascar Sambirano comes in a flat 2-ounce bar, with a lightly incised pattern and company logo on the front, but no scoring deep enough to break the bar into bit-size pieces. It’s certainly worth sampling — if you can find it. Apparently Lolli & Pops, which has been largely a boutique confectioner with outlets in shopping malls, has been forced to closed a number of stores. So, happy hunting.’
April enjoyed Kazu Kibuishi’s Flight Explorer: Volume 1, a spinoff of his children’s anthology Flight. ‘Overall, Flight Explorer is well-drawn and is poignant, action-packed and humorous by turns. While some of the stories are clearly geared for children, some of the stories, such as those by Kazu, Parker and Hamaker, will likely appeal to readers of all ages …’
Richard found the first installment of John Ridley’s The American Way didn’t quite live up to its potential. Still, it’s an intriguing concept: ‘The American Way is set against the backdrop of an alternate Sixties, when a government program to create superheroes for propaganda purposes (the uninspiringly named Civil Defense Corps) starts hitting its first inevitable hiccups.’
Robert lost his ambivalence toward Alan Moore’s work with his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 1910. ‘Frankly, the plot, while layered and complex enough to be interesting in itself, is probably the least interesting part of this story. Most of the fun is making the connections between the story and the characters who show up in it.’
Gary reviews Janus, the latest offering from Annbjørg Lien, the highly esteemed Norwegian Hardanger fiddler. ‘This album was inspired by her relationship with Setesdal, a valley in the Agder district of southern Norway that is known as the cradle of Norwegian folk traditions. She looks back at this inspiring tradition and forward as she undertakes to update the traditions through her own creative lens. Musically it’s a mix of traditional tunes, traditional style music with modern arrangements and instrumentation, and some singer-songwriter folk that leans toward Americana.’
Gary also reports back on an eclectic album of sea songs and shanties arranged as solo electric guitar explorations, Shane Parish’s Liverpool. ‘These densely layered and looped recordings in many ways capture the wildness of the sea and the anxiety that must constantly haunt the human hearts of those who work upon it, particularly in fragile wooden craft, doing incredibly hard labor in harsh, uncomfortable conditions.’
Gary reviews the new music on Linde by the Norwegian trio Slagr, who play cello, hardanger fiddle, vibes and glass harp, also called tuned water glasses. ‘With strong ties to folk motifs, structures like European chamber music, and a colorful sound palette that evokes the cold north as well as the the equatorial regions that give us gamelan and marimba music, Slagr’s music is a timeless antidote to our fixation on immediate gratification and scattered attention.’
Gary reviews a re-release of an influential album of Irish folk music, Andy Irvine & Paul Brady’s self-titled record from 1976. ‘From the first strains of the opening track “Plains Of Kildare” it’s clear that this is a special record. Dónal Lunny’s bouzouki, Andy Irvine’s mandolin and Paul Brady’s guitar lay down a rhythmic bed over which Irvine’s sturdy tenor vocals take turns with Kevin Burke’s fiddle in this very Irish reworking of the tale of the racehorse Stewball.’
Gary also reviews what he says is an album of calming music from Belgian guitarist Ruben Machtelinckx and Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. ‘A Short Story apparently is the result of the first meeting between these two musicians. Guitar and trumpet isn’t a very common pairing, and the two use their extraordinary collaborative skills to great effect on a dozen tracks – all succinct, with only one coming in over 4 minutes. No pyrotechnics, no guitar shredding or fancy fretwork, just quiet, focused experiments in tones, textures and colors.’
Our archives contain a wealth of reviews of the hard-hitting English folk-rock band The Men They Couldn’t Hang, so we’ve put together a sampler.
Cat, in his review of two discs of Demos & Rarities and one EP, addresses the comparisons between TMTCH and the Pogues: ‘If I had to pick out one difference between the Pogues (whom I dearly love) and The Men They Couldn’t Hang, it is that the latter did not fall to the excesses of drink and other substances that the former did, to their considerable ruin. Like the Oysterband, they are one of those rare bands that one wishes there were more of – quite decent blokes who can write great music, play their instruments without too much ego, and make lovely recordings.’
Cat reviews three rare CDs from some side projects of The Men They Couldn’t Hang: two live recordings by Odgers & Simmonds and Liberty Cage’s Sleep of the Just. ‘Over the years, I’ve collected some twenty TMTCH CDs, both full-length and EPs, in their full-band mode and in the form of these side projects. All are great, all are worth the considerable hassle it would take to acquire them these days.
Cat also reviewed a ‘solo’ project by Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers, Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me. ‘Swill does all the music and arrangements on this recording — something that he does very, very well. The ‘stripped down’ sound here allows everything to be heard perfectly — every word of the lyrics, the flawless playing of instruments by the musicians, and the considerable vocal talents of Swill, which make for one of the best listening experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.
Chuck reviews three albums that trace the early evolution of The Men They Couldn’t Hang: Night of a Thousand Candles, Silvertown, and The Domino Club. ‘These three albums do not comprise the entire oeuvre of The Men They Couldn’t Hang. What they do show is a band that changed in five years from a punk-folk to a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll style. All three are solid productions, with Silvertown standing out as the best of this bunch.’
Gary reviewed Cherry Red Jukebox. ‘Since reuniting in 1996 after a five-year hiatus, The Men They Couldn’t Hang have proven that rock isn’t just a young men’s game or a freak-show Rolling Stones-style circus. Mature fellows with some real life experience have something to say, and they can still by god rawk when they say it. So hold that lighter high and sing along with ’em.’
We’re not sure who wrote this Folkmanis review as our What Not this time, as that information does seem to have gone walkabout: ‘Folkmanis has gained an excellent reputation in recent decades for its overwhelming array of puppets. The plushies range from eerily lifelike to utterly fantastical. Right now I’m holding the Sea Serpent Stage Puppet in my hand. Well, okay, I’m wearing it on my hand. . . is that so wrong?’
Let’s have something warm and sprightly for our music this time. Hmmm… ‘Kashmir’ by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant will do nicely! It was recorded apparently thirty three years ago, possibly at Glastonbury but I wouldn’t bet the farm on how truthful that is. It’s definitely a lovely take by them on this Moroccan influenced work.